[Relevant Documents: The parties’ published proposals on further devolution for Scotland, Cm 8946; First Report from the Communities and Local Government Committee, on Devolution in England: the case for local government, HC 503; Third Report from the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, Session 2012-13, on Prospects for codifying the relationship between central and local government, HC 656, and the Government response, Cm 8623; Fourth Report from the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, Session 2012-13, on Do we need a constitutional convention for the UK?, HC 656; Oral evidence reported by the Welsh Affairs Committee on 29 April 2014, on Silk Commission Part II: devolving legislative powers to Wales, HC 1239.]
Before I call the Leader of the House to move the motion, I should inform the House that, on account of the very large number of Members seeking to catch my eye, I have imposed a six-minute limit on Back-Bench contributions, which will start with the fifth speaker in the debate.
I beg to move,
That this House has considered devolution following the Scotland referendum.
I am delighted to open this debate on devolution, following the clear decision of the Scottish people to remain part of this great United Kingdom. The referendum campaign electrified politics in Scotland, and we saw one of the most remarkable demonstrations of democracy in British history, which I believe showed an unmistakeable strength and vitality in our politics.
With similar energy, we have to build a better and fairer constitutional settlement for all in the United Kingdom, working together as a family of nations, bound by a rich history and the strength of our democracy—and we have to do so with that sense of renewal across the country. Make no mistake, Mr Speaker, the need and demand for renewal is palpable and serious. Across the United Kingdom, we must find that better and fairer settlement. I believe that dither or delay is not an option on these issues.
Today sees the funeral of Angus Macleod, and I am sure that the Leader of the House and Members of all parties will pay tribute to the doyen of Scottish print journalism. I would like to pay tribute to everyone who took part in the referendum and respect its result, especially the 1.6 million people who voted for independence. A great many people voted no because of “the vow” that promised “extensive” new powers. Why is there no mention of extensive new powers in the Government’s Command Paper, and where is the Prime Minister?
I will come to the political and partisan points of the hon. Gentleman’s intervention, but first I join him in paying tribute to Angus Macleod, a journalist respected by all Members and known to all, particularly for a very distinctive Scottish voice on the radio. We all remember his family and friends at the time of his funeral today. As I say, I will come to the other points the hon. Gentleman raised—
My hon. Friend is right to make that point as Chair of the Procedure Committee. I certainly give him that guarantee.
As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland set out yesterday, it is vital that we unite Scotland within a United Kingdom. The cross-party process being undertaken by Lord Smith of Kelvin is the first step in finding the common ground that will create something that is better and fairer for Scotland and that cements its place in our family of nations.
I want to say at the beginning that we must not only meet the vows that were made to Scotland, but deliver a balanced settlement that is better and fairer for England, Wales and Northern Ireland. That is why, in addition to the cross-party process being undertaken by Lord Smith of Kelvin, the Prime Minister has asked me to chair a Cabinet Committee to look at the devolution—
Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
I will make just one more point.
The Prime Minister has asked me to chair a Cabinet Committee to look at the devolution of powers across the United Kingdom. There will be every opportunity for decisions on the future rights of England and devolution to Wales and Northern Ireland to be made on a cross-party basis, unless, that is, any party chooses not to participate in the discussions. That is a point to which I will return.
The hon. Member for Moray made the point about 1.6 million people. We should pay tribute to all those who voted in the referendum. He might not want to remember so easily that more than 2 million people voted for Scotland to remain part of the United Kingdom. They voted for a stronger Scottish Parliament, backed by the strength and security that comes from being part of the United Kingdom. Before the referendum, the three pro-Union parties of the United Kingdom made clear commitments to devolve further powers to Scotland on a clear timetable that was put forward by the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown), who is in his place. That was supported by the three party leaders.
Yesterday, the Government published the Command Paper on Scotland ahead of schedule. It sets out the published proposals of the three UK political parties on further devolution in Scotland. Lord Smith will oversee a process that takes forward those commitments. He has already begun his work and has written to the groups that were formed during the referendum campaign, inviting them to give their views on further devolution. I welcome the fact that, for the first time, all the major parties are involved in shaping devolution for Scotland, with the Scottish National party and the Green party tabling their proposals too. Lord Smith will talk simultaneously to the political parties, civic institutions and the public, with a view to reaching the heads of agreement by 30 November. As the House heard again yesterday, draft clauses will be published by the end of January, so that the legislation is ready to be implemented after the next general election.
The Leader of the House will know that the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, which I have the honour of chairing, has produced extensive work on a written constitution, devolution to English local government and the need for a constitutional convention. Will he ensure that Parliament is represented on and has input into his Cabinet Sub-Committee, which will discuss those much bigger and much more important issues than the one on which, I suspect, many Members will focus, which is English votes for English laws?
It is true that on devolved matters, English MPs do not have a vote, but neither do Welsh MPs, Scottish MPs or MPs from Northern Ireland. However, SNP MPs have traditionally resiled from voting on some such matters because they believe that that will help to lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom. Would not any such proposal be part of a slippery slope towards the break-up of the United Kingdom?
Let me come to that matter. I propose to work briefly and logically through the nations of the United Kingdom in my remarks and I will come to the question that has become known as English votes on English laws. However, I reject from the outset the idea that fairness for England is disruptive or dangerous for the United Kingdom. It is part of the effort to keep the United Kingdom together, just as fairness for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland has always been.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that many of us in England, including many of my constituents, were willing the Scots to remain part of this great United Kingdom? However, we do want fairness for England. We still have a procedure in this place, Standing Order No. 97, that allows Scots MPs to deal with Scots legislation. Why on earth can we not do that for England? That is a simple solution to a simple problem. It is a matter of fairness.
That is, indeed, one solution that could be adopted. I will come to the alternative solutions in a moment.
Let me finish what I was saying on Scotland. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland said in his statement, the three main pro-UK parties made a vow that will be delivered whatever the outcome of the election next year and whatever deliberations we have about England. I know that it suits the Scottish National party to pretend that it has already been betrayed somehow, but the proposals for Scotland are not tied to our deliberations on other parts of the United Kingdom in the sense that they are conditional on them. It is right to consider those things together, but there was a vow. The British Government—this Administration and past Administrations—have delivered on devolution commitments in the past and will do so again.
I will give way in one moment.
This Government delivered the Scotland Act 2012 and introduced the Wales Bill that is being debated in the House of Lords. We believe passionately in the United Kingdom. We recognise the benefits that it brings to all its citizens. We will deliver on the commitments that were made to the people of Scotland. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will confirm that the SNP will stop pretending that we are not seeking to deliver on those commitments.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way eventually. If the vow swayed 6% of the Scottish people, it served its narrow political purpose at the time. It was an unconditional vow that became conditional as the hangover set in. Why was the Prime Minister not straight with the Scottish people about the vow before the referendum? Where is the Prime Minister this afternoon?
I assure the hon. Gentleman that the vow is unconditional. I think that I can also speak for the official Opposition on that. It was an unconditional vow from the Leader of the Opposition, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Prime Minister. The Scottish nationalists should stop pretending that people are reneging on the commitment when they are not.
I thank the Leader of the House for making it clear that the vow is unconditional and that the process for Scotland will go ahead as promised. Are not the interventions from the Scottish National party Members very telling in that they do not recognise the result of the referendum? If anything, the result of the referendum showed a clear desire to stay part of the United Kingdom. The merits of whatever happens in the process should be judged against that.
As someone with a strong Scottish highland heritage, I want a fair settlement for everyone in the United Kingdom. Has my right hon. Friend received the commitment from all political parties that they will participate fully in the process?
The Scottish process will be presided over by Lord Smith of Kelvin, not by me. The Cabinet Committee that I chair will ensure that the British Government feed in information as necessary and when it is requested by Lord Smith. I believe that all parties are committed to taking part in that process—the three main UK pro-Union parties, as well as the Scottish National party and the Greens. I welcome that.
May I say gently to my right hon. Friend that the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown) did not speak for me or my constituents when he gave that undertaking? Although I fully understand that the leader of our party is entitled to make that commitment, because he is responsible for policy, it was not the mandate on which I was elected. I and my constituents expect the issues of differential expenditure and English votes for English laws to be addressed at the same time and before devo-max is delivered.
I will make a bit of progress. Otherwise we will stop on that point.
As in Scotland, the Government have been making good on our promise to deliver further devolution to Wales, with the referendum on law-making powers, setting up the Silk commission and introducing the Wales Bill. The Bill takes forward almost all the recommendations of the Silk commission’s part I report and devolves a significant combination of tax and borrowing powers to the Assembly and to Welsh Ministers. It is important that Wales, too, is at the heart of the debate on how to make the United Kingdom work for all nations.
One third of my constituents are currently served by hospitals in England. The railway service goes from England to Wales. In their thousands, people in my constituency work in businesses in England, which are governed by English Departments. Are the Leader of the House’s proposals to stop me voting and speaking on those issues right and proper?
As I have said, I will come to the position of England, although the right hon. Gentleman might want to reflect that one reason why Welsh people use English hospitals is the record of the Labour party on the NHS in Wales. Of course, there are important connections. There are and always will be a mass of transport and public service connections between all UK nations, particularly between England and Wales, and between England and Scotland, but that has never stopped people advocating devolution in Wales and the Welsh Assembly having greater powers. It has never stopped advocacy of greater powers for the Scottish Parliament. Therefore, we reach a point at which it is necessary to provide fairness for England, bearing in mind his point.
When one looks at Welsh devolution, is not one problem that the legislation has been so badly drafted that it is unclear what has been devolved and what has been reserved? Does that highlight the fact that, if we are to carry out a proper revision of our constitutional arrangements, we must look at the totality of them, while at the same time honouring the commitment we have made in Scotland?
There is a good case for that. The structure of the devolution settlement in Wales is an important matter for our consideration, particularly as the Silk commission recommended a move to a reserved powers model in its part II report, partly for the reasons that my right hon. and learned Friend gives. It will fall to the next Parliament to introduce legislation to make that change, but my right hon. Friend the Wales Secretary has made it clear that he wants to hear views from across the political spectrum in Wales. He has invited the leaders of the Welsh parties to discuss the way forward, and I believe he held a productive meeting yesterday. As he has announced, the first step in giving further devolution to Wales is to amend the Wales Bill by scrapping the lockstep and allowing the Welsh Assembly the power to vary income tax rates. The new income tax powers are a tool to help the Welsh economy potentially to become more dynamic and to make the Government in Wales more accountable. If used correctly, we hope they can boost economic growth, meaning more people in Wales in jobs and enjoying a better standard of living.
I want to pick up on the right hon. Gentleman’s point about the health service in north Wales. As a former Secretary of State for Wales, he knows that, for good demographic reasons, specialist services are supplied to the people of north Wales, including Wrexham, by excellent hospitals such as the Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt orthopaedic hospital in Shropshire, Christie’s, and the Walton specialist centre in Liverpool. The right hon. Gentleman should not therefore suggest—I am surprised he took such a cheap shot—that such provision is a matter of choice. It is how the health service works for the people of Wales and for the United Kingdom.
As I was saying a moment ago, it is of course true that there are a mass of connections in public service and transport, although it is also true that the NHS in Wales has not been performing as well as the NHS in England. Both points are true. There are a mass of connections, but I reiterate that that has never stopped the hon. Gentleman and others making the case for devolution in Wales and for greater control in Wales over, for instance, health and education services. It is therefore not surprising that English Members want greater control of health and education services in England, acknowledging that services on both sides of such a border must continue to serve those on both sides.
May I point out to my right hon. Friend that we are having increasing difficulty accessing services across the border between England and Scotland, and that increasingly, barriers are being erected? I express the hope that the settlement that Scotland is staying in the United Kingdom will mean that people can continue to cross borders for the best health provision.
Yes, that is important for all of us in the UK.
As is well understood in the House, the devolution settlement for Northern Ireland is different from the ones for Scotland and for Wales. It has emerged out of cross-party talks over a very long period. At its heart is power sharing between Northern Ireland’s two main traditions. The provision of additional powers to the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly would involve changes to the Belfast agreement. It is therefore essential that any changes to the settlement have the support of parties in the Assembly. One area on which we have had discussions is the devolution of corporation tax to Northern Ireland. As the Prime Minister has made clear, we will make an announcement on that no later than the autumn statement.
It is more important that the three devolution settlements I have discussed work in the best interests of the people of Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland than that they are identical, but the nature of the development of devolution in the past two decades has left the UK with an asymmetrical Union.
No, I think I will make progress.
Hon. Members completely respect the legitimate need for greater autonomy and devolution in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, but let us be clear that there is no widespread demand for regional government in England. Indeed, voters in the north-east emphatically rejected that in 2004. The public do not want an extra tier of burdensome politics that increases the cost of government overall.
My right hon. Friend is right that there was no appetite in Yorkshire for that proposal, but there is a sense of neglect and frustration that the votes of people in Yorkshire are being diluted by those who represent areas where decisions have no effect. That cannot be allowed to continue and it must be tackled now. Further delay is not acceptable to my constituents.
The Leader of the House is right to remind us that regional assemblies were rejected wherever they were considered, not just by the ballot in the north-east. However, there are 2.5 million people in Greater Manchester. It is almost exactly the same size by population as Wales, and half the size of Scotland. There is a real desire for both resources and powers to be devolved to Greater Manchester. Is he considering that?
I will first answer the point made by the hon. Member for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer).
There is a legitimate demand for greater autonomy at a local level. We have an excellent record in recent years of devolving powers to the cities and regions, including to Manchester. I, like other members of the Government, hope that more can be done on decentralising power from Whitehall. In this Parliament, we have introduced city deals. Eight core deals were signed in the first wave, and we are close to finalising the conclusions on the second wave—18 of the 20 contracts have been signed. We have delivered local growth deals, and £2 billion will be devolved per year to local enterprise partnerships from next year. Many hon. Members would like more such progress, building on the excellent work of the Department for Communities and Local Government. That is part of what we need to do in the United Kingdom, including in England, but it does not resolve the basic issue of fairness that my hon. Friends have raised regarding decisions on legislation affecting England.
We share a constituency boundary and the Leader of the House knows, as I do, that our constituents feel that too many decisions are London-centred. They want more power closer to them. Is not the problem with English votes for English laws that it changes the job description of Members in this House, but does not actually take power nearer to people?
These issues are not mutually exclusive. It is entirely possible to believe that there should be greater autonomy at the local level, including for the hon. Lady’s constituents and mine. However, if she is talking, as she did at the beginning of her intervention, about what people feel, I think she will have to acknowledge that they also feel, whether it be in Yorkshire or County Durham, that Scottish Members should no longer be voting on matters that have been devolved to Scotland. That is the local opinion.
The Leader of the House is absolutely right that we should have English votes for English Members of Parliament on English affairs. With regard to further devolution to the localities within England, I would ask that we do not just talk about cities but the historical counties of England, which deliver a lot of responsibilities already.
Let me introduce the next part of my speech, because a lot of Members wish to speak.
It does not and cannot answer what we have known as the West Lothian question for the past 30 years. For a long time we have seen prevarication, postponement and delay. With further devolution to the nations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland it is not unreasonable—indeed, it is a basic matter of fairness—to say that the voice of England should also be heard.
Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
I will give way again in a moment; I am trying to give way a lot.
We must establish the principle that when this House makes decisions affecting only the people of England, or only the people of England and Wales, those decisions should be made only by, or with the consent of, the MPs elected to represent them. There will be considerable debate on how to do this. Many reports have been published and solutions proposed, but this issue must be confronted now.
Before the right hon. Gentleman moved on to that structural point, he mentioned the question of legislation. Some Members in the Chamber will leave at 2 o’clock to go back to the Modern Slavery Public Bill Committee, including myself and a Member from Northern Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman will know that I have been involved in that campaign long before this Government came in. Would it be right for Members from Scotland and Northern Ireland to be denied the right to sit on what is a piece of English legislation that will have worldwide repercussions if it is passed in its correct form?
I believe that where a matter only affects England, then key decisions should be made, one way or another, by those MPs elected for English constituencies. The hon. Gentleman believes that for Scotland decisions on such matters should be made by Scottish representatives. We are not asking for anything greater than that. This is not a question that can be ignored or prevaricated over for the next decade. It is right we should address it now without establishing additional layers of government and without increasing the cost of politics.
I thank the Leader of the House for giving way. He said that devolution within the United Kingdom would not be symmetrical, but asymmetrical. Is it not true that it is likely that devolution within England will be asymmetrical as well? It might well be that powers are given to the Mayor of London or the combined authority in Greater Manchester that will not be provided to all local authorities up and down England. Therefore, should MPs in London and Greater Manchester be prevented from voting in this House on matters that are devolved to their local authorities?
I think across the House we want to be practical and pragmatic about the devolution of powers. [Interruption.] Well, I think we do, except in one respect in relation to the Labour party, which I will come on to in a moment. I hope Labour Members will not consider themselves too pragmatic until I come to the relevant part of my speech. Of course, the powers will vary from one local authority to another, but that can also be true within Scotland and within Wales. That still does not address the basic issue of fairness in the United Kingdom as a whole.
I am grateful to the Leader of the House. A few moments ago he said that the way in which English votes on English laws is delivered would be the subject of a great deal of debate. Why is he not proposing to involve the people of England in a discussion about how England should be governed? Why is he saying that he has all the wisdom to force this through in a Cabinet discussion without any wider debate whatever? What is he scared of and why will he not listen to the people of England?
First, I am not claiming to have a monopoly on wisdom. The people of England are already having that discussion and they may well have to have that discussion in the general election, but we are not claiming any monopoly on wisdom. Indeed, I have invited those on the right hon. Gentleman’s Front Bench to come to the Cabinet Committee to put forward their ideas. I have not had an official reply, but it has been dribbled out in the media this morning that they are proposing not to accept that invitation to the Cabinet Committee. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would like to come in place of those on his Front Bench, because he has many more ideas than they have developed so far.
I have not had any representations from any of the Labour MPs in Yorkshire; that is true. I was hoping that the Labour party would attend the Cabinet Committee on devolution and that it would put forward its ideas, but evidently it has decided not to do so. It could have come with superior ideas and innovative solutions that it might be happy with. It could have come to say that the constitutional convention would be its policy. All these things are still open to it. It could have come and pretended to have some ideas to demonstrate the unity that the Leader of the Opposition is desperately calling for at the moment. It could have come and done all these things, but instead it has evidently decided—the right hon. Member for Tooting (Sadiq Khan) may wish to confirm this in his speech—not to join in the work of the Committee. I therefore hope that nobody on the Opposition Benches will lecture us about not listening to other ideas when they are not prepared to come and give their ideas at the Cabinet Committee that has been established.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that if we are looking for a consensual approach with Opposition Members that is highly researched, intelligent and focused on the issue of English votes for English laws without giving up the principle of the Union Parliament, we should gather together around the McKay commission proposals?
The McKay commission proposals are a very good starting point. They are very well thought out, after a great deal of research. Many of the proposals are about how to insert an English stage into the legislative process, and I know that my hon. Friend has expressed his support for that.
Is it not the case that today’s debate is on devolution following the Scottish referendum, rather than a general debate on English votes for English laws, which many of us have great sympathy with? Why are we not debating the future of devolution in Scotland, instead of being sidetracked by Tory Back Benchers?
Far be it from me to chide a figure of such exalted status in the House as the hon. Gentleman, but I think he is being a tad precious if I may say so. This is a general debate on devolution following the Scottish referendum. There will be a very ample opportunity for his views to be heard. I feel sure that we await that with eager anticipation.
I can observe the annunciator just as well as the hon. Gentleman. I simply advise him that the title of the debate is, “Devolution following the Scotland referendum”. The debate is about devolution. Nothing disorderly has happened. The Leader of the House is entirely in order—[Interruption.] No amount of hand gesturing, waving and excessive excitability on the part of the hon. Gentleman will change the fact that the debate is perfectly in order.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. It might be good if the Scottish National party, taking heed of the referendum result, avoided new divisions in the UK and this House. We are entitled to discuss matters concerning the whole UK, including Scotland, and that is what we will do. I will try to conclude my remarks in the next five or 10 minutes so that all Members can talk about what they wish to address.
It has been proposed that there be a constitutional convention to discuss these issues—the Labour party could come to the Cabinet Committee and put that forward, but seems unwilling to do so—and indeed the Government will consider proposals for the establishment of such a body. However, it must be on the right terms and at the right time. In my view, there is merit in the idea, given that the British constitution is a living entity and no one is pretending that it will have reached a perfect form in the coming months, whatever we decide, on Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland or England. However, no one is suggesting a delay in the commitments we have made to Scotland while we wait for a constitutional convention or a delay in the amendments we make to the Wales Bill and other commitments to Wales; and it is equally right that we address the needs of England without delay in the coming months, which is why we propose to do so.
Some Members argue that to address that question is to put the UK itself at risk. I say to them that the UK is in greater danger if the legitimate arguments and expectations of English decision making on matters that affect only England are not responded to. Insensitivity and indifference to all nations, including England, are the danger to the Union.
The Leader of the House might wish to know that the separatist party has consistently argued that voters cannot trust the Westminster parties, yet the day before the referendum it denied that there would be a significant cut to the health service in Scotland, but the day after it admitted there would be, so we know that under an independent Scotland there would be an immediate £400 million cut to the health service in Scotland.
I wish to explore with my right hon. Friend the idea of going in tandem and at the same pace. As the owner of a tandem myself, may I challenge him to join me on my tandem and show how we can go forward without being dependent on each other?
Without getting into the finer points of cycling, I can say that it is the Prime Minister’s view, as it is mine, that the proposals should proceed in tandem, meaning that just as Lord Smith will aim to produce cross-party agreement on Scotland by the end of November, so I will test to the full whether there is any cross-party agreement on these other issues by the same time.
The hon. Lady does not represent the only other party in the House of Commons. There might be cross-party agreement between others—I am looking forward to such a lot of agreement with the SNP, for instance.
Legislation on Scotland will follow the general election, and if there is no agreement, I have no doubt that the party to which my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) and I belong will put forward its own plans at the election. That is what we mean by “in tandem”.
I do not think I will give way again, because more than 40 hon. Members wish to speak.
Some have argued that to address the issue of English votes for English laws would create two classes of MPs, but that does not reflect the fact that we already have two classes of MPs with different rights, because under the current system of devolution, Scottish MPs are voting on matters in England that are already devolved to Scotland.
Those issues, affecting all the nations of the UK, now have to be addressed, and it is important that it be done on the parameters I have set out—a better and fairer settlement for the whole of the UK. We are absolutely committed to the timetable set out for further devolution to Scotland; we are committed to providing further powers to Wales; and we are committed to meeting the special needs of Northern Ireland; but let no one think they can ignore the need to confront the needs and rights of England. There will be a place and a time for a constitutional convention, but not one that is simply a device to prevent those issues from being addressed now. It is time for the way decisions are made to be fair to all the constituent parts of the UK. The next few weeks will make it clear who is prepared to build a constitutional settlement that is better and fairer to all.
We are faced with an anti-politics mood in the country that should alarm each and every one of us, and it is particularly directed at us in Westminster. People have a growing unhappiness with the Westminster elites. The Leader of the House made a characteristically excellent and witty parliamentary speech, but he failed to grasp the feeling in the country.
I will give way in a moment. Let me get past my third line.
Today’s debate is an opportunity for Members to respond properly to this growing cynicism. I say at the outset, however, that the problem will not be solved by Westminster imposing a solution on the British people.
Does the right hon. Gentleman not appreciate, however, that the matter of English votes for English laws is a boil that has festered for far too long, and does he appreciate the frustration of my constituents, who see Scottish MPs voting on matters that affect North West Leicestershire, when, quite rightly, the corresponding legislation has been devolved to Scotland, and I have no say over it?
I will do my best, as did the Leader of the House, to make a rational speech and address that very point later in my speech.
The Scottish referendum was a shining beacon of democracy at its best. Faced with a crucial choice about their future, registration and turnout among the people of Scotland was unprecedented. No one can have failed to be impressed by the millions of people coming out to vote and being so passionate about the future direction of their country. By a clear majority, the Scottish people voted to pool and share resources across the UK, and I would like to pay tribute to the enormous hard work of some involved in the Better Together campaign from across the political spectrum. In the Scottish Parliament, I pay tribute to Johann Lamont for Labour, Ruth Davidson for the Conservatives and Willie Rennie for the Liberal Democrats.
I also pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Mr Kennedy), to the Secretary of State for Scotland, the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael), and to the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, the right hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Danny Alexander), who all played a big role, and to my right hon. Friends the Members for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown) and for Edinburgh South West (Mr Darling), my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow East (Margaret Curran), my right hon. Friends the Members for East Renfrewshire (Mr Murphy) and for Paisley and Renfrewshire South (Mr Alexander) and my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow Central (Anas Sarwar). I also pay tribute to campaigners on the yes campaign for their passion and hard work and to all those who voted.
The referendum sent a clear message, from both yes and no voters, that the status quo is unacceptable—that we cannot keep running the country the way we do—and this groundswell is not restricted to Scotland but has been repeated the length and breadth of the country. The country wants to break the stranglehold of Westminster, and it wants power shifted away from this place on a grand scale. People want to feel they genuinely have a say. They are fed up with feeling powerless and they are frustrated that powerful vested interests are not faced down. They want decisions and power close to where they live, in towns and cities up and down the country. That is why we need to grasp this opportunity and reshape the country in the way the people want, not the way we in Westminster want. Westminster does not always know best—
Has the right hon. Gentleman spoken to many of his own constituents? Are they telling him that they do not believe in English votes on English laws? I do not believe that that is true. The right hon. Gentleman’s party is going to set itself on the wrong side of the people, at a time when, as he has rightly said, there is a real sense of neglect and frustration as a result of the failure to listen. He is taking a great risk here. He should listen to this: English votes for English laws is right. Everyone else—Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Scottish nationalists—knows that, and so should he.
All that I will say to the hon. Gentleman is that that did not work very well in Clacton.
The United Kingdom has undergone nearly two decades of constitutional change. The Leader of the House mentioned the most recent changes: the Scotland Act 2012 and the Wales Bill, which is currently before the other place. Vernon Bogdanor, the Prime Minister’s former tutor, described Labour’s recent 13 years in government as
“an era of constitutional reform comparable to that of the years of the Great Reform Act of 1832”
or the Parliament Act 1911. That era included the establishment of a Scottish Parliament, a Welsh Assembly, a Northern Ireland Assembly and a London Mayor and assembly, and of proportional representation in elections to all those bodies and in European elections. It included House of Lords reform and the ejection of all but 92 of the hereditary peers, the introduction of people’s peers and an elected Speaker, and the introduction of the country’s first-ever legislation requiring political parties to publish lists of their donors. We established an independent electoral commission. We introduced the Human Rights Act 1998 and the Freedom of Information Act 2000, which gave the public a legal right to gain access to Government information, and we established the separation of powers through the creation of the Supreme Court.
The right hon. Gentleman is, of course, right to acknowledge that some important changes were made during those years, but the answer to the English question that Labour chose was to describe England as “the regions”, and to work on the basis of regional devolution. That has been rejected by the people, because the people say that England is a nation, and the demand from them is that England should have its say. There should be fairness for England, too. What is Labour going to do about that?
I am trying my best—as did the Leader of the House—to follow the rational plan and structure of the speech, but I shall return to the hon. and learned Gentleman’s question in a few moments.
I am proud of Labour’s record on constitutional reform. We can justifiably claim to be the party of constitutional reform, although it was not plain sailing. We learned from our experiences. We know a thing or two about what works and what does not work. We know about the importance of cross-party consensus to the success of constitutional change. The Leader of the House, as leader of the Conservative party, opposed the removal of any of the hereditary peers. We worked with him, and there are still 92 left, although we hope that they too will be gone soon. We learned from things that did not work, such as the failed referendum on a regional assembly in the north-east of England. We also know that there is unfinished business, most notably in regard to House of Lords reform.
Let me make some progress first. I will give way to the right hon. and learned Gentleman shortly, because he has been very patient.
We have long known that devolution to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland would have an impact on England, and would require a response to help to address the imbalances in our constitution. We can call it the West Lothian question or the English question—we can call it whatever we want—but there is undoubtedly an issue, and it will need to be addressed. It is not a new issue; it was around in the 1880s during the Gladstone Home Rule debates, in the 1960s when Home Rule in Northern Ireland was debated, and in the 1970s. However, we need to address the present-day declining trust in Westminster, and the widespread feeling of disempowerment.
I participated in the debates on devolution in the late 1990s, and the West Lothian question was discussed then. As the right hon. Gentleman will remember, Lord Irvine said that the best solution to the West Lothian question was not to ask it. In fact, one of the reasons the devolution settlement has not worked overall—and this applies throughout the United Kingdom—is that the right hon. Gentleman’s party, when in government, consistently refused to look at the total picture. The question now is whether, in opposition, his party will be willing to face up to the consequences, and try to create something that will command support throughout our country. We on this side of the House are prepared to do the work, but it seems to me that the right hon. Gentleman is avoiding that question.
I have a huge amount of respect for the former Attorney-General, but I am afraid that it is inconsistent to accuse us on the one hand of failing to look at the total picture and on the other hand to suggest a Westminster stitch-up.
Clearly, part of the solution is greater devolution within England, and that has been at the centre of Labour’s policy review: reversing a century of centralisation with radical plans to devolve power and responsibility downwards.
I will give way to the Select Committee Chair in a moment. I want to make some progress first.
My Front-Bench colleagues have already announced ambitious plans that will be implemented should Labour form the next Government. My right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) has unveiled a new English deal in which the equivalent of £30 billion of spending would be transferred from Whitehall to city and county regions. My noble Friend Lord Adonis has outlined the way in which a future Labour Government will give local areas and city regions more powers over economic growth, transport and skills. There are other examples. In the context of my own brief, justice, I have announced plans to give local authorities more control over youth justice. They are closer to the issues, and the structure of incentives to cut crime and reoffending works much better on that scale.
I have been hearing heckling and chattering behind my left shoulder for the last five minutes. The Scottish nationalists are claiming that every sentence I utter is relevant to the points that they wish to make. Let us now see whether that is really the case. I give way to the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr MacNeil).
Order. Before the hon. Gentleman intervenes, let me remind him that he embarked on an apprenticeship to become a statesman. That apprenticeship still has a considerable distance to travel. I simply appeal to his more public-spirited instincts, and advise him now to assume the posture of a statesman.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. Your words of guidance are for ever precious.
The right hon. Gentleman has referred to the Westminster elites. Well, we did see them in Scotland before the “vow”, but we need to ask where they are today. The Conservatives would not tell us where the Prime Minister was; can the right hon. Gentleman tell us where the Leader of the Opposition is this afternoon?
All that I can say is, “Was that really worth it?” The hon. Gentleman has been a royal pain for the last 10 minutes.
In London we have a Mayor and an assembly, but we are ambitious to do more. The city still has too little control over its own destiny. Only 7% of all taxes raised from Londoners and London businesses are spent by the different levels of London government, whereas the figure is nearly 50% in New York. Labour has committed itself to devolving significant public service funding and responsibility to London’s government, as well as more fiscal autonomy. All that has added importance given the agreement among the leaders of the three main parties on a further package of devolution for Scotland.
Yesterday, the Secretary of State for Scotland published a Command Paper three weeks early. The Leader of the Opposition, the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister have made a commitment to strengthening and empowering the Scottish Parliament. The Labour party will take part in the process under the leadership of Lord Smith of Kelvin, in a spirit of partnership and co-operation with the other parties. Every commitment that we have made must be honoured.
We accept that the devolution settlement has also thrown up anomalies in Westminster, and the question of how to ensure that there is an “English voice” in our legislative process is definitely one of them. That is why it is right for us to examine greater powers for English Members of Parliament to scrutinise legislation. However, on many levels and on many occasions, Parliament faces a situation that is similar to the West Lothian question. We have asymmetric devolution, both within the nations and between them. Let us take the London situation. As a London Member of Parliament, I can vote on transport issues in Yorkshire and in other parts of England, yet English MPs, even Yorkshiremen, cannot vote on transport issues in London as they are the responsibility of the Mayor. In a non-federal system such as ours, that is going to happen.
We have to understand that dealing with the English votes on English laws question is more difficult for the Labour party because it has a vested interest in the power of its Scottish MPs over English matters, but it is wrong to pretend that the delegation of powers and functions to local authorities, which are Crown bodies, is equivalent to legislative devolution to Scotland. That is what makes the English votes on English laws question altogether different from what the right hon. Gentleman has just been talking about.
With the greatest respect, the best way for the hon. Gentleman’s party to resolve the West Lothian question is to win more seats in Scotland. That is the issue. Win more seats in Wales! He has failed to grasp the crisis in this country.
On some levels, we have to accept that the situation I described earlier is part and parcel of how Parliament has evolved and works, but on other levels we need to look at what can be done to accommodate the new, changing make-up of the country and I shall shortly come on to how we address this. Although we may acknowledge that there is an issue to resolve, that does not for one minute mean that we agree with the process that the Government have proposed for finding a resolution. Nor do we necessarily agree with some of the proposed solutions being floated. There can be no rushed, cobbled-together solutions and certainly no self-serving and partisan fixes.
When the Government were not scared of UKIP, they agreed with us. The coalition agreement published in May 2010 stated that they would
“establish a commission to consider the ‘West Lothian question’”.
The McKay commission report was published in March last year, when everyone knew there would be a referendum in Scotland in September 2014 and all the mainstream Westminster parties were developing their own plans to give greater devolution to Scotland. Did the Government respond to the McKay commission by setting up a Cabinet Committee led by the Leader of the House? Did they then make a veiled threat to have a vote in the House of Commons by a certain deadline? No. The response from the Government last year was:
“Given the significance of the recommendations for both England and the UK as a whole, it is right to take the time required for a thorough and rigorous assessment.”
We could not agree more. What we need to guard against is a situation that could lead to two tiers of MPs.
We also need to be honest about how few Bills that are debated in this House are truly for England only, or for England and Wales only. Some estimates suggest that in 2012-13 there was only one England-only Bill. The House of Commons Library is rightly reluctant to put an exact figure on it, given how complex a job that is. It is not as simple a categorisation as some might think because even when the clauses in a Bill are just relevant to England and Wales, there can sometimes still be financial ramifications for the rest of the UK. Votes on individual clauses in Bills decided by whether MPs were English, Welsh, Scottish or Northern Irish would lead to an almighty mess in the way this place works—something akin to a legislative hokey-cokey.
My right hon. Friend is right. There are enormous conceptual problems with the idea of English votes for English laws, but there is another huge problem: we cannot talk about the issue as though it is confined to this place; we have to talk about the other place, too.
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. What is remarkable is the speed with which the Leader of the House has been willing to form a Sub-Committee and chair it to look at the issue of “English votes, English laws”, yet one of our Parliaments is unelected and fully appointed, and 85% of those in the other place are from London and the south-east. There is no sense of urgency in relation to that issue from the Leader of the House of Commons.
We do not want inadvertently to create a system that might contribute to the arguments of those who favour breaking up the UK. There is a good reason why the Scottish Nats are in favour of English votes for English laws. They want two classes of MPs because they want to break up the UK.
I give way to the hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Julian Smith), who has been very patient.
The way the question is premised demonstrates that the hon. Gentleman does not understand that he is part of the problem. It is not a Westminster elite solution. He fails to grasp the crisis that there is in this country.
England makes up over 80% of the UK. There is no easy federal answer to the problem, and it does a huge disservice to disillusioned voters to pretend that there is. The Leader of the House may be one of the finest historians in the Palace but he has learned the wrong lessons from history. We need to be clear about the stitch-up that is taking place.
The unhappiness with the way the country is run is an opportunity to make some truly radical changes. The British people want to reshape the country and the way it is run, but they will not put up with a top-down, imposed settlement because that would be a stitch-up and that is precisely the kind of response from Westminster that the anti-politics mood is railing against.
I give way to the former Leader of the House.
If the shadow Secretary of State is talking about the detail, he must surely come to it first by enunciating what principle he is applying. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House said what principle he applied to the question of English votes for English laws. The shadow Secretary of State has had plenty of time to look at the McKay commission report. It said:
“Decisions at the United Kingdom level having a separate and distinct effect for a component part of the United Kingdom should normally be taken only with the consent of a majority of the elected representatives for that part of the United Kingdom.”
Will he or will he not accept that principle? If he has another principle to apply, what is it?
If this had been the position of Her Majesty’s Government before UKIP was a threat, one would have expected that response when the McKay report was published last year. That was not the Government’s response last year. Their response was, “Let’s properly consider this and assess the consequences.” The right hon. Gentleman is trying in a piecemeal manner to pick off the various challenges that we face as a country. That is one of the reasons we are so hated by the public.
The right hon. Gentleman keeps using the phrase “Westminster stitch-up”. Sometimes people try to use language to accuse others of what they themselves are doing. The biggest Westminster stitch-up would give the English a few scraps off the plate, a few extra powers and a few quid for local government, while at the same time denying them what they clearly want, according to every opinion poll conducted in this country: they simply expect to be governed by the people they elect, which means English votes for English laws. Does he think it is acceptable for a Scottish MP to vote on a matter that only affects my constituents, while I do not have that option in return?
I am astonished that the hon. Gentleman is referring to the £30 billion being devolved from Whitehall to the cities and regions as “scraps”. If he can give examples of just five English-only Bills in the past couple of years that his constituents are not happy about, I will be happy to respond directly to his points.
It was disappointing that, within minutes of the final votes being counted in the Scottish referendum, the Prime Minister was on the steps of Downing street setting out a top-down response to the biggest vote of no confidence in the Westminster elite for a generation. At the moment when we needed a Prime Minister to show some statesmanship, the day after our country voted to stay together, what we got instead was a short-term, partisan fix that had more to do with fighting UKIP than what was in the best interests of the UK.
The Tories used to be a one nation party—it is after all the Conservative and Unionist party—but now it is a party of narrow, sectional interest, desperately chasing UKIP votes. There was no prior consultation with the Deputy Prime Minister, no discussions with the Leader of the Opposition, and no views of the British people were taken. Let me be clear—a Cabinet Sub-Committee, meeting behind closed doors in Westminster, made up of MPs and led by the Leader of the House is not the way to go about this. The country deserves better than Westminster closing ranks. It certainly deserves better than the Executive dictating to the country what the solution should be. The Government have spectacularly failed to address the concerns of millions of people, who are turned off by such a blatant tactical manoeuvre.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. The right hon. Gentleman keeps referring to a Westminster stitch-up or a knee-jerk reaction. Will he not accept that the McKay report draws on substantial evidence that the people of England are not satisfied with all MPs voting on English-only legislation and they wish to have some form of English votes on English laws? It is not a knee-jerk reaction; there is a substantial body of evidence to show that that is what the people of England want.
There is some noise from my left which I will try to ignore in order to make some progress.
Instead, we need a wholly radical solution to the country’s challenges that is part of a much wider and deeper reform of the way power is distributed in our country. We need a different way of working that involves, and is led by, the people and civil society—not top-down solutions imposed by Westminster, but bottom-up solutions driven by the people, by communities and by civil society.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. I represent a constituency in the south of England; he might be aware of it—it is a place without very many Labour MPs. He keeps talking about this being a Westminster stitch-up—something coming down from Westminster—and saying that there is no requirement for it and there is nothing that is being driven bottom-up from the people in the constituencies, but I get letters about this every day of every week: English people want English votes.
I did not say there was not an issue; I have said there is an issue, but I am also saying there are other issues as well, and rather than us imposing a solution, we should be speaking to the people who are raising those concerns. There are other issues as well. How can it be that we have a Parliament that is fully appointed—completely unelected—with 85% from the hon. Lady’s part of the country and London? That is unacceptable.
I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way and thank him most graciously. At least the Leader of the House devoted 14 minutes of his 45-minute speech to Scotland, but the right hon. Gentleman has barely mentioned Scotland. The Scottish people who are watching this debate—and very many of them are—will be horrified by the way it has become about nothing other than English votes for English folks. Will the right hon. Gentleman now talk about Scotland—about the vow and what has been promised to the Scottish people?
I dearly hope the people of Scotland are watching the behaviour of the Scottish National party Members of Parliament during the course of this debate.
As I said, there are examples of this being done well. Ireland’s post-2008 constitutional convention is a model worth exploring, as is Scotland’s pre-1997 convention. In fact, the Lib Dem manifesto in 2010 called for a constitutional convention to address this very issue. There are blueprints of success out there, and we would be foolish to ignore them. That is precisely why the Leader of the Opposition has committed Labour to launching a constitutional convention, and it was good to see the Deputy Prime Minister at today’s DPM questions agree that this is the best way forward. I urge all parties to put aside partisanship and work with us to deliver a convention that has true cross-party support and the support of civic society and our citizens. This would be a national conversation in which the politicians would be in a minority and in which the public would have the loudest voice. We would harness the energy of civil society and of the great British public.
This has the potential to bring about deeper change, rooted in the nations, regions, cities, towns and villages of this country, and not just within half a mile of this place. It has the potential to get to grips with a raft of interrelated issues such as how we create a second Chamber that is representative of the regions and nations, how we devolve even more power in England, and the merits of codifying the constitution—a topic I know my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen) and the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee have done a considerable amount of work on.
In short, we are at a fork in the road. In one direction, we can follow the usual Westminster route of the establishment closing ranks, deciding what is best for the British people; or we can choose a new direction—one in which we put the people in charge of deciding their future. I believe this will deliver a new and refreshing constitutional settlement fit for a modern, 21st-century UK.
We in Scotland have just enjoyed the most amazing democratic moment. It is estimated that 97% of the population registered to take part in the referendum; there was a record turnout of 85%; and for the first time in a major election in the United Kingdom 16 and 17-year-olds participated and—dare I say it—excelled themselves in doing so in the build-up and in the referendum itself. At the conclusion, we have a clear outcome: Scotland has voted to stay in the United Kingdom, which I very much welcome.
However, we would be foolish not to recognise that Scotland and the whole of the United Kingdom have changed in recent times. More than 100 years of debate about ‘home rule’ and independence swirled around the decision we in Scotland took a month ago, but wider issues were in the mix as well. A generation of aggressive globalisation and the whirlwind of the financial crisis have raised questions, too, about how we are governed. In Hawick or Dundee, Alkrington or, indeed, Clacton, people are asking whether the political structures and system of governance are right for them, their family or their community, and for rather a lot of people the answer is a resounding no.
It is clear to me that people in Scotland support devolution and want more of it. There is a lot of talk about the “settled will” of the people of Scotland, but determining what that is depends on one’s perspective.
I respect the fact that the hon. Gentleman who is trying to intervene and his colleagues will continue to argue for independence—that is their right and I am sure they will do that with their traditional energy, which they brought to the referendum campaign and have already brought to this afternoon’s debate. Some, of course, seem to wish to challenge the result, and occasionally we might think we had lost the referendum in Scotland and we had voted for independence, but we should not denigrate the spirit of what has gone on and the importance of what we have been involved in for these past few years, and we must make sure we now respond to the democratic will of the Scottish people.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for giving way, and it is good to hear him praise the referendum, in such great contrast to the criticisms of the referendum we often heard at the Dispatch Box two or three years ago. It has turned out to be a very energising event in Scotland. On the vow, the right hon. Gentleman’s party leader signed that vow, but where is his party leader this afternoon? Why are he, the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition not in this Chamber? Why are they not here? They went to Scotland to sign a vow, but they are not here today.
I know that SNP Members are the source of many conspiracy theories, but this is a pretty lame one. I hope the hon. Gentleman will relax a bit and perhaps wait for the chance to advance his own argument. May I take issue with a point he made in his preamble, too? This Parliament respected the victory of the SNP in the Scottish Parliament in 2011. The constitution is very firmly reserved to the Houses of Parliament, yet, recognising the will of the Scottish people in the Scottish elections, we took measures to devolve the power to hold the referendum to Edinburgh—something that was done peacefully and straightforwardly—and, rather than object, obstruct or get in the way of the referendum, we were active and positive participants in it. I shall come to the question of the vow in a moment.
The aspirations of the people of Scotland have been expressed in many different ways over many years. We have seen a cycle of devolution in which people have argued their case and set out their ideas for new powers, followed by a moment in which people came together and found common ground. Those proposals were then put to the people, to determine and implement more powers.
The vow was important. It underlined what had been happening in Scotland for some time. It was not new; people did not suddenly come up with stuff that had not previously been put forward. The commission that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) led on behalf of the Liberal Democrats in Scotland had looked at this issue and reported in 2012. The findings were updated in 2013. The Strathclyde commission, on behalf of the Conservatives, reported last year. The Labour commission reported earlier this year. The party leaders in Scotland came together to pledge more powers earlier this summer. There has been a clear programme, and a commitment from all the UK parties throughout the referendum campaign to give more powers to the Scottish Parliament.
That may be so—I am listening carefully to what the right hon. Gentleman is saying—but the vow made it clear that there would be substantial new powers for the Scottish Parliament. It is becoming increasingly clear, however, that prior to this, the parties have never agreed on what those powers should be. That is still not clear; all we see in the Command Paper is three different schemes.
I respect the hon. Gentleman and I appreciate his contribution to the debate. The Smith commission has been set up to bring those different contributions together and to invite others into the process to ensure that people across Scotland can be part of creating the new settlement. The Smith commission fits exactly into the whole devolution cycle. We have set out the ideas, and Lord Smith has the slightly unenviable task of bringing us all together and sorting out a solution. I am delighted that the Scottish National party has chosen—for the first time ever in circumstances such as these—to be part of the process, and I look forward to working with John Swinney, Linda Fabiani and the others who have been appointed to work with Lord Smith to find the common ground that will be essential if we are to settle this issue in Scotland.
I thank my right hon. Friend for the measured way in which he has described the history of how the further powers were set out for people during the campaign, correcting some of the impressions that were given in the later coverage of the campaign. It is important to recognise that the powers are all predicated on the fact that the people of Scotland have chosen to remain part of the United Kingdom.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Those in the Scottish National party must remember that that was indeed the result.
Some concerns have been expressed about the timetable for the Smith commission, but we cannot win on that one. It will be seen either as far too short and too urgent, or as being kicked into the long grass and not being treated urgently enough. Lord Smith has a huge challenge on his plate, but I and my colleagues, including the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Gregg McClymont), are committed to ensuring that his job is made as easy as possible, so that we can get this new settlement.
Does my right hon. Friend recall that the constitutional convention embraced the Labour party, the Liberal Democrats, civic society and trade unions but that, for reasons of its own, the Scottish National party declined to join it? It is worth remembering that we now have a Scottish Parliament as a direct result of the efforts of John Smith, Donald Dewar and now Lord Steel of Aikwood, as well as the efforts of the many others who, after the failed referendum of 1979, kept the faith.
My right hon. and learned Friend rightly points to the history of engagement by the Labour party, the Liberal Democrats and, later on, the Conservatives. Now, we must hope that the SNP will engage in the process in the right spirit. The interventions from SNP Members this afternoon seem to being going against the spirit of welcoming the Smith commission; they seem to have prejudged it and decided that it will not work. I believe that John Swinney and Linda Fabiani will enter into the work of the commission in the right spirit to ensure that we can reach common ground; I hope that that is the correct judgment to make. It is the responsibility of all participants to create a package that will meet the ambitious aspirations of the people of Scotland, that will maximise the common ground between the political parties and those not of any party, and that will prove stable for Scotland and the UK more widely.
Have we not seen SNP Members demonstrating in the House this afternoon that they are interested not in reaching solutions or long-standing agreements but in wrecking, in spoiling and in taking slight and injury in order to destabilise whatever settlement is agreed on here among the main parties?
I certainly think that any attempt to create grievance about the process goes against the grain of what we understand to be the SNP’s willingness to be a full participant in the process. I believe, however, that John Swinney and Linda Fabiani will enter into their work with the commission in the right spirit and that they will be determined to work with others and respect the outcome of the referendum, which made it clear that Scotland should stay in the United Kingdom.
The different parties debated and set out their proposals for what they seek from the commission, according to the different principles that Lord Smith asked for, by the end of last week. It is important that we should adopt those principles, so that we can have a Parliament with the maximum range of powers to fulfil our ambitions for it. Those ambitions include an ability for the Scottish Parliament to raise more than half the money that it spends, while retaining at UK level sufficient fiscal capability and responsibility to allow the UK Parliament, and all the MPs who are part of it, to perform the functions that are best secured across the whole UK, including defence, the provision of a unified international presence, fiscal transfers and solidarity, social protection and equity, and the macro-economic foundations of our economy.
It is important that we entrench the Scottish Parliament to make it clear that there is no danger of its ever being taken away, which would be a political disaster. Now is a good moment to entrench it in the United Kingdom constitution. We must ensure that we maintain what is valuable about the United Kingdom, what people have argued and fought passionately for over the past three years, including the single market for businesses and a single welfare system whose core elements are available across the whole UK.
There is another dimension to this, which has formed part of the debate in England and in Scotland. Although it is not part of his official remit, I hope that Lord Smith will look hard at the issue of local devolution in Scotland, because the cries for decentralisation within Scotland are every bit as strong there as they are here.
I shall come back to the issue of English votes for English laws in a moment.
I believe that there is a lot of support across Scotland for a modern Scotland within a reformed United Kingdom, and it is important that we should be serious about that reformed United Kingdom as well. Let us look at the inner workings of the United Kingdom, and particularly at the civil service. I am proud to have worked with some immensely talented people in the Scotland Office, the Cabinet Office, the Treasury and elsewhere. I saw for myself what could be achieved when people put their minds to working together in common cause. I saw the limitations as well, however. I saw the hollowing out of the United Kingdom Government’s presence and capacity in Scotland and, at times, a lack of understanding and sclerotic responses.
I plead for forgiveness for previously arguing for the abolition of the Scotland Office. I confess that I did that when I believed that the rest of the United Kingdom Government had a strong presence north of the border. Three and a half years in the Scotland Office disabused me of that notion. However, the resources, the policy-making capability and the stakeholder engagement in Scotland improved substantially in response to the referendum campaign. We must seize the moment and ensure that there is a step-change in Scotland on the back of that. We must not go back to the old days.
We must also look afresh at how we resolve disputes within the United Kingdom. We need greater openness and engagement in the joint ministerial Committees, and quicker resolution of disputes before they are elevated to constitutional crisis level. All of that is about more openness and a greater understanding of what is done in people’s names across the length and breadth of the United Kingdom.
May I take the right hon. Gentleman back to his remark about greater independence for local government in Scotland? One thing I hear is that in Scotland there has been great over-centralisation at the Scottish Executive level. Will he underline that in any written settlement that comes forward for Scotland—and, hopefully, in time in the UK—it will be very clear that there is double devolution? By that I mean devolution that goes not only to the Scottish Parliament, but down to a lower level. That is equally applicable in the United Kingdom. One falsehood of English votes for English MPs, because there is a lower level—
Order. Interventions are supposed to be brief. The hon. Gentleman is waiting to speak and I am sure he will be able to expand on his point. May I say to the right hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Michael Moore) that he does not have a time limit, as the Speaker ruled, but he has been speaking for 15 minutes and a time limit will apply after the fourth speaker opening the debate. Although he has been generous in taking interventions, may I therefore ask him rapidly to draw his conclusions in his remarks so that we can move on to the next speaker?
Madam Deputy Speaker, you make a very fair point and I will endeavour to conclude shortly. Let me pick up on the point raised by the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr Redwood) about English votes for English laws. As the shadow spokesman said, it was a mistake for the Prime Minister to link the issues of Scottish devolution and more powers for England on the same day, in Downing street, just after the referendum result. I recognise that giving further powers to Scotland requires making changes elsewhere, including here. If the West Lothian question were simple to answer, it would have been answered many years ago. We should avoid turning this place from a United Kingdom Parliament into an English Parliament simply by changing Standing Orders, rather than by giving it thorough consideration. We must also avoid any suggestion that English votes for English laws is really about Conservative seats for English laws and seeking to rule out other parties in the process. If the right hon. Gentleman and others are talking about fair votes, that is a fine idea and I look forward to hearing his proposals.
North and south of the border there has been a strong cry for democratic renewal. It has to be real change for Scotland, as well as for elsewhere in the country. We are not going to get away with turning our backs on the questions raised by people the length and breadth of the UK. The voters have spoken and we must respond urgently.
In thanking the Leader of the House, the shadow Justice Secretary and the right hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Michael Moore) for introducing this debate, may I join all three of them in congratulating all those Conservatives, Liberals, Labour supporters, all those in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, as well as those in Scotland, who were part—
I am seeking your guidance on a particular issue, Madam Deputy Speaker. We can understand why the Government and Opposition Front-Bench spokespeople have no time limit on their speeches, but what is the precedent for Back Benchers being given no time limit in a debate such as this? How were they selected?
It is quite simple, Mr Wishart. I thought you knew the rules of the House, because you have been here for some time. The Speaker has discretion in these debates. He made it clear what he intended to do for the first four speeches, and I am now taking that through. I hope, therefore, that you will remain in your seat so that the debate can proceed, and you will be called in due course.
Madam Deputy Speaker, I wanted to congratulate all those who had contributed to the historic and clear decision of the Scottish people to stay part of the United Kingdom. As someone who has had time to reflect—four years, courtesy of the decision of the British people—may I say that I believe there is also common ground on not just the timetable for the delivery of further devolution to Scotland, but the powers themselves? I believe that when the Conservative, Liberal and Labour parties get together to look at the possibility of delivering a stronger Scottish Parliament, they will find that, in addition to moves on powers over housing benefit, attendance allowance and other matters that they have talked about already, it is possible for the Conservatives to accept some of the Liberal proposals and some of the Labour proposals that would strengthen the Scottish Parliament as part of the United Kingdom, without breaking the United Kingdom but while being in line with the wishes of the Scottish people, and without giving an unfair advantage to the Scottish people.
I will pursue my argument and then I will give way. It is a bit much for the hon. Gentleman to want to intervene on me before he has heard what I have had to say.
I have to tell the House that the fundamental question is not the one the Leader of the House was trying to raise; the fundamental question affecting the British constitution is not the West Lothian question. That is a symptom of a more fundamental problem. The fundamental question in the British constitution arises because England is 84% of the Union, Scotland is 8%, Wales is 5% and Northern Ireland is 3%, and the reality is that at any point the votes of England could outvote Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, individually or collectively. So the real issue is about getting a fair distribution of power that respects not only majority rule—I am sensitive to the needs of England and English votes—but the rights of the minorities, so that we have stability and harmony in the British constitution.
I will give way in a minute, but I want first to develop this argument. Every generation has had to come to terms with how we get that balance right between majority rule and protecting the needs of the minorities that are part of the United Kingdom. Although on 19 September there was contentment and satisfaction, including, I am told, right up to the centre of Buckingham palace and Balmoral—we have that on the highest authority, or perhaps I should say the second highest—the problem then arose with the Prime Minister’s announcement at 7 am on the Friday after the vote. Without telling people beforehand, on a matter that was absolutely material to the vote that people were casting in the Scottish referendum, a new plan was imposed on Scotland. A vow written on the Tuesday was being rewritten on the Friday morning, because although he said the proposed change was in the English constitution, the practical effect of it was in Scottish constitutional affairs: to restrict the voting rights of Scottish Members of Parliament in this House of Commons on an issue, as he said on that morning, as fundamental as taxation.
I will give way in a minute. Clearly that was a change in Scotland’s status in the United Kingdom. Clearly it was highly material to the vote people had just had. Should not the people of Scotland have been told prior to the referendum, which was on Scotland’s status in the United Kingdom, that the downgrading of Scottish representation in Westminster was one of the proposals that he now wishes to make to the people of the country?
I will give way in a minute. What makes for a lethal cocktail—the Leader of the House did not even appear to recognise this—is that the Conservative party, as confirmed by the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr Redwood), wants to devolve 100% of income tax to the Scottish Parliament. This is not the nationalist policy or the Labour policy; it is the Conservative policy to devolve all of income tax to the Scottish Parliament and then immediately end the right of Scottish Members of Parliament to vote on income tax, on a matter as substantial as the Budget, in this Parliament of the United Kingdom. Until now, any income tax rise has been based on the principle that all contribute and all benefit. Now, under the Conservative proposal, all, including Scotland, would benefit from such a tax rise, if it were ever to happen, but only some, excluding Scotland, would contribute. [Interruption.] This is the Conservative party proposal. It is a radical proposal to devolve all income tax in Scotland and then preclude Members of Parliament in this House from voting on the Budget. [Interruption.] Before I give way, I want to say that no state in the world, federal or otherwise, devolves all income tax from the national Exchequer to regional, local or national assemblies, and no Parliament in the world would impose a national income tax on only some of the country but not on all of it. There are very good reasons why that is. We have to understand that this is the Conservative party proposal that has been put forward subsequent to the referendum.
I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for endowing me with that honour, but he should remember that the idea of English votes for English issues was in the Conservative manifesto in 2010 and that I expressly raised it before the referendum in Prime Minister’s questions, when my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Mr Hague) was standing in for the Prime Minister who was in Scotland. Everybody knew that this was the will of the Conservative party. More importantly, it is the settled will of about three-quarters of the English people.
Why then, when the McKay committee reported, did the Government say that it needed only a thorough and rigorous investigation and did not support that view? The Prime Minister did not tell the Scottish people before the referendum that that proposal would come on the morning after the referendum.
I will give way in a minute. It is the combination of the two proposals to devolve 100% of income tax and then to remove the right of Scottish MPs to vote on the matter in Westminster that is absolutely lethal to the constitution. Let us be clear about the impact of this plan. The Leader of the House is free to intervene and to confirm whether this is indeed his plan. Scottish representatives would be able to vote on some of the business of Westminster, but not all of it. They would not be able to vote on some Budget decisions on income tax and thus would undoubtedly become second-class citizens at Westminster.
Just a minute, Mr Brown. That is not a point of order. The hon. Gentleman has been here long enough to know about the convention of this House. If he does not, I will be happy to tell him if he would like to approach the Chair, rather than waste the time of the House.
It is whether one talks sense in this House that matters.
I believe—I am happy for the Leader of the House to confirm this—that there is a basic truth that this restriction on one group of MPs from voting on central issues such as Budget tax decisions ignores, and that is that we cannot have one United Kingdom if we have two separate classes of Members of Parliament. We cannot have representatives elected by the people who are half-in and half-out of the law-making process. The gospel according to Mark in the New Testament, which was quoted by Abraham Lincoln, says:
“A house divided against itself cannot stand...and a kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation”.
That is the truth of what the Conservative party is now doing.
This diminished status for Scotland would also have to apply to Wales, which also wants income tax powers. It would possibly apply to Northern Ireland and then—the Leader of the House did not rule this out when asked about it—it would have to apply to London. It would then have to be applied to the House of Lords to create two classes of representation. A Government who one day owed their authority to all Members of the House would the next day owe their authority to just some Members of the House. They cannot be servant to two masters, owing their authority and legitimacy to one set of votes one day by one group of people and another set of votes another day by another group of people.
I signed up to a vow that I will keep. It was the Prime Minister, on the day after the referendum, who qualified the promise. We would be better off in this House if we had some humility from Members of the Scottish National party, who in their own constituencies found that 55% to 60% voted no and not yes.
I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. May I thank him for the impassioned defence of the Union that he made in the last few days of the campaign? In that spirit, may I say to him, as someone who was christened by his father and who grew up in the central belt of Scotland during the devolution arguments of the 1980s, that there is a similar growth of demand in England for a say in her own affairs. If that is not addressed quickly, we may endanger the very Union that he and I both want to preserve.
I do not disagree with the hon. Gentleman. I am coming to that and to the proposals that might solve that problem without creating two classes of representation in this House of Commons. The answer has to be that when one part of the Union is 84% and the others are 8%, 5% and 3% respectively, we cannot secure the status of each nation through a blanket uniformity of provision. Indeed the rules needed to protect the minority—I would hope that the Leader of the House who used to be Secretary of State for Wales understands this—are bound to be different from the rules to protect a majority who can always outvote the minority in this House. If that is not recognised by this Government today in this House, it is recognised in America where the rules of the Senate mean that Wyoming—a minority part of the country—with half a million people has two Members of the Senate, as does California with 38 million people. It is also recognised in Australia where Tasmania with 700,000 people and New South Wales with 7 million people have 12 members each in the Senate. It is recognised in the constitutions of Spain, Switzerland, South Africa, Brazil, Nigeria and Mexico.
When we start from a profound imbalance in the numbers of people in a population and from a huge inequality of size, fairness of treatment is not secured by a crude blanket uniformity that requires exactly the same provision for the minorities as the majority. We need to accord some respect to minorities, because the majority can invariably, and always if they want, outvote at any opportunity. The answer is not to say, “no representation without taxation.” The answer is certainly not to say no to Scots paying income tax at a UK level and then no to Scottish representation in this House. The answer must be to say yes to Scottish representation on equal terms here and not to devolve all forms of income tax to the Scottish Parliament. Scots should continue to pay income tax to the UK and to be represented in the UK. We will achieve the same level of accountability and local responsibility for decisions by devolving some but not all of income tax—perhaps 75% of it—and then assigning half of VAT, with the Scottish Parliament then raising the majority of its spending by its taxing decisions.
I am going to answer the point that I am sure the hon. and learned Gentleman is about to raise.
I do not underestimate, and I have reason not to underestimate, the concerns of the English people. I also understand the sensitivities that have been mentioned. There are ways in which they can be dealt with in the Union, without disrupting the status of Members of Parliament in this House and by, at the same time, meeting the sensitivities of the English. The McKay committee offers one way forward, but I agree with the Government that there should be a rigorous examination of what it is proposing as a new element has been introduced, which is the decision on income tax. There are other ways that we can meet the needs of English Members of Parliament in this House without creating two classes of representation, because if we do that, the Union is all but over.
The Leader of the House has put forward a crude argument that needs to be answered. I say to him again that English votes for English laws will not solve the problem that he has raised. It will not bring stability and harmony to the United Kingdom or create the sense of fairness that he wants to see. That will be true even for the English representatives whom he wishes to support. As the McKay committee found, it is difficult to isolate a part of the constitution and say that it is exclusively, uniquely and for ever English. There can be few laws passed in this place that do not have implications for Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland. It will also not deal with the fundamental problem of fairness. Let us say that the UK Parliament votes a tax rise to pay for improved pensions and a better national health service or even to cover the national debt, does this House think that English, Welsh and Northern Irish voters will accept for long—even if the Scots have no voting rights—that they, the English, Welsh and Northern Irish, will contribute their income rises to UK-wide services, including funding the Barnett formula, if Scotland is exempt while continuing to benefit from the money raised? That is the Conservative policy. If the Leader of the House will not speak, let someone from the Back Benches defend the Conservative party policy, which will split the United Kingdom apart. Who will speak up?
My constituents in Letchworth want to know why it is that the right hon. Gentleman should be able to vote in this place about education in Letchworth when I have absolutely no say on those matters in Kirkcaldy in his constituency. It is not right—[Interruption.] I have not finished my intervention. When he was Prime Minister, he consistently ignored this issue. He ignored the voice of England and it must be addressed. It is time he came forward with a positive proposal.
The hon. and learned Member for North East Hertfordshire (Sir Oliver Heald) has not been listening to what I have said. I have been talking about the need to balance recognition of majority rule with sensitivity towards the minorities. What he is saying would apply to the United States of America, Australia and all the countries I have mentioned, where he would deprive the minorities of the power to influence decisions in their Parliaments.
A minute’s consideration of the Conservative party’s proposition, on which the Leader of the House has refused to answer, will show that the only sensible way forward is to devolve some but not all income tax and not to exclude Scots, or any representatives of minority nations in the United Kingdom, from voting at Westminster on issues such as taxation.
I gave way once to a Scottish National party Member, and that was quite enough.
It has long been said that the British constitution does not work in theory but works in practice. Make the change proposed by the Conservative party—to devolve income tax to the Scottish Parliament in full and then deprive Scottish MPs of the right to vote on the Budget—and the constitution will not work in practice either. Nations can collapse by accident, even when a majority wants them to survive, and unions can disintegrate because of mistakes that are made.
I am more encouraged than Government Members and Ministers are by the reaction of people in England and the rest of the United Kingdom to the Scottish referendum. While the myth is perpetuated that Scotland and England are on completely different planets, that one is communitarian and egalitarian and the other is individualistic and libertarian, I find that no four nations in the world have managed what we in the United Kingdom have managed to do: to pool and share our resources together. That is the essence of the modern Union: to guarantee everyone in these islands, irrespective of nationality, the same equal rights to help when they are sick, disabled, elderly, vulnerable or unemployed.
A United Kingdom that was united in name only could not survive for long. What I see is reinforced by what we have seen and what we have studied in our history books: the United Kingdom in two world wars, coming together in a shared sacrifice, suffering together; that we Scottish, English, Welsh and Northern Irish are prepared to help each other and come to each others’ aid, to recognise the differences in each other and to be tolerant of what at times might seem like excesses or eccentricities in others. If we can avoid making the kind of mistakes that the Leader of the House is now making, if we can rise above narrow partisan interests and put country before party, and if we can remain statesmanlike in seeking unity, as the siren voices from the SNP try to wreak discord, then Britain can still be the Great Britain that we want it to be.
It is always a pleasure to follow the former Prime Minister and, in a moment, I will deal head on with the argument he has just made about two classes of MPs. I am delighted that this issue has been taken off the back burner and put on the legislative hot plate by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, who as party leader some 15 years ago set out a very clear statement of our party’s policies on this.
Let me deal with the argument we have just heard about two classes of MPs. First, it asks the wrong question. We are here to represent our constituents, so the question is not whether there should be two classes of MPs, but whether there should be two classes of constituents, one of which would be for those who have a significantly more powerful democratic leverage than the other. Post-devolution, the Scottish voter has more democratic leverage than the English voter. Through his or her MSP, he or she has total control over the matters that have been devolved to Holyrood. That is fair enough. They have leverage over those matters that have not been devolved, such as defence. That is fair enough. But they also have leverage over matters that exclusively apply to England, and in some cases that influence is decisive. My voters have none of that. They have no leverage over devolved matters in Scotland, and they can be outvoted on matters that are exclusively English. That is indefensible and unsustainable, as some of us have been saying since 1999.
Let me deal with the question about all MPs being equal. MPs are not equal. Post-devolution, we have different case loads. Four Members of Parliament never vote. MPs who are Ministers cannot initiate debates on behalf of their constituents or ask parliamentary questions. Some MPs can speak for more than six minutes, and others cannot. Some are paid more because of their responsibilities in the House. It is not the case that all MPs are equal.
The McKay commission summed up the situation very well in paragraph 59 of its report:
“These survey findings suggest a potent combination of dissatisfactions in England. There is a clear and enduring sense that England is materially disadvantaged relative to the other parts of the UK, especially Scotland.”
What a disappointing response we heard from Opposition Front Benchers to that clear statement. They refused to answer the question from my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House on what the principle that the Labour party seeks to defend might be.
I am quite taken by the fact that the right hon. Gentleman is so focused on the role of Scottish Members of Parliament. In his principles and plans, does he intend to apply that focus to Members of the House of Lords as well, or is he only worried about the House of Commons?
I want to make some progress and so will not give way.
In 1999, it looked as though we might make some progress on rebalancing the constitution post-devolution. The fourth report of the Procedure Committee in the 1998-99 Session looked at the consequences of devolution for this House. The report was unanimous and the Committee included a majority of Labour MPs. This is what they said, in paragraph 25:
“The main point of principle to be considered is whether it is appropriate to retain special procedures for bills relating exclusively to one of the constituent countries of the United Kingdom, as currently apply to bills relating exclusively to Scotland or Wales. On balance we believe it is.”
That was the proposition put forward unanimously by a Select Committee of the House, and it provided the building blocks for resolving the West Lothian question.
However, for the rest of that Parliament, and for the subsequent two Parliaments, we had nothing but obfuscation by the Labour party. First we were promised regional assemblies, and when they imploded we were offered a Standing Committee on Regional Affairs. That, in the polite words of the Library, “met infrequently”. It met infrequently because the previous Government never actually set it up. After it was abolished, we then had the fiasco of the regional Committees at the end of the last Parliament, which often could not meet because they were inquorate.
Throughout the previous three Parliaments, some of my right hon. and hon. Friends harried the Government time and again to do something about the West Lothian question. The flimsiest of arguments were produced in response. On one occasion, the then Deputy Leader of the House said:
“The arguments are new and opportunistic, and they were not heard when the Conservatives were in government.”—[Official Report, 6 January 2004; Vol. 416, c. 60WH.]
Of course they were, because Scotland did not have its own Parliament when we were in government. In response to the Procedure Committee’s clear recommendation, which I have just referred to, the Government said:
“If…it were possible to identify some Bills as relating exclusively to England, it is not clear what benefit that would have for the House.”
That was an absolutely astonishing statement. They put the telescope to the blind eye.
To bring us up to date, my party made a clear commitment in our manifesto to put that right:
“Labour have refused to address the so-called ‘West Lothian Question’: the unfair situation of Scottish MPs voting on matters which are devolved. A Conservative government will introduce new rules so that legislation referring specifically to England, or to England and Wales, cannot be enacted without the consent of MPs representing constituencies of those countries.”
That did not make it into the coalition agreement, as a result of caution on the part of our Liberal Democrat colleagues—having listened to the Deputy Prime Minister during Question Time, however, I think that they might be reviewing that position.
What should we do now? There have been a number of imaginative suggestions from right hon. and hon. Friends, including my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington (Sir Malcolm Rifkind) and my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash). One possible solution was in the Scotland Act 1978, which would have introduced devolution had it been carried in a referendum. It stipulated that if it turned out that a measure that impacted only on England was carried by Scottish votes, there should be an interim period for reconsideration. That recommendation was never implemented because the referendum produced a negative vote.
I would suggest that a Bill should get a Second Reading with all Members of the House voting, then go to a Public Bill Committee composed solely of English MPs, and then come back on Report during which everybody can vote. However, if it turned out that a specific amendment had been carried only with the votes of Scottish MPs, the relevant section of the Bill should be recommitted back to the Public Bill Committee. We would then have a process that we are familiar with through, for example, negotiating with the House of Lords. If we can negotiate to get a Bill through with the Lords, we can negotiate with elected English MPs to get it through the Commons.
What we recently saw in Scotland was a historic vote. We now have to recognise that Scotland’s commitment to the Union is obviously far greater than that of England and Wales, which have never yet had a vote on whether to remain in the Union. I was reminded earlier that Northern Ireland has in fact made such a commitment. Perhaps that lack of commitment to the Union is behind the Conservatives’ proposal on EVEL—English votes for English laws.
The referendum was an exciting vote. I congratulate everybody from the Conservatives, from the Liberals and from my own party who participated in our campaign. I also congratulate those from the SNP, the Greens and others who participated in their campaign. As an interested observer, but I hope an impartial one in this regard, I thought that the yes campaign had a better campaign than we did. They had better propaganda, better presentation, and even better music; all we had were better arguments. The fact that we had better arguments was demonstrated by the fact that we prevailed. The fact that oil has now dropped to about $80 a barrel, that we have just started cutting steel for ships in my constituency, and that the level of intake of income tax has fallen across the UK as a whole demonstrates the correctness of the decision that the people of Scotland took.
This is a time to try, if we can, to put behind us the divisions that we had during the referendum. It is appropriate to remind ourselves that the referendum campaign was an exceedingly bruising experience for many of us. I will not forget, though I hope to forgive, being described on a number of occasions as a traitor or a Judas. The suggestion that there was a Team Scotland that I was not part of because I did not support separation was deeply offensive to all of us who were proud Scots but did not support separation. In the spirit of peace and reconciliation, we ought to move forward and try to put those things behind us. I think—I did not at the time, but I do now—that the experience of the referendum has been a positive thing. It has moved forward the debate and discussion on the constitution of the United Kingdom such that I am now more firmly than ever before in favour of a referendum on the European Union in order that we can similarly move forward those issues—but I digress.
The vote was not simply a vote to remain part of the United Kingdom—it was very much a vote for change, in two areas. First, on the question of devolution and more powers, I am committed to the concept of more powers for the Scottish Parliament, even though, with the powers that it currently has, it takes some decisions that I do not like. Recently it got the power on rail and continued to have it in the private sector when it could have looked at having it in the public sector. It transferred ScotRail’s contract to a company that previously used to be known as NedRail, which is perhaps appropriate in some parts of Scotland but not necessarily all. Through its powers on the budget and capital spending, the parliament has made substantial cuts in capital for new schools. Again, I regret that, but I respect its right to do it and think that the decision to transfer those powers to it was correct.
People in Scotland were not simply voting about more powers; they were also voting for a better society. That places a burden on my party and the other parties that support the Union to be more specific not only about which powers we want to transfer but what use we want to be made of them. Those who want to see the transfer of all income tax, some income tax or some other tax powers also have an obligation to tell us what they would do with those powers should they be actually transferred. That would result in a much more constructive debate about political aims and objectives rather than the sterility we sometimes have whereby it is just about whether, like a stamp collection, people want to collect powers for their own sake.
I very much agree with my hon. Friend that this should be the start of a new debate about the changes that everyone in Scotland is looking for, regardless of whether they voted yes or no. Does he agree that part of that debate must be not just about devolving power between Westminster and Holyrood but devolving power to local communities and local authorities, which have seen increasing centralisation in Scotland over the past decade? We need to move the balance strongly towards local communities instead.
I very much support that, as do, I think, the vast majority of people in the Labour party and many of the other parties that participated in the referendum.
We had a tightly fought and strongly argued debate on the referendum, and we are now all entitled to accept that there was a clear and decisive result. It now appears that no form of devolution will satisfy those who are in favour of separation. We are starting to see not only unhappiness about the result but a rejection of the result. The myth of betrayal is being put forward. We are starting to see the “grievance a day” mentality. That will potentially poison Scottish politics unless those of us who are in favour of settlement move forward in a positive and constructive fashion.
I recognise that, as a result of what has happened in Scotland, there are issues for England, Wales and Northern Ireland. We ought to adhere to two principles: first, all MPs are elected equal; and secondly, we must respect the integrity of the Union. We cannot have a situation where Scots are sent out of the room for some debates. As has been said elsewhere, we cannot have Scots MPs being sent out for some things, Welsh MPs being sent out for others, Northern Ireland MPs being sent out for different subjects, and London MPs being sent out for others still. I recognise that England is a nation, although I have to say that it is unfortunate, perhaps, that it must be about the only nation in the world that does not have its own national anthem.
I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman agrees with this:
“If it’s wrong and something needs to be corrected then even if in the short term it looks that it might be a disadvantage to our party, long term if you do the right thing it’s good for the party. What’s right for the country is right for our party.”
If the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) accepts that the West Lothian question needs to be addressed, why cannot he?
I do think that the West Lothian question should be addressed, but not by sending Scots out of the room.
I very much take the view that the disparity in scale between the different parts of the Union must also be accepted. I want to see a solution to what we can perhaps describe as the English problem, whether that involves an English parliament, regional structures, or city regions. I do not mind any of that if we have had a reasoned debate and discussion. However, it is inappropriate for people to suggest that EVEL should be introduced as a knee-jerk reaction without full consideration, debate and discussion within England itself. We have to remember that the process of Scottish devolution has been very lengthy, thorough, involving and all-embracing: it was not produced on the spur of the moment very much for party advantage. I understand to some extent why some Conservatives are doing this, but I appeal to them not to seek to pursue party advantage on this question at the risk of damaging the future of the Union.