Representation of the People (Scotland)

Bill Presented — Energy in Buildings Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:31 pm on 25th March 2014.

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Votes in this debate

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

Photo of John Stevenson John Stevenson Conservative, Carlisle 12:34 pm, 25th March 2014

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Representation of the People Act 1983 to disenfranchise all residents of Scotland eligible to vote in any United Kingdom General Election held after 18 September 2014 in the event of a positive vote in the Scottish Independence referendum;
and for connected purposes.

This Bill seeks to address one of the consequences that would arise from a yes vote in the Scottish referendum. On 18 September, the people of Scotland will decide whether they will remain part of the United Kingdom or become an independent country. Whichever route they choose, the result will have major implications, not just for Scotland, but for the rest of the United Kingdom. I very much hope, and I believe the overwhelming majority of this House would wish, that the Scottish people will vote to remain part of the United Kingdom. Indeed, I would very much like a decisive and resounding no vote to cement the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom, and to demonstrate clearly that Scotland, although governed differently and with a large amount of autonomy, is still a proud part of the United Kingdom—one that wants to remain part of the United Kingdom. I acknowledge that should Scotland vote no in the referendum there would still need to be a review of the devolved powers. In my view, both the Scottish Government and the English councils should have far greater power and responsibility on issues such as taxation. But the purpose of this Bill is not to deal with the outcome of a no vote; it is to deal with the consequences of a yes vote.

If Scotland were to vote yes, a substantial number of issues would need to be addressed, negotiated and agreed to. Such issues would preoccupy civil servants and Ministers for months, but I do not wish to touch on any of them today. I do, however, wish to address one issue of huge constitutional significance: the returning of Scottish MPs to Westminster in the 2015 general election in the event of a yes vote. If, on 18 September, there is a majority vote for independence, Scotland would not suddenly become an independent country: negotiations would have to take place; treaties would have to be signed; Acts of Parliament would have to be passed; political and practical arrangements would have to be put in to place; and then, probably at some time in 2016, a formal separation would take effect. But what would happen in the 2015 general election?

For a number of reasons that I wish to discuss today, I believe it would be unacceptable to this House and to the remaining parts of the United Kingdom for Scottish MPs to be returned to this Parliament in 2015 after a yes vote. That is why I want to tackle this issue head-on by introducing a Bill to remove all Scottish constituencies from the 2015 Westminster election in the event of a yes vote on independence. Some may ask: why is there a need to do this? Why is this so important? The first reason is a simple point of principle. At the moment, the consensus seems to be that Scotland would return MPs to Westminster in the 2015 election until such time as the country becomes independent, but that is wholly unacceptable. Why should the peoples of Northern

Ireland, Wales, and England have laws passed upon them in this House by MPs who will, for all intents and purposes, be about to be part of a foreign country with divergent interests and priorities?

Some may argue that if we remove the Scottish constituencies in the 2015 election Scotland would not be properly represented, but I do not believe that is the case. Scotland would have its own existing Scottish Government and Parliament to represent it. It would certainly be a period of transition, but the Scottish Parliament would, I am sure, be capable of managing it, while fully representing the people of Scotland, before taking full national responsibility.

That period of transition brings me to the second reason for the removal of the Scottish constituencies. How can proper and fair negations be had between Westminster and the Scottish Government if there are still Scottish MPs having influence in Westminster? In the event of Scotland voting for independence, it is incumbent on Members of this House to represent the interests of the rest of the United Kingdom during any such negotiations. Unless the Scottish constituencies are removed, we will be left with the perverse situation whereby Scottish MPs, arguably representing the rest of the United Kingdom, are negotiating with the Scottish Government and Parliament representing Scotland. Nobody can seriously believe that the interests of the rest of the United Kingdom would be served under those arrangements.

The final reason this Bill is necessary is the political implication of the arrangements for the 2015 election. Let us imagine that the Scottish MPs, soon to leave the Westminster Parliament, held the balance of power in this Parliament—that is hardly inconceivable. It would mean that, potentially, the Prime Minister would be chosen by representatives from a part of the UK that is shortly to become an independent country, who—let us be realistic—will have little concern about the future of the rest of the United Kingdom.

In addition, of course, in 2015 the Scottish people would be voting knowing full well that they would soon be an independent country. That will hugely affect the way they vote; knowing that Scotland was about to enter into a serious period of negotiations, the Scottish people are likely to vote with that in mind—who could blame them? They will naturally and understandably vote for their own interests, knowing that it would be their chance to get representation on the other side of the negotiating table. That would be unacceptable for the people whom I represent, and this Bill seeks to avoid an unnecessary constitutional problem in the event of a yes vote. Without it, the interests of the rest of the United Kingdom would simply not be served. Worse still, they could be actively undermined.

The Scottish Government are capable of representing the Scottish people during the transition period to independence should a yes vote occur, and this House, whatever Government it supports, should only represent the rest of the United Kingdom, and should only be made up of representatives from the rest of the United Kingdom.

I speak as a proud Scot, sincerely hoping that on 18 September the people of Scotland will vote no. A yes vote would not be in the interests of Scotland, the rest of the United Kingdom, or my constituency of Carlisle. I am in the unusual position of proposing a Bill that I do not want to see take effect. I will campaign vigorously for Scotland to remain part of the Union. However, we must prepare for both eventualities after the referendum in September. That is what this Bill does. I therefore commend it to the House.

Photo of Thomas Docherty Thomas Docherty Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 12:40 pm, 25th March 2014

I rise to oppose the Bill that has been brought forward today. It is slightly ironic that, on the one side of the argument, we have John Stevenson who was raised in Scotland and who represents a Cumbrian constituency, and on the other side, we have a Member who is proud to have been raised in Cumbria and now represents a Scottish constituency.

I am proud to be British, proud to be a Scot and proud to be a Cumbrian. I do not see any need to have the false divide that the handful of nationalists who have turned up today seek to put forward. My right hon. Friend Mr Darling leads the campaign to keep the UK together, and I am delighted to say that, under his leadership, we continue to enjoy the confidence of the majority of Scots. We look forward, in the months ahead, to the First Minister and my right hon. Friend debating the matter and setting out the argument.

The hon. Member for Carlisle raised an interesting issue, which is worthy of further debate. I look forward to having longer and fuller discussions in the months ahead. None the less, there are flaws in his argument. Some 430,000 residents of Scotland were born elsewhere in the United Kingdom. They face a difficult choice if the unthinkable happens and Scotland chooses to break away from the rest of the United Kingdom. The question I put back to the hon. Gentleman, who made his case well, is this: who represents those 430,000 non-Scots-born residents of the United Kingdom? What also happens about the important issues that will continue to have to be debated in the period between the 7 May general election and the date in March 2016 when Scotland breaks away from the rest of the United Kingdom? I imagine that the Scots will still be expected to pay taxes to the Treasury; I am conscious of the debate that follows this one. What happens to those Scots? Would they, under the proposal put forward by the hon. Gentleman, continue to pay taxes to the Treasury?

What happens to the spending decisions that would affect Scotland in those 10 months between the general election and the break up of Britain? Would the Departments of the UK Government still make spending decisions on behalf of the Scots? What happens on issues such as defence and international relations? What happens in the dreadful event of this country being required to take military action? Would the brave men and women who served so proudly in the British armed forces be represented and have their voices heard?

Unfortunately, the hon. Gentleman did not mention what would happen in the other place. There are Members of the House of Lords who arguably would face a constitutional issue as well—[Interruption.] I am sorry that the nationalists continue to chunter from a sedentary position rather than listening to the debate that is taking place.

Many of the hon. Gentleman’s constituents work over the border, for example at the decommissioning site in Chapelcross. As the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, who is in his place, knows, many residents of England work at Chapelcross at a station under the control of the Department of Energy and Climate Change. Who would be responsible for the decommissioning of Chapelcross during those 10 months? The hon. Gentleman did not answer those questions, unfortunately.

In the Edinburgh agreement, the Prime Minister and the First Minister set the date of 18 September. For a Conservative Member to have realised only now that a constitutional issue needs to be dealt with is slightly surprising, and he might perhaps be better off taking up the issue with the Prime Minister.

This is not the first time that the United Kingdom has had to consider such constitutional issues. In the last century, when the southern part of Ireland chose to break away, the same issues had to be examined. Following the ceasefire in July 1921, a number of non-Sinn Fein Members continued to sit in Parliament. Constitutionally, they were perfectly entitled to do so and they played an important role. I am grateful to the House of Commons Library for providing some information about that. Important issues had to be resolved. What will happen to the service personnel in Scotland who do not wish to be part of the Scottish defence force? The same issues were considered by the five Members from the south of Ireland—from Dublin and elsewhere, Independent Unionists and others—who took part in the debate. What will happen to our pensions? What will happen to our property, assets and liabilities?

It is not just a question of ensuring that the interests of those 430,000 residents in Scotland are looked after. Important constitutional issues need to be debated. Further to the point of order that was made earlier, if the hon. Gentleman is, as I believe, sincere that he does not seek the break-up of the United Kingdom, I offer him an open invitation to come over the border to Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale, to Dumfries and Galloway and to the rest of Scotland. The vast majority of Members of this House and the other place do not wish to see Scotland break away from the rest of the United Kingdom.

I appreciate the spirit in which the hon. Gentleman has introduced his Bill, and it is not in Scotland’s interests that we break up the United Kingdom, but there are important constitutional issues to deal with and this is not the mechanism by which to do that. The Opposition will not support him today and we urge colleagues on both sides of the House to reject the proposition, so that we can go forward—better together—to 18 September and keep Britain together.

Question put (Standing Order No.23).

The House divided:

Ayes 16, Noes 226.

Division number 235 Bill Presented — Energy in Buildings Bill — Representation of the People (Scotland)

Aye: 16 MPs

No: 226 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Question accordingly negatived.