As this is likely to be the last Scottish Question Time before the general election, will the Secretary of State indulge in a deathbed conversion and recognise the frustrations and hopes of the Scottish people about the present constitutional set-up? Will he discontinue his pre-election pact with the Scottish National party in its all-or-nothing bid? Does he agree that a meeting with the convention may not be enough to save his seat but may just save his face?
I look forward to answering Scottish questions from this Dispatch Box at the first Scottish Question Time after the general election. Then, as now, I shall do my best to ensure the protection of Scotland's best interests by maintaining its place as a full, equal partner in this United Kingdom Parliament.
As a unionist with very good reason for having the warmest of feelings towards Scotland, may I ask my right hon. Friend to make it absolutely clear to anyone who wishes to establish an institution in Scotland with legislative powers over certain areas of policy that, regrettably, it would be totally unacceptable for any Scottish Member of the House to have any say, vote or control over areas of policy in the rest of the United Kingdom?
I entirely understand my hon. Friend's anxiety on that point. It is an anxiety shared by several Labour Members, most notably the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) and, more recently, the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook). My hon. Friend puts his finger on one of the central dilemmas faced by those who would advocate setting up a separate Parliament with separate powers entrenched in Edinburgh in rivalry to the Westminster Parliament. That is incompatible with the integrity of the United Kingdom Parliament. It would not be sustainable or stable in the long term.
Will the Secretary of State acknowledge that, given that after five years his Government have completely failed to establish a Select Committee on Scottish Affairs, he has no credibility in the constitutional debate in Scotland because he has no proposals to make? Is not that aggravated by the fact that the Prime Minister does not know what he believes about the future of Scotland? The consequence is that the only way to secure reform is to secure the defeat of every Conservative candidate in Scotland at the general election.
We know what the leader of the Liberal Democrats thinks. He thinks that a proportional representation voting system is more important than the constitutional future of Scotland. When asked whether he would support a constitutional change in Scotland if he did not have proportional representation, he said no; so he makes it clear that he gives higher priority to the self-interest of the Liberal Democrats and a voting system that would help them than to the issue of principle on Scotland's constitutional future.
In the light of the Prime Minister's speech last Saturday, will the Secretary of State consider extending the consultations to which he referred to include the leaders of all parties in the House in order to find out what common ground there might be on the possibility of decentralisation of powers common to the four component parts of the United Kingdom?
The central message delivered by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in Glasgow last Saturday was the importance of maintaining the integrity of the United Kingdom. I am sure that that is a sentiment with which the right hon. Gentleman would warmly agree. Within the integrity of the United Kingdom, the different component parts have different interests and those are already well represented and will continue to be so within the constitutional arrangements based here at Westminster.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that, had I not been an Englishman I would have been happy to be a Scotsman and that had I been alive in the Fifteen or the Forty-five, I would have been in the field for the Stuarts? But surely the time has come to give up those illusions and to do what is best for all of us, the best for Scotland and for the United Kingdom.
My hon. Friend epitomises what is best in this place in that he is able to represent the interests of England and of the United Kingdom in the same way that my right hon. and hon. Friends representing Scottish constituencies are able to advance the best interests of Scotland and of the United Kingdom. We have far more to gain from helping each other and sharing representation in this United Kingdom Parliament than we have from breaking it up, as the Labour party's proposals would do.
The Secretary of State constantly talks of the defence of the Union. Given the confusion that has arisen as a result of the Prime Minister's remarks after his speech on Saturday, does such a defence rule out now and in future for the right hon. Gentleman and the Conservative party the setting up of any form of directly elected body covering all Scotland and drawing power from Westminster?
The muddle and confusion exist only in the mind of the hon. Gentleman. The position of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, the Government and this party is absolutely clear. We are determined to maintain Scotland's full place as an equal partner in the United Kingdom and to create no bodies which would fragment or undermine that position. We believe that Scotland has benefited enormously from her membership of the United Kingdom and we do not wish to jeopardise her place in it.