Parliamentary Standards (Constitutional Reform)
Opposition Day — [3rd Allotted Day]
Andrew MacKinlay (Thurrock, Labour)
I want to concentrate on the "constitutional renewal programme" aspect of the lengthy motion because I am disappointed that, after 12 years of a Government whom I support, there has been little to show in the way of genuine constitutional reform. Indeed, our manifesto in 1997 made it clear that we were intent on reforming the House of Lords and said that we would introduce proposals to do that. It does not matter how much Ministers try to get round that; we have not fulfilled the manifesto commitment. That is only one example.
Earlier, I said that the Labour Government's hallmark in respect of constitutional reform is deeply conservative. Let me share something that grates on me. I left school at 16, and many contemporaries of mine have turned up on the Labour Front Bench over the past 12 years. They did not go out to work at the same time as me, but went to university, and they peddled some of the most God almighty rubbish in the late 1960s. They were radical and all that, but when they came here, they became deeply conservative. Some of us have political anchorage and we believed from the beginning in tackling the House of Lords and making Parliament more responsive. However, those former radicals have shifted to an establishment position. Even at this late stage, matters can be corrected. It is not sufficient for the Prime Minister to say that he has a programme for constitutional reform. The test is whether he implements it with dispatch. The jury is still out.
Let me illustrate the conservatism I mentioned. When we came to office, I asked the Government whether they would amend the anomaly in the law that prevented someone who had been ordained as a Roman Catholic priest but had given up the priesthood from standing for Parliament. The Labour Minister responsible said no. Then the Labour party selected a candidate who had been a Roman Catholic priest and wanted to stand for Parliament, and we introduced a law to allow him to stand. We did the right thing for the wrong reasons, and that shows how deeply conservative we are.
One subject has not been mentioned because the Conservatives are asleep, perhaps the Liberals are, too, and the Labour party does not want to raise it, so I shall do it now. It is the West Lothian question, about which we must not speak. My colleagues present arguments about needing votes from Scotland and so on. I understand those arguments, but I say to Front Benchers that they are in denial. If they do not begin to address the West Lothian question, somebody else will, on different terms. It will not go away. One can argue for a time that there was a settlement for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, but simply to stop there is madness. The question must be tackled—the sooner, the better. The very Union, which we are all committed to maintaining, will be imperilled by not addressing the West Lothian question.