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The Opposition are willing to take any course and ride roughshod over some of our most cherished and fundamental matters of principle, which underpin our constitution. That is the dangerous conundrum that the hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale has got himself into today.
Mr. Pike: Does my hon. Friend believe that the Conservative party is so committed to devolution that Conservative Members would admit that it was totally wrong to allow Tory MPs to vote in strength to introduce the poll tax in Scotland during the 198387 Parliament?
Mrs. McGuire: With great respect to my hon. Friend, the poll tax unfairness was pre-devolution. However, the lesson of the poll tax is linked to what my hon. Friend says, because, by introducing general taxation in one part of the UK without introducing it universally, the Conservative Government upset the delicate balance between the regions of the United Kingdomthat is what they did.
The Opposition must answer several fundamental questions in the debate. Why are they attempting to undermine the sovereignty of Parliament at Westminster? How do they believe that an Executive can carry on when a Government party of any colour is able to command a majority only on some issues, not on others? What alternative form of constitution do they propose? Are they asking us to choose between federalism, which may well be supported by the Liberal Democrats, and breaking up the Union? Is that what they want?
Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): The Minister referred earlier to what she described as opportunism. Is she aware that I, in common with all my hon. Friends, stood for Parliament at the last election on a manifesto that spoke of English votes for English mattersand that was before the Prime Minister had broken the promises that he made in the same election? [Interruption.]
I am rapidly coming to a conclusion: that the Conservative party sits in the Scottish Parliament, which it claims not to believe in; that Conservative Members' colleagues sit in the European Parliament, which they do not believe in; and I am now beginning to suspect that Conservative Members sit in this Parliament without believing in it.
The Opposition's argument today ignores constitutional principles. In view of the "principled" flim-flam that we heard from the hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale, I hate to tell him that his argument was constructed for short-term gain based on parliamentary arithmetic. He made that particularly clear towards the end of his speech.
Mrs. McGuire: I shall not give way, as I want to make some progress. I am aware that lots of hon. Members want to contribute to the debate. I should like to leave them some time, so that we can get as many arguments on the record as possible.
The constitution of this country limits political power and balances the relationship between our institutions. We cannot, and should not, change it by adopting stupid procedural alterations that would have fundamental consequences. Have the Opposition really considered what their so-called simple suggestion would mean? It is bizarre for a Conservative and Unionist party to advocate proposals whose consequences could signal the end of the partnership that is the United Kingdom.
Mr. Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton) (Con): Clearly, this is not a short-term issue, as it has been bubbling away for the best part of 30 years. Will the Minister deal with the central problemthe lack of parity between Members of this House with Scottish constituencies and those with English constituencies? At the moment, Scottish MPs can vote on English matters, but English ones cannot vote on Scottish matters. Furthermore, that lack of parity is compounded by the fact that Scottish Members of this Parliament cannot vote on most Scottish issues. Does the Minister accept that some rebalancing of our procedures is needed, given that lack of parity?
Mrs. McGuire: The hon. Gentleman makes his point in a very civilised manner, but he ignores the central aspect of the Opposition's argumentthat there should be two classes of Members of Parliament in this House.
Mrs. McGuire: We are getting into difficult territory, so I shall refer the House to the comments of one of our colleagues, who set out the consequences of the Opposition's position most effectively. He said:
David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): Is my hon. Friend aware that the right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry) made his remarks when opposing a Bill brought in under the ten-minute rule? Most of the Labour Members who voted on that Bill voted for the position advocated by the right hon. Gentleman, as he made a brilliant case for retaining this Parliament as a UK Parliament. It is unfortunate that his should be the second name on today's motion.
This Parliament is a UK Parliament. It is a sovereign Parliament. It was sovereign before devolution, and remains so today. The Scotland Act 1998 states that explicitly. It is entirely alien to this Parliament that there should be two classes of Member.
Mrs. McGuire: I remind the Opposition that the rights of the member nations of the UK have been debated in this House since the 18th century. The same conclusion has been reached time after timethat it is unacceptable to have different classes of Members in a UK Parliament.
We have before us an Opposition motion that has not been drafted in some treatise by Burke, by Gladstone or by some eminent royal commission, or as a result of considered cross-party discussion. It is a tawdry exercise by a party that, for potential short-term gain, wishes to ransom an arrangement that has stood the test of time in this House.
My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mr. Lazarowicz) asked the hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale about one of the comments of the right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon, whom I shall embarrass one more time. He said:
I suggest to the hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale that the Government, by contrast with his party, have taken a principled position on how the electorate in Scotland are to be represented in this House. We have acknowledged the argument that Scotland is over-represented here, and although it is for the boundary commission to make final decisions, that representation will be reduced by 13 seats. That is a sensible, magnanimous and principled change, brought about because some Members have been asked to put aside their personal interests to implement it.