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After any public bill has first been printed, the Speaker shall, if of the opinion that its provisions relate exclusively to Scotland, give a certificate to that effect.
The matter is then dealt with in a particular way in this House. It is not a procedure used at the moment because we are not passing Scottish Bills, but it is a well-established practice for the Speaker to certify the territorial extent of a Bill for these sorts of purposes. It never created any difficulty.
In Scotland, Bills are passed with a territorial extent and it has created no difficulty. On occasions when Scotland wanted to co-ordinate with what is happening in this place, it has not created a problem and motions have still worked, so I really think that Government Members are making objections that do not hold water. There is no reason why there should be any difficulty.
It was also suggested that it would be very difficult for a Member of Parliament who is Scottish to be Prime Minister. Not a bit of it; it would make no difference at all. If a Member were thought suitable by his party to lead that party and he became the Prime Minister, there would be no problem with that at all.
Mr. Heald: Yes, I absolutely endorse that. What is more, if the Labour party in government needed to think about what the needs of England really were and what legislation was appropriate for England, and it wanted to consult widely with other parties in the House, I do not think that it would be a bad thing. Why should we not pass laws for England that are actually attractive to those who represent English constituencies?
Ms Angela C. Smith: Surely the hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that with respect to legislation led by Members representing Scottish constituencies or legislation in the name of a Prime Minister representing a Scottish constituencyas opposed to being Scottish, which is not the point. Surely that would create an untenable situation whereby Ministers representing Scottish constituencies would present legislation in this House that their colleagues in Scottish constituencies could not vote on.
Mr. Heald: First, I agree that this is not about where one was born. There are plenty of MPs born in Scotland who represent English constituencies, and, I suspect, vice versa. If I said Scottish MPs, what I meant was MPs with Scottish constituencies and if I inadvertently said English MPs, I meant MPs with English constituencies. I see absolutely no difficulty with a Minister whose constituency is in Scotland putting forward a measure that deals with England. I just think that it would be a good thing if the measure were attractive to Members of Parliament from English constituencies, because it would obviously then be more likely to succeed.
Mr. Heald: I am surprised to hear the hon. Lady say that, because the Prime Minister hardly ever votes for any of his legislation. The fact is that we are stuck with that and I do not think that the hon. Ladys point holds water for a moment.
I would also like to say that the hon. Member for Sherwood was onto a point when he said that we should look into the Westminster situation as a whole and that matters are not set in stone. One of the things about our constitution that I personally like and support is its flexibility: if circumstances change, the constitution can change. He is absolutely right to say that if the Government wish to proceed with what seems to be the logic of the votes earlier this weekthat democracy should prevail in the other placeit is incumbent on them to come up would a detailed set of proposalsabout how exactly it would work. The House voted for something that the Government did not propose, so he was right to point that out, and the Government may want to consider the relationship between the different nations of the Union in that context.
Let us consider cross-border matters. The Scottish Parliament deals with health matters for Scotland, and hospitals in the south of Scotland are subject to that. As far as I know, that does not create a problem in the north of England, but if the hon. Gentleman has evidence that some new procedure is required, he will doubtless present it. However, I felt that he was flying a kite.
Some of the measures of constitutional reform proposed by the Government are welcome but the procedure has often been botched. One example is the abolition of the post of Lord Chancellor. It was announced as part of a reshuffle after a mere five minutes consultation with the Lord Chief Justice. It required a concordat with the Lord Chief Justice to settle his concerns and more than 250 amendments in the other place because the proposal was so badly thought through. In the end, the role of Lord Chancellor was not abolished. The Conservative party should try to do better. That is why we have a democracy taskforce, which is a measured approach to constitutional reform.
I am especially conscious of the Union because of the 300th anniversary. Conservatives are strong supporters of the Union and we would not wish to do anything to undermine it. Indeed, if anything, we would like to strengthen it. That is not based on sentimental reasoning. I firmly believe that the Union has been one of the greatest political success stories of modern European history. It continues to contribute massively to the UKs culture, strength, stability and prosperity while enabling each constituent part to retain its proud sense of national and local identity.
All four nations that make up the UK benefit from the Union and continue to achieve much more together than they would separately. The Union must be strengthened, hence the need to address the unfinished business of the devolution settlement.
Mr. MacNeil: Does the hon. Gentleman believe that the aggregate GDP of the British Isles is higher or lower with Irish independence? Irish independence has been a force for good, as Scottish independence will be when it inevitably comes.
Mr. Heald: The Republic was an aspiration of people in the south and they achieved it. However, if we consider the economic consequences, it was difficult for the Republic in its early days. It had a long period of financial difficulty when matters were pretty desperate. Setting up as a new state is not easy and should not be underestimated. Applying to the European Union for membership and having to compete with all the countries from eastern Europe that are vying to get in means that one would not, as a new entrant, necessarily get the sort of deal or arrangement that one would have got at the time when the Republic or the UK joined. The hon. Gentleman should not think that being a small independent nation is always easy economically. It is not.
Mr. Heald: I do not want to be nasty about the French. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman agreesI think he doesthat starting as a new state would be difficult in the EU at the moment, given that many other countries are joining. Many of them are not in a strong economic position, so they will look for the sort of help that was given to other countries in the past. It would be quite a competition.
Mr. Heald: Scotland is a wonderful nation and I would certainly not say anything different, but the hon. Gentleman was making a different point. He was saying that Scotland would be in economic clover if it were independent, but I gave the comparison of the Republic of Ireland. I made the point that it was not easy for the Republic economically when it started. A lot of the points that are made about the European Union are predicated on the basis of the same deal that the UK has now being available to a new entrant state, but who knows?
The fact is that there came a point when the Republic decided to follow what is loosely known as Thatcherite economics. It is since then that the Republic has done extremely well, although I do not
remember the Scottish National party ever agreeing with us about that. [ Interruption. ] Perhaps I can continue and annoy hon. Members a little bit more.
These days the Chancellor of the Exchequer is concerned to form a Government. That might explainfollowing what I would call the Itchen principle, which is that people often speak on the subject in their partys narrow interestswhy he has changed his views so much over the years. In the book that he wrote some years ago, The Politics of Nationalism and Devolution, he said:
Devolution must be taken out of the relatively restricted confines of Scotland and Wales and seen as part of the attempt to make British Government more acceptable to the British people....Most of all, a revised Scotland Act could embody some form of...in and out principle. Under such a principle the remaining Scottish MPs at Westminster would not be allowed to take part in the proceedings of the House when it was debating England or Welsh domestic matters....Labour...may be expected to consider a plan along these lines,...No coherent or defensible proposal for devolution can emerge as long as the problems of exerting democratic control over the Scottish and Welsh office are tackled on their own.
The Chancellor therefore argued for a similar system to what is proposed today. I assume that he will take no offence at all when the Minister rubbishes his former argument, but it seems that he has moved on since the sniff of No. 10 has been in his nostrils.
Hon. Members will be well aware of the concern about the issue in the House and the country. Elections for the Scottish Parliament are not far away. We should mount a strong defence of the Union, but that should not be an alibi for the failings of the Labour party. Despite its no doubt good intentions, it has failed to deliver in Scotland as in other parts of the United Kingdom. Labour must do far better on tackling crime and drug abuse and give better care for those who are addicted. We need a more caring and more effective Government, particularly in Scotland but also in the rest of the UK. The Barnett formula has been mentioned, but the leader of the Conservative party, my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney, has made it clear that we do not seek to make a change to that.
I recently visited Scotland, along with my shadow Cabinet colleagues, and met the Electoral Commission in Edinburgh. It has a serious challenge in ensuring that electors are aware of the complex voting systems that the Government have inflicted on them. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe will report his findings later this year. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset has put down a marker and will want to be involved in the debate at that stage, too, so I thank him for arranging this debate today.
Ms Angela C. Smith (Sheffield, Hillsborough) (Lab): I must confess that I feel slightly guilty about participating in this debate, because I am aware that there are Scots here from all parts of the House who want to make a contribution. I shall try not to detain the Chamber for too long, although I am sure that at least one Scot will be called before the end of the debate.
We have heard a lot about the history of the subject. We have had a quick trot through the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, and mention has been made of 1949 and the Republic of Ireland, and the devolution referendum for Scotland in 1979, which I can remember I remember only too painfully the events that followed shortly afterwards. I also remember the poll taxit would be nice if Opposition Members were to say that I am too young to remember it, but somehow I do not think that that will be the case. We have also heard a great deal about the West Lothian question. None of that persuaded me, however, that the Bill is anything other than an attempt by the Conservative party to build the possibility of getting a majority in the House of Commons on many occasions.
Before I speak about the Bill in more detail, I recommend that the shadow Secretary of State for Scotland follow the example of the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald), who is not only the shadow Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs but the shadow Minister for Sheffieldat least he has made some constructive efforts to build support in that city. If only the shadow Secretary of State for Scotland would do the same in Scotland, perhaps the Conservative party could start to think about rebuilding its base there. It is a long way from doing so, and todays Bill is a shortcut to solving a sorry state of affairs for the Conservative party.
On the territorial matters in the Bill, the isolation of English-only parts of a Bill is unlikely if not impossible. Many Acts that could be perceived as dealing with English-only issues have sections that extend to Scotland and Wales. Even when the territorial clause is applied, that is not always apparent. An example from last year was the Compensation Bill, which, thanks to the efforts of my hon. Friend and parliamentary neighbour the Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. Clapham), ultimately contained an important clause relating to mesothelioma and compensation for miners who had contracted it. In almost every regard, the Compensation Bill applied principally to England, but that one important clause, clause 3, applied to Scotland. The Bill related to legal matters, on which there is a huge difference between Scotland and England, but that clause had to apply to Scotland. It would have been very difficult, had the Bill before us been in force, to separate that clause out and to have a Second and Third Reading. There are fundamental difficulties relating to the Bill.
It has been mentioned already, but it needs to be mentioned again, that a fundamental constitutional principle is at stake: all MPs are equal in this Chamber and should be able to vote on any issue brought before them. Limiting the voting rights for MPs would create two classes of Member, and that would be unacceptable. It is a fundamental principle of the Union that all parts of it are equally represented at Westminster. My righthon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham) made probably one of the best defences that I have heard of an unwritten constitution, which may not please Liberal Democrat Members. I agree with him that there is never an end to constitutional debate, but I am sure that he will agree with me that, whatever constitutional change takes place in future, there cannot be two classes of MP.
I would go so far as to say that having English votes for English laws is not sustainable. The in-and-out principle to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen referred would create tensions that would soon lead to demands for a separate English Parliament, which in turn would threaten the Union.
I know that that argument is denied by the Opposition, but the Bill would inevitably lead to that tension and threaten the Union in the end, because the English Parliaments measures would be so dominant that neither the Union Parliament nor the other devolved institutions would be able to maintain their autonomy. For example, if an English Parliament reduced public spending and made a demand on the Union Parliament that taxation be cut as a consequence, those tax cuts would apply to Scotland and Wales equally as they would to England, via a Union Parliament. The expenditure implications of any legislation apply across the Union more often than not. It is that fundamental underlying point, made by my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Paddy Tipping), which more than anything else makes it impossible, or very difficult, for us to accept the Bill.
Mr. Walter: I hope that I can help the hon. Lady. She has strayed into the sphere of taxation and Treasury matters, which would not be affected. Those are United Kingdom matters and would continue to be so.
Ms Smith: That is exactly my point. An English Parliament would be so dominant that were it able to make its own decisions about public spending, the implications would be carried through to the Union Parliament, which would undermine the Union.
Is it not the case under the Scotland Act, which is, after all, the governing legislation for the Scottish Parliament, that Treasury matters are reserved to the UK Parliament? The hon. Ladys fear would not arise.
The facts on that are clear. In England the population is just under 52 million; in Wales it is 3 million and in Scotland 5 million. There is an in-built majority within the UK, and consequently the UK parliamentary system, which means that it is inevitable that we have the variables in our constitutional arrangements to protect those parts of the UK that do not have the weight and power of England.
Another relevant point is that the Bill, if passed into law, would make it difficult for the Government to do their job. Would it mean, for instanceI raised this in an interventionthat Ministers representing Scottish constituencies would not be able to lead on legislation that was designated as English only? Would it mean that the scope of the Prime Minister for choosing the best and the most able to serve in Government posts would be seriously curtailed? Surely that would not be sensible.
Historical evidence tells us clearly that Scotland has been represented by some of our finest politicians, and a great many Labour Members believe that that continues to be the case. If we could never have a Scottish Prime Minister or a Prime Minister with a Scottish constituency, the Chamber would be sadly reduced in terms of its effectiveness and ability to lead the country. We have many examples to draw on to demonstrate that.
The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) referred to Gladstone, who represented Midlothian when he led the debate on Home Rule for Ireland. He also extended the franchise and introduced the secret ballot. Following on from Gladstone, we had Campbell-Bannerman and Asquith, who between them represented Stirling and East Fife. Those two Prime Ministers in particular laid the basis of the Liberal reforms, free school meals, old age pensions, labour exchangeswhich were still called that when I was smallsick pay and unemployment benefit. Scottish Prime Ministers or Prime Ministers representing Scottish constituencies have done a great deal for the UK.
It is also true, is it not, that the 1707 Union in itself is fundamental to Britains economic development, and that we are stronger together than apart. For that reason alone, it is critical that we do not do anything today, or vote for any legislation today, that threatens the Union. Britains place in the world was built on and remains dependent on the Union. Not only Scotland but England would lose its place at the top table if the Union were to split, something that I think would be inevitable.
If the Union split, we would also lose our place on the United Nations Security Council, along with our veto power. That is why I think we should think extremely carefully before making any move away from the current arrangements.
Evidence has shown consistently that the Liberal Democrat answer to the so-called West Lothian question would not work. A federation in which one partner is dominant tends not to work; one partner representing 30 per cent. of the whole is the most it can normally cope with. In Germany in 1949, for example, the old Prussia was divided into several parts to prevent if from dominating the new state. Is that what we want for England? I do not think so.
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