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

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:23 pm on 22nd May 1997.

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Photo of William Hague William Hague Conservative, Richmond (Yorks) 6:23 pm, 22nd May 1997

No, I shall not give way, as I wish to go a little further—I am still on my opening remarks, and congratulating the hon. Member for Neath on his maiden speech from the Front Bench.

The hon. Gentleman made an interesting speech, in which he seemed to say that, whatever people's views on the sort of Assembly or Parliament that should be set up, they could vote yes in the referendums planned by the Government. He seemed to say to the electorate, "Here are the proposals that we want you to approve," while at the same time giving a nod and a wink to everyone that the whole thing could be changed afterwards if they wanted to do so.

People will want to ask why the Government do not have the courage to say, "Here are our proposals, which have been tested by detailed scrutiny and debate—now you can accept or reject them as you wish." I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his speech, but he will understand why I thought it a bit rich for him to say in one breath that the referendum would be a loyalty vote for members of the Labour party, and in the next breath to say, "We've had enough of one-party diktat in Wales." The right hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) asked whether it would be a loyalty test for Labour Members, or whether they would be allowed to speak out against the damaging and far-reaching proposals. There has not yet been a clear answer from the Government Front Bench to that question. I hope that we will get a clear answer from the Secretary of State in a few moments.

Conservatives agree that there should be referendums on the proposals in Scotland and Wales, but we do not share the extraordinary position of the Liberal party: that there should be a referendum in Wales, but not in Scotland. As the Secretary of State for Scotland said yesterday, the Liberals' reasoned amendment is something of a collectors' item, in that it implies that referendums are not necessary when the result can be predicted by members of the Liberal party and other people.

It would save a great deal of time in the democratic process in this country if we did not have to bother to have a vote whenever we thought that we could predict the outcome with a fair degree of certainty. We cannot proceed on that basis, and the Liberals may regret thinking that they can predict the outcome.