Swansea West branch of Plaid Cymru want the people of Herefordshire and Shropshire
to be allowed to have a plebiscite to decide whether they want to be incorporated in Wales.
At their meeting, with Mr. leun ap Gwent in the Chair…
The Welshmen will understand that—
…it was agreed to put forward a resolution to the Party's Annual Conference about the plebiscite…".
§ This conjured up a vision of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales leaving Cardiff General station in front of a group of stony-faced Welshmen, arriving in Paddington to be greeted with delirious joy and hastening to this House clutching his piece of paper and assuring hon. Members that all would be well because the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Gwynfor Evans) had assured him that he had no further territorial ambitions. If referenda result in developments of this sort, I say, quite definitely, "No".
§ I agree with much of what has been said about the four choices. I have for 30 years been a teacher and a headmaster, and no one in the House realises more than I do the difficulty of communicating knowledge to other people. The first question that is to be asked is whether people are satisfied with the present system of government. It is unlikely that anyone will be satisfied, and confusion will arise, which no political party will be able to dispel. For example, hon. Members know that about half the problems which they have to face both personally and by correspondence are local authority problems, and there will be confusion between local and national government. To explain to our people what federalism means and the different types of federalism would be a tremendous task.
§ The one plain question which could be answered is whether people want total separation, but even here we cannot in fairness ask people to decide this important constitutional issue, with its vast implications for the future of their grandchildren and great-grandchildren, on the basis of insufficient knowledge.
§ Mr. Hooson
Is the hon. Gentleman not putting the classical argument for an enlightened oligarchy? This is the argument which was put forward against the extension of the franchise; that people did not understand it, and that it should be left to those who did.
Not at all. I would suggest that, in addition to the normal vehicles of information through political parties, the Government should undertake to ensure that the information is collected and that it percolates through to the people who have to make the decision. I would rebut any idea that an oligarchy was implied in what I have said.
In Wales the referendum would become a miniature by-election accompanied by the high emotionalism of recent by-elections in Wales. I have no complaint about this, but it would not produce a situation in which decisions could be reached with any degree of objectivity and I am sure that it would not be for the benefit of Wales.
§ Mr. Russell Johnston (Inverness)
The hon. Gentleman has said that he is a teacher. Surely he knows that all political problems are complex, whether they are presented in the form of a referendum or in his own manifesto; I do not understand the distinction. Secondly, objectivity has not been particularly noteworthy in this House.
I accept the second point. I realise the difficulties of communication from my own work. I agree that all political problems are complex, but dealing with a collection of problems in a party manifesto is rather different from dealing with the life of what is claimed by the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mrs. Ewing) to be a nation.
The last of the four questions would evoke a large volume of replies, but it may be that all the implications would not be known. In Wales the knowers have probably worked out the implications of complete separatism, and they speak with mixed voices. Some members of the Nationalist Party do not want total separatism; others do not want economic separatism. The hon. Member for Carmarthen wants financial separatism but not economic separatism. If this confusion exists in the minds of the main protagonists, how much greater will be the confusion of ordinary people?
I hope that on grounds of genuine care for the people of Wales and Scotland, the Bill will meet the fate which it deserves.
§ 1.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Gwynfor Evans (Carmarthen)
This Measure proposes a method by which the people of Wales and Scotland can indicate the way in which their own national futures may be developed and organised. I wish to urge upon the House that the fundamental issue here is who shall decide the national futures of Wales and Scotland. It is not how the people of the two nations should make their will known which is the fundamental question, but whose will shall determine the conditions of life in Wales and Scotland.
The Nationalist answer to it is the democratic one. Plaid Cymru contends that the national future of Wales is a matter to be decided by the people most involved; that is, by the people of Wales. A referendum is one way of ascertaining the will of the people. Once that will is made clear, it is the duty of the Establishment to act in accordance with it.
The Government and the political parties of England have no moral right to oppose or thwart in any way the expressed will of the Welsh people—
Mr. Fred Evans
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will refer to a "section of the Welsh people", because I am as Welsh as he is and have lived in Wales.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Sydney Irving)
That is not a point of order. The hon. Gentleman is intervening in the debate.
§ Mr. Gwynfor Evans
I was just making the general proposition that it is the will of the people—not of one section—which should prevail. I was going on to say that, in any case, once the Welsh and Scots nations are awakened fully and determined to live as free nations, nothing can stop them having national status. They have at their disposal the strongest moral force in the world—the power of nationalism. That power is strong enough to enable the Welsh people, small in number though we are—only 5 per cent. of the population of the island—to achieve that degree of political freedom on which they set their minds, whatever may be the opposition in Whitehall and Westminster.
Just as the national freedom of Czechoslovakia today is being defended by the people of that country without the 1780 use of violence, so, too, can the national freedom of Wales be won and must be won without the use of violence.
§ Mr. Maclennan
In referring to the Czechoslovakian situation, the hon. Gentleman will recognise that one of the great strengths of that country has been the united front of the two nations which go to make up that State—the Slovaks and the Czechs.
§ Mr. Evans
Unlike Plaid Cymru, the English political parties do not believe that national freedom can be defended or won without the use of violence; hence the thousands of millions of£s which are spent annually on methods and weapons of violence. But, in Wales, we are determined to win our freedom without shedding a drop of blood. I liked the words spoken a fortnight ago by the Rector of Prague University who said:We cannot use force. Our people must live by the force of their ideals and spiritual values.I hope that the House will agree that the State should serve the nation. Wales, alas, has no State to serve her. I hope, too, that the House will agree that the Government should implement the will of the people—
§ Mr. James Griffiths (Llanelly)
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that, if the people of Wales declare that they want independence, they have a moral right to it. However, his party is fighting every seat at the next General Election, and it will put its views before the people. Will he then accept that the result will be the decision of the people of Wales?
§ Mr. Evans
Of course. That is the democratic way of expressing the will of the people. Of course, we shall abide by the will of the people expressed in that way.
In Wales today, we have no government to implement our will as a nation. A referendum is one way of ascertaining the will of the people, but—
§ Mr. Gwilym Roberts (Bedfordshire, South)
Will the hon. Gentleman agree that experience of referenda in general shows that only a very small percentage of the electorate vote in them. For example, only 29.8 per cent. voted on whether to open pubs in Wales on the Sabbath. This cannot be the will of the people.
§ Mr. Evans
There have not been many referenda held outside Switzerland, where they are the normal procedure. In a recent one in Australia, there was an 80 per cent. vote. However, the hon. Gentleman's point is an argument against democracy itself. In local government elections, for example, one often has only a 30 per cent. vote. I am sure that he would not suggest that that is an argument against elections.
A referendum is one way of ascertaining the people's will, but the will of the people can be and often is made known in other ways. My point here is that the Government do not take note of the will of the people of Wales and implement it. If they do not do it today, how likely are they to organise a referendum?
I want to give some recent examples of this. Through their political parties, including the Regional Council of Labour, trade unions and local authorities, the Welsh people have made known their desire for an elected national council. But we do not have an elected national council. Instead, we have another advisory body which is quite useless. The people of Wales have shown that they wanted a national water board. The Labour Party included a reference to it in their 1964 manifesto. But the will of the people of Wales has not been implemented. We have no national water board.
The will of the people of Wales was for work and not unemployment. In the famous July package of 1966, unemployment was deliberately created by the Government, against the will of the people. The people of Wales wanted equality for the Welsh language. We have not even had equal validity for the Welsh language. We wanted a countryside commission, but were fobbed off with yet another advisory committee.
1782 The people of Wales wanted and were promised an economic development plan. We had another useless White Paper which did not begin to be an economic development plan. The people of Wales did not want their system of local government to be destroyed, but the Government are determined to destroy it. The people of Wales did not want Cwm Tryweryn drowned, and they were united in their opposition to it. It was expressed in this House by hon. Members representing Welsh constituencies, who voted—
§ Mr. William Edwards (Merioneth)
Taking up the hon. Gentleman's last assertion, is not this the tragedy of the situation, in that, when Cwm Tryweryn was being drowned, he stood as a candidate in my constituency where it is situated, and his vote went down substantially in the election?
§ Mr. Evans
The fact remains that the people of Wales were more united on this issue than on any other. Incidentally, it was not the issue on which the election was fought, of course. The opposition to the drowning of this valley was democratic, political and constitutional, but this House allowed Liverpool to drown that valley, riding roughshod over the opposition to the proposal and thus showing its contempt for constitutionally, politically and democratically expressed opinion.
With this kind of record, what hope is there of any Government at Westminster abiding by the will of the Welsh people as expressed in a referendum? The attitude of English Governments towards Wales has always been paternalistic and imperialistic—paternalist in that they always know better than the Welsh what is good for them, and imperialist in that their order has always ensured the ruthless exploitation of the human and material resources of Wales without regard for the will of the Welsh people and for the benefit of the community, which politicians usually call Britain when they remember not to call it England.
The proper development of these resources for the benefit of the Welsh nation has never been the first concern of Government in London, however unctuously their Members and supporters profess their anxiety to do only that which is best for Wales.
1783 Both the Labour and Conservative Parties are declared unionist parties. I do not believe for a moment that either a Labour or a Conservative Government would organise referenda in Wales or in Scotland on the self-government issue.
§ Mr. James Griffiths
I am glad to have that elucidated. Do I gather that the hon. Gentleman and his party stand for separation, not for union?
§ Mr. Evans
We stand for complete self-government. We stand for Dominion or Commonwealth status, as it is called. We have said this in every election that we have fought. It has been our policy for more than 30 years. We stand for Commonwealth status, which is self-government within the Commonwealth. We approve the idea of Dominion status and we should like to see the Commonwealth idea applied in the United Kingdom situation, giving equal status to each of the separate nations of these islands. We stand for equality of status with the other nations of these islands and we stand for national freedom.
§ Mr. William Edwards
Could the hon. Gentleman elucidate the situation? Does he agree, in stating his policy, with the policy enunciated by the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mrs. Ewing)?
§ Mr. Evans
I have stated that the policy of my party is that of Commonwealth status. That is a pretty close definition of our aim. That is our political objective. It means not only national status, but international status. It means giving us a place in the life of the world.
My point is that no Labour or Conservative Government will organise a referendum in our country, because they know that the result would be a substantial majority in favour of an extensive measure of self-government. This has been discussed for generations. It has been discussed since the end of the last century. All the polls which have 1784 recently been held show that in Wales, as in Scotland, there is a big majority in favour of a great measure of self-government for our country.
§ Mr. Gwynfor Evans
Sixty per cent. want what is called federal status, but there is a big majority in favour of an extensive measure of self-government. This is well known and has been established by all the polls, and the by-elections that we have had, including Caerphilly. It is well known, indeed, that the majority of the people of Wales want some form of self-government. This is why we will have no referendum. The Government do not want to make this clearer than it is already. The will of the Welsh people is well known, but the two major political parties are determined to thwart that will. That is why this Tory-Labour Establishment will never permit a referendum which would make that clearer. The first concern of those parties is to maintain their power. That is why the Labour Party dropped self-government for Wales from its programme in the 1930s. It was not because it was not good for Wales—it knew that it was good for Wales and its leaders had said so—but because it thought that it was not good for the Labour Party.
The Conservative Party has always been openly and uncompromisingly opposed to any measure of national freedom for Wales and Scotland. Its overwhelming concern is the power and the prestige of Britain—never the freedom and welfare of the Welsh nation. What hope is there that either of these two parties will organise referenda?
The Under-Secretary of State said that we need more facts. We have been discussing these facts for generations. What have the parties been doing if they have not been putting the facts before the people all these years? When we tried to put the facts before the people we were banned from television and radio. That is what the two major parties did to us. They say that they want the facts put before the people. Yet in 1955, when the B.B.C. in Wales proposed to have a series of party political broadcasts, the Government were called in by the Labour Party, in collusion with the Tories, because it was a united front on this matter, to ban all party political 1785 broadcasts outside the official series in London. That ban was maintained until two years ago, when we were allotted five minutes in a year. That has been the situation. They say that they want the facts. Let us give the facts to the people. Let us have opportunities to give them the facts on radio, on television and in the Press, instead of having this suppression of the facts that we have had over the years.
Suppression went so far that the matter was raised in this House by an hon. Member who said that the Welsh bulletins were dripping with Welsh Nationalist propaganda, and he insisted on an inquiry into the matter. But the Ince Committee of Inquiry found that we were getting less than our due share of items in the bulletins. But that did not stop the B.B.C. reducing our share still further. It was frightened. That was the whole purpose of the exercise.
It is hypocrisy to call for facts when the major political parties want to suppress the facts on these issues. In this situation, referenda in Wales and Scotland are just not on. Even if they were on, they would not have the value that they could have unless both sides had equal freedom on the air and in the Press.
It is well established that the Labour and Conservative Parties are not only totally opposed to the policy that my party and I stand for, but, during the last generation, they have been totally opposed to any measure of self-government for Wales. They are totally opposed even to the measure of self-government enjoyed by the 22 cantons of Switzerland. Each of those cantons has more power than the provinces of Canada, the states of the United States, the provinces of Germany, Italy or Australia. They would call this separation. They will not allow Wales and Scotland to have even that measure of control over their own affairs. They are opposed to all measures of control in Wales and Scotland.
That the ancient nations of these two countries should enjoy even a measure of provincial status is for them unthinkable. Not because it would not be good for Wales and Scotland—and I emphasise this the whole time—but because it would not be good for what is sometimes called 1786 Britain, which is a synonym for England, or for the Labour and Conservative Parties.
These are the considerations which decide what happens in Wales and Scotland always, not our own welfare. It is never the welfare of Wales and Scotland or the freedom of Wales and Scotland which decide the policies in these English political parties; it is their own interests as parties or the interests of the bigger community.
§ Mr. Gwilym Roberts
The hon. Gentleman states that it is only the interests of the Government and the other major parties in Britain, which he terms England. Is it not a fact that many parts of England, like the part that I represent, are outside the development areas, whereas Wales and Scotland are favourably treated by this Government in this respect? Therefore, how can the hon. Gentleman argue that the Government are merely giving special treatment to England? I feel that it is the other way round, if anything.
§ Mr. Evans
All the facts show that Wales and Scotland have never been put at the top of the considerations which the Government have in mind in formulating their policy—[HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."]—sometimes the interests of Wales and Scotland coincide with those of England and we are then in a happy position. But otherwise it is a different matter, as we see when we look at the consequences in any sphere of Welsh life. In the cultural sphere, we have declined over the last few generations. Our language has become the language of a quarter of the people, not the whole. We have higher unemployment than England. We have tremendous migration, yet we still have unemployment. There is a lack of balanced development in Wales. The whole story shows that the interests of Wales are not put first by any English political party or Government. They put other interests before ours. We need Governments in Wales who will put our interests first.
Very soon devices like referenda and commissions will be supererogatory and irrelevant. The day is not far off when the nations of Wales and Scotland will have the political strength, channelled through their national parties, to compel the English Government to yield to them, not only provincial status, but national 1787 status, to yield to them a status which will take them at last into the life of the world and which will give them their due place in international life. Wales will then take her place in the United Nations Organisation with the 35 nations which are smaller than her in population. She will play her part there. The day is not far distant when this will happen. The Welsh people will have nothing to do with a narrow, inward-looking nationalism which would crib and confine them inside a provincial status. They will want to see their nation a co-citizen of the world playing a useful part in creating a stable and a peaceful and a just world order. Referendum or not, it is the people of Wales who will decide the national future of Wales.
§ Mr. James Griffiths
The hon. Gentleman is the leader of a party. He is here as a result of a by-election, by the vote of the people. His party proposes to put candidates up in every Welsh constituency. We are, therefore, entitled to ask the hon. Gentleman to tell the people plainly what his party stands for. He said that the Labour Party, to which I have belonged all my life, and which represents the overwhelming majority of the people of Wales, was a unionist party. He is not in a united party. Does the hon. Gentleman now say to Wales that his party wants complete separation from the rest of the United Kingdom? The people of Wales are entitled to an answer.
§ Mr. Evans
I have already answered that question as fully as I can in the time allowed me. [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] If the House will give me time, I will go into the matter more closely. I shall be glad to do so. We stand for Commonwealth status for Wales. [HON. MEMBERS: "Separation."] Hon. Members may call it by any emotive term they like. The fact is that we stand for Commonwealth status. We stand for a status which will give us equality of status with the other members of the Commonwealth of nations. Is not that clear enough? Hon. Members may call it "separatism" if they like. It does not mean economic separation. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Hon. Members may jeer and laugh as much as they like. They have not accepted what is an elementary fact. [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] I am being pressed to 1788 answer this question, so I will say what we stand for.
We stand for Commonwealth status. We also stand for a common market with the other three nations of these islands. When we have this Commonwealth status, there will be no passports; there will be a common citizenship. There will be no tolls or tariffs on goods passing back and forth between our countries. There will be no border in that sense. There will be freedom of movement for people, goods and capital. Thus there will be no economic separation. [Interruption.] The Under-Secretary thinks it is a joke, but this situation now obtains in many parts of the world. In the Common Market countries there is economic integration. What economic separation is there between Belgium and Holland? There are fiscal, constitutional and administrative separation, but there is no economic separation, because there is that freedom of movement back and forth. It is one common economy. That is the situation which will exist in Wales when we achieve Commonwealth status.
§ Mr. Ogden
On a point of order. If anyone outside the House is to believe all that has been said by the hon. Lady the Member for Hamilton (Mrs. Ewing) and the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Gwynfor Evans), I must be one of those English Members who are keeping one of their feet on the faces of the poor in Scotland and Wales. The Bill excludes any mention of England, but every hon. Member will agree that this subject has something to do with English Members. So far, the debate has included only Scottish and Welsh Members. I seek your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it worth while English Members sitting in the Chamber waiting to put up some defence for England, or will this debate be a limited one from which England, which is at least a partner with Scotland and Wales, will be excluded?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Sydney Irving)
The Chair will bear in mind all those considerations in making its selection. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would wait on the possibility of catching Mr. Speaker's eye.
§ 2.6 p.m.
§ Mr. George Lawson (Motherwell)
Perhaps what I have to say will fit in a little more closely with the case which 1789 my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden) wishes to advance. I would dearly have loved to have been able directly to follow the hon. Lady the Member for Hamilton (Mrs. Ewing). However, I am privileged to follow the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Gwynfor Evans).
If it comes to questions of culture, descent and place of residence, I take second place to no Scottish Nationalist. I am sure that my hon. Friends take no second place to any Welsh Nationalists. I consider myself to be a Scot. If I am asked to write down my nationality at an hotel, I usually write "Scottish". If I am asked whether I am Scottish or British, I very definitely make it clear that I am British first and foremost, because "British" includes the Scottish, the Welsh and the English: and it includes the Northern Irish.
The hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. James Davidson) described this as a unique occasion in that the hon. Lady the Member for Hamilton was sitting behind him. A few years ago Motherwell was represented here by a gentleman who got in on a Scottish Nationalist ticket, but he did not represent Motherwell for long.
There is always this argument about a nation: "Scotland the nation" is dragged in. I am speaking now only for Scotland. I know as much about Scotland as any crowd of those who talk in terms of Scottish nationalism. I recall with a measure of shame the occasion when the hon. Lady took her seat in the House. Outside there was a crowd of Scottish Nationalists with bagpipes, tammies, and the rest of it. They tried to sing "Scots wha hae": and they did not even know the words.
I will not go into the question of Scottish culture. The Welsh may claim to have a language, but very few Scots have any other language than that of the English. The top writers, what we call the old Makars—Dunbar, Barbour and Henryson—wrote in a language which was the language of Chaucer. They were a section of the people who talked the Gaelic, but increasingly they were pushed up to the Highlands. The right hon. Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Sir Alec Douglas-Home) is there, with his Highland names. I have three 1790 Highland names—three "Macs" from my ancestry. I am not bragging about it; I am simply stating my claim to talk in this way.
§ Mr. Lawson
It is a good one. I am staking my claim to talk in these terms. If we extract the English from these islands there will be little left.
§ Mr. Hooson
On a point of order. Mr. Deputy Speaker, so far the hon. Member has made no mention of the Bill, or of anything that it contains. As other hon. Members have been called to order by the Chair for not speaking to the Bill, I should like to draw your attention to the situation.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Sydney Irving)
I shall call the hon. Member to order when he has exhausted the patience of the Chair.
§ Mr. Lawson
I had prepared a speech on the Bill. The hon. Member butts in. Perhaps he does not like what I am saying. Let us remember the speech made by the hon. Member for Hamilton. Did that refer to the Bill? What about the speech of the hon. Member for Carmarthen? Did it relate to the Bill? Not a bit of it. If what I am saying is unpopular with them, I am a person who will come up for re-election in a seat that once returned a Scottish Nationalist, but I shall stand here and say that I am first of all British, and stand for a united nation.
I submit that if the proposals contained in the Bill were carried out and there was a separation of the Scots, the Welsh and the Northern Irish, there would be no United Kingdom. There would be no British nation. There is no separate Scottish nation now. I say that weighing my words fully. There is no separate Scottish nation as distinct from the British nation. We are part of the British nation. I am not speaking for the Welsh; it is for them to speak for themselves. But I am not ashamed to make this point. I repeat: I stand for Britain first.
If the proposals in the Bill were carried out it would mean the destruction of the British people. Do we want to 1791 see that? Do we want to be left with the English, the Scots, the Welsh, the Irish and, perhaps, the people from the Isle of Man and the various little islands in the Channel? Carried to its logical conclusion, the Bill means the break-up of the United Kingdom. The hon. Member for Carmarthen and the hon. Member for Hamilton want it every way. They want political separation but not economic separation. According to them, the economy will function as it is functioning now.
If the Bill is passed, that question will be decided by nine-tenths of the population. We cannot have a Measure demanding separation in one form or another without having regard to the wishes of the majority. I have many reservations about the kind of devolution to which some of my colleagues refer. We cannot take matters as far as this without stirring up some of the feeling that has been manifested by my hon. Friends behind me, if the nine-tenths of the population represented by England are not to have a voice. They would have to have a voice.
If we pass a Measure that seems to disregard them, they may well say, "All right—have your separate Scotland; have your separate Wales; have your separate Ireland. We will have our separate England and see what happens. We, the English, will decide whether or not you can come in freely. We, the English, will decide whether you require a passport to come to Wembley to watch a football match." [Laughter.] This is no joke. They would say, "We, the English, will decide whether you shall be treated as an alien in our country—whether you should be regarded as an immigrant, and whether or not we will turn you out."
It was not very long ago that I read of a Londoner who refused to allow his daughter to marry a Scot on the ground that he did not want her to marry a foreigner. What I am saying goes to the bare bones of the matter. We are a united nation. We, the Scots, are very much the smaller part of it. We, the Scots—I emphasise this—have no reason to feel that we have been given a raw deal. The Irish have a long history of feeling against England, but that is a different matter. There is no reason why any Scot should feel that his country 1792 has been given a raw deal. For most of the last century the Scots were in a dominating position. If we have declined recently we have done so because the Scots have not measured up. They have been too ready to pull up their roots and clear out—including clearing out to England. Some of the most nationalist Scottish people I know live in London. We have special Scottish clubs in London.
There is the story of the by-election in Nuneaton. My hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Leslie Huckfield) is not here at the moment, but he may have heard the story of the person who knocked at a door in the Nuneaton area and asked the occupants for whom they were voting. They replied that they were not voting at all because they were Scottish Nationalists—and yet they were working and living in the Nuneaton area.
Let us realise what the Bill would do. There has been constant agitation about Scottish nationalism and about raw deals for Scotland. The group with which I have been associated for many years has never argued that Scotland has had a raw deal. It has always argued that if we left things to the Scots it would be a bad day for Scotland. We have always argued that the Government from Westminster should intervene to rectify the imbalance which was growing up in Scotland. We have always urged Westminster to intervene. The right hon. Member for Kinross and West Perthshire will agree with me. We have always urged the Government to take more and more responsibility for the location of industry, and the rest. Governments—even the right hon. Gentleman's own Government—have begun to do this. If I compliment my Government on anything it is on the fact that they have been trying to carry out this policy.
This policy is now challenged at every turn. The grey areas and the rest are all challenging this policy, but if it were altered and reversed it would still be a "blue do" for Scotland. Scotland has not enough of her own resources to be able to provide her people with the standard of living which they are now enjoying. It would be a very bad day if we so decided matters as to generate amongst the English a feeling against the Scots or the Welsh. We are getting 1793 a very good bargain. In the past Scotland has played its part, and I want it to continue to do so.
I now turn to the question of the referendum—or referenda, in the plural. This is no novel thing. To any hon. or right hon. Member who thinks that it is I recommend the study of a book that has been extant for many years and is, in my opinion, too seldom studied, namely "Industrial Democracy" by Sidney and Beatrice Webb. It was written in the 1890s and it deals with this problem, among many others. It says:Those who believe that pure democracy implies the direct decision by the mass of the people on any question as it arises will find this ideal realised without check or limit in the history of the larger Trade Unions between 1834 and 1870.In the trade union movement for that quite long period the regular basis of government was what was called the referendum and initiative. Members could individually promote questions, and many unions circulated journals among the branches and members. Propositions could be put down even by individual members, and initiatives were decided on by mass vote and became the law of the organisation. The Webbs continued:But…half a century of practical experience of the Initiative and Referendum led, not to its extension, but to an ever stricter limitation of its application.In many cases the most absurd decisions were taken. The book cites the case of one union the executive of which decided that something was not industrial injury but illness. In one year no fewer than 17 decisions on the matter were reversed on a mass vote.
The Webbs described how the Cumberland miners decided by a large majority to join the Miners' Federation of Great Britain. They had been in the Federation for only a month when they were asked whether they would abide by its policy and rules and refused to do so. Since there had been a reduction in the wages in their area they were asked whether they would fight for the return of the money to which they were entitled, and they refused to do so by a majority vote of two to one, and also refused to support their fellows in other areas who were fighting for equal pay- 1794 ment in the areas. Shortly afterwards they decided by a big majority to join again, but after they had done so the same question came up and they again refused, this time by a five to one majority. The most absurd decisions can be taken.
The mere counting of heads does not make a democratic society. The example of capital punishment has been given. I think that most hon. Members would agree that if there were a referendum on the reimposition of flogging and capital punishment there would be a big majority in favour. If there were a referendum on public hangings, I doubt whether there would be enough people to say that capital punishment should be in private.
I have as high an opinion of my fellow men as any hon. Member, but on many matters it is the duty of the politician and the Government to weigh the pros and cons, to think out the consequences and say, "There is the line we should follow, even if it is unpopular." The present Government are often attacked for expediency, which means getting one's ear to the ground, listening to what people are saying and trying to meet their wishes. That does not make for good government, which means having a Government prepared to stand up and follow a line that may be unpopular if they judge it to be right. The Government always have far more of the evidence than the ordinary man in the street has.
Look at the absurdity of the television camera coming round and the interviewer asking people what they think about this, that and the other. It would be absurd if we tried to shape national policy by such methods. It is not that the Government are made up of people of a different sort, but they have access to so much more information, and they have responsibility for the decisions taken. The Bill does not ask the people to establish the facts.
If the word "separation" were used, it would scare the people of Scotland. One can make "devolution" mean almost as much as separation. Probably the majority would say "Yes" to devolution, but that does not mean that I think that we should act on such a majority. I would fight that, because it would be injurious to the people I 1795 represent. It would be injurious to pull out of the United Kingdom. Just as I hope to see the United Kingdom become part of a larger area, so I want to see Scotland remain part of the United Kingdom.
I deplore hon. Members talking as if they were speaking for a whole people. The hon. Member for Hamilton talks about "We, the Scots", as if all the Scots were talking. The hon. Member for Carmarthen talks about the whole Welsh people, as if he were talking for them. The hon. Lady is not talking for the Scots. If I am wrong, I am prepared to take the consequences. I believe that this type of pressure is harmful to us, and should be resisted. I shall resist it with all my might.
§ 2.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Gordon Campbell (Moray and Nairn)
The hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. James Davidson) has enabled us to have a day's debate on constitutional matters and the devolution of functions of government in Scotland and Wales. I shall address my remarks mainly to the effects in Scotland.
Whilst I am grateful for the opportunity to have this debate because the hon. Gentleman had the good fortune to be in the first eight of the Private Members' Ballot, however much I have tried I cannot find his proposals practicable. From something the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mrs. Ewing) said, it seemed that we had been consulted about the drafting of the Bill. I must therefore make it clear that as far as I know we were certainly not consulted on its drafting. What I received was a letter dated 27th January from the hon. Gentleman—and I thank him for writing to me—in which he asked for my views and those of my party on the Bill as already drafted. He also inquired whether there would be a free vote in the Conservative Party. I was able to tell him that there would be, and that is still the case if there is to be a vote.
The hon. Member for Hamilton suggested that it would be possible for an hon. Member to introduce a Clause enabling the voters in England to have a referendum. But that is impossible because the Long Title restricts the scope of the Bill to Scotland and Wales.
Four possible courses are proposed in the Bill, and the electorate in Scotland 1796 and Wales would choose by a new method. I am not against the idea of a referendum as a method to be used in certain circumstances. I sympathise with the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward M. Taylor) on this. I have an open mind on trying new methods. I do not use the argument that because something has not been done before we must not do it now, but it seems clear from all the study of the experience of referenda in other countries that success depends on a simple question being put. A referendum is appropriate only where there is a simple clear question, preferably where the answer is "Yes" or "No".
It is also clear that it is appropriate only where it affects action in the near future in foreseeable circumstances, so that the voters can see that they are dealing with reality, and those who would vote would enjoy or suffer the consequences of their choice. I shall not elaborate, because my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Pent-lands (Mr. Wylie) put that point very well.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
To get to a specific question, would the hon. Gentleman and his party agree to a referendum on whether there should be conscription?
§ Mr. Campbell
Perhaps we should save that for another occasion. As the hon. Gentleman knows, up to three weeks ago, when I was translated to my present duties, I was a vice-chairman of the Conservative Defence Committee. I should be delighted to go into those matters with the hon. Gentleman in a defence debate.
§ Mr. Campbell
But not to this debate.
In the Bill, we are presented with a complicated choice between four courses. The ordinary man or woman who does not study constitutional matters, unless he happens to be interested in them, is unlikely to know all that these courses entail and the likely consequences of their adoption. Why should he? Those who were asked to choose could be extremely intelligent people at the top of their fields, perhaps professors at universities, dealing with quite different subjects. Why should they have to know 1797 about all these points? They would have to spend several days of their leisure time studying these matters before they could make a considered choice.
Another defect is that the four courses have been chosen quite arbitrarily, unless, as one of my hon. Friends suggested they have been chosen to try to get the answer "yes" to choice (c). Otherwise, they are arbitrary. Other courses could have been included—for example, the possibility of a Scottish assembly working in association with the United Kingdom Parliament, which is not included. The possibility of regional councils after the Scottish Royal Commission's Report—or any other major changes which it may propose in Scotland—is completely ignored.
§ Mr. James Davidson
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will be good enough to elucidate a little more about this assembly which the Conservative Party has been talking about, since none of us knows what it means. I have put it to him that I would be prepared to include it in the choices offered in the Bill if we had known what it entailed.
§ Mr. Campbell
I am glad to say that I propose to say a good deal about this later on. I shall be doing a great deal more than the hon. Member did, since he told us absolutely nothing about the federal system under (c), although I asked him about some of the important points, and whether England would be one unit or divided into several.
Under (c), which refers to some kind of federal system, in the wording of the Bill, "internal affairs" are included. But does that include economic and financial affairs and the power to levy separate and different taxation? If so, that would make it a very different kind of federal system from one that did not. What does that phrase cover? Anyone taking part in such a referendum should know this.
In Scotland, we should know what kind of federal system this will be. Will it be a system in which England is a single unit? If so, would England have the same weight of voting as Scotland and Wales, England having 10 times the population of Scotland? Or is England to be divided into several federal units? If so, that should concern voters in 1798 England and Scotland. In that case, would those living in England be able to express their views in the referendum? As I said, nothing could be added to the Bill to allow a referendum in England, because this is excluded by the Long Title. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman did not explain these points. I could have done without the details of how much the proposal would cost and would have preferred some elucidation.
Would there be an English Parliament in the federal system, with an English Government? Presumably there will be a Cabinet and Prime Minister in Scotland and Wales. These are important questions, but the Liberal Party has not composed its own internal arguments on this. Press reports have shown that some Liberal Members are in favour of an English Parliament and that others are not. Some are in favour of splitting England into federal units and others are not. The Bill itself says nothing on these matters. I hope that, if another Liberal catches your eye, Mr. Speaker, we shall be given some elucidation.
There could be different answers to all these questions producing several different forms of federal system. A citizen expected to vote might be in favour of one form, perhaps England in six or seven different units, but be strongly opposed to another form because it made England an overpowering element in the system if it were one unit. One could bitterly oppose one federal solution but favour another. The Bill gives no opportunity to distinguish.
The hon. Member said that some of these other combinations could be inserted in Committee. I suggest that, if they were, we would have a Bill with a Clause 1 containing about 20 separate paragraphs or more, because many combinations are possible. This would make a referendum much more complicated and it would be an even more unsuitable subject to be dealt with in this way.
I believe firmly in Burke's theory that a Member of Parliament is elected to look into complicated matters like this and to exercise his judgment on behalf of his constituents, and that he should do what he believes is in their best interests. Most of our constituents would not have the leisure time necessary to study what is involved. I would consider it an abdication of our duty as 1799 Members of Parliament if we allowed these matters to be referred, as a kind of Gallup Poll, as it has been described, to the direct choice of the electorate.
There is also the danger that a referendum could over-simplify an issue, even when the question is simple. I will give an example. Suppose that we had a referendum—the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) might be interested in this—on whether or not to abolish Income Tax. I have a good idea what the result would be, because it is an unpopular tax, but if the electors knew all the factors involved, including the possible alternatives and the likely adverse consequences, they would probably give a different answer. Most of them would want a reduction in Income Tax, perhaps a considerable one, but for practical reasons they would probably not want the results of abolition.
Therefore, by the form and the questions put, a misleading result might come from a referendum, giving exactly the opposite answer to the one desired by the majority of those who took part in it.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I have no power to stop interventions, but there have been many and many hon. Members still wish to speak.
§ Mr. Campbell
Perhaps I will wait until later and then consider the hon. Gentleman's desire to intervene.
I have said that I cannot support the Bill, but the subjects that is raises are of great interest. Many months ago, all these possible courses and others came under intense study by a policy group appointed by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition in June, 1967. It had been working for nearly a year behind closed doors, until on 18th May last, in Perth, my right hon. Friend unveiled its recommendation in its interim report, that proposals for a Scottish assembly working in conjunction with the United Kingdom Parliament should be considered. This was put forward after study of other possibilities, including that of complete independence and separation, advocated by the Scottish National Party.
In the same speech on 18th May my right hon. Friend stated that a constitutional 1800 committee should be established. I point out that this was in the same speech, because some of the Press have forgotten the sequence of events and have thought that it was suggested later. My right hon. Friend pointed out that the constitutional committee could examine these proposals for a Scottish Assembly and any others which were put to it, and he said that he hoped that the present Government would set up such a constitutional committee which would consist of distinguished representatives of Scottish and United Kingdom opinion well versed in constitutional matters. He also said that if the Government did not set up such a committee, he would invite such persons to form it.
The Government took action, but they acted very late in the day. They announced the establishment of their Constitutional Commission on 14th October, and its composition is still not arranged and it has not yet been able to start work. It has also to deal with the problems of the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man, Ulster and Wales besides Scotland. It can be seen that the Government got the message in the end, but they acted very late. They recognised that a Constitutional Commission was necessary, but setting it up has been very slow and its terms of reference are very wide.
It is therefore not surprising that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition went ahead last July and announced that he had invited a very strong and distinguished membership to form a constitutional committee for Scotland under the chairmanship of my right hon. Friend the Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Sir Alec Douglas-Home). [An HON. MEMBER: "Including a judge."] I hear an hon. Member saying "including a judge". In answer to a question from me, the Home Secretary has announced that it is thought that a Scottish judge would be right for the Government's Constitutional Commission. This has raised a very interesting matter. I hope that a Government spokesman will tell us whether it is correct, as rumoured, that one of the reasons why the composition of the Commission is being held up is that the Government cannot find a suitable judge or a judge willing to serve on it. That is certainly the rumour and no doubt one or two hon. and right hon. Members opposite are sorry that they intervened on that point last summer.
1801 The constitutional committee has been meeting and working and making progress. It is now likely to be held up simply because the Royal Commission on Local Government in Scotland has not yet reported and, as the Government announced a few days ago, is unlikely to report before early summer, although, according to one of the newspapers today, the English equivalent, the Redcliffe-Maud Commission, is likely to report next month. Indeed, according to the front page of one of the newspapers, some of its findings may already have been made public.
To some extent, the Government are responsible. If the initiative of our 1963 White Paper on the Reform of Government in Scotland had not been allowed to peter out, concrete proposals might now be before us for the reform of local government in Scotland. The original White Paper was produced for Scotland two years before the equivalent for England and Wales and we were therefore two years ahead in this difficult but desirable change.
As I have indicated, the constitutional committee is proceeding with its task. In addition, the Scottish Conservative Policy Group, after its interim report, has continued and is still continuing its studies in depth. It is identifying and tackling the problems which arise from proposals for federation, for an assembly, or any of the other possibilities for changing and improving our system. Since May, there has been public discussion and debate on the proposals for an assembly which were announced at an early stage for that purpose, so that it and the alternatives and other matters in connection with it could be discussed.
We are determined to find ways of improving government in Scotland. In particular, we are determined to find means, if practicable, of enabling busy and active individuals in Scotland to participate more in decisions affecting Scotland and Scottish legislation. That is our purpose, and I hope that the examination of the Assembly proposals will lead to a practicable and constitutional change which will improve our machinery of government and consultation.
I remind the House that the present system, the Scottish Grand Committee and so on, has evolved on the principle that it was of first importance in Scotland 1802 that Scottish representatives should be here, in the Mother of Parliaments, in discussions at an early stage; and that they should do their work on Scottish legislation and Scottish business on the spot at Westminster in order that they should not be fobbed off later with working out the details of decisions which had already been taken at the centre.
This is still important, and I am one of those who consider that strong Scottish representation at Westminster is essential for Scotland, this despite the fact that recently Parliament's rôle may have been less formative at the early stages. There have been complaints from both sides of the House that Governments have been inclined to consult Parliament only at later stages. I for one welcome the idea of the Green Paper which has been put forward to try to counter that. We have an example, however, the Decimal Currency Bill, one in which I was involved, when hon. Members on both sides of the House complained that the House was being used as a rubber stamp.
I recognise that it is part of the present Government's Socialist doctrine to impose uniformity. I recognise the sincerity of many hon. Members opposite in believing that they are uniformly spreading good and uniformly applying desirable policies. For example, the Secretary of State and the Minister of State have even said that they consider the Selective Employment Tax good for Scotland—and I believe them.
§ Mr. Speaker
There may be many things which the hon. Member would like to discuss; he must discuss the Bill.
§ Mr. Campbell
That was simply an example. None the less, it is essential to stop dictation from the centre, and probably only a change of Government will do that.
In addition, we must make improvements in machinery and adjust our system to meet the requirements of both today and tomorrow. Any changes should be carefully thought out and be workable and be clearly improvements. We are the party which is working hard and seriously on these questions.
The hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West and his right hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond), according to the Press, have 1803 been proposing some combination between the Liberals and the S.N.P., but their solutions for Scotland appear to be entirety different. The Liberals would like something, although it is very vague, on the lines of paragraph (c), but the S.N.P. has made it clear again today that it wants something on the lines of paragraph (d). The trouble is that the expression "Home rule" means something entirely different to different people. That expression ought to be banned, because people use it to mean different things. The S.N.P.—and this was confirmed today—clearly wishes Scotland to be a separate country, with separate decisions and separate membership of, for example, N.A.T.O. and the Common Market, in theory.
§ Mrs. Ewing indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Campbell
That is perfectly clear. I am glad to be brought up to date by one part of the party anyway. I am not sure whether that is also the view of the member of the party—one is not certain whether he is still chairman—who resigned recently as candidate against me in my constituency. However, I am glad to have had that confirmation from the hon. Lady. It confirms that we could have a situation where England was in N.A.T.O. and Scotland not.
§ Mr. Campbell
One could not have the economic integration which the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Gwynfor Evans) talked about if one country was in the Common Market and the other not. The leadership of the Scottish National Party want separation for Scotland as a sovereign country and I do not think that this is understood by many people flirting with the idea of supporting that party. They do not understand that such a separate State would exist.
§ Mrs. Ewing
As the hon. Gentleman is addressing his remarks to my party, perhaps he will answer a question. Is he suggesting that everyone who votes for his party or the Labour Party knows exactly what they are voting for in relation to Scotland?
§ Mr. Campbell
Certainly, on a major and simple point like this—whether Scotland should be a separate country—no one is in doubt as to where the Conservative Party stands and I shall repeat our view.
§ Mr. James Davidson rose—
§ Mr. Campbell
There is not much time left and many other hon. Members wish to speak. It would be unfair if I continued to keep giving way.
From my knowledge and judgment, I am opposed to Scotland becoming a separate country. The words "freedom and independence" are high sounding and can be attractive slogans. But translate them into less money, less resources, less jobs, less houses and less pensions, and they are not fruitful for my constituents or for Scots in Scotland.
§ Mr. Campbell
All the resources of Britain are needed in order to help to develop the under-developed parts of Scotland. At a time when industrial nations are finding benefits in moving closer together, it would be retrograde to fragment Britain into separate units.
The hon. Lady referred to the United Nations. I was a member of our permanent delegation for three years. From my experience, I assure her that the other members of the United Nations are not going to accept Scotland as a separate member unless it is clearly shown that Scotland is a separate sovereign State. The kind of economic integration which the hon. Member for Carmarthen, as a Welsh Nationalist, advocated, would not be accepted by those in the United Nations who would be very suspicious that Britain was trying to get extra votes by splitting. It would not be as easy as the hon. Lady thinks.
§ Mr. Gwynfor Evans rose—
§ Mr. Campbell
I will not give way now. Perhaps there will be an opportunity shortly. Then the hon. Lady 1805 compared Scotland as a small country with a new, emerging African country, Swaziland. But we are an ancient nation with an entirely different history and different traditions from Swaziland—a new country for which I have the greatest respect. To make such a comparison reflects a great difference between her attitude to Scotland and mine. I regard Scotland as an ancient country and as an important part of the United Kingdom and I would not talk about Scotland in the same breath as a new country emerging in Africa with different problems, background and circumstances.
The hon. Lady was also good enough to answer an intervention by me by turning it with a compliment, stating that Scotsmen had made a good contribution at the United Nations and should be permitted to make more. Here again she is wrong. It is because Britain is one of the five permanent members of the Security Council that she is there all the year round at the United Nations dealing with world problems as they come up. To be the 127th member of the Assembly, which is what Scotland would be if she joined today—and the Assembly meets only for two or three months in the year—would mean Scots would have very little opportunity to contribute. It is through permanent United Kingdom membership of the Security Council that Scotland and Scots can play a leading part in United Nations and world affairs.
If the hon. Lady is thinking of the elections to the Security Council, I remind her that the present average is such that Scotland, as a non-permanent member, would be a member of the Security Council for about two years out of about 24 years. So there is little scope there.
What I and my Scottish colleagues want is a fair deal for Scotland and more say by Scots in Scottish affairs. We have been engaged for some time in a realistic and active study of ways of achieving this. We are getting to grips with the difficult problems involved and we seem to be in advance of everyone else in this. We are not peddling supposed panaceas—for example, that we should become a separate country and then everything will come right. We are determined to find the most effective 1806 system for the future. We hope that all those with open minds and the good of Scotland at heart will support us.
§ Several Hon. Members rose—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. Again I remind the House that we have very little time left. Brief speeches will help. Many hon. Members have sat all day hoping to be called.
§ 2.57 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Norman Buchan)
I shall be very brief, the more so since this will be the second speech from the Government Front Bench. But I want to make two things clear both to the House and to people outside.
First, the views which have been expressed in opposition to a referendum have not necessarily been based upon rejection of the other propositions. For example, the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Gwynfor Evans) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) expressed the wish for Parliaments for their respective countries, but both rejected a referendum. Therefore, it would be wrong for any hon. Member to suggest, as has been suggested on both benches below the Gangway, that these views are based, in this context, other than upon the concept of the referendum.
Secondly, I have been horrified by some of the things I have heard, and I want to emphasise, therefore, that patriotism is the prerogative of no individual or party. When patriotism is sullied and dirtied in this way, for political purposes, I for one not only reject that course but regard it as un-Welsh and un-Scottish. [Interruption.] I am asked to whom I am referring. I have been asked that, for example, by the hon. Lady the Member for Hamilton (Mrs. Ewing), who said that she hoped that this issue would be discussed without sneering at one another's party. If I may say so, over the past year good people in Scotland who have reflected an understanding of the Scottish tradition have been condemned as Quislings and pseudo-Scots. The hon. Lady the Member for Hamilton is not immune from those who make such accusations, as hon. Members who read her speeches will know. There is a great difference between the 1807 speeches which she makes in the House and the kind of venom to which she often lends herself North of the Border.
§ Mrs. Ewing
My speeches have been reported and can be checked by anyone who wishes to read them. I have never made accusations about Quislings or pseudo-Scots. The point which has been made is that this is a simple issue—in Scotland a burning issue—on which we are either "for or against". That is the point to which the Minister takes exception.
§ Mr. Buchan
That is the argument of which I complain—that if we are not for it we are against it. This is the slippery slope to the claim of patriotism.
The hon. Member for Carmarthen and the hon. Lady the Member for Hamilton both very well know my record in this respect. Despite the abuse which I personally have been receiving for the last six weeks, they both know that at any rate until last year I contributed a great deal more to the development of Scottish consciousness than, for example, did the hon. Lady the Member for Hamilton.
Reference has been made to the failure of the Scots coming down here to be able to sing "Scots, wha hae". A journalist pointed out that what is much more ironical is the fact that every S.N.P. Member coming down in the railway train carried sticking out of his pocket my book of Scottish folk songs. I have been concerned with developing this Scottishness, and I will not have my Scottishness and work for Scotland treated in the way that we have been hearing over the past year. Patriotism is not a prerogative of any individual.
§ Mr. Buchan
I do not know whether he said that, but no doubt my hon. Friend will verify it. Certainly things like that are being said by some.
Thirdly, it is not necessary in order to prove oneself a patriot that one should 1808 hate other people. I want to make a clear distinction between a patriot and a Chauvinist.
This is the background against which the debate is taking place, and I want to deal with some of the points advanced by the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. James Davidson), because I believe that, like me, he genuinely cares for Scotland. The difficulty is that he puts the cart before the horse. He says that first they have to demonstrate their wishes and then it will be left to the Government, those in power, to work out how to implement them. That would be fine if implementation could necessarily take place.
But if we look at different points in the Bill, we find it very difficult to know what they mean. Paragraph (a) reads,to leave the existing system of Government unaltered".Everyone knows—and this is why the hon. Member has been accused of merely adopting a device to save the failing political fortunes of the Liberal Party—that there is no one, from the Prime Minister downwards, who does not want to alter the existing system of government. One of the reasons why we have been returned to office is to alter the existing system of government, to improve it and to modernise it. There must, of course, be a 100 per cent. answer to that question—or, rather, a zero answer, because it was put in a negative fashion. One of my hon. Friends described it as a "Hey nonne nonne" question on the ground that it expects the answer "Yes", but I am afraid that it expects the answer "No".
Paragraph (b) proposesto devolve additional powers and functions to the Secretaries of State for Scotland and Wales".We know that the hon. Member has in mind this proposal in a devolutionary sense, but for most people reading it, it suggests giving more power to the Secretary of State for Scotland. Would any good Scot or Welshman want to give more power to the Government or the Minister?
Paragraph (d) statesto have complete independence".I want to go into this, because this is very cruel of the Liberal Party, as the one group which could not possibly 1809 answer that question at all is the group which one might expect to support it.
The one group which could not possibly answer the fourth question is the Scottish National Party—and I have learned this morning that another is the Welsh National Party, Plaid Cymru—because it does not know what it means. The hon. Member for Carmarthen was quoted in the House as saying that it meant political separation, administrative separation, financial separation but not economic separation. That was followed by the word "Laughter" in brackets. I put the problem to the Scottish National Party six weks ago as a tiny question which I popped into its lap. I asked what it meant by "economic separation". What was the result? A leadership crisis immediately erupted in the party.
The party has never faced this issue. I hesitate to think what would happen with a referendum in six months' time when this little question of mine had this disruptive effect on the party. It did not know the answer. I have been encouraged becaue I noticed that the hon. Member for Hamilton suggested in a letter to the Scotsman this week that this kind of political and historical research should be "left to Mr. Norman Buchan". Helpful as always, I am glad to assist and give advice.
This is the problem which I would ask the hon. Lady to take back to the executive of her party to work out. Can this question be posed by the referendum, if one accepts that there is a single economic entity in Britain, and we now have the word of the present Chairman of the Scottish National Party that the party accepts that Britain is a single economic entity and he tells me that an economic break would be impossible—if one accepts that, and I take it that it is acceptable to the Scottish National Party—
§ Mrs. Ewing
I see that the hon. Gentleman is giving way before I have asked him to give way. We are now debating the Scottish National Party. I am delighted about that. I will make the answer to the hon. Gentleman perfectly simple. The Scottish National Party is to control everything, every area of decision, every part of the money and revenue, and make every decision on 1810 foreign affairs and defence. I cannot put it more clearly. We have put it in so many ways in the Press, and yet the Minister does not accept it.
§ Mr. Buchan
We are discussing a referenda Bill and are speaking about paragraph (d) in Clause 1. It is important to show the difficulties. The hon. Lady has still not answered the question; she has not understood the question. This is the real problem. What the members of her party have not understood. I have tried to tell them over the last few weeks—all that it has done has been to make a leadership crisis among them, with them resigning and withdrawing resignations—that everyone accepts that an economic break would be impossible.
The hon. Member for Carmarthen, speaking for Plaid Cymru, and the Chairman of the Scottish National Party, speaking for his party, say that an economic break would not be acceptable, but if one removes political control over that economic entity one is left with less influence, less real control and, therefore, less real independence. Paradoxically, the policy of the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru means less real independence for the Scottish and Welsh people, not more.
This is the dilemma they face. I hope that they have faced the dilemma because it has created a great crisis in the Scottish National Party and, I think, it will cause one in Plaid Cymru. This is the dilemma which is faced by those of us who all our lives have been looking at and considering the devolution problem. This is why we understood this problem. The Scottish National Party leadership never understood it. Once one removes the control one is faced with fewer options and less independence.
This is why we reject the Scottish National Party policy of separatism, because it is hostile to the democracy of the Scottish people and hostile to the wellbeing of the Scottish people. For instance, within my own constituency there is the Rootes factory. Were it not for the fact that the Government can direct industry from the Midlands out to areas such as Scotland by using the public purse and giving money and by the i.d.c. policy, there would be no Rootes factory for my workers. So I 1811 must reject the Nationalist policy in the interests of the people in the constituency. One rejects it in the interests of the wellbeing of the people, for these economic factors are all part of democracy and they are not opposed to the general purpose of the Bill in so far as it is related to democracy, and there are few democratic options open to people who are unemployed or who are forced to emigrate. The policy of the Scottish National Party would inevitably lead to a satellite and inferior position for Scotland within the economy, which is both a democratic problem and in the interests of the wellbeing of the Scottish people.
That is why this proposed referendum cannot even be answered in the affirmative by the very group which, one would have thought, could have answered "Yes" to Clause 1(1,d).
§ Mrs. Ewing
On a point of order. Could you give me some guidance, Mr. Speaker? I understood that the subject of the debate was the referendum Bill, and that was why I did not go into the policy of the Scottish National Party.
§ Mrs. Ewing
If I had thought that it would have been in order to defend the Scottish National Party's policies I should have been delighted to defend them, but I thought the debate was about the Bill. Now the Under-Secretary is talking about the policies of the Scottish National Party. Am I allowed to defend them?
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Lady had her chance to defend them when she spoke. If the Under-Secretary is out of order I will call him to order, but he is arguing against the proposed referendum. Also, there are still many hon. Members wanting to speak.
§ Mr. Buchan
I understand the difficulty of defending the indefensible.
I should like now to have a quick look at what we are left with, since most people would reject the first choice—most people, from the Prime Minister down—because we all want to improve the structure of government, and most people would reject the second choice, the proposal to devolve additional powers and functions upon the Secretary of State, because that would appear to be merely 1812 a proposal to hand over increased powers to the Secretary of State, and no good democrat would want to do that.
There has been an increase in understanding in Scotland that the Leader of the Liberals, at any rate, rejects the Scottish National Party's position on the fourth proposal and we reject it. The third proposal, in Clause 1(1,c), by curious coincidence happens to be also the policy of the Liberal Party. I am not saying that there is anything more than coincidence in that. I have been long enough in this place to know that these coincidences happen with astonishing frequency, but this happens to be the policy of the Liberal Party.
What does it mean? "Federal status". What does that mean? The hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mr. Gordon Campbell) pointed out some of the difficulties of the taxation question and the hon. Lady the Member for Hamilton showed in the House the weakness of the proposal, and drew further attention to it in a letter in the Scotsman this week, by asking the Leader of the Liberal Party whether it means a blocking quarter or whether it means equal votes. This is a problem which arises. I wish people would raise with themselves these matters and do their own thinking instead of letting the hon. Lady the Member for Hamilton ask me to do their thinking for them. The problem is, a federal Government composed of four units, one of which is several times larger than the rest put together—four or five times larger than the rest put together. Does democracy consist of giving each State a vote, or does democracy consist rather in thinking in terms of the people and their having one vote, as it were, among four? This is a problem which arises, and that is why she stumbled on the question of the blocking quarter, because she realised that this difficulty does arise.
There is a great difference between this and the Federal Government in America, for example, where there are 50 states, and a grouping of small states can balance a big state, a big state can balance another big state, or a small state can balance another small state. This balancing can be achieved with 50 states, but with four states, one of which is many times larger than the three others put together, enormous difficulties arise for democracy. The hon. 1813 Member for Hamilton would say that Scotland should have equal rights. What she is really saying there is that a Scotsman is worth 10 Englishmen. A Welshman would be worth even more. I am not that kind of patriot. Proud as I am of Scotland, I cannot accept 10 to 1; 2 to 1 perhaps, but not 10 to 1.
§ Mr. Buchan
With respect, Mr. Speaker, I have always understood that there was perhaps a little bit of Welsh blood in the Speaker, but perhaps I had better leave that.
We are left with the impossibility of even the most enthusiastic separatist being able to vote for the fourth question. They are now beginning to realise the problems with which they are faced in economic separatism.
We are left with paragraph (c), which even hon. Members who have been involved in devolution cannot properly understand and explain. I am not saying that it is inexplicable, but we have not yet worked it out. It is insulting to the Scottish people to suggest that they are to be asked to pass opinions before the facts have been ascertained. Is it fair to my lads in Rootes to say to them that they will be asked to pass an Act of Separation when I cannot tell them whether or not it will mean jobs for them? We know perfectly well why this is. We have for a long time been trying to produce the facts, but they are difficult to produce. The right way to approach this is to do what we have done and set up a Constitutional Commission to find out.
I now come to the greatest weakness in the referendum. Paragraph (b) confers more powers on the Secretary of State, and paragraph (c) is concerned with federalism. But what is in between? The really important area of debate is in the cracks in the referendum. The hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) cannot be here today, and neither can many other thinkers on this subject. The basic argument has been on the cracks in the referendum, to which no reference is made. If a fifth question were to be included, to cover the crack, the matter would be made even more complex. Hence the 1814 argument that we believe that the facts and an outline of the position must come first, before the decision is made.
Another difficulty in the referendum is this. Who is to disseminate the information about the referendum? With a free Press, will the Liberal Party decide how much space should be given to every question in every newspaper, or will it be left to the Government to do it? The hon. Member for Carmarthen said that he did not trust the Government to do it. How will it be done? There cannot be equality of democracy unless democracy extends all round, and this is the great weakness. Already there is an imbalance in this way in our democracy.
§ Mr. Buchan
It is not a specious argument, as the hon. Gentleman would know if he understood the nature of democracy. Democracy is not only a structural matter but is also concerned with influence. Governments can be encouraged or inhibited by newspapers. If Governments can be affected in this way, so can people, as we well know.
The case for the referendum was amply put by speaker after speaker. I have shown the weaknesses of the referendum. The supporters of the Bill assert that its purpose is to let the Scots and the Welsh say how they wish to be governed. I, too, believe that the Scots and the Welsh should be masters of their own destiny, but I believe that this purpose is not served by inviting them to make their choice blindfold—[Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) knows my record on this. He has no need to laugh.
§ Mr. Buchan
Yes, and it could not come from a better man.
It is to cast light on what is complex and obscure in these matters that the Government have taken the wholly unprecedented step of setting on foot an independent study by a highly responsible Commission of the way in which the present machinery of central Government operates in relation to Scotland. Wales, and the other countries and regions of the United Kingdom. This is a historic event of the first magnitude, 1815 and it is of importance and enormous significance in the evolution of democratic government in these islands. Even now, I wonder whether hon. Members have really yet realised the possibilities that have been opened up.
I know that there has been some criticism of the terms of reference of the Commission announced by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on Tuesday. Attention has been drawn to the fact that in the provisional formula which the Prime Minister gave in the debate on the Address on 30th October, the Commission was invited to consider "what changes…are desirable" in the present functions of the central Legislature and Government or otherwise in present constitutional and economic relationships; whereas the final version invites the Commission to consider "whether any changes are desirable". I do not myself see any material difference, because nothing in the first form of words would have prevented the Commission from reporting that it had found no case for any such changes. The reason for altering the wording was, quite simply, to avoid the appearance of asking the Commission to adopt a more radical approach as regards the various parts of the United Kingdom proper, as opposed to the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. But it remains entirely open to the Commission to do just that. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. David Steel) criticised it in the way that he did.
I should myself have read more significance into the insertion in the final form of words of a reference to'the prosperity and good government of our people under the Crown".I would concede that the insertion of the last three words may preclude the Commission from recommending the establishment of a republican form of government in Scotland, Wales, or Northern Ireland. But that is a different matter, and I take leave to doubt whether it is of the slightest significance in the present context.
Certainly in all other respects the Commission will be free to explore every possible modification of the present arrangements that may be put to it or that its members may themselves think up. The alternatives set out in the present Bill, including federation and separation, are 1816 only some of the possible courses. The Commission will be free to consider all possible means of enabling the Scottish—and Welsh—people to participate effectively in decision-making at central government level.
§ Mr. Buchan
An announcement of the names of members of the Commission will be made soon.
This could, for example, involve such matters as meetings of the Scottish Grand Committee in Scotland; the institution of some parallel representative body in Scotland, to carry out there some of the tasks at present carried out at Westminster; and the scope for further development of the Select Committee sys tern in relation to Scottish affairs, on lines suggested by a number of hon. Members
The Commission will be able to consider whether there is anything to be gained by the transfer of yet further functions to the Secretary of State.
§ Mr. W. Baxter
Are we discussing the Royal Commission? If so, I would like to know who will select the members.
§ Mr. Buchan
The short answer is that its members will be selected by the Prime Minister and the Government.
It will be able to consider to what extent there could and should be delegation to senior officers in Scotland and Wales of the administration in these countries of functions remaining with other Ministers; and also whether the present pattern of the nationalised industries is right, with electricity and local passenger transport separately organised in Scotland while the others are on a Great Britain basis.
All these alternatives covering the whole spectrum up to—and including—financial and economic separation are open to study, and when the Commission has completed its epoch-making task, then the time for decision will have arrived—for decision taken in a full knowledge of what the various alternatives imply for the future.
I do not believe that a decision offered to people who are not in at any rate reasonable possession of the facts is a decision. I accept the arguments which have been advanced to show that only 1817 where a clear and understandable alternative exists is there a case for a referendum. I think that the course we have set in hand of establishing a Commission to investigate the facts for the first time in British history will of itself go towards answering the needs of the people of Scotland and Wales and of my comrades in England also.
§ 3.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Emlyn Hooson (Montgomery)
I understand that the Under-Secretary is a renowned Scottish collector of folk songs and folklore. Having heard him today, I can well believe it, because he spent most of his time in the realms of mythology rather than in dealing with the merits or demerits of the Bill.
It has been said that my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. James Davidson) is doing something revolutionary today. What he is doing is very simple. He is giving the House an opportunity to pass a Bill which, if and when it became law, would enable the people of Scotland and of Wales to give an indication themselves of what kind of Government they want. If that is revolutionary, so be it, but I believe that most people will think that it is an elementary proposition of democracy.
Those who are interested in the history of democracy will know that this form is probably the oldest form of democratic expression. When any major matter came up for discussion or decision in Athens, it was eventually decided by a show of hands of the populace in the market place: it was a direct expression of the will of the people.
The Under-Secretary said that he was against any weighting in favour of different countries in any voting procedures. Yet he is a Member of a Government who have applied for membership of the Common Market. He should understand, if he does not know it already, that in voting procedures in the Common Market countries there is weighting in favour of certain countries.
We are told that we cannot enter into this discussion without knowing the facts. The "facts" have suddenly become all-important. Was there a Commission set up to discover the facts before an application was made by the Conservative 1818 Government for Britain to join the Common Market? Was there a Commission set up to discover the facts before the Labour Government made an application to join the Common Market? Not at all, because they took a political judgment. That is how democracy works. We shall not be put off by all this nonsense of saying, "We must find the facts". The facts are known.
Much of the debate has been spent, when people have discussed the Bill, on general arguments against referenda as a means of government. Nobody has come anywhere near advancing the arguments in a logical, massive way as did some of the opponents of referenda during the great constitutional debates in 1909–11. I have been astonished today to hear the Conservative Front Bench so opposed to referenda. In the constitutional crises in 1909–11 the Conservative Party as a party put forward a referendum as the very means of deciding important constitutional issues.
Perhaps it will suffice for my purpose if I quote what the Conservative Leader of the time, A. J. Balfour, said in the House in February, 1911:The Referendum, at all events, has this enormous advantage, that it does isolate one problem from the complex questions connected with keeping a Government in office, and with other measures which it wants to carry out and with other questions of foreign and domestic policy. It asks the country not, 'do you say that this or that body of men should hold the reins of office? ', but. 'do you approve of this or that way of dealing with a great question in which you are interested?' This is a very plain proposition…".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st February, 1911; Vol. 21, c. 1758.]This was the proposal of the Conservative Party, but like chameleons, it changes the colour to suit the situation. This was the view put forward not only by the Leader, but by the whole of the Conservative Party in those arguments.
The arguments against referenda were put in a more impressive way in those days than in the arguments that we heard today. Mr. Asquith, as he then was, in the debates made it clear that he was opposed to referenda as a means of government. I generally agree with the views that he then expressed, but he made this very important exception:…I say quite distinctly that I reserve the question of the appropriateness and the practicability of what is called the Referendum as possibly the least objectionable means of 1819 untying the knot in some extreme and exceptional constitutional entanglement."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th March. 1910; Vol. 15, c. 1173.]
§ Mr. Ogden rose—
§ Mr. Hooson
I will give way in a moment. Today we are discussing a very difficult constitutional entanglement of the greatest importance to this country. So far as I know, all great authorities who have looked into it and debated it have always, whatever their views on referenda, reserved it as perhaps the only or the least objectionable way of settling this kind of problem.
§ Mr. Ogden
I thank the hon. and learned Gentleman for giving way. I am sure that he will agree that not even Asquith or Balfour agreed that the majority of the population should be excluded from a great constitutional issue. Yet the sponsors of the Bill, including Liberal Members from four English constituencies have, after great consideration excluded England from the Bill.
§ Mr. Hooson
We believe that the people of Wales should be able to decide the future of Wales and that the people of Scotland should be able to decide the future of Scotland. But if the majority in England did not agree, that should not frustrate the will of the people of Wales or Scotland.
I come now to the first and, I think, the most important argument in favour of the Bill. We are in the midst of a constitutional issue of a kind that we have not met within the United Kingdom, save for Ireland, since the 18th century.
§ Mr. Hooson
I will in a moment. It is perhaps a sobering thought that the only great constitutional change in the United Kingdom within the last three centuries involving any territorial considerations has been brought about not by referenda, not by Parliament, but by force of arms. It is vitally important to remember that sanguine hopes have been expressed here today that if a certain view is taken by the people of Scotland or Wales the rest of the country will fully accede. This did not happen with Ireland. Although the will of the people there was obvious and plain for everybody to see and was expressed through Parlia- 1820 mentary representation, the will of the people of Ireland and the will of the majority in this country was frustrated by those who saw it their duty to keep the country together. In most civilised countries, one finds that on major constitutional issues of this character it is not sufficient merely to work through representative democracy, as we know it; there must occasionally be resort in exceptional circumstances to a referendum. The circumstances that we are considering today are exceptional.
§ Mr. Maclennan
The hon. and learned Member appears to be trying to erect into a general principle of Liberal policy the view that a referendum should be held when a major constitutional issue faces the country. Why did not his party propose a similar referendum when they put forward the proposal that we should associate ourselves with the European Economic Community? Did he not think that that was a major constitutional issue for the country? I suggest to him that this is a simple device, quite without principle, brought forward in support of a narrow party policy.
§ Mr. Hooson
If the hon. Member had spoken from knowledge and not from ignorance he would know that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Liberal Party proposed a referendum on the Common Market.
§ Mr. Hooson
It is my view and that of most people that this is an unusual constitutional issue in which we should not be hidebound by tradition. It is very rare in our country to be concerned with changes of this character within the country. Therefore we have to see what we have done in relation to other countries. My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, West pointed to various precedents and to the introduction by the Labour Party of referenda in different areas where constitutional problems of this kind arose and where people were seeking some kind of emancipation.
The second reason in favour of the Bill is that the issues are clearly formulated and isolated. We have heard the most specious arguments against them. It has been said that there are too many 1821 issues—four—and that it would be simpler if there were two. Imagine what would have happened if we had introduced a Bill with only one alternative—one question or two questions. Does anybody believe that there would not have been exactly the same opposition? They would have said that the issues were not properly formulated and that their point of view was not expressed. This is a specious argument to try to destroy the Bill.
The hon. Lady the Member for Hamilton (Mrs. Ewing) put her finger on the point when she said that the Government are in favour of referenda in situations to their liking, when they think that the result would be to their liking, but they fight shy of referenda when they think that the results might not be to their liking.
§ Mr. Jeremy Thorpe (Devon, North)
Has it escaped my hon. Friend's notice that in the "Fearless" proposals the suggestion is that a very complicated set of constitutional proposals should be put by a form of referendum to all the people of Rhodesia to see whether they accept them? Whether we agree with the "Fearless" proposal, which is not relevant to the argument, is my hon. Friend aware that the Government think it proper to put highly complicated matters to the vast African majority in Central Africa but not apparently to the people of Wales and Scotland?
§ Several Hon. Members rose—
§ Mr. Hooson
The criticism has been made, on the one hand, that having four questions complicates the issue and, on the other hand, that there ought to be more than four questions. The Under-Secretary of State said that important matters arose out of points which were omitted from the questions. He is arguing in favour of an extended referendum. Hon. Members cannot have it both ways. These issues are simple. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] People have merely to indicate a preference, a choice. It is no part of the duty of the common people to put, as it were, their general inclination into statutory form. That is a matter for Parliament to consider, but the general 1822 trend is for the common people to indicate, and that is what they are invited to do in the referendum.
§ Mr. Buchan
My point was not that four alternatives were put forward, and not even that the choice was directed towards one of the four alternatives, but that at least two were meaningless in the sense that they could mean almost all things to all men. There was not even unanimity on what the federalism choice meant. It is not at all clear what the last choice meant. The "Fearless" proposals were properly spelt out and defined. The best comparisons are Gibraltar and Newfoundland. In Gibraltar there was a clear choice between staying with Britain and accepting the specific and definite proposals tabled by the Spanish Government in May, 1966. In Newfoundland a commission was established to set out the facts before the choice. My criticism is that opinions are put before facts or definition here.
§ Mr. Hooson
The hon. Gentleman, like his hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, grossly underestimates the intelligence and good sense of the ordinary people of Scotland and England. If he is implying that the people of Scotland and Wales are incapable of understanding these questions and giving a general view and indication of the way in which they want their country governed, he grossly underestimates them.
§ Mr. MacArthur
This is a most important point. The hon. and learned Gentleman may be aware that a recent poll showed that 64 per cent. of Scots wanted education to be run in Scotland. The fact is that it is already completely run from within Scotland. What validity would he place on that sort of reply?
§ Mr. Hooson
Many of the arguments we hear today are arguments against democracy itself. They seem to say that the electorate is incapable of forming a view. These were the arguments used in the 18th and 19th centuries against the extension of the franchise to enable people to decide for themselves the right representatives. It was said that the whole process should be left in the hands of an enlightened oligarchy. On the other hand, there is the Marxist argument 1823 in favour of an elite which is called and has specially made a study so that it can lead the proletariat, which cannot be trusted to decide for itself some of the major matters.
§ Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton) rose—
§ Mr. MacArthur rose—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Sydney Irving);
Order. The hon. and learned Gentleman must indicate to whom he is giving way.
§ Mr. Heffer
The hon. and learned Gentleman has turned the whole Marxist argument on its head. Marx never argued that the proletariat could not run society. The whole point of Marxism was that it could. The theory of the élite came later.
§ Mr. Hooson
I shall not contend with the hon. Gentleman on the question of detailed knowledge of Marxism and its application. I do not want to spend the whole debate on it, but I understood that Marx thought that the proletariat should be guided and led.
The third point in favour of the Bill is that the issues involved have been debated up and down Wales and Scotland for a long time. The arguments for and against different forms of self-government, independence, or maintaining the status quo have all been adumbrated at length. Therefore, it is an issue on which the people are reasonably informed and they will decide by inclination or hunch rather than by economic population.
When right hon. and hon. Members say that we have not sufficient facts, let us consider their record. They nationalised important industries. Did they set up commissions beforehand to say what the results would be? Did they say, "We must have regard to all the implications before we do this"? They did not. They went forward on a programme of socialism, and nationalisation was part of it.
In exactly the same way, most of the great decisions of our day are taken on the basis of political judgment. Facts are important in the formulation of that judgment, but when the Government of the day are trying to escape responsibility, to fight a rearguard action, to 1824 gain time, they always trot out the argument, "The facts are not fully known." It is an excuse for doing nothing. The Government know that perfectly well. They know that the people of Wales and Scotland are well informed on this matter and quite capable of answering the simple questions posed in the Bill.
If it is thought that the questions for the referendum could be improved, it can be done in Committee. If it is thought that they could be simplified, it can be done in Committee. If it is thought that another question should be added, it can be done in Committee. To suggest that the people of Wales and Scotland are incapable of replying to the questions in the referendum on the basis of knowledge is to insult them.
Mr. Edward M. Taylor
Would not the hon. and learned Gentleman agree that one of the advantages of a referendum on this or any other issue, such as the Common Market, is that people become a great deal more aware of the facts?
§ Mr. Hooson
I agree. Indeed, I think that I am in general agreement that on non-constitutional issues there is a case for referenda for smaller areas, as in Switzerland. If we had Scottish and Welsh Parliaments, referenda might frequently be used within smaller areas than the United Kingdom.
My fourth point is that this proposal would allow the people of Scotland and Wales clearly to state their views on constitutional change. In a General Election, they are offered a mixed package of policies. When people vote for a particular party, they may do so for a number of reasons. They may agree with another party, however, on the constitutional issue. The hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. William Edwards) knows that many people in the Labour Party in Wales are in favour of a Parliament of some kind for Wales.
§ Mr. William Edwards indicated assent.
§ Mr. Hooson
Therefore, a Socialist in Wales is in a dilemma. He may want to vote for the Labour Party's social and economic policies. On the other hand, he may want to vote for another party on the constitutional issue. Many voters are in that dilemma. They include members of all parties. Their vote for a particular party at a General 1825 Election depends upon a variety of reasons. Therefore, when a constitutional issue of this kind raises its head, it is a good thing to isolate it from the general package offered to voters during a General Election.
Often, Governments get out of their obligations by saying, "People did not vote for us on this particular issue but for the general package we offered, so that we can put this promise back in the list of priorities." It is feasible and normal to accept a general package proposition with regard to general policies but it is important to isolate a problem of a constitutional nature.
§ Mr. Alick Buchanan-Smith (North Angus and Mearns)
Can the hon. and learned Gentleman give an example? Earlier, the Irish referendum last year on proportional representation was mentioned. A simple "Yes" or "No" was required. One of the greatest influences was which way the rural vote was going to go because of the situation in relation to agricultural prices, and so forth. That overruled the whole attitude of the electors towards the referendum.
§ Mr. Hooson
I do not accept that as true. It has been put as an explanation but I think it has been generally rejected.
§ Mr. Hooson
Even if the hon. Gentleman had been in my constituency and had expressed a view on its problems, I would not necessarily accept it because he happened to be there. I disagree with his interpretation.
Fifthly, the result of a referendum would not bind the Government, nor the Constitutional Commission, in any way. Many arguments today have been advanced on the basis that we are trying to govern by referendum. That is not the object of the Bill. In certain countries government is carried on to some extent by referendum. In Switzerland, for example, laws can be enacted by referendum. In Australia certain matters are decided and become law as a result of a referendum. But the proposition in the Bill is nothing of the kind.
§ Mr. Hooson
Not at all. The hon. Gentleman must scrum up his knowledge of this matter. The constitutional referendum in Newfoundland had three or four questions, but they were similar to the kind of questions in this proposed referendum. In certain countries referenda are actually a means of government, but we are not proposing that. What we are inviting the Government to do is to allow the people of Wales and Scotland to indicate the general desire, the general trend, and this they are perfectly capable of doing. Once they have done so, the Government would have to consider the result.
This would be a great help to the work of the Constitutional Commission, because, however, learned and expert its members may be, they are not ordinary people and their ideas may be contrary to the ideas of ordinary people. It would help the Commission if it could know that the majority of the people of Scotland were in favour of this trend, that the majority of people in Wales were in favour of that. No one will argue that that would not be a great help to the Commission in deciding how to set about its work, what its priorities should be, and what issues it should consider.
§ Mr. Buchan
The hon. and learned Gentleman has not answered the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Dewar) or the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Wylie)—that it would be an irresponsible decision and might, therefore, lead to an irresponsible result. The hon. and learned Gentleman says that it would be not a governmental decision but an opinion. Thirdly and more importantly, he has misunderstood the purpose of the Commission. Among other things, it is to establish the facts and so on of the nature of the structure of government, not to pre-empt its own inquiry by finding out what the decision should be first.
§ Mr. Hooson
I disagree with the hon. Gentleman. What we want is a clear indication from the people of Scotland and Wales on a constitutional issue which has been isolated for this specific purpose. That would be a great help to the Commission.
It has been said that the country as a whole has been against referenda and 1827 that they are not in the British tradition. We have to acknowledge that from the day when Henry Tudor marched from Wales via Bosworth to England we have witnessed an evolutionary process towards highly centralised government. No government in the world is as highly centralised as ours. In many ways, this was perfectly natural when Britain was developing overseas and London was not simply the capital city of these islands but the centre of a vast empire and the trading and financial capital of the world.
That is no longer the case. No longer do tens of thousands of Scotsmen, Irishmen, Welshmen and Englishmen go over the seas anually to populate the colonies as they used to do. The wheel has gone full circle, and for the first time in our modern history we in the United Kingdom, whether we like it or not, are driven back entirely upon our own devices, but we are lumbered with a system of administration and government which in many ways is inadequate and inappropriate to our present needs. All the superstructure and paraphernalia of Empire and its centralised control from London is still there, but the Empire itself is not.
In these circumstances it is entirely natural that in Scotland and in Wales there should be a new and increased manifestation of national feeling, national identity and national awareness. It is perfectly natural that people there and in the regions of England resent excessive control from the centre and want greater power to manage their own affairs much closer to the people than is possible under present arrangements.
One of the very greatest problems of our time is how to come to terms with this perfectly natural movement. How do we preserve the obvious economic, social and other advantages of a unified economy whilst at the same time allowing to the full the undoubted right to be different? This is what this debate is really concerned with. In solving this problem, the first essential is to discover as nearly as we can what the ordinary folk in Britain, with their deep and profound political instinct, really want.
The purpose of the Bill is to enable this to be done in Scotland and in Wales. We have no objection whatsoever to a similar process being undertaken in 1828 England, but we are concerned in the Bill with the people of Wales and of Scotland manifesting their general desire in the matter. It is very difficult—I am sure it will be difficult—for the common people of Wales and Scotland, therefore, to appreciate the attitude of the Government—
§ Mr. William Edwards
On a point of order. I have always heard you say, Mr. Speaker, that it is your duty to protect the rights of minorities in the House. This afternoon we have had four speeches of Front Bench length from minority parties. Is it not time that we reconsidered this rule of the House in order to protect the vast majority of back benchers on this side?
§ Mr. Hooson
As I am winding up for my party, I have followed the usual precedents of the House. I do not see why minority parties in this respect should be treated any differently from majority parties.
§ Mr. Speaker
My appeal for brief speeches was addressed to minority parties and to majority parties.
§ Mr. Hooson
I appreciate your viewpoint, Sir. I was responding to the objection raised by the hon. Member for Merioneth.
It is widely thought that the true reason for the objection by the Government and by the Conservative Opposition officially to the Bill, as opposed to the support that might come from individual Members, is their fear of its consequences, because they do not want the ordinary people of Wales and Scotland to express their view clearly. Whereas they can dispense with what they call Gallup polls and opinion polls and can brush them aside, they could not ignore an official referendum of this type. They do not want to be placed in the position where they must have regard, not to what they think is good for the people, but to what the people themselves think is good for themselves. That is why they have resorted to this attitude today of trying to find any kind of specious argument to prevent the Bill from going through. If they succeed, it will be to their eternal discredit.
§ Mr. David Steel rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put; but Mr. SPEAKER withheld his assent and declined then to put that Question.
§ 3.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)
In the two minutes left to me before the time for debate is concluded today, I wish to say this quite firmly. The Bill offers the people of Scotland and Wales a pig in a poke, and nothing better. The hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. James Davidson), in bringing the Bill forward without telling the country what he means