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Mr. Howard: Because that was a decision taken by the Parliament of the United Kingdom, which has jurisdiction to legislate for every part of the United Kingdom.

Mr. Thomas Graham (West Renfrewshire): The right hon. and learned Gentleman will be aware that the Labour party and the Liberal Democrats in Scotland argued clearly for a constitutional convention. We also argued clearly for a referendum. Is he aware that there was a meeting of the remnants of the Conservative party in a wigwam, where they had a pow-wow, but that all their peace pipes were broken? The Tory party is split. It does

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not know whether to support devolution or a referendum. It is time he realised that the problem for the Tories has not gone away. They are so split asunder that they will never rule Scotland.

Mr. Howard: I always enjoy the hon. Gentleman's colourful language, but his question is somewhat remote from the point that I was addressing.

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland): The right hon. and learned Gentleman has made great play of the so-called West Lothian question. Can he tell the House how often, during the 50 years when Ulster Unionist Members sat on Conservative Benches, took the Conservative Whip and served in Conservative Governments when the Stormont Parliament was in existence, the Conservative party ever complained that those hon. Members were able to vote on matters relating to West Lothian and West Bromwich, but not on those relating to west Belfast?

Mr. Howard: There are at least two answers to that question. As has been acknowledged on several occasions, not least by the Secretary of State for Defence, who was in his place earlier, it is unwise to draw analogies with Northern Ireland, because circumstances there are extremely different. The hon. Gentleman will be aware, however, that, in 1921, when the legislation that made the change to which he has referred was introduced, there was a commensurate reduction in the number of Members from Northern Ireland. It may well be sensible for us to explore that point in due course.

Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East): The right hon. and learned Gentleman is doing a skilful job of showing that devolution involves a number of complex points of principle, but he seems to have learnt nothing from the election. Was it not a wholly untenable position for his party to hold that we have reached such a point of perfection in our constitution that there should be no change in Scotland, and that there was no such thing as the Scottish question? Was not that the basis of the total rejection of his party in Scotland?

Mr. Howard: No, it was not. Had the hon. Gentleman been listening, he would have noticed that, a few minutes ago, the Secretary of State acknowledged that people vote in general elections for a multiplicity of reasons, as they did on 1 May, and that one cannot draw the inference that the hon. Gentleman sought to draw.

Moreover, it has never been the case that we have resisted change. As was pointed out earlier, the previous Secretary of State for Scotland, the former right hon. Member for Stirling, was responsible for significant change in the arrangements for governing Scotland, so the hon. Gentleman has completely misrepresented both the result of the election and the position of the Conservative party.

Mr. Salmond: Two of the other Conservative leadership contenders have indicated their support for a blocking mechanism, a threshold or a 50 per cent. rule, according to the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood). Does the right hon. and learned

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Gentleman support such a blocking device, and, if so, would it apply to any European referendum that might be introduced?

Mr. Howard: The hon. Gentleman will have to restrain himself. In due course, he will see exactly what amendments the Opposition table, on this and other issues. We shall comply in full with the rules of the House, and we shall give due notice to the hon. Gentleman and to the Government when we table those amendments.

Mrs. Maria Fyfe (Glasgow, Maryhill): Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Mr. Howard: No, I must make a little progress.

I was dealing with the reaction of the people of Scotland and the right hon. and hon. Members who represent them to the proposals that lie behind the question before the House today. As for the people of England and Wales, their reaction is likely to be even stronger.

The Labour party has shown itself ready to promote its party interests, quite regardless of the damage caused to the integrity of the United Kingdom. It seems determined to retain the over-representation of Scottish Members in the House. It does not take much imagination to foresee the mood in England if that majority were used to bulldoze through policies that were unpopular with the English electorate. That is precisely why the cynical proposals outlined by the Secretary of State menace the integrity and harmony of the United Kingdom.

Mr. Cash: In the context of what I have just termed the United Kingdom question, and considering the reality of what will happen in the dismembering process, does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the question is not entirely for England or for Wales, or indeed for Scotland, but for the United Kingdom as a whole, having regard to the interests of those in Northern Ireland, for example, who will also be affected by the logical consequences to which the Bill will lead?

Mr. Howard: My hon. Friend raises an important point. He, too, will have to wait and see what amendments are tabled when we debate the substance of the matter in due course.

I turn to the nub of our argument against the Bill's proposals--that part of the Secretary of State's speech where he was at his most defensive and his least convincing. The proposed change would be the greatest change in our nation's constitution at least since the Government of Ireland Act 1920, and possibly since the Act of Union itself in 1707.

It is right that the electorate should be consulted before changes of such magnitude are implemented, but they should be asked for their opinion when all our questions have been answered, when all the details are known, when the legislation has been finally tempered and scrutinised in the House, and when Parliament has debated and decided. Instead, the Government are breaking with constitutional precedent by holding a referendum before voters are allowed to know the final shape of the

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proposals. The people of Scotland and Wales will be asked to give their consent to devolution in principle and to trust Ministers to sort out the details afterwards.

Indeed, things are even worse than that. The Government intend to curtail Parliament's ability to perform its proper function. A pre-legislative referendum is designed to pre-empt parliamentary debate. It is not a new device. The device was the hallmark of continental dictatorships between the wars. European tyrants used the plebiscite to sideline their Parliaments; they used it to suppress the rights and liberties of their citizens. That is the model that the new Labour Government have decided to follow.

Why the Government's reluctance to follow constitutional precedent? Why their unseemly haste? Could it perhaps have something to do with the memory of what happened the last time that the proposals were put to the people?

In 1979, the referendums were rightly held after the legislation had been finalised, so that voters were able to decide on very specific proposals. Both in Scotland and in Wales, support ebbed during the referendum campaigns, as people came to appreciate what the proposals would actually mean. In my native Wales, opinion polls before the campaign were running at 4:1 in favour of a devolved Assembly, but on polling day, there was a 4:1 vote against it. People's enthusiasm for devolution waned when they saw that it would spawn expensive new bureaucracies and cause bitter disputes between the nations of the United Kingdom.

Mr. Ian Bruce: Does my right hon. and learned Friend get a clue from the Bill about who is supposed to be paying for the Scottish Parliament? Is not expenditure--by the Scottish Office, the Welsh Office and central Government--on Scotland and Wales very much higher than on England? Despite that additional expenditure, general taxpayers are being asked to pay for the referendum. I suspect that they will also have to pay for the cost of the additional Parliament, the additional level of government. Should we not know now, before we English Members of Parliament have to vote on the matter, exactly who is supposed to be paying for it?

Mr. Howard: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. It was noteworthy during the Secretary of State's speech that he declined to answer a direct question put to him by my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe), who suggested that his Kent constituents would be paying the cost of the referendum, but just a minute or two later confirmed that that would indeed be precisely so.

The reason why the Government are determined to hold the referendum before the voters can see the details of the legislation is that they fear that otherwise people will reach the same conclusion as they reached in 1979. That is why the Government are resorting to this unprecedented and anti-democratic approach.

The Secretary of State was silent--until pressed in answer to a question, when he was non-committal--about whether the main devolution legislation would be taken on the Floor of the House--a procedure described as game-playing by the Prime Minister during the debate on the Gracious Speech last week. We believe that that should happen, and I hope that the Secretary of State for Wales will deal with the point when he winds up tomorrow.

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The Union of Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland is based on a community of interests, a shared history, and an essential friendship between its constituent peoples. Like the relationship between Boswell and Johnson, that friendship can sometimes be prickly, but it is old and genuine. Its flavour is captured in the words of the highlander at Dunkirk, who told his comrades that, if the English surrendered too, it could be a long war. By its selfish and hurried pursuit of short-term advantage, Labour has jeopardised that relationship. A Union that has held fast for centuries could begin to fray in a matter of months.

The practical advantages of the Union are as much in evidence now as ever. Scotland and Wales have benefited enormously from massive inward investment during the Conservative Administration, including the LG plant in Newport, which is the largest single instance of foreign investment in Europe. The talent and industry of the Scots and my Welsh compatriots have enriched our island.

United, Britain has a strong voice in the councils of the world. Can anyone imagine that our constituent nations, if separated, would retain that influence? The House should be in no doubt that there would be a real danger of separation if the Government's proposals were to be implemented in their current form.

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