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25 Nov 2009 : Column 551

Finally, much of the hon. Gentleman's speech was- [ Interruption. ] Much of it was humorous rather than informative. We look forward to hearing the detail of his response to the White Paper once he has had the chance to read it in greater detail.

Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): I, too, thank the Secretary of State for his statement and for advance sight of it prior to coming to the Chamber. I also place on record my party's gratitude to Sir Kenneth Calman and the members of his commission for their very substantive and substantial piece of work. I should also place on record some recognition of the contribution of the Secretary of State's predecessor, the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Des Browne), who was instrumental in introducing this process.

On the substance of the White Paper and the Secretary of State's statement, I am completely in support of the Government's position, which is of practical as well as constitutional significance. For those in Scotland who want a new Forth bridge, for example, and who see it as vital to Scotland's economic future, there is now no barrier to its delivery. If the Government in Edinburgh want to delay it further, they will have to blame themselves rather than looking south of the border.

However, I must ask the Secretary of State what his White Paper really adds to the process apart from further delaying implementation when there is consensus, and giving the Conservatives an opportunity for the sort of backsliding that we have just seen. I listened to the hon. Member for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale (David Mundell) speaking about producing another White Paper the other side of a general election, and I could almost hear the ghost of Sir Alec Douglas-Home speaking prior to the 1979 referendum. He promised that we would get something better from the Conservatives, but they betrayed us after the 1979 election, and they would betray us again tomorrow given half a chance which, fortunately, they are unlikely to get.

May I also remind the Secretary of State that Calman was established because we wanted to make the UK work better? In order to do that, we must now move forward with the work that Calman acknowledged needed to be done, and we must find a needs-based formula to replace the Barnett formula. When will the Secretary of State and the Government understand that serious threats to the future of the Union, which exist, can come from the south as well as the north of the border?

Mr. Murphy: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind remarks about the process and his gracious comments about my right hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Des Browne). The whole House acknowledges the phenomenal amount of energy that he put into the process. I also thank the Scottish Parliament which, of course, initiated the whole process, despite the Scottish Government not participating.

I am not going to referee the disagreement between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives. I am determined simply to try to find a common purpose, maintain consensus and drive forward with momentum.

The hon. Gentleman is right to say that there is now a new capital borrowing power from the national loans fund. That has been demanded in Scotland and it is right that after the Calman commission recommended it, the Government are now committed to it.

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The hon. Gentleman and the House will be interested to know that Sir Ken Calman made 63 recommendations. Twenty-one were for the Parliaments, but 42 were for Her Majesty's Government, and we are committed to taking forward 39 of them. We have been very clear about this: it is our intention to introduce a Bill, as soon as possible in the next Parliament, to put those measures in place during the next Scottish Parliament. I think that that will be welcomed across Scotland.

Finally, on the hon. Gentleman's point about the time scale, Sir Ken Calman himself said that

It is our intention to deal with them as a package in a Scotland Bill early in the new Parliament.

Several hon. Members rose -

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order. Many Members are hoping to catch my eye, and they will be aware that the debate on the Queen's Speech will continue after the statement. I therefore ask for a single, brief question and a similar response.

Mrs. Anne McGuire (Stirling) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State agree that both the constitutional convention that established the Scottish Parliament-at least, it built the momentum for its establishment-and the Calman commission brought consensus within Scottish politics? The results of the convention and the commission are due to the dedication, commitment and hard work of the people who participated. The one constant that was absent from both processes was the Scottish National party which, when it comes to the crunch, is more interested in what is important for the SNP than in standing up for Scotland.

Mr. Murphy: My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. The constitutional convention that brought about the Scotland Act 1998 was boycotted by the SNP, and the Calman commission, which has brought about this White Paper, has been boycotted by the SNP. As she said, the fact is that the SNP is so obsessed with breaking up Britain by ripping Scotland out of the heart of the UK that it refuses to find common cause with anyone else across the whole of Scotland. That obsession is increasingly a minority sport in Scotland.

Mrs. Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest) (Con): I entirely agree with what the Secretary of State just said. I warmly welcome the Unionist consensus that has brought about this excellent report from Sir Kenneth Calman and the greater accountability that will flow from it. However, does the Secretary of State agree that there is a danger that a consensus of the left-the Labour party, the SNP and the Liberals-would be likely to bring about an increase in taxes under the plans for greater accountability, whereas what Scotland really needs for economic growth and an increase in jobs and prosperity, is a Government who, when fiscal ability allows, will cut taxes? The only Governments who ever promise to do that are Conservative Governments.

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. I asked for brief questions, and I must insist on brief questions.

Mr. Murphy: The hon. Lady is right in some respects, but she is wrong to describe the SNP as a party of the left. It is a party of all things to all people, depending on
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which part of Scotland it is seeking votes from. The quasi-revolutionary party seen in parts of Glasgow is different from the small-c conservatives seen in Perthshire. Nevertheless, she is right about one thing: the Scottish Parliament is currently responsible only for spending money and there is an accountability gap. We want to right that and complete Donald Dewar's unfinished business by having a greater degree of accountability in Scotland for money that is raised in Scotland.

David Cairns (Inverclyde) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that devolution ought not to be about simply moving powers from one institution to another, but about empowering the people of Scotland in their local communities? We should be much bolder than we are about removing powers from this place and from the Scottish Parliament to ensure that local communities, councils and health authorities are empowered to meet the needs of the people of Scotland. Now is the time to do that, given that the wheels are now well and truly off the nationalist bandwagon.

Mr. Murphy: My hon. Friend is right. We are doing what will work best for Scotland and the UK, which is why we would have powers in the House of Commons on health care professionals and we also want unified arrangements on charity law and insolvency. My hon. Friend has played a pivotal role in bringing about this process, and it is right that we should extend devolution beyond the Scottish Parliament into local communities to people and their families. That is why the future jobs fund is so important: it is about local communities, the voluntary sector and local authorities working together in a team approach to get families through this global recession.

Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP): I thank the Secretary of State for the advance copy of his statement. I note how pleased Labour and Conservative MPs have been to agree with what he has said so far.

I am pleased that there is a growing consensus that normal nations should make decisions for themselves while working closely with their neighbours and friends. The best future for Scotland is guaranteed with the full powers of independence, and the people should be able to decide that in a referendum. We should bring that referendum on.

There is cross-party consensus that we should devolve decision making on air weapons, the drink-drive limit and the speed limit. Given the agreement of the Scottish Government since June to implement these measures immediately through statutory instrument, why are they being put off by Whitehall until after the election? What explanation will the Secretary of State give to the mother, father and family of a victim who could have been saved from harm, but was not because the UK Government did not act for a year?

Mr. Murphy: I am not sure that that contribution was worth waiting for. The issue of air guns, for example, will require more than a press release. It is much more difficult to write and pass a law than it is to write a flimsy, superficial press release for media consumption. We have moved considerably on air guns and the UK Government have changed their view, but making that happen will require primary legislation in the House of Commons, which is much more complicated that issuing a simple nationalist press release.

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The problem for the hon. Gentleman and the SNP is that he always behaves like a nationalist and never behaves like a patriot. A nationalist puts the SNP first, but a patriot puts Scotland first. That is the difference between my party and his, and why Scotland is increasingly turning its back on the SNP.

Rosemary McKenna (Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch, East) (Lab): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his approach to the Calman commission. It is exactly what was envisaged by those people involved in the constitutional convention. Does he share my view that this is a coherent package of measures that includes evidence supporting the assignment to the UK Parliament of those measures that should be so assigned, and that it should be delivered as such?

Mr. Murphy: My hon. Friend is right. Unlike the half dozen or fewer SNP Members, she is not interested in playing these nationalist games of pick and mix. We are doing what is right for Scotland, and strengthening it inside the UK. When Sir Ken Calman proposed changes in the reservation of powers on insolvency, charities and health care professionals, we were attracted to the idea of a UK-wide position in those areas, and we have said so in the White Paper. We were less attracted to the food labelling proposals, for good reason.

Most Scots know that they get the best of both worlds through having a Scottish Parliament and a UK Parliament. They get a strong, patriotic and important Scotland inside the fifth largest economy in the world, and they will continue to celebrate that. We are stronger together, and we would be much weaker apart, as the economic circumstances of the past year have proven conclusively.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): The biggest threat to the UK does not come from Scotland, but from England. If the Secretary of State does not do something to stop Scottish MPs voting on legislation that applies only to England whereas English MPs have no decision-making influence on Scotland, or something to make the funding formula fairer to England, the threat to the UK will come from England.

Mr. Murphy: Knowing the hon. Gentleman as I do, when he talked about the threat to the Union, I expected him to say that it came from the European Union. People across the UK know about our shared heritage. We share these islands and we have so much in common. We are fiercely defensive and supportive of each other. We have together achieved so much over the decades and I believe that our strongest and best days lie ahead of us. We need to ensure that the Scottish Parliament has additional powers, but I hope that his constituents will be reassured by the fact that this is not about additional money for the Scottish Government. It is about additional accountability and the holding to account by the people of Scotland of the Scottish Government not only for what they spend, but for how the money is raised. That is an important constitutional innovation.

Mr. Brian H. Donohoe (Central Ayrshire) (Lab): On a practical point in connection with the drink-driving limits, is it not imperative that if a variant were introduced, both Administrations-in Edinburgh and here-should work together to prevent motorists from becoming confused?

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Mr. Murphy: My hon. Friend is characteristically correct. There is an attraction in having similar or the same drink-drive limits across Great Britain, but based on the evidence provided to Calman, we have decided that there is a case for devolving that power to the Scottish Parliament. It would have to think very carefully about introducing a different limit for Scotland and the possible consequences, but it will be for it to decide ultimately. We joust across party divides on such matters and the SNP may be many things, but it is not foolish. It knows that if it were to introduce a different drink-drive limit, it would have to have some degree of co-operation, education and information for drivers and police forces, especially in those areas just north and south of the border.

Willie Rennie (Dunfermline and West Fife) (LD): Despite all the noise in the Chamber, there is a cross-party consensus and even the SNP Members are behind these proposals. The Bill would get a smooth passage through this House and the other place. I cannot understand why, when the practical benefits would include the funding of the Forth crossing, we cannot just get on with it. We would be right behind the Secretary of State.

Mr. Murphy: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his interest in this and his commitment to the package that we unveiled today. As Sir Ken Calman has said, this is a package of 63 recommendations which hang together. We intend to take forward 39 of the 42 that apply to the Government. On the question of the Forth road bridge, there is a deal on the table. The Scottish Government have unprecedented flexibility, not matched in any other Department in Whitehall or other part of the UK Government, and £1 billion that would help to make the Forth road bridge a reality. Unfortunately, for reasons of ideology, they are turning their back on that unprecedented deal. They have the constitutional right to be wrong, but it is not too late for them to change their minds.

Sandra Osborne (Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock) (Lab): Does the Secretary of State agree that, for the sake of Scotland, it is a pity that the SNP did not support the Calman commission, and that we should now have an end to the constitutional wrangling when the proposals are put into effect?

Mr. Murphy: My hon. Friend is on the money again when it comes to such issues. The SNP has set its nationalist face against sensible, radical reforms entrenching Scotland within the United Kingdom. She is also right that, as important as the measures that we announced today are, our biggest priority is to get Scotland through the recession and to work with people who are out of work to get them back into work as soon as possible. In publishing the White Paper, seeking a consensus and driving momentum, I want to return soon to getting Scotland back to work in this recession-because that is the public's obsession in Scotland, even if it is not the SNP's.

Sir Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD): Is the Secretary of State aware that the Constitutional Affairs Committee's report on devolution 10 years on is in line with the Calman recommendations, but warned that the stability of the Union was threatened by the fact that the governance of England had not been addressed and
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that it was still governed in a relatively centralised way by what is supposed to be the Government of the United Kingdom?

Mr. Murphy: The right hon. Gentleman speaks with authority, through his Committee work. As he knows, of course, we have devolved powers across the United Kingdom-to Northern Ireland, London, Scotland and Wales. That has not always been to our political advantage, as Scotland-and currently London-shows, but it was the right thing to do. Our unwritten constitution has never been a precise settlement, and today is an important step towards ensuring greater accountability. When we have closed the gap in the Scottish settlement and completed Donald Dewar's unfinished business, the Scottish Government and Parliament will have to take annual tax decisions. Instead of blaming London or Britain-bizarrely, in the light of events over the past year-people in the Scottish Parliament will have to look in the mirror when it comes to Scotland's future and the size of its budget.

John Robertson (Glasgow, North-West) (Lab): I thank my right hon. Friend, his predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Des Browne) and my constituent Sir Kenneth Calman for their work, and I am sure that my predecessor, Donald Dewar, would have been most pleased with what they have come up with. However, will they reconsider some of the reserved issues, such as energy, on which Scotland will miss out on billions of pounds of investment in areas such as Hunterston and Torness, where no one is allowed to build nuclear power stations because of some stupid, idiotic rule brought in by the Scottish Government?

Mr. Murphy: I am happy to pay tribute to my hon. Friend's constituent, who has done a remarkable job over the past few months, and I am honoured to pay tribute to the late Donald Dewar who did so much to bring about the institution of the Scottish Parliament. He served with enormous distinction as the first First Minister of the Scottish Parliament.

The SNP is wrong on nuclear power stations, but again-I return to this point-the constitutional arrangements enable it to be wrong. My hon. Friend's frustration about its nuclear policy is a stronger argument for changing the Government in the Scottish Parliament than for changing the devolution settlement, and I am confident that most people in Scotland agree with that.

Mr. Angus MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): Recently, a Government Minister, Lord Bach, praised the Isle of Man as beneficial to the UK's economy. The Isle of Man has about the population of Paisley, but has far more independence and autonomy. Why can Scotland not have the powers and autonomy of the Isle of Man?

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