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Let me address several worries that have arisen during the debate, one of which is very odd. The first concern is that addressing the conundrum would somehow create two-tier MPs. However, we have that situation at present to a large extent. There is already an imbalance,
In response to a further objection that was raised, I argue that the proposal before us today would not jeopardise the integrity of the United Kingdomit might do the opposite. It would establish a practice that would be more likely to secure that integrity and that would stabilise, rather than complicate, our procedures.
We live with having Scottish Members in the Cabinet, such as the Secretary of State for Scotland, who is sitting on the Government Front Bench. The Chancellor is Scottish and we had a Scottish Foreign Secretary for some time. They have occupied their posts for the whole United Kingdomindeed, the Chancellor's ever-growing taxes affect Scotland as much as England and Wales. We can live with that, but if we consider the way in which hon. Members vote on specific measures, there is inconsistency. If it is not addressed, there will be renewed pressure for an English Parliament and, thus, perhaps further fragmentation of the United Kingdom.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young) persuasively argued, recent events have sown the seeds of English and Welsh discontent more deeply. Measures for England have been enacted that could not have been enacted without the support of Scottish Members. However, as if to add insult to injury, the very same measures have been rejected in Scotland. Indeed, the same Scottish Members would have rejected the measures for Scotland if they had possessed a vote. The situation rubs our noses in it. It is as if Scottish Members are saying, "We're not going to have it ourselves, but we're going to force it on you", and, worse, demanding the right to do the opposite in England to that which they would choose to do in Scotland.
Let me canter through the alternatives. The Liberal Democrats propose a federal United Kingdom, but Conservative Members do not support that. Equally, we do not support the abolition of the Scottish Parliament. Complete Scottish independence has been suggested. We could have what might be called the "Rifkind option" of a double majority. Under that option, the
We could establish an English Grand Committee or have English-only days. My hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) suggested during a Westminster Hall debate that Scottish Members could also make up the Scottish Parliament, which would give them a dual mandate and introduce a measure of consistency to parliamentary conduct. We could have a voluntary convention, but as the Government have trampled over many such conventions, I doubt that that would last. The proposal in the motion is that the Speaker should certify the category into which Bills should fall. That might help my hon. Friend the Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale with any vote on the Mersey Tunnels Bill, especially if such a Division took place after dinner.
The situation could be serious if we fail to address the problem. [Interruption.] Perhaps even the Scottish nationalists would listen to this point because it is important and I want to admit it to the Minister. It would be really serious if the UK Government commanded an overall majority only with the help of Scottish Members of Parliament. Without the practice we advocate, and without it being established now as the way to conduct our business, a future Government in such a challenging arithmetical predicament could find its entire legitimacy questioned.
Our proposal would remove the indignation of being told what to do by a minority of MPs who are unaffected by their actions. It is designed to introduce greater stability to procedures that are rubbing along unhappily and causing growing indignation. It would draw the sting of those complaints and build a practice that addresses the West Lothian question and introduces a new force for stability and fairness in the way in which we conduct our affairs.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs (Mr. Christopher Leslie): Although the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan) conducted his contribution in a calm manner, the Conservative motion is another example of the brazen opportunism that guides the tunnel visionperhaps through the Mersey tunnel as my hon. Friends have suggestedof Tory policy under their latest leader.
Let us be clear about the principle on which this Parliament is based and should be based in future. In the House, every Member of Parliament is equal. All Members can speak on all subjects. The suggestion to the contrary is divisive and dangerous, as mentioned by the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso), my right hon. Friend the Member for Airdrie and Shotts (Mrs. Liddell) and my hon. Friends the Members for Glasgow, Anniesland (John Robertson) and for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mr. Lazarowicz). Having equality for Members of Parliament at the centre is symbolic of our aspiration for all corners of the United Kingdom to be treated equally. It is an essential unifying part of our country. To say that one class of Member of Parliament must only vote
David Burnside: In promoting the most pro-Union of policies that has ever been heard from a party that traditionally is not regarded as a pro-Union party, does the Minister agree that it is time he put up candidates in all parts of the United Kingdom, won more pro-Union Labour seats in Northern Ireland and separated himself from the separatist nationalist Social Democratic and Labour party?
Mr. Leslie: Clearly a political party can choose to stand wherever it wishes. The hon. Gentleman said that he was disappointed with his historic allies, the Conservative party, whom he feels unable to support tonight. I understand that he will side with Her Majesty's Government. In that, he is most welcome. Although some hon. Members mentioned their worries about the constitutional symmetry across the country, it is not simply a matter for Scotland, but is relevant to other parts of the country as well. The West Lothian question is just as much a west Belfast question. If we need to correct something for Scotland, which we do not, we also need to address it in Northern Ireland. Northern Irish Members of Parliament frequently voted on non-Northern Ireland business when the Assembly was up and functioning. Curiously, there was no objection from the Conservatives at the time. I suspect that their constitutional outrage is convenient and flexible, appearing only when they want it to.
Let us be honest about what we are discussing. The debate is little more than a cynical tactic aimed at the Higher Education Bill, as my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith explained. It does not matter to the Conservatives that it affects Scotland, in both policy and financial terms. It is irrelevant to the Tories that Scottish Members of Parliament have a legitimate Scottish interest. If it affects UK revenue and UK expenditure, of course it is a UK concern. In trying to drive a wedge into the Bill, the Opposition have raised the red herring of the West Lothian question.
Let us consider the simple answer to the West Lothian question. English Members of Parliament backed devolution to Scotland. The UK Parliament chose to devolve some of its powers. Parliament is content, and English Members of Parliament are content, to live with devolution. We opted, of our own free will, to create the current devolution settlement. There is no question of any unwanted imposition from Scotland on the rest of the country, as the hon. Member for Romford (Mr. Rosindell) seemed to suggest. That is the answer to the West Lothian question. English Members of Parliament, by an overwhelming majority, voted for, and continue to support, devolution to Scotland and the present constitutional settlement. The English people, too, supported Labour's manifesto at the last two general elections and are content with the constitutional settlement.
As the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) said, the West Lothian question is essentially illusory and the Conservatives have completely misconceived the matter. He spoke about the issue of whether devolution removes the need for special
The UK Parliament retains the right to legislate on devolved matters and it retains overall sovereignty, so the West Lothian question is a red herring. In arguing their case, Conservative Members have stumbled into a terrible tangle of double standards, and there is an awful lot of Tory inconsistency. One almost has to admire the sheer effrontery and confected outrage in the arguments of Conservative Members. The Leader of the Opposition now says with unblinking gravitas that, as a point of high principle, he has instructed that not a single one of his Scottish MPs will be allowed to take part in the proceedings on the Higher Education Bill. He is withdrawing the massed ranks of his Scottish forces, all one of themwhat a sweeping but completely transparent gesture.
Rather inconveniently, however, it appears that the hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale (Mr. Duncan) has voted 37 times on non-Scottish-specific business, including, I reiterate, the Mersey Tunnels Bill. Yet the Conservatives have the cheek to say in their motion that
There is a lot of Tory inconsistency here. What about the poll tax? It was imposed on Scotland when the vast majority of MPs there objected. The Tories had no qualms then. Where, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth (Rosemary McKenna) said, was the West Lothian question when the Leader of the Opposition, as the Minister responsible for local government, was the begetter of, and driving force behind, the poll tax? When recently asked about the poll tax, the Leader of the Opposition said that
When we look at the list of English Conservative Front Benchers, we see that the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Wiggin), the shadow Secretary of State for Wales, represents an English, not a Welsh, constituency. To be fair, on a clear day, from the top of a hill, with a pair of binoculars, one can probably just about see into Wales from his constituency, so that is all right. The Tories are completely inconsistent.
Let us look at the array of alternatives suggested by the Conservatives. Some Members have said that we have a constitutional mess, and others that they support devolution. I suspect that the Conservatives' gut instinct is to scrap devolution altogether, and if that is the case, why do they not just come out and say so? They also want to force the Speaker to rip apart Bills