|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Tom Levitt (High Peak) (Lab): Clearly, my right hon. Friend has to find a consensus between this House and the other chamber to get such legislation through. Does he accept that the way to meet the desires of both Houses is a system of indirect elections to the second chamber, which would mean that we did not have a copycat House of Commons, but equally that we did not have two different types of Members in the other chamber?
Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): Could the Lord Chancellor include in the discussions on Lords reform not only the Front Benchers of the political parties, because in every single case in the past Front Benchers have got it wrong compared with the rest of their parties?
Mr. Straw: We are not excluding other Members, of course, but there have to be different mechanisms. If the all-party talks included a range of opinion on the House of Lords from within the two main parties, we would never reach agreement even on the agenda.
Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): For wholly different reasons, I endorse the request by the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant). Does the Lord High Chancellor accept that more Conservative Members have voted against an all-elected or 80 per cent. elected House than have voted for it; and will he therefore include at least one representative from the majority opinion on the Conservative Benches in his talks?
Mr. Straw: I knew that the right hon. Gentleman would have the answer; he is a very wise and sage man. That merely illustratesI say this with great respect to the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack)that it would be impossible to have constructive all-party talks if all shades of opinion across the spectrum were contained within them; we would never agree about anything. The truth is that the formal position of all three parties, as expressed in their manifestos and in the House, is in favour of a wholly or mainly elected second chamber. I know that the hon. Gentleman disagrees.
While we in Government are making a series of proposals designed to strengthen the United Kingdom, the Conservative partyor at least part of itis now advocating a policy of English votes for English laws, which would have the effect of wrenching it apart. The
phrase English votes for English laws sounds beguilingly simple, but a more than cursory analysis reveals it to be completely unworkable. More than that, it would fatally undermine the Westminster Parliament and unravel the Union. I apologise for the language, Mr. Speaker, but it is very important that I quote what the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Sir Malcolm Rifkind) has said about such a proposal. A former Foreign Secretary and member of previous Conservative Administrations, the right hon. and learned Gentleman said in the Financial Times earlier this year that it would be a constitutional abortion. I happen to agree. He is absolutely right.
If I may, I shall detain the House with a bit of history that is absolutely germane to what we are facing today. It was precisely his concerns about the unworkability of so-called English votes for English laws that led Gladstone, who had proposed a similar plan during the course of the second Home Rule Bill in 1893, to withdraw that plan at the final moment. Chief among the many flaws was the impossibility of discriminating between what Gladstone described as the Irish and the imperial issues. When he finally gave up, he said that it
passed the wit of man to frame any distinct, thorough-going, universal severance between the one class of subjects and the other.
Mr. Straw: In a moment. If the Leader of the Opposition does not like Gladstone, perhaps he should try the distinguished former Conservative leader, A. J. Balfour. In opposing exactly the same plan, Balfour said that an
in and out clause
must carry the most serious evils in its train. It must, in the first place, shatter or threaten the ordinary procedure of Parliament with many difficulties. It must, in the second place, lead to constant intrigue...and it must, in the third place, I believe and fear, shatter the Cabinet system.
Mr. Clarke: Apart from using various strange historical quotations that do not seem very apposite today, the Lord Chancellor seems to be arguing that it is impossible to distinguish between UK issues and, say, Scottish ones, and that it is therefore inappropriate to sort things out. If that were the case, though, we would surely never have had devolution and devolved issues in the first place. In addition, we would be in the bewildering situation that Parliament would issue legislation with the courts of the land not knowing its jurisdiction or whether it applied only in England, or in Wales and Scotland as well.
However, I do not believe that it is impossible to make such a distinction. Deciding which are UK issues and which are Scottish is a purely technical question, and resolving it is a matter of equity that need not
threaten the UK. People who are legitimately elected for constituencies should be the sole determinants of what affects the people who return them to Parliament.
Mr. Straw: Would that matters were that simple, but what happened in 1893 remains pertinent, because the House faced exactly the same problem then. Of course, the territorial extent of a Bill can be describedas the Government have done with the devolution legislation and many other Bills that have come before this Housebut it is much more difficult to determine its effect. The Chair would be embroiled in constant arguments about whether a measure whose territorial extent was confined to England would have a direct impact on Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.
Mr. Straw: In a moment; I want to quote to the hon. Gentleman what the leader of the Scottish National party has said. It was claimed yesterday that Scottish nationalists had always refused to vote on English-only issues, and up to a point that is true. During deliberations on the higher education Bill that introduced student tuition fees, the right hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) and his partyand my former colleague Tam Dalyell, who had entered into a similar self-denying ordinancesaid that, in territorial terms, the Bill affected England and Wales only. However, they added that they intended to vote on the measures in the Bill because they would have really serious effects on public spending in Scotland that would not be covered by the Bills territorial extent restriction. The proposal that we are discussing, Mr. Speaker, would mean that you would be embroiled day after day in arguments about whether a particular clause of a particular Bill would affect England alone, or Scotland or Wales too.
My final point is that I am fully in favour of seeking ways to take better account of the views of English Membersif that is the problem, given that we already dominate spending by the House, including in Scotland, Wales and Northern Irelandbut the right hon. and learned Gentleman has to take into account the effect on Cabinet Government. There could be a federal Parliament; that is finethat is the Liberals position and it would work, although it would break up the Unionbut it would end up with two Cabinets in one, trying to operate both United Kingdom legislation and decisions as well as England ones. It would not work.
Every time the Conservatives bring up these issues, the Lord Chancellor and his colleagues say that they are threatening the Union, and the Conservatives say that every time the Government ignore the question that they are threatening the Union. I do not know who is rightI am just happy if the Union is threatenedbut surely it is almost indefensible that the question should not be addressed in the future.
Mr. Straw: I entirely agree it should be debated, and that is what I am doing; it is just that we have come to a different conclusion. The hon. Gentleman sits in the House for the Scottish National party and I know what he is up tohe wants independence and that is fine. However, I warn the Conservative party, which once had a fine tradition as a Unionist party, to avoid getting into bed with the Scottish nationalists, because that is where they are, in a most unprincipled, unholy way, and they will end up with exactly what they claim not to want.
Mr. Kenneth Clarke: Unlike the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart), I am a Unionist. If there were countless instances where it would be difficult to sort out the full implications across the border of particular measures, I, as an English Member, would by now have raised repeated grievances about measures carried by the Scottish Parliament that might have implications for my constituency. Not the slightest instance of such a situation occurs to me; nor is it the case that every measure, on both sides of the border, has public expenditure implications for the other side. The Lord Chancellor is doing what his colleagues do: he is trying to elevate a great constitutional principlethe defence of the Unionwhen he is actually defending the partisan interest of his party, because he thinks it is possible that there could be a Labour Government who lacked an English majority.
Mr. Straw: I am happy to fight a general election in England any time. We will win and the Conservatives will lose [ Interruption. ] Yes, the problem for the Conservative party is a partisan one. In the mid-1950s, the Conservatives won not just half the seats in Scotland but half the popular vote. How many Scottish MPs are Conservative these days? What the Conservatives need to address is the fact that they have been pushed downwardsdown the United Kingdominto an English-only corral in the midlands and the south.
My final point on this question is that when the Conservative party represented the whole of the United Kingdom and concerns were sometimes expressed from the Labour Benchesin my view, inappropriate onesabout the fact, for example, that Northern Irish Members, all bar one Ulster Unionist, voted on matters that did not affect them one jot, it was the Conservative party that stood up for the Union. That is exactly what happened in 1964 over the steel nationalisation Bill
Mr. Straw: And coal as well. The Bill specifically excluded any impact on Northern Ireland, yet Unionist Members voted for it. It is now a matter of public record that Harold Wilson looked into whether it was possible to go down the route that the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) proposes. He agreed that it was not possible, because it would break the Union. I have to tell the Conservatives that, concerned as I am to ensure that their party survives and prospers as the leading Opposition party, they should be very, very careful about where they are likely to end up.
Whereas I accept many of my right hon. Friends remarks about the political aspects, will he answer one question on a matter over which he and I have disagreed in the pastnamely, jury trial? On a number of occasions, the Government have sought to restrict the right to jury triala serious civil liberty issuewhich has no effect whatever in Scotland. In those circumstances, how can it be right that Scottish Members of Parliament, excellent though they undoubtedly are, have the right to vote on matters of such deep civil liberty that do not affect their constituents, but affect us?
Mr. Straw: My hon. and learned Friend will have noticed that, by omission, the fraud juryless trials Bill was not mentioned in the Gracious Speech, for a different reason than that in respect of the coroners Bill. We are taking time to look at the matter again to consider it further.
We should have a whole-day debate on this issue, because it is important. The arrangements in practice for managing a Union that is wholly asymmetrical, because of the dominance of England within it, have always resulted in Members voting on issues that do not necessarily affect their constituents. That point applies at the moment in respect of measures that are the responsibility of the Mayor of London. All institutions of government in the United Kingdom, apart from this House, derive their powers from this United Kingdom Parliament.
If the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe objects to the powers of the Scottish Parliament, then that which is given can be taken away. [ Interruption. ] The Conservatives had grave reservations at the time, and if that is their beef, let them bring forward legislation to change the Scotland Act 1998, because this Parliament is supreme and sovereign in the Union.
Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP):
Does the Lord Chancellor agree that it is strange that those who claim to be most pro-Unionist are currently aligned with those who have stated in this House today that they are aiming for the break-up of the United Kingdom? When devolution did not apply to Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland MPs accepted, sometimes reluctantly, the fact that this House voted on measures that applied to Northern Ireland, even though most parties in this House did not stand in Northern Ireland. In the absence of devolution for England, people in England should
accept the same responsibility as members of the United Kingdom, namely that this House is supreme in those matters.
I have spent some time describing the differences between us and Conservative Members, but that is not to say that we do not have common ground. I agreed with the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron), when he said:
We need prisons with a purpose which goes beyond simply locking people up,
In 2006-07, record numbers of offenders completed accredited programmes and unpaid work, and 20,000 of them successfully undertook offending behaviour programmes. We have also increased spending on drug treatment tenfold. The physical conditions of all prisons have been transformed, and the stench and degradation of slopping out excrement has gone. We now treat prisoners with greater dignity better to ensure that others are treated with greater respect. We have increased investment in probation services by nearly three quarters, and last year 55,000 offenders completed unpaid work in the community. Cruciallythis shows the value of our investmentfewer inmates now leave prison to offend again.
Viewed solely through the prism of the daily pressures that our prison system faces, our successes over the past decade are often not given the recognition that they deserve. We are catching and imprisoning 60 per cent. more violent and dangerous offenders than ever before, and those offenders are being sent to prison for longer. There have been no category A escapes, which are escapes involving the most dangerous and violent prisoners, since 1995there were 19 such escapes between 1990 and 1995. We have provided more than 20,000 extra prison places at twice the rate achieved by the previous Administration, with a commitment to deliver 9,500 more places by 2012.
Nick Herbert (Arundel and South Downs) (Con): The Lord Chancellor has repeated his claim that the Government have provided 20,000 extra prison places. Will he confirm that, of those 20,000 places, more than 8,500 were commissioned by the previous Government and, more significantly, more than 6,000 were created by doubling up prison cells? Does he really think that he should claim that that is creating extra prison places?
Mr. Straw: The hon. Gentleman should listen to the Leader of the Opposition, who has talked about the importance of doubling up. Much of the doubling up has been made possible because we have introduced internal sanitation in all cells. As for the hon. Gentlemans claim that some of those prison places were planned by the previous Administration, it was ever thus. The difference is that we paid for those plans and have continued to expand the number of prison places, and we will continue to do so.
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|