4.34 pm

Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): I am also a member of the Environmental Audit Committee and, like the hon. Member for Hendon (Dr Offord), I pay tribute to the Chair of that Committee for the way in which she has led us and managed to get unanimous support on an issue that can often be quite controversial.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned most of the points that I was going to make in my speech, so I can be very brief. First, let me endorse what he said about the need for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to be able to rely not just on industry-funded research but on independent peer reviewed research. Companies must do research and it must be taken into account, but clearly it cannot be the major source on which the Government rely. The Government clearly need to move further in that regard.

The important issue of what changes in the agricultural support mechanism at the European level can be brought about was raised by the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Roger Williams). There is concern that not enough is being done under the strategy to reach out to the majority of farmers who need to be reached if this strategy is going to be put into effect. With regard to changes, possibly to European funding arrangements, some of that is devolved in practice. However, it is also an area in which Europe-wide policy needs to be changed, and that will have an impact on the devolved Administrations and on the administration of agricultural support as well. I am interested to know what the Minister has to say in that regard.

I agree with the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire that a report or a strategy does not really show how we will achieve the objective of reducing pesticide use. Again, the Government need to do more on that, and I endorse what the hon. Gentleman has said.

Finally, I should like the Minister to answer a mystery that I have been trying to work out for a while. When the Environmental Audit Committee visited Brussels a couple of years ago, we were asked by a Commission official about why the UK had stopped seeking funding from the Commission for research on bee health issues. Apparently, the UK Government had not sought further funding, even though it was actually available from the Commission. I asked a number of parliamentary questions on the matter, and it seemed that the UK’s funding had indeed been reduced. There were different views as to why among scientific experts at DEFRA who gave evidence at one Committee. I would be interested to hear from the Minister on the matter. Will he tell us, as a pro-European Member of the Government, whether the UK has stopped asking for funding from the Commission, when it has been available to deal with issues such as bee health? I am sure that he agrees that

16 Oct 2014 : Column 548

such an issue needs to be addressed not just within the UK, but at a European level. I am sure that even Members who are not pro-Europe would not want to turn down European money if it were available. I would be grateful to the Minister if he updated us on what is happening, and whether there is the possibility of the UK getting more funding from the European Commission on this important issue of bee health.

4.38 pm

Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Member for Truro and Falmouth (Sarah Newton) on securing this important debate. She spoke with eminent good sense and with what I would characterise as quiet passion. Other Members who have contributed to this debate have made really telling points. I am talking about my hon. Friends the Members for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead), for Stoke-on-Trent North (Joan Walley) and for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy), the hon. Members for Somerton and Frome (Mr Heath), for Brecon and Radnorshire (Roger Williams), and for Hendon (Dr Offord) and my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz). It has been an excellent debate.

When I was a child, my mother used to pay me half a crown to wash her car each week—you, Mr Speaker, will probably remember it as 12 and a half pence, as half a crown is probably before your time. I used to wash every bit of the car, except for one particular piece at the front, which was about 1 foot square. I kept that as a before and after shot to show my mother what a good job I had done, and I chose that particular spot at the front of the car because it was always covered in thousands of dead insects.

Mr Speaker: Order. Either the hon. Gentleman’s mother was a notably frugal custodian of the family purse, or, alternatively, the hon. Gentleman is some years older than me. Possibly, the House might conclude, that both of those statements are true.

Barry Gardiner: My mother was certainly very frugal, but she did need her car washing every week, and it was, every week, covered in dead insects. Sadly, the cars are no longer covered in thousands of dead insects. We have cleaner cars today, but the insects are gone.

Mr Heath: I just wanted to respond to Mr Speaker’s interjection by saying that when I was a boy, half a crown would buy an entire gallon of Somerset cider.

Barry Gardiner: The hon. Gentleman is indicating only how much older he is than I am, and also perhaps that he had more of a penchant for things that my mother certainly would not have allowed me. I was not in any way allowed half a gallon of Somerset cider; half a pint of carrot juice was more like it.

As the insects have disappeared, so have the birds. As the insects continue to disappear, so will the yield from our crops.

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): Did my hon. Friend see the beautiful article by Caitlin Moran in The Times last Saturday in which she eloquently begged to have bird song back again? She was making the same point as my hon. Friend.

16 Oct 2014 : Column 549

Barry Gardiner: My hon. Friend makes a good point. He will know my penchant for whistling around the place, emulating those very birds he wants to return.

The impact on our crops of the insects continuing to disappear has been calculated at more than £600 million a year. Some insecticides that farmers use to increase yield kill not only the insects that destroy the crops, but those that pollinate them. I would welcome a pollinator strategy from the Government—we have a draft strategy—if it is understood that the decline in the ecosystem services that pollinators provide cannot be dealt with unless that is done on an ecosystem-wide basis.

Popular though the campaign may be, this is not just all about the bees, as Members have said. Yes, colony collapse disorder is serious and, yes, the varroa mite is a problem, as are the acarine mite and nosema apis, and fungal diseases such as chalkbrood and stonebrood, but the fundamental problems that have resulted in the decline of pollinators across the board are much more plain and simple. Since the 1930s, 97% of our wild flower meadows have been lost. If one of the fundamental habitats providing a food source to pollinators is taken away, is it any wonder that we see a decline in butterflies, moths, beetles and other pollinators?

I congratulate the whole NGO coalition, especially Buglife and Friends of the Earth, on campaigning extensively for a national pollinator strategy. The NGOs understand this, as does the Environmental Audit Committee in its excellent report. They have spoken clearly about how changes in land management over the past century represent one of the major causes of pollinator loss. The Government should do more than pay them lip service, as they did in their response to the Select Committee’s report. Many of the groups have a larger membership than all the political parties represented in the Chamber put together, and their bee campaigns have involved hundreds of thousands of people devoting their time for our natural environment. That is marvellous, so the Government need to respond positively.

The Government have the power to halt the decline of our natural environment. Delivering a pollinator strategy is a critical part of that, so we should ask what this Government’s record has been. They opposed the European ban on neonicotinoids and supported efforts to undermine it. They said that a ban could cripple the economy, thus ignoring the direct value of pollination services to UK farmers and the natural environment. That was proof, if anyone still needed it, that for this Government the environment and the economy are always seen as being in conflict, although they are not. The Government’s decision to withdraw from a pan-European research project on honey bee decline was further evidence of their allergy to sound science.

They failed to include pollinator-specific measures in their so-called greening of agricultural subsidy in the CAP.

There seems to be a dangerous idea—clung to by some in the Government—that they have to sacrifice our environment and well-being for the sake of achieving short-term economic growth. In fact, economists now tell us that economic growth depends upon natural capital. This Government have acted with absolute consistency against the science and failed to adopt a fully ecosystem-based way of working that displays the true value of the natural capital upon which all growth depends. There are three key decisions that they could

16 Oct 2014 : Column 550

have taken: the decision to adopt a science-based policy on insecticides; the decision to acquire new evidence on pollinator decline; and the decision to create space for nature in precisely the way that John Lawton set out in his report.

We need to embrace a new, restorative approach that rebuilds nature and creates a more resilient natural environment for the benefit of wildlife and ourselves. We need coherent ecological networks if we are to conserve wildlife and landscapes that have become fragmented as a result of human activity. An ecological network must be comprehensive enough to hold a suite of high-quality sites that collectively contain the diversity and amount of habitat needed to support species. There must be ecological connections between those sites to enable species—or, in the case of plants, their genes—to move.

Mrs Caroline Spelman (Meriden) (Con): I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way and apologise for being unable to attend the debate from the start because of other duties. When I was Secretary of State, we established “Making space for nature”, and I went with John Lawton to parts of the west midlands to create those important areas. The question is one of joining up to get the landscape scale, and I agree about that, but I hope that the hon. Gentleman has a clear view of what has been achieved thus far.

Barry Gardiner: I respect the right hon. Lady, and she will know that I have always tried to give credit where it is due in the Department. I have given credit to her, in particular, for the way she advanced the natural capital approach. However, I think that there are severe lacunas in the Department’s approach and that we need a much more joined-up approach, in relation to implementing an ecosystem-based way of working in the Department and to joining up across Government. I am sure that is a problem she has faced many times in trying to persuade colleagues across Government. The hon. Member for Hendon (Dr Offord) talked about the importance of planning, for example, and I am sure that the right hon. Lady will have had her own run-ins with DCLG. I hope that she does not feel that the criticisms I am making are unfair.

The Lawton report summarised the step change that the previous Labour Government made in 2006 when we moved to an ecosystem-based approach, which was essential to mainstreaming our conservation priorities across Government. Sir John’s report spoke about the role of insects in the following way. It states that they are

“the little things that make the world work… vital components of natural food chains (as food for larger organisms and as pollinators for example) and many deliver other vital ecosystem services… It would be unwise to assume we can do without them. Basically, what we are doing is unravelling the fabric of nature. These are local examples on one small part of the planet, of the growing, global ‘biodiversity crisis’.”

In their response to the Environment Audit Committee, the Government basically set out a voluntarist approach that asked the House to trust them. They now have a draft of a pollinator strategy. There is an election coming and people want to be seen to be doing something positive. The 2015 general election is unprecedented. For the first time, people will be able to judge all the major parties on what they have recently achieved in government as well as on what they promise in their

16 Oct 2014 : Column 551

manifestos. I am confident that there will be a triumph of experience over hope—what Labour actually achieved in government against what the Conservatives and Lib Dems promised and then failed to deliver.

In 2010, the country did not vote for continuity, except in one thing: Labour’s approach to our environment. The coalition said that it was signed up to Labour’s Climate Change Act 2008. The Tories and the Liberal Democrats committed themselves to delivering on the Lawton report and the national ecosystems assessment that we commissioned on the back of it. They even said that they were committed to the Pitt review that Labour had commissioned after the 2007 floods. Well, we saw last winter what had happened to that.

The Environmental Audit Committee has an in-built majority for the Government parties, but on the basis of its environmental scorecard it looked carefully at what this Government have done and gave them a red card on biodiversity. Under this Government, with a Lib Dem responsible for the natural environment, essential work to improve our natural environment has become “green crap”, and we have seen the extraordinary spectacle of a former Secretary of State trawling around the broadcast studios telling all and sundry that he does not believe in half the policies that, as a member of the Cabinet, he was previously responsible for delivering. Unfortunately, this Government’s record on the environment does not lead anyone to trust them. The report, “State of Nature”, and Wildlife and Countryside Link’s report, “Nature Check”, show that the decline in biodiversity is getting worse. That is how we should judge this Minister’s party when it promises to give us a legal target for biodiversity. The Minister must accept that his draft pollinator strategy is neither adequate nor deliverable.

The EAC’s report correctly criticised the Government’s reliance on industry-funded research and voluntary measures. In fact, what it said was damning. It talked of

“excessive reliance on the commercial (rather than scientific) research priorities”—

Mr Speaker: Order. I have no wish to interrupt the flow of the hon. Gentleman’s eloquence or, indeed, the eloquence of his flow, but I feel cautiously optimistic that he is approaching his peroration.

Barry Gardiner: I am certainly approaching my conclusion, Mr Speaker—thank you for your guidance.

The Committee talked of

“excessive reliance on the commercial (rather than scientific) research priorities”

of the industry bodies and said that that was

“symptomatic of a loss of DEFRA’s capacity to deliver its environmental protection obligations”.

There is no point in DEFRA’s merely reviewing the research that the agro-chemicals industry decides it wants to carry out when that is not the research that the public need. DEFRA must set out the type of data it requires and the parameters of such research in order to safeguard the environment. A Labour Secretary of State in DEFRA would set out clearly the need to establish baseline data on the health of our pollinator population and use those data to target a series of measures to reverse the declines in our ecosystem services capacity.

16 Oct 2014 : Column 552

Mr Speaker: Order. The remaining page and a half can be deposited in the Library and possibly photocopied for the benefit of all right hon. and hon. Members—and communicated via the worldwide web, which waits expectantly. I call the Minister, Dan Rogerson.

4.52 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Dan Rogerson): Thank you, Mr Speaker. I have been waiting patiently and listening to the many important contributions we have heard, including some of the earlier remarks by the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner), although he then went off a bit into whatever had been prepared for him elsewhere.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Truro and Falmouth (Sarah Newton), a fellow Cornish MP, for giving us the chance to debate this subject. I welcome the opportunity to highlight what the Government have been doing to support our pollinators and our plans for the publication of the national pollinator strategy for England later in the autumn. I congratulate all the other hon. Members who contributed to the debate. I will return to some of their remarks in what little time I have before we allow my hon. Friend to conclude the debate. First, I will set out some of the actions that the Government have been taking.

All of us across the House know of the importance of bees and other pollinators. They are vital for our environment, for food production and for biodiversity, and the Government take very seriously any threat to them. Evidence suggests that many species of our pollinators are less abundant and widespread than they were in the 1950s. However, as we do not know exactly how many wild pollinators we have now, or how many we had in the past, it is difficult to be certain about the rates or the detailed causes of change. We do know that the threats that pollinators face are many, including, as others have said, habitat loss, disease, extreme weather, climate change, and the use of some pesticides. It is likely that a combination of threats could be affecting their diversity, with loss of habitat linked to intensification of agriculture and urbanisation a key factor. The Government therefore continue to take action on a range of fronts to protect pollinators.

In our strategy, “Biodiversity 2020”, we have set ourselves the challenging outcome of achieving an overall improvement in the status of our wildlife and preventing further human-induced extinctions of known threatened species. We have supported 12 nature improvement areas in becoming better places for wildlife by creating more and better connected habitats. Flower-rich grasslands are recognised as habitats of principal importance for conservation. “Biodiversity 2020” includes an aim to increase priority habitats by 200,000 hectares, and species-rich grasslands are included in that ambition. In addition, almost 100,000 hectares of grasslands, likely to support pollinators, are already protected as sites of special scientific interest.

We recognise that there will still be a need for targeted conservation action for our most threatened species: 17 species of bees, together with many other pollinators, are considered as priority species for conservation. Natural England’s species recovery programme is designed to help, with projects to support priority species such as the short-haired bumblebee.

16 Oct 2014 : Column 553

Hon. Members have discussed the contribution we can make under the common agricultural policy and agro-environment schemes, which are key ways of securing benefits for pollinators. Options to encourage pollinators in current environmental stewardship agreements cover 60,000 hectares, including buffer strips, pollen and nectar mixtures, wild bird seed mixtures, hay meadows and wild flower areas, and the evidence that those actions attract pollinators is good. In the new scheme, to which we are putting the finishing touches, we aim to produce a more effective outcome for pollinators.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs continues to support beekeepers through funding of the National Bee Unit, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr Heath), the former Minister, has referred. The unit provides free training in disease diagnosis and management, and supports beekeeping associations in their work to improve bee husbandry skills across the country.

Pesticides are tightly regulated under European Union rules. Possible harm to non-target species is a key part of the risk assessment required before those products are authorised, and those risk assessments and authorisation decisions are also the subject of regular review.

I had hoped to make many other points, but I may struggle to do so in the time available. I will attempt to respond to some of the points that were raised during the debate. I think that most of us agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Truro and Falmouth about the importance of evidence. The hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead) said that we should get on with it because we know what the problems are. That is entirely true and we want to make sure that we invest the available resources in tackling the right causes in the most effective way possible, in order to support the recovery of some of these species and to protect them. We need to measure which species have problems and how serious they are so that we can inform our actions.

My hon. Friend also referred to imported bees and my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart), who is no longer in his place, asked whether they are muscling out other bees. When bees are brought in on a commercial basis to help pollination, we encourage non-native species to be used in polytunnels and glass houses. In fact, 50% of the bumble bees that are brought in are of a native strain—similar bees are to be found in our own natural environment—even though they are produced overseas.

The hon. Member for Southampton, Test spoke of his desire for the ban on neonicotinoids to be extended

16 Oct 2014 : Column 554

for ever. We have discussed evidence and the importance of making sure that we get it right. There is a ban in place and the Government are working along those lines, as is the industry. We take this very seriously, but we have to make sure that we keep the evidence under review.

Other hon. Members have mentioned problems regarding the voluntary nature of many of the interventions. It is absolutely right that we work with the industries, as well as local authorities, voluntary organisations and non-governmental organisations, that can help us gather evidence and make sure that we take action on planting and re-wilding some areas. I am sure hon. Members will receive urgent lobbying from the golf course sector in the light of some of today’s contributions.

My hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Roger Williams) made a very good point. In order to implement a strategy and make a difference, we will need to work together, so we need to encourage the agricultural sector, NGOs, beekeepers, land managers and others who are active in their communities and their own homes to do so. If we work together, we can begin to deliver and turn around the potential decline in the vital pollinators in our natural environment.

4.58 pm

Sarah Newton: I thank hon. Members for attending this debate and making such thoughtful contributions, particularly the members of the Environmental Audit Committee and its eminent Chair. The debate has been a very good illustration of the success of the reforms introduced during this Parliament. Select Committees play such an important role and the Backbench Business debates give us an opportunity to raise important issues on behalf of our constituents and improve Government policy.

What do we want? We want the national pollinator strategy. When do we want it? We want it now.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered the National Pollinator Strategy.

Business without Debate

House of Commons Governance


That Sir Oliver Heald, Mr David Heath, Jesse Norman, Ian Paisley, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Valerie Vaz and Mr Dave Watts be members of the House of Commons Governance Committee.—(Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, on behalf of the Committee of Selection.)

16 Oct 2014 : Column 555

UK Government: Scotland

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(John Penrose.)

5 pm

Mr Gordon Brown (Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath) (Lab): I have a petition to present to the House—signed by 120,000 people in Scotland, yes voters and no voters in the referendum alike—which shows that people are determined that the vow made by all the three main party leaders on the Tuesday before the referendum is kept. It was organised by 38 Degrees, whom I congratulate on its initiative. Its preamble regrets, and indeed opposes, the Prime Minister’s attempt on the day after the referendum to amend the vow on Scotland’s future, and asks him to keep to his original vow free of any new conditions.

Today’s debate becomes even more relevant after what the Leader of the House—I am pleased that he is with us in the Chamber—said on Tuesday when he made it clear that he intends to move ahead with what he called English votes for English laws. In my brief speech, I want to show that that would in effect reduce the rights of Scottish representatives at Westminster. I am grateful to the Secretary of State, who is also with us, for replying to the debate.

Today, I want to look at where we can agree, rather than where we disagree, to see whether it is possible to move beyond an agreement simply on the timetable to one on the powers of the Scottish Parliament, and whether there is a will on all sides of the House to resolve issues of English as well as Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland representation and rights. In an attempt to be constructive, I will put forward five suggestions that might help to avoid what must never be allowed to become a constitutional impasse in this House and this country.

First, I believe that we can all agree on 16 new powers for the Scottish Parliament, which range from devolution of attendance allowance and housing benefit, which have been agreed by all parties, to the conduct of elections. There are areas where we would have to ask the Conservatives to accept Labour and Liberal Democrat proposals, covering the entrenchment of the Scottish Parliament in the constitution and new powers over the Work programme, the Crown Estate, the rail franchise, borrowing for infrastructure, and Executive authority for UK health and safety, equalities and employment law. There are also areas where I would ask Labour and the Liberal Democrats to accept Conservative proposals—those for a fiscal commission and for an annual statement for taxpayers on how and where the Scottish Parliament’s money is spent. Given what each party has said in its submissions and afterwards, I believe that there is scope for agreement on every one of these new powers. I hope that the Secretary of State will say that he also believes that that can happen.

Secondly, on tax, the three remaining powers out of the 16 relate to income tax, fairness in taxation and VAT. There is general agreement that we should devolve, first, a wider power to set an income tax rate in Scotland, and secondly, a power to set top rates of tax too. I suggest, however—I will explain why in a minute—that we should reject the 100% devolution of income tax. We should instead agree to retain income tax as a shared tax across the United Kingdom, with 75% of it devolved

16 Oct 2014 : Column 556

to the Scottish Parliament, alongside the devolution of 50% of VAT revenues. That will ensure that the test of accountability is met, with the Scottish Parliament being responsible for raising the majority—54%—of its spending in 2016, the year in which the proposals would be implemented.

Thirdly, and I would like to think that we can all agree on this, the status of Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland in this House should not be downgraded. As was recognised by the Strathclyde commission—I want the Leader of the House to read that report from his party—in contradiction to statements subsequently made by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the House, Scottish MPs, like Welsh and Northern Ireland MPs, should continue to vote on all issues that come to the Floor of the House of Commons. This is what the Conservative party said in evidence before the referendum:

“In our view, it is important that any sense be resisted that MPs for Scottish, Welsh or Northern Irish constituencies somehow perform any lesser a function than MPs representing seats in England. The establishment of stable constitutional arrangements for the future of the UK must address this. It would be unfortunate if the feeling were to gain ground that there were two classes of MP. Even under a scheme of enhanced devolution, such as we have proposed in this report, MPs for Scottish constituencies will continue to have significant responsibility for safeguarding the interests of those whom they represent.”

It was therefore not the intention of the Conservative party before the referendum to withdraw Scottish Members of Parliament from voting on tax laws or other laws within the UK. That, and not the current position that the Prime Minister expresses, should be our guide in resolving these issues.

I have always said that we should be prepared to consider a change in Committee procedures on England-only Bills, under which English MPs would form the Committee that debates them. However, we should insist —I will explain why later—that when any Bill comes to the Floor of the House on Report or on Second or Third Reading, the whole House and nothing but the whole House is able to vote.

My fourth proposal is that we should agree that the case exists for far-reaching changes in our constitution. That requires a public debate, which could take the form of a convention that engages all the regions and nations, and civic society. The Secretary of State will be able to answer for this, but I believe that the Liberal Democrats agree with the Labour party on that course.

Finally, we should all agree that we must focus not simply on the constitution, but on the issues that were raised in the referendum by the citizens of Scotland, not just in respect of the powers of the Scottish and UK Parliaments, but in respect of what we do with those powers. How we can create better jobs and a better national health service, and how we can wage a war against poverty as part of our commitment to social justice—those are the policy issues that were raised in the referendum and we should give our attention to them immediately.

The constitutional crisis that is in the making—for that is what it is—has to be addressed. I am pleased that the Leader of the House is listening. The crisis arises from the statement that was made by the Prime Minister the morning after the referendum, when he promised English votes for English laws. In practice, the proposal turns out not to be any new English rights of representation,

16 Oct 2014 : Column 557

but a reduction in Scottish rights of representation in this House of Commons. That issue was clearly material to the referendum. It is the failure to tell people of the proposed change in Scottish representation before the vote that has fuelled the demonstrations, petitions and allegations of bad faith, betrayal and breach of promise that have dominated too much of the Scottish political debate since the referendum.

Conservative Members should understand that the Conservative plans for the constitution do not end there. Under the proposal to devolve all income tax to the Scottish Parliament, Scottish MPs would be removed not just from ordinary law-making on English matters, but from the most decisive votes that a Parliament can have—votes on income tax rates and, thus, on passing the Budget. With Wales on the point of demanding income tax powers and Northern Ireland seeking corporation tax powers, we could find, at a stroke, that Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish MPs are excluded from the right to vote in Westminster on Budget and key tax decisions. In the end, that might extend to London, which is also seeking its own powers of taxation.

The proposal to devolve 100% of income tax and then to exclude Scottish MPs from voting on income tax is, in my view, both anti-Scottish and anti-British. It is anti-Scottish because it would exclude Scots from voting on key matters and make them second-class citizens in the House. It is anti-British because it would abandon income tax as a shared tax and because it threatens to end the whole system of pooling and sharing resources across the United Kingdom that underpins the unity of the United Kingdom. It looks like a Trojan horse for fiscal autonomy, which would split the Union and enable the SNP to get through the back door what it cannot get through the front door in a vote of the Scottish people.

Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP) rose—

Mr Brown: England makes up 84% of the Union. Scotland makes up 8%, Wales 5% and Northern Ireland 3%. When that is translated into Members of Parliament, the 533 English Members can outvote the 117 parliamentarians from the rest of the UK at any time and routinely if they choose. The English predominance is so great that every generation has had to balance the power of the majority to impose its will with some protection for the interests of the minority nations.

America, Australia, Spain, Switzerland, Mexico, Brazil, Germany and many other countries, through their constitutions, have found ways to manage the gross inequalities in the sizes of their regions, provinces or nations. The provisions that those countries make for minority states or regions show that a blanket uniformity of provision, such as English votes for English laws simply mimicking Scottish votes for Scottish laws, does not ensure fairness of treatment.

The House knows from our debate on Tuesday that in America, the smallest state of just half a million people has the same number of Senators as the largest state of 38 million people. Tasmania, the smallest state in Australia with 700,000 people, has the same Senate representation—12—as New South Wales, which has 7 million people. This is true of the Spanish Senate, the Swiss Council of States, the South African National Council of Provinces, and the Brazilian, Nigerian and

16 Oct 2014 : Column 558

Mexican Senates. In Germany, the state of North Rhine-Westphalia—in a constitution written by the UK—has about 30 times the population of the state of Bremen, but only double the number of Bundesrat seats. We are not unique. Countries have to make special arrangements that recognise the position of minority nations or regions, and ensure that uniformity of provision is not the means to ensure equality and fairness of treatment.

Mr Dominic Raab (Esher and Walton) (Con): I thank the right hon. Gentleman for giving way and recognise his tenacious defence of the Union. May I ask him about money and the issue of equality he has raised? As a result of the Barnett formula, Scotland has double the ambulance staff and nurses per person that England has, and Wales gets a third less spending on social services for the elderly. By ruling out any change or review of Barnett—I appreciate that that is what the vow involves—the right hon. Gentleman is sending a message to the elderly, the patients and the vulnerable in my constituency that somehow they matter less. What would he say to them?

Mr Brown: I should not have given way to the hon. Gentleman as he has not read what the Prime Minister and the leader of the Liberal Democrats said, as well as the leader of the Labour party. It was not me who committed us to the Barnett formula; it was them. The Barnett formula exists to allocate resources according to need across the whole United Kingdom. Let us be clear—this is the issue at stake—that there is no country in the world whose Parliament has a first and second class of representatives. There is no democratic state in the world, federal or otherwise, where one part of the country pays its income tax to the national Government, and another part does not, yet those are the two proposals of the Conservative party. It would be strange if this House, which is known as and calls itself the mother of Parliaments and is a worldwide beacon for fairness and equality before the law, became the first law-making body in the world to decree two classes—a first and second class—of representation.

If this were only about the rights of Members of Parliament, it might remain an insiders’ issue among the political elite. But the designation of elected representatives as first and second-class citizens is not simply about the sensitivities of a few politicians, but about the status of each nation in what has hitherto been one United Kingdom. According a first-class status to England, but a second-class status to Scotland—and possibly then to Wales and Northern Ireland—is bad enough, but the effect of that is that the Government of the day would also be a servant of two masters, and not sure whether their continuation depended from one day to the next on English votes or the votes of the whole United Kingdom. Government Members might find it appealing that no MP from a Scottish seat could, under such a system, ever again be Chancellor or Prime Minister of this country, but if I may say so, that is closing the door 20 years too late.

This change would also contradict the Conservatives’ devolution commission report that I mentioned earlier:

“Scottish MPs are and must remain as qualified as any other to hold high Government office, including the offices of Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer.”

That is not my view but the view of the Conservative party report from the Strathclyde Commission.

16 Oct 2014 : Column 559

In conclusion, there is a way forward that listens to more sensible voices; a way forward that starts with a balanced programme of devolution that maintains income tax as a shared tax, is built around a sensible accommodation on exclusively English Bills, and is open not only to devolution within England—including to the powerful cities and regions of the country—but also to a wider debate about what kind of constitution our country needs. What Scotland has shown is that it is possible to engage the public in a debate about the distribution of power in our own country. Therefore, as the debate about English cities and regions and the future of the British constitution gathers pace, the constitutional convention that the Leader of the Opposition has proposed makes a great deal of sense.

Under the last Labour Government, we brought citizens together to debate how their rights could be respected. By extending that process to a constitutional convention that embraces every region, nation and civic group, the voice of England would be heard. It would be heard not in angry opposition to the voices of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, but alongside them as part of securing what I want to see with the proposals we are putting forward today: a better future for all nations and regions as part of one United Kingdom.

5.14 pm

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr Alistair Carmichael): I congratulate the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown) on securing today’s debate. Further, I congratulate, and commend him, on the role he played in the course of the independence referendum campaign. Nobody who heard his speeches and witnessed his passion and enthusiasm would have been in any doubt about the importance of the contribution he made in securing a united future for us all on 18 September. I know that he, like me, felt that he was fighting a campaign not just for himself but for his children and their generation. I venture to suggest that his contribution to it gives him a legacy of which they, in time, will come to be truly proud.

I want to make a few observations on the general state of the debate today. Shortly thereafter I will come on to address the points that have been made by the right hon. Gentleman in his speech. This has been a week when the topic of the referendum and its consequences have never been far from the Chamber. This is the fourth day this week, in fact, that I have been at the Dispatch Box. I welcome that. It is a good and right thing for the United Kingdom Parliament to be considering this issue.

Right hon. and hon. Members across the House have expressed their support for our still United Kingdom, a good illustration of what it means to be part of a country that shares risks and pools its resources. Scotland has come through years of fundamental uncertainty. The referendum outcome has put an end to it. With a positive choice from more than 2 million people in Scotland to remain within the United Kingdom, now is the time for us all to put aside party interests and to work to build a better United Kingdom for all: a future with a strong Scottish Parliament within a secure United Kingdom, because that was the clear verdict handed down by the people of Scotland.

16 Oct 2014 : Column 560

The First Minister and the Deputy First Minister said during the campaign that, in their view, the referendum was a once-in-a-generation, perhaps once-in-a-lifetime, event. Both Governments agreed from the outset that the objective was to hold a referendum that would be legal, fair and decisive. That referendum was delivered. But decisive means that a decision has been made, not that the question should be asked again in three years’ time. Had the result gone the other way, it would have been considered unacceptable for those of us who campaigned to keep the United Kingdom together to demand a re-run in 2017, and so it is wrong now for nationalists to manoeuvre for that outcome. People voted clearly and decisively to reject the Scottish National party’s core proposition. It is not for anyone to tell them that they got their answer wrong. Uncertainty will only try people’s patience and sap business confidence, just as it did in Montreal. The SNP has been given an answer by voters in Scotland. Now is the time to acknowledge and accept it and work in the interests of 100% of the people of Scotland.

Pete Wishart: I grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way, unlike the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown). It took two hours for the Prime Minister to come up with English votes for English laws after the referendum. It has now taken four weeks for the Barnett formula. Seventy Members of Parliament have signed a motion for a debate for Barnett to be reviewed. Barnett was in the vow. Is Barnett safe?

Mr Carmichael: Yes. Barnett is safe, because it was in the vow. I caution the hon. Gentleman. He seeks time and again to suggest that, somehow or another, the vow made by the party leaders—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman asked his question, now he can sit and listen to the answer. He says time and again that somehow the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and the Deputy Prime Minister were not acting in good faith. He seeks at every turn to undermine public confidence in the vow. If he still wants to pursue the cause of independence, and if he wishes not to accept the verdict of the people of Scotland expressed on 18 Sept, that is fine. But if he and his party are taking part in the Smith commission in good faith, frankly they should accept that all of us are doing so in good faith.

For the SNP to accept the verdict of the people, they must accept that the Smith commission’s work will not deliver the content of its White Paper or other outcomes detrimental to the core unity of the UK family—and this comes to the heart of the contribution from the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath. The SNP will not get independence by the backdoor. The vow given by the party leaders during the referendum campaign and the timetable that he and others supported are designed to strengthen Scotland within a secure United Kingdom. That is what people voted for, and that is what they will get—more powers for the Scottish Parliament within a modernised United Kingdom and delivered to the timetable we promised. In fairness, the soon-to-be First Minister has acknowledged in her party’s submission to the Smith commission that the outcome of this joint working will not be independence. It is important that negotiations take place with a genuine recognition of that fact.

16 Oct 2014 : Column 561

The right hon. Gentleman listed 16 areas in which agreement could easily be sought. He will forgive me if I do not address all 16 now, not least because, with the Government having tasked Lord Smith with constructing a consensus, it would be wrong for me, as a Minister, to second-guess the outcome. However, the Smith remit states that his heads of agreement should be consistent with respect for the decision of the people of Scotland on 18 September. In other words, they must be consistent with the continuation of the constitutional framework and integrity necessary to maintain a United Kingdom. The four nations within the family must continue to operate as a single country.

I also draw to the right hon. Gentleman’s attention the terms of the Command Paper published on Monday. Chapter 2 reminds us of the principles that underpin the Scotland Act 2012: any proposal should first have cross-party support; it should be based on evidence; and it should not be to the detriment of other parts of the UK. On all three points, if Smith came up with proposals that undermined our constitutional integrity, they would not be consistent with the framework that we have set him in the Command Paper. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will take comfort from that.

I have always said that—and this is truer today than it has ever been—the independence referendum offered us the opportunity not just to finish the job of devolution to the Scottish Parliament by giving it the extra powers the right hon. Gentleman and I believe it needs in relation to taxation, welfare and so on, but to implement a process of constitutional change across the whole of the UK. I respectfully say to him and the rest of the House that ultimately the logical conclusion of this journey is a federal structure within the UK. The only way to achieve that in our lifetime is by building the strongest, broadest consensus, and that requires a constitutional convention of the sort to which he referred. Indeed, he and I both know, because we have been around this course several times in Scotland, that that is the way to deliver constitutional change.

That requires us to bring together others besides just the political parties—it will always fail if it includes only the political parties, because unfortunately they always see things through the prism of their own self-interest. For that reason, we have to bring in wider voices—civic society, the business community, the trade unions, the Churches and just interested citizens who have something to say. It is for that reason that, as somebody who passionately believes in the United Kingdom, I see an opportunity opening out to us now to build a new constitutional architecture. In that respect, I very much hope that the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath will remain engaged in the debate, because I believe he has a substantial contribution to make to it.

We have an unprecedented opportunity. The Smith commission can move forward through the collective endeavour of all five of Scotland’s biggest political parties. Never before has so wide a spectrum of parties come together in Scotland’s interests. That is something to applaud and welcome. All those taking part in this work must be willing to compromise, as the right hon. Gentleman has said today—again, I commend him for the thought that he has obviously put into this already.

16 Oct 2014 : Column 562

We have an opportunity to harness the energy of both sides of what was a quite remarkable debate and, as a result, secure a better deal for all of Scotland. The Commission will look at serious and weighty issues: taxation, welfare and the role of the Scottish Parliament in our public life. The challenge is to empower Holyrood further and, as a result, make it more accountable to those who elect it. Lord Smith of Kelvin is an able man facing a considerable task. With genuine good will on all sides, he is also the man who can see that task through.

Of course, this process is not without consequences for the rest of the United Kingdom. The right hon. Gentleman has already touched on the subject of English votes for English laws. It is clear from the debate we had in the House on Tuesday, and indeed from contributions at Scottish questions yesterday, that that will be a live debate for some time to come. As I said at Scottish questions yesterday, in my view it is a solution that, if seen as an end in itself rather than a step along the road, risks creating new problems to replace the ones that already exist in our current constitutional settlement. However, this is a genuine issue that requires genuine consideration within that wider context. The debate itself showed the strength of feeling and brought to light the complexities and intricacies of finding a solution that will strengthen the United Kingdom’s democracy. Again, the one thing that was apparent at the end of six and a half hours’ debate—I was here for nearly all of it—was that there is not yet any clear consensus in England on what the future shape of the constitutional architecture should be.

Cathy Jamieson (Kilmarnock and Loudoun) (Lab/Co-op) indicated assent.

Mr Carmichael: I see nods coming from the hon. Lady, who also sat through most of that debate.

Ian Murray (Edinburgh South) (Lab): I know that time is short, and I appreciate the time the right hon. Gentleman has spent at the Dispatch Box this week re-emphasising that the vow and the timetable are on track, but will he at least acknowledge that the Prime Minister’s clumsy, inappropriate and highly political speech on the morning after the referendum has opened up the door for these kinds of questions to be asked? If he had not done that and had abided by every single part of that vow, we probably would not have been in this position this week.

Mr Carmichael: What I would say to the hon. Gentleman is that I think the Prime Minister was reflecting questions that are being asked in other parts of the United Kingdom. However, I am able to give him an assurance from the Dispatch Box today—this is an assurance that repeats the comments of the Prime Minister himself—that, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) put it the other day, change in Scotland will not be held up while England catches up. These two debates obviously have issues that have a symmetry and run in parallel, but one debate will not be allowed to hold up the progress of the delivery of the vow in Scotland. As I have said, it is pretty clear that we have already done much of the work and built much of the consensus there that is still required in the rest of the United Kingdom.

16 Oct 2014 : Column 563

Pete Wishart: That’s all right, then.

Mr Carmichael: I am glad that the hon. Gentleman accepts at last that the United Kingdom parties are proceeding in good faith. It would be a shame if he were unable ever to stand up and say it in public. [Interruption.] We are getting on with it. The hon. Gentleman sits there chuntering from a sedentary position, but he ignores the fact that we have already delivered, ahead of timetable, the Command Paper that was part of the vow. He might not like to accept that we are delivering—that we are doing what he said—but he cannot deny it and that is why he remains in his seat.

16 Oct 2014 : Column 564

In the few seconds that remain to me, let me say that it is clear that the referendum was won decisively. It might not have been welcomed by the nationalists, but everybody else was pleased that we got the decision that we wanted and that will indeed be good for our children in the future as the years progress.

Question put and agreed to.

5.30 pm

House adjourned.