The amendment has not been selected.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
May I begin by offering my warmest congratulations to all new MPs from Scotland on winning their seats? This Government respect the results from Scotland in the general election, just as we respect the result of the referendum last year. As the Prime Minister said, this is a one-nation Government. That is why one of our chief priorities is to bring the four nations of our United Kingdom together. The Bill is an important part of a package of measures that we believe does just that. If the House agrees to give the Bill a Second Reading it will be subject to four days of line-by-line scrutiny on the Floor of the House. I am happy to have my feet held to the fire, and for the Bill to receive full scrutiny, because I am confident that it delivers the Smith commission recommendations in full, but that does not mean that we will not listen carefully to contributions as it is debated.
Let me progress a little.
Let us not allow bluff and bluster to obscure the fact that there is already substantial agreement on the most significant aspects of the Bill. The UK and Scottish Governments agree on the devolution of income tax, representing £11 billion in revenue, and on the principle, if not yet the detail, of devolving £2.5 billion in welfare.
Has the Secretary of State seen today’s edition of the Daily Record, in which there is an excellent eight-page supplement? The paper, after all, offered the vow, and more than any other newspaper, was influential in securing a no vote in the referendum. In its editorial today, the Daily Record describes the Bill as “unacceptable” for not implementing the promises of the Smith commission. Why does the Secretary of State believe that the Daily Record describes his Bill as unacceptable and accuses him of reneging on the Smith commission’s recommendations?
I am afraid that that is the right hon. Gentleman’s interpretation. There is an excellent piece, which I commend to him, by Professor Adam Tomkins, in that very edition, in which he sets out the argument that the Bill clearly meets the Smith commission recommendations.
Let me continue. We are going to debate the Bill in full. We are going to scrutinise, over four days, every line and every clause. I am satisfied that the editor and readers of the Daily Record will be confident that the Bill meets the Smith commission recommendations in full when we complete that process.
No, we have dealt with that issue.
Order. We cannot have argument by gesticulation. Alex Salmond is a seasoned observer—he does not have the excuse that he is a newcomer to the House—and he has a sort of cheeky chappie countenance, but I am afraid that it will not wash at this stage. He will have to try his luck later.
I fear there is a lot of cheek still to come.
Over 18 years, the devolution of power and decision making from this Parliament to the Assemblies of Wales and Northern Ireland and to the Parliament in Scotland has changed the constitutional make-up of the United Kingdom fundamentally. I was proud to be elected as a Member of the new Scottish Parliament at its inception in 1999—indeed, I was the first MSP to ask a question in that Parliament on the opening day, so I draw from my experience of the Scottish devolution settlement as I take this Bill forward.
Even though some had doubts at the time, few would now deny that devolution has been a success story for Scotland. It has ensured that decisions affecting our homes and our families, from schools to hospitals to our police service, have been taken closer to the people they affect. As today’s Bill makes clear, the Scottish Parliament is a permanent part of the UK’s constitutional arrangements. The Bill recognises that, and rightly so.
I anticipate that the Bill will be a very stable settlement for Scotland as it was signed up to by all five of the political parties represented in the Scottish Parliament, including the Scottish National party.
That does not mean that the devolution settlement is or ever was perfect. From the start the settlement contained an imbalance, with a Scottish Parliament responsible for spending money which another Parliament—this one—was chiefly accountable for raising. It is one of the most important features of the Bill that it seeks to redress that balance. I will go into that in more detail later in my remarks.
With reference to the Minister’s comments on responsibility, can he confirm to the House that this Bill is so inadequate that it does not even allow the Scottish Parliament to raise all the money that it spends?
In my opening comments, I mentioned that there had been a referendum in Scotland last year in which the people of Scotland voted to remain within the United Kingdom as part of this United Kingdom Parliament, but with a strong Scottish Parliament. The Scottish National party was part of the Smith commission which signed up to the tax powers. I find it interesting that the Scottish Government made a 61-page submission to the Committee in the Scottish Parliament about this Bill. How many lines were dedicated to the £11 billion of tax measures? Two lines, because the Scottish Government agree with those measures.
Can my right hon. Friend confirm that the measures that he is putting forward will make the Scottish Parliament one of the most powerful devolved Parliaments in the world?
Indeed. I hope these measures will allow the debate to move from process to action and policy, and that we can finally hear from the Scottish Government how they intend to deploy the significant powers that are provided in the Bill and in the Scotland Act 2012.
I think the hon. Gentleman, like me, looks forward to amendments to the Bill being tabled, setting out the SNP position on full fiscal autonomy. I have heard that issue raised on numerous occasions but I am still not absolutely clear what it means in the SNP’s terms. The Institute for Fiscal Studies identifies a black hole of between £7 billion and £10 billion in Scotland’s finances.
With respect—[Interruption.] Actually, I am going to make a point that might be quite positive. With respect to my right hon. Friend’s arguments, what worries me is that this might not be the end of the story, because it does not get to the kernel of the problem, which is that the Scottish Parliament will raise only about 50% of what it spends and, therefore, will be fundamentally a spending Parliament, not a tax-raising Parliament. There is a good Conservative case to be made for full fiscal autonomy, because it would breed responsibility.
I do not believe that there is a Conservative case, or indeed any case, to be made for an outcome that would leave Scotland with a gap of between £7 billion and £10 billion in its finances, which would affect every school, every hospital and every person in Scotland.
The independence referendum on
The SNP accepted the result of the Scottish people but, during the referendum campaign, when Gordon Brown spoke on behalf of the Conservative, Labour and Liberal parties, we were promised that we would get as close to federalism as possible; that we would have home rule in the spirit of Keir Hardie. We hear about respect. The SNP won the election in Scotland conclusively. We stood on a mandate of powers for a purpose. Why does the Secretary of State not deliver what the people of Scotland voted for: a powerhouse Parliament with full economic powers?
I have heard the hon. Gentleman make his points before. The facts of the matter are that the SNP took part in the Smith commission after the referendum, signed up to a package of measures set out in the commission’s report and then, during the election, argued that its MPs would come to this Parliament to ensure that it was delivered.
Can the Secretary of State outline whether any of the fiscal arrangements that will be changed as a result of the Bill will affect Northern Ireland in any way?
It will clearly be the case that the Scottish Parliament will have significantly greater powers over income tax and welfare than it has now, but the Scottish Parliament is currently able to introduce policies that are significantly different from policies that are adopted in Northern Ireland. That is the nature of devolution and the devolution settlement.
I will put it the way a Ballymena man would: how much will it affect Northern Ireland?
It will depend on the policies that are pursued in the Scottish Parliament. For example, were my colleague Ruth Davidson to become First Minister of Scotland, we would see taxes reduced in Scotland, which I think would have a positive effect in Northern Ireland, because it would be an incentive to see business done in a compatible manner. But devolution is about taking decisions in the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and the Northern Ireland Assembly, and increasingly in different parts of England.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that, at a time when we are devolving more powers to Scotland and other parts of the United Kingdom, we also need a fair and equitable settlement for the people of England, starting with English votes for English laws?
As my hon. Friend is aware, that proposal was in the Conservative party manifesto and it will be brought to this Parliament. [Interruption.]
I think we have concluded on the issue of what devolution means throughout the United Kingdom.
The Conservative-led coalition Government passed the Scotland Act 2012—the biggest single transfer of fiscal responsibility to Edinburgh in 300 years. They also oversaw significant further devolution to Wales and Northern Ireland, as well as groundbreaking work on city deals and a step change across England with the work towards the creation of the northern powerhouse. The Bill before the House today represents a further step forward in the governance of Scotland and our United Kingdom.
The settled will of the Scottish people is now that Scotland should remain part of the United Kingdom. As such, this Bill demonstrates the Government’s determination that the Scottish Parliament should be made more powerful, more accountable yet autonomous, and better equipped to serve the people of Scotland. It is the fulfilment of our manifesto commitment that the all-party Smith commission agreement should be implemented in full. The fact that the Bill was introduced on the first day after the Queen’s Speech and that its Second Reading is taking place at the first opportunity since the general election speaks volumes for the Government’s determination to honour that manifesto commitment and get on with the job.
I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his new position and on beating off the opposition that he no doubt had in getting it. Does he not have cause to reflect that, whereas the previous Government in which he served as a Minister had the support of about a quarter of the elected Members of this House from Scotland, he is now this Government’s sole representative in Scotland? Does not that place on him a moral obligation to discuss with the elected representatives of the people of Scotland how to take forward this Bill? Is he not concerned that the all-party group in the Scottish Parliament that considered his draft proposals says that they do not equate to the proposals made by the Smith commission?
I was intending to cover a number of the points that the hon. Gentleman raises. I have met the Scottish Parliament committee that was set up in relation to the Bill, and I am going to appear before it to give evidence directly on
What, then, is your observation on the fact that an all-party group of the Scottish Parliament, including members from your own party, has come to the conclusion that the proposals before us do not put into effect the Smith commission proposals? What is your reflection on that?
Order. All these things take some acclimatisation, but debate must always go through the Chair. The concept of “you” does not arise, because “you” means me—and I have no views on these matters.
The hon. Gentleman will see that there have been significant changes to the draft Bill—[Interruption.] There have been. If he goes through the Bill in detail, he will see that there are significant changes. [Interruption.] Well, I do not regard the power to give the Scottish Parliament the right to top up all welfare benefits in Scotland as some minuscule change; I regard it as a very, very significant clause in the Bill. It is one of a number of changes that have been made. We have made it very clear that throughout the Committee stage of the Bill we will look at proposals for changes to it. The Scottish Government published some proposed changes to the Bill yesterday—it was nice to see them—and no doubt we will have a greater chance to debate them in detail.
I do not think that I have ever seen such a shambling Front-Bench performance. Why does the Secretary of State believe he should have a veto over certain issues decided by the Scottish Parliament?
I had thought that being part of a larger number might change the hon. Gentleman’s habits, but he remains as ungracious as ever. The Bill contains no vetoes, as he will be well aware if he has read it in detail. What it contains is mechanisms to allow two Governments to work together on matters of shared interest and application. To me, the meaning of a veto is that when someone says they want to do something, someone else has the capacity to say, “No, you can’t.” Not a single provision of the Bill relates to such a proposal.
Does the Secretary of State fundamentally believe that the decisions of a democratically elected Government sitting in Edinburgh, who have 56 of the 59 Scottish Members in this House, should be challenged by him or any other Government Member with a veto?
I need to make a little progress.
Let me turn to the all-party Smith commission agreement, achieved under the chairmanship of Lord Smith of Kelvin. The morning after the decisive no vote in the referendum, the Prime Minister announced that all-party talks should take place to ensure further devolution to Scotland. The remit was defined by the referendum result: keeping the UK together and keeping Scotland a strong part of it. All four parties represented in this House, with the addition of the Scottish Green party, took part in the process, and all five parties signed up to the final agreement without caveat.
I do not quite get the hon. Lady’s multiple metaphors. I am sure that there are some SNP Members who are sweet, and there are certainly some who are sour.
The central aim of the Smith commission was to address a flaw that had existed in the devolution settlement from the outset by making the Scottish Parliament more accountable for raising the taxpayers’ money that it sends. The significance of that point should not be overlooked, and we have alluded to it already: before fully implementing the Scotland Act 2012, the Scottish Parliament controlled almost 60% of public expenditure in Scotland, yet it was responsible for raising only about 10% of the funding. I did not believe that that was sustainable, and neither did the people of Scotland. For Holyrood to be the powerhouse Parliament that it rightly aspires to be and that this Government want it to be, it must be accountable to the people of Scotland for raising more of the money that it spends. The Bill is about ensuring that that missing link is fixed.
A second key aim of the Smith commission was to ensure that more decisions about welfare policy can be taken in the Scottish Parliament, so that specifically Scottish circumstances can be taken into account. The timetable set for the talks was that an agreement should be reached by St Andrew’s day. It was a challenging deadline, but it was met with a few days to spare—another commitment delivered to the people of Scotland on time.
I pay tribute to the 10 members of the Smith commission who represented their parties with skill and tenacity and worked constructively and co-operatively throughout the duration of the commission. They should be proud of what they have achieved for the people of Scotland. Again, I pay particular tribute to Lord Smith of Kelvin, who chaired the talks. He brought to the task his characteristic blend of good humour, insight and hard work. Of course, the occasional bout of strong-arming was also needed, but he says such bouts were mercifully rare.
Key to the success and the credibility of the talks was the fact that Lord Smith made sure that the voice of civic Scotland was heard loud and clear as the negotiations progressed. More than 18,000 people made submissions to the commission on what powers should be devolved to Scotland, and more than 400 individual organisations the length and breadth of Scotland submitted their views on the way forward.
I am sure it will not have escaped the Secretary of State’s notice that the five parties that signed up to the Smith commission are the same ones that are involved in the Scottish Parliament’s Devolution (Further Powers) Committee, which has stated that the Government’s Bill does not live up to either the substance or the spirit of the Smith commission. Why will he not now go back to the drawing board and listen to what was said by the Smith commission, as well as by the 60 organisations that have called for welfare powers to be devolved, and actually deliver it?
I have made it clear, and the hon. Lady is aware, that significant changes have been made to the draft clauses, which were published ahead of the Scottish Parliament committee considering them. I have told the House that we look forward to seeing amendments and proposals. Yesterday the Scottish Government produced some draft clauses, which we most certainly will look at as part of our ongoing discussions with them. If the hon. Lady and others feel that the Smith commission is not met in full by the exact terms of the Bill, there will be plenty of opportunities for debate and discussion in this House. As I have said, there will be four days of line-by-line scrutiny of the Bill.
I have a quote from the current First Minister, so perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will wait until I have reminded him that last week she said that
“compromise isn’t…the same as concession.”
Compromise was made by all parties in respect of delivering the Smith agreement. This Bill is not about reopening those issues.
I know that the Secretary of State would never knowingly mislead the House, but earlier he said that the Daily Record was behind him in saying that the Bill implemented the proposals of the Smith commission. I have had an opportunity to consult today’s editorial, which says that
“there are serious concerns the proposed Scotland Bill does not fully implement what was proposed…This is an unacceptable situation that must be rectified quickly as the Bill makes its way through Westminster.”
Does the Secretary of State hold to his previous statement, or does he accept the concerns that he has not implemented what Smith proposed?
I do not think the right hon. Gentleman listened to my response, because I made it very clear that I felt that, after today’s debate and four days of detailed scrutiny of the Bill in Parliament, the Daily Record, its readers and, indeed, the people of Scotland will be satisfied that it meets the full recommendations of the Smith commission.
The coalition Government committed to bringing forward draft clauses to implement the Smith commission agreement by Burns night 2015: they did so on
Of course, work remains to be done during our deliberations on the Bill and we will listen to proposals. The Smith commission recommended, for example, that the Scottish Government should be able to create new benefits in areas of devolved responsibility. We are working closely with the Scottish Government to examine whether new powers, if any, are required to implement that recommendation.
I am proud that the Bill has already benefited from significant input from people and groups across Scotland. This Government will continue to listen to views from all parts of Scotland and from those in all parts of the Chamber as we take forward the Bill and refine its provisions to ensure that the spirit of Smith can be met in full.
The Secretary of State has partially answered my question by saying that he will listen to all angles and to everyone in the Chamber, but will he set up some commission or congress so that the other parts of the Union have the chance to have their say before this all goes ahead and we find we are on a roll into the future that we cannot stop?
This Government are committed to deliver the Smith commission recommendations, and that is what we will do. We are bringing forward a Bill to implement the Stormont House agreement. Proposals that anyone makes in relation to their own parts of the United Kingdom, or indeed their say on other parts of the United Kingdom, will always be capable of being debated in this House. If, however, the hon. Gentleman is asking whether I support the idea of a constitutional convention, the answer is that I do not.
The Secretary of State has now been on his feet for more than half an hour. Will he actually speak about the contents of the Bill today, or will he continue to waffle until he sits down and lets others speak?
As you are well aware, Mr Speaker, the hon. Gentleman would have been equally critical of me had I chosen not to take the numerous interventions. I have done so because I want this to be a debate and for me to be held accountable to Members of the House.
I am grateful to the Scottish Parliament’s Devolution (Further Powers) Committee for its work. I am due to meet its members shortly. In getting us to this point, my officials have worked extensively behind the scenes with their Scottish Government counterparts to listen to their views, and they will continue to engage actively with them throughout the process on this Bill.
I thank my right hon. Friend for taking my intervention. So much of what I am hearing is a lack of trust—[Interruption.]—and my point is that that has to change. There is nothing that we cannot achieve together if we have a little bit of trust. I am very new to politics, as many Members will know, but I would not stand behind a Government who I felt just wanted to play their part and play the game. I think all that Members are hearing is just noise. [Interruption.] My question is: can we not take the Secretary of State at his word, go through the Bill line by line and find a route through this together, rather than assume that there is no trust and no will to give the Scottish people what they want? Unless we are presented with that mindset, we will achieve nothing.
I very much welcome that contribution, and I hope that that is the spirit in which we can proceed. Many people who saw the Smith commission agreement signed at 8 o’clock on a Tuesday evening were disappointed when, at 8 o’clock the following morning the now Deputy First Minister suggested that there were parts of it that he did not like. I hoped that the agreement could and will be a comprehensive settlement for Scotland.
Why are the Secretary of State and his party denying the people of England the right to have a constitutional convention, given that over the past two decades the Scots have had two referendums and the Welsh, the Northern Irish, the people of London and the north-east have had referendums? Why is he denying the rest of the people of England such a right, and fobbing them off with an idea drawn up by the Chancellor on the back of a fag packet?
You have not selected the amendment, Mr Speaker, but, as Pete Wishart stated, it mentioned a veto, and I want to clarify the issue of so-called vetoes. The Smith agreement is clear that matters such as the mechanism for paying universal credit across the UK and the Jobcentre Plus network will remain reserved. That was an important argument during the referendum and was endorsed by the majority of Scots. In order to deliver, we need a system that allows the Scottish Government to take responsibility for benefits, including by being able to top them up, but allows the reserved universal credit payments mechanism to carry on working effectively. That is what the Bill does.
It is wrong to call that a veto—as I said earlier, a veto means that someone can prevent something from happening if they do not like it. The Bill does not give the UK Government that power. In fact, it explicitly says that consent for a change cannot be unreasonably withheld.
I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman’s analysis at all. The provision is not even about agreement to a decision. It is a timing arrangement as part of the systems that need to operate. It will work the other way, too; the UK Government will need to consult the Scottish Government when they want to make changes to devolved universal credit flexibilities that will have an impact on Scotland. Other clauses, such as those on transport and elections, also require the UK Government to consult Scottish Ministers before acting.
It is helpful that the Secretary of State has said on the record in this Chamber what the intentions are in relation to the clauses in question. What will happen in the event of a dispute about the outcome of such a consultation process? Where will disputes be decided?
There are existing dispute reconciliation mechanisms in the Joint Ministerial Committee. There have inevitably been a number of disputes between the
Government of the United Kingdom and the devolved Administrations, and most of them have been able to be resolved through that process.
To respond to Stewart Hosie, I will turn to the provisions of the Bill. It is a wide-ranging Bill that will bring about a transfer of responsibility to Holyrood that will touch just about every aspect of Scottish life, affect every pay packet in Scotland and have the potential to deliver real and tangible benefits to the people of Scotland.
I turn first to the provisions on taxation. Central to the Bill is the devolution of income tax. Although the definition of income tax will remain reserved, the Scottish Parliament will have full control over rates and bands. That builds on the tax devolution set out in the Scotland Act 2012, which provided for significant powers over income tax that will come into effect next April.
One notable change to the Bill, compared with the draft clauses published in January, is the confirmation that the Scottish Parliament will be able to set a zero rate of income tax on earnings if it so chooses. That effectively gives it the opportunity to reduce the individual’s tax burden significantly if it can afford to do so and makes appropriate spending cuts or tax rises elsewhere. Of course, the reverse is true—if the Scottish Government want to spend more, they will be able to do so by taxing more, and they will be accountable to the Scottish taxpayer for it.
Alongside the devolution of income tax sits the assignment of half of Scotland’s VAT revenues. Members will recall that it is against EU law to have differential VAT rates within a member state, so the devolution of VAT would not be legal.
No, I have already taken an intervention from the hon. Gentleman.
Instead of the devolution of VAT, the Smith commission recommended that half the VAT revenues raised in Scotland should be assigned to the Scottish Parliament, thereby further linking Holyrood’s funding to the performance of the Scottish economy. The more the Scottish economy grows, the greater the revenue from VAT that Holyrood will be able to keep. That is an incentive to achieve growth.
No; let me make a little progress.
The devolution of income tax on earnings and the assignment of VAT revenues, when taken together with the devolution of air passenger duty and the powers under the 2012 Act, mean that the Scottish Parliament will have important decisions to make. The Scottish Parliament is now responsible for raising about only 10% of what it spends, but under the Bill Holyrood will be responsible for raising more than 50% of what it spends. It will truly be one of the most powerful devolved legislatures in the world.
May I take the Secretary of State back to the comments made by my hon. Friend Mr Anderson and Ian Paisley on the impact of changes on the rest of the United Kingdom? Air passenger duty is a case in point. Regional airports in the north of England will undoubtedly feel the impact of any changes to air passenger duty in Scotland. Is that not yet another reason why, as we proceed with devolution arrangements, we need to have a proper constitutional convention so that all measures can be considered across the whole of the United Kingdom?
I have made my views on a constitutional convention known. Other hon. Members have raised the issue of air passenger duty. The Treasury has established a group to look at the impact any changes to air passenger duty in Scotland could have on airports in England.
On welfare policy, there will also be a highly significant transfer of responsibility. While the social security reservation remains in place, part 3 of the Bill means that the Scottish Government will be responsible for welfare, which last year accounted for around £2.5 billion of spending in Scotland. The Scottish Parliament will be able to make provision for a number of types of social security benefit, discretionary payments and employment support. The Bill also contains provision to transfer executive competence to Scottish Ministers to allow them to vary certain aspects of universal credit. It will give the Scottish Parliament more responsibility for benefits paid to carers, disabled people, those who are ill, those who require help with winter fuel costs, funeral payments and maternity payments. As a result of the Bill, when people most require help the Scottish Government will be able to tailor that help to particularly Scottish circumstances.
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. As ever, I have been working very closely with the Scottish Government. I am looking forward to speaking tomorrow with Alex Neil, the Cabinet Secretary responsible for welfare matters, and to taking forward the work of the joint ministerial welfare group. I have made it clear, in relation to that group, that we want to put in place transition arrangements to allow the powers to be transferred as quickly as possible. However, we need to know what we are transitioning to and so need clarity on the Scottish Government’s position in relation to the operation of those powers.
Order. I will deal with the right hon. Gentleman first.
I always enjoy the theatrical performances of the right hon. Gentleman, the last of which was marred only by the sudden emergence of a puckish grin on his face as he was making his point. The answer is that there would be nothing disorderly about that. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, there are very few novelties in this place. There is usually a precedent for everything.
I am not sure that a further point of order is required, but let us hear whether the knight has something new to say.
I think the hon. Gentleman knows the answer to that: they gave up on him some time ago.
I gather it has been denied. I must say, I would not have lasted long in the House had I been required to sign any such paper. I am innocent of such matters. It is the first I have heard of it and I doubt it will last.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
The Smith agreement does not stop at powers over tax and welfare. The Scottish Parliament will receive a transfer of legislative competence in a range of significant policy areas. I cannot list each power in detail now—as I have said, the House will have ample opportunity to scrutinise them in Committee—but I will provide some examples. The Bill will enable the devolution of the management of the Crown Estate’s economic assets in Scotland to the Scottish Parliament and of the management and operation of reserved tribunals to designated Scottish tribunals. The Scottish Parliament will also have additional responsibility over roads, speed limits, road signs and the policing of railways in Scotland, as well as powers over onshore oil and gas extraction—
I have already taken a small speech from the hon. Gentleman.
The Bill provides the Scottish Parliament with powers over gaming in new premises and for additional duties on the UK Government to consult with Scottish Ministers on functions carried out by a range of important public bodies. It will also enable public sector bodies to bid for rail franchises in Scotland; provide for the ability to state how schemes related to fuel poverty and energy efficiency are run; and increase the ability of the Scottish Parliament to require certain bodies to give evidence before it. In addition, part 1 will take forward in full the Smith agreement that the permanence of the
Scottish Parliament be recognised in UK legislation and that the so-called Sewel convention be put on a statutory footing.
Under the Bill, this Parliament will retain an incredibly broad power to legislate on devolved matters, even without the Scottish Parliament’s permission. Why is that, and will the Secretary of State provide examples of when he thinks such action would be appropriate?
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that since the coming into existence of the Scottish Parliament, the UK Parliament has legislated in devolved areas only with the agreement of the Scottish Parliament, under the Sewel convention, and that the Bill will put that convention on a statutory footing.
On income tax, what will happen if someone is resident in Scotland but works over the border for an English company? If the income tax rates are different, will that not add to the compliance costs for that business? Who will compensate that small business in England for the additional compliance costs of the income tax variation?
That point was debated in full during the passage of the Scotland Act 2012, which introduced the Scottish income tax rate. In simple terms, for the hon. Gentleman’s purposes, it will be done by way of a tax code generally containing the letter S, allowing businesses to operate the PAYE system as they would normally do and without additional expense. There is a designation of “Scottish taxpayer” that is dependent on residence—and, as a point of fact for new colleagues, all Scottish MPs are resident in Scotland for Scottish tax purposes.
Finally, the Scottish Parliament will find itself largely responsible for how it runs itself, how it is elected and the people who can vote to elect it. I am pleased to confirm that we have already agreed to a request from the Presiding Officer to take action to ensure that the 2020 UK general election date and the Holyrood election date do not clash.
It is clear that a significant range of powers will be devolved to the Scottish Parliament and that the onus is now on the Scottish Government to be clear with the electorate about how they will use them.
My constituents in England will no doubt be listening to what powers are being devolved, but they are also waiting to hear what is happening to the block grant and the Barnett formula, for example. They will be interested to hear how the money is flowing. Will the Secretary of State say something about that?
The hon. Gentleman’s timing is impeccable, because I was just coming on to the so-called fiscal framework that underpins the transfer of tax and welfare powers to Holyrood. Alongside the Barnett formula, the framework will deliver a fair and lasting financial settlement for Scotland and the rest of the UK. The framework will provide the Scottish Government with the means by which they can determine a mix of taxation and spending specific to Scotland, but which fits with the UK Government’s overall fiscal plan.
This means that Scotland will continue to benefit from the pooling of risks and resources across the whole of the UK, but the Scottish Government will soon be responsible for raising substantial amounts of its revenue through taxation. As a result, it will be more accountable to the Scottish Parliament and to the Scottish people. The Scottish Government will in future be responsible for more than 50% of their funding. Changes in the Scottish Government’s funding will therefore be increasingly determined by changes to Scottish taxation.
The detail of the Scottish fiscal framework will be agreed between the UK Government and the Scottish Government on the basis set out in the Smith agreement. Discussions on the framework have already begun with the aim of reaching an agreement alongside the passing of the Scotland Bill. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has met the Scottish Government Deputy First Minister, John Swinney, today. This timetable demonstrates the Government’s determination to make quick progress on the fiscal framework.
The Scottish Parliament will have the capacity to top up welfare benefits. It could be said that it would have the final say on the level of benefit. UK benefits will obviously be determined in this House, but the Scottish Parliament will have the opportunity to top them up, as is clearly set out in the Bill.
What I think it suggests is the requirement for responsibility. If the Scottish Government believe that benefits are not at the level they should be, they will be able to ask the Scottish taxpayer for the funds to increase them. That is what I would regard as responsibility within a Parliament.
A few minutes ago, my right hon. Friend described the fiscal framework of the Barnett formula as long-lasting and fair. Surely that would be the case only if the Barnett formula were based on need rather than on a historic anomaly. It is a formula that results in my constituents getting £1,600 less per person per year than they would get if it were based on need, which one would think a progressive party would wish to be the case.
My hon. Friend is a long-standing critic of the Barnett formula, and I acknowledge the point he makes. The Prime Minister, the then Leader of the Opposition and the leader of the Liberal Democrats made it absolutely clear that their parties had no intention of changing the Barnett formula. That certainly remains the position on the Government side.
I did not know that that was the policy of the Labour party. I had understood that it supported the Barnett formula, and I can reiterate the continuing support of Government Members for it.
One issue closely linked to the fiscal framework is the much talked-about issue of full fiscal autonomy. This issue was raised a number of times today and during the general election campaign, and some SNP Members have talked tirelessly about it. My party and the Government have made it clear that we will strongly oppose full fiscal autonomy for Scotland. As the analysis by the independent and respected Institute for Fiscal Studies told us, full fiscal autonomy would leave Scotland with a £7.6 billion black hole in its finances this year and almost £10 billion by the final year of this Parliament. This Government will never support a policy that leaves one part of the UK in such a perilous financial situation: we are members of a social union, too. However, given that the SNP set such store by the issue in its election campaign, I look forward to SNP Members bringing forward amendments on full fiscal autonomy in Committee. That is to be welcomed, because apart from anything else, such amendments would mean the people of Scotland might actually get to see what the definition of full fiscal autonomy is.
Is not the lesson of the euro that fiscal autonomy needs to go with monetary autonomy, and that if Scotland has fiscal autonomy it must also have its own currency?
The Secretary of State is being remarkably generous in giving way—very much like the SNP is with other people’s money. The Secretary of State said it would lie within the power of the Scottish Government to top up—I think that was his expression—welfare benefits. We know how they like being generous with other people’s money, but if they overspent at the end of one year—because of course benefits are demand-led—who will pick up the bill, the British taxpayer or the English taxpayer?
In relation to matters for which the Scottish Parliament is responsible, it will be the Scottish taxpayer who has to pay. So if the Scottish Parliament and Government want additional spending, the Scottish taxpayer will have to pay.
I wish to conclude my remarks, but I have sought to take as many interventions as possible because part of the Bill is about accountability. The Bill represents the fulfilment of a promise to the people of Scotland that a no vote in the referendum was not a vote for no change. It delivers on the all-party Smith Commission agreement, as the Law Society of Scotland and many others have already made clear. The Government and the Smith Commission engaged extensively on the agreement, and on the draft clauses since January, and the Bill before us today is all the stronger for that extensive engagement.
It will benefit further from four days of full line-by-line scrutiny in this Chamber. The challenge will then be for the Scottish Government to finally set out what they will do with the new powers they will receive. Now is the time for the Scottish Government to stop acting and start doing. I commend the Bill to the House.
May I start by offering my congratulations to you, Mr Speaker? This is the first time I have been at the Dispatch Box since you were elected as Speaker. It is a tremendous pleasure to see you back in the Chair, especially after the events on the last day of the last Parliament.
I also congratulate the right hon. Gentleman the new Secretary of State, and not on his Castroesque speech—he spoke for nearly an hour—but because he has always been helpful, courteous and kind. I hope we will continue in that spirit now he is Secretary of State. The House may not know this, but we share something in common. We both share the distinction of being the most difficult choices that our party leaders had when choosing someone for our respective roles. I hear the Prime Minister mulled over the list of potential candidates for Secretary of State for hours before deciding on the right hon. Gentleman, but I am sure he will be a wise choice.
It would be remiss of me not to extend my congratulations to the Scottish National party Members on their unprecedented result in Scotland. There is a heavy weight on their shoulders—by the looks of it, on the end of their third Bench as well—to deliver the considerable promises that they made to the Scottish people during the election campaign. I say this sincerely to them: the political enemy in this place is on the Government Benches, and I hope that they will remember that in the coming years. Where we agree, I will endeavour to work with them and I hope that they will reciprocate; where we do not, and where scrutiny and principled opposition are required to hold the SNP Government to account in Holyrood, I will be a strong voice in such scrutiny. [Interruption.] Pete Wishart, who is chuntering from a sedentary position, does not seem to be starting off on the right footing.
I want to pay tribute to my many colleagues and friends who lost their seats in Scotland at the general election. They should all be thanked for their unstinting commitment to serving their constituents; they will be a big loss to this place and I wish them all well. No one epitomised that dedication to public service more than my predecessor as the Opposition’s spokesman, Margaret Curran. She worked day and night in this place and beyond to stand up for the interests of Scotland and her constituents. We all owe her a debt of gratitude for that strong voice and for the position we are in today with the Bill.
Today marks a momentous point in Scotland’s devolution journey. Whatever the outcome of the general election, the Bill would have been in the first Queen’s Speech, regardless who was sitting on the Treasury Bench. In 1997 one of the first acts of the new Labour Government was to present a Bill to the House to deliver the referendum that gave us the Scottish Parliament. That was a promise made then and kept then; we should bear that in mind when debating the Bill today. The Labour party is and always will be the party of devolution.
“There will be a Scottish Parliament”—the words of the father of Scotland, Donald Dewar. When he uttered those words, however, it signified a journey in devolution. That journey has seen Scotland recently travel through an extraordinary democratic process. The referendum was a once in a generation—once in a lifetime, depending on who is speaking—experience, marking a defining choice about Scotland’s membership of the United Kingdom. It was a no vote, but it was not a vote for no change. We can draw a constitutional lesson from that: Scotland wants to be in the United Kingdom, but it wants to be unique and able to make its own political choices.
Labour argued passionately for Scotland to remain in the UK and we won the argument. Perhaps we sacrificed our own party’s interests in doing so, but it was certainly the right thing to do. It is important to understand what the agreement was, why Scots chose to stay in the UK and why it is so important for the Bill to deliver for Scotland. It is therefore worth putting the Bill in its constitutional context.
Over the past year we have had a debate about Scotland’s place in the world and how, in an uncertain international environment, Scotland’s interests are best served as part of a larger country and stable Union; a debate about Scotland’s economic interests, with more opportunities for jobs, for businesses and for investment as part of the wider UK; a debate about sharing economic and financial crisis risks, whether in the rebuilding of the Scottish-domiciled banks or the shared risks from the ups and downs in the oil price; a debate about shared tax and spending resources, about how Scotland can take greater control over tax and spending while maintaining the UK-wide pooling and sharing of resources that guarantees pensions and benefits, and safeguards Scotland’s public services; and, most importantly from a Labour point of view, a debate about social solidarity, about sharing across the territory of the United Kingdom so that together the nations of the UK can work together for the benefit of everyone who lives here.
In the end, this is about our sense of belonging: we are not simply Scots on our own, but part of a wider family of nations in the United Kingdom. The lesson of the referendum campaign is that those links remain powerful and valued by most Scots. However, it is clear that securing Scotland’s place in the UK is simply not enough. That is why the Bill really matters, because it guarantees not only economic benefits and UK social solidarity, but the scope under devolution to do more, to make different choices and to set a different course for Scotland, distinct from a UK agenda that might not always be—today certainly is not—in accordance with the public opinion of Scotland.
The Bill will make the Scottish Parliament one of the most powerful devolved Parliaments in the world—not my research, but that of the Scottish Parliament itself—with responsibility for more than 40% of tax revenues and more than 60% of public spending. Critically, the Bill the provides more accountability. Lord Smith said that the agreement had the potential to increase financial discipline, promote greater budget transparency and enhance the debate on fiscal policy in Scotland. That is important, because the Scottish Parliament already has devolved responsibility for many of the areas that are critical to the day-to-day life of Scots: health, education, housing, justice, transport, economic development, local authority and business rates, 10p of income tax and all immovable taxes, borrowing powers and much more besides.
The problems in Scotland with accident and emergency waiting times, lower educational attainment and a crisis in housing show that the more important debate in this House is about how powers are utilised, rather than where they lie. After this Bill is passed, the Scottish Government, as the most powerful devolved Government on earth, will have immense power to change our society for the better—to create a fairer Scotland and a fairer country—but the Bill will also ensure that Scotland continues to benefit from the pooling and sharing of resources across the United Kingdom.
What is required now is the imagination and political will to deliver on that potential. That political will has always been a Labour priority, as demonstrated through the Calman and Smith commissions, to deliver progressive change for Scotland. The question becomes: will it be the SNP’s priority to start using new powers as a responsible Government or will it continue with a politics of grievance and blame? It appears to me from today’s exchanges that the SNP is desperate to be disappointed before the Bill has even started its passage through this House.
Labour has always been committed to ensuring that the infamous vow, negotiated by the cross-party Smith commission, was delivered in full. May I take this opportunity to thank Lord Smith of Kelvin and the 10 commissioners for their sterling work in getting us to where we are today? The Bill meets the commitment on the timetable and Labour will ensure, through the Bill’s passage in this House, that the legislation promises are also met in full, both in substance and in spirit. The original purpose of devolution was to keep the social solidarity that comes from being part of something bigger while recognising the uniqueness of Scotland’s role in the UK.
Does the shadow Secretary of State agree that one secret of devolution, and of this kingdom, has been parity for all of our peoples across all of the nations that share this kingdom and that the break-up of parity in social welfare payments alone has had the most destabilising impact in Northern Ireland? Indeed, more interest is given to the levels of disability living allowance than to the levels of IRA activity in Northern Ireland. Will the change to welfare payments affecting Scottish people also have a destabilising impact, not only on Scotland’s place in the Union, but on all of our place together as a people?
I am grateful for the intervention, because the hon. Gentleman is describing devolution—that is how it works. It is up to individual Parliaments to make the choices, within the powers they have, on how they want to serve. Under a democratic system, the people will decide at the ballot box whether or not those decisions are ones they wish to vote for. Unfortunately, when there is devolution there will be disparities across the nations of the United Kingdom, but the important point is that the United Kingdom stays together.
I do not want to fall out with my hon. Friend, but it feels like the people of England will not get the choice to take any position in a democratic vote, because we are being told, “If you want devolution, you have to sign up to a regional mayor, whether you like it or not.” Without any debate, we are told, “If you don’t do that, you can’t get any money.” That is not devolution. He has talked often about social solidarity, but where is the social solidarity for us in England when this is being done without our chance to have a real debate in this country?
I am grateful for that intervention. The Scottish referendum debate demonstrated that when there is a proper constitutional debate, under a framework for proper constitutional debate, the results are there for all to see. The overall position of the constitutional convention that we were proposing in our manifesto would have been the way to take some of these issues forward. Colleagues across England would be significantly upset to see that the devolution structure across the UK is progressing quickly while they are being hamstrung with what is being offered to them. The Government really do need to get a grip of this whole constitutional settlement across the UK, so that England does not seem as though it is losing out.
On that point, does my hon. Friend think it bizarre that this Government are giving Scotland the right to increase and decrease its income tax, while legislating so that England and Wales cannot increase income tax? Is that not a bit strange?
I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s intervention, because one key question for the Treasury Minister wrapping up today’s debate will be: if the Government legislate for not increasing VAT, national insurance or income tax, what are they going to increase to cover the £23 billion of promises they made during the general election? I suppose the direct answer to my hon. Friend’s question is to say that that is the way devolution works and it is up to the different legislators to decide what they wish to do. This Bill allows Scotland a settlement where the responsibility and the accountability goes straight to the heart of politics in Scotland.
I was saying that, as this Bill makes its passage through the House, Labour will ensure that legislation promises are fully met both in substance and in spirit. The original purpose of devolution was to keep the social solidarity that comes from being part of something bigger while recognising the uniqueness of Scotland’s role in the United Kingdom. But we in the Labour party want to go further. We have been calling for more powers for some time and included most of them in our manifesto, so this is not a knee-jerk response to the general election result as some would say, but a continuation of the devolution commitment.
I have been listening carefully to the hon. Gentleman, and he is not saying anything that was not said by Labour during the general election campaign. In many other areas, the Labour party is undergoing fundamental reassessment of policy. Having lost 40 out of 41 seats in Scotland, is there any new policy with which the hon. Gentleman wants to enlighten this House and Scotland?
If the right hon. Gentleman wishes me to make some progress, I will come on to those very issues. Let me remind him that the devolution settlement was agreed to by all five parties on the Smith commission.
The Bill that is in front of us is to ensure that the Smith agreement is put forward in full, and we want to ensure that it is put forward in full both in spirit and in substance, as I have said twice already.
I hear someone chuntering, “It doesn’t” from a sedentary position. Well, we are going through this parliamentary process and will seek to amend the Bill precisely because we want to ensure that it does fulfil everything in the Smith agreement, but we also want to go further.
We will seek to amend the Bill to go beyond the Smith agreement without compromising on the pooling and sharing of resources across the UK that guarantees the Barnett formula and the UK pension system for Scots. On welfare, we will ensure that the final say on benefit levels remains in Scotland by giving the Scottish Parliament a wider power to top up all reserve benefits. We will ensure that the Scottish Parliament can introduce new benefits in devolved areas funded from Scotland to meet Scottish circumstances; bring employment and welfare policy together with a positive vision for tackling the low skills, numeracy and literacy problems that hold back adults trapped in long-term unemployment; fully devolve housing benefit; and ensure double devolution by devolving job creation powers to local communities, providing real opportunities, as my private Member’s Bill demonstrated at the tail end of the previous Parliament.
My hon. Friend is making a very good speech. Will the ability to top up social security payments enable the Scottish Parliament to get rid of welfare vouchers that were introduced earlier this year?
That goes to the heart of some of the discussions that we will have in this Chamber during the five days we will spend considering this Bill, as some of the choices that the Scottish Parliament have made fly in the face of its rhetoric both of being anti-austerity and of looking after the most vulnerable. With the £444 million underspend in the Scottish Parliament budget last year, many of the questions just raised by my hon. Friend will be asked by ordinary Scots up and down the country.
I am delighted to see that at least my hon. Friend is in his place. Sadly, all too many of our colleagues are not. On the devolution Bill and these proposals, is there not a danger that if things go really well, the SNP will take all the credit, but if things go badly, Westminster will get the blame?
My hon. Friend raises the fundamental principle of nationalist politics. I remember the former First Minister, Alex Salmond, taking great credit when unemployment fell in Scotland, and then blaming everyone else when unemployment rose, and that was a regular trend throughout the time of his premiership in Scotland. [Interruption.] I can hear him chunter “Shameful” from the Back Benches. People just have to look at the record and determine the facts for themselves.
I would go further than my right hon. Friend Alex Salmond. The result for Labour a few weeks ago was catastrophic, and we have heard nothing thus far from the hon. Gentleman’s contribution that suggests that he is addressing those problems. What will he do? Will we hear a new story from Labour? Will it work with us on a progressive agenda across Scotland so that we can take on the Tories, address austerity and deal with the menace of Trident?
Well, if my mathematics is correct, I have been on my feet for 15 minutes, and it is quite obvious that the hon. Gentleman has not listened to the first eight pages of my speech. It was about social solidarity and some of the changes that we want to see in this Bill. Let me put it on the record that I have just seen a tweet from him claiming that Labour will not vote on the SNP amendment tonight. Well, I understand that the amendment has not been chosen, so perhaps he would like to correct the record on his Twitter feed rather than yet again spreading mistruths in this House for political gain. This is a serious Bill that is trying to develop the constitutional settlement for Scotland.
The point made by my hon. Friend Robert Flello was that if things go right in Scotland, the SNP will claim credit, but if things go wrong it will always be Westminster’s fault—[Interruption.] If this Bill is not good enough in terms of what the Scots Nats want, why are they not going down the route proposed in their “Stronger for Scotland” document and, which was a move to full fiscal responsibility?
When my hon. Friend made his point about the SNP claiming credit when things go well and blaming others when things go badly, the right hon. Member for Gordon shouted, “Sounds like a good narrative.” We are talking about people’s lives, and if we rule our country simply on a narrative we are in trouble.
My hon. Friend Mr Jones is absolutely correct, because it was in the SNP manifesto that they would deliver full fiscal autonomy for Scotland. In fact, the First Minister said that all the MPs elected to Westminster under the SNP banner would vote for it this year. It seems to me that there is back-pedalling on that at the first opportunity. Perhaps we will get some enlightenment on their current position on full fiscal autonomy when Angus Robertson speaks, but it certainly was not mentioned in the amendment.
Nothing in the amendment addresses the question of full fiscal autonomy, but perhaps during our consideration of the Bill we will find out whether that is a goal that the SNP wants to promote—[Interruption.] I hear chuntering again from the right hon. Member for Gordon from just behind my left shoulder. The level of public respect for politicians is pretty low and we are only a few weeks away from everyone having voted in the general election. When the party that won 56 out of the 59 seats in Scotland—as it consistently trumpets—dumps its manifesto just a few weeks afterwards, there is little wonder that there is so little respect for politicians in this country.
The SNP remains committed to a situation in which the Scottish Government will have full financial control over their own affairs and be able to raise their own revenues. We want that to be done in a responsible way that does not disadvantage the people of Scotland. During the election campaign, we were treated by your party to a grotesque caricature of our proposals. I point out to you and ask you to reflect on the results of that election campaign, when people rejected what you said. You said that if they voted SNP they would bring on themselves some sort of economic Armageddon. The people did vote SNP and rejected your view.
Order. I do not have a party and I did not say any of the things that have just been attributed to me, but I know that the hon. Gentleman will become a seasoned practitioner before very long.
I certainly hope that Tommy Sheppard becomes a seasoned practitioner very quickly, because he might have forgotten that I went through the general election campaign as well. At hustings all over the Edinburgh South constituency, the SNP candidate was consistently asked his position on full fiscal autonomy and, as I have just said, the answer was that the SNP would vote for full fiscal autonomy in this Parliament. This is a legislative opportunity to bring that manifesto commitment forward and if we do not see it, people will rightly ask why.
We are promoting the additional powers on welfare because more devolution can protect the most vulnerable in Scotland from the worst of the Conservative Government. The major new powers coming to Scotland give us the chance to do things differently so that never again can a Government impose things such as the bedroom tax on Scotland’s most vulnerable.
We will also seek to strengthen the Bill in other areas. I shall not give an exhaustive list. This might be a Scotland Bill, but it has implications for other parts of the UK so we will look for a UK-wide constitutional convention as part of it. Equalities are a significant part of it and we shall look to strengthen the relevant clauses to improve on gender equality in Scotland. Lord Smith heavily underlined the importance of improving relationships between the Scottish and UK Governments to provide greater scrutiny of Scottish Ministers and the need to devolve powers from the Scottish Parliament, so we shall seek amendments in that regard. The Bill offers an opportunity to deal with outstanding issues with employment tribunals and the permanence of the Scottish Parliament. Let me re-emphasise that we will ensure that Smith is delivered in full, to the letter, in both substance and clauses.
We must be vigilant as the Bill makes progress through the House, as the worst case scenario for Scotland would be an SNP asking for its top manifesto priority of full fiscal autonomy and a majority Conservative Government delivering it for them. There will be common ground on amending the Bill, and we will work together to achieve that, but I will defend Scotland night and day from the plan to cut Scotland off from UK-wide taxation and spending with full fiscal autonomy. Some people may not recognise the policy, because the SNP does not really want to talk about it now that the general election is over. First it was full fiscal autonomy; then it was full fiscal retention. It was adapted to full fiscal responsibility, and yesterday on Sky the hon. Member for Moray called it full fiscal manoeuvre. Indeed, this lunchtime, Stewart Hosie confirmed that the SNP may amend the Bill to demand full fiscal autonomy. The picture is not clear, and Scots deserve an answer on this fundamental broken promise in their manifesto.
The SNP is uncomfortable with the name, because it is uncomfortable with the policy. It knows that the consequences of such a policy would be severe for Scotland. It is a source of great shame that it simply is not honest about it, and it has five days on the Floor of the House to explain it. Recent analysis by the impartial experts at the Institute for Fiscal Studies showed that by the end of the debacle the black hole in Scotland’s finances could be as much as £10 billion, which would mean spending cuts or tax rises to fill the gap. That is over and above the cuts already imposed by this Government. That means austerity max.
I will not shirk from holding the Government in Scotland to account for their policies at the Dispatch Box regardless of how much SNP Members chunter. If there was no pooling and sharing of resources across the UK, there would be no secure extra spending coming north—extra spending that has built the schools and hospitals that educate our children and care for our grandparents. It would mean an end to the UK pensions system at a time when the proportion of pensioners in Scotland is set rapidly to outgrow the proportion of people in work, paying the taxes that fund the pensions system. It would mean an end to the UK welfare state—the idea that if someone has paid into the UK system they get at least the same basic minimum back regardless of where they live. In short, it would mean an end to the social solidarity that makes Britain what it is today. That is not a left of centre or even a progressive case. It is a recipe for disaster.
We are debating the Scotland Bill on Second Reading, and I am making the Labour party’s position clear. We will fight night and day to prevent full fiscal autonomy because it would be bad for the Scottish people. That is our job as a credible Opposition, and we will amend the Bill to make it better for Scotland, regardless of what other parties want to do in this place. If the hon. Lady is so confident about full fiscal autonomy I look forward to her tabling an amendment so that we can debate it on the Floor of the House.
Only last year, we were told that independence could be delivered in just 18 months. A 300-year old Union could be disentangled in a year and a half. We could apply to be an EU member state in 18 months. [Interruption.] I am sure that we received legal advice on that from the person who is chuntering behind my left shoulder again. We could set up our own treasury and foreign office; establish our own navy, army and air force; create intelligence and security services.; develop a separate welfare state; and write a new tax code. All of that, we were told, could be achieved in just 18 months, but we are now being told that full fiscal autonomy is not achievable in the short term.
Again, the chuntering says, “Oh yes, it can be achieved”. Well, if it can be achieved in the short term, we look forward to amendments being tabled, and we can debate them on the Floor of this political House.
There is another danger: the Conservative Government having a clumsy and short- sighted approach to the wider constitutional issues of the United Kingdom. They talk of one nation, but I am not sure which nation they are talking about. As the sun was rising over Downing Street on the morning after the referendum, the Prime Minister linked the question of English votes for English laws with the referendum result. He said that just as the Scottish Parliament would vote separately on issues of tax and spending, so too would England. Linking these two issues could have unintended and undesirable consequences, weakening the very Union that Scotland voted to maintain. Devolution of power to England and its regions is essential, and we proposed a radical approach during the election. However, we must make sure that reform is coherent and that we understand the consequences.
It was rash and unwise of the Prime Minister to use the referendum result in Scotland, not to reach out, but to continue to divide the nation. It was equally dangerous for the Prime Minister to stoke division and grievance between the nations of our United Kingdom during the election campaign.
My hon. Friend is making the case for a UK-wide constitutional convention, which is important for my constituents in Greater Manchester, where we are being offered a form of devolution by this Government. Is it not also about the city regions in Scotland? Should there not be devolution from Holyrood to the cities and regions of Scotland?
My hon. Friend is right. Over the past eight years or so we have seen the Scottish Parliament become one of the most centralist Parliaments in the world, sucking up power from local authorities and ensuring that local authorities cannot raise their own taxation. What we want to see—we will table amendment to this effect—is double devolution so that we will devolve powers from Westminster to Holyrood and ask Holyrood to devolve those powers out to local communities, which are best placed to deal with the problems facing Scottish communities.
I was talking about the clumsy way in which the Prime Minister has dealt with the UK constitutional settlement. In our manifesto we called for a full and proper constitutional convention which would be able to examine some of these issues so that we could have a more coherent and sustainable approach to the way that the UK operates.
We will not oppose Second Reading today. We will seek to improve the Bill in Committee and I have set out some aspects of it where we will try to do that. This is a real opportunity to provide a stable and durable devolution settlement to create a fairer, more prosperous Scotland. When this Bill is passed and these new powers make their way to the Scottish Parliament, we look forward to the debate moving on to how the powers will be used, rather than who will use them. That is the real debate and the one that the Scottish Labour party will relish in its historic fight for social justice, fairness and equality both in Scotland and across the United Kingdom.
Order. The House will be aware that there are a great many colleagues who seek to catch my eye and that we have limited time available. I am therefore obliged to put a limit of eight minutes on Back-Bench speeches.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State not only on his appointment as Secretary of State, but on surviving his election, with some glory to himself.
I commend Ian Murray for his performance at the Dispatch Box because he did the House a great service just now: he put the Scottish National party on the spot. Let SNP Members put down that amendment in favour of full fiscal autonomy. The hon. Gentleman may oppose it, but he may find quite a number of Conservative Members voting for it. It might go through. We know that the SNP is calling for what it does not really want because it would leave the Scottish Government with a deficit in their budget of at least half the health service spending in Scotland. We want less of that kind of dishonest politics in the House. I commend my new hon. Friend Heidi Allen, who called for more trust in this debate. That needs to come first from the SNP, whose whole purpose is not to trust but to promote distrust so that it can break up the Union.
I am bound to ask the Secretary of State whether this Bill is really “it” for the future of Scotland. Is this the full and final settlement that will stabilise the Union of the United Kingdom? I hae ma doots. I will certainly support the Bill, but it comes with a number of problems. It is based on the vow during the closing stages of the referendum. We read that vow on the front page of the Daily Record,which, I say to Alex Salmond, hardly represents the fount of learning and wisdom from which we would expect him to learn. Would he commend The Sun in England, for example, as our Bible, any more than I would commend the Daily Record as his Bible? [Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman should not be provoked.
What did that vow mean? Interpreting that extraordinary vow has been part of the difficulties of the Smith commission.
I will give way in a moment.
We already have a devolution settlement that is pretty opaque, and this Bill will make it yet more opaque, more difficult to hold to account, and more difficult to explain to voters who does what. On the question of spending, the situation is now perverse. We have SNP Members, who do not think that they should be in this House because they want a separate country, seeking to use the funding mechanism—the outdated Barnett formula—as a pretext for interfering in decisions that should now be wholly determined by MPs representing English constituencies.
I have done that many times. On the subject of the Daily Record, the Prime Minister seemed very happy to use it last September, so is it not quite reasonable to quote what it is saying today? Also, if I remember correctly, Mr Jenkin once stood for election in Scotland. Will he remind the House how he got on?
I beat the SNP candidate into fourth place—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”]—and Tommy Sheridan into fifth place. At least I stood in a Scottish general election, unlike the current SNP leader. She seemed to take part in the general election as if she were a candidate, even though she was not; it was a rather odd way of conducting a general election campaign. I noticed that the right hon. Gentleman did not call for full fiscal autonomy. He is now in retreat from that demand, because he knows that it is not what he wants.
I hope that the House noted that the right hon. Gentleman has retreated from full fiscal autonomy to full fiscal responsibility. People do not like politicians playing with words, which is exactly what he is doing. The fact is that he does not want full fiscal autonomy because he knows that it would result in dramatic cuts to public spending in Scotland.
On the question of taxation, the hon. Member for Edinburgh South ought to reflect on the fact that one of the problems identified by his hon. Friend Geraint Davies is that Scotland would be setting tax rates and having effects that English voters do not have for their own tax rates, which is exactly the same argument that we made against the Scotland Bill in 1997-98. He might reflect on how we have got into that situation. [Interruption.] Oh yes, because the Scotland Act 1998 allowed the Scots a 3% variation in income tax. They never used it, but it set up the very anomaly that the hon. Member for Swansea West complained about.
The hon. Gentleman will forgive me, but I have given way several times and used up half my time already.
The point is that more than one intervention from the Opposition Benches has underlined what a mistake it was to believe that setting up a Scottish Parliament would resolve the grievances of people in Scotland. We now know—we can see it very graphically in this House—that it has just been a platform for those grievances, and it explains how we have got to this point today. I say to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that to describe the referendum, with its promise of yet more powers, as truly historic is almost an understatement; it was a near-death experience for one of the most successful nation states the world has ever seen. I do not think that we should describe the devolution process, which has become never-ending, as a great success.
What we need first of all is an atmosphere in which we can build more trust, instead of fuelling mistrust. How can we generate that trust? We need some cross- party forum, outside the hurly-burly of daily politics, in which to start building up a consensus on what a full and final settlement for the whole United Kingdom might look like. We need a cross-party agreement, in principle, that we are going to establish such a full and final settlement and put an end to this never- ending process of instability and uncertainty about the relationships between the four parts of the United Kingdom.
I would go so far as to suggest that we need a new, 21st-century Act of Union to be ratified by a referendum in all four parts of the United Kingdom that the SNP would be quite free to campaign against if it wished—and if it won, then Scotland would be an independent country; let the SNP dream that dream. We ought to conduct that referendum on the basis of a coherent and agreed offer, not a rush job published on the front page of a tabloid newspaper after a failed ex-Prime Minister has been shouting down the phone at the Prime Minister in Downing Street, as occurred with the previous referendum. Such a new Act of Union would aim to provide a balanced and equal settlement of powers across the four parts of the United Kingdom—with respect to my hon. Friends on the Northern Ireland Bench—and a mechanism such as a new council for the Union for distributing UK tax resources on the basis of need and unanimous agreement rather than an outdated formula that was designed to equalise spending between England and Scotland but has actually determined precisely the opposite.
The House should not carry on like this, as though we have not suffered the near death of one of the most successful nation states the world has ever seen, and without an atmosphere of contrition and seriousness about what we have all got wrong in the relationship between our four great nations in this great country. Unless we approach this in a new spirit, I fear for the future. I am standing for the chairmanship of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, and I promise that I will approach these matters with the utmost seriousness and determination—[Interruption] —and with a mind to seeking the maximum consensus, even from those who are now scoffing and laughing at such an idea.
I am pleased to follow Mr Jenkin and his unique job application for the votes of the 56 Members from the Scottish National party.
Let me begin by thanking the voters of Scotland, because it is they who have put so much pressure on this place to deliver further devolution. The lesson of history about Scottish devolution is that when the SNP does well, Scotland’s powers are strengthened.
I congratulate the Secretary of State, David Mundell. In the previous Parliament he was one of 12 Government Members out of 59 Members from Scotland; now he is the only Government Member from Scotland, so he is uniquely qualified to speak on behalf of the Conservative party in Scotland. Ian Murray is similarly qualified to speak for the Labour party.
In the spirit of co-operation—it is sometimes not fashionable to say this in politics—we will make common cause on many matters, perhaps even on this Bill, and I would welcome that. I look forward to the amendments on full financial autonomy, which SNP Members will be voting for. I suspect that the hon. Member for Edinburgh South will be voting with the Tories as he worked so closely with them through the two years of the referendum campaign.
The hon. Gentleman is usually assiduous in his research on these matters, but he has obviously not read to the end of the reasoned amendment tabled by the SNP, which I commend to Members across the House. It proposes that we would move
“to a position in the medium term where the Scottish Parliament and Government are responsible for all revenue raising”.
Clearly the Labour parliamentary research unit overlooked that point when sending round its briefings earlier.
I would like to make a bit of progress, and then I will be delighted to give way to the hon. Gentleman, whose interventions thus far have been tremendously helpful to the SNP.
I feel a sense of déjà vu as we discuss the contents of yet another Scotland Bill driven once again by the success of Scotland’s independence movement and party. The previous Bill, now the Scotland Act 2012, was the Government’s response to the Calman commission recommendations; the Calman commission, of course, was a response to the SNP’s first election victory in the Scottish Parliament in 2007, which enabled us to form an historic first minority Government. In 2011, though, the SNP had an even more dramatic and significant victory in Scotland. As Members will be aware, we broke the electoral system, gaining a majority in a proportional representation system designed explicitly to prevent that eventuality.
The constitutional response to the first majority pro-independence Government in Scotland in more than 300 years was the agreement to hold last September’s referendum. That is how we have got here today. The Bill’s genesis was in the referendum, and it flows from the desperate promises of the final few days of the campaign. The legislation before us comes from the vow made then, which was followed by the Smith commission and the five-party Smith agreement, albeit in watered-down form.
First, to correct the record, the SNP recognises the result of the referendum. We were in favour of a yes vote, and we did not secure it, but 45% of the electorate voted for Scottish independence, and a considerable number of those who voted no did so on the basis of the vow that was given. That is why this discussion is so important.
The interventions and heckling from Conservative Members—and, sadly, from Labour Members as well—throughout this debate will inform the voters of Scotland of one thing: those Members have learned absolutely nothing since the general election, in which the Conservative party suffered its worst defeat in 100 years, making it, as far as I am aware, the worst performing centre-right party in the industrialised world to date. If Conservative Members took cognisance of that fact, they might not intervene in the way that Johnny Mercer did a moment ago.
On the issue of full fiscal responsibility, a lot of the SNP’s economic prospectus was based on an increasing oil price and the much-vaunted arc of prosperity. How did the hon. Gentleman get on with that?
The hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but it is a statement of fact. The Scottish National party won almost every single seat in Scotland, and it did so on the basis of the argument conducted during the general election. I advise Conservative Members, who apparently are in favour of the maintenance of the Union, that they should respect the views of the electorate that returned SNP Members in such great numbers.
I would like to make some progress, and then I will give way to the hon. Lady.
I will return in much more detail to the watering down of the Smith agreement in the Bill, because righting that wrong will be a central priority for the SNP. As we know, the vow was a direct response to the growing momentum of the yes campaign, in which the Better Together parties—Labour and Tory, which had worked closely for two years—descended into breathless panic and promised the earth. More accurately, they promised “home rule” and as close to federalism as possible. At least they had the nous not to carve those particular promises on an eight-foot block of stone. There is no doubt whatever that the Bill does not match the pledges of the campaign or the spirit and letter of the Smith deal. On that issue, I give way to Emily Thornberry.
As I understand it, the Scottish National party’s position is for full fiscal autonomy. There is a difference between autonomy and responsibility, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman would agree. Autonomy means a great deal. The amendment that was not selected states
“as Scotland moves to a position in the medium term where the Scottish Parliament and Government are responsible for all revenue raising”.
Does he agree that that is not full fiscal autonomy?
That is interesting. A moment ago, Labour Members intervened to say that there was no mention of our support for fiscal autonomy; now we are told that we did mention it, but the hon. Lady is not happy with the wording. I opened my contribution by saying that I look forward to the SNP amendment on full fiscal autonomy; I expect to see Labour Members trooping through the Lobby and voting with the Tories yet again on governance in Scotland. I suggest that if they want to retain their only seat there, they should think twice about pursuing that course of action.
To be clear, can the hon. Gentleman confirm that he is saying that the SNP will introduce an amendment to deliver full fiscal autonomy for Scotland, and that the Labour party should support a measure that would put a £10 billion black hole in Scotland’s finances? It is not about walking through the Lobby with anyone; it is about standing up for Scotland’s interests.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for letting me intervene in his second speech in this debate. He needs to consider closely the impact of his party’s collaboration with the Tories for two years on the independence referendum campaign. He can say whatever he likes about full fiscal autonomy, which the SNP supports and which the other parties oppose. They have this in common: they are unbelievably unpopular in Scotland, and it will take a while for them to learn the lessons from that.
The hon. Gentleman had the opportunity in his speech from the Front Bench to outline any new thinking, new ideas or anything else that the Labour party did not say in the Smith commission proposals. There was not a peep; not one new idea. That, along with his party’s ongoing co-operation with the Conservative party, will consign Labour to the opposition position that it deserves in Scotland.
I have taken many interventions, and I will now make progress. There is no doubt that the Bill does not match the pledges of the campaign or the spirit and letter of the Smith deal. The Bill falls short and, more importantly, it has also been overtaken by another election—the general election of a few weeks ago—in which the SNP had overwhelming and unprecedented success.
I am not usually given to quoting the traditionally Labour-supporting Daily Record, but I recommend that the Secretary of State and other Members look at today’s issue. Across the front page is a headline that reads, “Failure to fully deliver all the new powers promised to Scotland will seriously damage your Union”.
No, I am making progress. The editorial that follows states:
“there are serious concerns the proposed Scotland Bill does not fully implement what was proposed…This is an unacceptable situation that must be rectified quickly as the Bill makes its way through Westminster.”
Much of what we have heard so far today has been an attack on the SNP by both the Government and Labour. As the effective Opposition in this Parliament, we will ensure that we make progress with the Bill. The Government can be assured that strengthening the legislation so that it begins to satisfy the aspirations of the people of Scotland and organisations across Scotland will be another priority for SNP Members.
Both the convenor of the Scottish Parliament’s Devolution (Further Powers) Committee and the Law Society of Scotland have urged the UK Government to ensure that the Bill proceeds in a way that will enable the Scottish Parliament to influence and shape it.
I endorse their view and ask the Secretary of State to confirm today that the Government will accept the cross-party changes proposed by the Scottish Parliament’s Devolution (Further Powers) Committee to bring the Bill into line with the Smith agreement.
It might help colleagues who have not read the report if I highlight the fact that the committee’s conclusions were reached unanimously on an all-party basis. The committee’s deputy convenor is one Duncan McNeil of the Scottish Labour party and it also includes one Alex Johnstone of the Scottish Conservative and
I want to make some more progress.
This is a cross-party committee and, as its convenor Bruce Crawford MSP said when launching the interim report in May,
“the current proposals do not yet meet the challenge of fully translating the political agreement reached in the Smith Commission into legislation.”
This is really important. If all the political parties in this House believe that this Bill should deliver on Smith, and if all our colleagues in the Scottish Parliament say it does not fully do so, the Government must listen and they must act.
The errors that those in the Scottish Parliament seek to address go to the heart of what was agreed in the Smith commission. First, on welfare, the Bill as it stands retains a UK veto over changes to universal credit, among other things. That is unacceptable. The Secretary of State denied that there is a veto right in the Bill. I do not know how many Members present have read the Bill, but I invite them to turn to clause 24(4) on page 26, which states:
“The Scottish Ministers may not exercise the function of making regulations to which this section applies unless…they have consulted the Secretary of State about the practicability of implementing the regulations”.
The veto rights are there in black and white. [Interruption.] I hear someone from the Labour Benches say, “So?” Do they think it is a problem or not? Their colleagues in the Scottish Parliament think it is.
There was I being hectored and accused of being frit and not taking interventions, but when Members are put on the spot as to whether they support their own colleagues in the Scottish Parliament, they run away.
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way on the extremely important issue of a veto. An ordinary reading of clause 24(4) shows that it clearly says that “such agreement” is
“not to be unreasonably withheld.”
That means that it is not a veto and that it would be justiciable in front of the courts if an unreasonable decision were made by the Secretary of State.
The key point is that it does not have to be given. The hon. Gentleman will no doubt make contributions during the Bill’s Committee stage, but I ask hon. and right hon. Members across the House: have they read what their colleagues in the Scottish Parliament have concluded, and will they act on it or not?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. I was struck that Heidi Allen, who is not in her place, made an appeal for trust in this process. I totally agree with her. I look forward to the Government delivering everything that was promised in the Smith commission and more, because we all—every party—stood on manifestos of constitutional change, and the three UK parties were all defeated.
The Prime Minister has said that he will listen to what the Scottish Government have to say on more powers. I will take him at his word. The Secretary of State for Scotland has said that he is open to ensuring that the wording of the Bill is optimal to deliver on the Smith commission proposals. It is absolutely crucial that that takes place and that the trust mentioned by the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire is delivered on. When a committee of our colleagues in the Scottish Parliament concludes, on a cross-party basis, that the Government’s Bill does not fulfil that, the Government must listen.
Does it follow from what the hon. Gentleman has just said that, if the amendments that SNP Members will inevitably table are voted down, they will accept the consequences of the amendments not going through and their not getting the massive powers they seek?
I am not entirely sure whether the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that he and his colleagues should vote against his party colleagues in the Scottish Parliament. Is that what he is suggesting? The point I am trying to make is that all our political parties signed up to the Smith commission and all of our political parties in the Scottish Parliament have concluded that the Bill does not fully deliver on it. Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that his party should not support our colleagues in the Scottish Parliament?
I asked the hon. Gentleman for clarification, but unfortunately he did not give it. There is a central point—[Interruption.] I am getting heckled by Labour Members in relation to Tory interventions—again! We are very used to this in Scotland. We are used to “project fear”—the Labour party and the Tories working together.
No. I have given way very generously, both to Labour and to Tory Members, and I will now make some progress.
In addition to the points that have been raised thus far, the Smith recommendation for a power to create new benefits in devolved areas has not been adequately reflected in the Bill. Similarly, the ability to top up reserve benefits has been watered down. The Scottish Parliament would also be prevented from creating additional benefits to mitigate the impact of welfare sanctions and conditionality, which, as Members will know, are among the main causes of poverty. Their use has seen tens of thousands of people forced to rely on food banks, a scandal that should make Government Members hang their heads in shame. As the Devolution (Further Powers) Committee pointed out, the Bill contains unwarranted restrictions on the payment of carers’ benefits.
Secondly, on the constitution, the Bill as it stands fails adequately to guarantee the permanence of the Scottish Parliament. As the Devolution (Further Powers) Committee made clear, this Parliament should not be able to abolish Scotland’s Parliament against the wishes of the people. The consent of the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish people is a necessary addition to fulfil the Smith agreement’s promise of permanence.
Equally, as the Bill stands, the Sewel convention will not be translated effectively into law. It is not given full statutory footing in the Bill, as the Smith commission proposed. It is not good enough, as the Bill currently stands, simply to recognise the existence of the Sewel convention. The Bill’s clauses are vague and, as drafted, do not in fact require Scottish Parliament consent for UK Government legislation in devolved areas. That is not acceptable.
In the Committee stage, we will explore the gaps in the Bill more fully, but I will provide the House with one final example of its shortcomings in the area of employment. The Bill does not include the full range of employment support services currently delivered by the Department for Work and Pensions, contrary to both the letter and the spirit of paragraph 57 of the Smith agreement. That, too, needs to change.
I am still making progress.
These are matters of substance: shortcomings identified and agreed by all parties in the Scottish Parliament. The Scottish Government have helpfully provided new clauses to the Devolution (Further Powers) Committee on those and other gaps in the Bill—amendments that would deliver on the Smith agreement in full. Will the Secretary of State agree now to introduce them as Government amendments? If he cannot offer that guarantee, I am happy to confirm that the Scottish National party will do so, so that the Bill can be given these most basic and essential improvements during its Committee stage.
In that respect, I want to remind the Secretary of State of the Government’s stated policy with regard to England, as set out in the Queen’s Speech, and to replace the word “England” with “Scotland” to create what I hope can be a new principle for the passage of this Bill—perhaps we can call it the Mundell principle— as follows: “That decisions affecting Scotland can be taken only with the consent of the majority of Members of Parliament representing constituencies in that part of our United Kingdom”. That means that if the majority of Scottish Members of this House, representing the views of the Scottish Parliament, desire a change to the Bill that affects only Scotland, his Government must not and should not stand in our path.
The Scottish Parliament and Government have set out the steps that must be taken to ensure that this legislation delivers on the Smith agreement. The Bill is a response to the referendum, but we now need an adequate response to the general election and the clear mandate for more powers that was delivered. I agree with the words of the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations in its briefing to Members on the Scotland Bill:
“As it stands, the Scotland Bill fails to recognise the sea change of opinion in Scotland and the wish for further devolution.”
That failure must now be remedied. If the Government are unwilling to give the people of Scotland what they want, the SNP will table the necessary amendments.
The manifesto on which I and my colleagues were elected was one that secured the support of more votes in Scotland than the Conservatives, the Labour party and the Liberal Democrats combined. We have been clear on our priorities for more powers, stating that
“we will prioritise devolution of powers over employment policy, including the minimum wage, welfare, business taxes, national insurance and equality policy—the powers we need to create jobs, grow revenues and lift people out of poverty.”
Those priorities will be the focus of our amendments in Committee and on Report. I hope that the Government will accept such changes as reflecting the clearly expressed will of a majority of Scottish Members on issues that affect Scotland only.
With meaningful powers over working-age benefits, we can protect Scottish society from the ideological attacks on our welfare state being undertaken by this Government. With responsibility for a full range of economic levers, we can work to support the job creators in Scotland. We can do more to create the wealth and share it more fairly. We can make more of our natural competitive and comparative advantages, boost exports and encourage innovation as we work to make Scotland’s economy more competitive and more productive. These are more powers for a very clear purpose: to deliver policy that works better for the people of Scotland—policy for the many, not just for the few. As our manifesto made clear, we will seek to amend the Bill so that the Scottish Parliament can become responsible for all revenues raised in Scotland as part of a wider financial arrangement that includes borrowing powers. That is also part of our mandate.
The people have spoken, and the UK Government should respect their choice. We know that the UK Government blocked the devolution of many new powers during the very last hours of the Smith negotiations. They were wrong to do so, as the election result has made very clear. Press reports have revealed that very late drafts of the agreement, as negotiated between the Scottish parties, included
“proposals to devolve income tax personal allowances, employers’ National Insurance contributions, inheritance tax, and the power to create new taxes without Treasury approval.”
We are also told that Labour representatives on the Smith commission blocked plans to devolve additional powers on employment law, including the national minimum wage. I hope that the Labour party, in particular, will now shift its stance so that we can ensure that minimum wage levels are set by the Scottish Parliament, not by this Tory Government. I look forward to the Scottish Labour party adding its voice and vote in Committee to SNP amendments to devolve the minimum wage.
The delivery of substantial new powers for our Parliament has become the settled will of the Scottish people, as expressed in elections and opinion surveys. People want the devo-max that was promised in the final days of the referendum. Scotland deserves nothing less.
I am just concluding.
As a recent study by the Economic and Social Research Council has revealed, 63% of people in Scotland support the full devolution of both taxes and welfare benefits, including unemployment benefit. Our guiding principle should be that the people of Scotland get the form of government that they want. For almost two thirds of our fellow citizens, that is a Parliament in Scotland with substantially stronger powers than we have today and substantially stronger than are on offer in this Bill.
As our amendment on the Order Paper makes clear, we wish the Bill to progress into Committee so that it can be improved. Change is necessary, and I hope Government Front Benchers accept that reality. SNP Members will work with the Scottish Parliament to deliver the improvements to the Bill that are required—improvements that will first deliver the Smith agreement in full, and then give us the new powers Scotland needs to enable us to create more jobs and boost economic growth, to increase wages and opportunities across society and to deliver higher living standards for hard-pressed households.
The Westminster system has delivered growing inequality. The gap between the super-rich and the rest is growing at an unacceptable rate. We are among the most unequal societies anywhere in the world. Westminster is not working for the majority of people in Scotland—and arguably for the rest of the UK, too—and that is why there is such a clamour in Scotland for a new way of doing things and for the powers, in our own hands, to make a difference.
The UK Government have promised that this Bill will deliver the Smith commission in full, and that it will include proposals from the Scottish Government that were endorsed by the electorate in the general election. In the weeks ahead, the House of Commons will debate amendments that can strengthen the Bill. I hope that the Government will deliver on the vow, accept the verdict of the electorate and ensure that the Bill does deliver what the Scottish people require.
It is a pleasure to follow Angus Robertson, although it would certainly have been more of a pleasure if he had taken my intervention earlier. I will ask the question that I would have asked then. He made the point that the end of the SNP Members’ amendment says that they want full fiscal autonomy “in the medium term”. Would he care to tell the House when the medium term is? They were talking about a period of 18 months when the referendum was taking place.
The hon. Gentleman did say something that was correct: the people have spoken. The people spoke in the general election, and there is absolutely no question but that there is a mandate for the Bill before us. It is absolutely right that Members from both sides of the House move forward with the vow in all it means in a way that shows trust and good faith, and we will do that.
I will make a number of observations about the fiscal framework, and I would be interested to hear Ministers come back on those points. In his initial remarks, the Secretary of State used the phrase that the solution had to be long lasting and fair, which are big words. My concern is that a solution based on a fiscal framework that is not fair will not be long lasting. I do not believe that the use of the Barnett formula, as it is currently envisaged—even with changes through the devolution of certain revenue-raising powers—is fair on my constituents, or indeed those in Wales or in other parts of England. The flawed Barnett formula settlement is unfair on middle England, and as a result, this whole settlement may unwind.
Let me say a few things about the Barnett formula on which we need to be clear. The first is that it does not represent a subsidy to Scotland, or it has not over the past 25 to 30 years. I have never said that it was. Broadly speaking, the extra money that Scotland gets—£1,600 per head—has been paid for by the proceeds of Scotland’s oil. We can look at the analysis year by year, but the Institute of Directors analysis has said that that, roughly speaking, has been the case over the past 25 to 30 years. It is not a question of subsidy, but of fairness and of need. When we are allocating public spending across our state, there should be cognisance of where that money is required to be spent to have the biggest impact. Indeed, a progressive party—we are continually told that the SNP is progressive—should surely be at the forefront of wanting a formula based on need.
Will the hon. Gentleman therefore explain why he has taken £254 per household from my constituency in Oldham and given it to an affluent area in Surrey?
I have not taken any money from anyone, or given any money to anyone. The hon. Lady’s constituents in Oldham receive roughly £1,600 a year less from public spending than they would receive if they had the same demographic profile and lived north of the border. That is an anomaly, and it is an anomaly that causes a potential risk to a settlement that is necessary and right.
Conservative Members do not question the fact that there is a Scottish Government now, and that that Government have entitlements.
The hon. Gentleman is knowledgeable about this matter, and he was right to say that no subsidy is implied by Barnett. Unlike most of his colleagues, he looks at both sides of the balance sheet. However, he spoilt that by talking about a needs-based assessment. Does he recognise that that would imply a £4 billion cut in Scottish funding, right now?
I recognise that a needs-based assessment —that is, an assessment that will result in public money being spent where it is most needed—is fairer. However,
I am not saying that it should be introduced immediately, as it would be with full fiscal autonomy, and as it would have been had the hon. Gentleman’s party won the referendum. Such things can be done over a period, say, of 10 or 20 years. There can be a target for the achievement of fairness.
As I was saying, no one questions the right of the Scottish Government to provide free prescriptions and free tuition fees—if that is their priority—and to make different arrangements for social care. However, if such provision is predicated on a baseline of funding that is unfair and wrong, it is reasonable for us to question it, and not to let the Scottish Government get away with saying that they can take such action because it is progressive. That is neither fair nor right.
We are talking about a formula that is based on need, and a formula that the late Joel Barnett was desperate to get rid of. A House of Lords Select Committee made the position very clear. Moreover—this is not mentioned often enough—the Holtham commission identified the serious underfunding of Wales as a consequence of the Barnett formula. That problem will have to be addressed in Scotland. It is true that public spending must reflect sparsity, and must reflect the fact that Scotland’s population is more spread out. However, it also needs to reflect relative ageing and relative measures of deprivation.
The hon. Gentleman is making an interesting speech, but at its heart is something of a contradiction. He says that we must implement the vow, but scrap the Barnett formula. Is he aware that the Barnett formula features in paragraph 6 of the vow?
Yes, I am completely aware of that. My point is that the whole settlement will be at risk if it is not perceived as being fair in, for want of a better phrase, “middle England.” I represent a constituency that is in the north but also in the middle, depending on where you start.
No, I will not. I need to make some progress.
It is not right for my constituents to have £1,600 a year less than those who live north of the border. One solution that has been mooted is full fiscal autonomy, which one imagines is something in which nationalists believe. According to their amendment, they believe in it “in the medium term”, which was not the case when they fought the general election. That is indeed a possible solution, but it would result in a black hole. I think that we should be sympathetic, and deal with the problem in a way that would be fair to my constituents and those of Alex Salmond.
Another possible solution would be a proper, need-based review of public spending in this country that was fair to Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England. That would take a while to achieve, and I am not suggesting that it would be easy or should be implemented immediately.
No. I have given way twice, and I need to make some progress.
A needs-based review must be something that I would be delighted to accept if I came to Westminster representing a progressive party. Surely my progressiveness would not allow me simply to say, “We will have all we can get in Scotland”—which, as we heard from the right hon. Member for Gordon, is what was on the front page of the Daily Record. A progressive party should say, “We are not going to take all this money, because we are progressive. The settlement needs to be fair to Wales and to parts of England, where there is a great deal of deprivation.”
Indeed. I understand that full fiscal autonomy would take the problem away, which is, of course, why we are now seeking to implement it “in the medium term”, whatever that means.
Of course I support the vow. Of course I support the mandate that SNP Members have achieved through their spectacular election victory. It is right for us to implement this settlement, and I will vote with the Government tonight and in the future to ensure that that happens. However, I must ask the Secretary of State to reflect on the phrase that he used in his speech—“fair and lasting”—and to ask himself whether he really believes that a fiscal settlement that is absolutely and clearly not based on need can ever be described as fair and lasting. That may yet cause us problems.
As one who has always believed in devolution, I welcome an historic Bill that devolves further powers to Scotland, granting real powers that local people have clearly demanded. Today, however, we heard Angus Robertson elevate victim mentality to a new art form.
It is fine for SNP Members to stand here in the House and say that what is on offer is not good enough, but to hear them speak, both in the House and outside, one would think that they had been no part of the Smith commission whatsoever, and that it had somehow been imposed on them from outside. They sound a bit like the Eurosceptics who claim that Brussels dictates what the United Kingdom does. Nothing could be further from the truth. SNP Members were part of the Smith commission, they agreed to the process, but then, on the following morning, they said that it had had nothing to do with them. We heard a continuation of that argument today, when it was suggested that what had been promised by all the parties who agreed to the Smith commission would not be in the Bill. Briefing from the House of Commons Library clearly states that
“there are no substantial differences between the tax powers that the Smith Commission proposed devolving and those contained in this Bill”.
We must recognise that the general election result caused a substantial change in the politics of Scotland. However, the SNP must recognise that in the vote on independence the people of Scotland voted to be part of the United Kingdom. I think that that puts working people in Scotland in a better position. We should consider the SNP’s record. Earlier today, the hon. Member for Moray shouted at one of my hon. Friends, suggesting that we were in cahoots with the Conservatives “yet again”. Given that his party was propped up by the Conservatives in the Scottish Parliament from 2007 onwards, we will take no lessons from him.
No, I will not.
The hon. Member for Moray set the tone. We keep hearing from the SNP that if something is said, it is actual fact. I think that the movement towards full fiscal autonomy is one thing that the SNP wanted and actually did mention in their manifesto. I hope that they will table amendments, because it would not be in the interests of working people in Scotland. It might be in their interests with Barnett in place, but it is clear that Barnett would eventually wither away, and, given the demographics and economics of Scotland, there would then be a black hole.
Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that the working people of Scotland were consulted on this matter, that they cast their votes in the general election, and that they voted for our party? Not only did they give us the majority of seats, but more than 50% of the electorate voted for us. Does the hon. Gentleman not respect that decision by the working people of Scotland?
I do, and I expect the hon. Gentleman to respect their position in relation to how they voted in the referendum. [Interruption.] Hon. Members from the SNP say they do, but they conveniently forget that.
No, I will carry on.
The important point is that we need a system that is not only fair to the people of Scotland but, as David Mowat said, fair to the people of the United Kingdom. We cannot have the devolution in Scotland that the Bill proposes without it affecting my constituents in North Durham and the constituents of many other Members.
Devolution raises many practical issues. One example is air passenger duty. Newcastle airport is a great example of the local council, five local authorities and the private sector working together to ensure for the region a vibrant airport with international links. It employs 3,500 people directly, with a further 8,000 people employed in the region.
My hon. Friend’s point about Newcastle airport could be made equally about Manchester airport and many other airports in the north of England. Is this not precisely why we need to have a UK-wide look at the devolution settlement? We need to ensure that parts of England, particular those in the north which are closest to Scotland, are not adversely affected by devolution?
We do. I am not holding out a great deal of hope, however, because the Government seem to think that somehow, with this power being devolved to Scotland, competition will ensue. I do not think that is going to work. I agree with my hon. Friend totally, but it goes beyond that issue. On landfill tax, a commendable initiative—the zero waste strategy, which has been much trumpeted in Scotland—aims for 70% of waste to be recycled by 2025. That is a very good policy; indeed, it is the only progressive policy I can think of that the SNP has introduced.
No, because I only have two or three minutes left.
If the Scottish Government choose to increase landfill tax, there will be a movement of waste across the border into England where people will be paying lower rates of landfill tax. That is already happening. In 2014, the Scottish Government introduced the Zero Waste Plan, which means that businesses and individuals now have to separate out their waste. There is clear evidence that in some cases it is not being enforced, and that some unscrupulous individuals and large companies are collecting separated waste and shipping it across the border into England where the Scottish Government have no jurisdiction. Those are just two of the practical issues that need to be considered during the passage of the Bill.
I look forward to the amendments that will be tabled by the SNP, but I have one plea. There is no difference whatever between the interests of the working people in my constituency and of those in the constituencies of SNP Members. I would just say that they should make sure that what is brought forward is not just in the interests of the constituents they represent but mine as well—they have a lot in common. We need to ensure a settlement that the people of Scotland want. They want to be part of the United Kingdom, although I accept that the SNP do not. We need a system that works not only for the benefit of the people of Scotland, but for the rest of the UK too.
I want to thank the voters of South Leicestershire for giving me the opportunity to represent them in this great House of Commons. I follow in a distinguished line of Conservative MPs who have served my wonderful constituency with such passion and dedication. My immediate predecessor, Andrew Robathan, has served our country for over 40 years. He began in the British Army serving in the Coldstream Guards, reaching the rank of major. He was elected in 1992 as MP for Blaby, as my constituency was then known, succeeding another distinguished Conservative MP, the former Chancellor the right hon. Nigel Lawson. Andrew served as Minister of State in the Ministry of Defence and, later, in the Northern Ireland Office. But he was also Opposition deputy Chief Whip and the skills gained in the British Army were put to excellent use in maintaining party discipline, earning him the nickname Robocop. We wish Andrew and his family every success for their future.
South Leicestershire is a truly delightful constituency, a semi-rural constituency, with much of the population in commuter towns and villages clustered close to Leicester itself, both in the suburb of Braunstone Town, including the large modern development of Thorpe Astley, and commuter villages such as Enderby, Narborough, Whetstone, Blaby, Glen Parva and Countesthorpe. The largest settlement to the south is the old market town of Lutterworth where Sir Frank Whittle, inventor of the jet engine, developed some of the world’s first jet engines. The engine for the UK’s first jet aeroplane, the Gloster E.28/39, was produced in Lutterworth and a statue of the plane stands in a roundabout south of the town as a memorial. Nearby is Magna Park, one of the largest distribution centres in Europe. As you travel west, Madam Deputy Speaker, you pass through wonderful villages such as Bitteswell, Ullesthorpe, Ashby Parva, Claybrooke Magna, Frolesworth and Leire. Further north, there are quintessential English villages such as Dunton Bassett, Broughton Astley, Sapcote, Stoney Stanton, Croft and Cosby.
To the east, there is Bruntingthorpe aerodrome, with one of the longest runways in the UK, where on
I would not be here today without the excellent assistance from my agent Ruth and my marvellous campaign manager Ann, who, along with members and supporters from my local Conservative team, led us to an increased majority. As well as Leicestershire County Council, South Leicestershire has two district councils. At the election, we succeeded in holding control of Blaby District Council, under the new leadership of Councillor Terry Richardson, as well as maintaining control of Harborough District Council, which covers the southern parts of my constituency, returning excellent councillors such as Neil Bannister. I will be supporting all three of my local authorities in calls for fairer funding.
Today, we are debating the Scotland Bill. It is perhaps worth noting my own background. As the son of Italian immigrants, I was born in England but raised in Scotland. As a dual qualified Scottish and English solicitor, I have worked across our United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. I am proud to call myself British.
Those on the Government Benches are honouring the so-called vow to the Scottish people made during the Scottish referendum. It is right that we do this. It is also right, however, that we remind the House of another promise given by a senior member of the yes campaign, the former First Minister, Alex Salmond. During last year’s Scottish referendum, he said there would be no second referendum, stating:
“this is a once in a generation, perhaps even a once in a lifetime, opportunity”.
On this side of the House, we will ensure that that pledge—call it a vow, even—is honoured to the people of South Leicestershire and to the whole of our United Kingdom. The Scottish voters decided to remain part of the UK, and all British people are entitled to constitutional stability, at least for a lifetime.
As the Secretary of State said clearly and sincerely, the Scotland Bill is designed to implement the Smith commission agreement, the objective of which was to provide a durable but responsive constitutional settlement for the governance of Scotland. The Bill states:
“A Scottish Parliament is recognised as a permanent part of the United Kingdom’s constitutional arrangements.”
That is designed to ensure that the House accepts the permanence of the Scottish Parliament, while maintaining the ultimate sovereignty of the UK Parliament, of which the Scottish people voted to stay a part. However, having heard other hon. Members, particularly on the Government Benches, I think it is also right that we recognise the need to complement the Bill in due course with further changes in the House of Commons—if you like, English votes for English laws. It is a cry not for English nationalism, but for fairness to ensure that decisions affecting England can be taken only with the consent of a majority of MPs representing English constituencies.
Finally, those of us committed to keeping Britain intact —as one successful, secure, strong, sovereign country—will, I am confident, work towards a fair settlement, and in so doing, whichever party we happen to be members of, I am sure that together we can proudly maintain the integrity of our United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
I thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to make my maiden speech and to take part in this important debate. I congratulate Alberto Costa on his interesting maiden speech, and I am sure he will work hard for his constituents over the next five years. I also congratulate my hon. Friends on their wonderful maiden speeches. I am sure they will also work extremely hard over the next five years.
It is a privilege and an honour to stand here today as not only the first SNP Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West, but the first female Member, although parts of the constituency—Blantyre and Hamilton West—had the pleasure of being served by the great Winnie Ewing back in 1967. I thank my constituents for placing their trust in me to represent them, and will work hard to repay that trust over the next five years.
My early days in the House have been, in equal measures, interesting and challenging: there is a lot to learn, not just about how to act in the Chamber, but about how not to act. However, I am sure that my hon. Friends will join me in saying that since we have arrived the staff have been more than helpful and attentive to our needs. The Doorkeepers have been particularly charming, keen to remember the names of all new Members. It is clear how much they love and take pride in what they do.
As is customary, I would like to mention my predecessor, Tom Greatrex. He was a Labour and Co-operative Member between 2010 and 2015, and was born on
Rutherglen and Hamilton West is diverse in every sense. Rutherglen received the status of royal burgh in 1126 by royal charter from King David I of Scotland. Cambuslang has a long history of coalmining, iron and steel making. Halfway, where I have made my home for the last 15 years, was given that name because passengers would stop there to change their horses and rest on the journey from Glasgow to Hamilton. The district has the older name of Gilbertfield, where a castle still stands, owned once by Hamilton of Gilbertfield, a friend of our national bard, Robert Burns. Blantyre was the birthplace of David Livingstone, the 19th-century explorer and missionary, whose former house is now a museum—to this day, Blantyre has strong ties with Malawi, one of the countries Livingstone explored. Last but by no means least, there is Hamilton, originally known as Cadzow. Many notable people have connections with Hamilton, including the blonde bombshell, as she was known, the late Margo Macdonald.
There are affluent areas in my constituency but also communities crying out for regeneration, investment, and love and attention. Within these communities, we are blessed with truly selfless, hard-working people contributing to our society daily, volunteers in many organisations, charities and community councils—these are the unsung heroes who make the larger community of Rutherglen and Hamilton West what it is. It will be a great pleasure to work with all these people over the next five years, and I look forward to meeting many of them during my tenure as their MP. I will do my very best to serve them with honesty and integrity.
The legacy I wish to leave my constituents is one of positive change for the communities we all live and work in. I have been elected to be their voice in Parliament and to speak up for those with no voice: the mother forced to visit the local food bank; the father in low-paid, zero-hours-contract employment; the carer who looks after a family member for no reward; the refugee reaching out for help in their time of need.
There will be many important pieces of proposed legislation over the next five years, but I am particularly proud to be making my maiden speech in a debate on more powers for Scotland and the Scotland Bill. It has the potential to be much better than it currently is, and my party will take every opportunity to improve it, first by calling for full implementation of the Smith commission and then by adding additional powers over our economy and society. I hope that Labour Members will back us as we seek to take welfare out of Tory hands and into the hands of the Parliament and people of Scotland.
Walking within these corridors of power, I can see that it would be easy to fall under the spell of Westminster Palace—there is no denying the history and ornateness of the building, and the archaic customs have a certain seductive charm—but that is why it is important constantly to remind ourselves of why we are here, who sent us and how long we will be here for. This, my hon. Friends, is but a moment in time. Our heads cannot be turned. Our rightful place is back in that place we all call home, Scotland.
All of us might have difficult choices to make within this Chamber, but we must stand up and be counted. We cannot shy away from making decisions that might have profound implications for our constituents. I will do my best to question each decision I make with careful consideration, and I am sure that my hon. Friends and I will scrutinise each and every piece of proposed legislation carefully, opposing any unfair policies or decisions from the Tory Government.
It is fitting that our day in Parliament starts with prayers. Our task is not an easy one, and divine intervention is welcomed, but ultimately one is responsible for one’s own conduct and moral compass. It will be an interesting five years for me and my 55 hon. Friends. We relish the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead of us, and I hope that we can make progressive alliances across the Chamber, working together in a spirit of collaboration. Let us find common cause, let us respect one another and let us be guided always to do what is right, not for ourselves, but for those we serve. Saor Alba.
Order. The passion of today’s debate has been such that speeches have taken a little longer than they might otherwise have done—perfectly properly, given the many interventions—so I am afraid that I have to reduce the time limit to seven minutes.
It is an honour to follow the maiden speech from Margaret Ferrier, who spoke powerfully on behalf of her constituents. It is a great privilege for me, too, to address this House on behalf of my constituents in Eddisbury. I arrived ready to be a serious politician, but almost immediately, the first thing that happened to me was being selected for the ladies’ tug-of-war team! I hope this parliamentary debut will not lead to my being flat on my backside.
I am acutely conscious that Eddisbury has been represented by a number of illustrious Members of Parliament, the most recent of whom was Stephen O’Brien, who served the constituency with distinction and dedication for the last 16 years. His commitment to his constituents has been accompanied by his achievements in office as a Minister for International Development between 2010 and 2012, as well being the Prime Minister’s envoy for the Sahel. Stephen will bring substantial experience to his new role in the United Nations as Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs. That experience will prove invaluable in the light of the challenges of the humanitarian crises that beset Syria and Nepal and the consequences of the conflict with ISIL. Members from all sides will want to wish him well.
The difficulties of others suffering the consequences of humanitarian disaster can sometimes feel a long way away from the delights of the Eddisbury constituency in south-west Cheshire. Beautiful canals that criss-cross the landscape in Wrenbury can be enjoyed on narrow boats that can be hired for relaxing holidays.
The Cheshire plains form the bedrock of the dairy industry in the constituency, whose importance is recorded as far back as 1125 by William of Malmesbury. Concerns about the milk price do not quite go back that far, but the fact that it is cheaper to buy a litre of milk than a litre of water was as true 15 years ago as it is today, and it is something on which we need to take action if we want to ensure that British family farms survive. Farm diversification is strong in Eddisbury, and that can be seen with the milk being turned into one of the oldest of English cheeses—Cheshire cheese.
Scottish Members will be interested to know of the link to St Boniface, who founded over 150 churches in Scotland in the seventh century. We have the church of St Boniface in Bunbury. In the 18th century, the Reverend Butler recorded:
“St. Boniface, by preaching the word of God, reformed the manners of the people in the provinces of Angus, Marris, Buchan, Elgin, Murray, and Ross”.
Witnessing “Seatgate” in this House over the last few weeks, I am not certain that the reformation of manners he described was a lasting one.
Eddisbury is also home to the oldest church in Cheshire, which was built in 1190 in Shocklach. If quiet contemplation is not one’s style and people prefer big engines and racing, they should come to the Cholmondeley “pageant of power”, which is on this weekend, or watch the racing at Oulton. Bolesworth park provides top-quality international eventing for those with a love of horses—and all these can be enjoyed over the next few weeks.
The real strength of my constituency, however, is the people who live within it, and their generosity of spirit can be seen in Winsford. St Luke’s hospice, one with a history of being small, punches above its weight in terms of innovation and working with others. The Wingate centre provides life-enriching experiences to children with disabilities and provides respite care for those who need it. Then there is the neuro-muscular centre that provides unique help for those with muscular dystrophy—not just for people from my constituency, but for many others, too.
I got involved in politics as a single parent, having struggled to access childcare in the rural area in which I lived. Single parents come in all shapes and sizes, as can be seen. Many have jobs, and childcare is crucial to allow parents to make the most of themselves and their children. The Family and Childcare Trust has pointed out the particular lack of provision in rural areas. This Government’s commitment to 30 hours of free childcare provides an opportunity for local councils to ensure appropriate provision during the school holidays and wrap-around care, which is vital for working parents and single parents in particular. Improvement of provision is crucial if we are to make the most of talented women and men who want to work, but often face barriers because of the high cost of childcare.
In the numerous villages scattered throughout the constituency, small local businesses typify the determination of those who are employers, employees and business owners—whether they be a high street shop, a local farm or a business located on one of our many industrial sites. Hard work is clearly evident in Eddisbury, and there is a quiet but steely determination for people to “get on”, to strive and to achieve. That can be seen in the streets of Alpraham, Kelsall, Farndon, Malpas, Tarvin, Tarporley and Tattenhall.
My constituents voted Conservative so that they could build on those hopes for themselves and their families in Cheshire. Aspiration and achievement are admired, yet my constituents watch as policies that could help them are placed under threat by MPs from nations that make their own decisions on childcare, health services and education. That cannot be right, so the West Lothian question needs to be addressed to ensure English votes for English laws.
It is important that we recognise the strong links we have in our area. Speaking as someone who has both English and Welsh roots, I have been accused of being too English in Wales, and too Welsh in England. I make no apology for being British, and we should perhaps reflect that what unites us is stronger than what divides us. Having experienced devolution first hand, it is clear that if decision making is taken closer to those affected by it, people will benefit. That is the benefit of the northern powerhouse to my constituents. This is the principle that we should perhaps bear in mind when considering the impact of the European Union referendum. It seems a contradiction that the SNP seeks independence, yet is apparently happy to cede sovereignty to Europe.
I will be a strong voice for my constituency in Westminster, and look forward to speaking up for my constituents in the years to come.
It is a pleasure to follow three exceptionally fine maiden speeches. As convention demands, I should like to say a few words about them before Alberto Costa leaves his place. As one former Scottish solicitor to another, I welcome him to the House. Maiden speeches always teach us something new that we did not know about a certain part of the world before. I confess that I always thought the world’s longest runway was at Machrihanish, but I say that only because the hon. Gentleman went on to give an impressive list of community names—villages and towns within his constituency. I am sure that the sound we might have heard in the background was the silent sobbing of Hansard writers trying to get the full list from him. He will soon learn, I have no doubt, that such lists bring a swift note from the Hansard writers.
Margaret Ferrier has obviously already learned one important thing about the House of Commons—that if one wants to get on here, one has to keep in with the Doorkeepers. She, too, delivered her first speech with passion and humour. Knowing the part of the world she represents, as I do, I have no doubt that she will need both these qualities as she represents her constituents in the years ahead.
Finally, we heard from Antoinette Sandbach, who spoke first of all for her farming constituents. As a farmer’s son representing a farming constituency myself, I am pretty sure that we will all recognise elements of common concerns shared between her part of the world and mine. I was particularly impressed by the way in which she brought in her own wider life experience. She gave a thoughtful maiden speech, and she will always be listened to in this House.
Let me add my welcome for this Bill on Second Reading tonight. It is not yet fully nine months since the Smith commission was established. In that time, there have been a series of deadlines which, as the Secretary of State indicated, have all been met or exceeded and today’s is just one of the long line. It is worth remembering that we had a report—the heads of agreement—from Lord Smith and his commissioners by the end of November. There was then the publication of draft clauses and the Command Paper by the end of January. Then there was a commitment in all three manifestos to bring forward legislation in the first Queen’s Speech and an early introduction of the Bill. I commend the Government on having brought it forward today, and I wish it a swift passage.
This Bill has already been the subject of some substantial and detailed scrutiny. Other hon. Members have spoken about the report of the Scottish Parliament special committee on the extra powers to the Scottish Parliament, and professional bodies such as the Law Society of Scotland have also given the Bill careful consideration. The nine-month gestation process in the context of these discussions has been undertaken at breakneck speed. If we consider how long it took us to get through the constitutional convention in the 1990s, or the time taken in the Calman commission and then in bringing forward the Scotland Bill which became the Scotland Act 2012, we can understand that to have got to this point within nine months is a considerable achievement. I pay tribute to the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State and his officials in the Scotland Office for the work they have done.
As a general principle, I would rather have things right than quick, but we have to appreciate that this is one of those occasions when we are going to have to do both. To do that requires of us all a particular effort and for us all to proceed in good faith and with goodwill on all sides. I hope the debate we have in the coming weeks will allow the widest possible range of opinions that reflect the issues discussed in the referendum and general election campaigns in Scotland. As Ian Murray said from the Opposition Dispatch Box, the SNP’s very significant achievement in returning 56 of the 59 MPs must be recognised and I hope they will bring forward amendments that reflect full fiscal autonomy or responsibility—whatever term they choose to employ—and they will tell us the detail of what they mean by the medium term.
Tommy Sheppard said in an intervention that in the course of the election campaign his party’s policy had been the subject of grotesque caricature. If that is the case, as an elected representative, he now has the opportunity in this place to put that right, and I hope he and his colleagues will introduce amendments so we can have a proper debate. My objection to full fiscal autonomy remains that, in my view, it constitutes effectively independence by the back door, and therefore it does not respect the decision we reached as a nation last September.
The words of caution I give tonight are not directed only at the SNP. They extend to those in the Labour and Conservative parties who would seek to use this debate as some sort of bidding war between those on different sides of the border. I am short of time tonight but this is my word of caution: remember always that within this great family of nations that is the United Kingdom it is possible to break the Union from either side of the border. We have always proceeded on the basis that we are a family where we give in and take out in different ways at different times. I hope the Bill we have tonight will be the next stage in the evolution of that family, and I look forward to taking part in its consideration in the weeks to come.
I want to make the Conservative case for as much fiscal autonomy, and therefore responsibility, as is possible. This is a big subject. It needs big positive gestures. We are talking about the future of the nation. We should frame our response to the general election not in the pettifogging detail of the civil service brief, but in the tradition of the great national declarations of the past. I call for nothing less than full home rule for Scotland—or self-rule as I prefer to call it.
The Smith commission really is a dog’s breakfast. No one understands it, and it addles the brain of anyone who tries to read it, as I have done. We have to get out of this love affair with commissions of the great and the good. We are politicians. We must have the vision in this House, as politicians—and, dare I say it, as statesmen—to look at the overall picture.
The election changes everything. We have to come to terms with the sad fact that the SNP has just won all but three of the seats in Scotland. We cannot go on as if we have just had the referendum. We won the referendum, but it was nine months ago. We have had a general election since then and we have to respond to that. The Smith commission was in response to an earlier panicky scare, which led to the vow, and I think the vow has, in a sense, produced an inadequate response.
If we do nothing now—if we do not move forward—we will fall into the same trap as the disastrous response to Irish nationalism. We are about where Ireland was in the 1880s. We now know our response to Ireland was too little, too late. We were wrong to abolish the Irish Parliament in 1801. We were wrong to delay granting Catholic emancipation. We were wrong not to listen to Gladstone in the 1880s. We were wrong not to implement home rule in 1914.
If we are to keep Scotland in the United Kingdom, which is my primary aim as a Unionist, I believe we should move towards full fiscal autonomy for Scotland so that, in broad terms, the Scottish Parliament spends what it raises, with only foreign affairs, defence and pension liability—and the ultimate liability for financial shocks like in 2008—remaining at the UK level.
I do not argue for fiscal autonomy as some kind of cheap trap: “Ha ha, get rid of the Barnett formula, the oil is slowly running out, make them poorer and they’ll behave.” Aside from the obvious immorality of such a position, nationalism cannot be defeated by imposing poverty—quite the opposite.
The Union is asymmetrical. The English have 85% of the population, and we must be generous. We are never going to get some perfect federal solution. We are better off with the Union. It makes for a larger spirited nation, and it is in our interests as English Members of Parliament to be generous. That means, certainly, English votes for English laws in the very few cases where we are passing laws that only affect England, but Scottish MPs must be part of the discussion. It is a sensible compromise that grants them a role in that discussion but with an ultimate double-veto.
There are several arguments against full fiscal autonomy. First, there is the argument that we must keep something in reserve. That is a Machiavellian argument, but it does not work. If we must keep something so that we have a bargaining tool, what happens when we have just one chip left? If it cannot be given away, it has lost its effectiveness as a bargaining tool, and if it can be given away, the argument fails completely. So I do not accept it.
Secondly, there is the matter of tax competition. We are warned that Scotland will lower its corporation tax or other taxes—we have heard about airport passenger duty—but so what? We should have the confidence to accept competition in tax policy.
I totally agree with my hon. Friend. If Scotland has full fiscal responsibility, it can decide what taxes it sets and how much it takes, and it must have responsibility for spending as well.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend.
As Conservatives, we believe in responsibility and I believe that we have created in the Scottish Parliament a grievance Parliament. Even after these proposals, the Scottish Government will be able to spend only about 50% of what they raise. They will always be able to blame the United Kingdom Parliament for what goes wrong. Give the Scottish people responsibility and, ultimately, the wheel turns—it always does. The more responsibility one gives to people, the more difficult the decisions they have to take. For example, they might want to increase taxes, but that might lessen productivity; they might want to cut spending on social security, but that might make them more unpopular. Those, however, are decisions for a real Parliament, and they are what we should give to the Scottish Parliament.
It is argued that the EU will not allow us to give value added tax decisions to the Scottish Parliament, but that is something else that the Prime Minister can argue for. If he does not succeed in that negotiation, perhaps some Scottish people will form the view that there might be life outside the EU, but that is for another day.
I do not claim any expertise in the Scottish psyche and I might have got this wrong, but I think we can have closure if we give people ultimate responsibility and if we reassure Scottish people that this is not a trick and that we will keep pension liability within the United Kingdom, as well as the liability for great financial shocks such as those we saw in 1929 or 2008. We have heard about the £7 billion black hole and I understand the Secretary of State, but we can surely carry on having the discussion. We can also carry on discussing social security. People argue that we cannot give away social security, because we have to have a larger pot to help the poor, but that is something for an enabling Bill and to discuss with our colleagues in the Scottish Parliament. If they do not want to take full fiscal responsibility now, that is their choice and they must be allowed to make it. We should at least look at the Bill in an atmosphere of co-operation and toleration for each other’s views, with a determination on the Government Benches—the Unionist Benches—to make things work, to have some sort of closure on the issue, and to re-create people’s faith in our United Kingdom Parliament, because I believe that the result of the referendum showed that that faith is still there.
“We are bound to lose Ireland in consequence of years of cruelty, stupidity and misgovernment and I would rather lose her as a friend than as a foe.”
No one is arguing that we are in that position, but we might still lose Scotland if we create an unsustainable situation, which we are in danger of doing. So let us use these four days in constructive debate. The referendum showed us that Scotland has not yet given up on us; nor should we give up on it. If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change; we must move forward in a spirit of co-operation.
It is an honour to make my maiden speech in this important debate. I spent some time in Scotland on the referendum campaign and one of my lasting memories is how engaged 16 and 17-year-olds were, which is a point that I will come back to.
On the campaign trail, one of the things that came up on the doorstep was that politicians too often use language that people do not relate to. In my maiden speech and in future contributions to the House, I will ensure that I use language that the people of Lewisham, Deptford can relate to—not policy speak, buzz words or jargon, but plain, simple language.
I am not normally one for following convention, and I have to be honest that my short time here as an MP has shown me that Parliament has a lot of conventions, but one that is easy for me to follow is paying tribute to my predecessor. Joan Ruddock was a hard-working MP for Lewisham, Deptford for more than 28 years. She also worked extremely hard to reform this House. She was quoted as saying that this place had some of the worst working conditions that she had ever encountered. Some Members will remember the days when 40% of Parliament’s sittings were beyond midnight, allowing little time in their constituencies. She rightly felt that that was not what people expected of their MP. Through her work with Members in all parties she got friendlier sitting hours, although I know she would say that things are still not ideal.
The people of Lewisham, Deptford were important to Joan, and they are important to me. Locally, we have a strong sense of community, which we are proud of. That can be seen in our successful campaign to save Lewisham hospital. Thousands of people took to the streets, signed petitions, put up posters and did whatever it took to save our local hospital. Ultimately, under the previous Government, we had to take the Secretary of State for Health, Mr Hunt, to court, where we won. I hope that we do not have to do the same again, but if we do, I know that we have the strength, the resolve and the passion to fight again to protect our local hospital and our community.
We are not only fighters in Lewisham, Deptford, we are creators as well. We have a vibrant community arts base: the Albany; the Brockley Jack Theatre; Midi Music; the Laban; the Second Wave; Goldsmiths, University of London; Crofton Park and New Cross community libraries; Lewisham Arthouse; and street festivals, such as Hither Green, Deptford X and Brockley Max, to mention a few. There is much, much more.
The creative side is important to the community and to me. I studied performing arts at college; I did not get any A to Cs in my GCSEs when I was at school, but further education was my second chance. Further education must be properly supported and properly funded. Lewisham and Southwark College is my local college and I want it to thrive. I want it to receive the support that it had under a Labour Government.
Some might say that learning drama and performing arts was a perfect training ground to be an MP, but if anyone had said to me when I was 17 that I would be an MP, I would not have believed them because, quite honestly, politics was just not for the likes of me. That is still the opinion of too many young people, and it has to change. We need every young person—every person—to recognise that politics is not only for a political class, but for everyone. That is why I will continue to meet with young people from our schools, colleges and youth groups to get them involved in politics. Their voice matters; they are the future.
For that reason, I want to use the opportunity afforded to me by winning a place in the ballot for private Member’s Bills on a Bill calling for votes for 16 and 17-year-olds. I only secured 16th place in the ballot, but my voice must be heard, just as 16-year-olds should have their voices heard and their votes counted. They were rightly given the opportunity to vote in the referendum in Scotland. The future of their country was at stake and they turned out to vote. Is it right that they can fight and die for their country, pay tax, contribute to the economy and get married, but that they cannot have their views reflected at the ballot box?
In Lewisham we have a Young Mayor, Liam Islam, from Deptford Green school. I will work with him, his team and advisers, and any other groups that wish to join our campaign. I would love the Government to work with us to deliver it, but if they do not work with us, we will not be quiet about seeking to ensure that 16 and 17-year-olds have their voices heard in the EU referendum and beyond.
I am deeply concerned about the next five years and the detrimental impact that the Government will have on the people of Lewisham, Deptford and the country as a whole. I will, however, do everything that I can to protect the most vulnerable in our society from the Government. I will fight tooth and nail against whatever attacks fall on our public services, our housing and the people of Lewisham, Deptford.
As someone famous once wrote on a train to New Cross in 1889:
“So raise the scarlet standard high
Beneath its shade we’ll live and die,
Though cowards flinch and traitors sneer,
We’ll keep the red flag flying here.”
Some Members may recognise those words from Jim Connell’s song, “The Red Flag”. I invite any of the Government Members to come on a train to New Cross; bring pen and paper, and you never know what might happen.
It is a pleasure to follow that inspiring speech by my hon. Friend Vicky Foxcroft. It is also a pleasure to hear so many initial contributions from so many fine hon. Members.
I speak today as the new Member for Cambridge, and let me start by saying a few words about my predecessors. Dr Julian Huppert is a knowledgeable scientist and a committed defender of civil liberties, who argued hard in this House and well in the Select Committee on Home Affairs, where he won many friends. He has been a passionate advocate for cycling and for environmentalism, and he is extremely well regarded in the constituency, having fought hard to improve the funding situation for our local schools and to raise the status of mental health. But my predecessors in Cambridge set a very high bar. Some here will remember David Howarth, another Liberal Democrat MP who was also very well regarded in this House. Before that, we had my dear friend Anne Campbell, a Labour MP from 1992 to 2005, who has been a source of huge support and great wisdom for me.
I suspect that not every Member gets elected to this House at their first attempt. For some it will take two attempts, whereas for others it takes three or four. I am on my fifth, but I am here at last. I suspect that those who have followed a similar course may well have reflected early in their career on the merits of enthusiasm and youth. As one’s career progresses, one recognises the benefits of experience and perhaps a little wisdom—one hopes.
I also suspect that many Members are full of enthusiasm and optimism when they are first selected—I was first selected to fight a rural seat in Norfolk—and find themselves writing their maiden speech. When I reflect on that speech from 20 years ago, I see that quite a lot of it is still valid today: I see a Conservative Government, a Labour Opposition and much talk of Europe. The biggest thing that has changed for me has been moving back to the fine city of Cambridge 10 years ago—it has been the biggest change in my life. What I have seen in Cambridge over those years is a city on the cusp of a technological revolution; the number of jobs in the knowledge-intensive sector is phenomenal. For me, there is the link with today’s discussion about Scotland and devolution, because what our hugely successful companies such as ARM and the Babraham Institute need are more flexibilities, and people in Scotland are arguing for the same. As someone who has argued for many years for devolution to the English regions, I think we need to sort these issues out in a sensible way, which is why I did support the idea of a constitutional convention, as proposed by the Labour party at the last election.
Cambridge is also, like so many other places, a tale of two cities; the challenges our city faces are partly the challenges of success, but we also have divisions. Our businesses need an answer to the traffic problems and the appalling housing crisis we have. A terraced house in Cambridge costs £450,000 and our average rents are double those in England for most homes. Our housing benefit bill has doubled in the past five years—why? It is because 12,000 people in the prosperous city of Cambridge are earning below the living wage—it is not always the way we imagine it. We need different solutions in different places.
I am glad to say that Cambridge now has a Labour council and it is trying to tackle those issues, but it is hard to do. The biggest issue is affordable housing, and I see fellow hon. Members here who have been involved in these debates with me over many years. The biggest problem we have is that although we have a valuable housing stock, we are not allowed to borrow against it. The city deal is welcome, but it is a drop in the ocean compared with what we really need to turn Cambridge into the economic driver that could so help our economy, right across the UK.
When we look at those issues, we ask: why can we not borrow? Some 18 months ago, there was a chink of light from the Treasury, when people began to talk about “tax increment financing”—I apologise for the jargon—or the possibility of borrowing against that value. What happened? The usual forces of conservatism in the Treasury won out yet again, as has happened to Governments of both complexions. So I say to both Front-Bench teams: we need to think imaginatively if we are to solve these huge challenges facing not only cities such as Cambridge, but our whole country and our other nations as well.
Creating the kind of tolerant, diverse city that people in a place such as Cambridge want will mean balancing a range of complicated and difficult issues, and recognising that even within a city such as Cambridge there are many different Cambridges. Cambridge has not only the university we all know and love so much, but three other universities: Anglia Ruskin University, which is doing so well; the University of the Third Age; and the Open University—my mother was pleased to be one of the first people to go to it back in the ‘60s. I recall one moment earlier this year when Cambridge United played Manchester United in a rather unequal battle—perhaps—in the FA cup and we held those mighty people to a goalless draw at the Abbey stadium. That was a brief moment when people saw that other Cambridge. I suggest that in our communities right across the country there are other cities and other places, and we need to understand all of them.
I stand before you today as a Labour MP for Cambridge who will represent the buccaneering investors and high-tech gurus of our city, who will create wealth. But most of all, I will be standing up and arguing for our public sector workers, who so often are forgotten, but without whom the rest of the city cannot do its job. I am proud to represent Cambridge and look forward to standing up for the city in the years ahead.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to speak for the first time in the House today. I would like to congratulate my hon. Friend Margaret Ferrier on her excellent maiden speech and Vicky Foxcroft. I am truly delighted to have been called to speak in this Scotland Bill debate on behalf of my constituents, who have bestowed upon me the honour of representing them in this place as the first SNP Member for North Ayrshire and Arran.
One regret I have is that my mother is not alive to see me elected to this place, as I know she would have been so proud. She came to Scotland with my father in 1954, from Malin Head in Ireland, in search of work and a better life. I was the youngest of eight children, with my father dying suddenly when I was one. Life was a struggle and we lived in deep poverty. That is why I understand the struggles of so many of my constituents, who find making ends meet a challenging prospect every single day.
I represent a dozen or so distinct communities—Ardrossan, Barrmill, Beith, Dalry, Fairlie, Kilbirnie, Kilwinning, Largs, Saltcoats, Skelmorlie, Stevenston, West Kilbride and Kilwinning—and two beautiful islands, Cumbrae and Arran. Arran, of course, is an island famed for being “Scotland in miniature”. Much of my constituency faces many challenges in the post-industrial era, but the pride and determination of those communities and their commitment to a fairer and more equal society are truly inspirational. My constituency retains important businesses, ranging from the very small to DSM, which employs over 300 people and has the distinction of being the only manufacturer of vitamin C in the world outside China. We also have J & D Pierce, which is not just Scotland’s largest steel fabricator, but the largest steel fabricator in northern Britain, and the wonderful Arran Aromatics.
North Ayrshire and Arran is the place to be for those who consider themselves to be epicurean in their tastes, being an enviable source of seasonal produce. In addition, we can boast the Arran brewery and Scotland’s newest world-class distillery, in Lochranza. Arran blonde ale will satisfy the palate of even the most discerning ale drinker.
Over the years, the boundaries of my constituency have altered. My immediate predecessor, Katy Clark, represented the constituency within its current boundaries for 10 years. A very well known MP who represented much of the constituency when it was called Bute and Northern Ayrshire was Sir Fitzroy Maclean, who was a major-general in the second world war and rumoured to be one of Ian Fleming’s inspirations for James Bond.
I like to think that I share important attributes with the character of James Bond: I exude charm, as I am sure Members will come to recognise; I show courage when life becomes difficult; I have good self-defence skills that will enable me to disarm opponents; and, like Mr Bond, I am able to embrace change willingly. I know some Members of this House struggle to do so, especially with regards to voting behaviour.
The rebuke that SNP Members received for clapping in the Chamber reminds me of the outcry that Keir Hardie caused when he delivered his maiden speech wearing a tweed suit and deerstalker hat, instead of the expected frock coat and top hat. It seems that every generation of parliamentarians, in their own particular and modest ways, must push the House inch by inch into the future.
As has been said by so many of my colleagues, we in the SNP come to this House in good faith, armed only with the aspirations of our constituents and our determination to be a strong voice for Scotland. The Scotland Bill fails to live up to the powers recommended by the Smith commission, as the UK Government retain a veto over key policy areas. The SNP will seek to improve the Bill to ensure that, as a minimum, it delivers on the Smith commission proposals in full.
It is an outrage, as we heard earlier, that the plan for English votes for English laws could prevent Scottish MPs from voting on issues that have significant implications for Scotland’s budget. To push through such a change would mean that no full and proper scrutiny of this measure could be undertaken.
Devolving more powers to Scotland is the best way to improve the lives of the people of Scotland. Scotland needs control over employment support, job creation and welfare. This Bill falls far short of what the people of Scotland were promised and now quite rightly expect.
We must give voice to Scotland’s priorities. That is why we are here and why we have been elected to this place. We in the SNP will work tirelessly and relentlessly to deliver the kind of policies that reflect the values and aspirations of the people of Scotland, and we will work with others in this House with whom we find common cause. That is my vow to the good people of North Ayrshire and Arran, and that is the SNP’s vow to people across Scotland.
I am very grateful to be able to speak in this important debate. As a Welsh MP from the party of devolution, I am keen to see my Celtic cousins gain a strengthened Scottish Parliament while still enjoying the benefit of being part of the Union. I congratulate Patricia Gibson on her excellent maiden speech and on her elevation to this place, where I am certain she will serve her constituency with integrity and passion.
I must pay tribute not only to my immediate predecessor but to the two Members who preceded her. My immediate predecessor, Siân James, made history by becoming the first female to represent Swansea East. As the second female Member to represent the constituency, the perception of this place as a male-dominated arena has been firmly dispelled in Swansea East. One needs only to look around the Chamber to see that women are very much in evidence in 2015.
Siân was involved in groundbreaking parliamentary work when she helped steer through the Sunbeds (Regulation) Act 2010. She is one of the few living Members of Parliament whose life experiences have been portrayed in a big screen movie—an achievement from which she can take great pride.
I need to jump a political generation as I pay tribute to the late Neil McBride. As a home-grown young girl of Swansea East, I was immensely proud that Mr McBride knew my name and never failed to speak to me as I passed his home en route to school. Neil McBride was MP for Swansea East from 1963 to 1974 and Government Whip from 1966 to 1974. He was one of my early heroes and his kindness and patience with an eight-year-old politically inquisitive child undoubtedly encouraged me to take a keen interest in politics at a very young age.
I turn now to my political pin-up, Don Anderson, now Lord Anderson of Swansea. I have known Don for many years and supported his campaigns election after election. I admire his incredible memory and his excellent political acumen. He is generous in spirit and with his time and advice, and his knowledge is boundless. To stand in his shoes is an incredible honour and I intend to repay his nurturing by representing Swansea East with great commitment and enthusiasm.
Swansea East forms part of the geographical area that Dylan Thomas referred to as the ugly, lovely town. I am afraid though that I have to challenge that description as today the view from Dylan’s Kilvey is anything but ugly. In 2015, Swansea East boasts a vista that is economically exciting, architecturally beautiful, culturally and educationally groundbreaking, and environmentally innovative. It has a sporting track record that is the pride of Wales.
In September, University of Wales Swansea opens its Swansea Bay campus. Although it is technically in the constituency of my hon. Friend Stephen Kinnock, he has given me permission to mention it as it is literally inches from my own constituency. As an alumnus of University of Wales Swansea I would not be forgiven if I did not give it a mention. The new campus is a £450 million scheme that has created an architectural community with open spaces, integral streets and grand structures, which give the impression of a small city. It is estimated that, over the next 10 years, the development will have a £3 billion economic impact on Wales.
Closer to Swansea East and in the St Thomas community, just under the edge of Dylan’s Kilvey, University of Wales Trinity St David is proposing to introduce and deliver on its plans for a “transforming education, transforming lives” project. In direct partnership with the Welsh Government and the City and County of Swansea Council, it is intending to develop a Swansea waterfront innovation quarter to support the university’s aim of inspiring individuals and developing graduates. It will be a vibrant, modern waterfront, with purpose-built facilities for learning, teaching and research. A single faculty of architecture building in 2017 will eventually evolve into a vibrant, social and educational community within 10 years.
Swansea East is also home to several Government agencies: the Pensions Agency, the Land Registry and the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, which is undoubtedly the largest agency in terms of employment. The DVLA is in a landmark building: a large white oblong that is visible for many miles from the M4, and the beacon that tells me that I am nearly home when it comes into sight. The public sector is one of the largest employers in my constituency and the presence of every one of those agencies is very welcome.
Tidal Lagoon Swansea Bay is hopefully to be the jewel in the Swansea Bay crown. I am very proud that one of the most exciting global environmental projects that we have ever seen will be coming to Swansea East very soon. The proposal for the world’s first man-made, energy-generating lagoon, which is predicted to power more than 155,000 homes, is currently in the final stages; we are waiting for the development consent order, which is due imminently. Given the Prime Minister’s enthusiasm for the project in this Chamber fewer than five days ago, I am very optimistic that there will be a favourable outcome. The project will see a critical change in the UK’s energy mix. It will harness natural power from the rise and fall of the tides. Swansea Bay will be the first in a series of six tidal lagoons that will eventually meet up to 8% of UK electricity demand.
In my home ward, Landore Cwmbwrla, we are very proud to have the Liberty stadium, which is the home of the Ospreys rugby team and of the only Welsh football club in the premier league. I am sure that all my Welsh colleagues will join me in congratulating the Swans on finishing eighth in the league and in wishing them well for the 2015-16 season. Without doubt, Swans supporters are the most intrepid in their trips for away games; it has been worked out that they have travelled more than 4,000 miles, the equivalent of a trip to the Bahamas.
Colleagues can now appreciate why I take exception to the proposal that Swansea is an ugly town. Lovely, I cannot argue with, not least because of the people. They are friendly, welcoming, open and hard-working and they have put their trust and their faith in me. I intend to be their voice in this Chamber and to represent them on everything they would want me to. Somebody once said that Swansea was the graveyard of ambition, but I hope that after this speech Members will agree that Swansea East is a treasure chest of opportunity.
It is a great pleasure to take part in this debate and to give my maiden speech. It seems that the force of argument from the SNP Benches has cleared the ranks of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist party from the Chamber, which is to a degree regrettable.
Aberdeen South is in many ways the classic three-way marginal seat—a three-way marginal that I and the SNP won last month from fourth place. That signifies why we are here: the people of Aberdeen South and Scotland have a desire for change and progress, for the Scottish Parliament to be empowered and for the country we live in to be made a stronger and fairer place to live.
My immediate predecessor, Dame Anne Begg, made her maiden speech in this Chamber during the debate on the Referendums (Scotland and Wales) Bill, which gave the people of Scotland the opportunity of re-establishing the Scottish Parliament. History has shown that that Bill was not enough to satisfy the Scottish people’s desire for control over their own affairs, and I have little doubt that the same will be said of this Bill in years to come. At that time, there was much talk about the settled will of the Scottish people, but I do not think that the people of Scotland are willing to settle for this Bill.
I know that it is customary to pay tribute to one’s predecessor, but for me it is easy. Dame Anne Begg served Aberdeen South with great spirit, enthusiasm and passion for 18 years. She paved the way as the first full-time wheelchair user in this House since the 19th century and campaigned tirelessly for the rights of people with disabilities. Her defeat was in no way a reflection of her work or her dedication to her constituents, but part of the strong desire in Scotland for a more distinctive
Scottish voice in this place and a stronger and more accountable Parliament in Edinburgh. I pay tribute to Anne for her work on behalf of her constituents. I have no doubt that she still has a major contribution to make to public life, and I wish her well.
Aberdeen is fondly known as the granite city. The stone from the quarries in and around the city has been used to great effect all over the world. Stone from the biggest of these, the Rubislaw quarry in my constituency, is in the Terrace here in Westminster. Rubislaw quarry, which might be brought back to life as a visitor centre, is known as the biggest man-made hole in Europe. I have some concerns that that title might be in jeopardy given some of the actions of this Government, but for the sake of the country as a whole I hope that it is one that we retain.
Aberdeen South has many distinct and proud communities, from the picturesque village of Cove at the southern point of the constituency, round the mighty headland of Girdle Ness to the former royal burgh of Torry. My constituency follows the course of the beautiful lower reaches of the River Dee, the mouth of which forms a natural harbour that founded the development of our city as the economic powerhouse that it is today. Such is the demand for space at the harbour, even with low oil prices, that there is a prospect of expanding the harbour outwith its present realms, showing the might and resilience of our city.
The constituency is home to two wonderful Victorian gardens, Hazlehead and Duthie parks. It hosts the main campus of the young, ambitious and upwardly mobile Robert Gordon University in Garthdee as well as some of the finest state schools in Scotland. It is a constituency of growing diversity with people from across the globe enhancing and enriching a culture that is proudly Scottish but distinctively Aberdonian. In short, and to borrow from the Doric, it is an afa bonnie place and well worth a visit.
Aberdeen South is one of the wealthiest constituencies in Scotland, but among that great wealth lies great poverty: 10% of the children in the seat live in poverty, in a city with essentially full employment that is home to a world-leading oil and gas industry. I and my party want to address that, but I do not think that the Bill gives us the tools to do so. It might go some of the way, but more work needs to be done.
The low oil price is of course concerning, but Aberdeen remains that resilient city. Those who want to find work will by and large find it. The problem is for those earning the minimum wage. In a wealthy city like Aberdeen it is nigh on impossible to have a decent standard of life on the minimum wage. For me, the biggest failing of the Bill is that it does not give the Scottish Parliament the power to implement a genuine living wage.
Aberdeen proudly boasts the title of Europe’s oil capital and we are in the transition to becoming a truly global energy city as we diversify into new markets and into a hub for renewable energy. Over the coming weeks and months I look forward to championing the industries of Aberdeen and ensuring they get the support that they need from Government.
As I said, I feel that the Bill will not be judged kindly by history. It does not live up to the Smith agreement, it falls way short of the modern form of home rule promised before the referendum and it takes scant account of the election result in Scotland. The people of Scotland want a Parliament and a Government that care for the most vulnerable in society, that promote sustainable economic growth, and above all stand up for the weak in the face of the powerful. If this place is unwilling or unable to do that job, there is another place up the road that is ready, willing and able to take on that mantle.
It is a huge pleasure to see you in that seat, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I hope that you are there for many years to come, comrade. I will get that one in first.
I praise all new Members for the tremendous speeches they have made tonight, and particularly—even though he is gone—my long-standing hon. Friend Daniel Zeichner. We had many happy years working together in the trade union movement, and it is there that I want to start.
In previous discussions about devolution, there was a marked difference in that there was consultation and the involvement of civic society. We saw that in the 1990s, through the discussions in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and through those about London and my part of the world. Not only were people involved, but trade unions put in time, effort, politics and members’ money to make a case for a referendum on devolution. They were responding to what their members wanted. Their members wanted relief from the pain and suffering they had seen through 18 years of Tory rule and they saw devolution as a route to that.
Perhaps even more important was the situation in Northern Ireland, where people saw a chance of devolution as giving them a chance for peace. I was sitting earlier talking to my colleague, our friend, Ian Paisley. In the mid-1990s I never realised that 20 years later I would be sitting in this House and working with his father to take devolution and the peace process forward. Sometimes people had to be dragged, but ultimately the will of the people was heard. Nobody can argue that that was anything other than positive.
Today, we have another chance to put right a wrong. I am glad that the vote last year in Scotland went the way it did, but we must address the problem of where we ended up. As a knee-jerk reaction to a rogue poll the leaders of the parliamentary parties in this House gave a vow to the people of Scotland that I believe some of them did not want to carry through, but they made that vow and should stick to the terms of it. I hope that between us we can ensure that that happens, but I must say to our colleagues from Scotland that that cannot happen in isolation. What we do with this Bill will impact on England and on my part of the world in particular, and in my part of the world people want to have a say. They want to be involved in the way other people across these islands have been involved. I do not think that that is too much to ask, but clearly the Conservatives do, as the Secretary of State already said tonight that there will be no constitutional convention for England.
We know what that is about: it is about giving mayors from the Tory party a chance to rule parts of the world that do not want Tory rule, and would never, ever vote for them in local elections. That is all it is—it is being used to abuse the constitutional settlement. If it is good enough for the rest of this kingdom, it is good enough for the people of the north-east and the people of England. Why should we be short-changed? Why should we be told that we can have control of our daily life only if we do what we are told, instead of having a proper, adult conversation with people as we have done in this country over the past 20 years?
I am sad that we have lost 40 representatives from Scotland. Those people did a great service to their country, to the United Kingdom, and to the House. Quite clearly, the people in Scotland have spoken, and colleagues who have left the House are where they are because of things that were not true. They are victims of a story that said that they did not want to fight austerity—they were Tory-lite—and they deserted their original role as defenders of the poor, the weak and the vulnerable. No one can tell me that that was the case with people like Dave Hamilton, Jim Sheridan, Jim McGovern and Katy Clark. They are men and women who never wavered in their commitment to the poor, the weak and the vulnerable.
The truth is that my party leadership conceded, to an extent, to the austerity agenda of the Tory party. At times, when we were in government, we favoured businesses and power over workers and the poor, and we let people down. We pursued a neo-liberal tract on many issues, which jarred badly with the people of Scotland and parts of the UK such as the place I come from. My leadership has to understand that going forward.
Many people across these islands have a long-held belief in collectivism and the power of the state, and they struggle to get to grips with an agenda that promotes individuals and self-interest. I do not believe that many Scots voted last year to break up the United Kingdom because they hated the UK. What they hated was the austerity agenda—the poverty agenda that has been pursued by the Tory party for as long as it has been in existence, which says that it will let the poor pay for the failures of the rich, and that the wealthy should always be looked after while the poor take the hindmost. The people of Scotland rejected my party this year because it was too close to people who have pushed that agenda for years and years.
The people who have been in the driving seat for the past five years were in the driving seat for 18 years from 1979. We know the history: they argue that unemployment is a price worth paying because their people are not paying it. They argued that there was no such thing as society, because they had enough money not to depend on one another and the communities they came from. They try to tell us that we are all in this together, while nurses get a 1% pay rise and chief executives of trusts get a 17% pay rise. That is the world that Tory Members live in, and that is the situation that the people of Scotland are trying to escape.
It is against that background that we should judge the Bill, which must be seen as a way of people getting some respite from the damage that the Tory party has caused the country, the people of Scotland and the rest of the UK for many years. People can see no respite. Indeed, the Government are saying not only that they are going to keep up the pressure on austerity but that when we are back in balance they will still do so, which means that the people of this country—working people and the people who can least afford it—will be put under more and more pressure.
Under the long-term economic plan, it was all supposed to be roses by now, but we all know what happened to that. It was all supposed to be happy by 2014, but that certainly did not happen. People have had enough of carrying the can for failure. The Bill is a chance to put things right. I say to comrades from Scotland: do not do this in isolation from the people of England, because we deserve the same as your people.
I am pleased to make a speech in a debate about matters that have important implications for my constituents, even though they cannot take part in it. We are at an important point in the history of these islands. As a southern English MP, daughter of recent Irish immigrants, and a proud European, I hope to play my part in shaping the future constitutional arrangements of these islands on behalf of the people I now serve. The people of Scotland have debated these issues for many years, and in the past year, they have sent two strong messages. They wish to be part of the United Kingdom, but they wish to see something very different. The people of Bristol have also sent strong messages, and we all need to be mindful and find our own inner Gladstone. We need to understand those messages, be mindful of our shared history and proffer a way forward.
It is a great honour to serve as the Member for Bristol South. Dawn Primarolo, my predecessor, served as an MP for 28 years, and in paying tribute to her I should like to say what big shoes she has left for me to fill. In Parliament, Dawn took on shadow Health and Treasury roles, and in government, she served the Treasury as Financial Secretary and Paymaster General before subsequent ministerial roles at the Department of Health, and at Children, Schools and Families. As Mr Speaker said, Dawn served with distinction as Deputy Speaker from 2010 until she stood down this year. When first elected in 1997, she was the only Labour MP in the south-west. Now we are four—that is progress. She was one of only 41 women, but now we are 191, which is perhaps better progress. I owe her, and the women who have come before me, a great deal. It is a debt that I intend to repay to the women who will follow.
Dawn’s dedication and commitment was evident for all to see, and her record is closely linked to that of the Labour Government in improving the lives of local people. There are too many examples to give, so I shall just touch on a couple. The building of a community hospital after a 70-year campaign is one, but I shall really pick up on education. All the secondary schools in Bristol were rebuilt under Labour’s Building Schools for the Future programme. The sun shone and the roofs were not just fixed, they were rebuilt, and the infrastructure and standards were improved. Thanks to teachers, support staff and governors, all Bristol South secondary schools are now rated good or better by Ofsted. However, attainment in some of our most economically challenged communities is still far below where it should be, and today in Bristol South new opportunities are needed to offer hope and aspiration for all, whatever path young people seek to pursue. It is a constituency whose people, down the years, have played a vital part in our country’s prosperity.
Bedminster in my constituency was home to more than a dozen coal mines. Well into the 20th century, many local people spent their working lives underground in dark and dangerous conditions, paid only for the coal that they cut. Hartcliffe formerly hosted what was Europe’s largest cigarette-manufacturing factory when it opened in 1974. Bristol South has a proud industrial heritage but, despite being manufacturers of growth, its people were rarely rewarded or permitted to share in its fruits. In fact, many paid a high cost—from lives lost in the Dean Lane pit disaster to industrial illnesses and the health problems caused by tobacco, in the manufacture of which the city played a pivotal role.
There is a special warmth and generosity among South Bristol people. They are, to use a well-known local phrase, “gert lush”. They are forward-looking, ready to seize chances to help to shape a future for themselves, their families and their communities. Those communities are strong, and a great variety of community groups and enterprises have grown up to provide help and support. Having powered economic growth in the past, residents are eager to play their part in doing so again. Equipping the people of Bristol South with the skills and knowledge that they need to be part of that growth for the changes that lie ahead is the biggest challenge for my constituency.
In many ways, Bristol’s story is a tale of two cities. It has thriving universities and booming finance, high-tech and creative sectors, but it also has areas of severe economic disadvantage. My constituency has immense talent in its workforce, young and old, but too often people’s potential lies dormant, latent and untapped, waiting to be triggered by local leadership and economic opportunities. This is where the Government’s grand design on devolution puzzles my constituents, prompting the question: where does Bristol—indeed where do Swindon, Exeter, Plymouth and the rest of the south-west—fit in to the emerging narrative dominated by Scotland, Wales and the north?
The Government say that they are intent on devolving power to English regions but only where there is an elected mayor—a depressingly familiar, unadventurous, command-and-control approach to power sharing from central Government. The proposal invests all power in one individual. There is no compunction on that individual, perhaps other than having an eye on an election every few years, to consult, co-operate and negotiate solutions with other elected and civic leaders, or with communities, however they are represented.
Bristol was the only city to vote in favour of an elected mayor when given an opportunity. Bristol’s Mayor was elected by 9% of Bristolians on a turnout of 27%. Three years on, what is the lesson from this experiment to other English cities? Bristolians are still waiting for improvements to transport, housing, skills and jobs. Bristol should be at the forefront of the devolution debate, not lagging behind. The west of England is already an economic powerhouse with an economy worth £26 billion a year, and a net contributor to the Treasury.
The sensible strategic way ahead for my constituents is for communities’ real needs to be shaped not by distant legislators with a one-size-fits-all proposal or individual mayors with pet projects, but by the people and communities affected. I have spoken about the need for us to understand messages received from the people of Scotland about our shared history. One of the key lessons to emerge in recent years from Scotland and from Bristol is that power needs to be shared with communities and with individuals, not just with town halls and professional local politicians.
In recent years my constituents have heard much discussion about Scottish devolution, and in recent months about the so-called northern powerhouse. I know that collectively Bristol South’s residents have the skills, energy and potential to create a western powerhouse if only they are empowered to do so, and I look forward to supporting them all to make it happen.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for calling me to make my maiden speech. It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Karin Smyth, who made an excellent speech. Many Members in all parts of the Chamber have made excellent maiden speeches today and raised the bar very high.
I begin by paying tribute to my predecessor, John Leech. John and I have had many political differences, but I respect his dedication to Liberal values, and no one would deny his commitment to his constituency or his hard work for the people of south Manchester. Despite our differences, we share one common cause. He is, like me, a long-time season ticketholder at Manchester City, and I wish both John and his football team the very best for the future. I pay tribute, too, to John’s predecessor, Keith Bradley, now Lord Bradley. Keith was also a hard-working and committed MP for Manchester, Withington, as well as a highly respected Minister, and he has given me much support and advice over the years. I know he took particular pleasure in my victory on
Above all, I would like to say thank you to the people of Manchester, Withington for giving me the huge privilege of serving them in Parliament. I am very proud to do so. It is the constituency where I was born into a Labour family. My parents met at a dance in the 1950s organised by the Labour party League of Youth. My uncle, Albert Winstanley, was Labour election agent in the 1960s for Old Moat ward in my constituency. His electoral ambition was to get close enough to the Tories to ask for a recount—an ambition which, sadly, he never quite achieved, so he will be pleased that Labour won the election in Withington with no need for a recount. Our majority of almost 15,000 was a decisive verdict on five years of the Liberal Democrats propping up a Tory Government that made life harder for the people of Manchester.
I have always lived in Withington because it is the diverse, thriving, vibrant cultural heart of our city. It has areas of deprivation that have suffered badly under the austerity programme of the previous Government, but it boasts successful high-tech industry such as Siemens in West Didsbury. It has great public services, such as world-class cancer treatment at the Christie hospital. It is home to students, graduates and academics from our superb Manchester universities. Although mainly residential, it has fine parks, the Mersey valley and my favourite place, the Fletcher Moss botanical gardens. It is home to the excellent Chorlton and Didsbury arts festivals, and to many people who work in creative industries, such as musicians, artists, poets and—as I was in my former life—DJs.
Withington can even boast of being the birthplace of an Oscar-winning actor, Robert Donat, who won his Academy award in 1939 for his role as a teacher in “Goodbye, Mr Chips”. One of his rival Oscar nominees that year was James Stewart for his role in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”, where he played an innocent, decent and principled politician called Jeff Smith. It has always been a role close to my heart—a role emblematic of the difference one individual can make in politics, and I hope I can make a difference in that spirit.
My first political speech in Manchester, Withington was as Labour candidate in a mock general election debate at Old Moat primary school. I remember standing making my speech, aged 11, feeling nervous and somewhat out of place. Some things do not change. I am happy to say I won that election, and have won several since. I am proud to have served for 18 years as a councillor in Manchester—a great city of radicalism, innovation and creativity. It is often said that what Manchester does today, the rest of the world does tomorrow. One of the many areas where this is true is local government, where the city council and the Greater Manchester combined authority are pioneering new ways of working, delivering jobs and growth.
The debate today is about devolution of power and responsibility. Labour is the party of devolution so I welcome proposals for devolution of power to Scotland, as I welcome further devolution of extra powers to Manchester and other cities. The people of the Greater Manchester city region are ready to rise to the challenge of creating growth and improving services, but with the extra responsibility must come the resources to deliver. As a former cabinet member for finance, I am painfully aware of the impact on vulnerable people when local services are starved of Government funding. Local government has taken the hardest hit from Government cuts, and in England it is the poorer, mainly northern cities which have taken the biggest hit of all. If we want our communities to thrive, if we want localism and devolution to work, we must give local people the ability and the resources to make it happen.
After 18 years in Manchester town hall, I had spent a long time in a huge neo-Gothic Victorian building full of politicians, so this year I thought I would do something new. In coming to the House of Commons, I hope to work hard to represent the people of Manchester, Withington, but I hope to fight for wider progressive causes; to combat climate change, the biggest challenge of our time; to tackle the housing crisis that affects so many people in my constituency; to argue for reform of our discredited and ineffective drug laws, and maybe even our discredited and ineffective Prime Minister’s Question Time; to fight poverty and defend human rights in this United Kingdom and abroad; and to create a better country—not one where we balance the books at the expense of the most vulnerable, but one where we build a more equal, more tolerant, more compassionate society.
This is a time to work together to face the challenges of the 21st century, not a time for separation, either within the UK or from the rest of Europe. We build a better world together. A belief in collectivism and fairness is at the heart of Labour politics. Last week I heard maiden speakers quote great heroes—Gandhi and Mandela—but I will end with some words from one of my personal heroes, Bruce Springsteen, who put it very simply when he said, “Nobody wins unless everybody wins.”
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and let me welcome you back to your position in the House as I take up mine. Thank you for this opportunity to make my maiden speech in this very important debate. Unlike my taking of the oath, I hope I will have to make this speech only once.
I follow Jeff Smith, and I share his passion for football. It is a sport that I played as a young girl growing up, and I am still partial to a game of five-a-side. Perhaps if we cannot come to an agreement on the motions this evening, we can fight it out on the football field.
I have the honour to represent the constituency of Livingston in the county of West Lothian. I am proud to be the first woman to represent the constituency at Westminster, and I am also proud to be the third of three women parliamentary representatives for our county, following in the footsteps of Angela Constance MSP and Fiona Hyslop MSP, both of whom have given me great support. I have the honour to speak for my party on fair work and employment, and I want to leave this House in no doubt as to the weight of the issues at the heart of this brief. As I address those issues, I have my own family history, as well as the people and communities of my constituency, very much at the front of my mind. It is their and my expectation that the Scotland Bill should address those issues, with adequate powers to create a culture of dignity in work, tackle income inequality and thereby enhance economic growth in Scotland.
However, I wish first to pay tribute to my predecessor, Graeme Morrice, who served as MP for Livingston from 2010 and, before that, from 1987, gave many years of conscientious service as a councillor. Personally, I am particularly appreciative of his gracious comments to me on election night.
As with many constituency designations, the name Livingston does not convey the breadth and diversity of the many communities that lie within it. It encompasses the large new town of Livingston as well as many smaller villages boasting fine names, such as Fauldhouse, Pumpherston, Broxburn, Bents and Roman Camps, to name but a few. Those smaller communities fiercely defend their individual identities, even though the mining— coal and shale—railway and manufacturing industries that defined them have disappeared or changed beyond all recognition.
The constituency combines old and new, continuing a history of innovation and invention in ways that strive to look forward without losing the past. The oil industry began in my constituency with the first extraction of oil from coal and shale, and the town of Livingston has gone on to play its part in the development of, for example, sonar scanning, bionic prosthetic limbs by the company Touch Bionics and soft contact lenses. Mitsubishi is one of the biggest employers in my constituency, and its work to encourage young people into engineering and STEM—science, technology, engineering and maths—careers is to be commended. I am also delighted to be able to inform the House that, as confirmed during a meeting in New York with the First Minister, the manufacturing company Jabil is set to invest £12.5 million in its Livingston plant, creating 212 new jobs and safeguarding 147 existing manufacturing roles.
I also want to highlight the West Lothian Credit Union, which has done incredible work to give those on low wages the opportunity to save and borrow in a safe and ethical way. I would like to see such credit unions given greater powers to inject more investment into small and medium-sized businesses, which are the lifeblood of our communities.
My constituency also boasts many community projects, such as The Vennie in Knightsridge, which I visited recently, and Firefly Arts, which is giving young people great opportunities to develop valuable life skills. Two of many local charities in my constituency have been set up by families who lost their children way too early to cancer. Jak Trueman and Michelle Henderson both died tragically young, but their memories live on in the tremendous work their families are doing to raise awareness and funds. There is such inspiring ingenuity and determination in my constituency, despite the setbacks of deindustrialisation.
My brother and I were brought up in Craigshill, one of Livingston’s original and smaller areas, by a single mother who worked full time in an era when childcare cover was an afterthought and single-parent families were often demonised. In the little spare time my mother had, she fought tooth and nail for our local area. I feel fortunate to have been educated locally, to have had a free university education and to have had a career that has included working in the media, politics, international relations and, most recently, the oil and gas industry.
My brother and I were also fortunate in having the support of our grandparents for a good number of years. Both were from mining families, forced from school by poverty at age 14, but none the less extensively self-educated and widely read. My grandfather began his working life as a “pit fitter”, before going on to be an aircraft fitter in the RAF during the battle of Britain. He started one of the early small businesses in the new town of Livingston, his own precision engineering company. My grandmother was a time-served gents’ tailoress who then worked for Rolls-Royce during the second world war. My great grandmother on my grandfather’s side marched with the suffragettes. Political activism started many years ago in my family. Mr Deputy Speaker, you cannot know people like that and not be committed to the dignity of labour. Those were people who knew their own worth, believed in strong trade unions and were prepared, at the risk of the direst poverty, to walk away from work that assaulted their dignity, and they did so on numerous occasions.
I hope to use every opportunity to remind this House that our mission for our citizens is not just to wrangle over how many hours makes an acceptable contract, or how many pence we should add to or take off employers’ national insurance contributions, as important as those considerations undoubtedly are; our mission, in exerting our collective legislative skills, is to say to our citizens that we understand, we care about and we intend to promote and deliver on their right to secure, productive employment that contributes to this nation’s economic progress and, crucially, supports the kind of life that every citizen has a right to expect.
In my experience, most of our citizens are not looking for executive directorships to top up already large earned or unearned incomes. Our citizens want a sense of self- worth from a valued contribution in work, the camaraderie of shared effort, enough time and disposable income to spend rewarding time with their families and to offer decent opportunities for their children. It says much for the direction in which the UK is headed that we are having to argue so relentlessly for that, as if it were a privilege. Neither is this need to argue just a reflection of global forces or immigration. Other countries, not least our northern Nordic neighbours, have long since made it the fabric of their societies. Those are the questions that Scotland asked itself at the referendum: what kind of country do we the citizens want? I am in no doubt that that is why we got the level of engagement we did. I am also in no doubt that, at the heart of people’s aspiration—a much overworked but not much defined word—these are largely modest but enormously dignified desires.
Mr Deputy Speaker, you may understand, then, my desire to do all I can to try and influence this House to take seriously and address the urgent need for this country to declare its commitment to a culture of fairness and dignity in work, and to implement all necessary measures in pursuit of it. Scotland and my party are clear in their commitment to work to achieve that. My constituents and the overwhelming majority of Scotland’s electorate voted for it. We require legislation with the requisite powers to deliver it, and we require it now. The Scottish Government are already the first UK Government to become an accredited living wage employer, and I urge the UK Government to make a start on reducing the scourges of increasing income inequality and in-work poverty by following where Scotland has led.
We are, as politicians, also human beings, none of us infallible and none of us indispensable. On the day I had to repeat my oath, I spent a few moments reflecting on my mistake and what great expectation and scrutiny there is on all of us as parliamentarians. I was sitting outside by the Emmeline Pankhurst memorial, and I was reminded of her struggle and of what she did for all of us. Thank you.
It is an honour and a privilege, which I hope I will never take for granted, to stand here representing my constituency. I am sure that you will agree that my new colleagues have set the bar very high in their maiden speeches and done their constituencies proud, not least Hannah Bardell, who delivered an excellent speech.
However, I have to disagree with many of my new colleagues: although they may have very pleasant constituencies, it is of course mine, Stoke-on-Trent North and Kidsgrove, that is the most beautiful and inspiring. From our industrial heritage in the mother town of the potteries to the beautiful Victorian parks and canals, I bow to no one in maintaining that I live in the most beautiful constituency in the country. But it is not just the architecture and the landscape that make Stoke-on-Trent North and Kidsgrove so special; it is the people, to whose industry and talent our city stands as testament.
My constituency was built on the blood, sweat and tears of working people. It was their labour in the great industries—pits, pots and steel—that drove our city forward. We gave the country and the world a celebrated ceramics industry, including the crockery used in this House, which, for the record, was made in my constituency. But our creativity goes far beyond that; it is reflected in the work of so many proud Stokies, from Josiah Wedgwood to Reginald Mitchell, who designed the spitfire, and from Clarice Cliff to Robbie Williams.
Local businesses are capitalising on this in the new and creative technologies, from augmented reality to tidal lagoon power. We need to harness this creativity in order to build a brighter future for my city and for my residents where the stories of these successes are the norm, where my constituents have more options for skilled work, where Stoke-on-Trent will no longer be a living-wage blackspot and a zero-hours-contract area, and where the blight of poverty and the use of food banks will be consigned to the dustbin of history where it belongs rather than being a daily occurrence.
I am lucky enough to represent the best of British—the kindest, most industrious people—but my community deserves better. They embody what Government Members would call the big society, but what we in Stoke simply call community. In spite of the savage cuts made by this Government and the impact on real people’s lives, we have seen the best of humanity as they unite to look after each other and protect our city. From Mike and Pat at the Burslem Park Pavilion, where they have created a social enterprise to restore one of our country’s original Victorian parks, to Rev. Ashley Cooper and his amazing team at Swanbank church who were granted the Queen’s award for voluntary service for their community work. It is not just these incredibly generous community acts that I wish to celebrate, as we also have wonderful facilities protected by the community to mark our place in history, from our war memorial gardens in Tunstall to the Victoria Hall in Kidsgrove, which the Speaker of the House himself visited during the previous Parliament to promote local democracy.
All these organisations were well served by my predecessor, Joan Walley, who joined this House when I was only seven years old. I know how respected and well thought of she was by people from across the political spectrum. She was noted for her passion not only about our local football team, Port Vale, but about issues pertaining to the environment, serving my party and our country as a shadow spokesperson on transport and the environment when we were last in opposition, and then as Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee in the previous Parliament. As our MP for 28 years, she has left huge shoes to fill, and I hope to do her proud.
Joan was not the first woman to represent our seat. In fact, I have the honour of being the third female Labour MP for my constituency since the war. The first was Harriet Slater, an inspiration, who was elected in 1953 in a by-election. She became the first female Whip to serve my party and this House. However, it is her passion against racism that I wish to comment on. Sixty-two years ago she sat in this Chamber as a new MP and was so horrified by the tone of the debate that she intervened to make her maiden speech without any preparation—something I really cannot comprehend. The subject of that debate was the colour bar, where Members of this House were actually debating whether black and white children should be educated in the same classrooms. This was abhorrent to her as it should be to all of us. She intervened in anger, and I hope to replicate her conviction and her passion in the years ahead to protect and promote the hard-earned equalities that we now take for granted.
It is with that thought that I wish to turn to the subject matter in hand. I stand here today, probably much to the confusion of hon. Members from the SNP, as a proud Scot. I was born in Edinburgh. I am the granddaughter of a blacklisted Scottish steelworker who became a miner, and my father was blacklisted for leading the first insurance industry strike in Scotland. My mother Lucy is also a proud trade unionist and quite simply my inspiration as a strong and determined woman who dedicated her life to fighting for those who could not fight for themselves. It is because of her commitment and support that I stand here today. I simply hope to emulate her. Her family were forced to flee the Russian pogroms, scapegoated in the name of nationalism and intolerance. My family were not militant, but rather proud socialists and, most importantly, internationalists. They saw nationalism, at worst, as an evil doctrine which poisoned working people against each other, and at best as a distraction from the true battles we fight to make the world a better place for the people who need our help.
For these reasons, I have spent most of my life campaigning against the politics of hate and division, against extremism and nationalism. I am proud of the leading role I have had with Hope Not Hate to defeat the BNP and to make sure that UKIP was limited in its success. But nationalism comes in many guises, and we need to stand united to fight for a better world and for the good of our communities, which is why I will also be fighting for the Union. I will be campaigning for a fair deal for the people of Scotland just as I will be fighting for a better deal for north Staffordshire. There is much more that unites the communities of Bonnybridge and Burslem than divides them. Poverty is poverty whether in Stoke-on-Trent or Stirling, and equality of opportunity needs to be the same in Kidsgrove as it is in Kirkcaldy. We are stronger when we are united.
We have much work ahead of us, but in the words of one of my more famous citizens, Arnold Bennett:
“It is easier to go down a hill than up, but the view is from the top.”
I will keep climbing that hill because I know the view will be worth the effort. I look forward to serving the people of Stoke-on-Trent North and Kidsgrove in the years to come, and I hope to live up to the faith they have placed in me.
Let me begin by congratulating Ruth Smeeth and the other Members who have made their first speeches so well today.
It is with a great sense of honour that I make this speech in this important debate here today, and with a deep sense of gratitude and responsibility to the people of East Renfrewshire. I chose to live in East Renfrewshire with my family, and there is no place that I would rather be. East Renfrewshire is made up of the some of the most vibrant, active and diverse communities in Scotland. Just like the new Members on these Benches, East Renfrewshire benefits very significantly from the diverse backgrounds and traditions of its people. For those who may not be familiar with my constituency, it sits just to the south of Glasgow, stretching from the city boundaries right out to Whitelee forest in the south. The distinct areas that make up the constituency all have a strong sense of identity, and perhaps an even stronger sense of community spirit.
I am delighted to follow such a high profile MP as my predecessor, Jim Murphy. No one can dispute the mark that he made on Scottish and UK politics, and I wish him well.
There has never been an SNP MP in my constituency before. In the 2010 election, we were fourth. In fact, prior to 1997, East Renfrewshire was the safest Conservative seat in Scotland, and since then it has been considered to be one of the safest Labour seats. But the appetite for change in Scotland is immense. My constituents, just like people all over Scotland, want their voices to be heard, loudly and clearly. They expect to be listened to—so they should—and this House must recognise that.
East Renfrewshire is blessed with rolling countryside and farmland, with glorious parks and suburbia, and it is a beautiful place. The lovely rural village of Uplawmoor leads down to the ancient parish of Neilston, with its beautiful old church. We travel north to the bustling town of Barrhead, home to the famous Arthurlie football club, and east to our largest town, Newton Mearns, a modern area in many ways, but with roots stretching back to the bronze age, and on through our beautiful Rouken Glen park to Thornliebank, where the Crum family for many years combined their print works with philanthropy, and to Giffnock and Eastwood Park Theatre, and then to my own home area of Clarkston, with the National Trust for Scotland’s Greenbank gardens, and Busby, where it is a pleasure to walk in Busby glen. There is a scenic route along the White Cart Water through Waterfoot, and up to Eaglesham, an historic conservation village, and gateway to the wind farm at Whitelee.
East Renfrewshire is in many ways a place of contrasts, just like modern Scotland. We are lucky to have active and energetic faith communities playing a full part in local life. This includes being home to Scotland’s largest Jewish community, a growing and vibrant Muslim community, and thriving Christian, Hindu and Sikh communities. We have an incredible community spirit in East Renfrewshire. Groups run by local people are at the heart of our area, and they contribute hugely to making it the positive and welcoming place that it is. Such groups include the Neilston and Uplawmoor First Responders, who have dealt with hundreds of emergencies in the past year, and the Queen’s award-winning Super Kids club for children with additional support needs and their families. That great range of community and voluntary groups hugely enriches my area. People are incredibly community-minded. They turn out in huge numbers for events such as the Eaglesham fair, which took place successfully amid high winds and torrential rain on Saturday, and for elections. I am privileged to represent an area with such an engaged electorate.
Historically, industry in East Renfrewshire was based on cotton mills, manufacturing and farming. The balance of business has changed; we continue to have numerous farms in our rural areas, as well as a range of other successful businesses, many of which benefit from positive business growth schemes such as the small business bonus. Many more would benefit from the increased economic powers that we would like for Scotland. Our businesses now range from high-end international companies such as Linn Products to small businesses such as The Wee Fudge Company, which operates from a house in Stamperland and produces a most delicious Scottish fudge that would surely sell well in the Members’ Tea Room. We need all of our businesses to thrive, no matter what their size. For that, we need levers to grow our economy and ensure that more of my constituents are economically active.
Many people in East Renfrewshire are doing well—they live comfortably in our lovely leafy suburbs and beautiful rural villages—but it is not like that for everyone. A great many people in East Renfrewshire would not recognise that reality at all. Many of them struggle badly to feed themselves and their families in lovely, leafy East Renfrewshire. We have food banks, because we need them; we have a school uniform bank, because we need one. That is a scandal. I have seen for myself the difficulties and indignities that people face, and I cannot begin to understand how, in 2015, families and children in my community are hungry. Children go to school without breakfast. They are children whose parents are doing their best but face barriers too great for them to surmount. They are families in which people are working, families in which people would like to work and families in which someone has become ill or disabled. If a measure of our society is how we treat the most vulnerable among us, we have a long way to go.
People all over East Renfrewshire see that, which is why they voted for change and for greater powers for Scotland, to allow us to make the changes that we need to ensure that we can have a sustainable, successful economy and ensure that we no longer neglect those of us who are struggling. Things have moved on significantly since the Smith agreement. The election result reflects clearly that people in my constituency and across Scotland voted for something more. They voted for real powers to create more jobs, boost wages and protect our welfare state. That is why it is vital that our voice is heard clearly here on the Scotland Bill.
People in this House have spoken a lot about aspiration over the past couple of weeks. Many in my constituency aspire—our schools are the envy of the country—but aspiration is an uneasy bedfellow for the ever-increasing inequality in our society and our communities. This Government have the opportunity in the Bill to ensure that Scotland has the powers to deliver successful economic policies and tackle that inequality, and we will push every day to do so.
It is an honour to give my maiden speech after so many excellent maiden speeches in this debate. I am only the fifth Member of Parliament for Workington since the constituency was established in 1918, but I am the first woman to be elected to represent the constituency, and in fact the first woman ever elected to Parliament in Cumbria. It is an honour and a privilege, and I intend to serve my constituency diligently.
As this is my maiden speech, before I come to the subject of the debate, I shall follow the tradition of the House by paying tribute to my predecessor, Sir Tony Cunningham, who represented the Workington constituency for 14 years. I am sure that hon. Members from all parties will join me in wishing him well in his retirement. Sir Tony began his career as a teacher before being elected to represent Cumbria and Lancashire North in the European Parliament. He then worked for human rights organisations until his election to this House in 2001. His passion for that work made him the ideal choice to join the Front Bench as shadow Minister for International Development.
Sir Tony took his constituency responsibilities seriously, working hard for Workington and for individual constituents. In retirement, he continues to champion local charities. Throughout his career, he stood up for the poor and vulnerable both at home and overseas, and his commitment to helping others, some of them in truly desperate circumstances, will always define him and provide a humbling reminder to us all.
Sir Tony has said that his proudest achievement was saving Cumbria’s cottage hospitals when they were under threat of closure. At that time, the Health Secretary was my right hon. Friend Alan Johnson, who listened to and understood Cumbria’s particular needs. I hope that this Government will do the same over people’s concerns for West Cumberland hospital and the services that are under threat today.
Sir Tony’s predecessor, Dale Campbell-Savours, continues to serve the public, now from the other place. He remains greatly admired and respected in the Workington constituency, for both his fight and his intellect. No cause was too large or too small. If people needed help, he was there for them.
Many hon. Members have told us in their maiden speeches how beautiful their constituencies are. Mine runs from the summit of Skiddaw in the Lake District national park to the sparkling sea and spectacular sunsets of the Solway coast, an area of outstanding natural beauty and a wildlife habitat of international importance.
In addition to the country’s most dramatic and beautiful landscape and coastline, the constituency has a strong and proud industrial heritage—from mining and steelworks and the flourishing port at Workington, to the fishing boats of Maryport, the large farming community and the thriving tourism industry. It is also part of Britain’s energy coast, which is bringing thousands of jobs and billions of pounds of investment to west Cumbria through nuclear, tidal and other energy projects.
The Solway forms the western border between England and Scotland and over the centuries, part of my constituency, like other areas of the borders, have been subject to Scottish raiding parties. I must say to hon. Members from north of the border how relieved I am that the famous Scottish national uprising of 2015 stopped short of Cumbria for once. They might also be interested to know that Mary Queen of Scots spent her last night of freedom in Workington hall, because we are renowned for our hospitality.
To go even further back in history, fortifications associated with Hadrian’s wall were built in west Cumbria by the Romans as a defence against the Scots—and the native Cumbrians, too, for that matter. At Maryport’s famous Senhouse Roman Museum, it is still possible to see the remains of the fort and many artefacts, which illustrate the importance of west Cumbria in the defence of the realm—a role the county continues to fulfil today through the vital Trident submarines in the constituency of my hon. Friend John Woodcock.
The gem town of Cockermouth is also in my constituency. The childhood home of William Wordsworth, Wordsworth house, has been opened to the public by the National Trust. Another famous—or should I say infamous?—local lad is Fletcher Christian, who led the mutiny on the Bounty. He now has a pub named after him on Main Street. Talking of pubs, Cockermouth’s most famous export, the legendary Jennings beer, is still brewed at the old Castle brewery in the town centre.
More recently, Cockermouth became famous for the floods that devastated homes and businesses in November 2009 when the River Derwent swept through the town centre. Those same floods claimed the life of policeman Bill Barker in Workington when a bridge collapsed. Both towns showed extraordinary courage and resilience in rebuilding after the floods, and PC Barker’s bravery that night will never be forgotten. The new footbridge over the river in Workington is named Barker’s Crossing in his memory.
Sir Tony worked with the local communities to fight back after the floods, but the work is not yet finished and I have pledged to carry on campaigning for proper flood defences wherever they are needed, to try to ensure that such a tragedy never again happens in Workington or Cockermouth.
To finish the tour of my constituency, I must mention the beautiful seaside town of Silloth, with its famous golf course, and Aspatria, the old mining and market town, which shares a passion for rugby—both league and union—with its larger neighbours.
I would have thought that the grit, passion and heritage I have spoken of would mark out west Cumbria as a key part of the northern powerhouse. I am pleased that the Chancellor has recognised that the north of England can contribute positively to the UK, but I would like to take this opportunity to remind him that the north-west extends considerably beyond Manchester. The northern powerhouse is focused on cities more than 100 miles south of west Cumbria. We have been shouldering heavy cuts to local government and public services, and the energy coast investment that I referred to earlier is still a few years away. Cumbria must not be left out. We need to see a proper devolution of powers across the region, not just to the big cities, so we can deliver our potential. We cannot allow areas such as west Cumbria to be left behind just because we are beyond the M6 corridor and the west coast main line.
As well as looking south to contribute to the northern powerhouse, we should also support the devolution of further powers to Scotland, because the time for rivalry has long since gone. Much of Dumfries and Galloway, for example, is as far from Glasgow and Edinburgh as west Cumbria is from Manchester or Leeds. We must forge cross-border alliances to bring investment in areas such as transport, energy, tourism, education and rural development that benefit the border communities on either side of the national boundary. There are already significant connections between people living in the borders region, whether on the English or the Scottish side. Many jobs depend on the business transacted daily across the border. Many families have members living on both sides of the border, and every day many commuters see the M74 turn into the M6 and back again.
We have a huge opportunity before us now to build social and economic prosperity that embraces both the diversity and the common interest of everyone in the border regions. We owe it to future generations to work together, rather than move apart, and I want the devolution of powers and resources to benefit everyone, not just those who live on one side of Gretna Green and not the other.
It is a pleasure to be called in this debate and to speak after some excellent speeches. Hannah Bardell left us tantalisingly in the air for her quote, which we look forward to hearing on another occasion. I first met Ruth Smeeth while waiting for our IT to be sorted out—she was there two and a half hours after me—and I am glad to see she has resolved her problems and is in her place. She spoke passionately about her constituency, as did the hon. Members for East Renfrewshire (Kirsten Oswald) and for Workington (Sue Hayman).
Right hon. and hon. Members may wonder why a Member of Parliament for one of the southernmost seats of England, North Dorset, sought to speak on the Second Reading of the Scotland Bill. I did so as a fellow Celt, albeit a Welshman, who fought two seats in Wales before securing victory in North Dorset. I was very much involved in fighting the then Labour Government’s campaign in Wales. The genie was out of the bottle: there is now a settlement, and we live with the consequences—some of the downsides and some of the upsides.
In an intervention earlier, my hon. Friend Heidi Allen talked about trust. At that point, SNP Members laughed slightly, though I was pleased that, in his speech, Angus Robertson accepted the purpose of the point she made—that in this debate we need to have trust. It may be that my following remarks are out of keeping or out of step with what a new Member should say, but that has never stopped me in the past and it will not stop me now.
It is probably quite hard to build the relationship of trust required, because the political landscape shifted very considerably on
We will be judged on the basis of our actions in that regard. We will be judged on the basis of how we vote, and how we engage in the debate. I am pleased to see that the hon. Member for Moray is nodding. May I ask something of him and his colleagues? Conservative Members—along with Labour Members—take a different view of the final destination for Scotland. We want to see a proud Scotland in a strong and robust United Kingdom; SNP Members want to see a strong Scotland that is an independent force in the world. They have advised us that they are not seeking to pick off the scabs of the referendum debate, and that they are here to try to make the settlement—a settlement on which the Scottish people agreed back in September—work. May I ask them, and their leadership, not to freeze us out of that debate?
The fact that we are Unionists, and the fact that we may come from other parts of the Celtic regions or elsewhere, do not mean that we are any less sincere, or any less committed to the success that we want Scotland to be. The tone of some SNP speeches today seemed to suggest—almost as if certain Members were delegates for Miss Sturgeon and the Scottish Government—that those who were not part of the Holyrood project somehow had no right to take part in the debate. The hon. Member for Moray looks confused, but we all know that tone and body language are important, and as I sat on this side of the House, listening to all the speeches, that was the impression with which I was left. In my humble judgment, such a tone will not lead to the relationship of mutual trust and certainty that all quarters of the House need to build if we are to make this settlement work.
As I have said, our view and our vision of the ultimate destination is different from that of the SNP, but we want the Scotland Bill to work. Scotland is a proud and vibrant part of the United Kingdom, and we—Conservative Members—wish it to remain so. That will pose some challenges if, for example, the SNP continues its tsunami of decapitation in next May’s Holyrood election. I am tempted to call this the Madame Defarge Parliament, because I believe that more heads have been removed than at any time since the French Revolution. I am not complaining about that, for the will of the Scottish people was expressed in the ballot box, but if it continues next May it may destabilise a little further the foundations of trust that we are seeking to build and on which, through the Bill, we are seeking to deliver on the pledges and promises that were made after the referendum.
I wish my right hon. Friend success in piloting the Bill on the Floor of the House. We wish take part in the debate, sincerely, pragmatically and positively, but let me end by saying again that I hope SNP Members do not freeze us out of that debate.
It is a pleasure to follow Simon Hoare. I cannot say that I agree with all his views, but we can discuss that on another occasion. Let me also congratulate Sue Hayman and my hon. Friend Kirsten Oswald on their maiden speeches, both of which were thoughtful and gracious. I am sure that the House appreciated them as much as I did.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for allowing me to take part in this debate on the future governance of Scotland and the granting of further powers to it. It is unlikely that there will be such an important Bill for SNP Members to consider during this first Session of the new Parliament, and we approach it with great vigour and passion. We want to bring home more powers to the people who have put us here: the people of Scotland, the one nation that we hold dear.
Before considering the proposals, may I say a few words about my constituency and echo some of the comments made by my hon. Friend Margaret Ferrier about the staff of the House of Commons? Every Member on this side of the Chamber has been really amazed by the generous, friendly and warm welcome we have received from all the staff. I want to pay particular tribute to my buddy, Catherine, who helped me through the first few days of being in what is a very strange environment for many of us.
The Dunfermline and West Fife constituency is a real mix of rural, village and large town settlements. Coastal villages, such as Kincardine, Limekilns and Torryburn mix with the rolling hillside villages of Saline and Hill O’Beath. They sit alongside former coalmining villages of Oakley, Blairhall and High Valleyfield. We also have former royal burghs such as Culross, with its magnificent palace, and Inverkeithing, which has its own distinct rich history.
We have many claims to fame. How many hon. Members know that Dunfermline was once the ancient capital of Scotland? Our abbey is the resting place of King Robert the Bruce, an iconic figure in Scottish history who has served as an inspiration to generations of Scots who, like Bruce, sought to reaffirm Scotland’s place in the world as an independent nation.
Dunfermline is the birthplace of the industrialist, entrepreneur and, later in his life, great philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie. Carnegie made millions of dollars on the back of the railroads and iron and steel industries in America. He realised, perhaps belatedly, that the business of making money must also have a strong social conscience. The two go hand in hand. In today’s terms, Carnegie would have been a multibillionaire. He said
“that a man who dies thus rich, dies disgraced”.
His generosity and philanthropy travel far and wide. Who has not heard of his funding for the great Carnegie Hall? And I do mean the one in Dunfermline, although I believe there is also one in New York. Who is not aware that it was Carnegie’s generosity that brought books and learning to many communities through his support for Carnegie libraries across the world, and that he funded the magnificent Peace Palace in The Hague, where it still serves as a beacon to resolve conflict internationally?
Musically, the constituency has given us great talent over the years. For rock fans, Nazareth and Big Country are a part of our past. If there are any ageing punks in the Chamber tonight, we also have the band The Skids. I believe that my hon. Friend Pete Wishart may know something about these bands.
More up to date, the skills and talents of the area are being utilised at the likes of Oceaneering, a world-leading undersea technology company, and Rosyth dockyard, where the workforce are building both of our Navy’s aircraft carriers. In recent weeks, I have met the management and the trade unions. They are fiercely proud of the expertise they bring to delivering the carriers project. Like with most activity at Rosyth dockyard, the workforce are bringing in these huge complex projects on time and in budget. Perhaps with a vain hope, I am looking at the Government Front Bench. If UK Government decisions on military procurement were as equally efficient and budget aware, perhaps we would be in a better position as regards the national finances.
Another high skill based project on time and under budget, is the construction of the new Queensferry crossing, funded by the Scottish Government. On completion in 2016, we will have three generations of new bridges over the Forth. It is truly appropriate that in a few weeks’ time we are all hoping that the Forth rail bridge, an icon of Scottish engineering and the oldest of the three bridges, will gain UNESCO world heritage site status and put it up there with other world heritage sites. This recognition of the rail bridge will bring many new jobs to the west Fife economy as we improve the offer we can make to visitors and tourists to the area.
Government Members—I wish there were a few more here—will be made especially welcome in Dunfermline and West Fife, as we do not get to see many Conservatives in that part of the country. I assure Members, however, that irrespective of the Benches on which they sit, they will be made very welcome—and it says here, “Please bring your wallets”.
I would like to pay a warm tribute to the previous MP, Thomas Docherty, who served his constituents and pursued a wide range of issues here in the House. He served in Parliament from 2010 and rose to the position of shadow Deputy Leader of the House. I wish him well for the future. His main claim to fame was his appearance in the TV series “Inside the Commons” where Thomas was seen bedsharing—not at the same time, I might add —with Mr Bone in order to secure more debating time. As a candidate at the time, I was worried that the level of exposure Thomas was getting on prime time television would damage my chances of being elected, but a 10,000 majority suggests my concerns were misplaced. It also reminded me of a valuable political lesson taught to me by my late father: never, never, never, get into bed with the Tories.
I also have a famous—some might say infamous—constituent: the former Chancellor and Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who promised much in the referendum campaign last year. By a slender majority, the no campaign won the day, but given the energy and interest in Scottish politics in recent months, the Bill offering new powers needs to be something special. Whatever measures are proposed, they should carry the support of the Scottish people. During the referendum, we had a huge and engaging campaign that brought to life the sometimes staid and distant world of politics. People felt part of a new, vigorous nation and thought that their views and ideas actually counted. The great challenge for the UK Government is to engage with the ordinary people of Scotland, who have fought so extraordinarily for more powers, and I urge them to consider our amendments as the Bill makes progress through Parliament. They are there for a purpose: to make Scotland stronger and more economically vibrant, to destroy child poverty once and for all and to make us a better nation that all the people of these islands can enjoy and benefit from.
We are in the 56th Parliament, and the SNP has returned 56 Members. I respectfully remind the Government that we are here to do business for our constituents and represent Scotland like it has never been represented before. I hope the Government will respect our mandate and the changing political landscape. The world as we know it has changed. It cannot be business as usual.
I thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for calling me to make a contribution in this debate, and I congratulate you on your recent election victory. I also congratulate Douglas Chapman on his maiden speech. I was particularly pleased to hear the tribute to Andrew Carnegie and his well-known social conscience. I thought that his passion and commitment to his constituency shone through his speech, and I look forward to serving with him in the House in the years ahead.
James Keir Hardie said, when asked about his socialist beliefs, that he saw them as arising from a rooted local culture. His belief in localism and the de-centralisation of power led him to a firm belief in devolution. In the career and beliefs of Keir Hardie, a Scot who represented a Welsh constituency, there are lessons for us in this debate. Most of all, if we recognise the qualities and strengths of our family of nations here in these islands, we can strengthen our whole United Kingdom.
I welcome a number of aspects of the Bill, which takes devolution to the next stage. Let us not forget that devolution came about because the Labour Government of 1997 to 2010 introduced the widest swathe of constitutional reform since the Great Reform Act 1832. I welcome the formal recognition in law of the status of the Scottish Parliament and, in particular, the increased financial responsibilities, which build on the third pillar of the Smith commission. I also welcome devolution and greater flexibility in several areas of tax, including income tax, VAT, the aggregates levy and air passenger duty. As was set out by my hon. Friend Ian Murray, however, there are ways in which the Government can go further, and I look forward to that in the course of the debates on the Bill.
Prior to entering the House, I lectured in politics. The first thing I taught at the start of every academic year was the UK constitution, and the one thing I always said to my students was never to see any single measure of devolution in isolation; they have to be seen in the context of the overall settlement and argument for the whole of the UK. Lord Kilbrandon took over the royal commission on the constitution between 1969 and 1973, and it became known by his name. He said that any decisions and debates on public funding that we have here in Westminster affected
“the whole of the United Kingdom”.
That quotation comes from a period before our modern devolution journey began, but I suggest that it is as relevant in 2015 as it was back in 1973.
As we debate finance and funding, it is critical to bear in mind how those issues affect the different constituent parts of our United Kingdom. My point as a Welsh Member—it is important that the voice of Wales is heard during the passage of the Scotland Bill—is that there is a long-standing public debate on the underfunding of Wales in the United Kingdom. It goes back to the Holtham commission of 2010, which identified £300 million of underfunding for Wales, and the same issue runs through part 1 of the Silk commission. Even at this moment, the finance committee of the National Assembly for Wales is debating future funding for Wales. This is a crucial issue for Wales and my Torfaen constituents.
I remind the Secretary of State that the Prime Minister promised earlier this year that Wales would not be left behind. The Chancellor of the Exchequer originally promised a Wales Bill within the first 100 days of this Parliament. Unfortunately, all he has done so far for Wales is to promise a further £3 billion of cuts across the UK, about £84 million of which we expect to fall on Wales. That is hardly a great start when it comes to addressing fair funding for Wales.
The First Minister of Wales, Carwyn Jones, has made it clear that this issue of fair funding has to be dealt with, so I say that a great devolution debate must go ahead in this Parliament and the Secretary of State must bear in mind all the constituent parts of the United Kingdom. History tells us that if particular issues are left untouched in devolution debates, they usually come back and need to be dealt with at a later stage. I urge the Secretary of State to think again about ruling out, from the Dispatch Box, the idea of a constitutional convention, which would not only give all politicians a chance to contribute to the debate, but would involve the wider public in all parts of the United Kingdom. It is important that we end this Parliament with strong devolution within a strong United Kingdom.
There seems to be cross-party support in this place for legislation that would substantially implement the recommendations of the Smith commission. We have heard some interesting contributions, not least from Angus Robertson. We all wait with bated breath to see what amendments will be tabled to the Bill to try to establish full fiscal autonomy for Scotland. We certainly hope that in order to fulfil that promise, the amendment will be a little stronger than the one on the Order Paper today, which is all about Scotland moving to
“a position in the medium term where the Scottish Parliament and Government are responsible for all revenue raising”.
That seems to me to be a lot of weasel words and very far away from full fiscal autonomy.
There has been a certain amount of interest in this pledge from people watching the debate in this place, and I have been asked by many where the Scots believe they will get the money needed to fill the hole—we understand it might be £7.6 billion or even £10 billion. However much it is, people in Scotland and presumably across the whole of the United Kingdom will want to know from the Scottish nationalists where that money is going to come from, if they get full fiscal autonomy. The prime opportunity comes from introducing an amendment to this Bill, and we all wait to see what it is going to say.
When the hon. Lady’s party introduced devolution at the end of the last century, it said that it would settle the kingdom once and for all, and that Scotland would then live very happily in the Union. What went wrong?
The right hon. Gentleman will, I am sure, realise that we have all moved on in the last 100 years and that things change and we have become different people, but I think the majority of people in these islands identify as British. We saw that in the referendum result and the feelings expressed across the whole of this nation, and the important thing is that we remain a United Kingdom. With the devolution being introduced today, which will be a continuing devolution, we must nevertheless remain a United Kingdom. I believe I speak on behalf of the vast majority of people in Great Britain when I say that.
What concerns me about the Bill, however, is how the Sewel convention will be implemented. The Smith commission recommends that the Sewel convention be placed on a statutory footing. However, despite the Secretary of State’s contention that the Bill will implement the commission’s recommendations in full, in my view clause 2 falls short of fulfilling that promise.
“However, as happened in Northern Ireland earlier in the century, we would expect a convention to be established that Westminster would not normally legislate with regard to devolved matters in Scotland without the consent of the Scottish parliament.”—[Hansard, House of Lords, 21 July 1998; Vol. 592, c. 791.]
In seeking to put this convention on a statutory footing, the Bill uses identical language, stating that
“it is recognised that the Parliament of the United Kingdom will not normally legislate with regard to devolved matters without the consent of the Scottish Parliament.”
What does that mean? Does that mean we will not normally legislate with regard to devolved matters without the consent of the Scottish Parliament unless the UK Parliament does not like it? It seems rather an odd way of proceeding and it is a funny way to write the law.
“the use of the word normally…is unusual in legislation and is undefined.”
[Interruption.] The Secretary of State, who is the only Scottish MP on the Government Benches, should listen: the House of Lords Constitution Committee says his legislation is nonsense, and he should listen.
The inevitable question is what the Government mean by “normally”? Language that may be appropriately applied to a convention may well be inappropriate in statute. For instance, we might pass legislation that says, “Normally, it is illegal to steal someone’s wallet”—except when it is legal—or, “Normally, millionaires should pay their fair share of tax”, although perhaps that is a bad example. How about this example, then? Legislation might say, “Normally, it would be illegal to blow up the Houses of Parliament,” but there might be circumstances in which it was legal. This is the legislation being put before us by the Government today.
The normal response to silly questions like that is to pass on and not make comment, because the hon. Gentleman belittles himself and this place by descending to that.
Does the hon. Lady believe the Secretary of State for Scotland should give more credence to the unelected upper Chamber than a cross-party report by the democratically elected Scottish Parliament?
I simply think the Secretary of State for Scotland should not introduce legislation that says that we
“will not normally legislate with regard to devolved matters without the consent of the Scottish Parliament” because in my view that is not the sort of thing we normally put in legislation. The Bill has been rushed through at the last minute and has not been thought through properly. I strongly suggest that the Secretary of State pays attention to people who are better experts than he is, and makes sure his legislation is a little better than it is.
The Constitution Committee’s report went on to note that this measure, as drafted, would have
“little, or no, legal effect”.
[Interruption.] I am sorry to interrupt the Secretary of State once more. The Committee says this clause would have little or no legal effect, and I suggest he pays attention to that. It says that the clause would simply
“recognise the existence of the Sewel convention rather than turn it into a legally binding principle”.
In other words, it is a gesture and it does not actually mean anything. I strongly suggest the Secretary of State considers providing some clarity on that point. What do the words of the statute mean? What does he intend? Tell us what “normal” means, and what “abnormal” means, so we all know what we are talking about.
That point is as nothing compared with the nonsense and mess that the Bill will cause in relation to the Human Rights Act. The Government may or may not be changing the Human Rights Act in some way in the future after consulting with people—who, we do not yet know. We do not know how it will be changed, but it appears that the Government do intend to change it. As the Secretary of State knows, an integral part of the devolution settlement is that Scotland has a role in the Human Rights Act, and that remains important. If the Government are to honour the spirit of the Sewel convention, they will need to seek the consent of the Scottish Parliament before proceeding on any wholesale reorganisation of the legislative framework upon which our basic human rights rest. The Government need to look at that.
The convention will be pushed to its limit whether it has a basis in statute or not. The Human Rights Act is embedded in Scotland’s devolution settlement, and while it remains for the UK courts to determine whether an Act of Parliament violates an individual’s convention rights, both schedule 6 and section 29(2)(d) of the Scotland Act 1998 gave the same power to the Scottish courts to invalidate Acts of the Scottish Parliament if they are judged to be incompatible with the UK’s obligations under the convention. The same prohibition on acting incompatibly with individuals’ convention rights is extended to Ministers in the Scottish Executive under section 57(2) of the 1998 Act. Since the passage of that Act, the Scottish Parliament has established a Scottish Human Rights Commission and a national plan for human rights, so human rights are without doubt a substantially devolved issue. What is more, the Scots were not exactly backwards in coming forwards on the need to preserve the Human Rights Act.
The Minister might remember that the Government spent the previous two years consulting on how to replace the Human Rights Act with their so-called British bill of privileges; they went around the country asking people their views, for suggestions, whether any rights had been forgotten and whether people would like to change this bit or that bit. The Minister might also remember the consultation’s reception in Scotland. When the Government asked Scottish people their views, how many were in favour of changing the Human Rights Act? None. The Government did not get a single person in Scotland to say that it was a good idea to change the Human Rights Act. So exactly how will they be able to implement the Sewel convention and somehow or other change the Human Rights Act in Scotland? How will that work? It is constitutional nonsense, and the Government should take it extremely seriously.
Following the election, the Scottish Human Rights Commission said:
“While we will examine any legislative proposals in detail, the Commission repeats its long-standing concerns about the regressive nature of many elements of previous proposals for a British Bill of Rights. These have included enabling the UK to pick and choose which judgments to accept from the European Court of Human Rights, reducing the scope of human rights laws so that they only apply to ‘the most serious’ cases, or to particular areas of law, and restricting the eligibility of rights on the basis of nationality or citizenship. Any and all of these changes would fly in the face of progressive protection for human rights and would have adverse consequences for people in Scotland”.
That is absolutely right. It is quite clear that the people of Scotland do not want the Government to interfere with their Human Rights Act, and the Government should leave it alone. Frankly, they should leave it alone for all of us.
The Government should not seek to change the Human Rights Act without first seeking the consent of the Scottish Parliament. It is clear that if the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, Michael Gove, went up to Scotland and asked people there whether the Government could change the Human Rights Act, they would probably tell him to sling his hook—or possibly something a little ruder.
Will the Minister assure the House that the Government’s intention is to honour the Sewel convention on a matter of such importance as fundamental human rights?
I have only two minutes and 46 seconds left, but I am happy to talk to the hon. Lady outside the Chamber. I would say that the Government should keep away from this—it is a devolved issue. They may think that they can implement the Sewel convention properly and still change the Human Rights Act in relation to Scotland, but it cannot be done.
Will the Minister give us a clearer outline of the Government’s definition of “normal”? Will he help us by telling us whether or not, in order to stay true to the spirit of the Smith commission’s recommendations, the Sewel convention can be placed on a much stronger statutory footing than today’s Bill achieves? As it stands, nothing in the Bill prevents this or any future Government from riding roughshod over the clearly expressed views of the Scottish Parliament and the people it represents. The first victim of such woolly legislation could well be the Human Rights Act in Scotland. Just as we will fight in England, we will fight in Scotland to make sure that we keep our Human Rights Act intact.
I am pleased to have the opportunity to contribute to this debate on a significant piece of constitutional legislation—the next step in a process we have been witnessing since at least 1997, when the first steps to a devolved Scottish Parliament were put in place.
It will come as no surprise to the House that I take a close personal interest in this Bill, as a Scot by birth and upbringing who has lived in England for many decades. Not only is it important to me personally for that reason, but it is important to many of my constituents who share exactly the same family experience. These families have lived, and continue to live, on both sides of the border, and they feel an emotional and physical attachment to England and Scotland as a result of their history and their lives today. We have, again, heard from other Members who share that family experience, including in at least two maiden speeches—those of Alberto Costa and my hon. Friend Ruth Smeeth. They, too, described exactly that experience, which is very common in this country of people who have strong family links and histories in both England and Scotland—and indeed in other parts of the UK.
The Bill is not only important to families across the UK, but it is an important financial, political and constitutional settlement that needs therefore to be fair to people in all parts of the UK. Clearly, there is cross-party support for the Smith commission principles and for the idea of greater devolution. This is a great opportunity for people in Scotland to tackle the poverty and inequality that still pertain in that country. It is very much one that I hope we will be able to replicate in my part of the country in the devolution settlement we achieve for Greater Manchester. But that cross-party support for devolution sits alongside our wish for the continued ability to pool and share risks and resources, and nowhere is that more important than in relation to welfare provision, where it is key that costs and risks must be fairly shared.
There has been much discussion this evening of the extent to which this Bill gives effect to the intentions of the Smith commission. Smith said that there should be “complete autonomy” over devolved benefits. We heard tonight concerns that, in practice, the UK Government will now be able to veto that autonomy, and questions were asked about what that would mean in practice and how things would operate.
It is important to say to those who speak for complete autonomy and expect that that would not involve a degree of negotiation and consultation between the two Governments that we must recognise the huge scale and challenge of the operational change the Department for Work and Pensions is facing now on welfare. Indeed, it is now in a state of perpetual revolution, which makes such negotiation necessary. It will not help people in Scotland or in England or Wales if the stability and resilience of our welfare systems is put at risk by an insistence on impractical solutions. Equally, however, the Bill’s wording as to what we mean by this process of consultation and this notion of veto is unhelpfully woolly. I hope there will be an opportunity to tighten it up in Committee.
Given the hon. Lady’s caution, what does she think of the example in Northern Ireland? On paper, the Northern Ireland Assembly has legislative power, but Westminster has basically said, “Unless you pass a karaoke version of our legislation, we will interfere in the rest of your Budget and create a Budget crisis.” That situation is now creating a political crisis.
We can see very clearly the importance of precision and of nailing down exactly what is intended in the wording of legislation and agreements. The Northern Ireland example is instructive of what can go wrong.
The Secretary of State gave us an assurance this afternoon about the process of consultation and resolution, but I hope that there is transparency in the way in which decisions are taken, negotiations are conducted and conclusions are reached. We must be clear about how decisions are taken, and we must be able to scrutinise that process. It will also be important to understand timescales and milestones for such decisions to take place. As I said to the Secretary of State, there needs to be clarity over how disputes between the two Governments are resolved. That is not clear to me despite the assurances that he gave us this afternoon. It is a matter that we need to firm up in Committee.
The hon. Lady made an excellent point very early on in her debate over who adjudicates in a dispute. The answer at the moment is that if there is a financial dispute with the Treasury and the devolved Parliament, the Treasury adjudicates. If it is the Joint Ministerial Committee, the Prime Minister does it. Unless it is specified in this Bill, yet again it will be the Prime Minister and his Government who will act as judge and jury in their own court.
The right hon. Gentleman and I might be able to agree that that would not be in the spirit of the discussions that we have had around the purpose of this Bill, which is to create the freedom for Scotland to operate within its devolved powers and to do so within the context of, and as an equal partner in, its relationships with the UK Government.
In order for England as well as Scotland to feel that justice is done, how would the hon. Lady recommend that the Scottish grant be adjusted for the money it will be collecting in its own right from taxation?
Clearly, the fiscal settlement will be of crucial importance to the people in Scotland, to my constituents and to the constituents of the right hon. Gentleman. That is a function of negotiation that I would expect to see as the fiscal settlement is worked out. One principle that was discussed under the Smith negotiations was the principle of no detriment. We can already see that there are issues to be ironed out here, such as those of operational costs, and the potential knock-on effects and costs of Scottish Government decisions about benefit levels, entitlements and top-ups. For example, it could be that a decision of the Scottish Government creates a passporting through to an entitlement, the cost of which falls to the UK Government. It could be that the decision of the Scottish Government in relation to crediting people into national insurance contributions creates a consequence for the national insurance fund. That is complex to disentangle, and it will be really important for this Parliament to have a mechanism for ongoing scrutiny. I hope that the Minister, in responding to this debate, will say how he thinks that scrutiny will work.
There seems to be surprise that the wording of the Bill appears to have fettered some of the scope of the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament to control the devolved welfare benefits. There is also surprise that only new welfare benefits can be created, and not benefits in relation to, for example, education or health. There are concerns that clause 19, which deals with disabilities, carers and industrial injuries benefits, may be worded too restrictively. It might not be possible to bring certain people into the ambit of the benefit, or people could have a question mark over their qualification for the benefit. For example, it might be that they live on one side of the border, but provide care for someone who lives on the other side of the border, and that needs to be sorted out.
There is concern over the provisions on topping up the reserved benefits and over whether there is an intention for the Scottish Parliament to take an across-the-board approach to topping up those reserved benefits, or whether it is merely a discretion to top up benefits for an individual in one individual case.
I think that we were surprised at the ambit of decisions on discretionary housing payments that will be delegated to Scotland in clause 22, which could potentially fetter the opportunity that colleagues in Scotland might wish to take completely to eliminate the harm done by the bedroom tax. There are also worries about clause 23 and the restriction of the application of short-term temporary assistance, which appears to leave out the possibility that families with children with an ongoing need for support could be excluded from the provisions of the existing legislation. These issues will need to be sorted out if the Scottish Parliament, the Scottish Government and the Scottish National party are to take advantage of the full fiscal autonomy that they have said is their medium-term ambition. We cannot wait for the medium term to resolve these issues; they must be resolved in Committee.
Important new provisions are introduced in clause 24 for the housing element of universal credit. Again, this could be a useful provision for the Scottish Government, as they would be able to reflect the characteristics of the Scottish housing and rental markets. For example—I hope that the Minister will tell me whether I am right to think this—they could vary their broad rental market agreement areas or the local housing allowance. However, there are again restrictions on the extent of the powers being devolved. They will not, as I read it, apply to those who receive housing benefit rather than the housing element of universal credit. They will not apply when people switch at pension age into receipt of pension credit. There is a gap in the legislation in ensuring that the devolution of housing benefit is sufficiently comprehensive to ensure that the Scottish Government will have the incentives and levers to use reductions in the housing benefit bill to enable them to build new homes.
I welcome the provisions on the devolution of employment programmes such as the Work programme and Work Choice. This is a sensible reflection of the different characteristics of different labour markets, although I remind SNP colleagues that the differences exist not just between England and Scotland but within Scotland. That is why Labour proposed in our election manifesto to devolve the Work programme and Work Choice to local authority or combined local authority level. I would expect to hear from Scottish parliamentarians and the SNP what their approach will be to that double devolution to reflect local labour markets.
I say to Ministers that I have read the provisions of clause 26 on “work for your benefits” on a number of occasions now and have absolutely no idea what they are getting at. I hope that there might be some clarity tonight.
Finally, there will be some significant operational questions, because the smooth delivery of benefits is as important to benefits recipients as the amounts and entitlements that the system offers them. Decisions taken in Scotland could of course affect operational workload elsewhere, such as in relation to decisions about mandatory reconsideration or changing the assessment process, which could have a significant effect on appeals workloads. I note that a fully functioning separate Scottish tribunal system will not be in place until 2023.
In conclusion, it is clear to me that we have a shared intention but a gap and a lack of specificity in providing for the intentions that we all understood to underpin Smith. They must be addressed before the Bill completes its parliamentary passage. We cannot leave issues of such grave constitutional importance in such uncertainty. It is clear that the scale of the constitutional change implied in the Bill is extensive, complex and impacts on the whole of the UK. That is why we will need to ensure that we have the mechanisms to keep its impact and effect under close and continuous scrutiny here in this House.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to make a brief contribution to this fantastic debate. We have had some amazing maiden speeches today. I am very grateful to my Conservative friends who can claim that they made their maiden speech on the Scotland Bill and added to the rich tapestry of the debate about Scotland, and very fine they were, too, but I particularly want to pick out the incredible contributions made by my hon. Friends in the fine tradition of the SNP 56 group maiden speeches that we have heard so far. It has been great and I pay tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson), for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Margaret Ferrier), for Aberdeen South (Callum McCaig), for East Renfrewshire (Kirsten Oswald), for Dunfermline and West Fife (Douglas Chapman) and for Livingston (Hannah Bardell). I am particularly grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline and West Fife, who reminded me of my punk days, and my time with the Skids and Big Country.
We have heard some astonishing contributions, as well as much repeated stuff. This is the third Scotland Bill on which I have had the great pleasure to be able to speak. It feels entirely different today: the context and environment in which the debate is being held feel totally different. For a start, there is no Scottish Labour left. They were all defeated and beaten by the fantastic maiden speakers we have heard today. Listening to Ian Murray—the one Member left from Scottish Labour, and who is not paying any attention to what I am saying—we can see why they are in such a diminished state. The almost catastrophic response to the debate and the legislation suggests why they are so diminished in the House. They have an opportunity—a great chance—to back the SNP as we seek to improve the Bill as it goes through
Parliament. This is the one chance they have to redefine themselves and say that they have learned the lessons of their crushing defeat to create a new narrative or story about how they want to approach Scottish issues.
As we seek to amend and improve the Bill as it goes through the House, I extend the arm of friendship to our colleagues in the Labour party and ask them to join us in a progressive alliance to tackle the austerity message to make sure that we can improve the Bill for the people of Scotland. They have an opportunity to make sure that we progress the Bill through Parliament and improve it. What a mandate we have. There are 56 of us, and we are here with the strongest possible mandate in Scotland to ensure that the Bill is improved.
I am sorry, I do not have time for interventions.
We have heard from the Joint Committee in the Scottish Parliament. My hon. Friend Angus Robertson repeatedly made the point that we have to listen to the people who will handle these powers—to Scottish parliamentarians. A Joint Committee in the Scottish Parliament concluded overwhelmingly that the measure was not sufficient. The spirit of Smith was not met in the draft clauses on which the Scotland Bill is based, so we must make sure that that voice is listened to and responded to. That is the challenge for this Government: the mandate that the 56 bring, with the strong voice of the Scottish Parliament, which says that the Bill does not meet what is required in the Smith agreement and the conclusions of the Smith Commission. The challenge as we go forward is to ensure that that agenda is progressed and that we get the Bill for which the Scottish people voted overwhelmingly just a few short weeks ago.
We have to try—and I say this to the Secretary of State, who is not listening either—to deal with the veto. If it is a matter of the wording in the Bill, the legislation should be amended so that it can be clearly understood. We should not be in the position where the right hon. Gentleman, bless him—he was the lone panda in the last Parliament—has the final say on something that is democratically decided and debated in the Scottish Parliament. If there is an issue with the veto—he does not agree that there should be a veto—he should improve the legislation, tidy up the wording and ensure that it is cleared up. The Conservatives talk about one nation and so on, but I will talk about my nation. The Conservatives got 14% of the vote in Scotland—their worst election result since the 19th century. They should not have the final say on things that are democratically decided in the Scottish Parliament. The situation must improve, and the measure must be worked on.
I want to pay tribute to Emily Thornberry, who raised some important issues about the Human Rights Act. The Conservative Government have got into some sort of trouble over that Act, and it looks as if they have booted it into the long grass. We have to be careful how we progress legislation through Parliament. We do not have a guarantee or assurance that this Parliament cannot simply do away with the Scottish Parliament: that is something that the Smith proposals invited us to consider. We still do not have clarity on that, so as the Bill works its way through Parliament, we should make sure that we get it.
We have a great opportunity to ensure that the strong voice—the overwhelming voice—of Scotland, and the mandate given by the 56 is progressed in the Bill. Let us improve it. Let us work together where we can, and make sure that the Scottish people get what they want, because this is what happens in democracies: when the people speak, Governments respond and listen. They improve the legislation. We have the strongest mandate. I appeal to the House to work with us to deliver the spirit of Smith, improve the legislation, and give the Scottish people what they want.
Today we have had a very good debate. We have had no fewer than 25 speeches and 16 maiden speeches. I shall dwell for a few moments, if I may, on some of the maiden speeches from both sides of the House today.
The first maiden speech was delivered by Alberto Costa, who informed us that he was a Scottish Member, though he was of Italian extraction, but that he was proudly British. We then heard from Margaret Ferrier, and from Antoinette Sandbach, who said that she had a great parliamentary ambition—she hoped to be a member of the ladies tug-of-war team. We hope that she is successful in that. She neglected to mention that she used to be a Member of the Welsh Assembly as well. I should have thought that that was of note.
I was pleased to hear Simon Hoare say that he had a Welsh—or Celtic, as he called it—background. We went on to hear from Mr Carmichael in a very statesmanlike speech. We heard a notable maiden speech from my hon. Friend Vicky Foxcroft, who distinguished herself by reciting “The Red Flag”. I hoped she would sing it as well. We had a maiden speech also from Patricia Gibson, who observed that she had characteristics similar to those of James Bond. I suggest that is because Sean Connery is an SNP supporter. We heard from my hon. Friend Carolyn Harris, who is carrying forward the socialist tradition with great pride, if Members understand what I mean.
We then heard from Callum McCaig and from my hon. Friends the Members for Bristol South (Karin Smyth) and for Manchester, Withington (Jeff Smith), who mentioned Bruce Springsteen. That honourable and distinguished cast was reinforced with the mention of Robbie Williams by my hon. Friend Ruth Smeeth. We heard from my hon. Friend Sue Hayman, Kirsten Oswald, and Douglas Chapman, who recommended that hon. Members bring their wallets when they come to his constituency. I am certain they will take note of that.
The prize, if there is a prize, for the most engaging maiden speech this evening must go to my hon. Friend Daniel Zeichner, who mentioned that he was successful in being elected to this House at the fifth attempt. He must have the House of Commons prize for perseverance.
Taken together, the speeches today demonstrated the geographic and cultural diversity of the House of Commons and of our country, and the political differences that exist across our nation. The debate today also demonstrated how politics in Scotland has changed over the past 12 months. In the space of less than a year Scotland has experienced two extraordinary democratic processes—the referendum and the general election. In the general election the people of Scotland decided who they wanted to represent them in the United Kingdom. At that point I expected a cheer, but SNP Members have probably run out of breath because of all the barracking they have been giving some of us today. In the referendum, after an unprecedented national debate in Scotland, the people of Scotland decided to remain part of the United Kingdom.
Many lessons can be drawn from those two events. What is clear beyond any shadow of doubt is that in the referendum the people of Scotland voted to remain part of a family. They voted to share economic risks and opportunities with the rest of the United Kingdom. They decided to pool resources. They voted for a fair distribution of tax and spending. They voted to tackle international issues on a collective basis and they voted for common domestic concerns to be tackled co-operatively.
Importantly, the Scottish people also voted for social solidarity with people from all parts of the United Kingdom, as my hon. Friend Ian Murray noted earlier. Today I am speaking very much as a Welshman and as someone who is proud of his identity, and indeed of his accent. I recognise that many of the concerns, hopes and aspirations of my Caerphilly constituents are shared by working people in Cowdenbeath, Carlisle, Coventry and Cornwall.
Well, we of course have an agreement—a fiscal framework—and we have a cast-iron commitment to ensuring that the Barnett formula remains in place. We have also suggested the need for a Barnett floor in Wales, in order to tackle underfunding, and I think that that principle should also be considered for the rest of the United Kingdom.
One of the key messages of the referendum campaign is that the ties that hold us together are important and real. Another lesson, however, is that there is a need for radical constitutional change. Yes, the Scottish people wish to remain part of the United Kingdom, but they also want the ability to determine their own priorities and shape their own nation’s future.
Labour, as one of the signatories to the Smith agreement, welcomes the Bill. It will make real many of the commitments made by the Smith commission, and it will take Scotland forward in a number of important respects, such as a new constitutional commitment on taxation and welfare. But the Bill also has its shortcomings. Scotland needs to have the ability to make different choices from those of a right-wing Government based here in London. That is why Labour will be putting forward amendments in Committee to strengthen the Bill. We want the Scottish Parliament to be unfettered in adding to UK benefits, and we want it to be able to create new benefits of its own. We will also seek to amend the Bill so that housing benefit is devolved in full.
My hon. Friend Emily Thornberry made a number of pertinent references to the Sewell convention and the need for it to operate effectively. Sound references were also made to the Human Rights Act, which needs careful consideration, because aspects of the devolution settlements in Wales and Scotland, and especially in Northern Ireland, are clearly based on that Act. Any tinkering with that Act by the Conservative Government, or even its abandonment, needs careful consideration of the implications for devolution.
Given that the Scottish Parliament has voted to extend equality at every opportunity it has had to do so—something that this House cannot come close to claiming—does the hon. Gentleman and his party share my disappointment that full devolution of equality law is missing from the Bill?
There is already a reference to equality in the Bill, but it is one of the things that will need to be considered carefully in Committee, because the detail of the proposed legislation is important, but so too is the spirit.
I know that the hon. Gentleman is only here because there is no other Scottish Labour MP to make the speech, but does he not think that the Scottish Labour party really needs to rethink its whole approach to issues such as the Scotland Bill and to start reinventing itself in order to gain credibility in Scotland?
I think that it is important to recognise that meaningful constitutional change will require all sections of this House to unite wherever possible. I urge my SNP colleagues to recognise that this is not just a constitutional norm, but a way to make practical progress. I urge the hon. Gentleman to be gracious and generous in his comments, and perhaps we can have a discussion outside the House as well as in the Chamber.
When we consider this Bill in Committee, after discussions outside the Chamber as well as inside, it is important to take into account the work that the Scottish Parliament has been doing in this regard. I have been taking particular note of the Scottish Parliament’s Devolution (Further Powers) Committee and the work of the House of Lords, which was mentioned earlier. It is also important that we refer to the work that has already been done by the House of Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee. It is a great shame that the Government wish to do away with that Committee at a very crucial time.
I thank my hon. Friend for his generous remarks about the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee and the excellent job that it did on pre-legislative scrutiny of the Smith commission proposals. On the excellent list of devolved powers that are going to Scotland, is there anything in the water in Northern Ireland, Wales or England that would prevent us from having a similar list of powers should those nations within the Union feel that that was appropriate?
I thought that my hon. Friend might respond to the generous but accurate remarks that I made about him and his Committee. I hope that other Committees of the House will be able, in one way or another, to take forward the effective work that his Committee has done. We are naturally focusing on Scottish devolution, but devolution is a process that must encompass, in different ways, all parts of the United Kingdom. It is a principle that is in tune with the demands of the age. Devolution is undoubtedly the way forward for Scotland. It was Labour’s Keir Hardie, a Scotsman who represented a Welsh seat—he was mentioned by my hon. Friend Nick Thomas-Symonds—who pioneered devolution, it was Labour that created the Scottish Parliament, and it is Labour that really wants to take devolution forward within the context of the United Kingdom and is determined to press for it, in different ways, for the whole of the UK.
First, to consider how devolution can be developed most effectively and appropriately for different parts of the United Kingdom, we need a constitutional convention, for which Labour has argued for some time. Such a convention would look at not only devolution but the interface between those sets of constitutional changes and the other consequential changes that need to be made so that we can have a modern democracy fit for purpose.
Where decentralisation has not yet come about, people throughout the country want it, and they are right. Devolution is necessary if we are to meet the challenges we face in the modern world. In the 21st century, decision making needs to be as close to the people we represent as possible. Local, regional, Scottish, English, Welsh and Northern Irish decision making needs to be at a level that is effective, that can engage with people, and that reinforces all our people’s diverse senses of identity. On that basis, we give our support to the Second Reading of this Bill so that this House, in Committee, will have a chance to make it much better and much stronger.
It is a great pleasure to conclude today’s debate—a very good debate with a large number of contributions. We heard a large number of maiden speeches, all consistently of a very good standard.
Let me begin by saying a few words about those speeches. My hon. Friend Alberto Costa delivered a fluent and thoughtful speech in which he covered the whole of his constituency. I think he mentioned every village—I hope so. He certainly mentioned a very large number, and if one was missed off I am sure that someone will notice.
I congratulate my hon. Friend Antoinette Sandbach on an excellent speech in which she spoke passionately about childcare, the dairy industry, and, indeed, devolution. She mentioned that she did not have an entirely successful introduction to being a Member of Parliament in terms of the tug-of-war competition, but she had a very successful maiden speech, and I congratulate her on it.
I also congratulate the SNP Members who delivered their maiden speeches today. They may, at one level, not want to be part of this House, but they certainly made very good contributions to this House today. Margaret Ferrier delivered a passionate speech, which embodied her point that we in this House should respect one another. Patricia Gibson told a moving family story. She also spoke passionately and will clearly be a strong defender of her constituents. Callum McCaig delivered a fluent and articulate speech, as did Hannah Bardell; I suspect that both of them will have significant roles to play in their party in the years ahead.
Kirsten Oswald delivered a strong and passionate speech, on which I congratulate her. Douglas Chapman made an engaging speech, winning over the House with his remarks, particularly his well-made comments about the Westminster staff and the support that they provide to new MPs.
I turn now to the Labour Benches. I congratulate Vicky Foxcroft on her speech. She spoke about her background in drama and performing arts; she certainly delivered a fine performance today. She did not quite burst into song with “The Red Flag”, but she recited it. Personally, I am not sure that that is the right direction for her party to be taking, but who am I to say? Daniel Zeichner, after much determination to arrive in this place, delivered a thoughtful speech, mentioning the success of the innovative companies in his constituency. He also discussed devolution within Cambridge, and he will be aware of the measures that the Government are taking on that.
Carolyn Harris delivered an excellent speech, demonstrating a great knowledge and love of her constituency that was much appreciated. Karin Smyth delivered an excellent speech as a successor to Dawn Primarolo; as someone who has been a tax Minister for a number of years, I too know what it is like to follow in her distinguished footsteps. Jeff Smith delivered a witty and engaging speech. He mentioned “Mr Smith Goes to Washington”; his was a “Mr Smith goes to Westminster” speech. As someone who also knows and loves that film, I hope that he does not engage in filibustering in quite the same way as James Stewart’s character in that film.
Ruth Smeeth delivered a passionate speech, making the case with great sincerity that her constituency is the most beautiful seat in the country. I am not quite sure that she brought the House with her on that point, but she had a pretty good stab at it. An easier case, if I may say so, was made by Sue Hayman, who delivered an excellent speech highlighting some of the most beautiful scenery in the nation. All those speeches were excellent starts to parliamentary careers.
I also mention my hon. Friend Simon Hoare, who delivered his second speech, although he sounded like a parliamentary veteran; it was a fluent speech. Indeed, given that it was his second speech, he was one of the more senior Members speaking in this debate. A similar point could be made about Nick Thomas-Symonds, who also spoke extremely well.
This has been an excellent debate about an important matter. At times, there has been a strong sense of consent and a constructive approach, which I certainly welcome. To echo the comments made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland when he opened this debate, I thank the members of the Smith commission, particularly Lord Smith, for helping us to take devolution in Scotland to the next stage after the referendum. Their hard work secured a consensus among all five parties, of which all participants can be proud. Implementing the Smith commission agreement will make the Scottish Parliament one of the most devolved in the world. The Scotland Bill represents the formal step by which we will make that transformation happen in full.
The Minister will know that a lot of this debate is centred on what a dispute resolution and an adjudication would look like and in what circumstances consent could be reasonably or unreasonably withheld. He has been a Treasury Minister for five years. Can he point to a single occasion when a dispute between the Treasury and a devolved Administration—there have been many such disputes—has been resolved in favour of the devolved Administration by the Treasury?
The reality, as the right hon. Gentleman knows very well, is that there has been a spirit of working constructively from the Government across the piece. On the particular issue of welfare, concerns have been raised about what the SNP describes as a veto. Put simply, it is not a veto. The position is that there are clauses whereby, for practical reasons, the Secretary of State needs to give consent to ensure that something is practical. That consent cannot be unreasonably withheld, and if something is unreasonably withheld the courts can declare that it has been unreasonably withheld.
There is no veto. Our approach will be constructive throughout all stages of the Bill. I want to be clear with the House. The intention is not to block a measure in perpetuity; it is to ensure that something that has an impact on the Department for Work and Pensions can be done practically, because DWP has to deliver it and needs to be able to ensure that it can do so.
I am pleased to say that earlier today the Chancellor and the Chief Secretary to the Treasury met the Deputy First Minister. They had a productive meeting and agreed to immediately start work on the fiscal framework, which works alongside the Scotland Bill, ensuring that the Scottish Parliament has the tools it needs to manage its significant new tax and spending powers. We have agreed to aim to finalise the fiscal framework by the autumn, alongside the passage of the Scotland Bill through Parliament.
I am short of time and need to make more progress before concluding.
Last year the people of Scotland made a clear choice. It is a choice that must be honoured, so it was a key commitment in this Government’s manifesto that the all-party Smith commission agreement should be implemented in full. With this Bill, we deliver on those commitments. It will make the Scottish Parliament one of the most devolved legislatures in the world. It will deliver unprecedented new powers to Holyrood. It will give the Scottish Government the tools to manage their economy and make important decisions on behalf of the people of Scotland. This Bill demonstrates our willingness and determination to ensure that we fulfil our obligations. It implements the Smith commission and I hope it has the support of Members on both sides of the House. I commend it to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time.