HC Deb 24 July 1952 vol 504 cc767-72
The Prime Minister

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I think I might say with your indulgence, and that of the House, I wish to make another statement.

As the House is aware, we have been considering the scope of a Royal Commission on Scottish Affairs in the light of the report of the Committee presided over by Lord Catto which investigated the economic and financial relations between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. The Report of the Catto Committee has now been published and copies are available in the Vote Office today. We are much indebted to Lord Catto and his colleagues for the comprehensive and thorough analysis they have made of the matters referred to them.

The Government accept the Committee's conclusion that a separate return In accordance with previous practice the periods of appointment have been varied so that all the Governors will not retire together. I will circulate the details in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

The House will, I am sure, wish to join me in thanking Lord Simon of Wythenshawe and his retiring colleagues for their services.

Mr. Ernest Davies

Can the Prime Minister tell us the average age of the Governors he has now appointed, and the age of the Chairman?

The Prime Minister

It had not occurred to me to look at it from that point of view.

Following are the details:

for Scotland of Government revenue and expenditure can be prepared on lines which the Committee recommend and it is hoped to present such a return next year. The Government also agree with the Committee's view that, for reasons fully explained in the Report, it is impracticable to make a return of Scotland's share of the external trade of the United Kingdom or of Scotland's balance of payments.

In these circumstances, the Govern-have recommended to The Queen, and Her Majesty has been graciously pleased to approve, the appointment of a Royal Commission. Its terms of reference are: To review with reference to the financial economic, administrative and other considerations involved, the arrangements for exercising the functions of Her Majesty's Government in relation to Scotland, and to report.

The Earl of Balfour has agreed to act as Chairman of the Commission. I will circulate the names of the other members in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Mr. Woodburn

I should like to associate my right hon. and hon. Friends and myself with the thanks due to Lord Catto for having undertaken this rather difficult task in view of the atmosphere at the time that he was appointed? We cannot, of course, make any comment on the Report until we see it. But it is interesting to note, from what the right hon. Gentleman has said, that he discovered the limitations there must be to this disentanglement of Scottish and English affairs. We on this side of the House wish the Royal Commission every success in attempting to resolve the task which has been laid upon it. We are glad to notice that the terms of reference are at least on a practical basis, and something which can be tackled and will probably give some result.

We hope that as a result of their work, any doubts there may be about the possibility of Scotland exercising her full, characteristic method of contributing to her own welfare and that of the Commonwealth will be removed, and that our relations will move on to a smoother and less controversial plane.

The Prime Minister

I am glad to note the tone and spirit of the right hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Rankin

On a point of order. Is not it rather an unusual course to take, in a statement of this kind, for the Prime Minister to give us the name of the Chairman of the proposed Commission and then to tell us that we shall be able to read the names of the other members of the Commission in the OFFICIAL REPORT? Can we not have those names now?

Mr. Speaker

There is no point of order in that. That course is quite usual.

Mr. C. Davies

While congratulating Scotland on receiving this proper and necessary recognition, might I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he will extend the same privilege to the Principality of Wales and ask the Catto Committee whether they will continue their investigation into the Principality, so that we also may have the privilege of a Royal Commission?

The Prime Minister

It is by no means certain what the verdict will be. Had not my right hon. and learned Friend—if I may call him so—better await the outcome of these investigations and the report of this Royal Commission before he necessarily commits the Principality of Wales to a similar investigation?

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot

Might I thank my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister for the promptitude of the action of the Government in accepting the Report of the Catto Committee and forthwith appointing a Royal Commission? Might I ask, first, when he thinks that it will be possible for the Commission to meet; do I understand that the Commission is now completed and will be able to meet at an early date? Secondly, will he say whether it will be possible for this House to debate the Report of the Catto Committee at an early date, possibly during the present Session?

The Prime Minister

It is in accordance with custom that statements about Royal Commissions should be made by the head of the Government. The Commission have to be directly approved by the Crown. I will not venture to carry on the detail of the discussion. With the permission of the House, I will hand the matters touched upon by my right hon. and gallant Friend over to the Secretary of State for Scotland.

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot

Can I address my questions to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland?

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. James Stuart)

It is hoped that the Commission will meet this Autumn and proceed with its work. As regards the debate, we have accepted the Report of Lord Catto's Committee. That having been done, I do not think that the House would think it necessary to debate it. It is available in the Vote Office for the perusal of hon. Members. The Royal Commission is proceeding with the next step and that, of course, is a question for discussion.

Mr. Wheatley

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether the terms of reference are designed to exclude consideration of legislative devolution? Secondly, is not he aware that both sides of the House were most anxious to debate the Report of the Catto Committee?

Mr. Stuart

As to the debate, I must leave that for the usual channels. Legislative devolution is considered to be a matter for Parliament. The Royal Commission will deal with administrative devolution.

Mr. Wheatley

Does that answer mean that the Royal Commission is being excluded from considering questions of legislative devolution?

Mr. Stuart

The Royal Commission can ask for evidence, or receive evidence from any quarter, but the question of whether there should be Parliamentary or political devolution is, I think, a matter for Parliament itself.

Mr. T. Fraser

Does not the Secretary of State realise that hon. Members would have been more able to appreciate and to approve or pronounce upon in any way the Royal Commission and the terms of reference if they had first had an opportunity of studying the Report which he says is now in the Vote Office? Does not he appreciate that we should have been able to study the Report and perhaps to have had a debate which may have given some guidance to the Government in the setting up of a Royal Commission?

Mr. Stuart

There was not much time. It depends, of course, upon the exact date when the House rises for the Recess; but we are accepting the Report of the Catto Committee, and therefore, I hoped that there would not be great argument about that. The time factor made it very difficult—we considered this matter very carefully—to make, say, a week's interval between the two.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker


Mr. Ross

On a point of order. I thought I heard you call my name, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

I did not call the hon. Member's name. The hour is getting late. It is my duty to press on.

Membership of the Commission is as follows:



Scottish Home Department: