Whitsun Adjournment

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:15 pm on 23rd May 2019.

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Photo of Stephen Kerr Stephen Kerr Conservative, Stirling 3:15 pm, 23rd May 2019

It is a pleasure to follow Nic Dakin. He described what we had experienced in the Chamber to the point at which he stood to speak as a masterclass. And that masterclass continued. This is the first time that I decided to attend a recess Adjournment debate and I have learned a great deal about how to make the best use of the time afforded by such debates. Ian Mearns gave us a very thorough commentary on his constituency. I know a little about Gateshead and I have to say that the people of Gateshead are some of the friendliest and most welcoming in these islands. I always look forward to my visits to Gateshead to visit friends who live there.

My hon. Friend Sir David Amess gave a tour de force. I am taking notes about what I observed in how he conducted himself. I share his concerns about the state of our democracy. I am really concerned about the esteem in which people hold this place and I am deeply concerned about some of the comments I pick up every Saturday when I knock on doors in my Stirling constituency. We desperately need to consider the reputation of Parliament and the way in which we have conducted ourselves over the past little while.

There was a mention from across the Chamber of sporting triumphs. It would be remiss of me not to wish my namesake Shelley Kerr, the manager of Scotland’s World cup team, all the very best when the tournament starts next month in France. I am sure that all of us will have marked in our diaries a very important date and time, Sunday 9 June at 5 o’clock, because that is when England will be beaten by Scotland in the women’s World cup. I wish the Scotland team well. It is fantastic, as a Scot, to be able to have a national team in a World cup—in fact, in any kind of tournament at all. I rejoice in their success in being in it and I know they will do us proud.

The hon. Member for Scunthorpe mentioned steel and the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee. I note what he said. I am a member of the Committee and he asked some very valuable questions.

As I mentioned, this is the first time that I have attempted to speak in a recess Adjournment debate. If you do not mind, Mr Deputy Speaker, I would like to reflect on the fact that, just after we come back from recess, it will be a few days more to the second anniversary of my election to this place as the Member of Parliament for Stirling, and the election of the other Members who first came to the House in 2017. I want to use this opportunity to thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, Mr Speaker and the other Deputy Speakers, the officers and staff of the House, and our Members for the many kindnesses and considerations I have experienced and been shown over the past two years. I am absolutely certain that I speak for the whole 2017 intake when I say that.

I never tire of the privilege of being a Member of this House and representing the people of the Stirling constituency. What can I say about Stirling? Every day when I walk to this place, I choose, whenever I can, to walk through Westminster Hall. There are several plaques in the floor of Westminster Hall. I always take time to reflect on and show my visitors the plaque that designates the spot where William Wallace stood when he was sentenced to death by this English Parliament. I mention that because Stirling is the home of the National Wallace Monument, where I recently witnessed the reality of the Union, which is my main topic this afternoon. At the monument, which will be 150 years old this year by the way, there is a 14-foot-tall statue of William Wallace, which has been in place for 132 years. It bears the effects of being that old, so it was recently taken down from the monument and repaired. That was a very worthy project and I salute all who were connected to it, but the repair—bear in mind the history of William Wallace and the nature of the plaque in the Westminster Hall floor—took place in Wigan, in England. I am not sure what the spirit of William Wallace would make of that; nevertheless, I felt that it surely represented something about our United Kingdom.

The hon. Member for Gateshead reminded us, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West, that we are in this place not for the purposes of self-aggrandisement, but to serve others, without a selfish motive or agenda, and to seek to do good to all people. We are reminded of that every day that we attend Speaker’s Prayers and by this building and everything about it. We need those reminders, because passing laws, holding the Executive to account and speaking truth to power and patronage is fundamentally about serving people and seeing that their needs are best served by the actions of Government.

I will take a few minutes of the House’s time to speak about good governance. I have said many times in this House that I do not always feel that my constituents and the people of Scotland are being best served when it comes to governance. When I say governance, I mean the system of Government at all levels and how they work together to serve the best interests of the people. There are many examples of where Government serve the people well. I specifically mention the dedicated and skilled public servants that I have witnessed working hard in various activities. This includes teachers, people who provide care in our health service, the police and the fire service, and we undoubtedly have the best armed forces and the best consular network that we could imagine around the world. We have a great deal to be grateful for. However, my concern is that when Government do not work together and when they pass the buck—when citizens are told, “It’s not my job to do this or that”—that is when people are poorly served. Whether that is different Departments or arms of a single Government, or different levels of Government not acting together, it amounts to poor service and poor governance.

In Scotland, we have a situation where the idea of disharmony and not working together is the aim of public policy. The Scottish National party Government delight in telling the people of Scotland what cannot be done. They love to tell us that they do not have the power to do this, that or the next thing and they delight in telling us that it is someone else’s fault. They love to tell us, “Actually, it is Westminster’s fault.” I refer to my earlier comments in reflecting that what the people of Scotland have witnessed in this Parliament in recent months and years has added evidence, unnecessarily, to support these spurious claims about blame. The manufacture of grievance is what nationalists are all about. We should remember that the only reason they manufacture grievance and the reason they love to blame is that they wish to use it to advance their argument for independence. They exist only to create division and sow discord. It is their modus operandi; it is the means to the end that they seek.

Let me say straight away that it is simply not good enough for me, as a Scottish Conservative and Unionist, to point that out and to despair at the SNP, the way it wants to do Scotland down and its incessant negativity. That is not enough. The SNP may be seeking to build walls between people, but we in this place must be determined to build bridges. We need to be the people who engage positively with the issue of governance throughout the United Kingdom. I believe that it is time for a positive Unionism to be active in the lives of my constituents and the people of Scotland—a positive Unionism that is designed to make life better for our citizens; a positive Unionism that shows the people of Scotland and the people of Stirling that there is a real benefit to being part of the Union.

For me, the key to unlocking that demonstration of benefit is to work together across all Administrations in the United Kingdom to create partnerships. We have seen that for ourselves in Stirling, where the city region deal brings together local authorities and the Scottish and UK Governments. They have to work together, to sit down together, to talk to each other and to make agreements about how to transform the Stirling economy and the lives and life prospects of the people of Stirling. I should mention that that also applies to the constituency of my near neighbour, my hon. Friend Luke Graham.

What we need is more joint enterprise between Governments. To make that happen, I believe we need reform. It is imperative that we view such reform not simply as a fix for process and bureaucracy that allows people to fall between the stools, but as a bulwark against grievance-based nationalism. In short, we need to modernise the Union, and the emphasis should be on the delivery of good governance.

I am grateful that my views on good governance are not my views alone, but are shared by many Members on both sides of the House. Just a couple of weeks ago, I was very pleased to join Mr Carmichael and Ian Murray—a Scottish Conservative, a Scottish Liberal Democrat and someone from Scottish Labour—to publish a joint article in Scotland on Sunday about good governance for Scotland.

I would like to share with the House some of our conclusions about what good governance means. We said that we share a common interest in making a

“passionate, positive and heartfelt case for Scotland’s integral role in the United Kingdom”.

We see it as a fundamental part of our jobs as Members of this House to make that positive case. We concluded that it has never been more important to make the positive case for the Union because the SNP, under Nicola Sturgeon, is once again making reckless demands for another independence referendum. We said in the article:

“We believe in the UK not just because it is the most successful union the world has ever seen,”— and it is—

“but because of how we see it improving and responding to the political, cultural, and social demands of a new era.”

That new era is being brought about because of our departure from the European Union and the new powers that will be transferred from Brussels to Holyrood. More than 80 powers will be transferred from Brussels to Holyrood, and that is on top of the other powers that the Scottish Parliament has been granted in recent years, including powers on welfare.

If I may, I will conclude with a short extract from the article. I believe that these words are worthy of the House’s attention because they are cross-party and, above all else, they are heartfelt words from Scots who care deeply about the Union and the future health and prosperity of the United Kingdom.

Our article said:

“We must be creative in finding solutions to modernising the Union. As a result of our asymmetrical devolution, one challenge is that with many of the powers which may come back to the UK from the EU we will find that some ministers in Westminster will be responsible both for UK common market cohesion, as well as the specific policy framework for England. It creates a conflict of interests, to which”— to some of us—

federalism is one solution. The other would be the creation of a Department for the Union to act as an arbiter.”

I would ask those on the Treasury Bench to seriously consider this policy idea.