Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Forth: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Trimble: I am sorry, but I shall not take any more interventions because I no longer get extra minutes for them and my time is running down.

A further, simple point is that we are all elected to this Parliament, which has particular powers. We are elected not to be regional or parochial, but to use our judgment as best we can on all the issues that come before us. Even if a matter relates exclusively to part of England, I sometimes feel that I can make a contribution and improve the quality of decision making both for the whole of the United Kingdom and for particular parts of it.

The Conservative motion is completely misconceived. It is not even in the interests of the Conservative party to pursue the issue, because the way in which it is being addressed will simply reinforce the common view of Conservatism in Scotland, which is unhealthy for the Union and the United Kingdom.

It would be difficult for Ulster Unionist Members not to support a Government amendment that

I began by congratulating the hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale and I shall end by congratulating the Government on being firmly Unionist today. I hope that they will repeat the experience tomorrow, and in the days that follow.

6.5 pm

John Robertson (Glasgow, Anniesland) (Lab): It is an honour to follow the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble).

The Opposition have recently worked themselves up into a self-righteous frenzy about the voting rights of hon. Members north of the border. First, the hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) secured an Adjournment debate in which he condemned as outrageous my decision to go through the Lobby, and today, his leader is not using the valuable tool of an Opposition day to discuss an issue of great national importance.

21 Jan 2004 : Column 1421

The choice of subject constitutes another example of English nationalism, to which other hon. Members have drawn attention. The Tories are aided and abetted by some of their friends north of the border. Inconsistencies are revealed when we consider the different standards that the Tories apply to different parts of the United Kingdom. They have mentioned foundation hospitals and tuition fees, neither of which applies to Scotland. However, they do not apply in Northern Ireland either, yet Ulster Members have not been subjected to the same criticism as Scottish Members.

If hon. Members are to vote only on subjects that affect their constituencies, the logical conclusion is that no London Member should vote on transport issues, which are now the responsibility of the Mayor and the Greater London Assembly. Why did the hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale (Mr. Duncan) vote on the Mersey Tunnels Bill, the City of London (Ward Elections) Bill and twice on foundation hospitals? The Tories are hypocritical and opportunistic.

It is disappointing that Conservative Members take such a simplistic approach to the constitution. Some parts of Bills apply to the United Kingdom and others only to England and Wales.

Mr. Gray: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

John Robertson: I shall—although in his Adjournment debate in Westminster Hall, the hon. Gentleman did not.

Mr. Gray: The record will show that my speech was excessively long because I gave way so often. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would care to read Hansard. However, I am grateful to him for giving way to me.

Why should Scottish Members of Parliament come to England to vote against foxhunting in England when English Members of Parliament have no say on foxhunting in Scotland?

John Robertson: I know that foxhunting is very important to the hon. Gentleman, but I have the same voting rights as him. I vote on the same legislation as he does. [Interruption.] I can and will vote on foxhunting.

Pete Wishart: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

John Robertson: I am sorry, but I want to move on. I shall give way later.

Parts of the Higher Education Bill apply to Scotland. The introduction of variable fees will affect Scotland. I doubt whether I shall be able to get in during the debate next week, so I want to put it on the record that Scottish universities are better funded now. The rate of the increase in funding in future will mean that they are 15 to 16 per cent. better funded. They will still be given extra moneys under the current system until 2009–10, when the position will be re-examined. That will be roughly on a par with what the variable fees will do in England, so there will not be such a disparity between Scotland and England as some hon. Members have implied. My great concern is the perception that Scottish students may be put at a slight disadvantage in that the wages in English universities might be higher

21 Jan 2004 : Column 1422

than in Scotland. That problem must be looked at, and it is for the Scottish Parliament to do such things. That is what devolution was all about: Scotland should examine matters that pertain to Scotland, and we examine matters that pertain to the United Kingdom.

Hon. Members have mentioned how important are the finances of the UK—

Pete Wishart: The hon. Gentleman asked how many measures he could no longer vote on. Well, he cannot vote on hospitals, schools or most of the domestic agenda in his own constituency, but he can vote on hospitals, schools and most of the domestic agenda in the constituency of the hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray). Surely that is absurd.

John Robertson: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his input, but he is backing up exactly what I said. I cannot vote on those things and neither can he, so we are in exactly the same boat when it comes to voting on legislation. I realise that that is a slightly negative way of looking at it, but we all vote on the same legislation. The hon. Gentleman tells me that I cannot vote on some things—but that is because those matters are taken care of in Scotland.

Mr. Alan Duncan: Fair point—but does the hon. Gentleman not find it slightly offensive to the basic principles of democratic conduct that when he exercises his right to vote as a UK Member of Parliament, he may be doing so on matters that do not in any way affect his constituents, but do affect mine?

John Robertson: If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me for saying so, he has not listened to the contributions of others—particularly that of the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso), who spoke for the Liberal Democrats—about the finances of the country. Every Bill that passes through the House has a financial effect on the UK. In an excellent contribution, the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) reiterated that point. I find it difficult to understand how the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan) can fail to grasp that UK finances have an effect on Scotland and the Scottish people.

Mr. Gray rose—

John Robertson: I have already given way once to the hon. Gentleman, which is more generous than he was in Westminster Hall.

Sir George Young rose—

John Robertson: I want to move on a bit.

The Opposition parties have one thing in common: they want to become the Government, which is perfectly fair. However, they should do that through politics and the ballot box, not by trying to move the goalposts sideways and reinvent what politics is all about. As my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Mr. Brown) said in Westminster Hall:

21 Jan 2004 : Column 1423

I totally agree with my hon. Friend. We definitely would not have had today's debate if the Conservative party had maintained the sort of support that it had in the past. It is up to Conservative Members to ask themselves why they do not receive support north of the border.

I greatly admire the hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale: he and I agree on many things, but not on this. I also have to tell him that I hope he loses his seat in the next general election—[Hon. Members: "Ah."] Because of the boundary changes, I know that it will become a Labour seat. We shall have another Labour MP in Scotland. I noticed a wonderful Freudian slip in the hon. Gentleman's contribution, which summed up the Conservative party well. He said that his hands were buried in the sand. I know that he meant to say "heads", but "hands" was what he said. It is a Freudian slip, because that is exactly where they were when he was writing his speech—buried in the sand.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton, South (Mr. Tynan) told me—he is away now, putting on his monkey suit for a dinner tonight—the hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale was being made a patsy. I can tell hon. Members that that term means the same as "fall guy". The Leader of the Opposition set the hon. Gentleman up with this debate, which has no purpose other than to allow Scots to have a go at each other, and Labour Members to have a go at the Opposition. It has been fun, and I have enjoyed it, but the debate has been a misuse of parliamentary time.

My hon. Friend the Minister made the important point that this is a constitutional issue. If Conservative Front-Bench Members had their way, the Union would be split up. I think of the Conservative party these days as the English national party, and its members will be eagerly abetted by the Scottish National party—whom we call the Tartan Tories. They are the same, and I am sure that we will see that when the hon. Member for North Tayside (Pete Wishart) makes his contribution. His conservative tendencies will be evident as he sets out his own form of nationalism. There is no doubt that we will have some fun with that.

The hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross said that Conservative Members were looking through the wrong end of the telescope. I can tell him that they have not even taken off the lens cap. They are not even looking into the abyss: they have no clue what they are looking at. That is another problem, because we are talking about what is good for Scotland and for the British people. The Opposition want to get rid of Scottish MPs, who they think have nothing to contribute. However, I believe that the Scots have contributed more than a little to the history of the House, and I like to think that some of us will do a lot more in the years to come.

In all seriousness, the debate has a sad aspect—the increase in nationalism in this country. We all know what nationalism has done throughout the world. It does nothing to enhance politics. We know the effects of bigotry, and this country would be in a worse state if we were to give in to it. I urge Opposition Members to join me in supporting the Union in the Lobby tonight.

21 Jan 2004 : Column 1424

Next Section

IndexHome Page