Previous SectionIndexHome Page

4.28 pm

Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe): I beg to move, To leave out from "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:

21 May 1997 : Column 731

I congratulate the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Secretary of State for Wales on their appointments, and the Labour party on its electoral success in Scotland and in Wales. If there is a silver lining for Conservative Members--it is certainly not very much of one--it is that there can no longer by any doubting us when we say that we are in favour of the first-past-the-post voting system out of genuine principle. In Wales, we won the second largest number of votes, but we were left without any seats. In Scotland, half a million Tory voters failed to secure parliamentary representation, so no one can accuse us of favouring the current system out of selfish party advantage.

Although Labour has won a famous victory, it does not follow that it has won a secure mandate on the question before the House. The Secretary of State for Scotland himself has pointed out previously and today that Scottish and Welsh voters cast their ballots on 1 May for a multiplicity of reasons other than devolution. I do not find the right hon. Gentleman's favourite reason the most persuasive, but he might not expect me to agree with him on that. Even if devolution had been the sole issue on polling day, no specific models of constitutional change could be said to have won popular endorsement.

Let us take Scotland first. Labour began by saying that, if elected, it would move to create a Scottish Parliament on the model proposed by the Scottish Constitutional Convention. The Prime Minister then casually informed the Scottish Labour party that there would be a referendum first. We then learned that there would be two referendums; then that there would need to be only one referendum after all, but with two questions.

By that time, the people of Scotland might justly have felt that they were being taken somewhat for granted. That was not the end of the matter. Any hopes that the launch of Labour's manifesto would clarify the position were short-lived. Having pledged itself to a Parliament with tax-raising powers, Labour then said that it would not use those powers.

Next, we were told that the Scottish Parliament would be like an English parish council. Finally, as if all that were not enough, the Prime Minister announced that sovereignty would rest not with this House and not even with Her Majesty, but in his own person--l'etat c'est Blair! What have the people of Scotland just voted for--a tax-raising assembly, an English parish council or a new sun king?

What are the people of Wales being asked to vote for? Unlike the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly will not have tax-raising powers. It will not have the power to legislate on local government, on health, on education, on housing or on transport. If the Scottish Parliament is like an English parish council, how would the Prime Minister describe the Welsh Assembly? Would he describe it as a meeting of church wardens?

On Friday, the Secretary of State for Scotland described the notion of a Scottish Parliament without tax-raising powers as "an odd non sequitur". In April, the Secretary of State for Wales described the notion of a Welsh Assembly with tax-raising powers as economic illiteracy, so what are we to believe? Are we to believe that the Secretary of State for Wales is a non sequitur, or that the Secretary of State for Scotland is economically illiterate?

21 May 1997 : Column 732

Why are the Government determined to foist on the people of Wales a settlement that they regard as second-rate in Scotland?

We support the Government in their stated aim of strengthening the Union, and we share their ambition to give the Scots and the Welsh more say over their own affairs, but the Bill is no way in which to achieve either of those aims. Its objectives, I fear, are somewhat more cynical and more selfish.

In their determination to maximise their majority in this House, the Government are wilfully ignoring the danger that their proposals pose to the long-term unity of the country. The Labour party wants to have its cake and eat it. It wants a devolved Parliament in Scotland, and it wants to keep a disproportionate block of Scottish Members of Parliament in this House to drive through legislation for England and for Wales.

The simplicity of the proposed ballot papers as set out in the Bill masks the fact that all the most important questions have been left unanswered. Is it right, for example, that Scots and Welshmen residing outside their homelands should be disfranchised? Is it right that the rest of the kingdom should be left unconsulted about a profound change to its government? Do the questions on the proposed ballot paper refer to a Parliament and an Assembly within the United Kingdom or outside it? In other words, should supporters of complete separation vote yes or no?

What will be the position of the Scottish and Welsh Secretaries of State? How will they occupy themselves in the Cabinet? Will they make the tea or do some photocopying, or will they just sit sniggering together like middle-aged versions of Beavis and Butthead?

What of the Barnett formula on funding for Scotland if tax-raising powers are granted to the Edinburgh Parliament? What will be the relationship between Members of this House and Members of the devolved Assemblies who sit for the same geographical areas? How can hon. Members representing Scottish and Welsh seats become Ministers for portfolios that fall within the jurisdiction of the devolved legislatures? How would the position of the Minister of Transport, for example, be tenable? Those questions demand answers.

I am delighted that, after an uncharacteristic period of silence--coinciding quite by chance, no doubt, with the run-up to the general election--the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) has again found his voice. I am sure that he will not mind me reminding the House of the question that he has made famous.

Under Labour's plans, Scottish Members would continue to sit and vote in this House on all English and most Welsh matters, but English and Welsh Members would have no commensurate say over Scottish matters. Why should the Secretary of State for Scotland be able to decide the future of grant-maintained schools in my constituency of Folkestone and Hythe, when I have no say over schools in Glasgow?

The manifest unfairness of that arrangement has attracted a great deal of comment, but the other half of the question has received less attention: why should Scottish Members continue to legislate for England and Wales when they are to have no say over the affairs of Scotland? Under the Government's proposals, Scottish Members would have less say on Scottish matters than on English matters. If they were petitioned by their constituents about

21 May 1997 : Column 733

the state of Scottish schools, they would have to reply, "Nothing to do with me." Their constituents might justly wonder whether their salaries--

Mr. Martin O'Neill (Ochil): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for the Home Secretary--[Interruption.]--sorry, the former Home Secretary--to talk about the substance of devolution, when we are discussing the mechanics of the referendum proposals?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): I do not believe that that is out of order, and he is not the Home Secretary.

Mr. Howard: I understand why Labour Members do not want these questions raised, and why they do not want concentration focused on them, but this is essential background to the question that the House has to debate today and tomorrow.

Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green): Will my right hon. and learned Friend give way?

Mr. Howard: I shall give way in just a moment; I just want to finish the point that I am making.

In the light of the questions that I have just posed, the Scottish constituents of Labour Members--indeed, of all hon. Members--might justly wonder whether their salaries should be cut to reflect the reduced role that they would have.

Mr. Duncan Smith: Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the point of order that has just been raised is at the nub of the problem? The hon. Member for Ochil (Mr. O'Neill) complained that my right hon. and learned Friend was raising those difficult issues, but the Government have asked us not to raise any of those points. We are to ask the people to vote on something that they know nothing about, in the absence of any debate.

Mr. Howard: My hon. Friend is right. I shall develop that point in a moment or two.

Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian): The right hon. and learned Gentleman has been making something of what used to be called the West Lothian question. Will he address what I call the East Lothian question? How could he justify a situation in which he and his colleagues voted to impose the poll tax on my constituents in East Lothian and on other Scottish constituencies at a time when it did not apply to their constituents?

Next Section

IndexHome Page