ON THE RECORD
MICHAEL FORSYTH INTERVIEW
RECORDED FROM TRANSMISSION BBC-1 DATE: 24.11.96
JOHN HUMPHRYS: First of all, I'll just pick up a couple
of points about this European debate issue, Mr Forsyth. Why not give them the
debate they want? Why can't the Government do that?
FORSYTH: Well, there will be an opportunity to
debate these and other issues and it's interesting David has not placed the
emphasis on the debate being before the meeting of Finance Ministers.
HUMPHRYS: Well, he said he wanted that.
FORSYTH: No. He didn't actually. He said that
it was perfectly possible for the Chancellor to go along to the meeting of
Finance Ministers and not commit the Government's position until there had been
a proper debate in Parliament. So, it's perfectly possible for the Chancellor
to attend that meeting and to introduce a scrutiny reserve - which happens
frequently where we discuss matters at European Council meetings.
HUMPHRYS: But, he couldn't have made it much
clearer. What they really want is a debate on the floor of the House of
Commons before the Chancellor sets off for that meeting...
FORSYTH: I don't think he said that at all. I
think he said that the Government's position should be one that
these very important matters have to be subject to debate and scrutiny in
Parliament and that if the inability to get a debate in advance of the meeting
of Finance Ministers arises, then, we shouldn't commit our position. I
don't see any particular difficulty with that.
HUMPHRYS: Are you saying, then, there isn't any
possibility of the debate before the Finance Ministers' meeting?
FORSYTH: Well, that's a matter for the business
HUMPHRYS: That is a matter for Mr Major and the
Government - the Cabinet - then?
FORSYTH: Well, there is the Budget and the debate
on the Budget next week which is quite an important matter for the country and
for Parliament. It's a matter for the business managers what they're able to
fit in and when, but the basic principle of ensuring - before any decisions are
taken on these matters - that there's proper debate in the House is accepted.
HUMPHRYS: Alright. If it can be fitted in and
generally if the Prime Minister and his Cabinet want something to be fitted in
and it is fitted in, it can be fitted in before the meeting of the Finance
Ministers. Do you think that's a good idea?
FORSYTH: Well, what I think would be a good idea
is that we focus on the main issue which is that economic and monetary union
would be an enormous step, that the Government have made the position
absolutely clear that we're not going to have any conditions imposed on
Britain, that the opt out from EMU holds good and that our opponents, who are
trying to make mischief out of this particular matter, would commit us more
readily to a more integrated Europe - and Mr Blair himself, said he would
never be isolated in Europe.
So, I don't think that they're in a
position to try and make difficulties for the Government. The Government's
position is absolutely clear. There will be a debate - the precise timing of
the debate is something which needs to be settled by the business managers.
HUMPHRYS: Michael Forsyth, thank you very much,
for the moment. We'll be coming back to you because we're going to talk about
JOHN HUMPHRYS: Mr Forsyth, there's the problem isn't
it? That you can't actually give the people of Scotland - so many of the
people of Scotland - what they want, which is greater control over their own
MICHAEL FORSYTH: Well we've certainly done that and we
have administered devolution through the Scottish Office. The Scottish Office
has enormous freedom to develop policy across the range: Health, Education,
Social Work, the whole range of Government policy. So we do have devolution to
Scotland. The problem is that we have Unionist politicians, in both the Labour
Party and the Liberal Party, pretending that it's possible to have a Parliament
with tax-raising powers and not threaten the existence itself - and that is the
battle. And of course Scotland can have its own Parliament. Scotland can be
independent but the price of that would be enormously high, in terms of reduced
public services, a greatly diminished standard of living and of course the
breakup of the United Kingdom and therefore Scotland having a reduced voice in
the councils of the world. So these are big issues. Issues which Labour are
playing politics with, issues which for the sake of entrenching Socialism north
of the border, the Labour Party are prepared to put forward and put at risk
with it, the integrity of the United Kingdom.
HUMPHRYS: And to counter those arguments what
you've done is say look: I can give you greater control - you talk about the
Scottish Office itself - but you've said I can give you greater control than
you already have under that system. You talk about the Grand Committee for
instance being much more important than it has been hitherto. The reality is,
it isn't at all, is it? The Grand Committee actually is not significant in the
way you've presented it.
FORSYTH: I don't think that's true at all. We've
had a number of meetings of the Grand Committee all over Scotland. The Prime
Minister, the Chancellor on Monday in Cooper in; in Fife, the Defence
Secretary have come to Scotland, been held to account for their policies in
Scotland, in Scotland, and that is a huge step forward.
HUMPHRYS: It's still only a talking shop.
FORSYTH: Well you may say so but because of the
new procedures in the Grand Committee and for considering legislation in the
House of Lords, we've been able to get five Bills in a shortened session of
Parliament, when we've usually had one or two. So we're able to consider more
Scottish legislation and judging by the Labour Party's reaction in Wales - I
was in Wales yesterday - they're terrified of having the Grand Committee moving
around Wales because they've seen how enormously successful it has been in
Scotland. And the Labour Party themselves in Scotland have been complaining
about how it's been a PR show for the Government and even on Opposition days
we've been able to get across the very real benefits which the Union and
Government policies are bringing to Scotland.
HUMPHRYS: The reality is that the Grand Committee
can deal only with those matters, those Bills, that the Government in
Westminster says it may deal with - that's the truth of it.
FORSYTH: Yes but this is where the great danger
in the game that Labour and the Liberals are playing is, because if you argue
that majorities in the Constituent parts of the United Kingdom should determine
policy and legislation in those parts, you are a separatist, that is a
HUMPHRYS: So you are conceding that point?
FORSYTH: I'm not.
HUMPHRYS: You are saying in essence: yes that's
absolutely right, the Grand Committee inspite of all my brave words, whatever
it was last year, actually can't do anything.
FORSYTH: No, I'm not.
HUMPHRYS: (a) it can only talk about it and (b) it
can only talk about those things that we say it can talk about.
FORSYTH: I'm not conceding the point at all. I'm
making the point that no Unionist can argue other when its sovereignty remains
with Westminster. And what the Liberals and some of the Labour Party - and
George Foulkes was doing it in your film - are saying that somehow a majority
in Scotland should determine policy in that area, does that apply to England?
Would a Grand Committee in England - a majority of Conservative MPs in a Grand
Committee in England - determine policy there?
HUMPHRYS: Well, .. because they're not asking for
it. The people of Scotland are asking for greater control over their own
HUMPHRYS: You answer them by saying: well, look we
will make the Grand Committee, meet some of your needs.
HUMPHRYS: And, yet at the same time you
acknowledge that it isn't doing that at all because sovereignty rests in
FORSYTH: No, not at all. There are many useful
things which the Grand Committee has done; scrutinising what Government is
doing, asking questions of the Executive, through their Members of Parliament,
considering legislation which is less controversial and which can be taken in
Scotland through the Grand Committee.
FORSYTH: And of course, if there was a Labour
Government with a majority in the Grand Committee, they would be able to use
these reform procedures to do everything that a Scottish Parliament could do,
except one thing - and that is make Scottish pensioners and people working in
Scotland on low wages, pay fifteen per cent more in Income Tax on their wages
and savings than people south of the border. That in itself will help to
provoke the breakup of the United Kingdom.
HUMPHRYS: Well they'll have a vote on that. They
can decide that for themselves. But as you say, the Grand Committee only
deals - can only deal - with those things that are less controversial. In
other words, only those things - to go back to what I said earlier - that you
want them. They can't for instance deal with Nursery Vouchers. The Nursery
Voucher: now that is something which many people in Scotland feel strongly.
They don't want it - at least the opposition MPs don't want it - but they can't
do anything about it.
FORSYTH: Well the opposition MPs don't- may not
want it but the parents want it. The pilots that we've run in Labour areas,
using Labour councils, have shown huge demand.
FORSYTH: It's been an enormous success story.
HUMPHRYS: So then why not allow the Scottish Grand
Committee to deal with it?
FORSYTH: Well I mean there's no reason why the
Scottish Grand Committee can't discuss Nursery Vouchers if they wish but I
HUMPHRYS: But in the end they can't affect its
FORSYTH: Well, we're talking about alternative
reforms. A Labour Government with the Grand Committee reforms that we've put
in place would be able to do everything they could in a Grand Committee.
They'd be able to do everything in a Grand Committee that they could in a
Scottish Parliament and indeed hold members of the executive to account for
their policies in Scotland - it wouldn't be able to raise the Tartan Tax. What
Labour are proposing is to have a Parliament in Edinburgh and still send MPs
from Scotland down to Westminster to decide policy for England, a huge phalanx
of Labour MPs from Scotland who will have no say in their own Constituencies,
whose only purpose will be to provide Labour with a majority in England. That
would not be acceptable, it would bring about Constitutional instability that
will lead to the breakup of the United Kingdom.
HUMPHRYS: What you are offering them is nothing
more than has been on offer all along. You've done a bit of window dressing.
That's the point I'm putting to you. You've done a bit of window dressing and
it doesn't actually amount to anything more than they already had.
FORSYTH: Well you may call it window dressing, I
would say that we're getting more legislation, I'd say the economic council
we've set up is the-
FORSYTH: The economic council which we've set up
has allowed more people an involvement in Scottish affairs. Campbell Christie
said it was the supporters of the Tory Party - he himself is a member of that
council. We've now established a convention for the Highlands which will be
meeting shortly. We've looked at ways of devolving power to Local Government -
we've been very successful in that respect. And all of these measures are
consistent with maintaining the Union.
HUMPHRYS: But you can set up as many bodies as you
like, if they don't have teeth what's the point? You can go along and you can
talk about things but you can't actually do things. I mean a good example - we
saw it on that film there - is BSE. I-Scottish farmers know what they want to
do to be able to put their industry back on its feet. They cannot do it
because they're not allowed to do it because Westminster - influenced by
English farmers - say: naw, that's not on.
FORSYTH: If I may say so, it's a lousy example.
HUMPHRYS: Well you tell the Scottish farmers that.
FORSYTH: Because the beef ban-Well actually the
position of the Scottish Farming Union is that they want the ban to be lifted
on a United Kingdom basis. The position of the Nationalists is rather
different and is at odds with the Scottish Farming Union. And I would have
thought that your researchers would have known that. But I'll tell you why
it's a lousy example. It's a lousy example because at the end of the day the
way we get the ban lifted is in Europe and the negotiations in Europe are led
on a United Kingdom basis. If we'd a Scottish Parliament who would be speaking
for Scotland's farmers - a Minister from Westminster?
HUMPHRYS: Well, why couldn't a Scottish
Parliament? Why in this particular case cannot the Scottish farmers have an
answer to this question: we want that ban lifted - right? On Scottish beef.
They may selfishly say - and who can blame them? - don't care about English
beef we're concerned about our livelihoods. Now, one way to get that ban
lifted is to show to Europe that we are as clean as you want us to be is to go
ahead with the cull in our country, compensate our farmers in our nation and
then people will know without a peradventure of doubt that Scottish beef is
good beef and they can buy it. Now that might do the trick but they're not
allowed to go ahead with that.
FORSYTH: Well, they're not allowed to do that
because it wouldn't satisfy Mr Fischler.
HUMPHRYS: You don't know that.
FORSYTH: I do know it. I've asked him - he's
HUMPHRYS: But, it hasn't happened.
FORSYTH: It hasn't happened because the purpose
of the exercise is to get the ban lifted. You know very well, there is
considerable cross-border trade between Scotland and England in cattle; that we
don't have a system for dealing with traceability. These are the reasons. I
mean, if you want to talk about BSE, I'm very happy to do so. But to suggest
that a Scottish Parliament, sitting in Edinburgh, would be able to do more for
Scotland's farmers than a Cabinet Minister representing Scotland and Wales in
the Cabinet, which would be lost as a result of the Scottish Parliament, or a
reduction in our MPs, which would be the inevitable consequence of devolution
would be nonsense.
HUMPHRYS: Well, they couldn't do much less, could
FORSYTH: Well, you're asking me. You're trying
to put me on the defensive because I am defending a partnership which has
lasted for three hundred years.
HUMPHRYS: I'm merely telling you what people in
Scotland are saying and you saw them on that film.
FORSYTH: Well, I think I know what people in
Scotland are saying and I'm not sure that your film necessarily provided an
entirely unbiased view of it. But, you are asking me why I believe that we
should stick with the Union and why what we have done to try and improve
Scotland's voice may, or may not, meet aspirations. It is for those people -
like the Labour Party - who threaten the Union, who threaten Scotland's
funding, who threaten our voice in Europe and threaten our position at
Westminister, in terms of our voice in Cabinet and Parliament to justify their
proposals, which will not work and which will destroy Britain.
HUMPHRYS: Why should not the people of Scotland be
allowed to determine their own Constitutional future?
FORSYTH: They can.
HUMPHRYS: But, they cannot.
FORSYTH: Of course, they can. If Scotland wants
to be independent, it can be independent. I don't believe that that would be
in Scotland's interest. But what you can't do is do as Jim Wallace did
in your film - which is pretend that you can set up a Parliament and give
Scotland say over its own affairs and still be dependent on Westminster, to
determine its funding and then give a little bit of room for manoeuvre by
landing the Scots with a Tartan tax, that takes fifteen per cent more of their
HUMPHRYS: Well, you keep saying that but they're
going to be able to vote on that. They're also going to be able to vote under
a Labour Government - I'll finish the question. Under a Labour Government,
they're going to be able to vote on whether they have their own Parliament.
You are not going to give them that vote.
FORSYTH: Well, as far as Labour Government is
concerned, the decision to have a vote on a Tartan tax was imposed on the
Scottish Labour Party from Islington by Tony Blair.
HUMPHRYS: They're having a referendum on it and
it will ask that question. This is a red herring.
FORSYTH: It's not a red herring. The Liberals -
who are Labour's partners - and you had a Liberal spokesman speaking on this
issue in your film. The Liberals have said that if the Scottish people vote
against the Tartan tax that they will prevent the Parliament from being
established by Parliament. So, what is this referendum?
HUMPHRYS: I'm asking you what a Conservative
Government would do? Why a Conservative Government feels so unable. You see,
you defend the right of the people of Scotland to decide their own
Constitutional future but you do not give them that right.
FORSYTH: Well, we do and in the past the Labour
Government - when it held a referendum - it was on a post-legislative basis.
What Labour are proposing are referendums before Parliament has decided and
what I'm telling you is their own friends - their own bedfellows, the Liberals
- are saying: even if the Scots vote for a Parliament, and against the Tartan
tax, that they will not support it. So what kind of democracy is that?
HUMPHRYS: But we're not talking about - at least,
I'm trying not to talk about - the Labour Party. If I want to talk to the
Labour Party about Scotland.
FORSYTH: I'm against the tax-raising Scottish
HUMPHRYS: But you're answering a question I
haven't put to you. I didn't say to you: are you Mr Forsyth in favour of a
tax-raising Scottish Parliament because, of course, I know what your answer to
that is. You said: they can. The people of Scotland can decide their own
Constitutional future. What I'm putting to you is that under you they cannot.
FORSYTH: Of course, they can. There will be an
Election in a few months' time. Those people who want an independent Scotland
can vote for the nationalists or they can vote for the Labour Party and the
HUMPHRYS: Forgive me. There'll be one or two
other people voting in that Election as well. There'll be people in England,
there'll be people in Wales, there'll be people in Northern Ireland voting in
that Election as well.
FORSYTH: I see. So, you are proposing there
should be a referendum on Scottish devolution that should cover the whole of
the United Kingdom?
HUMPHRYS: I'm trying to deal with the issue that
you rose and what you are saying is they can decide-
FORSYTH: Well, it's an interesting point.
HUMPHRYS: -their own Constitutional future.
FORSYTH: It's an interesting point but it's one
you might want to put to the Labour Party as to why the referendum in Scotland
should not also take place in England because England will be affected by these
proposals. And, if I could just make one point and that is I am against a
tax-raising Parliament for Scotland.
HUMPHRYS: Ah, you've told me that very many times
and I take that on - right.
FORSYTH: And because I'm against it I'm very
happy to stand in the Election on that platform. I do not believe it is the
right way to run a country - to decide everything on referendum.
FORSYTH: Labour are now committed to thirteen
referenda in the next-
HUMPHRYS: Rather than listening to you tell me
what the Labour Party is committed to, let me tell you what Mr Major, himself,
wants. And, he says: the future Consitutional position of the people - and,
put in brackets, here for a moment - (of Northern Ireland) - of Northern
Ireland - is a matter for the people of Northern Ireland to determine and for
no one else to determine. For no one else to determine. Now, you're prepared
to say that for the people of Northern Ireland, you're not prepared to say that
for the people of Scotland, a much older nation.
FORSYTH: Tell me what George Robertson said
HUMPHRYS: I'm not concerned with what George
Robertson said. For the moment - if you would - I'm concerned with what Mr
Major said and your response to that.
FORSYTH: Yah, well, what George Robertson said
was that Northern Ireland - and the situation in Northern Ireland - could not
be compared to the situation in Scotland and I'm surprised you're raising it.
HUMPHRYS: I'm not concerned with what Mr Robertson
said. I'm concerned with what Mr Major said.
FORSYTH: Well, what the Prime Minister said-
HUMPHRYS: Why-Absolutely. He is the Prime
FORSYTH: I was trying to find a degree of
consensus. I was just pointing out-
HUMPHRYS: I don't want to have to- This is- We're
getting nowhere here because you resolutely refuse to acknowledge in this
particular case what your own Prime Minister is saying.
FORSYTH: No, I agree with the Prime Minister.
HUMPHRYS: You agree with the Prime Minister?
FORSYTH: Of course.
HUMPHRYS: So, it's OK for the people of Northern
Ireland to make that decision for themselves, by themselves - no one else - not
OK for the people of Scotland.
FORSYTH: Well, the issue in Northern Ireland -
I'm not sure in which context the quote was taken from - but there are two
HUMPHRYS: Well, straight out of Hansard.
FORSYTH: Yes, I don't know in what context it was
HUMPHRYS: Made on Northern Ireland clearly enough.
But, anyway, go on.
FORSYTH: There are two points. The first is the
point that was made in your film about the Northern Ireland assembly. What
we're talking about there is a body which would have powers rather akin to
HUMPHRYS: Oh, on the contrary.
FORSYTH: It is in no way - It is in no way
comparable with a tax-raising legislative Parliament of the kind that is being
proposed in Edinbrugh.
HUMPHRYS: On the contrary, it will have powers of
everything except Crown, Defence and Foreign Affairs.
FORSYTH: Secondly, the proposal does not involve
maintaining an over-representation in terms of population, of Members of
Parliament from north of the Border and thirdly, the situation in Northern
Ireland is quite different from that which pertains in Scotland in England -
and, that has always been accepted, including by Mr Robertson.
HUMPHRYS: Well, alright. Final thought, then,
what will your ...Please don't give me a Labour Party answer to this!
What will your attitude to a Scottish
Parliament be if and when it comes about?
FORSYTH: It's not going to come about because
Labour are not going to win the Election.
HUMPHRYS: Well, you must have an attitude. Arthur
Bell had a very clear attitude to it. He said: if you don't work with it, you
will be destroyed in Scotland. Is that your view?
FORSYTH: It is certainly the truth that if Labour
win the Election and if they establish a Scottish Parliament, it will have
profound consequences for our Members of Parliament, our representation in the
House of Commons, for the Office of Secretary of State, for our funding. And,
it's certainly true that once Humpty Dumpty falls off the wall, it will be very
difficult, indeed, to put it back together again.
HUMPHRYS: So, you're in dispute with Mr Major over
that, who says Parliament's sovereign and Parliament can unmake it, if it
chooses to do so?
FORSYTH: I'm not in dispute with Mr Major.
Parliament is sovereign. Of course, that is true. But, Parliament cannot
suspend the laws of gravity.
HUMPHRYS: So, once put together, it has to stay
HUMPHRYS: Once that Parliament is in existence
that is that - we have to deal with it.
FORSYTH: I think that if Labour set up such a
Parliament, I think it will lead up to the breakup of the United Kingdom.
Now, as a Unionist that is something which I will campaign against.
FORSYTH: Once it is established - if it is
established by a Labour Government - it will be very difficult to recreate the
conditions, the advantageous conditions which Scotland enjoys, which has
brought about unparalleled prosperity and very high standards of public service
under a Tory Unionist Government.
HUMPHRYS: Michael Forsyth, thank you very much,