2014 11 – Parliamentary Notes

Parliament Notes

by Dick Barry


UK Operations Against ISIL

Parliament returned from its summer and conference break on 13 October. On 13 October and three days later, on 16 October, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon presented statements on the UK’s activities against ISIL. In the first he told MPs that RAF flying missions began on 27 September, the day after the House of Commons had voted in favour of military operations. He referred to the ‘highly accurate Brimstone missiles and Paveway guided bombs’, which, he claimed, minimise the risk of civilian casualties; which is another way of saying that civilian casualties (deaths) are inevitable. Should missile strikes cause civilian casualties, Fallon says ISIL are to blame, as “they take shelter amongst the civilian population.” Now, where have we heard that before? And he didn’t, of course, say that each Brimstone missile fired cost around £150,000. Nor did he say that each Paveway IV guided bomb cost about £30,000. If, as David Cameron told the House of Commons, the fight against ISIL will take years rather than months, then the cost will far exceed that of the UK’s involvement in air strikes in Libya in 2011. That seven month activity cost around £244 million, including missiles and flight hours.

Michael Fallon:

On 26 September 2014, the House voted in favour of military operations in support of the Government of Iraq’s fight against ISIL, including the use of air strikes. Military action is part of the Government’s comprehensive strategy, working in consultation with our allies in the wider coalition, to tackle ISIL. As set out in statements on 2 September, Official Report, column 15WS, and 9 September, Official Report, column 33WS, our Armed Forces had already been involved in Iraq supporting humanitarian efforts, delivering equipment, weapons and ammunition to the Kurdistan Regional Government and contributing to coalition surveillance of ISIL. We are now undertaking military action in support of the coalition campaign.

The RAF began flying Tornado GR4 strike missions on 27 September. As of 10 October they have conducted 20 missions over Iraq. The Tornado provides strike capability with its highly accurate Brimstone missiles and Paveway guided bombs, allowing strikes against ISIL while minimising the risk of civilian casualties, and supports the coalition’s need for greater intelligence and surveillance with its reconnaissance pods. The first UK strike took place on 30 September, and six Tornado missions have resulted in weapons being released, hitting eight separate targets. The presence of armed jets in the skies has also curtailed ISIL’s ability to move freely and given Kurdish and Iraqi defenders time to organise and space to attack. The ISIL fighters have been observed changing their tactics and trying to draw the coalition into inflicting civilian casualties as they take shelter amongst the civilian population.

We announced the short term deployment of two additional Tornado GR4s to RAF Akrotiri to provide resilience to our operation and allow us to maintain our tempo of missions. The new Voyager air-to-air refuelling capability and the Rivet Joint surveillance aircraft which began operation on 9 August continue to provide vital support to both British and coalition aircraft. We are continuing to deliver support to the Kurdistan Regional Government forces at the request of the Government of Iraq. C-17 and C-130 aircraft in co-ordination with Canadian and Danish transport planes have so far delivered over 300 tonnes of supplies to Erbil for Kurdish Peshmerga units. This includes over 100 tonnes of UK-gifted weapons and equipment and over 200 tonnes of weapons and ammunition from supportive countries.

A training team has begun instructing Peshmerga soldiers on the operation of 40 UK-gifted heavy machine guns. Other training teams addressing soldiering skills, medical and counter-explosive device knowledge are planned. Our network of liaison officers in Iraq and the region has expanded to better understand the situation, work with our partners and help sustain the coalition which critically includes regional partners involved in operations. The Ministry of Defence is working closely with the Foreign Office to ensure our activity is co-ordinated to support the Iraqi authorities in providing a more inclusive government in Sunni areas liberated from ISIL control. Throughout the campaign C-130 transport aircraft remain ready to deliver more humanitarian aid provided by the Department for International Development (DFID) and pre-positioned in Cyprus.

A further short update was provided on 16 October.

Michael Fallon:

Further to the update I provided to the House on 13 October on military activities to counter ISIL, Official Report, column 9WS, we are redeploying Reaper remotely piloted aircraft from Afghanistan to be based in the middle east for use against ISIL. This deployment will complement our exiting capabilities which provide highly valued surveillance support and situational awareness to the Iraqi authorities and our coalition partners. As the UK’s only armed remotely piloted aircraft, Reaper will add to the strike capability we are already providing with our Tornado GR4 aircraft. The policy for their use is the same as that for manned aircraft, with the pilots operating under strict UK rules of engagement. We expect to begin Reaper operations in Iraq shortly.

The deployment is the first operational use of UK Reaper outside of support to our operations in Afghanistan, where we are beginning to withdraw the aircraft. As Reaper numbers in Afghanistan reduce, we intend to move more of them to the middle east, adding to our coverage.


Palestine And Israel

On 13 October MPs debated a Back Bench motion on the recognition of the state of Palestine introduced by Labour’s Grahame Morris (Easington). The motion was carried overwhelmingly by 274 votes to 12. Labour MPs had notice that they could decide to attend the debate, or not. However, should they attend they were expected to support the motion. 18 of the 28 Members of the Shadow Cabinet (3 are Members of the Lords) voted in favour of the motion. The bulk of Morris’s speech is set out below. Plus that of Jack Straw who moved the amendment to the motion. Straw refers to the lack of action against the illegal activities of Israel, but other than offering an amendment to the motion he fails to set out what action the UK should take. Illegal activities were carried out when Straw was Foreign Secretary and he and the Labour Government did nothing. Therefore, Israel has nothing to fear from Jack Straw and Labour in opposition. The motion is purely symbolic. Israel will simply ignore it.

Grahame M. Morris:

I beg to move, That this House believes that the Government should recognise the state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel.

I wish to place on record my thanks to the Backbench Business Committee for allocating time in the main Chamber for what is obviously, given the number of Members from all parts of the House who have indicated support, a very popular and timely debate. May I say at the outset that I am happy to support the amendment standing in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) and various other Members? It has always been my position that recognition of Palestinian statehood should form the basis of any future peace negotiations, and the amendment clarifies that.

Ian Paisley:

As the hon. Gentleman knows, his party played a phenomenally important role in the peace process in Northern Ireland, one of the world’s most successful peace processes. Why not learn from that experience, and instead of setting the conclusion at the beginning of the debate, wait for the debate and the negotiation to take place in order to reach the conclusion?

Grahame M. Morris:

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention but—if he will bear with me—I hope to be able to destroy that argument comprehensively. I am firmly of the opinion that the day will come when the two-state solution, which I believe is supported by all parties on both sides of the House, will collapse and Israel will face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights. As soon as that happens, the state of Israel is finished. Hon. Members might think that that is controversial, but they are not really my words but those of the then Israeli Prime Minister in 2007. The two-state solution has been Britain’s stated policy aim for decades, but in politics talk often comes cheap. I have participated in numerous debates in Westminster Hall and in the main Chamber where I have heard speeches delivered by Back Benchers from both sides of the House and from Ministers at the Dispatch Box stating our commitment to a two-state solution—

Mrs Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con):

May I say that many people support the two-state solution? Will he also confirm that more than 300 Israeli figures signed a letter on Sunday urging this Parliament to vote in favour of the motion, and they included former Ministers, ex-diplomats and activists in Israel?

Grahane M. Morris:

As a friend of Palestine, I earnestly believe that recognition of the state of Palestine is the only way forward, and that it should be the choice of call true friends of Israel. All parties should come together on that basis. Given our commitment to a two-state solution and the fact that a an overwhelming majority of 134 nations voted in favour of Palestinian statehood, I was hugely disappointed by our decision to abstain on the issue at the UN General Assembly. We should regret that decision. The decision that was taken at the UN General Assembly placed Britain not only at odds with the international consensus, but on the wrong side of history…..I have to say that, as a Labour MP, I was proud when my party opposed the Government’s decision and said that the British Government should be willing to support the recognition of Palestinian statehood.

As the originator of the Balfour declaration and holder of the mandate for Palestine, Britain has a unique historical connection and, arguably, a moral responsibility to the people of both Israel and Palestine. In 1920, we undertook a sacred trust—a commitment to guide Palestinians to statehood and independence. That was nearly a century ago, and the Palestinian people are still to have their national rights recognised. This sacred truth has been neglected for far too long….It is now more than 20 years since the Oslo accords, and we are further away from peace than ever before. An entire generation of young Palestinians—the Oslo generation—has grown up to witness a worsening situation on the ground. WE have seen a significant expansion of illegal Israeli settlements, heightened security threats to both sides, punitive restrictions on Palestinian movement, economic decline, a humanitarian crisis in Gaza of catastrophic proportions and the construction of an illegal annexation wall through Palestinian land.

It is clear that both Israel-Palestine relations and our foreign policy are at an impasse, which must be broken. We hear a great deal of talk about the two-state solution. Today, through validating both states, Members will have the opportunity to translate all that principled talk into action, but we should be under no illusions—today might be a symbolically important step, but it will not change the facts on the ground. The continuous blockade of the Gaza strip will not relent and the day-to-day reality of life under occupation will not change for the ordinary Palestinians. Opponents of the motion will use the well-worn argument that statehood should come through negotiations and not unilateral action. Let us make no mistake about this: to make our recognition dependent on Israel’s agreement would be to grant Israel a veto over Palestinian self-determination.

Mr Jack Straw:

I beg to move amendment (b), at the end of the Question to add, ‘ as a contribution to securing a negotiated solution.’

As the House will note, the amendment has wide, cross-party support. Its purpose is very simple. It is based on the belief that the recognition of the state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel will add to the pressure for a negotiated solution, and may help to bring that prospect a little closer to fruition. The “Road Map to a Permanent Two-State Solution to the Israel-Palestinian Conflict” was promulgated at the end of April 2003 under the auspices of the Quartet—the UN, EU, US and Russia. Though, palpably, much of the progress presaged by the road map has been confounded by events, crucially, by the road map, the Government of Israel were signed up to there being a separate and independent state of Palestine. One part of the road map anticipated that Quartet members, which include the UK, could

“promote international recognition of a Palestinian state, including possible UN membership”

as a transitional measure, well before any final status agreement. The Government of Israel disagree. They claim that recognition of Palestine as a state should be at the conclusion of any successful peace negotiations. But such an approach would give the Government of Israel a veto, even over whether such a state should exist.

Sir Alan Beith:

I understand what the right hon. Gentleman is trying to achieve by his amendment, but how does he think the passing of the motion would encourage either Hamas or the Israelis to change their approach to negotiation, which has been unfruitful so far?

Mr Straw:

It is the Palestinian Authority that is part of the negotiations not Hamas. I believe that the fact of the Israeli’s intemperate reaction to the very prospect of the House passing this resolution is proof that it will make a difference. The only thing that the Israeli Government understand, under the present demeanour of Benjamin Netanyahu, is pressure. What the House will be doing this evening will be to add to the pressure on the Government of Israel. That is why they are so worried about this resolution passing. Were it just a gesture, as the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington (Sir Malcolm Rifkind) implied, they would not be bothered at all. They are very worried because they know it will have an effect.

Dr Matthew Offord:

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his contribution, but does he not agree that this is a Back-Bench motion? This has no effect on Government policy, and it is just futile?

Mr Straw:

We represent the electorate of the United Kingdom. I can tell the hon. Gentleman, having spent 13 years sitting on the Treasury Bench, that resolutions passed in the House, whether they emanate from Back Benches or Front Benches, make a difference, and this resolution will, if it is passed, make a difference.

A moment’s thought will allow us to appreciate just how ill-founded the Government of Israel’s assertion is. Israel has been occupying Palestinian land for nearly 50 years. It fails to meet its clear international legal obligations as an occupying power. In the last 20 years, as we have heard, it has compounded that failure by a deliberate decision to annex Palestinian land and to build Israeli settlements on that land. There are now 600,000 such Israeli settlers in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. The Israelis are seeking to strangle East Jerusalem by expropriating land all around it, and two months ago, they announced the illegal annexation of a further nearly 1,000 acres of land near Bethlehem. The Israeli Government will go on doing this as long as they pay no price for their obduracy. Their illegal occupation of land is condemned by this Government in strong terms, but no action follows. The Israelis sell produce from these illegal settlements in Palestine as if they were made or grown in Israel, but no action follows.

Israel itself was established and recognised by unilateral act. The Palestinians had no say whatever over the recognition of the state of Israel, still less a veto. I support the state of Israel. I would have supported it at the end of the 1940s. But it cannot lie in the mouth of the Israeli Government, of all Governments, to say that they should have a veto over a state of Palestine, when for absolutely certain, the Palestinians had no say whatever over the establishment of the state of Israel. Today’s debate will, I hope, send a strong signal that the British Parliament stands full square behind the two-state solution set out in the road map. The current impasse can be broken, in my view, only by actions, not simply by words, and the recognition of Palestine by the international community would further, not hinder, these aims.

Three years ago on 9 November 2011, the right hon. Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Mr Hague), then Foreign Secretary, told the House: “The United Kingdom judges that the Palestinian Authority largely fulfils criteria for UN membership, including statehood”. He added that we, the United Kingdom, “reserve the right to recognise a Palestinian state bilaterally at a moment of our choosing and when it can best help to bring about peace.”—(Official Report, 9 November 2011; Vol. 535, c. 290.)

That moment is now. I urge hon. Members on both sides to support the amendment.

Members of the Shadow Cabinet who voted for the motion were: Douglas Alexander, Hilary Benn, Andy Burnham, Vernon Coaker, Yvette Cooper, Margaret Curran, Gloria del Piero, Angela Eagle, Maria Eagle, Caroline Flint, Harriet Harman, Sadiq Kahn, Chris Leslie, Ed Miliband, Owen Smith, John Trickett, Chuka Umunna, Rosie Winterton.

Labour Friends of Israel has 30 MPs in the House of Commons. Five of the 30 are officers of LFI. All five officers abstained or were absent from Parliament. Of the remaining 25, eight supported the motion. These were: Liam Byrne, Rosie Cooper, Jim Fitzpatrick, Caroline Flint, Mary Glindon, Sharon Hodgson, Chuka Umunna, David Watts. No LFI member voted against the motion.

The 12 MPs who voted against the motion were: Sir Alan Beith (Lib. Dem.), Bob Blackman (Con.), Jonathan Djanogly (Con.), Nigel Dodds (DUP.), Mike Freer (Con.), William McCrea (DUP.), Nigel Mills (Con.), Matthew Offord (Con.), Ian Paisley (DUP.), Jim Shannon (DUP.), David Simpson (DUP.), Robert Syms (Con.).


Devolution (Scotland Referendum)

On 14 October The House of Commons received a statement from William Hague, the Leader of the House, on the Government’s post-referendum policy. Hague’s articulation of this was constantly referred to by Gordon Brown. Brown challenged Hague to answer a number of pertinent questions about the potential effect of the policy on the constitution of the UK. His long, thoughtful speech is published below.

Gordon Brown:

Madam Deputy Speaker, I wanted to congratulate all those who had contributed to the historic and clear decision of the Scottish people to stay part of the United Kingdom. As someone who has had time to reflect—four years, courtesy of the decision of the British people— may I say that I believe there is also common ground on not just the timetable for the delivery of further devolution to Scotland, but the powers themselves? I believe that when the Conservative, Liberal and Labour parties get together to look at the possibility of delivering a stronger Scottish Parliament, they will find that, in addition to moves on powers over housing benefit, attendance allowance and other matters that they have talked about already, it is possible for the Conservatives to accept some of the Liberal proposals and some of the Labour proposals that would strengthen the Scottish Parliament as part of the United Kingdom, without breaking the United Kingdom but while being in line with the wishes of the Scottish people, and without giving an unfair advantage to the Scottish people.

I have to tell the House that the fundamental question is not the one the Leader of the House was trying to raise; the fundamental question affecting the British constitution is not the West Lothian question. That is a symptom of a more fundamental problem. The fundamental question in the British constitution arises because England is 84% of the Union, Scotland is 8%, Wales is 5% and Northern Ireland is 3%, and the reality is that at any point the votes of England could outvote Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, individually or collectively. So the real issue is about getting a fair distribution of power that respects not only majority rule—I am sensitive to the needs of England and English votes—but the rights of the minorities, so that we have stability and harmony in the British constitution.

Every generation has had to come to terms with how we get that balance right between majority rule and protecting the needs of the minorities that are part of the United Kingdom. Although on 19 September there was contentment and satisfaction, including, I am told, right up to the centre of Buckingham Palace and Balmoral—we have that on the highest authority, or perhaps I should say the second highest—the problem then arose with the Prime Minister’s announcement at 7am on the Friday after the vote. Without telling people beforehand, on a matter that was absolutely material to the vote that people were casting in the Scottish referendum, a new plan was imposed on Scotland. A vow written on the Tuesday was being rewritten on the Friday morning, because although he said the proposed change was in the English constitution, the practical effect of it was in Scottish constitutional affairs: to restrict the voting rights of Scottish Members of Parliament in this House of Commons on an issue, as he said on that morning, as fundamental as taxation.

Clearly that was a change in Scotland’s constitutional status in the United Kingdom. Clearly it was highly material to the vote people had just had. Should not the people of Scotland have been told prior to the referendum, which was on Scotland’s status in the United Kingdom, that the downgrading of Scottish representation in Westminster was one of the proposals that he now wishes to make to the people of the country?

What makes for a lethal cocktail—the Leader of the House did not even appear to recognise this—is that the Conservative party, as confirmed by the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr Redwood), wants to devolve 100% of income tax to the Scottish Parliament. This is not the Nationalist policy or the Labour policy; it is the Conservative policy to devolve all of income tax to the Scottish Parliament and then immediately end the right of Scottish Members of Parliament to vote on income tax, on a matter as substantial as the Budget, in this Parliament of the United Kingdom. Until now, any income tax rise has been based on the principle that all contribute and all benefit. Now, under the Conservative proposal, all, including Scotland, would benefit from such a tax rise, if it were ever to happen, but only some, excluding Scotland, would contribute. (Interruption)

This is the Conservative party proposal. It is a radical proposal to devolve all income tax in Scotland and then preclude Members of Parliament in this House from voting on the Budget. (Interruption.) Before I give way, I want to say that no state in the world, federal or otherwise, devolves all income tax from the national Exchequer to regional, local or national assemblies, and no Parliament in the world would impose a national income tax on only some of the country but not on all of it. There are very good reasons why that is. We have to understand that this is the Conservative party proposal that has been put forward subsequent to the referendum.

Mr Redwood rose—

Mr Brown:

I will give way to the man who is the author of English votes for English laws.

Mr Redwood:

I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for endowing me with that honour, but he should remember that the idea of English votes for English issues was in the Conservative manifesto in 2010 and that I expressly raised it before the referendum in Prime Minister’s questions, when my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Mr Hague) was standing in for the Prime Minister who was in Scotland. Everybody knew that this was the will of the Conservative party. More importantly, it is the settled will of about three-quarters of the English people.

Mr Brown:

Why then, when the McKay committee reported, did the Government say that it needed only a thorough and rigorous investigation and did not support that view? The Prime Minister did not tell the Scottish people before the referendum that that proposal would come on the morning after the referendum. It is the combination of the two proposals to devolve 100% of income tax and then to remove the right of Scottish MPs to vote on the matter in Westminster that is absolutely lethal to the constitution. Let us be clear about the impact of this plan. The Leader of the House is free to intervene and to confirm whether this is indeed his plan. Scottish representatives would be able to vote on some of the business of Westminster, but not all of it. They would not be able to vote on some Budget decisions on income tax and thus would undoubtedly become second-class citizens at Westminster.

I believe—I am happy for the Leader of the House to confirm this—that there is a basic truth that this restriction on one group of MPs from voting on central issues such as Budget tax decisions ignores, and that is that we cannot have one United Kingdom if we have two separate classes of Members of Parliament. We cannot have representatives elected by the people who are half-in and half-out of the law-making process. The gospel according to Mark in the New Testament, which was quoted by Abraham Lincoln, says: “A house divided against itself cannot stand…and a kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation” That is the truth of what the Conservative party is now doing.

This diminished status for Scotland would also have to apply to Wales, which also wants income tax powers. It would possibly apply to Northern Ireland and then—the Leader of the House did not rule this out when asked about it—it would have to apply to London. It would then have to apply to the House of Lords to create two classes of representation. A Government who one day owed their authority to all Members of the House would the next day owe their authority to just some Members of the House. They cannot be servants to two masters, owing their authority and legitimacy to one set of votes one day by one group of people and another set of votes another day by another group of people.

Mr MacNeil:

Is the hon. Gentleman telling this House that he signed up to a vow without knowing the details of it?

Mr Brown:

I signed up to a vow I will keep. It was the Prime Minister, on the day after the referendum, who qualified the promise. We would be better off in this House if we had some humility from Members of the Scottish National party, who in their own constituencies found that 55% to 60% voted no and not yes.

Iain Stewart:

I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. May I thank him for the impassioned defence of the Union that he made in the last few days of the campaign? In that spirit, may I say to him, as someone who was christened by his father and who grew up in the central belt of Scotland during the devolution arguments of the 1980s, that there is a similar growth of demand in England for a say in her own affairs. If that is not addressed quickly, we may endanger the very Union that he and I both want to preserve.

Mr Brown:

I do not disagree with the hon. Gentleman. I am coming to that and the proposals that might solve that problem without creating two classes of representation in the House of Commons. The answer has to be that when one part of the Union is 84% and the others are 8%, 5% and 3% respectively, we cannot secure the status of each nation through a blanket uniformity of provision. Indeed the rules needed to protect the minority—I would hope that the Leader of the House who used to be Secretary of State for Wales understands this—are bound to be different from the rules to protect a majority who can always outvote the minority in this House.

If that is not recognised by this Government today in this House, it is recognised in America where the rules of the Senate mean that Wyoming—a minority part of the country—with half a million people has two Members of the Senate, as does California with 38 million people. It is also recognised in Australia where Tasmania with 700,000 people and New South Wales with 7 million people have 12 Members each in the Senate. It is recognised in the constitutions of Spain, Switzerland, South Africa, Brazil, Nigeria and Mexico.

When we start from a profound imbalance in the numbers of people in a population and from a huge inequality of size, fairness of treatment is not secured by a crude blanket uniformity that requires exactly the same provision for the minorities as the majority. We need to accord some respect to minorities, because the majority can invariably, and always if they want, outvote at any opportunity. The answer is not to say, “no representation without taxation.” The answer is certainly not to say no to Scots paying income tax at a UK level and then no to Scottish representation in this House.

The answer must be to say yes to Scottish representation on equal terms here and not to devolve all forms of income tax to the Scottish Parliament. Scots should continue to pay income tax to the UK and to be represented in the UK. We will achieve the same level of accountability and local responsibility for decisions by devolving some but not all of income tax—perhaps 75% of it—and then assigning half of VAT, with the Scottish Parliament then raising the majority of its spending by its taxing decisions.

I do not underestimate, and I have reason not to underestimate, the concerns of the English people. I also understand the sensitivities that have been mentioned. There are ways in which they can be dealt with in the Union, without disrupting the status of Members of Parliament in this House and by, at the same time, meeting the sensitivities of the English. The McKay committee offers one way forward, but I agree with the Government that there should be a rigorous examination of what it is proposing as a new element has been introduced, which is the decision on income tax. There are other ways that we can meet the needs of English Members of Parliament in this House without creating two classes of representation, because if we do that, the Union is all but over.

The Leader of the House has put forward a crude argument that needs to be answered. I say to him again that English votes for English laws will not solve the problem that he has raised. It will not bring stability and harmony to the United Kingdom or create the sense of fairness that he wants to see. That will be true even for the English representatives whom he wishes to support. As the McKay committee found, it is difficult to isolate a part of the constitution and say that it is exclusively, uniquely and forever English. There can be few laws passed in this place that do not have implications for Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland. It will also not deal with the fundamental problem of fairness.

Let us say that the UK Parliament votes a tax rise to pay for improved pensions and a better national health service or even to cover the national debt, does this House think that English, Welsh and Northern Irish voters will accept for long—even if the Scots have no voting rights—that they, the English, Welsh and Northern Irish, will contribute their income tax rises to UK-wide services, including funding the Barnett formula, if Scotland is exempt while continuing to benefit from the money raised? That is the Conservative policy. If the Leader of the House will not speak, let someone from the Back Benches defend the Conservative party policy, which will split the United Kingdom apart. Who will speak up?

Sir Oliver Heald:

My constituents in Letchworth want to know why it is that the right hon. Gentleman should be able to vote in this place about education in Letchworth when I have absolutely no say on those matters in Kirkcaldy in his constituency. It is not right—(Interruption.) I have not finished my intervention. When he was Prime Minister, he consistently ignored this issue. He ignored the voice of England and it must be addressed. It is time he came forward with a positive proposal.

Mr Brown:

The hon. and learned Member for North East Hertfordshire (Sir Oliver Heald) has not been listening to what I have said. I have been talking about the need to balance recognition of majority rule with sensitivity towards the minorities. What he is saying would apply to the United States of America, Australia and all the countries I have mentioned, where he would deprive the minorities of the power to influence decisions in their Parliaments. A minute’s consideration of the Conservative party’s proposition, on which the Leader of the House has refused to answer, will show that the only sensible way forward is to devolve some but not all income tax and not to exclude Scots, or any representatives of minority nations in the United Kingdom, from voting at Westminster on issues such as taxation.

It has long been said that the British constitution does not work in theory but works in practice. Make the change proposed by the Conservative party—to devolve income tax to the Scottish Parliament in full and then deprive Scottish MPs of the right to vote on the Budget—and the constitution will not work in practice either. Nations can collapse by accident, even when a majority wants them to survive, and unions can disintegrate because of mistakes that are made.

I am more encouraged than Government Members and Ministers are by the reaction of people in England and the rest of the United Kingdom to the Scottish referendum. While the myth is perpetuated that Scotland and England are on completely different planets, that one is communitarian and egalitarian and the other is individualistic and libertarian, I find that no four nations in the world have managed what we in the United Kingdom have managed to do: to pool and share our resources together. That is the essence of the modern Union: to guarantee everyone in these islands, irrespective of nationality, the same equal rights to help when they are sick, disabled, elderly, vulnerable or unemployed.

A United Kingdom that was united in name only could not survive for long. What I see is reinforced by what we have seen and what we have studied in our history books: the United Kingdom in two world wars, coming together in a shared sacrifice, suffering together; that we Scottish, English, Welsh and Northern Irish are prepared to help each other and come to each other’s aid, to recognise the differences in each other and to be tolerant of what at times might seem like excesses or eccentricities in others. If we can avoid making the kind of mistakes that the Leader of the House is now making, if we can rise above narrow partisan interests and put country before party, and if we can remain statesmanlike in seeking unity, as the siren voices from the SNP try to wreak discord, then Britain can still be the Great Britain that we want it to be.


Russia: Preparing For War

Oral questions on 20 October focused on defence. One of the questions related to the Strategic Defence and Security Review. Secretary of State for Defence, surely a misnomer, Michael Fallon, told MPs, ‘The next strategic and defence security review will be conducted next year by my Department, the Cabinet Office, the Foreign Office, the Home Office and others. Until then, our priority remains delivery on the 2010 review, which gave us a balanced and affordable budget and maintained our armed forces’ reputation while modernising force structure and capabilities.’

Labour’s Steve Rotheram mischievously asked, ‘Is the Defence Secretary as concerned as Labour Members about the possibility that by 2020 there will be more seats in Wembley stadium than British soldiers in the Regular Army?

Michael Fallon:

No. The 2010 review rightly identified the need for agile and flexible forces, and set out the numbers. It is too early to prejudge the review that will be conducted next year, but I am sure that the House will want to salute the achievement of our armed forces in so many difficult parts of the world.’

Conservative Back Bencher Rory Stewart must have access to classified information relating to the intentions of Russia over the next five years. His question to Michael Fallon included an alarming accusation.

Rory Stewart:

‘Will the Secretary of State ensure that the new SDSR acknowledges that Russia has radically changed the situation, first by creating a war in Europe and secondly by ensuring that NATO is undermined, and will it plan for what appear to be Russian planning assumptions for a major war in 2018-19?

Michael Fallon:

My hon. Friend the Chairman of the Select Committee is right. The 2010 review did not predict the scale of Russian aggression in Ukraine, and the recent NATO summit at Newport reinforced the need for NATO members to maintain the level of their spending and to ensure a properly rapid reaction force that can be an effective deterrent to Russian aggression in future.’