As the House will know, since the general election-- [Interruption.]
Madam Speaker : Order. The House will appreciate that this is yet another important statement to which Members wish to listen. Will those Members who are leaving, including Members who are having conversations across Benches on both sides of the House, please leave quickly and quietly? Perhaps we can have the doors closed so that we can hear what is going on.
As the House will know, since the general election the Government have been conducting a wide-ranging examination of Scotland's place in the United Kingdom and the way our Westminster Parliament works for Scotland. I am today placing before the House a White Paper setting out our conclusions-- "Scotland in the Union : A Partnership for Good".
The Act of Union of 1707 secured for the Scottish people a strong and special place within the United Kingdom. It guaranteed the continuance of Scotland's separate legal, educational and local government systems. The more recent establishment of the Scottish Office itself, as a Department responsible for administering much of Scotland's government, is another illustration of the capacity of the Union to accommodate--indeed, to encourage--diversity. Equally, the Union has enabled Scotland to participate fully in the affairs of the United Kingdom, and Scots have done so to considerable effect. The United Kingdom is a partnership of peoples which has achieved great things and from which all its constituent parts have benefited. The initiative known as taking stock has led us to come forward with a range of proposals aimed at reinforcing the Union and Scotland's place within it.
First, recognising Scotland's separate legal system and its other legislative needs, the Government propose a number of initiatives to improve the existing parliamentary arrangements for handling Scottish business. The Scottish Grand Committee at present has powers to debate Scottish matters and the Scottish estimates and to take the Second Reading debates of Scottish legislation. It is also empowered to meet in Edinburgh.
We propose to build on these arrangements, providing for up to 12 general debates each Session, with the Opposition parties selecting the subject for debate on a set number of occasions, though, of course, Scottish matters, like Scottish legislation, will where appropriate continue to be debatable on the Floor. We also propose a new procedure allowing for debates on affirmative resolutions and on prayers against negative resolutions to be referred when appropriate to the Scottish Grand Committee.
The arrangements enabling the Committee to handle Scottish legislation will remain unchanged, with any Second Reading vote being taken formally on the Floor of
Column 788the House. The Report stage and Third Reading debate will also continue to be taken on the Floor of the House in the usual way. We further believe that the Secretary of State's responsibilities have become sufficiently wide to justify augmenting these arrangements by proposing that from time to time sessions of questions to Scottish Office Ministers be held in the Scottish Grand Committee in addition to those that take place every four weeks in this House. These sessions could be held either at Westminster or in Scotland.
We also propose that, at the end of each meeting of the Committee, there should be an opportunity for an Adjournment debate specifically on matters of concern to Scotland. It may occasionally be appropriate also for statements to be made by Scottish Office Ministers to the Scottish Grand Committee. In addition, we propose to establish a new procedure to enable the Scottish Grand Committee to invite the Scottish Office Minister in another place and also the Lord Advocate to give evidence before it on matters within their fields of responsibility.
Some of these changes will require amendments to the Standing Orders of both Houses, and we will bring these forward for debate in due course, having first consulted Opposition parties in the usual way.
Standing Orders of the House already contain a provision that enables Bills to be referred after Second Reading to a Special Standing Committee. We consider that this provision can provide a particularly appropriate mechanism for scrutinising some Scottish Bills and we propose its wider use for some Scottish legislation in future, with provision for the evidence- taking sessions to be held where appropriate in Scotland.
Taken together, I believe that these measures will lead to a significant improvement in the handling of parliamentary business relating to Scotland, in a way which is less remote, which is more responsive to Scottish priorities and concerns, and which may relieve some of the pressures on the Floor of the House. I stress, however, that in all these procedural changes Scottish Ministers will remain fully accountable to the House, and the Scottish Grand Committee will remain wholly a Committee of the House. The integrity of Parliament will and must remain intact.
We also propose changes in the responsibilities of the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Scottish Office. Recognising the important role of Scottish Enterprise, Highlands and Islands Enterprise and the local enterprise companies and their capacity to meet local needs in the delivery of the Government's training schemes, from April next year the responsibility for training policy in Scotland will be transferred to the Secretary of State for Scotland, within the framework of the Government's overall strategic priorities, initiatives and policies.
Responsibility for the Scottish Arts Council will be transferred to the Scottish Office from the Department of National Heritage, also with effect from April 1994. We also propose to transfer the ownership of Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd. from the Civil Aviation Authority to the Scottish Office. And, in the context of the policies emerging from the forthcoming White Paper on science and technology, we will review the scope for transferring to the Scottish Office responsibility for schemes for encouraging industrial innovation.
Column 789These proposals represent a worthwhile integration of decision-making powers in the areas I have mentioned, with the other activities for which the Scottish Office already has responsibility. I am also pleased to be able to confirm to the House that my hon. Friend the Minister for Energy at the Department of Trade and Industry is today announcing that his Department will open a major new oil and gas office in Aberdeen to serve the offshore industry. I also wish to ensure that the Scottish Office is more visible in Scotland and more accessible to the general public. I propose to publish in future a concise and accessible annual report on the activities of the Scottish office and the non-departmental public bodies and next steps agencies for which I am responsible. The annual report may be referred to the Scottish Grand Committee for scrutiny and debate.
Although my Department already has offices throughout Scotland, we shall seek opportunities for further dispersal within Scotland. This will apply both to parts of the Scottish Office and to
non-departmental public bodies for which I am responsible. In addition, in accordance with the principles of the citizens charter, we shall establish a central inquiry unit accessible from all parts of Scotland for the cost of a local telephone call. This unit will be backed up by the designation of many of the existing departmental offices as Scottish Office information points. We shall examine the case for supplementing this facility with other information points in smaller towns around Scotland, operated on an agency basis. The White Paper also sets out other plans I have to further the goal of the citizens charter by making my Department more responsive to the needs of the people of Scotland.
Last December, the leaders of the European Community met in Scotland for the successful Edinburgh summit that marked the climax of the United Kingdom's presidency of the Community. We will seek to hold further such events in Scotland in the future. In that context I am pleased to announce that the European Community will hold a Europartenariat conference of small businesses in Glasgow in December. Further details of this major event will be published shortly.
The partners of the Union need to work at bringing the reality of the Union alive for all the people of the United Kingdom. The White Paper outlines how Scotland's status as a nation within the Union can be more effectively recognised. The Union was and still is good for Scotland and good for the United Kingdom, but that does not mean that it cannot be made better ; and we stand ready to consider other measures to this end which may emerge over time, to the benefit of all its partners.
The White Paper that I am publishing today does not mark the end of the taking stock process, but the start of a renewed emphasis by the Government on the importance to the United Kingdom of all its component parts. We will continue to seek further ways of strengthening the Union and Scotland's place in it.
We reject utterly the arguments of those who want Scotland to break away from the United Kingdom, either through the direct means of separation or by way of the slippery slope of a separate parliament. Our firm commitment is to the future integrity of the United Kingdom, secured through this House and this Parliament. The United Kingdom is a partnership of
Column 790nations that has endured. We believe strongly that it is a partnership for good. In that spirit, I commend the White Paper to the House.
Mr. Tom Clarke (Monklands, West) : Does the Secretary of State not agree that his statement makes it plain once and for all that the Tories do not understand the Scottish people and never will? Does he accept that 11 months ago today the lion's roar from Scottish voters, who at the ballot boxes demanded a Scottish parliament, has been met with a weak, unworthy whimper and that he has squandered a unique opportunity?
The Scottish people wanted action on industry, on jobs and on keeping water in public hands. Is it not disgraceful and a complete repudiation of the assertion that the statement represents democracy that a few minutes ago the Prime Minister, almost by sleight of hand, said that water privatisation will be introduced in Scotland? That makes a mockery of the charade in which the Secretary of State claims to be involved. It is the complete opposite of democracy at work. Above all, did not the Scottish people in April last year vote for home rule? [ Hon. Members-- : "No."] The response to that is not the acceptance of the overwhelming view of the Scottish people, but today's ludicrous statement containing sheer tokenism, talking shops and timid and tired policies. These conclusions to the stocktaking exercise surely make a laughing stock of the Prime Minister's pre-election promises in Scotland. Why is the party that complains about unaccountable bureaucracy in Europe now increasing unaccountable bureaucracy in Edinburgh? [Interruption.]
Madam Speaker : Order. Hon. Members are in good voice today, but I would appreciate it if they kept their voices to themselves in all parts of the House until I call them to speak. I hope that that is clearly understood.
Mr. Clarke : Despite the few laudable suggestions on training, industrial support schemes, Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd., the Arts Council and relocation policy, does the Secretary of State agree--if he ignores the ill-informed interruptions by people on the Conservative Benches who were not elected by the people of Scotland to decide on Scottish issues--that the real issue is not administrative but political devolution, and nowhere is that in the Government's policy?
For example, the Scottish Grand Committee proposal makes it clear that decisions will be taken not by those elected to deal with Scottish issues but by the House alone. Where is the political devolution there? Where is the sensitivity? I say to the Prime Minister, as he sits there sneering at Scottish views, that he ignores the views of the people of Scotland at his peril. Does the Secretary of State agree that the solutions offered by the Government only make the democratic deficit worse? What is the point of increasing the power of the Scottish Office without in any way increasing its accountability to the Scottish people? More bureaucracy, but no democracy.
On information points and outposts, are we to look forward to more Tory lawyers and accountants in offices in the main street? The Government will say that that is on the French model, but I remind the Secretary of State that the French support real subsidiarity, real powers to the
Column 791regions, the kind of powers that the right hon. Gentleman and the Prime Minister are denying to the people of Scotland.
Why is the Secretary of State ignoring the largest neglected group in Scotland--Scotland's women? There are no proposals concerning the Equal Opportunities Commission--no devolution there. The right hon. Gentleman talks in paragraph 9.4 about inspectors for social work, police and schools, but who guards the guards, and to whom are they accountable?
The Secretary of State tells us that the Government will consult much more openly on the appointment to public boards. Does that mean that they will rescind the decision on health boards and trusts--when they ignored the views of local communities and appointed Tory placemen and women?
Finally, how can the Secretary of State claim that his philosophy is strengthening the Union when he was prepared last night to make deals with parties whose philosophy is to break the Union? The House will be aware, despite the sneers on the Conservative Benches, of the "Dear Margaret-- Yours sincerely, Ian" letter. Oh dear, oh dear. Does the Secretary of State agree that the Scottish nationalists cannot claim that they are leading the opposition against the Conservative Government when they spend their time making private deals with the Conservative Government? Is it not the case that this week's events show that one can never trust the nationalists or the Tories and one can never trust the nationalists not to make deals with the Tories?
The truth is that this unrepresentative Chamber--in terms of Scottish affairs--ignores the simple fact that the Labour party does trust the Scottish people and the Scottish people trust the Labour party because they know that only the Labour party will deliver a Scottish parliament and real democracy to Scottish affairs.
The hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) calls for action, but if he sits down and reads the White Paper that I have published today, he will find no fewer than 50 specific commitments from the Government of value and importance to the future of Scotland within the United Kingdom. The hon. Gentleman will not recognise that Scotland can enjoy benefits from being within the United Kingdom, because he is so besotted with the idea of a separate Scottish parliament, which would inevitably lead to Scotland leaving the United Kingdom.
Wrapped up among the sound-bite rhetoric, I detected a quiet welcome for a number of our specific proposals. The hon. Gentleman knows that if he and his party and other Opposition parties reject the proposals, they need not happen--but the people of Scotland would be the poorer.
The hon. Gentleman spoke of a democratic deficit. The reality is that the proposals give Back Benchers on both sides of the House a better opportunity to pursue Scottish issues and initiatives, hold Ministers accountable, and protect the interests of their constituents.
The hon. Gentleman asked about water. There are no proposals in the White Paper affecting the future of water. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was right when
Column 792he spoke about the advantages and benefits of privatisation. I have no doubt that privatisation, if we decide on that, will be better for the water industry, as for others.
As to voting for home rule, the hon. Gentleman keeps praying in aid the support of all those whom he says voted for home rule. The reality is that on the Opposition Benches one can find unionists, federalists, separatists, devolutionists, don't knows, and don't cares. That adds up to 75 per cent. of nothing.
The hon. Gentleman asked about health boards and health trusts, and complained that too many Conservatives and not enough socialists sit on them. The only complaint that I have read in the Scottish press was about there being too many socialists. When I wrote to the hon. Gentleman's party and to the other parties inviting nominations for those boards and those trusts, I received not one suggestion. Several Hon. Members rose--
Madam Speaker : Order. I asked the hon. Gentleman, who interrupted without being called, to withdraw his remark. I ask him to do that because- - [Interruption.] Order. I need no help from below the Gangway. I ask the hon. Gentleman to do that because I hope that he will catch my eye later and be able to put his point. Will the hon. Gentleman withdraw his remark?
Mr. Lang : The hon. Member for Monklands, West raised the question of an alleged deal between my party and the Scottish National party. I do not know whether the letter that the hon. Gentleman flourished was given to him by the Scottish National party, or whether he has been rummaging in the handbag of the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing). Let me tell the hon. Gentleman that I do not break a confidence--especially when a lady is involved.
Why should the hon. Gentleman complain about my party doing a deal with the Scottish National party when his party has been trying for weeks and weeks to do a deal with the Scottish National party? Sooner or later, Labour will have to choose--are they unionists or are they nationalists? They cannot have it both ways.
Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North) : Is my right hon. Friend aware that those of us who were elected to represent Scotland's interest in the House are delighted with the White Paper's proposals? He and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister are to be congratulated on their understanding of what the Union really means to true Scots. Is my right hon. Friend aware that the cornerstone of this unitary Parliament is the right of right hon. and hon. Members to ask questions?
For many years, one of Opposition Members' main complaints has been that they have not had the opportunity to put more questions to Scottish Ministers. Surely they can only welcome the proposal for questions and Adjournment debates in the Scottish Grand Committee. If the new practices are to benefit the Union and Scotland, the participation of unionist Opposition Members will be required.
Of course it is important for Scottish Office Ministers to answer questions in the House every four weeks, as before, so that such questions can be asked by hon. Members representing every part of the United Kingdom. It is fair to say, however, that, as the Scottish Office has responsibilities for health, education, roads, industry, housing and a whole range of other matters--each of which is separately the subject of Question Time on the Floor of the House--Scottish Members should from time to time have an additional opportunity to pursue such matters further in the Scottish Grand Committee.
Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that we have said in the past that we will support measures that will lead to improvement in the government of Scotland, and in the way in which we can discharge our duties to our constituents--including more Question Times, and the opportunity to question the Law Officers? Will he also confirm that evidence given to Special Standing Committees in regard to any Bill to privatise Scottish Water will be treated with more respect than the consultation responses that were dismissed and cast aside by the Prime Minister today, when he said that there "would be" privatisation of water in Scotland?
Notwithstanding all the PR hype and gimmicks that have been provided at the cost of a local telephone call, what are the realities of the right hon. Gentleman's statement? Is it not true that he has been unable to transfer fisheries responsibilities to Scotland ; that, instead of a full petroleum engineering division, we have only a few jobs--welcome though they are ; that we are still slavishly following the English in regard to legal aid cuts ; and that the Ministry of Defence has reversed its policies on jobs for Glasgow? Is not the statement summed up by the fact that, under the right hon. Gentleman's proposals, while we debate in Edinburgh we will still vote here in London?
Mr. Lang : Again, wrapped up in the rhetoric was a broad "thank you" for some of my proposals. I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman : alone among Opposition Members, he took the opportunity to come to me and put his suggestions. I took them into account when drawing up my proposals.
Column 794I have to tell the hon. Gentleman that the fisheries question was not on my agenda. The question of the Department of Trade and Industry office in Aberdeen has been dealt with by the full and welcome announcement of a considerable number of high-quality jobs : the number will increase as more oil companies transfer the relevant parts of their activities to Aberdeen. That will be of great value to the United Kingdom's offshore industry.
As for voting, it is true that power remains in the United Kingdom's Parliament. If the hon. Gentleman thinks that that should not be so, he should join the Scottish National party.
"Europartenariat"? May I also ask him to remind the House that the strength of the Union, along with the variety of our systems of law, has enabled us to teach those who live south of the border--as 80 per cent. of the Scots who live in Britain do--how much better is our system of law? Those factors have allowed us to prevent many difficulties that have resulted in the release of people who were apparently properly convicted because of flaws in the law of England. Long may my right hon. Friend's proposals strengthen our law.
Mr. Lang : My hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right. Like him, I am not very happy with the Eurospeak word Europartenariat. Nevertheless, that will be an important conference of small businesses, many hundreds of which will come to Glasgow in December, thus creating major opportunities for United Kingdom businesses, particularly Scottish businesses, to exchange contacts and contracts, to their mutual advantage. My hon. and learned Friend is also absolutely right to draw attention to the differences between Scottish law and English law. That is precisely the kind of diversity that is accommodated within the United Kingdom and that results in the cross-fertilisation of each system, to the benefit of both. Several Hon. Members rose --
Madam Speaker : Order. May I appeal, before calling any other hon. Member, for one question only? Many hon. Members want to put questions to the Secretary of State. Therefore, I should be obliged if one question only were put, briskly, so that we can make progress.
Mr. Lang : Two thirds of the cost of a Europartenariat is met by the European Community. I have no doubt at all that the benefits that will flow from such a conference will more than outweigh any other costs.
Mr. Phil Gallie (Ayr) : Is my right hon. Friend aware that all right -thinking Scots will welcome these well balanced, well thought out and constructive proposals? Does he accept that they will welcome the "Scottish Offices" set up throughout the land? Will he consider setting up one in Ayr?
Mrs. Irene Adams (Paisley, North) : Is the Secretary of State aware that the last time that such a response was given to so dire a situation, Nero played a fiddle? Now Ian Lang has played with a White Paper, to much the same effect. If he is so sure of the proposals that he has given us today, and if he thinks that the Scottish people want devolved bureaucracy, when what they want, in fact, is real democracy, why will he not put his proposals to a multi-option referendum?
Mr. Lang : There speaks an hon. Lady who is a member of a multi- option party. She is a member of Scotland United. I learned the other day that when the Labour party conference held a fringe meeting organised by Scotland United last autumn, there were five speakers on the platform and three in the audience, one of whom was the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galloway), so I do not think that Scotland United speaks for anybody.
Mr. George Kynoch (Kincardine and Deeside) : Is my right hon. Friend aware that the electors of Kincardine and Deeside will particularly welcome his commitment to strengthen the Union with the rest of the United Kingdom? They will also particularly welcome the news that the Department of Trade and Industry is to open a new oil and gas office in Aberdeen. May I ask my right hon. Friend to ensure that swift progress in setting up that office is made?
Mr. Lang : I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I can certainly assure him that all due speed will be used to ensure that that office is set up as quickly as possible. Initially, there will be 60 jobs, but that number will rise as industrial activity moves north.
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) : What could Lord Sanderson have meant this morning when he said that the Government were contemplating changing the powers of local government? Has the Secretary of State told the Prime Minister, who is sitting next to him, that local government reform will cost at least £600 million extra?
Mr. Lang : Local government reform is not covered in my White Paper or statement, but, since the hon. Gentleman raises that question, all the estimates that we have seen will, far from adding to the costs of local government, reduce them.
Mr. Raymond S. Robertson (Aberdeen, South) : Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the Union's greatest strengths is its dynamism and its constant ability to evolve and change in order to meet changing circumstances, new opportunities and different demands? Does he agree that the reforms that he has outlined today will set up the Union in fine style to meet the challenges of the new century, just as previous reforms enabled it to meet the specific and unique challenges of previous centuries, and that we can look forward to the 300th anniversary of the Union in 2007 with the Union in great shape?
Mr. Lang : I am grateful to my hon. Friend who, of course, won a seat from the Labour party at the last general election and did it through his stout defence of the Union. This announcement today reinforces that defence of the Union.
Column 796very few Back Benchers have been given the opportunity to speak. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will bear that in mind. As someone who is keen to ensure that the Union stays together, may I suggest that one of the things that the Secretary of State and the Government could do is to reduce unemployment and the despair that exists in many communities in Scotland? Where there is such despair, people become disillusioned with the present form of government and are then easy prey for the fanatics in the Scottish National party.
Mr. Lang : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his thoughtful response to the proposals that I have announced. Unemployment is the kind of issue which could be fully debated in the Scottish Grand Committee.
Sir Anthony Grant (Cambridgeshire, South-West) : I welcome my hon. Friend's sensible reform, but is it not high time to address the scandal of Scottish over-representation in the House? Is it not wholly undemocratic that Glasgow seats have only 30,000 or 40,000 constituents, whereas Cambridgeshire seats have 80,000 or 90,000?
Mr. Lang : I am grateful for my hon. Friend's welcome for my announcement. The number of seats in the House derives from the Act of Union, which guaranteed Scotland a certain number of seats. However, I entirely agree that it is high time that the boundary commissioners got down to work on the relative sizes of constituencies.
Mr. Ernie Ross (Dundee, West) : If there is one thing that we can say with certainty on behalf of the people of Scotland, it is that, although the Secretary of State may have tried to placate the elected representatives in the House, he certainly has not satisfied the needs, demands and aspirations of the Scottish people. There is nothing about greater accountability in the proposals for Committees to meet in Edinburgh for extended periods and question times. When the Secretary of State addresses the question of accountability, and stops dealing with people who, on the day on which he tries to deal with them, talk about civil disobedience, the people of Scotland may start believing in him.
Mr. Lang : The hon. Gentleman and I will have to disagree. If he believes that any Scottish Committee should be accountable to a body outside the House, I believe that he is wrong. I believe that the integrity of the United Kingdom Parliament is central to the future well-being of Scotland and of the rest of the United Kingdom.
Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent) : Will my right hon. Friend accept a warm welcome for his proposals, which keep the integrity of the Union, and can he assure us that, in consequence, we who represent the much larger population of the south-east of England will no longer be constantly elbowed out of debating time by the disproportionate number of Scots who pontificate on our affairs?
Column 797and put his proposals and the White Paper to the test with a multi-option referendum, along the lines of the Bill that I shall present to the House later this afternoon? The other option would be a Scottish parliament, whose exact powers would be decided by the people of Scotland, most of whom are fed up with the treachery and skulduggery of that parcel of rogues on the Government Bench.
Mr. Lang : The hon. Gentleman represents a party which one might call a multi-option party. It was the general secretary of the Labour party, Mr. Larry Whitty, who described a multi-option referendum as "a fairly ludicrous suggestion".
Sir Teddy Taylor (Southend, East) : I welcome the modest but useful proposals. Is the Secretary of State aware of the huge admiration among supporters of the union for the guts and courage that he has shown in consistently resisting the divisive and costly devolution proposals, especially as he was standing in a marginal constituency and the whole of the Scottish press told him that he would have to change his mind to survive? He has shown the kind of courage that we should be proud to see in a Conservative Government and in this Parliament.