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Referendum

Volume 558: debated on Wednesday 13 February 2013

6. What consideration his Department has given to the recommendations of the Electoral Commission’s report on the Scottish referendum. (142165)

The United Kingdom Government welcome the reports from the Electoral Commission. We agree with the commission’s advice on the question, on the funding levels for the referendum, and on the clarity of the process.

When in opposition the Secretary of State wanted to extinguish his office; now he is in government he is publishing papers that talk about extinguishing Scotland—yes, extinguishing Scotland. As an act of repentance, will he ensure that his Tory-Liberal Government play fair with the Electoral Commission, as the Scottish National party Government are doing, and, as the Electoral Commission referee has asked, enter into dialogue together on Scotland’s future?

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman welcomes the publication earlier this week of this major contribution to the debate by the UK Government. We agree with the Electoral Commission’s recommendations. The document fleshes out the issues on the legal status of Scotland within the UK. Of course, over time, as these issues are discussed further, we will, as appropriate, meet the Scottish Government, as I have already said on many occasions. [Hon. Members: “Ah!”] I am delighted that that is good news for the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues.

We all want the referendum campaign to be fair. Does the Secretary of State agree that it is essential that all parties taking part in the referendum campaign must adhere to what the Electoral Commission has said about spending limits?

Now that we have cross-party agreement on accepting the recommendations of the Electoral Commission, will the Secretary of State say what information he is going to put into the public domain on the implications of separation from the UK for things such as pensions, the welfare system and the economy of Scotland, which people need to know before they cast their vote?

The hon. Lady is entirely right to focus on the need for us to move on from the process arguments to the issues of substance for families across Scotland. I am delighted that yesterday in the Privy Council the section 30 order was approved so that now we will have a legal, fair and decisive referendum. In that referendum, we have to discuss the big issues. As we have seen this week with the legal paper, which will be followed by others on the issues she mentions, there are some big questions that need to be debated—and so far no answers from the Scottish National party.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that if the outcome of the referendum is to engage the confidence of the Scottish people, the campaign must be conducted with candour and transparency? This week the Government published their view of the legal consequences of independence. Is it not time for those who argue for independence to do the same?

It has been a curious week, but my right hon. and learned Friend is right to highlight that at times the Scottish National party has not been clear whether to embrace the opinions of our legal experts or to lambast them. The great merit of this document is that we have now laid out all the key arguments, backed up by the most impressive legal opinions, and nothing has come forward from the Scottish Government.