HC Deb 10 May 1948 vol 450 cc1921-30

Motion made and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn." [Mr. Pearson.]

1.41 a.m.

Colonel Gomme-Duncan (Perth and Kinross, Perth)

The hour is very late, and I desire to express my appreciation to the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Lord Advocate for their courtesy in being here. I will not keep the House long, but I feel this is a matter of great importance. Recently I asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer two Questions. The first was whether he would consider reinstituting the pre-war practice of having revenue and expenditure returns for Scotland and England separately; and the second was whether he would issue at an early date a national balance sheet of industry and trade, setting out clearly the drawings and receipts of Scotland and England respectively. To both of these Questions the right hon. and learned Gentleman replied that I and others interested—which means the whole of Scotland—must await a statement to be made by the Secretary of State at an early date. The House will recall that the Secretary of State made that statement, and that it failed to answer either of my Questions.

I therefore questioned the Chancellor of the Exchequer again, and was told that it would be inopportune to do anything about either of my suggested proposals—a type of answer, and an attitude of mind behind it, of which in my short time in this House I am becoming a little tired. I would like to ask, "Inopportune to whom?" For the Government? Very Likely. But for Scotland never was the time more opportune, or the problem more urgent. It looks as if the Government are taking the view that this is entirely a matter of finance. It is far, far more than that.

There is in Scotland today a very wide and strong feeling that we are not getting a square deal. I am not saying that such is the case, but only that there is this feeling. It is extremely difficult to explain to the harassed housewives of Scotland the fact that we could amply clothe ourselves, warm ourselves, and feed ourselves, if we were not exporting large quantities of these necessities of life to England. I shall be told there is a good reason for this, and I am not disputing it for the moment. But the Scottish housewife knows she cannot clothe herself or her family, or replace her household linen, blankets, sheets, curtains and so on; she sees her scanty supplies of fuel getting worse in quantity and higher in price; she sees her rations daily lessening in bulk and getting poorer in quality.

I would ask Ministers: do they realise how nationalist feeling in Scotland is growing on this type of thing? I do not mean to say that everyone is joining the Scottish Nationalist Party, though we must admit that is a live and energetic party. I mean that people of all ages and sections and in all walks of life are asking questions. Why are we going so short and at the same time sending so much out? Why are we sending so much high quality beef to England and getting in return frozen imported or tinned beef? Why are our ships not unloading cargoes in Scottish ports and why does all that comes to Scotland come either by road or rail? Why cannot we control our own affairs? Do not we pay grinding taxes? Where does the money go? Are we getting value for money and cannot we do better on our own? Those are perhaps strange questions, but those and one hundred similar questions are being asked in Scotland by all sections and they need an answer. Facts and figures should be given to the Scottish people.

The provision of the material for which I asked in my Questions would go very far to provide an answer to Scottish nationalism whether it be moderate or extreme. The facts and figures might justify it or otherwise, but they would provide an answer. I think we are entitled to these figures and I want to know why the Government insist on withholding them. "Not opportune" are the words. Perhaps the Minister will tell us when the period will be opportune.

We are a partnership. The sovereign States of England and Scotland are joined in a great United Kingdom, but is there any other partnership known to any hon. Member in which one partner does not know exactly what the other puts in or takes out? Can it be a partnership if there is no mutual trust and frankness between the partners? I ask the Minister to answer one question frankly and without equivocation. Why cannot we return to the practice, which was easy enough up to 1935, of putting the revenue and expenditure returns separately for Scotland and England? The machinery must be there. Why cannot it be done?

With regard to my second question, that of a national balance sheet for trading and industry between England and Scotland, this is a bigger matter. There would be a good deal of work in connection with it. The Treasury and the Board of Trade are the two Departments concerned. The Treasury have three times the staff of 1939 and the Board of Trade have ten times the staff. Therefore, it should be possible for their increased staff to do that extra work when matters of such high importance to both countries, particularly Scotland, are in question. Such work and effort would be fully justified and should be made.

Until these questions are answered satisfactorily and the figures are produced, bad feeling, suspicion and possibly something worse will continue to grow and that, I think everyone will agree, would be highly undesirable. The Union of 1707 provided for a coming together of two sovereign States on a partnership basis. I believe firmly in that Union, although I think the Act of Union was a rotten Act. In the Government's hands lie the means to put these increasingly urgent matters right. Whatever their political opinions, the people of Scotland are united on one thing today—their demand for these facts and figures to be laid before them. It is the duty of the Secretary of State for Scotland to represent this to the Cabinet if he has not already done so. I hope and believe he has. It is the duty of the Government to provide such figures now.

In conclusion, may I ask that we might not be fobbed off this time, as is so often the case, with talk of "Scottish sentiment"? When the Minister comes to reply, I ask that he should not, as so many others from that Bench, talk of meeting Scottish sentiment." It is not a matter of Scottish sentiment at all. It is a matter of Scottish right. I hope sincerely that the House will not think that I and those associated with me are anti-English when we ask for these facts and figures because we believe that it will be in the interest of both countries to know where we stand. There is nothing anti-English. We are just asking for our partnership rights. The Minister, supported by two pillars of Scotland, one on the right and the other on the left, will, I hope, at least give us the assurance that the point I have raised will be thoroughly gone into and discussed by the Government.

1.52 a.m.

Mr. Rankin (Tradeston)

I think that the House is indebted to the hon. and gallant Member for Perth (Colonel Gomme-Duncan) for raising this subject tonight. He has presented his case in a reasoned and reasonable way. I feel that I should like to say a word or two because I have raised this subject in the House. On 11th November of last year I put to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland a question dealing with the Economic Survey for 1948 and suggested to him that he might consider if it were possible to show an import and export balance sheet for Scotland. He pointed out that that was difficult because Scotland and England were just like the Siamese twins. That was in a supplementary to my main Question. I do recognise that, in the give and take of Question and supplementary, we sometimes make statements that we would often like to qualify, and I think my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State did qualify that a little later on. I shall not seek to make too much of the point.

But there are three things which I would like to say. First, I would like to say to the hon. and gallant Gentleman who raised the matter that some of his points have already been answered. For example, with regard to one of our Scottish exports—coal—the statement has been made repeatedly in certain organs in Scotland that three million tons of coal were sent from Scotland to England. The year 1946 was the year specifically given. That statement was answered in reply to a Question by me in the House. It was shown to be false. The Minister of Fuel and Power gave the figure for 1946 as 600,000 tons—not three million tons; and in return from England we had 300,000 tons, so that the three million tons fell to 300,000. That is the type of statement that is pretty widely made and continues to be made in Scotland in spite of the fact that it has been shown to be wrong.

However, I want to put two points to the Minister. I shall be able to understand my right hon. Friend if he says that it is not expedient to make this change. Time and again the Front Bench on this side has been criticised for having too many people in the Civil Service and they have been told that the numbers should be reduced. If, therefore, it was necessary to increase the Civil Service in order to give us this information, then I would understand him if he said that in the meantime it was not expedient: but I shall not understand him if he says it is something that should not be done when the time is opportune.

Scotland is a nation, conscious of her nationhood, and as a nation she is entitled to know how her money is spent and what happens to her products. To have knowledge of these things is the right of any people who claim to be a nation. I think we are indebted to the hon. and gallant Member for Perth for raising this subject tonight.

1.57 a.m.

Mr. Maclay (Montrose Burghs)

There are one or two things I am rather surprised to find myself saying this evening, but I think they must be said, because I am in the position, as a Scottish Member, of having consistently taken a public line on this question of Scottish Home Rule which has been quite outspoken. I have said that it is a disaster and should not be contemplated in the near future. I have argued the case with people who believe in Scottish Home Rule and I have found that the facts on which to argue this thing sensibly are missing. I say this for the benefit of those Members who are with us tonight from South of the Border and who do not realise just how intense the feeling is on this subject North of the Border. I do my best to have purely political meetings in certain parts of my constituency. It is quite difficult for me to get a meeting of 100 to 120, and my Socialist opponents have considerable difficulty in getting a meeting of 20 to 25 people. But if we have a meeting at which we discuss the question of Scottish devolution, then the hall is packed out and there is intense interest in the question.

It is, therefore, extremely important that we should put the facts over to the people of Scotland so that they can judge this issue sensibly on a balanced view, because there have been the most fantastic statements, such as those about coal and the movement of steel. I myself have been in the most embarrassing position of hearing some astounding statements, particularly about steel movements from Scotland to England. I could not believe those statements and found subsequently that they were not true. It is imperative, therefore, that one should be able to produce these facts. I think the information that my hon. and gallant Friend has been asking for is extremely important, because we have to put this thing in balance. I believe most explicitly that Scotland makes the major contribution to the conduct of the affairs of Britain and she would hate to see that in any way decried.

My personal view—and I am taking a certain risk politically in saying this—is that it would be a tragedy if we in any way reduced the status of Scotland in relation to British affairs by trying to, assert our independence, because I believe we have the greatest possible contribution to make to national affairs. I think it would be a great disaster unless we found something within the devolution movement which it was extremely important to study in the complexity of modern government. That is the point of view from which I like to consider devolution, but I think that purely Scottish nationalism is a mistake. Unless, however, we can have the facts, we are put in an impossible position. We should have all the information it is possible to give in existing circumstances.

2.0 a.m.

The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Douglas Jay)

The hon. and gallant Member for Perth (Colonel Gomme-Duncan) asked for two pieces of information. First, he wants the reinstitution of the old Revenue and Expenditure Returns, showing separately the revenue and expenditure for Scotland on the one hand, and for the rest of Great Britain on the other. Secondly, he inquired about some balance sheet of industry and trade for Scotland. It is true that the Revenue and Expenditure Returns were published rather spasmodically up to 1934–35, but I doubt, having looked at them, whether they prove very much. For instance, the return for 1934–35 showed that whereas Scotland contributed 8.6 per cent. of the total Budget revenue of Great Britain, she accounted for 12.4 per cent. of the items of expenditure that could be identified—locally, that is, above such things as defence, which covered the whole country. I confess that, on the face of it, it may be argued that Scotland did pretty well out of this Budgetary transaction, but if we look further into the figures, it is very doubtful whether they mean a great deal. For instance, the method of apportioning revenue, from beer, tobacco, and now Purchase Tax, between Scotland and the rest of Great Britain is really very arbitrary, and also very laborious to compute.

For that reason, and because a great deal of work would be involved in working out these calculations, we are not convinced it would be worth while publishing that particular document at the present time. As has been said, we must economise these days in the manpower and paper absorbed by the Civil Service. We are very keen at the Treasury not to add to the labours of the Civil Service, and in this case it would mean adding also to the labours of private businesses in filling up forms and making returns.

More interesting and more worth while is the second question, namely, how far we can calculate the contribution of Scotland to the production, trade and employment of the nation as a whole. I do not think we can work out anything comparable to the Economic Survey. For one thing, fortunately, we have not a separate balance of payments problem in the case of Scotland, although we have plenty of balance of payment problems in the world as a whole. I very much doubt whether a separate national income or balance of trade figures could be computed. What I think could be usefully done is to record changes in employment, in production, in new industrial construction, in hydro-electric development, and so on.

Here, I think, there is a very encouraging story to tell. It has already been partially told in the White Paper on Industry and Employment in Scotland, published last summer. To mention one thing, unemployment in Scotland today stands at only 3½ per cent., as compared with an average of 20 per cent. in the years 1934 to 1938. In those years, there was an average of just under 300,000 persons unemployed, and today the figure is 54,000, or only about one-sixth of what it was. Since the whole of Great Britain is now producing about 10 per cent. more than it was before the war, it follows that Scotland's increase must have been greater than that. That improvement, as, of course, I think the hon. and gallant Member will agree, has been very largely due to the building of new factories on a big scale under the Government's distribution of industry policy. Since the Distribution of Industry Act, which I know the hon. Gentleman the Member for Montrose Burghs (Mr. Maclay) will remember—

Mr. Maclay

Really the hon. Member should not claim for his Government responsibility for that particular Act because it was an Act of the Coalition Government.

Mr. Jay

I was not claiming credit for anyone. I was simply stating the facts. That Act was passed under the Coalition Government and carried out under the present Government. Since the passing of that Act, 176 new factories and extensions have been completed in Scotland as a whole and a further 270 are now building. The four chief industrial estates in existence before the war have, of course, been enlarged, and another 12 new ones have been started. I expect the hon. Member has visited both the sites and the estates since they were embarked upon. I would mention Dundee in particular, which I think is perhaps the best example of sound re-planning and re-location of industry in the last three years in the whole of the United Kingdom.

Since the hon. Member for Montrose Burghs mentioned the subject of credit and devolution, I think a great deal of credit can go to the Scottish Industrial Estates Company, which is supported by the Government, and also to the Board of Trade and the Scottish Office, both in Scotland and in London, who have planned the operation, and who introduced a large number of English and Welsh firms from the South into Scotland. I think that it is a good example of reasonable and practical efficiency and devolution, that firms like Smith's Clocks and Hoover's have come to Scotland in the last few years. I could also mention Scotland's contribution to the export trade. There were 170,000 persons working on exports last December, about 8 per cent. more than in the previous year.

We do propose, as was pointed out in the White Paper on Scottish Affairs earlier this year, to publish and present to Parliament an annual review of the main developments and trends in economic affairs in Scotland. This will continue last year's full and fascinating White Paper on Industry and Employment in Scotland, and it will supplement the United Kingdom Economic Survey by presenting in greater detail the main facts about industry and employment in Scotland. which are not otherwise available in convenient form. It will, I think, go a very long way to meet what the hon. Member wants, and it will also make much more widely known the great economic and industrial progress that really has been achieved in Scotland since this Government came to power and certainly during the last three years.

Adjourned accordingly at Nine Minutes past Two o'Clock.