Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Lansley rose--

Mr. Gorrie: No, really, I have had enough. The whole argument, like almost everything else the Conservatives have said in this debate, is false.

4 Jun 1997 : Column 405

Next, various Conservatives and the hon. Member for Linlithgow have argued that because Parliament might change a few commas and full stops between publication of the White Paper and the final passage of the Bill, the whole process will be null and void. That misses the point. The people of Scotland will not be swayed, when voting for or against a Scottish Parliament, merely because some power over railways or fisheries is or is not included. They will be voting on a gut feeling that they want a Scottish Parliament with control over its own affairs and its own money. Any minor changes made later by Parliament will in no way invalidate the decision of the people of Scotland.

It is no wonder that many Scottish Conservatives want out. They want to run their own show. I invite Conservatives who have spoken repeatedly and prominently in these debates to come to Scotland to campaign for the no side in the referendum. Then all of us would be able to stay at home, and would romp home.

Over 26 years, in four different councils, I have formed the view that in public life most of the people involved in the debate roughly understand the question, but they have different answers. The Conservative party has not begun to understand the question. It is on a different planet altogether. Many of us have used the well-known phrase about power corrupting. I have discovered in the past few days that the corruption of power is a lingering illness. The corruption carries on far longer than the power. The Conservatives must get their act together, because they are making a mockery of themselves, democracy and the House.

The Minister for Home Affairs and Devolution, Scottish Office (Mr. Henry McLeish): I am pleased to reply to the debate on the amendments. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Gorrie) has it absolutely right.

It is my style to try to be as helpful as I can to the Conservative Opposition. They are recovering slowly from 1 May, but are obviously going through a period of recuperation.

Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes): The Minister said that he agreed with the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Gorrie), and that he was absolutely right. Does that mean that the Minister accepts the hon. Gentleman's amendment?

Mr. McLeish: Obviously we are to have a continuation of the nit-picking exercise that was characteristic of the Opposition yesterday. If the right hon. Gentleman will just sit still for a few minutes more, I shall respond.

The hon. Member for Edinburgh, West is absolutely right that Conservative Members need to listen to what is happening in Scotland in relation to devolution and the Referendums (Scotland and Wales) Bill. In my attempt to be continually helpful, I draw their attention to a poll in one of our national newspapers this morning. In fact there were two polls, but I shall deal first with the one on devolution. It appears that, in the most recent poll, the vote was 3:1 in support of a Scottish Parliament and 2:1 in support of it having tax-varying powers. Indeed, that poll is very encouraging.

4 Jun 1997 : Column 406

I remind the Conservative Opposition of another poll in the same national newspaper this morning, which suggested that, after popular support for the Conservatives reached the dizzy heights of 18 per cent. on 1 May, it has now plummeted to 9 per cent. I submit that the fundamental challenge for Conservative Members to get to grips with is that voters in Scotland want, by 3:1, to support a Scottish Parliament, but have given only 9 per cent. support to what used to be Her Majesty's Government's party in Scotland.

Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield): Will the Minister give way?

Mr. McLeish: In a moment.

It is also important to identify who is saying what in the Conservative party about the referendum. In an excellent article in the Evening News today, pro-home rule Tory campaigner Christine Richards, ex-leader of the Tories on Edinburgh council, said:

That is in relation to the "I still won't budge on devolution" concept put forward in the House.

I ask the Conservatives to think hard. It is becoming embarrassing for a Minister to try to help the Conservative party in Scotland to come to grips with its own reality.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Inverclyde): In addition to speaking to the lady to whom my hon. Friend referred, perhaps some Opposition Members should speak to the likes of Councillor Brian Meek, who is arguing a good case for an independent Conservative party in Scotland.

Mr. McLeish: My hon. Friend is obviously trying to be as helpful as I am in relation to the recuperation of the Conservative party, but I fear that if I do not get on to the amendments, you, Mr. Lord, will bring me back into line.

Mr. Grieve rose--

Mr. Fallon rose--

Mr. McLeish: I said that I would give way to the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve).

Mr. Grieve: I am grateful to the Minister, because, as I think he is aware, I have tried to attend these debates from the beginning precisely because I should like to be educated, especially on the views of Scottish and Welsh Members of Parliament. I confess that although I may go there frequently, I understand my own ignorance on many points.

There is no mention in anything that the Minister has said of the wider United Kingdom dimension. Can he not understand that one of the concerns that brings Conservative Members to address the House is the fact that unless the UK dimension is taken into account, simply going along because there may be wishes in Scotland or Wales will not produce a durable result that will both devolve government and preserve the Union?

Mr. McLeish: The hon. Gentleman's comment in relation to the franchise was dealt with yesterday.

4 Jun 1997 : Column 407

However, there will be ample opportunity to debate the matter when the White Paper is published, during the campaign before the referendum and, if it is successful, during the passage of the substantive Bill. I am sure that that will provide the education that the hon. Gentleman seeks as well as giving Conservative Members the opportunity to participate and to make the views of their constituents known, whichever part of the United Kingdom they represent.

Mr. Dalyell: My hon. Friend said that there would be ample opportunity to debate the matter. In the public print there has been some reference to the White Paper being published on 25 July. Can my hon. Friend confirm that it will be before the middle of July?

Mr. McLeish: I can confirm that the Government want to publish the White Paper as soon as possible before the summer recess, and we have also confirmed that we want a debate on it when it is published.

Mr. Ancram rose--

Mr. McLeish: I want to make some progress.

Amendment Nos. 76 and 87 to 95 would have the effect of consulting the electorate in Scotland only on a single proposal for a Scottish Parliament with tax-varying powers. In effect, that would deny people in Scotland the opportunity to say whether they wanted their Parliament to have the power to vary tax.

We, of course, firmly believe that a Scottish Parliament should have the power to vary tax. The Westminster Parliament and local authorities have such powers. We believe that the responsibility and discipline that come with having the power to vary tax are important.

However, we believe that it is important that people in Scotland should be given the opportunity to express their views specifically on our tax-varying proposals. The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) asked why we are consulting separately on our proposal for the Scottish Parliament to have tax-varying powers and not on any other aspects of our proposals--why taxation? Surely the hon. Gentleman will agree that taxation is significant. It is an issue on which most people have a view, and understandably so. It is only right that the views of the Scottish people on that issue are clear.

Mr. Denzil Davies (Llanelli): When my hon. Friend refers to tax-raising powers, is he dealing with all kinds of taxes or just one kind of tax? Would VAT, corporation tax or capital gains tax be varied? Which tax is it?

Mr. McLeish: The tax-varying power applicable to Scotland will be predicated on income tax.

If hon. Members are so sure that the Scottish people want a Parliament with tax-varying powers, what harm can there be in asking them? We made it clear in our manifesto that we intended to consult them on that, and I can see no reason for failing to deliver on that pledge. Popular endorsement on that specific point will put the views of the people of Scotland beyond doubt and speed the passage of the subsequent legislation. I do not expect that the people of Scotland will want anything less for a Scottish Parliament.

4 Jun 1997 : Column 408

Again, the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan sought reassurance that a second referendum would not be held once the main devolution legislation had received Royal Assent. I am happy to assure him that we have no such intention.

Next Section

IndexHome Page