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Mr. Ted Rowlands (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney): My right hon. Friend mentioned the referendum process. As this will be the last opportunity to raise the issue on this clause, and possibly on clause 2, will he confirm that the results of the local counts will be publicly announced in Wales and Scotland as they were in 1979?

Mr. Dewar: My understanding is that the global result will be announced publicly, and that is the one that counts, as it is the ultimate decision-making total. We hope to be able to announce the Scottish count--I am sure that my hon. Friend will understand that I cannot speak about the detail for Wales--on the night, which is a change from what happened in 1979.

Mr. Rowlands: What about locally?

Mr. Dewar: We also expect the local government area counts to become available. That is right. I hope that that is of some help.

Mrs. Ray Michie (Argyll and Bute) rose--

Mr. Dewar: I recognise that the hon. Lady will want to talk to me about the problems of Argyll and Bute. We shall consult her constituents. Perhaps the modern miracle of a helicopter will have to be brought into play in order to achieve this, but it will not amount to "Apocalypse Now".

Mrs. Michie: It is a big problem. We shall not be able to afford to have helicopters flying at night unless the Secretary of State comes up with the funding.

Mr. Dewar: I did say that it is an ambition. I am very well aware of the dangers of making of-the-cuff gifts, even to someone as charming as the hon. Lady--and that really was sucking up rather horribly. It is an ambition, but it depends on the practicalities. The House would see it as an advantage if it were possible to get the results as early as possible.

Mr. Garnier: Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Dewar: No, I must press on, and I have some respect for hon. Members who may want to get in. The hon. and learned Gentleman is a persistent recidivist on questions of this matter.

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5.45 pm

I have some things in common with the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack). I sometimes find it a little puzzling to recognise that he is a reasonable man, but I do so quite often. I believe very firmly that we should retain our connections with the rest of the United Kingdom--I speak here from a Scottish point of view--but I do not think that the hon. Gentleman's suggestion is a helpful way to achieve that.

The hon. Gentleman invites us to put another question on the ballot paper about Scotland remaining an integral part of the United Kingdom. The word "integral" is open to many interpretations and might lead to some confusion. Anyway, it seems to me that his view is based to some extent on a misunderstanding: that in some way the devolution settlement would remove Scotland from being an integral part. I recognise what the hon. Gentleman says, but inevitably the question would be seen as an alternative and not a buttressing question. It confuses the situation and it is not one that I would be prepared to endorse.

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman understands that my position--his may be different--is that if we have the good health of the United Kingdom in mind, we have to establish that the framework of government is responsive enough to adapt to changing conditions, and to give more direct access to government, not just in Scotland but in other parts of the United Kingdom. We do not see this as an isolated move on the part of the Government. Rather it is an important part of a package.

Mr. Bernard Jenkin rose--

Mr. Dewar: No, I am sorry, but I shall not give way. I recognise that it looks rude, and I hope that hon. Members will recognise that I am not given to refusing information, but I must push on.

This group of amendments would have the effect of providing a multi-option referendum of the kind described by the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond). This is a serious issue, and I do not underestimate the importance of the debate. The hon. Gentleman made his case in his usual compact style very fairly. I particularly appreciate his recognition that the preferred option, from the vast majority of tests of public opinion, has been a devolution option rather than an independence option. I hasten to say that I do not believe that that means that he cannot continue to ply his trade and push his wares, although I have a rather less optimistic view than he has of his likely success.

My essential objection to a multi-option referendum is that it is using the referendum as a way to canvass a range of options. It is a snap poll. It is, in a sense--if one is being a little pejorative, although I do not mean to be--a beauty contest. That is not the stage that we are at, and I do not think that that should be the aim of the referendum. I will give an example, which I hope that the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan will find persuasive. It is one that he gave me, but I did not recognise it until I heard the exchange between him and my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion).

Although the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan is in favour of a multi-option referendum as a general principle, when it comes--if it ever does--to the point where he wishes to implement a specific constitutional scheme, he should put that to the people of Scotland in a

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single-question referendum to get it endorsed. My view is that we are at that stage now. We are trying to establish consent to a specific scheme and not merely to canvass competing options. If that scheme is rejected in the referendum--

Mr. John Swinney (North Tayside) rose--

Mr. Dewar: I will give way to the hon. Gentleman in a moment--I will make one exception--as I am attacking his party. [Interruption.] Well, disputing with his party, perfectly fairly.

If we had a rejection in that referendum, obviously we might well be back to the canvassing of options, many of us in a somewhat puzzled and disappointed state. At this stage we have a plan. We have been challenged to establish consent and we are in the business of establishing consent. It seems to me, therefore, that the single-question option is indeed the right one.

Mr. Swinney: The kernel of this point seems to be the publication of the White Paper so that we know in specific detail the contents of the Government's proposal. That is why the multi-option referendum is relevant now, and why a post-legislative referendum--post-independence--would be relevant at that stage. The kernel is the publication of the White Paper, and that is not evident from the debate today.

Mr. Dewar: There were some spirited exchanges on that subject earlier today and I seem to have been talking about it for some time--some might say interminably. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that a referendum without a White Paper setting out the scheme would be a very odd exercise indeed. We have already made it clear that we intend to publish the White Paper before the House gets up for the summer recess. I hope that that would give plenty of opportunity for people to study it. The hon. Gentleman is well aware of the essential differences between his position and mine--as, I believe, is Scotland at the end of the day.

There is a misconception about the stage that we are at and what we are trying to achieve. It is the distinction, the endorsement of a specific proposal, that conditions and dictates the subject matter of the referendum. I recognise that that is a matter about which we will disagree, but it seems to be a sensible approach. With all respect to the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan, I was not desperately impressed by some of his arguments, although he put them neatly, as I said. I well remember 28 April 1992: it was probably from the top of an open-top bus in George square in the driving rain, I suspect--at any event, I remember that period, but it was in the very different context of a Government who had been badly defeated in Scotland, who were clearly not listening to the opinion of the Scottish people and who, collectively, were as deaf as a post. In those circumstances, we thought that a test of public opinion of a more general sort had some merit, although we could not persuade the then Government of that. We are now in the very different circumstances that I have outlined, so my position is consistent and justified.

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I do not intend to follow the hon. Gentleman into international comparisons, although I am always intrigued by the hard work put in by the Scottish National party, looking at the most obscure--[Interruption.] I think that the hon. Gentleman accepted that.

Ms Roseanna Cunningham: Australia.

Mr. Dewar: I know that the hon. Lady comes from Australia. She is so proud of her Australian roots that it is almost a pity that she left them. However, that is not a point that I would push because she entertains us greatly now that she is here. However, I was merely referring to Newfoundland. I remember two interesting passages in Greenland's constitution being illuminated recently by the hon. Gentleman. I should plead guilty because I can remember boring the House on one occasion with some interesting information about poll tax referendums in various obscure parts of Canada. We all do it on occasion, but it is not relevant.

I have made the main points that I want to make about the context and the aim, and in the interests of the House I shall leave the matter there.

The referendum is directly linked to delivery. I spent 20 years of my political life--perhaps more than that--arguing the pros and cons, the difficulties, advantages and opportunities of the matter. We have now got to the point where we can make progress. However, we need to settle the issue of content. The referendum is a good way to do that.

I never quarrel with my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East, but can I say to him gently that we are cracking on at some speed with these matters. He may just have caught a note of dissent from the Conservative Benches on the timetable that we have adopted and the speed at which we are moving. That is because we are determined to maintain momentum and progress. It is very much a matter of action this day.

If the Bill completes its progress successfully today and goes on to another place and, I hope, safely to the statute book, we will allow the people of Scotland to have their say and to endorse or not endorse--I cannot be blindly confident about the outcome. Clearly, the opinion polls in today's press are immensely encouraging. I agree that we have to work, but above all we must trust the people to reach the decision that they want. I very much hope that they will give us the momentum and moral authority to bring forward and complete one of the most exciting reforms in British constitutional history this century.


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