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Constitutional Reform

Oral Answers to Questions — Scotland – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 20th May 1992.

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Photo of George Galloway George Galloway , Glasgow Hillhead 12:00 am, 20th May 1992

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what discussions he has had about the future government of Scotland.

Photo of Mr Gordon McMaster Mr Gordon McMaster , Paisley South

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if the Government have any plans for constitutional change in Scotland.

Photo of Mr Ian Lang Mr Ian Lang , Galloway and Upper Nithsdale

The Government are currently considering whether there are ways to continue to make the government of Scotland responsive to Scotland's needs without undermining the unity of the United Kingdom. We shall report back to the House in due course.

Photo of George Galloway George Galloway , Glasgow Hillhead

That answer and the previous one, and the smirking arrogance with which the Secretary of State delivered them—with the baying ranks of English Tory Members behind him—are the cause of the anger felt in his country, the country over which he exercises power without any legitimacy. Does he not understand the contradiction between that and the Prime Minister saying yesterday that he would respect the democratic wishes of the people of Northern Ireland, or the contradiction about to be displayed in the Maastricht debate where subsidiarity—the right of people to take decisions as locally as possible—is a touchstone of the British Tory Government's policy? Those contradictions leave the Scottish Tory rump in tatters. In Edinburgh on D-day, Saturday 6 June, the demonstration of thousands will more than make up the paucity of letters that the Secretary of State says that he has received. Why will he not give us a simple, democratic referendum so that the Scottish people can decide peacefully at the ballot box how they want to be governed?

Photo of Mr Ian Lang Mr Ian Lang , Galloway and Upper Nithsdale

The hon. Gentleman mentions Edinburgh. I have not sensed the same sensitivity by the Opposition to the question of who has authority to govern over the fact that Labour now controls Edinburgh district council with 29·5 per cent. of the vote. The hon. Gentleman calls for a multi-option referendum. Is is not the case that the real reason for that is to cover the confusion within the Labour party ranks? It has already abandoned the policy on which it fought the last general election and its spokesman on constitutional matters now favours federalism. Labour is now the multi-option party.

Photo of Mr Gordon McMaster Mr Gordon McMaster , Paisley South

Why will the Secretary of State not answer the question? If it was right yesterday for the Prime Minister to promise to respect the democratically expressed wishes of the people of Northern Ireland, surely it is right today for the Secretary of State to give the same commitment to the Scottish people. How can he deny that at the general election the people of Scotland overwhelmingly rejected his alien policies such as hospital opt-out, and voted overwhelmingly in favour of constitutional change? If the Secretary of State is a democrat, will he accept the verdict of the general election in Scotland, or will he give us a multi-option referendum?

Photo of Mr Ian Lang Mr Ian Lang , Galloway and Upper Nithsdale

I have just answered the last question. The general election on 9 April was for this United Kingdom Parliament. The Labour party fought that election on devolution throughout the United Kingdom and it lost. The swing against Labour was heaviest in Scotland, where its policy was most clearly spelt out.

Photo of Mr Phil Gallie Mr Phil Gallie , Ayr

My right hon. Friend is certainly looking after the interests of people in Scotland, 78 per cent. of whom voted to continue to maintain Scotland's place within the United Kingdom. That must be his priority. It is admitted on all sides that a halfway house would endanger that.

Photo of Mr Ian Lang Mr Ian Lang , Galloway and Upper Nithsdale

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Labour's policies, like any policies based on self-interest rather than on principle, are falling apart.

Photo of Simon Burns Simon Burns , Chelmsford

Will my right hon. Friend remind Opposition Members that we are part of the United Kingdom and that this is the United Kingdom Parliament? As Scottish Members have every right to speak on English affairs, and do so, English Members have an equal right to speak on Scottish affairs. The overriding wish of the majority of people in this country and in Scotland is that Scotland should remain part of the United Kingdom.

Photo of Mr Ian Lang Mr Ian Lang , Galloway and Upper Nithsdale

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend who is absolutely right. Parliament makes provision for the needs of Scottish special circumstances, and that provision can be further changed as circumstances require. That is a matter to which attention is being given and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made it clear that we will in due course report on the matter to the House.

Photo of Mr David Steel Mr David Steel , Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale

The Government shop has been open for six weeks since the election. How long will the stocktaking take? What consultations does the right hon. Gentleman intend to have with other political parties before he makes up his mind?

Photo of Mr Ian Lang Mr Ian Lang , Galloway and Upper Nithsdale

We shall take as long as is necessary to reach a conclusion. Conservatives consider the issues first and pronounce later. Sometimes it is the other way round with the Opposition, and that is part of their problem.

Photo of Mr Andrew Rowe Mr Andrew Rowe , Kent Mid

Before my right hon. Friend is in any danger of being intimidated by the hon. Friends of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galloway), who cannot write, but who can rant, will he note that in my constituency there was a considerable feeling of confidence because had Labour achieved what it sought to achieve, none of the damage to the health service and a whole range of other services in England, as threatened by the Labour party, could have taken place? That was very reassuring.

Photo of Mr Ian Lang Mr Ian Lang , Galloway and Upper Nithsdale

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend and I understand his point entirely.

Photo of Dennis Canavan Dennis Canavan , Falkirk West

In view of the Prime Minister's firm commitment to take stock of the position in Scotland and to report back to the House, why cannot the Secretary of State advise the Prime Minister that the best and most democratic way in which to take stock would be to consult the people of Scotland through a multi-option referendum? The Government should let the people of Scotland decide, because ultimately the real sovereignty of those people is far superior to any phoney sovereignty claimed by this House.

Photo of Mr Ian Lang Mr Ian Lang , Galloway and Upper Nithsdale

We consulted the people of the United Kingdom through the democratic process on 9 April. To have a multi-option referendum now on vague and unspecific philosophical concepts would prove nothing and achieve nothing other than disguise the confusion that reigns on the Opposition Benches as to what is their policy.