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Madam Speaker: Thank you.

Dr. Brian Mawhinney (North-West Cambridgeshire): I am happy to accept unreservedly the unreserved apology of the hon. Member for Oldham, East and Saddleworth (Mr. Woolas).

Madam Speaker: That is the end of the matter.

Mr. Michael Colvin (Romsey): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I know that you deplore long oral questions and equally discourage Ministers from giving long answers. Unfortunately, answers from the Dispatch Box tend to be longer, because Ministers want to give as much information as possible and the answers are read out.

There is a time-honoured tradition in this place that hon. Members do not read oral questions. Is not there a danger that, if that tradition is broken and hon. Members start reading them, the oral questions will just get longer? When I arrived in this place, I was told by the Prime Minister of the day that it was rather more difficult to ask oral questions than it was to answer them. I am sure that that is understood by hon. Members who have just arrived in this place. However, I would like your comments, Madam Speaker, on the time-honoured tradition that oral questions should be memorised, not read.

Madam Speaker: The hon. Gentleman is correct: oral questions should not be read, but should be memorised and worked out over lunch; they should be two or three lines long and to the point, and they should be delivered briskly. Hon. Members should not come to the House not knowing what they are going to ask in their supplementary question, which should certainly not be read. Of course, from time to time one has to look at the odd word.

I am afraid that even hon. Members of long standing forget our traditions, and the hon. Gentleman's point of order gives me the opportunity to jog the memory of

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long-standing Members and let new Members know that they must do their homework over lunch, and come to the Chamber fully prepared.

Now, Mr. Cash--point of order.

Mr. William Cash (Stone): My point of order relates to the referendums Bill, and it may be more convenient if I raise it when the Bill is introduced.

Madam Speaker: Very well. It would in fact be better for the hon. Gentleman to do that.

BILLS PRESENTED

Local Government Finance (Supplementary Credit Approvals)

Mr. Secretary Prescott, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Secretary Davies, Ms Hilary Armstrong, Mr. Nick Raynsford and Mr. Win Griffiths, presented a Bill to permit account to be taken of the reserved part of capital receipts in determining the amount of a supplementary credit approval to be issued to a local authority; and to substitute a power for the existing duty to specify an amortisation period when issuing a supplementary credit approval to a local authority in respect of expenditure treated by the authority as expenditure for capital purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon 2 June, and to be printed [Bill 2].

Education (Schools)

Mr. Secretary Blunkett, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr. Secretary Prescott, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Secretary Dewar, Mr. Secretary Davies, Mr. Stephen Byers and Ms Estelle Morris, presented a Bill to make provision for and in connection with the ending of the assisted places schemes in England and Wales and in Scotland: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon 2 June, and to be printed [Bill 4].

Firearms (Amendment)

Mr. Secretary Straw, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr. Secretary Prescott, Mr. Secretary Dewar, Mr. Secretary Robertson, Mr. Secretary Davies and Mr. Alun Michael, presented a Bill to extend the class of prohibited weapons under the Firearms Act 1968 to include small-calibre pistols: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon 2 June, and to be printed [Bill 3].

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Orders of the Day

Referendums (Scotland and Wales) Bill

Order read for resuming adjourned debate on amendment to the Question [21 May], That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Which amendment was: To leave out from 'That' to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof--


Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.

Mr. William Cash (Stone): On a point of order, Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker: I shall take the hon. Gentleman's point of order as I think I have the answer that he wants.

Mr. Cash: In my exchanges with the Secretary of State for Scotland yesterday, I raised what I termed the United Kingdom question. I then found it necessary to table an instruction last night, the effect of which would be to ensure that, if the House deemed it necessary, amendments would be tabled to the Bill to extend the franchise to the electorate of the United Kingdom as a whole. Following discussions this morning, I have been given to understand that you, Madam Speaker, may be prepared to give a ruling on the matter so that we can be sure that we shall be able to table amendments to extend the franchise to the electorate of the United Kingdom as a whole. May I ask for your ruling on the matter?

Madam Speaker: I have carefully considered the instruction tabled by the hon. Gentleman and decided not to select it for the simple reason that, in this case, it is unnecessary. The hon. Gentleman and any other hon. Members may table such amendments as he has in mind.

4.12 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Peter Hain): My contribution to the Welsh part of the Bill will be brief and will serve as an hors d'oeuvre to the main course provided by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. It is a privilege and an honour to be a Minister in the Welsh Office during one of the most exciting and reforming periods in the history of Welsh politics. For the first time in 18 long and miserable years, is it not wonderful to have a Secretary of State who can speak with authority for Wales because he represents a constituency in Wales? He is not a Welsh leader who treats his important office as a platform for his crackpot ideology or one for whom the office is a youth training scheme. The Secretary of State is a man of the people and will govern for the people of Wales.

The referendum is an important step towards creating a new democratic settlement that will take Wales into the next century with confidence and dynamism. The referendum is a passport to a new participatory Welsh

22 May 1997 : Column 853

democracy in which decisions will be brought closer to the people. Under our new Welsh Assembly, power will shift down from Westminster to Wales. There will be a new partnership with local government, which will be liberated from the suffocating centralised control of the Tory years. It will unite all parts of Wales--north and south, east and west, valleys and towns, rural and urban areas.

Details of the referendum will be in the White Paper; every voter will be well aware of the Government's plans. The referendum will be held on the principle of an Assembly, and that has been well publicised and well argued. It was set out clearly in our election manifesto and in documents issued by the Welsh Labour party over the past two years, so it has been widely debated in Wales.

We have one of the biggest mandates for this policy ever enjoyed by an incoming Government. May I remind Conservative Members that the people of England also gave an overwhelming mandate for this policy? The Tories polled just 34 per cent. of the vote in England, compared with a combined pro-devolution Labour and Liberal vote of 62 per cent., despite the Tories trying to frighten the pants off everyone during the election campaign by having as one of their main planks spurious claims that devolution would lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom. Our mandate included an absolute promise to consult the people before proceeding with legislation to introduce an Assembly. We are now keeping our promise with this Bill.

A new assembly will mean employment policies tailored to the needs of Wales; health programmes geared to the needs of Wales; housing policies that reflect Welsh wishes; and education policies determined by Welsh priorities and not by those of an alien dogma, which turned our classrooms into laboratories for right-wing extremists. In the referendum vote in September, we shall invite the people to say yes to Wales--yes to an Assembly, yes to having a bigger say in decisions affecting their own lives. It will be an historic test of whether Wales is ready for the new millennium. Those who vote no will be locked in the past, saying that they have no confidence in our capacity as a nation to make decisions about our own future. Those who vote yes will be saying that we can build a better Wales--we can utilise our talent to forge a new future. As a Government, we shall work hard to persuade the people to vote yes and the Labour party will mount a vigorous campaign, led by the Prime Minister, to persuade the people to vote yes.

We say to each and every Labour supporter, this is a loyalty vote in your new Labour Government. Do not side with the Tories in undermining such a crucial part of our programme by voting no or by not bothering to vote at all. The new Assembly will include the views of supporters of other parties. We have had enough of government by one-party diktat--we want a Government for all the people. We say that the views of Liberals, nationalists and even Conservatives--if any are ever again elected in Wales--views will be respected in the new democratic era.

I say bluntly to those Conservatives who appear not to have noticed that they were wiped out in Wales: "You lost--in fact, you got hammered." The victory on 1 May of my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd, West (Mr. Thomas) did a great favour, not only for the Labour party, but for humanity. Rod Richards was the only Conservative who could make even the right hon.

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Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) seem popular in Wales. It is important to ask why the Conservatives are so frightened of giving the people a say. Is it because many Tories will also vote yes? I remind the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) that only one Welsh Conservative--Viscount St. Davids--has so far spoken on devolution in this Parliament, and he supported a Welsh Assembly. Is that to be a pattern for the Conservative party in Wales, or part of the constantly shifting fudge of Welsh Tory politics in the new era?

There is now a great tide flowing through Wales in favour of grasping this opportunity for devolution. We shall not be left behind when the Scots get devolution or when even Londoners get an elected authority. We shall not throw away this opportunity to replace the Tory quango state with democratic government. Nearly 700,000 people who were not old enough to be on the electoral register in 1979 will have the chance to vote for the first time for a Welsh Assembly. Through bands such as Catatonia and the Manic Street Preachers, Welsh youth is leading the way, not only in the pop world, but for a yes vote as well. Leading Welsh business men and women are uniting with trade unionists, with the churches and with prominent figures from sport and the arts to say yes for Wales. Even those who do not support every detail of Labour's proposed Welsh Assembly have said that they will vote yes for Wales.

People who want a stronger assembly, or a different one, or a different voting system, can still vote yes with integrity--indeed they must, because otherwise there will be no Bill in the House to try to amend. Only if we get a yes vote on the principle will there be an opportunity to test the different arguments on the detail. Only if there is a yes vote will there be the opportunity to review the assembly's operation in future years and to consider whether changes would be desirable in the light of such a review.


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