Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland): Is it the Minister's position, as was reported, that if--I am sure that he and I would both expect and hope that it would not arise--there was a yes, no vote, a Labour Government would bring in legislation to introduce a Scottish Parliament without tax powers, despite his knowing that that is less than what he believes to be in the best interests of the Scottish people?

Mr. McLeish: In the spirit of optimism pervading the Government, we believe that we shall have a yes, yes vote. To talk of any other would, in some respects, help what I was going to describe as the no, no campaign, but it is difficult to envisage a no, no campaign other than the one being generated from Westminster by the Conservative party.

The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan also raised the point, as did the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace), that there would be an opportunity to vote in favour of a Scottish Parliament and against it having tax-varying powers--the so-called yes, no vote. I have no doubt that we shall receive resounding support for our proposals for a Scottish Parliament with tax-varying powers. We fully expect a yes, yes result and we are planning on that basis.

The heart of a Parliament lies in its powers to legislate. Our proposals will ensure that legislation on Scottish affairs will be passed in Scotland by people elected in Scotland who understand and represent Scottish interests.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan): The point being made by me and by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) went slightly further. We were pointing out that a two-question referendum brings forward an option of a Parliament without tax-varying powers, which is not supported by any substantial party in the whole of Scotland. Why is that option being presented when other options, such as the independence option, are clearly not?

4.15 pm

Mr. McLeish: The hon. Gentleman will obviously have an opportunity a bit later in the debate to discuss the multi-option referendum. Suffice it to say that we believe that the two questions are vital. We believe that tax-varying powers are an essential element of our proposals for devolution and we shall campaign vigorously to ensure that we have a yes, yes vote.

The issue of a no, yes result was raised by the right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) and by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland. I have already explained why we are committed to consulting the people of Scotland separately on the tax-varying powers of a Scottish Parliament. There will be two ballot papers, one on the establishment of a Scottish Parliament and one on whether it should have the power to vary tax. We are using two separate ballot papers after having consulted electoral practitioners who advised that their use would reduce the risk of spoilt ballot papers and would ease the

4 Jun 1997 : Column 409

process of the count. We do not expect a no, yes result in the referendum and we are certainly not planning for that. If an individual wants to vote in that way, he or she will be perfectly entitled to do so.

Mr. Dennis Canavan (Falkirk, West): Who are these practitioners and what experience do they have of a two-ballot-paper referendum?

Mr. McLeish: Officials have consulted widely on these issues. Indeed, there is an association--this was news to me--that brings together people who are experts in the field. I can reassure my hon. Friend that a great deal of thought has gone into the matter.

Amendment Nos. 111 and 112 seek to amend the proposition on which the people in Scotland will be consulted--[Interruption.] It would be useful for Opposition Front-Bench Members to listen a bit, especially as the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), one of the leading contenders for the leadership, is here. It seems to be the practice of Conservatives to go to Scotland and to lecture, lecture and lecture the people there on devolution. Listening does not seem to have been one of their activities over the past 18 years.

Amendment Nos. 111 and 112 seek to amend the proposition on which the people in Scotland will be consulted, to refer to a Scottish Assembly and to remove the reference to tax-varying powers. We have already made it perfectly clear that we intend to consult the people in Scotland on our proposals for a Scottish Parliament and not on any other options.

A number of questions were asked about the specific powers of a Scottish Parliament and about details of our proposals--indeed, those questions have dominated most of the contributions from Conservative Members.

Mr. Ancram: I want to make a suggestion to the Minister of State which will, I hope, be helpful. Given the misunderstanding that has obviously arisen over the past three weeks over whether there will be a Bill before the referendum or a White Paper before the referendum, given that the Minister has told us that a White Paper will be produced before the House rises for the summer and that there will be a chance to debate it, and given that the referendum will not take place until September, will he consider producing a draft Bill before the referendum takes place, so that the people in Scotland and the people in Wales will know the detail of what they are being asked to vote on?

Mr. McLeish: I say with the greatest respect and courtesy that I can muster that Government Members are sick and tired of the fact that after 50 questions have been posed and 50 answers have been received, Front-Bench Conservative Members' contributions are just nit-picking over what is very, very obvious. I shall spell the matter out to the right hon. Gentleman. We have said that we shall publish a White Paper as soon as possible. We shall then seek to have the legislation passed through the House. We shall then move to a referendum in the autumn--

Mr. Ancram: Through both Houses?

Mr. McLeish: I meant that the legislation would pass through this House and, of course, the Lords. That would

4 Jun 1997 : Column 410

mean that the legislation would receive Royal Assent by the time we rose for the summer recess. That has been made obvious and clear at every possible opportunity. I suggest again a helpful piece of advice. Unless the Conservative Opposition's comments become more relevant to the points that have been made, they are frankly not only doing themselves a disservice, but ignoring the Conservative party in Scotland, which is seeking a constructive way forward.

Mr. Ancram: The Minister of State has said something and I want to be clear about it. Clarity is important. He said first that there would be a White Paper, then he said that legislation would go through the House. I looked surprised because I did not know whether he was referring to the Bill or legislation following the White Paper. We need to get the order clear. Which comes first?

Mr. McLeish: In a sense, I should not dignify the questions that have been asked. I shall spell it out. We are moving to the publication of a White Paper, which will be published before the House rises for the summer recess. [Interruption.] I wish that the right hon. Gentleman would sit and listen instead of talking and talking. He asked a question, and he should let me answer it. We shall be seeking to get Royal Assent for the Referendums (Scotland and Wales) Bill before the House rises for the summer recess. We shall then proceed to a referendum in the autumn. A successful completion of the referendum will mean a substantial Bill being prepared later this year.

Mr. Cash rose--

Mr. McLeish: I am not giving way. A number of hon. Members want to speak. I have clarified the point, as my right hon. and hon. Friends have on numerous occasions.

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex): Dictatorship.

Mr. McLeish: Again, the Conservatives seem to learn absolutely nothing. They shout from sedentary positions, "Dictatorship, dictatorship, dictatorship."

Mr. Cash rose--

Mr. McLeish: I am not giving way.

A number of questions were asked about the specific powers of a Scottish Parliament and particular details of the proposals. If hon. Members wish to engage in debate on the extent of a Scottish Parliament's powers, they should do so in the debate on the White Paper and during scrutiny of the main legislation.

My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) raised a specific point on the Barnett formula. That is obviously an important issue and one that will be addressed in the White Paper.

Amendment No. 145 would provide for a referendum to be held in Scotland on the establishment and tax-raising rather than tax-varying powers of a Scottish Parliament. That assumes that a Scottish Parliament would never want to lower its taxation and suggests an ever-increasing spiral of taxation. It would be an absolute nonsense to tie the Parliament's hands in that way. A power to raise tax must be accompanied by a power to lower it. I invite hon. Members not to press their amendments.

Mr. Wallace: I listened with interest to the Minister's response. The debate has been useful and interesting

4 Jun 1997 : Column 411

because it has not simply highlighted a number of questions on the referendum, but allowed comments on the whole question of taxation powers of a Scottish Parliament.

It is interesting to note that the Liberal Democrats' amendments have attracted a degree of all-party consensus, which hitherto has not been achieved in this Parliament. The hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) has indicated some support. The hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor)--for different reasons, perhaps--found merits in the amendments. Indeed, so has the Scottish National party. I am sure that, when the House divides in a few minutes, such a grand coalition will be welcome.

Some points have been raised about the powers that a Scottish Parliament would have. I wonder whether those taking part in the debate, especially Conservative Members who purport to speak with such knowledge, have read the report of the Scottish Constitutional Convention, "Scotland's Parliament: Scotland's Right", which was published on St. Andrew's day in 1995 and answers many of the questions raised. With more civil service input and jargon, it will no doubt be reflected in greater detail in the White Paper when it duly finds the light of day.

Next Section

IndexHome Page