I know what the hon. Gentleman is going to say. He is going to say that questions would be ruled out of order if the subject was entirely devolved. One need only look at the wonderful comedic interlude that used to be the five minutes of Advocate-Generals
questions. It would have been worth paying money to come into the Chamber to see the then Advocate-General, when she was a Member of this Houseshe is now Baroness Clark of Caltonexplaining for five minutes why it was beyond her powers to answer any question that she was asked. It was a waste of this Houses time, and Scottish questions are also a waste of time. I cannot ask west country questions. I cannot ask questions on behalf of the similar population of the west country on matters that affect us that are the responsibility of Ministers in this House. We do not have half an hour set aside for such questions, but it is set aside for questions on devolved matters to a vestigial Secretary of State, with very limited powers beyond organising cocktail parties at Dover house for other hon. Members. It is time that that anomaly was addressed.
Mr. MacNeil: Perhaps I can enlighten the hon. Gentleman on why we still have Scottish questions. It gives Labour Members half an hour to talk about their favourite subjectthe Scottish National party.
Mark Lazarowicz: The hon. Gentleman perhaps anticipated the nature of my intervention, but the fact is that we are not allowed to ask questions on devolved matters at Scottish questions. We are rigorously controlled by the Table Office if we should choose to attempt to do so. It is still the case that a large proportion of Government expenditure in Scotland still relates to matters decided at UK level. That is why it is right to have an opportunity to raise those questions at an appropriate stage in the parliamentary procedure. The hon. Gentleman should think carefully before suggesting that Scottish questions should be abolished. I am sure that the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson), who is in her place on the Bench behind the hon. Gentleman, would not agree, for a start.
Mr. Heath: The hon. Gentleman should consider the fact that there is much more Government expenditure in my region, but I do not have the opportunity to ask such questions. He should also consider how many of the questions are in the form of, What discussions has the Secretary of State for Scotland had with the Scottish Executive about.... That is a spurious way of raising an issue that is eventually a matter for the Scottish Executive. It is an anomaly that we still have Scottish questions and a Secretary of State for Scotland. We need a single Minister who is responsible for co-ordination with the devolved Administrations and for non-devolved constitutional matters, but we no longer need a Department that behaves as though it still had some sort of provincial authority over the country of Scotland, when it does not. It is a remnant of a previous dispensation.
Mr. McGovern: The hon. Gentleman may have just answered my question, but for the purpose of clarification, will he confirm that he thinks that the Scottish Office and the post of Secretary of State for Scotland should be abolished?
Welsh questions are different, because they deal much more with issues that pertain directly to Welsh constituencies. However, I note that some of the most persistent questioners at Welsh questions are Conservative Members representing English constituencies who, for some reason, have a consuming passion for asking questions about Wales. They are like the football and rugby players who represent Wales on the basis that their grandmother was half-Welsh. Those hon. Members demonstrate that passion for Wales week in and week out at Welsh questions. That runs entirely contrary to the basic thesis presented by the hon. Member for North Dorset.
Mr. Heath: There we are. Born in Swansea is sufficient qualification for involvement in Welsh matters, but the hon. Gentleman represents North Dorset and the last time I looked at a map North Dorset was not in Wales.
We need to make changes in our consideration of English affairs. We have a quiescent arrangement for a Standing Committee on Regional Affairs, so why does it not meet? Why does it not exist? Why do we not have the equivalent of the Grand Committees for the various other nations? Why do we not have Grand Committees for the regions of England, properly constituted and able to hold Ministers to account? We do not, yet that would be one way of starting to address the anomaly.
The real answer, of course, is a properly devolved settlement for the whole of the United Kingdom the right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen is absolutely right about that. The Government have started a constitutional reform journey with no idea of their destination. That is my main criticism of them. All constitutional reform is an evolution; it all takes time, but I want to know how the Government plan to address the fact that we have regional government in English regions of the UK that is not accountable to elected Members, either here or in the regions themselves.
The hon. Gentleman is a little unfair on the Government in this case. There was a clear way forwardaccountable regional governmentbut we were unable to persuade the people of the north-east that the approach was right, so the hon. Gentleman is
being a little unfair in saying that the Government did not know where they were going. The vision has not been abandoned, but we have to take a step back and decide how to approach the objective.
Mr. Heath: It is crucial to the principles of the Bill, Madam Deputy Speaker, if people in the English regions do not feel properly represented in Parliament and do not feel that they have the opportunities that are presented to the citizens of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to address themselves to an Assembly or a Parliament that has powers. That is the significant point. What was proposed for the north-east was merely glorified local government; it did not bring powers down from Westminsterfrom Whitehallit merely agglomerated and duplicated powers from local authorities. That is why the proposal was rejected and that is why we have never properly addressed the issue.
I speak for a region that is incapable of deciding on anything to do with regional government, because we can never satisfactorily draw the line on the map. Whenever anybody suggests that one area is in the south-west, somebody else says, Oh no it isnt, were the real south-west. That is inevitable when the Government office for the south-west stretches from the Isles of Scilly to Tewkesbury and Tewkesbury is nearer Scotland than Cornwall [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz) looks doubtful, but it is truehe should look at the map. To make an international comparison, the south-west would be a country the size of Belgium, which is one of our problems. Although many of us know perfectly well where we come from, our friends just down the road say that we come from somewhere else.
I accept that there will be huge problems along the way, but only when we have a proper constitutional settlement that provides equality or parity of treatment for the people of the regions of England can we talk properly about having a federal UK Parliament. Until then, we must retain the good in what we have, which is the UK Parliament with Members elected on the same mandate and with the same powers of speaking and voting in this place. We must address by other means the anomalies that undoubtedly exist.
Paddy Tipping (Sherwood) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Member for North Dorset (Mr. Walter) in three respects: first, on being lucky in the ballot; secondly, on the way in which he set the tone of the debate, allowing interventions and lively and thoughtful discussion; and thirdly, on keeping up his long-standing interest in constitutional affairs.
Several years ago, the hon. Gentleman and I worked together on the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, to which we took a constructive and consensual approach, although we did not get the measure entirely right. We need to re-focus on the Electoral Commission,
and although we did a lot of work on restrictions on donations, the issue of loans passed us by, which has had consequences for all the political parties. When I saw that the hon. Gentleman had produced a new constitutional Bill, I was keen to examine it in some detail. However, on this occasion, I have to depart from him. I think the Bill is wrong in principle, as I shall explain, and that it cannot work in practice. If it became law there would be major consequences for this place.
When the Bill was published, the hon. Gentleman issued a press release. It was interesting that, as far as I can tell, it appeared not on his website but on the Campaign for an English Parliament website, which tells us something in itself. In that press release and in his opening remarks today, he said that the text of the Bill would be based on a Bill introduced in the House of Lords in the last Session by Lord Baker. As a philosopher, like some of my colleagues in the Chamber, I have made a textual analysis of both scripts. The texts of both Bills are basically the same; the words are almost identical. There are some differences in layout, two of which are significant, as the hon. Gentleman pointed out.
The first difference is in clause 2(7), where the Lord Baker lists four categories of Member, while the hon. Gentleman has only three. The hon. Gentleman explained that he had put together the English and Welsh categories. As he says in his press release, that is because
The new Bill will regard and England and Wales as one, until such time as the Welsh Assembly might acquire primary legislative powers.
There has already been argument about what the devolved settlement means. I believe that settlements will not remain static. There is a thirst in this country for more devolution, to move power and resources away from Westminster and Whitehall and closer to the people, so that we can do things differently in Nottingham and Newcastle, and Wakefield and Whitehaven can have different services. That move towards devolutionis inevitableit is unstoppable. In the year sinceLord Baker produced his Bill there has been acknowledgement of change and the settlement for Wales has already been discussed in the House and changed. There will be more changes. No settlement is for ever.
The second point of departure from the Baker Bill relates to clause 4. The hon. Gentlemans clause 4 is entitled Special provision relating to Northern Ireland legislation. As the hon. Gentleman has explained, because of the political discussions in Northern Ireland, it has become clear that all the political parties cannot be represented in an Executive, and therefore discussions on Northern Ireland issues ought to take place in this House. It would be wrong for the 18 Members who represent Northern Ireland, five of whom have not taken their seats, in a sense to dominate the Northern Ireland agenda. The discussion on Northern Ireland highlights the fundamental point that settlements change. If there has ever been a case in point, it is Northern Ireland, where we have seen the balance of power and the settlement change over a period of years.
I, too, was interested to consider the consequences of the idea that, because particular Members of the House from Northern Ireland decided
not to take their seats, there would be a constitutional wayleave granted in a piece of legislation for their particular action. Will my hon. Friend speculate on what might happen if, for example, other nationalist parties represented in the House decided at any particular stage of the constitutional process not to take their seats either? In those circumstances, should such a process be undone for the whole of the UK, or for parts of the UK?
Paddy Tipping: My hon. Friend makes a point that has already been talked about. The constitution is messy and it is not even. There will be inconsistencies. Part of the fundamental objection to the Bill is that it seems to want to clean up and categorise the constitution. I think that that is impossible. My hon. Friend gives an example of the way in which that would be difficult.
While I am mentioning Northern Ireland, I want to pick up and reinforce the point that a number of hon. Members have madethat the West Lothian question is not new. The issue of home rule in Ireland and the debates at that time were a precedent for the issues that we are discussing today. As Professor Brigid Hadfield commented:
only those with short memories have called this the West Lothian Question.
Before that, there was the war of independence in the United States and the issue of no taxation without representationsomething that I will return to shortlywhich was very live at that time. The issues have been around for many years and we should not be afraid of them. We have to acknowledge that our constitution is not clear, that it is messy, that it changes over time and that time passes very slowly, as we have seen this week in relation to the debate on the House of Lords.
Earlier I said that I wanted to object to some of the many principles behind the Bill. I will mention eight principled objections. First, if the Bill became law, it would create a de facto English Parliament. England has 84 per cent. of the population of the UK. It provides more than 82 per cent. of the MPs and it provides 86 per cent. of the UKs GDP. The representatives from Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, high-quality as they are, are swamped by the number of English MPs. In a day when Labour MPs revolt, and revolt frequently and in large numbers, we are nowhere near the scale of revolt that is needed for 200 English MPs to join the MPs from the three other countries and overturn the majority in the Chamber. If we go forward on this basis, rather than enhancing the powers, the powers of people from Wales and Scotland will be brushed away. They will be overwhelmed. This will become, in fact, an English-dominated English Parliament.
Secondly, in a week when we have spent a great deal of time discussing the House of Lords, I am concerned that we will return to the issue of having two classes of representativeselected and unelected in the other place, and, under the Bill, MPs in this place who can speak on certain issues, but not others. The proposal, which is being actively considered by the official Opposition, is one of the many encountered in politics, as in life, which sounds superficially attractive and simple, but which, on closer examination, turns out to
be incredibly complex, confusing in practice and profoundly damaging. There is not a case for a two-tier system of MPs or two classes of MPs. Most importantly, to have such a system would be fundamentally to misunderstand the role of Parliament and the MPs in it. MPs should represent the nation as a whole. Burke said that Parliament was
a deliberative assembly of our nation with one interest, that of the whole...You choose a member indeed, but when you have chosen him, he is not a member for Bristol, he is a member of Parliament.
That is the point. MPs should speak for the whole nation. They should be able to pick up issues and pursue them vigorously. The notion of two different classes of MPs or two different classes of peers in another place is profoundly damaging.
Thirdly, the premise behind English votes on English laws is fundamentally flawed. My right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham) has already talked a little about the settlement with Scotland. It is correct that, at any one time while the Scotland Act 1998 is in force, some legislative matters that for England, and to some degree Wales, would be dealt with in the Westminster Parliament, are, for Scotland, dealt with in the Scottish Parliament. But the only legal reason why the Scottish Parliament has those powers is that this Parliament has passed the relevant legislation. We have conceded the powers. The settlement is with Scotland and the Scottish people. It is possible, although unlikely, that the legislation could be reversed. Rather than losing the power, we have ceded it to Scotland. That reinforces the point that I made earlier: settlements change and will need to be revisited.
Fourthly, and importantlythis is not an issue that we have discussed at great length todaythere is the issue of the supply of money. Decisions taken in this House, whether on an English issue or anything else, will have consequences for the devolved bodies. The Scottish Parliament is dependent on the Barnett formula. Decisions taken in this place reflect back to Scotland. It is therefore important that colleagues who represent Scottish constituencies have an opportunity to discuss English matters, because of the consequential financial effects. It cannot be right that MPs representing Scottish constituencies should lose the power to discuss issues that will affect their home country financially.
expenditure of taxation is so fundamental to government that there must be equal representation for all parts of the country.[ Official Report, 21 January 2004; Vol. 416, c. 1419.]
Fifthly, behind this debate lies an issue of symmetry, which we have discussed throughout this mornings proceedings. It is not just an issue for this country and for this settlement. I shall cite an example given by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House in his Hansard Society lecture of July 2006. He said:
Nor are we alone in this. Classically federal systems like the US are, on closer examination, asymmetrical. In the US Senate the smallest 26 states, representing just 18 per cent. of the population, can command a majority over the other states, with 82 per cent. of the population.