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Mr. Dalyell: I have the feeling that Ministers are not exuding gratitude to my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) for having tabled the amendment, because it means that they have to answer the question whether they believe in the Claim of Right, and that is a very direct question. As one who failed to sign the Claim of Right, I am entitled to ask that important question. I notice that the co-signatory to the amendment is the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond), the black bitch himself, who called me a scarecrow and, what is worse, an old scarecrow. This old scarecrow is entitled to ask precisely what is Her Majesty's Ministers' updated position on the Claim of Right.

Mr. Salmond: I am sure that I called the hon. Gentleman a scaremonger, not a scarecrow, but I know that he never says anything that he does not believe to be true. Yesterday, I was called on by the Edinburgh Evening News to respond to his suggestion that there should be another referendum in Scotland and that the question should be: "Are you sure that you want to vote for a Scottish Parliament?" For the first time in my political career, I was speechless; but he knows that I respect his integrity. He was indeed the only Labour Member not to sign the Claim of Right, which is encapsulated in the splendid amendment.

I am somewhat bemused by the line taken by the official Opposition. All my political life I have been taught and have believed that there is a tension between the concept of popular sovereignty--sovereignty of the people--and the uniquely British concept of the sovereignty of the Queen in Parliament. The hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) started his speech by saying that there was no such tension, and finished it by saying that there was a tension between the Claim of Right asserting popular sovereignty in Scotland and the concept of the sovereignty of the Queen in Parliament.

There has been a continuing thread through Scottish political thought that emphasises the sovereignty of the people, which is not necessarily in conflict with the monarchy. Many would argue that the declaration of Arbroath promulgated the concept of an elective monarchy. It said, and I paraphrase because I do not have it off by heart, that if good King Robert did not defend the rights and responsibilities of the community of the realm, we could get rid of him and have someone else as the monarch. Monarchy and popular sovereignty are not necessarily in conflict. The question is which has primacy.

The hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) and I believe that the sovereignty of the people should have primacy, so the oath of affirmation and the fundamental loyalty of the Members of the Scottish Parliament should be to the well-being of the Scottish people, from whom they derive whatever authority and responsibility they have.

I hope that the Government will accept the amendment. I am led to believe that they may do so by the answer that the Secretary of State gave me almost a year ago. He said:

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    "Even though the hon. Gentleman"--

he was talking about me--

    "and I may have differences of interpretation, I hope that he will accept that I should be the last to challenge the sovereignty of the people or deny them the right to opt for any solution to the constitutional question that they wish."--[Official Report, 21 May 1997; Vol. 294, c. 725.]

That is a solid affirmation in support of the affirmation called for in the amendment.

The hon. Member for Falkirk, West is splendidly consistent and has argued robustly for many years for a particular position on the constitutional question. There are those in his party who tell me that the nearest that he will get to being a Member of the Scottish Parliament is the visitors' gallery. That would be a great pity for that Parliament. I hope that whoever determines such matters in his party will find the wisdom to allow him to stand. Having argued the cause for many years, he has the right to be there. Whatever happens to this splendid, small but critical amendment, we can be certain that he will affirm the values for which he has stood consistently in Scottish politics for many years. Would that others had his consistency of position on the sovereignty of the people of Scotland.

Mr. Swayne: I have great difficulty even with the language of the amendment. The hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) said that the oath was to be voluntary. The amendment says:

but that is preceded by the phrase,

    "The standing orders shall include a requirement for".

There is merely a requirement that everyone should be asked to take the oath. However, the phrase that follows the oath reads:

    "and no other affirmation or oath shall be required of members of the Scottish Parliament."

In other words, that oath is "required". There seems to be a contradiction between the two halves of the amendment.

It strikes me as extraordinary that an oath should be required to be put to Members of the Scottish Parliament, but that they should not be required to take it. What is the purpose of an oath? It is similar to the purpose of a creed. If one goes to church and says the creed, one expresses one's identity and membership of that institution. If one cannot say the creed, one by definition excludes oneself from the Church.

8.30 pm

By specifying an oath for Members of the Scottish Parliament, we are asking them to subscribe to fundamental propositions inherent in the nature of that Parliament. If they cannot do that, they will disqualify themselves, just as hon. Members who refuse to take the oath in the House disqualify themselves from sitting here. They are unable to subscribe to the fundamental consensus that underpins this institution. I fail to see why that should be different in Scotland.

I will go further. To put a proposition to Members of the Scottish Parliament that is fundamentally different from the one put to hon. Members here would be most

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unsatisfactory. The Bill was put to us on the basis that we would remain a united kingdom. The Bill was supposed to protect the Union. As far as I am concerned,nothing could be more symbolic of the Union than the fact that the two Parliaments would remain united under the Crown, which would be symbolised by having Members of both Parliaments take the same oath.

Giving Members of the Scottish Parliament a very different oath--whether or not it is voluntary--would be most regrettable, although I fear that it may merely be a recognition of the true state of affairs.

Mr. Gorrie: The amendment raises two points. One is an issue that affects the House. Perfectly worthy citizens who hold republican views must, in effect, perjure themselves by swearing an oath of allegiance to Her Majesty. That strikes me as extraordinarily demeaning, and we should address it.

Mr. Jenkin: The hon. Gentleman should not regard it as demeaning. It is not a religion to swear allegiance to Her Majesty the Queen; it is simply a recognition that that state of affairs has the broad consent of the population. The hon. Gentleman may wish to change that, but it is the framework within which to seek to pursue change. To swear allegiance to Her Majesty the Queen is not to declare that one is a royalist.

Mr. Gorrie: With respect, I think that it is. Compelling people to swear things that they do not believe is not the sort of thing that we should do. It does not affect me, but I feel for those for whom it matters.

Mr. Alasdair Morgan: Has the hon. Gentleman reflected on why an oath is necessary at all? No elected councillor or Member of the European Parliament swears an oath, yet they seem perfectly capable of carrying out their functions. What difference does it make?

Mr. Gorrie: I agree. I do not think that an oath is necessary. Either one behaves well, or one does not; no oath will make any difference.

Some Conservative Members seem to feel that the amendment is an independence amendment. They feel that one can sign the Claim of Right only if one favours independence, but that is not true. The people have sovereign power; even the Conservative party accepts that, and numerous Conservatives have said over the years that if the Scottish people vote for independence, they will have independence. The concept of the sovereignty of the people is accepted, but the Conservatives seem to have extraordinary difficulty with devolution, which seems to be a sort of gastric block somewhere in their tubes. That is their problem, and they must deal with it.

The Conservatives accept the sovereignty of the people. Those who signed the Claim of Right, and believe in it, feel that the Scottish people have clearly said that they want a Parliament of their own, but in the United Kingdom. If at some future date a majority say that they want an independent Parliament, that will doubtless happen, but for now the Claim of Right seems reasonable.

Whether the best way in which to proceed is to have a requested oath, I do not know, but the motives behind it are admirable. I do not see why people should have to swear oaths, but if they do, an acknowledgement of the sovereign rights of the Scottish people is a good thing.

Mrs. Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest): Some hon. Members have suggested that the Government might

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consider accepting the amendment. I sincerely hope that they do not, for three good reasons. First, the Government cannot accept, or even consider accepting, the amendment if they insist that their plans for devolution are designed to strengthen, not weaken, the Union.

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