Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): My right hon. Friend has just reminded us that the part-time Secretary of State for Wales has announced that the Wales Office still exists, but on today's Order Paper the Scotland Office is referred to as "the former Scotland Office".

Mr. Forth: I am at a loss to explain that. I cannot help my hon. Friend, but perhaps the part-time Leader of the House will do so when he speaks.

Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North): Before we get too deep into the knockabout, which we are all enjoying, can we be clear about the policy substance? From what the right hon. Gentleman has said so far, I understand that Conservative party policy is that they would be happy with both a supreme court and a judicial appointments commission. Is that the case, or will he confirm that—in the unlikely event of his being in government—he would abolish either or both of those institutions?

Mr. Forth: I wish that we had some substance to discuss. My whole point is that we do not. The hon. Gentleman asks a reasonable question and our response is that these are very important matters. They are constitutional and judicial matters. They deserve the appropriate treatment. We say that they deserve thought, a Green Paper, a debate, consideration and consultation. Then Parliament, in both Houses, should determine the matter. That is our policy and that is the approach that we would take. If any Labour Members have a problem with that, they should tell us. I hope that the part-time Leader of the House will tell us if he has a problem with that approach when he speaks.

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) rose—

Mr. Forth: Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will help us.

Richard Burden: The right hon. Gentleman is being uncharacteristically coy. The question is simple. In principle, is he in favour of the institutions that my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) described?

Mr. Forth: The whole point is that these are not simple issues. They are complex issues relating to our constitution, which has served us so well for many centuries. If Labour Members think—as the Prime Minister obviously does—that these are simple issues to be worked out on the back of an envelope, that is the difference between us.

Mr. Allen: The shadow Leader of the House said, rightly, that these are ultimately matters for Parliament, and I hope that we would all agree with that. However, he is speaking at the Dispatch Box for the Opposition, so would he be kind enough to put on record the Opposition's policy on a judicial appointments commission and a supreme court? [Interruption.] I am glad that he is getting some advice from the Leader of the Opposition, but I ask him to clarify the Conservative party's policy for the record. If the Conservatives came

17 Jun 2003 : Column 222

to power, would they abolish a supreme court or a judicial appointments commission, or is this only a lot of hot air with great entertainment value?

Mr. Forth: Let me take the hon. Gentleman back a little way—

Mr. Allen: What is your policy?

Mr. Speaker: Order.

Mr. Forth: Let me take the hon. Gentleman back to the debate that took place on the reform of the House of Lords. We set up a commission, we consulted, we took advice, we published some thoughts, we had debates and we then published our policy. That is the process in which we believe, as opposed to the Prime Minister, who believes in doing none of that. Our policy is to have mature discussions on these important issues, to consult and to debate.

Mr. Allen: You don't know yet.

Mr. Forth: I shall get the hon. Gentleman into Hansard by replying to his sedentary remark—that is how kind I am. He is correct: we do not know yet. That is the distinction between the Prime Minister and myself and my right hon. and hon. Friends. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. Far too noisy, Mr. Allen.

Mr. Forth: On Saturday, Lord Falconer said:

However, the hon. Member for Stirling (Mrs. McGuire)—who is now the Parliamentary Secretary, Department for Constitutional Affairs, although we do not know that officially, because we have not had a list of the Government—said:

As the Scotland Office website now reads:

Dr. Nick Palmer (Broxtowe): The right hon. Gentleman has clarified his position on a supreme court—which is that he does not know—but will he now clarify his party's position on Scotland? Will he abolish devolution or will he accept the scaling down that follows?

Mr. Forth: The hon. Gentleman knows the answer to that perfectly well. My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait), the shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, will set our position out when she replies to the debate. We have accepted the settlement following the referendum in Scotland. We have accepted the role of the Scottish Parliament, but we also believe that there should be a Secretary of State for Scotland.

17 Jun 2003 : Column 223

The presence of my hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State for Scotland is living proof of that, and I hope that that is enough for the hon. Gentleman.

Today's debate is about more than constitutional confusion—bad enough as that is.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan): Strangely, the shadow Leader of the House has not made enough of the point made by the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack). In the Order Paper today, Mr. David Crawley is described as

Despite what the Parliamentary Secretary, Department for Constitutional Affairs, says, may we conclude that the Scotland Office is a dead parrot?

Mr. Forth: Or a dead macaw, perhaps. I defer to the hon. Gentleman in that he has pointed out that what is in today's Order Paper is the only official declaration that we have had, because we have no official list of the Government. Therefore, we are all in the dark about the position of various Departments and Ministers.

The serious issue is the loss of, or reduction in, representation for the people of Wales and Scotland. It is about the loss of democratic accountability for the acts of this Government in regard to those vital parts of the United Kingdom. What are the roles of the Scottish Secretary, the Welsh Secretary and the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs? For example, does a Scottish Member with a concern go to the right hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Darling) or to the Lord Chancellor, as he is known for the time being? What happens if those two Secretaries of State disagree with each other? What happens if one Secretary of State gives a civil servant a different instruction from the other? Is the Scotland Office part of the Department for Constitutional Affairs as we were told on Thursday, or is it not, as we have been told since?

Mrs. Gillian Shephard (South-West Norfolk): Would my right hon. Friend care to speculate on what would happen if the part-time Leader of the House should choose to disagree with the part-time Secretary of State for Wales?

Mr. Forth: Perhaps the bicephalous right hon. Gentleman could tell us that when he makes his own contribution—[Interruption.] Yes, I thought that that might tax some Labour Members. On a serious point, if the right hon. Member for Darlington (Mr. Milburn) felt obliged to resign from a job as one Secretary of State, how can others be reasonably expected to do a job as two?

Kevin Brennan: Can the right hon. Gentleman remind us what arrangements were made in those areas by the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), the previous Leader of the Opposition? The shadow Secretary of State for Wales is sitting next to the right hon. Gentleman, so perhaps he can whisper in his ear and tell him what those arrangements were.

17 Jun 2003 : Column 224

Mr. Forth: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, because I have in front of me a copy of his early-day motion. It reads:

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, but I doubt whether Government Front-Bench Members are.

Last week began with the Government saying no to a referendum on the new European constitution. The Government started this week with a pledge of referendums on regional assemblies. We began last week with the Government running away from a referendum on the destruction of the pound, but we ended it with them promising emergency legislation in another place to allow referendums on the use of fluoride in water.

My final question concerns the role of the Secretary of State for Health—the right hon. Member for Hamilton, North and Bellshill (Dr. Reid)—and the West Lothian question. The absurdity of the right hon. Gentleman's appointment is that we have a Member of Parliament who represents a Scottish constituency telling us how to run the NHS in England, when he has no say over health policy in Scotland because the issue is devolved. The Father of the House is, as ever, in his place. Of this appointment, he said:

That is a view from north of the border, and we respect it, but—lest it be thought that that is the only view on the matter—I shall also quote the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay), who said:

So two highly respected Labour Members—one from north of the border, and one from England—have both made the same point in their very individual ways.

Next Section

IndexHome Page