Scottish Devolution

– in the House of Commons at 3:31 pm on 24th July 1997.

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Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar Secretary of State, Scottish Office 3:31 pm, 24th July 1997

With permission, Madam Speaker, I should like to make a statement about our plans for the Scottish Parliament. Copies of this statement and the White Paper are now available in the Vote Office.

On 1 May, the people of Scotland—like the people of the United Kingdom as a whole—voted for our manifesto and a comprehensive programme of constitutional change. At its heart was our commitment to create a Scottish Parliament and a Welsh Assembly, giving the people of Scotland and Wales more control over their own affairs within the United Kingdom. Our aim is to make government more open, more accessible and more accountable to the people whom we serve, and to give the United Kingdom a modern constitution fit for the 21st century.

The Government are losing no time in turning these commitments into reality. On Tuesday, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales published his plans for devolution to Wales. Today, I am laying before the House the detailed proposals for the Scottish Parliament.

Like many others in the House and beyond, I have campaigned long and hard for a Scottish Parliament over the years. Few occasions in my long parliamentary career have given me as much pleasure as coming here today to present our firm proposals for that Scottish Parliament.

In my time, I have seen many devolution schemes. I genuinely believe that this is the best, and is right for Scotland. We have renewed, modernised and improved on the plans agreed within the broad coalition of Scottish interests in the Scottish Constitutional Convention. The scheme will provide a new, stable settlement which will serve Scotland and the United Kingdom well in the years to come.

Let me outline what we propose. The Scottish Parliament will have the power to make the law of Scotland in devolved areas. Entrusting Scotland with control over her own domestic affairs will better allow the people of Scotland to benefit from, and contribute to, the unity of the United Kingdom.

The Scottish Parliament will hold to account an Executive headed by a First Minister which will operate in a way similar to the United Kingdom Government. Together, the Scottish Parliament and Executive will be responsible for the wide range of domestic matters which affect everyone living in Scotland, including health; education and training; local government; housing; social work; aspects of economic development; transport; the law and home affairs; the environment, including the natural and built heritage; agriculture, fisheries and forestry; sport and the arts. The details are in the White Paper.

A key aspect of the Scottish Parliament's role will be to create and maintain an effective oversight of other Scottish public bodies, the health service and particularly local government. We expect the Scottish Parliament and Executive to complement and not encroach on democratically elected local government.

Let me tell the House why this is an advance on any scheme that has gone before and why I believe that not only the time is right but the scheme is right. The Parliament will have extensive law-making powers. Unlike in 1978, the full range of the Scottish Office's functions will be devolved. This will provide the opportunity to make a real difference in the areas that matter.

The legislation will define reserved matters, not devolved matters, and the Scottish Parliament will be able to exercise its law-making powers in all areas that are not specifically reserved to Westminster. The relationships between the Scottish Executive, the United Kingdom Government and the Crown will provide clarity and stability for the future. The Parliament will have the discipline and responsibility of defined financial powers. The Scottish Executive will be closely involved with the United Kingdom Government in European decision making.

Throughout the White Paper, our guiding principle is to trust the Scottish people to make the right decisions on their own behalf. The detailed procedures, the working arrangements and the practical issues relating to the governance of Scotland will properly be left to the Parliament and the Executive, answerable, as they will be, to the Scottish electorate.

The United Kingdom Parliament is, and will remain, sovereign in all matters, but, as part of our resolve to modernise the constitution, Westminster will be choosing to exercise that sovereignty by devolving legislative responsibility to the Scottish Parliament, without diminishing its own powers.

Those matters more appropriately dealt with on a United Kingdom basis will remain at Westminster. They will include the constitution of the United Kingdom; foreign policy; defence and national security; the stability of the United Kingdom's fiscal, economic and monetary system; common markets for United Kingdom goods and services; employment legislation; some health issues, including abortion; social security matters; and most aspects of transport safety and regulation.

After devolution, Scotland's Members of Parliament will continue to play a full and constructive role in the proceedings of this House. That is right both for Scotland and for the United Kingdom, because devolution is about strengthening the United Kingdom.

The distribution of seats is regularly reviewed by the parliamentary boundary commissions, which follow criteria defined in statute. At present, special statutory provisions stipulate a minimum number of Scottish seats. This has led to Members for constituencies in Scotland representing, on average, fewer constituents than do Members in other parts of the United Kingdom.

Our devolution proposals mean that, in practice, Westminster will no longer be the forum for scrutinising much of Scotland's domestic legislation. This brings into sharper focus the imbalance in the current arrangements. The Government have decided that the requirement for a minimum number of Scottish seats should no longer apply. Primary legislation will be needed. This will be put in place before the next full boundary commission review.

Other statutory requirements, such as the need to give due weight to geographical considerations and local ties, will continue to apply. The actual number of seats allocated to Scotland will be for the boundary commission to recommend, exercising its judgment in accordance with the criteria laid down.

There will continue to be a Secretary of State for Scotland who will work with the new Scottish Parliament and represent Scottish interests within the United Kingdom Government. The staff of the Scottish Executive will continue to be part of a unified home civil service. The Scottish Executive and the United Kingdom Government will work closely together at ministerial and official level. The stability of the system is of the utmost importance. The White Paper sets out detailed arrangements for these working relationships and for resolving any disagreements.

The people of Scotland will continue to benefit from the influence that the United Kingdom has as a major state within the European Union. Relations with the European Union will remain the responsibility of the United Kingdom Government, with the Scottish Executive making an effective and appropriate contribution to United Kingdom decision making on Europe. Ministers in the Scottish Executive will have an opportunity to participate in relevant meetings of the Council of Ministers, and in appropriate cases could speak for the United Kingdom.

There will be a Scottish representative office in Brussels; this will complement the role of the Office of the United Kingdom Permanent Representative to the European Community, and will allow the Scottish Executive to operate more effectively in Europe. The Scottish Executive will have an obligation to implement EU legislation on devolved matters. Our proposals are very much in line with developments across the European Union.

The financial framework for the Scottish Parliament will be based on the present "block and formula" arrangements for the Scottish Office, known as the Barnett formula, adapted to match the range of the Scottish Executive's future responsibilities and to maintain and improve transparency and accountability. This will give the Scottish Parliament the ability and freedom to approve spending decisions that are fully in accordance with Scottish needs and priorities.

As an integral part of these financial arrangements, the control of local government expenditure, non-domestic rates and other local taxation will also be devolved to the Scottish Parliament, with appropriate safeguards to protect all UK taxpayers. The Government's objective is to ensure that Scotland's spending decisions are taken in Scotland, in the light of Scottish circumstances.

Subject to the outcome of the referendum, the Scottish Parliament will be given power to increase or decrease the basic rate of income tax set by the UK Parliament by up to 3p. The Parliament will have a guaranteed right to raise or to forgo up to £450 million—index-linked—irrespective of changes in the UK income tax structure. Liability will be determined by residence in Scotland, according to Inland Revenue rules. The tax-varying power will not apply to income from savings and dividends. The Inland Revenue will administer any tax variation, with the Scottish Parliament meeting the administrative costs.

Let me now turn to the arrangements for the Scottish Parliament itself. The Scottish Parliament will consist of 129 members, 73 directly elected on a constituency basis, plus 56 additional members—seven from each of the current eight European Parliament constituencies—allocated to ensure that the overall result more directly reflects the share of votes cast for each party. Eligibility to vote will be based on residency.

In the late 1970s, there was, without doubt, a fear that a Scottish Parliament would be dominated by one point of view; the fear was that minorities, geographical or political, would be less than fairly represented. The changes in the electoral system now proposed have ended that possibility. The composition of the Parliament will fairly reflect opinion throughout Scotland.

The Government want to see people who represent the widest possible range of interests coming forward for election to the Scottish Parliament.

Hon. Members:

Including Tories.

Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar Secretary of State, Scottish Office

The aim must be equal opportunities for all—women, members of ethnic minority groups and disabled people. The selection of candidates is, of course, a matter for individual political parties, but we hope that others will follow our lead in encouraging women representatives.

The Government are determined to have a Parliament building worthy of the new century and ready to provide working conditions which will encourage open and accessible government. It is for that reason that a number of possible sites in Edinburgh, including the old royal high school, are under consideration.

Subject to the passage of the Referendums (Scotland and Wales) Bill, the people of Scotland will make their historic choice in the referendum on 11 September. Theirs is the judgment that matters. I believe that they will endorse our proposals. As soon as possible following that referendum, we shall introduce the legislation to establish a Scottish Parliament. Once that legislation has been enacted, we can look forward to elections in the first half of 1999. The Government's target is for the Scottish Parliament to assume its full responsibilities in January in the year 2000. That, indeed, will be a new Parliament for a new millennium.

Now is the time for Scotland to choose. Twelve weeks ago, Labour was elected on a promise to deliver a Parliament for Scotland. This White Paper fulfils that promise. We have delivered. All the essentials are here—modernised and improved for the next century. This settlement offers an effective voice for Scotland. It recognises Scotland's distinctive identity and the strong ties that bind us together as one united kingdom. Reform and renewal will give strength to an enduring partnership.

I know—none better—the strength of feeling and the intensity of argument that there has been on this subject over the years. Constitutional change requires good will. I believe that there will be a broad welcome for our proposals, which will reach out across party lines and across the range of our communities. It is my belief that it will be so, and I commend the White Paper to the House.

Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Shadow Secretary of State, Shadow Secretary of State

Today is a sombre day for Scotland and for the—[Interruption.] Oh yes, it is, oh yes, it is. What the Secretary of State has announced this afternoon, far from being a cause for junkets at Edinburgh castle tonight, is, in fact, a dangerous, damaging and dishonest document. It is dangerous because only the most blinkered devolutionist could deny that it contains elements that could lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom, creating the focus for discontent and disillusion, which can only help to fan the flames of nationalism in Scotland.

The White Paper leaves relations between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom in a state of flux. It singularly fails to answer the central constitutional and economic questions, which, left unanswered, can lead only to grave instability and long-term constitutional turmoil. The importance of those vital questions for the long-term viability of the proposals has been belatedly conceded by the U-turn announced on the number of Scottish Members of Parliament at Westminster, which flies in the face of 20 years of Labour rhetoric.

The White Paper is damaging because it will marginalise Scotland within the United Kingdom. It will destroy the influence of Scotland in this Parliament, because her representatives will be at best part-time. It will leave the Secretary of State stripped of power, devoid of influence and politically ignored. It is a sad invitation for Scotland to abdicate her historic role in the United Kingdom.

It is damaging, too, because it will inevitably hit Scottish pockets. Powers to vary tax will be used, and it will be Scots who will pay, just as they will increasingly pay through the nose for the growing bureaucracy and costs that will inevitably accompany a Scottish Parliament. This White Paper will make sure that it costs to be Scottish.

The White Paper is dishonest because it seeks the support simultaneously of two irreconcilable political objectives. It looks, on the one hand, for support from nationalists, on the implication that it is the first step to the break-up of the United Kingdom, and, at the same time, tells those who believe in the Union that this is the only way to protect it. The proposals cannot be both unionist and nationalist—friendly at the same time. One has to be deceiving the other, and the people of Scotland are in serious danger of being misled.

May I ask the Secretary of State a few questions that arise from his statement? Can he explain why the view expressed by the present Secretary of State for Defence in January 1996 that 72 would be the right number of Scottish Members after devolution has been so lightly discarded now that the general election is over? What has changed? Where under his proposals will sovereignty lie: with the Scottish people under the terms of the Claim of Right to which the Secretary of State subscribed; with this Parliament; or with the Prime Minister as an English Member of Parliament at Westminster?

Does the Secretary of State not think that Scottish Members should be able to vote in Parliament only on matters relating to their own constituencies and constituents? How could a Minister of the Scottish Executive be allowed to speak on behalf of the United Kingdom at the European Council of Ministers when he or she would not be answerable to this House in Parliament?

The White Paper is a constitutional mess. It is a recipe for continuing constitutional turmoil and an agenda for nationalist pot stirring. The proposals are not even half-baked. It is not too late for the Government to consider the damage that will result from bad constitutional reform, not only in the short term but for generations to come. We will certainly ask the people of Scotland to look carefully into the dark, cold night that the statement and White Paper open before them and draw back before it is too late. It may be a vain hope, but rather than partying at Edinburgh castle tonight, would it not better for the Secretary of State to go home and think again?

Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar Secretary of State, Scottish Office

That was a little literary allusion at the end of the right hon. Gentleman's contribution, if I understood it. His contribution was something of a mixed bag—pot stirring and half baked were among the many culinary images—and was not a substantial attack.

Whatever it is, I think that the White Paper is honest. It does not pretend to be something that it is not, and it tries to face up fairly bravely and practically to some of the points that have been made over the years. We have not lightly discarded anything. We have looked long and hard at the problems and the advantages and opportunities. We have come up with a scheme that will be stable and enduring, and will meet the needs of Scotland. It also roots us firmly within the United Kingdom and allows us to contribute effectively to the country as a whole.

The right hon. Gentleman asked an important question about sovereignty and the Claim of Right. Let me make it very clear to him—the right hon. Gentleman has heard me do so on a number of occasions—that this is a scheme of devolved power which has life because I hope that the House will be persuaded that it is right for the governance of the country. Of course, parliamentary sovereignty remains part of that scheme. The Claim of Right, however, is important because it recognises the principle that people in Scotland, as in any other area, have the right to decide their own political future. I hold very firmly to the view that the scheme that I have presented today reflects their wishes and needs. There is a great deal of evidence to support that, but the matter will be put to the test in the referendum in the autumn. If we get that endorsement, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will accept that it is time to act and to move forward in unity to make a good job of an important and exciting constitutional reform.

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not resent it—in a sense, we are discussing the Devizes question—if I say that it is rather odd that a party that cannot get a single Member elected in Scotland should pontificate so hostilely on what is clearly the wish for change among the people of Scotland. Some of the attacks implied in the right hon. Gentleman's questions seemed to suggest that he does not want a devolution scheme to be firmly based on the principle that there should be co-operation, good will and effective common purpose within the United Kingdom.

Europe is of increasing importance, and there are many areas in which Scotland will have direct interests. I, at least, have enough faith in civil servants, the Government, this Parliament and their Scottish equivalents to believe that they will work together to build a common position and then work effectively for it in the councils of Europe.

There is no question of attempting to freeload or ride on the back of anyone else. The Scottish block will become the way in which we finance, subject to the revenue-varying powers, the programmes that the people in Scotland want from their elected representatives. I believe that that is a strength, not a weakness, for the United Kingdom.

I believe that the scheme is for the good or I would not appear at this Dispatch Box to argue for it. I believe that it is an answer in part, and only in part, to the very important problem of cynicism about our political and democratic processes which every Member of the House meets daily as he or she goes about their business. It has to be seen in the wider context of constitutional reform, which means breaking away from the ties of centralisation and trusting people in the areas in which they live.

I am very proud that I and my colleagues in Scotland will be in at the start and in the vanguard of that advance.

Photo of Jim Wallace Jim Wallace Liberal Democrat, Orkney and Shetland

Will the Secretary of State accept that, as a Scot, a Liberal Democrat and a partner with his party in the Constitutional Convention, I warmly welcome a substantial White Paper? Although we may have some debates at the margins about the details, and we could even have an interesting academic seminar on sovereignty, in practical political terms—the terms which will affect the everyday lives of the Scottish people—the proposals present us with an opportunity to create in Scotland a powerful and effective Parliament which will properly represent Scotland's political interests and priorities.

Will the right hon. Gentleman also acknowledge that, on the proportional representation system, clear signals can be given to many parts of Scotland which were sceptical in 1979 that the proposed Parliament will be a Parliament for the whole of Scotland and not one of one party representing one part of it?

The important principle of accountability will apply to taxation. Those who are elected to the Scottish Parliament will have proper fiscal accountability to those whom they represent.

Will the Secretary of State expand on what he had in mind when he said that Scottish Executive Ministers could on occasions speak and vote for the United Kingdom in the European Union? That is a welcome proposal.

Will the Secretary of State tell us when he intends to establish the independent committee that will examine the relationship between local government and the Scottish Parliament and Executive, and what its remit will be? Will it be able to take account of the concerns that I have previously expressed to the Secretary of State about the particular needs of islands areas?

Does the Secretary of State accept that, by opting for reserve, rather than devolved, powers and by agreeing to reduce the number of Scottish Members of Parliament at Westminster, he has embraced some of points that my colleagues and I put to the Labour party during the constitutional convention talks? Although this is an important step on the road to federalism, may we hope that, by the end of this process, we will have convinced the Government of the merits and logic of a federal solution for the whole of the United Kingdom?

Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar Secretary of State, Scottish Office

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his welcome. I put it to him gently that he pushes his luck on occasions, and I suspect that, to his credit, he knows that.

We are anxious that the Parliament should be seen as devolved power from central Government, and not as encroaching on local government. However, we should trust the people in the Parliament to act responsibly. A grown-up Parliament with grown-up responsibilities and duties should be able to make its own judgments about that relationship. We are undertaking some preliminary work and there will be an independent inquiry to examine, among other things, the relationship between the new Scottish Parliament and local government. I hope that it will come up with some useful guidance for the Parliament when it is in being.

I take the hon. Gentleman's points about a more proportional system and about the need fairly to represent everyone in Scotland. It is obviously not in the narrow self-interest of the Labour party to move down that road, so we should gain some credit for the fact that the Government have decided to do so, even from those who may disagree with it. It is a genuine attempt to ensure a balanced and proper start for a new democratic body. I think that I am entitled to make that plain.

The question of the number of Members in the Westminster Parliament is a matter of balance. The package should be considered in the round, and I think that we have got it about right. It will always be a matter of judgment. The circumstances of a Scottish Parliament are now very close, and the only people who could prevent it are the people of Scotland if apathy were to win the day, but I do not think that it will. In those changed circumstances, it was right to reconsider the matter and to reach a judgment. That is my judgment and the judgment of my colleagues, and we stand by it.

Photo of David Marshall David Marshall Labour, Glasgow Shettleston

Does the Secretary of State agree with me that the vast majority of Scottish people will give a warm welcome to this White Paper, which they will regard as fair and just what they need and want? They will also welcome the opportunity to vote in the proposed referendum on a Scottish Parliament. Will he reaffirm the Prime Minister's pledge to campaign for a yes, yes vote and to visit Scotland as part of that campaign?

Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar Secretary of State, Scottish Office

I thank my hon. Friend for his remarks, and I appreciate his support. I suspect that the support that I shall receive from colleagues will come as a disappointment to the right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram), but he will have to live with that.

My hon. Friend is right. The Prime Minister has enthusiastically endorsed the White Paper, and will appear in Scotland to make those views clear.

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond Leader, Scottish National Party

I welcome the publication of the White Paper at last, all the more so because it has upset the Conservative party so dreadfully. As the Secretary of State can imagine, the Scottish National party will examine its contents in great detail as we consider our response over the next few days.

The European dimension is clearly very important to the debate. Will the Secretary of State specify on what areas the Scottish Parliament could lead the United Kingdom delegation? The presiding officer of the Scottish Parliament is an important person. Will the Secretary of State confirm that the Scottish Parliament will elect its presiding officer?

The Secretary of State spoke of the need to mobilise opinion in Scotland. Does he agree that, if opinion is to be mobilised, people will have to be convinced that a Scottish Parliament will be a real Parliament that will make a real difference? Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that such a Parliament could, if it wished, remove tuition fees if it considered them to be an obstacle to participation in universities and other areas of higher education?

The Secretary of State and I have disagreed on a range of subjects relating to Scotland's future, but we have agreed on how these matters should be determined. Will the right hon. Gentleman reiterate that nothing in the documents, or in any response that he will give, will interfere in any way with the sovereign right of the people of Scotland to determine their own constitutional future, whatever that may be?

Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar Secretary of State, Scottish Office

If I did try to build such barriers, they would be futile and without effect. At the end of the day, in practical politics, what matters is what people want. If the hon. Gentleman is able to carry the people of Scotland, no doubt he will be able to advance his cause. He has signally failed to do so in the past, but I know that he will keep trying, and he is entitled to do so. I believe, however, that the reform package that we have announced today, implemented with good will and spirit, will make his task that bit more difficult. No doubt we shall have further arguments in the future.

Higher education is, of course, a devolved area of responsibility. It has been the responsibility of the Scottish Office for some years, and that means that the Scottish Parliament will be able to exercise its judgment—although I stress that if it exercises its judgment in a way that costs money, it will have to find that money in its budget. No doubt Opposition Front Benchers will be pleased about that.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the presiding officer. Perhaps he remembers that, under the 1978 scheme, the Secretary of State for Scotland had an interesting role in chairing the first session while the presiding officer was selected. I do not aspire to that high office or honour, and the choice of a presiding officer will be entirely a matter for elected members.

Photo of John Home Robertson John Home Robertson Labour, East Lothian

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the success of decentralised government in Catalonia, Bavaria, Massachusetts and hundreds of countries around the world is ample proof that my predecessor, Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun, was right to say that there was no need for Scotland to be subsumed in an incorporating union with no Scottish Parliament? I think that it was Lord Seafield who said that it was the end of an old song when the last Scottish Parliament was wrapped up in 1707. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for making it possible for the people of Scotland to elect a new Parliament for the new millennium.

Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar Secretary of State, Scottish Office

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his typical and characterful contribution. When he finally retires from this place, I shall organise a collection and present him with a bound copy of the debates of the Scottish Parliament in 1706 and 1707.

Photo of David Maclean David Maclean Conservative, Penrith and The Border

Will the Secretary of State now stop dancing his little jig around the fundamental question that he has been dodging all afternoon? How can he claim—and can he tell the House, in all honesty—that the authority of Westminster will not be diminished if a Minister in a Scottish Government speaks for the United Kingdom in Brussels when that person will have no obligation whatever to answer to the House?

Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar Secretary of State, Scottish Office

I made it perfectly clear—and I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will read what I said carefully—that European policy will remain with the United Kingdom delegation. We shall be part of that process, however, and when it is appropriate and proper we shall take the opportunity to contribute to debate.

Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar Secretary of State, Scottish Office

I am sorry; I made the cardinal error of assuming that I was a Scot for the moment. The right hon. Gentleman may have experienced some psychological amputation that removed him from Scotland, but I have not.

The important point is that there is a United Kingdom delegation involving a United Kingdom policy position, for which we all work and which we all try to promote.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell Labour, Linlithgow

What are the Treasury's estimates of the cost of the proposals?

Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar Secretary of State, Scottish Office

If my hon. Friend, whom I know to be assiduous, consults the White Paper, he will see that there is some help on those matters. The United Kingdom is essentially a partnership in which we pool our resources and allocate them on an agreed basis. There will indeed be some additional cost for example—for running and equipping the Parliament—but I suppose there will be additional costs for running and equipping this building. Most people here think that it is rather a good bargain for the people who have to live within the framework of Westminster legislation. I suspect that that will also be the view of Scottish people.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough

The right hon. Gentleman asks Conservative Members what right we have to pontificate on these matters. On behalf of my English, Lincolnshire constituents, may I ask what right he will have after devolution to vote in this House to close Caistor or Gainsborough grammar schools while I will have no right, as he will have no right, to vote for the future of education in his constituency?

Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar Secretary of State, Scottish Office

The arrangements for the devolved Parliament and its terms and abilities will be decided by the votes of all this House. If the House, which is sovereign, thinks that that is right and good—and there are pressing, urgent and good reasons for it to take that view—I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman should challenge that.

Photo of Dr Norman Godman Dr Norman Godman Labour, Greenock and Inverclyde

Speaking as a federalist, may I compliment my right hon. Friend on his remarkable work and his fine White Paper? He is right to remind constitutional conservatives in this place that we live in a multinational state. If the people of a constituent nation in that state seek the reform of the governance of their nation, no one should obstruct that advance, as was so memorably said by Charles Stuart Parnell.

From time to time, disputes may arise between, say, London and Edinburgh. Would it not make good sense for my right hon. Friend to give sympathetic consideration to the creation of a constitutional court made up of four senior judges from Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland?

Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar Secretary of State, Scottish Office

There have been a number of arguments for a constitutional court, and I am sure that many people will continue to support that case. If it were to come to pass, it would be for the future. I do not think that it is a short-term option. Here we have some practical solutions to any dispute resolution that is required, ending with arbitration in the judicial committee of the Privy Council. That has been carefully thought out and it will serve well for the purpose.

Photo of Richard Shepherd Richard Shepherd Conservative, Aldridge-Brownhills

Whatever this set of proposals does, it can hardly be argued that it will strengthen the United Kingdom, because surely the proposals strike at the most important principle of this country of ours—the equality of our votes. The proposals mean that the value of our vote will be different depending on where we live. Therefore, what we can expect to achieve by our vote is different. This involves a fundamental principle of democratic government for the Union, and the Labour Government are setting it aside. Many British citizens, such as I, will be outraged at the thought that my vote is diminished depending on where I live. It will now be different as to Wales, as to England and as to Scotland, and that principle will cause great difficulty for this proposal.

Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar Secretary of State, Scottish Office

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman is outraged. I hope that I may be able to tell him to look at the matter more reasonably, even if we continue to disagree in the future. There will be no classes of parliamentarians here. [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes, there will."] No, votes will not have different values. I say again that, if the hon. Gentleman believes in the principle of parliamentary sovereignty, he will see that what we propose is perfectly fair and sensible. I want the United Kingdom to wear well. I do not accuse the hon. Gentleman, although I might have made the point to one of his predecessors, over the fact that one of the difficulties in recent times has been the insensitivity of much of the government of this country. For example, I remember in particular the poll tax as one outstanding example of that.

Photo of Mrs Maria Fyfe Mrs Maria Fyfe Labour, Glasgow Maryhill

I have already welcomed the plans, and I welcome them even more when I see the annoyance of Conservative Members, who imposed the poll tax on Scotland.

May I take this opportunity to welcome my right hon. Friend's remarks about Labour's plans to achieve gender equality in the Scottish Parliament? Does he recall how that was dismissed out of hand 10 years ago as an improbable and unacceptable scheme, and now it is the prevailing orthodoxy in the Labour party? I look forward to other parties coming in behind us and realising that, in the 21st century, women will be equal, whether they like it or not.

Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar Secretary of State, Scottish Office

I hope that the women do like it.

I thank my hon. Friend for her words. I deliberately put in a passage about that matter in my statement. It is, of course, the business of political parties and not of statute, but I hope that there will be great changes in that respect, as, to be fair to the House, there were at the last election.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

How does the Secretary of State explain the grotesque overrepresentation that he proposes for the Scottish Parliament, bearing in mind the fact that, in comparison with the 129 members that he is apparently suggesting, his party proposes that a new London strategic authority should have only 24 to 30 members—and remembering that the population of London is bigger than that of Scotland? On the basis even of the historical Westminster representation, he proposes at least twice as many members as has been justified in the past. Will he give an undertaking that Governments will be able constantly to review the subventions from the English taxpayer to Scotland, bearing in mind the extravagance of the representation that he proposes?

Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar Secretary of State, Scottish Office

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not take it amiss if I say that that is a small point from a small mind. To be fair, if we consider the great issues that are involved in this argument, however much I disagree with some of the points that have been made, they are substantial constitutional points. It seems that his point is of little moment, but I make it clear that we want a Parliament that will scrutinise effectively the legislation that it is passing and will be much more accessible and open to the public in Scotland than Parliament has traditionally been. I hope as well that we may even, if they can gather enough votes, see a few Conservatives among its number.

Photo of John McAllion John McAllion Labour, Dundee East

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, in the past century, no fewer than eight British Prime Ministers have at one time or another promised home rule for Scotland, without any one of them ever delivering on that promise? Therefore, like cats, British Prime Ministers are now on their ninth and last life, and they are aware of that.

I applaud and warmly welcome my right hon. Friend's statement, which at last begins to redeem the pledges to Scotland over the past century. I urge Scottish Members, wherever they sit in the House, on what is an historic day for our country, not to strike a sour note, but to come together and work together for the return of Scotland's Parliament to Scotland. At long last, our future is back in our own hands. If we fail now, it will be our own fault. Let us not fail. Let us carry the referendum and ensure that the future is Scottish.

Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar Secretary of State, Scottish Office

I know that my hon. Friend will act as he speaks, and I am grateful for that.

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross UUP, East Londonderry

Is the right hon. Gentleman not remiss in not pointing out that the only party in the House that has direct practical experience of devolved government and its operation is the Ulster Unionist party? Is he aware that we know that the Scottish Parliament and the Westminster Parliament must work closely together to strengthen and to maintain the Union because, inevitably, the politics of Scotland, like the politics of Northern Ireland, will be increasingly nationalist and unionist? In those circumstances, is the Labour party in Scotland, which will have members in a devolved institution, going to be a unionist party?

Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar Secretary of State, Scottish Office

I respect the hon. Gentleman's views, but they are understandably coloured by his deep involvement in the politics of his part of the United Kingdom. I do not accept his basic contention. The one thing that I want to avoid, and the one thing that the reform option helps to avoid, is the polarisation of politics into two choices at the extreme. That is exactly why reform is necessary and why better government is good for us all.

Photo of Dennis Canavan Dennis Canavan Labour, Falkirk West

Although I warmly welcome the historic transfer of power from this House to the people of Scotland, can we take it that the principle of the sovereignty of the Scottish people means that the White Paper should not be seen as something handed down from on high on tablets of stone? I hope that the relationship between the Scottish and Westminster Parliaments will be dynamic rather than static and that the dynamics may lead to the transfer of even more power to the Scottish Parliament, if that is what the people of Scotland want.

Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar Secretary of State, Scottish Office

My hon. Friend's views are well known and all I can say is that this package is meant to be stable and enduring—I think that it will be. Of course, anyone is entitled to argue for political change at any time and in any way that they think is right. In about 1975, I gave up trying to persuade my hon. Friend that I was right and he was wrong. He is a man well known for going his own way. I am sure that, whatever he thinks, he will agree that this is a scheme of great promise, hope and potential. At least we can agree on that.

Photo of Menzies Campbell Menzies Campbell Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

The right hon. Gentleman allowed himself a moment of sentiment when he told us how long he had campaigned for a Scottish Parliament. I remind him that I first heard him make that case in 1960, and he therefore deserves congratulations for his perseverance. Does he share my curiosity at the fact that some of those who were most vocal in their support for the declaration of Perth by the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath) are now so vociferous in their opposition to these proposals?

Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar Secretary of State, Scottish Office

I thank the hon. and learned Gentleman. I suppose I qualify as a long-distance runner in the political sense. I do remember those periods, and I remember our former colleagues, Malcolm Rifkind and Alick Buchanan-Smith—there is an honourable tradition.

On the record of the right hon. Member for Devizes, I would not try to deny the right of people to change their minds, but the significance of the fact that he once espoused devolution enthusiastically is that it puts a little bit of a question mark against the extreme view that he sometimes espouses now, which is that this is an unthinkable piece of chaos that could never possibly work. That was not his view in those days, and, in my opinion, it is not a credible or sensible view. I do not expect him to go back to what he once believed, but he should look at his position and his credibility in the light of the beliefs that he once held.

Photo of Mr Ernie Ross Mr Ernie Ross Labour, Dundee West

I congratulate my right hon. Friend, his Front-Bench team and the civil servants on the speed with which they have moved to bring this proposal—one of Labour's major promises to the people of Scotland—to the House. Will my right hon. Friend join me in warning Conservative Members that the people of Scotland are watching this statement and will be listening to the comments made? Very shortly, whether it likes it or not, the Conservative party will have to compete with all the other parties in the House for places in the Scottish Parliament. Unless it changes its mind fairly rapidly, there are liable to be as many Conservatives there as there are here.

Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar Secretary of State, Scottish Office

I noticed in The Herald today an article by a prominent Conservative, Mr. Brian Meek, in which he made it clear that he longed for the day when there would be a Scottish Parliament. He felt that his failure to join the Scottish Constitutional Convention had been one of the great political mistakes of his life, and he warned Conservatives that association with the no, no campaign would be a great mistake. He remarked, rather pithily, that they have backed enough losers this year to be getting on with.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone

The White Paper states clearly that the Scottish Parliament and Executive will be responsible for devolved functions, including home affairs. Will he accept that the issue of home affairs comes within the pillars of the Maastricht treaty? Having regard to the fact that the White Paper also says that the Scottish Executive will have an opportunity to participate in relevant meetings and in appropriate cases could speak for the United Kingdom", will the Scottish Ministers be entitled to vote on those matters that fall within the devolved functions of home affairs within the third pillar? If they are not allowed to do so, will the right hon. Gentleman accept that they will be no more than puppets of the Secretary of State?

Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar Secretary of State, Scottish Office

I should be the last person to tackle the hon. Gentleman on European matters, because I might never emerge from the morass. We envisage that Scotland, the Scottish Parliament and, in particular, the Scottish Executive will be part of the process of consultation and decision making. No doubt a United Kingdom delegation will meet, and a United Kingdom line will emerge. That delegation will vote the agreed United Kingdom line. The hon. Gentleman is pursuing a total non-event with vigour—but that is the nature of the beast, I fear.

Photo of George Galloway George Galloway Labour, Glasgow Kelvin

Notwithstanding the slightly demented braying from some of the Bourbons on the Conservative Benches, does my right hon. Friend accept that this is a great day for Scotland? Somewhere beyond the rafters, the whole host of heroes who, throughout this century, have stood and fought for home rule for Scotland—from Keir Hardie, the founder of the Scottish Labour party, through Tom Johnston and all the way to our late, great fallen leader, John Smith—will be cheering my right hon. Friend. He has written his name into the history books by bringing forward this proposal.

On the subject of sensitivity and taxes, does my right hon. Friend accept that the greatest recruiting sergeant for the break-up of the United Kingdom has been 18 years of Thatcherite governments rammed down the throats of the people of Scotland—in no case more grotesquely than through the implementation of the poll tax, a whole year before it was implemented in England, on a people who not only never voted for it, but were never even invited to vote for it in the Tory election manifesto of 1983?

Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar Secretary of State, Scottish Office

I certainly recognise my hon. Friend's point about the experiences of recent years under another Government. I am a little nervous about my place in history as he described. I saw the other day, in a well-known Scottish newspaper, a picture that I instantly and cleverly identified as myself, under which appeared the caption, "A modern Robert the Bruce". I have to confess that I took to my bed for the rest of the day.

Photo of Mr Jonathan Sayeed Mr Jonathan Sayeed Conservative, Mid Bedfordshire

The average size of a Greater London parliamentary constituency is 67,000 electors. That of a Glasgow seat is fewer than 52,000. The White Paper does not do anything about that anti-English bias for the next general election or the general election thereafter. I recognise that it is in the interests of the Labour party to delay change, but the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues are now members of a Government who have a higher duty—that of fairness to all the United Kingdom, including England. Why has he not introduced plans to remedy that constitutional injustice in time for the next general election?

Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar Secretary of State, Scottish Office

The hon. Gentleman has obviously given a great deal of thought to the matter, so he will have considered the practicalities. He, as a democrat and a careful Member of the House, will want the proper processes of consultation and appeal in place. He will then see exactly what the timetable is. First, there is a requirement for primary legislation to make the proposal possible. Then, there needs to be the proper and due processes. We will follow them, but we will not unduly delay.

It is, perhaps, of some importance that the hon. Gentleman is a London Member. I congratulate him on his party's decision to endorse a London government and an elected mayor for London. Perhaps he should consider why, if that is good, it should not also be good to have an elected authority in Scotland.

Photo of Tony Wright Tony Wright Labour, Cannock Chase

This has been described as a great day for Scotland. As an English Member and a Unionist, I should like to say that it is a great day for the Union, too. Scotland has had the capacity to break the Union. It would have been possible to come forward with proposals that threatened the Union. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on making sure that his proposals do not threaten the Union. Will he now bend his considerable energies to trying to persuade the Conservatives that the choice is between preserving the Union with the White Paper or breaking it with them?

Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar Secretary of State, Scottish Office

I know that my hon. Friend has spent a great deal of time looking at constitutional systems, and is an expert in the matter. I value his opinion and have a great deal of sympathy with his point. Perhaps for political reasons—I know not—some Conservative Members have forced themselves into the position of defending a status quo that is clearly becoming very threadbare and indefensible, not just in Scotland, but in other parts of the country.

Photo of Malcolm Bruce Malcolm Bruce Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury)

The Secretary of State was right to point out that those who seek to defend the Union have a responsibility to explain how the demand for reform should be met. They have not done so.

The Secretary of State has come forward with proposals that, for me, as a federalist, address the need to balance the aspirations of the people of Scotland and the future of the United Kingdom. Will he take it from me that there can be no doubt left in anyone's mind that the people of Scotland will be well represented in Scotland by Members elected to the Scottish Parliament and will continue to play a major role in the United Kingdom through the Members elected to this place? Anyone who says any different has clearly not read the proposals.

Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar Secretary of State, Scottish Office

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making that important point.

Photo of Anne Begg Anne Begg Labour, Aberdeen South

The White Paper proposes an historic Parliament. One reason is that it will be elected by a form of proportional representation, which is of supreme importance to people in the north-east of Scotland. The people of Aberdeen will know that their voice will be heard loud and clear. Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is a supreme irony in the Conservatives being against the constitutional changes which may save the Scottish Conservative party from political oblivion?

Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar Secretary of State, Scottish Office

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Such charitable work by the Labour party is admirable, but perhaps we should go about it quietly. She has made an important point, which I tried to hint at in my statement. We are trying to get a due and proper reflection of opinion throughout Scotland. There may be some odd beneficiaries, but if the principle is right, we should stand by it.

Photo of Mr Stephen Day Mr Stephen Day Conservative, Cheadle

I am sure that the Secretary of State will concede that the establishment of a Scottish Parliament is but part of the Government's strategy to set up regional Parliaments throughout the United Kingdom, including England. Given that that fits exactly with the blueprint of European federalists for a Europe of the regions, destroying the concept of the nation state, how can the White Paper be the salvation of the United Kingdom?

Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar Secretary of State, Scottish Office

Perhaps if the hon. Gentleman looked at the situation and opinion in Scotland, he might understand a little more about the issue. I do not say that in hostility. He is obviously not steeped in the issue, as many of my hon. Friends are. We are not going to be prescriptive on regional government. We have made it clear that we believe that there is a case for passing power to other areas of the United Kingdom, as we are doing in Scotland and Wales, but we would want to tailor any scheme to the needs of the area and be satisfied that there was consent and a wish for such a reform.

Photo of Tommy Graham Tommy Graham Labour, West Renfrewshire

I congratulate the Secretary of State on his tenacity and on the tremendous deed of introducing the White Paper today against a background of 18 years of Toryism. I have a genuine plea to make to my right hon. Friend. This is a great day for the people of Scotland, especially for the children. We fought the general election on the basis of delivering a Scottish Parliament. Today, our children have seen something in which they can take part. I suggest that 11 September should be known as Devolution Day and that all the children in Scotland should be off school so that they can help their mothers and fathers and make sure that we have a yes, yes vote. Can we give our young kids a celebratory day in which we can all take part? We can show these folk that the people of Scotland will say yes, yes.

Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar Secretary of State, Scottish Office

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who always has something interesting to say. I hope that he will not take my remarks amiss. I agree with him entirely about the importance of the younger generation and about the importance of these proposals for the future. On 11 September, I shall be surprisingly uninterested in children, although I shall be very interested in what their parents are doing. I very much hope that, however they intend to vote, they will take the trouble to vote so that we get a fair test of public opinion on an enormously important issue for Scotland.

Photo of Mrs Ray Michie Mrs Ray Michie Liberal Democrat, Argyll and Bute

May I ask the Secretary of State about something he said on radio this morning? Will he comment on the choice of the title First Minister for the Scottish Parliament? What alternatives were discarded?

I, too, warmly welcome the White Paper, which I see as a cause for celebration because it is the first concrete step to returning democracy to Scotland and to re-establishing our Scottish Parliament. I hope that the carping criticism and the doom and gloom merchants will be thoroughly routed on 11 September.

Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar Secretary of State, Scottish Office

I am grateful to the hon. Lady, who has fought hard and long in the cause and who has travelled many a long and, I suspect, weary mile with me and with others. We need, of course, to have a term that we can use in legislation and in preliminary documentation. The title First Minister seems sensible, but if other people have other ideas, we can adjust the proposal in time. I hope that no one will take it amiss if I say that the important thing is to get the show on the road. After many years of talk, that is my aim and my objective.

Photo of Ian Davidson Ian Davidson Labour/Co-operative, Glasgow Pollok

Does the Secretary of State agree that those who threaten the Union are not those who support devolution, but those who support the status quo? The status quo is not tenable as an alternative at present. Does my right hon. Friend also agree that what we need now is a united double yes campaign? Any of those who have spoken long and loud about their support for a Scottish Parliament who do not support a double yes campaign will be found wanting by the people of Scotland.

Will my right hon. Friend please desist from trying to persuade the Tories to support our initiative? What we need to rally our supporters is Tory opposition. Nothing is more guaranteed to bring out Labour, nationalist and Liberal Democrat voters for a double yes campaign than the opposition of the Tories. I understand that the right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram), in line with the renovation of the Tory party, is going to propose a new voting system for elections to the Scottish Parliament of one acre, one vote. I understand that his family would then control the Parliament virtually on their own.

Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar Secretary of State, Scottish Office

It is a splendid idea, and I will ensure that the Department writes a paper tomorrow. My hon. Friend wittily makes a point of some substance, but not one for which the cure is in my hands. I am very interested in maximising support and in getting people motivated to turn out for the vote. I reluctantly decided that the suggested slogan, "Yes, yes, make mine a double," although quite attractive in some parts of the Scottish community, was not entirely appropriate.

Photo of John Greenway John Greenway Conservative, Ryedale

One might equally say, "Make mine a Dewar on the rocks," because the Secretary of State has failed to answer any serious question about the structure of what he has proposed. May I put another one to him? Does not what he has proposed mean that there will be no revising chamber for all the legislation that the new Parliament will pass? If so, who is going to vet and revise criminal law, notwithstanding the differences between English, Welsh and Scottish criminal law, which have existed for centuries? This House and the other place have ensured consistency of criminal law throughout the United Kingdom in recent years. What he has proposed means that that cannot be guaranteed under the new arrangement, which can only be bad for Scotland as well as for the rest of the United Kingdom.

Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar Secretary of State, Scottish Office

I think that we should agree on a moratorium on whisky jokes, particularly in the light of the name of the present leader of the Tory party. I can think of several likely runners, but I will not let them loose.

The hon. Gentleman makes a serious point. As he will know, the House of Lords as a court does not have any remit in the Scottish criminal law, but it does in the civil law of Scotland, and I would expect that to continue. I accept that there is a particular duty on the Scottish Parliament to look very seriously at its own scrutiny proposals. It is very important that we look at pre-legislative scrutiny and much wider consultation. There is a particular duty on us to get the law right, and I think that that might concentrate the mind.

I remind the hon. Gentleman that the electoral system is also important in this respect. The perhaps more accurate representation—although it will have advantages and disadvantages about which we can all argue—is relevant in considering the point about scrutiny and the fairness of the decision-making process.

Photo of Rachel Squire Rachel Squire Labour, Dunfermline West

I also warmly welcome the publication of the White Paper on the Scottish Parliament, and pay tribute to the hard work that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, his ministerial team and the Scottish Office have put into producing it. Yet again, we have delivered one of the promises made in our election manifesto.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the proposals have the potential of representing the most radical constitutional change since, after centuries of struggle and against fierce opposition from the Conservative party, we finally secured the right to vote for every man and woman? Does he also agree that a massive yes, yes vote on 11 September will help us to change the face of politics, give people a greater voice in the decisions that affect their everyday lives and lead to a strengthening of democracy and the United Kingdom as a whole?

Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar Secretary of State, Scottish Office

I do agree with my hon. Friend that this is a measure of great importance. I would never pretend to the House that it was a minor matter of only Scottish interest. That would be totally wrong. I also agree with her about the democratic point. The case for this change is essentially a democratic one—whether or not it is accepted by the people. It is about democracy and the involvement of people in the process of government.

I say with no great animus, but just as a matter of historical observation, that, if we go back through the 20th century into the 19th century, it is fair to say that the Conservative party has opposed almost every important constitutional reform ever proposed—although, to its credit, within a few years, it claims the reforms as part of the warp and woof of the British constitution, which it would die in the ditch to preserve.

Photo of Peter Luff Peter Luff Chair, Agriculture Committee, Chair, Agriculture Committee

Does the Secretary of State accept that the enduring success or otherwise of the proposals that he has put before the House will depend as much on the active support and enthusiasm of the English, Welsh and Northern Irish people as the Scottish people? What, therefore, can I say to my constituents, given that, although a Scottish Member of Parliament—Scotland will remain grossly over-represented in this place for many years to come—will have direct influence over the affairs of Worcestershire and England, that self-same Scottish Member of Parliament and I will have no influence whatever over exactly the same issues north of the border?

Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar Secretary of State, Scottish Office

The Scottish Parliament will not be here until 2000, so we will not have an immediate change in that respect. When the Scottish Parliament is up, there will be a balanced and fairer package that will involve the other changes that I have mentioned. I may have got the hon. Gentleman wrong, but I suspect that he is one of the Members who on occasion, as the hours have ticked into the morning, have suggested to me that it is unfortunate that they are stuck in the House voting on Scottish legislation. We will at least be saving him from that.

Photo of Mr Eric Clarke Mr Eric Clarke Labour, Midlothian

As a former miners' leader and a trade union member for many years, may I thank my right hon. Friend for the White Paper on behalf of the trade union movement? We have fought long and hard for many years to get devolution on the statute book to ensure that the people of Scotland have a proper say. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the White Paper will lead to the strengthening, not the weakening, of the Union? I remember that, historically, those people over there on the Conservative Benches fought against the emancipation of women for many years. I wonder how many times they have to be wrong before they are ever right.

Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar Secretary of State, Scottish Office

I welcome what my hon. Friend has said, and I am grateful to him. I am conscious of the contribution that many of my colleagues in the trade union movement have made to this debate over the years. Indeed, some of his colleagues in the National Union of Mineworkers—Mick McGahey, George Bolton and many others—have argued the case long and hard. Fortunately, they were not alone, and we now have a real prospect of progress.

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Conservative, Epping Forest

Is the Secretary of State aware that British people who have lived outside Britain for less than 20 years had the right to vote in the recent general election? Given that that was the basis on which his party won a number of seats, why will the Secretary of State not give a right to vote in the referendum to Scottish people who happen to have lived outside Scotland for less than 20 years? Why is he afraid to consult all Scottish people about his proposals for a Scottish Parliament?

Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar Secretary of State, Scottish Office

The number excluded would be very small. We went for a residency test, which will be familiar to the hon. Lady, and that was right. We have taken the register that will give the biggest, all-encompassing electorate. I do not know whether she is a Scot—

Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar Secretary of State, Scottish Office

I do not know anything about her, but I have so many old friends missing these days from the Conservative Benches that I wander lonely in the corridors. The residency test is sensible and straightforward, and will provide the largest electorate available in Scotland. It will include some peers whom she may know, and that will be nice. Before the right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) gets too excited, I am told that only 123 peers are entitled to vote, and I will stand the risk.

Photo of Rosemary McKenna Rosemary McKenna Labour, Cumbernauld and Kilsyth

May I join in the congratulations to my right hon. Friend on the publication of a document that has been long awaited? We are on the threshold of the most exciting change in the constitution of this country for at least 300 years. I also thank him for the hour and a quarter's entertainment that we have had this afternoon, because I think that everyone has enjoyed it. Does he agree that thanks are due to the Constitutional Convention, of which I have been a member since the beginning, as have many other hon. Members?

Conservative Members perhaps do not understand that what is on offer is a modern Parliament appropriate to the next century, and that the nature of politics in this country will be changed completely. They will have much to learn from the new Parliament.

Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar Secretary of State, Scottish Office

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has worked hard on the project for a long time. I recognize that it is a big project and no one can give a guarantee on delivery. I believe that the Parliament will make a contribution and that it will be a success. I hope that we will have good will and support. I am greatly encouraged—I say this in no false sense—that we have heard statements from the Scottish Conservative party that, if the Parliament is set up, it will contest seats and contribute to its working. That is an important point, and I welcome it.

Photo of Donald Gorrie Donald Gorrie Liberal Democrat, Edinburgh West

I congratulate the Secretary of State on producing a White Paper that will produce a Parliament for which we can campaign whole-heartedly and together, as the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) said. I also congratulate the Conservatives on their consistency. They continue to show exactly the same attitude that caused them to lose every seat in Scotland.

Photo of Donald Gorrie Donald Gorrie Liberal Democrat, Edinburgh West

The Conservatives contested those seats under an electoral system that they supported. It killed them off and they are now complaining. They have showed the flattest learning curve in history.

May I ask the Secretary of State for some clarification on local government? Will the Scottish Parliament be able to alter the voting system for Scottish local government to make it more sensible? Will it be able to alter the financial arrangements so that, for example, local authority self-financed expenditure may be treated as outside the control total, which is the more sensible system that obtains in continental Europe?

Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar Secretary of State, Scottish Office

The hon. Gentleman must recognise that local government is a devolved responsibility and, therefore, the Parliament will be able to consider the organisation of local government finance in Scotland. I do not, however, hold out the hope that it will be able unilaterally to change its relationship with the United Kingdom Treasury. That would be a startling innovation, and one which I could not endorse.

Photo of Liam Fox Liam Fox Conservative, Woodspring

It cannot be long before the Liberal Democrats are sued under the Trade Descriptions Act for calling themselves an Opposition party. The Labour party has had 18 years to get the details of the arrangement right and the Secretary of State must not dismiss the hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan). The right hon. Gentleman says that the relationship between Parliament and this place will be dynamic: we say that it will be unstable.

The Secretary of State for Scotland will be the messenger boy for the Parliament in Edinburgh. He will pick up the shopping list of the Scottish Parliament and bring it down to his Cabinet colleagues in London to ask for the money to take back, although he will have no say over how it is spent. When the money runs out, the Secretary of State and the Westminster Parliament will be blamed, not the Scottish Parliament. That is a recipe for instability.

We have heard nothing from Labour and Liberal Democrat Members who were elected on 1 May on the issues of health, education and housing. They said that those were the most important issues because they had been done to death by 20 years of wicked Tory government. [Interruption.] They cheer now, but those are the very powers that they propose to give to a separate Scottish Parliament. What will they do here? Will they follow the powers back to a Scottish Parliament? Or will they remain here, debating issues that, before 1 May, they said were of secondary importance? If that happens, there will be an air of hypocrisy hanging around the Chamber.

Not much has been said about the costs detailed in the White Paper, in that the Scottish Parliament will have the right to raise not only council tax but business rates. When it raises income tax, or its "guaranteed amount", as the White Paper calls it, Ministers may smile, because there is only one group that is guaranteed on a residency basis not to pay that tax—Ministers legally deemed to live in London. It is fine for everyone else in Scotland to pay the tax, but not for Ministers.

The Scottish people will get a bill for a Parliament not yet designed, on a site not yet designated, to deal with issues that their Members of Parliament already deal with; and it is all to provide them with the one thing that I would have thought no one in this day and age wanted: more politicians and bureaucrats.

As the Secretary of State confirmed, members of the Scottish Executive will be able to speak for the United Kingdom, although they are not answerable to the House.

Photo of Liam Fox Liam Fox Conservative, Woodspring

The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but his exact words were: Ministers in the Scottish Executive will have an opportunity to participate in relevant meetings of the Council of Ministers and in appropriate cases could speak for the United Kingdom. That is profoundly undemocratic. Moreover, does it not fulfil Labour's other agenda—a Europe of the regions by stealth, and the destruction of the nation state?

Above all, the Secretary of State could not answer the question he was asked several times. There is no point in the right hon. Gentleman's looking across the Chamber at his alternative colleagues in government on the Liberal Democrat Benches. He must answer the question, and I shall give him one more opportunity. Why, after devolution, should Scottish Members of Parliament be able to vote on issues that affect England and Wales, when neither they themselves nor English and Welsh Members of Parliament can vote on Scottish issues? Does that not make a mockery of a Union Parliament?

The Prime Minister promised us a Bill; we got a brochure. The whole thing is a complete shambles. If this is the Government's flagship legislation, we shudder to think what the rest will be like.

Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar Secretary of State, Scottish Office

It occurs to me that the hon. Gentleman was unwise to talk about the Trade Descriptions Act; after all, he describes himself as a Scottish Opposition spokesman. What he said was not so much a question as a rant, and he should go away and read the scheme rather more carefully. For example, he said that the Scottish Parliament would raise the council tax. But council tax is under the control of local government. If he sees that as a terrible conspiracy, he must lead a very frightened life.

The only question that the hon. Gentleman asked that seemed of much relevance was the one about Scottish Members' right to continue to vote in the House. I have already told him, and I hope that he accepts what I say, that, if the House is sovereign, and decides to order its business, because it believes that that will increase the democratic content of British politics, by devolving some of its powers to a Scottish Parliament, that is perfectly legitimate and constitutionally proper.

I repeat that that needs to be seen in the context of a balanced package, which I believe will be widely accepted. [Interruption.] I know that the hon. Gentleman does not accept that, but it is my belief. We shall have to continue the argument on another occasion, when I hope that he will be better prepared.

Several hon. Members:


Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Points of order will come after the second statement.

The statement by the Secretary of State for Scotland was very important, and we rightly spent a considerable time on it. We must now move on to the business statement.