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Scottish Constituencies (Members' Voting Rights)

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): I must announce to the House that Mr. Speaker has selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister, and I remind hon. Members that there is a 10-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches.

4.18 pm

Mr. Peter Duncan (Galloway and Upper Nithsdale) (Con): I beg to move,

The Scotland Act was passed on 19 November 1998, and it was greeted with a general welcome north of the border. Scotland would have its first Parliament for 300 years, and a new political landscape unfolded in Scotland. No longer would we Scots be able to put our failings entirely down to the failings of Westminster; we could deal adequately with our unique political and social issues. No longer could the carping continue. Within the powers of the new Scottish Parliament lay the ability radically to influence our own nation. Rightly, the Scottish nation wanted, and received, the ability to direct its own course on a whole raft of policy issues.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Duncan: The motion is about ensuring that devolution works. The Scottish Parliament is here to stay—all £400 million-worth of it. [Hon. Members: "Give way."] The only other option for Scotland is to follow the policies of separatism and independence, so often rejected by the Scots electorate. We wish to give no further oxygen to the separatists and nationalists, and that is why we want to draw the attention of the House to the Government's continued failure to address the West Lothian question.

Mr. Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way so early in his speech. I welcome his wish to give no extra oxygen to the forces of separatism. Does he therefore agree with the comments of his boss, the right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry)? A couple of years ago, in opposing a ten-minute Bill moved by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field), the right hon. Gentleman said:

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Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the motion would achieve precisely that?

Mr. Duncan: The hon. Gentleman will find out shortly whether I agree.

Put simply, it does nothing for the cause of stable devolution and good government across the United Kingdom for hon. Members representing Scottish constituencies such as my own to continue to seek to vote on legislation in this House for which the equivalent power has been devolved to the Scottish Parliament.

It is somehow appropriate that we are bringing the matter to the attention of the House today in the week following the announcement by the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) that he will not seek re-election. The fact that we face the prospect of the architect of the West Lothian question leaving the House before his constitutional dilemma is properly addressed is an indictment that we must try to avoid. The outside world recognised long ago that this constitutional outrage would have to be addressed. Indeed, in 1998 The Herald interviewed the hon. Gentleman, who is now Father of the House, and he said:

When responding to the hon. Gentleman in Committee, Enoch Powell christened that "the West Lothian question". Twenty-seven years later, it is high time the hon. Gentleman had an answer.

Of course the Government have their own solution. The former Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine of Lairg, said in the Daily Mail on 17 July 1999:

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan) (SNP) Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Duncan: As the Scottish Parliament enters its sixth year, it is legitimate to ask why the Government have completely failed to address that question. It is really not that difficult. The Scottish people themselves realise that the issue must be addressed before it further undermines the new constitutional settlement.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Duncan: I was interested to read in a recent newspaper poll that a clear majority of Scots back our view that hon. Members with seats in Scotland should abstain on devolved matters. It is unusual for this Government to be so dismissive of opinion polls. We are well used to them being dismissive of their own manifesto commitments, but suddenly public opinion in Scotland does not seem to matter either.

Sir Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife) (LD): When the hon. Gentleman visited my constituency recently, he will have been aware of the presence of St. Andrews university. Is he seriously suggesting that, if it is my considered judgment that the passing into law of the

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Higher Education Bill would have long-term implications for that university and its students, I should abstain next Tuesday evening?

Mr. Duncan: The right hon. and learned Gentleman will learn shortly why I feel that he should abstain. The Scottish Parliament has made its decision on tuition fees, and I will come to that shortly.

Devolution, as Scots know, has reached a fork in the road. We can do as the Government would hope, and keep our hands firmly buried in the sand—failing to accept the natural consequences of devolution and putting the stability of the settlement at risk—or recognise that devolution has moved Scotland on. [Interruption.] Government Members might do well to listen. Devolution has moved both Scotland and the United Kingdom on—

Mr. Bill Tynan (Hamilton, South) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Russell Brown (Dumfries) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Duncan: We must accept the consequences—[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but I think that the House has had a demonstration that the hon. Member at the Dispatch Box will indicate when he is giving way. If he does not wish to give way, that has to be respected. In addition, it would be better if we had less sedentary barracking.

Mr. Duncan: Do we recognise that devolution has moved Scotland and the United Kingdom on, accept its consequences and thus build it on a stronger foundation?

Let us review why we have reached this fork in the road at this time. The point is that the Government have so lamentably lost control of their own Back Benchers that rebellions are regular and their huge majority faces constant threat. The last occasion on which the fork in the road was clearly in focus was in November last year, when the House faced a choice on whether to introduce foundation hospitals in England and Wales. Despite the fact that that part of health policy is clearly a devolved power, the Government survived the vote only with the assistance of their Scottish Lobby fodder on their Back Benches. Even though the decision on whether to introduce that policy for their constituents was clearly within the remit of the Scottish Parliament, Scottish Members saw fit to troop lamely through the Lobby and save the day for their beleaguered Prime Minister.

Mr. George Osborne (Tatton) (Con): My hon. Friend is making a powerful speech. He referred to the vote on foundation hospitals. Does he remember that, when the right hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) was shadow Health Secretary, he said that after devolution he could not fill the role of an English Health Secretary dealing with English health matters? The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) is not alone in making that argument.

Mr. Duncan: My hon. Friend is entirely correct. The irony continued: not only did Scottish Members vote on

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foundation hospitals, but they followed through the Lobby a Secretary of State for Health who represents a constituency to which he did have to answer for that policy.

That travesty was made even worse by the knowledge that the Scottish Labour party, of which those hon. Members are such loyal servants, had explicitly ruled out a similar policy in Scotland. In the Scottish Parliament, David McLetchie MSP asked the First Minister:

The First Minister replied:

That is as near as the First Minister gets to a straight answer, but it shows how entirely duplicitous the Scottish Labour party has become.

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