Orders of the Day — Referendums (Scotland and Wales) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:59 pm on 22nd May 1997.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Dr Norman Godman Dr Norman Godman Labour, Greenock and Inverclyde 4:59 pm, 22nd May 1997

I begin by apologising to the hon. and learned Gentleman. I called him a new boy yesterday, and that was utterly unwarranted. He has in fact been here before, and he and I were in Bosnia together last year.

Of course people resident in Scotland should have the right to vote in the referendum. They have chosen to live in Scotland. They are people of Scotland.

Over the past 18 years, Scotland has been governed appallingly—in an insensitive, intolerant way. I have said to Conservative Members of Parliament that, had Mrs. Thatcher when Prime Minister offered some concessions to the desire for a degree of autonomy, the Conservatives might not be in the parlous state that they are now in. I said that over the years to Scottish and English Conservative Members of Parliament, who chose to ignore that advice. I do not speak from hindsight.

I also believe that had a Tory Government been returned at the election we would now be witnessing the beginnings of the dismemberment of the United Kingdom, because many people who voted Labour would seriously be thinking of an independent Scotland as a future for themselves, their children and grandchildren. The biggest threat to Scotland came from the Conservative party, which was so decisively defeated on 1 May.

I offer three examples of that unsupportable form of government. First, the poll tax, which was introduced into Scotland in such a heavy-handed and insensitive manner. One of the finest speeches made during the passage of the legislation that introduced the poll tax was made in the other place by the late Willie Ross. It was a superb analysis and critique of that disgraceful measure.

The second example is the reorganisation of local government. The majority of Scots did not want the abolition of the regional and district councils. I must tell Conservative Members that many people in my constituency are suffering because of the disappearance of Strathclyde regional council and its remarkable management of social work and education services in my constituency. I should declare an interest, as my wife is a member of that council. It achieved quite remarkable improvements for the lives of many people, but the Conservative Government decided to be rid of it. Mrs. Thatcher always wanted to see the end of Strathclyde regional council. The way in which the Conservative Government managed local government in Scotland is to their eternal shame.

The third example of the rotten way in which the Conservative Government sought to govern Scotland was their attempt to privatise the supply of water in Scotland.

For those of my hon. Friends who are cautious about referendums, let me remind them of the quite remarkable referendum conducted by Strathclyde regional council on that very issue. It was an astonishing return. A million people posted off their answers to that referendum and 94 per cent. said that water in Scotland should remain under local authority control. I say to my hon. Friends, not least my old hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East, that without that astonishing referendum result, we would now have water companies in Scotland. Instead, we have a Government who are talking about bringing the management of water supplies under local authority control again.

Those are three examples of the rotten way in which the Conservative party governed Scotland. It is because of such insensitive, unsupportable government that many people want to see a Scottish Parliament.

A number of Scottish Conservative candidates will doubtless put themselves forward in the election. As I said yesterday to the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack), I fully expect to see his son as one of the candidates. He was a fine candidate in this election. He did not stand a cat in hell's chance of defeating my hon. Friend and neighbour the Member for West Renfrewshire (Mr. Graham). Given my hon. Friend's shape, it was as well that it was not a physical clash.

But a Conservative candidate of the stature of Charlie Cormack could well be a member of the Scottish Parliament. With proportional representation, he and other Conservatives will have a good chance of securing some seats. As someone who has campaigned all his adult life for electoral reform, that is one of the features of our legislation that really thrills me. We in Scotland are to adopt a system similar to that in Germany, so the minority parties will have reasonable representation in that Parliament.

I would love to be the Minister with responsibility for fisheries in that Parliament, but that is for others to decide. Presumably, that job will be given to someone who does not know the difference between a cod and a haddock, but it is right and proper that there are Conservatives and others in that Parliament. We must not forget that 500,000 people in Scotland voted Conservative, and they do not have a single representative in the House. But if a similar proportion vote Conservative in the election to the Scottish Parliament, there will be a substantial number, albeit a minority, of Tory Members.

Therefore, I belatedly welcome the referendum. I know that we will have overwhelming support in my constituency and I look forward to the day when we have a Scottish Parliament. I am not too happy with the Royal high school. I should like to see an international architectural competition for the design of a new Parliament, but I can live with the Royal high school for five or six years at least.