HC Deb 25 May 1950 vol 475 cc2252-60
The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. McNeil)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I would like to make a statement on Scottish affairs.

His Majesty's Government are aware of the widespread desire in Scotland for fuller information about the economic position of the country; and in recent years extensive statistics about Scottish industry and employment have been published in the annual White Papers on these subjects. Efforts to add to these statistics continue; and further information will be available when reports on the results of the census of production and the census of distribution are submitted.

There have also been many requests for the publication of information about the financial and economic relationships between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. Before the war estimates were published of the amount of revenue raised in Scotland, of the extent of Government expenditure on Scottish services and of the contribution made by Scotland to "general" expenditure on such purposes as the Armed Forces, the foreign service, the National Debt and on such overseas commitments as for example, colonial development. These estimates were, however, based to a considerable extent on arbitrary assumptions as to the sources of revenue and the distribution of expenditure; and they were not accepted as giving an agreed picture of Scotland's position. It has not, therefore, been felt that the value of a similar return in present circumstances would justify the diversion of effort from essential work which would be involved in its preparation.

Interest in the subject, however, continues and is extensive in Scotland and it appears to the Government desirable that the first step should be taken of ascertaining impartially whether it is practicable for the information desired to be obtained in a reliable form. The economic and administrative structure of the United Kingdom is plainly very closely integrated; and the precise ascertainment of the relative contributions made by Scotland and other parts of the Kingdom to the public revenue, if possible at all, would involve the collection by Government Departments and by industrial, commercial and other undertakings of statistics not at present available.

Similarly, there is a considerable volume of Government expenditure which cannot directly be attributed to any particular area of the United Kingdom. To estimate the share of this expenditure which is met from Scottish revenue, or to which Scotland can appropriately be exepected to contribute, may not only be difficult, but may involve controversial assumptions. In these circumstances, I propose to appoint a strong and independent Committee to consider and advise on the practicability of making a reliable return of the revenue from, and Government expenditure in Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom and the balances of revenue available for "general" expenditure.

I propose also to ask the Committee to consider and advise on the practicability of making a return of Scotland's share in the imports and exports, visible and invisible, of the United Kingdom; and of Scotland's economic balance sheet. These are matters in which considerable interest is being taken in Scotland, but upon which precise information is not at present available.

I would add that in view of the interest which is at present being taken in the arrangements for the administration of Government business in Scotland, and of the lack of understanding of the extent so which the work of Government Departments is, in fact, carried on in Scotland, it is proposed to publish within the next few weeks, a booklet dealing comprehensively with these matters. I propose to circulate the Committee's terms of reference in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Mr. Churchill

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in the statement he has just made, he has made a considerable, albeit only a partial, advance towards the policy which we on this side of the House declared at the General Election? On 29th November we stated, in the "Unionist Policy for the Effective Control in Scotland of Scottish Affairs": We intend that a Royal Commission be appointed to review the whole situation as between Scotland and England in the light of modern development and to make recommendations.

Mr. Hector Hughes

On what date?

Mr. Churchill

That was 29th November; that date is quite easy to take in. Will not the right hon. Gentleman consider whether, while he is deferring to our wishes to a certain extent, he will not go the whole way and, instead of appointing what he calls a strong and independent Committee, appoint a Royal Commission, which is what we have demanded? Perhaps he has received some legal advice. At any rate, will he say whether he will appoint a Royal Commission and then we should be able, on this side of the House, to congratulate ourselves on having at any rate secured this measure of consideration for a vital Scottish matter?

Mr. McNeil

I am, of course, grateful for the qualified support of the right hon. Gentleman, but I should think even his capacity for claiming political credit for all kinds of things is being strained a little when he suggests that his party alone has shown consideration for Scottish affairs. In fact, when the right hon. Gentleman was a member of a Government this did not seem to weigh very greatly with him. As to a Royal Commission, I am grateful for his advice, but I have a sort of suspicion at the back of my mind that I recollect the right hon. Gentleman offering a Royal Commission as a method of delaying decision.

Mr. Churchill

No, Sir, the right hon. Gentleman has no right to suggest that this is a method of delaying. He and his party have been forced into action by our pressure.

Mr. McNeil

I repeat, I am grateful—and I would be very silly if I were not grateful—for political advice from the right hon. Gentleman opposite, but he has been very measured and, may I say without presumption, properly measured, in his attitude towards Scottish affairs. I do not think there is any reason to be ungrateful for this precise and definite step which this Government have taken and which other Governments did not take.

Mr. Clement Davies

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman to confer with the Leader of the House and ask whether this privilege which has been given to Scotland can be extended to Wales? Why should Scotland get all the privileges and my people be left out?

Mr. McNeil

I could not agree that this is a privilege, but discussion of any other part of the subject should perhaps be continued by the right hon. and learned Gentleman with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House.

Mr. Churchill

The right hon. Gentleman did not tell us the terms of reference. Can he give us the terms of reference, and are we to take it that he has definitely decided to refuse a Royal Commission?

Mr. McNeil

The terms of reference I have here, but they are fairly lengthy. They are more precise upon the two subjects to which I have already drawn general attention. I propose to circulate the terms of reference. As to the Royal Commission, I should prefer to confine myself to the statement I have made.

Mr. McAllister

May I, on behalf of my Labour colleagues—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Well, I cannot speak for my Tory colleagues and I am glad of that. On behalf of my Labour colleagues may I thank the Secretary of State for Scotland for getting down to the problem so quickly—he has been Secretary of State for only a few months—considerately and thoughtfully, and for quickly considering the recommendations made by colleagues on this side of the House and for giving an answer which, on the whole, is highly satisfactory? While the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition is very anxious——

Mr. Speaker

I do not like to interrupt speeches, but we are taking a long time before getting on to the business of the day

Mr. McAllister

I hesitate to make a speech and I know you, Sir, would rule me out of order if I did so, but the Leader of the Opposition did claim that this concession had been made as a result of pressure by his party and as a result of the decision of his party in November last year to press for such an inquiry. I would merely like to say that the Scottish Conference of the Labour Party made a decision two years earlier on exactly the same point, and that they have had continual consultations with the Government with a view to achieving this result. Is my right hon. Friend aware that when the right hon. Gentleman opposite was in Edinburgh last week he did not even spare ten words for the subject?

Mr. Churchill

What I said carried forward all I had said on the subject previously.

Mr. Henderson Stewart

With regard to this novel expedient of an inquiry into the possibility of an inquiry, will the right hon. Gentleman define three points? First, what will be the membership of the Committee or the general character of the membership of the Committee? Second, will their conclusions be made public? Third, how long does the right hon. Gentleman expect it will take to complete this inquiry?

Mr. McNeil

I cannot agree that it is an inquiry into the possibility of an inquiry. It is an inquiry to determine what should be the form of publication if that should be thought desirable. I should propose that the membership ought to comprise people of reputation who have a facility for finding their way about in Governmental accounts and in economic matters. As to publication, since I do not know what form the report will take, I should not like, at this stage, to say that it will be published, but I would undertake immediately, on behalf of the Government, that the findings and conclusions of the Committee will be made public.

Mrs. Eirene White

As this Committee will have to do a great deal of complex work in regard to the income and expenditure of the United Kingdom, would my right hon. Friend agree that it should, at the same time, consider the position of Wales, as that also accounts for part of the United Kingdom expenditure?

Mr. McNeil

As the Leader of the House said earlier this afternoon, my hands are quite full.

Mr. W. G. Bennett

In view of the almost unanimous demand by the electorate in Scotland for the widest possible inquiry into the position, why will not the Secretary of State go the whole hog and give the fullest possible examples of the position as between the two countries?

Mr. McNeil

I have not the faintest idea of what the hon. Member is asking. This Committee will, in terms of finance and economic affairs, have the widest remit. Let us see that, before we jump to any conclusion.

Mr. Churchill

Is this to be merely a committee of officials, or what is its composition to be? Why will the right hon. Gentleman persist in refusing the plain demand which is made, and was made six months ago, before the election, for the setting up of a Royal Commission?

Mr. McNeil

If this Government were to submit to every one of the irresponsible demands made by the Opposition during the last election the country would be in chaos. As to the precise point, I am sorry if I created any suspicions. It is not proposed, and, of course, it would be quite improper, that the Committee should be comprised of officials. I said that it was to comprise people of reputation who had a facility for finding their way about in that type of subject. It would obviously be undesirable to appoint artists to the Committee, for example.

Mr. Churchill

I should like, if I might, to assure the right hon. Gentleman that part of my anxiety in this matter is due to my desire that the reputation which he acquired in a subordinate position at the Foreign Office shall not be squandered now that he is the head of a Department.

Mr. McNeil

I am very grateful.

Mr. Rankin

To ensure that the Committee shall have the qualities which my right hon. Friend desires, and that it will be strong and independent, will my right hon. Friend assure us that it will not contain a minority of Scotsmen?

Mr. McNeil

Yes, I can very gladly give that undertaking to my hon. Friend. I might also take this opportunity of saying that I am indebted to my hon. Friend and his colleagues for the constructive and helpful memorandum which they offered to me.

Mr. Brendan Bracken

May I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on completely reversing the statements made by his predecessor, who said it was quite impossible to separate Scottish and English finance? As the right hon. Gentleman has also referred to what he calls election promises, may I remind him that in 1945 his own party, in their "speakers' notes" circulated to Scottish Members, promised Home Rule for Scotland.

Mr. McNeil

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman is being unwittingly ungenerous and inaccurate in respect of my right hon. Friend, who did not say that it was impossible. He said that they were very closely integrated, and that to do what was suggested would mean a diversification of essential and skilled labour and time which the country could not afford. As to the right hon. Gentleman's second point, if he had taken some other good advice from our "speakers' notes" in 1945 he would not be in the miserable mess in which he is now.

Mr. Malcolm MacMillan

While willing to accord to the Leader of the Opposition some credit for his wisdom in adopting, for the purposes of the Tory Conference, a resolution passed some years before, by the Scottish Labour Party I am confining myself to this question. May I ask my right hon. Friend whether he intends to publish this report and whether there is any sort of time limit in which it is expected the deliberations will be completed?

Mr. McNeil

I am sorry, but since I do not know what range this Committee will travel, I cannot give an indication of how soon they will report. As to my hon. Friend's other point, I have indicated that I cheerfully undertake that the Government will publish at least the conclusions of the Committee.

Major Guy Lloyd

While the whole House will appreciate the motives of the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues in making this statement, may I ask if he would tell the House why it was that his predecessor and all his colleagues, including the right hon. Gentleman himself, repeatedly refused, throughout the General Election, to consider anything of the kind?

Mr. McNeil

The hon. and gallant Member should at least do me the honour of listening to replies from me when they are evoked by one of his right hon. leaders.

Mr. Ivor Owen Thomas

Would it be correct to conclude from my right hon. Friend's statement that the proposals for the breaking up of the unified administration of the United Kingdom is a necessary and essential part of the furtherance of a united Europe?

Mr. McNeil

I do not think that my hon. Friend's first assumption is warranted, and his second, therefore, does not arise.

Mr. Iain MacLeod

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is still three of four matters of Unionist policy which have not yet been accepted by the benches opposite? Will he therefore accept on behalf of the Government—of course, at a cut rate—any surplus copies of our last election publication on Unionist policy for Scotland?

Mr. Grimond

When will the Secretary of State be able to announce the membership of this Committee? When does he hope they will start work?

Mr. McNeil

I should hope to be able to announce the composition of the Committee during the Whitsun Recess. I should hope to get them off the mark as quickly as possible.

Mr. John MacLeod

Would the right hon. Gentleman see that Scottish representation on this Committee is not overbalanced by the industrial area of Scotland, and that the territorial representation shall be the widest possible?

Mr. Hector Hughes

While congratulating the Secretary of State upon his determination to resist the attempts by the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) to slow down consideration of this matter by referring it to a Royal Commission rather than to a strong and independent Committee, will he tell us when we shall learn the personnel, the terms of reference of the Committee and when it will commence work?

Following are the terms of reference:

To be a Committee to consider the practicability of making a return of

  1. (i) the revenue from and Government expenditure in—
    1. (a) Scotland; and
    2. (b) the rest of the United King dom,
    and the balances of revenue available 5 for general expenditure from Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom r respectively;
  2. (ii) Scotland's share in the imports and exports, visible and invisible of the United Kingdom;
  3. (iii) Scotland's imports from, exports to and balance of payments with other countries, including the rest of the United Kingdom;
with particular reference to—
  1. (a) the information which can be obtained from existing records;
  2. (b) the further information which would be required;
  3. (c) the extent to which this information could be provided by the Government and by industrial, commercial and other interests and the amount of work involved in its provision;
  4. (d) the nature of any assumptions which would have to be made and the extent to which those assumptions would affect the accuracy of the return; and
  5. (e) the resultant value and reliability of any statistics so obtained.