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Mr. Stephen Day (Cheadle): I am sure that many in the House, on both sides, hold their Britishness dear. I count myself among them. However sincere the Government may be about their desire to maintain the Union, the danger at the heart of the proposals is that no union can be dissolved or changed unilaterally by one partner. Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the issue needs to be taken out of the party political battle, for all parties to consider the effects of constitutional change on all the constituent parts of the United Kingdom? My constituents matter as much as those of hon. Members from Scotland.

Mr. Howard: My hon. Friend raises an important point, and his constituents and mine are likely to be vitally affected by the Government's proposals. He raises an important aspect of the proposals.

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West): The right hon. and learned Gentleman referred to the LG investment in my constituency, and suggested that it would not happen. Does he not realise that LG was fully aware that a Labour Government were on the way, and that devolution was part of our promises? LG sees the investment in Newport as one of the fruits of devolution. The previous Prime Minister has admitted that LG came to Wales primarily because of the work of the Welsh Development Agency, a devolved body created by a former Labour Government.

Mr. Howard: The Welsh Development Agency has done notable work, not least during the time that my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) was the Secretary of State. It is a far cry from arguing that the Welsh Development Agency played an important part in LG coming to Newport, which it clearly did, to arguing that the investment is a vote of confidence in the proposals for administrative and legislative devolution.

I return to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mr. Day). The ingredients necessary for a bitter and acrimonious breakdown

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between the constituent parts of the United Kingdom are all there in the legislation that lies behind the question before the House today. They include the anomalous position of Welsh and Scottish Ministers; the unfair representation of Welsh and Scottish Members in the House; the lack of clear delineation between the spheres of authority of this Parliament and the devolved legislatures; the opportunity for intrusive judicial review; and, in the case of Scotland, the financial tensions that will inevitably be caused by the granting of tax-raising powers to the Scottish Parliament while Scotland continues to be generously over-funded by the Westminster Administration.

Mrs. Fyfe: Does the former Home Secretary realise that his credibility as a true and perfect democrat was destroyed for ever when he used a large Tory majority to impose the poll tax on Scotland alone? There are people in Scotland who will never forget that. It is one reason why there is not one Conservative Member left in Scotland today.

Mr. Howard: I have already answered that question. However, if we want to resume fighting those battles of long ago, the hon. Lady will remember that the degree of discontent with the previous rating system in Scotland, which led to those proposals, was even more intense than the discontent in England and Wales. That is why, in those far-off days, we legislated for Scotland first.

Mr. Dewar: When challenged by my hon. Friends the Members for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) and for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mrs. Fyfe) about the poll tax, the right hon. and learned Gentleman answered that it was legitimised because it was brought about by an act of the sovereign Westminster Parliament, which represented every part of the United Kingdom. If this sovereign Westminster Parliament, which also represents every part of the United Kingdom, decides, for the better governance of the country, to set up a Parliament in Edinburgh to deal with specifically Scottish domestic affairs, will that not also be legitimised?

Mr. Howard: It will not be legitimised, for the following reason. [Interruption.] If the right hon. Gentleman will listen, he will readily see why. It is accepted in all parts of the House--perhaps not all, because the Liberal Democrats do not accept it, but it is certainly common ground between the Government and the Opposition--that, before legitimacy can be achieved, there should be a referendum on the present proposals, in addition to legislation passed by this Parliament.

What is at issue today is the timing of that referendum. If it took place after the legislation had been fully and finally approved by the House, there would be a great deal more point to the question that the Secretary of State for Scotland asked me.

It is precisely because the Government do not propose a referendum after the legislation, after all the questions have been answered and after the voters have seen the specific details of what is proposed, that they will not provide their proposals with the legitimacy that they might otherwise have acquired. That is the answer to the right hon. Gentleman's question.

I appeal to Labour Members to reflect on the consequences of what they propose to do. Can they justify putting the Union in peril for party political gain?

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The Opposition will do all we can to prevent the legislation from being passed in its present ill-advised and divisive form. There must be time for the detailed legislation to be considered before the referendums are held.

The Bill would allow one of the greatest changes in our island's history to be decided by a bare majority of Welsh and Scottish voters, possibly on a very low turnout, without their having seen the details of the legislation, and without the people of England having been consulted.

In the deliberately short time that the Government have allowed us, we shall argue vigorously to convince Scottish and Welsh voters that devolution on such a model threatens the break-up of our country. We Conservatives know that patriotism is not the same as parochialism. We are proud to stand as the party not only of the Union, but of the constitution and of parliamentary sovereignty.

The Bill purports to give the people choice, but in fact it denies them choice, by denying them the information on which to base their judgment. It asks them for their unconditional votes. We shall resist the proposals in the House and oppose them in Wales and Scotland. We stand ready to take our fight to the people.

4.58 pm

Miss Anne Begg (Aberdeen, South): Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to make my maiden speech as part of this historic debate. The issue of Scottish devolution is close to my heart. What an honour it is to speak in the debate that will eventually lead to the setting up of a Scottish Parliament.

Now that Labour is finally and firmly in government, we can show not only the people of Scotland but the cynics and doom merchants that Labour will deliver a Scottish Parliament, if that is truly what the people want--hence the Referendums (Scotland and Wales) Bill. Before we undertake such constitutional change, we must be absolutely sure that it is

as the late John Smith said.

The Parliament that Labour proposes to set up in Edinburgh will, I am sure, bring great benefits to the north-east of Scotland and to my constituents in Aberdeen, South in particular. The voting system will ensure that no one area in Scotland will dominate the Scottish Parliament, and the people of Aberdeen will have a more direct say in how their health and education services should be run. Aberdeen was ahead of the game when it came to providing health care for the whole community. Foresterhill hospital was built before the NHS was established from money raised by public subscription--it really was a public hospital.

Aberdeen is also a beautiful city. When the sun shines, it positively sparkles with the light reflected off the grey granite. There is much pride in our civic amenities in Aberdeen. Anyone driving into Aberdeen, South towards the Bridge of Dee will notice the mass of blooms--crocuses and daffodils in spring, or roses down the central reservation of the dual carriageway in summer. It is an impressive sight. A separate category had to be created for Aberdeen in the Britain in Bloom competition, because we kept winning year after year, and we thought that we ought to give others a chance.

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It is no surprise that Aberdeen attracts a lot of tourists, many of whom visit the Duthie park winter gardens--a haven of tranquillity and peace in a busy, thriving city. For most people, Aberdeen is a thriving city. It still has a busy fishing port, and many of my constituents work in the fish processing industry. The biggest change to Aberdeen's economy and prosperity was the arrival of oil. I am glad to say that the oil industry is still buoyant in Aberdeen, especially as initial predictions were that the oil would soon run out. It has not yet, but the city must be ready in the future if there is a change in our economic circumstances.

Inevitably, Aberdeen, South has its share of social problems. The rising threat and menace of drugs are ever present and, even in Aberdeen, many young people find it hard to get a job. Those are two issues that the new Labour Government will begin to address.

It is in its parliamentary representation that Aberdeen, South has had the greatest instability. Any Member who thought that he or she might have a job for life after winning Aberdeen, South was quickly disabused of that notion. It was my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland who started the process by unseating Lady Tweedsmuir in 1966. He was not to last, but I am glad to see that he has made good now.

Iain Sproat came next, in 1970. I have a debt of gratitude to pay to Mr. Sproat over a telephone bill. At the time, I was an impoverished student, sharing a flat in Aberdeen, South with other equally poor students. The telephone phone bill which arrived obviously was not ours--it was so large that even someone on a Member of Parliament's pay could not have afforded it. Would British Telecom, or its predecessor, accept that we could not have run up such a large bill? Of course not. But it was a letter to our Member of Parliament, Iain Sproat, that finally got the issue sorted out. I can now publicly thank him.

Iain Sproat was not to last, either. Next came Gerry Malone. He was defeated for the first time in 1987 by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, Central (Mr. Doran). The fact that my hon. Friend now represents a different constituency will give the House a clue as to his staying power in Aberdeen, South. In 1992, he was replaced by Raymond Robertson--my opponent at the election. Although obviously upset by his defeat, Raymond was always polite and courteous towards me. Aberdeen, South has see-sawed between the Conservatives and Labour, so there is a lesson there for me not to become complacent. However, there is a crumb of comfort. Aberdeen, South has obviously been a good training ground for new Members of Parliament. All my male predecessors have reached either ministerial or shadow ministerial positions--not, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I am putting down a marker for my own advancement.

To return to the subject of this debate, I am sorry to report that the procedures of the House have been usurped by the local Aberdeen evening newspaper, the Evening Express, which is the sister paper of that other well-known news organ of the north-east, The Press and Journal. I have to dispel the myth about the parochial nature of the latter--it was not the newspaper that ran the story earlier this century with the banner headline "North-East man drowns at sea", with the much smaller sub-headline "Titanic sinks".

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Last Friday evening, the Evening Express published the results of a phone-in poll which it ran asking readers whether they wanted a Scottish Parliament. I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland will be waiting in anticipation to find out what verdict was given by his old stomping ground--he still keeps very much in touch with what goes on in Aberdeen. The majority of the readers decided that they did want a Scottish Parliament after all. That is all right then--I feel that I am now speaking for my constituents in speaking in support of a referendum. We cannot just depend on newspaper polls, however. We must also ask the people directly, and we will do so through the referendum proposed in the Bill.

I began by saying that this was a historic debate. I am proud to be the new Member for Aberdeen, South and I have to thank the House authorities, my colleagues and Madam Speaker for making it possible for me to operate in the House just like everyone else. They have all made it possible for me to play my part as a member of the new Labour Government--a Government who will bring about real change in the lives of the people and real change in the way in which we govern Scotland.

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