Home Affairs and Constitution

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:12 pm on 27th June 2001.

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Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Conservative, Cities of London and Westminster 7:12 pm, 27th June 2001


All of us who come to this House have different backgrounds and--with your indulgence, Mr. Deputy Speaker--I should like to say a little about mine and about why I wanted to enter public life. My mother was born in the early months of the last world war in 1939 in a little village outside a large town called Breslau--now called Wroclaw--which subsequently became part of Poland. My grandfather, whom I barely knew--I was about three when he passed away--was born exactly 100 years ago. He grew up in the 1920s and 1930s in Germany, at a time when politics was very much looked down upon by the ruling class. He was from a well-to-do Silesian family and became a doctor.

My grandfather regretted to his dying day that he had rather looked down on politics, as had many others of his generation, as that was the vacuum that, along with the discredited Weimar republic and the great economic crisis in Germany in the 1920s, let in, to a large extent, national socialism. People say to me that politics does not matter very much, but, like many here, I am concerned that there is a sense of apathy. Many hon. Members would confirm from their experience of recent weeks and months that there is antipathy from many members of the electorate. We must do our best to re-engage them.

My mother was twice a refugee by the age of 15, fleeing first from Breslau to Leipzig and then, finally, from east to west Berlin before the days of the Berlin wall. It was instilled in me from a young age that politics is far too important to be left to someone else. I am a great believer in the words of Edmund Burke, a great Tory philosopher, who said that for evil to prevail requires no more than for good men to do nothing.

I wish to refer to the constitutional reforms of recent years. I believe that my party was too timid in the post-1997 era, particularly in relation to what was going on at the other place. The House of Lords reforms were botched and partisan, and we shall see what is to come in the second stage of those reforms. However, my belief is that we have little choice and we cannot turn the clock back. We should perhaps have defended the status quo more robustly than we did. However, and this will be a rare use of these words, I now agree with the Liberal Democrat policy: that we need to move to a fully elected second senate. As will be pointed out, there will be concerns as to how a fully elected House of Lords will intermesh with an elected House of Commons, and we shall have to face those concerns because of the ill-thought-out constitutional reforms.

My great political hero is Andrew Bonar Law, who entered this place at the first general election of the last century. It is a salutary lesson that he entered this House with two things in mind: one was the preservation of the empire--he was Canadian; and the other was that Ireland should remain united. By the time he became Prime Minister in 1922, the pass had been lost on both of those main issues, in a sense. That may be a salutary lesson for many Conservative Members who have entered the House as Eurosceptics with strong feelings about the importance of our nation. I am concerned that, in the years ahead, events may move in a direction that we do not, at least at this juncture, consider favourable.

I also wish to look at, dare I say it, Scottish devolution. I am sorry that Mr. Salmond is not here because I suspect that what I am about to say will warm the cockles of his heart. Conservative Members have perhaps made too much of the idea of English votes for English laws, when the issue should be about Scottish taxes for Scottish expenditure. By dint of a mere 74-vote majority, my hon. Friend Mr. Duncan is the Conservatives' sole Scottish Member of Parliament. We must face facts: at each of the last two general elections, barely one in six Scottish electors have voted for unionist parties, so we are being taken down the path chosen by the Government.

I am very worried because the Government have upset the equilibrium of the United Kingdom, and it will be difficult to restore. I have a prediction to make, and I hope that I shall be proved wrong. The House must bear it in mind that I am not necessarily the best of forecasters. At the weekend, I told most of my constituency association, or those who wanted to hear, that I did not think that my right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Clarke would enter the fray for the Tory leadership.

I predict that there will be two distinct power blocs in the Scottish Parliament: on the one hand, the Liberal Democrats and the Labour party; and on the other, the Scottish National party, possibly in bed with the Conservatives, who will no longer be a unionist party in Scotland. That will present a great challenge in the years ahead. My great concern is that the Government have not really thought through their modernisation agenda and are blind to many of the difficulties that will arise from it. I beseech them to tread carefully in constitutional matters.

I thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to address these crucial matters, on which I know I shall have much more to say in the years ahead.