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Sir Russell Johnston (Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber) : Perhaps I may intervene to allow my hon. Friend to replenish his supply of water. He mentioned my right hon. Friend the Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Sir D. Steel). Does he recall that in, I think, 1965, shortly after he was elected, my rt hon. Friend wrote a pamphlet for the Scottish Liberal party, as it was then, entitled "Out of Control" ? That pamphlet contained practically all the Government's proposals.
Mr. Wallace : I do not have a contemporaneous recollection of that : I was only 11 at the time. However, I subsequently read the pamphlet, which is very good. I am sure that the Secretary of State must have had it very much in mind when he presented his proposals. In 1912 Mr. Asquith said that the centre was congested and that it was time to start divesting some of the congestion.
Mr. Wallace : I do not accuse my hon. Friend of remembering Mr. Asquith. I recall a pamphlet written by the present Secretary of State in the late 1970s which seemed to favour the concept of some sort of devolution. The Secretary of State shakes his head. Perhaps we can look in the files to see whether we can find it. It obviously did not make the same impact upon me as the one written by my right hon. Friend the Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale. However, I remember that the Secretary of State for Defence made impassioned speeches in the House in favour of Scottish devolution in the 1970s. He may still hold that view but feels that he cannot say so. Whether we can have ad hoc statements or whether they can be made only on days when there is a meeting of the Scottish Grand Committee is not entirely clear. For example, statements on student grants or on other matters which affect the whole of the United Kingdom are invariably made by English Ministers and Scottish Members do not have an opportunity to ask detailed Scottish questions. It is not clear whether statements on Scottish matters could be made at relatively short notice in the Scottish Grand Committee.
The doubt is that the proposed legislation amounts to anything like that which is necessary to address the needs of the Scottish people. Our party is unequivocally a party of home rule because we believe that that offers the Scottish people the opportunity to elect those who will determine Scotland's political priorities for its domestic
Column 783affairs while leaving matters such as defence, foreign affairs and macro-economic policy to what we see as the federal Parliament. That is the only way in which the Union can be preserved. Many aspects of the Union are worth preserving, but the one way to destroy it is to make only small adjustments to it or none at all.
As I said, Mr. Asquith thought that the centre was congested in 1912. It is even more congested now, and probably facing gridlock. It would be for the better government of Scotland to divest this place of many of its responsibilities. The measure goes a short way towards improving the government of Scotland, and that is why we support it. But people are kidding themselves if they think that it addresses the central question.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on presenting the new Standing Orders and I fully identify with them. I welcome the support generally expressed by Opposition Members, although I was disappointed with the negative approach of the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson). He did not really deal with the issues, but instead began a tirade about home rule and a Scottish Parliament. He rehearsed the argument that 75 per cent. of Scottish electors voted for those who wanted major constitutional change. He ignored the fact that they actually voted for the retention of the Union. That is an important point.
The hon. Gentleman suggested that the Government lost the last election in Scotland. In fact, they won it in the Union and on the basis-- [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Hamilton should not snigger. He represents a party of the Union, so he should respect the wishes of all the citizens of the Union. The Conservative party stood adamantly against the establishment of a separate Scottish Parliament. Whether or not the hon. Gentleman likes it, the fact is that the Conservative party won the argument throughout the United Kingdom. There will not be a separate Scottish Parliament under a Conservative Government.
Mr. Rowe : My hon. Friend's argument is strengthened by the fact that, throughout the last general election campaign, Kent was honoured by a whole series of Scottish Members of Parliament preaching the Labour cause. Any suggestion that they were viewed as either visitors or passengers would have been ridiculous.
Mr. Gallie : I accept what my hon. Friend says. Indeed, if senior members of the Labour party with Scottish seats had not gone to Kent to speak on behalf of the Labour party, there would have been few other senior members available to do so because the party depends so heavily on the Scottish input.
The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) referred to taxation under a Scottish Parliament. He suggested that it would cut taxes in Scotland. That could be achieved in one of two ways--either Scots would pay less in national taxation or a Scottish Parliament would draw in cash from Scottish local authorities and therefore reduce their cash base
Mr. Gallie : Does the hon. Gentleman want to defend the remarks of the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland ? Can he suggest another way that a Scottish Parliament could cut taxes in Scotland ? If so, perhaps he would get to his feet and tell us.
Mr. Gallie : The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland said that a Scottish Parliament would reduce taxes for the Scottish people. I am suggesting two means of achieving that. I am not suggesting that it is written anywhere else.
Mr. Gallie : Many, and I firmly believe that. I argued the case in national terms, but the hon. Gentleman is suggesting some sort of two-tier national taxation system in Scotland, which is totally irrational. The hon. Gentleman's comments earlier this evening do not hold water.
Mr. Kynoch : Does my hon. Friend accept that the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) has finally admitted tonight that the Liberal Democrats are firmly for home rule ? The hon. Gentleman was very cagey about the fact that that would mean increased taxation in Scotland. Is my hon. Friend aware that in my constituency, at the last general election, the message was given loud and clear to the Liberal Democrats that my part of the world would not tolerate being governed by the central belt or a higher rate of taxation with Liberal Democrat or Labour policies in Scotland ?
Mr. Gallie : I do not know what the Liberal Democrats were saying in Kincardine and Deeside, but almost certainly something different was said in Ayr. That is the nature of the Liberal Democrat party. I envisage that the new Scottish Grand Committee will reflect the on-going activities of Parliament at Westminster. It will do so with the introduction of Question Time, which I much welcome. Also, my hon. Friend the Minister for State will be able to participate in the Scottish Grand Committee in future, which is most important. I welcome also, together with Opposition Members, the participation of the Law Officers.
I welcome the introduction of short debates and the time limit of five minutes on introductory speeches, including by Ministers, and of three minutes on subsequent speeches, which will produce sharp and interesting debates. I welcome also the provision for mobility. However, I recall the poor attendance at Scottish Grand Committees in the past in Edinburgh-- particularly at the last meeting on local government, which was attended by only a few Opposition Members. That meeting was not on a Tuesday or Thursday but on a Monday, when Scottish Members traditionally stay in Scotland. If the Committee meets on Tuesdays or
Column 785Thursdays in different towns in Scotland, it will create many difficulties for hon. Members who want to participate in debates on wider issues.
The hon. Member for Hamilton referred to local government changes. I bear in mind the criticisms levelled against my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and other Ministers
Mr. Gallie : We have no intention of doing that. Our aim is to reduce taxes, not increase them--but that is another matter. Opposition Members have criticised the speed at which local government reform will be introduced in Scotland. [Hon. Members : "Hear, hear."] I hear positive acknowledgement of that. I must express puzzlement, therefore, at the words of the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair), who told the United Kingdom that if a Labour Government are ever elected, they will introduce a Parliament in Scotland in the first 12 months. Given the criticism from Labour Members, that is most surprising.
Mr. McLeish : Does not the hon. Gentleman accept that there is an important difference ? Unlike the local government reorganisation Bill--on which there is no consensus, and which is half-baked and not wanted--a Scottish Parliament will be supported by the overwhelming majority of Scots, and we will implement it at the earliest possible opportunity.
The hon. Gentleman, however, has provided me with a means of winding up my speech. He referred to the Government's intention in regard to local government reforms, which was a Conservative party manifesto pledge. We promised single-tier authorities ; we are about to deliver them. At the same time, many Conservative Members promised that, if elected, they would move towards the re-establishment of a Scottish Select Committee. That has happened, and I believe that it has provided many valuable means of analysing business in Scotland recently. Above all, Conservative Members promised a review of the Scottish Grand Committee and its involvement. I thank my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for living up to those manifesto pledges, and for coming clean with these excellent proposals. 11.10 pm
"The chairman of the Scottish Grand Committee may permit a Scottish Office Minister or a Scottish law officer, whether or not a member of the committee, to make a statement".
Let us suppose that an hon. Member wanted a debate on Lockerbie. What would be the procedure ? Would that hon. Member have to persuade whoever was the Chairman of the Scottish Grand Committee, and are we talking about the alternative Chairman who now exists ?
Paragraph (4) of new Standing Order D states :
"A minister or law officer making a statement under paragraph (1) of this order, who is not a member of the committee, may not do so from the body of the committee".
What exactly does that mean, and to what extent would the
Column 786Lord Advocate or the Solicitor-General be responsible ? In what form could written questions then be put to him, as the responsible Minister ?
New Standing Order H(1)(d), on page 4440 of the Order Paper, states that it will be possible for the Scottish Grand Committee "to hold short debates under Standing Order C . . . on certain of the days so specified".
How would those debates be chosen ? If a Government did not want a debate on, for example, Lockerbie, would it not be easy to crowd out a request for one ? What would be the rights of Back Benchers--in particular, those whose requests might not be supported by those on the Opposition Front Bench ? Is there any provision to allow debates that have been requested but may not be wanted by those on either Front Bench ? Both may take the view--quite legitimately--that there are other more important subjects to be debated. I am concerned about requests from Opposition Back Benchers and, indeed, from minority parties with minority opinions. What chance would those of us with minority opinions on, say, Lockerbie have of securing a debate ? It is all very well to say, refer to Scottish Ministers and the Lord Advocate. In what circumstances could a Committee Chairman ask for the presence of a Minister in a United Kingdom Department ? Let us again take the example of Lockerbie. I questioned the Prime Minister about the lead Department involved. The answer was that in certain circumstances it was the Crown Office, but that the Foreign Office dealt with other aspects of the Lockerbie crime--for such it was. Can the Scottish Grand Committee ask for a Foreign Office Minister to deal with Lockerbie ? I had better not confine myself simply to Lockerbie. What about Rosyth ? It might be very important to have a Defence or a Trade and Industry Minister deal with that. To what extent can the Scottish Grand Committee ask, in reasonable circumstances-- as judged by the Chairman--for Ministers from Departments other than the Crown Office or the Scottish Office ? 11.14 pm
Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan) : I shall make no comment on the interesting questions raised by the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), except to say that I have noticed from some of his recent interventions that he is growing increasingly sceptical of some of the institutions and procedures of the Union, which he once so strongly defended.
The speech of the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie) interested me, but more for the extravagant use of hand gestures throughout his discourse. The Liberal Democrats seem to regard such gestures with great suspicion, as they are increasingly of the view that they may be directed at them.
I was especially interested in the remarks made by the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Robertson), who said two things that are worth reflecting on. First, he said that the attendance of Conservative Members was very good. It is indeed quite spectacular. I notice seven out of the 11 Scottish Tories on the Conservative Benches. I put that down to the continuing contest to see who will inherit the poisoned chalice from the Secretary of State for Scotland, if he shakes off the mortal coil of being Secretary of State in the next week or so. After reading the Sunday
Column 787Post poll of his constituency, I advise him to devote as much time to constituency affairs as possible during the next couple of years. Secondly, the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South reminded us of his memorable address to this House after the regional elections, in which he assured us that, despite Conservatives falling like ninepins in the rest of Scotland, the Conservative vote was holding very firm in his constituency. I spent some time in the hon. Gentleman's constituency on European election day. I apologise for not giving him notice of that. I could not detect any great upsurge of interest in the Conservative party at the polling stations, despite the doubtless continuing inspirational leadership that he is giving the party in that area.
It is very difficult for the Conservative party to gainsay the assertion that the collapse in its fortunes in Scotland during the 18 months since the "taking stock" was first announced--what the hon. Member for Hamilton (Ms Robertson) described as the halcyon days--has been anything other than dramatic.
I remind the Secretary of State of what he said at the time, in May 1993 :
"We have, to use the vernacular, taken stock--and it's the opposition who are in the soup."
I do not know if the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South is in the soup in Scotland, but the Conservative party certainly seems to be boiling in oil, given the collapse in support from the 26 per cent. that it obtained in the general election to 12 per cent. in the regional elections, 14 per cent. in the European election--the Conservatives officially quoted that as a great improvement in its fortunes--and to the 9 per cent. that was cited for Conservative party fortunes in the Gallup poll Scottish sample published last Friday.
Political parties--my own included--have had low points in their fortunes at various times and have been as low as 9 per cent. In the late 1980s, the Social and Liberal Democrats reached such a low figure
Mr. Salmond : I am informed that it was lower. I cannot, however, think of any party in government which has sunk so low in the estimation of the people on whose behalf it is governing. Even the Conservatives in Canada, en route to their near total wipeout in the Canadian elections, still obtained between 17 per cent. and 18 per cent. of the vote. It is unprecedented for a party in Government, and claiming a mandate, to be at 9 per cent. in the latest poll of the party affiliations of the Scottish people.
I disagree with the hon. Member for Hamilton in his reflections on the support for constitutional options. I heard what he said about the remaining amount of support for devolution in the ranks of the Scottish National party. I took the trouble to dig out the opinion poll to which I was referring, in The Scotsman on Wednesday 8 June. As far as I know, it is the most recent sounding of the feeling of the people of Scotland about the various constitutional options. I remember it well. I recollected, and can now confirm, that the front page was headed "Poll boost for independence". According to the sample, no fewer than 74 per cent. of SNP voters, 31 per cent. of Liberal Democrat voters, 49 per cent. of Labour voters and even 22 per cent. of Conservative voters agreed with the proposition that Scotland would be better off as an independent country
Column 788within a European context than as part of Britain. Overall, 48 per cent. of all voters agreed with the notion while 15 per cent. disagreed.
On the straight constitutional question--given the three options of independence in Europe, a Scottish Parliament within the United Kingdom and the status quo--the hon. Member for Hamilton was right to note that support for independence among SNP voters was by no means unanimous. It had the support of 55 per cent. of SNP voters but, at the same time, only 51 per cent. of Labour voters agreed with Labour's policy of devolution and only 49 per cent. of Conservatives voters, in an admittedly small sample, agreed with the Conservative policy of maintaining the status quo. I have the figures here if the hon. Member for Hamilton would like to see them. According to this sample, support for independence in Europe was greater even than the exceptionally high levels of support currently recorded for the SNP.
Mr. Salmond : The hon. Gentleman knows that politics is a continuing process. I can promise him that at the next election I shall not campaign with the slogan, "We'll be in heaven in 1997." Nevertheless, I am extremely satisfied with the 33 per cent. level of support recorded by the SNP in the European elections last month. I should have been extremely disappointed if we had recorded the ridiculously low level of 14 per cent. recorded by the hon. Gentleman's party. Does the hon. Member for Hamilton wish to intervene ?
Mr. George Robertson : I certainly do, but I am unsure whether we are providing illumination by bandying around the results of opinion polls. I draw the attention of the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) to the System 3 poll, which asked a precise question about the preferred constitutional arrangements. It found that 48 per cent. of SNP supporters favoured a Scottish Parliament within the United Kingdom.
However, I also draw to the hon. Gentleman's attention what Mr. Jim Sillars is reported as saying in yesterday's edition of Scotland on Sunday :
"I am not sure what the present SNP objective is. People will say : Of course it's independence,' but is it ? Because if it's independence then you never miss an opportunity of using that word. So when a party uses the language of the Labour party--like strong Scottish parliament' --then I've got a question as to whether the objective is independence."
Perhaps the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan is using our vocabulary because he knows that the bulk of those who might be inclined to support the SNP support a strong Scottish Parliament within the United Kingdom within Europe.
Mr. Salmond : Perhaps Mr. Sillars had the misfortune to believe Labour party press statements about the Monklands by-election. I took the trouble to bring along the SNP by-election address because I had heard the hon. Member for Hamilton make a similar point before. I shall read it to him. Its fairly large headline is
"The Scotland I want to see".
Our candidate in Monklands argued :
"I want Scotland to be equal with the other nations of Europe. To have our own Parliament which will give a Scottish solution to Scottish problems. With Independence, Scotland will be free to
Column 789choose her own government, rather than having a Tory government from Westminster foisted upon us. Then we will be able to vote in elections for any party of our choice."
The address goes on to deal with benefits for 16 and 17-year-olds--a matter which the hon. Gentleman debated with us last Thursday--and pensions and argues why the concept of independence for Scotland should be favoured by the Scottish people. I should think that there are very few people in Scotland who do not now realise that the SNP stands for full national independence within a European context. I was, however, interested in the Sunday newspapers and especially in the remarks of the hon. Member for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth Mr. Hogg) who openly questioned the Labour party's commitment given by all three leadership candidates to enact devolution legislation in the first year of a Labour Government. I noticed that the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish) used the words "at the earliest possible opportunity" a few moments ago. I do not know whether he is mediating
Mr. McLeish rose
Mr. Salmond : If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I shall make a few more points before allowing him to intervene. I heard him clearly say "at the earliest possible opportunity"--we can check the record. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is mediating between the hon. Member for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth and the leadership candidates of the Labour party. All I will say is that I found the matter fascinating, not so much for what the hon. Member Cumbernauld and Kilsyth said, although that was interesting in itself, but for the fact that he identified within the Labour party what he called "devolution sceptics"--opponents of devolution--who would cause enormous difficulties to the progress of a devolution Bill, as he said in a closely argued article. Is the hon. Member for Fife, Central aware who those people in the parliamentary Labour party are ? Is he prepared to name them this evening ?
Mr. McLeish : Let me make it quite clear from the Labour Benches that we will legislate for a Scottish Parliament in the first year of a Labour Government. We shall succeed in that first year. Although everyone in the party is entitled to his or her opinions, we can give that cast-iron guarantee. More important, let me ask whether the Scottish National party will support Labour in its attempts to establish a Scottish Parliament in the first year of a Labour Government.
Mr. Salmond : The hon. Gentleman should refer back to the Usher hall debate during the last election campaign, during which I was asked exactly the same question. I made it quite clear that, just as we shall support these minor changes tonight, the Scottish National party always operates in the interests of the Scottish people. The hon. Gentleman can be absolutely clear that we shall go into an election campaigning for independence for Scotland within Europe. That is the proposition that we shall put before the
Column 790Scottish people. Unlike the hon. Gentleman, I shall be able to be reasonably clear that all the members of my party campaigning in that election will believe in our commitment.
Clearly, I do not know whether there will be a special manifesto in Cumbernauld and Kilsyth at the next election or whether the hon. Member for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth, that experienced member of the Labour party in Scotland--who is more experienced than the hon. Member for Fife, Central-- will be given a special codicil to exempt him from the general policy. Alternatively, will disciplinary action be taken against the hon. Member for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth for not agreeing with this central tenet of Labour party policy ?
I believe that the argument tonight is about the "taking stock" reforms and about whether they can live up to the claim that was made by the Conservative party 18 months ago that the whole exercise was one involving listening to the Scottish people. More than any other single factor, the reason for the plummeting of the Conservative party's political fortunes in Scotland over that period has been the issue of Scottish water--and, in particular, the dramatic illustration in the Strathclyde water ballot of the fact that, far from there being an exercise involving listening to the views of the Scottish people, any excuse and any pretext would be regarded as sufficient opportunity to disregard the views that were being expressed. I remind the House that in a 71.5 per cent. poll, 1,194,667 people rejected the Government's plans to take water out of local authority control. A mere 33,956--2.8 per cent.--actually supported them. Despite all that, and despite that dramatic demonstration of will by the Scottish people in the Strathclyde region, the Government, far from living up to their promise to listen to the Scottish population, were apparently determined to cast those views aside.
The real test of the proposals was alluded to by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland when he made the distinction between being able to question, debate, ask and listen, and being able to decide. There is absolutely nothing in the procedures that gives the people of Scotland any opportunity to extend the decision-making ability of Scottish representatives, even over the simplest matters of Scottish life--even over areas on which there might be a consensus in Scotland.
I looked through the records of the House and it was significant that I could not find a single piece of Scottish legislation whose progress the Government were willing to entrust to Scottish political representatives. Indeed, the only area in which I could find that there was a majority of Scottish Members--I think mistakenly--was the vote on 1 February when the hon. Member for Hamilton, in some sort of emotional spasm, decided to go into the Lobby with the Conservative party to back the powers of the House and the right of five Conservatives from English constituencies to dictate the progress of Scottish local government and the removal of water from local authorities. On no other issue can I find any consensus among even the unionist Scottish parties. Therein lies the reason why there is no decision-making power within the proposals which is to be entrusted to the Scottish Grand Committee, even in its reformed context.
Column 791other Opposition parties, with the exception of the Scottish National party, to give the Chairman of the First Scottish Standing Committee the power to stop juvenile displays by the Scottish National party, in its attempts to block progress in that Committee. It had nothing whatever to do with the rights of five English Members of Parliament to be on that Committee. The SNP, as ever, decided that it would indulge in a publicity gimmick. Labour Members were not involved in that. We wanted to ensure that that Committee proceeded without a guillotine. The SNP did not. I wish that the hon. Gentleman would be accurate in what he tells the House and the outside world.
Mr. Salmond : Yet again, I have touched a raw nerve with the hon. Gentleman. That vote was significant for two reasons. I cannot remember any other motion in the House of Commons proposed by the Leader of the House the only Front-Bench speech in whose favour was made by the hon. Member for Hamilton. Secondly, the most memorable of the interchanges in that debate was when the hon. Member for Hamilton looked across at the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Knapman)--keen water privatiser that that hon. Gentleman is-- and informed him, against the overwhelming view in Scotland, that that hon. Gentleman, representing Stroud, with his privatisation views on Scottish water, had "a perfect right" to be on that Scottish Committee.
The reason why there are no decision-making powers for the Scottish Grand Committee in the proposals is quite simple. There is no area of policy--I refer even to areas which should be non-party political--on which the Secretary of State for Scotland is prepared to trust the elected representatives of the people of Scotland with effective decision-making powers. It is rather like the events of the past week--an issue of show rather than substance. People in Scotland will long remember that, while-- perhaps under the influence of the taking-stock proposals--there was a royal pageant in the streets of Edinburgh, in London the decision was effectively being made to close the Rosyth naval base. What better illustration could there be of the difference between the form and the show of the decision making ? There was a sop to the Scottish people while, at the same time, here in London, real decisions and power were being exercised over the Scottish people.
The hon. Member for Aberdeen, South said that he and his colleagues would look at the proposals in the context of what was good for the Union. My hon. Friends and I will look at them, and any other proposals concerning Scottish business which may come before us, in the context of what is good for Scotland. Our judgment is that such minor, tinkering incremental proposals for the Scottish Grand Committee, although containing nothing of substance, will none the less afford a further opportunity for a questioning process about the wrongs being done to the Scottish people by the Government who, clearly, have no mandate in Scotland. On that basis, we are content to let them go through the House, but with the clear statement that the Scottish National party's campaign is for national self determination and national self respect for the people of Scotland.
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Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow) : I shall be brief as other hon. Members wish to speak and time is rushing by. Before I ask my questions of the Minister, I should say that, no matter how Conservative Members dismiss the idea of growing dissatisfaction with the Government in Scotland, it is palpable. It is certainly the case in my constituency, where many people are deeply dissatisfied with the way in which their lives are governed from what they see as a Westminster Parliament. That cannot be gainsaid. The Conservative party is deeply unpopular in my constituency. There is one Conservative councillor in the whole of Inverclyde district council.
In that regard, I well remember the sensible words offered by the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston), who once said in this place that we benefit enormously in Scotland from the fact that the secessionist movement in our country is so peaceful and that the dissatisfaction to which I have just referred is vented in peaceable, democratic ways. The hon. Gentleman was right. We are fortunate in that regard, and long may we be so. I think that I echo the hon. Gentleman's words of four or five years ago.
At the same time, there is widespread alienation. The hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Robertson) says that it is right that people should question the way in which Scotland is governed and should question the union between England, Wales and Scotland. It is my experience in the part of Scotland that I represent that more and more people are voicing their dissatisfaction with the way in which Scotland is governed. The proposals before us do not go anywhere near meeting the widespread alienation that is to be found.
I take up the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) about section D(4) on column 4438 of the Order Paper, which provides that a statement can be made by a Law Officer but not
"from the body of the committee".
Does the Secretary of State envisage such a statement being analogous to one made by a Minister to a Select Committee, after which the Minister will be cross-examined ? Would the procedure be analogous to that of a Minister making a statement to a European Standing Committee ? In those instances the modus operandi is that the Minister makes a statement on which he is cross-examined for a specific period.
It is an important matter because in this context we have not had a Law Officer in the House since 1987. Since then, however, we have had the report of Lord Cullen of Ashbourne on the Piper Alpha disaster. We have also had Lord Clyde's report on the terrible affair on Orkney. In both instances it would have been useful to be able to cross-examine a Law Officer in this place.
Section E is headed "Scottish Grand Committee (bills in relation to their principle)". It states that a Bill can be committed to a Scottish Standing Committee (or to a special standing committee".
Now that the Leader of the House has returned to the Chamber, perhaps he will tell me the position of a Law Officer when a Bill is sent to the Scottish Grand Committee or to a Special Standing Committee, which I think can hear evidence on four occasions before reporting to the House. Presumably a Law Officer could not be part of the proceedings of the Standing Committee, but would he be
Column 793able to give evidence to a Special Standing Committee ? That is important in the context of a law reform (miscellaneous provisions) (Scotland) Bill. When such a Bill comes before a Scottish Standing Committee, or as is envisaged a Special Standing Committee, members of that Committee should have the right to cross-examine a Law Officer.
Section F deals with statutory instruments. What power does the Scottish Grand Committee have to reject an instrument that has been referred to it ? If we pray against it, do those praying against it have to specify that it should go before the Scottish Grand Committee ?
I promised to be brief, so I will conclude. With regard to what has been described as a travelling circus, who will determine where such meetings will take place other than in Edinburgh and London ? Will it be the usual channels or is it to be pre-ordained by Scottish Office Ministers ?
I submit that the changes to the Standing Orders are slight. There are some advantages, particularly the right to question Law Officers. I make a plea for something that we desperately need in Scotland--an Act identical, or superior, to the Children Act 1989 which inevitably contains some imperfections. We should demand such an Act, the Second Reading of which should be taken in the Scottish Grand Committee. 11.40 pm