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Several hon. Members rose--

Madam Speaker: Just a minute. I have more points of order here.

Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. A moment ago, you made a welcome statement about the rights of Back Benchers and the need for policy announcements to be made in the House. May I ask you to go further? Yesterday, an important announcement about policy change in relation to the Bank of England and the City of London was made, but no briefing papers about the statement were available in the Vote Office. Should not that be put right?

Madam Speaker: Briefing papers and documentation in the Vote Office have always been a question for the Minister concerned, not for the Speaker. I am concerned to ensure that when statements are made, they are made in the House, and not outside--but, as I said, documentation is the responsibility of the Minister concerned.

Mr. Alan Clark (Kensington and Chelsea): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Two minutes ago you will have heard the hon. Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Connarty) make a derogatory remark about people with a public school education. Do you not agree that it is a usual courtesy of the House to give notice of such remarks? The hon. Gentleman might have advised the Prime Minister before he made that point.

Madam Speaker: The hon. Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Connarty) would have had writer's cramp this morning if he had tried to write to all hon. Members with a public school education, so we need not worry about that question.

Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Before I came into the Chamber for the debate, or rather, for Question Time, ready for the debate on the referendums, I asked the Vote Office for the papers from the Government about what would actually be set up by the referendums--that is, the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly. I was told that there was none. Was that an oversight by the Vote Office, or have the Government really not given us any information about what we are to discuss in relation to the referendums?

Madam Speaker: All that we have to deal with today is the usual question of the Bill before us. No doubt the hon. Gentleman has had it for some time, has thoroughly digested it and is ready to speak on it when I call him.

Several hon. Members rose--

Madam Speaker: Just a moment. This is getting to be like a jack-in-the-box, with everyone bobbing up and down. Who is next?

Mr. Michael Fallon (Sevenoaks): Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker: Order. We do not take further points of order. I have dealt with that matter, and we shall now deal with the Bill. There are no further points of order once the Speaker has responded.

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Orders of the Day

Referendums (Scotland and Wales) Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

Madam Speaker: I have selected the amendment standing in the name of the Leader of the Opposition.

3.36 pm

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Donald Dewar): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

For the convenience of the House, I should make it clear that although I shall try to deal with the Bill as a whole in explanatory terms, I shall of course lay particular emphasis on the Scottish aspects. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales will deal with the debate tomorrow, and he, perhaps, will be able to fill in more completely than I shall have time to do, the arguments concerning the Principality.

The measure is a deceptively simple one.

Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. It was a little difficult to hear you as Members were leaving the Chamber, but did I understand you to say that you had selected the amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition? If so, did you consider the possibility of calling the amendment in the name of my right hon. and hon. Friends, or that tabled by other parties that are represented in Scotland--

Mr. Richard Livsey (Brecon and Radnorshire): And in Wales.

Mr. Maclennan: --and Wales--bearing in mind the fact that the official Opposition have no direct representation in Scotland?

Mr. Livsey: Or in Wales.

Mr. Maclennan: This is an unusual situation, but unusual situations merit unusual responses by the House.

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex): Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. Do you agree that the Bill is not a "Scotland" Bill but a United Kingdom measure, so the United Kingdom Parliament should decide on it?

Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire): Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker: No, no. We cannot go on with points of order. I can deal perfectly well with the point. Many Members wish to speak in the debate, and I want to call them, so let me answer the original point of order.

Yes, of course, I looked seriously at the reasoned amendments on the Order Paper. I consulted for a long time this morning and gave the matter a great deal of thought, and I came to the conclusion that I have announced to the House. I want the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Mr. Maclennan) and the rest of the House to understand that I took a great

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deal of time and trouble to consider those reasoned amendments, to take advice and to listen to it. But of course, finally, I have to make the decision, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman understands that.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray): Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. Will the ruling that you have just made be a precedent for future debates on Scottish and Welsh measures?

Madam Speaker: The hon. Lady is asking a hypothetical question. I deal only with matters of the moment, and I will deal with that issue when I need to.

Mr. Dewar: This is an important Bill. On the face of it, it is neither long nor complex, but it is a first and decisive step towards delivering a Parliament for the people of Scotland. Therefore, it is a measure of great importance. That is marked by the fact that it is the first Bill to be given a Second Reading by the new Government.

The Bill will pave the way for that Parliament, and its passage is an essential preparation for it. The whole constitutional package that is to be presented to the House is important. Few of us would dispute that there is widespread cynicism about the political processes and, arguably, democracy itself is in some disrepute. Most Members of Parliament--however much we might disagree about the solution--would accept that this is a very real problem. It is this problem that we are, in part, trying to address with our constitutional measures.

What we are looking for is openness and accessibility in government, as well as modern, democratic and responsive government. The Parliament that we envisage in Scotland--working within the framework of the United Kingdom and strengthened by that--will put under democratic control the substantial and extensive powers at present exercised by the Secretary of State for Scotland. We want to make those accessible and more immediately responsive to the public will in Scotland.

Mr. Michael Fallon (Sevenoaks): The Secretary of State has referred to making government more open and accessible and to the "whole constitutional package". Would not it have been better to have held the Bill back until we could see the detail of the Government's constitutional proposals?

Hon. Members: No.

Mr. Dewar: I am getting some advice from my Back-Bench colleagues, which I gladly accept.

The hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Fallon) will not be surprised to hear that that is not my opinion. The Bill will allow a test of public opinion and is a matter of establishing consent. It is not a Second Reading aperitif for devolution in Scotland or Wales. There is, I would argue, a strong case for having a test of public opinion, but whether we should or should not is the question before us. If the Bill reaches the statute book and we move to the referendum, there will be a White Paper that will clearly set out the scheme and which will inform the public of the details--although I have to say that, in Scotland, Wales and other parts of the country, these issues are well understood. In any event, the White Paper

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will set out the scheme in some detail, and it is on that basis that the arguments will rage. It may be that I shall come across the hon. Member for Sevenoaks in my travels, which will be a pleasure. It is then that the arguments on devolution itself will take place.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): When will the people of England be consulted on what they think about all this?

Mr. Dewar: That is a rather brave point, but I have to accept that the right hon. Gentleman is sometimes brave to the point of perversity. He is brave in making that point, given the recent election results in this country. In any event, there is a clear precedent from 1979. This is a mechanism for testing opinion, which deals with the challenge repeatedly made by the Conservative party in Scotland and in other parts of the country--that there is no consent in Scotland. I shall return to that matter in a moment.

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