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'or confer or remove functions exercisable otherwise than in or as regards Scotland'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: Government amendments Nos. 131, 132, 223 to 229 and 256.

No. 110, in clause 29, page 15, line 4, at end insert--


'(3A) If two thirds or more of the members of the Scottish Parliament vote for a motion requesting modification of Schedule 5, such modification shall be considered by a joint committee consisting of members of the Scottish Parliament and the Parliament of the United Kingdom for appropriate action by both Parliaments.'.

Government amendments Nos. 258, 203, 234 and 243 to 245.

Mr. Dewar: I approach this group of amendments with some trepidation, as though tiptoeing into a minefield. I realise that there is no more desperate risk and hazard than the ill-informed question of someone who only half understands the matter. Before anyone takes offence, I should say that, in the past 20-odd years, I have been in that position myself so many times that I know to just what extent the occasional potshot can have a remarkable random success. Moreover, I see before me formidable exponents in the art--such as the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) and the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve), who is an apprentice but learning depressingly fast. There is

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always, of course, the possibility of a very cheerful foray into the wilderness by the hon. Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne). It is quite a characterful cast.

In the hope of choking enthusiasm, I should say that most of the amendments in this group are extremely technical and totally without political interest--there is a claim. Although the amendments are grouped under the heading "legislative competence", which is immensely tempting, they are not quite as meaty as that sounds. Nevertheless, on the basis that we still have 20 minutes to go in this debate, perhaps I should start by very pedantically and carefully speaking to Government amendment No. 130.

I should stress--it is important to do so--that the intention of Government amendment No. 130, which will amend clause 28, is to make it outwith the Parliament's competence


As hon. Members will instantly realise, the amendment ties in with the Bill's general approach to defining devolved executive competence, whereby devolved functions are to be exercisable only in or as regards Scotland. I think that that is all we need say about amendment No. 130.

Mr. Ancram indicated assent.

Mr. Dewar: I am glad, and grateful, to see that the right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) agrees with that.

We move on to Government amendment Nos. 131, 132, 203, 223 to 227 and 243, which modify the approach taken in schedule 4 to defining the provisions of the Bill itself that are not protected from modification by the Scottish Parliament. The amendments also extend the schedule to protect from modification by the Scottish Parliament the way in which the Human Rights Bill and the European Communities Act 1972 give effect to the key aspects of the European convention on human rights and European Community law in the law of the United Kingdom.

I should stress that those are technical amendments and do not represent any change of policy. Specifically, they do not affect the powers and responsibilities of the Scottish Parliament and Ministers to observe and implement EC law in relation to devolved matters. Neither will they affect the competence of the Scottish Parliament to legislate on the types of rights and freedoms that are covered by the European convention.

My right hon. and hon. Friends and I have tabled amendments to the reservation of constitutional matters in schedule 5--which is a matter that we will deal with later, and may give rise to some quite interesting debate. However, again, it is very much a re-arrangement in the interests of clarity rather than a change of direction or of policy. Among other things, the amendments will make it clear that the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom is a reserved matter--which is common ground between all hon. Members. Although there are those who wish to change that constitution, I think that they will realise that this Bill is not the vehicle for so doing.

Mr. Ancram: I hope that I am not pre-empting our debate on the issue, but the Secretary of State mentioned

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the Union of the United Kingdom being a reserved matter. Does that mean that a referendum on the Union also will be a reserved matter and not available to the Scottish Parliament?

9.45 pm

Mr. Dewar: It is clear that constitutional change--the political bones of the parliamentary system and any alteration to that system--is a reserved matter. That would obviously include any change or any preparations for change. I have made that clear in I do not know how many exchanges with the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) over the years. I have always said to him, and he has always accepted, that it seems that the best way for him of trying to progress his cause--the reason for his party's existence being that he wishes to take Scotland out of the United Kingdom--is by persuading the electorate in Scotland that they should vote for such a change. It is clear that he cannot find a vehicle for doing that in the machinery laid down in this legislation.

Mr. Ancram: I have listened very carefully to the Secretary of State's lengthy explanation. In very simple terms, does that mean that a referendum on Scotland's future in the United Kingdom is within the competence of the Scottish Parliament?

Mr. Dewar: If one assumes that that is a way of changing the constitution, no, it is not in the power of the Scottish Parliament to change the constitutional arrangements. Scotland will of course have a right to enter into any debate about these matters in the United Kingdom Parliament, and there will be Scottish representatives to do so. That is as it should be. They will be expected to play a very full and proper part in debates in the United Kingdom Parliament on behalf of their constituents.

Mr. Grieve rose--

Mr. Salmond rose--

Mr. Dewar: I will take the intervention of the hon. Member for Beaconsfield, the successor to Disraeli.

Mr. Grieve: In the right hon. Gentleman's answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes(Mr. Ancram), I detected a certain tendency to shy away from the specific question. Clearly, a referendum in itself would not be a constitutional change but a mechanism of consultation. Would the holding of a referendum be within the competence of the Scottish Parliament? I think that that is the nub of my right hon. Friend's question.

Mr. Dewar: A referendum that purported to pave the way for something that was ultra vires is itself ultra vires. That is a view that I take, and one to which I will hold. But, as I said, the sovereignty of the Scottish people, which is often prayed in aid, is still there in the sense that, if they vote for a point of view, for change, and mean that they want that change by their vote, any elected politician in this country must very carefully take that into account. I do not believe that they will vote for that change, or that

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there is enthusiasm or a wish for that change. We shall no doubt argue about, debate and analyse that many, many times.

Mr. Salmond: The Secretary of State will recall among our many exchanges the one on 4 June last year while debating these matters, when he told me in no uncertain terms that the way in which to progress the issue, if I were ever in a position to do so, was to put the question on independence to the Scottish people in a single-question referendum. I take it that he is not retreating from those wise words.

Mr. Dewar: I am not going to bandy texts. I am always rather touched by the exactitude with which the hon. Gentleman treasures almost every word that I have uttered on this issue, and in the House. I sometimes wonder whether his bedroom walls are papered with such quotations. He will recall that I have consistently argued that the way in which he progresses his cause, to use that term again, is by trying--I believe in vain--to persuade people to vote for candidates who are committed to his point of view. At the moment, he has three colleagues--is that right? It is a modest total.

Mr. Salmond: Five.

Mr. Dewar: Oh, five.

Mr. Salmond: That is worrying.

Mr. Dewar: If there is anything worrying, it is the ease with which some of us forget some of his colleagues. I accept that it might be my fault. I am not going to pursue that point. In his own political flock, the hon. Gentleman is quite a dominant figure, as has often been said. I accept that he is probably travelling hopefully these days. We shall have to see what the people decide when votes for elected representatives go into ballot boxes. I am sad to see that we have only 12 minutes to go.


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