Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The Armed Forces (Pensions and Compensation) Bill was presented to the House this afternoon. I understand that Bills are not always available at the time of presentation, but I seek your guidance because that Bill is not available today, so presumably you and the House have been presented with something that is not there. Apparently, it will be available tomorrow morning when the House is not sitting.

This complex legislation has far-reaching consequences for Her Majesty's armed forces. For that Bill to be presented today and, for some obscure reason, not to be available to right hon. and hon. Members, but to be available to the public tomorrow and to Members of the House on Monday, is a discourtesy to the House. Mr. Deputy Speaker, I wonder whether you can advise me on what action I may be able to take to protect the rights of Members to have sight of legislation at the first opportunity, and certainly before the rest of the public has sight of it.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: As I understand it, there are precedents for such an occurrence. As the Second

4 Dec 2003 : Column 709

Reading of the Bill will not take place before Christmas, there should be adequate opportunity for hon. Members to study the content of the Bill in due course.

3.54 pm

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): Thank you for calling me, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was momentarily alarmed when you looked at the other side of the Chamber.

I want to speak about the consequences, through the operation of the Barnett formula, of aspects of the legislative programme for funding in Scotland. The Barnett formula is the Schleswig-Holstein question of Scottish politics. Only three people understood it. One is mad, one is dead—and I have forgotten. Certainly, Lord Barnett has forgotten—in a radio interview I did with him some months ago, he seemed to have forgotten the precepts of his own formula.

Contrary to what many hon. Members believe, the Barnett formula is an equalisation formula. It is designed to converge identifiable public spending per head in Scotland, Wales and England. It has not done so probably for two reasons. One is that the population estimates on which it was based were initially retrospective. Secondly, it does not work in periods of low growth in public spending. Barnett applies to public spending growth. If public spending growth is near zero, as it was in the 1990s, not just under the Conservative Government but in the first few years of this Labour Government, Barnett does not apply.

Both those things have gone into reverse. The current part-time Secretary of State for Scotland, when he was Chief Secretary to the Treasury, amended the population co-efficients in a way detrimental both to Scotland and to Wales. Public spending is now rising quickly. Barnett is cutting in with ferocity. There is a Barnett squeeze on Scottish public spending and indeed on public spending in Wales.

Measures within the legislative programme such as top-up fees, in the same way as the measures on foundation hospitals in the previous Session, will undoubtedly have an impact on Scottish public spending via the Barnett formula. I cite Professor Arthur Midwinter, who told the Scottish Parliament enterprise and culture committee on 2 September this year:

That is similar to the point made earlier in the year by two other respected Scottish economists, Margaret and Jim Cuthbert, who wrote to The Herald on 6 May:

Legislation to be applied in England will undoubtedly have adverse consequences for Scottish public funding through the operation of the Barnett formula. It is therefore extraordinary that any Scottish MPs, never mind Scottish Labour MPs, should choose to support those measures.

There used to be an old joke in Scottish politics. How many Scottish Labour MPs does it take to change a light bulb? The answer is none because Scottish Labour MPs

4 Dec 2003 : Column 710

never change anything. That is no longer true. Scottish Labour MPs changed public policy south of the border on foundation hospitals a few weeks ago and potentially could do it again on the issue of top-up fees.

After 100 years of struggle, 100 years of the Scottish Labour party introducing enlightenment, education and socialism to the dark recesses of the south of England, after 100 years of political struggle, we have come to the pinnacle of the achievement of Scottish Labour MPs, which is to impose private finance on the English health service and potentially to impose top-up fees on English students, to the detriment not just of English public services but of public services in Scotland via the Barnett formula.

I see some worrying nods of agreement from Conservative Members. It is extraordinary that Scottish Labour MPs should vote in massive numbers for those detrimental measures, but equally extraordinary is the abstention of the sole Scottish MP in the Conservative party. That party is meant to be vigorously opposed to these measures, which will undoubtedly be detrimental to Scotland, but he has sat on his hands and refused to vote. If the Prime Minister made everyone on the Labour Back Benches a Minister and managed to mobilise the payroll vote and, by some miracle, his blandishments meant that he scraped through the top-up fees vote by one vote in the early part of next year, and if the hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale (Mr. Duncan) had abstained on that vote, he and the Conservative party would look even more ludicrous than they do already in attempting to claim the title of shadow Secretary of State for Scotland when they have a party of one person. I hope that Conservative Members will encourage their one Scottish representative to vote both in the Scottish and the English public interest in defence of Scottish and English public services.

Mr. Butterfill: May I say on behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale (Mr. Duncan) that he thinks it important as a point of principle that as a Scottish Member of Parliament he should not be voting on exclusively English business?

Mr. Salmond: Unfortunately, the hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale probably has not read the work of the economists who have pointed out to the Scottish Committees and the Scottish Parliament the implications for Scotland and the definite knock-on effects of the measures. For many years in this House I have adopted a policy of not voting on English business and I still do that when there is no financial consequence for Scotland. The recent controversy over jury trials in England is an example. As the matter ping-ponged between the House of Lords and the House of Commons, my colleagues and I nobly abstained. An abstention on such a matter, which has no consequences for Scotland, is understandable, but it is totally inexplicable to abstain on a matter that clearly has a financial consequence for Scotland.

Kevin Brennan: Do I understand the hon. Gentleman's policy to be that Scottish Labour Members of Parliament should not vote on matters that affect England only, Conservative Members of Parliament

4 Dec 2003 : Column 711

from Scotland should vote on matters that affect Scotland only, and he feels free to do as he pleases when he pleases?

Mr. Salmond: Occasionally, I despair. I have carefully argued that the Bills that we are talking about—concerning top-up fees and foundation hospitals—affect Scotland. What I find incredible is not that Scottish Labour Members voted, but that they voted in favour of a measure that will reduce public expenditure in Scotland as a consequence of Barnett. I do not mind people voting on a matter that is of interest to Scotland, but I resent foundation hospitals going through with a majority of 17, with 44 Scottish Labour Members of Parliament voting to impose the measure on the English health service.

I want to come to the solution to the conundrum that we have been left with as a result of the activities of past Conservative Governments, who imposed the poll tax on the Scottish people, and the current Labour Government, who imposed foundation hospitals on the English people using the voting fodder of Scottish Labour MPs. Let us be fair to Scotland and England. Clearly, the way to avoid the unwanted consequence of knock-on financial effects is to give the Scottish Parliament the financial power to match its policy responsibility. If the Scottish Parliament had fiscal autonomy, it would make its own decisions about matters such as foundation hospitals and top-up fees without fearing the consequences of the decisions made by the House of Commons. Policy responsibility and financial responsibility should go together. That is the first point.

Secondly, as regards Bills that do not have a financial impact on Scotland at present, why does the House not consider extending Standing Order No. 97? As everyone is aware, that is the now little-used Standing Order by which the Speaker can certify Bills as Scottish only. For Second Reading and perhaps for Committee stage, such Bills are referred to Scottish-only Committees. It would be relatively simple to have an equivalent Standing Order relating to England to allow Bills that were genuinely English-only at that stage to be considered by the mysterious Regional Affairs Committee. That Committee sits in this House and every English Member is entitled to be a member of it—I have the current membership before me—but it has not met since this April. No doubt it could do some useful work in considering English-only legislation, if so certified under a Standing Order by the Speaker of this House. If and when the Scottish Parliament is given the powers to do the job that it is required to do for the Scottish people, all such English Bills could be so certified, and voted on by such a Committee. That is a solution that is elegant, fair to Scotland and fair to England.

Of course, none of these problems would arise if we had independence for Scotland—and independence for England. Many people tell me that England could not manage as an independent country. I reject that. I am certain that the English people are well capable of governing themselves, and can actually do without Scottish Labour MPs being used as voting fodder by this Prime Minister, in order to impose unwanted policies on the English people.

4 Dec 2003 : Column 712

Next Section

IndexHome Page