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Wednesday, May 5, 1999 Published at 17:46 GMT 18:46 UK


Blair hails parliament as tribute to John Smith

The late Labour leader John Smith with his family

The Prime Minister says Scotland's new parliament is a symbol of the late Labour leader John Smith's dreams of a more democratic United Kingdom.

On the eve of polling for Scotland's first parliament in almost 300 years, Tony Blair told the House of Commons the parliament will strengthen the UK and rejected English Tory concerns that it will leave England worse off.

He said: "I believe that devolution will benefit all the people of the United Kingdom."


[ image: Iona, where the late Labour leader John Smith is buried]
Iona, where the late Labour leader John Smith is buried
Mr Blair then recalled John Smith, the late Labour leader and one of devolution's most ardent supporters, who died five years ago and is buried on the island of Iona.

It is viewed as a curious irony that the fifth anniversary of his death from a heart attack falls on the day the new Scottish Parliament meets for the first time.

Mr Blair told the Commons: "A Scottish Parliament was called 'unfinished business' by John Smith. There is no better expression of his values and his love of democracy than the Scottish Parliament.

"It does offer us the chance of an enhanced and strengthened United Kingdom in which those things which are distinctively Scottish can be handled in Scotland and those things where it is right that we co-operate and work in partnership, we do so within the United Kingdom."

However, Conservative MP Teresa Gorman said that, after the elections, an unchanged number of Scottish MPs at Westminster would be able to "poke their noses into English affairs".

She asked the Prime Minister: "Would you then turn your mind to being fair to the rest of the population and tell us why it hasn't crossed your mind that we should have a Parliament for England?"

Conservative policy

Mr Blair replied: "I don't know whether that is Conservative policy you have just outlined - one can never be sure - but it is the case that devolution provides the chance for the United Kingdom to be strengthened for the 21st century."

He then rejected a claim by Tory Dominic Grieve that English MPs would be powerless to object to radioactive waste from Scottish nuclear power stations being sent to their constituencies for disposal because that would be a matter for the Holyrood parliament's First Minister.

Mr Blair said: "You are wrong. If it comes through England it is subject to the English authority here, so you are simply wrong about that."



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