Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Osborne rose—

Mr. Andrew Turner rose—

Mrs. McGuire: I am not taking any more interventions at the moment.

We have a flexible constitution that recognises that we have an asymmetric country and that we need to meet its changing demands. In other words, our constitution works.

Mr. Turner: Given that an elector in my constituency has one 100,000th of a say in the election of its Member of Parliament, how can the Minister defend a position in which electors in parts of Scotland have one 25,000th of a say?

Mrs. McGuire: The argument against having two classes of Member of Parliament has been made by the hon. Gentleman's own Front-Bench spokesman on devolved government. That argument has already been made, not by the Government but by the Opposition.

Mr. Osborne rose—

Mrs. McGuire: I just want to deal with one final point that the hon. Member for Galloway and Upper

21 Jan 2004 : Column 1403

Nithsdale raised. He said that he wanted the Speaker to have a power to tag some Bills geographically. The hon. Gentleman assumes that that would be a neat solution, but like so many of the Tories' neat solutions, from the poll tax to the botched privatisation of the railways, it is not simple at all. At best, it would be extremely complex to administer and, moreover, we would be in danger of prejudicing the impartiality of the Chair. How would the Speaker tag the Second Reading of the Higher Education Bill, for example, which contains issues that undoubtedly impact on Scotland? And what if the majority of the House thought that the Speaker was wrong?

Anyway, why stop at Hadrian's wall? Why not follow the logic of the hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale and say that a Manchester MP cannot speak on the future of airports in the south-east of England, or that only London MPs should vote on the future of Heathrow, or perhaps that all naval decisions should be made by MPs who represent Portsmouth?

Mr. Salmond: The position of the hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale on top-up fees is totally absurd, as is his voting record. However, may I point out that the Speaker already has the power to certify Bills as exclusively Scottish and send them to the Scottish Grand Committee? Why would it therefore be such a problem to give him a similar power for English matters?

Mrs. McGuire: As the hon. Gentleman knows, by convention the Grand Committee has not legislated, so that would be a difficult move to make. I am interested, however, in his and his party's very positive contribution to the debate.

One final point should be addressed. Why do the Opposition talk only about the voting rights of Scottish MPs? Why is there no mention of colleagues from Wales who vote on matters that are devolved to Wales? Why not question the voting rights of hon. Members from Northern Ireland who vote on Great Britain matters that will not extend to Northern Ireland? The reason, of course, is not the fact that Members with Scottish constituencies vote; it is how the majority of them vote that really irritates the Opposition.

The motion is not constitutional. It is an attempt by the Tories to gerrymander votes in the House to their own political ends. Members on the Labour Benches believe that we remain a United Kingdom Parliament and that, as such, we shall not move into a realm where there are first and second-class Members of the House.

I have spent all my political life endeavouring to minimise participation in the House of Commons by Opposition Members and their parties, but I have done so in the proper fashion: I have taken my arguments to the electorate. Since 1997, the Scottish electorate have agreed with me in almost every case—the exception is that of the hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale. Since 1997, Scottish electors have had the opportunity to choose a Conservative on 144 occasions, yet on 143 they have refused.

The hon. Gentleman is a Member, however. May I suggest to him that that is a privilege and a solemn responsibility? In all sincerity, I ask him not to shirk that

21 Jan 2004 : Column 1404

responsibility, not to treat it lightly, not to parley it for short-term political opportunity. I ask him to participate with us, as a full member of the United Kingdom. That is the principled position. I ask the House to reject this foolish motion and to vote for the amendment.

5.7 pm

John Thurso (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (LD): I congratulate the hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale (Mr. Duncan) on his Damascene conversion to the cause of devolution, but may I invite him to think that through to its logical conclusion?

At the heart of the debate is the West Lothian question. It is a real and serious issue that merits careful consideration; we need to look at the principles behind it. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale and his hon. Friends introduced their motion in such a self-congratulatory and self-seeking way; the subject deserves better than that.

The West Lothian question was first put about 27 years ago by the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), the present Father of the House. That was well before the current devolution settlement, and well before its implications had been experienced. We must consider the issue in the light of that settlement and its success in the devolved nations. From that perspective, it is clear that the West Lothian question needs to be rephrased. Instead of asking, "Why should the Member for West Lothian—or Linlithgow as it is now—vote on English matters, when his English counterpart cannot vote on West Lothian matters?", we should ask, "Why does the English citizen not enjoy the same representation and democratic accessibility as his or her counterpart in West Lothian?"

Which end of the telescope do we want to look through? That is at the heart of the debate. For those who, like my right hon. and hon. Friends, are of the opinion that devolution for the nations of the United Kingdom brings positive results and improves contact between the governed and those who govern, it is clear that England is suffering from a democratic deficit, which needs to be remedied.

On the other hand, those who have never believed in devolution and would dearly like to see it fail will naturally ignore these facts and seek to unpick the settlement. The Conservative motion is clearly in that vein. Not for the first time, the Conservative party is simply looking through the wrong end of the telescope.

We should take as our start point for the debate and for the serious issues within it the fact that the devolution settlements for London, Wales and Scotland—and indeed Northern Ireland, which we all hope will go to its full conclusion in due course—are all here to stay and are by and large successful. The answer to the West Lothian question, therefore, must lie in the remedy for England.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con): While I go along to a surprising extent with the hon. Gentleman's remarks, in that I am a long-standing advocate of an English Parliament, must he not acknowledge that to lump together, as he has done, the Scottish Parliament and the arrangements for London, Wales and Northern Ireland is not the right direction to

21 Jan 2004 : Column 1405

take, as they are all completely and inherently different? Our focus on Scotland is valid to the extent that Scotland is the only fully legislative Parliament with a degree of taxing powers, which is why we are focusing on that.

John Thurso: I believe that my later remarks will fully answer the right hon. Gentleman's question. But I would say that it is the principle of devolution that counts, and that is what I am looking at.

My party has always believed that the natural end result of devolution is a federal United Kingdom, where each of the nations enjoys domestic devolution within one United Kingdom state, with this Parliament as the United Kingdom federal Parliament. It is a position we have held for a long time. It is clear, and it unquestionably answers the West Lothian question. Indeed, it is the only answer.

Mr. Foulkes: If it is not too patronising , I should like to say that the hon. Gentleman is making a very good speech. Does he agree that we are going through a process of phased federalism? Scotland has legislative as well as Executive powers. We hope that the Assembly for Northern Ireland will soon come back, and it also has legislative as well as Executive powers. Wales is looking at the possibility of legislative powers.

Mr. Forth: What about England?

Mr. Foulkes: Absolutely. The real difficulty, which the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) is highlighting, is England. What we need is devolution for England or for its regions, or a combination of both.

John Thurso: I concur entirely. But I have always believed that all devolution in the area of the constitution is iterative. That is why I voted as I did on the arrangements for another place; I believe that it will be fully elected one day and that every little step on the path helps.

I turn to the proposals in the motion. Leaving aside the rather narcissistic comments therein of the hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale, it could be said that his proposals might offer an interim solution. But any detailed examination reveals them to be both simplistic and impractical. I shall give three examples.

First, however, it is important to understand what devolution actually did. Here, for the sake of brevity, I shall confine myself to the Scotland Act 1998, although some of what I say will apply to other devolved areas.

In the Scotland Act devolution was delegated by this Parliament. What we did here was to delegate responsibility for certain legislative and Executive action. We delegated power; we did not cede it. Power delegated is power retained. This Parliament remains sovereign and may at any time use that retained authority to pass legislation for devolved matters if it so chooses, notwithstanding the devolution settlement.

That is clear in several sections of the Scotland Act. Section 30, for example, enables the Government by Order in Council to make any amendments or any change they wish to schedules 4 and 5, the schedules that set out both the reserved and the devolved matters.

21 Jan 2004 : Column 1406

Therefore, by the simple expedient of an Order in Council, what is or is not devolved may be changed. Thus, any piece of primary legislation passed in the House could become Scottish legislation at a future date without any consideration in Scotland.

I fully accept that that has not happened to date and that it may even be unlikely. I would certainly like to think that with the current Government it would be unlikely. But let us foresee a different situation, with two different parties in power in Scotland and in the United Kingdom Parliament, when we may find that the temptation becomes overpowering. In section 28(7), it is made absolutely clear that the powers given to the Scottish Parliament do

Taken together, this means that any piece of primary legislation agreed to in this place by the simple expedient of an Order in Council may be imposed on Scotland, devolution or no. How do I answer my constituents if that occurs and I have neither taken part nor voted?

Secondly, we must look at the Sewel motion—the device by which matters of legislation considered in the House that have devolved competence may be put into effect in Scotland without a Scottish Act. It was originally intended, when the Scotland Bill was being considered, that this device should be something of a back-stop, but I believe that, since the inception of the Scottish Parliament, there have been 46 Sewel motions, covering 41 Bills. If I am not allowed to take part in the proceedings in the House, on what has now become a fairly regular occurrence, my constituents are deprived of any voice in the matter.

The third point that I raise is perhaps one of the most important, because it relates to one of the most important reserved functions—the Treasury. Given that virtually every Bill brought before the House has financial implications or requires a money order, it is unthinkable that any hon. Member should be deprived of the right to express an opinion or to vote.

Next Section

IndexHome Page