HC Deb 04 November 1968 vol 772 cc491-557

[Fourth Day]

Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [30th October]:

That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty as follows: Most Gracious Sovereign, We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament.

Question again proposed.

Mr. Speaker

May I announce to the House that I have selected the two Amendments in the names of the Leader of the Opposition and his right hon. Friends, one to be taken today and the other tomorrow.

I understand, however—and I think that the whole House will be aware—that today's Amendment relating to the Post Office will not be moved until 7 o'clock, so that up to that time we can continue the broad general debate.

May I add that many hon. Members wish to raise many different topics, some of which have not yet been ventilated in the debate on the Address. I hope that those whom I call will be reasonably brief.

3.48 p.m.

Mr. Jeremy Thorpe (Devon, North)

I wish to refer to one aspect of the Gracious Speech which, in my opinion, is far more far-reaching in its significance for the people of this country and their institutions than any other proposal announced. I refer to the proposed consultations on the appointment of a Commission on the Constitution.

Since I appear to be opening this debate, perhaps I might briefly refresh the memory of the House on the proposed terms of reference of the Commission as indicated by the Prime Minister last week. The right hon. Gentleman said that this was a matter for discussion, but that the Government felt that the terms of reference might…be: to examine the present functions of the central legislature and government in relation to the several countries, nations and regions of the United Kingdom; to consider, having regard to developments in local government organisation and in the administration and other relationships between the various parts of the United Kingdom, what changes, in the interests of prosperity and good government, are desirable in those functions or otherwise in present constitutional and economic relationships; to consider, also, whether any changes are desirable in the constitutional and economic relationships between the United Kingdom and the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th October 1968; Vol. 772, c. 35–6.] I am relieved that we are able to debate this subject this afternoon. I am staggered that the official Opposition have not selected this subject as one of the major topics for debate and that not even one Tory back bencher has tabled an Amendment concerning this. Faced with the frustration which, in certain cases, has turned to bitterness, and, even more, to demands for total separation from the rest of the United Kingdom, a mature electorate believe that they are increasingly denied the right to participate in their own affairs. I therefore find the reaction and the priorities of the Opposition amazing.

It is only fair to say, however, that the Tory Opposition have never been in in the vanguard of progress in the matter of constitutional reform, whether in the case of Ireland or whether it was in curbing the power of the House of Lords. Perhaps the only constitutional change for which the Tories show any enthusiasm at the moment is for granting independence to a small racial minority in Rhodesia. It is perhaps for that reason that the Prime Minister can expect loyal support for his efforts to achieve just that.

Faced with demands from the people to be allowed to share in the power of the country, I would only say, and then I leave the Opposition, that just as Marie Antoinette said to the starving crowds that they could eat cake, so the Tory Party says to a frustrated electorate, "Let them have a debate on the Post Office".

Why is it that the electorate today feel frustrated? Where is their frustration centred? Can it be cured? How should the Commission proceed? I believe that there is a feeling of frustration in the operation of Parliament itself. People increasingly believe that the House has inadequate power to check either the policy or the expenditure of successive Executives. If, for example, we had had an effective Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, the events of 1956 would have been thrashed out, the dilatoriness of our attitude towards Europe would have been debated, the attitude of the Government, right or wrong, on Vietnam would have come under much greater pressure, and the same is true of our supply of arms to Nigeria.

If there had been a Select Committee on Defence, with real power, I doubt whether we would have wasted £1,000 million on defence contracts which have been totally cancelled. I doubt whether any Government would have got away, for example, with maintaining the independent nuclear power position of Britain without adequate parliamentary debate of that position. I very much doubt whether any Government could have survived for so long before being converted to a withdrawal east of Suez. Indeed, I very much doubt whether, had there been a proper system of control over the Executive, the Postmaster-General would have dared to slip through his new postal charges without facing a debate first.

Therefore, I hope that, whatever the Commission does, one effect will be to make Parliament an effective body which can be the inquest of the nation. I suggest that this can be done only by devolving power from Parliament to the nations and regions of the United Kingdom.

The second sphere where I suggest that there is frustration is in the nations of these islands themselves. Scotland and Wales are proud nations. They have been, in their view—I think rightly—predominantly dominated by English Parliaments and certainly denied the right to run their own affairs. I profoundly disagree with the cure of separation which has been advocated in some quarters in Scotland and Wales, because I believe that all of us in these islands have much to benefit from maintaining the unity of these islands.

However, as one who is proud to be at least three-quarters Celt, I sympathise, even in the case of those who take that extreme position, with the sense of national pride which has turned their feeling into that of anger and hostility. For example, Scotland has built up a Civil Service which largely operates from Edinburgh. Surely it is only logical that it should be under Scottish Parliamentary control. She has her own legal system. She has been a proud kingdom. Wales has her own language.

I hope that the second thing which the Commission will achieve is to accord Parliaments to Wales and Scotland and see that they are able to run their own affairs. Indeed, I would like to see not only equality of opportunity but these two nations able to achieve full nationhood.

A third place where I think there is frustration is in Northern Ireland. I do not believe that even the most enthusiastic apologist for the Stormont régime would deny that there are tensions in Northern Ireland and that they are very largely based on the division between men and women of different religions. The Prime Minister of Ulster has, certainly in speeches, gone some way to try to control the wild men in his own Administration, but are that Government likely to increase confidence in the genuineness of their intentions to lower the tensions between different religions when they refuse to bring in and apply the Race Relations Act to Northern Ireland which we have here, when they refuse to extend the activities of the Parliamentary Commissioner whom we have here, and when, on four occasions they have refused my own Liberal colleague in the Stormont Parliament permission to introduce a Bill of Human Rights? It is for them to say whether that increases or decreases the confidence in the genuineness of their intentions.

Indeed, can it be said that it is exactly encouraging religious co-operation that it was not until 1963 that any Minister in Northern Ireland visited a Roman Catholic school, yet one-third of the population is Roman Catholic? Again, people are entitled to belong to societies which may belong to one particular religion to the exclusion of all others. Certainly, that is a right. Are those hon. Members who are Ulster Unionists, who are also members of the Orange Order, particularly happy that one of their Unionist colleagues in the Stormont, Mr. Phelim O'Neill, was expelled from the Orange Order because he happened to attend a civic service in a Catholic church in his own constituency at Ballymoney?

Again, can it be said that there is a real attempt to bring about democracy when the franchise of the local government vote relates only to householders but with plural voting for some people who have business premises, and excludes a very large minority who are not householders, and when, in Londonderry, 30 per cent. of the population have a 60 per cent. majority on the council? It is not as if there is any urgent feeling in the present Government there for reform, because when the 1967 White Paper on Local Government was issued there was specifically no mention of local government franchise.

Mr. John Hynd (Sheffield, Attercliffe)

Will the right hon. Gentleman assist me to follow his argument by explaining how the point which he makes at this stage supports what he said earlier about the desirability of regional Governments for Scotland and Wales?

Mr. Thorpe

As I shall show, I believe in the unity of these islands because I want equal economic opportunity for people wherever they live. That is why I am in favour of the federal system and against dividing up these islands. However, as I shall seek to show, one of the obligations placed upon those who wish to enjoy economic opportunities wherever they may live is that of ensuring that people have the same standards of human rights in every part of the United Kingdom.

One of the jobs of the Commission—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I hesitate to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman but he must either discuss something for which this Government are responsible or he must argue that, in view of the matters which he is putting to the House, the Government ought to change the law

Mr. Thorpe

I bow to your Ruling, Mr. Speaker.

Because of the Government's responsibilities under Section 75 of the Government of Ireland Act, 1920—which, I hope, are being discussed today between Mr. O'Neill and our Prime Minister—all the matters to which I have referred, religious discrimination, a plural franchise, the Special Powers Act, and the discrimination which has clearly been exercised, are subjects which, in my view, should come within the purview of the Commission when it considers the whole case.

Captain L. P. S. Orr (Down, South)

I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, but this is an interesting constitutional question. He has raised questions concerning local government, law and order, discrimination and the like. Does he suggest that under any new federal system for the United Kingdom, such as he advocates, powers in respect of all these matters should be reserved to the central Government and should not be entrusted to locally elected Parliaments?

Mr. Thorpe

I am saying that, if the constitutional Commission is to do its job properly, the whole relationship between this House and all the constituent parts of the United Kingdom, whether the Channel Islands, Scotland, Wales, or Ulster, must be brought within its purview. Further, I say that experience in and with regard to Northern Ireland since 1920 has led me to believe that either an amendment to the 1920 Act is needed, or, alternatively, the Government must reconsider some of the Conventions to which they have adhered since. It is ironic that the 1920 Act was entitled 'An Act to provide for the better Government of Ireland". I should like to see, perhaps, a fresh Act providing for the even better Government of Ireland.

In regard to Wales, Scotland and Ireland, time and again in our history, because we have refused to grant in logic what people have demanded, we have had change wrung from us after violence. It has happened, and it will happen again.

Mr. John P. Mackintosh (Berwick and East Lothian)

I am following the right hon. Gentleman's argument with interest and sympathy. He has raised the vast topics of the reform of Parliament, relations with and between Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the English regions, and several other matters. Is it not an abdication of our duty to put these vast questions to a Commission? Ought we not to deal with them in this House instead of handing them to an appointed body over the composition of which we have no control? Are they not fundamental issues which we should settle here, and do we not shelve them by handing them to a Commission of that kind?

Mr. Thorpe

I have some sympathy with that view. It is a vast subject. The trouble is that this Parliament as at present constituted is so overloaded, so ill equipped and so ill serviced to undertake a job of this magnitude that I should like to see a Royal Commission, if it is to be a Royal Commission, as the Prime Minister suggested, having within it sub-commissions which would go into specific questions and advise us on such matters as economic viability, dual taxation, consolidation in matters of law reform, and so on. Obviously, the final decision must rest with the House. I have always believed that, and I am sure that all right hon. and hon. Members do.

However, I am sure that a Royal Commission could do a useful exploratory job in putting forward various proposals and, on occasion, expressing an opinion on them. If it is to do its job, it must be representative of the peoples who are being consulted. For example, it would not be for us in the House of Commons to enunciate a great prognosis on the future of the Isle of Man or the Channel Islands, but, when the Commission was looking in that direction and taking evidence, there would have to be sitting on it assessors from the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. But that is a matter for discussion, and I am sure that I take the hon. Gentleman with me when I say that this House must have the ultimate decision.

The fourth area in which there is frustration is in England itself. We see all about us a growing number of boards, councils and committees which are subject to no control: for example, the regional economic planning boards which are, in effect, civil servants appointed by Whitehall, the regional economic planning councils, which are appointed by Ministers, and so on. Hospitals and electricity and gas supply were previously under the local authorities and now they are under nationalised boards, and con sumers' advisory councils give a totally inadequate form of public control.

Whether we look to the management of schools, the appointment of magistrates, the handling of planning appeals which have to go direct to Whitehall, or such simple questions as a 30 m.p.h. speed limit for a road leading to a primary school, the centralisation of power today is such that these matters have to go to Whitehall, with the probability of a six months' delay. I want to see an urgent reform so that this sphere of public influence can come under properly elected democratic control.

My conception of the desirable outcome of the Commission is this. First, I should want this Parliament to be purely federal. It should deal merely with defence, foreign affairs, economic and social planning on the widest scale, the nationalised industries, power supplies, Customs and Excise, agriculture and fisheries, and a form of federal taxation. I should hope that the federal Parliament would have members sent from all the nations, perhaps even from the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man as well. The numbers here would be cut by, perhaps, a third or a half. It would have a Cabinet of only about 15 and a Government of 40 to 50, and it would have real control over federal affairs.

At the next stage, I should hope that the outcome of the Commission would be an examination of the possibility of domestic Parliaments for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and, I add, for England as well. This last point was closely debated at the Liberal Party conference this autumn and narrowly defeated. My own view is that the arguments go in favour of having an English Parliament to deal with exclusively English matters. Otherwise, one would have the complaint which we have now, that we in this House cannot interfere in Northern Ireland matters although Ulster Members may debate matters relating to England, as they are entitled and frequently do under the present system.

Obviously, there will have to be powers of local taxation in the domestic Parliaments. The House may recall that in the three Bills which my hon. Friend the Member for Inverness (Mr. Russell Johnston) and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) and I sought to introduce last spring we put forward the idea of joint Exchequer boards to discuss questions of federal and domestic parliamentary taxation. It is a complicated issue, but it has been tackled. It has been done in Australia, in Canada, in America and in West Germany.

In my view, it would be for the domestic Parliaments to decide what should be the pattern of local government. I think that this would out-date the findings of the Maud and Wheatley Reports almost as soon as they were printed. For England, I should like to see 12 provincial assemblies. I should like to abolish the hotch-potch of county councils, county boroughs, non-county boroughs, rural and urban districts and have 12 provincial assemblies which could then revive many of the historical entities of England.

Their membership would be paid and would be elected for three-year periods. They would have charge of matters such as planning, the Green belt, roads with the exception of trunk roads, railways and road passenger transport. The regional planning boards would be turned into regional research units. There would also be regional development corporations which could raise money on the market with a view to development.

Things like hospitals, and the nationalised industries in a provincial context, would, for the first time, come under the control of democratically-elected people. I do not want to go into this in great detail, but I think that below them one would have to have district councils which would act as agents of the provincial assemblies.

If these reforms came into being, the reforms of another place which have been advocated would be of a purely transitory interest, because it should become a place to which representatives from the nations and regions of the United Kingdom could be elected, presumably by a rather more democratic system of election that we have here.

Just as it is the intention to see that no one party is dominant in another place, so I believe that no one country or region should be dominant. This is the way in which one would maintain the constitutional checks and balances. Therefore, I hope that the Commission will be fully representative of the various nations and regions.

We have in this country one of the longest unbroken traditions of parliamentary democracy. We must realise that the system must be refashioned if we are to deal with the increasingly complicated techniques of government and accept increasing interference in our lives, much of which we regard as inevitable, and in certain cases desirable. Therefore, I hope that the Commission will get down to its work very soon, and will not be regarded as a pigeon-hole for the Government to hive off difficulties until after the next election.

I hope that we shall see a transformation of the whole structure of power and government in this country, so that we take this opportunity to revitalise our institutions, involve people in their future—we are talking about a highly mature electorate, which feels increasingly cut out of decision-taking—and restore vigour to our parliamentary system.

For those reasons I am sorry, but not surprised, that the official Opposition do not share the enthusiasm for these reforms, or at any rate for the need for reform. I believe that it is long overdue. As I have said, time and again in this country we have left it too late in our constitutional history, and have had to concede in bitterness what we could have granted in logic. I hope that that will not happen in this case. If the Commission gets down to work and reports back speedily, I believe that we can bring about one of the greatest revolutions in the way in which we run the Government and our institutions. That, more than anything else, can restore a sense of national enthusiasm and purpose to the people of these islands.

4.13 p.m.

Mr. Gerard Fitt (Belfast, West)

I wish to take up at some length the remarks of the right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) about the area in Northern Ireland which I represent. I regret that the Gracious Speech does not contain concrete proposals for a very thorough, searching inquiry into the present situation in Northern Ireland.

I remember very well my maiden speech here just over two years ago, when I levelled many charges at the Unionist Administration in Northern Ireland, and invited hon. Members on both sides of the House to go there and see whether the allegations I was making were true. I predicted then that if remedial action was not taken very quickly by the Government here, who had full authority under Section 75 of the Government of Ireland Act to deal with the tense situation, there would be an outbreak of violence. Since then, unfortunately, I have been proved right.

Many of my hon. Friends have been to Northern Ireland, and each has reported to my right hon. Friends the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister that my charges were correct. The House can no longer afford to avoid its obligations with regard to civil liberties and human freedoms in Northern Ireland. The ultimate responsibility is that of this House, and if it refuses to take action we can only expect further recurrences of the situation in Derry on 5th October, when there was a spontaneous uprising by an oppressed people, demanding that they be given equal citizenship with other parts of the United Kingdom.

All that the people of Derry and Northern Ireland want is that the same rights and privileges enjoyed by the people of Doncaster should be afforded to the people of Derry, that the same rights and privileges enjoyed by the people of Birmingham should be enjoyed by the people of Belfast.

What are the feelings of the Opposition about this? Now is the time to question the deafening silence that has always come from the benches opposite when Northern Ireland has been mentioned. I have been here for two years. When I and many of my hon. Friends, including my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, have mentioned what was happening in Northern Ireland, there has always been silence from the Opposition benches. Only one question has been asked from them within my hearing, and that was last week, when the Leader of the Opposition asked my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister whether he would stand by a promise given in 1948 regarding the Constitution of Northern Ireland.

I ask the Tory Party of the United Kingdom: where does it stand in relation to the demand from Northern Ireland for civil rights and social justice? Is it prepared to forget about its social obligations for the sake of getting 12 Tory seats from Northern Ireland at the next General Election in the hope that they will bring about the downfall of the Labour Government?

All that we have asked for in Northern Ireland is one man, one vote, which every other constituent in the United Kingdom has enjoyed since 1948. We asked that the Race Relations Act should be extended to apply to Northern Ireland, that the Parliamentary Commissioner should also cover Northern Ireland, and that there should be an inquiry into the Government of Ireland Act, 1920, to see if it should be amended. Let us remember that no Act of Parliament is sacrosanct. If it is found necessary after 48 years to amend or even repeal that Act, it is the duty of the present Government to do so.

The situation in Derry will occur again if remedial action is not taken speedily. We have heard from the Minister of Home Affairs in Northern Ireland—the Lardner-Burke of Northern Ireland, as he is so well known, who, I understand, is here this afternoon trying to intimidate my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. I do not think that my right hon. Friend will be open to such intimidation. He has said about the Derry uprising that it was Communist-inspired and anarchist, meant to do away with the Northern Ireland State. The ravings of this demented man knew no bounds on this occasion, when the eyes of the United Kingdom and the world were focussed on their television sets to see the police brutality that was evident on that occasion.

It was not a riot that took place in Derry on 5th October. Many thousands of people were demanding British justice and equal citizenship with other parts of the United Kingdom. The only violence was that used by the police forces in Northern Ireland, under instructions from our Minister of Home Affairs.

Sir Knox Cunningham (Antrim. South)


Mr. Fitt

You will have your opportunity to reply, and I hope that you will be able to do so

Mr. Speaker

Order. We must keep to the forms of Parliamentary debate.

Mr. Fitt

The situation in Northern Ireland has been building up for many years. I am sure that I shall have the support of my hon. Friends when I say that the present situation is in no way aimed at the achievement of an Irish Republic. The question of partition does not enter into the demand for civil rights. As one who lives in Northern Ireland, I have already clearly shown the House where my social allegiance lies. I hope that I shall live to see the day when we have a Socialist Republic in Ireland. That situation can come about only by the will of the Irish people, both north and south of the Border. I believe that the Prime Minister of the Republic last week made a statement which should not have been made in connection with the present circumstances, for the question of partition does not enter into the demand for civil rights.

The intervention by the Prime Minister of the Republic can only help his own party in the Republic and the Unionist. Party in Northern Ireland. I wonder whether there was not a coalition of ideas made between the two parties before the statement was. They are the only groups of persons who can gain.

In local government—this is the grass roots of all the troubles in Northern Ireland—we have a position in the City of Derry—it is represented by the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Chichester-Clark)—where one person has 24 local government votes and 8,000 people are denied a single local government vote. [HON MEMBERS: "Shame."] It should be remembered that this is not a sectarian battle. It is a fight for basic fundamental justice for all people. The people who are denied the local government franchise include young Protestants.

In the City of Belfast there are 64,000 persons who are denied the local government franchise. They cover all religions and none. At present, we have the People's Democracy, a student organisation, which has been formed at Queen's University, and 3,000 of its members marched the streets of Belfast a fortnight ago—and they are marching the streets of Belfast this afternoon—demanding civil rights. Three-quarters of the population of that university are Protestants.

So we should be very careful in this House not to let ourselves be side-tracked into the idea that the demand for civil rights is either a Protestant and Catholic fight or a Republican fight. It is no such thing. It is a demand by British subjects for equal citizenship with their fellow citizens in other parts of the United Kingdom.

Captain Orr

The hon. Member does not like the form of local government franchise in Northern Ireland. That may be arguable. But the point is whether he thinks that the power to decide local government boundaries and local government franchise should be a matter for the local Parliament or for this one.

Mr. Fitt

I have made my position clear in relation to what has been said by the right hon. Member for Devon, North. I should be the last man in the world to wish to inflict a Stormont on Scotland and Wales.

Sir Knox Cunningham

Could the hon. Gentleman now answer the question that was put to him? Does he want local government to be dealt with at Stormont or here?

Mr. Fitt

It should be clearly understood that I want the local government and Parliamentary franchises in Northern Ireland to be operated from Westminster. I cannot put it more clearly.

We are in this position in Northern Ireland because for 48 years we have been subjected to the jackboot of the Unionists. This applies not only to the minority Roman Catholic, but also to ordinary working-class Protestants, who have no use for the Unionist Party machine. The collision has come about because these victims of Unionism in Northern Ireland realise that the only chance of reform must come within the lifetime of the present Government. They realise that if, unfortunately, the present Government were to be defeated at the next General Election the jackboot and the police baton would come out and be used on all those who are opposed to Unionism in their demands for civil rights.

On 11th July, in answer to a supplementary question, the Prime Minister said in this House that we cannot wait indefinitely for reforms, and that Something must be done."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th July, 1968; [Vol. 768, c. 733.] I regard that as being a very reasonable statement. In other words, the Prime Minister wanted the same type of citizenship for people in Northern Ireland as for all other persons in the United Kingdom.

But the very next day the hon. and gallant Member for Down, South (Captain Orr), at a little Orange Lodge meeting in Northern Ireland, said, in reply to the Prime Minister's remarks: I warn Wilson or anyone else that they will interfere with Northern Ireland at their peril.

Captain Orr

The hon. Gentleman really must not misquote me. [Interruption.] What I said was—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. The House wants to hear both sides. Captain Orr.

Captain Orr

What I said was "if anybody interfered with the just prerogatives of the Parliament of Northern Ireland", which is a different thing.

Mr. Fitt

What the hon. and gallant Gentleman said was "I warn Wilson".

Mr. E. Shinwell (Easington)

Ask the hon. and gallant Gentleman what he would do.

Mr. Fitt

In his address to the Labour Party conference, later on, the Prime Minister said: We are the party of human rights. We stand for the dignity of man. Many people in Northern Ireland felt that they could agree with that philosophy, but they wondered why it was not applied to Northern Ireland. The frustration was building up, until it finally exploded on 5th October in Derry.

Less than a fortnight ago the Minister of Home Affairs in Northern Ireland, following the action of the hon. and gallant Member for Down, South, made a speech at a little Unionist Association meeting in Larne saying: I will deal with anyone outside or inside Northern Ireland who attempts to interfere. I and many people in Northern Ireland who support my political philosophy can interpret this only as a direct threat not only to the Prime Minister of this country, but to the whole Parliament.

Last Monday evening the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, Captain O'Neill, said in a speech: We must cease this hostility towards the United Kingdom. Hearing those words one might be inclined to think that he was addressing a crowd of Republicans or I. R. A. men, but he was addressing a crowd of Unionists, people represented on the other side of this House. They have been having little meetings in Northern Ireland with the intention of declaring U.D.I. They have been warned by the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland that U.D.I. would be sheer lunacy. I agree with the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland in this context. But does not this give an indication of the serious situation in Northern Ireland?

On the day the march took place in Derry—I am addressing this remark to the Government spokesman; I myself was batoned by the police—there were all sorts of queer stories and denials from the Unionists because they realised that they should not have done this. But it highlighted what is happening in Northern Ireland. Time and time again I go to the Table Office in this House to try to put down Questions about Northern Ireland. I can table Questions about anyone else's constituency, from the Rhondda Valley to the Highlands of Scotland, but when I want to ask Questions about many things in Northern Ireland I am not allowed to do it. So it is only on an occasion such as this that we have an opportunity to discuss Northern Ireland.

More opportunity should be given to hon. Members from Northern Ireland. I realise that those who sit on the other side of the House have got together and prevented discussion of Northern Ireland matters because they did not want to spotlight them. I feel differently. I want this House to have every opportunity to discuss Northern Ireland. I believe that if the House had an opportunity to discuss the state of affairs there it would tend to lessen the injustices because those who do the injustices would realise that such matters would be raised in this House.

The riot squad of the Royal Ulster Constabulary acted quite viciously against defenceless men, women and children in Derry. I do not ask anyone to accept my word for that. The evidence was to be seen clearly on British television screens. We are told that this House can only enter into Northern Ireland affairs in matters concerning defence, Income Tax, and so on. However, I have a statement proving conclusively that that riot squad of the R.U.C. was based overnight on United Kingdom property. The members of that squad were quartered in H.M.S. "Sea Eagle" the night before the riot and the night which followed it—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] That is direct intervention, yet we hear time and time again that the maintenance of law and order is the responsibility of the Northern Ireland Government.

Why, then, were facilities afforded by the United Kingdom Government to that riot squad of the R.U.C.? Incidentally, I and many others in Northern Ireland were very proud to hear that the ordinary members of the Royal Navy stationed in "Sea Eagle" wanted nothing to do with the members of that riot squad. They had watched them and their brutal behaviour in the streets. When they returned to the base that night, the ordinary seaman of the Royal Navy wanted nothing to do with their Gestapo-like tactics.

I have a statement which appeared in a local paper and was alleged to come from the senior naval officer in Northern Ireland. It reads: The Senior Naval Officer, Northern Ireland, will always be pleased to assist in any way in the maintenance of law and order in Northern Ireland. I would like that statement clarified. Was permission asked of this Government for the taking over of part of the barracks by that band of R.U.C. men?

I understand that the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland will say in the course of his discussions with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister that he and his Government will abolish the multiple company vote. He wants my right hon. Friend and the Parliament and people of this country to accept that as a great concession, as another step along the road to reform.

However, the hon. Member for Londonderry, in a letter to the Observer yesterday, quoted a statement by the Minister for Home Affairs in Northern Ireland on the company vote. The statement was made in Larne on 26th October. The Minister for Home Affairs said: If the company vote were to be abolished tomorrow its effect in practical terms would be infinitesimal. The company vote in its present form is unlikely to have a say in any future local government structure, but tinkering with the franchise alone will not solve problems. Could that be accepted as a concession? I do not think so. I do not want any tinkering with the franchise system. I want a complete change. I want the whole electoral system in Northern Ireland brought into line with that operating in other parts of the United Kingdom.

I am sure that the House will realise how this subject affects so many people in Northern Ireland. Until the next Gracious Speech, probably I shall not have an opportunity to go on at such length about the problems of my constituents. The Prime Minister of Northern Ireland has been Prime Minister of that country for six years. When he took office, many in Northern Ireland felt that at last there would be changes. However, after six years, we find ourselves in the same position as we were in when he took over.

I say this to the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, through the agency of this House. Captain O'Neill does not realise the support that he would have in Northern Ireland for the introduction of reforms. The people are far ahead of him. If he would only have the courage to go to the Dispatch Box in Stormont and initiate reforms to give us equal citizenship, he would have a virtual avalanche of support and good will from all sections of the community and from people of all religions.

The exceptions to that statement are not the types of people in Northern Ireland who project the liberal approach. They are those hon. Gentlemen opposite who represent Northern Ireland constituencies. I know that it has been resented bitterly on this side of the House that, between 1964 and 1966, the apostles of Unionism came to this House from Northern Ireland and voted in Division after Division attempting to bring about the downfall of the Labour Government.

My hon. Friends are frustrated every time that they attempt to ask Questions about what is happening in Northern Ireland. The hon. Member for Down, South is on record as saying that we cannot be second-class Members of Parliament. However, the only second-class hon. Members that there are in the House representing Northern Ireland constituencies sit on the benches opposite.

Mr. Stanley R. McMaster (Belfast, East)

If the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) attended this House regularly, he would know that a week never passes without one or more of my hon. Friends asking serious economic Questions in relation to Northern Ireland, and that we initiate regular debates about Northern Ireland affairs. If the hon. Gentleman came over to listen to them, he would have plenty of opportunities to discuss Northern Ireland matters.

Mr. Fitt

I believe that social justice and civil rights are just as important, if not more important, than economic matters.

The Northern Ireland Unionists sitting in this House and the Government of Northern Ireland have not been grateful for the generosity of the Government in Westminster. Only yesterday afternoon it was announced that a £25 million order was coming to the Belfast shipyard. I am delighted about that and very happy that it will lead to a great increase in the numbers employed there. However, it was the Government in Westminster who advanced the money for the improvement of that yard, and it was the improvements which ensured that the yard got the order. I think that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister referred to it in his intervention in reply to the Queen's Speech.

Many people in Northern Ireland welcome the proposals to lower the voting age to 18. However, I ask the House to ensure that the voting age in Northern Ireland is also reduced to 18—

Captain Orr

Is the hon. Gentleman saying that that decision, so far as Northern Ireland Parliamentary elections are concerned, should be taken by this House and not by the other Parliament?

Mr. Fitt

Exactly. Let me try to din it into the thick skull of the hon. Gentleman. The reason why the situation in Northern Ireland has come about is the breakdown of Parliamentary democracy there. In June or July of this year there was a very unfair allocation of a house in Northern Ireland which proved to be the straw which broke the camel's back. The house in question was given to an unmarried girl of 19, in the face of many other deserving cases who had been on the housing list for many years.

The hon. Gentleman representing that constituency used every means available in an attempt to alter the decision. He led deputations to Ministers and initiated Adjournment debates. He ran the whole gamut of Parliamentary procedure. When they found that the decision could not be altered by Parliamentary procedures, his constituents and others who were victims of similar treatment took to the streets.

I could speak for many hours on this subject. However, I hope that I have convinced the House sufficiently about the situation in Northern Ireland. I repeat that, if the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland has the courage to take steps along the road to reform in Northern Ireland he will have my support and that of all the people whom I represent. This is not a question of the Border. It is asking for simple social justice. I say with all the sincerity at my command that if the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland wants support, he does not have to look far for it.

However—and I am being as serious as I can in the realisation of the dangerous situation which could erupt in Northern Ireland—if those steps to bring about civil rights, social justice and equal citizenship in Northern Ireland as in other parts of the United Kingdom are not taken, there will be violence and the people will then take to the streets and fight for their rights; and in that fight they will have my wholehearted support.

4.40 p.m.

Mr. R. Chichester-Clark (Londonderry)

The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Liberal Party made many charges of malpractice against the Government of Northern Ireland. I shall not now attempt to answer those charges. If I may do so without impertinence, I refer him to the letter which I wrote to the Observer yesterday in which he will find many of the answers. From what I heard of the right hon. Gentleman's speech, I doubt whether, in the improbable event of a Liberal Government, there will be any greater success in dealing with the affairs of Ireland in future than there was under Liberal Governments in the past.

I sometimes worry about the kind of effect which a speech like that will have, especially as it came from a more responsible quarter of the House than the speech to which we have just listened. I wonder just how much effect it will have in Northern Ireland in driving people, as I fear, back into entrenched positions in the lines they occupied years ago. Its unintentional effect will be to make the situation infinitely more difficult. I am comforted to some extent by remembering what I read in a great newspaper which, in an account of the leadership of the Liberal Party, said, "The trouble about Jeremy is that it is so difficult to take him seriously." I trust that that will apply to his speech.

Mr. Andrew Faulds (Smethwick)

Cheap. Shoddy.

Mr. Chichester-Clark

If it is cheap and shoddy, I withdraw it. The hon. Gentleman is an expert on what is cheap and shoddy.

Mr. Faulds

I am a good judge of character—shoddy little man.

Mr. Chichester-Clark

I want to deal with the interesting speech to which we have just heard. Even the most demanding of connoisseurs cannot have been disappointed by the extravaganza of the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) this afternoon.

Mr. Faulds

Excellent speech.

Mr. Chichester-Clark

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman heard most of it. I thought that at the end of it we were reaching the high point of political hypocrisy when the hon. Gentleman came to the moment of almost, but not quite, giving support to Captain O'Neill. He can have had only one reason for doing so: he knows quite well that if he voices that support—and he may have done so already—he will be of the greatest embarrassment to Captain O'Neill, because at home, if not here, the hon. Gentleman is a Republican, and an extremist, and he is so recognised.

Mr. Fitt rose

Mr. Chichester-Clark

No, I will not give way.

Mr. Faulds

Give way.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Sydney Irving)

Order. I hope that the House will allow the hon. Gentleman to make a speech.

Mr. Chichester-Clark

I shall not give way to the hon. Gentleman. He has had an opportunity to speak at great length in debates on Northern Ireland before now.

Mr. Faulds

Give way.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Faulds) must contain himself.

Mr. Chichester-Clark

The hon. Member for Belfast, West has the opportunity to speak in not one Parliament, but two. He has had plenty of time to say what he wants to say, and he can do so on another occasion. For him to say that he is interested in civil rights is the most remarkable piece of political hypocrisy which I have ever heard in the House of Commons. In private, of course, he is much more frank, endearingly frank. He will say that he came to the House in order to undo partition somehow or other. He has said that to many people.

Mr. Fitt

That is a grave charge.

Mr. Chichester-Clark

It is well known.

Mr. Fitt

On a point of order. A very serious charge has been levelled against me by the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Chichester-Clark). He has said that I have said in private—by innuendo, he seemed to mean to himself, or to some other hon. Members—that I came to the House with the intention of undoing partition. I should like him to name the person to whom I am alleged to have said that, or to withdraw the remark.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

That is not a matter for the Chair.

Mr. Faulds


Mr. Chichester-Clark

Mr. Deputy Speaker—

Mr. Faulds


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I hope that the hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Faulds) will contain himself and allow the debate to proceed.

Mr. Chichester-Clark

I do not know the names of the large majority of the electors of West Belfast, but every one of them who has been to any of the hon. Gentleman's meetings has at one time or another heard him say this. Why else is he called a Republican? What else does it mean? I think that the hon. Gentleman is now making an unnecessary fuss, because he knows this quite well to be the truth.

I and many others have no faith in the political word of the hon. Gentleman. For far too long, even in the confines of the House, he has been the political peddlar of inaccuracies and terminological inexactitudes. We do not have to go too far back. Only two Queen's Speeches ago he referred to his telephone being tapped by Unionist supporters and to many other telephone tappings by Unionist supporters. At the time, he promised that he would send evidence to the Prime Minister. A year ago, I asked him whether he had sent that evidence and whether it could be seen. I have had no answer. In his words, the silence was deafening. Can we have it now? Apparently not.

Only the other day, without contradiction and without qualification, he said in the House that the United Kingdom had not signed the European Convention on Human Rights because of Northern Ireland. As a matter of fact, not only had it signed it, but it had ratified it. The hon. Gentleman ought to come clean. Unlike many others of the religious minority in Northern Ireland, he is a good deal less interested in civil rights and good community relations than in using every weapon to hand to end partition.

The hon. Gentleman cannot keep sectarianism out of even a sporting occasion. Last year, there was a parade to celebrate the victory of Glasgow Celtic in the European Cup—[Laughter.] I am glad that the hon. Gentleman is pleased; personally, I was delighted by their success. At the parade in Belfast, for some reason the hon. Gentleman was asked to address those present, and he said: As I stand on this platform and witness such a vast concourse I am very convinced that the ordinary people of Belfast are prepared to take a stand in defence of all the ideals which have been the way of life for so long. Nineteen sixty-six has proved to be a year of great significance to Falls, Central, Dock and many other areas. We have beaten our opponents in politics, sport and in every other field that they dared confront us and I have no doubt that this will be the continuing trend in the years to come. If that piece of naked sectarianism pleases hon. Gentlemen opposite, it did not please members of their own Labour Party executive in Belfast, because one of them, saying that the hon. Gentleman's explanation of his words was wholly unsatisfactory, also said: No Orwellian twist of words can satisfy. In Belfast, words and phrases have their meanings and the West Belfast M.P. is no novice at using them. He also said that he was disgusted and fed up with the Republican Party and all that it stood for.

I understand that the hon. Gentleman is carrying round in his pocket interesting anonymous letters. He has not read them out today. But I am prepared to read a letter which is not anonymous. I will read it now, because I think that it shows what used to be his own community is beginning to think about him. It is not untypical of a reaction which is becoming more and more widespread. This letter is written to Belfast Newsletter The hon. Gentleman could have read it for himself. The letter reads: Sir, As a Roman Catholic, born and bred in Ulster"—

Mr. Edward Milne (Blyth)

On a point of order. May I seek your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Many hon. Members are endeavouring to get into the debate. How much has this got to do with the Gracious Speech?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Mr. Speaker has given a very wide scope to the debate on the Gracious Speech. I will intervene in the hon. Gentleman's speech when I think it appropriate.

Mr. Chichester-Clark

I was about to read the letter: Sir. As a Roman Catholic, born and bred in Ulster, I feel I must back up 'Eire Emigrant' about conditions here. I live in a Protestant district and in perfect harmony with all my neighbours. I can tell Mr. Fitt and Mr. Currie that if trouble starts they won't have the majority of Roman Catholics on their side. I have a family of 10 and I get £8 18s. family allowance. My husband has a good job and anything that's going we get it. As far as discrimination is concerned, it just doesn't exist in our part of the country. I have not checked this lady's declaration that she is a Roman Catholic. I leave that kind of thing to the hon. Member for Belfast, West. But those people—and the hon. Gentleman knows that I am one—who have supported Captain O'Neill's courage throughout in his efforts towards promoting peace and good will are entitled to ask of others among the minority leaders to show the same kind of courage in combatting bigotry on their side. Some have, and I acknowledge this, but others conspicuously have not.

It is no use asking the hon. Member for Belfast, West to show the same kind of consistent courage, because he has a vested interest in a divided community. With him around there can be no wonder that a correspondent writes to the Sunday Times about fanatics—and he did not mean Captain O'Neill—saying, "We have two factions over here, both led by clowns, and most of us are utterly fed up with them both". I need not publicise the name of the other clown. It is only too well known to the hon. Gentleman and to me.

Let us look at the climate in Northern Ireland before Londonderry—changes in the governing body in Northern Ireland and the forces within and without it which have been resisting change have been examined and re-examined time and again by commentators. So much so that equally significant changes in another segment of the community in the minority have gone almost unnoticed. The change, I fear, was not most apparent among political leaders. But it is almost a truism that change is to be seen at its slowest in politics.

But change, for all that, there was. For example, there was the parish priest in my own constituency who, when welcoming Captain O'Neill on a school visit, said: Your visit is evidence of your genuine desire to establish good relations throughout the country. I agree that that probably would not have been said 10 years ago. The visit probably would not even have been made. But thank heavens, it has been made and, thank heavens, those words have been said.

The Prime Minister of Northern Ireland has laid a great deal of emphasis on civic weeks. This contribution to good relations seemed to illustrate the impatience which the minority, at least within the civic setting, were showing with the negative attitudes of yesterday.

The chairman of a Nationalist Council, opening a civic week, spoke of their success and commented: It is as a community that we are on parade today. It allows us to express our pride in belonging to this town and to this community. We often hear about religious issues in the town of Newry, nominally a divided town. The Irish News, however, reported an interview with another leading Roman Catholic, who said: On top of this, Newry's Civic Week has not faced the sectarian difficulties which may arise in other towns. The workers of the town are of all creeds and they work together. These movements towards a more positive approach do not please everybody. They are not shared by all with equal enthusiasm. We are constantly told, for example, that Roman Catholics should be asked to play a fuller part in the life of the community. Yet the efforts of those actually invited to do so are not always appreciated by their fellows. Thus, a Roman Catholic businessman of great ability, and well known to me, was severely criticised by some of his coreligionists for accepting an invitation to serve on the new city development commission. There was a great deal of condemnation, loud and clear in some quarters, of another member of the Roman Catholic faith who, after serving as a chairman of the local authority and on the Tourist Board, accepted an M.B.E. That is the kind of thing that also takes place.

Events over the last few years have undoubtedly shown a growing divide in the religious minority in Northern Ireland. There are those who genuinely desire to make a positive contribution to local politics and affairs and those who wish to exploit the existing differences of view, with the overriding political purpose of a united Ireland. The latter seem to prefer grievance to redress.

Mr. Michael McGuire (Ince)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that he has up to now mentioned only my fellow coreligionist Catholics and their instransigence? Will he put the matter right by developing his own mind and coupling that with the bitter condemnation of threatened expulsion from the Unionists, who are not Catholics who happen merely to give voice to the fact that there should be a change and, in some cases, have attended Catholic services? Would he not include the statement of the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church who, when he had been subjected to the most vile abuse, said, "Thank God I brought my birth certificate with me."

Mr. Chichester-Clark

The hon. Gentleman knows that I am in almost complete agreement on that. He knows that I have denounced some people publicly and got into a great deal of trouble for it. I denounce anyone who takes that extreme intransigent view.

The hon. Member for Belfast, West falls into the latter category that I have mentioned. Time and again he has shown himself both militant and dangerous in what he has said. He has made speeches which can only be regarded as an incitement to violence. Camden Town Hall, Strabane and Dungannon are on his battle roll.

I will deal with what happened at Dungannon on 24th August. The hon. Gentleman was not allowed into the market square—[Interruption.] He said from the platform that if it were not for the presence of women and children he would lead the march into the square. Then this standard bearer of good will went on disarmingly to refer to two senior members of the police force, who hap-pended to be standing by, as a pair of "black bastards"—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] That was the language of the hon. Gentleman. His speech that day, with all the mildness that I can command, was, to say the least, very provocative indeed. If there was not bloodshed that day, it was not the fault of the hon. Member for Belfast, West.

Mr. Thomas Swain (Derbyshire, North-East)

In his last few remarks, the hon. Gentleman has said that my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) was a positive danger. To whom in Ireland is my hon. Friend a positive danger? Will the hon. Gentleman say what he means by being dangerous?

Mr. Chichester-Clark

The hon. Member for Belfast, West is a danger to our economy and to the people on both sides of the controversy.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Order. I ought to point out to the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Chichester-Clark) that the Gracious Speech is under debate, not the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt). Mr. Speaker has allowed great scope for the debate. I have allowed the hon. Gentleman a good deal of scope, but I hope that he will now come to the subject under debate.

Mr. Chichester-Clark

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have more or less finished with the hon. Gentleman. It is his credibility more than anything else that is under discussion.

The hon. Gentleman referred to H.M.S. "Sea Eagle". It is true that a spokesman said that the senior naval officer would be ready to help in the restoration of law and order if required, but he went on to say—and the hon. Gentleman was careful not to mention this—that there was no friction between members of the R.U.C. and the forces serving there—rather the contrary.

Then we come to the Londonderry riots. The hon. Gentleman went there against the wishes of many of those involved in this civil rights organisation because they knew that his presence could only lead to trouble. As a Member of Parliament, the hon. Gentleman attempted to lead a parade into an area of Northern Ireland where, traditionally, supporters of what he believes in do not go, and it is traditional that there are areas—the House may find this amusing, but I think it wise—into which pro-Government supporters do not go because it would be regarded as coat-trailing, and vice versa—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman is wrong. It is no use trying to apportion blame in these matters.

It should be remembered that the parade was not banned; it was merely prevented from going through two areas of the city which were traditionally Unionist. The whole of the rest of the city was open to that parade, and yet, on that day, the hon. Gentleman, as an elected Member of Parliament, deliberately defied law and order. He gambled with people's lives. He impaired, I hope not permanently, the delicate plant of harmony which there is between the two faiths in that city, and he imperilled the industrial future of that city.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman has not set back community relations for years to come. But for what he has done I cannot forgive him. The hon. Gentleman has undone the work which some of us have been trying to do for years. If I had on my conscience what the hon. Gentleman should have on his, I should find it very hard to live with.

Mr. Faulds

What about the police?

Mr. Chichester-Clark

Totally committed as we are to the defence of the constitutional position of Northern Ireland, we have made our own stand on this whole business of community relations, and I am not going to be dismayed by this foolish talk that we have had in the last few days about a United Ireland, nor by troublemakers with a vested interest in division.

The House ought to recognise that there is something to be said for the fact that Northern Ireland is not yet polarised into two extremes. There are men of good will on both sides who, while in no way compromising their political convictions, have come to occupy what is known generally as the middle ground. There are those who want to see the old sores healed. They have leaders and there are many who will follow, albeit timidly, who could easily be frightened by intemperate words or action from here.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer once remarked that despite the many attributes of the English a peculiar talent for solving the problems of Ireland was not among them. That is true. Attempts to help have often contributed more to the problem rather than to the solution. But if there are those here who feel that Britain has a conscience to clear in these matters, the one way to do it is to help remove the more deep-seated fears, the fear of being without work, and the fear of being without a home. Until those fears are removed there will always be charges and counter-charges of prejudice and discrimination. Men of good will on the spot must do the rest, but the House must recognise that the wounds of Ulster are as deep as they are old, and they cannot be healed overnight.

Foolish talk of a United Ireland and repeated suggestions of intervention can only frighten, and frightened men are dangerous—[Interruption.] Unlike the hon. Gentleman, I write my own speeches. I do not have to get Mr. Geoffrey Bing to help me.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon (York) rose

Mr. Chichester-Clark

I have been interrupted from a sitting position. I do not think that I need take it from a standing one as well.

The great hope of a détente between the two communities lies in the dedicated moderate opinion in Northern Ireland, which understands this problem, and which, if left to get on with the job, has both the courage and patience to see it through. I am certain of one thing, and that is that intemperate words from here can only hinder and not help. Direct interference from here would be so mistaken that it would mean that there could be no more moderates in Northern Ireland.

5.8 p.m.

Mr. Edward Milne (Blythe)

The House—if not the hon. Gentleman—will not be surprised if I do not follow the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Chichester-Clark) in his speech.

I feel that we have at least to be grateful for the fact that the debate is able to range over a number of subjects, without the necessity of us being confined too closely, or for too long, to one aspect of the Gracious Speech, and in the light of the discussion which has taken place so far I think we must welcome the fact that it says that the Government will begin consultations on the appointment of a Commission constitution and that it will deal with separate parts of the United Kingdom.

The point which I consider needs examining is that the United Kingdom Parliament, having become a single unit over a long period of our history needs to be considered not only on the basis of being broken up into national fragments, but into economic divisions. We may have to consider the economic links between the countries themselves.

It is not often that I have to refer to a speech made by the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover), but he talked about reviving the ancient kingdoms of Northumbria, Wessex and Mercia. When one looks at the geography and economy of the United Kingdom, one realises that the Commission may well have to consider that.

There are differences within the countries of the United Kingdom, just as much as there are differences between the countries themselves. For instance, the Highlands of Scotland, the border counties of Scotland, and the industrial west of Scotland, are different entities, and are as different from each other as are the separate countries of the United Kingdom. When one considers North and South Wales, and the adjoining English counties, one gets the feeling that if we merely concentrate our attention on separating England, Scotland and Wales, we shall get no further forward. I hope that I am not treading on the toes of any of my hon. Friends when I say that on an economic basis there is a greater reason for bringing in the old Kingdom of Northumbria, which extended from the Humber to the Forth, than there is for separating Scotland, Wales and England.

Mr. Arthur Blenkinsop (South Shields)

As a matter of geographical accuracy, the Kingdom of Northumbria extended a bit further north than the Forth.

Mr. Milne

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for pointing out that fact to me. I am also grateful that my home town of Aberdeen is beyond the confines of the Kingdom of Northumbria as defined by him.

There can be no argument about the assertion that the South-East of Scotland, the Border counties and Northumberland form an economic unit which could be examined by a Commission of this kind in order to deal with the problems faced by the area. In talking about this matter we are concerned not only with the structure of the country but also with the references in the Gracious Speech to the subject of full employment. Many of my hon. Friends were disappointed with what is said on this subject. On this occasion, unlike former occasions, the Gracious Speech merely talks of developing industry and safeguarding employment. In the areas that many of us represent the question of full employment is the kernel of the Government's faith in dealing with the difficulties that confront those areas.

This argument is not presented purely on the basis of development districts or the attraction of employment to areas where it is most needed. If the economic problems of development areas are to be solved we must bring about the changes that have been mentioned. The resources of development areas must be fully used if we are to solve the problems. I do not want to dwell on a matter which will be mentioned in the debate to take place tomorrow. I merely say that in any consultations which take place dealing with the future structure of the country the question of government must be dealt with.

Most of us welcome the references made in the Gracious Speech to the reorganisation of the other place, but some of us are a little apprehensive lest those changes are not far-reaching enough to satisfy present demands. The question of a two-chamber Parliament must be fully examined. I hope that consideration will be given to the possibility of a single-chamber Government, bringing in not merely the elected representatives of the various constituencies but, on a second-tier basis, outside representatives of local authorities and similar bodies.

If we make changes which are inadequate we shall bequeath to those who follow us in this place problems that may not be capable of solution. That is why we express considerable regret that the Gracious Speech contains no reference to the problems of the mining industry. It talks about the need for far-reaching changes and the way in which the problems should be tackled, but it must be remembered that most of our economic and industrial problems spring from a decline in our older industries and our method of dealing with that decline.

Since the present Government have been responsible for dealing with this industry much good has been done. Tremendous efforts have been made to cushion the harsh impact of mining closures in industrial areas. But no one would be content merely with that state of affairs. Well-intentioned though the efforts have been, they have nevertheless been unsuccessful in many cases. Acts of Parliament and other measures have helped to cushion the harsh impact of closures but we have nevertheless been left with a problem that requires tackling at the top level.

It is clear that we must tackle the economic problems not only on the basis of changes in the Constitution, in industry and the economy; we must deal with declining industries and the effect of their decline upon communities which have depended upon them so much in the past. It is clear that contact between the Government and this House and between the Government and the people must be improved. Most hon. Members now realise that back-bench Members and members of the public have lost contact with the Government. I am not ascribing blame to any Government or to any section of the House or country, but the contact and partnership which is essential to the development of our country and to the society that we want is sadly absent at the moment.

I watched in another place the ceremony which preceded the Gracious Speech, with the representatives of the different sections of the State and the Establishment filing in. When I thought of the expense, my mind came back to the statement of the Secretary of State for Education and Science today about cutting back a small sum of £4 million on school meals. We must not only see that we are building a new type of Britain, but have the evidence from the actions of the Government that consideration is being given to those who suffer most from the impact of change. I hope that, through this debate and the ensuing legislation, we will realise that we are not here merely to perpetuate a system which has operated for a long time, but to equip our country for the immediate future and to lay the foundations for those who will follow.

5.22 p.m.

Mr. Gwynfor Evans (Carmarthen)

I do not intend to deal with the matters just dealt with in the interesting speech of the hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Milne), but rather to return to the subject of the proposed Constitutional Commission. It would be agreed, I think, that the Press was pretty unanimous in saying that the decision to establish it was due to the growth of the national movements in Scotland and Wales. I am sure that any possible action which the Government may take will also be due to that growth, which springs from a new awareness of nationhood in those two countries, and which is not, apparently, thought highly of by the Government.

The Prime Minister, for instance, alleged that the leaders of the national movements in Wales and Scotland had played unscrupulously upon national feelings. We have heard that kind of language elsewhere. Brezhnev has been saying the same kind of thing about the leaders of the Czech and Slovak national movements. Nationalism seems to be causing the Communists in the Kremlin more trouble than anything else. An article in The Times today underlines this, saying that it is regarded by the Kremlin as the besetting sin of their parties elsewhere in the world.

But no one seems to be convinced that, although the Government have planned to establish this Commission, they will take any action as a result of any report. It is thought to be a gimmick, to "take the steam" out of Welsh and Scottish nationalism and to kindle the hope that, possibly, a Labour Government, some time in the distant future, may take some action. But the fear that no action may be taken is underlined by the present Government's history in some matters. For instance, no elected council has been established for Wales, although Welsh opinion, even the Labour Party in Wales, is almost unanimous in its favour. The Government have done nothing, although they have the power. We have seen no Welsh Water Board, although this was part of the Labour Party's 1964 election programme. There is not even a Welsh Countryside Commission. If the Government will not take action on comparatively small matters like this, what hope is there that they will act in establishing legislatures in our countries?

If, however, the Government say that they would require a report in 18 months, that would suggest that the Commission is to be something more than a time-wasting gimmick. Of course, it is not impossible for such a report to be produced in that time, especially with modern computer methods. The Sankey Commission, established in 1919, produced an excellent Report in 1920. A Commission on this subject could do equally well.

Some have said that the main purpose of the Commission is to establish facts. Facts are, of course, fundamental, but the kind of facts which this kind of Commission could discover are not immutable, like the laws of the Medes and Persians. They change from year to year. Also, many of the economic facts with which the Commission would be concerned are themselves the result of the present political situation. Although they could be helpful in assessing what might be the situation under self-government in Wales and Scotland, their importance is far from being final.

Fundamentally, the issue is a moral one, and moral factors in this issue are decisive An example is the faith which one has in one's nation, loyalty, cooperation, enthusiasm, the release of energies which would be given by measures of national freedom, a new sense of purpose and direction, a new determination to make a good job of governing one's country. How would one assess factors like this, which are decisive in such a matter?

The Establishment at present seems to be determined that we are to have no measure of national freedom in our countries and rationalises this by saying, as the Prime Minister did on Wednesday, that the "extremist demands" of some people are highly prejudicial to the future of Scotland and Wales. The Labour Party and the Conservative Party are apparently at one in this. One is reminded of a quip of Shaw's: Scratch an English Socialist and you will find an Imperialist. If anything, Labour in this matter is rather more conservative than the Conservatives.

In any case, the nature of the Commission's Report will depend far less upon the facts which it collects and collates than upon the prejudices and premises of its members. Governments normally find people to serve on these Commissions who share their prejudices and premises. If there are to be Welshmen on this Commission, I could almost name the likely nominees now—and they could be relied on to co-operate cordially with the Government. I can, therefore, assume that the Commission will produce a report which will be wholly acceptable to the Establishment.

But it could perform a very useful service by considering countries outside the United Kingdom. I want to press this very hard upon the Government. I am thinking especially of countries in Northern Europe, like the four countries of Scandinavia, which could be compared and contrasted with countries like the Baltic States, an exercise which is most instructive. Look at countries like Switzerland, Luxembourg and Iceland, and also Yugoslavia, which was described in an article in yesterday's Sunday Times as a country which had emerged from a backward society and become almost an affluent society, with a thriving industry. It is now a thriving industrial nation—[An HON. MEMBER: "But it is Communist."] It is sometimes described as Communist, but I cannot for the life of me see what Communism there is in the system in Yugoslavia, which is totally decentralised and quite unlike the highly centralised system of Russia. What we have seen in the development of Yugoslavia would not have happened but for its being a small country, and indeed contrasts with the failure to develop Russia.

One sees the same kind of development in the Scandinavian countries. I was in Denmark a short time ago, a country of which its official year book says that it may be classified as a land extremely poor in raw materials. Let the Commission examine the history of Denmark since 1864 when the richer two-fifths of the country was taken by Prussia after a war. Let the Commission see how Denmark has developed.

In 1914 the population was very much the same as the population of Wales but since then it has roughtly doubled, whereas the population of Wales has remained almost the same. Denmark was an agricultural country, and yet today only 7 per cent. of its people work in agriculture, for the country is almost wholly industrialised. Let the Commission examine such facts as that and see how it was done.

When I was there I saw some of the great roads which had been built to develop industry. Today Jutland has more than 40 per cent. of the industry of Denmark. I travelled on railways which were wholly electrified. In Wales we have not a mile of electrified railway system.

Let the Commission examine such countries as Denmark and see how they have developed their economies. The per capita national product of Denmark is higher than that of the United Kingdom. How has that been done? Certainly without sacrificing their language or their culture. Their language flourishes. Their cultural life is of a very high standard. They have a magnificent opera house. They have a wonderful national theatre, national orchestras and national ballet companies. We have none of these things in Wales. How have they been able to do it when the country was so much poorer in national resources than is our country?

The Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Ifor Davies)

The hon. Member said that we have no national orchestra in Wales. In fact, we have a national youth orchestra.

Mr. Evans

That is correct. We have a national youth orchestra and a national opera company, with one of the best choruses in the world, but we have no national opera house or adult national orchestra.

Mr. Arthur Probert (Aberdare)

I spent eight months in Denmark living among the Danish people, and what impressed me above all was their understanding of language. In their schools they teach four languages, with English as the first language. The Danish people are wholly international in their outlook and wholly opposed to any form of nationalism.

Mr. Evans

The hon. Member is quite right in that one is always impressed to find that Danes, even in the most humble circumstances, can speak more than one language. I wish that were the situation in Wales. It is the kind of situation which I want to achieve there. But the Danes are first and foremost nationalists. It is because they are good nationalists that they are also good internationalists. That is the basis on which that belief is founded.

I wonder whether the position in Denmark would be as good as it is today if in 1864 Denmark had been wholly incorporated into Germany. Would there have been the economic development which in fact we have seen? Should we not have seen people leaving Denmark by hundreds and thousands to go to Germany to find work? Today there would be a nationalist movement calling for self-government of Denmark, and people in Germany would be telling them what we have been told by the Prime Minister—that they were playing unscrupulously on national emotions in order to get a government of their own and that their aims were extreme and highly prejudicial to the future of Denmark. They would be asked, how could so poor a community support herself? They would be told that they needed German money to support their social services and German industry to give their people work. That is precisely what we are told in Wales. But, in fact, the Danish people have shown what can be done in a country with far fewer natural resources than we have in Wales. We have produced more wealth in coal alone than has the whole of the national Danish economy—and what have we to show for it?

I hope that the Commission will go very thoroughly into these matters and I hope that it will look at the relations between the Nordic countries and at how the Nordic Council works. The Commission will see how their national, political and economic life is based upon the fact of their nationhood.

The Government once had a vision of a Commonwealth based on nationhood, based on the fact of nationality. The Statute of Westminster, 1931, recognised that, and there existed a community of free and equal nations, in no way subordinate one to the other in any aspect of their internal or external affairs but freely associating as members of the British Commonwealth of Nations. That is a great and noble concept and we should apply it to our situation in these islands. Because of our geographical proximity, we could co-operate much more closely in partnership than the members of the old British Commonwealth were able to do.

But co-operation and partnership are possible only between equals in status. The Nationalists of Wales and Scotland are the only people who want to establish a true partnership between the nations of Britain. Today Wales is incorporated in England by the Statute of 1536. The need is to transform that incorporation into co-operation. I do not think that a federal system will ensure that that is done—and that is where I differ from my Liberal friends. A federal system would not ensure equality of status. It would not ensure full nationhood for the smaller nations of these islands. It would not ensure the kind of co-operation and partnership which we need. In any case, it would mean scrapping our present unwritten constitution in Britain and replacing it by a federal system with a written and rigid constitution interpreted by a Supreme Court. That would cause a great upheaval in England and would be of doubtful benefit to England—and, indeed, of doubtful benefit to Wales and Scotland.

In any event, it is quite unnecessary because we could better achieve the same ends by the kind of solution which I have been advocating—a policy of full national freedom for the countries of Wales and Scotland, with a common market between them, which would leave the constitution of England intact and would avoid the economic separation which some people have raised as a bogy. In this situation there would be complete freedom of movement between the countries of these islands, between Wales and England—complete freedom of movement for goods, for people and for capital. There would be no tariffs, no tolls, no passports. That is the kind of freedom which is developing in the Six on the Continent and it is the kind of situation which could be called a Britannic Confederation of Free and Equal Nations.

That is the solution at which we should aim. It will be decided ultimately not here, and certainly not by the Commission, but by the people of Wales and Scotland, in Wales and Scotland. Ultimately they have the decision in their hands, and I am sure that they will use their power to make that decision.

5.38 p.m.

Mr. A. Woodburn (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)

I am sure that the House listened with interest to the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Gwynfor Evans) who has described how the small countries in Northern Europe spendidly manage their affairs. He failed to tell us how, with the economic facts of Wales, he could do anything like that in Wales.

Let him consider the example which he gave of the electrification of railways. I wonder whether he has investigated the cost of the electrification of the railways in Wales and whether the railways in Wales can be an economic system with or without electrification. He will find that even this great country—the United Kingdom—finds it very difficult to provide enough money to electrify some of the main lines, quite apart from lines in rural areas.

It would certainly not be possible to make the railways an economic proposition throughout the whole of Scotland. After the First World War it was decided to reorganise the railways and to make the Scottish railways a Scottish railways system. There were Scottish nationalists in those days, too. The hon. Member will be interested to know that there were immediate protests from railwaymen, from industrialists and from local authorities about the proposals. The railwaymen realised that if that Scottish railways system were established, they would have to accept wages that were so low, in order that the system could run, that many of them would starve. The Minister who was introducing that Bill in Scotland was compelled by the people of Scotland to change the Bill and to organise the railways from North to South as the only way in which they could be economic. The hon. Gentleman would have been more convincing if he had looked into some of the facts—these are only a few of them—that apply to Wales.

When I was a member of the Government, and even during the war when I was on the Select Committee for National Expenditure, one of the Government's concerns was to face up to the problem of Wales and what was to happen when the mines ceased to provide work and wages for the men of South Wales. Industrial estates were provided there. They have been a great blessing to South Wales. When we talked to the miners and tried to persuade them to return to the mines, they told us that the conditions which had been established by the national factories had so changed the whole attitude of miners to industry that they were not prepared to return to the slavery that had existed in the South Wales mines before the war. They preferred to work in the clean air and to be treated as human beings in modern factories rather than as slaves in the Rhondda pits.

The hon. Gentleman who talked about Wales living on its own, should face the facts. Both Wales and Scotland have benefited tremendously, as has England, from this partnership, which has been the greatest common market and which has existed for 250 years without a break. The world today is not moving towards little Englanders, little Welshmen, or little Scotlanders. It is looking to a great economic unity of the world. Anybody who does not recognise this has his head buried in the sand. If Wales wants to go back to live on its own farms and live on the cloth manufactured in Wales and on the produce of Wales, it will be a land of poverty like Southern Ireland, which has its own Government and its own economy. Southern Ireland can survive only by this country buying foodstuffs from Southern Ireland.

I have mentioned Wales because the emotion that is moving in Wales is much the same as that which is moving in Scotland. I am sorry to say that the hon. Gentleman's history of Scotland is a little out of date. His suggestion that this emotion in Scotland has newly arisen and that Scotland has just discovered this feeling of nationalism is contrary to the whole history of this movement. Indeed, from the day the Act of Union was signed in 1707 there has been a movement for Scottish nationalism. It has continued ever since. In 1707 many Scots greatly resented the Union. They called it a sell-out. The Union came about largely because Scotland was denied access to the colonial markets of England, and when the Darien scheme collapsed Scotland was throttled by being shut out of the great markets of the world. From the moment Scotland joined up with England it started to develop a prosperity it had never known in the past.

If the hon. Gentleman cares to study the history of Scotland before that, he will find that it was a dreadful story. There were conditions which equalled what we hear about present conditions in Biafra. Starvation and famine in Scotland spread throughout the land. People had to sell themselves as slaves to get food, because of the poverty of the land and the difficulty of living. This romanticism and talk about going back to the paradise which existed before the Union is complete economic and historical nonsense. I cannot speak for Wales, but I should be very surprised to learn that the situation there was not much the same. Scotland has developed ever since.

There are two things in conflict here. It is difficult to reconcile them. There is the emotion of a race which wants to keep its identity and not be absorbed by the bigger partner. Scotland has maintained its identity. It is the miracle of this common market that after 250 years the Scots are still Scots, the Welsh are still Welsh, the Irish are still Irish, and the English—

Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, North)

—are a combination of all four.

Mr. Woodburn

They are not sure what they are, because the English have no sense of nationality. They do not bother about it. They are so big and powerful that they do not bother. The Scots have refused to be absorbed. They are prepared to be partners but not porters. Therefore, they insist that they stand on their own feet. I am proud that Scotland, a small country, has made a great contribution to the civilisation, not only of England, but of the world. It is said that there are 20 million Scots abroad. We do not want to cut ourselves off and shut ourselves up in a part of Great Britain and call ourselves little Scotlanders.

The hon. Gentleman said that he wants a free movement of people over this island. There could not be a freer movement than there is now. He may be interested to know that the Scottish Nationalists do not want that. They intend to establish a string of immigration posts between Carlisle and Berwick to keep the English out and the Scots in—a sort of Berlin wall. They intend to spend £100 million a year on establishing an army of Scotland—not on electrifying the railways but on having people like the Argylls, I suppose, marching up and down in kilts.

Mr. Ian MacArthur (Perth and East Perthshire)

The right hon. Gentleman is mistaken in that allusion. It would not be the Argylls, because the Scottish Nationalist Party last year voted by an overwhelming majority to abolish all the Highland regiments.

Mr. Woodburn

I apologise for using that expression, but the Argylls are in everybody's mind and it is, therefore, a colourful example of what presumably a Scottish army would do. What would they be armed with—pikes? Are they to go back to the claymores? Will they be charging the English down at Bannockburn again? This sort of romantic picture is totally out of touch with the facts of the world today. The idea of Scotland wasting its substance on an army costing £100 million a year frightens me, whatever it might do to the people it is supposed to fight. It certainly frightens me from an economic point of view.

Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)

They are spending over £100 million a year in Scotland now.

Mr. Woodburn

Since the last World War, they have prevented any major world war, for the first time in history. I cannot prove, any more than my hon. Friend can, whether this has been due to Polaris or anything else. The fact is that they have made war so terrible that nobody dare start it. Therefore, although nations want to fight, they have not been able to fight because the risk is too great. It may be an expensive way of keeping peace, but I am always prepared to pay for a fire brigade if there are no fires breaking out. I would sooner have the fire brigade than a fire. For me it is a question of insurance. I vote for the insurance.

Today people are not living in the past. The world is moving forward at such a rate that the problem is not to try to go back to the past. It is to keep pace with the movement into the future. The technological development of the world is proceeding quicker than trade unions, employers, local authorities, this Parliament, the European Parliament, or the World Parliament, can keep track of. This is what is causing the unrest in the world. With the modern development of science and technology, it is now questioned whether the old-fashioned university can satisfy the needs of modern students. Obviously there is some kind of revolt and ferment going on, not only in nationalism, but all over the world.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

My right hon. Friend has demolished the romanticism and sentimentalism about Scottish nationalism, but is he satisfied with the present set-up of government in Scotland?

Mr. Woodburn

If my hon. Friend waits, I will come to that. I have demolished sentiment. I am as emotional a Scottish Nationalist as anybody is. However, emotion must be mixed with common sense. It is the same in marriage. I remember seeing a musical comedy in which the girl said, "And we will love; and we will love; and we will love, all the time". The boy asked, "Will there be any interval for meals?" Someone has to bring us back to earth. One must have common sense mixed up with romance.

Economic development is going on throughout the world and the world has to harness this for the benefit of the human race. It cannot do so in isolated pockets, such as Scotland, Wales or even England. Even our nation of 50 million people is too small a basis for the development of modern technology. This is the reason for the drive towards a Europe of 300 million, such as Russia and America have. This basis will enable us to function, and provide a higher standard of living for the greatest number of people. If we return to small units we return to lower standards of living.

If Wales wants, like Southern Ireland, to have its own government, with a far lower standard of living, it is quite entitled to do so. So is Scotland, but I do not want it, and I advise the Scottish people to go into the facts of the situation before taking any step that will plunge them into a poverty which will take them back to the 19th century.

Mr. Gwynfor Evans

The right hon. Gentleman is putting forward a most interesting argument. I wonder whether he is of the opinion that Great Britain should become part of the United States, and therefore part of a far bigger economic entity?

Mr. Woodburn

It is certain that economically Great Britain must become part of a greater unit. The sensible thing is to go into Europe, but if Europe continues to repudiate us and resist this development, it will suffer, as well as ourselves. Europe is not big enough without Britain. With Britain, Europe could be big enough. If we cannot get in, it seems that the United States will be a very attractive possibility. Today Scotland could not have its economic prosperity without industry from the United States, Italy, England and Holland which employs a great deal of the population. The greatest employers in Scotland are companies from other countries.

Scotland has only its skill and hard work to contribute, because it has very poor natural resources. Now even its mines have become very difficult and expensive to work compared with those in some parts of England. Those are our only natural resources, except for fresh air and forestry. One cannot keep a nation of 5 million people on that. We must be part of a bigger Europe because our industry, science and skill and our hard work has to earn us a decent living. We cannot earn it within Scotland; and we have to earn it through the world. Because of the decline in mining and heavy industry, Scotland has made greater and quicker progress into the scientific age than any other country of its size or comparable population.

We now have computers and other scientific-based industry developing, which fortunately suits Scotland because, being far from the market, it benefits through having industries which do not require a great deal of transport. Economically, Great Britain is not big enough. Certanly neither Scotland nor Wales are sufficiently big to participate in world economic development.

The conclusion that I come to is that the world is rapidly becoming an economic unit. There are certain smaller units, such as Europe, the United States, Russia and perhaps Japan. Within these, one has to have an organisation whereby industry can be localised. Fortunately for this country in 1939–40 a Commission reported on the location of industry. The recommendations of that Commission were put into effect by succeeding Governments and now this country is preventing economics from dominating mankind. It says that the economic interests of the people will not decide where industry will go, but that social needs will decide. Because Britain decided that policy she has been able to divert, induce and bribe industry to come to Wales, Scotland and other parts. Because of that the Midlands and the South of England are ceasing to be the great magnet.

The Scottish nationalist movement which carried on from 1707 became lively in about 1885. I think the then Lord Rosebery actually started the first of the great nationalist movements. Then the Duke of Montrose, a friend of my hon. Friends here, started the present nationalist movement before the war. It has carried on since then, and far from the present upsurge being the greatest development of the movement I believe this occurred in 1948 when Dr. McCormick was leading it, when it polled a very large part of the Scottish population. Scotland wants to feel Scottish and to decide on things Scottish. This is a great emotion. Emotions drive and move us, but it ought to be our intelligence which decides where we move. This is where I want a combination of the two. Let us by all means have emotions, but before we start moving, let our intelligence decide where we are going.

For this reason I welcome what the Government have done in introducing this proposal for a Commission to decide, not only on a little by-product of this movement in Scotland and Wales and elsewhere, but to decide how this Parliament and this country is to adjust to this great world movement facing us. It is not only a question of whether Scotland will have a little more home rule. England needs home rule. We have in this Parliament 630 Members sitting here for three hours on some nights to decide whether Hull will have another million gallons of water. Scotland has given an example here. If there is a dispute of that kind affecting Scotland, Parliament appoints a Joint Commission of the Lords and the Commons to go to Scotland and hear the case and decide the issue there.

There is no occupying the time of Parliament for three hours night after night. The Chairman of Ways and Means must have a great deal of trouble organising this in the middle of a busy Session. This Parliament ought to deal with things which are British, not with things purely English, Scottish or Welsh. There is the question of administrative efficiency. I hope that this Commission will examine this, and see how this Parliament can devote itself to things which are British to those things which ought to be discussed on the Floor of the mother of Parliaments.

I am rather proud to have played some little part in bringing about the devolution of Scottish business upstairs—in a miniature Parliament. From that has flowed the Welsh Committee and the right of the Welsh to discuss their affairs in the same way as the Scots. Since then we have established the possibility of sending English Bills upstairs for discussion. This ought to be developed as a start, before the Commission reports. I would recommend that we adopt the Scottish Standing Order, to deal also with English business such as waterworks and local developments, by a small Commission of the Lords and the Commons, taking it away from the Floor of the House. There is no reason why that should wait for the Commission. This Commission has a wonderful job to tackle. What a vision to try to remake the Government of this country to fit modern times.

We should consider how to fit into Europe and into devolving local affairs to local Parliaments. The hon. Member for Carmarthen may be surprised to know that all this was worked out in 1920 when the Lowther Committee was appointed. He will find its Report in the Library. It is very instructive. He will be surprised to find that Welsh nationalism existed even in those days. This Commission will have the opportunity of surveying the field and getting some of the facts.

Nationalist friends in Scotland and Wales produce all sorts of "facts". Then they complain that the Government cannot give them the facts so they manufacture them or imagine them, and use this as propaganda. If their case were very strong they would not need to manufacture statistics to back it up. Their case is strong on emotional grounds, but they lack poetical grounds. A Scottish Nationalist leaflet showed Scotland as pouring millions of pounds into England every year. This is quite dishonest. I hope that the same propaganda is not made in Wales.

The Government set up a Committee under Lord Catto, himself a Scotsman, which brought out a balance-sheet showing that, on balance, economically Scotland got by far the best of the deal. They got far more, which is right, in what was distributed than by contributions which Scotland can make. I am sure the same would be true of Wales. This is a United Kingdom. The idea that the industrial wealth in Scotland could provide all the supplies for the North is ludicrous. Orkney and Shetland wants home rule. Her Majesty's Government pay 19s. 6d. out of every £ on all their services to give them what is normal throughout Scotland.

The hon. Member said that there is not a Welsh adult orchestra, but why not? No one prevents the Welsh people building one up in their own country. No one prevents us in Scotland from doing that if we are prepared to stump up the money. Is the complaint that Her Majesty's Government do not give them the money to establish all these Welsh institutions which they themselves are not prepared to pay for? If they are prepared to pay for them they need not raise these problems here but can go ahead and provide such services. So could we in Scotland. We had, however, the greatest difficulty raising our share of the cost of ensuring that the Commonwealth Games will be held in Scotland in 1970. Contributions are, of course, being made in Scotland and the Government, I believe, are paying about three-quarters of the cost.

We have to face reality. We ought to have economic unity in the world and colourful variety locally. We should give local people the opportunity of contributing to the culture of the world in their own colourful way. No one would want the Welsh not to contribute in their own special way to the music, the art and the literature of the world. The same is true of Scotland. We are not a particularly musical race, but we make contributions in education, medicine, engineering, and in other ways. We have contributed some of the great sports of the world—football and golf. We have contributed to international friendship and Robert Burns' song, A man's a man for a' that" is the "Internationale" of friendship, sung all over the world.

Each country makes its contribution in its own way. We must consider how our economic community can fit in with Europe and yet devolve cultural variety to the local areas so that every part of the country, Northumberland, Yorkshire, Scotland, Wales and every ancient kingdom can keep its identity and wave its own flag in the way it wants. This is the proper and sensible way to do it. I hope that the Commission will examine all these possibilities. There will be a great opportunity for the Commission. Those who sit on it will have one of the most wonderful tasks that has ever fallen to mankind.

6.5 p.m.

Mr. James Dance (Bromsgrove)

I welcome this opportunity to stress the need for much closer attention by the Government to the infrastructure in new towns.

It appears that very little co-operation exists between Ministries over the programming of ancillary services such as hospitals, roads and schools. It also appears that, provided the houses are built, Ministries' responsibility ends. They completely fail to appreciate that these essential services should grow up with and not after the houses have been built.

For example, there is a village quite close to where I live where fairly extensive alterations were made to a school to enable it to cope with the population there. No sooner had the work been completed than a new housing estate was built. Had there been co-operation between the local education authority and the district council, that ridiculous situation would not have occurred. The result is that a hideous temporary portable structure has been built on to the school and in future considerable unnecessary expense will occur. I stress that we want far more co-ordination among the various Ministries, particularly in new towns.

Last Monday, I made an extensive tour of the new town of Redditch. I was amazed to see the progress which had been made, but it brought home to me even more dramatically than before how urgent is the hospital situation in that town. I do not believe either the regional hospital board or the Ministry is fully aware that they are not dealing with a population problem which will be with us in 10 years' time, but that the problem is with us now. People are coming into Redditch very rapidly. By the end of this month there will be an increase in population in the new town of 429. By the end of next year the increase will be 3,571 and the population will rise rapidly after that.

This takes into consideration only houses built by the development corpora- tion for letting; it does not take into consideration any other form of building, private or council. We understand that we should be very lucky if we get the hospital in 10 years. This situation has been with us for some time. Already, Redditch is short of hospital accommodation. It has only 32 hospital beds and no maternity facilities. All this proves what a desperate situation we have now. What the situation will be in a few years' time hardly bears contemplation.

I look forward to the day when there will not be a new town of Redditch or an old town of Redditch, but the town of Redditch. To bring this about there must be easy road access. As Redditch is at present planned, nearly all the new development is to the east of the town and the old town is to the west. It is almost impossible to get from the east to the west without going to one of the extremities of the town. This should be remedied.

Roads are planned, but there is delay. They should be built now, not after the population has arrived. Further, we cannot be satisfied merely by building roads in the town itself. We have to think of the approach roads. There is a scheme known as the Alvechurch by-pass, a very busy road going into Birmingham, which must be given priority. It is even busier now than in the past because of the large transporters coming from, for example, Cowley to the Longbridge works. There is complete and utter chaos at peak periods and, as the population increases, the snarling-up of traffic will become worse.

The Government give the excuse for not taking action in this matter that they are short of money. Frankly, I do not believe that. The trouble is that they get their priorities wrong. They find money for useless projects like the Land Commission and the Ombudsman, who has no powers to deal with many of the problems that face him.

Although the sums I have just mentioned are not vast, they must be found if the standard of life of our people is to be maintained. Nor am I asking for a large sum to provide the one hospital about which I spoke. The Government could cut their expediture and make money available for these essential purposes. These facilities are needed not merely for people's comfort but for their health.

The need for this hospital in Redditch is so serious that 28,000 local people have signed a petition and have asked me to present it to the Minister—a large number of people when one considers the population of this town. They have not signed this document for fun. They are extremely worried about the future of the National Health Service in Redditch.

The Prime Minister often claims to be the head of a dynamic Government. Any Government are judged on their success in running the country's housekeeping. So far, they have completely failed in this task. If they cannot do the job better, they should get out and make way for a Government who can run the country's housekeeping on a proper economic basis and provide the facilities the public demand.

6.14 p.m.

Mr. William Molloy (Ealing, North)

I do not intend to spend much time commenting on the remarks of the hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Dance). I welcome his conversion to a belief in the principle of economic planning, which for so many years his party ignored. I also welcome his remarks about our wonderful National Health Service, which he wants to improve but which to his party was a complete anathema.

Mr. Dance rose

Mr. Molloy

I trust that the hon. Gentleman will allow me to get into my stride before intervening.

Mr. Dance

The hon. Gentleman is being unfair.

Mr. Molloy

I regret that the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Gwynfor Evans) is not in his place. I want him to know that I am getting rather tired of his whining. I fear that people outside may misinterpret his remarks as representing the average standard of rebellion of the Welsh people. If we are to have a Welsh Nationalist in the House, I regret that we cannot have a full-blooded one. I am getting a little tired of the hon. Gentleman's creepy-crawly approach.

Some advice which I wish to give to the hon. Gentleman might be appropriate for the Leader of the Liberal Party, too, for he accidentally put his finger on an important aspect of nationalism when he admitted to being three parts Celtic. He does not quite have the distinction I have—of being a Welshman with an Irish name representing an English constituency.

This question of nationalism is disturbing people throughout the country. Few Welsh, Scots and English families can claim to be 100 per cent. nationalistic from the family point of view. For example, few of them do not have a Scots daughter-in-law, a Welsh son-in-law or an English sister-in-law. Even some Welsh nationalists have sisters, brothers or children married to Scotsmen and Englishwomen. They are realising that their grandchildren might be half English. It is not as though the nationalists are struggling to get into the 18th century. They are trying to catch up with Adam, and it is time they dropped the whole ridiculous business.

London is a good example of a city—perhaps it is the best example anywhere in the world—in which people of all denominations and types can live together in reasonable harmony. This being so, I am led to raise an important matter concerning the quality of life for the average Londoner. I refer to London Transport, an issue which is mentioned in the Gracious Speech, and I am pleased to note that the Government accept that the integration of London's various means of transport requires additional massive study.

I am, however, somewhat worried about the direction in which the Government may be moving in trying to solve this problem. When discussing the problem of London Transport one is really talking of a matter which has a direct bearing on the quality of life of every Londoner. Living standards depend on transport and it would be a tragedy if the standard of living in London were to depreciate because of our inability to find an adequate answer to the problem of getting people to and from their work and places of leisure. This problem will get worse unless we make a drastic reappraisal of the situation now. While I acknowledge that the Government have made efforts to reappraise the problem, I hope that urgent steps will be taken to go further, in collaboration with London Transport.

Like many people, I have been critical of London Transport. I recognise, however, that our criticisms have sometimes been unfair in view of the framework within which it must work. The politicians erected that framework and we must, therefore, accept our share of the responsibility for it. One of the cruellest impositions on London Transport was the statement that it must, first, pay its way, and, secondly, provide an efficient service. That ridiculous notion has caused much of the upset. If there is one thing which gives the answer to the law of supply and demand, it is the massive public transport system of London.

The trouble has developed in this way. First, there has been a decline in the labour force. Men driving or conducting buses have often had to take abuse from irate passengers who found their buses a bit late, or coming in convoys. So often, when people have to wait in the rain, they ease their irritation by shedding a lot of it on to the unfortunate conductor or driver. Because of these and other conditions, workers have not been prepared to become London bus drivers, conductors and conductresses, and the labour force has deteriorated.

As the labour force has deteriorated, there have not been so many buses on the road, and this has led to a fall in takings. With a fall in takings, London Transport has had to make cuts in the services as part of its effort to meet the financial requirement. Over the years, things have gone round in a ridiculous circle. The fares have been put up. After the fares have been put up and the standard of the service has been reduced, people have refused to pay, for example, 2s. to go from Fulham Broadway to Westminster, and have used their own cars. More cars have come on the roads of London, and this has made matters worse in its turn.

I want the House to spare a thought for this problem and to evaluate its effects. In 1967, London Transport covered about 287 million miles, conveying 1,980 million passengers. This is such a massive total that one can hardly understand what it means. However, with all those miles covered and passengers carried, the accident rate has been so small that it cannot be measured. It is the finest record in the world. Credit should be given to the organisers of London's transport, but credit should go also to the men who drive the buses. Many of them have had awards for safe driving. Only recently, I heard of one London bus driver who has been driving buses for 40 years and who has never been involved in any sort of accident. Many of his colleagues have a similar record.

The London transport system covers about 2,000 sq. miles, one-twenty fifth of all England. The total population served is 10¼ million. Six million Londoners daily use some form of public transport. The loss of passengers over the years has been tragic, reinforcing the argument which I am putting, that running the service down makes it lose passengers, with the result that more money is lost and then more cars come on the road. From 1956 to 1966, London Transport lost 125 million passengers. In 1967, it took heart in the fact that the loss of passengers was reduced dramatically to only 5 million.

I put it to the Minister, and to the Greater London Council when it comes to take over London's transport, that the real reason we have not been able to develop a really efficient transport system to meet London's need is that we have spoiled a magnificent service by trying to compel it to pay its way.

Mr. David Webster (Weston-super-Mare)

Does the hon. Gentleman recall the way profit changed to loss? Up to the end of the 13 years of Conservative government, London Transport ran at a profit. This is now not so. What has been done by the Government to make it fail to run at a profit?

Mr. Molloy

The hon. Gentleman's comment shows the hopelessness of the position into which one is sometimes put by such an attitude. I have explained the reason for the deteriorating situation, the reason why London's roads are clogged with traffic in the rush hours so that the buses cannot get through and people prefer to use their cars. When London Transport found it could not pay its way, it took buses off the roads. That is the reason for the present situation.

A well-known industrialist once made the point to me that, if a bus was late once or twice in a week, if it was held up in a, traffic jam, and a few hundred skilled operatives were half an hour or an hour late in coming to work, this could mean a loss of about £10,000. It had never struck him that, on the basis of his argument, that private company was being magnificently subsidised by London Transport.

I come now to another aspect of London's transport, the new system of one-man buses operating in a given area. Three or four years ago, I suggested in the House that we might have local area bus services. The Ealing Trades Council had prepared a plan under which, instead of having London buses running all the way from Ealing to Westminster or the East End, or, for example, having the No. 73 bus going all the way from Stoke Newington to Richmond, it would be more sensible to have area bus services meeting a certain number of main service buses at certain terminals or connecting with the underground stations. These local services would cover a given area, for example, Ealing, Northolt and Green-ford or Fulham, Hammersmith and Kensington.

A scheme of this sort is now being accepted, according to the ideas suggested in last year's Report of the London Transport Board, and I welcome it very much. However, I should like it to go further. I am not too keen on the idea of the large single-decker bus with, say, 48 people having to stand. The suggestion which my colleagues in the Ealing Trades Council and I put forward was that within local areas we should have something on the lines of the Volkeswagen bus.

This could be of particular value for the housewife who, after her children have gone to school and her husband has gone to work, has a lot of local things to attend to. There would be a fair number of these small buses, so that if a woman missed one the next would be coming along almost at once. I am convinced that such a service would be much appreciated, and it would probably pay its way. It would certainly make a great contribution to the quality of life of the average working-class woman in the Greater London area.

Whatever is done in the modernisation of London's transport—and, heaven knows, it is needed—and whatever may be the criticisms levelled at the London Transport Board, all must recognise that a truly remarkable job is done by the Board within the limits which Governments have imposed upon it. Now, the idea is that our transport system shall move away from Parliamentary control and come under the Greater London Council. I should like to see closer contact with people.

One trades council started an idea for providing local public transport in the Borough of Ealing. It was aided by the local newspaper, which did not take political sides but saw the idea as being rather good. If such thinking can be given the recognition that it should receive in other parts of London—we might have to experiment here and there—I believe that this method could lead to a number of things happening. People would not use their cars so often, but would prefer to use public transport, thus reducing the number of cars on the road. As a result, there would be much more peace of mind for the mass of Londoners. If we could move along these lines fairly quickly, I believe that such action would make a great contribution to improving the quality of life of those in this great metropolis.

6.31 p.m.

Mr. Ian MacArthur (Perth and East Perthshire)

I hope that the hon. Member for Ealing (Mr. Molloy) will forgive me if I do not deal with his very interesting speech about London Transport. I want to turn to what I think is the key paragraph in the Gracious Speech, which refers to the pressing forward of policies for strengthening the economy so as to achieve a continuing and substantial balance of payments surplus. We have had similar words in Gracious Speeches in previous years—last year, the year before, and the year before that. This morning I read again the Gracious Speech of 1965, when we had much the same statement. It said: My Government's aim is to develop a soundly based economy. They will give priority to ensuring that balance in external payments is restored next year and that the strength of sterling is maintained. We know what happened to the balance of payments, and what happened to the strength of sterling afterwards.

We are used to the pious hopes expressed every year in this way in the Gracious Speech, and to the way in which they quickly fade in the face of events only to be repeated equally piously soon afterwards. The longish-term undertakings collapse year after year, and the short-term undertakings are not much better. In his Budget speech this year, the Chancellor of the Exchequer forecast a fall in consumer demand, but consumer demand has increased, primarily because the Government's policy has encouraged a flight from money. As a result, we had emergency measures, the restrictions on hire purchase, announced just a few days ago.

Perhaps the shortest-term forecast of all was the one we heard from the Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity at Bassetlaw on Wednesday night, repeated, at least by implication, by the Leader of the House on Thursday, the day of the voting, only to be totally contradicted by the statement on Friday. The right hon. Lady says that this was simply a touch on the tiller, but the Government get their nautical metaphors pretty muddled.

The then Chancellor of the Exchequer cried, "Steady as she goes", or words to that effect, last year. Since then the ship of State has been biffed and buffeted by devaluation, the emergency measures of January, the Budget and the latest restrictions on consumer demand, which will provoke the unemployment that the Government promised we should not have. It has been shaken off course pretty drastically.

The other day the Prime Minister used the current catch-phrase "participation in decision-making". I am not sure that people want to participate very much in the decisions of the present Government. They do not want to participate in the contradictions and double-talk that we have heard over the past years, or the broken promises, the greatest of which was the promise that there would be no increase in taxation. That was their promise. Their actions led to an increase in tax rates of £2,100 million, an increase in our overseas debts of nearly £3,000 million and an increase in the bureaucracy of nearly 60,000. That is the record over four years. Translated into daily terms, the average daily increase in tax rates over the past four years has been £1½ million, the daily increase in overseas debts has been £2 million and the daily increase in the bureaucracy has been 40 people.

The strength of the United Kingdom economy is critical to the future prosperity of Scotland. That is something which those who advocate separatism and nationalism might well remember. What matters to us all in Scotland, England and Wales is not the strength of one part of our country, but the strength of the total economy. After talking of strengthening the economy, the Gracious Speech speaks of the development of policies to encourage a better distribution of resources in industry and employment and to make fuller use of resources in the Regions. I hope that that declaration will carry more conviction than previous declarations.

I am glad that the Secretary of State for Scotland is with us. At Question Time the other day he showed an alarming complacency in his replies to Questions about the progress of employment in Scotland. His White Paper, the so-called Scottish Plan, which was published in January, 1966, contemplated an increase in new jobs of between 50,000 and 60,000 by 1970. We are just about half way through that period now, and far from new jobs having been created, there has been a substantial loss in the number of jobs in Scotland.

Whilst it is difficult to relate one year to another because of changing bases of calculation, if the right hon. Gentleman looks at the Written Answer to a Question I asked on 21st October, 1968, he will see that, even making allowances for the changing base, the number of people employed in Scotland fell between June, 1965, and June, 1967, by 28,800. The drop in manufacturing industries was 27,000 and the drop in the service industries was 8,200. There is nothing in that to suggest that the hopes expressed by the Chancellor in 1966 when he introduced the Selective Employment Tax have been fulfilled. There is nothing there to show the movement from service employment to manufacturing employment which the right hon. Gentleman proposed to the House and country at that time.

By contrast, it is interesting to note that in the period 1960 to 1964 the number of new jobs created in Scotland was just over 30,000. We succeeded in those years where the right hon. Gentleman has failed. The right hon. Gentleman looks doubtful, but the figure is in paragraph 26 on page 9 of his own White Paper. The increase in employment between 1960 and 1964 was just over 30,000. In the White Paper, the right hon. Gentleman forecasts an increase of 60,000 between 1965 and 1970. What happened was the increase of 30,000 in those earlier years. What has not happened is any increase since. We have gone into reverse, with a net loss of 28,800 jobs.

It is not good enough for the right hon. Gentleman to say at Question Time that it will take a little longer than the Government planned, and that we must not worry because it will come right in the end. We all want it to come right, but we want him to tell us how. What steps are being taken? The right hon. Gentleman may refer to advance factories. They are all very well when they are used, but will he tell the House how many are standing empty today without tenants, and how many new jobs have been provided by the Government's new factory building programme?

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. William Ross)

We have within this year allocated 15 advance factories, which is equal in the year so far to the past two years put together.

Mr. MacArthur

That is not the answer to my question. How many advance factories are now standing empty, without tenants? Will the right hon. Gentleman answer that? He will not, because he knows very well that there is a substantial number. He and I share the wish that they will be filled soon, but that is not the background against which he should make complacent statements such as that we heard in the House the other day.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

The hon. Gentleman is talking about empty advance factories. I am interested in this. There is one in my constituency. If private enterprise fails to take over an empty advance factory, is the hon. Gentleman in favour of the State taking action to provide employment in the area?

Mr. MacArthur

The hon. Gentleman can put as many tricky and clever ques- tions as he likes, but when we had free enterprise working more freely we increased the number of jobs in Scotland over four years by 30,000. He may be delighted with the effects of nationalisation and State control, but the result in Scotland over recent years has been a drop of 28,800 jobs.

Later in the Gracious Speech we come to a significant paragraph which states that the law relating to education in Scotland will be brought into line with current developments. I hope that the Secretary of State will soon tell us what that mysterious statement means. Will it be a consolidation Measure or will it be something more than that?

Is there in this paragraph a threat to fee-paying schools? I hope not. If there is, the right hon. Gentleman will have a fight on his hands, not only because we believe in the retention of these great schools in Scotland but also because my hon. Friends and I believe that movements of this kind at this time will divert the attention and expert knowledge of educationists in education and in local authorities alike from the critical task of preparing to meet the raising of the school leaving age in 1972.

People ought to be concerned not with petty political squabbles emanating from Transport House, but with the real education issue, which is what we are to teach our children who stay on for the extra year after 1972. What will the curriculum be? How shall we fit our young citizens for the challenge of life outside? How shall we reduce the shortage of teachers? How shall we fulfil the needs of the school building programme?

I ask the Secretary of State to provide us by the end of this year with a clear statement setting out the programme for each of these aspects of educational development so that we shall be ready to raise the school leaving age in 1972 and not again be faced with a collapse such as was forced upon us by the economic measures earlier their year and by the un-preparedness of education thanks to the short-sightedness of Government policies.

I warmly welcome the reference in the Gracious Speech to the introduction of legislation to help the development of tourism in Great Britain. I look forward to more information about this. I hope that it will have more promise in it than the empty, so-called help given by the Government to tourism in the past.

I referred earlier to the right hon. Gentleman's notorious White Paper. I mention it again because it spoke of special treatment for tourism. Special treatment was just what tourism got. Within a few months the investment allowances were withdrawn. In May of that year, with the General Election safely behind them, the Government slapped on the Selective Employment Tax. Last year, repenting slightly and too late, they adjusted the impact of the tax, and now they claim great credit for removing the worst effects of it from the hotel industry in Scotland.

But the fact is that hotels in Scotland will now be paying £150,000 more a year in S.E.T. than before the so-called concession. I do not regard that as help to the industry. I trust that the help that will come under the new legislation will mean rather more than the sham help that we have had.

There is the usual rather platudinous comment that the Government will continue to promote the development of agriculture as an important contribution to the national economy. I always welcome words of this kind in the Gracious Speech, but what do they mean? If the right hon. Gentleman was serious about agriculture in Scotland he would do more about it, and doing more about it without doubt requires a gradual movement over a period of years from deficiency payments to a system of import levies and import control.

Much of the debate today has centred on the appointment of a Commission. But the Gracious Speech does not refer to the appointment of a Commission. It refers to the beginning of consultations about the appointment of a Commission. I hope that before the end of the debate on the Gracious Speech we shall hear more than we have done about what these words mean.

There has been an increase in the nationalist movement in Scotland as in Wales. I believe that it is over its peak now, but that is by the way. What I think people do not realise is that in Scotland there has been a great deal of devolution already. As the Prime Minister said on Wednesday, the Secretary of State already has control of health and agriculture. More than that, he has control of town and country planning; housing; new towns; roads; urban redevelopment; water and sewerage; clean air; electricity; local government; countryside; tourism; Highland development, including shipping; forestry; Crown Estates; education; child care; approved schools; recreation; arts; hospitals; welfare, including welfare of the aged and disabled; fisheries, food supply; crofting; public order; police; fire; civil defence; legal questions, including law reform and legal aid; criminal justice; prisons; liquor licensing. This is quite a list.

Mr. Ross

It includes tourism.

Mr. MacArthur

Yes. It represents the large amount of devolution that has taken place over the years. It shows the need for a different sort of inquiry, because there is precious little room left for devolution of this kind. There is little left to devolve.

If there is to be a further movement of decision-making into Scotland, as I believe there must be, I find it hard to understand how it can be within the present framework of government. That is why I believe it is time to review the machinery of government in Scotland to see how a process can be established whereby some part at least of the legislation for Scotland, which we deal with very largely separately, can be shared by a new body in Scotland.

The Prime Minister has at last caught up with this. I remind the Secretary of State for Scotland that already there is sitting in Scotland as distinguished a Constitutional Committee as could possibly be appointed. That is the one appointed by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition. The Prime Minister could well have accepted his invitation to appoint an all-party Commission of Inquiry because I believe that ideally a study of this kind should be an all-party matter as it opens the prospect of constitutional change which could be the largest in the Kingdom for over two centuries.

I trust that the outcome of the Commission will not be any proposal for the separation of Scotland from England. That would be disastrous for Scotland and very damaging for England. I believe that what we must encourage is the unity of the United Kingdom and that the best way to build the strength of each part of our United Kingdom is to take every step we can to provide for the strengthening of our total economy.

6.49 p.m.

Mr. John P. Mackintosh (Berwick and East Lothian)

I should like to continue the discussion of the last point raised by the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. MacArthur) on the question of the Constitutional Commission. Unlike most hon. Members who have spoken, I am a little unhappy about its appointment. I was particularly unhappy about the arguments of the Leader of the Liberal Party, when he seemed to think that the whole future development of our constitution, its internal relationships and the rôle of this House should be handed over to a body of appointed people for their mature deliberation. It seems to me that to do this would be to suggest that neither the Ministers, the Shadow Cabinet, nor the collective wisdom of this House is equal to the task, and that would be the greatest condemnation of Parliament and of its present position that anyone could make.

I was aghast at the thought of sitting here for three or four years waiting for a group of people to produce some proposals which we would then have to accept or reject. After all, as the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Gwynfor Evans) pointed out, such a body would be composed of people who would be in no way less political than we are. They would simply have different views or prejudices. It is a fundamental matter for the Government to decide and propose and then for Parliament to debate and accept or reject.

I cannot see why the Government have produced this unfortunte proposal of a Constitutional Commission. One possible argument put forward by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary at the Labour Party conference at Blackpool was that the facts are not fully known and need to be investigated. With respect, I doubt that.

On financial questions, the facts are as well known as it is possible for accountants to extract them. In 1952, we had the detailed Report of the Catto Committee, set up by righ hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite. That went into the matter and produced a return. Those items which it could not allocate are unallocatable. I have asked the Treasury to produce an up-to-date return, but more detail cannot be produced, given the present financial structure of the country.

Even if one could produce the facts, they would not have much effect on the people arguing the case. After all, it is not a "hard cash" case. We know that Britain could exist as separate parts, which might be better or worse off. But, basically, that does not affect the argument.

On administrative facts, also, the matters are well known. The House is obliged to the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire, who read the list of functions of the Secretary of State. They are well known to most people, certainly to most students of the subject, and we do not need to research them to establish the position. I cannot accept that we need a Commission to establish the facts.

The value judgments cannot be established by a Commission. They are not open to judgment. I was interested in the argument advanced by the hon. Member for Carmarthen that, if Wales was a separate nation, there would be an upsurge of cultural activity, vitality, enthusiasm and confidence. I hope that that would be so, but no one can establish it. We can look at countries where it exists and at countries which have achieved independence where, if anything, art, literature and letters have declined. They have become inward-looking, narrow and parochial.

If we in Scotland became independent, standards would decline. Most of the art, literature and letters which have stimulated a Scottish response have come from outside. There is a great deal of narrowness in my country, and I am not confident that a separate Scottish Assembly would be more liberal or progressive in cultural matters and encourage and stimulate people more than is the case at present. It might, but that is no reason for appointing a Commission to pronounce on the matter.

I can only assume that the reason the Government have chosen to set up the Commission is because of a fundamental difficulty in their ranks in deciding on the matter. Indeed, there is not only a disagreement amongst the Government about what should happen. It exists among right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite as well. The Leader of the Opposition has pronounced in favour of an elected assembly and has set up a Committee to investigate it. I shall not be surprised if the Committee turns down his proposal. I know that there are tremendous tensions among hon. Gentlemen opposite who represent Scottish constituencies. The same is true of these benches, and I respect people's views on these matters. But, ultimately, it is a matter for the Government to determine, to reach a conclusion and to put forward their views.

I would press my right hon. Friends to realise the dangers of delay. Politically, they are serious. But, by that, I do not mean in terms of the prospects of either of the major parties defeating nationalist candidates. That is not such a serious matter. I think that the wisdom of the Scottish electorate will accept the general arguments in favour of unity and reject separatism. The evidence is that the vast bulk of people voting nationalist do not accept nationalist policy on this point. Most people reject it, and what we must consider is why they vote in this way.

The chief political danger in delay is that it suggests to the public that the Government, the Opposition and this House have not grappled with one of the central questions of our community. In a sense, we are rudderless on the matter, and this contributes to people's disillusionment with politicians and the machinery of government.

There are administrative dangers in delay in that the way in which we run our country, in its highly centralised form in England, at any rate, has produced a great slowing down in the whole machinery of government. I am much impressed by the rate at which some countries, for example, can put up advance factories when the two in my constituency took long negotiations and, in one case, 13 months and, in the other, 17 months to construct. I was discussing this with a senior civil servant in the Scottish Office who is an old friend and associate of mine. He told me that one of the big problems in negotiating any Scottish economic development is the number and wide variety of bodies which have to be consulted, all with their own amour propre. The result is that our pace of economic activity in regional terms, despite the tremendous energy of Ministers, has been slowed.

There is also a weakness on the consultation side. Having gone through this long process, we spring plans on people, and there is then a failure of consultation and contact. There is then delay, as we have seen in the Central Borders plan, where, misguidedly, one county council turned it down, the whole matter ground to a halt, and now has to be got going again. The chief danger is that delay will turn the political atmosphere sour.

I will not go into the merits of the interesting and moving clash to which we listened earlier between two hon. Members representing Northern Ireland constituencies. In my view, that deep and bitter clash was the product of the greatest error of our statesmanship in the 19th century. Sensible devolution for Ireland was delayed for 30 years, when it was demanded by Protestants and Catholics alike and when it could have been brought in without separation and maintained the unity of the country.

This is not a matter of separation at all. It is a more complex matter of what is to be decided centrally and what locally. I have had the good fortune recently to be touring Europe, and this problem deeply exercises the Governments of France, Germany and Italy, to take only three examples. General de Gaulle thought that he could decentralise administration to the prefects, by building them up more powerfully, without popular participation. The days of May last year, with their frustration and bitterness, were part of a revolution against the over-centralisation of France. He has had to make concessions. In Italy, there is an autonomous council in Sicily and Sardinia handling matters of development in the context of the national framework. In Germany, they have the division between the Lander and a highly prosperous united country.

The problem of what is to be put out to the regions and what is to be kept central is a subtle, interesting and intricate one which is only soluble on political lines by the Members of the Government bringing forward proposals and putting them to the House so that they can be tackled.

I would urge upon my right hon. Friends that the most fruitful part of the Queen's; speech is that which says that they will not hesitate to go on with this work, despite the setting up of the Commission. I hope that they will let the Commission alone, make up their own minds and give us something to consider before the expiry of this Parliament.