[Mr. Christopher Chope in the Chair] — Parliamentary Representation (England)

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:27 am on 18th June 2008.

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Photo of Michael Wills Michael Wills Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice 10:27 am, 18th June 2008

I am not a London MP, and I hesitate to trespass on these extremely delicate issues. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that, if any London MPs were present, they would strongly contest what he says. It is inevitable, with definitions of need, that individual areas will tend to put their priorities highest. Local authorities are always complaining about how unfairly they are treated, whichever part of the country they are in, because their definition of their needs and the priorities given to them are always different. That is true across local authorities and regions, and between Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England. It is inevitable that there will be such differences and arguments. There probably will never be a settled conclusion on precise definitions of need. That is democratic debate and we could discuss it for ever. Need should always be borne in mind, and I am very glad that it was brought into the debate. I hope that my hon. Friend will remember that when he discusses these figures in future.

We have had an interesting debate, which has shown that devolution will continue to be a matter for discussion, but we believe that it has secured the future of the Union. It is easy to forget what the situation was like in the 1990s when feelings were running extremely high in Scotland. I remind the hon. Member for Epping Forest that the people of Scotland felt that it was being used unfairly as a laboratory for the divisive social and economic policies of the Conservative Government of the time. The people of Scotland still have not forgotten that they were used to test the implementation of the poll tax. Such issues raised tensions to an extremely high level.

Whatever one thinks of the current Administration in Scotland, most people would accept that we have a vibrant devolution settlement. The recent mayoral elections in London, although they did not turn out as I wished, were nevertheless a good advertisement for our vibrant devolved democracy, and will continue to be so. Our measures on devolution have enhanced the constitutional arrangements of this country and have preserved the Union. They deliver essential flexibility and allow the devolved administrations and legislatures the ability to deliver distinctive policies, and it is right and proper that they should do so. The fact that there is also a single Government taking a UK-wide view has enabled us to have the stable macro-economic policy that has delivered growth year on year for the past 10 years and has kept us in good shape to face the turbulent global economic challenges that lie ahead.

Our constitutional arrangements have delivered a common social security system that assists those who are most in need across the UK, building the common sense of identity that is so important. We have been able to adopt a common approach, which, I hope hon. Members agree, is important for dealing with the challenges of terrorism and formulating common policies on defence and foreign affairs. It is our profound belief that the Union benefits all the people of the United Kingdom. It reflects our shared history and heritage, and supports the successful participation of all the peoples of these islands in a global economy. It promotes our international standing, and I hope that none of us will do anything to damage it. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey; agrees with me on that, but I am afraid that his proposals would risk—inadvertently, I am sure—damaging the Union that is so precious to us all. I hope that he will reconsider his proposal, but I welcome his continued contribution to this debate.

Annotations

Ron Woodhouse
Posted on 19 Jun 2008 4:22 pm (Report this annotation)

"Our measures on devolution have enhanced the constitutional arrangements of this country and have preserved the Union."

A "Union" where 3 members have autonomy in many aspect, and only 1 member has to get permission from the others to make its own changes is no "Union" of equals. The "Union" as it was, ceased with the Scottish Parliament. The only way to save the unity of Britain is to give all the nations the same degree of autonomy in local administration decisions. We will then retain the strength of Britain in Europe and the rest of the world.
Dividing England into smaller "Regional" authorities will only further weaken the English nation.

Della Petch
Posted on 18 Jul 2008 1:56 pm (Report this annotation)

Support for the Union has diminished in England and will diminish further with each week that passes. You have only yourselves to blame.
I'll take an English Parliament within the Union, but if it is only achievable by the destruction of the Union, then I'll settle for that instead.

terry heath
Posted on 20 Jul 2008 10:20 am (Report this annotation)

If you want to split the UK just give three nations generous welfare provisions, get one nation to pay for it (and put up with a second class health/education service) then give the other nations greater democratic powers to ensure these wrongs cannot be righted.

Oh wait, that's what we have right now!

Those that oppose an English Parliament are threatening the Union. If that is their intent, they should admit it.