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Points Of Order

Volume 229: debated on Thursday 22 July 1993

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4.7 pm

On a point of order, Madam Speaker.

I have given you prior notice of this matter which is in connection with the ruling which you gave yesterday and which is reported in columns 353 and 354 of the Official Report.

As you know, Madam Speaker, article 9 of the Bill of Rights 1689 does not apply to Scotland. Yet the ruling given yesterday seemed to imply that that Act was binding on the whole House. It is important that, before we embark on today's debate on the social chapter and the future of the Maastricht treaty, you give a clear ruling of the implications for the constitution of Scotland and for the constitutional legal position of Scotland in the context of that ruling.

The Bill of Rights defined clearly that parliamentary sovereignty in England existed in Parliament. The Claim of Right, the equivalent document in Scotland, which was passed one year prior, defined clearly that sovereignty lay with the Scottish people. The Act of Union of 1707 incorporated neither the Bill of Rights nor the Claim of Right—[Interruption.] Despite the noise from Conservative Members, there is an important constitutional point to which they should listen.

Those documents were not incorporated in the Act of Union. Therefore, in the context of Scottish constitutional law, we cannot be bound to a ruling that is based on the Bill of Rights of 1689 in the context of parliamentary sovereignty. I refer to a ruling made in the Court of Session in Scotland in 1953 when the matter was clearly spelt out in a case between John MacCormick and the Lord Advocate. The Court of Session papers of 1953 said:
"The principle of the unlimited sovereignty of Parliament is a distinctively English principle which has no counterpart in Scottish constitutional law … I have difficulty in seeing why it should have been supposed that the new Parliament of Great Britain must inherit all the peculiar characteristics of the English Parliament but none of the Scottish Parliament, as if all that happened in 1707 was that Scottish representatives were admitted to the Parliament of England. That is not what was done.
Your statement yesterday, Madam Speaker, indicated that English legislation was binding because it related to English courts of justice. Does that mean—this where I seek your clear ruling—that Scottish legislative rights, the Scottish legal system and the jurisdiction of Scottish courts can be ignored by this place? Surely, if it were so desired, the Scottish courts could seek separate and distinctive representations on issues pertaining to the Maastricht treaty and the social chapter.

I realise that it is not an easy issue for you, Madam Speaker, or for the House, but I seek the clear ruling that the statement did not apply to Scotland, that the ruling did not either implicity or explicitly suggest that Westminster is the English Parliament in continuation, and that the democratically elected members of Scottish constituencies should not be tied to an English system.

Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. Before you gave your ruling yesterday, did you have regard to the terms of the case of MacCormick against the Lord Advocate and especially to the fact that the judgment was delivered by Lord President Cooper, who is renowned as an expert in Scottish constitutional law? If your ruling applies only to the English courts, does it follow that those who wish to challenge, as they have already sought to do in England, may opt to do so at the Court of Session in Edinburgh rather than in the High Court in the Strand?

In that case, let me clear up the matter. My statement yesterday stands complete. I have nothing further to add.

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I appeal to you as the defender of the rights of Back Benchers. As a Member of Parliament who represents a constituency outside London, you will be familiar with the fact that many of us have full constituency engagements on a Friday. We have just heard a suggestion in business questions that a matter of supreme importance to my constituency and to other constituencies will take place tomorrow: there is to be a statement on assisted area status. It has also been claimed that that information has been given to the press. Even this afternoon, that information has not been given to us. Why on earth can we not be given that important information at least at the same time as it is given to members of the press?

I remind the hon. Gentleman that, whether Fridays, Tuesdays or Thursdays, all sitting days are precious to me.