With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 496, in page 68, line 36, after 'crossings),', insert 'and'.
No. 480, in page 69, line 10, leave out from 'training)' to end of line 11.
No. 208, in page 69, line 14, leave out 'Provision and'.
No. 209, in page 69, line 18, leave out from beginning to first 'the' in line 21.
No. 210, in page 69, leave out lines 23 and 24.
No. 211, in page 69, line 25, leave out from 'section' to end of line 26 and insert
'136(1) of the Railways Act 1993 (competent authority in relation to the railways financial status regulations).'.
No. 498, in page 69, line 26, at end insert—
'The functions of the Director of Passenger Rail Franchising in relation to rail services wholly within Scotland.
The power to require Railtrack and the operators of franchised rail services within Scotland to report to the Parliament.'.
Government amendments Nos. 534 to 536.
No. 481, in page 70, line 2, leave out 'or finish or both' and insert 'and finish'.
Government amendments Nos. 537 to 544.
Amendment No. 495 relates to licensing public service vehicles, amendments Nos. 496 and 497 relate to speed limits and amendment No. 498 relates to passenger rail franchising.
The licensing of public service vehicles under the Public Passenger Vehicles Act 1981 and the Transport Act 1985 is a reserved item. The notes on clauses state that the licensing system is administered by the traffic commissioner for the Scottish traffic area constituted under the 1981 Act. If a Scottish traffic commissioner regulates buses in Scotland, I can see no argument for him or her not to be responsible to the Scottish Parliament. The issue concerns mainly licensing, the safety of buses and so on.
The Government's argument for reserving the power is that such issues must be common throughout the United Kingdom. However, with respect, the Government are falling into the trap, which they sometimes accuse the Conservative party of falling into, of thinking that everything must be the same. The argument for a Scottish Parliament is that, where appropriate, the Scots should have the right to do things differently. If the Scottish Parliament wishes to have a different licensing system for rural buses, buses on small islands, or something of that sort, as long as it pays due heed to national and international safety standards, it should be allowed such control. For the Scottish Parliament not to have that control—the matter is already under the separate control of an official in Scotland—would be remarkably foolish.
Has the hon. Gentleman inquired into the costs of the break-up of the United Kingdom driving licence set-up? He will correct me if I am wrong, but I hear anecdotally that to remove responsibility from Swansea would be extremely costly.
The hon. Gentleman has not understood what I am getting at. If that is my fault, I apologise. I am dealing not with driver licensing but with the licensing of public service vehicles, such as buses, and the giving of safety certificates. As I said, that is already done by an official for Scotland, so no additional costs would be involved.
Amendment No. 496 relates to speed limits. The Scottish Parliament is responsible for road safety; the notes on clauses contain a series of points about exactly what it can do. But if the Scottish Parliament felt that to have a different system of speed limits was a major item in its road safety policy, it would cause extreme friction and unpleasantness if it were told that it could not have such a system; that it could have all sorts of humps and hollows, but could not limit speeds around, for example, schools or residential areas, to 20 mph or even less.
We accept the need for conformity in the layout of pedestrian crossings and traffic signs, because many drivers go round the United Kingdom and different signs would confuse them. However, if there was a clear sign limiting a driver's speed to 15 mph in a particular street, even the thickest driver would understand that. The Scottish Parliament should be allowed to give such powers to local authorities. Again, I see no reason for saying that the Scottish Parliament is responsible for road safety, but cannot take one of the key steps to achieve that.
Amendment No. 498 relates to rail franchising. It covers some of the same ground as a number of amendments relating to the control of railways, in the name of the hon. Member for Cunninghame, South (Mr. Donohoe). We have great sympathy with those amendments and, if the Government were minded to support that line of approach, we would be happy. However, the approach that we have gone for is that the functions of the Director of Passenger Rail Franchising in relation to rail services wholly within Scotland should not be reserved, and that the Scottish Parliament should have the power to require Railtrack and the operators of franchised rail services in Scotland to report to the Scottish Parliament.
There is a problem about United Kingdom rail services, so we are not suggesting a sort of unilateral declaration of independence for Scottish rail services, but there are many services within Scotland, and we do not see why the Scottish Parliament should not have much more direct control over them, through the Director of Passenger Rail Franchising, and by requiring Railtrack and the franchisee companies to report to the Scottish Parliament. To deny the Scottish Parliament a direct say in the conduct of internal Scottish railway services is an unhappy arrangement, which the Government should reconsider.
I rise to speak to amendments Nos. 480 and 481.
Amendment No. 480 is a probing amendment, the effect of which would be to reserve sections 157 to 159 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 to this Parliament. No political point is being made. All we want is that the Government explain the logic of this exception to the reserved power. As the Bill stands, it raises the possibility of differing payments for treatment of traffic casualties, depending whether they sustain their injuries in Scotland or in another part of the United Kingdom. What can be the rationale for opening up that possibility?
Amendment No. 481 removes the existing reservation and therefore devolves further power to the Scottish Parliament. The Bill reserves not just shipping services that start and finish outside Scotland, but services that connect Scotland with other countries or parts of the UK. The amendment would bring those connecting services back within the competence of the Scottish Parliament.
Yesterday, we heard some extraordinary speeches from Labour Members. Speaker after speaker was in favour of reservations and against the principle of devolution. The speeches were all the more remarkable, given the quarters from which they came—not least among those who spoke was the hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mrs. Fyfe). They bore eloquent testimony to the disciplinary machine that the Labour party has become. Whenever something has been found to be controversial, embarrassing or sensitive, the Government have sought to reserve the power over it to this Parliament. We saw it yesterday, we see it now and we shall see it again later this afternoon.
The Government undoubtedly perceive that they will have more effective control over those issues in governing their supporters in this Parliament than through the tenuous grasp they will have on the Scottish Parliament, particularly on their own supporters. What can possibly be the logic of reserving financial assistance to shipping to this Parliament? Surely it is up to the new Parliament in Scotland to decide which passenger and freight shipping routes are worthy of financial assistance, whether to establish or maintain them. There is some logic in the notes on clauses, which say that it is to prevent differing approaches, which might distort the market for shipping services. That is enough to make a cat laugh. When were the Government ever concerned about market distortions? Their whole legislative programme is riddled with market distortion. Indeed, the Bill contains an enormous market distortion consequent on the threatening differential in income tax between Scotland and the rest of the UK.
It was not concern for the principles of the free market that led to that reservation; it was distrust. The Government will not entrust that aspect of policy to the new Parliament. That is all the more remarkable, given all the talk that we heard when the White Paper was published, attendant on the referendum, and on Second Reading, about new politics and inclusiveness. We now see that it was nothing but the grinding of air.
Under the previous Administration, the then Secretary of State established a new ferry service between Scotland and Northern Ireland—between Ballycastle and Castleton.
May I correct the hon. Gentleman? The service to which he refers is between Ballycastle and Campbeltown. May I also point out that the Conservative Government refused to allow Caledonian MacBrayne to run that service, which could have damaged the new infant service beyond repair?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his correction. That is what I thought I had said—I must have stumbled or mumbled. I shall deal with his substantive point in a moment.
It is monstrous and ridiculous that such a service should be placed outside the competence of the new Scottish Parliament. The Government are implying that the new Parliament is not sufficiently responsible and mature to establish its transport priorities and provide financial assistance from the funds available to it from the Consolidated Fund.
As the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (Dr. Godman) observed, a number of people in Scotland are unhappy about how the ferry service between Scotland and Northern Ireland was established. Amendment No. 481 provides him with an opportunity that he should seize.
Can the hon. Gentleman explain whether he is arguing for devolution of the power to control that ferry service to the new Northern Ireland assembly or Parliament, or to the Scottish Parliament, or whether the sensible course is, as it passes between two areas, to leave it as a UK ferry service?
I am exceedingly grateful to the hon. Gentleman for showing his characteristic courtesy in giving way again.
That ferry service was set up to benefit Northern Ireland and a particular part of Scotland. May I point out that Caledonian MacBrayne suffered for 18 years the Conservative party's mismanagement at the Scottish Office? I hope that, without the hon. Gentleman's useless and irrelevant amendment, Caledonian MacBrayne will prosper vis-à-vis a Scottish Parliament.
The hon. Gentleman should consider carefully the fact that amendment No. 481 places within the domain of the Scottish Parliament those issues about which he is concerned. As the Bill stands, those issues are beyond the competence of the Scottish Parliament, which is most unsatisfactory.
I welcome the opportunity to speak in this debate, particularly on the provision of railway services. I shall speak to amendments Nos. 208 to 211.
The purpose of the amendments is simple: to allow the Scottish Parliament to achieve an integrated transport strategy throughout Scotland. As hon. Members from Scotland know, that is even more important in Scotland than it is in other parts of the United Kingdom, because of the sparsity of the population and the longer distances that people have to travel. The amendments aim to achieve that by giving the Scottish Parliament powers over the provision of railway services that are similar to those that it will have over other forms of transport. That will be done by removing references to the provision of railway services from the list of reserved matters, but leaving the regulation of railway services as a reserved matter.
According to paragraph 3.2 of the White Paper "Scotland's Parliament", the reserved powers are to be only in areas where matters can be more effectively and beneficially handled on a UK basis. It is far from clear that that criterion has been met in this case. There is no need for a reservation, as the vast majority of rail traffic—some 95 per cent.—using the Scottish rail network is internal and thus needs to be considered not on a UK basis but in a Scottish context.
The Scottish and English networks connect at only two points, and the division of responsibilities for trunk roads between the Scottish Office and the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions is a suitable model for jurisdiction. There should be no significant problems in developing that model for rail if it can be used for roads. The last thing that we want for the railways is conflict, especially as we have just come through reorganisation, but the reservations in the Bill make it highly probable.
The amendments would also allow the Scottish Parliament to consider private legislation relating to the building of new railway lines in Scotland. Under schedule 7, such plans would have to be considered in this House under the Private Legislation Procedure (Scotland) Act 1936, which is somewhat outdated for the job as it is more than 60 years old. Private legislation procedures in England and Wales have been updated by the Transport and Works Act 1992. It would be unreasonable to force the Scottish Parliament to come to this House to use pre-war procedures because it wants a railway line to be built in Scotland. I trust that my hon. Friend the Minister will take note of my remarks and agree with me.
The amendments to schedule 5 would remove ambiguity about local authority funding for railway services in Scotland under section 136 of the Railways Act 1993. The schedule, as drafted, requires such funding to be carried out under reserved powers, and such activities could not be integrated into the Scottish block as administered by the Scottish Parliament. That is a recipe for disaster, and I trust that my hon. Friend the Minister agrees.
The Bill threatens any Scottish Office efforts to grant assistance to projects that would shift freight from road to rail. That anomaly would be removed by the amendments. The Minister will be aware that the Select Committee on the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs, of which I am a member, has recently concluded a major examination of railways and the effects of privatisation of British Rail, which was performed by the last Tory Government. I shall not go into the details of that mistaken policy, but hon. Members will be aware of the unanimous Select Committee report on the matter.
Our examination of the new composition of the network found that the generally unsatisfactory relationship between rail passengers and rail companies was a major problem. The amendments would allow the Scottish Parliament to remedy that by appointing the members of the Rail Users Consultative Committee for Scotland, which is mere common sense. I hope that the Minister will allow it to happen.
The unanimous report of the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Transport Sub-Committee called for a strategic rail authority to be set up, which is further evidence of the need for the development of a unified and integrated transport policy. Anything else would be irrational, and it would be wrong to recognise the importance of the policy in the rest of the United Kingdom but to deny it in Scotland. Such a policy must be developed, especially given Scotland's many and varied needs for transport.
If the Minister cannot accept the amendments, I hope that he will accept the aims behind them and reassure hon. Members that the Scottish Parliament will be able to develop an integrated transport policy. I hope that the amendments, which would allow that to happen, will be accepted.
I welcome amendment No. 495, which was moved by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Gorrie). It would be bizarre if we could not trust the Scottish Parliament to administer matters such as public service vehicle operator licences and speed limits, which are of no interest to people outside Scotland.
I also welcome the amendments to which the hon. Member for Cunninghame, South (Mr. Donohoe) spoke, and hope that the Government support them. As the hon. Gentleman rightly said, ScotRail is a well-contained organisation that operates almost all the railways in Scotland, with the exception of the preserved lines. Almost all its services operate within Scotland, with the exception of the Caledonian sleepers, which some hon. Members travel on occasionally. It is logical to devolve such powers to the new Scottish Parliament.
The logic that argues for amendments Nos. 208 to 211 also argues for amendment No. 498, which would devolve rail franchising. I have some sympathy with the Conservative amendment on ferry traffic. Labour Members seemed to think it bizarre that a ferry travelling from Northern Ireland to Scotland should come under the aegis of two different authorities with control over ferry services. The most successful ferry services in the world, which sail from France to England, are in exactly the same position, although that has never impinged on their effectiveness.
The Government amendments would, if I understand them correctly, introduce a new reservation on hovercrafts and wrecks to the Parliament of the United Kingdom, which would take reserved powers a stage too far. The Government are devolving the power dealing with the noise of hovercrafts, but the noise of wrecks does not come into the matter. That is unnecessarily complex, and the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish people are able to look after those matters in Scotland.
As an unbeliever in the whole proposition for devolution, hon. Members may take it from me that, none the less, there was great sense in the convincing, powerful and welcome speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Cunninghame, South (Mr. Donohoe). How on earth can we expect Members of the Holyrood Parliament not to concern themselves with transport matters? Within seconds of his rising to speak, it was clear that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Gorrie) would be completely dissatisfied with existing arrangements, and was truly and accurately reflecting the attitudes of every member of every party that will be represented in the Edinburgh Parliament.
My hon. Friend the Minister, energetic man that he is, will be the first to say, "If only we had more authority to do something about it ourselves," when there is trouble over slow trains and passengers being kept waiting. If we are to have the Edinburgh Parliament, it will be wholly unreal not to give it such powers.
I welcome the hon. Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) to the new peripatetic Front-Bench service that the Conservatives are now operating—it has some merits.
It is the responsibility of high office. I am doing the job for the fun of it, as you, Mr. Lord, can well imagine. How enjoyable it is to face another six and a half hours with such delightful company.
Before speaking to the Opposition amendments, I shall speak briefly to the Government amendments. Amendment No. 533 is a drafting amendment to clarify the scope of the exception from the road transport reservation. It is consistent with the approach taken throughout schedule 5. Amendments Nos. 534 to 536 respectively add to the reservation the subject matter of the Hovercraft Act 1968, except for provisions dealing with noise pollution, section 2 of the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973 and the Dangerous Vessels Act 1985. The 1973 Act deals with the designation of protected areas around dangerous wrecks, and the 1985 Act deals with the powers of harbourmasters and the Secretary of State in relation to dangerous vessels.
The amendments fulfil the Government's commitment to ensure that matters related to marine safety are reserved.
Amendment No. 537 deletes the words "marine works" and inserts the word "boatslips". How does my hon. Friend define a "boatslip"? Does it refer to boatyards as well as to slipways used by fishermen in the maintenance of their craft and by small boat builders and fishing boat repairers?
I shall deal with that matter shortly, if my hon. Friend can wait.
Amendment No. 538 tidies up the qualifications to the exemption from reservation as a consequence of amendments Nos. 534 to 536 by making it clear that the Scottish Parliament does not have competence on matters of marine safety when legislating on ports and harbours.
Amendment No. 537 is a clarificatory amendment. It would remove the reference to marine works and substitute a reference to boatslips. That is because the statutory definition of "marine work" in section 57 of the Harbours Act 1964 is a harbour or boatslip used for certain purposes. As harbours form part of the exception, and to avoid confusion, we propose to add the reference to boatslips and to delete that to marine works. Amendment No. 539 is consequential on amendment No. 537.
It is proposed that the Scottish Parliament will have legislative competence on airport planning and environmental matters, including airport byelaws and traffic matters. The Bill already makes provision for that by excepting the subject matter of section 30 of the Civil Aviation Act 1982, which deals with the provision of aerodromes and facilities at aerodromes by local authorities. Amendment No. 540 would extend the exception to cover related powers under section 31 of the 1982 Act, which covers local authorities' powers to carry on a business ancillary to the running of an aerodrome.
Amendment No. 541 would delete from the exception from reservation the subject matter of sections 44 to 49 of the Civil Aviation Act 1982. Those sections make provision on safety at aerodromes and warnings about obstructions, and are properly part of the reserved matter of the regulation of aviation and air transport. The amendment would not affect the competence of the Scottish Parliament in respect of airport planning and environmental matters, including airport byelaws and traffic matters.
Does that mean that the Scottish Parliament will have responsibility for approving licensed aerodromes, but will have to seek permission, under the Civil Aviation Act 1982, from the United Kingdom Parliament's devolved authorities in respect of obstructions? The Scottish Parliament will not have complete control over those matters, and will have to refer to the United Kingdom Parliament.
The hon. Gentleman's analysis is correct. The main issue is that airport planning, environmental matters, air byelaws and traffic matters will be devolved responsibilities. His interpretation is correct in respect of obstructions.
Amendment No. 542 is a technical amendment to ensure consistency between the wording of the proposed exceptions from reservation. In line with the general devolution of airport planning and environmental matters, including airport byelaws and traffic matters, amendment No. 543 would extend the competence of the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Executive to the compulsory acquisition of land by an airport operator and the disposal of compulsorily acquired land.
Amendment No. 544 clarifies the reservation in schedule 5 about the setting of accessibility standards for public passenger transport for disabled persons. As the White Paper stated, technical specifications relating to the needs of disabled people in public passenger transport will be reserved to ensure uniformity across the United Kingdom.
However, other aspects of transport for the disabled, such as the orange badge scheme and concessionary fare schemes, are devolved. It is also intended that the Scottish Parliament could establish, if it wishes, a statutory body, like the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee, to operate in devolved areas of transport for disabled persons. By substituting the words "technical specifications" for the word "standards", the amendment makes the distinction between reserved and devolved matters clear, and I commend it to the Committee.
I shall now deal with the Opposition amendments. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Gorrie) set out his reasons for tabling amendment No. 495, which deals with the licensing of operators of public service vehicles in Scotland. I should like to set out my reasons for not accepting it. The Government have made it plain that certain matters would benefit from a consistent and integrated approach across Great Britain, and operator licensing for public service vehicles falls into that category.
It would clearly be impractical, confusing and inconvenient for operators potentially to be subject to different licensing standards in Scotland from those operating in the rest of the country. Therefore, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw the amendment.
I am disinclined to speculate on that, because I do not have the information readily available. I hope that the consistency, coherence and common sense of our approach will be evident to all hon. Members.
I interrupted the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Gorrie) to ask him the cost of his proposals. Do the Government have any easily available figures on the cost of disruption to and break-up of those technical organizations?
No work has been done on that point, partly because we intend to reserve those matters. I hope that my hon. Friend will accept that simple explanation.
The Government do not accept amendments Nos. 496 and 497, which seek to devolve the provisions of part VI of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 on general speed limits. A high degree of consistency between the general speed limits that apply in Scotland and those that apply in the rest of the United Kingdom is desirable in the interests of road safety and driver comprehension.
The Government cannot accept amendment No. 480, which deals with road traffic casualties. It seeks to reserve the provisions of sections 157 to 159 of the Road Traffic Act 1988, which deal with the recovery of payments for hospital treatment of road traffic casualties. Those provisions are not an integral part of GB roads legislation, as the powers in the Act to make charges are given specifically to Health Ministers. The whole subject of health in Scotland is devolved to the Scottish Parliament. It would therefore be inappropriate for this area of recovery of payment for hospital treatment of road accident casualties alone to be reserved.
Do the provisions of the Bill as they now stand mean that, if a pedestrian were knocked down at one end of the bridge over the Tweed at Coldstream, a differential payment may be made, but it would depend on the part of the bridge where he was knocked down? Will that be beneficial or confusing to the insurance industry?
The right hon. Gentleman is always carping from a sedentary position about not receiving answers. The trouble is that if I give Conservative Members an answer that they do not like or that they think is wrong, they say that I do not know the answer. Their attitude is scurrilous. I am a measured person, and I hope that, rather than make remarks from a sedentary position, the right hon. Gentleman will make his comments at the Dispatch Box so that everyone can hear them.
Amendments Nos. 208 to 211 deal with rail responsibilities. I shall give our reasons for not accepting them, although I acknowledge the important sentiment that lies behind them. I shall make clear what the Government propose in the Bill and in subsequent policy statements. I hope that that will provide the reassurance that hon. Members are seeking.
Amendment No. 208 seeks to exclude from the reservation legislative competence over the provision of railway services, and amendment No. 498 seeks to exclude from the reservation the functions of the Director of Passenger Rail Franchising in relation to rail services wholly within Scotland.
The Government have made it plain that we do not think that the privatised railway that we inherited from the previous Administration is structured or run in a way sufficiently responsive, or accountable, to the public interest. We shall be addressing that matter in the transport White Paper, which the Deputy Prime Minister will be bringing to the House very soon, and in the legislation that will be necessary to introduce the new arrangements for rail.
The Government remain committed to maintaining a national rail network, run in the public interest under the auspices of a new rail authority. At present, three different franchise operators run rail services in Scotland, and all three run cross-border services. If the amendment were approved, it is conceivable that the national network and services which cross the England-Scotland border could be put in jeopardy by a Scottish Parliament overturning the framework that governs the operation of railway passenger and goods services on a GB basis. That is not a sensible way of running a national railway. We regard it as essential for the overall regulatory regime to be a reserved matter. The Government are nevertheless committed to delivering a policy that gives appropriate oversight of Scottish passenger rail services to the Scottish Executive. We propose to do that in the following ways, through provisions in the Bill and the policies and legislation that we shall subsequently introduce.
In regard to passenger rail services that both start and end in Scotland—virtually all the current ScotRail franchise—Scottish Ministers will have sole responsibility for issuing objectives, instructions and guidance to the new rail authority that it is proposed should be established under forthcoming railways legislation. That responsibility will be exercised within the overall Great Britain strategic policy framework for railways, and will allow Scottish Ministers to instruct the rail authority on matters such as service levels and fares policies, within relevant contractual constraints.
I think the answer is yes. I am about to give details of a fairly comprehensive policy in which the Scottish Executive will be involved, which will, I think, go some way towards not only reassuring hon. Members but dealing with my hon. Friend's point.
Financial responsibility for those passenger rail services will be transferred to the Scottish Executive. In the current year, public expenditure on the ScotRail franchise amounts to some £280 million. If the Scottish Executive wishes to procure more rail services, it will be able to do so, but it will of course have to find the additional resources.
The cost of cross-border sleeper services is met from the ScotRail budget. Those services are a particularly important and sensitive issue for Scottish travellers. The Government propose that Scottish Ministers should ultimately be able to issue objectives, instructions and guidance in respect of sleeper services, subject to the rail authority's being satisfied that, in its opinion, they do not have an adverse impact on its non-Scottish budget or on the operation of passenger or freight services generally. In respect of other cross-border services, we propose that Scottish Ministers will be able to issue non-binding guidance. That applies to Virgin and to the Great North Eastern Railway.
We think that, when we are making proposals to achieve true integration of transport in Scotland, it makes obvious sense—within the new GB rail regulatory framework—to give the Scottish Parliament legislative competence over both the bus and the rail responsibilities of the Strathclyde passenger transport authority and executive, and those of any similar body that the Scottish Parliament may establish in due course. We shall consider how best to do that in the context of, and consistent with, the new legislative framework.
Amendment No. 211, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Cunninghame, South (Mr. Donohoe), seeks to ensure that the continued reservation of section 136 of the Railways Act 1993 deals only with legislative competence as to who may be a competent authority in relation to EC regulations about the financial status of railway undertakings. The Government intend the Scottish Parliament to have competence over the provision of grants for railway services, excluding the carriage of freight. We accept that the current drafting of the reservation of section 136 may be wider than was intended; we undertake to consider that and, if necessary, table an appropriate amendment later.
In preparation for the supplementary to my Question 33 to the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions this afternoon—which dealt with investment in the west coast main line—I spoke to Mr. Lew Adams of ASLEF, who told me that a vast amount of investment was needed for, in particular, the Scottish section of the line. Under the new set-up, who will be responsible for that investment? Will it come from the Scottish Parliament's budget?
No. The reconstruction of the west coast main line will be a matter for my colleagues at Westminster, and for the new rail authority. Obviously, it will have significant implications for Scotland, and that will be one of the issues involved in dealing with ScotRail. It is mostly self-contained in Scotland, but we need to involve ourselves with other services that operate across the border.
Hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Cunninghame, South, have pointed out that, under the Bill's current provisions, the promoter of a new railway in Scotland would have to come to the Westminster Parliament for any necessary powers to proceed with construction. That would be done under existing private legislation procedures. I appreciate that there is some dissatisfaction with the private legislation procedure that is available to Scottish promoters, but the procedure is not the issue. As it stands, the Bill reserves the provision of railway services to Westminster. The Government, however, are prepared to reconsider the point in the context of the new regulatory arrangements that we shall propose for railways, with a view to ensuring that promoters of new railways, stations and maintenance depots in Scotland will be able to seek any necessary powers for proceeding with construction from the Scottish Parliament.
The detailed provisions required will need to be considered alongside the new rail legislation. On the presumption that a change to schedule 5 of the Bill will be needed, that will be secured either through the procedure set out in clause 29 or through new legislation.
Amendment No. 210 would have the effect of devolving legislative competence in respect of the carriage of goods, including grants for freight facilities and track access. It would thus be open to the Scottish Parliament to enact legislation on the carriage of goods on the Scottish rail network, and to introduce new freight grant schemes. We believe that such an arrangement would run counter to our policy of maintaining a national rail network, and could lead to confusion among applicants for grants, with different criteria being used to assess applications north and south of the border. The Bill already provides for the devolution of grant-making powers for passenger services and for executive devolution of responsibility—within the GB policy framework, of course—for the administration of freight facilities grants and track access grants.
The Rail Users Consultative Committee for Scotland and the Central Rail Users Consultative Committee play a significant role in representing the perspective of users of the privatised railway. Provision will be made for Scottish Ministers to appoint the chairman of the Rail Users Consultative Committee for Scotland. Provision will also be made for the annual reports of both committees to be laid before the Scottish Parliament.
Amendment No. 498 proposes that the Scottish Parliament may require Railtrack and the operators of franchised rail services in Scotland to report to it. As hon. Members will know, Railtrack and the train operating companies are fully privatised. No such powers are currently available to this Parliament, and the question of devolution therefore does not arise.
I hope that that full explanation of the Government's intentions in regard to rail matters will reassure hon. Members that we are committed to securing a significant, central and responsible role in respect of rail services in Scotland, and that they will not press their amendments.
No doubt the hon. Lady is becoming slightly impatient, but I am about to deal with the amendment.
The Government do not accept amendment No. 481, which seeks to reserve the matter of financial assistance to shipping services that both start and finish outside Scotland. The Bill currently reserves assistance for shipping services that start or finish, or both, outside Scotland, and provides that financial assistance for shipping services operating wholly within Scotland will be a devolved matter.
The Government agree that shipping services between Scotland and other countries are of economic significance to Scotland. However, the intention of the Bill is to give the Scottish Parliament appropriate powers to maintain and develop the internal shipping services that it considers necessary for the maintenance and improvement of economic and social conditions in Scotland, particularly in island and remote highland communities. The amendment would give the Scottish Parliament and Executive competence over financial assistance for existing or new external shipping services?
Which shipping services that start or finish, or both, outside Scotland currently receive financial assistance? Will the Minister confirm that the Scottish Parliament will have nothing to do with the Campbeltown to Ballycastle ferry service? After all, that service was set up jointly by the Scottish and the Northern Ireland Offices. The South Antrim Steam Packet Company has gone off with the Caledonian MacBrayne Claymore boat, and has to lease it back to Caledonian MacBrayne during the winter. Surely to goodness the Scottish Office or the Scottish Parliament will still have something to do with that service.
I can reassure the hon. Lady that we are concerned about the development that she has mentioned. We are looking at it closely. After the service was established, boats were taken out of commission in a pick-and-choose way to service other parts of the United Kingdom, which does not make for consistency or coherence. Unfortunately, a private initiative is involved, but the Government are watching the situation carefully. Our main concern is to represent the interests of the people of Scotland. I shall write to the hon. Lady about the up-to-date position. In terms of her first question, I do not think that she would expect me to know where all services start and finish. However, as a matter of courtesy, I shall be happy to provide information on that.
No, it is more a case of ensuring that, when a service route is set up, it should be proceeded with. The service that the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie) mentioned was not a good one in that the operators were allowed to take out ferries when they wished. In a sense, that service was provided because of the lack of any other. It could have been a good idea at the time, but the Government must carefully watch what is being done. I reassure the hon. Gentleman that we are worried about that issue and I hope that we shall not see a repeat of the problem.
I seek clarification. There is a proposal, which is at an early stage, to operate a hovercraft service from Kirkcudbright to the Isle of Man. Is the Minister saying that the Scottish Parliament would have no locus in the setting up of that service?
I think that that is the case, but I am not aware of the details of the proposal. I should be grateful to the hon. Gentleman if he would furnish those, as that would enable me to respond in the context of what I have said.
The Government consider that services between Scotland and other parts of the United Kingdom are best dealt with on a UK-wide basis as they are as much the concern of the other parts of the UK that are connected to Scotland by them as they are of Scotland. Further, the devolution of international shipping services to or from Scotland would be inconsistent with the general reservation of international matters, including trade. For those reasons, I hope that the amendment will not be pressed.
I support amendments Nos. 537 to 544, but I have a couple of observations and I should like to ask some questions. In his lively speech, which was his maiden speech from the exalted position of the Opposition Front Bench, the hon. Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) spoke several times about Caledonian MacBrayne. I remind the Minister that he has promised to meet me, Mr. James McKnight, Mr. Steve Todd and Councillor Harry Mulholland, the leader of Inverclyde council, to discuss Caledonian MacBrayne in relation to the Deloitte and Touche report.
On page 70, schedule 5 contains the heading "Exceptions from reservation". The amendments propose some changes. I refer the Minister to the part under the heading which states:
Regulation of works which may obstruct or endanger navigation.
That makes good sense, especially in terms of harbours and the coastline, but I should like to see it extended to include fishing operations. I am thinking of our inshore fishermen and especially those who use static gear and whose livelihoods may be affected by work of one kind or another such as, for example, the laying of gas pipelines and other such works that have to start on shore. If the livelihood of a static gear fisherman is threatened, could he or she—I appreciate that most of them are men—appeal to the Scottish Parliament, and would it be able to help?
Perhaps the Minister will say that static gear fishermen and other inshore fishermen are protected by other legislation. If that is the case, well and good, but works of the type that I have mentioned, such as the laying of pipelines or the installation of offshore ribs, could displace our fishermen. Therefore, it is right to have an exemption to cover obstruction or the endangering of navigation, but it needs to go further in the interests of our fishermen. Perhaps the Minister can confirm that such fishermen are protected by extant legislation, or he will say that he will look again at the issue of regulating construction work in the interests of our fishermen.
I have a couple of questions about sections 41 to 50 of the Civil Aviation Act 1982. I am glad that the Government have tabled amendment No. 541. which limits the number of clauses from that Act to be devolved. I am slightly concerned about the detail of how the Act will work in terms of devolving power. Section 41 of the 1982 Act will be devolved to the Scottish Parliament and, under that section, the Secretary of State has power to acquire and manage land for civil aviation purposes.
Section 41(3) states:
nothing in this subsection shall be taken to affect the operation of section 5 of the Defence of the Realm (Acquisition of Land) Act 1916 (which confers on a person from whom land was acquired under that Act a right of pre-emption in the case of the subsequent sale of the land) as respects any land acquired under that Act.
In the event of land being required for aviation purposes pursuant to a decision of the Scottish Parliament becoming redundant for those purposes, would the Scottish Parliament be able to overrule the provisions of the 1916 Act and refuse the person from whom the land was acquired the right to its return, as would apply in the rest of the United Kingdom? It is a small point of detail, but it could affect the rights of people in Scotland and may end up in a constitutional argument between the Edinburgh and Westminster Parliaments about whether the Scottish Parliament would have the right to refuse to return to a citizen land that was acquired under its powers of compulsory purchase. Such a right would not prevail in England and Wales.
I shall deal first with the questions about the Civil Aviation Act. Plainly, I am not able now to give details about that, but I promise to investigate the matter and to write to the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) on his detailed point. I give the same undertaking to my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (Dr. Godman) in the context of protection for fishermen and fishing. I shall write to my hon. Friend about that, but on the Caledonian MacBrayne issue as it affects his area, I can confirm that we have agreed to have a meeting. I look forward to that being established at the earliest possible date. We are about to have the report on the ferries that we want to discuss and, obviously, such a meeting would be opportune.
In the light of the number of letters that the Minister proposes to send to hon. Members, could he assure the Committee that he will make those available in the Library for the rest of us?
We are nearing the end of the Committee stage but, out of courtesy, that will be done in all cases. Copies will be placed in the Library and sent to the leaders of the political parties.
My hon. Friends and I will have to look carefully at the Minister's written words. We still think that the distinction between those aspects of transport that will be regulated in Scotland and those that will be regulated in Westminster is not as clear as it should be. We reserve the right to raise them in a different way.
The answer to amendment No. 495, which is about the licensing of buses, seemed particularly unsatisfactory. Just because a few buses go across the border is not a reason for the Scottish Parliament not to have the right to regulate the 90-odd per cent. of buses that run purely within Scotland. That seems to be a weak argument. The Scottish Parliament may wish to adopt different public transport policies, which would involve different licensing. So long as they were safe and met international standards, the Parliament should be allowed to do that. However, we wish to concentrate on specific transport issues at a later stage and, for that reason, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following Amendments: No. 268, in page 71, leave out lines 17 to 23 and insert—
'The specific subject matter of any United Kingdom legislation which provides for assistance for social security purposes to or in respect of individuals by way of benefits and the circumstances directly arising from such legislation in which a person is liable to maintain himself or another.'.
No. 499, in page 71, line 29, leave out from 'Fund' to 'recovery' in line 30.
No. 270, in page 71, line 29, leave out 'administration and'.
Government amendment No. 545.
No. 271, in page 71, line 31, leave out from 'damages' to end of line 34.
Government amendment No. 546.
No. 269, in page 71, line 36, at beginning insert—
'The administration of schemes providing assistance for social security purposes to or in respect of individuals by way of benefits.'.
Government amendment No. 547.
No. 500, in page 71, line 39, after 'need),' insert '25'.
Government amendment No. 548.
No. 482, in page 71, line 42, at end insert—
Government amendments Nos. 549 and 550.
You will remember, Mr. Lord, that last night when you were in the Chair, there was a good deal of criticism from certain hon. Members-the hon. Members for Eastwood (Mr. Murphy) and for Dumfries (Mr. Brown), for example-about the fact that Opposition amendments proposed that law and order issues should be devolved to the Scottish Parliament. What was said at that time was, "What about the social issues-the issues of social justice?" With amendment No. 406, we have the opportunity to devolve social security schemes to the Scottish Parliament. The hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) shakes his head, but this is something with which he might, on mature reflection, agree.
Who am I to disagree with the hon. Gentleman?
My first point is that the purpose of a social security system must be to meet people's individual needs and circumstances at the most appropriate level and as close as possible to the individual. That allows for the effective targeting of benefits in the context in which the individual lives. Similarly, in a democracy, if the Scottish Parliament is to deal with domestic Scottish matters, what could be more important than helping people in need and providing them with security?
International trends in recent years show that there is international recognition now that what works best is vigorous case management in the welfare sector and a customised approach. Since last July, America has gone from a federal system of welfare to a state-based system, where payments are made by block grant to the state and considerable discretion is given to meet local needs.
The effect has been to encourage further devolution down the chain to political units below state level, such as the counties. If it is possible for the United States to do that, it is something that we should consider. In addition, American states are able to enhance the benefits that they give to individuals from state taxes and to launch new schemes within certain parameters of the legislation.
As the hon. Gentleman knows, the devolved schemes that I have described come under the temporary assistance to needy families scheme. Of course, some schemes are not devolved, but those that are deal with issues such as income support and the key issues for families, and I believe that it is right that we should examine them in the context of a Scottish Parliament.
In the UK, the trend has been to try to devolve such issues to local level. That is best seen in relation to care in the community, where the approach has been to make money that was previously delivered through the income support system to pay nursing and care home fees a local government responsibility. Of course, there are criticisms of the system—no one can deny that—but I do not know many people who seriously argue that we should go back to the old system.
The hon. Gentleman talks about local need. I am listening carefully to him, but am I right in thinking that his amendment would sweep away parts of the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968? I remind him that section 10 of the Act allows social work departments to give financial assistance to people in extreme need. Let me give him an example from my constituency, where a woman in need and her three children were provided with some financial assistance by way of section 10 of the very Act that he would sweep away.
The hon. Gentleman will be relieved to hear that I do not believe that he is correct. Amendment No. 406 suggests that none of the social security schemes should be reserved, which means that the administration of those particular benefits would be a matter for the Scottish Parliament. As he will see, all of them would then come within the compass of the Scottish Parliament. One of the regrettable things about one of the Government amendments is that it takes out community care direct payments—one of the small number of social security-style benefits that the Scottish Parliament was going to be able to deal with—so that the Parliament will have even less to administer.
May I ask the hon. Gentleman the same question, or the same type of question, as I asked the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Gorrie), although I do not expect the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman to be able to answer it offhand? What are the costs of unbundling the social security system of the United Kingdom? The Under-Secretary of State for Social Security, my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Withington (Mr. Bradley), is here and we welcome his presence. It may be that he will whisper in the ear of my hon. Friend the Minister of State. What are the costs of disentangling—dewiring—the Blackpool centre or the Newcastle centre? It is an enormously complicated operation, I suspect.
Let me finish, if I may.
The hon. Member for Linlithgow must recognise that the system that the Bill puts in place involves the Scottish Parliament incurring costs in respect of social security. Every time the tax-varying power is used, the net incomes of numerous people in Scotland who claim benefits will be reduced, which will mean that extra social security payments will have to be made.
In the Bill's explanatory and financial memorandum, the figure is put at about £5 million a year, if the power is used. For personal pensions, the cost would be about £4 million. The set-up costs that are set out in the Bill amount to a further significant figure, so the hon. Member for Linlithgow is right that costs are involved in changing the relationship between Scotland and the rest of the UK in respect of social security. However, there is also a prize to be won. Is not the ability to deliver benefits at local level such a valuable one that it overrides some of the short-term costs that will arise in reprogramming computers and so on? I do not believe that it would be an impossible task. One has only to consider the working families tax credit, which involves substantial changes to the benefits system, or some of the other changes that have been introduced over the years. They have all been done at a cost, but not at disproportionate cost. It is for the Government, rather than the Opposition, to say what the costs will be. I look forward to hearing from the Minister a detailed account of the costs involved.
Another issue concerns expectations. Many people in Scotland believe, as a result of what was said in the referendum campaign and before, that Scottish representatives in the Parliament will be able to have a serious effect on the lives of individuals in need. If all the most important areas of policy are left at Westminster, people's hopes are bound to be cast down. I ask the Minister to take that into account when considering whether the social security system should be devolved.
Why should the system not be devolved? The Minister may say that it cannot be done—that it is too difficult to separate the structures. I believe that, if it can be done in the United States, which has a far more complicated structure than we do, it can be done here. The Minister may say that it will create different systems on either side of the border. However, he is prepared to have different systems on either side of the border to deal with a whole range of matters, including health, education and law and order, so that argument will not wash. The Minister may say that it cannot be done because it is too difficult to settle the finance. Since part of the finance has already been separated through the tax-raising power and since certain separate arrangements have already been made for social security, that argument does not wash either.
I believe that the Government have decided not to devolve social security, not for any of the reasons I have given, but because they do not trust a Scottish Parliament to make the decisions on welfare that they believe should be made here at Westminster.
We have already had a contribution from the Opposition Front Bench from an hon. Member who did not know that there was a separate legal system in Scotland. Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that on the examples he has given to illustrate the difference—health, education and criminal justice—we already have distinctly different procedures in Scotland?
I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman again.
I want to explain why the Government have decided that they do not trust the Scottish Parliament on welfare. I think that it is because they believe that there is a strong demand in Scotland for a welfare agenda that is different from their own. We can look at what happened recently over single parent benefit. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mr. Chisholm) stood up for what he believed was the proper approach on that issue. I do not agree with him, but he did take a stand.
We can look at who led the way in Scotland in strongly opposing any undermining of disability benefits. There is a list of Labour Members that would be recognisable to anyone in the House: it includes the hon. Members for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan), for Midlothian (Mr. Clarke), for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. Davidson), for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mrs. Fyfe) and for Greenock and Inverclyde (Dr. Godman).
I do not think that that is the hon. Gentleman's best point.
Those hon. Members are known in the House as people who stand for a different view on welfare benefits from that expressed from the Government Front Bench.
That also applies to the way in which the benefit appeals system works. The hon. Member for Maryhill has taken a stand on that and has put forward her view about how the independent tribunal service should be changed.
It would be worse still for the Government if the opinion polls are right and a Scottish National party-Liberal Democrat Administration were formed with the Secretary of State as the Leader of the Opposition in a Scottish Parliament. Who supported my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) on the wind chill factor legislation? Who supported him on the cold weather payments? The list includes SNP Members such as the hon. Members for Perth (Ms Cunningham), for Moray (Mrs. Ewing)—[Interruption.] I thought I pronounced Moray correctly. The Minister and his hon. Friends will not avoid the argument by criticising my pronunciation.
On important issues such as the wind chill factor and cold weather payments, the hon. Members for Moray and for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie) and the hon. and learned Members for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) and for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) are leading campaigners, with my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley, for a totally different view. When the Government were in opposition, almost every one of the Scottish Members backed that proposition on the wind chill factor. The Government fear that there would be trouble at home. They believe that all the Scottish Members who have genuine beliefs would stand up to the manufactured product on the Government Front Bench.
We are all glad to hear the hon. Gentleman display his familiarity with Scotland in his pronunciation of our place names. I must point out to him that, when I complain about the length of time that people have to wait for benefit issues to be resolved by an independent tribunal, I am calling for reform for the whole of the United Kingdom, not just Scotland.
That is the case now, but is the hon. Lady saying that the Scottish Parliament should not be able to regularise the matter for Scotland? I doubt whether she is, given her credentials on devolution.
The hon. Gentleman will recall that in the debate on this issue, the then Government made it clear that the matter should be fully reviewed by the experts, and it was. What is more, the present Government did not follow the advice. There is no reason for Opposition Front Benchers to take any criticism on that. As we are currently standing shoulder to shoulder with the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) perhaps he should support us. [Interruption.] This is one of the few issues where that occurs.
As with so much of the Bill and the general approach to devolution, the Government duck difficult questions and embarrassing issues. They try to sweep them under the carpet. It is no good looking at the opinion polls in Scotland and despairing, as the Government must, because people in Scotland are no doubt saying that, when it comes to a serious issue, Henry is hiding from it, Calum is concealing himself from it and Donald is ducking it.
The longer the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) spoke, the more he was being deserted by his hon. Friends. He is now left with the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mrs. Laing), who will sit through just about anything to prove her loyalty to the party.
As I said, Mr. Lord, I was worried about speaking to this group of amendments after hearing the hon. Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne), an Opposition Front-Bench spokesman, speak to the previous group of amendments. He said that he was dismayed by the number of home rule Members who were speaking in favour of reserving matters to the Westminster Parliament, rather than of sending them to the Scottish Parliament, and commented on what fun it was to watch us all running in fear of the "smack of discipline". I suspect that Tory Members are much more adept at taking the smack of discipline than are Labour Members.
I am delighted to discover that I am able to oppose a Tory amendment—amendment No. 406, which would devolve responsibility for social security to the Scottish Parliament. I have never believed that social security issues should be devolved to a Scottish Parliament for several reasons, one of which is very principled—the limits of poverty cannot be defined by geographical boundaries. Poverty is a class—not a nationalist—issue. I am as concerned about the poor in the centre of London, in Birmingham, in the midlands and in the north of England as I am about the poor in Scotland. It is certainly a matter of principle that, regardless of where one lives in the United Kingdom, one should have access to exactly the same benefits as everyone else in this Kingdom.
There are also practical reasons why a big problem would be caused by establishing different benefit levels in different parts of the United Kingdom, and they cannot merely be shrugged off, as the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire tried to do in his short speech. Let us think about it. If there is a higher—or lower—benefit level in Scotland, what will people on benefit do? They will go to the part of the country where they think they will receive the most housing benefit, council tax benefit, income support and jobseeker' s allowance.
Ultimately, we might have to patrol the borders—just as they do in America, which has patrols on its border with Mexico. The Americans turn back the Mexican poor. They will not give them access to the United States. People who envisage aping such a system and say that they are trying to help the poor will only hurt the poor. They will only make our country like America, which is the last thing that I want to do.
The hon. Gentleman must be aware that substantially better social security benefits are available in other European countries. People here would be entitled to those benefits if they chose to move. Why has there not been a mass exodus to, for example, the south of France, to take advantage of them?
If the hon. Gentleman ever speaks to anyone on benefit in Whitfield, he may come to understand why there has not been a mass exodus to the south of France. It is not really a practical proposition. However, it is practical for people from Dundee to move south. Time and again, I deal with such people in my constituency. Poor people regularly move across the border separating Scotland and England, but they almost never move to France, Germany or Italy. Perhaps the situation is different in Banff and Buchan—it may well be.
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would like to tell us about the movement of poor people between Spain and France. Does he have any knowledge of that movement? Does he think that the substantial differences in social security between those two countries is a significant factor in that movement?
I have some knowledge of the differences between Spain and France, but I live in Scotland, which shares a border with England. I am speaking about Scotland and England, not Spain and France. If the hon. Gentleman walks out on to the streets outside, he will find poor Scots from every city in Scotland. They come to London looking for help and for benefit. He is trying to minimise a very serious problem. It would be absolute nonsense to establish a different social security system in Scotland from that which pertains in the other parts of this island. If he does not know that, he should immediately come to his senses.
Does the hon. Gentleman realise that some aspects of social security policy, such as
National Assistance … charges for local authority accommodation … social welfare services …payments towards maintenance of children …promotion of welfare of children in need",
will be matters for the Scottish Parliament? The same is not true of some of the major and important schemes, such as income support and family credit. How can it be right that, when the first real sniff of responsibility in social security is offered by the Opposition, the hon. Gentleman rejects it out of hand?
The hon. Gentleman is mistaken in confusing the type of payments that should be made through local authority social work departments with the type of payments that are made through the social security system, which is run at a United Kingdom level. He does not live in Scotland. If he did live in Scotland and understood the social security system, he would not make such inane interventions. The two systems cannot be compared.
Did the hon. Gentleman really mean what he said a moment ago—that Scots come south to London looking for benefit? I thought that we came south to London looking for work.
The hon. Member for Epping Forest forgets that we live in a capitalist system, and that those people, after they get here, do not find work. They are thrown on to benefit, and into bed-and-breakfast accommodation and all kinds of horrors—which not only poor Scots in London but poor Londoners have to face.
A capitalist system is a wonderful thing if one gets to the top, with a good job and a nice house. However, for the poor and those without power, wealth or resources—from the other end of the telescope, which has been mentioned earlier in the debate—the system is not so marvellous. If the hon. Member for Epping Forest saw the capitalist system through their eyes, she might understand that we need a socialist system in the United Kingdom—all of the United Kingdom.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the regrettable problem to which he referred—the number of Scots in London who are on benefit but came looking for work—exists under the current unified social security system? Therefore, there is potential—if the Scottish Parliament has control over its own system—to improve the situation.
The problem with the current social security system is not that it is unified across the United Kingdom but that it is under-resourced. The solution to the problem is not to break up the United Kingdom social security system. I passionately believe that people—from whatever part of this island they come—have the same rights to the same social security benefits. I hold to that basic principle, which is why I shall gladly oppose amendment No. 406.
I should like to raise several issues with my hon. Friend the Minister. We have been told that funding and administration of housing benefit and council tax benefit should be a reserved matter. The Bill states that
administration and funding of housing benefit and council tax benefit by local authorities
are illustrations of reservation. Why will Government amendment No. 545 remove the phrase "by local authorities"? I hope that that does not mean that the
Government plan on taking responsibility for administration of housing benefit from local authorities and on establishing a new system in Scotland to administer housing benefit. I should like an answer to that question.
The housing benefit level is very closely linked to rent levels in the rented sector. As my hon. Friend knows, the rented sector in Scotland is dominated by local authorities—which are by far the largest element in the rented sector. The voluntary and private sectors are minuscule compared with the Scottish council sector. He knows also that funding to maintain low rents—such as housing support grants and rate fund contributions—was gradually withdrawn by successive Tory Governments. Consequently, rents went ever upwards, and housing benefit levels went up with them. The last figure that I saw, which is out of date, was that housing benefit in Scotland is costing about £900 million annually.
The only sure way of reducing that housing benefit level is to reduce the rent levels that must be paid by those on low incomes. Rent level reductions can be achieved only by co-operation between the Scottish Parliament and local authorities. It will be for the Scottish Parliament to find funding to allow local authorities to reduce rents, and thereby to reduce the housing benefit bill.
What worries me is that the Scottish Parliament, if it spends some of its scarce resources on bringing down rent levels, will not gain the benefits of those reductions. The benefits will accrue to the Westminster Parliament, which will have a much-reduced housing benefit bill. I should like to know how those benefits can accrue to the Scottish Parliament, rather than being transferred to the Westminster Parliament.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept the extension of that point? Under the Government's proposals, it would be a temptation—although not in any administration in which I was involved—to increase rents, to increase the flow of housing benefit.
It is not only a temptation—it happens in the real world. Every hon. Member representing a constituency in Scotland is aware that councils starved of cash simply raise rents. They know that 60 per cent. to 70 per cent. of their tenants receive housing benefit and that someone else will pay the bill. We have to break out of that trap. I am trying to get the Government so say how they intend to fund the method by which we bring down rents in Scotland, and I hope that the actions of the Scottish Parliament in doing that will be rewarded by the savings in housing benefit being transferred back to it.
While I am talking about housing, may I ask my hon. Friend to give some thought to the stock transfer process, and especially the stock of Scottish Homes, which is being transferred into the voluntary sector? While we had Scottish Homes, the old Scottish Special Housing Association, housing benefit for its tenants was administered by Scottish Homes itself.
Of course, now that Scottish Homes has ceased to be a landlord and its tenants are being transferred into the voluntary sector, the claims for housing benefit are placed on the local authority in the appropriate area. However, local authorities have not been recompensed for the additional burden that they have had to take on as a result of voluntary stock transfers. I should be interested to know what the Government intend to do about that.
I deal now with the other payments made by social work departments, in respect of social security in particular. I am very conscious of the work of welfare rights officers who do a tremendous amount of good across Scotland, helping people with their benefit claims. They are funded solely through social work departments and the local authorities themselves, even though they are an integral part of the social security system in Scotland. It is unfair that local authorities are not recompensed for the fact that they employ welfare rights officers to help the smooth operation of the benefit system. Have the Government any plans to tackle that problem?
Finally, I draw attention to the operation of the social security system and the fact that, for example, the jobseeker's allowance regime and the benefit integrity project are forcing people off benefit. This sometimes has the effect of forcing people into abject poverty and out of the social security system. People in such circumstances often turn to the local authority for assistance, and it is the social work department that has to pick up the bill.
My hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (Dr. Godman) spoke about a family in his constituency who had to get section 10 payments under the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968 because the system failed them. It is unfair to expect the Scottish Parliament and local authorities to provide a safety net for people who have been swept out of the social security system by changes implemented at Westminster.
The hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire said that there was a strong demand in Scotland for a different approach to social security. I deny that in the sense that it is not only in Scotland that such a demand exists. He also mentioned the cuts to the single parent benefit. Forty-seven Labour Members voted against those cuts, and only a minority came from Scotland—the vast majority came from England.
The hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire also mentioned the reduction in disability benefits and the fact that many Scottish Members of Parliament opposed it. However, many English Members did the same—has the hon. Gentleman never heard of the Campaign group of socialist Members of Parliament which has been united in opposition to such cuts? Most of the group's members come from English constituencies. There is no geographical difference in the approach to social security; there is a class difference, but not a geographical one.
I seem to remember that the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) was a parliamentary private secretary under the previous Government who opposed the taking into account of the wind chill factor in cold weather payments. He had the chance to do something, but now, in opposition, has the nerve to lecture the incoming Government, despite the shortcomings of the Tories when they were in power.
I am grateful for the opportunity to take part in this debate. The best that could be said about the main Tory amendment is that it is a probing amendment, although how far it probed, I am not terribly sure, because many of the details necessary to enable us to come to a considered judgment about it were sadly lacking in what we heard.
I hope that the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) will take heart from the proposals that I intend to make in speaking to amendments Nos. 268 to 271. Their purpose is to provide the Scottish Parliament with additional powers to develop welfare initiatives and to enable it to have a role in the administration of social security. Their origin lies primarily in the thinking of the Scottish Constitutional Convention which, in 1990, called for the administration of social security to be a devolved function. In 1995, it softened that commitment somewhat and asserted that
Scotland's Parliament will co-operate with the Scottish offices of the Department of Social Security"—
I remind the hon. and learned Gentleman that I have come to the rescue of the proposals that he submitted and supported at that time. The convention's documents from those periods supported the notion that the administration of social security should be a devolved function, and I am glad to have the opportunity to remind Labour and Liberal Democrat Members of previous commitments.
Those commitments, which recognised the distinctive interest of Scotland in the provision of welfare support, were important in setting out the role of the Scottish Parliament in deciding how best to administer social security issues from a Scottish perspective.
Amendments Nos. 268 to 271 would give the Parliament the ability to supplement social security provision from Westminster. They would not reduce any benefit level produced by the United Kingdom social security system, but the Scottish Parliament could, for example, provide a Christmas bonus for pensioners or deliver cold weather payments, although we hope that it would do so when the weather was cold, rather than in the spring.
The amendments would also give the Parliament a say in the administration of social security issues, and we have heard examples of the important effect that that could have. In rural areas such as the constituency that I represent, claimants of benefits have grave difficulties in getting to the premises of the Employment Service because of transport problems. I am sure that in tackling such issues, a Scottish Parliament could make a material difference to the way in which benefits are administered. The Parliament could undertake initiatives—
I am short of time, and the hon. Gentleman spoke for far too long and made a rather irrelevant speech, so I will not take interventions from him.
The Parliament could undertake initiatives to ensure that a higher proportion of elderly or disabled people took up the full benefits to which they were entitled. The hon. Member for Dundee, East also referred to the benefit integrity project. Hon. Members of all parties recognise that there are grave concerns about this project and how it is going about its business. I like to think that a Scottish Parliament could insist that before any decision was made to reduce the benefit of an individual, the claimant could be the subject of a medical examination before a form adjudicator simply scrubbed out his benefit. The Government have made some important concessions—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Mr. Roy) says that that is already happening. A couple of weeks ago, I met a lady whose benefits were cut in October, before the revised benefit integrity project rules came into play. She has lost some benefit, but the Government are not planning to reconsider her case—that is the reality of what is happening.
I should like a Scottish Parliament to exercise a judgment and insist that before decisions are taken on the administration of social security, the necessary safeguards and quality judgments are made in every respect. A strict code of conduct for adjudication officers would guarantee that individuals were treated properly and fairly.
All of the initiatives to which I have referred would be possible only if the Parliament had powers to decide how to deploy its resources. That choice should be open to the Parliament, and it is a choice that this House should give it.
I am about to conclude my remarks in order to give the Minister the opportunity to sum up in his usual fashion. There is enormous concern about welfare issues. Last Thursday, we saw the first dipping of the Government's toe in the water of welfare reform, but the Green Paper did not tackle much of the unease in our community. When the Scottish Labour party conference is delivering some fairly stiff judgments on the Government's record on welfare, a role for the Scottish Parliament in the administration of social security benefits is fundamental.
I have consulted many voluntary sector organisations in Scotland, including the Poverty Alliance, the Scottish Old Age Pensions Association, the Scottish Out of School Network, Care in the Community, the Scottish Support for Learning Association, the Scottish Ethnic Minorities Unit, Age Concern Scotland and the Rural Forum. All of them have given a positive welcome to the amendments to which I am speaking.
The consensus in Scotland is that we want to improve welfare benefits and the administration of the welfare system. We demand a civilised welfare system, and I hope that the Government will endorse our modest proposals to ensure that that is the case.
In the two minutes I have available, I shall speak to amendments Nos. 545 to 550. Their purpose is essentially to clarify certain parts of section 1 of head 6. I hope that the Committee will agree that they are helpful.
I am not persuaded by any of arguments from the nationalists or the Conservatives. The Government remain responsible for the national social security benefits system. They should be responsible and accountable for the delivery of benefits as well as for the benefits themselves. Neither should it be possible for the Scottish Parliament to set up an alternative or additional social security system for inventing new schemes. That would be prohibitive in terms of cost and would undermine the United Kingdom approach to social security matters.
I understand that the nationalists have a separatist agenda; they want every responsibility at Westminster to be transferred to Scotland. However, once again the performance of the Conservatives was quite remarkable. They are being quite irresponsible in suggesting changes without considering the costs. They do not want the social security system to be devolved to Scotland. Once again they are mischief making and, while they embrace the concept, they are still a long way from embracing any sensible detail about a way forward.
Perhaps we shall be able to make up some time as the points that I wish to make in support of the amendments are very brief.
Although regulation of the health professions would remain a reserved matter, under amendment No. 412, the laws of procedure and evidence in disciplinary hearings would be a matter for the Scottish Parliament.
The reason for the amendment rests in a case decided by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council that was reported in 1993. I should add that the Privy Council committee included two Scottish Law Lords. A Glasgow general practitioner was charged with professional misconduct. Notwithstanding that the case was heard in Scotland and that all the events relating to it had taken place in Scotland, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council held that Scots law was irrelevant to the evidence and procedure to be applied, and that the law of England had to apply to such disciplinary hearings.
It seems perverse that the law of England should prevail in a United Kingdom body. As the Treaty of Union acknowledged, the laws of Scotland and England have equal status. If, as was decided in the case to which I referred, the law of England should apply, despite the evidence, despite the fact that all the events took place in Scotland and despite the fact that the hearing sat in Scotland, that seems a perverse outcome. It is not unreasonable that the Scottish Parliament should have at least the opportunity to regulate that.
Amendment No. 501 would remove the Dentists Act 1984 from the interpretation of the health professions. As things stand, the General Dental Council would be subject to Westminster and not to the Scottish Parliament. When my hon. Friend the Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Moore) and I drew that point to the attention of representatives of the British Dental Association earlier this year, they said, "How interesting—no one ever asked us whether we wanted London to continue determining these matters. In fact, we see many advantages of Edinburgh doing so." At the very least, the Government owe us an explanation about what consultation took place with the British Dental Association in Scotland and other organisations. Has it just been assumed that everyone wanted the continuation of rule from England?
Amendment No. 412 seeks to except from the reservation of the regulation of the health professions the laws of procedure and evidence in disciplinary hearings of those professions, although, as drafted, it relates only to dentists' disciplinary hearings. Let me explain why that would not be desirable.
The medical professional bodies have welcomed the reservation of the regulation of the health professions as a necessary way in which to maintain the current high standards in those professions. As part of their regulatory activities, the health professional bodies make their own rules relating to procedure and evidence at professional disciplinary hearings.
Rules for medical disciplinary hearings are, except for nurses, approved by the Privy Council on a GB basis. In the case of the Nurses, Midwives and Health Visitors Act 1997, it is proposed that the function of the Lord Advocate of approving separate rules for Scotland should be transferred to Scottish Ministers in the executive devolution order in order to maintain the current position. As a consequence, I am not persuaded by the hon. and learned Gentleman's argument that there is a need to change current practice by excepting such matters from the reservation.
The effect of amendment No. 501 would be to make dentists the only group of health care professionals whose qualifications, registration and standards of professional competence and conduct would be a matter for the Scottish Parliament. I cannot see that there is any argument for singling out dentists from this group.
In some parts of Scotland, however, we have inherited difficulties of access to national health service dentistry and we are committed to tackling those, improving standards of oral health and restoring patient choice. Such matters do not fall within the scope of the Dentists Act. In view of my comments I hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman will withdraw the amendment.
Before the Minister sits down, will he tell us first the policy consideration whereby the Government think it a good idea that when disciplinary events relate to Scotland and are dealt with in Scotland, the law of evidence and procedure should be English law? Secondly, what consultation was there with Scottish members of the British Dental Association before the Government decided not to devolve that particular responsibility?
The first point relates to the workability of the procedures. There seems to be a general consensus that the procedures are working well and should continue. It is not the purpose of the Bill to disrupt legislation and regulations that are working. I shall certainly inquire into the hon. and learned Gentleman's second point about representations and write to him.
I have always assumed that it does. I see no reason to presume otherwise.
The Minister's reply was disappointing. Perhaps he could have shown more imagination, but I am grateful to him for promising to let me know what consultation took place with the various professions in Scotland, particularly the dental profession, before the list was drawn up.
Amendments Nos. 551 and 552 will insert an express reference to the subject matter of the National Minimum Wage Bill into the reservation of employment rights and duties and industrial relations. This is intended to put beyond doubt the fact that the matters covered by the Bill, once it is enacted—in particular, the setting of the national minimum wage—will be reserved. I trust that the House will agree that this technical amendment is desirable.
Amendments Nos. 553 and 554 are technical amendments to the section of the employment head that deals with job search and support. We are concerned here with the interface between the activities of the Employment Service, which are reserved, and the activities of Scottish Ministers, Scottish Enterprise, Highlands and Islands Enterprise and the Scottish local enterprise companies, which are to be devolved. As it stands, the provision does not deal with that interface in a satisfactory way.
Amendment No. 553 would alter the wording of the reservation to ensure that it catches all the responsibilities of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment in relation to the assistance to disabled persons to find or train for work under the Disabled Persons Employment Act 1944, and those under the Employment and Training Act 1973 in relation to assisting people generally to obtain and retain work, or to obtain employees. It goes on to except from the reservation those aspects of the 1973 Act that relate to training for employment, reflecting the fact that the Enterprise Network in Scotland has major responsibilities in that area. Amendment No. 554 simply deletes that part of the exception that is redundant because of amendment No. 553.
Although most training for employment in Scotland is carried out through the Enterprise Network, the activities of the Employment Service on training for employment in Scotland will also need to remain under the authority of the Secretary of State. I shall table an amendment to clause 52 on Report to provide that the powers under section 2 of the 1973 Act on training for employment can be exercised concurrently in Scotland by the Secretary of State for Education and Employment. That is the right way in which to deal with that genuine problem of overlap.
We are reviewing the provision further to establish whether any other adjustments are required to deal with other aspects of the work of Scottish Enterprise and Highlands and Islands Enterprise that overlap with the work of the Employment Service. We shall table any further amendments on Report.
The amendments clarify which responsibilities of the Employment Service and the Enterprise Network in Scotland are devolved so that both bodies can continue to work effectively in Scotland after devolution. On that basis, I commend the amendments to the Committee.
I shall speak to amendment No. 483, which would except from reservation the subject matter of what will become the National Minimum Wage Act 1998. The amendment would give the Scottish Parliament the power to determine whether there should be a minimum wage in Scotland and the level at which it should be set. I have listened to the Minister's arguments, but I do not understand why he opposes the amendment. Like many of the Conservative amendments, it would add clarity and consistency to the Bill.
It is consistent that the amendment would give the Scottish Parliament the power to decide issues that are particular to Scotland. Local wage rates are particular to the part of the country that they affect, because economic circumstances vary throughout the country, as do the cost of living, house prices and the availability of jobs in certain industries. It should be possible to vary the minimum wage to take those factors into account.
Would the hon. Lady care to speculate on whether a minimum wage set by the Scottish Parliament would be higher or lower than that set by the United Kingdom Parliament?
It is not for me to speculate. If the Government gave us any idea of the likely rate of the minimum wage, perhaps we could have such a discussion, although this would not be the place for it. If the Government continue to hide their intentions from Parliament and the people, we cannot discuss the issue further.
It would be consistent to give the Scottish Parliament power over minimum wage legislation for Scotland. The Government have already accepted that differential minimum wage rates may apply to the armed forces and those under 25. Why should they not apply in Scotland if the Scottish Parliament—elected by the Scottish people—wants that? It is not only inconsistent but blatantly unfair for the Government to say that the Scottish people can have higher taxes imposed on them than the rest of the country, but they cannot vary the rate of their minimum wage to take those higher taxes into account.
The hon. Gentleman has not understood that, by voting yes, yes in the referendum last September, the Scottish people have already voted for higher taxes—perhaps not in principle, but in practice. It does not matter how much Labour Members disagree with that; it is true. Let us wait and see, and come back to the issue in a few years. There will be higher taxes in Scotland. The Conservatives do not want extra tartan taxes imposed. We also do not think that a minimum wage is necessary.
Perhaps the hon. Lady should speak to other Conservative Members about the issue. We have been through the arguments. The national minimum wage will apply nationally, as the title says. It will be a national minimum wage for all—Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
I am indeed. As usual, my hon. Friend pre-empts me. I was just coming to that. We do not want extra tartan taxes and we do not think that a minimum wage is necessary. However, tartan taxes are even more unfair if there is no tartan minimum wage to help pay for them.
There is no practical reason why the Scottish Parliament should not have power over the minimum wage, nor is there any reason in principle.
I shall not give way to the hon. Gentleman, because I am taking too much time. However, I should like to point out to him that, although I have always pronounced his constituency "Greenock", many of my friends from Kilmacolm, like my hon. Friends here, would say "Grinnock". I am sure that he understands that.
The principle of a minimum wage in Scotland has already been conceded. We must assume that the Government have a political reason for opposing our amendment. Labour Members are ever mindful of the wishes of the Scottish Trades Union Congress. They talk about a national minimum wage and a national this, that and the next thing for the UK, but the STUC is specifically Scottish. It is not surprising that Labour Members are always mindful of the wishes of the STUC, because many of them are sponsored by its unions. We all know that the STUC wants a higher level of minimum wage than that which the Government are likely to set. As hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) reminded me earlier, COSLA has already done a deal for a minimum wage of £4 an hour for local authority employees. The Government clearly want to keep responsibility for minimum wage legislation at Westminster because they do not trust the Scottish Parliament.
As we examine this Bill clause by clause, I begin to realise that some of our criticisms of the Government's inconsistency have been a little unjust. Even those who really believe in devolution must have realised that there is a warped logic and consistency in the apparently arbitrary choice of which matters are reserved and which are devolved. Responsibility for any controversial issues that could be embarrassing or cause internal strife in the Labour party—or worse, strife between the Labour party and its paymasters—will be kept at Westminster. [Laughter.] I do not know why the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Mr. Browne) finds that so funny. It is certainly true; why else are Labour Members opposing the amendment? It is clear that the Government are afraid to leave to an Edinburgh Parliament any decision that might give the Labour party political trouble. I do not call that the responsible action of a responsible Government.
The Government must be beginning to wonder why they introduced the Bill. They promised devolution before the election because they thought that it would win them votes from SNP supporters. Ironically, they did not even need the SNP's votes. The idea of Scottish home rule seemed good when it was pie in the sky, but now that the Government are forced to consider the detail of how it will work in practice, they are backing off at every turn. They are afraid to devolve sensitive issues to the Scottish Parliament because they do not trust the Scottish Parliament; they do not trust potential Members of the Scottish Parliament; they do not trust the Scottish people who will elect them. If the Government trust the Scots, they should accept the amendment and let the Scottish people and their elected representatives decide whether they want a minimum wage and at what level it should be set.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mrs. Laing) on what I think was her maiden speech from the Dispatch Box, although it is a pity that it was the same as speeches her hon. Friends have already made. It certainly makes a change from blaming everything on the Minister without Portfolio, my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson), to hear them trotting out that Labour Members do not trust the Scottish Parliament.
Ah, that is to come.
I want to lay out some reasons why a national minimum wage ought not to be devolved. I speak in favour of the Government amendments and oppose amendment No. 483, and I have three reasons for doing so. First, amendment No. 483 is an attempt—and not too subtle at that—to introduce by the back door regional variations in the national minimum wage. The Tories lost that argument at every stage of debate on the National Minimum Wage Bill.
Incidentally, it was a welcome departure to hear a nationalist voice in the debate on the minimum wage. The absence of SNP Members from debates in which Labour Members and Liberal Democrats were delivering a national minimum wage was noted.
I trust that the hon. Gentleman is going on to explain that 50 per cent. of Labour representation were not present for the final vote in the all-night sitting on the National Minimum Wage Bill.
I was not intending to go into detail about who voted. I was merely pointing out the absence of a party that paints itself in a particular way to the electorate of Scotland. I have also noticed that its Members are absent except on the few occasions when they oppose what the Government are doing. Such occasions are so remarkably rare that one wonders why they are needed in Parliament at all.
I am opposed to regional variations in the national minimum wage because, after 18 years of Tory government, the level and intensity of low pay is the same across every United Kingdom region. Contrary to what the hon. Member for Epping Forest said, there is no difference across the UK in the level and intensity of poverty arising from low wages. The percentage of workers affected may vary slightly from one region to another, but not greatly. The 1997 labour force survey shows, for example, that 9 per cent. of workers in the south-east of England are paid less than £3.20 an hour. In the east midlands, the figure is 10 per cent., in Strathclyde it is also 10 per cent., and in the rest of Scotland it is 9 per cent.
The other measure of the level of intensity of low pay is the number of families receiving family credit. Figures published by the Department of Social Security in the family credit statistics quarterly inquiry of August 1997 support the view that workers' experiences of low pay are common throughout the UK. If there are variations, the evidence tends to suggest that they occur within and not between regions. For example, in my constituency, some workers in the town of Kilmarnock may earn slightly more doing the same jobs as workers from outlying villages. Geographical boundaries are totally arbitrary as economic measures; low pay affects workers in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in equal measure.
I accept that other economic measures may vary, but the level and intensity of low pay, which is what the national minimum wage is intended to attack, is the same throughout the country.
The second reason why I oppose regional variation of low pay or a Scottish national minimum wage is that a UK national minimum wage with a single rate is simple and uncomplicated, and workers will more easily identify with it and more easily recognise their legal right. Enforcement will therefore be more straightforward, administration will be less bureaucratic, and the same job with the same employer will not attract different rates in different parts of the UK.
The third reason why I oppose the Opposition's amendment—the real reason why it has been tabled—is that it is designed to delay the implementation of the national minimum wage in Scotland. The Government acted quickly to ensure the quick and effective implementation of the national minimum wage. Within 90 days of the election, the Low Pay Commission was set up to decide the right rate. It was instructed to take account of regional differences, and its members have journeyed across Britain to listen to evidence in order to ensure that that was so. They visited Scotland in October to take evidence. I hope that the commission will report soon and that we shall be able to get on with delivering the legislation.
The Opposition amendment asks the people of Scotland to wait for the national minimum wage. It would delay implementation until the Scottish Parliament was up and running, while workers in the rest of Britain would see an end to poverty pay. I know that people in my constituency are in need of a national minimum wage now, and I refuse to ask them to wait. I refuse to let my constituency and other areas of Scotland become the sweatshop of Britain until the Scottish Parliament is ready to legislate for a Scottish minimum wage. If hon. Members believe in the value of appropriate pay, they should support the national minimum wage and not seek either to ignore it, as the SNP did, or delay it, as the Tory Opposition choose to do by tabling this back-door measure.
I speak in support of amendment No. 483.
When we began discussing the principle of the Scotland Bill, the Secretary of State pointed out—indeed, he was commended for doing so—that the Government's approach would not be to devolve powers to Scotland but to give powers to it and merely reserve certain powers in Westminster. It was not a question of identifying the powers that should go; it was a question of identifying the powers that should remain. That was what distinguished the Bill from the previous attempt at a devolution Bill in the 1970s.
Although Conservatives oppose the principle of the Bill, we have attempted to table constructive amendments where there is intellectual inconsistency. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) laughs, but I seem to remember receiving some slight commendation from the leader of her party, the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond), on the question of the relationship between the First Minister and the sovereign in a debate in which it was clear that Labour Members wholly misunderstood the principles of establishing separate sovereignty for the Scottish Parliament.
The hon. Gentleman is right, but what puzzles us is his party's Jekyll and Hyde attitude to the Bill. Half the Tory amendments are attempts to take things away from the Scottish Parliament, while the other half are attempts to add to its powers. The Tory party should come clean and tell us whether it is trying to enhance the powers of the Scottish Parliament or to diminish them—or does it vary from day to day, speaker to speaker and amendment to amendment?
Yes, pretty unsuccessfully, most of the time, even when their approach has been irrational.
Secondly, we have genuinely tried to improve the Bill. The fact that the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) may disagree with some of our improvements is neither here nor there: they were genuine attempts to make the Bill more workable.
The question about schedule 5 is: what is the rationale behind the reservations? The Government presented the national minimum wage to the House as a matter of social justice that would not impinge on economic policy. It is difficult to see why there should not be the opportunity to set a separate national minimum wage for Scotland. There is no economic rationale behind the Government's position. because the original legislation was not presented on such a basis; it was presented as a social matter.
Social policy is an area in which many matters are to be devolved, so the question is simple: what is the justification for retaining power over the national minimum wage here? The hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Mr. Browne) made several valid points on policy issues and preference, but when they are married up with the way in which the Bill has been presented and the purpose behind it, his arguments do not add up or make sense.
The Bill has been presented to the House as an issue of principle, and if the principle is to give the Scottish Parliament power over all such matters as need not essentially be reserved to the House of Commons, the national minimum wage does not meet that test.
Is the hon. Gentleman not making a false distinction between social and economic issues? Does he not agree that we cannot have social justice unless we first have economic justice?
That is an argument either for total independence or for having no devolution of any social legislation at all.
I do not wish to take up more of the time of the Committee, so I simply ask the Minister to justify the policy, because the Bill seems wholly illogical. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mrs. Laing) that the reserved areas are simply those matters over which the Government fear the Scottish Parliament and the embarrassment that it could cause. That is not a proper basis for devolution.
Parliamentary banter apart, this is a delicate situation. None the less, my right hon. and hon. Friends may have an easy ride—if the minimum wage is set at a level agreeable not only to the Scottish Trades Union Congress but to the individual trade unions.
My hon. Friend the Minister and I know that there are different views on the subject in the trade union movement. What will happen if the minimum wage is set rather lower than the expectations of many of the trade unions in Scotland? I ask a factual question: what has the STUC said to the Government on the subject? If I may personalise the question for a moment, what has Mr. Bill Spiers, in particular, said to the Government?
My hon. Friend says that that is an unfair question, but he will not deny that it is a highly relevant question.
Reference was made earlier to the tight disciplinary machinery on the Government side of the House. I believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) and I were the only Labour Members present at the time, so the remark was not very apt. Those of us with different points of view are certainly entitled to ask what precisely has been said to Ministers on this delicate issue.
Furthermore, what have the local authorities said on the subject? Many councillors who are well known to the Minister and to others of my hon. Friends feel embarrassed about what they may be forced to do about employment levels. Leaving the banter aside, this is a deadly serious subject, and I ask for a factual explanation of what exactly the trade union movement—not only the STUC but its constituent trade unions—has said.
I shall refute one of the arguments used by the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Mr. Browne)—an argument that has been used not only in this debate but in others both today and previously. He said that the change proposed would be too complex and difficult for people in Scotland—and presumably therefore for people in England, too—to understand. That is lowering the argument to a ridiculous extent. I feel sure that the people of Scotland, and those in the rest of the United Kingdom, can cope with such differences.
Indeed, there is an example in the Bill, which specifically exempts from the reservations under employment the Agricultural Wages (Scotland) Act 1949. We are therefore to assume that agricultural workers in England and Scotland can happily cope with the idea of different wage rates in different parts of the United Kingdom, whereas other workers cannot do the same with the minimum wage. That gives the lie to that argument against having differences between different parts of the United Kingdom.
The hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale (Mr. Morgan) made a crack earlier about some of us having been absent for a vote on the national minimum wage. I think that I was one of the absentees, so may I explain that at about that time I was in Washington discussing the Northern Ireland peace process with certain Congressmen who are fervent supporters of Sinn Fein? I was trying to persuade them of the need to support the view of the British and Irish Governments on the peace process.
As for agricultural workers in Scotland, the national minimum wage would be the base rate upon which they would negotiate with their employers.
I shall explain why I sought to intervene on the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mrs. Laing); I acknowledge that she may not have had enough time to allow me to do so. I wanted to ask her whether, if we are fortunate enough in the next few weeks to debate the setting up of a Northern Ireland assembly—and God knows, we may not be so fortunate—she will argue for giving such an assembly the power to determine a national minimum wage for the six counties.
I also ask the Opposition whether they would want a Northern Ireland assembly to preside over its own social security system. Both the national minimum wage and the social security system should be uniform throughout the United Kingdom.
The hon. Gentleman must sit down for a moment, but I promise to give way to him later.
Such systems must be uniform throughout the whole of this multinational state. As my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) said, a uniform social security system is in the interests of those who, through no fault of their own, have to seek sustenance from the state. In the context of the national minimum wage, we must remember that there is migration from one nation to another within the so-called United Kingdom, and that those on low wages are often forced to migrate from one poorly paid job to another. The minimum wage must therefore be on a level.
To my hon. and very good Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell)—I would also like to remind the hon. Member for Epping Forest of this—I say that, although there may be disagreements between the Government and the STUC and the TUC about the level of the minimum wage, the STUC and the TUC are at one in their determination that there should be a uniform national minimum wage throughout the United Kingdom. That is what my hon. Friend must remember.
I agree with the STUC on the level of the national minimum wage, and hence I disagree with my Front-Bench colleagues. The national minimum wage should be £4 an hour. I would like it to be £4.50 an hour, but that is being a little idealistic. If there are variations in the setting of a minimum wage, some employers will be unscrupulous enough to exploit those differences. They may set up satellites in the regions of England, Scotland or Wales and pay lousy wages and impose lousy terms and conditions of employment on employees. In an age when the trade unions, sadly, are somewhat weak, we must give statutory protection across this multinational state.
It is, but it is identical to the system established by the Department of Social Security here in England. There is no variation whatever in the range of social security payments. I challenge the hon. Gentleman to provide an example of any social welfare payment where there is a difference.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, but then he speaks with vast experience as an accomplished negotiator on behalf of the Scottish National Union of Mineworkers, and as a one-time member, I believe, of the STUC. Some of the wages paid in the constituency of the hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale are scandalously low—the lowest in Scotland. However, we all have lousy, unscrupulous employers in our constituencies.
Not long ago, an employer in the electronics industry in my constituency threatened his non-unionised work force with the sack if they had the temerity to speak to the local trades council or the local Member of Parliament about their lousy, rotten terms and conditions of employment. Where that employer and others like him are concerned, I look forward to the establishment of a national minimum wage and the enhancement of trade union recognition.
Rights were destroyed by that odd-job lot, the Conservative party, when it was in power. We need good, solid trade unions in our democracy, and we need a uniform social security system. We need also a uniform national minimum wage in our multinational state.
There is something bizarre about the Conservative Opposition tabling an amendment which suggests that the national minimum wage should be devolved to the Scottish Parliament, since they opposed both the minimum wage and the Scottish Parliament. That has to be put on record. Nobody has been convinced by any of the Opposition arguments.
The hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mrs. Laing) argued that the national minimum wage should vary across the country because housing costs and local taxes vary across the country. What she misunderstands is that the national minimum wage is not the recommended wage for all employers across the country—it is the absolute minimum wage for all employers across the country. With a strong and effective trade union movement, the problems she described can be dealt with by workers in any part of the country. The Tory party has never understood the working class, and I doubt if it ever will.
The hon. Member for Epping Forest argued that there was no practical or principled reason why the national minimum wage should not be varied in different parts of the country. I remind her that, in the early days of the labour movement, wages and conditions for miners—my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Mr. Clarke), a former miner, can confirm this—used to be set from pit to pit. It was the work of the NUM which helped to impose a national minimum wage and working conditions for miners. That is why the Labour Government, like the miners, will deliver a minimum wage for the working people of this country.
To be harsh for a moment, the behaviour of the official Opposition is, quite frankly, irresponsible. The Conservative Opposition are playing politics with one of the most important manifesto commitments we have made—to improve the social and economic well-being of millions of workers in this country. It makes no sense for the Conservative Opposition to pick and choose the points on which they want to be politically expedient. We saw this last night in terms of guns; we have seen it today in terms of welfare, and now the minimum wage. It is clear that the national minimum wage should be just that—a single national minimum wage. That is essential to maintain the level playing field for business in the UK—one of our key objectives in framing the Bill.
A single national minimum wage applying across the UK will ensure clarity, simplicity and ease of enforcement. It makes no difference where one lives or works in the UK—low pay is low pay. Putting a floor under pay to avoid unacceptably low levels is what the national minimum wage is about. That has not been recognised by the Conservative Opposition. I would like the hon. Member for Epping Forest to identify where her suggestion has come from. What discussions has she had with the trade unions or the business community?
A decision has been taken by my right hon. and hon. Friends in government to promote a national minimum wage. That is an important priority, which is not helped by the Conservatives attempting to reduce the matter to a political knockabout at the expense of the provisions of the Bill. It is for this reason that the Bill reserves, among other things, employment rights and duties, and industrial relations.
We are seeking a coherent set of policies which are consistent in economic terms throughout the country. Given the claims by the Opposition that they want to protect business interests in Scotland, I hope that they recognise that this is best achieved by the subject matter of the National Minimum Wage Bill being a reserved matter. [Interruption.] Once again, the right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) makes flippant remarks from a sedentary position on a serious issue.
If the right hon. Gentleman had been listening, he would have heard my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) talking about much wider issues in relation to the trade union movement in Scotland. My hon. Friend acknowledges that this is an important issue, but the substance of the minimum wage is not a matter for debate this evening. We are talking about where the legislative competence will lie in relation to the minimum wage's legislation, level and implementation.
We take this matter seriously. If there is a vote, I ask my hon. Friends to vote against the Opposition amendment. Millions of workers are looking for leadership. They will get none from the Conservatives, but they will get it from the Government.
With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 5, in page 75, leave out lines 5 to 7.
No. 6, in page 75, leave out lines 8 to 13.
In any Bill dealing with devolved and reserved powers there will be accusations of inconsistency and situations in which the general case could be made either way. However, the example before us is one of cynical manipulation, not of inconsistency. Abortion is a sensitive subject, but it is hardly a nationalist totem. The debate is not about abortion policy itself, but is about who should have legislative responsibility.
We cannot determine, should there be devolution to the Scottish Parliament, whether there will be a tightening or loosening of policy. That is not really the point. Hon. Members will have their personal views on the subject. I make no secret of my view: I would very much wish to see a substantial tightening of abortion policy, but that is not the point at issue. We are discussing who should have legislative responsibility.
In the run-up to the debate, it was clear and interesting that the amendment had attracted a wide range of political support, not least of which was a statement made today,
which I am sure hon. Members will have received, from the Catholic bishops of Scotland, who say:
It is with some concern that we note the reservation of certain powers to the Westminster Parliament, which, in keeping with the principle of subsidiarity, could be decided here in Scotland. Representatives from all the main political parties have pointed to the anomaly which transfers criminal justice and health legislation from London to Edinburgh, yet excludes abortion from the competence of the new Parliament.
This position is rendered even less comprehensible when it is noted that the new Scottish Parliament will have powers to legislate on such issues as euthanasia and capital punishment. We express our support for the parliamentarians on all sides of the House of Commons who have brought forward amendments to the Scotland Bill to allow our new Parliament full and proper control over an issue which Scots have a right to decide for themselves.
To those who talk of a cross-border 'traffic' in abortion, let it be noted that such 'traffic' already exists throughout Europe wherever neighbouring countries have different laws in any area, be it taxation, health or marriage.
That view has come from other political parties. I note the support of the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish nationalists. The Liberal Democrats tabled amendments similar to those that are before the Committee.
The hon. Gentleman talked about "traffic" throughout Europe. I hope that he will confirm that we have that traffic now within the United Kingdom, between Northern Ireland and England, Scotland and Wales.
I shall refer to Northern Ireland, if the hon. Gentleman will bear with me for a few moments.
It is worth considering precisely the point that the hon. Gentleman has raised, because it has been raised recently, by the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and in an exchange during Prime Minister's questions. On 29 January, the Under-Secretary said in response to a question:
As I have said, we have no agenda to extend the Abortion Act 1967 to Northern Ireland.
The Committee will understand that the Act does not apply to Northern Ireland. The Minister continued:
If there is to be change, the preferable way for it to happen is in a devolved administration in Northern Ireland or, alternatively, by way of a private Member's Bill from a Northern Ireland Member."—[Official Report, Northern Ireland Grand Committee, 29 January 1998; c. 2.]
As the Committee will probably be aware, I took the opportunity to ask the Prime Minister a question about these matters during Prime Minister's Question Time three weeks ago. I asked the right hon. Gentleman why there was a difference between Scotland and Northern Ireland on this issue, and why Northern Ireland should have power to make changes—the preferable way would be through a devolved assembly—but not Scotland. Why is the situation so different? The Prime Minister replied:
Scotland and Northern Ireland need not necessarily be treated in the same way across the various programmes for devolution. One of the points of devolution is that what happens in Northern Ireland or in Scotland is a matter of debate and can be decided in different ways."—[Official Report, 4 March 1998; Vol. 307, c. 1056.]
The Prime Minister would do well to ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what the Government's position actually is before he is so rash as to answer a genuine question at Prime Minister's Question Time. However,
the Government have an explanation of why we are treated to such an interpretation. The notes on clauses tell us that certain areas raise "major ethical issues" or
require expertise to be pooled
on a United Kingdom basis before regulations can be made where there should be reservation.
Let us consider those two reasons. The first rests on "major ethical issues". Such issues are not to be determined by the Scottish Parliament, according to the notes on clauses, when it comes to this part of the Bill. That is presumably because the Scottish Parliament is incapable of deciding on major ethical issues, if we are to believe what we read. Yet the death penalty—a major ethical issue—can be decided in the Scottish Parliament. Euthanasia is another major ethical issue. It, too, can be decided in the Scottish Parliament. Bizarrely, human transplantation can also be decided in the Scottish Parliament but not xenotransplantation, which is transplantation from animals to humans.
I do not know where the line is being drawn. What is a major ethical issue to the Government and what is not? I look forward to the Secretary of State defining exactly what the Government regard as a major ethical issue.
The second part of the Government's explanation is matters
which require expertise to be pooled at a United Kingdom level
before we can make regulations. That seems to be nonsensical. There is no direct link between expertise and regulation. Regulation is how politicians respond to a perceived problem, albeit in the light of access to relevant expertise. The Scottish Parliament could have full access to United Kingdom expertise on any of the issues that we are considering, simply by calling the appropriate witnesses to it. It may well make the same regulations on the same advice, but it may not. To pretend that there is inextricable linkage is to make it nonsensical to have politicians. Why not elevate scientists to the status of gods and do exactly what they tell us?
The reservation has the stamp of the Prime Minister upon it. The Prime Minister, having had one or two nasty brushes that his spin doctors had difficulty dealing with on the abortion issue, does not want the issue to be in the hands of the part of the party where he has least control. Anyone who witnessed the Scottish Labour party conference will understand what that means. The Prime Minister does not want troublemakers for him on this issue. That is the only reason why power is being reserved. The reservation smacks not of principle but of political manipulation, cynicism and cowardice.
I shall speak against the amendment. I have a deep belief in the sanctity of life and therefore believe passionately in the right of life of the unborn child. That belief applies to the unborn child throughout the United Kingdom and not only in the towns and cities of Scotland.
Abortion and its human consequences are not just matters of health to me and to the many whom I represent. Abortion is an ethical issue that is above the clinical terms that are used to end the life of any unborn child. It is an ethical issue that should be above political point scoring. My constituents know and understand my pro-life stance.
In all conscience, I cannot support an amendment that pigeon-holes abortion and the right to life as purely health matters. Similarly, I cannot support an amendment that could lead to cross-border traffic in human sadness. The thought of seriously troubled women—[Interruption.]
Thank you, Mr. Martin.
The thought of seriously troubled women booking into hotels, whether in Scotland or England, before an early-morning appointment at a termination clinic appals me. A more liberated pro-abortion area, whether it be in England or Scotland, would result in pitiful cross-border traffic of women who were desperately unhappy and desperately troubled.
I ask Opposition Members not to treat abortion and its sad consequences as a political football. I ask them also to think and to separate out the tragic consequences of someone deeply troubled thinking about terminating the life of an unborn child. Let us deal with the problem of unwanted pregnancies as a real, human problem, one that is beyond the realms of a Scottish-English border. Women throughout the United Kingdom should be treated equally in a sympathetic manner.
I ask hon. Members to reject this sad amendment.
I should like to make it clear to the hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Mr. Roy) that I do not consider this a trivial issue or in any way a political football. It is a serious issue that the Committee should address. In no way would I trivialise the remarks that the hon. Gentleman has just made. Although I would not sign up to the pro-life camp, I believe that abortion should be very limited indeed in its extent, but this is not a debate on the merits or demerits of abortion. The question is whether the Scottish Parliament should deal with these serious and important issues father than the Westminster Parliament.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Mr. Roy) that this is a serious issue, and I regret the presentation made by the hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox), the Conservative party spokesman. In his speech, he made this a party political matter.
It is for people to argue their case as they see fit. I hope that in my remarks I shall not make it a partisan matter, as I know that strong views are held across the Chamber.
Why is abortion a reserved matter? The health issue has been devolved to the Scottish Parliament. I accept that this is not purely a health issue. The Abortion Act 1967 was to address matters with regard to criminal law, and criminal law is substantially a devolved matter for the Scottish Parliament. If the two areas that relate to abortion—health and criminal law—are devolved, logic would suggest that the law of abortion should not be a reserved matter.
What is the justification for abortion being a reserved matter? It cannot be because it is a moral or ethical issue, because the Scottish Parliament must be capable of grappling with moral and ethical issues as well as with social, economic, transport, health and education issues. We are in free vote territory, and people would expect that in the Scottish Parliament there would be free votes on matters of conscience, as happens in the House. Indeed, as the hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) said, euthanasia and capital punishment will be matters for the Scottish Parliament. They are treated seriously by hon. Members on both sides of the House, and are ethical issues.
Surely the Government are not saying that the Scottish Parliament will not be competent to deal with an issue such as this. The theme that we ran during the referendum campaign, which the Government have mentioned when replying to debates in Committee, was, "Surely we can trust the Scottish Parliament." Indeed we can, and we can trust the parliamentarians who will be returned, and the people of Scotland who will return them. We can trust them to treat these issues with the seriousness that they deserve and to come to the right judgment based on a range of factors, one of which must be cross-border traffic. It is an important issue, and it would be for the Scottish Parliament to take it into account before it made any change—if it was ever minded to do so—to the current abortion law.
Does the hon. and learned Gentleman accept that cross-border traffic already exists? There are cities in England, such as Liverpool, where it is difficult to get an abortion. People from Liverpool can come to Dundee for an abortion. Indeed, many people from Glasgow can come to Dundee to seek an abortion, and they book into hotels in the way described by my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Mr. Roy). The cross-border traffic argument has nothing to do with whether the Scottish Parliament should have responsibility for this area.
The hon. Gentleman raises a practical point. I am trying to anticipate what the arguments might be for not allowing abortion to be transferred to the Scottish Parliament. Those who argue for abortion to be reserved have said that there might be the problem of cross-border traffic.
What about Northern Ireland? The hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw talked about the whole of the United Kingdom, but Northern Ireland has a different abortion law from the rest of the United Kingdom. The 1967 Act did not apply in Northern Ireland because abortion was devolved to the Stormont Parliament. Back in the 1920s, it was thought fit by those who framed the legislation to give the Stormont Parliament powers, so that abortion could be properly devolved to the Northern Ireland Parliament. We argue that a similar arrangement should be made for the Scottish Parliament in the 1990s.
It is important to underline the fact that for a long time, the law on abortion has differed between Scotland and England. The notes on clauses say:
The 1967 Act introduces in effect a similar regime for the whole of Great Britain.
I do not accept that that is necessarily the case.
I am grateful for the insight of Sandy McCall Smith in his contributions in the "Encyclopaedia of Laws of Scotland", and of Kenneth Norrie, who was a lecturer in law at the university of Aberdeen. Kenneth Norrie wrote an article in the Criminal Law Review in 1985, headed "Abortion in Great Britain: One "Act, Two Laws". Before 1967, under Scots criminal law, based on common law, it was a crime to carry out an improper act calculated to destroy the foetus. It was clear from practice that the need to terminate a pregnancy in the interest of maternal health was not considered a criminal act under the law of Scotland. Admittedly, the law was not terribly clear. What was clear was that there were no Crown prosecutions when those terminations occurred. A study carried out in 1963—four years before the Act that was taken through the House by Lord Steel of Aikwood, as he is now—showed that 2 per cent. of women in a Scottish city had abortions performed under the health service.
The 1967 Act did not interfere with the common law, and merely set out circumstances in which an abortion could lawfully be carried out. That meant that there were still differences between Scotland and England. It was still legally possible in Scotland, under common law, for a single medical opinion to permit an abortion to go ahead.
Until the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 tidied up many of those things and gave clear dates beyond which abortions could not take place, the position in Scotland was different from England. In England and Wales, the relevant provisions of the Infant Life (Preservation) Act 1929, which was specifically continued by the Abortion Act 1967, made it a crime to abort a foetus that was capable of being born alive. Although it was never judicially determined in any firm way, the presumption was 28 weeks in England and Wales. However, in Scotland, where the 1929 Act did not apply, and had never applied, abortions could be legally carried out up to full term. Therefore, there have been quite significant anomalies between Scots law and English law for many years.
This is a matter of some consequence, because I was the parliamentary private secretary at the time to the Secretary of State for Social Services. The problem was very much to do with Professor Baird. The study was atypical not only of other Scottish cities but of the UK as a whole. What is the hon. and learned Gentleman trying to deduce from it?
The point that I was trying to make was that, before the 1967 Act, the law in Scotland was materially different from that in England, to the extent that in one Scottish city a significant number of women—I think it was 2 per cent.—had abortions under the health service. Although abortions should never have happened in those circumstances in England, the law of Scotland allowed them to be carried out.
The point that I am making is that the laws of Scotland and England have not always been parallel on this issue, and the Scottish Parliament might decide in future that it wants to do something different, perhaps reflecting the views of our constituents in Scotland—it may be different on a particular issue and especially on an ethical issue, because the laws have different characteristics.
Finally, the law in England is uncertain whether post-coital contraception is legal, but it is clear in Scotland, where the law requires proof of pregnancy, that it is not an illegal act. Therefore, even in a continuing matter of some legal debate, the law in Scotland is clear while in England it is not.
The Government must explain why abortion should be a reserved matter. So far, we have had no explanation either in general debate or in the notes on clauses. The argument is not made out and I hope that the Government will be prepared to change their mind on it. If they do so, I am sure that the people of Scotland and those who represent them in the Scottish Parliament will treat the issue with the seriousness that it deserves, but come to their own decision after careful consideration of all the factors.
It will be no secret to most hon. Members that I view this subject from the perspective of the need to defend choice. I am glad that hon. Members take the issues seriously. So far, those who have spoken can never be in the position of a woman faced with a pregnancy that she does not want and regards as a disaster. However, whether or not we have been in such a position, we can try to use our imagination to realise the difficulties that such a woman might confront if she happens to live in one part or another of the United Kingdom where an abortion is difficult to obtain. My hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) is right that even within Scotland a woman can be forced to travel from her home town to somewhere with more liberal attitudes.
I would fight to the end to prevent anyone from having an abortion against her will, as happens in some parts of the world, but I would also defend to the end a woman's right to have an abortion and to have it as easily in one part of the United Kingdom as another. We do not want to make it more difficult by having different rules in one part of the United Kingdom. We should be working towards a universal system whereby a woman can have an abortion with the least difficulty, wherever she happens to live.
Reference has been made to Northern Ireland. I wonder whether any hon. Member is defending what happens in Northern Ireland. It is impossible to know how many hundreds of thousands of women are forced to make the journey to mainland Britain, concealing the fact that they are pregnant because of difficulties with their families, communities and jobs. The woman may have to make excuses for being away, and she will be alone, friendless and frightened in the alien environment of a clinic. Is that what hon. Members wish to defend?
The hon. Lady asks who would defend the status quo in Northern Ireland. The answer to that is that the Government, whom she supports, defend that position. They have no plans to change that. As I said, the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland said that the appropriate place for such a change to be made would be in a devolved assembly. Why the difference between Northern Ireland and Scotland?
I am coming to the point about Northern Ireland.
The law should be uniform. I understand that Northern Ireland is coming from a position where there is no right to abortion. That is not because all Northern Ireland agrees that there should be no such right. Women who have to travel to mainland Britain think that they should have the right to obtain an abortion on their doorstep without the trauma of going to Liverpool or somewhere else in Britain.
My hon. Friend might appreciate some useful information in relation to the number of women from Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland who have abortions in England. In 1996, 1,573 women from Northern Ireland and 4,894 from the Republic of Ireland had such abortions.
A conservative estimate. Such women had to face extra difficulties when they were already in a position that none of us would want to face.
It is not the case that all people in Northern Ireland do not want the right to abortion, but it is the case that all political leaders in Northern Ireland do not want it. They have that in common if nothing else.
And they are all men. It has been years since there was a woman Member of Parliament for any part of Northern Ireland. Fortunately, the voice of the Northern Ireland Women's Coalition is being heard these days. I look forward to a more genuine opening up of the debate in Northern Ireland on the issue. Attitudes in the Republic have liberalised immensely in recent years. People have begun to realise that if a member of a particular Church or religious persuasion thinks that abortion is wrong, they are free never to have one, but they do not have the right to impose their views on people who disagree with them.
I do not know what reasons Ministers will give for abortion being a reserved power. If they say that there should not be cross-border traffic, I most certainly agree. The House has debated the subject in the past, and it has agreed with a woman's right to choice. Hon. Members have defended a woman's right to choose, and I hope that tonight the Committee will not start to wreck that, by agreeing with the nonsense proposed by the hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox).
If the hon. Lady is so confident of her, in my view, rather unpalatable anti-life views, why is she not prepared to argue with those in Scotland in the devolved Scottish Parliament, which can then make a decision? It might well be that if that power were devolved to the Scottish Parliament, it would take a more liberal view. Why is she not confident that she can win the argument in Scotland with a devolved Scottish Parliament?
Those who defend choice are talking about some kind of quality of life. They recognise that women face real difficulties, which Conservative Members ignore in this debate. They treat the matter as a political football, simply to gain brownie points in some quarters. That is what this is all about. The sooner they stop wasting time on things that they are not serious about and get back to real issues, the better.
I do not doubt for a second the sincerity of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mrs. Fyfe) on this matter, but she is wrong to argue the case in terms of her position on abortion one way or the other. We have heard two speeches from Labour Members from diametrically opposed positions on the moral question of abortion and two speeches thus far from Opposition Members, and I assume that among Opposition Members, too, there are diametrically opposed views on the matter.
The hon. Member for Maryhill makes the strong point that the issue is best considered by women, and the chances are that in a Scottish Parliament, whatever else we may say about it, there will be substantially more women than there are here, despite the improvement. If that is the issue, I do not think that the hon. Lady's argument falls.
I shall not respond to the hon. Gentleman. He is completely incapable of looking at any argument and coming to a serious conclusion. On this issue, above all, we should try to argue as a matter of principle and find a way through.
There is no uniformity throughout the United Kingdom. The reason is well known: it was considered injudicious not to have abortion legislation devolved to Northern Ireland because, at various times, it was thought that the position in Northern Ireland, across its political representation, was different from that on the mainland of Great Britain. If that was the case, that devolution took place with the expectation that a different position might have arisen in Northern Ireland compared with Great Britain.
In the case of the Scottish Parliament, it is impossible for any hon. Member to anticipate what the Scottish Parliament would do on the matter of abortion. There is nothing in the voting record of Scottish Members in this House on these matters, certainly during the past 20 years, that could lead hon. Members, whether it be the hon. Member for Maryhill or the hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox), to believe that the law would be liberalised or tightened.
The hon. and learned Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) is absolutely correct: there has been no consistent abortion legislation within Great Britain. The relevant primary legislation in the 1920s was substantially different, as were the administration and interpretation of those Acts.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the 1967 Act is of major significance today in respect of the availability of abortions, and that any different legislation, whether in Scotland or in England, would inevitably lead to cross-border traffic, which would be greatly detrimental to the women concerned? This issue should be discussed on the basis not of personal pro or anti-abortion views but of how it will affect women.
I agree that that is the best way to approach it. However, if the hon. Lady reads the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Orkney and Shetland, she will see that that point was substantially dealt with. Even after the 1967 Act, the legislation was administered differently north and south of the border, and in various areas in Scotland and south of the border, because of the legal basis.
No, I wish to be brief. I would normally give way to the hon. Gentleman, but other hon. Members want to speak and time is severely limited. I do not wish to crowd anyone out of the debate.
I agree with one point made by the Government: I regret that this matter has not come forward as a cross-party amendment. The conduct of this debate would have been far better had the amendment been sponsored by hon. Members from every political party, because I am sure that they share the point of view expressed in the amendment. I made it clear to the hon. and learned Member for Orkney and Shetland that I would support the Liberal Democrat amendment that was tabled at an early stage on this matter.
I support absolutely the points made by the hon. and learned Member for Orkney and Shetland. However, I wish to add one further point that has not been mentioned, as some of the newer Members of the House might care to think about this. During the 11 years in which I have been a Member of the House, abortion has been raised as a serious debating issue three times. I am open to correction on that, but I remember them pretty well. The first time was through a private Member's Bill, which was knocked out not because the argument was lost but because of lack of time. The second time, the issue was allocated sufficient time, but in the late 1980s there was such a mass of confusion on the amendments that, even after a decision had been made, most hon. Members were not aware what it was or how it would be interpreted. The third time, the issue was latched on to another piece of legislation—no doubt on a similar ethical subject—and was not even treated as an issue in its own right.
Whatever the moral arguments and the efforts that hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber put into these debates in trying to settle the position with their consciences, the issue would be treated in a better fashion by the Scottish Parliament than it has been in the past 11 years by the House. It is a question not of whether people were satisfied with the outcome but of whether people were satisfied that their position had been exercised in a debate that matched the importance of the issue. Whatever else we may say, none of us can put our hand on our heart and say that the House has dealt properly with one of the supreme moral and social issues of our time.
I believe that a Scottish Parliament could deal with this matter better. I am not convinced that the legislation would be substantially changed. I am certain that, among other factors, a Scottish Parliament would bear in mind the experience of the legislation in England and Wales—it would be sensible and important to do so—but I am convinced that the Scottish Parliament is entitled to express what it believes is the conscience and view of the Scottish people on this supremely important topic.
Part of this debate has shown the House of Commons at its best—it has been tackling a difficult issue in a responsible and almost non-partisan way. That is why the breathtaking cynicism with which the Conservative party has proposed the amendment has been made even worse. Its motivation is clearly an attempt to stir up religious feeling for party advantage.
Let me finish my case, and then the hon. Lady can respond.
I took the bother to check what the Glasgow Herald said when this subject was first raised. The hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) must have been quite pleased with the heading of the article: "Tories put abortion on the agenda—Fox bids to exploit religious divisions". The caption under the picture was
Liam Fox: attempt to embarrass Labour".
We all know the different agendas that are operating here. It is a question of what one says and how one tries to spin it. Although ostensibly it was a real issue about devolving power, in the mischievous way in which the Tories have operated on several occasions throughout the Bill's passage, it was simply an attempt to stir up religious feeling. How do I know that? The Herald's reporter had obviously had the benefit of an off-the-record briefing—some of it was clearly on the record—from the former Minister. The Herald said:
The Tories yesterday played the religion card in the devolution debate, when they unexpectedly called for abortion law to be handed down to the Scottish Parliament. The move was justified in terms of logic, but behind the scenes it was being openly admitted that this was an issue in the debate which could potentially embarrass those in the Labour Party, particularly in the West of Scotland, who are Catholic … Speaking after he dropped his bombshell Dr. Fox said: 'The reason that the Labour Party are having this as a reserved power is that it causes them internal division. It has nothing to do with the principle of devolution, but all to do with internal party convenience. We will put down an amendment and then we will see what the Government does with its majority."'
The article goes on:
Dr. Fox's comments show that they believe that Labour, particularly in West Central Scotland, could be placed in a quandary if issues such as abortion are brought to the forefront of the debate.
Many decent people who take different views on that matter deserve better, from a party that was the Government and that claims to be the leading Opposition party in Scotland and elsewhere in this country, than crude manipulation of strong religious feelings.
I absolutely refute the allegation that we are attempting to stir up religious feelings. We have raised this issue in a non-partisan way. I made my view on abortion—I said that I wanted the law tightened up—clear at the outset, lest I be accused of personal interest in this matter. I am appalled at how the hon. Gentleman has dragged the level of the debate down and at the fact that he has based his argument on the spin that the Glasgow Herald put on the matter. Although I do not withdraw a word of what was —quoted, I utterly reject the spin that the hon. Gentleman and the Herald put on it.
The Herald reporter said:
The move was justified in terms of logic, but behind the scenes it was being openly admitted that this was an issue in the debate which could potentially embarrass those in the Labour Party, particularly in the West of Scotland, who are Catholic.
I suggest that the hon. Gentleman takes the matter to the Press Council so that it can pursue it with the Herald, because I have seen no retraction sought from or given by the Glasgow Herald. We are left with the strong feeling that this is a deliberate attempt to pander to the worst feelings that the Conservatives can find in the west of Scotland.
I am happy to say that I believe that my party will not be divided on this matter. [Interruption.]
Thank you, Mr. Martin.
I understand why the Conservative party wants to shout me down—I have revealed the dishonesty of its approach to this matter, which goes beyond the manipulation that we have seen on other issues. That is part of the backwards and forwards of politics, but the crude attempt to manipulate religious feeling deserves to be flushed into the open and condemned.
The Labour party is strongly behind what the Government are doing and will unanimously support them. We shall not be drawn into pandering to the worst in politics, which we have seen from the Conservatives.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way and hope that he agrees that Conservative Members are not being cynical about this sensitive and emotional issue. I agree with every word of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mrs. Fyfe), who spoke well and sensitively. We are discussing not the ethical side of abortion, but whether Labour Members—
I understand that the accusation will arouse strong feelings among those who were not party to the plot, but I remind hon. Members that
behind the scenes it was being openly admitted that this was an issue".
The briefing clearly took place; the headline "Fox bids to exploit religious divisions" shows that there was clear and cynical manipulation, which should be condemned.
The issue involves a matter of principle. We should not allow the exchanges that have just taken place to deflect us from serious consideration of whether a Scottish Parliament established by this House of Commons should have legislative competence to deal with a matter of such sensitivity, which raises ethical, religious and health issues.
I have been a Member of Parliament since 1987, and the ethical element of abortion has given me more difficulty than any issue that has been put before me by my constituents, with the possible exception of capital punishment. The approaches of Members of Parliament to those two issues have much in common, because they involve significant issues of belief rather than political policy. If the Scottish Parliament is competent to determine whether capital punishment, which involves important ethical, religious and legal complications, may be available, what distinction in principle denies it the same legislative competence over abortion?
Hon. Members who talked about the problem of cross-border traffic should consider that a murder committed on one side of the River Tweed might result in the death by hanging of the person convicted of it if the Scottish Parliament decided that there should be capital punishment for the crime of murder, whereas a murder committed on the other side of the Tweed might not have the same result. There is always such conflict when two legal jurisdictions share a border.
If the Scottish Parliament is competent to deal with capital punishment, why is it thought to be incompetent to deal with abortion? The law in Scotland was different from the law of England for a long time, although I think that it is closer to it now. Mr. Alex Bourne, a well-known London gynaecologist, was prosecuted in 1938, but no similar prosecutions took place in Scotland. As the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) said, cities such as Aberdeen had almost a tradition, if that description does not demean the subject, of performing therapeutic abortions, but hon. Members will have difficulty finding regular instances of prosecution in Scotland over allegations that the crime of abortion had been committed.
The hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mrs. Fyfe), whose views I respect and, indeed, share substantially, made the Northern Ireland case, but her remarks were an argument not for denying a Scottish Parliament legislative competence, but for changing the law in Northern Ireland.
I shall campaign with her as long and as hard as she likes to change the law in Northern Ireland, because it should be changed.
No. I want to conclude my remarks, because the Minister has yet to reply.
The Scottish Parliament is perhaps better equipped to deal with such matters than this House. The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) said that we have dealt with abortion three times in the past 10 years—by no means satisfactorily. No hon. Member left the debates satisfied that the issue had been properly determined.
I understand that there is already a substantial body of opinion that the Scottish Parliament should take evidence before legislating. If ever an issue cried out for evidence to be taken before legislation is considered, it is surely an issue of such complication.
Not only should abortion be part of the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament as a matter of principle, but the proposed workings of the Scottish Parliament make it much more likely that there would be an outcome more satisfactory than any in this House since I was elected in 1987.
Many hon. Members have different views from each other, and it is important to state that this is not a party matter. I should like to put on record my strong views against the taking of life in any form. I lobbied the House during the passage of the Abortion Bill, but I respect the views of others as I expect others to respect mine. I would not condemn any woman who had been forced to seek an abortion, and I applaud the work of those who support women who choose to have their child and who require such support. I should like the debate in the House of Commons on this issue to take place at such a level.
The debate is not about a change in the law. As the hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) said, such a debate should be informed, and should not take place in the sort of atmosphere that has been created in the Committee tonight. I should like to take the debate back to the issue of where decisions should be made, which is appropriate; it should not be turned into a party matter or involve abortion law. We must get back on track.
Without commenting on whether abortion law in Scotland would be more rigid or more relaxed, it is important for me to state that I am deeply concerned that there would be cross-border traffic between Scotland and England, which I never want to happen and would certainly abhor. There is cross-border traffic in other parts of Europe and in other parts of this country, but that is no reason to introduce such bad practice into the difference between England and Scotland.
The way in which the debate has been conducted has demeaned the House. The issue should be debated not during a discussion about the Scottish Parliament, but in a proper and informed manner. I regret very much that the amendment was tabled.
I have appreciated for many years the fact that abortion is a major ethical problem for the individual consciences of Members of this House or of any other legislature that may be asked to consider it. If anyone doubted that—I think that few could—the strength of feeling that has been evident during the past hour or so would certainly remind us that there is no doubt about the importance of the issue.
I agree entirely with the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) and a number of other hon. Members that no assumption should be made about what outcome a shift in jurisdiction to a Scottish Parliament might produce—it is impossible to read. I debate with the hon. Gentleman often, and on this occasion I agree with him. The differences might not be dramatic, but none of us knows that, and we must conduct the debate on the assumption that differences may emerge, perhaps not at one moment, but over time. There could be a divergence, and, in the special circumstances of this issue and this question, we must consider whether that is, on the whole, to be desired, or whether it would produce problems.
We are considering legislative responsibility and where it should lie, not our personal views on abortion. I am one of the few hon. Members in the Chamber—my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) is another—who can remember proceedings on the 1967 legislation. At the time, I was Member of Parliament for South Aberdeen. Even in Scotland, there are differences: as Member of Parliament for South Aberdeen I perhaps had an easier billet during the passage of the 1967 Act than Members of Parliament for other parts of Scotland. I appreciated the difficulties and the differences.
The hon. and learned Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) is right to say that there were differences on various points in the common law and in the criminal law that lie alongside the statute. One of his closest political associates and friends was the promoter of the 1967 legislation. A decision was taken by the promoter, and ultimately by the House of Commons, that it was right to have a common statutory framework within which to consider the possibility of a termination. The time scales and the circumstances and conditions that had to be met before a termination could be carried out were put on a United Kingdom basis. That was a considered judgment. It does not mean that we cannot change the position now if we want, but the arguments that were put in 1967 had some force.
I make that point without any feeling of crushing certainty. No one has bothered to refer to it, but at one stage in my parliamentary career 20 years ago I argued this case from another point of view. I realise that this is a matter of judgment and that we must consider the balance of the argument. The Government have come to the view that the decision taken in 1967 was right. The fact that, even now, there are differences in social approach and medical practice in different parts of the county is not a justification for having different criteria and different tests within the legislative framework.
The 1996 statistics showed that in England 28 per cent. of terminations were in the private sector and purchased, whereas in Scotland the figure was 1 per cent. I strongly defend and welcome that difference between Scotland and England. The views and work of Professor Baird in Aberdeen in the 1950s and 1960s have also been mentioned.
We should not easily countenance the prospect of different medical and social tests and a different statutory framework. On balance, I have concluded that it would be better to have one statutory framework. The Bill is based on a division of responsibility. Hon. Members have proposed amendments and have argued that there should be a change of mind on an individual matter. People are entitled to do that again on the abortion issue. We consider each case on its merits, and I take the view that on this matter it is better to have a national framework and a common approach.
It is perfectly proper for hon. Members to say, "What about Northern Ireland?" I do not want to plunge into the sad history of events in Northern Ireland, but it is clear that we have made a distinction between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom for a multiplicity of pressing political and other reasons. There is no case for saying that, because Northern Ireland is different, we should countenance the possibility of differences between the law on abortion in England and Scotland.
I rely on the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Ms Osborne). There is considerable traffic out of the Irish Republic and out of Northern Ireland into the rest of the United Kingdom. In 1995, 1,548 came from Northern Ireland and 4,531 from the Irish Republic. That shows a steady pattern, and not a sudden variation at this later stage. We must consider the possibility of a significant variation in the law on abortion when making a judgment about where the jurisdiction should lie, because there would be a danger of significant cross-border traffic, which would not be sensible or satisfying.
That is the root of the problem. Why does the Secretary of State find it unacceptable to have a variation in the criteria for abortion within Great Britain, but acceptable to devolve the power to determine the position on euthanasia in Scotland? What is the difference in principle between the two issues?
It is not a matter of principle, and it is not a matter that I was asked to address. Let me explain what I mean by that. It was suggested to me that I had no confidence in the competence of Members of the Scottish Parliament to make these decisions. I have every confidence in their competence: the question is whether they should have the competence. That is an important distinction. In the practical world of medicine and in the social world in which we live, there would be a strong likelihood of cross-border traffic, and we should not contemplate that.
Why should there be a difference between Northern Ireland, where people expect that difference to be acted on, and Scotland, where a substantial difference from the current position would not be expected, as the Secretary of State has conceded? I have heard the Secretary of State argue many cases, and I think that I know which are his and which are not. Did the initiative to take abortion out of the competence of the Scottish Parliament come from him and his Scottish Office Ministers?
I do not suppose that I will be able to convince the hon. Gentleman. There was considerable debate with colleagues in the Scottish Office, and we came to the decision that I am now defending. I ask him to accept that.
The law in Northern Ireland is very different, because it is a special case. Abortions are illegal except when necessary to save the life of the mother, or when continuation of the pregnancy would involve risk of serious injury to her physical or mental health. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mrs. Fyfe) said bluntly that she believes that that is not the right approach. That is a matter of dispute and debate, and there will be many different opinions in the House. The special social and political situation in Northern Ireland is not a reason for contemplating further differences in the United Kingdom in this sensitive area. That is the basis of my case.
There will be Scottish representation at Westminster, and Scottish Members will have a free vote on any private Member's Bill. They will have their say, and their argument will no doubt be put fairly. There will be a provision for consultation between the Scottish Executive and the British Government. It will always be a free vote, but consultation will have a place and will be of some value.
The Secretary of State has placed much emphasis on the undesirability of cross-border traffic. We are all agreed that, if abortion were to be a devolved matter, we do not know whether it would lead to a relaxation or a tightening of the law, so we do not know which way the cross-border traffic would flow. Does he accept that that important factor, along with others, would be taken into consideration by Scottish parliamentarians? They should at least be given the opportunity to do that.
Yes, I agree that that factor should be taken into account, and I am sure that it would be. I have listened to the speeches of Conservative Members for eight long days. We have often been told that we must assume that certain possibilities might occur. If we are asked to change the jurisdiction, we must make such assumptions and reach a conclusion accordingly. I have reached a balanced conclusion, and I shall hold to it.
The argument falls in favour of the position that we established in 1967, and which we have maintained ever since. Throughout the United Kingdom, common criteria and common conditions must be met before a termination can take place. I am genuinely sorry that the hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox), who feels strongly about this matter, took it upon himself to say during his speech—so there was no ambiguity—that the attitude of the Government was conditioned by cowardice. That was an unfortunate thing to say. The fact that the hon. Gentleman disagrees with me, and I with him, does not mean that I would ever accuse him of cowardice. I regard him as a somewhat impetuous figure, but certainly not as a coward.
If that had not been the case, it might have occurred to the hon. Gentleman that the easy option was to go in the other direction. I do not suppose that he will stand up and tell me that, and I am not inviting him to do so; but, if we had gone in the other direction, we would have been under attack from the Liberal Democrats, the nationalists and the Tories. We took a principled stand, however. We argued it out. We considered that, in all the circumstances, my argument was right, and I invite the Committee to stand by me now.
The Secretary of State's performance was one of the least effective defences that he has given in our debates on the Bill. We have asked for detailed reasons for the reservation; we have asked whether it involves a different ethical issue from those involving, for instance, euthanasia, but we have been given no answer. We have asked how Scotland differs from Northern Ireland in this respect, but again we have been given no answer.
It being three hours and thirty minutes after the commencement of proceedings in Committee, THE CHAIRMAN, pursuant to the Order [13 January] and the Resolution [30 March], put the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that hour.
|Division No. 235]||[8.10 pm|
|Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey)||Forth, Rt Hon Eric|
|Allan, Richard||Foster, Don (Bath)|
|Amess, David||Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman|
|Ancram, Rt Hon Michael||Fox, Dr Liam|
|Arbuthnot, James||Fraser, Christopher|
|Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E)||Gale, Roger|
|Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)||Garnier, Edward|
|Baker, Norman||George, Andrew (St Ives)|
|Baldry, Tony||Gibb, Nick|
|Ballard, Mrs Jackie||Gill, Christopher|
|Beith, Rt Hon A J||Gillan, Mrs Cheryl|
|Beresford, Sir Paul||Goodlad, Rt Hon Sir Alastair|
|Body, Sir Richard||Gorman, Mrs Teresa|
|Boswell, Tim||Gorrie, Donald|
|Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W)||Gray, James|
|Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia||Green, Damian|
|Brady, Graham||Greenway, John|
|Brand, Dr Peter||Grieve, Dominic|
|Brazier, Julian||Gummer, Rt Hon John|
|Breed, Colin||Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie|
|Browning, Mrs Angela||Harris, Dr Evan|
|Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)||Harvey, Nick|
|Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)||Hawkins, Nick|
|Burnett, John||Hayes, John|
|Burns, Simon||Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael|
|Butterfill, John||Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas|
|Campbell, Menzies (NE Fife)||Horam, John|
|Canavan, Dennis||Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)|
|Cash, William||Hunter, Andrew|
|Chidgey, David||Jack, Rt Hon Michael|
|Chope, Christopher||Jenkin, Bernard|
|Clappison, James||Johnson Smith,|
|Clark, Rt Hon Alan (Kensington)||Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey|
|Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh)||Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)|
|Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth||Keetch, Paul|
|(Rushcliffe)||Kennedy, Charles (Ross Skye)|
|Collins, Tim||Key, Robert|
|Colvin, Michael||King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)|
|Cormack, Sir Patrick||Kirkbride, Miss Julie|
|Cotter, Brian||Kirkwood, Archy|
|Cunningham, Ms Roseanna||Laing, Mrs Eleanor|
|(Perth)||Lait, Mrs Jacqui|
|Curry, Rt Hon David||Leigh, Edward|
|Dafis, Cynog||Letwin, Oliver|
|Davies, Quentin (Grantham)||Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)|
|Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice)||Lilley, Rt Hon Peter|
|Day, Stephen||Livsey, Richard|
|Duncan, Alan||Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)|
|Duncan Smith, Iain||Loughton, Tim|
|Evans, Nigel||Luff, Peter|
|Ewing, Mrs Margaret||Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas|
|Faber, David||McAvoy, Thomas|
|Fabricant, Michael||McFall, John|
|Fallon, Michael||MacGregor, Rt Hon John|
|Fearn, Ronnie||MacKay, Andrew|
|Flight, Howard||Maclean, Rt Hon David|
|McLoughlin, Patrick||Spring, Richard|
|McNamara, Kevin||Stunell, Andrew|
|May, Mrs Theresa||Swayne, Desmond|
|Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute)||Swinney, John|
|Moore, Michael||Syms, Robert|
|Morgan, Alasdair (Galloway)||Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)|
|Moss, Malcolm||Taylor, John M (Solihull)|
|Norman, Archie||Taylor, Matthew (Truro)|
|Oaten, Mark||Taylor, Sir Teddy|
|Ottaway, Richard||Trend, Michael|
|Page, Richard||Tyler, Paul|
|Paice, James||Tyrie, Andrew|
|Paterson, Owen||Viggers, Peter|
|Pickles, Eric||Wallace, James|
|Randall, John||Walter, Robert|
|Redwood, Rt Hon John||Wells, Bowen|
|Rendel, David||Welsh, Andrew|
|Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)||Whitney, Sir Raymond|
|Rowe, Andrew (Faversham)||Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann|
|Ruffley, David||Wigley, Rt Hon Dafydd|
|St Aubyn, Nick||Willis, Phil|
|Salmond, Alex||Yeo, Tim|
|Sanders, Adrian||Young, Rt Hon Sir George|
|Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian|
|Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)||Mr. Oliver Heald and Mr. Nigel Waterson.|
|Spicer, Sir Michael|
|Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N)||Clelland, David|
|Ainger, Nick||Clwyd, Ann|
|Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)||Coaker, Vernon|
|Alexander, Douglas||Coleman, Iain|
|Allen, Graham||Colman, Tony|
|Anderson, Janet (Rossendale)||Connarty, Michael|
|Ashton, Joe||Cook, Frank (Stockton N)|
|Atherton, Ms Candy||Cooper, Yvette|
|Atkins, Charlotte||Corbyn, Jeremy|
|Banks, Tony||Corston, Ms Jean|
|Barnes, Harry||Cousins, Jim|
|Bayley, Hugh||Cranston, Ross|
|Beard, Nigel||Crausby, David|
|Begg, Miss Anne||Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)|
|Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough)||Cummings, John|
|Benn, Rt Hon Tony||Cunliffe, Lawrence|
|Bennett, Andrew F||Dalyell, Tam|
|Benton, Joe||Darling, Rt Hon Alistair|
|Betts, Clive||Davidson, Ian|
|Blackman, Liz||Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)|
|Blears, Ms Hazel||Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)|
|Boateng, Paul||Davies, Rt Hon Ron (Caerphilly)|
|Bradley, Keith (Withington)||Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H)|
|Bradshaw, Ben||Dawson, Hilton|
|Brinton, Mrs Helen||Dean, Mrs Janet|
|Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E)||Dewar, Rt Hon Donald|
|Brown, Russell (Dumfries)||Dismore, Andrew|
|Browne, Desmond||Donohoe, Brian H|
|Buck, Ms Karen||Doran, Frank|
|Byers, Stephen||Drew, David|
|Caborn, Richard||Drown, Ms Julia|
|Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)||Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth|
|Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)||Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)|
|Campbell-Savours, Dale||Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)|
|Cann, Jamie||Edwards, Huw|
|Casale, Roger||Efford, Clive|
|Caton, Martin||Ellman, Mrs Louise|
|Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)||Etherington, Bill|
|Chisholm, Malcolm||Fatchett, Derek|
|Clapham, Michael||Field, Rt Hon Frank|
|Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)||Fitzpatrick, Jim|
|Clark, Dr Lynda||Fitzsimons, Lorna|
|(Edinburgh Pentlands)||Flint, Caroline|
|Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)||Flynn, Paul|
|Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)||Forsythe, Clifford|
|Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)||Foster, Rt Hon Derek|
|Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)||McDonnell, John|
|Foulkes, George||McGuire, Mrs Anne|
|Fyfe, Maria||McIsaac, Shona|
|Galbraith, Sam||McKenna, Mrs Rosemary|
|Galloway, George||McLeish, Henry|
|Gardiner, Barry||McNamara, Kevin|
|George, Bruce (Walsall S)||Mactaggart, Fiona|
|Gerrard, Neil||McWalter, Tony|
|Gibson, Dr Ian||Mallaber, Judy|
|Gilroy, Mrs Linda||Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)|
|Goggins, Paul||Marshall, David (Shettleston)|
|Golding, Mrs Llin||Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)|
|Gordon, Mrs Eileen||Martlew, Eric|
|Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)||Meale, Alan|
|Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)||Michael, Alun|
|Grogan, John||Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)|
|Gunnell, John||Mitchell, Austin|
|Hain, Peter||Moffatt, Laura|
|Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)||Moonie, Dr Lewis|
|Hall, Patrick (Bedford)||Moran, Ms Margaret|
|Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)||Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)|
|Hanson, David||Morgan, Rhodri (Cardiff W)|
|Harris, Dr Evan||Morley, Elliot|
|Healey, John||Morris, Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley)|
|Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)||Morris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon)|
|Hepburn, Stephen||Mudie, George|
|Heppell, John||Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)|
|Hesford, Stephen||Norris, Dan|
|Hill, Keith||O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)|
|Hodge, Ms Margaret||O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)|
|Hoey, Kate||Osborne, Ms Sandra|
|Home Robertson, John||Palmer, Dr Nick|
|Hood, Jimmy||Pearson, Ian|
|Hoon, Geoffrey||Pendry, Tom|
|Hope, Phil||Pertiam, Ms Linda|
|Howarth, Alan (Newport E)||Pike, Peter L|
|Howarth, George (Knowsley N)||Pond, Chris|
|Howells, Dr Kim||Pope, Greg|
|Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)||Pound, Stephen|
|Hurst, Alan||Powell, Sir Raymond|
|Hutton, John||Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)|
|Iddon, Dr Brian||Primarolo, Dawn|
|Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead)||Prosser, Gwyn|
|Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)||Purchase, Ken|
|Jamieson, David||Quin, Ms Joyce|
|Jenkins, Brian||Radice, Giles|
|Johnson, Miss Melanie||Rapson, Syd|
|(Welwyn Hatfield)||Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)|
|Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)||Roche, Mrs Barbara|
|Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)||Rogers, Allan|
|Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)||Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)|
|Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)||Roy, Frank|
|Jowell, Ms Tessa||Ruane, Chris|
|Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald||Ruddock, Ms Joan|
|Keeble, Ms Sally||Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)|
|Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)||Ryan, Ms Joan|
|Kelly, Ms Ruth||Salter, Martin|
|Khabra, Piara S||Sarwar, Mohammad|
|Kidney, David||Sawford, Phil|
|Kilfoyle, Peter||Shaw, Jonathan|
|King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green)||Sheerman, Barry|
|Kingham, Ms Tess||Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert|
|Kumar, Dr Ashok||Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)|
|Ladyman, Dr Stephen||Skinner, Dennis|
|Lawrence, Ms Jackie||Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)|
|Lepper, David||Smith, Miss Geraldine|
|Leslie, Christopher||(Morecambe & Lunesdale)|
|Levitt, Tom||Smith, John (Glamorgan)|
|Lewis, Terry (Worsley)||Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)|
|Linton, Martin||Soley, Clive|
|Love, Andrew||Southworth, Ms Helen|
|McAllion, John||Squire, Ms Rachel|
|McCabe, Steve||Starkey, Dr Phyllis|
|McCafferty, Ms Chris||Steinberg, Gerry|
|McDonagh, Siobhain||Stevenson, George|
|Macdonald, Calum||Stewart, David (Inverness E)|
|Stinchcombe, Paul||Vis, Dr Rudi|
|Stoate, Dr Howard||Walley, Ms Joan|
|Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin||Ward, Ms Claire|
|Straw, Rt Hon Jack||Watts, David|
|Stringer, Graham||White, Brian|
|Stuart, Ms Gisela||Whitehead, Dr Alan|
|Sutcliffe, Gerry||Williams, Rt Hon Alan|
|Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann||(Swansea W)|
|(Dewsbury)||Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)|
|Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)||Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)|
|Taylor, David (NW Leics)||Winnick, David|
|Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)|
|Thomas, Gareth (Ctwyd W)||Wise, Audrey|
|Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)||Woolas, Phil|
|Timms, Stephen||Worthington, Tony|
|Todd, Mark||Wray, James|
|Touhig, Don||Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)|
|Trickett, Jon||Wyatt, Derek|
|Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)||Mr. Jim Dowd and Jane Kennedy.|
|Twigg, Derek (Halton)|
I beg to move amendment No. 19, in page 76, leave out lines 14 to 20.
The issue is straightforward, so I can deal with it rapidly. The amendment would give the Scottish Parliament the power to determine the remuneration of judges of the Court of Session, sheriffs, members of the Lands Tribunal for Scotland and the chairman of the Scottish Land Court.
We think that the proposal to reserve this matter is the result of judicial trade unionism. [Interruption.] There are nods in knowing quarters. Scottish judges are anxious to ensure that their pay is related to the pay of English judges and presumably they are afraid that, at some time in the future, the Scottish Parliament might reduce their wages. That Parliament will have to pay for the judges, and it is reasonable for it to determine their remuneration. If it is unfair, I am sure that the judges have ways of getting back at the Parliament. I see no reason why the Scottish Parliament should not control this matter. The issue is simple and straightforward, however, and, having succeeded with hypnotism, I hope that we can succeed on judges' pay.
Unfortunately, I am unable to accede to the hon. Gentleman's request. The determination of judicial salaries is a reserved matter because the Government consider it right for there to be comparability of salaries for the judiciary throughout the United Kingdom. The review body on senior salaries will continue to report to the United Kingdom Prime Minister on matters relating to judicial salaries and to other pay groups in the public service. The review body's independence and integrity is well established and it should be allowed to continue its work. I invite the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the amendment.
The First Deputy Chairman:
With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following: Amendment No. 94, in page 76, line 28, at end insert—
'Imposing a duty on the Parliament to adhere to equal opportunities principles in its policies and procedures,'.
(2) After each financial year of the Parliament the Parliament shall publish a report containing—
Amendment No. 347 and amendments Nos. 348 to 350 are tabled in my name and in the names of my hon. Friends. The hon. and learned Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) and the hon. Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mr. Chisholm) are also included. That means that the amendments are cross-party amendments, and I hope that the Government will consider carefully what I have to say.
I welcome Government amendment No. 558 because it goes some way towards what is intended in amendment No. 348, by amplifying the exceptions to the reserved powers. Although it does not go as far as I would wish, it empowers the Scottish Parliament to encourage—although not regulate—equal opportunities in our country. Government amendment No. 559 covers the subject matter of our amendment No. 349 by specifically including sexual orientation within the definition of areas of equal opportunity, the observance of which the Scottish Parliament will be empowered to encourage. It also specifies age, language and social origin, which are equally welcome. I appreciate that the Government have come some way towards what I should like to see.
Scotland's gay community will welcome the Government's flexibility. The recognition of the specific discrimination that is faced by gay men and gay women in Scotland is heartening not just for them but for people throughout the United Kingdom. Equal opportunity and anti-discrimination regulations are a fast developing area. There is likely to be increasing pressure to improve legislation in that area and to widen its remit. Unfortunately, it seems that the Scottish Parliament will be unable to respond to those pressures to improve regulations against discrimination.
Amendment No. 347 is clearly substantive because it would result in the devolution to the Scottish Parliament of all equal opportunities legislation. The power would enable the elected representatives of Scotland's people to take the initiative in promoting equality in our country. It could mean more sensitive race relations legislation for Scotland and the stronger promotion of the rights of women and minority groups in our society.
I think that most people accept that although at one level problems of discrimination are the same for people throughout the world, particular circumstances in different countries make the needs of legislation different. The amendment would allow the Scottish Parliament to take steps forward. Indeed, the European convention on human rights would allow us only to take steps forward. I envisage a Scottish Parliament that would perhaps be more ground breaking than Westminster has been in the past. I hope that we can look forward to that, and I certainly do not think that any minority group in Scotland should feel threatened by the powers that would rest in the hands of Members of the Scottish Parliament. As the legislation stands, that Parliament will have the power only to encourage the observance of the existing equal opportunities legislation and can only impose duties on public bodies to observe that legislation It is not clear what sanctions there would be if those duties were, in any way, not carried out.
Does the hon. Lady agree that the way to change people's opinions is to win hearts and minds on this issue? Much of the work by Labour local authorities since 1984 has been about that: persuading people and creating the right climate. That is what brought about a cultural shift in attitude in Scotland. Will not the rights given to the Parliament do more than legislation?
I certainly agree that one has to change the hearts and minds of people; I do not think that any of us would disagree with that. We will not effect the substantial and long-term change which, I presume, most of us would like without real social change within the population, but we need the legislative back-up to reinforce that—otherwise we would not have existing anti-discrimination legislation. One tends to go with the other. Legislation without the changes in society will perhaps be difficult to enforce, but simply changing social thinking without legislation is not enough either.
I agree with the hon. Lady at one level, but we can take it further forward by legislation and I would have hoped that we could have done so in the Parliament. I would certainly have wished to have been able to argue for that in the Parliament. Specific issues with which we have to deal in Scotland would be helped by our being able to address them in a specifically Scottish context.
Amendment No. 348 would move the situation forward at least some way. The Parliament would at least be given the power to promote equality of opportunity in Scotland's public bodies by imposing certain duties on those bodies to secure equal opportunities. The amendment has been prompted by a question mark over the relative powers given to the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh assembly, and the belief among several commentators that Scotland will have weaker powers to promote equal opportunities than Wales.
This is not a hostile intervention, but my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Mr. Browne) and I are a bit curious to know what examples the hon. Lady has in mind. It would clarify her argument. She said that there were things that could be done better. There may be, but what examples does she have in mind?
The composition of racial minorities in Scotland is different from that in England. [Interruption.] Hon. Members buzz about on the Back Benches, but there has been much controversy over attitudes towards English people in Scotland. There is little point in trying in Westminster to deal with the problems that arise in Scotland because it will not be seen to be something that can properly be dealt with in Westminster. A Scottish Parliament would be better placed to tackle the issue.
I cannot speak for anyone else, but it is true that I did so. Each country has different demographics and Scotland has different demographics from other parts of the UK. Let us accept that fact and, in doing so, go on to try to deal with it in the way that seems best for that country. We are not going to get that opportunity, which is sad.
I should like to deal with the relative difference between what is being proposed for Scotland and what appears to have been proposed for Wales. The commentators who have examined the matter may have got it wrong, but a different wording is used and I should like to hear the Minister's response on the issue.
On the face of it, it looks as if the Scottish Parliament will have weaker powers than the Welsh assembly. A duty has been imposed on the Welsh assembly to ensure that its functions—
Will the hon. Gentleman let me finish this point because it concerns the purpose of the amendment?
The Government of Wales Bill says that functions should be exercised with due regard to the
principle that there should be equality of opportunity for all people.
Most commentators regard the equal opportunities requirements that are defined in the Scotland Bill as weaker than the
equality of opportunity for all people
requirement in the Government of Wales Bill.
I should like to hear the Minister's response to that. It may be difficult for him because he, like me, may not be familiar with the exact wording of the Government of Wales Bill, but our amendment would include in the Scotland Bill the same wording as appears in the Government of Wales Bill. It is perceived that that would give the Scottish Parliament a much wider remit. Present equal opportunity requirements cover only race, gender and, to some extent, disability, whereas
equality of opportunity for all people
would cover a much wider range—for example, sexual orientation and gender politics, so I am keen for the Minister to indicate some of the thinking behind the relative powers granted to Scotland and Wales.
Amendments Nos. 349 and 350 simply amend by addition the existing exceptions. I have largely dealt with amendment No. 349, but I press the Minister on amendment No. 350, which would include gender identity within the equal opportunity definitions.
I am obliged to the hon. Lady for giving way; I realise that time is short. Early in her speech, she referred to the European convention on human rights—a reference that has been troubling me ever since. Has she taken into account the effect of the incorporation of the convention into UK law and the requirement that that will make of the Scottish Parliament to legislate in a manner that is consistent with the convention?
The hon. Gentleman cannot have been listening to what I said. I said that incorporating the convention would allow us to take steps forward. We could improve on that. We could do better than is suggested by that. We will not be able to do worse, so no one need be concerned. Concern seems to have been expressed in several debates that, if Scotland gains the ability to legislate on certain matters, it will end up being far more restrictive and more discriminatory or anti-freedom. In this case, the European convention would absolutely ensure the benchmark, which I think could be improved on. Nothing could stop a Scottish Parliament going further and doing better than that. It will not be able to do worse. That was the point that I made earlier.
The amendments would include in the Bill explicit references to sexual orientation and gender identity. Many people may think that they are subsumed, but explicit references send out a fairly vital signal that Parliament is accepting the reality of discrimination in those areas. However, the Government have not accepted amendment No. 350, although, as I have said, they have come part of the way forward in relation to amendments Nos. 348 and 349.
I am aware of the decision of the European Court of Justice in 1996 in the case of P. v. S. and Cornwall county council. I hope that members of the faculty who may know much more about that case than me, do not immediately leap to their feet to talk and ask about it, but, as I understand it, that case ruled that discrimination against a transsexual person on account of his or her transgender status is equivalent to sex discrimination that is covered by the equal treatment directive. I know that United Kingdom law on sex discrimination would still need to be updated to reflect that decision of the European Court of Justice.
I should like to hear the Minister's comments because I accept that it is possible that the Government will not accept my amendment No. 350 until they have addressed the issue of the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, which now appears to be lacking somewhat given that European decision. I look forward to a positive comment from the Minister to the effect that that is what the Government intend to do.
As the equal treatment directive deals with regulation of the labour market in Europe, I wonder whether the hon. Lady agrees that that alone would not answer the case because there are other forms of discrimination, not just in jobs.
The hon. Lady is right. That is discrimination in a particular area, but it points in the direction in which we should be going. I hope that the Minister will comment on that. It may be that the Government intend to look at the Sex Discrimination Act anyway.
The group contains a number of other amendments and new clauses. The SNP is broadly in favour of the amendments in the name of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mrs. Fyfe) and her colleagues. I urge the Government to consider carefully the concerns that will no doubt be expressed by that hon. Lady.
It has always been my belief that a Scottish Parliament presents us with an opportunity to take radical steps forward in Scottish society and to take us into the 21st century with laws that ensure non-discrimination on the basis of sex, age, religion, race or sexual orientation. Unfortunately, we are not presented with that opportunity, and I should like to hear the Government respond positively to all these amendments. In any case, I have every confidence that, within the next 15 years, we will get the Parliament necessary to make the change.
I congratulate the Government and welcome the fact that they have tabled amendment No. 559, which would include sexual orientation in the interpretation of equal opportunities set down on page 76 of the Bill. It is an important move to recognise that particular form of discrimination, which was alluded to by the hon. Member for Perth (Ms Cunningham). The Government are making progress on that front in Northern Ireland and UK-wide. Clearly, we are going to see change that was resisted by the previous Government during their term in office.
New clauses 7 and 8 were tabled because I believe that it would be good to have something like them in the Bill. New clause 7 would ensure that the Scottish Parliament made arrangements to conduct all its business with due regard to equal opportunities "for all people". The Bill requires the Scottish Parliament only to encourage the observance of equal opportunity requirements listed on page 76 and imposes a duty on public bodies. As the Bill stands, it could do that, while being remiss in its own conduct.
New clause 8 refers to the Scottish Parliament's functions and calls for an annual report showing what has been done and an assessment of the effectiveness of any action. It will not have escaped the notice of my hon. Friends on the Front Bench that the words in new clause 8 are the same as those in clause 113 of the Welsh Bill.
I want to make it clear that I am not calling for Scotland to have totally separate law-making powers on equal opportunities. That should be a reserved matter. However, I want the Parliament to have full control over what it does within its devolved powers, so that if it is so minded, it can make advances in the practice of equal opportunities. Parliaments can list all sorts of ways in which prejudice should not be allowed and where it should be confronted and made illegal, but the inculcation of good practice is essential, as is providing a good example.
Equal opportunity is a fundamental principle that the Scottish Parliament will want to observe. I wonder whether there can really be any objection to making that explicit in the Scotland Bill.
I do not want to speak for long because I know that other hon. Members want to participate, but I have heard one objection. The suggestion is that there is no need to put anything in the Bill because the fact that it is a Parliament means that it will be able to decide what it wants to do. We have sat here for many an hour over past weeks telling the Scottish Parliament what it will and will not do. We have even found time to discuss whether it will deal with hypnotism. I hope that my hon. Friends can look at this before the Bill goes to Her Majesty for approval.
The Scotland Bill is an excellent Bill—a first-class piece of work in many ways. However, I should like to correct this minor flaw.
We have heard from the hon. Member for Perth (Ms Cunningham) that she does not believe that the Bill as drafted goes far enough with regard to anti- discrimination invocations on the Scottish Parliament. She believes that the Scottish Parliament would be able to improve on that. Amendment No. 347 would delete the reservation altogether and leave the matter entirely up to the Scottish Parliament.
The hon. Member for Perth is right to dismiss the intervention of the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Mr. Browne) on the European convention on human rights. That convention deals not only with anti-discrimination but with a whole range of issues, some of which are among the reservations in the Bill and some of which are not. For example, the European convention deals extensively with the rights of prisoners and that is not reserved. The Government have not been advancing that case in talking about the issues that are to be reserved.
The point that the hon. Gentleman may wish to dismiss, given the advice that he has been giving other hon. Members, is that, in terms of the incorporation of the European convention on human rights, there will be a requirement on the Scottish Parliament to legislate in a manner consistent with that convention. Does the hon. Gentleman agree or disagree with that?
I believe that the body is called the Commission of Human Rights: the convention is the document. Just because something is an international obligation, it does not necessarily have to be reserved.
I have dealt with the hon. Gentleman's point. It is a minor point and I do not want to dwell on it for too long. I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman again because we do not have a great deal of time for this debate.
The hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mrs. Fyfe) was once again, ironically, in anti-devolution mode. She was justifying the reservations in the Bill when there are no practical reasons why this matter should not be devolved.
We have here yet another example of a contentious issue—it is particularly contentious among Labour Members—over which the Government, for political convenience, wish to keep control at Westminster. The devolution of the issue to the Scottish Parliament would inevitably lead to embarrassing differences between the Scottish and Westminster Parliaments, even if the Labour party was in a majority in both places.
It is the Conservative party's policy to respect all people regardless of their race, colour, creed, sex, religion and so on and to respect all people primarily as individuals.
If the hon. Gentleman really believes that it is Conservative party policy to be completely non-discriminatory against people whatever their ethnic origin, race or sex, why did Margaret Thatcher, when she was Prime Minister, make that speech about our native culture being swamped by immigrants to this country?
The hon. Gentleman makes an entirely irrelevant point. I will not be sidetracked into a debate on a speech made almost 20 years ago by a former Conservative party leader, who did a great deal for this country.
We respect people primarily as individuals. All people should be accorded their liberties and rights, regardless of their circumstances. The guiding principle of an atmosphere of anti-discrimination is tolerance. Conservatives are in the vanguard in changing attitudes towards, for example, those with a different sexual orientation. Although some people argue that society would not develop tolerance towards minority groups without anti-discrimination legislation, many people—not only Conservatives—remain inherently suspicious of such an approach. It could be argued equally well that the acceptability of anti-discrimination legislation simply reflects the fact that attitudes in society are changing already.
That section of that Act was to prevent local authorities galloping off with ratepayers' money, spending it on priorities that were not the direct priorities of local authorities. If one asked an average taxpayer whether he or she wanted money spent on those activities, they would express a very clear view.
I will not give way to the hon. Lady again. It is so easy to antagonise her that I rather regret having given way to her initially.
The imposition of draconian anti-discrimination laws has to be handled with great care, because it is all too easy to substitute one type of intolerance of minorities for another—such as intolerance of those who do not support imposition of specific anti-discrimination laws. The hon. Member for Maryhill has just demonstrated that.
Article 19 of the European Community treaty that essentially deals with the principle of equal pay for men and women has given rise to the equal treatment directive—which has allowed the European Court of Justice to develop the highly dubious doctrine of "indirect discrimination" whereby it is judged illegal to treat part-time workers differently from full-time workers simply because a majority of part-timers tend to be women and a majority of full-timers tend to be men.
The laws of a tolerant society should, as far as possible, seek to protect freedoms rather than to impose obligations that might seem arbitrary and unjust in their application. For that reason, I support equality of the age of consent at 16, for example, for all people.
The hon. Member for Ayr (Ms Osborne) should listen more carefully to what I am saying.
We remain inherently suspicious of laws that corral individuals and groups of individuals into legally defined categories, to be treated differently, and therefore to be regarded differently. Ultimately, so-called anti-discrimination legislation may do the opposite, so that people are treated as part of a category, rather than being accorded the respect that they deserve as individuals.
Surely everyone should agree—this may answer the question asked by the hon. Member for Ayr—that the perfect society would be one in which such legislation is superfluous, and in which all people are treated equally according to their individual qualities, without the need for legal sanction.
On a point of order, Mr. Martin. I have listened very carefully to the speech being made by the Opposition spokesman, and wonder whether it is within the context of this group of amendments. It seems that the hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) is sharing his anti-European views rather than speaking to the amendments.
I am most grateful, Mr. Martin. It seems that my comments are inciting exactly the type of intolerance that a tolerant society should not exhibit.
Until we establish a perfect society, the issues that we are debating are bound to be controversial—as we have seen in this debate. There will always be those—among whom I include some hon. Members—who are more concerned about equality and parity of outcome than about the simple fairness with which individual cases are treated.
I remind the hon. Member for Perth that she favoured the words
equality of opportunity for all people",
which does not necessarily mean that there will be, for example, equal numbers of sexes in the Scottish Parliament—[HON. MEMBERS: "How many are there?"'] There are two sexes.
The question that we must confront is whether such issues should be the responsibility of Westminster or of Holyrood. We have tabled none of the amendments in this group, and therefore take the privilege of commenting as dispassionate observers.
I have given way enough.
The logic of the Scottish National party's amendment No. 347 accords with the cry of pro-devolution campaigners that this Parliament should trust the Scottish people. It is extraordinary that that reservation in the Bill shows, once again, that the Government do not trust the Scottish people with a contentious matter. The Government's amendments in this group amplify that lack of trust.
The SNP amendments demonstrate that both it and the Government want the same obligations to be imposed on the Scottish Parliament. However, with additional logic, the SNP wants those obligations to be imposed by the Scottish Parliament itself and not by Westminster.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I thought that he was perfectly right to mention the European Court of Justice, as matters that we are debating could be taken there for a decision. Does he agree that that court—that supreme court of European member states—has a pretty poor record in defending the interests of women workers?
Again, I shall not be tempted into a debate entirely on the European Court.
In principle, if those obligations are to exist, they should be self-imposed rather than imposed from above.