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Mr. Adam Ingram (East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow) (Lab):
I want to support the commission that is under wayfor one good reason. It allows us to review the whole gamut of the Scotland Act 1998,
which allows powers to be taken back from the irresponsible Administration that currently exists in the Scottish Parliament. The relevant powers, quite clearly, are on energy policy and energy security, which is vital to all of us. I do not want my country to have a gap in energy provision in the years ahead because of policies that have been adopted. Does the hon. Gentleman want that?
Pete Wishart: I was waiting for the first point about taking powers back. There is support for independence in the Scottish ParliamentI am sure that the right hon. Gentleman accepts and appreciates thatand for more powers for the Scottish Parliament, but there is no support whatever for taking powers from the Scottish Parliament to the Westminster Parliament. If he pursues that agenda on the commission, he will have the same discussion with the Liberals. They have made it abundantly and absolutely clear, as the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) said, that there will be no clawback of powers. The Liberals must be clear that, if they do not get an assurance from the Minister that a clawback is a non-starter, they should walk from the commission today. If they are going to be sincere about their intention
The right hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Mr. Ingram) spoke about an irresponsible Administration. The UK Government have a £581 billion cumulative deficit, £44 billion net debt, £87 billion deficit in trading goods and £189 billion liability on private finance initiative projects. The Governments economic irresponsibility logically insists that economic powers should be immediately handed over to Holyrood.
How did we have arrive at this very satisfactory situation? Has there been a Damascus-like conversion from Labour Members? Did they wake up one morning and, all of a sudden, think that the Scottish Parliament needs fiscal powers and autonomy to do its job properly, better to represent the people of Scotland? Alternatively, maybejust maybeit was something to do with a certain day in May when an SNP Government were elected and the Labour party lost power for the first time in a generation. Perhaps it had something to do with that.
I have imagined the scene in the Scottish Parliament when the commission idea was first suggested and mooted. I can imagine the Labour Members of the Scottish Parliament sitting in their weekly meeting, despondent and depressed. They have been completely
shattered by their Scottish leader getting involved and embroiled in the donations scandal; bruised by the continued popularity of an SNP Government riding high in opinion polls; and monstered on a weekly basis at First Ministers questions. I can see the former, sacked, disgraced, over-refreshed adviser going to the meeting and saying, Ive got an idea to get one over on the Nats. Lets take the whole issue of the constitution to the SNP. One can imagine all the back-slapping following such a suggestion.
However, Labour MSPs did not account for hon. Members here in Westminster. I can imagine the steam coming out of the ears of the hon. Member for Lanark and Hamilton, East (Mr. Hood) and others when they heard the plan for more powers for the Scottish Parliament. I can imagine mutterings of Over my dead body from the right hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow and the state of apoplexy induced in the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Devine). The call would have been met less than enthusiastically, and I understand why those people are less than enthusiastic about powers being transferred from Holyrood to WestminsterLabour Members are not intervening to support the idea, so I am looking forward to their speeches. They once ruled the roost and had powers absolute in Scotland.
Mr. Angus MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): Is it not a sign of the times? We want all powers transferred from Westminster to Holyrood, and Labour are coming along with us. They want some powers to be transferredthey do not yet know which onesbut they are on our territory.
We are where we are and we are trying to move forward. After the Scottish group meeting, the hapless Minister was dispatched. His call was to inform the Scottish press. In his best Kelvin MacKenzie-speak, the Minister said that no one was interested in further constitutional change other than the McChattering classesan odious and offensive term. Had it been used by the metropolitan press
Unbeknown to the hapless, unfortunate Minister the McChattering classes were just about to recruit their most notable and significant memberhis boss, the Prime Minister. I would not like to have been the Minister on the day when he found that his boss, the Prime Minister, was a member of the McChattering classes.
Mr. Jim Devine (Livingston) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman said that increasing the powers of the Scottish Parliament is a priority. Never in one of my surgeries, or when I have walked around on the streets, or at community and public meetings, has one single constituent of mine come up to me and said: The No. 1 priority is more powers for the Scottish Parliament. It would be helpful if someone gave the hon. Gentleman some advice. Has he met such people?
Pete Wishart: It is the hon. Gentlemans No. 1 priority. Labour have set up a commission to look at what powers should be moved. He is looking at the process of transferring powers from Holyrood to Westminster. If it is not an issue of interest to the Scottish people, why has a commission been set up? I find the hon. Gentlemans remarks bizarre.
To placate hon. Members, the idea of two-way trafficthe prospect of some powers being taken from Holyrood and repatriated to Westminsterbegan to emerge. For about three weeks, they could not even bring themselves to call the body a commission. Only at the last possible moment, grudgingly, did they decide to call it a commission, which is remarkable. Two-way traffic has absolutely no support. It exists only in the fevered imagination of Labour Members. Nobody has mentioned the issue and there is no public support for itif it were put to the people, it would be overwhelmingly defeated. I say to Labour Members: it will not happen.
Willie Rennie: The hon. Gentleman spoke about parties support for different positions, but he has not referred to the result of last May that overwhelmingly rejected the cause of independence. The independence parties could not get a majority in the Scottish Parliament.
Pete Wishart: I remember the SNP taking seats from the Liberals in practically every part of Scotland[Interruption.] As comments from a sedentary position suggest, that has particularly been the case in Argyll and Gordon. I shall take no lessons from the Liberals about who did best in last years Scottish parliamentary elections.
Exactly what powers would Labour seek to return to Westminster? The right hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow mentioned some. Powers in relation to terrorism, foot and mouth and, I believe, bird flu have been mentioned by one Minister or another. However, terrorism is already a reserved matter for Westminster. I am sure that Scottish farmers would not thank the Labour party for taking powers over the management of foot and mouth from the Holyrood Parliament to Westminster when the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which is a Westminster Department, initiated the last foot and mouth outbreak and never properly compensated farmers.
Mr. Russell Brown (Dumfries and Galloway) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman is mistaken on the issue of terrorism. The point that was made at the time was that terrorism was not an issue in 1997 when we drew up the Scotland Bill.
In that case, I am desperately trying to understand what that point was about. In a debate yesterday on counter-terrorism, I made the point that
the only terror power that the Scottish Parliament has available to it is the right to try terror suspects. I am beginning to believe that that has now been caught up in the talk about the transfer of powers from Holyrood to Westminster. I do not know what is being referred tothe Gentlemen has further confused the issuein the talk about transferring powers over terrorism. Certainly, Scottish farmers will not thank Westminster for taking responsibility for foot and mouth and bird flu, for example. I have no idea what Ministers are talking about.
Mr. Ben Wallace (Lancaster and Wyre) (Con): Perhaps I could help the hon. Gentleman by clarifying what the hon. Member for Dumfries and Galloway (Mr. Brown) said. The counter-terrorism legislation says, in response to the Association of Chief Police Officers Scotland, and the most senior counter-terrorism policeman in Scotland, that it is for the safety of the islandthe British Islesthat suspects are tried, when appropriate, where specialist prosecutors and investigators are best suited to get a conviction to keep our island safe. If the SNP objects to that, it should say that it is prepared to put politics before the safety of this island.
Pete Wishart: I find the hon. Gentlemans intervention curious. He and I were both at the debate yesterday and heard considered arguments being put forward. We have no problem with terrorist suspects being tried in the most appropriate places. Indeed, the Glasgow terrorist suspects were transferred to English jurisdiction last year. What we will not do is sacrifice the independence of the Scottish courts in order to achieve that. We will stand up to ensure that that is maintained.
I return to the transfer of powers. The Liberal party must make it abundantly clear to Labour Members that it is not prepared to go through with the process unless it gets a cast-iron commitment and guarantee that there will be no taking away of powers from the Scottish Parliament to Westminster. We all look forward to hearing that from the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mr. Reid), who will be speaking for the Liberal party. No one believes that there is any requirement for a return of powers to Westminster: it exists only in the fevered imagination.
The biggest problem with the commissionthere are manyis what I would call the democratic deficit. The only thing that it will not consider is independence. If it is to consider Scotlands constitutional options, it is absurd and inconceivable that independence should be left out of a review of further powers for the Scottish Parliament. What are Labour Members afraid of?
Gordon Banks (Ochil and South Perthshire) (Lab): In that case, the hon. Gentleman obviously does not agree with the chairman of the commission, who said that there is no appetite for independence in Scotland.
Pete Wishart: We do not know. The hon. Member for Midlothian would certainly like to test that proposition. We look forward to ensuring that there is a referendum. If Members believe that the chairman was right, why do they not want a referendum on independenceespecially if they believe that they would win it?
In response to the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch, East (Rosemary McKenna), our preference would be for a yes-no referendum. That is the position of Brian Wilson, as it is of MEPs, former Ministers and hon. Members. That is what we wanta yes-no referendum. If the commission can come forward with a constructive and viable proposal, why cannot it be tested? Why should the Scottish people not have a say? If Labour Members do not want a yes-no referendum on independence, why not have a referendum on all available constitutional options? We are democrats. I believe that Labour Members are democrats. Why will they not let the Scottish people decide?
Mr. Eric Joyce (Falkirk) (Lab): I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman saw his party leader being interviewed by Andrew Marr on Sunday, but he unequivocally said that it should be done under the single transferable voting systemthat voters should have three choices. Did the hon. Gentleman not hear that? Is there no significance in the fact that his party leader said that?
Pete Wishart: Absolutely. Our preference is for a yes-no referendum, but if it is to be a multi-option referendum, that is what we shall have. A multi-option referendum has previously been supported by the Labour party. An early-day motion from 1992, signed by 12 Labour Members, said that a multi-option referendum was necessary to secure Scotlands constitutional future. The Prime Minister agrees that a multi-option referendum would be the most appropriate way to settle Scotlands constitutional future for ever. Donald Dewar believed that a multi-option would be required to settle the matter. If it was good enough for them, it should be good enough for Labour Membersand it should be good enough for the House.
Mr. MacNeil: Does that not show the difference between the approach of the Scottish National party and that of the Labour party? We include all points of view, but the aim of the Labour party is to seek to exclude other points of view and other voices, not letting the people of Scotland tell us what they want. Labour is a self-selecting bunch of politicians who think that they know better than the people of Scotland. It is shameful.
Pete Wishart: I could not agree more. My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. It is we who believe in letting the Scottish people choose. It is Labour Members who seek to exclude the Scottish public. They are not prepared to engage with them, and they are not prepared to consider all options.
Mr. Hamilton: On three occasions, the hon. Gentleman has said that I, the hon. Member for Midlothian, am involved in the conversation. Is that the national conversation that he and his party are promoting, saying that they take all views into consideration? However, the hon. Gentleman says that he will not consider moving powers from Scotland to Westminster. How can it be open dialogue if he is refusing that? He was better as an organ player than he is as a politician.
Pete Wishart: I know that the hon. Gentleman has all my albums, so I am grateful for that. Does he not realise that it has never been suggested that there should be a movement back to Holyrood? No one supports that position. No one has raised that as a serious proposition. It exists only in the fevered imaginations of Labour Members. That has never been raised before as an issue, and it is a deal-breaker with the Liberals.
We believe that the Scottish people have the right to choose on this important question. It is unfortunate that Labour Members do not feel the same way. The Scottish people will have a choice. They will have their say. Neither time nor the Minister will stem that tide.
Miss Anne Begg (Aberdeen, South) (Lab): The tradition is to thank the hon. Member who initiates such debates. Indeed, I do thank the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) because he has given us the chance to explore some of the myths and falsehoods being perpetrated about what the Scottish people want.
If what the hon. Gentleman says is truethat everyone in Scotland wants this national conversation and that they all want the chance to vote in a referendum, multi-question or notwhy does his party not put that position to the democratically elected body of the Scottish people, the Scottish Parliament? There is nothing to stop his party from doing that. He may say that it is legislated for here in Westminster, but surely the first step that anyone who wants a referendum should take is to get the principled agreement of the legislative body that will carry it through. I challenge him to say why his party not only does not put the national conversation to the Scottish Parliament but will not put forward the idea of a referendum to it.
Mr. Carmichael: Does the hon. Lady not agree, having endured so many lectures from the SNP over the years about the Government ignoring Parliament and concentrating on the powers of the Executive, that it is curious that the SNP is not prepared to put its own core principle and belief to the very Parliament that it always accused other parties of side-lining?
Mr. MacNeil: I am struck by the impatience of the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties to get on with a referendum, which is welcome. They must know, of course, that the matter will come to the Scottish Parliament, in the terms of the Scottish Parliament, but I thank them for their impatience. Its importance to them is witnessed by the number of Labour Members who have come here today to join in the conversation.
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