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12.55 pm

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): I share the concern of the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff) about what he called the "ugly ogre of English nationalism". Home Office Ministers should reflect on the phrase used by the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr. Davis), who referred to the corrosive sense of injustice. These matters must be handled very gingerly.

On Monday, I spoke for 42 minutes, so it behoves me to be succinct now. For most of the 35 years or more that I have been a Member of the House, I would have dismissed the proposal of the hon. Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) with something of a guffaw. A Parliament for England: don't be daft! However, given the result of the general election, the events of 11 September and the Second Reading of the Scotland Bill on Tuesday, the unthinkable has become distinctly thinkable. Perhaps a Parliament for England may be an unintended consequence of the legislation for Scotland and Wales.

What is beyond question is that the hon. Member for Billericay has rendered the House of Commons a singular service by using her luck in the ballot to create such a timely opportunity for at least exploring the concept of an English Parliament. This matter deserves to be aired in Committee.

My first question relates to an article that appeared in The Scotsman this morning by the commentator, Mr. Iain MacWhirter, a copy of which I gave to the Home Office. Could I have an interim reflection on whether a Kilbrandon-type committee, as he suggests, on the governance of England is a starter?

My second question, of which I have given notice, is: why was no Home Office Minister to be seen on Monday and Tuesday during the two-day discussion on the Scotland Bill? Is it that modern Executives--the previous Government did not behave much differently--have ceased to care the proverbial fig about the House of Commons? This is not a matter of amour propre: it is a question of the health of a parliamentary system in which elected representatives are at least listened to, even if their views are unpalatable.

My third question is: why on earth was the Scotland Bill left entirely to Scottish Office Ministers? Such a measure was devised in the Cabinet Office last time, but this time it was devised entirely in the Scottish Office. What was the Home Office contribution? The Home Office has some serious documents, which were prepared in the first instance by that distinguished permanent secretary Sir Charles Cunningham, who had been at the Scottish Office before he went to the Home Office, and were added to by Philip Allan when he was the distinguished permanent secretary.

The Home Secretary and his Ministers ought to look at the documents. I am not saying that circumstances have not changed; I am merely saying that I think the Home Office understands how impossible it would be to have a subordinate Parliament for part, but only part, of a kingdom that, above all, we wish to remain united.

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My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. Whitehead)--who has left the Chamber, doubtless for good reasons--gave a Catalonia example. I do not doubt that a prosperous citizen of Barcelona might be enchanted with what has happened in Catalonia, but, having been to Andalucia, I think that things might look rather different in Andalucia and in the rest of Spain. The Catalans are not exactly the flavour of the month, and are thought to have behaved--with all their riches--in a rather selfish manner.

Fourthly, I would like to hear the Home Office view on what has come to be known as the Bury, North question. I have discussed that question with another distinguished former permanent secretary at the Home Office, Sir Brian Cubbon, who happens to come from Bury. The Bury, North question is this. How can my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North (Mr. Chaytor)--my Labour colleague--justify to his constituents in that not over-rich Lancashire town the fact that, for the foreseeable future--if we are to believe the undertakings as to the sanctity of the Barnett formula, undertakings about which I have grave reservations--the Scots will benefit from 24 per cent. more identifiable expenditure per capita than the English?

It stretches the bounds of human nature to think that, for ever and ever--that is what we are talking about--English Members of Parliament will be voting substantially more money for people whose spending they have difficulty in monitoring. That was made clear by the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden on Monday. At the same time, those Members will be accepting less for their constituents, in Essex--where my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay), who will, I hope, speak, has his constituency--and, indeed, all over England.

This cannot last. That is not an opinion, but a fact of life.

My fifth question relates to what the hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) said on Tuesday, which was:


The Scottish Office did not reply to that, but I would be rather interested to learn the Home Office's view.

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department represents a constituency in Greater Liverpool. I hope that he will forgive me if I say that it cannot be right that I, as Member of Parliament for Linlithgow--let us be alliterative with our l's and i's--can continue to vote on the most delicate matters relating to Liverpool when my hon. Friend cannot vote on those matters in Linlithgow and, for heaven's sake, I cannot vote on them in Linlithgow. That situation cannot continue. The ability of the Scotland legislation to endure will have to be judged against its openness and fairness to all Members of Parliament in all parts of the United Kingdom. Again, is that accepted by the Home Office?

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The right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) said:


What is the Home Office view of that?

My next question goes back to the speech of the hon. Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne), who said:


The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) is like the cat that swallowed the cream in all this. The hon. Member for New Forest, West continued:


    "What Labour Members have failed to realise about the Bill's nature and its reliance on good will--there is even to be an electoral system maximising the requirement for good will--is that one of the parties to the arrangement is wholly opposed to the Bill as it stands."

Again, what is the Home Office view of the reliance of this legislation on good will? Forgive some of us for being somewhat cynical.

On the same day, the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) said:


There will probably be no problem in this Parliament but, in reflecting on the constitution, we must look ahead to the next Parliament and the Parliament after that. This is an opportunity to ask about Home Office thinking on the matter because, as The Times leader of 5 April 1997 eloquently put it, the consequences


    "will be felt well south of Hadrian's Wall."

I shall refer briefly to an article by my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, Central (Mr. Cousins), a member of the Treasury Select Committee and chairman of the northern group of Labour Members. He says:


    "There are three problems with the 1978 model besides its age. First, the formula is not based on rational assumptions. It is merely a calculation which ensures differential increments in expenditure in the different nations of the UK. It actually reflects decisions made about resource allocation in 1976-77.


    Second, it is flawed. It is clear from the evidence both now and in the 1970s that the formula was intended to produce convergence between England and Scotland. But in fact it has led to a wider divergence between spending over the past 20 years; though living standards in Scotland have risen relative to England, spending north of the Border is now 23 per cent. higher per head of population than in England.


    Third, the formula has not enabled equal scrutiny of spending in all parts of the UK. Governments have seen attractions in the formula precisely because it is obscure, historic and not based on the assessment of present needs."

The perspective of northern Members of Parliament cannot be put back into some kind of Pandora's box. Again, I ask the Home Office what its response is to

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comments such as those written eloquently and powerfully by my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, Central in the Scottish press.

I promised to be brief. All I say is that the House should be grateful to the hon. Member for Billericay for giving us the opportunity at least to put some of the questions in the context of the English dimension. I hope that she gets an opportunity at least to have her Bill on the anvil of inquiry in a Committee so that these matters can be seriously and quietly looked at.


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