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Members' Voting Rights

8. Mr. Philip Dunne (Ludlow) (Con): What discussions he has had with ministerial colleagues on hon. Members representing Scottish constituencies voting on the Education and Inspections Bill. [54026]

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Alistair Darling): I have frequent discussions with my ministerial colleagues on a wide range of matters.

Mr. Dunne: Given the anticipated publication of the Education and Inspections Bill later this afternoon, has the Secretary of State been able to assure the Prime Minister that he will be able to rely on the votes of Labour MPs representing Scottish constituencies during the passage of the Bill, which has no jurisdiction over schools in Scotland? How many of those MPs support the alternative White Paper?

Mr. Darling: We discussed this matter a short while ago, and our position remains exactly the same. I suspect that the Conservatives' interest in this issue stems not so much from principle, given that, in the last two general elections, they have managed to get only one MP elected in Scotland. The Conservatives spent more than £1.3 million in Scotland at the last election, and all they got for it was the hon. Member for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale (David Mundell). And to cap it all, they also want him to be a part-time MP.

Mr. Jim McGovern (Dundee, West) (Lab): We are given 30 minutes once a month to raise specifically Scottish issues. It would appear that the Opposition have conspired to ensure that we end up debating English issues today. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that helps to illustrate why the Tories in Scotland have, to all intents and purposes, been wiped out?

Mr. Darling: I am very pleased that so many Members from different parts of the country have come along today. That ought to be encouraged. As I have said, I believe that all Members should take an interest in every matter that is put before the House.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): The right hon. Gentleman referred to principle a moment ago. Does he not understand that the basic
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principle of any democratic Assembly is that Members of Parliament should not be able to vote on matters that concern neither themselves nor their constituents?

Mr. Darling: I do not think that that is right.

Mr. Jim Devine (Livingston) (Lab): Surely the answer to the so-called West Lothian question is Bill Shankly. When a new offside rule was introduced, allowing a goal when a player was in the penalty box and not interfering with play, he famously retorted that if his players were not interfering with play for 100 per cent. of the time, he would want to know why. We are on the park and we are playing. We are from Scotland, we are from Northern Ireland, we are from Wales. I seem to recall that the Conservative party believed in the Union at one point. In this debate, the only logical conclusion—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman that this period should be devoted to the asking of questions.

Mr. Darling: My hon. Friend makes his point eloquently, and I agree with it. The difficulty for the hon. Member for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale (David Mundell)—the solitary Conservative spokesman—is that in the past year he has voted on a range of matters relating to, for instance, English dentistry, English health care, English education and English local government. I find it hard to believe that he has now discovered a principle according to which he should not vote on those matters. He should recall that his predecessor, the previous Conservative Member, said that he did not vote on English matters, but we learned that he had voted on the Mersey Tunnels Bill.

The hon. Gentleman is getting into a huge amount of trouble. As I have said, it is all driven by the Tories' frustration at not being able to get anyone elected north of the border.

Members' Voting Rights

9. Mr. David Gauke (South-West Hertfordshire) (Con): What discussions he has had with colleagues regarding voting rights of hon. Members representing constituencies in Scotland on matters that do not affect Scotland. [54028]

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Alistair Darling): I refer the hon. Gentleman to the answer that I gave to Questions 1, 2 and 3. I suspect that it is remarkably similar to the answer that I shall give him in a moment.

Mr. Gauke: I am grateful to the Secretary of State.

Next month various Scottish right hon. and hon. Members will support the Education and Inspections Bill, including the Secretary of State and the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Conservative Members will welcome them in the Lobby on that occasion. Is it not the case, though, that the Bill will not apply to Scotland, and that it is wrong and unfair—and, indeed, recognised to be wrong and unfair by many Labour Members—for MPs to vote on a matter that does not affect their constituencies?
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Mr. Darling: Of course, the constituents of the hon. Member for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale (David Mundell) go and enjoy an English education south of the border. He therefore has an interest in voting for the Bill, although he does not seem to accept that.

As I have told the House before, it is difficult to distinguish between matters that are wholly Scottish, wholly English or wholly Welsh and matters that are not. We find ourselves in difficulty when we start saying that some MPs have more rights than others. The hon. Member for South-West Hertfordshire (Mr. Gauke) and his colleagues ought to think long and hard before taking a route that is more likely than not to lead to exactly where the nationalists would like them to end up.

Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): Will the Secretary of State acknowledge that there are two classes of Member of Parliament? There are Members like him and me, who have no say on education, health or criminal justice in our constituencies, and Members who do have that right. Is it not absurd, and grossly unfair, that we intervene in those constituency interests?

Mr. Darling: The hon. Gentleman is right to the extent that there are two classes of MP. There are those of us who believe in the Union of the United Kingdom, and those of us who are against it. I have no difficulty in saying that I support the United Kingdom: that is why I am a Member of the United Kingdom Parliament. I know that the hon. Gentleman believes in breaking up the United Kingdom, but I think that that would be an act of monumental stupidity.


10. Mr. Stephen Crabb (Preseli Pembrokeshire) (Con): What recent discussions he has had with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on the Scottish fishing industry. [54029]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (David Cairns): My right hon. Friend has had recent discussions with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on a range of issues.

Mr. Crabb: Given that the common fisheries policy has failed so comprehensively to protect either the livelihoods of our fishermen or our fish stocks, what specific steps is the Minister taking to repatriate control of our fish stocks and to ensure that we have a viable fishing industry in the future?

David Cairns: This is another example of the Conservatives and the SNP sharing exactly the same policy, and the hon. Gentleman really ought to question himself very closely whenever he finds that he and his party are occupying the same position as the SNP. During our presidency of the European Council, this Government achieved a good deal last December that will preserve marine stocks and the marine environment, and help the long-term future of the fishing industry. Calls to pull out of the common fisheries policy are a complete distraction from the real issue.
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Parliamentary Relations

11. Mr. Greg Hands (Hammersmith and Fulham) (Con): What recent assessment he has made of the relationship between the Scottish Parliament and the UK Parliament. [54030]

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Alistair Darling): The relationship is strong and constructive.

Mr. Hands: I thank the Secretary of State for that answer but it is my understanding that under the Scotland Act 1998, Scotland is supposed to have the same electoral quota for parliamentary constituencies as England. Will he look again at reducing the number of Scottish MPs from 59 to 57, thereby henceforth having the same electoral quota as parliamentary constituencies in England?

Mr. Darling: As the hon. Gentleman is, I think, aware, the number of Scots MPs was reduced at the last general election and the quota is broadly the same. The boundary commission recognised that the Western Isles and the Northern Isles present particular difficulties in terms of reducing the number further, but there is now broad parity between constituencies, even allowing for the problems associated with the geographical spread. However, these are matters for the boundary commission and the Electoral Commission, and they will doubtless keep them under review.

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