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Constitutional Reform (Timetable)

Volume 586: debated on Wednesday 15 October 2014

Lord Smith of Kelvin has agreed to oversee the process to take forward devolution commitments to Scotland. Lord Smith will publish his proposals by the end of November. The Government will publish draft clauses by 25 January 2015.

Will the Secretary of State confirm that compliance with the vows given to the Scottish people ahead of the referendum will in no way be contingent on other constitutional reform within the United Kingdom?

I can confirm that absolutely for the umpteenth time from this Dispatch Box. There will be no delay while the rest of the UK catches up with Scotland.

When the Government look at the timetable for constitutional reform in Scotland, will they take account of the fact that more people live in Essex than voted yes in the referendum and that if United Kingdom residents are to be treated fairly and equally, what is good enough for Scotland is good enough for East Anglia.

I can only repeat to my hon. Friend that the timetable that we have given to Scotland will be met. Let me add, however, that the distinction between Scotland and England is that we already have a well-established consensus. The main thing that was apparent to me from yesterday’s debate in the House was that the people of England still have some way to go in building that consensus, and I wish them the best of luck.

The Secretary of State at the Dispatch Box and many Opposition Members continue to repeat that the timetable is on track, but the nationalists keep putting it about that it has been broken. Why does the Secretary of State think that is, and what does he think we can do about it?

I confess that that timetable has been broken, because the Command Paper that was published on Monday was published two and a half weeks before the deadline that had been set for publication. The nationalists will have to speak for themselves, but every time they seek to undermine the work of Lord Smith and his commission, it raises a suspicion in my mind, and among a growing number of people in Scotland, that although they are part of the process, they are not acting in good faith. [Interruption.]

Order. There is excessive noise in the Chamber. However, I feel sure that there will now be an atmosphere of hushed anticipation for Sir William Cash.

Given what the Secretary of State has just said, and given what he said yesterday in regard to the issue of English laws for English voters, how does he reconcile his statement from the Dispatch Box with collective responsibility in this Government? In the light of that question, is it not time that the coalition was brought to an end?

No. I am confident that the coalition will continue until the end of this Parliament. As my hon. Friend will know, the Prime Minister has set up a Cabinet Committee, chaired by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, which is intended to establish Government policy on this issue if that is at all possible.

In 2010, the Secretary of State called for a citizens’ convention on the constitution. Yesterday, at the Dispatch Box, he said that the constitutional convention should not be seen as kicking devolution into the long grass. Does he still stand by what he stood for in 2010 in his manifesto, and what he said in the House yesterday?

I think there are lessons that the rest of the United Kingdom can learn from the way in which we have gone about building consensus to achieve constitutional reform throughout the United Kingdom. Bringing together not just the political parties but the other interested voices is absolutely essential. It is the best way in which to proceed, and I hope very much that the rest of the United Kingdom will take a leaf out of Scotland’s book.