§ Order read for resuming adjourned debate on amendment to the Question [21 May], That the Bill be now read a Second time.
§ Which amendment was: 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'-[Mr. Howard.]
§ Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.
§ Madam Speaker
I shall take the hon. Gentleman's point of order as I think I have the answer that he wants.
§ Mr. Cash
In my exchanges with the Secretary of State for Scotland yesterday, I raised what I termed the United Kingdom question. I then found it necessary to table an instruction last night, the effect of which would be to ensure that, if the House deemed it necessary, amendments would be tabled to the Bill to extend the franchise to the electorate of the United Kingdom as a whole. Following discussions this morning, I have been given to understand that you, Madam Speaker, may be prepared to give a ruling on the matter so that we can be sure that we shall be able to table amendments to extend the franchise to the electorate of the United Kingdom as a whole. May I ask for your ruling on the matter?
§ Madam Speaker
I have carefully considered the instruction tabled by the hon. Gentleman and decided not to select it for the simple reason that, in this case, it is unnecessary. The hon. Gentleman and any other hon. Members may table such amendments as he has in mind.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Peter Hain)
My contribution to the Welsh part of the Bill will be brief and will serve as an hors d'oeuvre to the main course provided by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. It is a privilege and an honour to be a Minister in the Welsh Office during one of the most exciting and reforming periods in the history of Welsh politics. For the first time in 18 long and miserable years, is it not wonderful to have a Secretary of State who can speak with authority for Wales because he represents a constituency in Wales? He is not a Welsh leader who treats his important office as a platform for his crackpot ideology or one for whom the office is a youth training scheme. The Secretary of State is a man of the people and will govern for the people of Wales.
The referendum is an important step towards creating a new democratic settlement that will take Wales into the next century with confidence and dynamism. The referendum is a passport to a new participatory Welsh 853 democracy in which decisions will be brought closer to the people. Under our new Welsh Assembly, power will shift down from Westminster to Wales. There will be a new partnership with local government, which will be liberated from the suffocating centralised control of the Tory years. It will unite all parts of Wales—north and south, east and west, valleys and towns, rural and urban areas.
Details of the referendum will be in the White Paper; every voter will be well aware of the Government's plans. The referendum will be held on the principle of an Assembly, and that has been well publicised and well argued. It was set out clearly in our election manifesto and in documents issued by the Welsh Labour party over the past two years, so it has been widely debated in Wales.
We have one of the biggest mandates for this policy ever enjoyed by an incoming Government. May I remind Conservative Members that the people of England also gave an overwhelming mandate for this policy? The Tories polled just 34 per cent. of the vote in England, compared with a combined pro-devolution Labour and Liberal vote of 62 per cent., despite the Tories trying to frighten the pants off everyone during the election campaign by having as one of their main planks spurious claims that devolution would lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom. Our mandate included an absolute promise to consult the people before proceeding with legislation to introduce an Assembly. We are now keeping our promise with this Bill.
A new assembly will mean employment policies tailored to the needs of Wales; health programmes geared to the needs of Wales; housing policies that reflect Welsh wishes; and education policies determined by Welsh priorities and not by those of an alien dogma, which turned our classrooms into laboratories for right-wing extremists. In the referendum vote in September, we shall invite the people to say yes to Wales—yes to an Assembly, yes to having a bigger say in decisions affecting their own lives. It will be an historic test of whether Wales is ready for the new millennium. Those who vote no will be locked in the past, saying that they have no confidence in our capacity as a nation to make decisions about our own future. Those who vote yes will be saying that we can build a better Wales —we can utilise our talent to forge a new future. As a Government, we shall work hard to persuade the people to vote yes and the Labour party will mount a vigorous campaign, led by the Prime Minister, to persuade the people to vote yes.
We say to each and every Labour supporter, this is a loyalty vote in your new Labour Government. Do not side with the Tories in undermining such a crucial part of our programme by voting no or by not bothering to vote at all. The new Assembly will include the views of supporters of other parties. We have had enough of government by one-party diktat—we want a Government for all the people. We say that the views of Liberals, nationalists and even Conservatives—if any are ever again elected in Wales—views will be respected in the new democratic era.
I say bluntly to those Conservatives who appear not to have noticed that they were wiped out in Wales: "You lost—in fact, you got hammered." The victory on 1 May of my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd, West (Mr. Thomas) did a great favour, not only for the Labour party, but for humanity. Rod Richards was the only Conservative who could make even the right hon.
854 Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) seem popular in Wales. It is important to ask why the Conservatives are so frightened of giving the people a say. Is it because many Tories will also vote yes? I remind the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) that only one Welsh Conservative—Viscount St. Davids—has so far spoken on devolution in this Parliament, and he supported a Welsh Assembly. Is that to be a pattern for the Conservative party in Wales, or part of the constantly shifting fudge of Welsh Tory politics in the new era?
There is now a great tide flowing through Wales in favour of grasping this opportunity for devolution. We shall not be left behind when the Scots get devolution or when even Londoners get an elected authority. We shall not throw away this opportunity to replace the Tory quango state with democratic government. Nearly 700,000 people who were not old enough to be on the electoral register in 1979 will have the chance to vote for the first time for a Welsh Assembly. Through bands such as Catatonia and the Manic Street Preachers, Welsh youth is leading the way, not only in the pop world, but for a yes vote as well. Leading Welsh business men and women are uniting with trade unionists, with the churches and with prominent figures from sport and the arts to say yes for Wales. Even those who do not support every detail of Labour's proposed Welsh Assembly have said that they will vote yes for Wales.
People who want a stronger assembly, or a different one, or a different voting system, can still vote yes with integrity—indeed they must, because otherwise there will be no Bill in the House to try to amend. Only if we get a yes vote on the principle will there be an opportunity to test the different arguments on the detail. Only if there is a yes vote will there be the opportunity to review the assembly's operation in future years and to consider whether changes would be desirable in the light of such a review.
§ Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon)
I welcome the Minister to his post. The hon. Gentleman is aware that there is considerable support among those who want an elected tier of Welsh democracy for that assembly or Parliament to have primary law-making powers for at least some functions. He has now said that there may be opportunities to amend the Bill if there is a yes vote. Will he undertake to ensure that the Bill will have a long title broad enough to include provisions for primary law-making powers?
§ Mr. Hain
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his remarks about my appointment. I am not inviting amendments to the Bill and I shall not necessarily greet them with enthusiasm, but he, Plaid Cymru, the Conservatives and the Liberals have the right to press their arguments, which we shall listen to although we shall also be bound by our overall policy. My argument is that unless the Bill gets into Parliament as a result of a yes vote in the referendum, that opportunity will not arise.
Unless the Government win the referendum, devolution in Wales will be dead in the water. There will not be another chance to create a Welsh Assembly or a Welsh Parliament. If Wales votes no to devolution for the second time in a generation, Wales can kiss goodbye to devolution. That is the blunt truth. No Government will bother with it again. This is our one and only chance. It is a once-in-a-lifetime vote. Let us go for it.
§ Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East)
It is a privilege to be called so early in the debate. Newer Members will be aware of the nightmare of Back Benchers—that of waiting for hours, sometimes without being called in a debate. It is a privilege, for the first time for many years, to speak quite so early. I shall be brief.
The hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hain), the spokesman for the Opposition, has just given us a sincere speech.
§ Sir Teddy Taylor
For the Government; my apologies. The Minister must be aware that a fundamental constitutional change is taking place, which will cost a great deal of money and involve a great deal of change. How would he feel if such a proposal were put into practice on the strength of 21 per cent. voting yes, 19 per cent. voting no and the rest of the community in Wales saying that they could not care less?
The Government should be aware of another point. Older people such as myself were told passionately by the media that everyone was excited about and very much taken with the idea of devolution, and then, when the referendum was held in Scotland, we found out that a large proportion of the population were not remotely interested in the issue.
I have a great deal of sympathy with the Government because they are going through exactly what Sir Edward Heath's Government went through. They have adopted the principle of devolution. I am ashamed to say that, in our case, I gained the impression that we adopted that principle not because we believed in it but because we thought that it would help us as a defence against the Scottish nationalists.
I have a horrible feeling about the attitude of Labour Members to devolution. I mean this in all sincerity: I am not trying to attack politicians. The impression that I have gained from speaking to the majority of Labour Members, with a few exceptions, is that they are not at all keen on this business. They envisage huge problems, and they say that they adopted the proposal for the same bad reason that we did—because they believed that it would help to cope with Scottish nationalism. The House of Commons must appreciate that although there is a good and strong case for independence for Scotland and for Wales—although it is one with which I personally disagree—there is no argument whatever for devolution, which will lead to horrendous mistakes and will increase confusion and the pressure for separation.
I believe that the great majority of Members of Parliament do not believe in devolution. If a Scottish Parliament has no tax-raising powers, people in Scotland will blame London or the English for everything that goes wrong. Hon. Members will be well aware that the same occurs in relation to county councils—when things do not get done, people blame the Government. If anything goes wrong, those involved in a Scottish Parliament or Welsh Assembly will say that it is because they are not getting their share of the cash.
§ Sir Teddy Taylor
The hon. Gentleman is right, and that is the basis on which nationalism has received more 856 support than it otherwise merits. On the other hand, if a Scottish Parliament has tax-raising powers, it will lead inevitably to higher taxes in Scotland. As someone who has spent most of my life in Scotland, I am well aware that—for perfectly good and logical reasons—Scotland is subsidised by the rest of the UK. I am sure that the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) has figures to say that that is not so, but the plain fact is that Scotland does get subsidised. If a Scottish Parliament has separate tax-raising powers, it will mean higher taxation in Scotland and that will do no good.
Members of Parliament must think also about the democratic implications. For example, if I were a citizen of Wales or Scotland and I wished to complain about cuts in the schools programme, who would I contact? Who would I blame? Would I contact my county council? The council would say, "Not at all. The Assembly is to blame for not providing enough money." Would I contact my assemblyman in Wales or my Scottish parliamentarian? They would say, "It is not us—it is those London boys." A lot of people will be blaming each other, and it could be infinitely worse. There will be Members of this Parliament and members of the Scottish Parliament representing similar areas.
§ Sir Teddy Taylor
How right the hon. Gentleman is to mention Europe. I am not blaming Europe, but I shall refer to my recent surgeries in Southend. I am sorry to have been distracted, because I promised to make a short speech. At my surgeries, people have asked me to campaign and vote against the export of live animals. I have had to say, "I am terribly sorry, but even if every Member of Parliament voted to ban such exports, nothing could be done. The power is gone."
In a neighbouring constituency, a pile of candidates representing all parties went to see fishermen at Leigh and all gave them great assurances. The fishermen then came to me and said, "Will you stop these nasty Spaniards coming here?" I had to say, "I am terribly sorry, but there is nothing that we can do. Even if every Member of Parliament wanted to do something, the power has gone."
I was visited by ladies from an Asda superstore, who complained about something that I did not understand—VAT on items of feminine hygiene. I do not know what they are, but I was asked if we could take VAT off them. I had to explain that Parliament does not have that power. So much power has been taken away from our democracy already, and we are now proposing to share it out among even more Parliaments. It will make a terrible mess.
If I am right—and I think I am—the Government now regret proposing devolution, but what can we do to help them and the United Kingdom? Of course, I may be wrong and the Government may be wildly enthusiastic about devolution. Frankly, on the basis of private discussions—which I will not repeat—I think that the great majority of hon. Members are now sorry they ever thought about devolution.
§ Sir Teddy Taylor
The first thing we can do is simple—so simple that even the hon. Member for 857 Rotherham (Mr. MacShane), who claims to be a democrat but supports the European Union, will understand it. Will he accept a simple proposition, which I hope the Government will accept? If people are dead keen on this business, what could be lost by having a 40 per cent. rule? [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, no."] What is wrong with that? Unless 40 per cent. of the people of Wales or Scotland—50 per cent. would be even better—want devolution, we should not proceed with it.
Devolution will create terrible problems, lots of extra expense and a great deal of administration. Why not say to the people of Scotland, "If you are as keen on it as the minority in the Labour party argues, why not have a rule whereby, if 40 per cent. of you vote for it, it can go ahead, but not otherwise"?
I hope that hon. Members—particularly our delightful new Secretary of State for Scotland, who used to discuss the matter with me many years ago on Scottish television—will think about the real problems that the United Kingdom will have if we create a monstrosity whereby Members of Parliament such as the Secretary of State can vote on education or health Bills in England when English Members of Parliament will not have the equivalent power in Scotland. The issue has been raised time and again by the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), who takes his job in the House of Commons more seriously than many. Is not there something democratically dangerous about it? Why should Scottish Members have that entitlement when Scotland will have more representation than the rest of the United Kingdom? Unless we face up to that question we shall create a democratic nightmare.
We shall not always have a party with a huge majority on one side of the House and a party with a small number on the other. I do not know which parties will survive in future, but the numbers will be closer. Other parties may take over. Indeed, we may even find that the Referendum party will suddenly lift off—anything could happen. If, in future, the position in the House of Commons were tight, Labour Members would not be happy to be outvoted by colleagues from other countries, when they will have no power over legislation in those countries.
§ Ms Rachel Squire (Dunfermline, West)
What are the hon. Gentleman's views on what happened in the House over the past 18 years? The previous Government could ensure that hon. Members who represented neither Scottish nor Welsh constituencies forced through legislation, particularly Scottish legislation, which the majority of the people of Scotland neither wanted nor voted for.
§ Sir Teddy Taylor
The hon. Lady's point would be valid if she were a nationalist. I would agree absolutely with what she said if I believed that Scotland should be an independent sovereign state. I would then say, "What the blazes are these guys in London doing deciding for us?" However, we are part of the United Kingdom, so all United Kingdom Members of Parliament should determine those issues. The hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Ms Squire)—she must be one of the new arrivals—[HON. MEMBERS: "No, she is not."] I apologise, I am half-blind. The hon. Lady should ask herself the simple question: what is the logic of legislation applying to England being voted on by people in other countries? It is wholly wrong and undemocratic. If there 858 were a political divide in this country whereby English Members could not control their administration whereas a separate Scottish Parliament could, it would be an appalling democratic outrage. Something must be done about that.
Some hon. Members, particularly those who favour more subsidies for everything, will say, "What does this matter? Isn't this silly? Why should we bother about it?" We must bother about it if we believe in democracy. Some of my hon. Friends and I have therefore tabled an amendment, which I hope the Government will accept. It simply says that we should face up to what we now call the West Lothian question and have a minimum percentage voting for the scheme.
I was a Scottish Member of Parliament for several years, then I ceased to be one, as have many other Conservatives in Scotland. I gained the impression that if an opinion poll was conducted and the average Scot was asked, "Do you want a Scottish Parliament?", most of them would say yes. There is no doubt about that. If, however, Scots were asked, "Would you like a Scottish Assembly that would have partial control of part of Scotland's affairs, that would add to public expenditure," and so on—if one explained the whole thing to them—the vast majority would say, "No, we don't want that at all."
I get the impression that if a proper referendum discussion was held, we would find—despite the smiles and smirks on the faces of some hon. Members—the great majority of people, who are not daft, would wake up and realise that they had been offered not a package for better constitutional government, but a package that would create frustration and add to the pressures for Scottish independence.
Let us discuss seriously and carefully among the people of Scotland and Wales whether independence is a good idea. There is a good argument for it, and it can be discussed logically and fairly, but devolution is a load of constitutional rubbish. It will create resentment, add to costs and create problems between the different democracies and administrations. It will create no good for Scotland or for Wales.
I may be wrong, as I am sure that some of my colleagues would agree that I may be wrong on other things. I hope, however, just in case I am right, that the Government will accept the simple propositions that I have advanced in the amendment. Why should there not be a minimum percentage? Will the Government say what on earth we can do about the West Loth: an question? If they do not face up to it, we shall create a serious problem in the future for other Parliaments and other Members of Parliament.
The Government should remember that the issue is what is best for the people. What we are doing today is not good for the people of Scotland, not good for the people of Wales and certainly not good for the people of the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West)
I begin by welcoming my right hon. and hon. Friends to the Front Bench. In particular, I congratulate the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Mr. Hain) on his maiden speech at the Dispatch Box. It was a sincere speech, and commendably brief. I hope that he will help 859 to maintain such brevity on the part of others on the Front Bench and please the Back Benchers for many years to come.
I should make it clear at the start, lest there is any doubt en route, that I welcome the referendum. I have long felt that there is a wider role for the referendum in the constitutional process as a means of involving the general public. In the 1970s, I was one of those who urged on the Prime Minister the need for referendums on the Scotland and Wales Bills.
In January 1995, in a letter to the present Prime Minister, I argued that there could be no intellectual validity in the proposition that one could overturn an overwhelming, precise vote of 4:1 against a referendum on the tenuous argument that the majority of Welsh Members of Parliament happened to represent parties which had included devolution in their manifestos.
My hon. Friends' experience may be very different from mine, but in my constituency the election was not fought on the question of devolution. It was hardly an issue—the election was fought on the topics of health, education, jobs and homelessness.
I know that the reasoning about the inadequacy of the argument did not carry much weight with my hon. Friends, whom I bored with it in the Welsh group for several years. One can therefore imagine my delight, surprise and admiration for the clarity with which the Prime Minister must have advocated the case and made a convert of the present Secretary of State, almost at a stroke.
The proposed referendum is intended to be the first in a series of referendums. I want to raise questions that are—this may sound arrogant—of great importance to the House and the electorate. If government by referendum is to be part of the process, we must consider establishing some ground rules. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland referred yesterday to the process of seeking popular consent. We must maintain popular support for the process, and not frivolously turn support into cynicism and scepticism.
I listened with admiration to the remarks yesterday of my hon. Friends the Members for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) and for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell)—who also spoke on Friday—on a pre-legislative referendum. They argued that the people would not know what they would get when they voted in a referendum. My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow referred to it as a pig in a poke; I contend that the animal is not that well defined: it might be a pig, a mouse or a tiger. We have no legislation to put before the electorate to allow the people to see what they would be voting for.
We will have a White Paper, but hon. Members who have been in this place for a reasonable time will know that the wording of a White Paper is not as precise as that of a Bill. That is why White Papers may be produced more rapidly. I am not being critical, but practical. The people will be voting on a measure with a looser presentation than the final legislation.
We must also recognise that there might be changes. Time and again, hon. Members have seen White Papers change when they are translated into legislation. We must also ask: if we maintain the principle of the sovereignty 860 of Parliament, can we rule out in advance the possibility of any changes to the Bill in Committee? In his excellent speech, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary said that the Government will put principles in front of the public. We are asking for a vote on principle, but we know that the details can alter the principle. That is why I argue that we must know the precise terms of the measure when we ask people to vote. We do not want to create cynicism when we are giving people a chance to be involved in Government decision making.
I warn hon. Members of another potential danger—it is a legitimate difference of opinion between my hon. Friend the Minister and me, and it must be addressed. Perhaps he can reassure me about the matter. My hon. Friend has argued in the past in favour of an enabling Bill. Such legislation is easier to draft, but it means essentially that the critical decisions appear in subsequent statutory instruments. At the time of Royal Assent, not even the House will know what final shape the animal will take. I also remind hon. Members that most statutory instruments are passed without debate—when debate occurs, it lasts for no more than an hour and a half—that most are passed without a vote and that none can be amended.
I do not pretend that my view is more valid than that of anyone else, but I have another question regarding this and any future referendums. Do the Government have a duty to ensure that there is a level democratic playing field in a referendum? That may sound strange, but our manifesto commitment is not to devolve, but to let the people choose whether we should devolve. We willed the referendum and we willed that the people should have the right to decide. If we believe in the democratic process, we must believe also in the right to hear from both sides.
If the electorate is to make a decision, it must be an informed decision. I shall abide by the people's decision, whatever it may be. At present, there is a danger that each referendum could be a David and Goliath contest: with the full panoply of governmental powers, resources and the information machine on one side ranged against the relatively unsupported representations on the other. In laying the ground rules, we must consider whether we should—and, if so, how—ensure that there is a balanced presentation of each case.
That question is particularly important in relation to the media. I ask not for financial resources for the campaign, but about the rules for broadcasters. We take it for granted that certain rules of equality must apply during a general election campaign. That is quite correct, as we are asking the people to make a very important decision. The referendums will deal with major constitutional issues, so is not the argument regarding equality of time, opportunity to present a case and right of reply equally valid?
I turn now to perhaps the most sensitive issue: freedom of speech for Back Benchers. I make it clear that we all understand the limitations on freedom of voting that apply in every political party. We know also that, while there is a conscience clause that allows us to abstain, one could argue that Back Benchers cannot vote against their party. Should a tighter rule apply in referendums? In the 1970s, in the great European Community debate—the most important constitutional decision to be taken in the post-war period—every Back Bencher was allowed to 861 speak as he or she saw fit. Labour Back Benchers were also allowed freedom of speech during the two devolution campaigns.
At the parliamentary Labour party meeting before the general election, we endorsed a standing order that guarantees hon. Members the right to freedom of speech. I put my point in this context. I am sure that the press reports that I read last weekend were maligning, ill-intentioned and a misrepresentation, but I was somewhat concerned by suggestions that the Secretary of State for Wales had said that it would be a disciplinary matter if Labour Members dared to speak against devolution.
I took great comfort in two other reports of speeches made by the Under-Secretary, in which he told the other political parties that Labour will not govern by diktat. Will the Secretary of State confirm that that statement applies to the Labour party? I genuinely believe that the Secretary of State has been misrepresented, and I will gladly give way now so that he can clarify his position—or he may wish to do so when he replies to the debate. I would like to be sure that there was neither threat nor intention behind his remarks.
I would like to think that, for several reasons. One is that it is the way in which we normally conduct our affairs on this side of the House. Secondly, I do not want my party to appear rather to follow the leader of the Scottish nationalists, who said as a condition of his support for the Bill that he would require Labour Back-Bench Members to be gagged. I do not want my Secretary of State and my party to look, as the nationalists appear to present themselves, afraid of the power of argument.
I am genuinely puzzled by the timing of the referendum votes. Why, I wonder, is the Welsh referendum to take place after the Scottish referendum? After all, the Scots, poor devils, have two questions to answer. They have two things on which to make up their minds. We in Wales have a much simpler decision. We have only one choice, yet we need another two weeks to make up our minds. I know that the Welsh are great talkers, but we can be decisive if encouraged. There are those who are cynical—of course, I am not one of them—who might feel that the plans are designed to enable my right hon. and hon. Friends to turn to the people of Wales and say, "Scotland has its Assembly because Scotland voted for an Assembly. That being so, you must vote for an Assembly in Wales." What a way in which to launch the great Welsh experiment in a healthy democracy—in effect, Glasgow has voted for Cardiff.
If a case for devolution stands, let it stand without stage management. Give it a chance to stand or fall on its merits. Like everyone else in this place, I shall abide by the decision of the House.
§ Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine)
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for giving me the chance to make my maiden speech in a debate that so affects the country from which I come, and especially my constituency. West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine is a new constituency and, as one can tell from the length of the name, a creation of the boundary commission. It is not a constituency of one entity; rather it is a bringing together of several different areas.
I wish to pay tribute to the two hon. Members who previously represented parts of what is now the West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine constituency. I urge hon. 862 Members to try to remember the full name from time to time, and not to abbreviate it. Kincardine is an ancient area of Scotland and does not wish to be forgotten.
One of the two hon. Members who preceded me in the constituency is Mr. George Kynoch, who is no longer in this place. I pay tribute to his loyalty to the Conservative party, particularly to his loyalty as a Minister—a role which he took extremely seriously. The other hon. Member who represented part of my constituency is my hon. Friend the Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce). Many right hon. and hon. Members will be aware of his standing in this place and of his capabilities. I can say that, on the doorstep, my hon. Friend is extremely popular in the part of my constituency that he used to represent.
There has been a sea change in the attitude of the Conservative party to the debate about the direction of the future of Scotland. It is the settled will of the people of Scotland that we should have a Scottish Parliament. Indeed, it is the logical and obvious way forward.
One of the problems, however, is the lumping together of legislation. There seems to be a different debate in Wales about what should happen there and the need for a referendum to test what is happening. There is a suspicion among Liberal Democrats that we are taking part in a debate about a referendum in Scotland, not on a matter of principle, but on worries that were expressed during the build up to the general election on the effect of such considerations in England—in other words, going ahead with the policies to which the Labour party was then committed.
My colleagues and I believe that the Bill, and the delay in bringing forward the referendum, is prolonging the much-needed requirement for a Scottish Parliament, which will be able to deal with the issues that affect my constituency and the rest of Scotland.
We have seen already today the way in which the House can operate. Questions were asked about education in England and Wales, and it seems that the Labour party in government are planning to abolish nursery vouchers, yet we hear that the Government are planning to continue with the voucher scheme in Scotland. It is surprising that, when matters of principle and technicality can surely be dealt with across Departments, those involved cannot see a way of abolishing vouchers in Scotland when a way has been found of abolishing them in England. I hope that a Scottish Parliament will enable us in Scotland to deal with the issues that will have an effect on us.
In my constituency, one of the main concerns at the forefront of the electorate's mind during the general election campaign was under-investment in education. It is sad that, again today, that has not been fully taken on board by the new Government. The crisis that is affecting our schools has not been fully recognised. I hope that the Government will recognise the urgency of the problem.
Another issue that is important in my constituency is the role of the private finance initiative in the future of the health service. It is the clear will of my constituents that management and control of clinical care should not be handed over to private companies. I am sure that the Government will be able to provide some reassurance on that front.
I think of those who previously represented parts of my constituency; I have in mind Sir Russell Fairgrieve and the late Alick Buchanan-Smith. There was a time when the Conservative party could grasp the need for a Scottish 863 Parliament and an accountable Scottish legislature. I commend to the House an excellent book written by Dr. James Mitchell, formerly of Edinburgh university and now of Strathclyde university; entitled, "Conservatives and the Union: A Study of the Conservative party". Unfortunately, the hon. Member who borrowed it from the Library is no longer an hon. Member, and has not yet managed to return it. That being so, I do not have a copy available to me.
I would only say from past reading of the book that the Conservative party was instrumental in the creation of the Scottish Office—a tier of government that needs to be held accountable to the people it is meant to serve. If we have such a tier of government in Scotland, the process of creating democratic accountability is an obvious next step.
The Liberal Democrats are extremely important in the context of this debate. The last thing my constituents want is a Parliament dominated by one part of Scotland and one party in Scotland, which is why a fair voting system is crucial to the acceptance of a Scottish Parliament—and, presumably, a Welsh Senate—and why the Liberal Democrats have played such a crucial role in the negotiations that have led to what has been agreed by the Scottish Constitutional Convention. I hope very much that we shall have a fair voting system to the Parliament and that fair voting will be embraced. Without it, there will be no parliamentary legitimacy.
Some people in the north-east of Scotland are concerned—it is a legitimate concern—about the domination of one party in the central belt. If we do not have a Scottish Parliament, I am pretty sure that, for the next five years, decisions that bear on the north-east of Scotland and are relevant to the Scottish Office will be dominated by one party and by one part of Scotland, because the Secretary of State is very much from one party, and it has many hon. Members who will make sure that he represents their part of Scotland. That being so, I urge all parts of Scotland to embrace the need for the Parliament.
I am disappointed about the delay and hope that, in Committee, the need to amend the Bill so that we do not need a referendum for Scotland will be recognised. That would enable us to get on with the real legislation. I hope also that the need for a referendum in Wales will be accepted, where the issue has not been so developed.
I urge the House not to delay any more that which is needed in Scotland. The House has a great deal of legislation with which to cope, and many Bills that bear on Scotland, which should be scrutinised, do not, unfortunately, receive scrutiny. There are many needs for reform in Scotland that are not even considered by the House because of delays. A means of dealing with the Scottish Office and the consequences for our constituents purely and only in Scotland within a Scottish Parliament is long overdue. I urge the House, in Committee, while accepting the need for a referendum in Wales, to delete the need for a referendum in Scotland.
§ Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Inverclyde)
I hope that the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Sir R. Smith) will accept my compliments for a fine speech.
864 I offer my compliments to the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Gorrie), who also made a fine speech. It is sometimes said that doctoral candidates are awarded their doctorates for persistence. The hon. Gentleman certainly deserves to be here for his remarkable persistence and consistency in fighting Edinburgh, West.
I offer extremely belated congratulations to my right hon. and old Friend the Member for Glasgow, Anniesland (Mr. Dewar), and all of those other fine honourable fellows who adorn the Government Front Bench. I also offer my compliments to my hon. Friends who made their initial—we are supposed to call them maiden—speeches.
I promise to be brief, but I shall refer to two Scottish morning papers, which, with other papers in Scotland, are full of comments made by the governor of the Bank of Scotland in relation to constitutional changes. The Scotsman begins a front page article by stating:Scotland's senior banker yesterday warned that he saw severe risks attaching to constitutional change both in Scotland and in Europe.No doubt that will throw the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor), whose spirited speech amused me no end, especially his slip of the tongue, because for many years he has been in opposition to the Government on numerous subjects, so why the Freudian slip? He was a very fine constituency Member for Glasgow, Cathcart, but, unfortunately, the good people of Castlemilk and elsewhere sent him elsewhere—to the deep south.
In its editorial this morning, the Daily Record had this to say about the senior banker:Bank of Scotland governor Bruce Patullo—not Portillo—(an Englishman) yesterday took over from where Michael Forsyth left off-raising the spectre of Tartan VAT to pay for a Scottish Parliament.He also claimed any new tax would discourage vital investment in Scotland by UK and overseas companies.His comments, like Michael Forsyth's before him, fail to take account of the settled will of the Scottish people"—and, no doubt, many thousands of his bank's clients. I regret to say that I am one of them. Perhaps the time has come for me to transfer my account.
§ Dr. Godman
To the Co-operative bank, as suggested by my Welsh friend.
Mr. Patullo should remember that many clients of the Bank of Scotland voted for constitutional change. I have no doubt that there will be unintended—as well as anticipated—consequences to constitutional reform, but that should not deter us from taking this remarkable reform forward.
On referendums, my position is one of reserve, like that of my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion). I believe that there are occasions when a referendum is appropriate. Let us look at the experience of the Irish Republic, where referendums are part of the constitution. I hope that the new Government there, when the Dail resumes on 7 June, will give serious thought to holding a referendum on certain articles in the constitution, but that is another matter.
865 Although I had initial doubts about the proposed referendum, I now fervently hope that the overwhelming majority of the people of Scotland will vote yes to both questions. I readily concede that it was not the first issue that was raised on the doorsteps of my new constituency. The issues raised were homelessness, crime on the streets, but there was an acknowledgment everywhere—I held six public meetings during the election campaign—that a Labour Government would usher in a Scottish Parliament. It was widely acknowledged that a Labour Government would honour that promise.
Mr. Edward Gamier (Harborough)
Does the hon. Gentleman think it right that, in addition to Scotsmen and Welshmen, European citizens who are not United Kingdom citizens should be able to vote in a referendum that will affect the whole of the United Kingdom?
§ Dr. Godman
I begin by apologising to the hon. and learned Gentleman. I called him a new boy yesterday, and that was utterly unwarranted. He has in fact been here before, and he and I were in Bosnia together last year.
Of course people resident in Scotland should have the right to vote in the referendum. They have chosen to live in Scotland. They are people of Scotland.
Over the past 18 years, Scotland has been governed appallingly—in an insensitive, intolerant way. I have said to Conservative Members of Parliament that, had Mrs. Thatcher when Prime Minister offered some concessions to the desire for a degree of autonomy, the Conservatives might not be in the parlous state that they are now in. I said that over the years to Scottish and English Conservative Members of Parliament, who chose to ignore that advice. I do not speak from hindsight.
I also believe that had a Tory Government been returned at the election we would now be witnessing the beginnings of the dismemberment of the United Kingdom, because many people who voted Labour would seriously be thinking of an independent Scotland as a future for themselves, their children and grandchildren. The biggest threat to Scotland came from the Conservative party, which was so decisively defeated on 1 May.
I offer three examples of that unsupportable form of government. First, the poll tax, which was introduced into Scotland in such a heavy-handed and insensitive manner. One of the finest speeches made during the passage of the legislation that introduced the poll tax was made in the other place by the late Willie Ross. It was a superb analysis and critique of that disgraceful measure.
The second example is the reorganisation of local government. The majority of Scots did not want the abolition of the regional and district councils. I must tell Conservative Members that many people in my constituency are suffering because of the disappearance of Strathclyde regional council and its remarkable management of social work and education services in my constituency. I should declare an interest, as my wife is a member of that council. It achieved quite remarkable improvements for the lives of many people, but the Conservative Government decided to be rid of it. Mrs. Thatcher always wanted to see the end of Strathclyde regional council. The way in which the Conservative Government managed local government in Scotland is to their eternal shame.
The third example of the rotten way in which the Conservative Government sought to govern Scotland was their attempt to privatise the supply of water in Scotland.
866 For those of my hon. Friends who are cautious about referendums, let me remind them of the quite remarkable referendum conducted by Strathclyde regional council on that very issue. It was an astonishing return. A million people posted off their answers to that referendum and 94 per cent. said that water in Scotland should remain under local authority control. I say to my hon. Friends, not least my old hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East, that without that astonishing referendum result, we would now have water companies in Scotland. Instead, we have a Government who are talking about bringing the management of water supplies under local authority control again.
Those are three examples of the rotten way in which the Conservative party governed Scotland. It is because of such insensitive, unsupportable government that many people want to see a Scottish Parliament.
A number of Scottish Conservative candidates will doubtless put themselves forward in the election. As I said yesterday to the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack), I fully expect to see his son as one of the candidates. He was a fine candidate in this election. He did not stand a cat in hell's chance of defeating my hon. Friend and neighbour the Member for West Renfrewshire (Mr. Graham). Given my hon. Friend's shape, it was as well that it was not a physical clash.
But a Conservative candidate of the stature of Charlie Cormack could well be a member of the Scottish Parliament. With proportional representation, he and other Conservatives will have a good chance of securing some seats. As someone who has campaigned all his adult life for electoral reform, that is one of the features of our legislation that really thrills me. We in Scotland are to adopt a system similar to that in Germany, so the minority parties will have reasonable representation in that Parliament.
I would love to be the Minister with responsibility for fisheries in that Parliament, but that is for others to decide. Presumably, that job will be given to someone who does not know the difference between a cod and a haddock, but it is right and proper that there are Conservatives and others in that Parliament. We must not forget that 500,000 people in Scotland voted Conservative, and they do not have a single representative in the House. But if a similar proportion vote Conservative in the election to the Scottish Parliament, there will be a substantial number, albeit a minority, of Tory Members.
Therefore, I belatedly welcome the referendum. I know that we will have overwhelming support in my constituency and I look forward to the day when we have a Scottish Parliament. I am not too happy with the Royal high school. I should like to see an international architectural competition for the design of a new Parliament, but I can live with the Royal high school for five or six years at least.
§ Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones (Ynys Mon)
I congratulate the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Sir R. Smith). I am always slightly nervous of hon. Members who address the House without a note. It is a remarkable achievement and I am sure that he will make many similar contributions to the House. There was a tinge of controversy in his contribution in that he made the case for a referendum in Wales but not in Scotland, but I think that we can leave it at that.
867 I congratulate the Secretary of State for Wales on his appointment and I wish him well in his duties. I also congratulate the Under-Secretary of State for Wales, the hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hain), on assuming his new responsibilities. It was a refreshing change to hear them say on their appointments and subsequently that they want to move away from the kind of tribal politics that has dominated the House for 18 years and towards a progressive, inclusive and more co-operative style of politics.
I want to make my remarks in that spirit and to reciprocate. I hope that the Secretary of State and his colleagues will accept that listening to other points of view is one thing but, on occasion, I hope and expect that they will see the merit of arguments coming from different directions. Listening is one thing, but I am sure that occasionally they will see that not only is there merit in what other people say but that it might well be acted upon.
The Government have been elected on a decisive and clear mandate, part of which is to secure constitutional change not only in Wales and Scotland but in the other place. Not only is their majority decisive, but their mandate on constitutional change is decisive. The Leader of the Opposition is as responsible for that decisive mandate as anyone else, because he made it clear during the election campaign that the constitution was at the heart of the Conservative party's manifesto. He stood on a no change manifesto, a status quo manifesto, and he was so successful that his party was wiped out in Wales and Scotland.
There is no representative of the Conservative party from Wales or Scotland in the Chamber. We shall hear from the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), but the people of Wales will recognise that his constituency today will be not the people of Wales, but the Benches behind him. We will understand the context of his remarks.
The mood for change in Wales and elsewhere is obvious. it is all around us. We have had 18 years of a Conservative Government who have centralised power on a scale that we have not seen before. The Government constantly told us about the nanny state; the interfering state. But we now have the Thatcher state. Baroness Thatcher was as responsible as anybody for the centralisation of power in this place. This is now a powerful and dominating personality.
Currently, many people feel alienated from the democratic institutions which serve them. That was illustrated at its worst during the general election when the proportion of young voters between the ages of 18 and 24 was lower than at any other time in recent history. There is a message there. If people feel that they do not have a voice; if they feel alienated; if they feel that they have no influence over events, there is a real danger that they will channel their resources and energies in a different way. We allow that to happen at our peril.
Modern, mature and forward-looking democracies have recognised the dangers of over-centralisation and have acted decisively to check it. Different modern states in Europe have chosen different routes to achieve that. No one model is appropriate everywhere, but we in Wales are now mature enough to take this important step forward.
868 The Labour party believes that the setting up of the Assembly is the way forward. Others of us will argue that that body should be enhanced and its powers improved. Let me outline not only some of the reasons why we are ready to move forward but why the choice in the referendum should reflect the fact that there are different views in Wales about how we should move forward.
The first reason, often given in the Chamber and outside, is the growth of the quango state. The people of Wales find it distasteful and a negation of democracy that for 18 years a Government appointed their own to run Wales although they were decisively rejected time after time by the electorate. On no occasion did the Secretary of State, who appointed people to run our health service, our education funding councils and our training agencies, appoint people who were in tune with the aspirations of the people of Wales. He appointed people whom he knew would toe the Government line.
Secondly, we need to develop our relationship with Europe. Most people know that my party has a positive vision of that relationship. We respect the cultural and national diversity of Europe. The key to protecting cultural and national diversity within a system that is becoming more global by the minute is to ensure that decisions that affect people's lives are taken at the lowest possible level. There is a Welsh dimension and a national dimension, and we should grasp the opportunity to ensure accountable government at that Welsh level.
By strengthening our democracy at home, we strengthen our links with Europe. We need to strengthen those links at a time when regional policy is being considered in Europe and important decisions that affect our farmers are being made. An elected body in Wales should have strong links with important European institutions.
Any elected body should be robust enough to protect us from significant policy changes made in Westminster with which we profoundly disagree. The hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (Dr. Godman) made an eloquent speech about what had been foisted on the people of Scotland during 18 years of Conservative rule. The problem that some of us have with the current plans for the Assembly is that if it does not have at least limited legislative powers, and if the framework for legislation remains in Westminster, it will not be robust enough to protect Wales from what happens here.
It is also important to show to the people of Wales that the Government's proposal is different from that offered in 1979. It is crucial that we understand the lessons of 1979. That was a fateful year for Wales. We have a rerun of 1979 at our peril. The Government must show that what they have on offer now is different from what was on offer in 1979.
Given that there is common ground between those of us in progressive politics who believe that the way forward is constitutional change, we should make it clear that the no vote in the referendum is for those people who want the status quo. The danger in allowing only one question in the referendum in Wales is that some of us who want the Assembly to have greater powers may be tempted to register our preference by voting no, and that would be 869 disastrous. If that happened, the vote would be meaningless, because the no vote would hide the votes of those who want to go that little bit further.
§ Mr. Jones
No, because my contribution will be short.
There is merit, in the spirit of inclusive politics, in giving the people in Wales who want to go that step further the opportunity to do so. Our preference—we fought the election on it—is for a multi-option referendum. We may not be able to argue that point in the Chamber: we shall have to wait and see.
I ask the Government to consider giving the people of Wales the opportunity to vote on, at the very least, the legislative and tax-varying powers that are on offer in Scotland. Why not include that in the debate on the Welsh Assembly? I accept that the Government are perfectly entitled to have a referendum on the question as it is framed in the Bill, but they could include all shades of opinion on the right side—if I may put it like that—of the debate.
The Government have introduced the Bill in a spirit of co-operation and on the principle of a move towards inclusive politics. The Under-Secretary of State for Wales, the hon. Member for Neath was right to say that it may be a long time before we have another opportunity to legislate on an elected body for Wales. Some people in Wales may find it strange that, faced with the ballot paper, all they are offered is a straight choice between the Labour party's position and that of the Conservative party. There are no Conservative Members in Wales, yet its position is preserved in the Bill. The Government should accept that, by going that little stage further and including all shades of opinion in Wales, they will be able to gauge the opinion of all the people in Wales.
All of us involved in this debate who fall on the side of positive change carry a great responsibility. We know from the history books or from being Members of the House that constitutional change is a momentous task. It has often ended in failure. Our children and future generations will rightly criticise us and may find it hard to forgive us if we get it wrong now. Wales is now ready for leadership, ready to consider co-operative politics, and ready to act on the desire for change.
I accept that there are no absolute truths in this debate: we must all recognise that. We have shown that there is a way forward to accommodate all shades of opinion. I hope that the Labour party will grasp that opportunity, so that the people of Wales can vote for meaningful change. If the Government are prepared to do that, we will be content to leave it up to the people of Wales to decide what sort of body they want. I am confident that if they are given that opportunity, not only will they vote for change, but will embrace change, as a modern, mature democracy that is part of the European community of nations. I hope that the Government will respond positively.
§ Ms Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North)
I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to make my maiden speech in this debate, which is so important to the future of Wales.
870 I am proud to be the first woman to be elected Member of Parliament for Cardiff, North. I am the first woman Member of Parliament in the city of Cardiff, and one of four women elected in Wales on 1 May. That is still only four women out of 40 Welsh Members, but it is four times as many as in 1992. This is the beginning of women taking their rightful place in the politics of Wales, and particularly in the Welsh Assembly; provided that we achieve a yes vote in the referendum.
Amazing as it may seem, until this election, Wales had only ever had four women Members of Parliament: Eirene White, Dorothy Rees, Megan Lloyd George and my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd). Dorothy Rees represented the Barry constituency for about 18 months. At that time, it included Whitchurch, Rhiwbina and Lisvane, which are now part of Cardiff, North.
Labour now holds all the Cardiff seats, for the first time for 27 years. In 1966–70, the old Cardiff, North constituency was represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands), who spoke in the debate last night. It is fitting that the capital of Wales—which will be the seat of the assembly—will be wholly Labour when it is set up, subject to the Bill being passed by the House and a yes vote in the referendum.
Cardiff, North—the constituency that I now represent—is very diverse. Its northern tip is the village community of Tongwynlais, which lies in the shadow of the Taff gorge linking Cardiff to the valleys to the north. Cardiff's wealth was built on coal brought down from the valleys. It would squeeze through the Taff gorge, which contains the River Taff, the Glamorgan canal, the Taff Vale railway and the now much-widened A470.
The coal has now mainly gone, but the road to Cardiff, the A470—choked by commuter traffic—goes through the heart of my constituency. It goes through the huge motorway at Coryton, where the main east-west and north-south routes through Wales meet, and on down to the other giant interchange at Gabalfa, where the Western avenue cuts through the estates of Mynachdy and Gabalfa that lead to north Llandaff—famous for the Cow and Snuffers pub, which was much frequented by Benjamin Disraeli during his visits to Wales. Nowhere is the need for an integrated transport system more obvious than on the A470 through Cardiff, North.
Next to the Gabalfa interchange lies the Heath hospital complex. Along with the dental hospital, it has 1,000 beds and is the largest hospital complex in Europe. It is not always popular with residents, because of the parking problems. One of the best-known residents of the area near the hospital is the former Speaker of the House of Commons, Lord Tonypandy.
Cardiff, North has a high percentage of white-collar professional workers, and 83 per cent. of its residents own their homes. Many are civil servants working in Government buildings, and many have suffered from the job insecurity that has been caused by the privatisation, contractorisation and short-term contracts that have become commonplace in public service. They are all looking for a Government who are proud of their public services and recognise the worth of their staff.
Many jobs have been lost altogether to privatisation. The Atomic Weapons Establishment in Llanishen no longer makes parts for nuclear warheads. The skills of the 871 workers have sadly been dispersed to the four winds because of the failure of earlier Governments to prepare for the winding down of the defence industry by diversifying. Five hundred highly skilled precision engineers have been lost to Cardiff. Their skills could have been used positively for civilian purposes. Companies House in Gabalfa, the Inland Revenue in Llanishen, the employment services department of the Welsh Office—all those have been subjected to that policy of forced insecurity. Her Majesty's Stationery Office has been privatised and closed down.
I have already mentioned that, for a brief time, Dorothy Rees represented the villages that were incorporated into Cardiff in 1967. Whitchurch is a distinct community with a bustling high street, which was really the battleground of the recent general election campaign. On Saturday mornings, I would contest the space on the high street with my opponent, Gwilym Jones. Gwilym Jones was the Member of Parliament for Cardiff, North for 14 years, living in the ward of Lizvane and St Mellons—which, incidentally, has the only Conservative member of Cardiff city council. Gwilym Jones rose to the rank of junior minister in the Welsh Office in the last Parliament after many years of public service, both as a city councillor and as a Member of Parliament.
As I said earlier, I am pleased to speak in the debate on the referendum for devolution. I campaigned strongly for devolution in my election campaign, and held a packed public meeting in Rhiwbina—which is the garden suburb in northern Cardiff—wholly devoted to the subject.
I believe that it is important for the practical benefits of a Welsh Assembly to be spelled out in the course of our campaign for a yes vote. We no longer want the people of Wales to have to put up with a standard of living that is 17 per cent. lower than the British average. We no longer want the incidence of heart disease and breast cancer to be greater in Wales than in the rest of Britain. We no longer want the poverty of aspiration that affects so many people in Wales, where a recent survey of women on benefits showed that seven out of 10 considered that they would be worse off, or no better off, if they took a job, and where the increase in child care facilities that can unlock the door to opportunity have passed the lower income groups by.
By bringing government closer to the people, a Welsh Assembly will be able to take the lead in tackling the practical issues that face people every day in Wales. In a country of 3 million people, we can get to grips with those issues. We can have a child care strategy that targets those most in need, and can come up with solutions that are unique to Wales and will tackle specifically Welsh issues.
Devolution is about people-friendly, women-friendly policies. It is not for constitutional lawyers or for politicians; its purpose is to make a real difference to the lives of all the people in Wales. With a yes vote in the referendum, we will be able to achieve that.
§ Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Ms Morgan) on her maiden speech. It was a model of its kind, in which she not only described her constituency, paying tribute to her predecessor Gwilym Jones—whom all Conservative 872 Members remember fondly—but put down a marker in expressing the hope that the policies that she supports will truly benefit the people whom she has been sent here to represent. That is a good start for any new Member.
There are a huge number of fundamental questions for the Government to answer, concerning the very nature of the devolution proposals, before we get near to the detail of the actual legislation. There are questions about the stability of the Barnett formula, about the tartan tax—how Scots could raise extra income tax, or even cut income tax, without creating new tensions between the Scots and the English, on whom Scottish public spending is so dependent—and about the inequality of representation and powers among Scottish, Welsh and English Members of Parliament.
Those and other issues need to be dealt with. They were largely responsible for undermining the credibility of the 1978 proposals. Dealing with them is vital to the stability of the arrangements, and, ultimately, to the stability of the United Kingdom, but they have yet to be answered by the Government. No wonder they call devolution in Scotland unfinished business.
With such Labour dominance in both Scotland and Wales, there is a great temptation for Government supporters to regard the questions raised about the Bill and its two offspring as somehow irrelevant. That will be a constant danger for the Government: they will rely on the size of their majority, rather than on the force of their arguments. No doubt we Conservatives used to do the same, but that simply reinforces the point that great majorities are a threat to the quality of legislation.
For example, it has been asked regularly throughout the debate on what basis the discredited and reduced number of Conservative Members representing entirely English constituencies can raise such questions at all. Leaving aside the half a million voters in Scotland who did vote Conservative, let us start from first principles. The ultimate sovereignty of the Scottish and Welsh peoples is a fact. Whatever the niceties of international law, Scotland and Wales can claim the right of self-determination if that is what they want; but, in speech after speech, supporters of devolution tell the House that they are fervent supporters of the Union. Indeed, yesterday the Secretary of State for Scotland specifically rejected the suggestion that there should be a third question in the Scottish referendum to give voters the option to reaffirm their support for the Union. He said that that would imply that those who are going to vote yes in a referendum are the enemies of the United Kingdom.
It is for exactly the same reason that the plea of the hon. Member for Ynys Mon (Mr. Jones) that some other options should be put in the referendum will be rejected by Ministers. It opens up the whole argument about where the process is actually leading. If I may say so to the Secretary of State for Scotland: if the cap fits, wear it.
The argument often promulgated by proponents of devolution—we have heard it today—is that a Scottish Parliament would have blocked the poll tax. The pros and cons of the poll tax are not the issue here; the question is whether a Scottish Parliament will behave as though it had a mandate superior to that of the Parliament here at Westminster. During the election campaign, the Prime Minister set the record straight. With his customary lack of tact in regard to Scottish affairs, he said, "Sovereignty will rest with me, as an English Member of Parliament."
873 The Prime Minister's underlying statement is, of course, right. All parts of the United Kingdom are subject to the absolute sovereignty of Parliament. That is what it is to be part of the United Kingdom. To enact a policy that questions that truth is to question the very basis of the whole constitution of the Union. The very idea of something called a Scottish Parliament is anathema to the concept of the union of the Parliaments. This, here, is Scotland's Parliament. If Scotland wants its own Parliament again, the union of the Parliaments is effectively ended.
A Scottish Parliament which, as some people expect, will challenge the mandate of Westminster in Scotland, and which will be based upon the Claim of Right of the Scottish people to self-government, will be based principally on nationalistic principles. Therein lies our claim that this schizophrenic arrangement is set to destabilise the Union between Scotland and England and that between Wales and England.
How will that happen in practice? Conflict between Westminster and Edinburgh is inevitable, not least over the mechanism for calculating how much the English taxpayer should continue to support Scottish public expenditure. Tensions and disputes are currently resolved behind the closed doors of Cabinet unity. They are set to burst into the open. If the arrangement works well, the demand will be for more powers to be transferred. If it seems not to work, the excuse will be that it needs more powers. Success or failure—either way the demand will be, "Give us more powers."
The extent and legitimacy of Scottish representation at Westminster will be increasingly questioned. The scene will be set for the breakdown of the settlement between Scotland and England that has provided such benefits to both countries for hundreds of years. That is why the process sets a sickly smile on the faces of the nationalists. They know that a Scottish Parliament will be the mother of the separatism that they seek.
It is extraordinary that the Bill should be the first one that the new Government should present, and it betrays the reality of the Government. The new Labour Government are brimming with optimism and self-confidence. They are ready for any challenge to their considerable mandate and are prepared to brush aside the time-consuming irritations presented by Her Majesty's Opposition. Their programme is long on aspiration, but they are depressingly short on policy specifics in the areas where specifics are so sorely needed.
A windfall tax, a training scheme and the abolition of the assisted places scheme hardly inspire or will transform the country. Bravado and press releases are no substitute for substantive policies. Just getting the Tories out will not solve the problems of crime, insecurity at work or deficient public services. The twin icebergs of public expenditure control and our European partners' federalist intentions are two great obstacles blocking the way of the new ship of state. The officers on the bridge carry on their task with dash and with the certainty that they are unsinkable, but the thinness of their real policies will be torn like the plates of the Titanic. Their riveting sound bites, hammered so lovingly, will snap and the cold water of reality will rush in.
Let us hope for better, but there is little sign of a real five-year Government programme. Instead, this whole Parliament is set to be dominated by changes to the 874 constitution, but this drive does not come from the ordinary voter. As the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) said, even in Scotland and Wales few voters place devolution at the top of their list of priority issues. No number of extra politicians in Edinburgh and Cardiff will shorten health service waiting lists, or create jobs, except for the politicians themselves, who will increase their expense accounts and the number of their hangers-on.
The real drive of the Government's proposals comes from the party interest and not the national interest. The programme is designed to gerrymander the constitution in the interests of the Labour party and its acolytes. It is born not out of high principle, but out of the sheer frustration of being out of office for 18 years.
§ Mr. Jenkin
I shall finish the point and then give way to the hon. Gentleman.
Rather than blame themselves for nearly two decades of exile, Labour Members blamed the system and have found themselves elected and determined to change it. Islington-based Ministers now grappling with the real questions of government who heard the hon. Member for Linlithgow on Friday and yesterday should now wish that some of the baggage from opposition had been left behind on the Opposition Benches.
§ Mr. Graham
The hon. Gentleman spoke about gerrymandering. Not long ago, Scotland was subjected, by a Tory Government, to one of the biggest gerrymandering exercises that was ever forced on it. That was the gerrymandering of local government. The Tory Government gerrymandered boundary changes and pushed out of the road one of our most successful local authorities, Strathclyde. We should not have to listen to a Tory who probably did not take part in any of the Scottish debates talking about us being gerrymandered out of the door. The people of Scotland will not have gerrymandering. Our referendum will be debated publicly and the people will have the right to put their cross on a ballot paper.
§ Mr. Jenkin
I fail to understand why I am of the least concern to the hon. Gentleman. I am one of a thin number of Conservative Members. All we have are arguments, and if I can excite the hon. Gentleman to such an extent, I can only conclude that my arguments cause him some anxiety.
In Scotland, as in Wales, the real reason for the devolution policy is that Labour despaired of being elected with a majority in Westminster. Now that there is a Labour Government, the need for a Labour-dominated Parliament in Edinburgh has passed. Only the nightmare of the commitment to proceed remains. What exactly are the decisions that will be delegated to the proposed Scottish Parliament that cannot be delegated to the Scottish Grand Committee, except the power to raise the tartan tax? It is that and the greater permanence of Labour domination that has hooked the Administration on the commitment, and all this came as a dawning realisation on the new Labour leadership.
The questions are unanswerable, the scheme is illogical, the resulting mess will be unstable, and the tartan tax is the only feature that distinguishes this mess from the mess 875 that helped to scupper the last Labour Government. That is why we are here now. New Labour's answer to all that was to present the Bill for two-question referendums in Scotland and in Wales to try to draw the sting out of the illogicality of it all. There can be little doubt that new Labour, Islington Labour, would like to drop devolution—it is a hangover from the old Labour party, and the tartan tax runs counter to all the messages on tax that new Labour transmits—but they could not, because new Labour and Scottish Labour are deeply divided.
Scottish Labour hates nothing more than the smiling face of the Minister without Portfolio, and it seethes against the spending caps imposed by London new Labour. Scottish Labour is old Labour and chafes against its new master in Downing street. That is what drives the devolution policy—Scottish Labour versus new Labour. Ironically, the sticking plaster of the referendum policy that was conceived by new Labour in London to heal the breach was the final insult to Scottish Labour. One minute the Secretary of State for Defence was arguing passionately for Scottish self-government and against a referendum, and the next he was submissively accepting the diktat from London that his policy had been changed. That was followed shortly afterwards by the resignation of the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) from his shadow post.
A Scottish Parliament and a Welsh Assembly are but two of Labour's seven major proposed constitutional changes. It also wants regional English assemblies, including a new Greater London council and a Bill to incorporate the rulings of the European Commission of Human Rights directly into United Kingdom law, giving power to another set of European judges to tell us what to do. Those are political questions that should be decided democratically in this Parliament. Labour proposes a Bill to reform the House of Lords, a commission on proportional representation for Westminster and, of course, a new European Communities (Amendment) Bill to transfer yet more decisions from Westminster to Brussels.
Those are the seven pillars of unwisdom, the seven veils to cover the true nakedness of Labour's programme for government. They are the seven deadly sins that the Government intend wilfully to commit against our present political stability and prosperity. Most of the damage that a majority party can do to the economy, to public services, to business and commerce and even to foreign policy is reversible, or at least repairable. However, the guardianship of our constitution is an inalienable trust which a Government should never betray. It is like the quality of our environment and the preservation of our natural heritage. Any damage done there is irreversible. Once destroyed, institutions and relationships are irretnevable. That is why the decisions on these issues are so absolutely crucial.
Therefore, I plead that we take the two great measures that will follow this one on the Floor of the House in a Committee of the whole House so that we can consider them fully and absolutely, as all constitutional measures should be considered. The House should take note of how the Secretary of State prevaricated on that question. Why will he not give the same assurance for the Scotland and Wales Bills as he has given for this Bill? Does he think 876 that they are somehow less important or less constitutional, or does he have some tortuous new logic that he feels will entitle the Government to manoeuvre its huge majority like tanks on Salisbury plain? Is he suggesting that a referendum—held in only parts of the United Kingdom and, moreover, held in the heady honeymoon of a new Government and before the final, amended terms of the proposals are known—is a substitute for proper parliamentary scrutiny?
The Secretary of State speaks of the need fora broadly based consensus for change."—[Official Report, 21 May 1997; Vol. 294, c. 720.]The Bill invites the Scots and Welsh to lunge at an unconsidered, ill-thought-out false panacea that will lead to the disillusion and dissolution which I know that he sincerely wishes to avoid. So why the rush? The Secretary of State opines:The measure is a deceptively simple one."—[Official Report, 21 May 1997; Vol. 294, c. 715.]Its simplicity is indeed the method of its deception. The Government's business managers have seen the dangers. Genuine extended debate on these great issues would be the Government's Maastricht. The facade of party unity would quickly fracture. The Government are like fugitives scuttling across the strand at low water in the twilight, anxious to reach the far shore before the tide of reality comes in.
In 1945, the Select Committee on Procedure gave the House clear protection. The Committee contained such luminaries as Sidney Silverman, Dick Crossman, Hugh Gaitskell and Maurice Webb. At least we can say that old Labour recognised the constitutional and parliamentary proprieties. The Committee recorded the then Government's commitment never to prevent any Bill of first-class constitutional importance from being taken in Committee on the Floor of the House. It even gave examples:for instance of the Bill for the Parliament Act 1911, or the Statute of Westminster 1931.The new Labour Government appear ready to set about our constitution with all the subtlety of a General Pinochet, who achieved a great deal by referendum. For a Conservative, at least our constitution is the basic foundation of our nation, of our prosperity and of our society—
§ Mr. Jenkin
I am just winding up. I am obviously winding the hon. Lady up.
All constitutions reflect history, whether written or unwritten. They are established over time or by revolution. The constitution defines the nature and character of its country, of the people that it governs. Our constitution is unique. It is the living archive of every historic event that has occurred in these islands for at least 1,000 years. That is what my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition was referring to when he mentioned the thousand years of British history. To assert that Britain did not exist until the Act of Union sounds a little Scotocentric, if I may say so.
Our modern constitution has served us all remarkably well. It has supported the stability and strength of the nation through the days of empire, the reform and 877 extension of the franchise, the years of relative decline and two world wars to today's prosperous and outward-looking nation. It has protected the freedom of the people through periods when, elsewhere in the world, freedom and democracy not long ago seemed to have become a passing fancy.
Our historic constitution, from the monarch to the parish council, is fundamentally our country and our nation. It is the essence of what it is to be English, Scottish or Welsh and British. It truly is the United Kingdom. It was our birthright when we inherited it and it should be for our children to inherit.
Whether one venerates the blood shed by cavalier or by roundhead, Jacobite or Hanoverian, spitfire pilot or the miner down the pit, their separate sacrifices are our single precious inheritance. We squander it at our peril, and the contempt of the Government for that history underlies the great betrayal that they are about to commit on this country.
§ Mrs. Anne McGuire (Stirling)
I thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to make my first speech in the House in this historic debate on the referendums for a Scottish Parliament and a Welsh Assembly. Having listened to the hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin), it is somewhat ironic that I stand here representing the constituency of Stirling. I offer my congratulations to other hon. Members who have made their first speech this afternoon. Before I embark on some comments on the Bill, I should like to make a few preliminary and traditional remarks.
First, I place on record my thanks to hon. Members and officers of the House who have greatly assisted me in the bewildering transition from the outside world. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth (Ms McKenna), I have been exposed to the undoubted wit of the London cabby, one of whom told me that he did not know how a married woman could make a maiden speech. As we say in Scotland, "He'll ken noo."
I have also been overwhelmed by some of the accolades that have been thrown my way since I was elected some three weeks ago, not least that of being made an honorary vice-president of the Glasgow university shinty club. I understand that my one perk, which I shall of course declare in the Register of Members' Interests, is that I am allowed to play for the team.
I should like to record my own tribute to my predecessor, Michael Forsyth. I have a confession to make. Like many other hon. Members on both sides of the House, I suspect, I have struggled to find words adequate to describe the previous Member of Parliament for Stirling. He was a man of many talents, a self-confessed political Houdini, who excited great emotion in Scotland and beyond. He was undoubtedly a consummate politician who rarely shied away from controversy and he pursued issues as he saw them. He also acknowledged the tension in his relationship with many Scots.
Although I do not share Michael Forsyth's political beliefs and regret many of the policies that his party implemented, I recognise that in the House he was an assiduous, diligent and effective Member of Parliament for Stirling. He also had a sense of humour, which, it must be said, sometimes was self-deprecating. Some 18 months 878 before the election he told me that we would both have fun on the campaign trail. I am not sure whether his idea of fun was for me to stand here and for him not to. As an opponent, I found him unfailingly courteous and I am pleased to acknowledge his generous words to me on the morning of 2 May when the result was announced. I wish him and his family well in whatever the future holds for them.
I am also pleased to recognise the debt that I owe to Harry, now Lord, Ewing, who represented Stirling town until the boundaries were redrawn in 1983. Lord Ewing is still remembered by the good folk of the town as a man of courtesy and integrity.
I am privileged to have a number of my constituents here in the House of Commons, including my hon. Friends the Members for Falkirk, East (Mr. Connarty), and for Glasgow, Baillieston (Mr. Wray) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton, South (Mr. Robertson). I have to advise them now, however, that if they have constituency problems on which they wish to consult me, they can queue up like everyone else on a Friday evening.
I know that I will vie with other hon. Members if I claim that my constituency is one of the most beautiful in Britain, but, in all honesty, Stirling is. It is also an area of deep historical significance. The town that gives its name to the constituency is dominated by the impressive Stirling castle, a fortified rock that goes back into the mists of time. The castle is surrounded by buildings of note such as the Church of Holy Rude and the Argyll Lodges. It is no wonder that the town, which is the traditional gateway to the highlands, is at the centre of an expanding tourist industry. Full credit must be given to the partnership between the Labour local authority and the tourist board for developments in the area.
The constituency stretches over 800 square miles, from Tyndrum and Crianlarich in the north to the villages of Strathblane, Balfron, Drymen and Killearn in the west and onwards to the famous bonny banks of Loch Lomond. It also includes the Trossachs. As my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (Dr. Godman) said, within the Trossachs is Loch Katrine, which is a monument to Victorian values—the Victorian values that recognised that there was public good in providing a free and efficient water supply to the industrial town of Glasgow. Those are the Victorian values that we should applaud.
As well as being an area of outstanding historical and cultural distinction, the constituency is home to rural communities that are struggling to alleviate disadvantage and communities that are trying to restore hope and optimism for the future. Communities such as Raploch will undoubtedly benefit from the Government's welfare to work programme. The Stirling area also has one of the highest percentages in Scotland of those earning below £2.50 an hour. On behalf of the low-paid in my constituency, I welcome the commitment to introduce a national minimum wage.
I must also note that the constituency contains the small city of Dunblane. That community was visited by such tragedy on 13 March 1995 that it is still difficult fully to comprehend its emotional impact. On behalf of the parents, families and the wider community of Dunblane, I welcome the Government's intention to extend the ban on handguns.
879 The area in and around Stirling is steeped in Scottish history. Rob Roy McGregor is buried in the village of Brig o' Turk. At Bannockburn, Robert the Bruce defeated the English horsemen of King Edward as they got bogged down in the marsh made even more soggy by Scotland's excellent June weather. Later this year in Stirling, we will celebrate the 600th anniversary of the battle of Stirling bridge, where Sir William Wallace, the one who did not have an Australian accent or blue woad on his face, inflicted yet another defeat on our English neighbours.
We have moved on since then. The area saw so much bloodshed in earlier and more turbulent times as we tried to come to terms with the fact that we all shared this small island. As its democratic representative, I am privileged and pleased to be here to offer my support for the Bill, which will pave the way for the development of a Scottish Parliament. That will be a monumental development in the country's constitution.
I do not expect the current Secretary of State to don a tartan plaid and to put blue woad on his face to lead the yes-yes campaign. In its own way, however, the establishment of a Scottish Parliament is about being brave hearted. It is about recognising the sentiments and aspirations of the people in Scotland to move towards a more modern and decentralised government for this country.
The Scottish people have consistently shown that they do not want separation. The results on 1 May only underlined the fact that the nationalists have lost the 15 general elections since the second world war. The people in Scotland want something different from and better than what the status quo offers them.
My predecessor in Stirling mounted a political campaign and built a reputation as the so-called guardian of the Union. He saw himself as a knight in shining armour who was trying to save the Scottish people from themselves. He challenged the assertion that the Scottish people wanted a Parliament and, with Conservative colleagues, he threatened political mayhem in the new Parliament if subsequent legislation for that Parliament was made on the basis of a general election mandate. They claimed that the aspiration for a Scottish Parliament was more to do with the fevered imagination of Labour and Liberal Democrat politicians than thesettled will of the Scottish peopleWell, the Scottish Parliament will be anchored by a distinct positive decision of the people of Scotland. It will be secured by their consent as well as its ability to vary tax. The referendum will give the House the clear unequivocal answer to those who challenge the aspirations of people in Scotland to have greater autonomy over their domestic political agenda. It will further ensure that the new Parliament will not become a political hostage to those who think that they know better. Those people were so woefully out of touch with the Scottish and Welsh people that they suffered complete electoral humiliation on I May.
The Bill will be a springboard to a Scottish Parliament, a devolved Parliament within the partnership of the United Kingdom. It will lift this country's constitution into the 21st century. It will be the realisation of a dream for so many, not least my right hon. Friend the Secretary 880 of State for Scotland. It will strengthen the partnership of the United Kingdom, because it will be solidly anchored by the positive consent of the Scottish people.
A Parliament that has confidence in itself should have the confidence to give away some of its power because it should recognise that its legitimacy and strength come from meeting the aspirations of its people and not by crushing them. I am pleased to offer my support to the Bill.
§ 6.5 pm
§ Mr. Andrew George (St. Ives)
I thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to make my maiden speech. I congratulate hon. Members on the quality of their maiden speeches, which I shall try to match.
I should like to take this opportunity to make a bit of history by saying:Me am beth hanowHeb dewath ha bryBisgwethack rag nevraThose words are Cornish. They were spoken by a blacksmith from St. Keverne, in my constituency, where I come from.
That blacksmith was known locally as "An Got', which is Cornish for the smith, and was called Michael Joseph. He led an uprising from the constituency just one month short of 500 years ago. This weekend, that uprising will be re-enacted when a large band of Cornish people will march 330 miles to London to celebrate and commemorate the Cornishmen's storming of London. Sadly, that attack was not as successful as we would have liked.
§ Mr. George
Yes, that is what I intend.
Michael Joseph,"An Gof', marched to London with a band of 15,000 Cornishmen. Sadly, he was summarily hanged, drawn and quartered and dragged through the streets of this city.
In defiance of the then King, he said, roughly translated:I shall have a name perpetual and a fame permanent and immortal.To prove that, the celebration of that uprising will start from my constituency at the weekend. It will be an important commemoration for us. I believe that I am supposed to mention my predecessors on this occasion—the then local Member, William Antron, supported the rebellion. In 1508, the Charter of Pardon, resulting from the rebellion, gave the Cornish Parliament the right to allow or disallowany Statute, Act, ordinance, provision, restraint or proclamation…made by the King, his heirs, successors, or the Prince of Wales, the Duke of Cornwall, or their council.That charter represented an accommodation of the distinctiveness of Cornwall.
I have chosen to make my maiden speech in this debate because I want to support those who recognise the distinctiveness of those parts of these lands that take pride in their heritage and culture. That sentiment binds the people together across the whole of our land.
881 When the Liberal Democrats won the St. Ives seat earlier this month, it was one of the last results to be announced. I pointed out that, with our result, it became clear that, for the first time, the traditional Celtic nations of Scotland, Wales and Cornwall were not represented by a single Conservative Member.
§ Mr. George
Perhaps the Conservatives are now reconsidering their traditional opposition to electoral reform in those nations. A number of speakers have already ably argued that.
The general election marked the retirement of the former Member for St. Ives, David Harris. I was delighted to pay him a warm tribute when the result was announced and I am pleased to have the opportunity to repeat it today. Many people know that he retired in tragic circumstances. He was regarded with warmth and deep respect by hon. Members on both sides of the House. Since my election to the House, I have had conversations with older, long-standing Members and their respect and warm regard for him has come across strongly. He was a hard-working constituency Member of Parliament, and he will be remembered in the constituency as a gracious and honourable man. I offer him my best wishes for his future.
There are many parallels between the St. Ives constituency and the other Celtic nations mentioned today. The constituency stretches from the most southerly point of Great Britain at the Lizard to the Land's End peninsula and across to the Isles of Scilly. It includes St. Michael's Mount. Even with the important towns of Helston, Penzance, Hayle, St. Ives, St. Just, Porthleven and Marazion, it is a largely rural constituency. It is, of course, renowned for its scenery, its beaches and its occasional sunshine. Its traditional industries of farming and fishing are still very important to the area. Unfortunately, the last two mines at Geevor closed 10 years ago.
The constituency is well known as a holiday destination. I would wager—and this is not an offer of cash for questions—that the whole House would agree that west Cornwall and Scilly are among the most attractive places in these lands.
Alongside—or, perhaps, despite—the beauty of the area, however, Cornwall is becoming renowned for its poverty and deprivation. It has had the lowest wages in the country and among the highest levels of unemployment anywhere. Even while unemployment was allegedly falling in other parts of the country, it was and still is rising in Cornwall. It is an area that has suffered a great deal of deprivation and faced enormous problems. The Under-Secretary of State for Wales, the hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hain), came to speak to some of the workers at St. Ivel because the closure of the factory will have an enormous impact on unemployment in the area. It is an issue on which I shall be working hard in the coming weeks and months.
The area also has a deep-seated housing problem for local people, with high levels of second-home ownership hand in hand with high levels of homelessness and a lack of affordable housing.
Like Scotland and Wales, Cornwall is known for its strong sense of belonging, of community and of place. If the total contribution of our existence on this planet were 882 to measured purely in the profit and loss accounts, Bills and debates such as this would be pointless and there would be little point in defending the interests of places such as Cornwall. If a national audit were all about measuring the value of pride, despite the depths of adversity Cornwall and Scilly would be one of the most wealthy places in these islands.
Even now, there are pressures on all places—especially Cornwall—to lose their identity and pride. To paraphrase, Matthew Arnold once said that it is inevitable that a centralised kingdom will work to render its dominion homogeneous. That is what I think the debate today is all about; it is to keep the differences and to celebrate and encourage the diversity in this land.
In the case of Cornwall—and no doubt Wales and Scotland—a place that was once so distinctive is under threat of becoming indistinguishable from everywhere else. But whether or not one was born in Cornwall—and this no doubt applies to Scotland, England and Wales as well—many people come to the area and recognise its importance and strength. They get involved in the local community, which we welcome. It is a broad and welcoming community, which celebrates diversity within it as well as diversity in the nation as a whole.
Of course, the Cornish character is deeply egalitarian. If someone gets a little bit uppity, the Cornish are always swift to put him in his place and delight in doing so. Therefore, as a Cornishman born and brought up in the constituency—I have worked there and my wife is from there—I am immensely proud to have been elected as the constituency's representative. It is a great honour to be its Member of Parliament. There is nowhere else on earth that I would rather represent.
During my travels around the constituency, both before and during the election, I met a large number of people. Early in the campaign, a cousin of mine came up to me and said, "Well, I don't suppose you could do worse than that shower." I guess that by "that shower" he was referring to the Conservative Members sitting to my right. By Cornish standards, it was praise indeed; by my cousin's standards, it was the highest accolade known to man. Such is the level of accolade in Cornwall.
When touring the constituency during the election, I would try to stop and chat to as many people as possible. I would often be greeted with, "Yeau Pard, woz on eh?"—which translated means, "Good day my very good friend and most esteemed colleague. How on earth are you? Please tell me what has been going on in your life lately, if you don't mind me being so bold as to ask." It loses a lot in the translation. One conversation that I remember well at St. Just not so long ago went, "Where have you been lately?" The answer was, "I've been off on a world tour." "Well," he was asked, "where exactly have you been?" The reply was, "Well, I have taken in Trewellard, Pendeen, and Botallack."
With Cornish people—no doubt it is the same countrywide, especially in Scotland and Wales—there is always a self-mocking irony and a dry sense of humour. But there is also an intense stoicism, which is often needed to survive the problems of living in an austere environment and poor economy.
My first impression on coming to the House was that it seemed so far removed from the real world of west Cornwall. I have come here to represent that area, not to 883 be drafted in to represent the chosen party in Cornwall. That is an important point that needs to be taken on board. It is what I am determined to do.
Cornwall, like Scotland and Wales, has accepted second best for far too long. The passion and fire of Michael Joseph in the past needs to be rekindled today for the future. There is a fire for a new beginning; there will be new hope. We need a new start and we are making new demands.
During the campaign and the march to London, demands will be made: for recognition of Cornwall's special cultural, historic, linguistic and constitutional status; the case for a Cornish Assembly; the overwhelming case for a powerful Cornish development agency; the desperate need to establish a university college in Cornwall; and the case for a fair deal for Cornish residents on water bills, housing, economic development aid, policing and education.
While Scotland has the West Lothian question, which is constantly answered in various ways, Cornwall has the Trelawny question:And shall Trelawny live or shall Trelawny die,There's 20,000 Cornish folk who'll know the reason why.I believe that we will ensure that Trelawny will not die. That is what our party believes. I shall be working to persuade hon. Members that Trelawny must not die in the months and years ahead. Cheers.
§ Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)
I stand amazed and delighted at the eloquence of those hon. Members who have made their maiden speeches today. I recall how frozen I was when I made mine. Today there has been a promise of even greater to come.
I also stand amazed at the reactionary speech of the hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin), who seemed to be ready to fight against any reform until it becomes a tradition. I remind him that his paean of praise for the constitution is ill placed because the genius of our constitution is that it is not static, but evolves in accordance with the wishes of the people at the time. There has been a bar on constitutional advance for 18 years. That is why there is a need to get on speedily with constitutional change.
I was delighted by the speech of the hon. Member for Ynys Mon (Mr. Jones). He warned me in advance that there would be a change of rhetoric. I am pleased that Plaid Cymru has recognised that this is a chance in a generation. The giant step is to have an Assembly. Once it is there, it will move as far and as fast as the people of Wales want. That is the key step. It is why the forces of progress will be on one side in the referendum, working together, while the Conservative forces—who have been chased from Wales—will be on the other side. That will be the real decision.
I believe that I am the only remaining member of the gang of six Welsh Labour Members who argued against the Labour Government's devolution proposals in the 1970s. I shall support the present Government's proposals; I shall support them in the referendum and do what I can to persuade people to accept them. I shall not go into the reasons for my change—[Interruption.] I shall 884 give the headlines. Part of the reason is Thatcherite centralisation; part of the reason involves Europe; part of the reason involves my wish to have the identities of Wales and Scotland recognised. I can expand on those reasons, but not tonight.
I am in favour of devolution. I am wary of referendums in principle, because they have a rather dubious history. Mitterrand said that the French always answer the wrong question, which is certainly true. The relevance of that is that, in 1979, the referendum in Wales was lost, partly because the Government who proposed it were unpopular at the time; we are now in a different context. The outcome of a referendum depends, in part, on who poses the question and the nature of the question. I concede that we are now in a honeymoon period and the situation is set fairer than before.
Another of my objections to referendums is that they are, by their very nature, inflexible. One cannot negotiate with the people—as the Danes found out when they had to put the question on Maastricht twice when they did not like the answer to the first question. Having said that, I believe that we must have a referendum on the Government's proposals now, for two reasons.
First, the precedent was set in 1979 and it would be absurd for us to overturn that decisive position. Secondly, in my judgment, although the people cannot pronounce on every detail of a Bill, they can express a mood. I believe that the current mood in Wales and, I am informed, in Scotland, is decisively in favour of change. A referendum will assist in the legislative process because, if hon. Members try to wreck the Bill, they can be reminded that it has been broadly endorsed by the people, which should clear any doubt.
I end, partly because I promised that I would end soon, with just two caveats—this Labour Member, like a Labour Government, keeps promises. First, from my own knowledge of Wales, I know that the outcome of the referendum in Wales is by no means a foregone conclusion. I shall certainly do what I can on the platform to ensure that there is a positive vote. Secondly, I concede that there are enormous problems of principle in having decentralisation—devolution—in a unitary state. We are travelling uncharted waters and many areas of principle should be rigorously tested.
Let no one imagine that this is a final station; it is no more than an interim solution. It may be that, rationally, we shall be persuaded to go further along a federal path—that is a debate for another day. For this day. this argument is enough. If people want to adopt the proposal, let us debate it rigorously and properly. I shall stand with the Government on the platform for the referendum and for devolution.
§ Mr. William Hague (Richmond, Yorks)
We have had an interesting debate over the past day and a half. What a good job that there were a few minutes for the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) to make his speech, and to say that it would be good if the principles were properly tested in debate and that, if people had an opportunity to think about these matters rationally, they might do something different. His words revealed something important about the Bill—something on which I intend to concentrate in the minutes available to me.
The debate has been graced by a number of maiden speeches, including those from the hon. Members for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Sir R. Smith), 885 for Cardiff, North (Ms Morgan) and for St. Ives (Mr. George), who had an endearing way of saying cheers at the end of his speech. I am not sure whether that will become a tradition in the House.
The hon. Member for Stirling (Mrs. McGuire) also made her maiden speech. Many Conservative Members will appreciate the tribute that she paid to the courtesy, humour and dignity of Michael Forsyth, her predecessor. Her speech and that of the hon. Member for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth (Ms McKenna) yesterday explain why we meet so many traumatised cabbies in London at the moment: confrontations between Scottish Members of Parliament and the taxi drivers of London are turning into something to be believed.
The Leader of the House, the right hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor), said during business questions today that not too much time need be spent on the Bill, because it was simple and straightforward. It is a simple Bill in terms of the amount of paper that it occupies, but it is not simple or straightforward in its implications.
In a memorable speech yesterday, the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) said that awkward, difficult questions had to be faced. The difficulty for the House is that awkward and difficult questions have been asked in the debate, but they have not been answered by the Government. The Secretary of State for Wales will have an opportunity in a moment to answer those questions.
The hon. Member for Linlithgow asked important questions. He asked what he now calls the Bury, North question, about how Scottish Members can continue to be elected by 55,000 voters, but English Members by 68,000 voters. He recognises that the Bill has implications for England—something that the Government seem to want to deny. It is not possible, and it is not wise, to ignore completely the implications for England and the United Kingdom of the measures that the Government are now proposing.
The hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hain), the new Under-Secretary of State for Wales, opened our proceedings today—
§ Mr. Hague
No, I shall not give way, as I wish to go a little further—I am still on my opening remarks, and congratulating the hon. Member for Neath on his maiden speech from the Front Bench.
The hon. Gentleman made an interesting speech, in which he seemed to say that, whatever people's views on the sort of Assembly or Parliament that should be set up, they could vote yes in the referendums planned by the Government. He seemed to say to the electorate, "Here are the proposals that we want you to approve," while at the same time giving a nod and a wink to everyone that the whole thing could be changed afterwards if they wanted to do so.
People will want to ask why the Government do not have the courage to say, "Here are our proposals, which have been tested by detailed scrutiny and debate—now you can accept or reject them as you wish." I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his speech, but he will understand why I thought it a bit rich for him to say in one breath that the referendum would be a loyalty vote for members of the Labour party, and in the next breath to say, "We've had enough of one-party diktat in Wales." 886 The right hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) asked whether it would be a loyalty test for Labour Members, or whether they would be allowed to speak out against the damaging and far-reaching proposals. There has not yet been a clear answer from the Government Front Bench to that question. I hope that we will get a clear answer from the Secretary of State in a few moments.
Conservatives agree that there should be referendums on the proposals in Scotland and Wales, but we do not share the extraordinary position of the Liberal party: that there should be a referendum in Wales, but not in Scotland. As the Secretary of State for Scotland said yesterday, the Liberals' reasoned amendment is something of a collectors' item, in that it implies that referendums are not necessary when the result can be predicted by members of the Liberal party and other people.
It would save a great deal of time in the democratic process in this country if we did not have to bother to have a vote whenever we thought that we could predict the outcome with a fair degree of certainty. We cannot proceed on that basis, and the Liberals may regret thinking that they can predict the outcome.
§ Mr. Salmond
Last Wednesday, the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) called for a 50 per cent. rule. Last Friday, the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) called for a threshold in the referendums. Last night, the shadow Home Secretary, the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), told us to wait and see the amendments on Report. What is the policy tonight, and will that same policy apply to any European referendum?
§ Mr. Hague
The policy is as explained by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard). We think that there should be a debate in the House about thresholds. We shall provide an opportunity for such a debate, and no doubt the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) will wish to participate.
The central contention of the Opposition tonight is that referendums should be held, but that they should be held when the electorate are in the best possible position to judge. They should be held when people can view all the pros and cons. They should be held when the arguments in favour and against have indeed been rigorously tested, as the hon. Member for Swansea, East would like. Referendums should be held when people know exactly what they are getting. They should be held after legislation has been debated—and debated by all Members of Parliament, on the Floor of the House of Commons.
Referendums are justifiable. They are a legitimate part of democratic decisions; but for them to be fair and compatible with the parliamentary process, we need the electors to be as well informed as possible, to know exactly what they are voting for, and for a referendum to be treated as an addition to the parliamentary process, not as a substitute for it. I should have thought that those principles would command wide agreement across the House—that the electors should be as well informed as possible, that they should know exactly what they are voting for, and that the referendum should be treated as an addition to the parliamentary process.
887 How does the Bill measure up against those principles? Is the Bill saying that referendums should be held when the electors are as well informed as possible? Would the electors be best informed before or after the publication of the legislation? Would they be best informed before or after debate has taken place in this House? Would they be best informed before or after the Government had to demonstrate that they had a workable scheme? As the hon. Member for Linlithgow said yesterday,the devil is…in the details."—[Official Report, 21 May 1997; Vol. 294, c. 806.]The Government are not able to answer questions about the detail. They are not able to say what the role of the civil service would be, and for whom it would work. They are not able to say to whom the Secretaries of State for Scotland and for Wales would be accountable. They are not able to say what is the chain of accountability for the expenditure of public money, and where the Public Accounts Committee stands. They are not able to say what the future arrangements for the block grant would be.
The Government are not able to say what the consequences of establishing a Welsh Assembly would be for our constitutional settlement, or what the costs of establishing a Welsh Assembly would be—except, that is, for the preliminary costs, which run into millions of pounds and which the Secretary of State for Scotland has described as small change.
The Government are not able to say what the costs would be of running a Welsh Assembly; what the remuneration of members of the Assembly would be; what the resources at the disposal of members of the Assembly would be; what the number of staff required to run the Assembly would be; by what mechanism it would be funded; what the effect would be on the Welsh block grant; what the effect should be on the representation of Wales in the House of Commons; how the Welsh Assembly would relate to the European Union; how it would relate to the European Committee of the Regions; whether it would have the power to call for persons and papers; how it would relate to local government in Wales; how it would relate to non-departmental public bodies; what its consequences would be for the Welsh Grand Committee; what its consequences would be for the Secretary of State for Wales; what its consequences would be for attracting inward investment; or what its consequences would be for the Welsh economy. The Government are not able to say how the electoral arrangements for the Welsh Assembly would be changed—whether the Assembly would be able to change them itself, or whether this House would change them.
How can referendums be properly conducted without the Government being able to answer these questions? The Secretary of State for Scotland said yesterday that the referendum should be held on some general principle and the voters would be able to give their verdict before Parliament plunges into the complexity. What a reassuring message—to say to the voters that they should come to a view and then we will plunge into the complexity, in which anything can be changed and in which the Government cannot be certain that they would not want to change their plans.
§ Mr. Morgan
When, in a previous intervention, the right hon. Gentleman was asked whether he was in favour 888 of a particular threshold, he nailed his colours firmly to the fence. After all the questions he has asked, will he answer the question whether he, in his present set of two portfolios with no hon. Members behind him and as a prospective leader of the Conservative party, is saying that he is against the principle of democratic devolution for Wales and Scotland?
§ Mr. Hague
Of course we are against devolution for Wales and Scotland—that is what we fought the general election on, that is what we will say in the referendums—[Interruption.] The Government do not have a mandate for devolution; they have a mandate to hold referendums on devolution, and the hon. Gentleman must remember that.
The hon. Member must also remember that he sits on the Government Benches now; we on the Opposition Benches ask the questions, and we need the answers from the Government. The Government do not even know the answers to some of the questions I have asked, let alone whether they have found the right answers, whether the House would leave them unaltered, or whether they themselves would change their minds. These are the difficulties into which the Government are going to plunge the nation.
What plans do the Government have for the conduct of the referendums? The right hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) asked about that matter. What plans are there for equal broadcasting time? Even if the Government do have such plans—and they have given precious few signs that they have—on what basis can a referendum be held when the Government and Parliament have yet to take a view on so many of these subjects? What hope have we of receiving answers to some of these questions? The Labour party has had years to think about the answers—what hope have we that they will materialise in the next few weeks?
The Government do not have answers to many of these questions. They pretend that the questions are trivia and tell us not to worry, because the detail will all be dealt with afterwards—but it is when one goes into the detail that one realises what unworkable nonsense it is. That is what happened in 1979.
If the Government are agreed that the voters should be as well informed as possible, why is the referendum not to be delayed until after the subject has been debated by Parliament? What are the Government afraid of? Why do they not want to hear the arguments, and why do they not want the country to hear the arguments, about how precisely the scheme would work?
The Minister for Home Affairs and Devolution, winding up the debate last night, said that he wanted the maximum debate in Scotland, but it will not be the maximum debate. Maximum debate would take place once the Bill had been properly considered in the House of Commons.
Can the Government not see the danger in proceeding with referendums without being able to answer not only the detailed questions, but the fundamental questions, about their plans? Sooner or later, they would be forced to confront the inevitable consequences of their policy, to try to resolve the unsustainable position whereby Scottish Members of Parliament would be able to vote on English matters, but neither Scottish nor English Members of 889 Parliament would be able to vote on Scottish matters. Sooner or later, the Government would have to confront those questions.
Several months ago, before he changed his policy, the Secretary of State for Wales said that the trouble with a pre-legislation referendum is that there are so many questions that one cannot answer. He never made a more prescient or perceptive remark—perhaps he has never made any other prescient or perceptive remark—and the trouble with his current proposal for a pre-legislation referendum is that there are so many questions that he cannot answer.
One of the other criteria that I set out is that a referendum should be an addition to the parliamentary process, not a substitute for it. With their plan, the Government are trying to have the best of both worlds from their point of view: a referendum in which detailed scrutiny will be impossible, because a referendum is not a vehicle for detailed scrutiny, and the information will not be available to the voters.
If, as they hope, they secure a yes vote, they will say that no one can object later to what was in the White Paper at the time of the referendum. They take the attitude of the Prime Minister, who said two weeks ago that the voters would then expect Labour to legislate and not play games in this House—a chilling phrase to those who believe in parliamentary democracy in this country.
The Government will thereby justify taking a Bill of the most fundamental constitutional importance upstairs in Committee, which would be the best of both worlds as the Government see it, but the worst of both worlds for the operation of parliamentary democracy. There would be a referendum without adequate detail or certainty and a parliamentary debate in which, the Government hope, objections would be overridden. It would be a dangerous precedent. It shows dangerous arrogance, and it will lead to bad law.
It is one thing to use a referendum to give added legitimacy and final approval to a major change fully debated by Parliament, and quite another to use it to distort the parliamentary process and to bully those who object to it. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe said yesterday, it is more like the continental-style use of referendums, which we in this country have often deplored. We know that the Prime Minister likes to think that he is Lady Thatcher; now he seems to think that he is Napoleon as well.
The referendum should be held when people have had the chance to see the detail, and to find out whether the detail works. Debates that precede that referendum should take place on the Floor of the House of Commons—a convention of this place since Lord Attlee was our Prime Minister.
Yesterday, Ministers said that the Bill would certainly be considered in a Committee of the whole House. Why is it that the Bill will certainly be considered in a Committee of the whole House, but the even more far-reaching and fundamental legislation that Ministers hope will follow it will not be considered in a Committee of the whole House?
We say that it is right that referendums should be held on these fundamental, far-reaching and deeply damaging proposals. We say that it is wrong that they should be held at this time and that it is wrong that they should be held in this way. The purpose of holding them at this 890 time and in this way is not to allow people to decide after the fullest debate. It is not to gain assent to specific proposals—otherwise, the questions involved would not be so general.
The purpose is to win approval for the Government's plans before the intractable and unanswerable deficiencies of the scheme are fully apparent, and then to quote that approval to force through Parliament, in Committees upstairs, a mass of constitutional legislation. That is an abuse of the concept of a referendum. It is the use of a referendum as an anti-parliamentary device. It is the unmistakable sign, seen throughout history, of an over-mighty and arrogant Executive.
Our amendment calls for referendums to be held after the legislation has been debated, amended and agreed, after full scrutiny on the Floor of the House. That is the right way to conduct a referendum, and that is what we shall vote for tonight.
§ The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Ron Davies)
We are placing before the House what seems to me a wholly unexceptionable proposition: that we should ask the people to decide. Why on earth does the Secretary of State—
§ Mr. Davies
Why does the shadow Secretary of State take great exception to that proposition?
I shall be brief; time is limited. I hope that the House will forgive me if I do not reply individually to all hon. Members who have spoken, but I shall refer specifically to the questions that have been asked. I want to mention the maiden speeches that were made, but I do not propose to encourage interventions because of shortage of time.
Yesterday, the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Öpik) made his maiden speech. He shows obvious commitment to his constituency, and has already made his mark there. He paid special tribute to his predecessor, Alex Carlile, who was a liked and respected Member. He was a genuine Liberal, even when the causes that he advocated were unpopular, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be a suitable replacement for him.
I welcome the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Sir R. Smith). He made a confident speech and paid a fitting tribute to George Kynoch, his predecessor. He obviously is a fitting replacement for a Minister who was forthright, if not combative, in the House. He spoke of his traditional Liberal concerns. His support for devolution in Scotland and Wales is much appreciated.
I extend a special welcome to my friend, the hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Ms Morgan). She spoke strongly of the need for fair representation for women in the House and in the Assembly. She will be a fine representative of our capital city of Cardiff. She paid a generous tribute to Gwilym Jones, a former Welsh Office Minister. She will be a strong and principled Member of Parliament, who will fight hard for her constituency, for Wales and for the cause of women.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Mrs. McGuire) paid a generous tribute to her predecessor, Michael Forsyth. He was obviously a very effective politician, but her entertaining and sincere speech shows that she is a more than fitting successor.
891 The hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. George) made the final maiden speech in the debate. He comes from a strong radical tradition, and took great pride in declaring that Cornwall is now joining Scotland and Wales as a Tory-free zone. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."' He spoke warmly of David Harris, a Member who was well known and very well respected on both sides of the House. I know that all Members who knew David Harris will want to express their sympathy for the very difficult personal circumstances in which he has found himself. I congratulate the hon. Member for St. Ives, and look forward to his regular contributions to our debates.
The Bill before us is in one sense a limited measure, simply providing for referendums to be held, in Wales and Scotland, on the Government's proposals for devolution. However, it represents the first step in a major programme of constitutional reform to which the Government are committed and which was clearly set out in our manifesto. Let there be no doubt: that programme, and so the Bill, are central to our project of renewing and modernising Britain.
Several specific points were raised in the debate yesterday and today; I shall discuss those later. First, I shall say a few words about the policy that lies behind the Bill. The shadow Secretary of State for Wales, the former Secretary of State, made the startling admission that he was opposed to devolution. Well, we already have devolved government in the United Kingdom. Substantial powers are devolved to the Secretaries of State for Wales, for Scotland and for Northern Ireland. What we do not have is direct democratic control, or even effective oversight, of those devolved powers.
The purpose of devolution of power is surely to allow diversity to flourish; to allow policies to be implemented that reflect local circumstances, traditions and needs. Among the many faults of the Conservative party is its steadfast refusal to recognise the diversity of life in the United Kingdom.
The Conservative party has deluded itself that there are single, simple answers to the problems that confront us. There has been a delusion that Government in Westminster has all the answers. That belief has at times been almost an obsession. It is an obsession to impose uniformity from the centre, regardless of local circumstances or interests. In too many cases, policy has been a "one size fits all" policy. The Conservative party still has not realised how much resentment there is in Wales at the imposition of divisive and disruptive policies such as grant-maintained schools and nursery vouchers.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin)
That is not a point of order. The Secretary of State is in order. He must be in order, because I am allowing him to speak.
§ Mr. Davies
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. If we have less useless time wasting, I shall have more time to answer those questions.
The policies of grant-maintained schools and nursery vouchers were designed to meet ideological party needs in London, not practical educational needs in Wales. On a range of domestic policy—but especially on education, health, the environment and economic development—Conservative ideology and party interests have prevailed over Welsh interests and Welsh values. I know that my Scottish colleagues feel strongly about the subordination of Scottish interests and values to Conservative dogma.
Last night, the shadow Secretary of State for Wales admitted that the Conservative party hadlost the faith, the confidence and the good will of the electorate.I suppose that that is a small step in the right direction but, given the events of 1 May, it is not a startling proposition. He went on to say that his party wastainted with sleaze, greed, self-indulgence and division.The former Secretary of State for Wales should know. If ever there was sleaze, greed and self-indulgence—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. Davies
If ever there was sleaze, greed and self-indulgence, it was the way in which the right hon. Gentleman created and used the quango state in Wales to suit his own party interest. I welcome his repentance, but I would urge him to move quickly, because the road to this particular Damascus is getting very crowded.
Many in his own party now embrace the case for devolution. The Tory grandees are leading the charge—Sir Wyn Roberts, Viscount St. Davids, Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach, Tristan Garel-Jones and the former leader of the Conservative party, the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath).
§ Mr. Hague
In the hope that the Secretary of State will in the time available answer at least one of the questions asked, I wish to ask him whether members of the Labour party, such as the right hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams), will be free to campaign against devolution in the referendum if they wish to do so.
§ Mr. Davies
My right hon. Friend does not need the assistance of the right hon. Gentleman to ask questions. He is capable of putting his own questions, and I am capable of answering them—but I will do so in my own time.
The list goes on—Glyn Davies, the defeated candidate in Montgomery; David Evans, the defeated candidate in Newport, East; Gareth Jenkins, a former candidate in Newport, East. They recognise that democracies must be flexible, dynamic and evolutionary.
893 We are not going to find simple uniform answers to the many challenges we face, and the Opposition will be foolish if they do not learn the lessons of 18 years of failure in government. Increasingly, government needs to establish a framework which will encourage and facilitate local initiative to empower local people to work out the solutions that suit them best. The Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Parliament will enable the people of those countries to make their own decisions on their own priorities and on the matters that directly affect them in their own day-to-day lives.
§ Mr. Davies
No. The hon. Gentleman has not been here for the debate, and I want to reply to some of the questions that have been asked.
The hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) asked whether the long title of the Bill would allow for amendment. No decision has been taken on that, but I can assure him that there will be full opportunity to debate the White Paper when it is published. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to make representations on that White Paper, we will listen to them carefully.
My hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) asked certain questions. It is right that people are concerned about jobs, education and the health service, and our proposals for a better democracy will help us to bring better government to deliver better public services. He asked about the pre-legislative referendum, and expressed his own reservations. But the principles on which we will invite the people of Wales to vote will be made clear in the White Paper.
My hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East asked about the David and Goliath scenario, whereby advantages will be given to those campaigning on either side of the argument. Let me make it clear that the Government will set out our proposals, and we will inform the public. It will then be for the political parties to decide how to campaign, and we are not proposing to provide any state aid to any party to campaign either for or against our proposals.
I wish to refer to the timing of the referendum. In Scotland, some 90 per cent. of daily newspapers are generated within Scotland. In Wales, the figure is less than 10 per cent. In Scotland, more than 90 per cent. of public broadcasting is generated in Scotland. In Wales, the figure is less than 60 per cent. Our proposals for Scotland differ from those for Wales, and it seems to me wholly unexceptional for us to argue that there should be separate debates to allow the separate forms of devolution to be debated separately in Scotland and Wales, or that the people of Wales should be invited to vote at the appropriate time on the proposals we have for Wales.
Freedom of speech is a matter that is exciting the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks—although what it has to do with him, I do not know. No one would attempt to deny my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West—who has been a Member of this House for a long time—or any other hon. Member freedom of speech. The Government have a policy and the Labour party has a policy, and, obviously, we expect people to support that policy. If my right hon. Friend has difficulties with that, he will have to discuss them with my right hon. Friend the Chief Whip, and reflect and discuss with his colleagues. 894 The Labour party wishes to create an inclusive and tolerant Assembly. We will campaign as a party vigorously and wholeheartedly, and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will lead that campaign. I and my Front-Bench colleagues will campaign as vigorously as we can with all the resources available to us. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West will reflect on the wisdom of setting out on a course of action that would bring him into conflict with his party and the Government.
While the case for change is essentially a democratic one, our proposals are not only about democracy. By allowing people to have a greater say in fashioning their own lives, asserting their own values and determining their own priorities, we will be able to achieve greater economic prosperity and, by improving our public services, improve our quality of life.
Let me turn briefly to some of the other points made in the debate. First, it was suggested that we should not hold these referendums at all. I reject that. We are asking the people of Wales and the people of Scotland whether we should proceed with the process of democratisation which we clearly signalled in our manifesto, on which 34 out of 40 Members of Parliament were elected in Wales and 56 out of 72 in Scotland. Forty out of 40 Members representing Wales in this House were elected on the basis that the status quo is not an option.
I welcome the Liberal Democrats' support for our constitutional reform policies set out in the report of the joint committee between our two parties. I know that Plaid Cymru would prefer a different option—what it has come to call a "preferendum", with a number of options put before the people. The hon. Member for Ynys Mon (Mr. Jones) made a strong case for his party this evening, but the Government do not agree.
The use of referendums is relatively novel, and is part of the new, more inclusive politics which began on 1 May. But there is no precedent in the UK, and little logic, for having complex multiple-choice options. The most likely outcome of such a procedure in Wales would be no overall majority view—and no endorsement, therefore, of the Government's policy.
That is why the Government propose to put a clear choice before the people. The people should, and will, be given that clear choice. We seek endorsement of our new vision of an inclusive democracy, and we shall spell out the full details of our proposals in our White Paper.
The question of thresholds was raised in the debate and it was suggested that the threshold should be 40 or 50 per cent., as the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) has suggested. We know what that means—the creation of artificial rules, which count non-voters, absent voters or even dead voters as all voting against the proposals. Let me be clear: we shall conduct the referendums on the basis of normal democratic principles, without the construction of fancy franchises, and we shall seek majority support among those who cast their votes.
The shadow Secretary of State for Wales represents now, and represented when he was Secretary of State, all that was wrong with Conservative government. He was unaccountable to the people. Time after time, he appointed failed Tories to run the quango state in Wales. Month after month, he twisted and conspired to pack Welsh questions with his Tory cronies. His priorities 895 reflected his party needs, not the values and aspirations of Wales. He gave us unaccountable government, and the unaccountable Government gave us bad government.
Our proposals offer a better way: the prospect of open, democratic and accountable government. I commend the Bill to the House.
§ Question put, That the amendment be made:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 155, Noes 406.899
|Division No. 5]||[6.59 pm|
|Amess, David||Gray, James|
|Ancram, Rt Hon Michael||Green, Damian|
|Arbuthnot, James||Greenway, John|
|Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E)||Grieve, Dominic|
|Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)||Gummer, Rt Hon John|
|Baldry, Tony||Hague, Rt Hon William|
|Bercow, John||Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie|
|Beresford, Sir Paul||Hammond, Philip|
|Blunt, Crispin||Hayes, John|
|Body, Sir Richard||Heald, Oliver|
|Boswell, Tim||Heath, Rt Hon Sir Edward (Old Bexley & Sidcup)|
|Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W)|
|Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia||Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David|
|Brady, Graham||Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael|
|Brazier, Julian||Horam, John|
|Brooke, Rt Hon Peter||Howard, Rt Hon Michael|
|Browning, Mrs Angela||Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)|
|Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)||Hunter, Andrew|
|Burns, Simon||Jack, Rt Hon Michael|
|Butterfill, John||Jackson, Robert (Wantage)|
|Cash, William||Jenkin, Bernard (N Essex)|
|Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet)||Johnson Smith, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey|
|Chope, Christopher||Key, Robert|
|Clappison, James||King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)|
|Clark, Rt Hon Alan (Kensington)||Kirkbride, Miss Julie|
|Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh)||Laing, Mrs Eleanor|
|Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Rushcliffe)||Lansley, Andrew|
|Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey||Letwin, Oliver|
|Collins, Tim||Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)|
|Colvin, Michael||Lidington, David|
|Cormack, Sir Patrick||Lilley, Rt Hon Peter|
|Cran, James||Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)|
|Curry, Rt Hon David||Loughton, Tim|
|Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice)||Luff, Peter|
|Davies, Quentin (Grantham & Stamford)||Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas|
|MacGregor, Rt Hon John|
|Day, Stephen||McIntosh, Miss Anne|
|Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen||MacKay, Andrew|
|Duncan, Alan||Maclean, Rt Hon David|
|Duncan Smith, lain||McLoughlin, Patrick|
|Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter||Madel, Sir David|
|Evans, Nigel||Major, Rt Hon John|
|Faber, David||Malins, Humfrey|
|Fallon, Michael||Maples, John|
|Flight, Howard||Mates, Michael|
|Forth, Eric||Maude, Rt Hon Francis|
|Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman||Mawhinney, Rt Hon Dr Brian|
|Fox, Dr Liam||May, Mrs Theresa|
|Fraser, Christopher||Merchant, Piers|
|Gale, Roger||Moss, Malcolm|
|Garnier, Edward||Norman, Archie|
|Gibb, Nick||Page, Richard|
|Gill, Christopher||Paice, James|
|Gillan, Mrs Cheryl||Paterson, Owen|
|Goodlad, Rt Hon Alastair||Pickles, Eric|
|Gorman, Mrs Teresa||Prior, David|
|Redwood, Rt Hon John||Temple-Morris, Peter|
|Robathan, Andrew||Townend, John|
|Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)||Tredinnick, David|
|Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)||Trend, Michael|
|Ruffley, David||Tyrie, Andrew|
|St Aubyn, Nick||Viggers, Peter|
|Sayeed, Jonathan||Walter, Robert|
|Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian||Wardle, Charles|
|Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)||Waterson, Nigel|
|Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)||Wells, Bowen|
|Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)||Whitney, Sir Raymond|
|Soames, Nicholas||Whittingdale, John|
|Spelman, Mrs Caroline||Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann|
|Spicer, Sir Michael||Wilkinson, John|
|Spring, Richard||Willetts, David|
|Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John||Wilshire, David|
|Steen, Anthony||Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)|
|Streeter, Gary||Woodward, Shaun|
|Swayne, Desmond||Yeo, Tim|
|Syms, Robert||Young, Rt Hon Sir George|
|Tapsell, Sir Peter|
|Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Taylor, John M (Solihull)||Mr. Richard Ottaway and|
|Taylor, Sir Teddy||Mr. Peter Ainsworth.|
|Abbott, Ms Diane||Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)|
|Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N)||Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)|
|Ainger, Nick||Campbell, Menzies (NE Fife)|
|Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)||Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)|
|Allan, Richard (Shefld Hallam)||Campbell-Savours, Dale|
|Allen, Graham (Nottingham N)||Cann, Jamie|
|Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)||Caplin, Ivor|
|Armstrong, Ms Hilary||Casale, Roger|
|Atherton, Ms Candy||Caton, Martin|
|Atkins, Ms Charlotte||Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)|
|Austin, John||Chaytor, David|
|Ballard, Mrs Jackie||Chidgey, David|
|Banks, Tony||Chisholm, Malcolm|
|Barnes, Harry||Church, Ms Judith|
|Barton, Kevin||Clapham, Michael|
|Battle, John||Clark, Dr Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands)|
|Beard, Nigel||Clarke, Charles (Norwich S)|
|Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret||Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)|
|Begg, Miss Anne (Aberd'n S)||Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)|
|Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough)||Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)|
|Benn, Rt Hon Tony||Clelland, David|
|Bennett, Andrew F||Clwyd, Mrs Ann|
|Benton, Joe||Coaker, Vernon|
|Bermingham, Gerald||Coffey, Ms Ann|
|Berry, Roger||Cohen, Harry|
|Best, Harold||Coleman, Iain (Hammersmith & Fulham)|
|Blackman, Mrs Liz||Colman, Anthony (Putney)|
|Blears, Ms Hazel||Connarty, Michael|
|Blizzard, Robert||Cook, Frank (Stockton N)|
|Blunkett, Rt Hon David||Cook, Rt Hon Robin (Livingston)|
|Boateng, Paul||Cooper, Ms Yvette|
|Borrow, David||Corbett, Robin|
|Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)||Corbyn, Jeremy|
|Bradshaw, Ben||Corston, Ms Jean|
|Brinton, Mrs Helen||Cousins, Jim|
|Brown, Rt Hon Gordon (Dunfermline E)||Cox, Tom|
|Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E & Wallsend)||Crausby, David|
|Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)|
|Brown, Russell (Dumfries)||Cryer, John (Hornchurch)|
|Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)||Cummings, John|
|Buck, Ms Karen||Cunliffe, Lawrence|
|Burden, Richard||Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)|
|Burgon, Colin||Cunningham, Ms Roseanna (Perth)|
|Butler, Christine||Dafis, Cynog|
|Byers, Stephen||Dalyell, Tarn|
|Caborn, Richard||Darling, Rt Hon Alistair|
|Darvill, Keith||Hill, Keith|
|Davey, Edward (Kingston)||Hinchliffe, David|
|Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)||Hodge, Ms Margaret|
|Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)||Hoey, Kate|
|Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)||Home Robertson, John|
|Davies, Rt Hon Ron (Caerphilly)||Hoon, Geoffrey|
|Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H)||Hope, Philip|
|Dawson, Hilton||Hopkins, Kelvin|
|Dean, Ms Janet||Howarth, Alan (Newport E)|
|Denham, John||Howells, Dr Kim|
|Dewar, Rt Hon Donald||Hoyle, Lindsay|
|Dismore, Andrew||Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford& Unvston)|
|Donohoe, Brian H||Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)|
|Dowd, Jim||Humble, Mrs Joan|
|Drew, David||Hurst, Alan|
|Drown, Ms Julia||Hutton, John|
|Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth||Iddon, Brian|
|Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)||Illsley, Eric|
|Eagle, Ms Maria (L 'pool Garston)||Ingram, Adam|
|Edwards, Huw||Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampst'd)|
|Efford, Clive||Jackson, Mrs Helen (Hillsborough,|
|Ellman, Ms Louise||Jamieson, David|
|Ennis, Jeff||Jenkins, Brian (Tamworth)|
|Etherington, Bill||Johnson, Ms Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield)|
|Ewing, Mrs Margaret|
|Fatchett, Derek||Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)|
|Fearn, Ronnie||Jones, Ms Fiona (Newark)|
|Field, Rt Hon Frank||Jones, Helen (Warrington N)|
|Fisher, Mark||Jones, leuan Wyn (Ynys Môn)|
|Fitzpatrick, Jim||Jones, Ms Jenny|
|Fitzsimons, Ms Loma (Wolverh'ton SW)|
|Flint, Ms Caroline||Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)|
|Flynn, Paul||Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)|
|Follett, Ms Barbara||Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)|
|Foster, Don (Bath)||Jowell, Ms Tessa|
|Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)||Keeble, Ms Sally|
|Foster, Michael John (Worcester)||Keen, Alan (Feltham)|
|Fyfe, Maria||Kelly, Ms Ruth|
|Galbraith, Sam||Kemp, Fraser|
|Galloway, George||Kennedy, Charles (Ross Skye & Inverness W)|
|Gardiner, Barry||Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)|
|George, Andrew (St Ives)||Khabra, Piara S|
|George, Bruce (Walsall S)||Kidney, David|
|Gerrard, Neil||King, Andy (Rugby)|
|Gibson, Dr Ian||Kingham, Tessa|
|Gilroy, Mrs Linda||Kumar, Dr Ashok|
|Godman, Dr Norman A||Ladyman, Dr Stephen|
|Godsitf, Roger||Lawrence, Ms Jackie|
|Goggins, Paul||Laxton, Bob|
|Gordon, Mrs Eileen||Lepper, David|
|Gorrie, Donald||Leslie, Christopher|
|Graham, Thomas||Levitt, Tom|
|Griffiths, Ms Jane (Reading E)||Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)|
|Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)||Lewis, Terry (Worsley)|
|Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)||Liddell, Mrs Helen|
|Grocott, Bruce||Linton, Martin|
|Grogan, John||Livsey, Richard|
|Gunnell, John||Uwyd, Elfyn|
|Hain, Peter||Lock, David|
|Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)||Love, Andy|
|Hall, Patrick (Bedford)||McAllion, John|
|Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)||McAvoy, Thomas|
|Hanson, David||McCabe, Stephen|
|Harman, Rt Hon Ms Harriet||McCafferty, Ms Chris|
|Harvey, Nick||McCartney, Ian (Makerfield)|
|Heal, Mrs Sylvia||McDonagh, Ms Siobhain|
|Healey, John||Macdonald, Calum|
|Heath, David (Somerton)||McDonnell, John|
|Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N)||McFall, John|
|Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)||McGuire, Mrs Anne|
|Hepburn, Stephen||McIsaac, Ms Shona|
|Heppell, John||McKenna, Ms Rosemary|
|Hesford, Stephen||Mackinlay, Andrew|
|Hewitt, Ms Patricia||McLeish, Henry|
|McMaster, Gordon||Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)|
|McNamara, Kevin||Rowlands, Ted|
|McNulty, Tony||Roy, Frank|
|MacShane, Denis||Ruane, Chris|
|Mactaggart, Fiona||Ruddock, Ms Joan|
|McWalter, Tony||Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)|
|McWilliam, John||Ryan, Ms Joan|
|Mahon, Mrs Alice||Salmond, Alex|
|Mallaber, Ms Judy||Salter, Martin|
|Mandelson, Peter||Savidge, Malcolm|
|Marek, Dr John||Sawford, Phil|
|Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)||Sedgemore, Brian|
|Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)||Shaw, Jonathan|
|Marshall, David (Shettleston)||Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert|
|Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)||Shipley, Ms Debra|
|Marshall-Andrews, Robert||Short, Rt Hon clare|
|Martlew, Eric||Singh, Marsha|
|Maxton, John||Skinner, Dennis|
|Merron, Ms Gillian||Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)|
|Michael Alun||Smith, Ms Angela (Basildon)|
|Milburn, Alan||Smith, Rt Hon Chris (Islington S)|
|Miller, Andrew||Smith, Ms Jacqui (Redditch)|
|Mitchell, Austin||Smith, John (Glamorgan)|
|Moffatt, Laura||Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)|
|Moonie, Dr Lewis||Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)|
|Moore, Michael||Snape, Peter|
|Moran, Ms Margaret||Soley, Clive|
|Morgan, Alasdair (Galloway)||Southworth, Ms Helen|
|Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)||Spellar, John|
|Morgan, Rhodri (Cardiff W)||Squire, Ms Rachel|
|Morris, Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley)||Starkey, Dr Phyllis|
|Morris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon)||Steinberg, Gerry|
|Mountford, Ms Kali||Stevenson, George|
|Mudie, George||Stewart, David (Inverness E)|
|Mullin, Chris||Stewart, Ian (Eccles)|
|Murphy, Dennis (Wansbeck)||Stinchcombe, Paul|
|Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)||Stoate, Dr Howard|
|Murphy, Paul (Torfaen)||Stott, Roger|
|Naysmith, Dr Doug||Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin|
|Norris, Dan||Stringer, Graham|
|O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)||Stuart, Mrs Gisela (Edgbaston)|
|O'Hara, Edward||Stunell, Andrew|
|Olner, Bill||Sutcliffe, Gerry|
|O'Neill, Martin||Swinney, John|
|Opik, Lembit||Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)|
|Organ, Mrs Diana|
|Osborne, Mrs Sandra||Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)|
|Palmer, Dr Nick||Taylor, David (NW Leics)|
|Pearson, Ian||Taylor, Matthew (Truro & St Austell)|
|Pickthall, Colin||Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)|
|Pike, Peter L||Thomas Gareth R (Harrow W)|
|Plaskitt, James||Timms, Stephen|
|Pond, Chris||Tipping, Paddy|
|Pope, Greg||Todd, Mark|
|Pound, Stephen||Touhig, Don|
|Powell, Sir Raymond||Trickett, Jon|
|Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)||Truswell, Paul|
|Prescott, Rt Hon John||Turner Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)|
|Primarolo, Dawn||Turner, Desmond (Kemptown)|
|Prosser, Gwyn||Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)|
|Purchase, Ken||Twigg, Derek (Halton)|
|Quin, Ms Joyce||Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)|
|Quinn, Lawrie||Tyler, Paul|
|Radice, Giles||Vaz, Keith|
|Rammell, Bill||Vis, Dr Rudi|
|Rapson, Syd||Walley, Ms Joan|
|Raynsford, Nick||Ward, Ms Claire|
|Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)||Wareing, Robert N|
|Reid, Dr John (Hamilton N)||Watts, David|
|Robertson, Rt Hon George (Hamilton S)||Welsh, Andrew|
|Robinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW)||Whitehead, Alan|
|Roche, Mrs Barbara||Wicks, Malcolm|
|Wigley, Dafydd||Wood, Mike|
|Williams, Rt Hon Alan||Woolas, Phil|
|(Swansea W)||Worthington, Tony|
|Williams, Dr Alan W (E Carnarthen)||Wray, James|
|Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)|
|Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)||Wright, Tony (Gt Yarmouth)|
|Willis, Phil||Wyatt, Derek|
|Wilson, Brian||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Winnick, David||Ms Bridget Prentice and|
|Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)||Janet Anderson.|
§ Question accordingly negatived.
§ Main Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 62 (Amendment on Second or Third Reading), and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Motion made, Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 63 (Committal of Bills), That the Bill be committed to a Committee of the whole House—[Mr. Ron Davies].
§ Question agreed to.
§ Committee upon Monday 2 June.