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Michael Connarty: It might be useful to look at what the Government did to save the Scottish economy at the same time. More than £60 billion went into saving the two Scottish banks that basically caused the crisis. As Lord Myners said last week in his evidence to the European Scrutiny Committee, we must not forget that the cause of the collapse of the economy lies with the banks, particularly the Scottish banks. We now have £200 billion of toxic debt, which we took on board to save the Scottish economy, which is much lauded by the Opposition parties.
Mrs. McGuire: The reality is that if the nationalists had their way and we were a separate country from the rest of the United Kingdom, those two major financial institutions would not have survived the economic tsunami that swept over them last autumn.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson) is not in the Chamber now. He highlighted opinion polls and what they tell us. However, he failed to recognise that yesterdays ComRes poll for the Daily Politics showed that the majority of Scots were opposed to a general election and opposed to the Prime Minister resigning. They rejected the alternativethe Leader of the Oppositionas a Prime Minister. According to the poll, in answer to the question, Should Gordon Brown resign immediately?, 68 per cent. of Scots said no. In answer to the question, Should there be a general election now?, 55 per cent. said no. In answer to the question, Do you agree with this statement: The Leader of the Opposition has what it takes to be a good Prime Minister?, 55 per cent. said no. If we are going to start trading opinion polls, let us put them all on the table, not just the selected few that the hon. Gentleman put before us today.
The SNP is indulging in what it does best, which is playground politics, when the people of Scotland and the United Kingdom are looking to the Government to support them through the challenges that they face in coping with the recession. People are looking to a Government who will continue to invest in our public services through these difficult times. They are also looking at this Parliament to ensure that we deal with a discredited expenses regime that has brought us all shame and embarrassment.
This is the point my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase highlighted: if we had a general election every time the hon. Gentleman, his colleagues or anyone else on the Opposition Benches called for one, thenheaven help uswe would be in and out of general elections more often than the tongue could tell. The constitutional position is that it is the Prime Ministers and the Governments prerogative to go to the Queen and ask for a general election. If those on the Opposition Benches want to say that they have
no confidence in Her Majestys Government, they should have the courage of their convictions and say that, and not try to cloak it in camouflage about a general election that will do for us all.
I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) is no longer in his place. He paid us a state visit today for a few minutes, but his time would have been far better spent looking at how the construction industry in Scotland is falling off a cliff because the Scottish Futures Trust is not up and running. I ask the House to consider the political judgment of a First Minister who despises the Union of the nations of the United Kingdom, yet comes to the embodiment of the Union in this Parliament to take part in what is frankly a piece of political theatre while important legislation on sexual offences is being debated and voted on in the Scottish Parliamenta body of which he is the political leader. I am sorry that he is not here in his place to hear this, but he certainly trailed to the whole of the media in Scotland that he was coming here to participate in this debate today.
Gordon Banks (Ochil and South Perthshire) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the theatre that we are seeing here today is based on nothing other than the nationalists desire for independence, because Scotland will not tolerate a Conservative Government led by the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron)?
Mrs. McGuire: This is a plea to the Conservatives and perhaps even to some of the thinking Liberals: they need to be very careful when getting into bed with the nationalists. The nationalists are not about making this democracy or this House stronger. They are about taking Scotland out of the United Kingdom. That is why we are having this debate today. It gives them another opportunity to pursue that agenda.
We should not be surprised about that, however, because bringing down a Labour Government is part of the SNPs DNA. It did it once, and it hopes that it can do it again. I challenge the hon. Members representing the SNP in this House to look at what happened the last time they got into bed with the Conservatives
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. We cannot have these interventions from a sedentary position. This is serious; they simply spark off interventions across the House. It is only fair to listen to what the right hon. Lady is saying.
Mrs. McGuire: Hon. Members say that we got beat. I remind them that the price the Scottish National party paid in 1979 was to go down from 11 MPs to two, because the Scottish people saw through the ruse that it perpetrated.
John Mason: I appreciate the right hon. Lady giving way. Does she accept that, in 1979, the Scottish people could see a difference between the Labour party and the Conservative party? Now, they cannot see a difference. On Iraq, Royal Mail privatisation, Trident and budget cuts, the parties are both the same.
Mrs. McGuire: In some respects, I wish that I had not let the hon. Gentleman in, because I am going to deal with some of those issues in a minute and give the House some personal information that he might find interesting.
I want to ask the House to reflect on the situation in 1979, when the leader of the nationalists in this House was the late Donald Stewart. I think it was agreed on all sides that he was an honourable and conscientious Member of Parliament. On 28 March 1979, during a debate on a motion of no confidence, he said of Mrs. Thatchernow the noble Baroness Thatcher:
The Scottish people will educate her.[ Official Report, 28 March 1979; Vol. 965, c. 489.]
Well, if there was ever a time when a good man called it wrong, that was it. I often wonder whether, in the 18 long years of the last Conservative Government, Donald Stewart or any of those other 10 nationalist MPs ever stopped to reflect in sorrow on the consequences of their actions that night. As I suggested earlier, some of them had plenty of time to reflect, because nine of them were not returned to this House.
Mr. MacNeil: I wonder, given those 18 long years of Tory rule over Scotland without a mandate, whether the right hon. Lady would have preferred an independent Scotland, perhaps led by a Labour Government with Donald Dewar at the helm?
Mrs. McGuire: To talk about whether we would have wanted an independent Scotland is such a hoary old chestnut. As the hon. Gentleman well knows, we do not accept that an independent Scotland is the way forward in the 21st century. We believe that we are stronger together than we are apart [Interruption.] I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman has a fundamental difference of opinion with us on that, and I have no objection to his taking an opposite view, but to be frank, the question he asked is spurious, to use that word again.
Let me deal with the hon. Member for Glasgow, East (John Mason), who I heard saying on the radio the other night that he would bring down any UK Government because he was a nationalistor words to that effect. [Interruption.] He may well rub his hands with glee, but his constituency is one I grew up init was then known as Glasgow, Provanand my father was a regional councillor in the old Strathclyde region. The hon. Gentleman may well think it fun to bring down a UK Government, so let me tell him that when he and his erstwhile colleagues in those days rushed to bring down a Labour Government, they ushered in some of the darkest days for the communities he now represents. Those communities were almost destroyed by unemployment and deprivation during those years, when a Conservative Government were prepared to stand back and let things take their course. The former constituency of Glasgow, Provan had an unemployment rate of about 35 per cent.
Mrs. McGuire: No, I am dealing with an area that I know particularly well. I was saying that the unemployment rate was 35 per cent., and by 1988 some 57 per cent. of working women in Scotland did not have a wage sufficient to support them. There were streets in the community I grew up in where once everyone went out to work, but by the end of the Thatcher years, nobody went out to work. That was the price that the nationalists thought was worth paying in 1979. The hon. Member for Glasgow, East and his colleagues are leopards that have never changed their spots.
Adam Price: But is it not the case that if the Labour Government had not gerrymandered the result of the referendum in Scotland, the people of Glasgow and of Scotland would have had a Scottish Parliament to protect them through the dark days of Thatcherism? The fact that that did not happen was the responsibility of the Labour Government of the time.
Mrs. McGuire: The hon. Gentleman should go back and read the debate on the motion of no confidence in 1979and the lead-up to itand see what was offered by the then Prime Minister, James Callaghan, in order to deal with some of the issues in the referendum debate. What happened was that a nationalist group decided to put their faith in a Conservative leader and it told the people of Scotland that she would be educated by them. She was no more educated by them than she could fly.
John Mason: I appreciate the right hon. Ladys generosity in giving way a second time, having mentioned my constituency. Does she accept that something strange happened last summer when people in an area of this country, even if we call it the UK, who had voted Labour faithfully in council and all other elections over years and decades somehow lost trust with and failed to vote for the Labour party?
Mrs. McGuire: I do not want to go into history lessons about the hon. Gentlemans area, as I am not nearly as good at history as the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks. If the hon. Gentleman looked at the history of his constituency, however, he would find that it was once represented by three nationalist councillors and that he himself represented a third of that constituency, so the suggestion that people in his area had never flirted with other political parties is franklyI do not want to say untruenot an accurate reflection of the picture.
Gordon Banks: Does my right hon. Friend wish to comment on the history created in the constituency of the hon. Member for Glasgow, East (John Mason) last Thursday in the European elections, which demonstrated something quite different from what he has been trying to tell the House?
Mrs. McGuire: I did not attend the count in Glasgow, but I understand that the count in one particular district gave a strong indication that the hon. Gentleman might, to use a well-known Scottish phrase, find his jaicket on a shoogly nailand I will translate that later for Hansard.
Let me say a little about my constituency. It contains mining villages that were decimated during those 18 long years. Lives were shattered and people were marginalised by a Government who engaged in a political strategy to smash a mining industry, and failed to provide any alternative employment. My constituency contains rural areas where there was no investment in education or transport. It took the re-emergence of a Labour Government, and then a Labour-led Scottish Executive, to ensure that the schools in my constituency were either rebuilt or refurbished, and to ensure the commissioning of a new hospital which had been a dream for 40 or 50 yearsa dream which, I believe, was shared by the constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (Gordon Banks).
I say to the nationalists, Put your political posturing to one side. Last time you did this, it cost the Scottish people dear. Tonight many Members will join you in the Lobby, but do not be flattered, because they flatter to deceive, just as they did last time.
The nationalists are playing political games when people in Scotland and people across the United Kingdom are looking to this Government, and indeed to the Scottish Government, for responsibility and leadership to get us through difficult times. This motion is self-indulgence of the worst kind. It exposes the willingness of members of the SNP and their colleagues in Plaid Cymruwho, admittedly, did not vote to bring down a Labour Government on the last occasionto be used by a Conservative party which, if it were ever given the chance again, would introduce a spending regime that, albeit cloaked in different and softer words, would make it almost impossible for them and us to deliver the necessary services to the Scottish people and to people across the United Kingdom. The last time the Scottish nationalists played midwife to a Tory Government, they thought that it was a price worth paying. Labour Members will do all that we can to prevent that from ever happening again.
Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills) (Con): I am very grateful to the hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson) for tabling the motion. Very rarely do we debate a subject as broad as the dissolution of the House. If I may, however, I will not follow the nationalists line of argument, and I regret that I am also unable to follow that of the Secretary of State for Wales. I can only reflect that he may have been distracted by the thought that he was securing his position as a new Cabinet Minister and therefore could not really give his attention to the issue.
This is not, in truth, about the popularity or otherwise of a Government; Governments are unpopular from time to time. Indeed, it is not just about the unpopularity of a Prime Minister. Goodnessif we got rid of Prime Ministers just because they were unpopular, we would never have a public policy in this country. This is about more. It is about the dissolution of Parliament, and that means our going to face the people as well.
I do not want either to follow the line that was so adequatelyso heroicallyaddressed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague). It is the classic and great spirit of Parliament to mock, to identify and to twist the truths into the nerves of
those who face us across the Floor of the House. My right hon. Friend produced a compelling argument and gave a profoundly good performance as a parliamentarian.
What I want to examine is the argument that my right hon. Friend could not address, because at that stage it had not been presented. I refer, of course, to the argument of the hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright). If I understand it correctly, the hon. Gentlemans argument is that this awful time when the House is at its greatest discountwhen it is being judged by the public, possibly not even reasonably, because of the extent of their present furyis essentially not a time for a general election, because the electorate may, in their rage and anger, sweep away that which may be good or right about this House. This is a profoundly important argument.
This House as a collective, and including the Government, has in its time been profoundly unpopular. We only have to think of the long march, of which the Labour party was an integral part, towards reaching democratic and accountable government. In 1832, this House and the other place feared revolution. They wanted to hold to their established ways of doing things. The men of Birmingham and Wolverhampton marched through Walsall, seeking to acquire some very limited form of representation, and there were those who harrumphed that this country hung on the edge of revolution and that that which was good would be swept away. In the event, the moderation and reasonableness of the people of Britainin this instance, the people of Englandprevailed, and that tiny step was taken.
In 1865, an extraordinary thing happened. In 1860, a Prime Minister had set his face against a further extension that would enfranchise a larger part of the nation. Gladstone could not achieve such a thing when he was Prime Minister, but Disraeli, with the co-operation of Gladstone and the voice and arguments of Bright across this land, achieved something that shaped and formed the character of the Chamber in which we sit today. Let us not doubt it: reaction would have seen that off.
As to revolutionary responses that sweep things away, many people out there, in their understandable rage, want to sweep us away and thereby sweep away continuity. I must address the hon. Gentlemans remarks by saying that I do not fear that. Half of the Members of this House will probably remain, and half will leave. In that turn of events there will be a natural renewal of the House, whenever an election comes. A previous argument then returns: do we not think that the electorate are making an irrational judgment? Who are we to claim that? Is doing so not a display of self-serving self-satisfaction? Do the people not have the right to do this if they judge that the Government should change? It is pointed out that we have constitutional practice, and a Government are, by statute, in place for five years. The current Government have been in office for four years, and the tradition in this country is that, by and large, a modern Government seek a four-year term. It is said that we can extend that because there are important and necessary things to be done to prepare the new Parliament for, perhaps, a better prospect.
That is where the speech of my right hon. Friend comes into play. What are these important things? Of course, the economy is the issue that grinds away in my constituency, along with contempt for the way in which we as individuals have handled our expenses. It is the economy, in truth; that is where we should justify ourselves.
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