HC Deb 30 November 1966 vol 737 cc456-9

3.32 p.m.

Mr. Russell Johnston (Inverness)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide a scheme for the self-government of Scotland; and for purposes connected therewith. It is good to see that precedents of the wearing of the kilt can be so readily set in this House.

There are, in the House of Commons, two great grounds of disagreement which separate party from party and even individual from individual. We disagree on principle, we disagree about what it is right to do and about the kind of leadership or inspiration or direction most calculated to draw the best out of people. We also disagree on practicability—whether, even if something seems on the face of it eminently desirable, it will work.

I contend that the creation of a Scottish Parliament for Scottish affairs can be wholly justified on both those grounds and it is for this reason that I, with the support of my Liberal colleagues, seek today to introduce a Bill which would provide for such a Parliament. It is almost instinctive in man to wish to have the greatest possible control over his own life, and to be able to share directly in the regulation of the life of the community in which he lives.

This is St. Andrew's Day, a day which will be celebrated by Scotsmen and Scotswomen not only in Scotland itself, but all over the world. We Liberals believe that nationhood, patriotism, call it what we will, while it may be an intangible, difficult to grasp and define, is a very real and a very potent force which ought to be recognised and harnessed for good. That Scotland is a separate nation whose distinctive outlook is reflected in its own system of law, of education, in the unique prominence it gives to its national church, and in the kind of people it produces, is incontestible.

Equally, it cannot be disputed that, according to all the commonly accepted yardsticks, Scotland fares worse than the remainder of the United Kingdom. Her unemployment for most of this century has been consistently double that of Britain as a whole and the average income of her citizens remains about £50 per head per year below the United Kingdom average. Her housing is notably worse. That the total net emigration from Scotland since the war has been over 600,000, equivalent to more than 12 per cent. of her present population, emphasises the grave extent of frustration and dissatisfaction.

The great question is how far these unfortunate facts can be attributed to the way in which Scotland is governed. There are many—no doubt many Members in the House—who would say that the two things are not linked and that if the situation in Scotland in these respects compares unfavourably with that in the rest of the United Kingdom this is inevitable and unavoidable and part of the penalty of being on the periphery of that great concentration of peoples which is Europe. Some would even say that she would fare worse if she were to regulate her own affairs and stand on her own financial feet. That is not my view, nor that of my Liberal colleagues, nor do I believe it to be the view of the great majority of the people of Scotland.

In the 1950s the Covenant Association obtained over 2 million signatures, half the Scottish electorate, favouring the form of self-government which this form proposes. This year, the report of the Church and Nation Committee of the Church of Scotland stated: The General Assembly have urged that Scotsmen should be ready to take responsibility for their country's future They can scarcely do so without some effective form of national self-government. It is significant that all the changes made in Scotland's government this century have pointed in this direction. The device of the Scottish Grand Committee, the appointment of more Scottish Ministers, the growth of the separate administrative structure based on St. Andrew's House, are all measures designed to tackle what were from the point of view of Westminster the problems of an entrenched legal system and the difficulties of providing sufficient time to give Scottish problems the separate attention they required, ad hoc changes, mostly under pressure, which have not supplied the answer.

English, Welsh and Irish M.P.s still tend to resent such little time as is exclusively given to Scottish affairs on the Floor of the House, while Scottish M.P.s resent the fact that there is not more, and that, for example, the occasions when they can question the Secretary of State for Scotland—whom I am happy to see present—are so limited.

The Bill I seek to introduce would tackle this much more fundamentally. It would set up a Scottish Parliament for Scottish affairs within the United Kingdom. This Parliament would have full power to legislate over all the internal affairs of Scotland—to legislate for her agriculture, her education, her industry, her trade, her transport, and so on. It would have control over Scottish taxation, for we regard it as being vital that Scotland should be able, if necessary, to shield herself from deflationary policies which are irrelevant to her needs.

Matters of defence, Commonwealth and foreign affairs would, however, remain the province of the Parliament at Westminster, to which Scotland would continue to send Members, whose exclusive concern would be such matters. A joint Exchequer board would be established to co-ordinate external financial policies, particularly Customs—which would remain the responsibility of Westminster—and to determine a proper Scottish contribution towards the federal costs, like defence and the Commonwealth.

What we are, in effect, proposing is a federal structure comparable in functional respects to that existing in Northern Ireland, but with a greater degree of devolution of power. [Interruption.] We are not seeking separation from the United Kingdom, but sensible and effective devolution within it. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. It is usual to listen to an hon. Member when he is expressing his opinion under the Ten Minute Rule.

Mr. Russell Johnston

As I was saying, Sir, we are not seeking separation from the United Kingdom, but sensible and effective devolution within it.

Nor is there any contradiction or conflict between wishing to see this and wishing to see the United Kingdom join the European Economic Community. Indeed, I would aver that the larger the grouping the greater the need for devolution within it. Geography certainly conditions man's achievements, but it is far from being the vital determinant. Countries and communities can blossom or wither for reasons which are much more emotional than physical.

The Faroes and Iceland are far more remote than, say, Shetland or the Hebrides, and yet are able to maintain a vigorous existence. This cannot be unconnected with the spirit that their independence has fostered. Similarly, Norway, a tiny country of 3 million people, with proportionately far greater problems of sparse population than Scotland, maintains an extremely high standard of living. There are many other examples.

These, I would assert, are matters which the House should hear and should debate. Hugh MacDiarmid wrote of the small white rose of Scotland that smells sharp and sweet and breaks the heart. Let us, on this St. Andrew's Day, sow the seed of a happier future.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Russell Johnston, Mr. Grimond, Mr. Lubbock, Mr. Hooson, Mr. James Davidson, Mr. Alasdair Mackenzie, and Mr. David Steel.