Devolution (Scottish Referendum)

14th October 2014
Mr Graham Allen (Nottingham North) (Lab): Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to address the federal Parliament today. Like many colleagues, I want to start by congratulating the Scottish people as a whole—whether they voted yes or no—for the way in which they gave many of us an exciting and euphoric democratic experience. I suspect that those who were out there on the day will not share that view, but as someone who was external to the process for most of the time, I think it was a great tribute to the concept of democracy.

 

As an English Member of Parliament, I congratulate Scotland on the way in which it managed, perhaps hairily, to get what will be an incredibly strong devolution package. All I would say to this House is that what is good enough for Scotland is good enough for England, Wales and Northern Ireland. We should treat this as a launch pad for devolution for the whole of the United Kingdom. That is the key lesson for us. I am afraid that none of our party leaders covered themselves in glory the day after the referendum result was announced. 

 

They did not take that lesson to the extreme and address the journey we could all begin to take so that everybody else can do as well as Scotland has done.

 

Graham Stringer: My hon. Friend is making some profound points. In 2010, public expenditure in Greater Manchester was £23 billion, and in 2014 the figure was exactly the same. There have been huge cuts in public services, local government and elsewhere over that period. Does that not show that the centralised model does not work, and that if people in Greater Manchester had been in control of that money, we would have had a better outcome?

 

David Rutley (Macclesfield) (Con): I thank the hon. Gentleman for the powerful speech he is giving. Does he agree that it is also vital that we focus not just on the delegation of powers but on collaboration among the cities and the counties, to bring about economic benefit for all involved?

I have been worried that the vision needed to get on this road has been lacking. I think that has happened in Scotland to a degree over the years. I think Donald Dewar led at such rocket speed that perhaps it has been difficult to keep up the pace of that engagement with people. That has certainly been the case at the UK level: our respective Front Benchers seem shy of engaging with the British people on the subject of democratic change. Above all, not engaging with people in England on how they can run their own affairs more effectively has led to the ghost of UKIP appearing at the feast to fill the vacuum. All of us, regardless of party, have a role to play in bringing such things back to the English people, as well as to the Scottish people and the rest of the people of the Union.

 

It is close to arrogance to assume that devolution in England means just talking to English MPs. That is where we previously went wrong. It is why people do not like us and think that we are corrupt, to a degree, in wanting to move the deckchairs around on the Westminster Titanic, rather than reaching out to them with double devolution—not just in relation to us as English MPs, but as people who run local authorities, which should be vested with much more authority than they currently are. We need to be very careful to avoid such arrogance.

 

Lots of parliamentary colleagues have made individual contributions, as have several think-tanks on the left and the right, and many local authority leaders of all parties, from Boris Johnson to Sir Richard Leese, and including George Ferguson. Loads of people have engaged with this subject—for example, Jim O’Neill’s recent Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce project on cities—and a lot of thinking has been done. The idea that we cannot now decide on a package to put to the people of this country ahead of a general election therefore beggars belief. History will not forgive any of us if we do not take this chance on the back of what the Scottish people have led us towards.

 

If we look at what all the parties are proposing on the package before us, I must say, as a former trade union negotiator, that with such a package from three different parties, we could make it work and reach agreement. There is more room for agreement than for disagreement. We or, rather, Lord Smith can make a great package to offer Scotland on income tax assignment—putting on every wage slip the amount of money that goes to Scotland or, in our case, to English local authorities—and on the entrenchment of local government powers, which has also been agreed, as well as having a written constitution so that things are in writing and cannot be repealed by somebody else at a later point and so that we all know the rules of the game. That is the package and the common ground—