§ Order for Second Reading read.3.36 pm
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Donald Dewar)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
For the convenience of the House, I should make it clear that although I shall try to deal with the Bill as a whole in explanatory terms, I shall of course lay particular emphasis on the Scottish aspects. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales will deal with the debate tomorrow, and he, perhaps, will be able to fill in more completely than I shall have time to do, the arguments concerning the Principality.
The measure is a deceptively simple one.
§ Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross)
On a point of order, Madam Speaker. It was a little difficult to hear you as Members were leaving the Chamber, but did I understand you to say that you had selected the amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition? If so, did you consider the possibility of calling the amendment in the name of my right hon. and hon. Friends, or that tabled by other parties that are represented in Scotland—
§ Mr. Maclennan
—and Wales—bearing in mind the fact that the official Opposition have no direct representation in Scotland?
§ Mr. Maclennan
This is an unusual situation, but unusual situations merit unusual responses by the House.
§ Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex)
Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. Do you agree that the Bill is not a "Scotland" Bill but a United Kingdom measure, so the United Kingdom Parliament should decide on it?
§ Madam Speaker
No, no. We cannot go on with points of order. I can deal perfectly well with the point. Many Members wish to speak in the debate, and I want to call them, so let me answer the original point of order.
Yes, of course, I looked seriously at the reasoned amendments on the Order Paper. I consulted for a long time this morning and gave the matter a great deal of thought, and I came to the conclusion that I have announced to the House. I want the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Mr. Maclennan) and the rest of the House to understand that I took a great 716 deal of time and trouble to consider those reasoned amendments, to take advice and to listen to it. But of course, finally, I have to make the decision, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman understands that.
§ Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray)
Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. Will the ruling that you have just made be a precedent for future debates on Scottish and Welsh measures?
§ Madam Speaker
The hon. Lady is asking a hypothetical question. I deal only with matters of the moment, and I will deal with that issue when I need to.
§ Mr. Dewar
This is an important Bill. On the face of it, it is neither long nor complex, but it is a first and decisive step towards delivering a Parliament for the people of Scotland. Therefore, it is a measure of great importance. That is marked by the fact that it is the first Bill to be given a Second Reading by the new Government.
The Bill will pave the way for that Parliament, and its passage is an essential preparation for it. The whole constitutional package that is to be presented to the House is important. Few of us would dispute that there is widespread cynicism about the political processes and, arguably, democracy itself is in some disrepute. Most Members of Parliament—however much we might disagree about the solution—would accept that this is a very real problem. It is this problem that we are, in part, trying to address with our constitutional measures.
What we are looking for is openness and accessibility in government, as well as modern, democratic and responsive government. The Parliament that we envisage in Scotland—working within the framework of the United Kingdom and strengthened by that—will put under democratic control the substantial and extensive powers at present exercised by the Secretary of State for Scotland. We want to make those accessible and more immediately responsive to the public will in Scotland.
§ Mr. Michael Fallon (Sevenoaks)
The Secretary of State has referred to making government more open and accessible and to the "whole constitutional package". Would not it have been better to have held the Bill back until we could see the detail of the Government's constitutional proposals?
§ Mr. Dewar
I am getting some advice from my Back-Bench colleagues, which I gladly accept.
The hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Fallon) will not be surprised to hear that that is not my opinion. The Bill will allow a test of public opinion and is a matter of establishing consent. It is not a Second Reading aperitif for devolution in Scotland or Wales. There is, I would argue, a strong case for having a test of public opinion, but whether we should or should not is the question before us. If the Bill reaches the statute book and we move to the referendum, there will be a White Paper that will clearly set out the scheme and which will inform the public of the details—although I have to say that, in Scotland, Wales and other parts of the country, these issues are well understood. In any event, the White Paper 717 will set out the scheme in some detail, and it is on that basis that the arguments will rage. It may be that I shall come across the hon. Member for Sevenoaks in my travels, which will be a pleasure. It is then that the arguments on devolution itself will take place.
§ Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)
When will the people of England be consulted on what they think about all this?
§ Mr. Dewar
That is a rather brave point, but I have to accept that the right hon. Gentleman is sometimes brave to the point of perversity. He is brave in making that point, given the recent election results in this country. In any event, there is a clear precedent from 1979. This is a mechanism for testing opinion, which deals with the challenge repeatedly made by the Conservative party in Scotland and in other parts of the country—that there is no consent in Scotland. I shall return to that matter in a moment.
§ Mr. Dewar
If the hon. Gentleman will allow me, I have a substantial case to make and I feel that if I give way over-indulgently—even to such an attractive option as a question from the hon. Gentleman—we might never make progress at all.
I hope that the House will forgive me for making one personal point. In campaigning on devolution, I am one of those who can look back over many years—indeed, back to the 1950s. I was campaigning then, I have been campaigning ever since and I remain committed to that cause.
When I came back to the House in 1978, after a sad misunderstanding with the electorate that kept me out for eight years, I found John Smith, one of my foundation friends, bearing the weight of the battle. As I look around me, it is odd to see that some things have not changed—my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), for example, is still with characteristic persistence holding to his lonely course. Indeed, I suspect that there are some things that will never change.
I remember those days between 1976 and 1978 and the remarkable achievement of John and his colleagues in getting the Bill on to the statute book at a time when the Government were failing and there were enormous and complex political problems. Perhaps because of John Smith and because of the special nature of that argument, the term "unfinished business" has a special meaning and significance in Scottish politics.
As we start on what I hope will be the final stage of this great saga, I am very much aware of my responsibilities, of the work and the challenges that lie ahead and also of the optimism and expectation that certainly rest in Scotland and, I believe, in Wales, on the passage and progress of this legislation. There is a genuine mood for change and I hope that the House will be prepared to rise to it.
§ Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes)
The Secretary of State referred to the work done by the late John Smith. 718 Will he recall and confirm that when that measure was taken through the House, the Bill was first and the referendum second? Is not that a precedent that he should follow now?
§ Mr. Dewar
I know that this is often said to postpone, but I shall be dealing with the order of events in a few minutes. If the right hon. Gentleman waits, he will receive an explanation that has some relevance to his experience and that, I hope, will appeal to him.
It is a mark of the changed times and of this Government's determination that I expect that we shall be able to publish the White Paper within a total time scale of around three months. I remember that the comparable time in the 1970s was almost three years. That difference reflects the changes in the opinions in my party—it certainly reflects changes in the popular mood in Scotland and in Wales and, I think, in the country as a whole, which I welcome.
As one sometimes loses the neatness of the scheme when one takes up interventions, let me remind the House of the order of events as we intend them. We start today with the Second Reading of the Referendums (Scotland and Wales) Bill. The remaining stages will take place the week after the Whit recess. As those who have read the Bill will realise, there is provision for secondary legislation, and the necessary orders will be published in draft in the same week as the remaining stages are taken.
As I explained, the White Paper will be ready well ahead of the referendum—before the House rises—allowing for a full statement in the House and discussion at that stage. The referendum will come in the autumn—certainly, before the major party conferences. The substantive legislation—that will be when we lock horns on the merits of the devolution package itself—will come before the end of the year. If that legislation has a successful passage, elections to the new Parliament will be held as soon as is practical after Royal Assent. We could have a Parliament in place in Scotland and Wales to welcome the new millennium, and that will be extremely popular and right.
I say unashamedly that this is a massive undertaking—moving from the aspirations of opposition to a defined scheme that is workable and efficient and is accepted and endorsed by Parliament and the people. I believe that we can hold to the timetable that I have outlined.
§ Mr. William Cash (Stone)
May I put the United Kingdom question to the right hon. Gentleman? On the dismembering of the United Kingdom under the projected proposals in the Bill, does he agree that it is essential that the people of the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland, should have the right to give their verdict on the questions posed in the Bill?
§ Mr. Dewar
I wonder; but I will not get into an "Oh, yes they would", "Oh, no they wouldn't" exchange with the hon. Gentleman, because if there is one thing about 719 him that I admire, it is his staying power, and he might well best me in such a debate. I shall therefore return to the logic of the argument.
Mr. Ian Bence
I think that the right hon. Gentleman is misinterpreting my reason for intervening. I take a great deal of interest in Welsh and Scottish affairs, and was born in Wales, as he will know. My difficulty, as I represent an English constituency, is in knowing whether I should support the Bill—which I might well do, because it provides for a test of opinion in Scotland—without knowing, as I cannot until he issues the papers, what powers the Scottish Parliament is to have and whether it will affect my English constituents, who will have to pay for it.
§ Mr. Dewar
The hon. Gentleman belittles himself. I admire modesty, but on this occasion I detect a touch of false modesty. If he is saying that he does not understand the outline of the scheme and is unable to reach his own conclusion, that tells us something about his powers of decision rather than about the difficulties experienced by most people.
§ Mr. Llwyd
I thank the Secretary of State. In an effort to be constructive, I want to mention one thing: he said earlier that the White Paper would be produced within three months, before we broke up for the summer. May I impress upon him the need for the White Paper to be available to the House before we break up for the summer, so that the matter can be fully debated by the Welsh Grand Committee—and no doubt the Scottish Grand Committee—as well as the whole House?
§ Mr. Dewar
It is certainly my intention that both the Welsh and the Scottish White Papers should be available before the House rises. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales would be glad to have a word with the hon. Gentleman about that. There is nothing between us on that matter, at least, regardless of what may transpire in the future.
§ Mr. Shepherd
I bless the right hon. Gentleman. I merely wanted clarification that the subsequent stages of the Bill, as a major constitutional measure, will be taken on the Floor of the House.
§ Mr. Dewar
That will certainly be the case. I have repeatedly made it clear that I am not an enemy of proper 720 scrutiny and discussion, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman, whom I have known for a long time, will accept that. We shall see how we progress, but I certainly hope that we shall have a proper look at all the arguments in some detail.
I have made the point, and I spell it out again, that the Second Reading is on the Bill, not on devolution as such. The Bill makes no judgment on the issues and arguments surrounding devolution, but allows the final decision about endorsement to lie with the people.
I remind the House that referendums are not unprecedented: we had them in 1975 and 1979, on matters of fundamental constitutional change in both cases. We believe that there is a case, on such occasions and issues, for an inclusive process, gathering support across party political boundaries. What we seek—whether we get it is a matter for the people—is a broadly based consensus for change.
I want to deal briefly with the simple and basic question: why a referendum? I have already hinted at the answer that I shall give. Throughout the past year or two, we have consistently been challenged on the wisdom of introducing a Bill, on the basis that there was no consent for it.
The argument, which I understand, is that people vote at general elections for many reasons. It has often been put to me that the nice man who lives down on the corner may have voted Liberal Democrat for many reasons. Was it because he specifically endorsed proportional representation; because he wanted an enormously forward position on Europe; because he was an enthusiast for Scottish devolution; or, for example, because he simply could not stand the Tories, and the Liberal Democrats were an easy way of getting out of that dilemma? Many of my Tory friends, and I am not one to dispute it with them, found the last explanation the most plausible.
In those circumstances, I have a scintilla of sympathy with the argument that consent is open to challenge. Rather honourably, we decided to face up to that challenge—not shrug it off—and put it to the test in a referendum. That is what we are inviting the House to authorise. I shall come to pre-referendum and post-referendum tests later, but the House should have some sympathy with the general argument.
§ Mr. Dewar
I let the hon. Gentleman in on Friday. I do not want to make a habit of doing it every time that I speak, because I fear that if I am generous now, he will take it as a precedent. I should be obliged if he waited.
There is advantage in popular consent. In our unwritten constitution, popular consent gives a certain legitimacy. In a sense, it is the way to build the devolution scheme into the system and to give it roots. That, for me, is attractive. It also gives the Opposition, and those who dissent from my point of view, the opportunity to defeat it and, in effect, to kill it. That seems right. If we get the 721 right result, we have moral authority to speed the passage of devolution. That is again a matter for the people and we shall have to see what the results ultimately bring.
§ Mr. Jenkin
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his courtesy. May I suggest that he should take the advice of the right hon. Member for Hamilton, South (Mr. Robertson) about why there is to be a referendum before a Bill on Scottish devolution is put before the House? It has nothing to do with the airy-fairy arguments that the right hon. Gentleman advances; it has to do with the fact that the opposition to the principle of devolution was so effectively conducted by Michael Forsyth, the former Member for Stirling. Seeking powers to raise an extra tax in Scotland became such an embarrassment to the Labour party that the Prime Minister imposed the referendum policy on the Scottish Labour party.
§ Mr. Dewar
We all make mistakes. I thought that I was letting in the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe), who is sitting beside the hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin). That was unfortunate. I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman was trying to whitewash his part as a very minor sprocket in the departing Scottish Office team. I assure him that I very often take the advice of my right hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton, South (Mr. Robertson), and hope to do so many times in future.
§ Mr. Dewar
I must make some progress. I should like to deal with some of the amendments. I have listened with interest to what has been said by Opposition Members.
The hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Mr. Maclennan) is a very old friend. I was a little surprised that he was anxious for us to give the light of day to the Liberal Democrat amendment. I should have thought that it was more a case of private grief breaking into public view, although I might be prejudiced. The Liberal Democrats' reasoned amendment is interesting because it welcomesappropriate referendum proposals for Wales,but mysteriously discovers that a referendum in Scotland is unnecessary. It seems that the Liberal Democrats have managed to square a circle, on which I congratulate them. It is a curiosity, a collector's piece. In any event, it will not be debated now.
§ Mr. Maclennan
The right hon. Gentleman must be aware that there is less certainty about the outcome of a referendum in Wales than of one in Scotland, even on the most optimistic assumptions that the Government no doubt make. In this disunited kingdom, it is reasonable to have arguments to address both cases separately.
§ Mr. Dewar
It is not satisfactory to hold elections only when one thinks that one might lose them. It is an interesting democratic principle. It has some appeal. 722 It may be irrelevant to the debate, but I have dreamt about a re-run of the 1997 general election for the past three nights. I found it very refreshing.
§ Mr. Dewar
I am sorry, but I must make some progress. I look to the Chair for protection.
The Tory amendment deals specifically with the question of the pre-legislative referendum, and I understand that. I have explained that we see the purpose of the referendum to establish consent in principle and to move on to the next stage, we hope with renewed impetus and some authority. The Tory party has concentrated on that issue. In a sense, it is an interesting matter of constitutional practice whether the engine pushes or pulls the train. One could hold many learned colloquies on that point, and I have no doubt about the mental ingenuity of the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard).
I stress again that the aim is to establish consent before plunging the Government machine, the civil service, the House of Commons and the House of Lords into the complexities of this journey. Parliament still has a job to do against the background of the advice offered by the people in the referendum if the scheme goes ahead. It clears the way and allows Parliament to do its job of scrutiny knowing the true basis of the support. I hope that that support will go beyond narrow party boundaries. I feel strongly that constitutional change is not the partisan property of any single party. As I tried to explain, rather unsuccessfully, to the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), events in Scotland are reinforcing that message. A vote with a clear-cut decision in the referendum will provide stability and a background against which Parliament can do its job.
§ Madam Speaker
Order. The hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) should not keep trying to intervene when the Secretary of State has made it clear that he is unlikely to give way.
§ Mr. Garnier
I am grateful to you, Madam Speaker, and to the Secretary of State for allowing me to participate. As the right hon. Gentleman is so keen on the public consent aspect of the referendum—I do not argue with the need for that—will he address the House on 723 clauses 1(3) and 2(3), which will allow Greeks, Finns, French, Danes and other European Union residents of Scotland to vote in the referendum?
§ Mr. Garnier
Why not, possibly, but it will not allow my constituents who are members of the EU and United Kingdom residents to vote in that important referendum.
§ Mr. Dewar
I shall come to that in a moment, but I want to draw the hon. and learned Gentleman's attention to the concept of residency, which has some relevance in the matter.
The pre-legislation referendum is not without precedent. The right hon. Member for Devizes will remember the Northern Ireland framework document, which is a recent example. There was the triple-lock mechanism under which there was to be political discussion and, it was hoped, broad agreement. That was to be followed by a referendum and then by legislation. I do not want to dwell on that, but it is an example and there are circumstances in which that has occurred.
Let me put it this way. The rule appears to be that when it suits, not perhaps even the Government but a wider part of the House, a pre-legislation referendum is not so unacceptable, unthinkable and offensive. I should have thought that the argument about consent that has been raging would echo around, if not the constituency of Devizes, at least the ancestral acres of the right hon. Member for Devizes, so that he would be aware of the need to settle the issue of consent. I shall leave it for the right hon. Gentleman to think about. No doubt we can debate it again on another occasion.
§ Mr. Dewar
If the right hon. Gentleman does not mind, I shall not give way, because I am conscious of the abuse of the House.
There is nothing surprising in the Tory amendment. What is surprising is what is not in it. I understood from the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks that an issue on which the Conservatives were particularly het up, to use a Scottish colloquialism, was the need for thresholds, and that does not appear in the amendment. The right hon. Gentleman said that there wasa powerful case for a threshold".There was then perhaps a touch of the faint heart or a wish to distance himself, because he went on merely to say that the Opposition would tablea number of amendments to the Bill, and some will deal with the question of possible thresholds."—[Official Report, 16 May 1997: Vol. 294, c. 286, 291.]It may be—I understand this—that he did not want to be too closely associated with the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood), who had started that particular hare running. Perhaps he was thinking about the dangers of guilt by association.
In any event, I understand that there is considerable interest among Conservative Members in thresholds. The right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks might be even 724 more worried if he reads the second Conservative reasoned amendment. It comes from what the Leader of the Opposition once slightly unhappily called the bastard tendency, which takes the view that there should be a fancy franchise and artificial obstacles in the way of the democratic process. That view was rather strongly endorsed by the right hon. Member for Devizes when he replied to the constitutional debate last Friday.
I do not know whether the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe intends to say a word or two about the other Conservative amendment. I presume that, if amendments are to be tabled in about a week, he has a clear mind on what they are likely to contain. It would be extremely helpful for the House if it had some sight of the amendments on thresholds with which we are to be presented so that we can, with fair and equitable minds, assess them. I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will not think it amiss if I tell him that I have a prejudice against such amendments and that I take the view that a test of public opinion is conducted on the basis of simple majority in this country. If he or his party tried to revisit the 40 per cent. rule, it would be seen in the most basic terms, certainly in Scotland and Wales, as something akin to ballot rigging, and would be treated with contempt.
At a time when the Scottish Conservative party is clearly considering a shift in position or at least a move towards individual conscience rather than a collective view on devolution, it would be unfortunate if there were shabby manoeuvring or what would clearly be seen as such in order to fix the result. If that is in contemplation, it is important that the Opposition reveal their hand in good time. I do not advise the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe to go down that road, or to travel north with that glad news. He might find himself as unpopular there as he has been in certain other quarters rather spectacularly in recent days.
In fairness, I shall not say more about that, but if the right hon. and learned Gentleman would like to look at the views that have been expressed by a range of office bearers in the Scottish Conservative party and by a majority of party chairmen who could be contacted by the newspapers, he will see—I put it modestly—that there is a wish to rethink and certainly to be seen to play fair in the Scottish Conservative party on this issue. I greatly welcome that. The perhaps spiteful side of Westminster politics should not get in the way of that process. That would be bad for democracy, bad, funnily enough, for the Conservative party—although that is not my first priority—and bad for the process of constitutional reform. I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will take that on board.
§ Mr. Andrew Rowe
If in the referendum the Scottish people vote yes to the first question and no to the second, will the Government have any objection to my constituents in Kent refusing to contribute to the costs of the Scottish Parliament? They will have no opportunity to vote on its creation and no representation within it. I thought that taxation without representation was something of which we did not approve.
§ Mr. Dewar
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, but I did not know that his constituents intended or expected to pay for the Scottish Parliament. However, if he intends to make that offer, I shall certainly be prepared to have a 725 look at it. Indeed, it might make for some unexpected good will between us. He should perhaps take that suggestion back and have a look at his generosity.
§ Mr. William Hague (Richmond, Yorks)
In the light of his answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe), will the right hon. Gentleman make the position clear? Is the implication of his answer that the costs of the Scottish Parliament and proposed Welsh Assembly are to be met out of the Scottish and Welsh blocks and, therefore, out of the budget for public services in Scotland and Wales?
§ Mr. Dewar
I have a special passage on that in my speech, which I know the right hon. Gentleman will no doubt be looking forward to if he stays the course. He might reason with his hon. Friends to let me make some progress and then that passage will come all the quicker.
It is clear from the outset that what we are looking for is to settle the question of consent for the specific scheme. The scheme has been set out in the White Paper and it can be judged and endorsed if it is thought right by the people. It follows from that, and it is an important point that I know is dear to the heart of the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) and some others, that we are not running an opinion poll or what is sometimes rather vulgarly called a beauty contest. We are looking for a particular endorsement of a practical scheme. It is not a matter of running the gamut of every possibility and then considering what to do at the end of the process.
I have a clear view on the matter. I have watched the debate rage for close on 20 years. We have made surprisingly little progress in practical terms, and I want to see practical progress. It is because I want to see such progress that I want to concentrate upon that aim and that objective. That leads me to the conclusion that we should be concentrating on the scheme that is on the stocks and which is on offer. If we get the endorsement of that scheme specifically, we should be in the House pressing ahead from that.
§ Mr. Dewar
I shall let the hon. Gentleman intervene in a moment, but I have one other related point to make.
Even though the hon. Gentleman and I may have differences of interpretation, I hope that he will accept that I should be the last to challenge the sovereignty of the people or to deny them the right to opt for any solution to the constitutional question which they wished. For example, if they want to go for independence, I see no reason why they should not do so. In fact, if they want to, they should. I should be the first to accept that.
It is on that basis that I had no difficulty—perhaps this is a Scottish point—in signing the Claim of Right, but that does not imply that the people had to exercise their right by travelling on one particular road. That does not imply that if they failed to pick the road with the exit sign from the United Kingdom, they were betraying their trust. That is not my view. I believe that people have a right to choice, but that they have the right to every choice. I believe that the choice that they have made is the choice that we have put before them—there is evidence to support that claim. I hope that the referendum will settle that point.
726 I accept that if the nationalists want to progress their cause—I do not expect them to pack their bags and go home—their route to putting independence back on the agenda is to carry the people with them. With six seats and a long record of failure in that respect, however, they have much to do and a long way to come.
§ Mr. Salmond
There is nothing between the right hon. Gentleman and myself about the matter of choice. I fully accept that argument. If the scheme is on the stocks, as the right hon. Gentleman put it, we can look for an early publication of the White Paper. If he is arguing that the general election did not decide the constitutional question, why will he not offer the choice between the well-supported constitutional options of independence, devolution and the status quo? Does he recall on 23 April 1992 telling The Scotsman that the case for a multi-option referendum should be shouted from the rooftops? Why was it to be shouted from the rooftops in 1992, but not to be countenanced in 1997?
§ Mr. Dewar
I am always slightly depressed when people have good cuttings files. If the hon. Gentleman would like to look back at the context in which I made that remark in 1992, he will appreciate that it was after an overwhelming vote for change in Scotland and the refusal of the then Government to take any action of any type. It was in that specific context that that campaign was launched. We are now in government with a policy that was contained in our manifesto. We are honestly going to put it to the people. If we are wrong and they reject it, that is their option. I am not going to be distracted, however, or put off from making progress as I think right on this occasion.
§ Mr. Dewar
I am sorry, but I shall not give way. I have been speaking for more than half an hour, and in fairness to the House, I must get on.
I should like to consider briefly the contents of the Bill. This is the first time that I have done so and I find it a slightly daunting prospect when a speech becomes a list. It is important, however, that there is clarity. Put briefly, clause 1 authorises the holding of a referendum in Scotland and it explains that the date of it will appear in secondary legislation. The clause also defines the questions, sets the franchise, which will be based on the local government elections, provides for the appointment of a chief counting officer for Scotland and counting officers for each local authority area, and sets out their primary duties.
The House will appreciate—and this is an important point—that great care has been taken in framing the propositions. We took advice from people learned in electoral practices. We have tried hard to go for clarity and, above all, fairness. I genuinely believe that we have been scrupulous in trying to avoid any leading questions, and I hope that there is universal agreement that that has been fairly achieved.
§ Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells)
In this part of the Bill, the House is being asked to give away its tax-varying powers in a referendum question. Taxation goes to the heart of the House's powers, so, at the very least, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that we must 727 be given practical answers as to whether it is feasible, in a single United Kingdom administrative and fiscal region, to have different tax rates applying to the earnings or investment income of different citizens, according to whether they work or live in various parts of the United Kingdom? Will he undertake to give the House full proposals and details before we agree to handing over those powers by way of a referendum?
§ Mr. Dewar
The subject will of course be dealt with in the White Paper. I am a little puzzled, because I do not know anything about the right hon. Gentleman's personal circumstances, but I would lay a small bet that he and I pay different rates of tax from those of most of my constituents. Of course we have variations in the sense that we have local tax, national tax, indirect taxes and direct taxes. We have a whole portfolio, a portmanteau, a travelling pantechnicon of taxes under all Governments and I do not accept the impossibility argument to which he refers, but it is an important issue and we shall return to it.
As I say, we have tried to be scrupulous about avoiding leading questions. We are anxious that no one should misunderstand what they are being asked to decide on and that there should be a minimum of spoilt papers. We shall use two ballot papers in Scotland because of the two questions. That is obviously to allow a free vote on each issue and to aid the counting process. I believe that it can be done with great fairness and great clarity, and that is our intention. The detail will be in the White Paper. We shall obviously, as I have stressed time and again, come to it in good time, and well ahead of the referendum.
§ Sir Patrick Cormack
If the right hon. Gentleman believes that the new Scottish Parliament is not going to be a danger to the continuance of the United Kingdom, and I believe that he is sincere in that, why cannot we have a third question in the referendum, inviting people to proclaim their belief in the United Kingdom?
§ Mr. Dewar
Because that would imply that those who are going to vote yes in the referendum are the enemies of the United Kingdom. As the hon. Gentleman has conceded, he assumes that I am genuine in my view, and my view is that we shall strengthen the United Kingdom by bringing in a more democratic and responsive form of government. It is obviously impossible to present me with a referendum in which I have alternatives but in which I might want to vote yes both times. I am sure that, if he thinks about it, he will understand that point.
§ Mr. Dewar
I shall not take further interventions. I am sorry, but I have outstayed my welcome.
I understand that there are doubts about the second question. My friends in the Liberal Democrat party and on the Liberal Democrat Benches feel those doubts particularly strongly, but in my view, the whole question of revenue raising is a discipline and a responsibility, and the right to vary tax is an important part of the scheme. Opponents will view it as an opportunity, of course. The tartan tax—the playing to the pocket—will no doubt be a prominent feature of the campaign, as it was in the 728 campaign in the run-up to the election. I might be wrong, but I believe that it will be as unsuccessful as it was in the run-up to the election. However, whether it is an opportunity for my opponents or not, we came to the view that it was right that the people should be allowed to decide in Scotland, and we went for the second question.
I think that we shall win that because it will be very difficult for even someone with the ingenuity of the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe somehow to persuade Scots that although there are many tiers of government with varying revenue and taxation powers, it is a unique impossibility, an abomination and a danger when similar powers are given to Scots sitting as a body, elected and responsible for wide-ranging legislative powers. That is in effect asking the Scots to give a resounding vote of no confidence to their own probity and responsibility and their ability to conduct business. I do not believe that we shall have that.
As the House, or those who have followed the argument, may remember, the poll in The Scotsman in January this year suggested that there was very substantial approval-59 per cent., in fact—for those powers. That may not be an accurate reflection, or it may change, but it is honourable and right to find out in the only way that matters and is clear. That is what we shall do.
The local authority franchise has been picked because it is the one that is available and which most nearly accords with the residency test, which we believe is the proper way to decide someone's eligibility to vote. It has some odd consequences, some of which I welcome. For example, it ensures that peers in Scotland will be able to vote. Rather to my surprise, perhaps because Scotland is a sort of second home for that group, there are only 123 of them, I am told, but still, let us value those 123 votes. They may be glad to know that it will not be possible to identify them and discover exactly how they voted in the referendum.
Some European nationals will also be included, a matter that has been raised. That is defensible on the simple ground that they are European nationals who have established the right of residence in Scotland. It will also have the effect—
§ Mr. Dewar
No, I am sorry. We can come back to this matter on many other occasions.
Picking the local authority franchise also has the effect of excluding overseas voters. If we had gone for the parliamentary franchise, which is marginally smaller, we would have had to include overseas voters, which would have meant that the fine old peppery gentleman who has spent 17 years in Kuala Lumpur but who takes a great interest in what is happening in the old country would have had a vote. [Interruption.] I am not aware of his domicile.
§ Madam Speaker
Order. The Secretary of State has made it clear to me and to the hon. Gentleman that he is not giving way at the moment. This is an important matter that we need to know about.
§ Mr. Dewar
I apologise to the hon. Gentleman. I said that I would not take any more interventions, but I am 729 happy to speak to the hon. Gentleman personally afterwards, to try to deal with whatever is troubling him at this stage.
The chief counting officer will be for the whole of Scotland and there will of course be one officer for each local government area. That is the precedent of 1979. The result that matters is the national result, but the local government results—area by area—will also be available. The final aggregate will tell the story that matters. The Bill is the way to ensure that that happens.
As an addendum, I hope—I cannot be definitive about this—that, unlike 1979, we shall have the final result on the night, rather than having to wait until the next day. That is certainly my intention if it is at all practicably possible. I just wanted to record that.
§ Mr. Dewar
I am very sorry, but I have made a decision. I shall of course talk to the hon. Gentleman afterwards.
Clause 2 makes similar provisions for Wales, as the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) will know. Clause 3 includes the necessary secondary legislation governing the conduct of the referendum. An Order in Council, subject to affirmative resolution in both Houses, will be laid, and the draft will be made available the week after the Whit recess. We are happy to consider comments on the draft received by the middle of June, which can be taken into account before final orders are laid.
Clause 4 excludes the possibility of legal proceedings to question a referendum result certified by counting officers. That follows the precedent set in all the other legislation dealing with referendums. I am assured that only the most devious of minds would see conspiracy behind a safeguard against protracted and unnecessary potential litigation.
Clause 5 will provide for the payment of charges and expenses of returning officers and chief counting officers. It also allows expenditure for preparatory work. We believe that it is a prudent measure to maintain momentum, so that a Scottish Parliament and a Welsh Assembly can meet quickly after the first elections. It also deals with matters such as the acquisition, refurbishment and design of buildings, with planning needs and with other romantic matters of that type. Its provisions will be used only if there is a positive outcome to the referendums, and, for significant expenditure, only after the successful Second Reading of a devolution Bill.
I know that we shall be hearing a great deal about the provisions of clause 5—the tone has already been set by the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks, on 16 May. On that evidence, the Opposition seem to be rather over-staffed with hon. Members of vision and wide horizons, who are sadly fixated by the comparatively minor expenditure specified in the explanatory and financial memorandum. It is a type of parliamentary pump approach—which blows up to fill the foreground of what should be a great constitutional debate on comparatively limited matters.
As the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks will know, the costs specified in the explanatory and financial memorandum are relatively modest and are dwarfed by the potential benefits. In Scotland, the cost of the referendum will be less than £1 per head. Moreover, 730 the transitional—or paving—costs, which we do not believe will be as high as the specified upper limit, will be under £5 per head. That is in the context of a budget of £14 billion.
§ Mr. Dewar
The right hon. Gentleman will see in the Bill that the funds will come from the Consolidated Fund. Perhaps we can take the matter from that point. I should tell him, because I think that it is important, that the referendum costs will be less than one thirtieth of 1 per cent. of the Scottish Office's annual budget. He should look at the £18 million to £25 million, which is the cost band for provision of paving expenditure, and compare it—to give only one example—with the £30 million or so that was lost, in a definitive sense, through the former Government's unwise investment in Health Care International, a private hospital in Clydebank. I appeal to him to raise issues of importance, but to try also to maintain some sense of perspective. If not, he will diminish only himself.
The Bill's schedules simply set out the layout and content of the ballot papers.
I have provided a rough Cook's tour of the Bill. I apologise for the length of my speech—I have perhaps been over-generous in allowing interventions, but there have been persistent attempts to intervene.
I have real hopes for the referendum campaign. In a sense, the Bill is only a mechanism. The reality—the consequences that will flow from it—should be an all-Scotland debate on issues of real importance. A similar debate should occur in Wales. I hope that the debate will have real public involvement and that there will be a sense of excitement. It will be a test not only of whether a Parliament in Scotland and an Assembly in Wales would bring better government, but of the type of Parliament and Assembly and of the range of powers that they should have.
The Bill should be a part of the process of rebuilding confidence and it will, I hope, return some faith to our democratic agenda. It is about whether people should be trusted with decisions about their own future, and I hope that the House will endorse it.
§ Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe)
I beg to move, To leave out from "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:this House declines to give a Second Reading to the Referendums (Scotland and Wales) Bill because it would ask voters to give blanket approval to proposals in advance of legislation being published, debated, amended or agreed; and believes that such referendums should only be held after full and detailed scrutiny of the legislation in question on the floor of the House of Commons.731 I congratulate the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Secretary of State for Wales on their appointments, and the Labour party on its electoral success in Scotland and in Wales. If there is a silver lining for Conservative Members—it is certainly not very much of one—it is that there can no longer by any doubting us when we say that we are in favour of the first-past-the-post voting system out of genuine principle. In Wales, we won the second largest number of votes, but we were left without any seats. In Scotland, half a million Tory voters failed to secure parliamentary representation, so no one can accuse us of favouring the current system out of selfish party advantage.
Although Labour has won a famous victory, it does not follow that it has won a secure mandate on the question before the House. The Secretary of State for Scotland himself has pointed out previously and today that Scottish and Welsh voters cast their ballots on 1 May for a multiplicity of reasons other than devolution. I do not find the right hon. Gentleman's favourite reason the most persuasive, but he might not expect me to agree with him on that. Even if devolution had been the sole issue on polling day, no specific models of constitutional change could be said to have won popular endorsement.
Let us take Scotland first. Labour began by saying that, if elected, it would move to create a Scottish Parliament on the model proposed by the Scottish Constitutional Convention. The Prime Minister then casually informed the Scottish Labour party that there would be a referendum first. We then learned that there would be two referendums; then that there would need to be only one referendum after all, but with two questions.
By that time, the people of Scotland might justly have felt that they were being taken somewhat for granted. That was not the end of the matter. Any hopes that the launch of Labour's manifesto would clarify the position were short-lived. Having pledged itself to a Parliament with tax-raising powers, Labour then said that it would not use those powers.
Next, we were told that the Scottish Parliament would be like an English parish council. Finally, as if all that were not enough, the Prime Minister announced that sovereignty would rest not with this House and not even with Her Majesty, but in his own person—l'etat c'est Blair! What have the people of Scotland just voted for—a tax-raising assembly, an English parish council or a new sun king?
What are the people of Wales being asked to vote for? Unlike the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly will not have tax-raising powers. It will not have the power to legislate on local government, on health, on education, on housing or on transport. If the Scottish Parliament is like an English parish council, how would the Prime Minister describe the Welsh Assembly? Would he describe it as a meeting of church wardens?
On Friday, the Secretary of State for Scotland described the notion of a Scottish Parliament without tax-raising powers as "an odd non sequitur". In April, the Secretary of State for Wales described the notion of a Welsh Assembly with tax-raising powers as economic illiteracy, so what are we to believe? Are we to believe that the Secretary of State for Wales is a non sequitur, or that the Secretary of State for Scotland is economically illiterate? 732 Why are the Government determined to foist on the people of Wales a settlement that they regard as second-rate in Scotland?
We support the Government in their stated aim of strengthening the Union, and we share their ambition to give the Scots and the Welsh more say over their own affairs, but the Bill is no way in which to achieve either of those aims. Its objectives, I fear, are somewhat more cynical and more selfish.
In their determination to maximise their majority in this House, the Government are wilfully ignoring the danger that their proposals pose to the long-term unity of the country. The Labour party wants to have its cake and eat it. It wants a devolved Parliament in Scotland, and it wants to keep a disproportionate block of Scottish Members of Parliament in this House to drive through legislation for England and for Wales.
The simplicity of the proposed ballot papers as set out in the Bill masks the fact that all the most important questions have been left unanswered. Is it right, for example, that Scots and Welshmen residing outside their homelands should be disfranchised? Is it right that the rest of the kingdom should be left unconsulted about a profound change to its government? Do the questions on the proposed ballot paper refer to a Parliament and an Assembly within the United Kingdom or outside it? In other words, should supporters of complete separation vote yes or no?
What will be the position of the Scottish and Welsh Secretaries of State? How will they occupy themselves in the Cabinet? Will they make the tea or do some photocopying, or will they just sit sniggering together like middle-aged versions of Beavis and Butthead?
What of the Barnett formula on funding for Scotland if tax-raising powers are granted to the Edinburgh Parliament? What will be the relationship between Members of this House and Members of the devolved Assemblies who sit for the same geographical areas? How can hon. Members representing Scottish and Welsh seats become Ministers for portfolios that fall within the jurisdiction of the devolved legislatures? How would the position of the Minister of Transport, for example, be tenable? Those questions demand answers.
I am delighted that, after an uncharacteristic period of silence—coinciding quite by chance, no doubt, with the run-up to the general election—the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) has again found his voice. I am sure that he will not mind me reminding the House of the question that he has made famous.
Under Labour's plans, Scottish Members would continue to sit and vote in this House on all English and most Welsh matters, but English and Welsh Members would have no commensurate say over Scottish matters. Why should the Secretary of State for Scotland be able to decide the future of grant-maintained schools in my constituency of Folkestone and Hythe, when I have no say over schools in Glasgow?
The manifest unfairness of that arrangement has attracted a great deal of comment, but the other half of the question has received less attention: why should Scottish Members continue to legislate for England and Wales when they are to have no say over the affairs of Scotland? Under the Government's proposals, Scottish Members would have less say on Scottish matters than on English matters. If they were petitioned by their constituents about 733 the state of Scottish schools, they would have to reply, "Nothing to do with me." Their constituents might justly wonder whether their salaries—
§ Mr. Martin O'Neill (Ochil)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for the Home Secretary—[Interruption.]—sorry, the former Home Secretary—to talk about the substance of devolution, when we are discussing the mechanics of the referendum proposals?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst)
I do not believe that that is out of order, and he is not the Home Secretary.
§ Mr. Howard
I understand why Labour Members do not want these questions raised, and why they do not want concentration focused on them, but this is essential background to the question that the House has to debate today and tomorrow.
§ Mr. lain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green)
Will my right hon. and learned Friend give way?
§ Mr. Howard
I shall give way in just a moment; I just want to finish the point that I am making.
In the light of the questions that I have just posed, the Scottish constituents of Labour Members—indeed, of all hon. Members—might justly wonder whether their salaries should be cut to reflect the reduced role that they would have.
§ Mr. Duncan Smith
Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the point of order that has just been raised is at the nub of the problem? The hon. Member for Ochil (Mr. O'Neill) complained that my right hon. and learned Friend was raising those difficult issues, but the Government have asked us not to raise any of those points. We are to ask the people to vote on something that they know nothing about, in the absence of any debate.
§ Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian)
The right hon. and learned Gentleman has been making something of what used to be called the West Lothian question. Will he address what I call the East Lothian question? How could he justify a situation in which he and his colleagues voted to impose the poll tax on my constituents in East Lothian and on other Scottish constituencies at a time when it did not apply to their constituents?
§ Mr. Howard
Because that was a decision taken by the Parliament of the United Kingdom, which has jurisdiction to legislate for every part of the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Thomas Graham (West Renfrewshire)
The right hon. and learned Gentleman will be aware that the Labour party and the Liberal Democrats in Scotland argued clearly for a constitutional convention. We also argued clearly for a referendum. Is he aware that there was a meeting of the remnants of the Conservative party in a wigwam, where they had a pow-wow, but that all their peace pipes were broken? The Tory party is split. It does 734 not know whether to support devolution or a referendum. It is time he realised that the problem for the Tories has not gone away. They are so split asunder that they will never rule Scotland.
§ Mr. Howard
I always enjoy the hon. Gentleman's colourful language, but his question is somewhat remote from the point that I was addressing.
§ Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)
The right hon. and learned Gentleman has made great play of the so-called West Lothian question. Can he tell the House how often, during the 50 years when Ulster Unionist Members sat on Conservative Benches, took the Conservative Whip and served in Conservative Governments when the Stormont Parliament was in existence, the Conservative party ever complained that those hon. Members were able to vote on matters relating to West Lothian and West Bromwich, but not on those relating to west Belfast?
§ Mr. Howard
There are at least two answers to that question. As has been acknowledged on several occasions, not least by the Secretary of State for Defence, who was in his place earlier, it is unwise to draw analogies with Northern Ireland, because circumstances there are extremely different. The hon. Gentleman will be aware, however, that, in 1921, when the legislation that made the change to which he has referred was introduced, there was a commensurate reduction in the number of Members from Northern Ireland. It may well be sensible for us to explore that point in due course.
§ Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)
The right hon. and learned Gentleman is doing a skilful job of showing that devolution involves a number of complex points of principle, but he seems to have learnt nothing from the election. Was it not a wholly untenable position for his party to hold that we have reached such a point of perfection in our constitution that there should be no change in Scotland, and that there was no such thing as the Scottish question? Was not that the basis of the total rejection of his party in Scotland?
§ Mr. Howard
No, it was not. Had the hon. Gentleman been listening, he would have noticed that, a few minutes ago, the Secretary of State acknowledged that people vote in general elections for a multiplicity of reasons, as they did on 1 May, and that one cannot draw the inference that the hon. Gentleman sought to draw.
Moreover, it has never been the case that we have resisted change. As was pointed out earlier, the previous Secretary of State for Scotland, the former right hon. Member for Stirling, was responsible for significant change in the arrangements for governing Scotland, so the hon. Gentleman has completely misrepresented both the result of the election and the position of the Conservative party.
§ Mr. Salmond
Two of the other Conservative leadership contenders have indicated their support for a blocking mechanism, a threshold or a 50 per cent. rule, according to the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood). Does the right hon. and learned 735 Gentleman support such a blocking device, and, if so, would it apply to any European referendum that might be introduced?
§ Mr. Howard
The hon. Gentleman will have to restrain himself. In due course, he will see exactly what amendments the Opposition table, on this and other issues. We shall comply in full with the rules of the House, and we shall give due notice to the hon. Gentleman and to the Government when we table those amendments.
§ Mr. Howard
No, I must make a little progress.
I was dealing with the reaction of the people of Scotland and the right hon. and hon. Members who represent them to the proposals that lie behind the question before the House today. As for the people of England and Wales, their reaction is likely to be even stronger.
The Labour party has shown itself ready to promote its party interests, quite regardless of the damage caused to the integrity of the United Kingdom. It seems determined to retain the over-representation of Scottish Members in the House. It does not take much imagination to foresee the mood in England if that majority were used to bulldoze through policies that were unpopular with the English electorate. That is precisely why the cynical proposals outlined by the Secretary of State menace the integrity and harmony of the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Cash
In the context of what I have just termed the United Kingdom question, and considering the reality of what will happen in the dismembering process, does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the question is not entirely for England or for Wales, or indeed for Scotland, but for the United Kingdom as a whole, having regard to the interests of those in Northern Ireland, for example, who will also be affected by the logical consequences to which the Bill will lead?
§ Mr. Howard
My hon. Friend raises an important point. He, too, will have to wait and see what amendments are tabled when we debate the substance of the matter in due course.
I turn to the nub of our argument against the Bill's proposals—that part of the Secretary of State's speech where he was at his most defensive and his least convincing. The proposed change would be the greatest change in our nation's constitution at least since the Government of Ireland Act 1920, and possibly since the Act of Union itself in 1707.
It is right that the electorate should be consulted before changes of such magnitude are implemented, but they should be asked for their opinion when all our questions have been answered, when all the details are known, when the legislation has been finally tempered and scrutinised in the House, and when Parliament has debated and decided. Instead, the Government are breaking with constitutional precedent by holding a referendum before voters are allowed to know the final shape of the 736 proposals. The people of Scotland and Wales will be asked to give their consent to devolution in principle and to trust Ministers to sort out the details afterwards.
Indeed, things are even worse than that. The Government intend to curtail Parliament's ability to perform its proper function. A pre-legislative referendum is designed to pre-empt parliamentary debate. It is not a new device. The device was the hallmark of continental dictatorships between the wars. European tyrants used the plebiscite to sideline their Parliaments; they used it to suppress the rights and liberties of their citizens. That is the model that the new Labour Government have decided to follow.
Why the Government's reluctance to follow constitutional precedent? Why their unseemly haste? Could it perhaps have something to do with the memory of what happened the last time that the proposals were put to the people?
In 1979, the referendums were rightly held after the legislation had been finalised, so that voters were able to decide on very specific proposals. Both in Scotland and in Wales, support ebbed during the referendum campaigns, as people came to appreciate what the proposals would actually mean. In my native Wales, opinion polls before the campaign were running at 4:1 in favour of a devolved Assembly, but on polling day, there was a 4:1 vote against it. People's enthusiasm for devolution waned when they saw that it would spawn expensive new bureaucracies and cause bitter disputes between the nations of the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Ian Bruce
Does my right hon. and learned Friend get a clue from the Bill about who is supposed to be paying for the Scottish Parliament? Is not expenditure—by the Scottish Office, the Welsh Office and central Government—on Scotland and Wales very much higher than on England? Despite that additional expenditure, general taxpayers are being asked to pay for the referendum. I suspect that they will also have to pay for the cost of the additional Parliament, the additional level of government. Should we not know now, before we English Members of Parliament have to vote on the matter, exactly who is supposed to be paying for it?
§ Mr. Howard
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. It was noteworthy during the Secretary of State's speech that he declined to answer a direct question put to him by my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe), who suggested that his Kent constituents would be paying the cost of the referendum, but just a minute or two later confirmed that that would indeed be precisely so.
The reason why the Government are determined to hold the referendum before the voters can see the details of the legislation is that they fear that otherwise people will reach the same conclusion as they reached in 1979. That is why the Government are resorting to this unprecedented and anti-democratic approach.
The Secretary of State was silent—until pressed in answer to a question, when he was non-committal—about whether the main devolution legislation would be taken on the Floor of the House—a procedure described as game-playing by the Prime Minister during the debate on the Gracious Speech last week. We believe that that should happen, and I hope that the Secretary of State for Wales will deal with the point when he winds up tomorrow.
737 The Union of Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland is based on a community of interests, a shared history, and an essential friendship between its constituent peoples. Like the relationship between Boswell and Johnson, that friendship can sometimes be prickly, but it is old and genuine. Its flavour is captured in the words of the highlander at Dunkirk, who told his comrades that, if the English surrendered too, it could be a long war. By its selfish and hurried pursuit of short-term advantage, Labour has jeopardised that relationship. A Union that has held fast for centuries could begin to fray in a matter of months.
The practical advantages of the Union are as much in evidence now as ever. Scotland and Wales have benefited enormously from massive inward investment during the Conservative Administration, including the LG plant in Newport, which is the largest single instance of foreign investment in Europe. The talent and industry of the Scots and my Welsh compatriots have enriched our island.
United, Britain has a strong voice in the councils of the world. Can anyone imagine that our constituent nations, if separated, would retain that influence? The House should be in no doubt that there would be a real danger of separation if the Government's proposals were to be implemented in their current form.
§ Mr. Stephen Day (Cheadle)
I am sure that many in the House, on both sides, hold their Britishness dear. I count myself among them. However sincere the Government may be about their desire to maintain the Union, the danger at the heart of the proposals is that no union can be dissolved or changed unilaterally by one partner. Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the issue needs to be taken out of the party political battle, for all parties to consider the effects of constitutional change on all the constituent parts of the United Kingdom? My constituents matter as much as those of hon. Members from Scotland.
§ Mr. Howard
My hon. Friend raises an important point, and his constituents and mine are likely to be vitally affected by the Government's proposals. He raises an important aspect of the proposals.
§ Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)
The right hon. and learned Gentleman referred to the LG investment in my constituency, and suggested that it would not happen. Does he not realise that LG was fully aware that a Labour Government were on the way, and that devolution was part of our promises? LG sees the investment in Newport as one of the fruits of devolution. The previous Prime Minister has admitted that LG came to Wales primarily because of the work of the Welsh Development Agency, a devolved body created by a former Labour Government.
§ Mr. Howard
The Welsh Development Agency has done notable work, not least during the time that my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) was the Secretary of State. It is a far cry from arguing that the Welsh Development Agency played an important part in LG coming to Newport, which it clearly did, to arguing that the investment is a vote of confidence in the proposals for administrative and legislative devolution.
I return to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mr. Day). The ingredients necessary for a bitter and acrimonious breakdown 738 between the constituent parts of the United Kingdom are all there in the legislation that lies behind the question before the House today. They include the anomalous position of Welsh and Scottish Ministers; the unfair representation of Welsh and Scottish Members in the House; the lack of clear delineation between the spheres of authority of this Parliament and the devolved legislatures; the opportunity for intrusive judicial review; and, in the case of Scotland, the financial tensions that will inevitably be caused by the granting of tax-raising powers to the Scottish Parliament while Scotland continues to be generously over-funded by the Westminster Administration.
§ Mrs. Fyfe
Does the former Home Secretary realise that his credibility as a true and perfect democrat was destroyed for ever when he used a large Tory majority to impose the poll tax on Scotland alone? There are people in Scotland who will never forget that. It is one reason why there is not one Conservative Member left in Scotland today.
§ Mr. Howard
I have already answered that question. However, if we want to resume fighting those battles of long ago, the hon. Lady will remember that the degree of discontent with the previous rating system in Scotland, which led to those proposals, was even more intense than the discontent in England and Wales. That is why, in those far-off days, we legislated for Scotland first.
§ Mr. Dewar
When challenged by my hon. Friends the Members for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) and for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mrs. Fyfe) about the poll tax, the right hon. and learned Gentleman answered that it was legitimised because it was brought about by an act of the sovereign Westminster Parliament, which represented every part of the United Kingdom. If this sovereign Westminster Parliament, which also represents every part of the United Kingdom, decides, for the better governance of the country, to set up a Parliament in Edinburgh to deal with specifically Scottish domestic affairs, will that not also be legitimised?
§ Mr. Howard
It will not be legitimised, for the following reason. [Interruption.] If the right hon. Gentleman will listen, he will readily see why. It is accepted in all parts of the House—perhaps not all, because the Liberal Democrats do not accept it, but it is certainly common ground between the Government and the Opposition—that, before legitimacy can be achieved, there should be a referendum on the present proposals, in addition to legislation passed by this Parliament.
What is at issue today is the timing of that referendum. If it took place after the legislation had been fully and finally approved by the House, there would be a great deal more point to the question that the Secretary of State for Scotland asked me.
It is precisely because the Government do not propose a referendum after the legislation, after all the questions have been answered and after the voters have seen the specific details of what is proposed, that they will not provide their proposals with the legitimacy that they might otherwise have acquired. That is the answer to the right hon. Gentleman's question.
I appeal to Labour Members to reflect on the consequences of what they propose to do. Can they justify putting the Union in peril for party political gain? 739 The Opposition will do all we can to prevent the legislation from being passed in its present ill-advised and divisive form. There must be time for the detailed legislation to be considered before the referendums are held.
The Bill would allow one of the greatest changes in our island's history to be decided by a bare majority of Welsh and Scottish voters, possibly on a very low turnout, without their having seen the details of the legislation, and without the people of England having been consulted.
In the deliberately short time that the Government have allowed us, we shall argue vigorously to convince Scottish and Welsh voters that devolution on such a model threatens the break-up of our country. We Conservatives know that patriotism is not the same as parochialism. We are proud to stand as the party not only of the Union, but of the constitution and of parliamentary sovereignty.
The Bill purports to give the people choice, but in fact it denies them choice, by denying them the information on which to base their judgment. It asks them for their unconditional votes. We shall resist the proposals in the House and oppose them in Wales and Scotland. We stand ready to take our fight to the people.
§ Miss Anne Begg (Aberdeen, South)
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to make my maiden speech as part of this historic debate. The issue of Scottish devolution is close to my heart. What an honour it is to speak in the debate that will eventually lead to the setting up of a Scottish Parliament.
Now that Labour is finally and firmly in government, we can show not only the people of Scotland but the cynics and doom merchants that Labour will deliver a Scottish Parliament, if that is truly what the people want—hence the Referendums (Scotland and Wales) Bill. Before we undertake such constitutional change, we must be absolutely sure that it isthe settled will of the Scottish people",as the late John Smith said.
The Parliament that Labour proposes to set up in Edinburgh will, I am sure, bring great benefits to the north-east of Scotland and to my constituents in Aberdeen, South in particular. The voting system will ensure that no one area in Scotland will dominate the Scottish Parliament, and the people of Aberdeen will have a more direct say in how their health and education services should be run. Aberdeen was ahead of the game when it came to providing health care for the whole community. Foresterhill hospital was built before the NHS was established from money raised by public subscription—it really was a public hospital.
Aberdeen is also a beautiful city. When the sun shines, it positively sparkles with the light reflected off the grey granite. There is much pride in our civic amenities in Aberdeen. Anyone driving into Aberdeen, South towards the Bridge of Dee will notice the mass of blooms—crocuses and daffodils in spring, or roses down the central reservation of the dual carriageway in summer. It is an impressive sight. A separate category had to be created for Aberdeen in the Britain in Bloom competition, because we kept winning year after year, and we thought that we ought to give others a chance.
740 It is no surprise that Aberdeen attracts a lot of tourists, many of whom visit the Duthie park winter gardens—a haven of tranquillity and peace in a busy, thriving city. For most people, Aberdeen is a thriving city. It still has a busy fishing port, and many of my constituents work in the fish processing industry. The biggest change to Aberdeen's economy and prosperity was the arrival of oil. I am glad to say that the oil industry is still buoyant in Aberdeen, especially as initial predictions were that the oil would soon run out. It has not yet, but the city must be ready in the future if there is a change in our economic circumstances.
Inevitably, Aberdeen, South has its share of social problems. The rising threat and menace of drugs are ever present and, even in Aberdeen, many young people find it hard to get a job. Those are two issues that the new Labour Government will begin to address.
It is in its parliamentary representation that Aberdeen, South has had the greatest instability. Any Member who thought that he or she might have a job for life after winning Aberdeen, South was quickly disabused of that notion. It was my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland who started the process by unseating Lady Tweedsmuir in 1966. He was not to last, but I am glad to see that he has made good now.
lain Sproat came next, in 1970. I have a debt of gratitude to pay to Mr. Sproat over a telephone bill. At the time, I was an impoverished student, sharing a flat in Aberdeen, South with other equally poor students. The telephone phone bill which arrived obviously was not ours—it was so large that even someone on a Member of Parliament's pay could not have afforded it. Would British Telecom, or its predecessor, accept that we could not have run up such a large bill? Of course not. But it was a letter to our Member of Parliament, lain Sproat, that finally got the issue sorted out. I can now publicly thank him.
lain Sproat was not to last, either. Next came Gerry Malone. He was defeated for the first time in 1987 by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, Central (Mr. Doran). The fact that my hon. Friend now represents a different constituency will give the House a clue as to his staying power in Aberdeen, South. In 1992, he was replaced by Raymond Robertson—my opponent at the election. Although obviously upset by his defeat, Raymond was always polite and courteous towards me. Aberdeen, South has see-sawed between the Conservatives and Labour, so there is a lesson there for me not to become complacent. However, there is a crumb of comfort. Aberdeen, South has obviously been a good training ground for new Members of Parliament. All my male predecessors have reached either ministerial or shadow ministerial positions—not, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I am putting down a marker for my own advancement.
To return to the subject of this debate, I am sorry to report that the procedures of the House have been usurped by the local Aberdeen evening newspaper, the Evening Express, which is the sister paper of that other well-known news organ of the north-east, The Press and Journal. I have to dispel the myth about the parochial nature of the latter—it was not the newspaper that ran the story earlier this century with the banner headline "North-East man drowns at sea", with the much smaller sub-headline "Titanic sinks".
741 Last Friday evening, the Evening Express published the results of a phone-in poll which it ran asking readers whether they wanted a Scottish Parliament. I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland will be waiting in anticipation to find out what verdict was given by his old stomping ground—he still keeps very much in touch with what goes on in Aberdeen. The majority of the readers decided that they did want a Scottish Parliament after all. That is all right then—I feel that I am now speaking for my constituents in speaking in support of a referendum. We cannot just depend on newspaper polls, however. We must also ask the people directly, and we will do so through the referendum proposed in the Bill.
I began by saying that this was a historic debate. I am proud to be the new Member for Aberdeen, South and I have to thank the House authorities, my colleagues and Madam Speaker for making it possible for me to operate in the House just like everyone else. They have all made it possible for me to play my part as a member of the new Labour Government—a Government who will bring about real change in the lives of the people and real change in the way in which we govern Scotland.
§ 5.6 pm
§ Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Miss Begg) on her maiden speech. I have not heard all the maiden speeches of all the hon. Members who have represented Aberdeen, South, but I have heard quite a few. I have also had a somewhat chequered political career and I know what she is talking about—security of tenure. On behalf of all hon. Members I think that I can say that her speech was remarkable in its clarity and its passion and we look forward to hearing many more speeches from her in due course. I also thank her for her words about Raymond Robertson, who was my parliamentary private secretary in Northern Ireland and was a great support to me in my work. He will be pleased to hear the kind words that she spoke about him.
This has been a strange debate. Listening to the Secretary of State, I cannot help feeling that he does not really want the referendum. It is somehow unnecessary—it has been forced upon him by circumstances and he really lives in that period of the Labour party in February 1996 when the Secretary of State for Defence, the right hon. Member for Hamilton, South (Mr. Robertson), then the shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, was making it clear that there were no proposals for a referendum. Indeed, as I understand it, he went on to say that the election of a Labour Government with the proposal in their manifesto would be the only mandate necessary.
The House of Commons Library is sometimes a useful source of information. I commend it to the Secretary of State for Scotland. He will find from that source again that, some nine months later, the right hon. Member for Hamilton, South decided that there should be a referendum: he went further and suggested that there should be two—the second would trigger the tax-varying powers of a Scottish Parliament. At that time, according to the information that has been made available to me by—
§ Mr. Salmond
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Perhaps you can tell me why the right hon. Gentleman is speaking from the Back Benches today, 742 when he was speaking from the Front Bench on a constitutional issue on Friday. We cannot criticise decisions from the Chair, but we hope that they are made in the full awareness that there are no Conservative Members in Scotland or Wales.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
The responsibility that a particular Member takes on a particular day is not a matter for the Chair.
§ Mr. Ancram
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I understood that, for all the sadness of losing office, one of the privileges of being in opposition was that one could speak from the Back Benches in a way that was not possible when in government.
I want to make what I consider to be relevant points about the Bill. I was referring to the way in which the Government's policy on referendums has changed over the past 12 months, and pointing out that at one moment it was intended that there should be two referendums, which was described by the right hon. Gentleman who is now the Prime Minister as amature and sensible decision of the Scottish Executive Committee.He went on to say:This decision brings a Labour Government and a Scottish Parliament that much closer.A week later, the present Secretary of State for Defence said that there would be only one referendum, not two, as there was no support for that policy. I have the feeling that one reason why the Secretary of State for Scotland was so unconvincing today is that he would rather have no referendum and proceed straight away to legislation to be passed by the heavy majority that the Government command in the House.
§ Mr. Rhodri Morgan (Cardiff, West)
It would perhaps be for the benefit of the House if the right hon. Gentleman were to explain whether his status as a representative of the views of the official Opposition has changed since Friday. Is he speaking as a Back Bencher or as a Front Bencher sitting on the Back Benches merely for convenience?
§ Mr. Ancram
It must be obvious to the hon. Gentleman that when one speaks from the Back Benches one speaks as a Back Bencher. I am making my own personal points today, and I shall make them as I ought.
§ Mr. Wallace
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman can clarify whether on Friday, when he spoke from the Front Bench, he was an official spokesman. Has he been sacked in the meantime? As the constitutional issues are the same, do the official Opposition know whether they are forwards, backwards or sideways, and do they have any clue at all what they are doing?
§ Mr. Ancram
Again, if the hon. Gentleman were to look at Friday's debate and compare it with today's, he would discover that the previous debate was about all the constitutional proposals in the Queen's Speech, while today's is about a single issue.
Mr. Jon Owen Jones (Lord Commissioner to the Treasury)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In my experience as an Opposition Whip for four years, 743 a Front Bencher was never called from the Back Benches if another Back Bencher was available to speak. I do not know whether the precedent has changed, but I would be grateful if you could consider the matter.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I am not sure that a firm precedent is being set, but I shall take note of what the hon. Gentleman says and investigate the matter. He is also in danger of confusing me, because a moment ago he was on the Front Bench and now he is on the Back Benches.
§ Mr. Ancram
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
The first specific point that I want to put to the Secretary of State for Scotland concerns the fact that, as I understood him, he was asserting that preceding the referendum a White Paper would be published, which would be sufficient to explain to the people of Scotland and Wales that for which they would be asked to vote either for or against.
If the question to be asked of the Scottish and Welsh people in a referendum is whether they support the proposals for a Parliament and an Assembly as set out in the White Paper, why do not the questions as proposed in the Bill set that out? The question in schedule 1 says:I agree that there should be a Scottish Parliament",not a Scottish Parliament as set out in the White Paper, and the same goes for the Welsh Assembly.
If the Secretary of State for Scotland addresses his powerful legal mind to that matter, he will immediately see that the question being asked would be as relevant to a Scottish Parliament within an independent Scotland as to one on a devolved basis. I can only suspect that he has set out the proposition in that way because he does not want to be bound by the White Paper as endorsed by a referendum and wishes, if necessary, to be able to alter the legislation as it goes through Parliament and vary it according to circumstances that might arise, without the necessity of going back to the Scottish or Welsh people to ask for re-endorsement of a changed scheme.
If the Secretary of State does not mean that, surely the only other possibility is that he has sufficient contempt for Parliament to say that no changes can be made in the legislation as it goes through Parliament because the endorsement, in his view, will have precluded it. That question goes to the very heart of his proposals. Before the Bill becomes law, we must know precisely what the people of Scotland and Wales are being asked to endorse.
The Secretary of State referred to the situation in Northern Ireland. I want to offer him a word of caution. We have a bipartisan policy on Northern Ireland, and the most important thing about such a policy is that we should understand it. Today he has in effect suggested that it was proposed by the previous Government—and therefore, under a bipartisan policy, by the present Government—that a White Paper should be drawn up and then put to the people of Northern Ireland in a referendum; that is the analogy that he drew with what is happening now.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to the framework document, but that is not a White, or even a Green Paper; it is an understanding between two Governments that was to be used as the basis for parties to try to reach agreement among themselves. It was made absolutely clear that it 744 was not the framework document that would be put to the people of Northern Ireland in a referendum, but any detailed agreement arrived at by the parties either with or without the help of that document.
I put that point with a good deal of force, because there is a suspicion in Northern Ireland that British Governments intend to produce White Papers and go over the heads of the political parties by putting them to the people in a referendum. I hope that the Secretary of State will take this opportunity to make it clear—as he failed to do in his reply to my intervention—that that is not the Government's policy, any more than it was ours.
§ Mr. Dewar
I am happy to oblige the right hon. Gentleman, because I certainly do not want to get into difficulties over the matter; if he checks the record he will see that I referred to the triple lock and to discussions followed by a referendum followed by legislation. I merely made the point that, when circumstances make it sensible, the opposition in principle can be set aside and we can have pre-legislative referendums. That was my only point, and I believe that I have been precise about it.
It is possibly fair that the right hon. Gentleman should have regard to the fact that the ballot paper is to contain a preliminary sentence that says:Parliament has decided to consult people in Scotland on the Government's proposals for a Scottish Parliament".It is therefore a little unfair of him to take the question out of the context of the ballot paper.
§ Mr. Ancram
Is the Secretary of State therefore suggesting that he would accept an amendment to make that clear in the propositions themselves? If not, perhaps he would explain why not. We may table an amendment to that effect and see whether he will accept it.
The whole principle of what was being done in Northern Ireland was that the parties would come to an agreement that would be detailed in all respects and would be a matter not only for political parties but for two Governments, and that that would then be put to a referendum. That agreement would be reached—this is germane to the second point that I want to put to the Secretary of State—not by a simple majority but on the basis of what is called sufficiency of consensus.
Sufficiency of consensus was designed to ensure that any agreement that was to be put to the people of Northern Ireland in a referendum would have the broad agreement of the representatives of both parts of the community. That is far wider and broader than a simple majority. The Secretary of State raised the subject of Northern Ireland, and I take him up on it.
The second concern of Conservative Members is that we are not talking about sufficiency of consensus, or even a simple majority of those able to vote in Scotland. Under the Bill, assent can be given by a simple majority of whoever bothers to vote in a referendum. If this referendum is to have any value, its outcome must be credible. The Secretary of State would not dissent from that. In his view, would a poll of 10, 20, 30, or 40 per cent. deliver a sufficiency of consensus? In terms of what I have been working on for the past four years, it would not.
The Secretary of State must be very conscious of the fact that, if any progress or process is to follow on a result emanating from such a referendum and move forward 745 with any chance of survival, it must be based on what would be accepted by the people of the United Kingdom as a whole as a credible outcome. He cannot duck the threshold question. What does he believe is the minimum level of voter participation in Scotland that would deliver credibility? I do not believe that, in his heart of hearts, he thinks that anything under 50 per cent. could deliver it. I hope that the Government will deal with that in their reply.
We have discovered in this debate that the cost of the referendums—I am not entering into the next stage, the preparation for assemblies—is to come from the Consolidated Fund, which, as I understand it, is not a Scottish or Welsh block fund but a United Kingdom fund. All taxpayers in the United Kingdom therefore contribute to it. I want to make it clear beyond peradventure that the Bill is telling my constituents that they will not be allowed a say in the outcome of the referendum but that they will have to pay for it. Under the principle of no taxation without representation, I believe that that has constitutional significance that the Government should address.
§ Mr. O'Neill
Can the right hon. Gentleman explain where funding was to have come from for the constitutional arrangements that he had hoped to set in place in Northern Ireland? Would the money have been taken from the Consolidated Fund or from the Northern Ireland block grant?
§ Mr. Ancram
The cost of the Northern Ireland talks process, which is happening on the ground at the moment, is shared between the Northern Ireland block grant and the Irish Government, because they are the two main participants in the process. The hon. Gentleman's point has been answered in a way different from that which he expected.
It is clear that the implications of even this rather minor Bill on a referendum have not been thought through thoroughly by the Government. Enormous constitutional issues will arise from the outcome of the referendums. If they are not addressed during the passage of this legislation, those outcomes could lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom. It is for that reason that I will oppose the Bill.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)
My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Miss Begg) is the seventh Member of Parliament for that constituency whom I have known, and she delivered a remarkable speech. The first Member for Aberdeen, South whom I knew was Priscilla, Lady Tweedsmuir. She, too, was a remarkable lady. The Secretary of State, who beat her in an election in Aberdeen, South, would concede that she was a most effective Member of Parliament. The constituency has had some remarkable Members and I suspect that my hon. Friend will follow in that remarkable line.
I take my hon. Friend up on one phrase. She said that she was concerned about the settled will—the settled will—of the Scottish people. I think that that is what has to be established.
There is something that puzzles me deeply. I do not understand why it was ever thought necessary to hold referendums before legislation.
746 I for one have made it quite clear to anyone who would listen that I would vote for the Second Reading of a Bill—any Bill—because the matter had to be discussed. I made it clear—I do not think that anyone in the Labour party dissented from this—that at the first sign of time-wasting by the Opposition, I would vote for a guillotine because it was no part of my business to disrupt the legislative programme of a Labour Government.
What therefore is the necessity for a pre-legislative referendum at all? If it is not to put pressure on Government Members, what on earth is it for?
I have been asked about the matter everywhere. At my reselection meeting for the Linlithgow constituency Labour party and elsewhere, I have repeatedly said that I would campaign ferociously for a referendum on the one meaningful question that a referendum can ask: "Do you approve of the Scotland Act 1997 or 1998 as passed by Parliament?"
That is a precise question that covers all the eventualities.
Given the size of the Government's majority, there may not be any eventualities; there may not be many changes. However, there is an assumption that in all the parliamentary discussions there will be no changes. The House of Commons cannot be taken for granted by implication.
Certain hard issues must be sorted out. I had the good fortune to be called to speak on Friday and drew attention to some of them.
There is only one to which I go back and ask my hon. Friends to ponder. The question was first put by John Lloyd. He called it the Bury, North question. It is a serious issue. How can the Labour Member who has won Bury, North—not a constituency over-endowed with wealth—by defeating Alistair Burt go on justifying to his constituents the fact that it takes fewer than 55,000 votes to send a Scottish Member to the House of Commons but more than 68,000 votes to elect an English Member? I think that I will omit the implications, particularly the public expenditure implications, of the so-called West Lothian question. It was dubbed that by Enoch Powell, not by me. We cannot assume that that subject will not be addressed in the parliamentary discussions.
That subject must be addressed somehow or other because, above all else, we are talking about something that the Government hope will last in perpetuity, and in the form in which it is proposed.
I do not know whether the Secretary of State thinks that I fall into the category of the "horribly familiar" or the "bastards", as he put it. However, presumably it is common ground among Labour Members that what is proposed should have at least a chance of lasting.
If the proposition is to have a chance of lasting, these awkward and difficult questions must be faced up to. The place to face up to them is the Floor of the House of Commons. If it is not done here, where else is it to be done? If it is not done, the whole proposition could be unstable. That would be deeply unsatisfactory and could lead to all sorts of sournesses.
§ Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Mid-Bedfordshire)
The hon. Gentleman has made the important point that, in my constituency of Mid-Bedfordshire the electorate is 68,000. In most Scottish constituencies, the average size is about 747 55,000. Therefore, does he agree that it would be right and proper for there to be a single boundary commission for the whole of the United Kingdom to equalise those numbers?
§ Mr. Dalyell
I cannot agree or disagree off the top of my head because it is a complex matter. It would be incautious to make ex cathedra statements.
That kind of issue must be faced up to on the Floor of this House. We do not know how the parliamentary process will end. It might not end in the form proposed in the White Paper. If it does not end in that form, the referendum will be putting a proposal or a set of proposals that will be different or possibly significantly different from the final outcome. It depends what comes out of the parliamentary process.
Even at this 11th hour and 59th minute I ask my right hon. and hon. Friends to reflect on whether things could be done differently. There are two reasons for that, one of which I have tried to outline. This is the question of stability, and of endorsing something that can in no sense be interpreted as fraudulent. If we have a referendum on something that is different from what is finally proposed, the referendum is surely invalidated.
The second consideration is that of entrenchment. That point has been put strongly by some members of the Linlithgow constituency Labour party who have an honourable history of being absolutely dedicated to the idea of a Scottish Parliament. If a referendum took place on a settled set of proposals after the legislation had been through the parliamentary mill and said yes, that would give it an entrenchment and at least a chance of success that it would not otherwise have.
I thank the House for my hearing.
§ Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)
I agree with the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), the doyen of the Scottish parliamentary group, on two matters. First, I want to congratulate the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Miss Begg) on a model maiden speech. She has clearly shown how quickly she has got the feel of the House and we look forward to the contribution that she will make in the coming months and years. She is right to say that hers is an unstable seat and, with the Liberal Democrats in second place, I am glad that she acknowledges that.
I also agree with the hon. Member for Linlithgow on the number of Scottish Members and the size of Scottish constituencies if we have a Scottish Parliament. We adopt the view taken by the Kilbrandon commission that there is a case for a reduction in the number of Scottish Members to about 58, 59 or 60. We cannot run away from that issue and, no doubt, there will be plenty of opportunities to debate that in the months ahead.
As the first Opposition Member from a Scottish or Welsh constituency to take part in the debate, I want to reflect on the contributions so far by the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) and the right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram). The right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe seemed to learn nothing from the general election campaign. His speech seemed to be a retread of those I 748 have heard on many occasions by the former right hon. Member for Stirling, Michael Forsyth—speeches which brought such distinguished success, or lack of it, to his party in the general election.
The right hon. Member for Devizes was today speaking from the Back Benches. I wonder whether that is because his right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe was speaking from the Front Bench whereas on Friday his right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) was speaking from the Front Bench. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman chooses whether to sit on the Front Bench or the Back Benches depending on which leadership candidate is in pole position on that day.
The right hon. Member for Devizes has been named as a potential shadow Secretary of State for Scotland. His speech lacked punch today and he was clearly making sure that he would not be selected for the post.
Although he is no longer in the Chamber, it is a pleasure to congratulate the Secretary of State for Scotland, the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Anniesland (Mr. Dewar), on his appointment. He has already indicated a co-operative and open approach, not least in getting on to the statute book the Scottish home rule Bill. His party, my party and a wide range of people in Scottish civic life have worked over seven or eight years to bring that project to fruition and I can assure him that, whatever our disagreements over the referendum, we will work co-operatively to bring that project to a successful conclusion.
The Secretary of State was complaining about Conservative Members talking about the cost of the referendum. He said that it will cost £5 million, less than one thirtieth of 1 per cent. of the entire Scottish Office budget. He said that they needed to lend a sense of perspective. My perspective is that it is £1 million more than the additional money that the Labour Government have found for investment in Scottish education in the coming year. They are spending more on the referendum than they are able to find to increase investment in Scottish education, which suggests that the concerns that we expressed about Scottish education during the election campaign will still be around when the referendum is long past.
A referendum did not form any part of the constitutional convention's proposals. At one stage it was considered and rejected, but it did not appear in the final scheme. Looking at the origins of why the Labour party became attached to the referendum, it was always our concern that it had the wobbles over tax. I am not claiming that it was over the principle that a Scottish Parliament should have tax-varying powers, because I have no doubt about the commitment to that principle by members of the constitutional convention. However, in the two and a half years leading up to the general election, the word "tax" seemed to make the Labour party appear like a rabbit caught in headlights. It was a word to which the focus groups reacted badly. On this matter the trumpet sounded an uncertain note.
The Labour party seemed to wobble in the face of the tax offensive by the former Secretary of State, Michael Forsyth, although it had no need to because we have seen the effectiveness of his tartan tax campaign. I suspect that, although Michael Forsyth was making no headway in Scotland, the Labour party strategists were alarmed that it 749 might rock middle England. It was plausible that the carefully structured strategy of not frightening the voters of middle England by not talking at all about tax could have been undermined by Tory spokesmen saying, "Look north of the border. Their proposals for tax varying"—although you can bet your life that the Tories would have talked about tax raising—"are the real Labour party proposals." The Labour party had to neutralise that and out of that came the two-question referendum. It was a policy born not of principle but of expediency. Perhaps in its campaigning strategy, it was for the Labour party a right expedient.
The right hon. Member for Hamilton, South (Mr. Robertson) was quoted in Scotland on Sunday on 11 February 1996 as saying:We have no proposals for a referendum because we want to legislate early and quickly for this outstanding commitment, and that is clear party policy.So clear that only months later it was changed.
The story did not stop there. It was not only that on 27 June the policy was changed to a referendum with two questions. By late August, the Labour party had added not only a second question but a second referendum. The guiding hand of the then Member for Glasgow, Govan, hand in hand with the defeated Labour candidate in Edinburgh, West, Ms Lesley Hinds, managed to persuade Scotland's Labour executive into a double-lock mechanism, whereby a second referendum would be called by the Scottish Parliament before the tax-varying powers were ever used. That was such a significant event in the development of the Labour party's policy on a referendum that the now Prime Minister was moved to say:I welcome the mature and sensible decision of the Scottish Executive Committee.So mature, so sensible that it was jettisoned less than seven days later. He went on to say:what we've actually got now is a policy that is completely firm, as it has been all the way through.Just as former Tory Ministers shook in their shoes and looked over their shoulder when their position was described by Mrs. Thatcher as unassailable, so Ministers in the new Administration should watch out when their policy initiatives are described by the Prime Minister as mature and sensible.
As convention partners, the Liberal Democrats in no way feel bound by Labour's tactical change. We believe that the establishment of a Scottish Parliament within the United Kingdom represents—as the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South said—the settled will of the Scottish people, and that a referendum is unnecessary. The convention comprised not only the Labour party and the Liberal Democrats but trade unions and representatives of Churches, local government, ethnic groups, women's groups and Gaelic culture groups in Scotland. It produced a clear consensus, which in many respects makes us different from Wales, where over the years there has not been the same popular consent. As has been pointed out, in the 1979 referendum, the provisions of the Wales Act 1978 won the support of only 20.3 per cent. of Welsh voters.
The shadow Home Secretary said that support waned during the weeks leading up to the referendum in 1979. One of the reasons for that was perhaps that Conservatives in Scotland were told by no less an authority than Lord 750 Home that if they voted against the provisions of the Scotland Act 1978, they would get something better. He said that a Scottish Parliament without taxation powers would be a danger to the Union. It is important when one quotes history not to quote it selectively.
In Scotland, we could readily concur with the proposition put by a senior Labour source in The Scotsman on 25 April last year thata Scottish Parliament will be in the manifesto and the electorate can vote for it in the general election. That is all the mandate that is needed.Indeed, 65 out of Scotland's 72 Members of Parliament—I am not sure if one should include the hon. Member for Linlithgow, but 66 if one does—have endorsed the convention scheme. Even allowing, as the Secretary of State said, for the liberal on the corner of the road in Anniesland—I do not think that there are that many in Anniesland, to be honest—who voted Liberal Democrat because he did not like the Conservatives, and even allowing for those who must have voted for us for other good and valid reasons, 65 out of 72 Members of Parliament represents a considerable mandate.
It is also important to remember that only 21 per cent. of the electorate voted for independence. Independence was a clear option. People may have voted Labour, Liberal Democrat or Conservative for a number of reasons—
§ Mr. Wallace
Twenty-two per cent. voted for a single-issue party. I do not mean that in a demeaning way. The Scottish National party has a range of other policies, some of which we agree with, but it is a single-issue party. The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) told people that if they wanted independence, they should vote SNP. They did not need to worry because the Labour party would make sure that there was not a Tory Government. England would deal with that and people could vote with head and heart for independence if they wanted. Twenty-two per cent. did so.
§ Mr. Salmond
So, might the 13 per cent. who voted Liberal Democrat have been voting for federalism?
§ Mr. Wallace
That might well be, or they might well have been voting along with the 45 per cent. who voted Labour and in favour of the Scottish Constitutional Convention scheme. It is nonsense to call for the option of independence on the referendum ballot paper. People had a clear option of independence on I May. The unequivocal option of independence was available in 72 Scottish constituencies on 1 May, and 78 per cent. of the Scottish people rejected it. When the full-time score is four to one, there is no case for extra time and no case for putting an independence option on the referendum ballot paper.
A more serious objection to the Bill relates to the second question. It was Labour's concern about tax which prompted the whole exercise. My party does not shy away from the taxation issue. We believe that taxation responsibility is what establishes the link of accountability between those elected to the Scottish Parliament and those who elect them. During the election campaign, much play was made—the shadow Home Secretary did it again 751 today—of the Prime Minister's reference to an English parish council. I understood the Prime Minister to be saying that if an English parish council could have taxation powers, how much more compelling was the case for giving a Scottish Parliament such powers.
Taxation powers are the powers that translate an assembly into a Parliament. If the Prime Minister believes that, why is he prepared to countenance the possibility of a Parliament without taxation powers—a possibility opened up by the two-question referendum? In Friday's debate, the Secretary of State for Scotland said:it is odd that a directly elected Parliament with legislative powers should in some way not be trusted with the discipline and responsibility of financial powers, when such discipline and responsibility apply to every other tier of local and national Government. That is an odd non-sequitur."—[Officia/ Report, 16 May 1997; Vol. 294, c. 279.]Yet I understood the Minister for Home Affairs and Devolution, the hon. Member for Central Fife (Mr. McLeish), to say at the weekend that in the event of a yes, no vote, the Government would legislate for such a non-sequitur Parliament.
To avoid such a non-sequitur, my right hon. and hon. Friends and I will seek to amend the Bill in Committee. We believe that we could consolidate the question so that the question of tax is not ducked. The question could be along the lines, "I agree/do not agree that there should be a Scottish Parliament with tax-varying powers." Even at this late stage, I ask the Secretary of State to consider such a proposition. It removes the possibility, however remote—I share his expectation that there would be a vote for taxation powers, but even the Minister of State has accepted the possibility that there might not be—of his having to face the prospect of introducing a Bill to establish a non-sequitur assembly with less power in one critical respect than an English parish council.
I remind the House that, in moving the Government of Ireland Bill in 1912, the then Liberal Prime Minister Mr. Asquith said:However well we may transact … our common and Imperial affairs, we must perpetually bungle and mismanage the affairs of each unit."—[Official Report, 9 May 1912; Vol. 38, c. 700.]We continue to bungle and mismanage the affairs of Scotland and Wales. The very fact that we have in one Bill a referendum provision for Scotland and for Wales, when there are different circumstances in each, shows an insensitivity all too typical of the House in dealing with Scottish and Welsh matters. We have already said that it is not unreasonable, given the different history of the issue in Scotland and Wales, that there might be different solutions for Scotland and Wales.
As we cannot vote on our reasoned amendment, we shall carry forward our opposition to the principle of a Scottish referendum to the debate on clause 1 stand part in Committee. We shall seek to amend the second question in the way that I have outlined.
If, however, we do not succeed in persuading the House of the wisdom of our views, there is no doubt, and let there be no doubt, that the Scottish Liberal Democrats will campaign for a yes, yes outcome in the referendum. At the end of the day, for Scotland the referendum Bill is merely a surmountable hurdle on the road to achieving in this Session a much greater prize—the home rule Parliament for which my party has campaigned for the better part of a century.
§ Ms Rosemary McKenna (Cumbernauld and Kilsyth)
First, I should like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Miss Begg) on her excellent maiden speech. She certainly set a very high standard for the rest of the new Members for Scotland on the Labour Benches to match.
I greatly appreciate being called to make my first speech in the debate on the Referendums (Scotland and Wales) Bill. It is the start of the parliamentary route to a Scottish Parliament for which I campaigned for many years prior to the Scotland Act 1978 and have actively pursued ever since. Today also marks the beginning of the most exciting changes to the constitution in centuries.
I want to begin by paying tribute to my predecessor, Norman Hogg, who was Member of Parliament for the constituency from 1979. He was considered an extremely diligent and respected parliamentarian in the constituency and in the House. I am certain that he will continue to contribute to public life in some way. He is an Aberdeen man and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South said, in the true tradition of Aberdeen people, he will be back at some time in the future.
For me, the past two months have been incredibly hard work and something of a whirlwind; I was selected on 1 April and elected on 1 May. That success was due entirely to the hard work of my family and colleagues in the constituency and, of course, the Labour party manifesto on which I stood. It included a commitment to the Scottish Constitutional Convention scheme for a Scottish Parliament. It is a well-thought-out and carefully constructed scheme.
When Norman Hogg was elected in 1979, I was the chair of the East Dunbartonshire constituency party of which Cumbernauld was a part. My hon. Friend, the newly elected Member for Stirling (Mrs. McGuire), was the election agent when we won what was then the most marginal constituency in Britain—a three-way marginal. It is a great delight that my hon. Friend and I have been elected together to make up the 101 Labour women Members of Parliament.
The House might be interested in an experience we had on our first day in London. With my hon. Friend the new Member for Ayr (Mrs. Osborne), we hailed a taxi and asked a London cabbie to take us to the House of Commons Members' entrance. Once we were settled, he said, "You the wives of MPs then?" That was the first lesson for that London cabbie and I think that there might be a few more lessons to be learnt, not only by everyone in the House, but in London.
The sitting Member who was defeated in 1979 by Norman Hogg was none other than the current hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing), who as Margaret Bain had won the seat with the slimmest of majorities-22, if I recall. She won it from the former Conservative Member, Mr. Barry Henderson. It was an incredibly hotly contested election. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Moray and Mr. Henderson, who were excellent former Members for the constituency. Of course, part of the constituency, Kilsyth and the surrounding areas, was ably represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan). The redrawing of the boundaries meant that the constituency of Cumbernauld and Kilsyth was created. It has been as it is now since 1984 and the people have had the good sense to return consistently a Labour Member of Parliament.
753 The constituency is at a very vulnerable stage in its development. Cumbernauld is one of Scotland's highly successful new towns—some would argue it is the best. It is vital to Scotland's economy because of its ability to attract quality inward investors, who provide quality jobs not only for the people of Cumbernauld and Kilsyth and villagers of Banton, Croy and Queenzieburn, but for many others in the surrounding communities.
The development corporation, on which I had the honour to represent the people of the town for about 12 years, has been wound up—in fact, my term of office terminated the day before I was selected as candidate for the constituency—which means that we can no longer enjoy special development status. I think that it is appropriate that, after 40 years, Cumbernauld is no longer considered a new town.
The change came at the same time as the previous Government's botched reorganisation of local government. As a result, we were gerrymandered into Lanarkshire and not Dunbartonshire, our natural home. Hon. Members will recall that that was done solely in an attempt to create a Tory council in East Dunbartonshire. We all know that that try failed miserably, since there is not one Tory council in Scotland—a forerunner for the results on 1 May. It is quite clear, however, from the attitude of some Conservative Members that they have still not learnt any lessons from the people of Scotland.
The people in my constituency are rightly concerned that we should continue the momentum of development, particularly in terms of high-quality employment, the quality of shopping provision and commercial development in the Cumbernauld and Kilsyth areas. I assure them that I will work tirelessly to meet their high expectations. I am certain that the Government's proposals will contribute significantly.
A decision will be taken shortly on the route of the M80, the final link in the motorway network of central Scotland, which will join the M9 and the M876 to the north and the M73 and the M80 to the south. I made it clear throughout the election campaign that I believed that it would be of tremendous economic importance to the entire area if a bypass that achieved several aims, including retaining the existing road as a relief route in the event of an incident, was built—in effect, two roads for the price of one. The upgrading of the existing road would leave Cumbernauld, with a population of 50,000, as the only town between Glasgow and the far north of Scotland without a bypass. I will continue to have discussions with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Under-Secretary with responsibility for transport about that.
Many hon. Members have referred to the sporting achievements of their constituencies, particularly those of their football teams. My constituency has a superb record both at national and international level in many sports, including swimming, wrestling, gymnastics and the special Olympics to name but a few. The football team, Clyde, has still to gain some honours. Since it came to Cumbernauld it has made slow progress—some might say very slow progress.
The Bill marks a milestone in the renewal of democracy in Britain. We have become the most centralised state in Europe. Politics have been discredited and politicians are regarded sceptically by our young people. Our young people voted for the Government, however, because we 754 offered them hope for the future not only about jobs, but through our promise to change the way in which the country is governed. We promised to return the decision-making process to the people, to involve them in the debate about the future direction of the country and to clean up politics.
Over the past few years, I have spoken frequently to groups of young people in my role as president of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities. The one thing that really caught their interest was when I spoke about the proposals for a Scottish Parliament, particularly the form and nature of that Parliament: elected by a form of proportional representation, inclusive, consultative and with the commitment of the Scottish Labour party and the Scottish Liberal Democrats to field candidates on the basis of 50 per cent. women and 50 per cent. men. That is an important part of the proposals and one that we must never forget.
Young people are put off by the yah-boo behaviour that we often witness in the House—particularly the other night from Opposition Members—but they are excited by the prospect of having a decision-making body that takes on board the views of the many. They are interested in new politics, and the referendums will begin to show them what that really means.
Like many other hon. Members, I have been a member of the Scottish Constitutional Convention since the beginning and have sat on the executive all that time, representing Scottish local government. I am convinced that the Scottish people want a Parliament. They certainly voted massively for parties offering them a devolved Parliament, so I have no fears of asking them to endorse that view by referendum, which I am certain they will.
I say to the people who say that we should have the independence option on the ballot paper that the time to vote for independence was on I May, when the people returned only six hon. Members with independence as their option, clearly rejecting that view. To the people who say that we do not need a referendum, I say, "Why not?" A yes, yes vote will give the Scotland Bill the democratic legitimacy to ensure its safe passage through both Houses of Parliament, which should not ignore the will of the people. This is about constitutional change and the people have the right to express their views. I believe that there will be a substantial yes, yes vote.
I thank the House for listening with courtesy to my contribution and I hope to be involved in many debates in future.
§ 6.1 pm
§ Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire)
I am sure that I speak for the whole House when I congratulate the hon. Member for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth (Ms McKenna) on her admirable maiden speech. The House probably heard more of the charm and the taxi driver more of the tenacity, but we have enjoyed listening to her and I am sure that she will make many other fine speeches. May I add that it was also a great privilege to be present to hear the speech of the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Miss Begg)?
The hon. Member for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth paid a particularly gracious and well-deserved tribute to her predecessor, Norman Hogg, a much respected former Member of the House. He was particularly appreciated for the firm impartiality that he displayed in the Chair. 755 He was one of the most senior members of the Chairmen's Panel and, in that role, had to preside over a number of Bills with which he did not, I am sure, entirely agree, but his impartiality was never in doubt and he will be much missed here. I hope that the hon. Lady will not take that amiss.
It is important that Conservative Members take careful stock of what happened on l May. We have to recognise that, for the time being at least—I am convinced that it is only for the time being—we are an English rural and suburban party, in the main. There is, therefore, no point in spitting in the wind or in pretending that what has happened has not happened. We have to approach the Bill and the legislation that will follow with realism as well as determination.
I do not begrudge the Labour party its sense of euphoria at its victory. That is entirely natural. We felt something of that in 1983 when we had a very large majority, but the seeds of our downfall were sown in that very large majority. The man who made the most sensible comments, Lord Pym, then Francis Pym, was promptly sacked for his pains. He warned of the dangers of arrogance. I hope that the Labour party, when it has got over its sense of euphoria, will not lapse into arrogance, because that will damage not only the Labour party, but this Parliament.
I approach this Bill in, I hope, a spirit of realism, but as one who believes passionately in the United Kingdom. I have certain Scottish credentials. My family is Scottish in origin, and my wife is an Aberdonian. At the general election, my son had the great privilege of contesting the seat held by the hon. Member for West Renfrewshire (Mr. Graham). No young politician could have had a more gracious opponent than him, and I thank him for the courtesy that he showed my son during the election.
§ Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Inverclyde)
I met the hon. Gentleman's son on a couple of occasions and I found him to be pleasant company. Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that his son has expressed a desire to stand for the Scottish Parliament on behalf of the Scottish Conservative party?
§ Sir Patrick Cormack
It is a very unwise father who seeks to determine his son's career; all I would say to the hon. Gentleman is that my son is a realist, as I am. He believes, as I do, that there will be a Scottish Parliament and it would be entirely understandable if he aspired to be a Member of it. If that were his ambition, he would have my total support.
As I say, I accept that there will be a Scottish Parliament, but I am a passionate believer in the United Kingdom and I beg the Under—Secretary of State for Scotland and all his ministerial colleagues to think carefully about the point that I raised in my intervention during the speech of the Secretary of State for Scotland. It is all very well saying that only 22 per cent. of people voted for independence on 1 May. In a general election, there are a range of reasons why people cast their votes, and we all know that. The overriding case for any referendum is that there is a specific question before people and they vote on it. I agree strongly with the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), whom I am 756 privileged to call a friend, that it would be far more sensible to have this referendum after legislation, but I fear that we are not going to have that option and that is why I make the points that I do.
We should give the people the opportunity to demonstrate their affirmation of the United Kingdom. I believe that at least 78 per cent. would do that, but I do not know. No hon. Member knows. If Scotland voted by a majority to be independent, of course it would become independent. That would be disastrous not just for the United Kingdom, but for Scotland. The United Kingdom is much greater than the sum of its parts. I was here and opposed the devolution legislation in the 1970s, and I have always opposed such legislation. Were the parties more evenly balanced now, I would be taking a different line because I would think that we could overturn the Bill. I know that we cannot in this Parliament. I have to be a realist, so I want to try to ensure that the Scottish Parliament does not lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom.
I take my example from a wise old Conservative whom I got to know when I first came into the House, the late Sir Derek Walker-Smith, who became Lord Broxbourne. He fought with passionate intensity the legislation that took Britain into what was then the Common Market, but the moment the decision was taken, he became one of the first Members of the delegated European Parliament. He said that he was going to try to prevent what he had forecast coming to pass. He made a significant contribution as chairman of one of the legislative Committees of that Parliament and was entirely positive in his approach. I would like to emulate that approach now. If we are to ensure that the Parliament does not become a fragmentary influence and lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom, we shall have a much better chance of success if in the referendum there has been a conclusive affirmation of belief in the United Kingdom by the people of Scotland.
I therefore beg Ministers to think carefully about the inclusion of a third question. I know that I would have the support of the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond), but for different reasons. He would be campaigning vigorously to try to increase the independence vote—that is an entirely fair and proper thing to do in a democratic debate—while we would be campaigning with vigour and, I hope, clarity to demonstrate the true advantages of the United Kingdom.
I must not stray into the subject of last Friday's debate. We are dealing now with a specific issue and a specific Bill. Sadly, I could not take part in Friday's debate because I was at the funeral of our late colleague, Michael Shersby. Had I taken part in it, I would have developed my arguments in detail.
Suffice it to say that I implore Ministers and all supporters of the Government to think again about the adamant refusal to include a third question. Let us face the reality; let the Scottish people make their decision and show how strongly they believe in the United Kingdom. If they do that with an affirmative answer to that question, which I believe should probably be the first question but which, with equal logic, could be the third, I do not believe that the establishment of a Scottish Parliament need necessarily lead to what many of us previously forecast. I should then be happier if a member of my family became a Member of it.
§ Mr. Martin O'Neill (Ochil)
I congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Aberdeen, South (Miss Begg) and for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth (Ms McKenna) on excellent maiden speeches. The fact that they have both been schoolteachers is a testament to the ability of teachers to make themselves heard. Certainly, the ability to project one's voice to the back of the room will be a great advantage. I look forward to hearing them bring to other debates experience which, as they said, was of no small assistance to them in describing the problems of their constituencies and the challenges that lie ahead.
I should particularly like to record our respect and support for my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South. The nature of the difficulties of adjusting to this place will be greater for her, but it is important that she, like the Secretary of State for Education and Employment, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett), will be blazing a trail for people with disabilities and those who have been denied access to too many opportunities. By coming here and making a clear statement about the inclusive character of this Parliament, she will help all those concerned with people who have disabilities. Her speech and her positive approach are examples to us all.
I also congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Anniesland (Mr. Dewar) on his appointment as Secretary of State for Scotland. His long acquaintance and association with the cause of devolution is of great assistance in hammering home this case. It is clear that, no matter what the Government do, they will be accused of backsliding on devolution. One could say that we should have passed the Bill before Whit, that we could have delayed the Whit recess and spent the week here. Perhaps then the scribblers at The Scotsman, or at least the scribblers in its letters column, would have been silenced.
The Bill is, however, the first legislative proposal since the general election, which shows the high priority given to what I hope will be a long-term programme of decentralisation in the United Kingdom. It certainly gives the lie to the notion that, without a large separatist vote, there would be no guarantee that the legislation would be brought forward.
There was not a large separatist vote. I use the word "separatist", because I do not think it is right for any particular party to claim ownership or copyright of the word "nationalist". When we are dealing with legislation of this character, we draw a distinction between devolution and separatism. For the purpose of today's debate at least, I shall refer to such people as separatists or secessionists.
The Labour party had a difficult time last summer at the time of the initial decision—or perhaps we should say "instruction"—to have a referendum. I remember many of my colleagues being extremely concerned about it. I felt that there was a case for a pre-legislative referendum. I remember discussing it with Bruce Milian, the former Secretary of State, after the 1979 general election. He felt that the obstructionism and so many of the difficulties placed in the way of the devolution proposals at that time could have been avoided had there been a clear expression by the Scottish people during the early stages.
It is disingenuous of people to say that they do not know what the proposals are. Frankly, the proposals have been around for a long time. I happen to believe that the 758 work of the Scottish Constitutional Convention has brought the proposals to the Scottish people, who are now being given the chance to pass judgment on them as much as on anything else. When people read the White Paper, they will see that it closely shadows the convention's proposals. My first point, therefore, is that a pre-legislative referendum will assist our handling of the matter.
Secondly, let us consider the question of the Parliament's tax-varying powers. We were told by the former right hon. Member for Stirling that the Scottish people considered tax-raising powers an anathema. When the Secretary of State of the day raises a question of that character with the rigour and force that he did, it is only reasonable that, if we are to have a referendum, we say that the two questions—the principle of the establishment of a Parliament and the question of its tax-varying powers—should be considered together.
If any part of this country is to be governed by a different set of arrangements, it is only reasonable that the people who are to be most directly affected should have the opportunity to speak and be consulted. Before the constitutional changes are made, it is advisable that, after due debate, the people should be allowed the final say on the principle.
That is now becoming the consensus when we consider matters relating to what might come out of the intergovernmental conference and developments in the European Union. It will certainly reinforce the hand of the legislators if support for a Parliament is substantial. It has to be said that it will give some power to the elbow of those who oppose it if the majority is small. Nevertheless, the principle is that, before constitutional change is effected, the people should have the right of veto.
The hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack) spent some time on the issue of a third question, on the establishment of a separate Scottish state. There seem to be two sets of arguments in favour of that proposal. The first is that, because the subject under consideration is a Scottish Government, all options should be offered to the people. Such an argument is usually made by separatists, and it is an understandable ploy.
Separatists know that, if they are to separate from the United Kingdom, they will first have to secure a majority of Scottish seats in the House. Although only time will tell, I should think that it would be easier to secure a majority of the Scottish seats than it would be to win a majority of Scottish votes. The United Kingdom does not have proportional representation, and constitutional change will occur if a majority of hon. Members is in favour of it. After such a majority, as I said, it would be desirable to hold a referendum.
If we included a third question in the referendum, however, we would be giving the nationalists what they want, without their having to secure the necessary electoral support in a general election. Therefore, I do not think that anything would be achieved by allowing separatists to include such a question, because—as the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) said—ultimately that third question was the only distinctive offer that they made to the Scottish people.
At the general election, the only difference between the agendas, manifestos and wish lists of the separatists and those of the other Scottish parties was their promise that, 759 if they won a majority of parliamentary seats, they would hold a referendum to determine whether a majority is in favour of Scotland separating from the United Kingdom.
I do not believe that we should hold a referendum only to show the weakness of the nationalists' case—after which, presumably, they will go away. Those who want a separate Scottish state will be in the House as long as there are politics in the United Kingdom, and it is nonsense to think that they would be obliterated by a referendum. There will always be a place in Scottish politics for the greeting tendency and a last home for the disaffected and alienated, and they will probably find that home within the ranks of the separatist party.
We should realise that the separatists' fortunes will rise and fall. Labour Members should ensure that the proposals for a tax-varying Scottish Parliament are coherently presented to the people in the September 1997 referendum.
My hon. Friend the Minister for Home Affairs and Devolution is on the Treasury Bench. He may wish to investigate a statement that votes will be counted on the Scottish local government level. The last time that votes were counted on a local authority level—the example that was provided—was by using the upper-tier authorities. There are now, however, about 50 authorities. Would it not be simpler to count votes on the basis of Scottish parliamentary constituencies, which is the usual system for ballots of national significance?
We are debating a great constitutional experiment, which has an element of risk. Labour Members are, however, confident that we will win. Nevertheless, some—such as my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell)—will, as ever, work quietly and effectively to try to secure a "no" vote in the referendum. There may be some risk, but there is risk in any great political experiment. I think that we will be successful in securing two "yes" responses to the questions.
Although I may be wrong, I think that establishing a Parliament in Scotland is more certain than establishing an Assembly in Wales. The decentralisation debate in Wales seems to be much less advanced than it is in Scotland.
§ Mr. Dalyell
For reasons that I gave in Friday's debate, I make it clear that my personal vote on the second question would be yes.
§ Mr. O'Neill
Yes; and I think that my hon. Friend would not be wildly enthusiastic about the first question. Given his ability to campaign and to make his political presence felt, despite the loneliness of the cause that he might be pursuing, I suspect that we may cross swords, as we have done on other issues. Nevertheless, I do not think that that will affect our friendship, which has lasted the best part of 30 years.
The establishment of a Scottish Parliament will strengthen the Union, and show that it is possible to change our constitutional arrangements. It will also show other parts of the United Kingdom that it is possible to institute some form of decentralisation, and that decentralisation will not necessarily take the same form in every part of the United Kingdom.
760 The decentralisation process will demonstrate that some decentralisation will be available to the nations and regions of the United Kingdom, and it will create a dynamism that will establish a more credible democracy and a more accountable system of government and administration. It is very exciting that, in the early days of the new Government, we have an opportunity to speed that process on its way.
§ Mr. Andrew Lansley (South Cambridgeshire)
Thank you very much, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to make my maiden speech. It is a daunting prospect, not least because I follow the exemplary and entertaining speeches of the hon. Members for Aberdeen, South (Miss Begg) and for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth (Ms McKenna).
I am more than happy to pay the warmest tribute to my predecessor, Sir Anthony Grant, who was the hon. Member for South-West Cambridgeshire. Hon. Members will be aware of his distinguished 33-year record of service to the House, where he served as both a Front Bencher and a Back Bencher. He piloted through the House private Member's legislation, such as-most recently, in the 1996–97 Session—the Treasure Act 1996.
Today—which is the day of elections to the 1922 Committee executive—is an apt moment for Conservative Members to recall with affection Sir Anthony's wit, wisdom and many years of service on that executive. The House will not be surprised to hear that he was held in equally high regard and affection within his constituency, because of the prompt, courteous and effective way in which he dealt with constituents of all political views.
As one of my predecessors said, Cambridgeshire is "a county of villages". South Cambridgeshire is a most beautiful part of a most beautiful county. The southern part of Cambridge city and the countryside around it, which I have the honour to represent, combines natural beauty with economic and intellectual dynamism. It is a working countryside with a thriving agricultural sector, yet many new and innovative companies and industrial firms are finding a home there. It is overwhelmingly a small business economy, which is why, in the past five years, unemployment in South Cambridgeshire has been halved.
The proximity of Cambridge—as a centre for employment, based on scientific and technological advances—combines with a relatively unspoilt character to make South Cambridgeshire a magnet for new development. It is therefore no wonder that South Cambridgeshire is the fastest growing district in England, especially when one considers the opportunities of living in such beautiful villages as Grantchester, Orwell, Duxford and Dry Drayton. I could continue that list—perhaps I should, because other villages may be jealous—but I will spare the House a list of the many beautiful villages in South Cambridgeshire. They occupy, however, a position both geographically and economically advantageous.
I look forward to participating in many debates in the House, and I will do so on the basis of experiences from within a constituency that, in its understanding and its experience, has so much to offer.
In science, we have at Hinxton the human genome project which will lead to the largest genetic sequencing laboratory in Europe—indeed the world. In health, 761 in Addenbrooke's and Papworth hospitals we have two of the leading hospitals in the world. In agriculture, we have the plant breeding institute, which is the source of the well-known Maris plant varieties. In education, we have not only the colleges of Cambridge university, but two of the leading further education colleges.
It is a great honour to represent a constituency in which is blended the best of what is new—in science, in industry, in health and in education—with the best of our inheritance in environment and in history. Cambridgeshire, as Rupert Brooke wrote, isthe shire for Men who Understand"—and, I should add promptly, for women too.
I speak in this debate only too aware of the inheritance given to us in our United Kingdom. Most of us are, in a personal sense as well as in a constitutional and historical sense, products of the Union. For nearly three centuries, this House has been the representative institution of the people of Scotland just as much as of the people of England. We are intermingled, in history and in nationality. I am the grandson of Scots as well as of English. My inheritance is bound up with the Union, and I have every right to defend it.
It is ironic that the Government's first legislative initiative is to introduce proposals that, essentially, are those on which their predecessors foundered in 1979. I submit that the Bill is flawed, for several reasons. The House is being asked to approve or disapprove a popular vote on a major constitutional change before it has been given an opportunity to see the character of the proposals in detail.
The details within the proposals are likely to be deeply significant. Which powers are proposed to be transferred, and with what expenditure and tax revenues? What are the implications of two fiscal regimes within one economy, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) asked? What would be the mechanisms for resolving conflicts between the Westminster Parliament and a Scottish Parliament or Welsh Assembly?
We do not know in detail the character of the proposals; nor do we know whether those issues will be fully clarified before a referendum is held. Unfortunately, it would be only too characteristic of the Labour party to wish to proceed on the basis of generalities, without regard to all the practical issues.
I contend that it would also be wrong to proceed to a referendum on the basis of a White Paper alone. White Papers are proposals, but they are subject to many changes. I have had experience of writing White Papers, and I would never have been so rash as to assume that they would represent the last word, still less to seek to subject them to a popular vote before they had even been fully debated in the House.
That point brings me to a flaw that goes to the heart of the Bill. The purpose of the Bill is to seek to legitimise the Government's proposals in advance of their presentation to the House. Such a referendum is a constitutional aberration. As Mrs. Thatcher said, nothing should be permitted under our constitution which conflicts with the principle of the sovereignty of Parliament. I suspect, however, that the Government will argue that a referendum would be a mandate for legislation. That is wholly wrong. If the Government wish to legitimise 762 constitutional change through a referendum—and there is a perfectly good case for doing so—it should be post-legislative, and not prior to legislation.
In 1975, the previous Labour Government undertook a referendum. The then Leader of the House admitted that the purpose of the referendum was to determine the policy of the Government, asParliament, of course, cannot be bound by it."-[Official Report, 11 March 1975; Vol. 888, c. 293.]Is this proposed referendum, therefore, equally nothing but a device to decide Government policy? On the issue of a tax-varying power, perhaps it is, but the Government pretend otherwise, as they insist that all their Members must campaign for a "yes" vote. Ominously, the Secretary of State for Scotland is already talking of a final decision by the people, before the Bill has gone through the House. It is an unconstitutional pretence that a final decision can be made on an issue of such constitutional importance before the devolution proposals have even been presented to the House, let alone have passed into legislation.
The flaws in the Bill are many, given that it is a Bill of relative simplicity. Its simplicity belies its significance or the impact of its failings.
The Bill fails to offer a vote to the people of England on an issue of great constitutional importance for the continuation and structure of the Union. It fails to provide for a vote for the many Scots and Welsh who have a legitimate interest in the future of their countries and of the Union, but who live in England and are not resident in Scotland or Wales. It provides no safeguard to ensure that the vote in the referendum would represent a sufficient majority of those eligible to vote. The Secretary of State for Scotland appealed on one occasion earlier in the debate to the precedent of 1979—unwisely from his point of view, I suspect, as that precedent would act against him.
We are therefore left with the proposition that a minority of the potential electorate in only two out of four parts of the Union may be invited to decide the future of the Union, without regard to the people of England or to the many Scots and Welsh people living in England. That would be deeply resented by those so excluded.
The people of South Cambridgeshire will not be indifferent to an outcome in which they are to be ruled by laws made by Scots and Welsh representatives, while their own representatives have no say over the same laws in Scotland and Wales. They will resent the introduction of a referendum as an apparent attempt to bind Parliament, and as a device that should be alien to our constitution.
We have heard much from Labour Members of their mandate. I fear that we shall hear them stretch the issue of a mandate beyond breaking point as a concept. They have already applied it to decisions going beyond the terms of their manifesto. They will no doubt apply it to their devolution proposals, on which so many questions were and are still to be resolved.
I, too, come to this House with a mandate. I am pledged to oppose the breaking up of the United Kingdom. I am pledged to defend the sovereignty of Parliament, and not see it surrendered or undermined. Most of all, I am pledged to serve the interests of my constituency to the best of my ability and judgment. It is a privilege to represent South Cambridgeshire in this House and to follow Sir Anthony Grant, whose example has always 763 been one of service and dignity. In defence of our constitution, therefore, I urge the House to support the amendment in the names of my right hon. Friends.
§ Mr. Ted Rowlands (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney)
It is a privilege to follow and to congratulate the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley), who was making his maiden speech. It was also a privilege to listen to his very reasoned argument. If he makes such reasoned arguments in future, the House will, I am sure, listen to him with great diligence. I knew his predecessor quite well. I shared almost 30 of the 33 years he spent in the House, so I understand and appreciate the compliments his successor paid him. I offer the hon. Gentleman best wishes.
My hon. Friends the Members for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth (Ms McKenna) and for Aberdeen, South (Miss Begg) made wonderful maiden speeches. I am glad that the electorate of Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney do not have the habits of the electorate of Aberdeen, South. I am only the fourth Member to represent Merthyr Tydfil since 1900, and only the third to represent Rhymney since 1929. We have a sense of political longevity, so it has been hard to present myself as new Labour.
It was even harder when, during the election of the Speaker, I sat next to a new Member of Parliament, my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, Central (Mr. Davies), who rather unkindly reminded me that the last time we met was when I presented him with his investiture mug in 1968 at Birchgrove junior school in Cardiff. It made me feel that I would have some difficulty presenting myself as new Labour.
Listening to the speeches and the many references to constituencies prompted me to think about those who have represented my constituency. Of the four representatives for Merthyr whom I mentioned, two—Kier Hardie and S. 0. Davies—were strong supporters of some form of home rule. My predecessors in Rhymney offer an interesting diversity. The first was Aneurin Bevan—the scourge of any form of devolution or any suggestion that anything but the United Kingdom Parliament mattered. He was followed by Michael Foot, who was a passionate supporter of devolution.
We all share a feeling of the importance and power of this House of Commons. I would not support measures that damaged the integrity of the United Kingdom. I am not a separatist, and I shall not vote for anything that looks like separatism. The separatist vote in my constituency was minimal at the election. I do not come to the House to support any proposal that could lead to the break-up of the integrity of the United Kingdom or the United Kingdom Parliament.
I very much support the referendum. It is odd—we have to admit this among ourselves—that the Labour party, when in opposition, arrived at the decision to have a referendum in such a convoluted way, but a referendum is desirable and essential for Wales.
It has been fashionable in some quarters in Wales to deride the proposed Assembly as a feeble institution. It is certainly not true that, because it will not have tax-raising and legislative powers, it will not be an important constitutional change. It is a change of enormous 764 significance, and we would be foolish to pretend otherwise. A proposal that will transform the character of the civil service in Wales cannot be seen as a minor constitutional step. It is a serious step.
I had the privilege of serving as a Minister in the Welsh Office. The civil service that has developed since the establishment of the Welsh Office and the appointment of a Secretary of State for Wales in 1964 was designed to serve Westminster, Whitehall and Cabinet government. The new proposals are that the Welsh civil service will serve a different body, with the open system of decision making that I assume will characterise the Welsh Assembly. That is an area of profound change and significance.
§ Mr. Dalyell
My hon. Friend has raised an important point. He has great experience of the civil service. What is his judgment about the civil service having two masters—in our case, one in Edinburgh and one in London?
§ Mr. Rowlands
It will be very important to make it absolutely clear in the detailed legislation where responsibilities lie and who will be responsible to whom. If not, the system will fail. As a veteran of the 1970s legislation, I assure my hon. Friend that—if I understand the speech made on Friday by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales—it will be clear that the Welsh Office civil service will be answerable directly to a Welsh Assembly. That will be a profound change. It is not a minor administrative decision. We must be frank that, if we set up a directly elected Assembly in Wales, there will be competition between Westminster Members and Assembly men and women. It would be very strange if that did not happen.
The change is not one of minor practicalities, even leaving aside the question of the roles of the Secretary of State and of Westminster Members of Parliament. It is important to clarify whether the questions that we are now entitled to debate will be disallowed in this House as infringing the responsibilities and powers of the Welsh Assembly if certain functions are transferred.
I use those illustrations to show that the establishment of a Welsh Assembly is not a minor step. It is not a modest step forward—it is a change of considerable constitutional and political significance, which requires the consent of the Welsh people.
The second reason why I believe in a referendum is that, until now, that consent has been withheld—and not just in the 1979 referendum. One interesting feature emerges when we make a historical assessment of the debates in the 1950s and 1960s, as I have done. A gulf grew up between what are now called the chattering classes—I belong to those chattering classes, but I think that that pejorative description is a good one—who have promoted the case for a Welsh Assembly for 30 or 40 years and the large silent majority, who have shown considerable scepticism about the issue. We would be foolish to forget that gulf.
I was a member of the Welsh parliamentary Labour party in the 1960s and was among those arguing for a Welsh Parliament or Assembly—an elected body of some kind for all Wales. I was slightly contemptuous of those whom we saw as the old guard—lori Thomas, Elfed Davies and the Monmouthshire mining Members—who 765 bitterly opposed the commitment of the Labour party in Wales to any form of devolution. I have to confess, on reflection, that they were in closer touch with grass-roots party opinion, and probably with Welsh public opinion, than the likes of me. It is salutary for us to remember that. The consent of the Welsh electorate is all the more necessary, making the case for a referendum even stronger.
I share some of the reservations expressed about the process that we have adopted. I hope that this is not a nit-picking parliamentary point, but I am a passionate believer in this place—that is why I have spent so much time fighting to get here and stay here—and I find it strange to bring forward a Bill with a reference in the schedules to Government proposals that we have not seen. There is no White Paper. Before all the stages of the Bill are completed, we must have that White Paper. In parliamentary terms, it would be better for us to have the detailed proposals alongside the Bill.
I have supported two referendums in my parliamentary lifetime. The Referendum Act 1975 was explicit, referring specifically to proposals already laid before the House in the White Paper and the renegotiated settlement on the European Community. In 1979, an Act of Parliament was submitted to the electorate, so it was again clear what we were deciding to have a referendum on. I understand that, for a variety of reasons, my right hon. and hon. Friends have chosen a different process, but before all the stages of the Bill are completed, we should see the White Paper.
I shall not oppose the Bill, but I find it necessary to set out my reservations. By choosing pre-referendum rather than post-referendum legislation, we may create difficulties for some of our colleagues. As the Bill will allow counting, and presumably totals, on a county or borough basis, some hon. Members representing Wales and possibly Scotland may find that the verdict of their electorate is contrary to their personal view. They are interesting dilemmas, but they may create problems, as some of our colleagues may support the legislation in the House and then find that their constituents are not so keen on it.
§ Mr. Salmond
That is an interesting scenario. Of course, it could apply to the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell). As the hon. Gentleman is a very experienced Member, how would he expect his hon. Friend to move under these circumstances?
§ Mr. Rowlands
My knowledge of my hon. Friend is so considerable that I would not attempt to speak for him. I am sure that he will explain his position clearly.
§ Mr. Dalyell
The House will forgive me if I display a little curiosity as to how my constituent, the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond), the leader of the Scottish National party, will vote.
§ Mr. Rowlands
I am sure that all will be revealed.
Having chosen the order in which the process is to be conducted, some hon. Members will face a dilemma of Burkean proportions in their approach to the legislation.
I support the Bill, because I support the referendum. I am one of that small, dwindling, enthusiastic band who voted for the devolution proposals in the House in 1978 and voted in the subsequent referendum. It was a painful 766 process for me, as someone who has now achieved 77 per cent. of the vote in Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney, to find myself so overwhelmingly in a minority in 1978.
I would support devolution proposals for Wales of the kind that were introduced in the 1978 Bill. However, I await the Government's detailed proposals with great fascination and interest. Clearly, in some respects they will be different from those introduced in 1978. I shall exercise the same right to say yes or no as, I am glad to say, the House will give my constituents.
§ Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)
The hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) mentioned Keir Hardie. It was Keir Hardie who said in 1885 that a Scottish Parliament was "just round the corner". It has been some time coming, but we hope that progress is on its way.
We have heard some good and interesting maiden speeches this evening, to which I shall briefly refer. The hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) made a most effective maiden speech. Although he is new to the House, he is clearly not new to the political process. Indeed, he said that he had written some White Papers. I had an overwhelming temptation to ask him which ones. That would have been totally out of order, as the hon. Gentleman well knows, but I am sure that we can look forward to hearing many more speeches from him in the course of our proceedings.
I do not know South Cambridgeshire nearly as well as the hon. Gentleman does, but he will forgive me if I am tempted to say that I am not absolutely certain that the pikes will come out of the thatch in Cambridgeshire to resist these constitutional proposals. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will prove me wrong.
The hon. Member for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth (Ms McKenna) made an equally effective speech. She comes to the House with a formidable reputation in Scottish local government, but nowhere in her curriculum vitae did she say that she did impressions of London taxi drivers. She revealed an entirely new facet of her character this evening.
The hon. Lady made a most gracious maiden speech. I am sure that she will argue with as much determination for increased funding for Scottish local government inside the House as she did outside it. She paid a well-meant tribute to her immediate predecessor, Norman Hogg, a man with whom I disagreed on just about everything except that we should conduct our differences with good humour. She also referred to my hon. Friend the Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing). If the hon. Lady conducts herself in the House in the same way as the two hon. Members to whom she referred, she will add a great deal to our proceedings.
We also heard a remarkable maiden speech from the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Miss Begg). Maiden speeches that combine humour, constituency knowledge and a touch of controversy are by far the best, and the hon. Lady's speech did just that. She said that Aberdeen, her native city, had won Britain in Bloom as many times as Ireland had won the Eurovision song contest. She also displayed a great knowledge of her constituency.
The hon. Lady referred to her very many predecessors in controversial and humorous terms. She said that the Secretary of State for Scotland was responsible for 767 starting the instability in Aberdeen, South, and perhaps more, who knows? She mentioned lain Sproat. During the previous Parliament, kin and I were told by a genealogist in the south-west of Scotland that we were remote relatives. I do not know which of us was more alarmed—however, he was one of the more effective Ministers in the previous Government.
The hon. Lady also mentioned Gerry Malone. The hon. Member for Inverness, East, Nairn and Lochaber (Mr. Stewart) will be interested to know that a couple of days ago, a senior Conservative told me that a friend of his and his wife had been anxiously pondering over whether to vote for Gerry Malone in his constituency or against the Scottish National party in Inverness. They finally decided to cast their votes against the Scottish National party and not to vote for Gerry Malone, who lost by two votes.
The hon. Lady also said that Raymond Robertson was extremely polite to her in defeat. The fact that she mentioned politeness and Raymond Robertson together is a great testimony to her diplomacy, and I am sure that she will bring that characteristic to our debates. She made a splendid and remarkable maiden speech and we all look forward to hearing many more such contributions.
The Secretary of State for Scotland made a graceful opening speech. I was particularly impressed by the way in which he repelled the last-ditchers in the Conservative party one by one and helped them dig themselves in deeper as they intervened.
I should mention that after a forceful start, there are now only four Members on the Conservative Benches defending the essential unity of the United Kingdom. I understand that considerably more of them are voting for the new 1922 Committee. That demonstrates that internal warfare is now more important to the Conservative party than the future of the United Kingdom.
None the less, the Secretary of State for Scotland was extremely deft in the way in which he repelled Conservative Members' attacks. He made the point that he had a record on devolution stretching back to the 1950s. Some of his ministerial team have track records stretching back to the 1970s—on the other side. We shall see how that is played out during the passage of the Bill.
I was rather alarmed by the Secretary of State's revelation that the Bill gives 123 Scottish peers the right to vote in a referendum. I had not noticed that aspect. It could be interpreted as a rather underhand attempt to get the support of the former leader of the Liberal Democrat party, who is soon to be ennobled and no doubt is anxious to have his say in the referendum vote.
The Conservatives' response to the legislation showed that they had learnt very little from the election campaign. Indeed, the speeches seemed to pick up very little—even from the recent Scottish debate. They were very much a statement of the positions that we have heard for far too long in the House and elsewhere.
I was somewhat relieved that at least the shadow Home Secretary, the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), did not go down the road of the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), who I see is back on the Front Bench. I say to the right hon. Gentleman that the argument for a special 768 blocking mechanism, a threshold, a 40 per cent. rule, or a 50 per cent. rule, as the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) has suggested, is one of the most offensive arguments and anti-democratic notions that could disgrace the House. To argue that for Scotland and Wales while simultaneously not being prepared to say that it would apply to a referendum on Europe is most insulting behaviour to the people of Scotland and Wales, and in large measure explains the Conservative party's reduced position in both those nations.
§ Mr. Salmond
I was being polite. This is my latest phase, as hon. Members will recognise. I shall move out of that phase to turn to what I think about the Bill.
There is an inconsistency at the very heart of the Referendums (Scotland and Wales) Bill. Two legitimate positions can be adopted in looking for consent from the people. The first is to say that the general election provides the mandate and thereby the authority for the Government to proceed with their programme—or, indeed, for a political party to proceed with its ideas.
If the new Labour party had taken such a course and said that it had won a considerable victory and therefore had the majority to go forward with its legislative programme, I do not think that anyone could reasonably have gainsaid that as a substantial mandate for applying its ideas on the constitution. At a later stage, depending on the judgment, degree of controversy and the number of changes made to the proposed legislation, it might be appropriate to subject that mandate to a post-legislative referendum, as in the 1970s. That is one way of addressing legitimacy, mandates and consent, and it is consistent.
The second position is to say that the general election did not produce a mandate on the proposals, there is some uncertainty, many other issues clouded the general election environment and the issue was not finally settled. That is the course to be taken by the Government, as explained by the Secretary of State. There is therefore no substantial or democratic argument for excluding the option of independence from the ballot paper. The option of independence is supported by many people in Scotland. We have been through the argument in democratic terms many times, when Governments have either refused to consult the people of Scotland or said that the people of Scotland did not have a decisive view one way or the other.
The Secretary of State was kind enough to say in his opening remarks that my cuttings file was more extensive than his. I suspect that it is not that my file is more extensive, but that we keep different quotations. I have kept a number of quotations about the Secretary of State and his previous support for a multi-option referendum.
On 13 April 1992, The Daily Telegraph reported that the Secretary of State, then the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden, said:the party's 49 Scottish MPs would campaign"—I assume that he was committing the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) to such a campaign at that stage—for a multi-option referendum on the country's political future, something which had been endorsed at the meeting of all Scottish Labour MPs.769 In a speech to the Scottish Trades Union Congress in Dundee, the Secretary of State repeated that call. The Scotsman reported:Calling for the democratic case for a referendum to be shouted from the rooftops, Mr. Dewar said that the Government should not take refuge in a rigged referendum on proposals which did no more than tinker with the present problem.After the 1992 election, in which, incidentally, the Scottish National party got fewer votes and won fewer seats than it has now, such a view was widely shared across the parliamentary Labour party. The late John Smith said in the Daily Record in July 1992:The Labour Party must keep the Scottish issue at the centre of the political stage. That's why we are campaigning for a multi-option referendum.The Scottish TUC supported the argument for a multi-option referendum. A new political grouping, Scotland United, was formed, which argued forcefully for and mobilised opinion on the case for a multi-option referendum. Indeed, Scotland United's campaigning document, "What Price Democracy?", noted:one of the big problems with the 1979 referendum was the absence from the ballot paper of the independence option, which meant that a significant section of the Scottish population was denied the opportunity to vote for their preferred option.Such a democratic viewpoint was well reflected in early-day motions such as one tabled by William McKelvey, the then hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun, on 8 December 1992. The option to hold a multi-option referendum on the governance of Scotland was supported by 26 hon. Members across the parliamentary Labour party—many of whom have been present in this debate. One amendment to the early-day motion was tabled by David Shaw, the then hon. Member for Dover, who managed to introduce the subject of Monklands district council into the issue of a multi-option referendum, but managed to acquire only one signature, his own.
The argument for a multi-option referendum was widely supported because it was felt to be fair that a proper test of opinion, if a test of opinion were required, should reflect the three major constitutional options that were on offer to the Scottish people.
Hon. Members may not be aware that there are a number of constitutional precedents on the question of a multi-option referendum, including those set by the House of Commons. In Newfoundland in the late 1940s, for example, a constitutional convention met. It decided that only two options for its constitutional future should be presented to the people of Newfoundland. However, the Attlee Privy Council—the Privy Council of a Labour Government with a landslide majority—decided that that would not be fair. In their response to the Newfoundland constitutional convention, the Government stated:The Government have come to a conclusion that it would not be right that the people of Newfoundland should be deprived of an opportunity of considering the issue, and they have, therefore, decided that confederation with Canada should be included as a third choice on the referendum paper".The option of confederation with Canada eventually came top of the referendum, even if the majority in favour was less than the majority in favour of devolution in the 1979 referendum in Scotland.
Both in terms of previous support for the democratic option of allowing people in Scotland the free choice between independence, devolution and the status quo, 770 and in terms of precedents and proceedings in the House, there is substantial support for the idea that a multi-option referendum is not just feasible but desirable when there are distinct blocs of support for constitutional options.
I have heard the Conservative party in Scotland say that it was greatly encouraged during the general election campaign by an opinion poll that showed that support for the status quo in Scotland had reached 30 per cent. That point has been made many times as the Conservative party ranks have delved over the entrails of electoral carnage. They have said, "Well, there is still hope because support for the status quo reached 30 per cent. in an ICM poll." ICM is a reputable polling organisation, although I should mention that it was the same polling organisation that gave Labour a 5 per cent. lead across the United Kingdom during the election campaign. None the less, the poll indicated that there was a bloc of support for the status quo.
I would be encouraged by a poll on the referendum in The Sunday Times, which showed that the number of those preferring independence and of those preferring devolution was tied at 35 per cent. I would argue that most polling on the independence question has shown such a level of support over recent years. The essential truth is that I do not know, and no one in the House basically knows, what the preferred option of the Scottish people would be after a referendum campaign offering all the constitutional options. The hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Ms Squire) shakes her head, which is interesting. Some results of opinion polls are consistent. For example, no opinion poll in recent years in Scotland that has laid out the three constitutional options has shown a majority in favour of devolution.
§ Ms Rachel Squire (Dunfermline, West)
The people of Scotland have just had a referendum that gave them the three options of the status quo, devolution or independence. It was called a general election, it was held on 1 May and a majority of the Scottish people voted for devolution.
§ Mr. Salmond
Then why are we having another referendum? The hon. Lady says that the general election gave a mandate. If the general election gave a mandate, Labour should go ahead and legislate for its devolution proposal. If the general election did not provide a mandate and the Labour party wishes to consult the people, it should consult the people democratically on the major constitutional options that are available. The hon. Lady and the new Labour Government cannot have the argument both ways. Given that the Government have chosen to go through the consultation process, it is an early blot on their record not to make the democratic choice available to the Scottish people. I suspect that Ministers in their quieter moments, even in the midst of their euphoria, know that to be true.
The Government's proposals have not been furnished for this debate, and one of the few reasonable points that have been made by Conservatives today is that the Bill mentions Government proposals that have yet to be published. I await the White Paper with interest. I hope that it is constructive and that it will be published soon. I was encouraged by the remarks of the Secretary of State for Scotland when he referred to the Claim of Right. He was a signatory and co-author of that document as the leader of the Labour party in Scotland.
771 Hon. Members will remember that the Claim of Right referred to thesovereign right of the Scottish people to determine a form of Government best suited to their needs.It did not suggest thatsovereignty resides with English Members of Parliament and that's the way it will stay.There is an essential difference between those two attitudes to sovereignty, and I was encouraged because the Secretary of State seemed to indicate that he was staying true to the Claim of Right. If that is the case in the White Paper, and if it does not obstruct democracy, the Scottish National party will not obstruct the White Paper.
§ Mr. David Stewart (Inverness, East, Nairn and Lochaber)
It is with a mixture of trepidation and awe that I prepare to make my maiden speech this evening. I thank hon. Members and officials for their help in the past few weeks. I also add my congratulations on the three contributions from the other hon. Members who have made maiden speeches. They are a hard act to follow. I also wish to thank the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) for his remarks about Conservative voting behaviour in my constituency, which I shall bear in mind.
Sir Winston Churchill described his maiden speech as a terrible, thrilling yet delicious experience. Disraeli's maiden speech in 1837 took three hours to complete and, at the end, he was shouted down. I assure hon. Members that I shall not take three hours, but whether I am shouted down is a decision for them.
I shall start by paying tribute to my predecessor, Sir Russell Johnston, who was the Member of Parliament for my constituency from 1964. Sir Russell Johnston was an intelligent and articulate Member, who was steeped in the history and culture of the highlands, and it was my privilege to meet him during the 1987 election campaign. He is a man of great integrity and conviction, interlaced with a dry sense of humour. He has fought for highland interests for 30 years and achieved many great successes. I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House wish to pay tribute to Sir Russell Johnston on his retirement from the Commons and to send their best wishes to him on his elevation to the other place.
The highlands have a rich and proud history of political radicalism. Honesty, fairness, social justice and a strong sense of community are our values. They are old and enduring values in the best highland tradition. An early champion of the highlands was Charles Mackintosh, who made his maiden speech in 1874. He was a rarity as a radical crofting Member of Parliament who piloted crofting legislation through the House, which changed the rights and responsibilities of tenants against the powerful interests of large landowners.
As a highlander, I am proud to be the first Labour Member to represent the constituency of Inverness, East, Nairn and Lochaber. It is a unique constituency because, during the election campaign, it was the only four-way marginal in the United Kingdom. It has the highest mountains and the deepest lochs. It has the beauty of Glencoe and Loch Ness and the isolated splendour of the 772 islands of Rhum, Canna, Muck and, of course, Eigg, which chose self-rule instead of the dead hand of absentee landlordism.
The constituency is of tremendous size—750,000 hectares. It stretches from the North sea to the Atlantic. Tourism is very important. It is responsible for 20 per cent. of the highlands' gross domestic product and it supports more than 20,000 jobs throughout the highlands. That is why transport is so important in my constituency and why I shall campaign for a reduction in the price of petrol and diesel, which is extortionate in the highlands and islands.
Inverness is the capital of the highlands and has seen some historic events, although some hon. Members may not be aware of them. For example, Inverness is the only place in which the full Cabinet has met outwith the Cabinet Office. In 1921, the Cabinet met at the conference that agreed the treaty that created the Irish Free State. Members present included Lloyd George, the Prime Minister, Austen Chamberlain and Winston Churchill. This evening, I extend an invitation to the current Cabinet to visit Inverness without the need to sign a treaty.
Several members of the Cabinet visited the constituency during the general election campaign. I pay tribute to everyone who did so, especially the Prime Minister. Not many hon. Members will know this, but he played in goal for my local football team, Inverness Caledonian Thistle. Shortly afterwards, the team won the third division championship. Something obviously rubbed off. I must report to the House however that, since 1 May, my team has lost three games in a row. The Inverness provost, Allan Sellars, remarked to me at a recent game that that had never happened under the Conservatives.
My constituency is also the stronghold of the world's oldest team sport—shinty. Legend has it that the game was played by saints and scholars, which suggests that the House has never had a shinty team. Although annual matches are played by exiles at Stamford Bridge, the venue is closer to the heart of my hon. Friend the Minister for sport than the noble and ancient game of shinty. In antiquity, shinty replaced clan warfare as a way to settle internal disputes, so I warmly commend it to the Conservatives. The Camanachd cup final will be played on 7 June at Fort William, itself a cradle of the game. This year's finalists are the ancient rivals, Kingussie and Newtonmore, which is a heartland of the sport and now a haven for skiers who flock to the Cairngorms.
I welcome and support the Bill, which will pave the way for a long-awaited Scottish Parliament, a new dynamic Parliament with more young people and more women, which will tackle the chronic problems of the highlands—low pay, poverty, a lack of housing, poor bus services and growing hospital waiting lists. Those are the failures of the past 18 years. We need a new approach.
People might ask what a Labour Government will do. Let them come to the highlands and see the faces of the unemployed young people who have been cast aside like unwanted pieces on a chess board. People might ask what a Labour Government will do. Let them come to the highlands and see the low-paid hotel workers in Nairn and Aviemore. People might ask what a Labour Government will do. Let them come to the highlands and see the quango state in operation—that system of patronage that would bring a blush to the cheeks of a mediaeval monarch.
773 The Labour Government offer the prospects of radical change for the highlands. In 1964, with two Labour Members of Parliament in the highlands and islands, Harold Wilson made his historic pledge to establish a Highlands and Islands development board, which stopped the depopulation of the highlands and transformed the area. In 1997, with two Labour Members of Parliament in the highlands and islands, we can bring power back to the highlands, by creating a Scottish Parliament—the dream of Keir Hardie, and the unfinished business of John Smith.
I was privileged to meet John Smith in the highlands. I remember his speech in Ullapool one warm spring evening, when he spoke with passion about creating the Scottish Parliament, and about his dream of being the first highland Prime Minister. His tragic death brought an end to the latter goal, but now the torch has passed to the present Prime Minister and to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland.
It is time that we seized this historic opportunity. We owe it to the people of Scotland to deliver a powerful Scottish Parliament. As a highland Member, I pledge to do everything in my power to fulfil the demand of a double yes vote during the referendum campaign. If it is the will of the Scottish people, the creation of a Scottish Parliament will light a fiery cross from mountain to mountain through the highlands, signalling a new era of hope and opportunity.
§ Mr. Richard Livsey (Brecon and Radnorshire)
It is a great privilege to follow the hon. Member for Inverness, East, Nairn and Lochaber (Mr. Stewart), who gave such an eloquent maiden speech. I appreciated the delightful highland tones that came through—something with which I am familiar.
I also thank the hon. Gentleman for his fulsome tribute to my former colleague, Sir Russell Johnston, who served the House so well. The hon. Gentleman arrives with a true radical highland pedigree, and I can see that he has a great future in the House. I was delighted to hear his speech, as I was to hear the other maiden speeches that we heard this evening. The new Members have made a great contribution.
My Welsh constituency, Brecon and Radnorshire, is the third largest in Britain. The hon. Member for Inverness, East, Nairn and Lochaber probably represents what is, in geographical terms, the largest, and much of what he said about transport and remoteness applies as much to my constituency, where there are many problems similar to those that he described.
Devolution for Wales is fundamental to the good governance of Britain—of the whole United Kingdom. Liberal Democrats regard that as most important. The previous Member for Brecon and Radnorshire, Jonathan Evans, whom I defeated at the general election, did much good work for Wales during his tenure as a Welsh Office Minister. However, he stood firmly for the status quo on devolution.
My predecessor believed that the status quo was satisfactory, and he was swept away in the general election on 1 May 1997. The result was the 40th to be declared in Wales. I was the person who removed the last Conservative Member of Parliament from Wales, and with him much of what I would describe as the "incredibility" of Conservative policy on the status quo.
774 The result was declared on 2 May, which, by happy coincidence, was my birthday. In my acceptance speech, I asked Jonathan Evans what he thought of proportional representation now, when his party, having polled 19.5 per cent. of the votes in Wales, had no Members elected to the Westminster Parliament, whereas the Liberal Democrats, who had polled 12.3 per cent., had two, and Plaid Cymru, with 10 per cent. of the votes in Wales, had four. That is a real conundrum, which constitutional reform will have to put right.
The people of my native Brecon and Radnorshire want a fair outcome on devolution, and we have now reached something of a constitutional crisis, with no Conservative Members in either Wales or Scotland. The status quo has been totally eclipsed, and the arguments advanced by Conservative Members today are dead and buried; they were eclipsed at the general election. Conservative Members must, as some Conservatives in Wales are already doing, go back to the drawing board and have second thoughts. Some are now talking about the possibility of supporting a Welsh Assembly.
I believe that the people of Wales need a Welsh Assembly, and my party has been campaigning for a Welsh Parliament for the past 100 years. We are now on the threshold of achieving a modest level of democratic accountability in Wales; at the moment, there is a huge democratic deficit there, because Wales has been largely ruled by quangos spending up to 40 per cent. of the Welsh Office budget, to which the Conservatives have appointed members of their own party who have not been at all representative of the democratic situation in the country.
The Government's proposals for a Welsh Assembly are not exactly earth shattering. Liberal Democrats in Wales would like to see the creation of a Sennedd, with more teeth than the proposed Assembly. Our litmus test would be, first, that the Senate must be able to legislate; secondly, that it must have tax-raising or lowering powers; and, thirdly, that it should have true proportional representation.
We would like a 75-Member Assembly. According to the formula proposed by Labour, 40 Members would then be elected by the first-past-the-post system, and 35 would be chosen on an additional Member basis. That would give a precisely proportional system, reflecting the votes cast in Wales. I do not think that the 60-Member Assembly proposed by Labour would fall within the inclusive spirit that Welsh Office Ministers claim the Assembly will embody, so I hope that there will be scope to amend the proposals when the Bill for Wales is introduced after the referendum.
The test that Liberal Democrats will apply in Wales will be whether the Assembly allows fair representation in terms of geography—balancing the north, south, east and west—in terms of the political balance of parties, and in terms of gender, as judged by the number of men and women within it. If the Government genuinely wish to produce an inclusive Assembly, clearly the proportionality of the voting system must be addressed further.
The idea of introducing a referendum for Wales has the wholehearted support of Liberal Democrats there. I believe that the Secretary of State and his Ministers are men of honour, and we have no difference of opinion about the question that will appear on the ballot paper in Wales. We are indeed in favour of a Welsh Assembly, and it is entirely right that we should support its creation. 775 As a party, we shall campaign for a yes vote, and we shall be happy to do so. I can therefore leave Welsh Office Ministers in no doubt that that will happen.
The chances of establishing a Welsh Assembly have been few and far between, especially in this century. We must therefore grasp the opportunity now, and we must show leadership. In my experience of life, nothing worth while is ever gained without courage and resolution, and that is what we shall demonstrate in the referendum campaign.
Welsh Liberal Democrat Members will not vote against the Bill. The proposed devolution of power to a Welsh Assembly needs all the help that it can get, and. my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Opik) and I will campaign for a successful outcome. However, we feel that it was unwise of the Government to decide on a Bill combining the Scottish and Welsh referendums. The Bill is hybrid, and includes the proposals for both countries. That creates difficulties in that the questions in the Bill are different, and the subsequent legislation may be different, too. It must be noted that the proposals for Scotland create difficulties for my Scottish colleagues. I am sure that they will continue to make their position clear, both in the debate and elsewhere.
Naturally, for the sake of consistency, Welsh Liberal Democrats would wish to give a Welsh Sennedd the same powers as those conferred on a Scottish Parliament. Undoubtedly, we will try to amend the subsequent Welsh Bill to that effect. In the meantime, it is our considered view that it is vital to secure a yes vote for a Welsh Assembly in the referendum. Wales needs and deserves that outcome.
§ Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian)
It is a pleasure to welcome back the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Livsey). I remember spending a happy week in beautiful weather in Brecon and Radnor at a by-election. I was sorry he won that time, but I was one of those who rejoiced when his result was announced on 2 May to complete the establishment of Scotland and Wales as Tory-free zones.
This has been a remarkable debate, and I join others in paying tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for Aberdeen, South (Miss Begg), for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth (Ms McKenna) and for Inverness, East, Nairn and Lochaber (Mr. Stewart) for their excellent maiden speeches. They have made their mark already, and I look forward to working with them in the future, particularly as we work towards the establishment of a Parliament for Scotland.
When a constitution appears to have fallen into decay and when people begin to hold the democratic system to be a matter for despair—if not contempt—there are serious problems in the fabric of our state. Until 1 May, too many young people in particular felt that the democratic system was not working—that it did not matter what happened, we would always have a Tory Government who would be able to ride roughshod over everybody else. There is now an atmosphere of hope generated by the general election result and we have to take that forward.
We need a change in our constitutional arrangements to ensure that the democratic system works, and is seen to work, effectively and fairly, around the country. It is 776 not a time for separatism—that idea was defeated at the election. However, it is a time for radical constitutional change. I welcome the fact that this Bill is the first to be presented to Parliament by the Government, and that it is designed to start the process of establishing a Parliament for Scotland. The Parliament will take democratic control of the £15 billion budget of the Scottish Office, as well as a swathe of legislative and administrative responsibilities. Furthermore, the Bill will give appropriate discretion on the Budget to that Parliament in the future.
Above all, I welcome the fact that the Bill provides a mechanism that will entrench the position of the Scottish Parliament for all time. I am worried that Conservative Members are already looking for alibis and ways to nitpick to allow them perhaps to sidestep the result of a referendum in the future. They will not be allowed to get away with that.
In making this plea to the House, I should perhaps ask for a number of other offences to be taken into account. I was the constituency delegate—rather a young one, I have to say—to the Labour party conference in Blackpool in 1976 who moved the motion that committed my party to the principle of home rule for Scotland. It has been a long time waiting, but I am delighted that we are now getting rather nearer to it. I certainly campaigned for a yes vote in the 1979 referendum, and it is worth remembering that we won that referendum with a majority of 77,435—good enough in any other circumstances, but the incoming Tory Government were not interested in such results. Furthermore, I have raised this issue again and again—along with a number of colleagues—and used all the devices available to a Back Bencher ever since the disastrous day when Margaret Thatcher came to power and introduced more and more centralised government in this country.
The commitment to Scottish home rule goes with the job of being the Member of Parliament for East Lothian—with one or two aberrations, such as the right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram), who passed through my constituency briefly in 1974.
§ Mr. Wallace
Is it not possible that, in 1974, even the right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) as in favour of home rule?
§ Mr. Home Robertson
I should have checked the cuttings, but I have a suspicion that the right hon. Gentleman has shifted his ground on that issue, as he has on others. We should pursue him on that if he serves on the Committee—or if he ends up as the shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, as some have threatened. We shall draw a veil over that visitor to Berwickshire and East Lothian.
My immediate predecessor, John Mackintosh, was one of the most powerful advocates of a Scottish Parliament in the 1960s and 1970s. I vividly remember sitting in the Public Gallery, watching him stand in this very place making the case for Scottish home rule all those years ago. We have been stuck for far too long and it is time to get on with the job.
The Member who represented East Lothian in the last Scottish Parliament in 1707 was the great Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun, who gave eloquent and accurate warnings of the perils of the "incorporating union" which has left Scotland as a jurisdiction without a legislature 777 for the past 290 years. The experience of centralised and uncontrollable government at the Scottish Office in the past 18 years must make a conclusive and irrefutable case for home rule in Scotland now—the sooner, the better.
The quaint fiction that this Parliament can be an effective protector of the rights and interests of people in Scotland was finally exposed when this House of Commons voted overwhelmingly to impose the poll tax in Scotland in 1987. I have had private conversations with English Conservative Members of Parliament—some who are still in the House, and others who have departed—and I have asked them how they could possibly have voted to impose such an unfair and unworkable tax on my constituents in East Lothian which would not apply to their constituents south of the border. The reply was always the same—they did not know what they were voting for, but trusted the then Secretary of State for Scotland and voted in accordance with the Government Whip.
That was the worst measure, but there have been plenty more—the centralising of the NHS in Scotland, local government reform and the endless catalogue of quangos. It has always been absurd to put exclusively Scottish business through the House, but the experience of the Thatcher years has demonstrated that it is dangerous. A nominally democratic system allowed a minority to treat the nation of Scotland with absolute contempt and nothing like that must ever be possible again. That will change when we implement the package of reforms agreed by the Scottish Constitutional Convention.
I have some anxieties about the Bill. It may be difficult to persuade people to come out to vote when there is no noticeable opposition. At the general election in Scotland, 60 per cent. of the voters supported parties committed to Scottish home rule within the United Kingdom; 22 per cent. voted for total independence; and 17 per cent. voted for the status quo.
With great respect to Conservative Members and to the hon. Member for Angus (Mr. Welsh), who is in his place representing the Scottish National party, the Conservative and Scottish National parties were the single-issue parties at the general election in Scotland. The Scottish National party's single issue was independence, while the Conservative party tried to make the present state of the United Kingdom the single issue that it hoped people would endorse. Both those extremes were rejected overwhelmingly, and there is a consensus for what John Smith referred to rightly asthe settled will of the Scottish people.That is not controversial, and since there is no credible challenge to this proposition—not even from the ranks of what is left of the Conservative party in Scotland—it may be difficult to galvanise people to come out again to vote for the obvious, particularly when the concept of a referendum as a constitutional device is not a familiar one in any part of the United Kingdom. There have been only two referendums in Scotland hitherto, and the result of one was overturned at the whim of an incoming Conservative Government—which, perhaps, does not bode awfully well.
As we proceed with this referendum—and since the Government have plans for other referendums on the European single currency and on electoral reform—perhaps the time has come for a new statute to establish the position of referendums in the British constitution. Should it be entirely up to the Government—of whatever 778 persuasion—to decide what use should be made of referendums, or should there be an overarching constitutional provision to deal with that matter? What guidelines should there be on the conduct of referendums and the drafting of the questions?
I have one detailed point for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. I hope that the questions on the ballot paper will clearly require a yes or a no and are as clear as possible. Above all, what is the real significance of the result of a referendum? At present, as I understand it, a referendum result can only be advisory and for the consideration of this sovereign Parliament. Should we be making it binding on Parliament or on future Governments? There is a case for considering that option and finding a device for doing so, particularly as Conservatives are already considering ways in which they can shrug off the result of this referendum.
I confess that I am not an enthusiast for the concept of referendums, but I fully endorse this one as a mechanism to entrench the position of Scotland's Parliament for all time. I support the Bill and urge people throughout Scotland to turn out in numbers and to vote yes to both questions when the referendum takes place.
§ Mr. Donald Gorrie (Edinburgh, West)
Before I get into the argument, it gives me great pleasure to pay tribute to my predecessor, Lord James Douglas-Hamilton. He is widely liked as an individual and, although it is a trite remark, he is almost universally regarded as a very nice man. He was particularly noted for his politeness, whether it took the form, on occasions, of giving lifts to Opposition canvassers on rainy evenings, or of insisting on opening the door for his female departmental chauffeur. He did extremely well to hold his seat for so long against repeated and energetic campaigns by my party. At the count in Edinburgh, where six constituencies held their counts, he was largely regarded as having made the best speech of the evening, which is a great testament to his character on an evening when he lost.
Also, it gives me great pleasure to pay tribute to my constituency. I have wooed it long enough. This was my fifth attempt to win it and, counting local and national elections, I think that my score is won 14, lost eight, so I have shown my enthusiasm for west Edinburgh. It is an area that is steeped in history. We learned some of that again recently when a splendid Roman lion in stone was dug out of the River Almond, which reminds us of the time when the Romans tried unsuccessfully to keep the Picts at bay. We have fine mediaeval churches and tower houses. We have two schools that are more than 350 years old and many fine modern schools. We have stately homes and housing estates that are less stately. We have the Union canal, from the heyday of Scottish industrialisation, which is shortly to benefit from a great injection of money from the millennium fund. We have the Forth road bridge—I suppose that I claim half and Fife presumably claims the other half—which is a great icon of British Victorian development. There are many things in the past of which we can be proud.
Politically, in the days when Mr. Gladstone represented Midlothian, a good deal of what is now west Edinburgh came into his constituency. He campaigned for Irish home rule with great vigour until an advanced age. I hope that we can achieve Scottish home rule more rapidly.
779 My constituents would greatly benefit from a Scottish Parliament, because the present Government system has let them down. In many parts of my constituency, houses desperately need investment. We have schools that need investment and more teachers and equipment. We have colleges where young people do not have enough resources and have a bleak outlook for getting a career that they would like to pursue. We have a fine hospital, for which local people have fought several successful campaigns against the local health board, which tries to remove all the best facilities. The hospital needs greater investment and, like other hospitals, needs many more nurses and doctors who need to be better paid.
We have problems that other areas may also have. The successful edge-of-town shopping centre has caused the ruination of many of our suburban shopping centres. We have a desperate need for investment in public transport, both railway and busway. The council is trying to do something about that, but there is a need for Government assistance to oil the wheels, metaphorically speaking, making it easier for public and private money to come together, rather than operating in the convoluted way that was determined by the previous Government.
We have the greatest traffic problem in Scotland—not as great, perhaps, as some such problems in England, but the situation is bad and needs attention, again at central Government and local government levels.
Above all, we do not need a second Forth road bridge, which was threatened by the previous Government, or the so-called Barnton bypass, which was almost universally condemned. I hope that the Scottish Office will rapidly show that it is not pursuing those foolish ideas.
We need a system in which communities can be helped to revive themselves. A Scottish Parliament would give a great opportunity for doing things better and for helping people to help themselves, instead of having a begging-bowl mentality and blaming London all the time, which is what we tend to do.
On the Bill, there are two main issues: one is home rule; the other is whether we need a referendum. On home rule, I agree with those who think that sovereignty lies with the people and not with Parliament. Whether they are Scottish people, English, Welsh or Irish, they have the sovereignty and we are merely lent it to look after for a short while.
This House is an example of how not to run the affairs of Scotland. We really must invent a Scottish Parliament that conducts its affairs better than this. It is a travesty of democracy that the system here—put into effect conscientiously by the various people occupying the Chair—does not allow those parties that provide all the Opposition Members in Scotland and Wales to speak to and vote on the amendments that they have tabled on this vital issue. In what other democratic body would that be allowed? The whole thing is a travesty.
Having been here such a short time, it might be wrong of me to say so, but my enthusiasm for a Scottish Parliament increases with every day that I spend at Westminster, and that is partly due to listening to the English Conservatives.
§ Mr. Gorrie
Bring them back. All is forgiven.
780 A Government health warning should be attached to English Conservatives, because listening to them gives any red-blooded Scotsman a heart attack; they simply do not understand. I am sure that they are worthy representatives of the shires and suburbs, but they understand nothing about Scotland. Occasionally, they go there to shoot grouse. If they read a book, they occasionally come to the Edinburgh festival, perhaps, but they understand nothing whatsoever about Scotland. They display the sort of arrogance that previous British people perhaps displayed to some of their colonies. Their conversations are similar to the conversation that Edward II had with some of his cronies when riding away from the battle of Bannockburn and planning the following year's invasion. He took 10 years before he was compelled to make peace. I hope for their sakes that the Conservatives will learn a little quicker.
On the referendum, I must make the following points, which my colleagues have already made to some degree. It is wrong to combine the Scottish and Welsh referendums in one Bill. It is a marriage of inconvenience, because the positions in Scotland and in Wales are quite different. The form of Parliament proposed for Wales is totally different from that proposed for Scotland, and the local political position and level of support for the concept are different. The Welsh have not had a convention that has come up with an agreed scheme.
It is unnecessary to have the referendum. In 1992, the Conservatives marginally improved their position in Scotland, in terms of both seats and votes, and they hailed that as complete support for the status quo. On this occasion, they have suffered the greatest defeat anywhere, in my limited knowledge of political history. At least the Canadian Tories held two seats; in Scotland and Wales the score was 112–0: there are 40 Welsh and 72 Scottish seats, and the Tories hold none. Surely that teaches us something and gives us a message that the Government can go ahead with their legislation for the convention scheme.
We are against the second question, which is remarkably foolish and will be read by many people as, "You really do want to pay more taxes, don't you?" However it is worded, that is how it will be seen and there is a great risk that it will be lost.
Logically—this will appeal to the Secretary of State, who is an intelligent man—the second question opens the door to the Scottish National party, because if, as he said in his speech, the referendum is to endorse the Scottish convention scheme, that is a reasonable proposition; but to ask whether there should be tax-raising powers is to consult on a scheme that no one is proposing, in which case the argument against the SNP having its scheme on the ballot paper disappears entirely. The second question is logically unsound and politically idiotic. The convention scheme was a great example of co-operation and I hope that it will lead to better politics.
My final reason for opposing the referendum is the way in which it was imposed on us by diktat from London; it was the worst sort of old-style politics. We are trying to achieve a new politics of co-operation in Scotland. I have co-operated with many Labour Members, and I have greatly admired their efforts in the Scottish convention. I hope that that can continue.
We may argue about the small print, but we must get it across that the ideal of people running their own affairs is a great ideal and a great moral cause. We need 781 somebody with Gladstone's eloquence to get that across. Wallace and Bruce did not make speeches before their battles about whether there might be three groats more in the tithes. That is not what we are concerned about: we are concerned about the great cause of whether people can run their own affairs, as we believe they should.
§ Dr. Lynda Clark (Edinburgh, Pentlands)
It is a great privilege to be able to make a contribution to this debate, especially in view of the wisdom and passion of those who have spoken before me. I hope that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Gorrie) will continue the tradition of giving people a lift home on rainy nights; if ever I need a lift, I shall certainly approach him.
I should say at the outset that this is a maiden speech. I mention that partly to get my plea in mitigation in early, and partly because I have discovered that the word maiden can be defined as a Scottish beheading machine, similar to the guillotine. That raised some anxiety in my mind; I was reassured when I found no mention of it in "Erskine May", but I wondered whether it might be in some Scottish appendix that I had not yet found.
It is customary for a new Member to refer to her predecessor; I am pleased to follow that custom. My predecessor, Mr. Malcolm Rifkind, was fortunate enough to enjoy a high reputation in the House and an international reputation as Foreign Secretary in the previous Conservative Administration. We share a common history and training as members of the Faculty of Advocates. As a Scots lawyer, I hope that brevity has been inculcated into me.
I pay tribute to Mr. Rifkind's illustrious career and long service as a constituency Member of Parliament. I wondered whether I should apologise to Conservative Members for having reduced their options in their desperate search for a new leader.
On one matter, I am pleased to adopt Mr. Rifkind's words. Quoting Victor Hugo, he said:Nothing is so powerful as an idea whose time has come."— [Official Report, 16 December 1976; Vol. 922, c. 1831.]He was referring to devolution. I invite the House to ponder those words in the context of this debate. My predecessor was eloquent and learned and had a great respect for the traditions of the House; he was also justly proud of Edinburgh, Pentlands, my new constituency.
It is my great good fortune to represent a constituency that stands only a few miles from the centre of Edinburgh and the likely seat of the new Scottish Parliament. In some respects, my constituency can be seen as a microcosm of Scotland, consisting of highland and lowland, town and country. The highland area takes the dramatic shape of the beautiful Pentland hills that cradle the urban lowland.
In the urban areas there is a powerful juxtaposition of poverty and wealth, and my constituency has been described as one of the most deeply socially divided in Britain. Under the previous Administration, those divisions deepened and festered. It is part of the new Government's duty to help to heal those divisions. Every constituent from every area has something to offer and must feel included. For my part, I offer to serve the interests of all my constituents to the best of my ability.
The Bill provides for referendums in Scotland and Wales, and I welcome both. Hon. Members will excuse me if I confine my remarks to Scotland, because I know 782 more about it. The time for devolution came many years ago—the principle can be defended on the grounds of historical precedent, democratic accountability, administrative efficiency and popular demand—but the opportunity was lost.
There have been false starts, false hopes and false prophets, but now we are fortunate to have a new opportunity. Now is the time to let the people who live in Scotland make their voice heard again. This debate marks an historic opportunity. We are taking the first steps towards bringing about profound and necessary changes. We must not do that without full debate.
Every generation must re-examine the principles of democracy and test their effectiveness. Every generation needs voices such as those of Thomas Paine, the Chartists or the suffragettes. Equality, fairness, accountability and effectiveness are the standards by which we must judge our democratic institutions.
The Bill represents an historic opportunity for those governed in Scotland to judge their institutions and vote for a new Scottish Parliament with devolved and tax-varying powers. That means not only a transfer of governmental responsibilities, but that decisions that directly affect individuals living in Scotland will be made with reference to their elected representatives.
I commend the Bill to the House. I support it because it honours the finest principles of democracy. In supporting democracy we help to establish a society in which other great principles of fairness and natural justice can flourish.
§ Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury)
It is a privilege to make my first speech in such an important debate. I congratulate the hon. Members who have made such excellent maiden speeches. I pay tribute to the courage and determination of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Gorrie), who has arrived at the House after five attempts. Although it has not taken me five attempts, I know how he feels. I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley), who made an excellent speech, to the Labour Members who spoke so well and to the hon. Ladies who have spoken with such wit, charm and wisdom.
All those hon. Ladies on the Labour Benches present something of a problem to the hon. Ladies on the Conservative Benches because they get mistaken for Labour Members. Given what was said earlier, I am not sure whether it is worse to be mistaken for a Labour Member's wife or for a Labour Member. The thought of that persuaded my wife to stand for Gloucestershire county council rather than Parliament. Happily, 2 May provided an opportunity for a double celebration, at least in Tewkesbury.
It really was a celebration, because it is a great privilege to represent such a wonderful constituency. Tewkesbury has many urban parts but the countryside has been described asA place of gentle contrasts.My arrival in Tewkesbury was a more severe contrast than might have been thought. In 1471, there was a famous battle at Tewkesbury in the war of the roses. It was won by the Yorkists, as many hon. Members will know. I am glad to say that the 1997 battle of Tewkesbury was 783 convincingly won by a Lancastrian. It gives me great pleasure to serve as the first Member of Parliament for Tewkesbury as a seat in itself for more than 100 years.
It is the custom of the House to pay tribute to one's predecessors. That may take me a while because the seat has been cobbled together from several different constituencies. Most of it was contained in the old seat of Cirencester and Tewkesbury, which was represented with such distinction by Nicholas Ridley. I pay tribute to his successor, my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown), who represented the seat with great distinction for five years. I thank him also for the help that he gave me. I am pleased to pay tribute to the work of the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Jones), part of whose constituency I have taken. Last, but by no means least, I pay tribute to Paul Marland who unfortunately lost his seat, partly because of the boundary changes, and partly because of the swing against the Conservatives. I took quite a chunk of his seat, for which he does not thank me.
We in Tewkesbury somewhat bucked the national trend. I like to think that that was at least partly due to the clear ideas that we put to the electorate. I stood on an unashamedly British ticket, fighting against European federalism and stressing the need for and benefits of preserving the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. It has been said before, but it is my firm belief that the United Kingdom as a whole is stronger than the sum of its parts. Our strength has been built together. Thanks to the strength of the Union, and in no small part thanks to 18 years of Conservative government, the new Labour Government inherit a strong, prosperous, united nation.
It is impossible to separate the Bill from the wider issue of devolution, and impossible to separate devolution from the prospect of the United Kingdom breaking up. Devolution could usher in the beginning of the end of the United Kingdom. I have no interest to declare as such, but I have something of a love affair with Scotland. It is incorrect to assume that English Members have no knowledge of Scotland. I have spent much time there and, indeed, worked there for a while. I have a great passion for Scotland. That is why I am so determined that it should remain part of the United Kingdom.
I see great danger for Scotland in moving down the devolutionary road. Scotland could be left to fend for itself as a small country in a hostile European Union. The hard-earned freedom that it would have gained from the United Kingdom would soon be snatched away by the federalist tendencies of that body. In such circumstances, what strength would Scotland have to fight against the federalist tendencies that it once wanted to throw off?
I am not convinced that the suggested great, demonstrable demand for devolution exists. Many people are making noises for it but they cannot necessarily claim to represent the views of the majority. I believe that many people in Scotland, as was acknowledged earlier, want to retain the status quo. They see no need for another layer of bureaucracy to be imposed upon them and certainly see no need for up to 3p in the pound more income tax to be levied on them.
Many people in Scotland will be against devolution. Scots who live in Scotland can vote against it but what about Scottish people who no longer live in Scotland? 784 They may live in another part of what they consider to be their country, the United Kingdom. We have learned from the Government this week that such people will have no say. For whatever reason, they chose to live in another part of the United Kingdom, but they should be given some say in what happens to the United Kingdom. Tearing Scotland away from the United Kingdom, which is the prospect that we face, is surely a matter for all of us. The policy of allowing only people who reside in Scotland to vote is inconsistent with existing law, which allows British people who have left our shores to continue to vote in our elections.
It has not escaped anyone's attention that the Conservative party has no representation in the House from Scotland or Wales, or, for that matter, from Northern Ireland. In general, although not this time, the Conservative party commands a majority of seats in England. It is in the interests of the Conservative party, especially with such a large hill to climb, to let the United Kingdom break up. In such circumstances, the Conservative party could enjoy almost perpetual government in England. I am not a member of a party that is interested in narrow electoral advantage. I belong to a party that believes in the wider interests of the United Kingdom. Those interests are not best served by going down the devolution route.
We are at risk from devolution and from so rapid an introduction of the Bill. People in Scotland may be persuaded to vote for devolution as a reaction against what they may have regarded as an English conspiracy to govern them. I believe in democracy; that is one reason why I joined the Conservative party. If a significant majority of Scottish people, clearly and consistently—those two words are important—showed that they wanted devolution, we would, of course, have to accept that verdict. The danger with such a rushed Bill is that if only a small majority of people in Scotland voted in favour, the Government would rush devolution through. That did not happen in 1978, when a small majority—32.9 per cent.—voted in favour, against 30.8 per cent. who voted against. The then Labour Government had insisted that at least 40 per cent. of those entitled to vote had to vote yes. The legislation fell, and so did the Labour Government shortly after. That is perhaps what worries the Government.
Given the precedents and the importance of the matter, is not it reasonable to ask the Government, before they set up a Scottish Parliament with tax-raising powers, to be absolutely sure that such an arrangement is preferred by a sizeable number of Scottish people, and not by only a small majority on a very low turnout?
Much is at stake through the Bill, including 300 years of history, the economic strength that has been achieved and the future of the United Kingdom. The issues before us should not be hurried, nor should they be treated lightly.
I conclude my remarks by thanking the House for extending its courtesy to me.
§ 8.9 pm
§ Mr. John McAllion (Dundee, East)
First, I congratulate the hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson) on speaking with great distinction. Indeed, he made a funny speech. I am sure that he will make important contributions in future in this place and I look forward to hearing them.
I congratulate especially those of my hon. Friends who made their maiden speeches this afternoon and evening. All of them spoke with great wit and with an obvious 785 pride and deep knowledge of their constituencies. Having sat in my place for the past four hours or so, it has become increasingly obvious that the new intake looks better than the old lags such as myself, and sounds better. We can look forward to a much better Parliament, I am sure, over the next five years.
I offer belated congratulations to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland on his appointment. They are belated congratulations only because this is the first opportunity that I have had to offer them. If my right hon. Friend were in the Chamber, he would probably be surprised to know that during the election campaign, in conversation with my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross), I predicted his appointment. My hon. Friend said that I was talking through a hole that was not in my head. I, however, was proved to be right. My right hon. Friend will be even more surprised to hear that I warmly welcome his appointment. Of all the realistic contenders for the job, I am sure that most of my right hon. and hon. Friends recognised that my right hon. Friend would be the best appointee. We wish him all the very best in future.
I commend the Government on the speed with which they have introduced the Bill. They have immediately honoured a manifesto commitment and, much more importantly, they have taken the first step towards re-establishing in my country, for the first time in nearly 300 years, a directly elected Scottish Parliament. I am greatly encouraged that an incoming Labour Government, after 18 long years of exile, should embark on a legislative measure that has long been a commitment of the Labour party. I am sure that the Bill will be a significant paving measure. We hope that that will be so and that we shall not witness the fate of the previous referendum introduced by a Labour Government.
The report of the commission on the conduct of referendums describes them as having an uncertain place within our system of government and as having no established rules accepted by the main political parties for their efficient and fair conduct. Anyone who has listened to the debate will acknowledge that the truth of that is obvious. That is illustrated by two examples, and I shall remind the House of them.
First, in the 1975 referendum on whether Britain should join the Common Market, each of the two umbrella groups formed at that time—Britain in Europe and the national referendum campaign—were given Government grants of £125,000, along with the costs of printing and distributing leaflets. By the time of the 1979 referendum on Scottish devolution, however, there was no recognition for any umbrella group. Indeed, there was no public funding or support for either side. That demonstrates an inconsistency of approach.
Secondly, there is the example that was provided in 1979, when the infamous 40 per cent. rule was imposed on the yes side but not on the no side. In 1975 there was no such rule. Had there been a 50 per cent. threshold, as suggested this evening, the United Kingdom would never have joined the Common Market. Perhaps that is why the suggestion was put forward.
The inconsistency of approach towards referendums persists. Back in 1975, it was the avowed enemies of Scottish nationalism who were pressing for an additional question on independence to be included in the then referendum. There were those, like the late Norman 786 Buchan, who thought that by including that question the Scottish National party would be embarrassed, yet in this Parliament the Scottish National party is arguing that the option should be included in the referendum. That shows that we can never predict what will come up in Scottish politics. I am sure that the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) never thought that he would see the day when he would be following the constitutional footsteps of the late Norman Buchan. I do not know whether he or Jennie Buchan would be more worried about that. I suspect that Jennie would be more worried than the hon. Gentleman.
Historically, resort to referendums has not been founded on constitutional principles when set against the background of the House. Instead, referendums have been political expediency. They have represented the necessity of holding together a divided Government party. In 1975, and again in 1978–79, the then Labour Government, including their Back-Bench Members, were deeply divided over whether Britain should belong to the Common Market and whether there should be Scottish and Welsh devolution. Referendums were the means by which the then Labour Government sought to escape the divisions within their own ranks.
It was Lord Callaghan, a key player at that time, who described referendums as a rubber life raft into which one day the entire Labour party might have to climb. That just about summed up the experience of referendums in this place.
The question before us in this debate is whether the past experience of referendums is about to be repeated in ' this Parliament. The answer, I think, is that it is not. The circumstances now are very different. First, the present Government are not divided. A Scottish Parliament based on a Scottish Constitutional Convention scheme is a manifesto commitment that binds every member of the parliamentary Labour party. I am delighted that my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) is in his place to hear me say that. We are equally bound by our manifesto commitment to support both the referendums that are referred to in the Bill.
Secondly, the present Labour Government are not at the mercy of a Back-Bench rebellion. Given the majority that the Government enjoy they do not have to fear my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow, whatever schemes he may dream up over the next few weeks. I hope that he recognises that reality.
That does not mean that there will not be opposition. There must and will be opposition in any democracy, whatever a Labour Government propose. The official Opposition will continue to oppose any change whatsoever because they have yet to realise why they suffered an electoral wipe-out in Scotland and Wales. They are making the same mistakes in this Parliament that they made in the previous Parliament, mistakes which led to their defeat in those two countries.
The Scottish National party will continue to press for the independence option to be included in the referendum. It is its right to do that, and in a sense it is its duty. In doing so, the Scottish National party will represent the views of 22 per cent. of the voters in the recent general election. The Liberal Democrats will continue legitimately to ask why there should be a referendum in any event. I am not unsympathetic to that line.
787 I think that everyone in his or her heart will recognise that in reality we shall be passing through the parliamentary motions. Such is the strength of the Labour Government that at the end of the day the referendum that will be held in Scotland this autumn will seek a double yes vote for a Scottish Parliament with tax-gathering powers.
As for the other place, if its unelected Members try to frustrate the elected Members of this place or deny them the right to place this proposed legislation on to the statute book, I for one will look forward to an early Christmas so that there can be an early settlement of accounts with that group of aristocratic turkeys.
I shall make one or two final points to my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Government Front Bench. For a long time Scottish politics have been dominated by the idea of cross-party consensus. It has widely been assumed in Scotland that no one party will be able to deliver for the Scottish people. That turned out to be wrong. The 1997 election proved that idea to be wrong. The Government now have a Commons majority of such a size that they can deliver that which they wish. As always in Scottish politics, however, there is a twist in the tail. The Labour Government are locked into the commitment of a referendum involving all the people in Scotland. In such a referendum, the Commons majority that the Labour Government enjoy will count for nothing.
At the election, Labour polled just 46.5 per cent. of the popular vote, not enough to carry the referendum that we shall hold in the autumn—and we are not even certain that all those Labour supporters will vote "yes, yes": a number of people in Dundee, for example, have told me that they will vote "no, yes", "yes, no" or "no, no", although they vote Labour in other elections. Labour Members must accept that we shall need the support of the other pro-home rule parties in Scotland if we are to carry the referendum that we are certain will be held later this year.
I was greatly encouraged by the speech that the Minister for Home Affairs and Devolution, Scottish Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Central Fife (Mr. McLeish), made at the launch of the cross-party campaign, "Forward Scotland" last Saturday in Edinburgh. In that speech, my hon. Friend reached out to all those outside the traditional Labour movement, asking them to come together in a national campaign that would win the referendum and lead to the establishment of a Scottish Parliament by a Labour Government.
The contrast between my hon. Friend's approach in 1997 and the approach taken by a Labour Government back in 1979 could not be more stark. At that time, the Scottish council of the Labour party sent an instruction to all constituency Labour party organisations in Scotland, warning them against collaboration with any body other than the Scottish Trades Union Congress or the Co-operative party. Indeed, the then Secretary of State for Scotland went on public record as saying, "Labour will not be soiling our hands by joining any umbrella 'yes' group." That was sectarian and wrong, and led to defeat in 1979. I am delighted that my hon. Friends the present Ministers have learnt from that defeat, and have rejected such an approach for the current Parliament. We need a 788 result from the referendum, and the only way in which we can secure the result that we need is by reaching out to other parties in the home rule movement.
The debate has been dominated by the dichotomy between those who think that setting up a Scottish Parliament will be the slippery slope leading to the break-up of the United Kingdom, and those who believe that such a Parliament will provide the means by which the integrity of the United Kingdom will be preserved. I take a different position from either of those groups: I want the Scottish Parliament proposed by the Scottish Constitutional Convention because I believe that it will be the best form of government for Scotland. I want it for its own sake, not because it will lead to one development or the other.
I do not accept that—as one of my hon. Friends argued earlier—this is a matter for the chattering classes. Many people throughout Scotland feel deeply that home rule should be returned to their country. My favourite memory is of an elderly delegate who spoke at the STUC conference in 1993. He told the conference, "I wanted a Scottish Parliament when I was 20, and I still want it. I am hungry for it, and I want it before they stuff me in a wooden box and throw it on the fire." I hope for the sake of that delegate that this Labour Government's proposals are not too late, and that the Government remember his example and do not waste any time in securing the referendum, taking the Bill to establish a Scottish Parliament through the House and bringing democracy back to Scotland.
§ Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield)
It is a great pleasure to be able to speak in the debate, all the more so because I think that I was the last Conservative candidate to be selected before the general election. I found myself unexpectedly transported from the northern hills, on which I had been walking, to my constituency. I was selected within 48 hours, and plunged straight into an election campaign.
As I listened to some of the speeches that have been made this evening—particularly that of the hon. Member for Inverness, East, Nairn and Lochaber (Mr. Stewart)—there were moments when I suddenly wished that I could be back on the train from Euston to Corrour in order to spend a few more days out on the hills rather than being in the House. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman has now left the Chamber; he spoke of fiery crosses to celebrate the arrival of a Scottish Parliament. I do not necessarily dissociate myself from his sentiments, but I hope that, if he is lighting fiery crosses on the tops of the mountains of Lochaber, he will check first to see that I am not sleeping out there in my bivvy bag.
It is my privilege to represent Beaconsfield, a constituency which, by any standards in the United Kingdom, is itself very privileged. It has high indices of wealth, although there are areas that are impoverished and in need of help. It also has an articulate community, low unemployment and other great advantages. Those advantages do not exist because of the waving of a magic wand. They are, in part, the result of the area's location to the west of London and its proximity to centres of communication, but they are due in large measure to the industry of its inhabitants and what they have made of their communities, which are set in a pleasant and gentle landscape.
789 The possibilities for personal development and opportunity in Beaconsfield have meant that it is highly developed, and is often subjected to environmental pressures that need to be addressed; but it remains an extraordinarily pleasant place in which to be. During the election campaign, I found that it had a strong sense of community and participation at every level of life, not just politics.
One of the features of the campaign in Beaconsfield was the frequency with which the issues that we are now discussing came up for discussion. That was because, far from being a place of little Englanders, Beaconsfield—because of its location—has attracted people from all over the United Kingdom and, indeed, from abroad, who have settled there to lead a British way of life.
What struck me especially forcefully during the campaign was the number of people in the old people's homes that I visited who came from Wales. They had come during the depression to take the jobs that were available in the factories on the Bath road. Their experience mirrors that of my family. I need only look at the example of my forebears to see the advantages that they gained from the Union, and to realise why I am so attached to it. Four hundred years ago, they lived a life in Roxburghshire which—although it may have been romanticised by Sir Walter Scott, who included the names of his neighbours, including my forebears, in the ballads when he recreated them—was, by all accounts, not very far removed from life in Bosnia in recent years. There was political disunity; neighbour was set against neighbour because there was fear and because there were huge uncertainties.
Those problems were cured by the Union, first by the Union of the Crowns and secondly by the union of the Parliaments in the 18th century. I need only look at the way in which, by the middle of the 18th century, my family had graduated from being cattle and sheep thieves to being prosperous farmers and at the frontiers of innovation in farming methods and the agricultural revolution that underpinned the country's prosperity to know the advantages that came to them from the Union.
However, it went beyond that. When, in the following century, younger sons left the farms, they had all the opportunities offered by travelling abroad and maintaining a British identity. That enabled them to prosper—never to lose contact with their roots and their cousins north of the border, but simply to reflect the fact, as 18th-century travellers from the south of England noticed, perhaps rather to their surprise, when they crossed the border from Northumberland to Roxburghshire, that the people on each side of the border were pretty much identical.
I do not wish—especially in the light of the issues that have to be debated—to issue a panegyric on the Union. I am the first to accept that constitutions can evolve; they are not fixed. A number of ideas and innovations have been produced, not just this evening but by Ministers during discussion of the Queen's Speech, some of which I consider quite exciting.
Perhaps I might give an example of where I suspect I might be at variance with some of the views of my colleagues on the Conservative Benches, but it is a variance that I have held for a long time. The incorporation of the European convention on human rights into our national law is something that, although challenging, is nevertheless desirable if it can be done 790 without diminishing the sovereignty of Parliament. I believe that it can. I hope that I apply the same sorts of criteria to the proposals put forward today.
My concern is not with the principles of devolution in the sense that people may wish for it. From my frequent visits to Scotland, I am the first to accept the strength of feeling that exists there in respect of wanting devolved government. My concern is with the practicalities, and in particular with those that emerge out of the Bill that has been placed before the House tonight for its consideration. Let me try to develop that argument a little further.
I should like to take as my example the European convention on human rights. If it is to be incorporated into United Kingdom law—I do not know how it is proposed to be done—one of the articles the Government will wish to consider is article 3 in the first protocol. It states:The High Contracting Parties undertake to hold free elections at reasonable intervals by secret ballot under conditions which ensure the free expression of the people in the choice of the legislature.Which people? Which legislature? I cannot go back to my constituents in Beaconsfield and simply tell them that, by diktat, they will be placed in a position in two or three years, or during the next Parliament, where, effectively, decisions that they take as to the choice of legislature will mean that there will be people legislating over them who are not themselves subject to the legislation that is passed. That fundamental flaw cannot be ignored. There is only one way in which it could be got round.
To pick up on what was said by the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) on the West Lothian question, clearly it is possible in a democracy for any amount of anomalies to exist. Anomalies, if they are tolerated, are acceptable. Imagine that the Secretary of State for Scotland had come before the House and said that as part of his proposals for the referendum he would be suggesting that people living in England should be entitled to pronounce on whether the decisions to set up a Scottish Parliament and a Welsh Assembly—I am particularly concerned about the Scottish Parliament—would naturally lead to their wanting major constitutional reforms of their own. If he had said that they should be allowed to express a view on the effective exclusion of Scottish Members from the decision-making process on English issues solely, that would be a first step towards clarifying what the different component parts of the United Kingdom want.
The issue is being fudged. I hope that the Secretary of State will accept that those of us who believe in the Union and would, if given our choice, stand forward to say that the existing arrangements have done us well and we wish them to continue, will nevertheless also accept that as democrats and believers in the popular will there is no question of standing in the way of the people of Scotland or Wales in the decisions that they wish to take. There is a right, however, to review for ourselves in England and for the people of England if they need it, such arrangements as they want. If we do not do that, the durability which must be the desired result of any constitutional change, so that it lasts much longer than a Labour Government, will be lost. What we will end up with is endless bickering, endless difficulties and endless 791 conflict, which none of us who wish to maintain the Union and who believe in it in one form or another can possibly desire. That is why I cannot support the Bill; it has been put forward without those discussions having taken place and without the arguments being offered.
If, as one may expect, the Bill goes through after tomorrow, I hope that, nevertheless, the points that I have raised will not be ignored, but will be revived again and again during discussion of the issue. If they are, it may even be possible that we will emerge with something which is the product of the endeavour of Labour Members, but nevertheless finds itself endurable by—and acceptable to—far more people. If that does not happen, we face grave difficulties.
When it comes to the debate on the incorporation of the European convention on human rights, I certainly intend to pursue how article 3 and a number of others appear to be at variance with the structures that the Government appear to want to foist on the different components of the United Kingdom. It is an interesting discussion which I look forward to pursuing.
There were a number of things that I wanted to say before I concluded. It is customary to pay tribute to one's predecessor. In my circumstances, my good fortune was the result of difficult decisions for him and great unhappiness. I am bound to say that, during all the time I campaigned in Beaconsfield, I was made aware by those from all parties, irrespective of how they voted in the election or in previous ones, how much they recognised his concern for local issues and his assiduousness as a local Member. I pay tribute to his work because over 15 years Tim Smith did a great deal.
There is one final matter that I should like to raise. Before I came to the House to make this speech I looked at what my predecessors had said in their maiden speeches. I was amused to discover that no one had made a maiden speech as Member for the area that I represent since 1945, because they had all been elected elsewhere first. When one comes to consider the state of the parties, I was greatly reassured that, in 1945, my predecessor in south Buckinghamshire, where I still enjoy a majority of 13,500, was Labour. We are not quite gone yet.
Unable to find much comfort from that, I went back to the maiden speech made by my father in 1964. It concerned a foreign affairs issue. He was concerned that the then Labour Government had imposed tariffs which the previous Government had said, according to international treaty, they would not impose. They were aimed at restricting the import of goods from the European Community. He believed passionately—and still believes passionately—in the underlying philosophical principles of co-operation among European states. The whole of that speech was laced with his objections to the creation of structures that interfered with harmony and intercourse between people.
What worries me about the Bill is that I fear that it will do exactly the same at United Kingdom level. That is why I will support the reasoned amendment tabled by my right hon. and hon. Friends and why I cannot support the Government motion. However, if constructive suggestions are put forward as to how the problems associated with devolution for the totality of the United Kingdom can be 792 properly debated, I for one will be delighted to participate because the Union and the individuality in it is the absolute bedrock on which our freedom has been built.
§ Mr. Rhodri Morgan (Cardiff, West)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve)—I believe that that was a maiden speech. I have lost count of the number of maiden speeches that there have been—I think that there must have been seven or eight, mostly from Scottish Members. It made me think of my maiden speech 10 years ago. When I made it, the words "zero-zero option" had only one meaning: the way in which the super-powers tried to bargain away different categories of nuclear missiles. The words zero-zero option have a new meaning: the pickle that the Tory party has got itself into in Scotland and Wales.
One of the purposes of the debate has perhaps been to help the Tory party to work out why it has got into this zero-zero option problem in Scotland and Wales. By and large, it is because the Tory party is resistant to change and simply refuses to re-examine itself and to find out whether it should—we see it again in the amendment that it has tabled tonight—still be resisting change. It reminds me of the little signs that I see on buses sometimes when I try to pay for a ticket, or of signs in vending machine arcades saying, "This machine gives no change." That is not a bad description of the Tory party's attitude on constitutional matters.
I think that the hon. Member for Beaconsfield mentioned what had happened with the Union of the Crown in 1603 and with the Act of Union in 1707 with Scotland. At the Welsh Conservative party conference only a few brief months ago—it seems a long time ago now—the former Prime Minister referred to 1,000 years of British history, revealing that perhaps he had not got much further than the 0-level stage in history, because there is no such thing. The hon. Member for Beaconsfield referred indirectly to the fact that the use of the term "Britain" and the use of the term "United Kingdom" do not go back more than 400 years. They go back in fact to the Union of the Crown with Scotland.
We in Wales would obviously tend to want to take our version of parliamentary history back another 60 or 70 years to the two Welsh Acts of Union of 1535 and 1542, but I do not want to get into 1,000 years or even 400 years of history. It is fair to say, however, that it has been interesting to see how, in most of the past 400 years, the relationship between England, given its overwhelming size within today's United Kingdom, and the three Celtic fringe countries or nations—whatever we want to call them—of Scotland, Wales and Ireland has continuously been redefined. It was originally done by way of expansion through the incorporation of Wales, the Union with Scotland and the Act of Union (Ireland) Act 1800, but since then it has tended the other way. That meant the granting of additional rights to Ireland, Scotland and Wales in different forms.
Since 1800, each of those additional rights has always been resisted by the Conservative party. It always gave out the same message and we are hearing it time and again tonight—any change to our constitution is a threat to the very existence of the Union. We have heard that such a change weakens and undermines the Union. "I am a passionate supporter of the Union," say Conservative 793 Members, as though it were a monopoly of the Conservative party. All they are saying is that they do not like this change.
The same arguments were used against the extension of the franchise in the 19th century and in the early part of this century. Why does the Conservative party resist constitutional change? One can understand its opposition to the extension of the franchise in the 19th century because the Tories did extremely well under the previous system. To some extent, in this century, they have done extremely well through being the party of no change. It has helped them. They would have had great difficulties getting majority democratic support in Wales and Scotland, so they thought, "The way to run it is not to grant any democratic extension of rights to Wales and Scotland."
I am afraid that the great Rubicon is upon the Conservative party, and it is beginning to divide on that issue. Certainly in Wales, we have seen at least the grandees of the Conservative party, some in the other place, some in the debate on the Queen's Speech only a few days ago, referring to the fact that a big rethink is now required by the Conservative party, and asking whether it should be resisting change and whether it was about time that it started to support the campaign through the referendum campaign and the subsequent legislation.
The official position of the Conservative party as a collective body, although that seems a bit of a misnomer at the moment, is still to resist all change. Clearly, however, there are forces splitting the Tory party into the anti-devolution, "We are still the machine that gives no change" faction and the other faction which, as we approach the beginning of the third millennium, asks what is wrong with allowing democratic devolution. Why are members of the latter faction saying that? Because they know, as we know, that, having given administrative devolution to Scotland in, I think, 1885 and to Wales in 1964 in the form of separate Secretaries and Departments of State, a crunch point is inevitably reached.
There has been administrative devolution in Scotland for more than 110 years and in Wales for 33 years. Administrative devolution poses certain problems because it means that something like the equivalent of vice-regal powers are gradually acquired. When the office of the Secretary of State for Wales was set up in 1964 under the incoming Labour Government of Harold Wilson, it was a great achievement for the Government. It started as quite a modest Ministry with some 250 civil servants and did not have a wide range of duties to perform.
Of course, almost every four or five years—or whatever the length of the Parliaments—in the 33 years since then, most of which have been under Conservative rule, at least one major issue of Government competence has been transferred from the classic British unitary state model, according to which everything is run by Departments which are held responsible at the Dispatch Box, to the alternative hybrid, the territorial mechanism according to which Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales are by and large run. Thus, all the Home Ministries have gradually been transferred to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
We are now left with this curious unitary state—yes, it is a unitary state, but one with strong elements of quasi-federal practice within it. It is still eventually responsible to this sovereign Parliament, but it is an odd system. It is not a terribly healthy one and certainly not 794 one that we should say is immutable because of its sheer beauty as drawn up by the brilliant Olympian minds of some constitutional lawyers. No one could say that about the hybrid system that we have now, under which England is run entirely by Departments while Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are run on a territorial basis but with some functions such as social security and some forms of transport—air and rail—still run on a UK-wide basis.
There are slightly varying degrees of devolution in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Most notably, in Wales there has been no devolution of the Lord Chancellor's functions, Home Office functions or most transport functions.
There is thus an element of difficulty with the hybrid system, so I am very pleased that we now have a Bill that will enable the people of Wales either to veto the principles of the White Paper if they do not like them or give them the direct democratic mandate if they do. I hope that the Tory party realises that it has a choice as to whether to participate constructively or carry on as the entirely negative force that it is and has been for the past 20 years or so.
Of course, there was a faction within the Tory party whose members, some of whom are still fairly prominent but some of whom got knocked out at the election, were devolutionists in the mid-1970s vis-a-vis Scotland. However, they changed their minds when Margaret Thatcher took over the leadership of the party in the late 1970s. That was the price of preferment in the Tory party. Those who, like Malcolm Rifkind and the former Chancellor, had been devolutionists had to change their mind and become anti-devolutionists if they wanted a job in Margaret Thatcher's Administration.
At that stage, there was not a pro-devolution faction in Wales, but it would have followed as inevitably as the Secretary of State for Wales's job followed on from the original establishment of the office of Secretary of State for Scotland.
I accept what the hon. Member for Beaconsfield said about tolerating anomalies within a system so long as there is the good will to make them workable. All parties have a duty to create that good will and the atmosphere for constructive debate and interchange because we shall never get rid of those anomalies. We will never establish a perfect unitary state or attain a federal system devised by teams of constitutional lawyers—as primarily British constitutional lawyers did for the Federal Republic of Germany in the period leading up to its establishment in 1949. That will not happen, because it is not the British way. The British way is to move bit by bit, after the argy-bargy and knockabout of a general election, and after even more argy-bargy and knockabout across the Floors of this House and the other place—which, probably in the history of the world, is the greatest constitutional anomaly of all. Until now the other place has been accepted, although some changes to it may be made. Today, however, we are not debating that issue.
If we are to talk about anomalies, we must keep a sense of proportion about the different types of anomaly in the British constitution. We want—with a long, hot summer ahead of us—genuine, democratic campaigning, and we want the Tory parties to participate in it. We want them to do so, however, in a way in which they do not try to be the hold-outs, trying to claim that they are the last people who love and feel passion for the Union.
795 The right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) said earlier in the debate that Conservatives are the patriots and that, collectively, they are the ones who distinguish between patriotism and parochialism. He comes from Llanelli and I come from Cardiff, and we Taffs have to stick together, but I should tell him that the implication of his statement—that Labour Members are not patriotic, because we believe in introducing democratic devolution in areas that, so far, have been only administratively devolved—will be deeply resented. He needs to rethink that attitude.
I know that the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe, because of his long period in Folkestone, has been affected more deeply than me by English folk culture. Indeed, I have been told that his favourite folk-song is, "As I was going to Widdecombe fair".
If the right hon. and learned Gentleman and other Conservative Members really love the Union, love waving the Union flag and believe that our governmental system is the strongest in the world, why do they treat the Union as a flower so fragile that even the slightest change to it will smash it—like the finest Dresden china—to smithereens? Those two beliefs cannot be held simultaneously. If one is a patriot and thinks that the British constitution is strong, the British constitution should easily be able to withstand devolution and referendums—for which today's debate is paving the way.
§ Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough)
I congratulate my three hon. Friends—they form not a Holy Trinity, but certainly a trinity—who made their maiden speeches in this debate. They spoke with confidence and clarity, and I am sure that we all look forward to hearing more from them. I also congratulate the Labour Members who made their maiden speeches today. They all spoke with great fluency, and I hope that we shall hear more from them, too.
The hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan)—in his criticisms of the Conservative party, or of what is left of it in the House and in the United Kingdom—rather reminded me of the sergeant-major who informed conscripts into the armed forces that, if they could not take the joke, they should not have joined up.
I do not think that the result of the general election was a joke, however, because I have been in the Chamber and I have listened to the debate. I have seen the size of the Labour majority—about which I do not complain unduly—and I have to accept it as a fact of political life. I have to exist as a Conservative Member in that new universe: which means that the Bill will receive its Second Reading; that it will pass, probably unamended, its Committee stage; that it will be sent to the other place; that it will return, again probably unamended, from the other place; and that, before long, it will receive Royal Assent. That is a political fact of life with which I must live.
The current facts of political life do not, however, mean that I should not contribute to the debate or that Conservative Members should not be heard. Our speeches may not change anything. Nevertheless, our job is to criticise and to oppose constructively. I hope that we will be listened to in that spirit.
796 The Secretary of State for Scotland accused me of being "horribly familiar". I am not quite sure whether he was criticising me for calling him "Donald", or for calling Tony "Tony", or whether he was saying that he recognised me from the previous Parliament. Whichever it was, I do not want to be rude to him, because I do not think that he was being rude to me. It would be very silly for a member of the Bar to be rude to a solicitor. All I wish the right hon. Gentleman to do is to retire soon and to spend more time with his practice so that he can benefit mine. He made a good speech and, if I may say so without ruining his reputation, he is a good man. If we have to have a Labour Secretary of State for Scotland, we could not have a better one than him.
I want to make three brief points about the Bill which may come up for discussion later in Committee. The first relates to the composition of the electorate in the referendum which is dealt with in clauses 1(3) and 2(3), the first dealing with Scotland and the second with Wales. Although I can accept the administrative convenience of translating the local government electorate into the referendum electorate, it is puzzling that that will allow non-United Kingdom citizens—non-Welshmen and non-Scotsmen—to vote on what will be a massive change in the government of the United Kingdom.
The local government electors include European Union citizens. I have no particular problem about that, because if people happen to be European Union citizens who live in the borough of such and such and pay the local council tax, they should surely be entitled to express a view politically about their local government. Where we are deciding the future, however, not just of a local government area but of the future governance of Scotland and Wales, it is surely right that only United Kingdom citizens who are resident in those countries should vote in this great thing.
I go further. Is it not all the more peculiar that European Union citizens who are not United Kingdom citizens should be able to vote in the referendums in Scotland and in Wales when United Kingdom citizens who happen to be English residents are disfranchised, despite the fact that the referendums and the devolution Bills which will follow from them will gravely affect the United Kingdom, of which my constituency is a part just as much as Welsh and Scottish constituencies are? That is a point for note now and, I hope, for greater discussion later.
I make that point not out of xenophobia, but for the reasons I expressed earlier. I look at the matter in terms of family law. Both parties to a trial separation or to a divorce—the husband and the wife—have a say in the matter. Looking at the plans for the future of the United Kingdom, it seems that only the departing parties—I know that there are discussions about whether the break-up of the Union will result from the Government's plans—will be involved. I believe that the English and those resident in England have as much right to express a view in the referendum as the Scots and the Welsh do.
My second point concerns the date. It is not yet clear—it may become clear later today or tomorrow—whether the Scottish referendum will be held earlier than the Welsh referendum. It seems a more economic use of everybody's time and possibly cheaper to hold both referendums on the same day. My suspicion—I do not know whether any Welsh Members will be able to confirm it—is that there is less enthusiasm in Wales for an Assembly than there is in Scotland for a Scots 797 Parliament. It may be—perhaps I am being overly suspicious—that the Government think that if the referendum result in Scotland is announced two, three, or four weeks ahead of the Welsh referendum, the impetus from that will flow across to the benefit of the Government's case in Wales. If the case for a separate Welsh Assembly and a separate Scots Parliament is good, we might as well have the argument on one day and have the result quickly and efficiently.
My third point relates to clause 4—not clause IV of fond memory for the new Labour party, but clause 4 of the Bill. It is—I freely admit it—exactly the same as clause 4 in the Referendum Act 1975 and clause 10 in the Wales Act 1978 and the Scotland Act 1978. It prevents courts from entertainingany proceedings for questioning the number of ballot papers counted or votes cast as certified by a Chief Counting Officer".There will be no legal challenge to the result. That is fair enough, but what happens if the result is close or there is evidence—as there was at the recent general election—that some of the ballot papers have been improperly marked or stamped or there is some other genuine point that could be argued?
When there is a landslide result, there is clearly no point in fussing because the margin of error does not apply, but if there is a narrow results is it right for the courts to be blocked off to those with a genuine complaint? Perhaps the Attorney-General in England and Wales and the Lord Advocate in Scotland should act as a sieve to sift out frivolous applications. Bearing in mind the difficulties of establishing locus and whether it should be open only to an individual or open to groups of interested parties to raise a challenge, it might be worth while considering adding a Law Officer's function to allow legal challenges in certain circumstances.
That relates to the threshold question which has been much debated this evening. I do not want to delay the House by dealing with it further. No doubt the arguments will be addressed in Committee. Considering the result of the election, the Government should have no fears about the outcome of their proposed referendums. If they have any confidence in their case, they have nothing to fear from a threshold. If there is a low turnout—as is possible—and a modest majority in favour of or against the proposals, the perceived legitimacy of the result will be open to question. Those fears will be done away with if a threshold is included.
Finally, I congratulate the Government on the fact that the Committee stage of the Bill will be taken on the Floor of the House. That is a good move. I hope that that translates to a willingness for the Committee stage of the devolution Bills later in the year to be taken on the Floor of the House.
§ 9.2 pm
§ Mr. Eric Clarke (Midlothian)
I congratulate you on your new post, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I also congratulate all those hon. Members who have made their maiden speeches. I am sure that some of my new hon. Friends will go on to better things. I also enjoyed the confidence with which hon. Members from other parties have made their speeches. I particularly liked the comments of my old friend the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Gorrie), with whom I worked in 798 the Lothian region. I do not think that he should lose any of his attitudes to this place. He has it summed up perfectly. I have not lost my attitudes either.
I have waited a long time to speak today, but I have waited a long time to speak on this issue. I am delighted that the Gracious Speech mentioned the referendum. I am also delighted to congratulate the Scottish people on getting rid of the colonial rule that we have had from St. Andrew's house. It was nothing more than people who knew better than the natives. The natives have now told them what they really think of them.
We are not quite out of the woods yet. Some hon. Members seem to be hair splitting with a laser beam, demonstrating illogical political logic and wallowing in a quagmire of red tape like big political hippos—and they love it. They enjoy tearing this good idea to bits, hiding behind the defence of being Unionists, or some other thing. Within the movement for the devolution that Scotland and Wales want are people who want the Union to remain intact—not for it to remain as it is, but for the fundamentals of being in the Union to remain intact. If they do not agree with us, the demands will continue.
The people of Scotland feel that devolution is long overdue. I have been arguing for it for many long years—as a young miner and when I worked for the National Union of Mineworkers in Scotland. On one occasion, we were sabotaged by a Mr. Cunningham. As far as I am concerned, he is persona non grata in Scotland. I hope that he never goes there again. The NUM kept the flame of freedom and democracy alight even when the rest of the Labour movement did not accept our proposals. Time and again, resolution after resolution, year in year out, we put them to Labour party conferences and to the Scottish Trades Union Congress.
The establishment of the Scottish Constitutional Convention was a great breakthrough. The STUC first attempted it in a very crude form by inviting people to discussions. Conservative Members and representatives of the Confederation of British Industry were among those who came to talk about how we could get the Scottish people what they wanted—a Parliament in Edinburgh. At the time, I was surprised when some people walked away, but now we have a convention that comprises an amalgamation of political parties, the trade union movement, the Churches and other interests. Many people kept alive their enthusiasm for a Scottish Parliament and were not too popular when they raised the matter time and again. Now we are firmly on the threshold of putting the matter to the people of Scotland and Wales.
I should like to see a Parliament in Edinburgh. I know that there are arguments about how it could be financed. There certainly would have been savings had we had a Parliament in Edinburgh. We definitely would not have had the poll tax and we undoubtedly would not have thrown away millions of pounds building a private hospital in Clydebank. Nor would we have all the quangos that were created to fuel the nepotism in the Conservative party in Scotland. We would have done away with all that and produced savings.
It has been said that a Scottish Parliament would require more civil servants. My comrade and hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan) said that we were already devolving departmentally. There is already an army of civil servants in Scotland—in Dover house, St. Andrew's house and a brand new place called the 799 Quay, which is on the Forth at Leith. I do not know whether my hon. Friends on the Front Bench have been there yet, but I understand that it is quite pukka. The civil servants are already in situ; it is just a matter of organising them better and getting them involved.
§ Mr. Clarke
No way. I sat here for hours listening. Had the hon. Gentleman done the same, I would have let him intervene.
A Scottish Parliament is most desirable. I support the proposed constitutional reforms. I have also always been in favour of a change in the system of voting. I should like to see new procedures, timetables and ways of conducting business in Edinburgh. I welcome the exciting prospect of creating a new forum in Edinburgh and having it run in a reasonable way, and, with all due respect to this place, without its archaic and backward procedures. I agree with the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West about that.
I remember a story, which is rather funny but contains a lesson. Back in 1974, the Monktonhall branch of the NUM held a meeting to analyse what had happened in the strike. A lot of criticism was expressed until the delegate said, "Stop! I have had enough. Yes, we made mistakes in the strike, but they were correct mistakes."
Hon. Members should not think that the House has not, through the democratic process, made some howlers and real clangers in the past. We, the Scottish people and the Welsh people, will make the mistakes—but they will be correct mistakes. I think that hon. Members know what I mean. We will not have colonial officers telling us that decisions will hurt us, they know better than us and eventually we will benefit. Those who said that they knew better than we did are getting their P45s—the lot of them. The people of Scotland know better; they are very bright and intelligent people who are not blinkered.
I say to the rest of the people in the United Kingdom, "Come and join us. You do not have to have the formula for Scotland, Wales or anywhere else. Devolve, so that democracy goes to the people and the people are involved." The people responsible will have more time and be more accountable. Those who make the decisions will not be cloistered in some room down in London, part of some big Department; they will be up front in an accessible Parliament where they can report to the people. That is what we are looking for in Scotland and that is what we will get.
I hope that people realise that, if any party or any individual in a party does not take part in the campaign for a meaningful result in the referendum, they will stand on trial. They know what will happen to them. The people of Scotland will do to them exactly what they did to the Conservatives.
§ Mr. Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire)
I should first congratulate all those who have made their maiden speeches before me in this debate and say how honoured I am to make mine.
As some hon. Members may have noticed, my name is not Welsh. In fact, it is not even British; it is Estonian. Both my parents left Estonia at about the time of the 800 second world war because of the oppression that threatened their lives. Naturally enough, they met and moved to Northern Ireland, as Estonians seem to do. I was born in Northern Ireland and that is why I sound Northern Irish rather than Estonian.
While discussing the campaign in Montgomeryshire, my agent wistfully suggested that I should change my name to Alex Carlile so that we would not have to reprint the posters. I turned down his suggestion, but over the past months I have discovered that, on the west side of my constituency, they have started calling me Llembit ap Opik. So, slowly, I am becoming Welsh.
By a remarkable coincidence, my name turns out to be an anagram of, "I like to b MP." I can only congratulate my parents on realising my future career 32 years ago. I shall be wearing my Palace of Westminster pass for another few weeks to give hon. Members an even chance of getting my name right in the Strangers Bar.
Among the political giants I follow are names such as David Davies, Clement Davies, Emlyn Hooson and, of course, my immediate predecessor, the famous and great Alex Carlile. The debt that I owe Alex Carlile cannot be put into words. It was a source of sadness to the constituency that his personal circumstances caused him to stand down, although I am sure that putting his family first was the right decision. He leaves a tremendous legacy. I hope that people across not only Montgomeryshire but the House, Britain and Northern Ireland recognise the tremendous contribution to Parliament that he has made over the past 14 years.
The same old Alex made one last appearance on Sky Television on election night. My result came in and the commentator turned to Alex and said, "So, Mr. Carlile, the Liberal Democrats hold your seat with an increased majority." He wasted no time in responding, "Yes, but the total vote has gone down!" Good old Alex. I thank him sincerely for all the help that he has given me and the Liberal Democrats over the years.
I support and applaud the proposal to have a referendum. While we may haggle about the details, no democrat—whether Liberal Democrat, Plaid Cymru, Labour or Conservative—can oppose the common sense of giving a nation the right to decide its future. The Labour proposals could be described as timid, but they are a start and it would be churlish for a political party to oppose them simply because they do not go far enough. I shall campaign for a yes vote in the referendum, along with other Liberal Democrats.
The benefits of a devolved Assembly are legion. It would see an end to the quango culture that threatens so much of what used to be under democratic control only 10 to 15 years ago. For example, the very survival of the hospitals in the Dyfed Powys area may depend on the speedy completion of the referendum; there is a sense that the quangos can no longer make crucial decisions about the future of people's health, without understanding what the people of Wales want.
A devolved Assembly will assist the future economic regeneration of Wales. The Development Board for Rural Wales has done sterling work, especially in mid-Wales, to regenerate the economy. A devolved Assembly or Sennedd could make a tremendous contribution to revitalising Wales through such agencies. It could make a start on operating more sensibly parts of the health service, such as the ambulance service. I shall not go into 801 details tonight, but the ambulance service has been appallingly mismanaged recently. One classic example is the famous one-person ambulance team, which prompts the obvious question, "Who carries the other end of the stretcher?" The Shropshire Star has run a petition to save the ailing ambulance service in the Powys area, and in two weeks it has amassed 6,500 signatures.
Devolution would bring something else that cannot be measured in numbers—a sense of responsibility. That must be worth fighting for. As everyone who has been to Wales knows, the people have a tremendous warmth and Montgomeryshire is at the heart of that feeling. Many lament the political demise of Montgomeryshire and its merger into Powys, but the spirit remains. From Llanidloes to Llanfyllin, from Welshpool and Newtown to Machynlleth, a character pervades the landscape. It is in the rocks. The County Times, the local paper, is more of a commentary on daily life: it is part of the community. The schools do not teach only knowledge: they teach an outlook. We nurture the River Severn to the point at which it is foolish enough to flow into England. The wages may be low but people work hard, on the land, in the shops and in the factories.
The Welsh language, despite all the efforts of previous Governments to squeeze it out of existence, is coming back. One in four people in my constituency speak it. I am learning it slowly, because I believe that if we are serious about a national identity, we have to lead from the front and prove that we mean it. I hope that in the months and years ahead, my Welsh will improve in its fluency.
The spirit of adventure in my constituency is embodied by Operation Dragonfire, about which the House will hear much more in the months to come. It is a project to build the first amateur rocket to be sent into space. The idea was hatched in the Sam inn with the landlord, Bertie, on one especially spirited evening. Whether or not it works, we are having some tremendous evenings planning the project.
We have had problems in Montgomeryshire, including bovine spongiform encephalopathy, the crushing drop in beef and lamb prices because of the strength of the pound, low incomes, and the huge decline in public transport. The Welsh people, however, also have a self-belief. They believe that they have the right to make decisions about how they are governed, and the freedom to enjoy all the things that epitomise so distinctively life in rural Wales. There is a phrase used in mid-Wales that sums all that up: "mwynder Maldwyn," or "the gentleness of Maldwyn"—that is, of Montgomeryshire.
Our job is not simply to worship the constituencies that we represent. Our loyalty must lie not only with the people who elected us, but with the sense of justice that built the institution in which we stand today. We have a chance to honour that well, and to do so differently from the way in which things have been done in recent times.
The past of the Commons is chequered with great alliances and with appalling discord. I believe that we are now emerging from one of those periods of discord—a period marked by an extraordinary sense of self-doubt, which caused an unnatural aggressiveness on the part of the recently departed Government. When the Conservative leadership election is over, and muscle flexing is replaced by the exercise of the mind, perhaps there will even be grounds to hope for a softening of the Tory line.
802 We could replace the politics of confrontation with the politics of reform, through consensus and constructive opposition. The political environment that Wales, and Britain as a whole, so desperately need, is within our grasp. Our actions can restore public faith—the faith of the public in the Strangers Gallery and of those who view us at home—simply by starting to work on the merits of the issues, rather than always opposing simply because that is what we have done in the past.
It seems to me that there are some who feel more comfortable with the theatre of political war than in the assembly of co-operation—but that does not include me. My family fled tyranny in Estonia. They came to the United Kingdom for sanctuary, because it had a democratic system—a system that literally saved their lives. I am here because this democratic institution, faults and all, is truly great among the democracies of the world. The greatest reform needs to happen to this institution. The Bill will be able to change not only the details in Wales but the way in which we take part in politics in general.
I hope to play my part in the referendum, to campaign for a yes in Wales and to make a personal contribution to the great reform before us. So I return to where I started. Perhaps other Estonians, remembering the sanctuary that they, too, found, will watch my contribution and, I hope, feel that in some small way I am giving something back to the nation that gave them so much.
Perhaps above all else, I hope that as the people of Montgomeryshire and the rest of Wales watch us, not only tonight but in the months to come, they will observe a Parliament that is finally giving something back to Wales—the right to choose. If they do, and if we have the courage of our convictions, 1997 may turn out to be a vintage year—the year when the great reforms finally started, and we finally had the courage to start building a fairer Wales.
§ Mr. Malcolm Savidge (Aberdeen, North)
I begin my maiden speech by praising the maiden speech by the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Öpik). I do not know how eloquent he is in Welsh, but he showed incredible eloquence in English, and lucidity, too. That is especially remarkable at this time in the evening, which imposes quite a strain on those of us who have waited this long to speak.
I praise, too, the general standard of maiden speeches that have been made in the debate. They have been outstanding. Perhaps I may pay a particular tribute to my neighbour both on this Bench and in constituency terms, my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Miss Begg), for her outstanding speech.
As the new constituency of Aberdeen, North takes in more than half the old constituency that bore that name, I claim the privilege of paying a tribute to my friend Robert Hughes. He was a hard act, although an outstanding example, to follow. He was a great constituency Member, who worked hard for his constituents both individually and collectively, as well as for Aberdeen and for north-east Scotland in general, and he won great respect both locally and nationally, across party boundaries.
In the best traditions of Members of Parliament, Robert Hughes combined being a good constituency Member with fighting for justice, freedom and peace both at home 803 and abroad. He worked diligently, whether he was on the Front or the Back Benches. During his long career he spent time on both. Indeed, at one point my predecessor put his personal convictions before his personal preferment, which was a sign of great integrity—the sort of integrity that the public expect us to restore to public life in the House.
It is right to pay tribute to Bob Hughes for what he did in support of a cause that was at one time just as unpopular with some people as some of the causes for which my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) has campaigned.
During the course of recent world history, there have been two political miracles. One is the events that we associate with Mikhail Gorbachev, the other is those that we associate with Nelson Mandela. When President Mandela made his state visit to this country, it was notable that he paid particular tribute to the part played by Bob Hughes in the abolition of apartheid. In addition, many people were deeply grateful to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister for the tribute that he paid to Bob Hughes for that work at the last Labour party conference.
When Bob Hughes made his maiden speech in 1970, he spoke about the problem of worker migration from Aberdeen. I need hardly say that that problem was reversed because of the oil industry, as referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South. There are still problems in my constituency, such as youth unemployment, which will definitely benefit from the Government's job creation schemes. We must not forget that the traditional industries in my constituency, particularly the food processing industry, remain important. I believe that the food standards agency can play an important part in restoring that industry, and I praise the work that has been done by Professor Philip James and the Rowatt research institute in building up the agency. I hope that it will have a long-standing involvement in the future.
The oil industry has led to the building up of my constituency, which is continuing to grow. Eighty years ago, the present sites of many of the housing estates in my constituency were not just green-field sites—they were green fields. In my constituency, the Bridge of Don—perhaps more than any other area—has become the fastest-growing suburb and has gone beyond the level of facilities available to support it. A very exciting experiment has taken place in the Bridge of Don, where the council, the community council and the local community have worked with the relevant agencies to try to plan to solve local problems. I mention that in the context of this debate because the Government's plans will try to ensure that we have proper participatory democracy with proper subsidiarity at all levels, from international to community level.
As Bob Hughes's 27 years of service were preceded by 25 years' service by Hector Hughes, I am aware that I am breaking more than half a century of surname tradition. However, I would claim that I am not the first Savidge to come to the Westminster Parliament—although I should stress, in the non-controversial spirit of a maiden speech, that I am not referring to the public perception of Prime Minister's Question Time until this afternoon's reforms. I am half English and half Scots, and I am thinking back to the 1400s and to a Parliament—which met sometimes in 804 Westminster and sometimes elsewhere—in which I believe a certain Sir Arnold Savidge held the position of Speaker on at least two and possibly three occasions.
I understand that the Government of the time had three main features—the setting up of independent financial scrutiny; the pursuit of what might be called a one-nation policy—before Disraeli, let alone the present Government; and the apparent total harmony between the House of Lords and the House of Commons on policy. I should like to commend to the other place that in considering this Bill and those that we expect to come forward for the Scottish and Welsh Parliaments, it should follow that excellent example.
All parties should now be working together on this issue. Surely it should not now be a matter of controversy. All Scottish and Welsh Members of Parliament were elected on manifestos that said that there should be Parliaments in Scotland and Wales. I urge not just the Liberal Democrats but the nationalists to join us in fighting for a yes, yes vote in the referendums, and then to work constructively with us in setting up the Parliament. I shall go further and say to the rump of the Tory party that now that the people of Scotland have said to it what Cromwell said to the Rump Parliament:In the name of God, go!is it not time for Conservatives to think about Cromwell's other advice andthink it possible you may be mistaken."?Is it not possibly time for whoever is elected by the remnants of the English Tories as their leader—I see one contender in the Chamber—to consider that a Scottish Parliament with proportional representation could look after the interests of minority, fringe parties?
In all seriousness, I must make an appeal. Let all parties and the other place work together with us in consensus and consultation, so that we can set up a Parliament that can have the confidence and consent of the people of Scotland—government of the people of Scotland, for the people of Scotland, by the people of Scotland.
§ The Minister for Home Affairs and Devolution, Scottish Office (Mr. Henry McLeish)
I am very pleased to be at the Dispatch Box in a Labour Government. The enjoyment of victory in one's seat is one thing; the enjoyment of having a Labour Government is another, but it is an honour, a privilege and an enormous responsibility to be at the Dispatch Box.
Many hon. Members have said tonight that they seem to be the custodians of the principles and procedures of the House. Those views are shared by every hon. Member. The Government want to ensure that debates are properly scrutinised and have the maximum participation of every part of the House. That should be the case when we are dealing with serious constitutional issues.
We have experienced some wonderful maiden speeches in the first day of this two-day debate—10 at the last count, I think. I must put on record my enjoyment of listening to my hon. Friends the Members for Aberdeen, South (Miss Begg) and for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth (Ms McKenna), the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley), my hon. Friend the Member for Inverness, East, Nairn and Lochaber (Mr. Stewart), the hon. Member for Edinburgh, 805 West (Mr. Gorrie), my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Dr. Clark), the hon. Members for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson), for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) and for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Opik) and my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Savidge).
The quality of the contributions was of a high order. If that progresses through our debates, the House will be enriched as a consequence of the new intake. In case I am charged with being too loyal to the new recruits and less favourable to existing Members, there were also many excellent contributions from the latter on both sides of the House.
In considering this constitutional issue, Conservative Members raised two or three important points about the Union—the idea of thresholds, of pre or post-legislative referendums and whether there should be a United Kingdom electorate. I will want to deal with the latter two, but it is important to make a forcible point at the start. Our measure—the Bill, followed by a Scottish Bill and a Welsh Bill—will mean the strengthening of the Union. This is not an attempt to undermine it. Indeed, it is an opportunity to ensure that the Union is strengthened.
If the election result showed anything in Wales and in Scotland, it was that the status quo was not acknowledged or supported by the people who used their votes in the ballot. Conservative Members should appreciate that hard, crushing reality. People vote for different parties for a variety of different reasons, of course, but it would be foolish in the extreme if any hon. Member decided to ignore the realities in Scotland and Wales.
Furthermore, as regards the Scottish dimension, it is important to listen to Scottish Conservatives. There is a distinct gap between contributions to the debates in this House and what is happening throughout Scotland. In many parts of the Conservative party, there is enormous scepticism. In some parts of the Conservative party in Scotland, there is downright opposition, but party members want to engage in the debate. This is an instructive point. Conservative Members will want to acknowledge that and to contribute. The Government and Conservatives in Scotland who are involved in the debate want to strengthen the Union.
I hope that this evening we have heard many appeals to rise above party so that constitutional issues can be considered on their merits. I fully support that idea.
§ Mr. McLeish
No—for the simple reason that many hon. Members have sat through the whole of this debate and the hon. Gentleman has not.
§ Mr. McLeish
That is not an excuse for not being in the Chamber.
Thresholds were referred to earlier and seem to be gaining favour with Conservative Members. After the referendums, the Government will act in accordance with the results, but we are seeking the electorate's view of our proposals in principle. Unlike in 1979, the referendums are not technical measures. Any threshold, other than a simple majority, would be arbitrary and unfair on the 806 people of Scotland and Wales. We want to hear the views of those people, and a simple majority vote will send a clear enough message to us.
Fancy franchises, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland said, are not needed. Their only purpose would be to frustrate the democratic will of the people. Conservative Members should think long and hard about that.
There is a sense of history in the making in Scotland and, I hope, in the House. There is a sense of occasion as we look towards getting into the details of major constitutional change after the general election of 1 May. There is a sense of anticipation as we enter, in my judgment, the most exciting period in Scottish and Welsh politics for 50 years.
We are embarking on a journey that will end with the opening of a Parliament in Scotland and an Assembly in Wales. Surely we are embracing this evening the sense of history and passion that has driven home rule discussions throughout this century.
There is a mood for change, and momentum is building up; for far too long in Scotland and Wales confidence has been undermined by the Conservatives, expectations have been diminished, horizons narrowed and ambitions frustrated. After 50 years of debate in the United Kingdom that has ebbed and flowed in passion, importance and parliamentary time allotted, we have a unique opportunity to move forward and decide our future.
§ Mr. Dalyell
My hon. Friend mentioned both history and details. I warn him, in the friendliest way possible, that in all the discussion the devil is often in the detail. For example, my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) asked about the civil service. I am not asking for an immediate answer, but the position of the civil service has to be sorted out: is it responsible to a Scottish Parliament; is it part of the British civil service; or is the United Kingdom civil service to be broken up? There are endless problems of that kind.
§ Mr. McLeish
I respect my hon. Friend's comments. There will be challenges, as well as the devil, in the detail. We will have published a detailed White Paper before the summer recess that will be the basis for our discussions and for those in Scotland.
It is important to press ahead with the Bill, which will give the people of Scotland and Wales the opportunity to voice their views on our proposals for devolution. We should re-emphasise the principle of asking the people concerned to vote on both propositions in Scotland and on the one proposition in Wales. It is a chance to choose: surely hon. Members would not want to deny the electorates in both those countries that opportunity.
Earlier this month, the people of the United Kingdom elected a Government committed to introducing a comprehensive programme for constitutional renewal. Elements of the programme included the incorporation into UK law of the European convention on human rights; the introduction of a freedom of information Bill; the reform of the House of Lords; and the modernisation of the procedures of the House of Commons.
Taken together, that adds up to the most wide-ranging programme for constitutional reform that has been envisaged in modern times. Its purpose is to modernise the institutions of government to meet the needs of the people and the demands of the 2Ist century.
807 At the heart of this programme, and its vanguard, are our plans for a Scottish Parliament and a Welsh Assembly. Tomorrow, my Welsh colleagues will go into more detail about the Welsh aspects of the legislation. The people of Scotland have made it abundantly clear, not just in the general election earlier this month but over the preceding decade, that they want more control over their own affairs and to remain within the United Kingdom. Our plans to establish a Scottish Parliament with law-making powers, firmly based on the agreement reached in the Scottish Constitutional Convention, will achieve that.
We have not been slow to put words into action. I am grateful for the allusion of my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) to that. Two weeks after coming into office, we have already taken the first steps towards meeting our manifesto commitment on a Scottish Parliament. Last Thursday saw the introduction into this House of legislation to allow the people of Scotland to vote in a referendum on our proposals, which will be set out in a White Paper that will be published well ahead of the referendum, and in any case before the House rises. We expect the referendum to be held by early autumn. On the basis of what we expect to be a resounding popular endorsement of our plans, we shall then bring forward legislation to create the Scottish Parliament.
There will, of course, be a full opportunity for Parliament to debate our proposals during the passage of the main devolution Bill. Once that legislation is enacted, we shall immediately set in hand the necessary preparations to establish a Scottish Parliament.
Scotland therefore now stands on the threshold. Too long have the people of Scotland waited for their wish for a greater say in their own affairs to be realised. We are about to take another step in what has been a historic journey in the government of Scotland. That journey started almost 300 years ago.
The Acts of Union of 1707 abolished the Scottish and English Parliaments and established in their place a Parliament of Great Britain. It was an incorporating union, but the Acts none the less allowed Scotland to retain many of its distinctive features. The position of the Scottish established Church, the continuing autonomy of Scots law and our legal system, the organisation of local government, and our distinctive education system were maintained.
Since the Acts of Union, Scottish autonomy within the Union has continued to develop. During the second half of the 19th century, interest in constitutional change was stimulated by debate on home rule for Ireland. In 1885, the Secretaryship for Scotland and the Scottish Office were established, and the following year saw the establishment of the Scottish Home Rule Association, with the object of winning a measure of devolution for Scotland. Scottish home rule Bills were introduced in Parliament in the 1920s, and in 1926 the Scottish Secretary became a full Secretary of State.
The 1920s and 1930s saw an upsurge in popular demand for home rule in Scotland, and in 1942 the Scottish Union, later renamed the Scottish Convention, was formed. The convention secured a wide measure of popular support through a covenant, which committed its signatories to do everything in their powerto secure for Scotland a Parliament with adequate legislative authority in Scotland's affairs".808 In a short space of time, about half the adult population of Scotland signed the document, and the people's views were an important element in the appointment in 1952 of the royal commission on scottish affairs.
As a further response to the home rule movement in the first half of the century, in 1941 the then Secretary of State allowed meetings of the Scottish Grand Committee to be held in Scotland. At the same time various Scottish Departments were established and in this century there has been a steady transfer of functions to the Scottish Office.
It is important to have set out the evolution of the devolution of power and responsibility to Scotland. Looked at incrementally, we are building on a tremendous sense of history, of tradition and of improving the government of Scotland. We have to view further progress in that context.
§ Mr. Salmond
I am grateful to the Minister of State for going over the history. He mentioned the evolution of devolution. Does he remember a cartoon by Ewan Bain, a famous Scottish cartoonist, suggesting that the difference between the two concepts was that devolution took longer?
§ Mr. McLeish
It may have taken longer but the important historical reality is that we are about to deliver a Scottish Parliament, and my colleagues a Welsh Assembly.
All those developments, and more, have taken place in the context of a strengthening Scottish autonomy within the Union. I reinforce that point because Conservative Members made so many comments about the future of the Union.
We now stand ready to take another step in this unfinished journey. We are committed to maintaining the Union and committed to delivering devolution to the people of Scotland, and we shall not fail them. Our plan of action, which I have just spelt out, will deliver a robust, effective and durable Parliament quickly and effectively. We are working hard to put together the terms of our White Paper, which will set out plans for the Parliament. We have the benefit of the work of the Scottish Constitutional Convention, which has helped to produce cross-party consensus, which is so vital. There is consensus on the case for change and on the basis on which change should be made. Our proposals will be firmly based on that consensus.
The terms of the White Paper will take into account contributions that have been made over the past few months and, indeed, years, by a wide range of academics, constitutional specialists and other interested parties. We are listening and learning against the background of comments made in the House and elsewhere. If we are to take the matter seriously, we must recognise what others are saying about the passage of the Bill. When we reach the substantive Scotland Bill, the same process and courtesies will be extended.
To supplement the listening-and-learning process, I shall be holding a series of further meetings with key players such as the Scottish Constitutional Convention, the constitution unit, the Scottish Trades Union Congress, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and the Confederation of British Industry, along with many other similar bodies. I am keen to listen to their views on how we should firm up our proposals.
809 We are confident that, given the extent of the dialogue that has already taken place and will take place over the next few weeks and months, our proposals will reflect and deliver the ambitions of the people of Scotland for a Parliament of their own. The publication of our White Paper will take the debate on our proposals for devolution from the minds of the few into the hearts of the many. That is an important step that the House can take by passing referendum legislation following a national campaign.
We have, of course, been here before, as we have been constantly reminded this evening by hon. Members on both sides of the House. In the 1970s, the Labour Government struggled to legislate for a Scottish Assembly, but—essentially because of that Government's lack of a working majority in the House—the process was protracted. That legislation was burdened by amendment after amendment during its parliamentary passage. The Bill was enacted. In a subsequent referendum, however, the majority vote in favour did not reach the 40 per cent. threshold that was required by an amendment agreed to during the Bill's passage through Parliament.
We have learnt two important lessons. First, there is the need to secure the passage of legislation by asking the people of Scotland for a specific mandate to establish a Scottish Parliament, including defined and limited financial powers to vary tax. We believe that the referendum will achieve that. Secondly, there is the need to have the details of our plans settled in advance, rather than their continuing to be developed during the passage of legislation. The White Paper that we shall publish will, I believe, achieve that objective.
We have, I think, learnt a third lesson. It was hard at the time to recognise it, but it is absolutely right to remember it now. The lesson is that a simple majority will suffice. We cannot see obstacles being placed in the path of the Scots and the Welsh making decisions about their own future. This is a chance for change, and it is also about consent and choice.
I am not sure that anyone could argue against the proposal upon which the perspective is based. In his winding-up speech on Second Reading on the Scotland Bill in November 1977, the late John Smith said:If we pass this Second Reading and move on through the week to take other decisions connected with it, we shall not only improve and strengthen government in Scotland. We shall do a great deal to enhance and revive the unity of the United Kingdom."—[Official Report. 14 November 1977: Vol. 937, c.108.]There is no more eloquent testament to our plans and ideas than to state again the late John Smith's comments in this place. Our plans are all about improving the government of Scotland while at the same time strengthening the unity of the United Kingdom. That is a powerful message for the House to be sending to every part of the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Grieve
I recognise from what has been said that the proposals are sincerely desired by many hon. Members, but when will the knock-on effects on the people of England in respect of English-only legislation be addressed? At what point in the discussion will that 810 happen? Will it happen before the referendum, so that people in Scotland can understand what the impact is likely to be? Will it happen afterwards, or not at all?
§ Mr. McLeish
The hon. Gentleman asks a fair question. We intend to have the maximum debate in Scotland, in Wales and, indeed, in the House, which is representative of the whole United Kingdom.
In the context of what was said earlier by the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), it is important to note that—if we are talking about the Parliament deciding—this Parliament will decide. Scots and Welsh people will be directly affected by the legislation, and we think it right that the pre-legislation referendum should take place there; but every right hon. and hon. Member from every part of the United Kingdom will participate in discussions on the White Paper, and in debates in the Committee stage of the Bill that we are now discussing, as well as debates on the substantive Scotland Bill, on Second Reading, in Committee, on Report and on Third Reading. There will be ample opportunity to ensure that every Member of Parliament's voice is heard. That, I think, is a fair answer to what I consider a serious question.
It is clear from the path of history that I have described, from the late 19th century to the efforts of John Smith, that considerable progress has been made, but there is still a great deal of unfinished business. The Government are determined to finish it by taking the next step, and the Bill paves the way for that step. It offers a chance for choice, a chance for consent and a chance for change. It is about giving the people of Scotland the democratic right to choose to take another step in the history of the government of Scotland. The chance to debate our detailed proposals will come later. There is no reason for us to deny the Scottish people the opportunity to choose their own destiny.
§ Mr. Lansley
When he expands on the detail of his proposals, will the Minister explain how he proposes to give a voice to the many Scots and Welsh people who are not resident in Scotland or Wales, but who feel deeply about constitutional change affecting their place of birth, the place of their previous residence or the place of their possible future residence?
§ Mr. McLeish
I hope that every right hon. and hon. Member will feel passionately about the future of the United Kingdom, the future of Scotland and the future of Wales. This is not an exercise in exclusion; it is an exercise in inclusion. The hon. Gentleman will represent a significant number of constituents who will want to have a say. Our parliamentary democracy, however, is founded on representation, and it seems to me self-evident that, at each stage of this Bill and the substantive Bill, we shall have every opportunity to debate the concerns that the hon. Gentleman has outlined, in a representative way.
§ Mr. Salmond
The hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) said that people whose future place of residence would be affected should be entitled to vote. Theoretically, anyone in the world could in future reside in Scotland.
§ Mr. Salmond
That is quite likely.
811 Does the Minister have a view on this? According to the Conservative party, it seems that anyone in the world should be able to vote in the referendums in Scotland and Wales.
§ Mr. McLeish
Like the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond), I take pride in my country, and would extend a generous welcome to everyone in the world. The other side of the argument of the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire, however, is that we are somehow trying to close down the franchise. We are trying to provide the most important franchise, which is residency, and we are taking the local government base as our model. I think that that answers the question.
§ Mr. O'Neill
Does my hon. Friend think that we might well have been able to accommodate some of those considerations if the Bill had extended further, and had included provisions for parts of England and, perhaps, Northern Ireland where it was felt desirable to have some form of devolved government or assembly? Could those people not have been accommodated, perhaps by a statutory instrument? That would have changed the character and speed of legislation. It would also have meant that the high priority that our Government are now giving to devolution for Scotland and Wales would have been, in some respects, subsumed by decentralisation of the rest of the United Kingdom, no matter how desirable it is. That would have met the concerns of the other parts of the United Kingdom, but it would have altered the picture of our ambitions for a decentralised state in the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. McLeish
I suspect that my hon. Friend is inviting me on a much longer journey than I intend to take tonight.
I should like briefly to comment on the important issue of the referendum and how we, the Government, are attempting to reach out. My hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East has spoken about consensus. We think that there should be maximum consensus in relation to constitutional change. That is why the inclusive approach that we have adopted is important. We believe that we need to extend the scope of that consensus.
I should like to return to my earlier point about the two debates that now occupy the minds of the Conservative party in the United Kingdom. We have a debate at Westminster, which is reflected in the remarks made in particular by the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), which suggests that in a real sense the Scottish Conservative party simply does not exist. Far be it from me to try to reach out over the heads of the leadership of the Conservative party to the Conservatives, but it is salutary to remember that, apart from the debate here, there is a healthier debate going on in Scotland. The six Conservative leadership contenders would be advised to listen a bit more and lecture a bit less until they are sure of their ground.
If we are seeking consensus on a serious measure, it is important for Conservative Members to appreciate that, although they may have lost Conservative seats in 812 Scotland, in terms of parliamentary representation there are still half a million Conservative voters there who want constructive leadership that reflects the reality and not what that leadership would have liked it to have been if the circumstances had been different on 1 May.
Another consideration relating to the extension of the consensus is how inclusive our campaign should be. The referendum is vital if it is about giving choice to Scots. We need a healthy contribution not only from the Conservatives but from the nationalists. I am slightly encouraged to note from speeches made tonight that the nationalists are having a debate within their own party. [Interruption.] Again, my hon. Friend the Member for Ochil (Mr. O'Neill) is inviting me to be less charitable than I am attempting to be. It is vital that that encouraging debate within the nationalist party should continue.
This Second Reading debate should be sending a powerful message to every Scot, every voter, every political party, every supporter of a political party, every member of a political party, every organisation and every village, town and city that this is an enormous issue for the future of Scotland. It must be taken seriously. History will judge harshly anyone from any organisation who does not embrace and grasp the importance of what we are doing.
After the Bill has gone through the House and we have had an opportunity to put it before the Scottish people, Scots are expecting a serious mood to descend on political parties and others. It is hugely encouraging to note that certain organisations in Scotland are already seeking to rise above party in many respects by trying to reach out in the manner that we have described tonight.
It is important to mention the minds of the few and the hearts of the many. The campaign is finished and perhaps the soundbites will cease, but I am sure that there is no better subject to which one could apply such theory than devolution. There is a powerful sentiment for change in Scotland. Yes, we must discuss the issue and become involved in what for some people has become the theology of devolution, but we have a responsibility to ensure that the success of any measure that we pass should be assessed only according to its impact on ordinary people, whether in Scotland or in Wales. If we are inclusive in our approach and consensual in our attempt to take the matter forward, and if we try to generate a serious debate, especially among Conservative party members in the country and Conservative Members in the House, we will be doing everyone a favour.
This is about empowerment, enrichment and the sense of history. That is the context of it. The history of this honourable place is surely the background for us to be raising the level of the debate. We should not get involved in some of the nit-picking exercises that were prevalent in some hon. Members' speeches; hon. Members on both sides of the House owe it to themselves, to their constituents and to the whole of the United Kingdom to ensure that this debate is conducted seriously.
§ It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed tomorrow.