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Sandra Osborne (Ayr) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that the Conservative party was also opportunistic in respect of local government reorganisation in Scotland, as shown by its decision to have three local authorities in Ayrshire rather than one all-Ayrshire authority because of itsmistakenbelief that the party could keep control of South Ayrshire council?
Rosemary McKenna: My hon. Friend is absolutely correct. The then Secretary of State drew a map showing several small blue areas, which the Conservatives thought would deliver some Conservative councils in Scotland.
I was in this Chamber as a visitor on 17 January 1994almost 10 years agowhen the then shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, the recently retired Secretary-General of NATO, Lord Robertson, made the following statement:
Rosemary McKenna: The hon. Gentleman anticipates the point that I am about to make. A huge majority voted against the Conservatives in Scotland, but the Government have a majority in every part of this country and in all its nations, with the exception of our friends in Northern Ireland.
I shall briefly reiterate a point made by many hon. Members. If it is an anomaly for us to vote on certain legislation, we should remember that Westminster has been riddled with anomalies for years. We should remind ourselves of the position of hereditary peers, mostly Tory, who voted without a mandate on legislation affecting everyone. That point was eloquently made by the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso).
Kevin Brennan (Cardiff, West) (Lab): Is not the key point the fact that the governing party put the proposition of devolution for the countries of the United Kingdom to the people of Scotland and Wales in a referendum? Bills then proceeded through both Houses of Parliament and were enactedthat is how devolutionary measures became law. If the Opposition oppose devolution, should they not put their propositions to the country in an election and hold referendums for the people of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland to see what they say? The Opposition are wrong to try to fetter the rights of every hon. Member through the cynical procedure proposed in the motion.
Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann) (UUP): I start by congratulating the hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale (Mr. Duncan) on the courage with which he advanced his argumentI just hope that that does not become self-sacrificing at the time of the next election.
The West Lothian question is so called because of the exchanges that took place in 1977, but of course the issue is much older than thatit dates back to 1886 and the original Irish home rule Bills. It is worth reflecting on their provisions. Gladstone's first Bill was quite simple: it was designed to remove all the Irish Members from this House. Because of the obvious inequity of that, his second Bill reversed that and all the Irish Members were to be retained. That experiment reached the end of the road with the Government of Ireland Act 1920. A compromise was adopted, and under the new arrangements Northern Ireland's representation was significantly reduced. Conservative Members may like to bear that in mind. They would perhaps be better pursuing the issue of ensuring that the over-representation of Scotland, which was difficult to justify before devolution, and is impossible to justify now, is addressed more rapidly. The Government are slowly moving in that direction, but it is legitimate to argue about the figures.
We have heard good arguments, which I will not repeat, about the equality of Members, problems regarding differential majorities on different issues, and the difficulty of distinguishing such issues. With all due respect to the Procedure Committee, I doubt whether it is possible to make such distinctions, given that issues
The hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso) said that power devolved is power retained, as did the Minister when he emphasised sovereignty. In the present devolution set-up, it is a mistake to overemphasise the extent to which the devolved Administrations have freedom in the choices that they make. Yes, devolution makes them more accessible and gives them the power to make adjustments, but the extent to which they can do so is significantly limited, because the key decisionsthose on taxation and expenditureare still made here. In that context, we cannot allow parts of the country to be deprived of equal representation. That is a simple, basic point. There may be anomalies elsewhere, but expenditure of taxation is so fundamental to government that there must be equal representation for all parts of the country.
One must also bear in mind the operation of the block grant. Some of the earlier comments about the Barnett formula missed the point that financial arrangements for the devolved regions are based on public expenditure for England and Wales. Government policy in England and Wales determines the total block grant, which reflects those expenditure decisions. Government policies are therefore crucial for Members from Scotland, Wales andif devolution occurs againNorthern Ireland, because they determine the total block grant, and that point has certain consequences.
As I have said, there is scope for local discretion, but it is limited. The Scottish Parliament has said that it will not follow Government policy on tuition fees. That choice is open to it, but it will have to compensate the Scottish universities. How long will that be possible? I know that the Scottish Parliament is better endowed financially than we were in the Northern Ireland Administration. We examined student finance in 2001 and I am happy to say that we decided to reintroduce grants. The Higher Education Bill, which comes before the House next week, will do for England and Wales what we did for Northern Ireland, and I am glad to see that the Government are following our example.
The Northern Ireland Administration could not go as far as the Scottish Parliament because we could not finance the policy, and the extent to which we could vary our block grant was limited. The Scottish Parliament has a bit more elbow room, but I am not sure how long it can maintain that position. The fact that the Scottish Parliament has taken that decision and is likely to
While economic powers on taxation and public expenditure are concentrated in Westminster, the West Lothian question is essentially illusory. The essential power to determine financing rests here and is reinforced by the joint ministerial committees, which are not mentioned very much but which are significant tools used by Whitehall to ensure close co-ordination of policy across the United Kingdom.
The point is further reinforced by the fact that people's expectations in Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland are determined by Government policies. Public opinion generated significant pressure in Northern Ireland, although things may be different in Scotland. Public opinion was generated by policy that was originally introduced in England and Wales, and much of the pressure on us was to read across policies as quickly as possible. The distinctions that have been drawn about those matters are quite wrong.