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Mr. Walter: If the House will indulge me for a moment, I will make progress. I want to move from the historical perspectives to the substance of the Bill.

The Act of Union with Scotland was a pair of Acts of Parliament passed in 1706 and 1707, which were given effect on 1 May 1707 by, respectively, the Parliament of England and the Parliament of Scotland. The Acts were the implementation of the treaty of Union that had been negotiated between the two states. The Acts created a new state, the kingdom of Great Britain, by merging the kingdom of England, which at that time included the Principality of Wales, and the kingdom of Scotland.

It is interesting to point out that the two countries had shared a monarch since the Union of the Crowns 100 years earlier in 1603, but had retained their sovereign Parliaments. The Acts of Union dissolved both Parliaments and replaced them with a new Parliament of Great Britain based here at Westminster, which had been the former home of the English Parliament. This was referred to as the Union of the Parliaments.

The Acts of Union were the basis of the United Kingdom. The history of Ireland was that the Act of Union was substantially altered by events in the earlier part of the last century, particularly the events following the Easter rising, the creation of the Irish Free State in 1922, and the subsequent designation of the Republic of Ireland as a fully independent sovereign state in 1949.

I shall jump history and come to the 1970s, when the Labour Government of 1974-79 started to legislate for devolution to Scotland and Wales, initially with the Scotland and Wales Bill, which was before the House in the Session of 1976-77. That was presented to the House in November 1976 and provided for a Scottish Assembly and a Welsh Assembly. Following the decision of the Commons not to approve a timetable motion on the Bill, the then Leader of the House, Michael Foot, announced in June 1977 that it was no longer practical to contemplate further progress on the Bill and it was withdrawn.

Separate Bills for Scotland and Wales were introduced in the following Session. Although both were passed, neither came into effect as the majority in favour of devolution for Scotland was not sufficient, and there was no majority in favour of devolution for Wales when the referendums were held in March 1979. I remember participating in the Welsh referendum. In May 1979 I had the great honour and the great pleasure to challenge a former Member of the House, Mr. Neil Kinnock, for his seat of Bedwellty, and we had the strange situation where both the Labour and the Conservative candidates in that election were on the same side in the devolution referendum. There was insufficient support at that stage.

During those debates, a constitutional anomaly which became known as the West Lothian question came to the fore. It was the anomaly whereby Members representing Scottish constituencies, and on occasion those from Welsh and Northern Irish seats, may vote on legislation that extends to England, but neither they nor Members representing English seats can vote on subjects that have been devolved to the Scottish
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Parliament. Tam Dalyell, who was then the Member for West Lothian, coined that phrase in an attempt to challenge the legislation.

Enoch Powell, the former Conservative and latterly Ulster Unionist Member of Parliament, said at the time:

Mr. MacNeil: Is not the West Lothian question best answered with the West Limerick example of independence?

Mr. Walter: I anticipate, Madam Deputy Speaker, that the hon. Gentleman will provide us with all sorts of interesting anecdotes if he succeeds in catching your eye later. The people of West Limerick have not been governed by this House for some considerable time, but I do not think that anybody would suggest that they are in any way under-represented.

Mr. Russell Brown: I do not wish to halt the hon. Gentleman in his tracks, but I am seeking clarification as to whether his Bill is supported by members of the shadow Cabinet, who are absent from the list of sponsors.

Mr. Heald: I am here.

Mr. Brown: I appreciate that, but I would have expected the hon. Gentleman to be here to support the Bill. The important thing is whether the shadow Cabinet supports it.

Mr. Walter: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intriguing question, but remind him that this is a private Member’s Bill. Perhaps I am a traditionalist, but I would not expect members of the shadow Cabinet, or members of the Cabinet if the Bill were promoted by a Labour Member, to be listed as sponsors.

Paddy Tipping rose—

Dr. Whitehead rose—

Mr. Walter: If hon. Members could restrain themselves, I am trying to answer the point raised by the hon. Member for Dumfries and Galloway (Mr. Brown). The Conservative party has set up—it has been in existence for about a year now—a democracy taskforce under the very able chairmanship of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), which has charged itself with considering several matters, including the decisive matters that the House voted on earlier this week. It will address this question, but has not yet come forward with any proposals on it. I have spoken individually to members of the taskforce who were candidates in the last general election, when this was part of Conservative party policy, and it is very likely that it will be one of the methods that they would consider as a solution. As right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House know full well, the detail of Conservative party
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policy on several matters that are not before the House as Government business will be left until nearer the general election.

Paddy Tipping: The reason why my hon. Friends are rising to press the hon. Gentleman is that we want some policy commitments from the Conservatives. It would be helpful if the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) would intervene to set out—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. We have a Bill before the House for discussion.

Mr. Walter: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for putting us back on track, however tempted I might be to respond to the last point.

Mr. Russell Brown: My previous intervention was something of a fishing expedition, because I have already contacted the hon. Member for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale (David Mundell). Although this is an important Bill to him, when I asked him whether he would be attending today, he responded by e-mail that Her Majesty’s Opposition would not be formally supporting the Bill, but went on to say that his party is awaiting the outcome of the work being done by the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke).

Mr. Walter: I thank the hon. Gentleman for providing confirmation of my original point, which is that the matter is being discussed by our democracy taskforce under the chairmanship of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe.

Let me go back to the West Lothian question. Of course, Tam Dalyell was very much opposed to devolution. In his 1977 book, “Devolution: The End of Britain?”, he said:


He examined and rejected four possible answers to the question and concluded that not one of them could be reconciled with Britain’s continued existence as a unitary state. I looked at those four answers but came to a slightly different conclusion.

Nick Herbert (Arundel and South Downs) (Con): My hon. Friend might be interested in a practical example of the West Lothian question in relation to the situation of English hospitals, which are currently under threat of reconfiguration or downgrading. I have three such hospitals serving my constituents, all of which face proposals for downgrading or closure. Last month, when there was a vote in the House on the issue, 27 hon. Members representing Scottish constituencies in effect voted for those reconfigurations. Had the Government’s majority been
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lower, the downgrading of local hospitals in England could have been secured only with the votes of Scottish Members of Parliament. Does my hon. Friend agree that that is an intolerable situation for people in England who feel very strongly that they should have a say over the closure of their hospitals, and who have no say over the future of hospitals in Scotland?

Mr. Walter: That is exactly the point of my Bill, which would redress that kind of injustice.

Dr. Whitehead rose—

Paddy Tipping rose—

Mr. Walter: Let me crave the indulgence of Members on both sides of the House and make some progress, because I am conscious that time is moving on and that several other hon. Members want to speak.

Let me go back to Tam Dalyell’s four options. His first was that there should be no Scottish or Welsh representation at Westminster, which is clearly unacceptable. His second option was the simple maintenance of the status quo in respect of the levels of representation and no change in the relationship. His third was the reduction of Scottish and Welsh representation here at Westminster. His fourth was that Scottish and Welsh MPs should speak and vote only on those matters not transferred to the Scottish and Welsh Assemblies. I believe that that is the way forward and that is the essence of my Bill. That is why what I want to do today is to add to the Scotland Act 1998, the Government of Wales Act 1998 and the various Northern Ireland Acts to bring that sort of justice about.

Dr. Whitehead: To be helpful to me, would the hon. Gentleman be willing to speculate on the origin of the West Lothian question, particularly in respect of the extent to which it can justifiably be called the West Lothian question? He will recall that for a number of years hon. Members from Northern Ireland constituencies voted on matters pertaining to the UK without the opposite being the case when the Stormont devolved Assembly was in place. They also voted, as I recall, under the terms of their alliance with the Conservative party, so why does the hon. Gentleman not think that it should be called the North Down question or the Belfast, West question instead? Would not that be a more appropriate way to describe it?

Mr. Walter: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention, because what happened in the case of Northern Ireland was Tam Dalyell’s option three—a reduction in the representation. The hon. Gentleman may recall, although he may not have been in the House at the time, that when the original Stormont Parliament was in place, Northern Ireland representation was just 12 Members, so Northern Ireland was under-represented here. That was the sort of balance that was introduced. I believe that creating such under-representation is not the best way to proceed. That is an unfair solution, which is why I am not proposing it today. Rather, I am proposing Tam Dalyell’s option four, which I am about to explain in a few moments.

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Mr. MacNeil: Is this not why Westminster keeps getting itself into these kind of fankles? It ignores the point that, regardless of the numbers, the principle of someone voting on a matter that does not affect his electors should be properly determined, not just left to one side because of the numbers.

Mr. Walter: The hon. Gentleman has obviously repeated, albeit more eloquently, my point that that is not the way forward. The settlement between the Westminster Parliament and the then Stormont Parliament was an unsatisfactory one. That is why I am proposing something different today. The fact of the matter is that, even after boundary changes in Scotland and anticipated boundary changes in Wales, both those countries will still be slightly over-represented in this place compared with English constituencies, some of which have in excess of 100,000 electors. My own constituency now has more than 75,000 electors.

Jo Swinson: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the quota for a Scottish constituency is now the same as for an English constituency and that any difference in the average size relates purely to issues of geography, which are taken into account for remote, rural and island communities in England just as much as in Scotland?

Mr. Walter: I am not sure that the island community of the Isle of Wight would necessarily share the hon. Lady’s view, as it has more than 100,000 electors and the matter of geography is given as the excuse.

Let me move on and get to the guts of what I am proposing. The reality today is that Scotland has both primary and secondary legislative powers over areas such as health, which my hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) mentioned, education, transport, social services, aspects of criminal law and the administration of justice. A First Minister is appointed in Holyrood, Members of the Scottish Parliament deliberate and vote on those matters and there is a separate Government in Scotland.

Mr. John Denham (Southampton, Itchen) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman referred earlier to the Welsh devolution campaign in which he was on the same side— the “no” side—as the then leader of the Labour party. If he is so concerned about those issues, can I ask him why he does not simply propose to reverse the devolution legislation introduced by this Government?

Mr. Walter: The right hon. Gentleman makes his point, but if he wished to introduce legislation to reverse the devolution settlement, he would probably find that there was no majority in the House to do so. Certainly in Scotland and Wales, there would most definitely not be a majority to reverse that legislation. There may be hon. Members in this House and in Scotland and Wales who would share his view that we should perhaps reverse the devolution legislation, but I do not believe that we should. What I am trying to do is create a situation whereby we do not go down the same expensive route in respect of England.

Mr. Denham: For the sake of clarity, is the hon. Gentleman simply telling the House that he was wrong to oppose devolution as he did in the past?

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Mr. Walter: Of course I am prepared to admit that the view that I expressed at that time was probably not the correct one. I suspect that the right hon. Gentleman’s former colleague Lord Kinnock might well share that view. I was right in saying at that time that the exercise would be a lot more expensive than the Government of the day were suggesting—and it has proved to be a much more expensive exercise for the people of Wales and therefore for the taxpayers of the United Kingdom.

Let me move on and deal briefly with the position in Northern Ireland, which is critical. By 26 March a Northern Ireland Executive may well be established with a First Minister and a Deputy First Minister from different sides of the political divide in the Province. If that is the case, everyone will welcome it and Northern Ireland will then be in a similar position to Scotland. It will be somewhat more limited because of the recent history of Northern Ireland and some of the matters that will be devolved, but none the less it will be a similar situation.

The situation in Wales, however, is slightly different, but it is certainly allowed for in my Bill. The Welsh Assembly has much more limited powers: it does not have powers in respect of primary legislation, though it has some for secondary legislation in the areas falling within its competence.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): In framing his Bill, did the hon. Gentleman consider the position of London at all? Why has the position of London, with its elected Mayor and assembly, been omitted?

Mr. Walter: I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that matter. He may disagree, but when I look at the position of the Mayor of London and the Greater London assembly, I view it as a matter of local government rather than of devolution in the sense of how powers have been devolved to the Assemblies in Northern Ireland and Wales and to the Scottish Parliament.

Mr. Russell Brown: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Walter: Well, okay—yes.

Mr. Brown: The hon. Gentleman is a splendid sport. I disagree with his comments about the Greater London authority. All hon. Members probably use public transport that is provided through the Greater London authority, which is therefore vital to us all. Yet, strictly speaking, this Pandora’s box of a Bill would mean that London Members should have no say on transport issues.

Mr. Walter: No, the Bill does not mean that. As I said in answer to the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath), I regard the Greater London assembly and the powers of the Mayor of London as local government, not devolved government as in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

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