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Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold): Is it not arrogant in the extreme to confine the principles of what the eventual Bill will contain to a White Paper while putting no detail whatever in the referendum? Members of Parliament do not know what the Bill will contain, and the voters at large do not know either: the final Bill could be totally different from what they expect when they vote in the referendum.

Mr. Hague: My hon. Friend is right. The effect of a pre-legislation referendum will be that the electorate can be kept in the dark and that Parliament can be told afterwards, "You had better pass this legislation in the detail in which it was presented in the White Paper because the electorate have already approved it."

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We favour the holding of referendums on the proposals. Indeed, we believe that that is essential, given the rejection of such proposals in 1979. None the less, we shall vote against Third Reading, for two reasons.

First, to hold a referendum now means that the electorate will not be properly informed: no provision has been made for the fairest possible debate and people are being asked to decide without a specific question and without the specific information that they need to come to a reasonable conclusion. The Government are asking for a referendum just so that they can get away with asking for general approval of vague proposals before the implications can be fully understood by the electorate. The Government intend to use that device to get around proper scrutiny rather than to facilitate it, and to escape full debate rather than to encourage it.

The second reason why we shall vote against Third Reading is that the opportunity to debate the full implications of what is proposed has been denied, even in Committee. There has been no opportunity to debate the procedures to be used in the referendums or the financing and conduct of the campaigns. We have not been able to discuss whether people should be asked about the tax-raising powers of a Welsh Assembly, nor the introduction of a threshold. Ministers have derided, as frivolous or esoteric, amendments tabled in good faith. The amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Fallon), concerning the voting rights of service men, was protested about yesterday. Yet that is a subject that should have been discussed in the House. When we consider such amendments, we can see how the denial of debate has obstructed the proper consideration of the legislation.

The Government have done that without need and without justification. They have relied on the argument that they have a mandate, and ignored the fact that the House as a whole has a mandate to give proper scrutiny to legislation, and that all Members of Parliament, from all parts of the United Kingdom, should have the right to propose amendments. The Government have been utterly blind to the case for any amendment to their legislation. A pre-legislation referendum was conceived by Labour party spin doctors last June, and now the Government's attitude is, "This is the law; we say this is the law." Law is permitted only if it was made in Hartlepool last June, when the decision about a referendum was made.

The Government have been unwilling to consider the case for any amendment, and unable or unwilling to answer most of the questions that have been put to them. They have conducted the debates on the proposals in a way which can lead only to bad law. For that reason, the official Opposition will vote against Third Reading.

8.59 pm

Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East): A certain humility might have been expected from the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) in the light of his party's record and the position that he and others adopted during the election. They made devolution--or the fragmentation of the United Kingdom, as they saw it--and a little Englander view on the continent the centre points of their election strategy. The public decisively

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rejected the Tories' little Englandism abroad and their wrapping themselves in the flag in respect of the future of the United Kingdom.

One is bound to ask what claim to authority or legitimacy the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks has to make his points, since his party was so decisively rejected at the general election. He referred to the guillotine, and I think that most people of common sense--having seen the way in which the amendment paper has been swamped by often flimsy and irrelevant amendments--would say that the Opposition's clear intention was not to have a proper debate, but to prolong the debate for as long as possible. I would hope that when we come to the devolution Bill itself, the Opposition--rather than seeking to swamp the amendment paper with the aim of having excessive debates--can reach a reasonably agreed timetable.

I am aware of the precedents in relation to constitutional Bills, but key elements of the Finance Bill, for example, may be discussed here in the Chamber, while matters of less importance may be debated in Committee. I hope that that system will be adopted in respect of the devolution Bill. Otherwise--as the Conservative party wishes--other matters will be pushed off the table altogether.

The right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks referred to the public wanting to know the details before pronouncing in a referendum. That is clearly absurd. Will the ordinary Welshman or Welshwoman--or Scotsman or Scotswoman--make up his or her mind on the broad package or on details which may or may not be included? Of course there will be a gut response: do people broadly want devolution or not? They will not be moved either way by the minutiae of details. It is therefore absurd to suggest that everything should be cut and dried in advance.

There were many excellent speeches in the debate, but I wish to refer to the remarkable maiden speech by my hon. Friend and neighbour the Member for Gower (Mr. Caton), who followed proudly and extraordinarily well in the footsteps of our esteemed former colleague Gareth Wardell.

I also commend the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands), who made the key point that we should not try to oversell devolution by suggesting that it will be a great engine for job creation. We must get through to the people of Wales and Scotland the fact that the Tories have shamelessly bypassed local government and democratic structures for 18 years by creating quangos from which they largely excluded representatives of the majority--from whichever party--by putting in their own people, who often had no credible claim to be Welsh or to represent Wales. One can understand the way in which opinion in Wales has changed only by the strong reaction to the quangocracy created, used and manipulated shamelessly by the Conservative party in Wales. It is on the basis of democracy that the best argument will be made, rather than by trying to oversell the point in relation to job creation. There is a key point, and it is on that basis that we should put the case to the people of Wales.

I would reject a multi-option clause because the key point is whether we want an Assembly. All progressive forces in Wales--all parties with the exception of the Conservative party--accept the case for devolution, and

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to argue for a multi-option referendum has the danger that it would be a distraction from that key point; if, for instance, we put before the people of Wales an option in relation to taxation, that could have an extremely negative effect on the referendum result.

We face a choice which arises once in a generation and I do not believe that what we have so far is a coherent package. I think that it should and will alter, because no institution is static. Every institution will have its own dynamic, according to the public opinion at the time. We should listen to the people. Options relating to federalism, taxation and primary legislation can all be debated at the appropriate time.

I shall cite a precedent in conclusion. When the Welsh Office was created by the Labour party, against Conservative opposition, some people argued that it was a puny creature; some were absolutist and said that they rejected that silly little Welsh Office. In fact, it developed incrementally, so that the Welsh Office today is a wholly different creature from what it was in 1966.

In the same way, by the dynamic of public opinion operating on representatives here and in Wales, the Welsh Assembly can be modified and changed and can adapt to new circumstances. That is the essential point. Let us have the Assembly--it will be dynamic, not static--and let all forces of good will and progress ensure that we vote in the same way on this key issue.

9.6 pm

Mr. Michael Moore (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale): May I first say how much I appreciate being called to give my maiden speech so early in the new Parliament and in particular being able to contribute to this important debate?

I consider it a real privilege to be elected as the Member of Parliament for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale, following 32 years of distinguished service by my predecessor, Sir David Steel. Sir David made a conscious decision at the start of his parliamentary career to commit himself to the Borders and to be very much a member of the local community. I believe that his close involvement with issues directly affecting his constituents--whatever his other responsibilities, especially as leader of the Liberal party--was the key to his achievements as a Borders Member of Parliament. As I look forward to my first summer as a Member of Parliament, attending the many festivals throughout the Borders, I consider it a great honour to take over responsibility from Sir David as one of the standard bearers for the Borders in Parliament.

The boundaries of the constituency changed over time--indeed, they were changed for the general election--and it now stretches from the Eildon hills in the south, near the towns of Selkirk, Melrose and Galashiels, along the River Tweed, through my home town of Innerleithen, past Peebles and up to the new part of the constituency in Penicuik at the foot of the Pentlands. It is a beautiful part of the world and its landscape has shaped the industries, culture and people of the area over many generations.

Many hon. Members will be familiar with the fierce rivalry between the Borders towns. It shows most clearly on the rugby pitch, but it is evident in many different ways. As an incomer to the Borders--twice over--I am very conscious of the traditions in each of the

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communities, which give them all great strength. As well as paying proper respect to traditions, people in the Borders have shown themselves to be adaptable, responding time after time to new challenges and demands.

The challenges are significant. My area is heavily dependent on traditional economic sectors such as agriculture and textiles. Those sectors have responded to many different challenges over the years, and continue to do so. Agriculture has been a mainstay of the constituency, but now has to cope with the continuing BSE disaster and the prospect of reform of the common agricultural policy. The textile industry has constantly had to reinvent itself, responding to changing market conditions across the world. More recently, we have developed a highly successful electronics industry and are taking the lead in new businesses focused on sustainable development.

The economic future of the Borders will depend hugely on a new approach from the Government. We desperately need investment in our infrastructure. We have trunk roads, such as the A7, which have lost their status. Others, such as the A701, desperately need further investment. It is a long time since there has been a railway station in the Borders; it is time that stations reopened. We also need a level playing field. Under previous Governments, Galashiels and Penicuik companies which sought assistance to expand their businesses were told that they should relocate to the central belt of Scotland if they wanted help. That cannot be right, and I shall campaign on that issue in years to come.

We also require equal access to grants, not least for investment, training and machinery. Too many young people in the Borders, when they leave school also leave the area--as I did when I left Jedburgh grammar school--and do not return, except in unusual circumstances. Education is vital in the current situation. Industry is more challenging, but parents and teachers are forced to raise money for essential equipment and books in schools. School buildings intended to last 10 or 20 years have been forced to last much longer.

In the health service, a crisis faces local hospitals as trusts debate whether they will have to close wards because of the internal market and the bureaucracy that is choking them and starving them of decent resources. There has been a new mood in the country since 2 May, but the many commitments made by the Government must be backed up by proper resources.

The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) in an earlier debate complimented the hon. Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh) on keeping to the subject, and I appreciate that it is appropriate for me to refer to it. Each of the issues that I have mentioned is at the heart of debate on the Scottish Parliament. For too long, especially over the past 18 years, the Government have been remote and unaccountable to the people of Scotland. A Scottish Parliament must tackle each of those issues, but ultimately its success will be judged on whether it better delivers on issues such as health, education and jobs. However, people must be persuaded of that.

I am very conscious that in the past, and at the last referendum, the people of the Borders gave a less than whole-hearted response to the proposals for what was then the Scottish Assembly. The proposals in the White Paper will be crucial in that respect, especially the proportional

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representation aspects of the Scottish Constitutional Convention scheme, which must be the best defence against swapping overbearing London rule for overbearing central belt domination.

The Scottish Liberal Democrats have argued throughout the passage of the Bill that there is no need for a referendum in Scotland. Our voting has followed that logic. Now, however, we recognise the reality of the juggernaut arithmetic that favours the Government. Our priority is a Scottish Parliament. We wish to ensure that it happens sooner rather than later. For that reason, we do not wish to hinder the Bill's progress any further.

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