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Mr. Foulkes: The right hon. Gentleman is making a perfectly valid point, but does he agree that the answer is not to introduce the dog's breakfast suggested by his Front-Bench spokesmanto try to classify Bills as applying to England and Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland or some combination of the threebut to do as we did when we got furious because the right hon. Gentleman imposed the poll tax on Scotland? We got devolution; surely he should be campaigning for devolution for England.
Sir George Young: I am delighted that I have carried the right hon. Gentleman with me so far, and I hope to carry him for the rest of my argumenta substantial burden.
In the debate a fortnight ago, the Minister said:
In fairness to Ministers, I have to point out that they have now abandoned one argumentregional assemblies. Throughout the last Parliament we were told that they were the right answer to this issue. The Under-Secretary did not use that argument this afternoon, and it was not used a fortnight ago, because it is not a legitimate argument.
I make no apologies for bringing to the attention of the House once again the fourth report of the Procedure Committee in the 199899 Session, which contains a section on legislation. The proposition that the Under-Secretary suggested we dismiss as impractical was specifically examined by a Committee of this House. Those who are interested in the subject will find support from the Procedure Committee for an argument that, in the light of devolution, different procedures might be necessary.
That Committee had a majority of Labour MPs. It anticipated conflict post-devolution and wisely suggested procedures to minimise it. It suggested that we change our rules by convention. Paragraphs 25 and 26 of the report are worth reading in full. The latter states:
That is not to bring an end to parliamentary sovereignty. On the contrary, it is to keep parliamentary sovereignty alive by making changes to reflect the fact of devolution. Paragraph 28 argues that representation on Bills dealing with English legislation should be in accordance with party balance in England, not the House.
The Procedure Committee, which approved that unanimously, included nine Government Members. It also included the Liberal Democrat spokesman on constitutional affairs, the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler). The principle that my hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire and I are putting forward is not just ours. A Committee of the House adopted it. The Committee also dealt with the argument that identifying such Bills would be impossible for the Speaker by dismissing the point in paragraph 27. So, this is not a cynical and opportunistic argument from the Conservative party. It is taking forward a unanimous recommendation of the Procedure Committee.
David Taylor: Is the right hon. Gentleman confident that, even given his long parliamentary experience, knowledge of constitutional affairs and service on the Procedure Committee, it will always be possible accurately and unambiguously to classify Bills as so-called English legislation? Does he not recognise that some very complex issues are involved and that such a proposition would be a dog's breakfast in its own right?
Sir George Young: I suggest that the hon. Gentleman looks not just at the Report but at the evidence given to the Committee. It took evidence from Clerks of the House and Chairmen of Standing Committees, and came to the conclusion to which I have referred:
What did the Government do when they received the report? They just dismissed it. They said:
There is support in my constituency for the sort of solution that the House is debating. I remember seeing an opinion poll showing a majority in Scotland for the proposition that Scottish MPs should not vote on English domestic legislation. So, the proposal that only English and Welsh MPs should vote on Bills covering England and Wales could work perfectly well within the conventions and traditions of Parliament. It is based on
Rosemary McKenna (Cumbernauld and Kilsyth) (Lab): I am delighted to take part in this debate, although it is probably the most irrelevant waste of time in this Chamber for a long while. I must ask why and why now? The debate is nothing to do with the subject of the motion. That has been said time and again but bears repeating. This is purely an attempt to highlight the fact that next week my Labour colleagues from Scotland and I will vote on the Higher Education Bill. Of course we will vote on it, and on any other issue that is required to put through our Government's programme, because we are elected as Members of the United Kingdom Parliament, with the same rights, the same duties and the same responsibilities as every other Member.
Pete Wishart (North Tayside) (SNP): The focus of our concern is not the fact that the hon. Lady and her colleagues will vote next Tuesday, but the way they will vote. Why does she not protect and defend the Scottish interest? Everyone in Scottish higher education is of the opinion that tuition fees will be bad for Scotland. Why is she voting against the Scottish interest next week?
Rosemary McKenna: I thought that we were discussing people's right to vote, not higher education. Of course, SNP Members' position is totally unprincipled. We vote on any issue; you pick and choose.
Mr. Andrew Turner: Will the hon. Lady give way?
Rosemary McKenna: Not now. Allow me to make some progress.
When in 1997 the Labour party promised the people of Scotland, and the people of Wales and Northern Ireland, that we would deliver devolution, we did not say, "Ah, but this will mean that your Member of Parliament will be of lesser value than those representing English constituencies." When in 2001 the people of Cumbernauld and Kilsyth re-elected me, they did not say to me, "Ah, but you'll only go down there and vote on certain issuesyou'll not vote on health or on education or on that sort of issue." With my colleagues, I stood for election as a Member of the United Kingdom Parliament, and I had every intention of voting on all issues. That is the constitutional position, and it is opportunism in the extreme for the Conservatives to suggest otherwise.
Mr. Alan Duncan: Will the hon. Lady be a bit more forthcoming about the existing disparity between the responsibilities each of us holds, which she says are equal? I can vote on hospitals in my constituency, whereas she cannot vote on hospitals in hers. In fact,
Rosemary McKenna: It was a decision of the House. It was your choice and it is your choice
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): Order. The hon. Lady must use the correct parliamentary language.
Rosemary McKenna: I apologise Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan) was part of the Opposition party that made a choice, and he chooses not to support the Government's attempts to deliver regional government to the rest of the country.
In the 1980s and 1990s, I played a role in Scottish local government. I was spending a lot of time visiting this place to represent those interests by 1992, when the then Government imposed a reorganisation of Scottish local government that was unwanted and uncalled for. They did so because we had opposed the poll tax. The previous Government had imposed the poll tax in Scotland despite the fact that they had no majority in Scotland, and the fact that everyone in Scotland opposed it. In addition it was imposed in Scotland a year before the rest of country.