Orders of the Day — Referendums (Scotland and Wales) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:34 pm on 22nd May 1997.

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Photo of Bernard Jenkin Bernard Jenkin Conservative, North Essex 5:34 pm, 22nd May 1997

I am just winding up. I am obviously winding the hon. Lady up.

All constitutions reflect history, whether written or unwritten. They are established over time or by revolution. The constitution defines the nature and character of its country, of the people that it governs. Our constitution is unique. It is the living archive of every historic event that has occurred in these islands for at least 1,000 years. That is what my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition was referring to when he mentioned the thousand years of British history. To assert that Britain did not exist until the Act of Union sounds a little Scotocentric, if I may say so.

Our modern constitution has served us all remarkably well. It has supported the stability and strength of the nation through the days of empire, the reform and extension of the franchise, the years of relative decline and two world wars to today's prosperous and outward-looking nation. It has protected the freedom of the people through periods when, elsewhere in the world, freedom and democracy not long ago seemed to have become a passing fancy.

Our historic constitution, from the monarch to the parish council, is fundamentally our country and our nation. It is the essence of what it is to be English, Scottish or Welsh and British. It truly is the United Kingdom. It was our birthright when we inherited it and it should be for our children to inherit.

Whether one venerates the blood shed by cavalier or by roundhead, Jacobite or Hanoverian, spitfire pilot or the miner down the pit, their separate sacrifices are our single precious inheritance. We squander it at our peril, and the contempt of the Government for that history underlies the great betrayal that they are about to commit on this country.