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Mrs. Liddell: The right hon. Gentleman addresses the House in a Scottish accent, but he is a Member of the House only because he represents an English constituencyScottish constituencies would have nothing to do with him.
I am a Unionist. Many Labour Members believe that the United Kingdom is what stands best for our constituents, and that a devolved Scottish Parliament, a devolved Welsh Assembly, the continuationI hopeof devolution for Northern Ireland and devolution for the English regions that want it strengthens the United Kingdom. Conservative Members are the separatists in
Mrs. Liddell: I would be tempted to agree with my hon. Friend, but I wish to pay tribute to the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross because he made and good and powerful Unionist speech.
Let us be absolutely clear. The debate is not about the West Lothian question. It is a piece of cynical opportunism and an attempt to defeat a Labour Government. It is interesting that a Conservative Member is making a separatist point because the Conservatives and the real separatists defeated the Labour Government in 1979.
The debate is about next week's consideration of the Higher Education Bill. It is important to put on record that although it is assumed that the Bill will not apply to Scotland, a third of its clauses relate to Scotland. One of the most critical aspects of the Bill is the fact that it will increase the cut-off pointthe salary at which graduates must start to pay back moneyfrom £10,000 a year to £15,000 a year. That will affect my constituents and I want the measure put in place because it is important to them. I have constituents who attend English universities. They study everything from ballet to business management and have an interest in that legislation.
The prosperity of all the United Kingdom is important to my constituents as well. The Higher Education Bill attempts to bring English university entrants up to the same level as Scottish university entrants. It tries to correct an imbalance that affects the performance of our economy.
Mr. Andrew Turner: I do not want to argue with the right hon. Lady about the purpose of the Higher Education Bill, but surely she accepts that English students attend Scottish universities and French students attend English universities. Neither of those examples is an argument for the Parliament of those countries to intervene in the running of Scottish universities.
Mrs. Liddell: I was not aware that France was part of the United Kingdom. I thought we got that sorted out about 1,000 years ago. The fact that French students come to Scottish and English universities makes me proud to be Scottish, British and European.
It is no surprise that the people of this country are cynical about politicians because this motion is one of the most cynical moves I have ever seen. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale is trapped in this argument. I would be very interested to knowalthough we never will know the answerwhether he was aware that his party leader was going to tar him with the responsibility of not voting on English legislation. It will be interesting to see at the next general
Mr. Salmond: For the sake of clarity, will the right hon. Lady confirm that if she agrees with her Scottish Labour colleagues on the Enterprise and Culture Committee that the Bill will have an "adverse impact" on Scottish universities, she will vote against it?
Mrs. Liddell: That is not what they said. I disagree profoundly with the hon. Gentleman. The changes that the Bill introduces will go a long way to improving the lot of my constituents. He has to be mature enough about devolution to acknowledge that just because something does not have "made in Scotland" stamped right through it does not mean that there is something wrong with it. He is changing his position on whether or not he votes on such matters. Were the model that we want to introduce for England replicated in Scotland, it would be a considerable improvement on the lot of Scottish students.
We need to expose the opportunism of the motion. I think that the House will overwhelmingly show up the cynicism and opportunism of the hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale. I am sorry that a party that has a proud tradition of Unionism should have been so easily swayed into the separatist camp.
Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con): It is a pleasure to be the first English Member to participate in the debate. I listened with respect to the right hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts (Mrs. Liddell). I hope that she will not find my speech cynical or opportunistic. It is certainly not meant to be a separatist speech or an argument for English nationalism or an English Parliament. I am interested in rebalancing the constitution to take account of the reality of devolution. That is a responsible thing for the House to do.
Constitutional reform has not been the Government's strongest point. Having promised the country at the last general election that we would have a more democratic House of Lords, we are now moving towards a wholly appointed House of Lords without even waiting for the next Parliament to break that election commitment. Regional assemblies have yet to fire the public's imagination. We recently saw a bungled attempt to abolish the post of Lord Chancellor. We heard earlier today of the inexplicable delay in the introduction of a civil service Bill.
The debate shows that Labour Members are oblivious to the imbalance in our constitution post-devolution. When we recently debated the matter in Westminster Hall, at the initiative of my hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray), nearly all the Labour Back Benchers who participated were from Scottish constituencies. The only English Labour MPs present were the Minister and, briefly, his Parliamentary Private Secretaryan indication of a lack of concern by Labour Members about the constitutional imbalance as seen from the English perspective. As we move towards
The present constitutional settlement is unfair, unstable and indefensible, and Labour Members seek to portray it through the eyes of Members, but I agree with the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso) that that is the wrong lens. We should look at the issue through the eyes of our constituents and ask whether they are equal. The injustice is simply explained. Until 1998, the people of North-West Hampshire could influence, through their MP, policy in Scotland, for example, on care in the community, and of course the converse was the case. After devolution, my constituents lost that ability, but although they can no longer have a say in whether their Scottish friends pay for personal care in a nursing home, their Scottish friends can influence whether they have to pay for such care. I have to say to Labour Members that it is frankly impossible to defend or explain the current position to my constituents.
Sir George Young: In a moment. The position is compounded by the West Lothian question, whereby Scottish Members can impose foundation hospitals on my constituents, but not on their own. As an English MP with English constituents, I find it impossible to defend the status quo.
Angus Robertson: On defending the indefensible, will the right hon. Gentleman defend the participation of the hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale (Mr. Duncan) in the proceedings on the Mersey Tunnels Bill and the City of London (Ward Elections) Bill? What impact do those matters have on Scotland?
Sir George Young: I thought that my hon. Friend the Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale (Mr. Duncan) defended himself remarkably well in the face of a sustained onslaught from Members on both sides of the House. The proposition that we are debating today is whether Scottish MPs should vote on matters that exclusively concern England and Wales. We want the position to change, and I hope that when it does hon. Members will observe the convention that I am about to promote.
We got an insight into the Government's response in the debate a fortnight ago. The Deputy Leader of the House, the hon. Member for Oldham, East and Saddleworth (Mr. Woolas), who replied to the debate, said: