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That last point is vital. While the Prime Minister talks the talk of fiscal stimulus, he has failed to walk the walk. While President Obama is delivering a real fiscal stimulusa state such as Maryland, which is the same size as Scotland and larger than Wales, will have £2 billion of extra resources to spend in 2010this Government are planning to cut £1 billion from the Scottish budget. [Interruption.] They are cutting £1 billion from public spending in Scotland and directly threatening 9,000 jobs. [Interruption.]
Angus Robertson: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. In truth, the Governments case against an election has nothing to do with the need to pursue parliamentary reform or manage the economy. It is pure, naked self-preservation in the wake of the worst electoral showing by the Labour party in 90 years.
Labour Members of Parliament have been told by Government Whips that a vote for the motion or an abstention means the end of their careers. That is perhaps understandable for many in Scotland, where the SNP, a mid-term party of Government, were up 10 points on the last European elections, while the Labour party slumped and votes for the Tories, Liberal Democrats and the UK irrelevance party went down. The SNP won the Chancellor of the Exchequers seat while Labour came third in the seat held by the Secretary of State for Scotland. The SNP won two thirds of all local authority areas in the country, including Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Dundee, Stirling, North Ayrshire, South Lanarkshirethe list goes on. Perhaps Lord Mandelson has been right to back the Prime Minister; after all, the latest polls show that it does not matter who is in charge of the Labour party. Todays ComRes poll shows that in Scotland the SNP would win an election against Labour, regardless of who is in charge.
However, such partisan considerations should come second in the context of a profound crisis in democracy. We should all put trust in democracy before our own party interests. I therefore conclude with some words of cross-party consensus from another Member about the need to restore trust in politics. He said earlier today: In the midst of all the rancour and recriminations...let us seize the moment to lift our politics to a higher standard. In the midst of doubt, let us revive confidence. Let us also stand together because on this, at least, I think we all agreeBritain deserves a political system equal to the hopes and character of our people. Let us differ on policythat is inevitablebut let us stand together for integrity and democracy. That is now more essential than ever. The Prime Ministers fine words were correct, but they lacked the delivery mechanism, which is holding a general election. That is why we must dissolve Parliament and hold a general election. I commend the motion to the House.
The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Peter Hain): I thank the hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson) for praising the Prime Ministerwe can do much more of that in the debate. I also thank the leader of Plaid Cymru for his earlier welcome of my reinstatement as Secretary of StateI am grateful. I apologise to him and the House for having to rush off after I have spoken to get my seals of office. I have to stand the hon. Gentleman up for the Queen.
I shall respond to the hon. Member for Moray shortly and urge hon. Members to reject the motion, which calls for a dissolution of Parliament. However, first, I want to ask why the motion is not in the name of the Leader of the Opposition. He calls for an immediate general election every time he gets out of bed and every time he goes on television. He has said virtually nothing for the past few weeks, except to demand an early election. So why does not he table the motion instead of trooping dutifully behind the nationalists? Is he just playing to the media gallery, as usual, because he knows that the House of Commons will not back him? Is it a case of bravery before the cameras, cowardice before Parliament?
Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (LD): Perhaps the Leader of the Opposition has followed the example of the Prime Minister. We have a debate in which the Prime Minister could have explained why he does not want an election, yet he has not bothered to turn up. He has sent a Minister who is not available for the whole debate. When we have a three-hour debate in the Chamber, the least the Government can do is find a Minister who can be here for it.
Mr. Hain: Where is the leader of the Liberal Democrats? Where is the leader of the Conservative party? I see that the leader of the SNP has dutifully travelled down to do the Tories work for them, as he so often does.
Plaid Cymru and the SNP are the Tories little helpers. In 1979, the SNP voted to destroy a Labour Government and usher in 18 years of miserable Tory rule. In the European elections, voting Plaid Cymru allowed the Tories to top the poll in Walesalbeit on a pitiful vote of just over 6 per cent. of the electorate. Voting SNP will allow the Tories to get in at Westminster.
Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): Not that it matters a great dealalthough the right hon. Gentleman has apologised once to the House, a few seconds agobut just to be accurate, he said that Plaid Cymru voted to bring down the Labour Government. We did not.
Mr. Hain: Actually, I did not say that at all. I said that the SNP voted with the Tories to bring down the Government in 1979. However, let me remind the hon. Gentleman and the House that we remember well that Plaid Cymru came to the rescue of the besieged Conservative Government under John Major, by doing a grubby deal in 1993.
Mr. Simon Burns (West Chelmsford) (Con): Talking about grubby deals, does the right hon. Gentleman remember that in 1979 the Labour Government did a grubby deal with Plaid Cymru to secure their votes and to try to cling to office?
Mr. Hain: In a moment. The SNPthe hon. Gentlemans partyhas a history of seeking to inflict a Tory Government on Scotland. It did that in 1979 and it is trying to do it again now. The SNPs real agenda is not about an election; it is about wanting to get a Tory Government in Britain to undermine Scotlands link with the rest of Britain. The SNP would love to have a Tory Government in Westminster, inflicting mass unemployment, education cuts and hospital closures in Scotland again, so that it could try to ride a wave of revulsion towards independence for Scotland.
Pete Wishart: I agree with the Secretary of State: the last thing that Scotland needs is a Conservative Government. We remember all too well the scorched earth policies and being the testing ground for the poll tax, but does he not agree that the reason that we will get a Conservative Government in Scotland is the failure and futility of his Labour Government?
Mr. Hain: Is the hon. Gentleman saying, then, that he prefers a Labour Government? [ Interruption. ] That is very interesting. So, as far as he is concerned, he does not mind a Conservative Government in Westminster.
People who back the nationalists get the Tories on their coat tails, just as the Tories are on the nationalists coat tails in voting for todays motion. That is what the nationalists are: tartan Tories in Scotland and daffodil Tories in Westminster.
Hywel Williams: I thank the Secretary of State for giving way, but we need to respect history. We had Tory Governments throughout the 80s and 90s not because of the actions of the nationalist parties, but because the Labour party lost the electionand then lost and lost and lost. That is the Labour partys responsibility, not ours.
Mr. Jim McGovern (Dundee, West) (Lab):
I agree with the Secretary of States comments about what happened in 1979. The people of Scotland have good memories and they will never forgive the separatists of the SNP for what happened in 1979, which was an
unmitigated disaster for the people of Scotland. I am sure that the Secretary of State will remember that, following 1979, the SNPthe separatistswere dubbed the tartan Tories by the people of Scotland. Is he also aware that, given that the official Opposition are totally devoid of any policies at the moment, the people of Scotland currently dub the separatists of the SNP the political wing of the Conservative and Unionist party?
Mr. Hain: My hon. Friend puts the case very eloquently, and I have to agree with him. Here are the tartan Tories, at it again today, siding with the Conservatives to achieve their objectives. People who back the nationalists get the Tories on their coat tails.
Adam Price (Carmarthen, East and Dinefwr) (PC): How can the Secretary of State have the gall to accuse our parties of being Tories when on virtually every major issue of the past 12 yearswhether the Iraq war or the privatisation of Royal Mailour parties have been to the left of his?
To dissolve Parliament now would be to walk away from the necessity for the reform that voters are demanding, as the hon. Member for Moray rightly said, and that we are delivering in the form set out by the Prime Minister earlier today. I heard the hon. Gentleman waxing lyricaland being very persuasiveabout the need for democratic reform. Virtually every one of the proposals that he advocated was enunciated from this Dispatch Box by the Prime Minister a few hours ago.
To dissolve Parliament now would be to turn our backs on the British people in their time of economic need and insecurity. Neither of the two great challenges that we facethe political challenge and the economic challengewould be solved by an election. Playing with parliamentary motions might be a priority for Opposition parties. Cleaning up politics and getting the country back to work is Labours priority.
Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills) (Con): Does the Secretary of State not believe that a Labour victory in a general election would clearly reinforce the strength and competence of the Government to address the issues that confront this nation? Is that not a case for holding an election now?
When the time comes to call an election, we will indeed get a renewed mandate to take the country forward and to meet the challenges of the future. That will be the choice that is put before the British people at that point. They would not forgive us, however, for abandoning the job of implementing parliamentary reform and economic recovery now. They want the Government to sort things out; they want us to do it quickly, and then, and only then, to call a general election. There will be one soon enoughwithin a
yearand only then will it be right to go to the country and ask who should take us forward to the future, once we have addressed the pressing concerns of today.
Stewart Hosie (Dundee, East) (SNP): The Secretary of State says that these things need to be done quickly, and I entirely agree with him. So why, after 12 years, have we still not got a fully elected House of Lords and a proper democratic system for this Chamber? This is expediency on the part of the Government; they are not taking decisive action. Their argument is facile beyond belief.
Mr. Hain: The reason that we have not been able to get our reform through the House of Lords is that the House of Lords blocked it. Labour has only about 30 per cent. of the votes in the House of Lords, and the Conservative partydespite now advocating a policy of an elected second Chambercannot deliver its own peers in the House of Lords in such a vote. Sooner rather than later, however, we will put that question to the House of Lords, and we will hope to carry the House with us in getting full reform for a democratic second Chamber.
Meanwhile, there is a lot to do. Of course the European elections were terrible for the Labour party. But, far more significantly, they were an alarm call for all the parties, and for parliamentary democracy itself. For every party, a low turnout at elections is the clearest sign that the British people are not engaged with the political process. That is our fault, not theirs. We seem obsessed with procedure and tribal party politicsas we can see this afternoonand now the public also think that MPs are all in it for our own ends.
If this motion were carried and Parliament were dissolved, all that the poll would amount to would be another referendum on MPs expenses. The low turnout and the rising support for fringe and extreme parties show us one thing: that people used their vote last Thursday to protest, not on the finer points of European policy, but on the story of the dayindeed, the story of every single one of the past 30 days: MPs expenses.
Mr. Donohoe: I thank the Secretary of State for giving way on a point on which the hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson) would not give way. I want to ask my right hon. Friend a simple question. Does he honestly believe that, if the motion were successful and there were to be a general election in the coming weeks, the question of Members expenses would go away? Would it not stay with us for the following four years as well? Would not The Daily Telegraph and all the other newspapers revisit the issue and find some other reason to print the same story?
Mr. Hain: I could not agree more, which is why we need to lance the boil now, and why we need this Parliament, on a cross-party basis, to sort this out here and now. Then, within a year, we can have an election to decide who should take the country forwardnot how we should reform parliamentary expenses, because that will have been done, but who should take us forward to meet the big challenges of the global economic crisis, of climate change and all the other issues before us.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that what has effectively happened, in summary, is that the general public and the media have become obsessed
with the process of politics rather than the outcomes that we are meant to create, part of which is our own fault? The people of Montgomeryshire are less interested in process than in getting out of this recession, so if we are not to have an election, will he explain how he envisages the Government responding in the months ahead to the need of the citizens of Montgomeryshire and across the country for outcomes to make their lives better, their jobs more secure and to reduce the sort of social tensions that led to the reaction we saw in the European elections last week?
Mr. Hain: I could not agree more with the hon. Gentleman that the media are far too obsessed, almost to the exclusion of all else, with process. It is process, process, process rather than substance, substance, substance. That is why we will carry on with delivering our policies to get the housing market going again, to build more social housing, to tackle the lack of confidence in business and to ensure that business is supported so that we can recover from this economic crisis brought about by the global financial collapse and move the country forward. Then there will be a choicea very clear choiceat the next general election.
We do not need a referendum on expenses because we have just had one. We were all given a real kicking by the voters and we understand the message: Clean up, shape up, get on with the business of Government and come back to us when the problem is fixed. Where the Opposition parties posture, we deliver. We are determined to take the necessary action, not to walk away.
Just imagine what might happen to the economy if Parliament were dissolved and we had an election. In the middle of probably the worst financial crisis the world has faced in living memory, Britain would face weeks and weeks of instability and uncertaintyjust when there are reports of rising consumer confidence, just when business surveys show the pace of decline is slowing, just when mortgage approvals have risen for the third month in a row and just when the poison infecting our banks has been stemmed. Why, just at this critical moment when the global economy is still volatile, do the nationalists want to trigger instability in the markets and in the British economy?
Let us imagine for a moment pursuing this nationalist-Tory alternative. We dissolve Parliament, then spend the next three weeks fighting each other rather than the global crisis, and the nationalists do not have a clue what to do about it. The hon. Member for Carmarthen, East and Dinefwr (Adam Price), who rather fancies himself as an economist, praised Iceland as an inspirational model. No sooner had he done so than its economy imploded, while his other small country model, Ireland, has sadly had its own serious difficulties, yet Plaid lauded both Iceland and Ireland as an arc of prosperity.
As for the Tories, the real reason they want an election now is that they cannot go on for ever dodging the questions. They have no policies at all except for multi-billion pound cuts in public investment.
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