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Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland) : The Secretary of State is aware that a Bill to enact many of the recommendations of various reports on legislation affecting children in Scotland would enjoy considerable cross-party support and might lend itself to some of the procedures that he is suggesting. Can we expect such a long-overdue measure in the next Session ?
Mr. Lang : As the hon. Gentleman will know, I cannot anticipate the Queen's Speech, but I note what he says, and I take from that his party's willingness to contemplate the Second Reading of such a Bill in those circumstances.
In drafting the Standing Orders, the opportunity has been taken to simplify some of the complex and confusing procedures relating to the reference of business to the Scottish Grand Committee, and to the handling of Bills that have a Second Reading there. Those are explained in more detail in the companion to the Standing Orders, which has been in the Library since February, and I am sure that the procedures will be found to be simpler and more effective. Overall, the proposed changes will contribute to making the Scottish Grand Committee a more effective forum for debate.
Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian) : Although the Scottish Grand Committee may well become an effective forum for debate, can the Secretary of State explain how on earth that will extend democracy in Scotland ? What is the use of having another talking shop if the Scottish Grand Committee will not have an effective vote on the principle of legislation ? Surely one cannot have credible democratic scrutiny and accountability if one cannot vote.
Mr. Lang : If the hon. Gentleman thinks that democracy is confined to voting, he does not understand what democracy is all about. It happens to be quite a lot about debating and talking. The word "Parliament" derives from the French word "parler".
Column 771It may be appropriate to say a word about what I envisage for the Committee's sittings in Scotland. I think that areas other than Edinburgh should occasionally have the opportunity to host the Committee's meetings. I have asked my officials to provide assistance to the House authorities, who are ultimately responsible for making arrangements for sittings of the Scottish Grand Committee, to identify suitable premises.
I should also mention briefly the other changes to the Standing Orders proposed tonight. The main one is the amendment
Sir David Steel (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale) : Does the Secretary of State recognise that if the Scottish Grand Committee goes on tour, it is even more important that we have proper notice of the meetings of the Committee ? One of the greatest criticisms over the years has been of the idea that Members of Parliament are sitting around with free Tuesday and Thursday mornings waiting for the Scottish Grand Committee to meet. That is not true. Notice has been lamentable, especially this Session.
Mr. Lang : I absolutely agree with the right hon. Member. I recall that, when I was the Scottish Whip many years ago, that was a complaint he had then, and he still has it now ; he has been consistent in the matter. I am happy now to be able to meet his concern by bringing forward proposals that will give him precisely the predictability he seeks. Except in the case of occasional statements, which may have to be made at relatively short notice, the programme will be laid down well in advance.
I refer especially to the amendment to Standing Order No. 91, which deals with Special Standing Committees. It will enable Special Standing Committees on Scottish Bills to meet in Scotland for the three sittings of oral evidence for which the Standing Order provides.
As I have said, I believe that the changes will provide a fuller opportunity for Scottish affairs to be debated in a Scottish context, although at the same time fully within the framework of the procedures of this House and the existing constitutional arrangements, which have served Scotland well. I commend them to the House. 10.16 pm
Mr. George Robertson (Hamilton) : The amendments to the Standing Orders derive, as the Prime Minister said, from the exercise that has become, he claimed, "popularly known"--I believe unpopularly named--as the "taking stock" exercise. It was embarked on by the Prime Minister in response to widespread public concern in Scotland about the fact that, in the 1992 general election, 75 per cent. of the people voted for parties in Scotland calling for one form of constitutional change or another and only 25 per cent. of the electorate voted for the Conservative party--a party that was pledged and committed to making no serious change in the constitutional arrangements relating to Scotland inside the United Kingdom. That left a serious problem of credibility for the Government--a problem that remains.
Mr. Raymond S. Robertson (Aberdeen, South) : Is the hon. Gentleman seriously suggesting that everyone who voted for his party, for the Liberal Democrats or for the Scottish National party voted exclusively and solely for constitutional change ?
Mr. Robertson : No, I am not saying that. I am saying that they voted for those three parties, and that it was integral to the programme of those parties that there would be constitutional change and that there would be a Scottish Parliament. It is a bit rich of the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Robertson) to say that. Shortly after the general election, he was appointed vice-chairman of the Conservative party in Scotland. Its support went from 25 per cent. of the electorate in the general election to 2.3 per cent. of the electorate in the Monklands, East by-election two weeks ago in which the hon. Gentleman played a starring role. The hon. Gentleman is not in much of a position to speak as he does here.
Mr. Salmond : I hope to be helpful to the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson). I was interested in the intervention by the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Robertson). Is the hon. Member for Hamilton aware that, in the most recent opinion poll that tested these matters, no fewer than 51 per cent. of Conservative supporters were in favour of some form of constitutional change ? Admittedly, it was a very small sample.
Mr. Robertson : I find myself in the astonishing position of thanking the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) for an intervention. I know that he has problems of his own inside his party and that may be why he is being helpful on this occasion. I notice that Mr. Jim Sillars, the former Member of Parliament for Glasgow, Govan, said that the result in Monklands, East was a protest vote. He continued :
"anyone who denies that is denying reality, so in a sense it almost didn't count."
However, I still welcome the comment of the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan. In that opinion poll, 48 per cent. of those who said that they supported the Scottish National party supported a Scottish Parliament inside the United Kingdom, which is the policy of the Labour party. The party of government had at that point a serious problem of credibility and sought to address it through a taking-stock exercise.
Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North) : If a future Labour Government did not have a majority of seats in England and did not have a substantial vote of support in England in percentage terms, as the hon. Gentleman has quoted, does that mean that a future Labour Government would make no constitutional changes affecting England ?
Mr. Home Robertson : The cheque is in the post.
Mr. Robertson : That is not an expensive question at all. However, I assure the hon. Gentleman that if, in the next general election, the Labour party puts forward a prospectus calling for a Parliament in Scotland, an Assembly in Wales and, ultimately, regional assemblies throughout England, we shall pursue that prospectus because we believe in decentralisation in the United Kingdom. The reality of the vote in 1992 was that 75 per cent. of the population--convincing by any standards--voted for parties which called for major constitutional change, yet we were faced with a Government who said that the answer to that was no change at all.
I recall that in March, in a profile of the Secretary of State for Scotland in The Guardian , he acknowledged the dilemma that he faced. He acknowledged that he led a party in Scotland which did not have a majority, as part of a Government elected by United Kingdom figures. He said
Column 773that that had led him to deal with problems with a little circumspection. Of course, the difficulty is that there is precious little circumspection in any of the policies that the Government are now following.
Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent) : Will the hon. Gentleman give way ?
Mr. Robertson : I have given way enough in this brief debate. Welcome though visitors to the debate are, I should move forward. In the light of that problem of credibility, in the light of that result in 1992, the new Standing Orders are a pathetic and totally inadequate response
Mr. Phil Gallie (Ayr) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. The hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) has just referred to visitors in the Chamber. Is not this indeed the Parliament of the United Kingdom ? Can you confirm that there are absolutely no visitors in the Chamber tonight ?
Madam Speaker : The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Every hon. Member here is a democratically elected Member of this House. All hon. Members have a right to speak in the House and I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman brought that point of order to my attention.
Mr. Robertson : I agree with you, Madam Speaker. However, I do not think that the use of the word "visitors", or even of the word "passengers" could be possibly ruled out of order. I have never been one to say that anybody should be denied the right to speak, but hon. Gentlemen who are coming to such debates for the first time do not have a proprietorial right to intervene on any speech that happens to be made, however much respect I have for the hon. Member for Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe), who may have had a greater interest in the previous debate.
The new Standing Orders are pathetic and a totally inadequate response to the overwhelming public demand for a directly elected Scottish Parliament in Scotland. That is what is wanted, that is what is needed and that is what the people of Scotland have repeatedly asked for. The Secretary of State's opening speech underlined the need for that Parliament by describing the new powers which have come to him as a result of the exercise. He has taken upon himself responsibility for the Scottish Arts Council. He has taken upon himself the powers over training policy and the way in which that is to be integrated into industrial policy. He has taken upon himself the control of university finance in Scotland. The panoply of powers controlled directly by the Secretary of State for Scotland has increased dramatically and the only accountability that we are being offered is through the new Standing Orders.
The Standing Orders in no way remove the obligation to look much more radically at what the people of Scotland want, especially in the light of the further collapse of Conservative support from 25 per cent. at the previous general election to under 14 per cent. in the regional council elections and in the European elections. Let us not overlook the fact that Conservative support in the most recent by-election dropped to a mere 2.3 per cent., the smallest proportion and the lowest absolute vote scored by the Conservative party since, I believe, 1874. Surely Conservative Members should be concerned about that. Conservative Members must regard 1992 as the halcyon
Column 774days when their party was achieving a 25 per cent. share of the vote. No doubt they think back to that time with considerable nostalgia.
The proposals before us will improve the handling of Scottish parliamentary business and, therefore, are to be welcomed. There will be greater opportunities to question Ministers. We shall be able to cross-examine Ministers in the other place. These measures constitute a small but valuable step forward. Other improvements are the ideas of structured and timetabled Grand Committee debates on pre-determined issues, Adjournment debates and Special Standing Committees in the context of specific Scottish Bills. I welcome those concepts and look forward to the negotiations that will take place between all the parties to try to establish a timetable and a framework that will be to the convenience of us all. It is not just the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Sir D. Steel), who has now left the Chamber, who has been inconvenienced by the way in which previous debates were arranged.
Mr. George Kynoch (Kincardine and Deeside) : Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that the representation of Scottish Labour Members this evening-- about 20 per cent.--is representative of the attendance that we might expect at future Scottish Grand Committees ? That would be in line with the most recent Scottish Grand Committee, which was held at Edinburgh, when Labour attendance was poor.
Mr. Robertson : The hon. Gentleman should put the matter to the test at a Scottish Parliament in which real legislative powers are vested. That would be the ultimate test. The proposals before us represent only a small move forward, but one which I am willing to welcome. They do not, however, take us anywhere near what the Scottish people want and deserve.
Mr. Rowe : I am grateful to the hon. Member for allowing me to intervene, whether he describes me as a visitor or a passenger. It is a legitimate English interest to explore a little further what the Labour party means by a Scottish Parliament. If it means that a Scottish Parliament will, for example, be debating and deciding upon Scottish education or Scottish health, we in England, much as we shall miss the representation from Scotland, which takes such an interested part in our debates on such large matters, will be unwilling to hear Scots debating matters here that we are not allowed to debate in Scotland.
Mr. Robertson : The hon. Gentleman comes from Kent, yet another part of the country which voted Labour in the European elections. I am sure that that is part of his interest in the wider debates that are taking place here.
We do not have a neat arrangement in the United Kingdom. We do not have something that would easily be described in the neat checks and balances of a written constitution. There are obvious problems. The hon. Member for Mid -Kent is sitting behind the Secretary of State for Scotland, who exercises huge powers over specifically Scottish legislation. As has been said, the Government are in the process of ramming through a measure to reorganise Scottish local government. The Bill, in all its manifestation, is bitterly unpopular in Scotland. That is one of the reasons for the Conservative party being so unpopular north of the border. It is dropping down almost out of sight in electoral terms. The Secretary of
Column 775State is able to proceed, however, because a majority of Members come from south of the border. Such is the nature of the United Kingdom.
The creation of a Scottish Parliament with accountability for the decisions taken on Scottish legislation, with the involvement of the Scottish people, would produce yet another facet of the developing union that the Government talk about with such great pride. I believe that such a Parliament would strengthen that union. If the Secretary of State examined the proposal in greater detail, I believe that he, too, would welcome it.
Sir Nicholas Fairbairn (Perth and Kinross) : Will the hon. Gentleman give way ?
Mr. Robertson : I was moving to a lengthy point, but in the light of that, I will accept an intervention.
Sir Nicholas Fairbairn : Does not the hon. Gentleman appreciate that, if a Scottish institution produces Scottish legislation that affects England and all other parts of the kingdom in respect of road traffic, safety or health, we shall be creating a schismatic situation which will destroy the Union, not strengthen it ?
Mr. Robertson : I entirely disagree with the hon. and learned Gentleman. I remind him of an incident a couple of months ago when he attempted to speak in the First Scottish Standing Committee which was considering sheriff courts fees. A conspiracy of Whips and others prevented the hon. and learned Gentleman, as a Scottish Member, even expressing a view in that Committee. At the end of that Committee, the hon. and learned Gentleman expressed anger and disgust at the fact that a measure had been pushed through without a Scottish Conservative voice being heard. That is an anomaly which the hon. and learned Gentleman is apparently willing to swallow. Therefore, I do not see why he should not be willing to accept that the democratic will of the Scottish people, through a Parliament inside the United Kingdom, should have just as much validity as what he swallowed on that occasion.
Mr. Wallace : Will the hon. Gentleman give way ?
Mr. Robertson : No, I cannot give way at this point. It would be unfair to the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) and to others if I were to accept this as a dialogue between Members rather than a brief speech.
Labour, and I personally, have consistently argued for the early implementation of these changes to the Standing Orders. Agreement was reached between the parties in the House at the end of 1993 and I have sought, through correspondence and conversation, to make the Government introduce the changes earlier. By contrast, the Secretary of State has done his level best to hold them up. Only after endless delays and excuses about so-called non co-operation is he now grudgingly bringing the changes before the House.
People will remember the answer that the Secretary of State gave to my hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson). He said that democracy is about more than voting. That is very true when the Conservative party has dropped right out of the scale of voting in Scotland and has virtually no support among the population of Scotland.
The Government behave without circumspection but with complete arrogance, and that behaviour will consign
Column 776them to being almost permanently on the margin of Scottish politics. As the former Chancellor of the Exchequer said, this is a Government
"in office but not in power."--[ Official Report , 9 June 1993 ; Vol. 226, c. 285.]
They have lost, decisively, comprehensively and perhaps permanently, the support of the Scottish people.
Like the old, near-senile rulers of the old eastern European regimes, the Government strut around the Scottish stage without backing, consent or popular authority. Just like those relics of the past, when they cannot win elections, they blame the electorate. Apparently the electors got it wrong. They have been confused, bemused or taken down blind alleys by other political parties. The Government never admit that they have got it wrong and that they should change.
Just like the Brezhnevs of the past, manipulating small families and huge families, the Scottish Tory family simply takes those who have lost elections and places them on the quangos that are increasingly running Scotland. Scarcely a quango, large and powerful or small, is complete without a failed Tory candidate and now, of course, there is no other version. Just like the eastern European relics, they will be consigned to the museum.
Let me be constructive as well as critical of the Government. As the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland has rightly pointed out, we have missed out and the people, and especially the vulnerable children, of Scotland have missed out because no comprehensive legislation has been introduced in Scotland to mirror the Children Act 1989, which applies to England and Wales.
The Government's promised Children's Bill should have appeared last year, but it was pushed aside for local government reorganisation. Scotland is already five years behind England in its reform of laws for children. The Government, however, are apparently still arguing that there will be no time for the Bill even in the next Session. That is scandalous. No attempt has been made by Ministers of any variety to deny the stories about that which have appeared in the press. A Children's Bill that was properly drafted to ensure cross-party support could be referred to the new Scottish Grand Committee and to the new procedures that we will agree tonight. I therefore challenge the Secretary of State to choose the route of cross- party co-operation in the interests of Scotland's vulnerable children.
The Opposition offer our support for such a Bill. The Government may put Scotland's children in second place to the gerrymandering of Scottish local government, but the Labour party puts children first. That is why we make it clear tonight that we shall give our co-operation to such a Bill being considered in Scottish Grand Committee, thereby avoiding the pre-empting of precious parliamentary time.
There will be other opportunities to use those channels to raise issues that we have been unable to raise under the present procedures. We shall be able to consider the Rosyth naval base and the betrayal of its work force. They were given promises repeatedly but now, apparently, they are to be withdrawn, cavalierly and brazenly, by a Government who treat promises with absolutely no faith. The new procedures will also allow us, I hope, to interrogate, once again, Lord Fraser about the Fyfe-Peterken row. Perhaps we shall get closer to the truth than any Government statements up to now have allowed us to get. I notice that Lord Fraser does not even bother to attend Scottish
Column 777Question Time now to hear the answers to questions put about his Department. That will change, to the slight benefit of Scottish democracy.
The tide of history will see the cosmetic changes offered as purely tinkering at a system that needs radical change. They are, and will be seen as, a superficial and unconvincing--although perhaps in the short term welcome--attempt to hide the depth of the centralisation that is sapping our national strength. A new Government are coming, who, with a Scottish Parliament as the first stage to a decentralised United Kingdom, will usher in a new and revived spirit of a vibrant, growing and democratic United Kingdom.
Mr. Raymond S. Robertson (Aberdeen, South) : Given the strict time limit on the debate, I shall be brief. I know that you, Madam Deputy Speaker, will keep me to the point.
I welcome the debate and the terms of the motion moved by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. It is worth recalling briefly, as the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) did, the background to the debate on our standing orders.
In the days immediately preceding the general election of April 1992, in Scotland we were told almost daily by the media and by each of the Opposition parties that the Scottish Conservative party was facing electoral annihilation. We were told that we would be down to two Members of Parliament, if we were lucky, and that more than 50 per cent. of our fellow Scots wanted outright secession from the Union. We were told that, frankly, the days of the Union were numbered. We were also told that to be an unionist was to have a death wish and that what our opponents called and still call the status quo could not last. We read that by our perceived intransigence it was we unionists who were threatening the Union. Without doubt there is some truth in the thinking that argued that rigid, dogmatic, almost doctrinaire adherence to the status quo was and, indeed, is dangerous. As the party of the Union, it falls uniquely to us to fight for and preserve the historic bond between our two countries. If we do not, no one else will. It is up to us to make the Union positive and relevant and to make it work. My right hon. Friend moved his motion in that spirit.
A valid and proper question that must be asked is whether to be a unionist today is to be a defender of the constitutional status quo and to say no-- no to change, no to any change, no to every change. I remind the House of the fate of the last Member in this House who said, "No, no, no."
The Union of 1707 has changed and will change. To survive, it must change. That is what we are debating tonight. Unionism is not blind, unquestioning adherence to present constitutional arrangements.
Mr. Salmond : If I catch the hon. Gentleman's drift correctly, the former right hon. Member whom he mentioned said "Yes" to the Rosyth naval base. How does the hon. Gentleman feel about that ?
Mr. Robertson : I shall stick to the issue in question. The hon. Gentleman may be able to fit that matter into his own speech.
Column 778By its very nature, the status quo must change. The Union that we have today is not that of 1707. How could it possibly be ? It has constantly adapted to changing circumstances, moved with the times and been flexible. The partnership between Scotland and England is not stagnant but dynamic, and my right hon. Friend is asking the House to embrace that dynamism. Freeing the Scottish Grand Committee from the shackles of meeting only in Edinburgh and London, giving it new powers and enhancing its role is the next step in the Union's evolution.
To answer the question that I posed, Conservative Members are not frightened of change, but we differ from each of the Opposition parties-- which, to be fair, also offer change--because to any change, however great or small, we always apply a fundamental, non-negotiable criterion : will it strengthen or weaken the Union ? If it passes that test and truly enhances the Union, we shall be found right behind it, battling hard for it. But if it fails the test and weakens or threatens the Union, we shall fight it to the end with every conviction and every sinew of our being.
That is why we oppose the plans proposed by the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) and all the Opposition parties and support my right hon. Friend. The Scottish National party wants to destroy the United Kingdom and consign it to history. At least that is honest. The Liberal Democrat and Labour parties offer a half-way house which is untenable in the long term and offers nothing but chaos, instability and misery in the short term.
It is hard to see how a directly elected tax-raising Assembly could ever pass the test of whether the Union would be strengthened. The one offered by the constitutional convention certainly does not : under it, Scotland would become the most highly taxed part of the kingdom, driving out jobs and investment. Political tensions would be great when dilemmas like the West Lothian question became real issues rather than mere academic debating points. The regional imbalances within Scotland would result in an Assembly dominated by central Scotland, with no sensitivity to the north and north- east. Policies would be tailored for the central belt and paid for by Grampian. We oppose the unilateral devolution on offer, not because it comes either from the convention or our opponents, but because in the short term it threatens the Union and in the long term will destroy it completely.
As a Unionist party, we have never been frightened to question how and if the Union is working, and to look at its failings as well as its strengths. The changes envisaged by my right hon. Friend are fundamental, radical and visionary-- [Interruption.] Opposition Members may scoff and sneer, but what do they have to fear in allowing the Grand Committee to meet in Glasgow, Aberdeen, Dundee, Inverness or their own constituencies ? Are they concerned that their constituents might see Scottish Members debating Scottish matters which affect them ? Are they frightened that the Grand Committee will take on a new relevance, or that their constituents might demand their attendance and--horror of horrors--their participation ?
Mr. Kynoch : The Scottish people should see the Opposition Benches now, with only six Labour Members present. Is that not representative of Labour Members' attitude to the future of Scotland and their interest in what goes on in this place ?
Mr. Robertson : My hon. Friend raises a valid point. As he said earlier, the last time the Grand Committee met in Edinburgh only half the Scottish parliamentary Labour party bothered to turn up. Do the Opposition parties oppose what we are doing tonight because they fear change themselves ? Do they believe that we are about to deny them our greatest weapon ?
Mr. George Robertson : I hate to interrupt such a polished speech, but the hon. Gentleman has clearly failed to spot the fact that we support these changes today. I know that that might cut out a large chunk of his speech, but he should change it if he does not want to look absolutely ludicrous tomorrow.
Mr. Robertson : The hon. Gentleman may support what we are doing tonight, but has he heard his colleagues jeering in the background ? Has he seen them shaking their heads at what he said or what my right hon. Friend said ? If they are supportive, why is there only a one-line whip ? Why are they not whipped in the House to vote for the measures ?
Is it simply that Opposition Members know that we are right and agree with the hon. Member for Dumfermline, East (Mr. Brown), the shadow Chancellor, when he wrote in The Herald on 3 May 1993 : "I think we are making a great mistake if we just assume there is huge enthusiasm for home rule in Scotland."
In conclusion, Scotland's place is as a full and equal partner in the United Kingdom. Only the Conservative party is committed to that. The Scottish people have shown time and again that they do not want to see the saltire ripped from the Union flag. The Union has endured because it can change and it will endure. It is dynamic and has changed, and it will change again. These reforms are an important staging post in its history. In time, if not tonight, they will be seen as just as important as previous reforms, such as the creation of the Scottish Office and the position of the Secretary of State, and the setting up of the Select Committee--as important as the creation of the Grand Committee itself. As a unionist, I have no hesitation in supporting the reforms and commending them to the House.
Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland) : We have just listened to what I suspect is the authentic voice of Tory unionism. If what we are being asked to support this evening is a measure of dynamism and vision, heaven help Scotland. I accept that they are pragmatic measures and measures which we, indeed, will support, but they fall far short of anything that will address the malaise within the Union arrangements.
When I heard the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Robertson) say that, if anything threatened the Union, he would use every sinew--or words to that effect--to defend the Union at all costs, I am sure that those are the sort of words that were spoken from the Tory Benches in 1912 and 1914 when Liberal Governments tried to introduce measures for the government of Ireland. Of course, it was that type of attitude that led to the one event that we have had in this century where the Union broke up. The Conservatives achieved the break-up of the Union by their unwillingness to endorse and embrace some genuinely and visionary measures which would sort out the government of this country.
Column 780When people talk about anomalies that might arise, I do not recall, during the years before Stormont was abolished, that many Tory Members objected to the fact that they had the support of Ulster Unionist Members of Parliament, albeit that matters affecting the domestic affairs of Ulster were dealt with at Stormont and Ulster Members were still free to debate, come to this House and vote on all other measures affecting other parts of the United Kingdom. That was an anomaly. It is an anomaly which would be cured by federalism. However, it is clearly an anomaly which Tory Members were prepared to accept as long as it suited their own book.
Both the Secretary of State for Scotland and the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) have referred to the taking-stock exercise which, after a long gestation period, produced a mouse. When one looks at what has happened in the interim, even if the announcement of taking stock was a disappointment, the subsequent events have been something of a disappointment, too. We are told, and we now know, that there are facilities for people to make local telephone calls to ask the Scottish Office questions. What is the point of asking questions if one gets answers which reflect the minority view within Scotland ?
We also heard from the Secretary of State--indeed, he paraded it as one of the great achievements--that he has responsibility for training in Scotland. As I recall, paragraph 7.5 of the document "Taking Stock" says that training will be done within the framework of overall strategic priorities, initiatives and policies developed by the Secretary of State for Employment in consultation with colleagues and collectively agreed.
As one who is always willing to give credit where credit is due, I acknowledge that on 7 February this year the Secretary of State made an important announcement that he heralded as a further step in developing the policies set out in the White Paper "Scotland in the Union : A Partnership for Good". On that day, in reply to a question from the hon. Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Kynoch), he proudly announced that, with the agreement of the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, formal responsibility for the administration of treasure trove in Scotland had been transferred from the Treasury to the Scottish Office.
The body politic in Scotland is still quaking after the dynamic, visionary and radical decision made that day. If they are still looking for the treasure, it is not to be found in the White Paper
Mr. Kynoch : If the people of Scotland followed the hon. Gentleman's recommendation of a Scottish Parliament, with all the implications that that might have for increased taxation, would they regard being probably the highest taxed part of the United Kingdom as treasure ?
Mr. Wallace : I have never accepted the proposition that a Parliament would necessarily lead to higher rates of tax. Taxation powers are important if any legislative body is to have some means of fiscal discipline-- [Interruption.] As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) reminds me, that was precisely Lord Home's argument before the 1979 referendum. The power to raise taxation also involves the power to lower it. If Scotland wanted to gain some competitive advantage, it might reduce taxes--a possibility that Tory Members refuse to countenance because it undermines their other arguments.
Column 781Mr. Salmond rose
Mr. Gallie rose
Mr. Wallace : No. I am trying to make some progress.
We were told in the document that the Government's objective was to find ways of handling Commons business relating to Scotland, including legislation
"which maximises the involvement of Members of Parliament for Scottish constituencies and increases the responsiveness of the system to Scottish considerations."
In this Session, there have been two important measures affecting the criminal law of Scotland and police powers. They were essentially English Bills to which Scottish provisions had been tagged on. On the Committees that scrutinised those Bills, only two Scottish Members were able to serve- -yet one of them concerned an important issue for Scotland about which we have all received many letters : aggravated trespass. When the Scottish aspects of that issue were debated, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton) rose, kept his head down, and for three minutes read out a truncated version of his brief. Then he sat down. So much for sensitivity to Scottish considerations.
Such Scottish legislation as there is we find often tagged on to whatever will go for England and Wales. A Scottish Parliament would not have defaulted on introducing measures to safeguard and to implement many of the recommendations and reports that have emerged on the welfare of children in Scotland. That was a serious omission from this year's legislative programme. We hope that reports that there will be no such legislation next year either are wrong. If the Government introduce a Children Bill for Scotland in the next Session, it will receive the support of both sides of the House. We shall of course want to look at the details ; a Special Standing Committee of the type to which the Secretary of State referred would offer an ideal mechanism for scrutiny of the legal niceties involved in the welfare of children. I greatly hope that the right hon. Gentleman will take encouragement from this debate to introduce such a Bill soon.
Although we welcome the new Standing Orders, I note that there will be no real votes in the Grand Committee. No matter what we debate, or how passionately we debate it, we will ultimately only be debating whether to adjourn or whether to report to the House that we have considered an issue. I cannot wait for the touring circus to turn up in the old Parliament hall in St. Andrew's, where we will spend two and a half hours passionately debating the economy of Scotland, only at the end to vote on whether to adjourn. If that is the kind of picture that Scottish people will see on location about how Scotland is governed, they will not draw the conclusions that Conservative Members expect people to draw.
I welcome the fact that there will be additional time for questions. It is frustrating to us all that Scottish Question Time occurs only once in every four parliamentary weeks. On a whole range of subjects our English colleagues have an opportunity to question individual Ministers, but we have to pick and choose between all those subjects on one occasion. We will have an opportunity to question the Minister of State in another place and the Law Officers. The last time on which there was a separate period to put oral questions to the Law Officers was in 1987. Since then, there has been the Lockerbie air disaster and Piper Alpha and other important issues which intimately involved the
Column 782actions of Law Officers. But we have not had a proper opportunity here to ask questions on those matters, and this proposal is particularly welcome.
I warmed to the Secretary of State's suggestion that we might get a calendar for timetabling Scottish Grand Committee meetings. We shall certainly do our best to co-operate to try to achieve that. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Sir D. Steel) has said, we are not all sitting with empty diaries to slot in meetings of the Scottish Grand Committee at four days' notice.
The distribution of debates is six for the Government, four for the principal Opposition and one each for the other Scottish Opposition parties. That is not exactly proportional representation, but it is probably better than the current arrangement and it is at least a start.