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1996 - John Major’s Commons Statement on the Stone of Destiny

Below is the text of Mr Major’s Commons Statement on the return of the Stone of Destiny to Scotland. The statement was made on 3rd July 1996.


PRIME MINISTER:

The Prime Minister (Mr. John Major): With permission, Madam Speaker, I should like to make a statement about the Stone of Destiny.

The Stone of Destiny is the most ancient symbol of Scottish kingship. It was used in the coronation of Scottish Kings until the end of the 13th century. Exactly 700 years ago, in 1296, King Edward I brought it from Scotland and housed it in Westminster abbey. It remains--[Interruption.]

Madam Speaker: Order. The House must come to order and hear this statement in good order. There will be hon. Members who will want to be called after the statement. They should listen to it now.

The Prime Minister: The stone remains the property of the Crown. I wish to inform the House that, on the advice of Her Majesty's Ministers, the Queen has agreed that the stone should be returned to Scotland. The stone will, of course, be taken to Westminster abbey to play its traditional role in the coronation ceremonies of future sovereigns of the United Kingdom.

The Stone of Destiny holds a special place in the hearts of Scots. On this the 700th anniversary of its removal from Scotland, it is appropriate to return it to its historic homeland. I am sure that the House would wish to be assured that the stone will be placed in an appropriate setting in Scotland. The Government will be consulting Scottish and Church opinion about that. The stone might be displayed in Edinburgh castle alongside the Honours of Scotland, Europe's oldest crown jewels. Alternatively, it might be appropriate to place it in St. Margaret's chapel inside the castle or in St. Giles's cathedral. There may be other options.

Once those consultations have been completed, the necessary arrangements will be made and the stone will be installed with due dignity in Scotland.

Mr. Tony Blair (Sedgefield): I welcome the Prime Minister's statement. I am sure that it will be warmly received by people in Scotland. We know that the Stone of Destiny holds a special place in Scottish hearts after 700 years. Obviously, it is part of Scottish nationhood and, by coming back here for the coronation of our Kings and Queens, as it will, it will no doubt also be a symbol of Scotland's place within the United Kingdom. The return of the stone, therefore, is a welcome recognition of how we can celebrate the unity of the United Kingdom while being distinct and proud nations with differing traditions, histories and cultures. It is a sentiment on which we wish to build in the future--and I hope that we shall not have to wait another 700 years to do so.

The Prime Minister: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his welcome for the decision. I am glad that he treated the matter with the seriousness that it deserves rather than with the levity displayed by so many of his hon. Friends over a matter that will be regarded as one of great importance in Scotland.

Mr. Bill Walker (North Tayside): My right hon. Friend will be aware that Scone is in my constituency. The ancient capital of Scotland would be proud to have the stone back and I hope that, when consideration is given to its location, its roots will be remembered.

The Prime Minister: I have mentioned the areas to which the stone might most obviously be returned, but, in consultation, other propositions might be put forward.

Sir David Steel (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale): May I warmly welcome the Prime Minister's decision to secure the return of the Stone of Destiny to Scotland? I hope that he is under no illusion and that he recognises that it is the settled view of the majority of people in Scotland that they want not just the symbol, but the substance--the substance of the return of democratic control over our internal affairs in Scotland. May I tell the Prime Minister, before he comes north on Friday, that I hope that he will not continue to insult us by suggesting that, although other countries can organise decentralised government--most recently in Spain since the death of Franco--we are somehow incapable of doing the same in the United Kingdom?

The Prime Minister: First, I am grateful for the welcome that the right hon. Gentleman has given to the decision. On his second point, the right hon. Gentleman's proposal for a parliament within the United Kingdom, as the leader of the Labour party says, would mean that Her Majesty's Ministers who are not Scottish would not be able to appear in that assembly. On Friday, I shall be appearing in the Scottish Grand Committee as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, open to debate and able to be questioned by Scottish Members in Scotland. That would not be appropriate under the plans supported by the right hon. Gentleman.

Sir Hector Monro (Dumfries): Does my right hon. Friend accept that his statement is of supreme importance to the Scots? The return of the Stone of Destiny to Scotland will be unanimously and warmly welcomed by Scots and will highlight the close unity, tradition and good will between our two nations. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that there will be an imaginative and effective ceremony for the return of the stone to Scotland, which I hope will be placed in Edinburgh castle?

The Prime Minister: As my right hon. Friend said, the Stone of Destiny is an important part of Scotland's national identity. After 700 years, it is right to recognise the importance of the stone to the Scottish nation and let it return to Scotland and remain there. Of course, we plan to hold a suitable ceremony at the time of its return and we shall be consulting Scottish opinion as to what might be appropriate.

Mr. John Maxton (Glasgow, Cathcart): Does the Prime Minister understand that those of us who believe in the establishment of a Scottish Parliament in order to ensure a modern democratic state within the United Kingdom and Scotland, do not believe that the return of a feudal, mediaeval symbol of tyranny is any more than a total irrelevance?

The Prime Minister: I am not at all sure that the hon. Gentleman was speaking for many Scots. They will regard what he said as churlish, not least because he is referring to an ancient symbol of Scotland that is well regarded by Scots of all political parties and none. They will be astonished to hear what a Scottish Member of Parliament had to say about one of their most ancient symbols.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): Does my right hon. Friend accept that most people who care about the history of the United Kingdom also care about its symbols, as we care about the symbols in this place? Does he accept that most people will expect the stone to go to St. Margaret's chapel in Edinburgh castle, so that it remains within a consecrated building?

The Prime Minister: St. Margaret's chapel is one of the possible prime sites for the stone. It is a matter that will need to be the subject of consultation within Scotland. I have mentioned some of the areas that will be considered as the most obvious sites for the stone when it returns to Scotland.

Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East): Would the right hon. Gentleman accept a criticism and a comment? Is he not wrong in stating that the Crown jewels of Scotland are the oldest in Europe? Is it not a fact that the oldest Crown jewels in Europe that I can recall are the St. Stephen's crown in Hungary? If I could only remember, there is actually an older Byzantine crown. I think that I am correct in saying that. I am usually correct in most of my utterances. Will he accept my comment that what the ex-leader of the Liberal party said is most important? What we want is not the symbol but the substance of independence in Scotland.

The Prime Minister: I am not entirely sure that it is the Labour party's policy to have independence in Scotland. Perhaps that was just a slip of the tongue. I will accept that as the case if it was. [Interruption.] No, the hon. Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds) confirms that it is the policy that he and members of his party follow to have independence in Scotland. That point will have been well noted on the Conservative Benches and in many areas of Scotland.

With regard to the hon. Gentleman's earlier point, I recognise his expertise in these matters. I am certainly advised, as I advised the House, that these are the oldest Crown jewels in Europe. The hon. Gentleman thinks differently. We shall both be able to check. In any event, I look forward to him having the opportunity of going to Scotland to see them in situ.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood): Will my right hon. Friend ensure the return of the touchstone of the sovereignty and independence of this distinct and proud nation through the return of the primacy and supremacy of British law over that emanating from Brussels?

The Prime Minister: I can assure my hon. Friend that there is no question of the House letting go of the primacy of British law.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray): I welcome the Prime Minister's statement today, but if he had studied his constitutional and political law of Scotland, he would understand that the Stone of Destiny is not the symbol of kingship but the symbol of the sovereignty of the people of Scotland, which is enunciated through the declaration of Arbroath. Like others, I argue that, while we welcome the return of this symbol of power, we want the realities of power in Scotland. It may have taken this Parliament some 668 years since the treaty of Northampton to return stolen goods to Scotland, but in actuality the people of Scotland will return to themselves the power of having their own sovereign Parliament very soon.

The Prime Minister: The hon. Lady also makes no secret of the fact that she wishes to see independence in Scotland. That, of course, would have a profound effect on Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. I believe that she is wrong about that. That is one of the distinct political differences between us that will no doubt be debated for some time to come. On the earlier point, I think that, constitutionally, she is wrong.

Mr. Allan Stewart (Eastwood): Has my right hon. Friend noted that this important announcement was greeted seriously by the Leader of the Opposition, the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Sir D. Steel) and the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing)? It was immediately denounced by a Scottish Labour Member of Parliament and most of the rest of them laughed. Does not that show what an incoherent shambles the Scottish Labour party is in?

The Prime Minister: One of the advantages of having the House televised is that people in Scotland will have seen precisely how Opposition Back Benchers--not Front Benchers; on this occasion I am pleased to support the Leader of the Opposition's behaviour--behave on a matter of great sensitivity and interest to the people of Scotland.

Mr. Thomas Graham (Renfrew, West and Inverclyde): Obviously, the people of Scotland will welcome back the Stone of Destiny, which has been a bone of contention for many years. However, I suggest to the Prime Minister that, for every 1,000th person unemployed in Scotland, he gets a bagpiper, and we take that stone and march from one end of the country to the other with at least 200 unemployed bagpipers who have suffered under this Government. Perhaps that will be the stepping stone to a Labour Government and then a Scottish parliament, one which represents and looks after the interests of the people, not a token artefact; real stones for building houses, that is what our people want.

The Prime Minister: I am surprised to hear the hon. Gentleman call the Stone of Destiny a token artefact. That is his view of the Stone of Destiny, and that will be well noted in Scotland.

The hon. Gentleman will know that unemployment has been falling consistently in Scotland primarily because of inward investment into Scotland that would not have taken place but for the Government's policies. I suggest that when we have that piper, all the people in Scotland who have new jobs--good jobs, permanent jobs, jobs with a proper career--follow that piper, instead of the people who were in jobs that were kept there only by Government subsidy, jobs with no future, which was the position before 1979.

Mr. Phil Gallie (Ayr): Does my right hon. Friend accept that my constituents will welcome the return of the stone to Scotland? They will also welcome the commitment that the stone will play a part in future coronation services. My right hon. Friend obviously recognises that it is symbolic of Scotland's part in the Union. Does he agree that there is no chance of him taking steps that will damage the Union, unlike Opposition Members?

The Prime Minister: As my hon. Friend implies, the stone is the property of the Crown and will be returned to the coronation chair to take its place in the ceremony of the crowning of any future sovereign, who would be King of England and, of course, Scotland. To that extent, it symbolises the unity of the United Kingdom, and it is entirely right that the property of Her Majesty the Queen should be placed wherever in Her Majesty's kingdom is deemed most appropriate.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow): Was this gesture prompted by political motives, or will it be seen in future years as the first in a series of generous gestures to countries in and outwith the multinational state of the United Kingdom? Are we likely to see the return of the Elgin marbles, for example?

The Prime Minister: This gesture was prompted by the 700th anniversary of the stone's removal from Scotland, and I believe it appropriate for it to return to Scotland for those particular reasons. That is not likely to be followed in totally different circumstances by the return of artefacts such as the Elgin marbles. That is not the case.

Mr. Tim Renton (Mid-Sussex): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on both the wisdom and the symbolism of what he has announced today. After we have listened to some of the comments of Labour Back Benchers who have ridiculed this step, is it not worth reminding the House that the stone was forcibly removed from the abbey by Scottish nationalists on Christmas morning 1950? Surely that shows the forceful power that is attached to the symbolism of the stone. Its return now should surely be seen as a sign of unity, not one of dissension and ridicule.

The Prime Minister: I believe that that is the case and that that is the way in which this will be viewed by most people, especially those who will have been somewhat shocked by the behaviour of some hon. Members this afternoon.

Several hon. Members rose--

Madam Speaker: Thank you. We shall now move on.