Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Jenkin: I asked the Minister two specific questions, neither of which he has troubled to answer. First, if it was right to sign the Claim of Right as a member of the Scottish Constitutional Convention, why is not the Claim of Right the right oath for a Member of the Scottish Parliament? The Minister has not squared that circle. Does he want to deal with that first before I come back on my second point?

Mr. McLeish indicated dissent.

Mr. Jenkin: I generally dislike long interventions, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

My second question refers to clause 79(3), which amendment No. 125 would delete and which states that, if an MSP has not taken the oath

Does the Minister understand what a crisis that provision would cause if it applied to this Parliament, with Sinn Fein Members refusing to take the oath and being re-elected again and again on a platform that was designed to undermine the constitution?

Mr. McLeish: On the second point, we have no difficulties with that whatsoever. That is a pragmatic response to a question that, in our judgment, is not relevant.

On the question of the Claim of Right, I alluded to that in my response to my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell). We do not want to indulge in further political and constitutional theory, but I see no inconsistency between the statements made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in response to comments often made by the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan, nor do I see any inconsistency in relation to the constitutional convention. However, we are now dealing with the simple, consistent matter of taking an oath in the new Parliament, and I urge the House to reject the two amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, West.

Mr. Canavan: I am disappointed that my hon. Friend the Minister is recommending rejection of my amendments, because he and I were original signatories of the Claim of Right back in 1989, at the inaugural meeting of the Scottish Constitutional Convention in the assembly hall of the Church of Scotland in The Mound in Edinburgh. I should have thought that, for reasons of consistency if nothing else, he would support my amendment No. 106. Indeed, the Secretary of State and all the Scottish Office Ministers were co-signatories of the

12 May 1998 : Column 243

Claim of Right and I deliberately worded my amendment so that its wording was exactly the same as that of the declaration that we all signed nine years ago.

Mr. Jenkin: Perhaps to be consistent with Government policy, MSPs should take both oaths of allegiance--to the Queen and to the Scottish people. I do not suggest that that is Opposition policy, but it might have tempted the Minister, as that appears to be his position.

Mr. Canavan: Under the terms of my amendment, there would be a choice. I would not exclude people who, because of royalist or Unionist convictions, felt that the Claim of Right stuck in their craw. I cannot understand why it should stick in their craw if they are democrats, but, if it did and they refused to take the oath, I would not be in favour of excluding them. Conservative Members appeared to suggest that the practice in the House somehow gives Members of Parliament a choice, but the only choice is to come up after being elected and either take the oath or take the affirmation. If a Member of Parliament refuses both, he or she is not allowed to take part in the proceedings of the House and I should not like to see that replicated in the Scottish Parliament.

The hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) rightly referred to the possibility of a crisis--not a huge constitutional crisis, but a mini-crisis--if a Member or group of Members duly elected by their constituencies refused to take the oath. Clause 79(3) states that, if an MSP has not taken the oath

In other words, he or she can then go back to the constituency that elected him or her and seek re-election through a by-election. There could be a whole group of people coming in and out of the Parliament whom the Parliament refused to allow to take their seats because they had not taken the oath. If my amendments were accepted, that would help to avoid such a crisis, so I hope that the hon. Member for North Essex and the rest of the Opposition Front-Bench team will support me.

Mr. Salmond: The hon. Gentleman is coming to the point that crystallises the wisdom of his amendment. Current procedures of the House have led to the state of affairs in which Ministers of the Crown cross their fingers when taking the oath. Under the arrangements in his amendments, it would be left to the Scottish people to decide the fate of anyone who refused to swear allegiance to, or to affirm, the sovereignty of the Scottish people. The hon. Gentleman's solution is a far more democratic solution and is greatly superior to the procedures of the House.

Mr. Canavan: I agree. The democratic principles enshrined in the Claim of Right would have more universal appeal than the principles, if they can be called principles, in the proposed oath--assuming that the proposed oath is the same as the one that we are required to take when taking our seats in the House. I know some people of a republican persuasion who, when taking the oath or affirming, simply acknowledge that the Queen is the de facto Head of State, but who would like this

12 May 1998 : Column 244

country to have a democratically elected Head of State, rather than a Head of State who has simply inherited that position from her parent.

Some Members, especially new Members, who do not particularly believe in the monarchy might have some crisis of conscience over taking the oath or affirming. That would be avoided by doing away with the requirement completely. I realise that we are talking not about this place--although I would welcome such a development here as well--but about the Scottish Parliament and people taking their seats there.

The criticism of my amendment included the point that it posed a threat to the integrity of the United Kingdom--I believe that the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mrs. Laing) said that. What is the United Kingdom? Is it, as its name suggests, simply the domain of a monarch? If so, is that really what people are defending when they defend the integrity of the United Kingdom? I should have thought that, if there is an argument for the defence of the United Kingdom, it would be in terms of the bonds of friendship and culture and the social and economic links between the different parts of the United Kingdom. I should not have thought that it was simply a matter of allegiance to the Head of State.

Mrs. Laing: Is not the sovereign the symbolic point of focus for those ties and friendship? It is a united kingdom, with a sovereign at the top. That is why the oath of allegiance is the one oath that binds every person in the United Kingdom, symbolically, to the sovereign.

Mr. Canavan: If the hon. Lady is saying that, if what is now called the United Kingdom developed into a republic, its integrity would somehow be demolished, that is rather a weak argument for the integrity of the United Kingdom. The Queen is also head of the Commonwealth, but it contains many countries that are republics and do not have the Queen as their Head of State.

The hon. Member for North Essex said that the Claim of Right was inherently nationalist. It is not nationalist in a narrow-minded sense. I am sure that most, if not all, of those who subscribe to the Claim of Right for Scotland would also recognise the claim of right of other nations, including those that make up the United Kingdom, particularly Wales and England. There ought to be recognition of other nations' claims of right, as well as of that of the people of Scotland.

I was disappointed to hear the shadow Minister saying that the Claim of Right is somehow mediaeval. I would say that the sovereignty of monarchs, rather than of the people, is a mediaeval concept. The sovereignty of the people is much more relevant to a modern, egalitarian democracy.

Amendment negatived.

Schedule 3

Standing Orders--further provision

9 pm

Mr. Gorrie: I beg to move amendment No. 111, in page 57, line 39, after 'sub-committees', insert

'other than regional committees and regional sub-committees.'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): With this, it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 112, in page 57, line 40, at end insert--

12 May 1998 : Column 245

'(2A) The standing orders shall include provision for ensuring that, in appointing members to regional committees and regional sub-committees, regard is to be had to the balance of parties in the Parliament representing that region.'.

Mr. Gorrie: Will the Minister give an assurance that the Bill would not be misused to prevent the setting up of regional committees that did not fully represent the composition of the Parliament?

It being four and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on consideration of the Bill, Mr. Deputy Speaker, pursuant to the Order [13 January] and the Resolution [this day], put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair.

Amendment negatived.

Next Section

IndexHome Page