SNP Attack Cameron Over Debate

14 October 2014, 12:35

Nationalists have attacked David Cameron over his failure to lead today's debate on more powers for Scotland, claiming the Prime Minister "can't be bothered'' to take part in the session at the House of Commons.

SNP Westminster leader Angus Robertson criticised Mr Cameron, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Labour leader Ed Miliband, saying none of the three party leaders would be taking part.

It comes after the three men pledged further devolution - including giving Scotland important powers over tax and welfare - in the run-up to last month's referendum, in which voters north of the border rejected independence.

Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael said the debate was "more than just business as usual'' but insisted it was ``not strange at all'' that the Prime Minister would not be speaking in it.

But Mr Robertson recalled the "solemn promise and vow that was given by the three UK leaders to voters in Scotland shortly before the referendum on extensive new powers''.

The SNP MP told BBC Radio Scotland's Good Morning Scotland that Mr Cameron "can't even be bothered to run up to lead the debate about what he says is an important issue''.

Mr Robertson said: "At Westminster, as is the case in the Scottish Parliament, when there is very important business before the House it is the Prime Minister, or in Scotland the First Minister, that leads those important debates.

"That was the case just over a week ago on the developments in Syria and in the debate today we are not going to see the debate led by the Prime Minister, or the Deputy Prime Minister or the leader of the Labour Party, the three people who signed the solemn promise, the vow, that we should have extensive new powers.

"If they don't even think it's important enough to turn up and lead the debate, how should anybody in Scotland have faith that what we're going through is anything but an exercise in trying to get themselves to the next UK general election?''

Mr Robertson said the three UK parties were "back-pedalling'' on their commitment to further devolution and "are more interested in having a debate about English votes so they can have a party political advantage in the next UK election''.

But Mr Carmichael told the same programme it was "quite unusual for the PM to lead a debate''.

The Liberal Democrat Scottish Secretary said: "The way he does it is - this is a country that has a cabinet government, it's not a presidency - is that the ministers who are responsible for any particular area of Government policy, on this occasion it's William Hague who chairs the government committee on devolution, and myself will be leading and responding to the debate.''

He continued: "It's not strange at all, this is just how it works. The Prime Minister will be available for questioning by MPs tomorrow afternoon when he comes to the House for Prime Minister's Questions. The debate itself will be led by the ministers who are in charge of the area, William Hague and myself and that's just business as usual.''

Mr Carmichael argued it was "a little bit desperate'' for the SNP to claim Mr Cameron was not committed to increasing Holyrood's powers.

"He was very much engaged in the referendum campaign, he made an intervention at the earliest possible stage after the result,'' the Scottish Secretary said.

But he said the Conservative leader was "not going to do everything'', adding: "This is not a Government that is just restricted to the man at the top. We have a cabinet government and we share the responsibility, we share the load.

"I suspect that if it was the other way round, you would have got the Nationalists putting out a press notice saying why is David Cameron controlling it all? Doesn't he trust his ministers to do the job?''

SNP leader Alex Salmond said Mr Cameron was already "reneging'' on pledges made during the referendum campaign.

"The Prime Minister started the process of reneging on the commitment when he came out of Downing Street hours after the referendum and said that progress in Scotland should be in tandem with ... constitutional change in England. Even Gordon Brown is finding it difficult to stomach,'' he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

The First Minister also indicated that he did not view another referendum as completely off the agenda.

"What I said was that the referendum was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,'' he said.

"My view is that constitutional referendums came along once every political generation - about every 20 years or so.

"Circumstances obviously can change. Clearly, if you had a situation where three leaders made such a public vow - not even a political promise but a vow - in the last few desperate hours when they thought they were losing the referendum campaign and then reneged upon it, then that would obviously be a very, very substantial change of circumstances.

"These matter ultimately are for the people of Scotland to decide. It is for the people of Scotland to decide whether it is satisfactory to be conned and tricked by Westminster leaders, or they will exact a revenge at the ballot box.''

But Leader of the House of Commons William Hague said Mr Salmond was "almost looking for and hoping for some sense of betrayal''.

"Let it be very clear that every commitment made by not only the Conservative but Labour and Liberal Democrat parties about what would happen if the result of the Scottish referendum was No, every commitment has so far been kept and will be,'' the Tory minister said.

"We have said, the Prime Minister and I have said that those things should go in tandem. But they are not tied in the sense that one is dependent on the other.

"The commitments to Scotland are unconditional and will go ahead - this is an absolute 100% clear commitment - that will go ahead whatever we decide or don't decide about England.

"But it is our view that fairness to the whole of the UK means the party should also agree on the same timetable the consequences for Scottish MPs voting on English matters.

"If they can't, then of course it will be a matter we all debate in the general election campaign. This is a democratic country. The people will decide.''

Lib Dem minister David Laws, who sits on the devolution Cabinet committee chaired by Mr Hague, said: "The Liberal Democrats are determined to resolve the matter of English and Welsh votes on English and Welsh matters but this must not be a politically motivated stitch-up by the Conservatives.

"The Tories have a majority of MPs in England but got less than 40% of the vote at the last election. Any solution to this matter must reflect the will of the voters, not the entrenched advantage the electoral system gives the Conservatives in England.

"Whether it is in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland or London, every time Westminster has devolved power it has been on a proportional basis and this must be consistent with that approach.

"That is why the Liberal Democrats have proposed a Grand Committee system to allow English MPs, appointed proportionately, to vet laws that will apply only in England, joined by Welsh MPs when matters affecting Wales are debated.''