§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Mr. Speaker
Before calling the hon. Gentleman to move the Second Reading of his Bill, may I make two observations?
It will help the Chair to secure a balanced debate if those who wish to speak will let the Chair know whether they wish to speak in support of or in opposition to the Bill.
Many hon. and right hon. Members wish to speak. I shall be able to call a good number only if those who are called speak reasonably briefly.
§ 11.5 a.m.
§ Mr. James Davidson (Aberdeenshire, West)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
First, I want to clear up some misconceptions about the purpose of the Bill. It is explicit in the Long Title, which is not very long, and which I shall read. It is a BillTo authorise referenda in Scotland and in Wales to enable the Scottish and Welsh peoples respectively to indicate their views in regard to the future government of their countries; and for purposes connected therewith.The words "to indicate their views" have been very carefully selected and they show that this is clearly not an attempt to by-pass Parliament or to resort to government by referenda.
This is not an attempt to take the initiative from the Government's hands. The results of the referenda would undoubtedly put the Government under a strong moral obligation to carry out the 1726 wishes of the people, but it would not remove the initiative from their hands. It was said in an article that appeared in The Times that this was a Liberal attempt to make a concession to the Nationalists. I deny this categorically. It is nothing of the sort.
Perhaps I should remind the House that Home Rule has been part of Liberal policy for over 60 years; that approximately 20 years ago my right hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) made his maiden speech on self-government; that two years ago my hon. Friend the Member for Inverness (Mr. Russell Johnston) introduced a Bill for self-government, and that a year ago my right hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) introduced a Bill for federal government. To pretend that the Bill is some sort of concession to a very significant movement is quite wrong; it is a straightforward attempt to find out what form of government would be most acceptable to the majority of the peoples of Scotland and Wales—nothing more and nothing less.
It has been said that this opportunity is given to the electorate at the time of a General Election, but I beg to differ. At the time of a General Election most people vote either for a personality or for a party label. The least thoughtful reduce it to a choice between the somewhat distorted images of the party leaders which filter through their television sets.
Those who vote for a party label have to accept the package that is attached to it, whatever its shape or size. In the Conservative and Socialist packages the constitutional issue of self-government for Scotland or Wales is lost among a galaxy of glittering political bargains of one sort or another. Only in the Liberal package has it loomed at all large; the Nationalists have not yet fought on a broad enough front to gain wide electoral support.
It seems to me and many others that there is a clear case for giving the peoples of Scotland and Wales the opportunity to express their views on this single electoral issue by means of referenda. First, we must establish whether the Scots and the Welsh people have the will and the desire to govern themselves. Then it should be up to those with party political power at the moment to work out the 1727 ways and means of implementing the wishes of the people.
I am well aware that there are hon. Members present who are opposed in principle to the idea of referenda. I accept that they may have sincere views, but I put it to them that this Bill does not create a precedent. It seeks to deal with a unique case; the first major constitutional issue to arise in the British Isles since the Irish question. No one can doubt for a moment that the issue has arisen. We have living evidence of that on the bench behind me. The Government have conceded that the question exists by setting up, or aiming to set up, the Crowther Commission on the Constitution, albeit with the introduction of a notable restriction of its terms of reference since the Queen's Speech.
The Unionists have conceded it by appointing their own private enterprise commission under the right hon. Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Sir Alec Douglas-Home). For far too long statistical arguments have been flung back and forth between the various proponents of Home Rule and those who are against it, but the statistics are incomplete. We cannot provide proof because the figures simply are not available. The time has clearly come to allow the people of Scotland and Wales to speak for themselves. Financial arguments are completely pointless. If a young man is determined to learn to fly, it is no good telling him that he would be better off as a junior partner in a stockbrokers firm for he will want to learn to fly nevertheless.
It is fairly well known in the House that this Bill in its drafting adheres very closely to the Gibraltar (Referendum) Order, 1967. I make no pretence that it does anything else. Presumably that Order was drafted by the Government and has the Government's approval. I happened to be the first Member of this House to propose a referendum for Gibraltar, in a Parliamentary Question on 4th August 1966, but at that time the proposal was rejected by the then Minister of State for Commonwealth Relations, now the Postmaster-General. He said:I do not believe that any form of referendum would be helpful at present. Adequate arrangements exist for the people of Gibraltar to make their views known through their elected representatives."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th August, 1966; Vol. 733, c. 157.]1728 I put the idea forward again on 7th February, 1967. This time the Government in the person of the right hon. Lady who is now Paymaster-General rejected it once again, but only four months later the right hon. Lady announced that after all a referendum would be held. She said:In doing so we must have regard to the relevant provisions of the Charter of the United Nations, in particular Article 73 which expresses the principle that the interests of the inhabitants of a non-self-governing territory are paramount.She was referring to the Article which places a duty on member nations:to develop self-government, to take due account of the political aspirations of the peoples, and to assist them in the progressive development of their free political institutions, according to the particular circumstances of each territory and its peoples and their varying stages of advancement.Article 1(2) stated the main purpose of the U.N. to be:To develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples.It may be recalled that when the United Nations rejected the result of the Gibraltar Referendum, the British Government representative, the noble Lord Lord Carradon, roundly chastised the delegates and quoted from Article 73 of the Charter.
Gibraltar is by no means the first British precedent for a referendum on a constitutional issue. Both Malta and Newfoundland decided their form of Government by this method. Newfoundland, for instance, was constituted a dominion at the Imperial Conference in 1917, but encountered such grave financial difficulties that its dominion status was suspended in 1933. A Royal Commission recommended that the territory should be administered by a Commission of Government, with three commissioners from the United Kingdom and three from Newfoundland. At the referendum in July, 1948, the electorate of the territory had the choice of responsible government as prior to 1933, confederation with Canada, or continuation of Commission of Government, with the opportunity of stating its first and second preferences.
Following the transfer of second preferences, the third alternative having been eliminated, the result was a narrow majority—approximately 7,000 votes out 1729 of a total of 150,000—in favour of confederation. Accordingly, Newfoundland became a Province of Canada on 31st March, 1949.
I will not bore the House with a whole lot more precedents for referenda, but it must be well known that the Republic of Ireland has twice in the last 10 years held referenda on constitutional issues—in 1959, and again in 1968. On both occasions the people of the Republic of Ireland voted overwhelmingly to retain their system of proportional representation.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
Why has the hon. Member omitted from the issues to be raised in the referendum giving the people of Wales and Scotland an opportunity to vote for a republic, as Ireland has done?
§ Mr. Davidson
When the Bill reaches Committee stage that would be a suitable subject for an Amendment.
In Australia and the United States of America and Switzerland, three countries noted for their democratic forms of Government, referenda are frequently used. There are other examples but I am not trying to plead the case for government by referenda. That is not my intention. I am pleading the case for the use of a referendum on a major constitutional issue which has not arisen before.
The 31 Commissioners who represented Scotland in the negotiations leading to the Act of Union, 1707, were hardly representative of the ordinary people of the country. Incidentally, the same Act of Union refers to Wales as "the Dominion of Wales". I will quote from a brief on the Treaty of Union prepared by the House of Commons Library:Many Scotsmen hoped for a federal rather than a unitary state, but the Scots Commissioners soon realised that this would be an unacceptable basis of negotiation for Queen Anne's Ministers because one of their main objectives was to commit Scotland irrevocably to the Hanoverian succession and to leave no legislative body in Scotland which might put forward a moral even if not a legal claim to re-open the question upon the death of the Queen.That is from a book entitled "Thoughts on the union between England and Scotland (1920)," written by A. V. Dicey and 1730 R. C. Rait, who incidentally were Englishmen.
§ Miss Harvie Anderson (Renfrew, East)
That book was written by one of the most distinguished Scots historians of this century, Principal of Glasgow University.
§ Mr. Davidson
I bow to the hon. Lady's superior knowledge. The Scottish names are not well known and I assumed that they were English.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. Perhaps the hon. Member will leave the Act of Union and Scots names and get back to the referenda.
§ Mr. Davidson
I shall do so, Mr. Speaker, but the intervention did not in any way undermine the validity of my argument. [Interruption.] I would ask hon. Members to treat this seriously, because while they may not consider it a serious matter it is a very serious matter for the people of Scotland and Wales.
To come to the Bill itself, it does not need a great deal of explanation. It is very short and it is very simple. It offers the people of Scotland and Wales four clear choices:to leave the existing system of government unaltered; to devolve additional powers and functions to the Secretaries of State for Scotland and Wales and to the Scottish and Welsh Grand Committees of the House of Commons; to establish domestic Parliaments in Scotland and Wales having jurisdiction over all internal affairs and with federal status within the United Kingdom;and fourthly,to have complete independence within the British Commonwealth, including sovereign control over foreign and commonwealth relations, defence, and customs and excise.The Bill provides that the referenda would be held within six months of the Queen's assent to the Bill. Naturally, there would be separate referenda for Scotland and Wales. The results in one country would not necessarily bind the other.
The responsibilities of the Secretaries of State are defined. They would have to fix the dates of the referenda; they would appoint the referenda administrators for the conduct and organisation of the referenda; they would make regulations for the method of voting, subject to the provision that voters would have to state their views in order of preference so that there could be no possible 1731 ambiguity in the formulation of the results; they would decide when and how the results would be published.
The Bill goes on to make various legal provisions for appeals and penalties. As for eligibility for voting, this would coincide precisely with eligibility for voting at a General Election. Clause 3 states:A person shall be eligible to vote if, and shall not be so eligible unless, on the appointed date, he would have been eligible to vote in Scotland or in Wales at a parliamentary election.The Bill goes on to define the functions of the referenda administrators and other matters of detail. I particularly wish to draw attention to the fact that provision has been made in the Bill for observers to be appointed by the Commonwealth Secretary-General to see that the referenda are properly conducted.
I next turn to the matter of cost. I have noted that a number of Parliamentary Questions have been tabled on related costs of counting votes at General Elections and so on and so forth, but I would counsel caution in this matter. It is very difficult to make comparisons. For example, it would be quite invalid to compare the cost of the referendum in Gibraltar, which was just over£5,000, and to blow that up by 70 to give the figure for Scotland, because obviously, in a referendum such as the one in Gibraltar the overheads would form a higher proportion of the total cost than a referendum on a larger scale.
I myself have made a rough estimate of the total cost at something under£40,000 in Scotland and Wales and I will state in a minute how I arrive at that figure. This, of course, is a mere drop in the bucket compared with what is annually spent by the Government for assistance on the Arts Council or for the upkeep of historic buildings. Or, to put it in another context, it is the cost of a medium-sized farm on very poor land.
My calculations are based on a postal ballot which would be undoubtedly the cheapest. They do not include costs of postage: I assume the Postmaster-General would be co-operative. They do not include Purchase Tax on the cards and envelopes used. I have calculated that in Scotland 1,460 working weeks of five days 1732 would be required, or a staff of about 120 for three months, to dispatch the ballot cards and to count them on return and to formulate the results.
The figures work out as follows for Scotland with an electorate of about 3½million: the voting cards—and this is based on an actual quotation from a printing firm—20s. per 1,000, which is£3,500; envelopes, twice as many, an envelope being required for sending and another for returning a card, 15s. per 1,000, or£5,250; 1,460 working weeks, at£10 a week—and I am assuming that retired people of suitable calibre will be willing to carry out this sort of job—£14,600. It is interesting to compare that with the cost of counting the votes in Scotland at the last General Election. According to an Answer given by the Secretary of State for Scotland to the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Dewar), the cost was£8,566. I am allowing for a salary of£2,000 for the administrator in Scotland for six months. The total is£25,350. I am assuming that in Wales, with an electorate approximately half of that of Scotland, the cost would be a further£13,000. That gives a grant total of just under£40,000. Incidentally, I have been offered the use of 200 voting machines for nothing—which might be a way of reducing the costs, if they were used in the counting centres.
§ Mr. Denis Coe (Middleton and Prestwich)
Would the hon. Member tell the House whether he has considered and included the cost of giving to the electorate information on the points involved? On the question of the postal vote, has he tried to work out what sort of return he expects to get in percentage terms?
§ Mr. Davidson
To answer the second part of that question first, that would be guess work. One cannot possibly guess in advance what percentage of return one would get. As to the first part of the question, the answer is, definitely not, because there is no doubt about it that all political parties would be interested in certain answers being given to the questionnaire. In the event of a referendum being held, such as that held in Gibraltar, or Newfoundland, or elsewhere, the proponents of various solutions would certainly find the spare time, energy, and money for putting forward various solutions and arguments.
§ Sir John Gilmour (Fife, East)
Has the hon. Member considered putting any limit on what an organisation can spend in influencing people on the way to vote?
§ Mr. Davidson
If the hon. Member will read the Bill he will see that provision is made for the Secretaries of State to answer that problem. A wide measure of power is given them to cover these sorts of administrative details.
§ Mr. Ian MacArthur (Perth and East Perthshire) rose—
§ Mr. Davidson
I am not giving way again. Before the debate started I decided I would give way half a dozen times. I have given way a half dozen times already. Many hon. Members wish to take part in this debate and so I will not give way again.
I want now to deal with certain other criticisms which have been made of the Bill. There has been some criticism of the wording of the choices offered in Clause 1. I can only say that these were framed with considerable care and in an endeavour to be fair to all points of view. The Unionist idea of a Scottish Assembly was not included because nobody has yet said what it means. We do not know whether the "Broadstairs Assembly" would be elected or appointed, nor what it would do. I believe that these possibilities are adequately covered by Clause 1(1)(b). In any case—I made this point in a letter to the hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mr. Gordon Campbell)—there will be ample opportunity to amend the wording of the Clause to cover any areas of opinion which have been neglected. There is no wish on our part to restrict the choice.
Another criticism is that it has been suggested that the Bill is an attempt to pre-empt the findings of the Crowther Commission. I put it to the House that the very contrary is the case. The results of the referenda in Scotland and in Wales could be of the greatest assistance to the Commission. Or am I wrong in assuming that the purpose of the Commission is to find ways and means of implementing the wishes of the people? Perhaps I am too much of an optimist. Incidentally, at the present rate of progress there is some danger of the Commission's findings being pre-empted by the four horsemen of the Apocalypse.
§ Mr. Gordon Campbell (Moray and Nairn)
The hon. Gentleman referred to having written to me. I hope that he will say more about Clause 1(1)(c) which proposes a vague federal system. Is England to be a single unit in such a federal system and, if so, is it to have the same weight of voting as Scotland and Wales; or is England to be divided into several federal units, and if so, will the English be given an opportunity to decide on that first?
§ Mr. Davidson
The short answer is, not within this Bill, which is a Bill to give referenda to the people of Scotland and Wales. The other points the hon. Member has raised are strictly matters for Committee.
I warn those hon. Members who intend to oppose the Bill that, although they may be able to make out a case against it sufficiently strong to calm their own fears, they will have great difficulty in convincing their constituents that they, the voters, should not be given the opportunity to express their views on the outcome of deliberations in Commissions and elsewhere about the future government of Scotland. The people of Scotland will feel very strongly that they want to express their own views on this matter.
§ Mr. Donald Dewar (Aberdeen, South) rose—
§ Mr. Davidson
I am sorry, I cannot give way, but the hon. Gentleman may be successful later in catching Mr. Speaker's eye.
Last week, in the City of Edinburgh, I had a random poll carried out, in the course of which 621 dwellings were visited, including tenements, council flats, older council houses and detached houses in various income categories. Edinburgh is not noted for its Liberal sympathies, yet 85 per cent.—
§ Mr. Davidson
It was carried out by Liberals which, if anything, gave a distinct bias against the results obtained—[Laughter.]—perhaps hon. Members would silence their laughter for a moment and listen, and they will then be able to draw their own conclusions. Eighty-five per cent. of those from whom answers were obtained—that is, over half the dwellings visited—were in favour of the 1735 Bill and only 15 per cent. were against it. This compares accurately with the figures given in The Scotsman of overwhelming support for a referendum. I will not attempt to forecast the results of the referenda, but I am convinced that the vast majority of people in Scotland and Wales would like to take part in a referendum, and I will guarantee that if the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Dewar) were to have an opinion poll carried out in his constituency he would get much the same result.
What are the opponents of the Bill frightened of? Are they frightened of doing something new, something radical? Are they frightened of stimulating nationalism? Are they frightened of allowing people to express their views on a single issue?—or, perhaps they are frightened of the Whips of their own parties.
If the results of the referenda show majorities in favour of independence, then that is surely the will of the people. If the results show a preference for federal status, or for some form of devolution, then the Crowther and Douglas-Home Commissions will have a clear signpost to help them. But if a majority want no change, that will finish the S.N.P. and Plaid Cymru, and it will sweep away one of the main planks of the Welsh and Scottish Liberal Party policy. We on this bench are prepared to accept the verdict of the Scottish and Welsh peoples. We shall see during the debate which hon. Members of other parties are prepared to do the same.
We have carefully noted and will continue to note that, although the date of this debate has been known since the end of November, and this is the first opportunity in the life of this Parliament for a debate on this subject, the Secretaries of State for Scotland and Wales are not present, the Ministers of State for Scotland and Wales are not present, and a large proportion of Scottish and Welsh hon. Members on both sides of the House have chosen to be absent. We will record this as a measure of their contempt for the views of the people of Scotland and Wales.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Merlyn Rees)
Perhaps I might intervene here to give the Government view on the Bill. It may be that my hon. Friend from the 1736 Scottish Office will catch your eye later, Mr. Speaker. We will endeavour to cover different ground and we shall both recommend rejection of the Bill.
The hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. James Davidson) was at pains to argue that, although the title of the Bill contains the word "Referenda", the sort of referendum for which he was asking was not a referendum because of the nuances which are attached to that term; but he is putting forward an argument for a referendum, and any arguments that go against referenda in general must go against the referendum for which he is arguing this morning.
There are many grounds for opposing the Bill, but there is a strong objection at this point of time. The object of the referenda is to find out whether the people of Scotland and Wales wish their present relationship with England to remain unchanged, and they are to be given four choices.
My electoral experience over nearly 20 years shows that once one moves beyond two choices the most curious results will emerge. I have spent a great deal of time in the last few months on the Representation of the People Bill and in considering arguments from both sides on choice, from which I have learned that people have difficulty even with the names of candidates. Certainly in the London area, if there are two candidates with the same name a discrepancy can occur between the two of 6,000 or 7,000 votes.
I argue that a choice of four in technical statistical terms will weaken the validity of the decision that is taken. In my view, and I speak statistically here, a referendum should contain a simple choice to enable even 80 per cent. accuracy to be obtained. The choice should be: "Do you want complete independence, or do you want association inside the United Kingdom?" The result then is likely to be an accurate one. Once one moves beyond a simple choice into fine points, important though they may be, in my view the accuracy of the referendum will be suspect.
§ Mr. William Baxter (West Stirlingshire)
Is my hon. Friend giving the Government's point of view which has been considered by the Cabinet, or is he giving us his personal point of view? He started by saying that he was giving 1737 the Government's point of view and immediately went on to talk of his personal experience and his point of view.
§ Mrs. Winifred Ewing (Hamilton)
May I take it from what the Minister said that he would have no objection to a simple choice being given? If that is the case, is it not a shame that his predecessors in office did not recognise the 1½million or more signatures which were given to the simple proposition for the Scottish Covenant?
§ Mr. Rees
I am saying that I am against referenda in general.
My second argument is that, even if there is a case for referenda, once the matter goes beyond a simple choice the result becomes inaccurate. I will come in a moment to deal with the information which people should have before making a choice.
§ Mr. Jeremy Thorpe (Devon, North)
I respect the hon. Gentleman's view that he is against referenda in general, but will he say whether the experience of the Gibraltar referendum comes within the ambit of his condemnation, or is this exceptional, and, if so, why?
§ Mr. Rees
I will come to Gibraltar in a moment. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that I read his article in the Western Mail, which I see on occasions.
This is a very serious choice, and it is one which should not be made except with a full and complete understanding of exactly what is involved in each alternative. It is a question to which no one at present knows the answer. The full facts still need to be established on social, economic and political levels before any change is made or even contemplated in the constitutional relationships between the three countries.
To give only one example of the yawning gaps in our knowledge, how far would federal parliaments be meaningful unless they had control of taxation? If they controlled taxation, how far would they be able to go in providing the kind of social benefits to which we have all become accustomed under the present 1738 joint constitution? As a Welshman, I do not suggest that any Welshman would vote against simply because he is better off as a result of the connection with England, but it is a factor which should be borne in mind before a decision is taken.
What about education in Wales, for example? Would the result be the setting up of a separate Welsh university grants committee? It may be felt that that is desirable. I have my own personal views about it, regardless of any Cabinet or Welsh Office view. If I had the right to vote, I could express those views. However, even though I am a Welshman, I should not have the right, though English landladies in Colwyn Bay would have. My hon. Friend the Member for Luton (Mr. Howie) is a Scot, but he would not have a vote—
§ Mr. James Davidson rose—
§ Mr. Rees
Let me finish my point. These are matters to be taken into account before coming to a decision.
Referenda are useful on certain clear-cut issues such as that which arose in the case of Gibraltar. However, the present proposal does not arise from any single argument. Many very fine points arise which people would have to take into account. In my view, referenda or referendums—my knowledge of Latin is very sketchy, and I am not sure which it should be—are not the correct way of settling matters.
§ Mr. James Davidson
If I may help the hon. Gentleman, "referenda" is simply the plural of "referendum". May I point out to him, first, that it is very unusual in any form of voting for people who do not live in a place to have a vote in that place? May I also point out to him that his arguments about specific forms of government and similar detailed points are matters for Committee and are not concerned with the general principle of the Bill?
§ Mr. Rees
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's assistance on the Latin point.
This is only one of the many questions which would need to be answered before any sort of rational choice could be made. I am sure that no one can be unaware of the feelings in Scotland and 1739 Wales or, for that matter, in other parts of the United Kingdom such as Yorkshire and the North-East coast, where there are also strong feelings about this. It is partly to provide an answer to the questions that, recognising the demand for such a choice to be made in all parts of the country, the Government have announced the establishment of a Commission on the Constitution to consider whether any changes are desirable in the present relationships between all the constituent countries of the United Kingdom.
There has been considerable speculation, which my hon. Friend at the Scottish Office can deal with in more detail if necessary, about the reason behind the change made in the terms of reference of the Commission in replacing the words "what changes are necessary" by "whether any changes are necessary". It has been suggested that the Government are paving the way towards maintaining the status quo. I assure hon. Members that there is no sinister motive behind the alteration. It is a minor amendment of the wording primarily for verbal consistency in the best Civil Service tradition, and it conforms with the wording applied to the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. On reflection, it seemed better that the Commission should inquire into whether any changes were desirable rather than that the terms of reference should appear to postulate that some changes are desirable. The alteration will have no effect on the scope of the Commission's work.
The members of the Commission are chosen for their ability to speak with authority about the different parts of Britain and for their capacity to evaluate widely differing viewpoints. They will have facilities to study in depth the problems of individual countries or areas, and will be able to hear the considered views of those who have given long and careful thought to questions of devolution and independence. In short, they will gather together the facts and lay them before the people of the British Isles.
The Bill asks the people of Scotland and Wales to make a choice on the basis of incomplete and practically non-existent information. Even more, it asks them to make a choice which will all but destroy the main hope of obtaining the very information that is needed. How could 1740 any Commission make an objective and impartial inquiry when the matter had already been prejudged on an almost purely emotional basis? If the people should decide, let them decide on facts and not on emotion.
§ Mr. Emlyn Hooson (Montgomery)
Is not the hon. Gentleman arguing against any policy being implemented without a Commission of this kind? Are not most political judgments taken on the basis of a combination of knowledge, hunch and emotion?
§ Mr. Rees
I would not deny that hunch and emotion play a big part in most political decisions, but if a decision were taken on the basis of only hunch and emotion, democracy would not have worked half as well as it has over the last 100 years.
It could be argued that the Commission would be helped by having an advance indication of people's feelings, but what is required above all is the facts. It is often implied that the Government do not recognise Scotland and Wales as having identities. It is my misfortune to attend Cabinet meetings only rarely, but, whenever I do, I am struck by the fact that there are a lot of Scots and Welshmen round the table.
Nothing could be further from the truth. In recognition of their separate identities, both countries have Ministers representing them in the Cabinet, and both have more powers and responsibilities devolved upon them than any of the English regions, and quite rightly. In the case of Wales, since 1964 we have seen the creation of the Office of Secretary of State for Wales and the transference of a large number of powers. We are all aware of what they are. My right hon. Friend exercises a general oversight responsibility, and that is not unimportant in the correlation and coordination of policy. In addition, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has announced the devolution of further executive powers in recent weeks.
The Government want Scotland and Wales to have as many opportunities as possible to run their own affairs. However, in advancing along these lines, we must be sure that we are doing what is best for each of our three countries, and we cannot do that without the facts. The 1741 cry in the eighteenth century was for "political arithmetic". The same applies today. Before decisions are taken, let us have the facts. Before making alterations to a state of affairs which has grown up over the years and on which there are strong feelings in each of the individual countries, let us have the facts clear.
What happens when we have the facts? The Bill wants a referendum of sorts. I would not want to deny, nor could I, that there are impeccable democratic antecedents for the referendum. The Levellers in the seventeenth century recommended the referendum. It is used also in Switzerland. The hon. Gentleman said properly that he did not know what proportion of people would vote, and so I examined the Swiss position and found that in the national referenda there, as opposed to the cantonal referenda, an average of 50 per cent. vote. I do not suggest that this has anything but interest when trying to figure out our own, but that is the proportion—[Interruption.]—in the United States as well.
I have said that there is a democratic antecedent, but I could argue the other way. In getting some research done—everyone seems to have done the same research, inevitably—I found in The Guardian of 28th May, 1968, an interesting snippet of information about policy in the Coalition Government up to 1945. It said:The last substantial call for a referendum came from Winston Churchill at the end of the Second World War. The issue was Churchill's demand that the life of the wartime coalition should be extended until the war in Japan was over.The war with Germany ended on May 7, 1945; it was then expected that Labour and Liberal Ministers would shortly retire from the Government ….But on May 18, Churchill put a two-part proposal to the other party leaders: either there should be a general election in July, or the coalition should continue until Japan was defeated. He ruled out the choice which Labour and Liberal Ministers preferred—an election in the autumn.But the Government was under some obligation to consult the nation before its term was extended—and he thought a referendum would be an appropriate way to do it.The Labour Party conference at Blackpool a few days later threw out this suggestion by a huge majority. The Labour leader, Mr. 1742 Attlee, told Churchill that his party could not accept it ….As for the suggestion that a referendum be taken, Attlee rejected it completely; it was alien to our system and so closely associated with Nazi Germany as to be unacceptable in Britain.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes rose—
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
Talking about the Labour Party policy towards referenda, does my hon. Friend realise that many of the trade unions refer matters regularly to their membership according to the principle of referenda?
§ Mr. Rees
Yes, but all I am saying now is that this has a perfectly respectable democratic antecedent, but that, on this occasion, Mr. Attlee's argument was that it had a Nazi flavour about it. The point is that if one looks for antecedents from the days of Louis Napoleon and the plebiscite, one finds that this sort of method has been a way of appealing over the heads of State to people—[Interruption.]—not in the Levellers' tradition. There are contemporary points which I could raise there, but I had better not.
There are respectable democratic antecedents. All I have said is that the referendum can be used in a non-democratic way. That is the only point that I make.
§ Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)
With regard to the particular case to which my hon. Friend referred, Churchill's proposal, has his research shown what the attitude of the Liberal Party was? My information is that it was strongly opposed by Sir Archibald Sinclair for very similar reasons.
§ Mr. Alex Eadie (Midlothian)
Is my hon. Friend aware that there is a detailed analysis of this point in the book by Bullock on the life of Ernest Bevin?
§ Mr. Rees
I did not know that, and I am extremely grateful for the information.
Referenda are alien to our system of representative government, they work where there is no system of representative government and can even weaken our form of democracy. This is not to say that there is not a case in the context of Gibraltar or Malta or other areas on a simple point, or on the local option. I believe that, on the question of Londoners going to his constituency, the right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) suggested a referendum to allow the local people to decide whether they wanted them. That was a proper suggestion, but, as a general principle, referenda would work against the form of government which we have had over the years and which is based on the system in this House.
A referendum, says Professor Max Beloff, who I understand is a Liberal,…is workable only if the clear alternatives are set before the electorate.It is certainly no use for complex matters. It is valuable in local option matters such as licensing in Wales. In my view, while rejecting the Bill, I can quite see that there is a need to take the views of the people in Scotland and Wales and other parts of the United Kingdom when the information has been provided.
But what lies behind the Bill other than just referenda for Scotland and Wales? There may be more to it. I accept that the Liberals, indeed from Mr. Lloyd George's day, have argued in favour of home rule for Scotland and Wales—
§ Mr. Rees
Right. [Laughter.] I should not have said, "Right", before listening to the right hon. Gentleman.
There is all the difference between getting facts and taking a decision now. I also read the article in The Times a day or two ago, which suggested that it is part of the tactics of the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) that the Liberals' best hope of holding on to the territory which they have won in Scotland since 1964…is to raise the standard of home rule as the rallying point for Scottish nationalism.The right hon. Gentleman, it says,…calls for a common front with nationalism. 'I have said again and again that I have warm feelings towards the Scottish Nationalists,'so the right hon. Gentleman declares,with all the anguish of a rejected suitor. 'I believe that the aims and outlook of many of those who support the…S.N.P. are almost identical with those of most Liberals I have never attacked them But I am bound to reiterate that it is the narrow outlook of some of their leaders which prevents co-operation and could fragment and stultify the move for home rule.'The article says that it is not questioning the sincerity of the right hon. Gentleman's personal commitment to devolution of government in London…to say that his call for a common front is also a desperate strategy for saving the Liberal Party from the threat of obliteration in Scotland and Wales.I repeat that Government policy is to get the facts. At the Labour Party conference last year, one point was made by speaker after speaker—that, whatever decision was taken, the need for a single economic unit was overriding. Then, when we get the findings, we can decide the next steps. We are aware of the feeling and emotion, but we must have facts.
§ Mr. Hooson
As the hon. Gentleman knows, home rule for Scotland and Wales has been part of the Labour Party policy for many years. Is he saying that it was part of its policy without investigating the facts?
§ Mr. Rees
I am simply saying that we investigate the point and that among my supporters at the party conference there was a very strong feeling that it would be foolish to break up the economic unit. I put that forward because I think the economic argument is very important.
1745 Perhaps I may raise one last point. What about England? We have had questions about Wales and Scotland. Should England not be consulted? Should there not be a referendum for England? Should there be an English Assembly?
§ Mr. W. Baxter
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. That is not in the Bill. We are discussing a Measure which has nothing to do with the matters that my hon. Friend is raising.
§ Mr. Eric Ogden (Liverpool, West Derby)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I ask whether it would be possible for the Long Title and the Short Title and, I think, Clause 1(1) to be amended to include a referendum for England?
§ Mr. Rees
I am merely saying that if we are to discuss these questions intelligently, we ought also to take into account the position of England. The English seem to get left out all the time that we Welsh and Scots are giving our views, and I feel that the English ought to have a chance. I was in Aberystwyth on a Sunday last year and I noticed in the rain that there was a big white chalk notice which said "Home rule". As a Yorkshire Member, I assure the House that I had nothing to do with the fact that underneath it said "For Yorkshire."
§ Mr. Richard Wainwright (Colne Valley) rose—
§ Mr. Rees
I have not offended Yorkshire. I am a great friend of Yorkshire. I live there.
Finally, let us not forget one thing. The United Kingdom has a great deal to offer to the world. There is nothing wrong with devolution. There is nothing wrong with the English, the Scots, the Welsh and others, thinking of a new formation of government based on ideas that have gone on for a long time. I should be sorry if we threw out the baby with the bath water in our arguments. The United Kingdom has a long history, and the English, Welsh, Scots and Irish have played an important part in its development. In properly looking for ways of improving the form of government and allowing the Scots, the Welsh and 1746 others to be more independent in their form of government, let us not, in our arguments, forget the needs of the three great countries which form the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I think that the hon. Member has sat down. I again appeal for reasonably brief speeches.
§ 12.4 p.m.
§ Mr. N. R. Wylie (Edinburgh, Pentlands)
I will endeavour to be brief, because I appreciate that many Members wish to speak.
May I, at the outset, say that I was not in the slightest bit impressed by the kind of threat that the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. James Davidson), the promoter of the Bill, seemed to hold over our heads about what the electorate of Edinburgh or the electorate of any other part of Scotland might think of our voting or our views on this matter. I have always taken the view that it is the duty of a Member of Parliament to do what he thinks ought to be done and to say what he thinks ought to be said. I do not believe that political integrity has ever cost anyone any support.
I do not wish to go into the merits or otherwise of the various proposals set out in Clause 1 of the Bill. My concern wholly in this legislation is the effect which a Bill of this nature, should it ever reach the Statute Book, is calculated to have on our constitutional law and practice. The fact that it is an innovation is not in itself a reason for rejecting it out of hand. But the fact that it is such a radical innovation in our constitutional practice is at least a reason why we should look at it very closely before giving it the opportunity to reach the Statute Book.
Although I appreciate what the hon. Gentleman said, this is not imposing government by referenda. That very fact is one of the basic flaws of the Bill, as I see it. I will come back to that in a moment. Although I recognise that many changes could be made in the Bill in the course of its passage through a Standing Committee, should it ever reach that stage, it seems to me that although there are certain basic flaws in 1747 it it would constitute a radical change in our constitutional practice. I express the view and the hope—unfortunately I will not be here to vote—that the House will reject the Bill.
I think that it was L. S. Amery who, in the course of a series of lectures that I had the good fortune to hear at Oxford just after the war—later published as a small book called "Thoughts on the Constitution"—said that the governmental system;n this country has been government of the people for the people. But it has never been government by the people except, of course, in the very different sense of government by the freely elected representatives of the people. The principle underlying referenda, of course, is the principle of direct democracy, and that is not something which in constitutional practice we have in this country accepted.
Although superficially there are certain attractions in the principle, as the Minister pointed out, in the application of that doctrine some very odd results were achieved. In Germany in 1933 and 1934 radical changes in the constitution of the German State were effected perfectly legitimately by the operation of the principle of direct democracy by referenda. Those changes received 90 per cent. support of the German people.
All I am saying is that although superficially the principle of direct democracy is attractive, it does not always work out in the way we might expect. I suggest that, whatever else it means, it means to some extent an abdication of the responsibility of government and an erosion of the Parliamentary system as we understand it, because decisions on major issues have to be taken by the directly expressed will of the people rather than the decision of the Government elected by the people.
I accept, as has been pointed out, that some very respectable sources have moved the idea of referenda. Sir Winston Churchill—Mr. Churchill as he then was—suggested it in 1945. Lord Asquith was one of the most fundamental critics, of course, of the referendum principle on the view that one could never get a single issue so clearly isolated as to get a clear-cut, properly thought out decision by the electorate on it.
§ Mr. Hooson
If the hon. and learned Gentleman looks at the constitutional debates between Asquith and Balfour, who was suggesting a referendum on behalf of the Conservatives in 1909 and 1910, he will find that Asquith always reserved the exceptional constitutional issue as the only one on which he would have a referendum.
§ Mr. Wylie
The hon. and learned Gentleman interrupted me as I was about to make the point. I might be prepared to go this distance with the promoter of the Bill. Where radical and fundamental changes in the constitutional machinery of the country are positively proposed, in this one sphere it may be argued with some justification that a direct appeal to the people who will be affected by the changes might be made. I do not support that argument, but I can see the force of it. If the constitutional changes involve the break up of the unitary state set up in 1707, in these special circumstances I think that there is an argument in support of a referendum. But even on that unique issue or in those unique circumstances, two things are essential. The issue has to be clear cut. It has to be a simple, straightforward issue which is fully debated and appreciated by the people who are asked to vote upon it. Above all—and this is where the Bill falls down completely—it has to be a decision which is taken with responsibility attached and not a kind of opinion poll dressed up in statutory form. It is a decision which must be taken with the full appreciation of the social, economic and political repercussions.
The Bill falls down on all these issues, because no responsibility is attached to the decision that the electorate is being asked to take. Secondly, instead of posing one simple, clear-cut issue for decision, it sets out a whole series of proposals of varying complexity. Clause 1(1)(a) poses the first question, which isto leave the existing system of government unalteredIt would be a dull citizen indeed who was so satisfied with our present system that he would be against any change of any kind; indeed, I should be surprised if many people would put their crosses against paragraph (a).
1749 Paragraph (d) also refers to a clear-cut issue, namely,to have complete independence within the British Commonwealth, including sovereign control over foreign and commonwealth relations, defence, and customs and excise".Some Scottish people may take that view, but in my view far fewer people would take that view than the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mrs. Ewing) likes to think. If that view is put forward and fully argued at the next election I believe that the hon. Lady will be very disappointed in the result that she gets. But let us find out. We will be able to find out at the next election. This is just the kind of clear-cut question that can be made a paramount issue in a General Election. The hon. Lady knows that she represents a party which stands for that very thing.
I agree that some Scottish people will vote for this—not for the hon. Member and his Liberal Party, not for the Labour Party and not for the Conservative Party; they will vote for the Scottish Nationalist Party. This is not a reason for asking, in the abstract and with no political responsibility attached, for the view of the people of Scotland on this issue now.
Then we come to paragraph (b),to devolve additional powers and functions to the Secretaries of State for Scotland and Walesand so on. In respect of Scotland, at any rate, for a long time there has been a steady devolution of political powers and functions. Ever since the Secretary of State for Scotland Act, 1885, and the Secretary of State Act, 1926, and ever since my right hon. Friend the Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Sir Alec Douglas-Home) was appointed Minister of State for Scotland in 1951, there has been a steady devolution of administrative power to Scotland. The party to which I have the honour to belong has played a tremendous part in that process.
The full extent of devolution has been obscured largely by its piecemeal development. Some of the most important administrative devolutions are taken in legislation which one would not normally link with constitutional change. The Electricity Reorganisation (Scotland) Act, 1954, took away from the Ministry of Power full responsibility for the generation of electricity. That is the kind 1750 of devolution which Governments have been carrying out over the years. But it is a very complicated and complex matter.
Are we seriously being asked to believe that the electorates of Scotland and Wales will be able to come to a considered view on the devolution of additional powers and functions to those Secretaries of State? What powers? What functions? One only needs to examine this proposition to realise what a nonsense it is.
Hardly anyone will support paragraph (a); in my submission, few will support paragraph (d); nobody will understand paragraph (b), and so we are left with paragraph (c). This is the leading question. Without any wider knowledge of the matter we are left with the via media principle which appeals to the common sense of the Scottish people. If they had to answer this question I suppose that without thinking much more about it they could well vote for paragraph (c).
There is one Scottish newspaper for which the federal system presents no problem. I am not sure how free from difficulty the Liberal Party is on the federal solution, but I am sure that as the argument developed the complications and complexities involved in this proposition would become more and more apparent. Although there may be a case—I am not saying that there is not—for a federal solution, the one thing that is certain is that it is not the kind of matter which can be decided by an on-the-doorstep Gallup Poll of the kind contemplated by the Bill.
§ Mr. James Davidson
A point has been reiterated constantly from hon. Members on both sides implying that the object of the Bill is to tie the hands of the Government. The Bill gives the peoples of Scotland and Wales a chance to indicate their views—and no more. It places the Government in power under a moral obligation—and no more. It is not an attempt to tie the hands of the Government. I ask the hon. and learned Member to bear that in mind.
§ Mr. Wylie
I want to be fair about this. I have said that this proposition constitutes the basic weakness of the Bill. If we do not attach political responsibility to a decision we get an irresponsible decision. This is an irresponsible 1751 Bill which would produce an irresponsible result, and that is not in the interests of any part of the community in these islands.
I now turn to the question of the timing of the Bill. We are on the verge—within the next year or, at most, the next two years—of a General Election. Under this legislation the peoples of Scotland and Wales will be asked within six months to undergo some other kind of general election—because this must be considered in the light of full scrutiny and debate. It will be done at a time when we are awaiting the report of two Royal Commissions on local government; at a time when the Conservative Party is examining this matter in depth and when a Committee under the chairmanship of my right hon. Friend is considering the matter, and when it will be under consideration by a Royal Commission set up by the Government. To my mind the very timing of this proposal leads one to question the motives behind it.
I do not wish to go into that aspect of the matter. In conclusion I merely say that unless we can obtain a considered view there is no value in obtaining any view. Unless we can produce a simple issue on which the electorate is able and ready to give a considered reply, in the full knowledge of the political responsibility involved, this proposal achieves nothing at all. The Bill has the basic weakness of removing political responsibility from the decision and the further basic weakness of introducing a whole series of confusing and conflicting propositions all of which, to put it bluntly, the electorate would not be able to pose a fully considered view—[Laughter.] The hon. Member laughs. Let him make whatever comment he wants to make on that. I do not believe that the electorate could give a proper and considered answer, for example, on the question of the devolution of additional powers and functions. I do not believe that, in the absence of all the necessary information, the electorate could come to a proper and considered decision on the complicated issue of federalism.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Norman Buchan)
Neither could the Liberals.
§ Mr. Wylie
The Minister doubts whether the Liberals could. They may have resolved this matter. But if this matter has been resolved by the Liberal Party, as the electorate can vote for the hon. Member for Hamilton and her colleagues on the proposition contained in paragraph (d), so, presumably, they could vote for the Liberal Party on paragraph (c).
Without the element of political responsibility an irresponsible answer will result, and that is not the kind of answer which, in the interests of the peoples of Wales and Scotland, we need at this stage.
§ 12.20 p.m.
§ Mr. George Willis (Edinburgh, East)
The hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. James Davidson) introduced the Bill with great vigour. He made a vigorous attack on hon. Members on this side and on all those who opposed the Bill because they did not consider it to be important and do not want to do anything about self-government. I remind him that he did not think it so important six months ago. This Bill is a second choice. Six months ago he was circularising Members on feu duties and multures. Apparently that was the most important thing then, and not a referendum.
§ Mr. James Davidson
The right hon. Gentleman knows that the reason I had to abandon that idea was that there was insufficient support from the Government side to have any hope of getting that Bill through.
§ Mr. Willis
Do I assume, then, that the hon. Gentleman has more support for this Bill? The point is that he then thought that that was the most important matter he could tackle. This is a second thought on his part.
§ Mr. Willis
It was not sufficiently important to put it forward in September. The hon. Gentleman did not circularise all Members in September on the issue of a referendum for Scotland and Wales. That rather puts the Bill and his vigorous attack in perspective.
§ Mr. Hooson
Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that my hon. Friend drew this chance in the Ballot in November last year?
§ Mr. Willis
I also remember the letters we received from the hon. Gentleman, and I know that this is a second choice. We must keep that in mind.
I enter the debate as one who has believed for many years that Scotland should have a parliament for its domestic affairs because I believe that that would make for the better government of Scotland and enable this House to have more time and resources to tackle the United Kingdom matters that it should tackle. But I do not support the Bill. The main arguments against a referendum have been very well stated by the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Wylie). One is the difficulty of selecting a sufficiently clear-cut issue, on which the vote is of value and is not likely to be interpreted in all sorts of ways.
The Scotsman recently conducted a ballot of 1,300 people on the proposals in Clause 1. No sooner had it published the result than people entered its correspondence columns to discuss what the result meant, and what it could have meant had the questions been framed differently. I think that those are fair points to make. If that happens in a ballot of 1,300 people on these questions, we can see how difficult a referendum becomes.
Let us look at some of the choices. I do not even know what some of them mean. The first is:to leave the existing system of Government unaltered;If we take that in conjunction with choice (b), it means that never more could we introduce a Bill in this House, if those choices were approved, extending the powers of the Secretary of State. We should not have been able to do what we did in the Transport Act and transfer considerable functions and responsibilities over transport to the Secretary of State. Would the elector know that? Would he know from reading the question that that is what it means?
§ Mr. Edward M. Taylor (Glasgow, Cathcart)
In view of what the right hon. Gentleman said about the inability of the average elector to decide these complicated issues, does he think that it is wise for us to allow electors to vote for a Government every five years?
§ Mr. Willis
They do not decide complicated issues at General Elections. They vote for persons and parties, on the line that in general they accept the principles and policies put before them by those persons and parties. The hon. Gentleman's party does not put a detailed policy before the electorate. It puts forward a number of general proposals, and all parties do the same. The electors know that by and large the Tories represent the landowning, business, well-to-do classes, whilst by and large the Labour Party represents the trade union movement and people of that kind. They know the general attitude of mind of members of the parties. It does not coincide with everything they want, but by and large it represents the way they think and would like their problems tackled. This is what representative government means. It does not mean instruction on details of administration.
What does choice (a) mean? Is the elector likely to know what he is voting for? This has nothing to do with intelligence. He might be very intelligent, but the issue does not come out.
Let us consider choice (c)—jurisdiction over all internal affairs. This means that our present regional policy for distributing industry would be robbed of one of the two legs on which it is based. One is that we prevent industries being established in the overcrowded regions of London and the Midlands, and the second is that we induce them to go to other areas. But here one would take away the very important leg of refusing development in those areas. Does the elector know this when he is asked to put his cross against this choice? He does not.
There should be a little addendum to choice (d), which says:to have complete independence within the British Commonwealth, including sovereign control over foreign and commonwealth relations, defence, and customs and excise.The addendum would say:even though this might mean a temporary setback to our rising standard of living.After all the Questions asked in the House during the past 12 months, the articles in the Scottish Press, and the analyses people have tried to make of income and expenditure, this might well be added. We might get quite different answers if those important words were added.
§ Mr. David Steel (Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles)
Is the right hon. Gentleman saying that he would be unable to express that point of view to the electorate with any less clarity than he can explain his views in his election address at General Elections, and that they would be less able to understand it?
§ Mr. Willis
I am coming to that in a moment. I would do my best. But these are the issues.
We could have other choices. My hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) wants another one, to have a Scottish republic, which is quite a legitimate question. The Clause does not exhaust the list of alternatives.
§ Mr. W. Baxter
If an addendum were added to (d) saying that it might reduce the standard of living of the people of Scotland and Wales, there would be a different attitude. The reverse would apply if there were an addendum to say that it would increase the standard of living of the people of Scotland and Wales.
§ Mr. Willis
I am not saying that it would either increase or lower the standard of living. All that I said was that in the past 12 months there have been Questions in the House—I have not asked them—articles in The Scotsman and discussions on television by economists from different universities on this issue, and one would have thought that there was some importance in it. I am not saying that that choice would lead to a temporary setback in the rising standard of living, but it might, and people should know this. It might mean the opposite. One does not know. All this illustrates only too well the difficulties which arise in trying to frame the right questions. My hon. Friend the Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. W. Baxter) has demonstrated clearly that, in accordance with how one puts the questions, one gets different answers from the electors.
§ Mr. W. Baxter
On a point of order. This is a matter of debate and discussion and one is entitled to put a point of view that the last question in the referendum would be to advantage and others are entitled to put their point of view that it would be a disadvantage. I do not see why we should have to argue 1756 that we should have to put the one point or the other in an addendum.
§ Mr. Willis
All this illustrates how difficult the question is and brings out clearly what importance one attaches to the answers one gets. The hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West has now reduced it to the fact that one does not pay a lot of attention to it but that it gives one a general indication of what the people of Scotland want. I do not know about that. Surely a general indication of what the people of Scotland want can be obtained through the normal processes of election. The hon. Member for Hamilton (Mrs. Ewing) and her party will contest the next election on separation. I assume that that is their policy. If so, then we shall have a decision on it.
§ Mr. George Lawson (Motherwell)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Surely we are getting a series of speeches in the guise of interventions.
§ Mr. Speaker
I hope that the House will take note of what the hon. Member for Motherwell (Mr. Lawson) says, but if an hon. or right hon. Gentleman gives way to an intervention, then he gives way.
§ Mrs. Ewing
My party will contest the next election on the fullest control by the people of Scotland over Scottish affairs and everything to do with Scotland.
§ Mr. Willis
That quite clearly means separation and we shall clearly get an indication from the people. We shall also get a general indication from the support of the Liberal Party as to the degree of support for Clause 1(1)(e). But we get all this during the normal course of elections. We get it at General Elections, at by-elections and at municipal elections. In between, we get such indications through debates, speeches, the Press and all the other organs of public opinion. There is something wrong with an hon. Member who is not aware of what his own constituents are thinking.
§ Clause 2 would mean in effect a miniature General Election. The hon. Member for Fife, East (Sir J. Gilmour) raised some pertinent points which the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West thought ought to be left to the Secretary of State. How much money are the parties to be allowed to spend on this? Is there to be a limit? We do not leave that decision to the Secretary of State for an election. This House decides.
§ Mr. Willis
The introduction of a code of conduct for such campaigns would need a Parliamentary Bill of about 240 Clauses. That is what the present law is contained in. I take it that the Scottish Nationalist Party would plunge itself into a great campaign. I do not complain. That is politics. No doubt the Liberal Party will spend whatever resources it has in running around the streets of Edinburgh canvassing, as it appears to have been doing already. With all this going on, we should have a miniature General Election and, if it were to be fair and meaningful, it would mean introducing a code of conduct of the sort we have already for General Elections. I do not think that all this is worth it.
There is also, as was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, England. We have worked in partnership. The United Kingdom is a partnership. Scotland is not a Crown Colony. Some people might like to think that it is, but although I have been here a long time and have many complaints about the way certain business is conducted, I have never suffered from any delusion that Scotland is a Crown Colony. Crown Colonies do not provide Prime Ministers, which is what Scotland has been doing repeatedly over the years.
If we are to discuss the future of the partnership, surely all the partners should take part. I can well imagine, however, that a number of English people might say, "A plague on both your houses" to Wales and Scotland and add, "Let us get rid of the Scotsmen holding top positions in London".
§ Mr. Willis
They could certainly ask why England should not be in the Bill. Surely that would be fair. This is a partnership which supporters of the Bill propose to alter. The least they can do is to concede the right to express its view to the other partner. So, in effect, we come to another General Election on another issue—a very involved and complex issue.
I believe that our system of representative Government has achieved a certain measure of democratic constitutional progress over a great number of years. I believe that it is responsive to the wishes of the people—perhaps not immediately, but over the course of time. I believe that this assembly is responsive to the people's wishes and I believe also that it has the wisdom, experience and knowledge to assess the public view. We have all the public channels of communication and debate at our disposal. I have yet to hear a sufficiently powerful argument in favour of introducing this new instrument into our constitutional practice that would convince me to support the Bill.
§ 12.38 p.m.
§ Mrs. Winifred Ewing (Hamilton)
I thank the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. James Davidson) for this opportunity to speak on the subject closest to my heart and which has led to my arriving among you in this House. In Scotland, a great debate rages. Every-where that people meet and everywhere that people speak and also in the minds of the men and women. Here we seem to be out of touch with that great debate, for it is rarely on our agenda. Time is rarely found for it. You would think it a natural for the Scottish Grand Committee, but there too we do not discuss the subject that really is of paramount interest to Scotland. If you consider the attitude of people outside this House, this failure gives the electorate in Scotland proof that the House is not sufficiently concerned. You will be in danger of being regarded as escapists.
§ Mrs. Ewing
I am sorry, Mr. Speaker.
We should discuss this matter seriously and without partisanship, without taking a snide attitude or sneering at one another's parties. We should ask ourselves 1759 what this proposition has to offer, remembering the great desire of people to participate more in the control of their affairs. This is certainly true of youth, and we keep hearing about this general desire for greater involvement.
I understand the view of those who will say, "Let the ballot box decide". I want to make my position quite clear. I have always thought that a move back to the days of the Scottish Covenant would not be completely satisfactory. I mentioned this in an intervention in the Under-Secretary's speech. He promised to answer and did not do so. I agree that it is very easy to write one's name on a piece of paper. This does not involve hard work. It is much harder to knock on doors or to put pamphlets in letter boxes. There was an overwhelming response to the choice of Scottish Parliament, but it has become obvious that although the evidence would be clear, such a choice would not be satisfactory to the major parties in the House of Commons. They said "Away with half a million signatures, we require the verdict of the ballot box".
I ask hon. Members to consider the implications of that attitude and to pursue that logic to its end. If the House insists that we ignore referenda as a useful means of ascertaining answers to questions of this kind and insists on the ballot box verdict, when the ballot box verdict comes, if it is in favour of my point of view, it will then be far too late to propose a referendum. [HON. MEMBERS: "It would not be needed".] I am glad that there appears to be agreement about that.
The Under-Secretary said that now was not a good time for this proposition. It is never a good time to do things which ought to be done. He said that he needed the facts. Of course the facts are important. Since coming here, I have directed a great deal of my attention to ascertaining as many facts as I could get. The right hon. Lady the hon. Member for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison) has been promised a Scottish "Budget", but why have we not had such a budget for all these years? If facts are so important, why should we not have had all the facts for all these years? Why did it take my election to Parliament to have this matter put at the top of the agenda?
1760 If there were a referendum, we would have the facts of a choice of four possibilities. Hon. Members may think that it is not an important choice, but most people in Scotland regard it as very important. Hon. Members should not underestimate the intelligence of the Scottish electors, and to suggest that they would not be able to understand this simple proposition is to insult the intelligence of Scotsmen. The Scots are as well able to understand these questions as the many and varied issues put to them by every party at the time of a general election.
The most curious of the Under-Secretary's other arguments and perhaps the most undemocratic was that it was not where one had chosen to live which was important, but from where one had originally come. He explained that he was Welsh, but now lives in Yorkshire. It is the place where one lives which decides one's ability to vote. One has a responsibility and a duty to be interested in the affairs of the community among whom one has chosen to live. I do not know whether there is any truth in it, but I am told that one of the reasons I was elected the Member for Hamilton was the size of the English vote which I received. We embrace everyone who has chosen Scotland as his home. My party has many English candidates and many English councillors, and we are very pleased about that. Some English people have chosen to live in Scotland and they know what the issues are and they would be fully entitled to take part in any referendum. I could not understand the Under-Secretary's view in that respect.
I have very little patience with another part of his argument which seemed to run counter to something else he said. He admitted the national identity of Scotland and Wales. After a great deal of delay and a great deal of fact-finding, a Commission for Scotland has already in 1952 admitted Scotland's national identity. The hon. Gentleman equated the feelings of Yorkshire people with that sense of national identity in Scotland. They are not the same. If the major parties equate an ancient nation and all the things that go with that with a region of another ancient nation, they do us a great disservice and they show great illogicality.
1761 I am all for having a referendum for England, but as that is not mentioned in the Bill, it would not be in order for me to deal with it. [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes, it would."] In that case an hon. Member could move an Amendment to the Bill to provide for such a referendum, and I would certainly support him.
I am not afraid of what the findings of this referendum would be. I do not think that anyone is 100 per cent. satisfied with the wording of the Bill. To be fair to the proposer, he consulted every party in an attempt to find a fair wording. He certainly consulted me.
§ Mr. James Davidson
I wrote to the Secretary of State for Scotland to ask what would be the Government's altitude to the Bill and saying that I would be quite prepared to make alterations.
§ Mr. Rees rose—
§ Mrs. Ewing
I am not afraid of what the findings might be and I would accept the findings, remembering that they would just be a piece of evidence to be taken into consideration. Would it not be a good thing for the House to prepare itself for the forthcoming debate by having the facts? So far, the House has more or less escaped debating this issue, but hon. Members may rest assured that at the next election every political candidate of every party on every platform will find himself debating this issue, and it may be advisable to undertake a little preparation to be able to deal with it.
§ Mr. Dewar
The hon. Ladys says that she is satisfied with the clarity of the questions. One of the choices mentions federal status. What kind of federal status does she have in mind? Would it be on the American pattern, or on the Australian pattern; or that laid down in the British North America Act.
§ Mrs. Ewing
The hon. Gentleman has put words into my mouth. I am not 100 per cent. satisfied with the wording, but I do not think that the effect would be confusion. I have tackled the Leader of the Liberal Party on this very matter, 1762 and I was not satisfied with his answer. There is no need to suppose that the choice cannot be made perfectly plain. We can make the issues plain when other complex and serious proposals are put before the electorate at a general election.
In Scotland we have had a series of plebiscites. They have been conducted by the Scottish Plebiscite Society, a non-political group including judges and respected former members of the Labour Party, and there have been plebiscites by this private voluntary organisation. In 1949, in Kirriemuir, 92 per cent. voted for a simple proposition for or against a Scottish Parliament, in Peebles in 1959 82 per cent. voted for, and in Jedburgh later 94 per cent. voted for. I do not know whether hon. Gentlemen will accept the recent poll conducted by The Scotsman, when 88 per cent. voted for a Scottish Parliament, divided between 54 per cent. voting for the fourth proposition of complete independence and 36.6 per cent. voting for a domestic Parliament. If I am willing to accept the evidence of a referendum, why are not the other parties? Are they afraid of what the findings might be?
The next point is the precedent argument. We have had a precedent in the case of Gibraltar. Is this House to permit a referendum about self-determination only when it is sure of two things—first that it knows the answer and second that it knows that it will like it? The Government know the answer that they will get in the case of Scotland and Wales, but they do not like it, so they will not have a referendum. Is that not what it amounts to?
I have already mentioned the implications of turning down this proposition. It is the last chance to try to ascertain whether the people of Scotland and Wales seek self-determination in the terms of the United Nations Charter to which this House and all of us are committed. It is the policy of the United Kingdom to allow a nation's right to self-determination if it has universal suffrage. The Scots have had compulsory education longer than any other country. They are highly intelligent and politically conscious electors. It is very strange that this House supports self-determination as a principle only if the country concerned is far enough away. But the record of this House is very 1763 honourable in this respect and many nations have since the war been sponsored by the United Kingdom to full individual membership of the United Nations.
The illogic of the situation of my nation, whose national identity is admitted in this House and for which this House is fully repsonsible, struck me forcibly when I had the great experience of watching Swaziland take its seat as a new member of the United Nations in September, sponsored by the United Kingdom. Lord Caradon made an excellent and moving speech. I cannot remember his exact words, but the sentiment which he expressed was that, each time a new nation is added to the world of nations, the whole world is enriched, and every time a new voice is heard in the assembly of nations, the whole tone and quality of the debate is enriched. I thought how ironic it was that Scotland, the land described by Dr. Johnson—not the best friend of the Scots—as the "Kingdom of thought", was not able to make a contribution.
It is not just a question of a right for which we are looking but of a desire to have a responsibility for mankind. We in Scot and do not feel that we will always take the same view as is taken in England or in Wales on matters involving mankind. We are deprived of our opportunity to take a seat in these international assemblies and put our point of view—
§ Mr. Gordon Campbell
Of course the hon. Lady would not want to mislead the House. She must be aware that Scots have played a very prominent part at the United Nations. My right hon. Friend the Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Sir Alec Douglas Home) is one of those. In a humbler capacity, I spent three years as a Scot at the United Nations in the permanent delegation. This was recognised by everyone, including the interpreters, who knew very well that I was a Scot.
§ Mrs. Ewing
That intervention has helped my argument considerably. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the good contribution which is made the world over by Scotsmen when they get a chance as individuals. Imagine the contribution which Scotland could make to the world as a nation. The hon. Gentleman has 1764 strengthened my argument and I thank him.
We are in a partnership. Another of the Under-Secretary's arguments was an emotive one—the very sort of thing that he warned us against—about not throwing the baby out with the bath water, whatever that means. He issued an emotive appeal to us all to stick together. Some ways of sticking together are better than others. The best way is that one is responsible and taken into the deciding of those affairs which properly concern one. That is the right of any nation. That would mean that we would have a better contribution to make to the world in whatever association we entered with the nations around us, including our closest neighbours.
We were the most modern experimentalists in an international experiment in 1707—the first of the great experiments and it has been for Scotland a disastrous experiment. We feel that it is not right that the present situation should continue and that this is the time, in a world where people have their own say, for us to find a way within the framework of democracy to effect the radical change that the evidence clearly shows is desired in Scotland.
§ 12.55 p.m.
§ Mr. William Baxter (West Stirlingshire
I listened with great interest to the hon. Lady the Member for Hamilton (Mrs. Ewing) and I congratulate her on her sentiments, with which I largely concur. I also greatly appreciate the opportunity granted to us by the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. James Davidson) to hear a very cogent case for this Measure. We are indebted to him for the opportunity to debate this important subject.
I contend that the principle of a referendum cannot be disputed. Irrespective of what the opponents of the Bill may say, a referendum as such is fundamentally sound and desirable. There have been no arguments this morning to prove to me or the public that a referendum on the subjects in the Bill is not fundamentally sound. The phraseology may leave something to be desired—the proposal about whether it should be "federalism" or not may require alteration—but these are matters which can be debated or altered in Committee. I 1765 see no reason why the principle should be lost in the argument about the triviality of altering a word here or there or the argument on the finance necessary.
It has been suggested that our people would not have the ability, the education, the sense or the responsibility to make clear and concise judgments on the question put before them. But, as we have been reminded, this could be an argument against any elections in this country. Do we not put complicated questions before the electorate from time to time and expect them, in their wisdom or otherwise, to support the better suggestion? That is the fundamental principle of the whole set-up of elections as we hold them at present.
The first alternative of the Bill, to leave the existing system of Government as it is, is a question which must at least tickle the fancy even of hon. Members. Do we not realise—we should—that, unless one is a member of a so-called "secret society" or has some special contacts with the powers-that-be or wears the proper school tie, one is very unlikely to be given any promotions or consulted at any time on the most insignificant thing which comes before the House? On the Order Paper this morning is the notification of the selection of a Scottish Committee. Who in the House was consulted about who should be on that Committee?
§ Mr. William Hamilton
I am interested in my hon. Friend's argument. Would he tell us how he became a Member of the Chairmen's Panel?
§ Mr. Baxter
That is one of the great secrets of the House. I was not even able to probe into that. I was selected, but for what reasons I am unable to say. Anyway, by virtue of a slight disagreement I shall set a particular record in ceasing to be a member of the Chairmen's Panel in less than a year because I disagree with the method of selection even of members of the Chairman's Panel.
§ Mr. Baxter
I apologise to you, Mr. Speaker. I was honoured in being asked to serve on the Chairmen's Panel by yourself and your colleagues.
But, with respect, I believe that the set-up of the House of Commons leaves much to be desired. If we are not aware of the need for a change in the existing system of government, it is time that we left the House. I do not want to elaborate the reasons why so many are anxious to come back here and why we do not seek fundamental changes. That could be debated at length, and I do not want to waste the time of the House on it. But there are many and varied reasons why hon. Members do not seek changes to this hallowed institution. It is my contention that the disadvantages of the institution outweigh its advantages in its present construction and formation and that it requires a fundamental change in the whole set up. If we do not make the change, a forecast without fear of contradiction that the consequences for the nation will be grave. We are ostriches sticking our heads in the sand if we do not realise the importance of this issue.
It has been suggested that a decision to take a referendum is not the proper way to tackle the problem and yet, on an issue before the House at the moment—that concerning a strike ballot—the two main parties believe that a ballot is the one way to resolve the difficulty. Of course, if they are not themselves involved, they are anxious to have ballots.
The future of every person in the House and of all our successors is in the balance if we ask the opinion of the great mass of our people whether this place should be altered. This is an important aspect of government which requires a referendum and which requires people a little apart from us to take a longer look at the picture—a picture which we are painting to the great mass of our people, not of satisfaction and contentment and not of the virility which ought to be expected in a House such as this. We do not paint a picture of an aggressive approach which could bring the nation to greatness. We do not paint such a picture to people who believe that this place is of no consequence—and nor is it.
Is any back bench Member consulted on the major issues which are brought before the House and the country? [HON. 1767 MEMBERS: "Yes."] No, they are not consulted The people who are consulted, and even the Select Committees of inquiry into local or national government, by and large are selected from people out-with the House. Even Prime Ministers, when appointed, have little regard and little respect for the integrity or ability of Members of Parliament. It is time that we recognised the simple facts of life.
§ Mr. Ogden
What respect does my hon. Friend expect us to be accorded by people outside the House if hon. Members inside the House continually decry their own profession and their own ability? Do we hear teachers, doctors and nurses decrying their own ability? How can we expect people outside the House to appreciate us if we do not have pride in our own achievements?
§ Mr. Baxter
When we achieve something. I have no objection to a certain degree of pride and satisfaction, but what do we achieve? Let us analyse it. It is true that there are Members of great ability in the House and excellent professors, doctors, scientists, business men, ordinary labourers and ordinary workers who have great capacity in their individual pursuits. But what is the combination of all that? Does it give us a wisdom which we can reasonably expect from a place such as this, or a judgment? I am entitled to express a point of view and, having looked at the whole spectacle of Parliament, I do not believe that it has shown any greater sensibility than is shown by the ordinary man in the street. I do not think we display a greater common sense than does the ordinary man in the street. We therefore have no right to deny the ordinary man in the street the opportunity of expressing his point of view on such a great constitutional issue as this.
§ Mr. W. Howie (Luton)
My hon. Friend is making some interesting points about the way in which the House is run, and I agree with many of them. I wonder whether he would tell us what change would be made by the Bill and, indeed, whether the Bill has anything to do with the points which he is making?
§ Mr. Baxter
That is an interesting point and I shall be delighted to answer it. If a decision is made on paragraphs (a), (b), (c) or (d), a Government—irrespective 1768 of which Government—must have regard to what the people want or they may be in difficulties. Let us assume that the people voted for paragraph (d), complete separation. Let us assume that the great mass of the people of Scotland decided that they want complete separation. Everybody says that such a decision would be terrible, but the people of Scotland have a right to make it.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) said that if they were told that their standard of living might be reduced a bit if that decision were taken, it would have an effect on their attitude. There is no proof of that. There is something greater than money. There is something greater than the simple fact of coming here. There is a pride of place and the Scottish people have a right to a pride in their own place. If we have a referendum and our people demand complete separation, there is nothing fundamentally wrong about that. They are entitled to accept the consequences of their action, either good or bad—and who can say that it would be bad? No balance has been struck.
But there is a normal balance sheet struck in the minds of all of us. I would rather see Scotland an independent Scotland and represented at the United Nations, expressing a point of view. I should like my people given the opportunity to say whether they want a Polaris base in Holy Loch when one bomb could destroy the whole of our people. I do not want these things forced upon us from a Parliament in London—not even dictated by Parliament but dictated by generals who in the past, if past wars are any indication, have little or no knowledge of future conflicts.
§ Mr. Lawson
Would my hon. Friend agree that even in the House he has never accepted and acted according to a decision with which he did not agree and that he always insists upon what the Scots call his "aín swine's way"?
§ Mr. Baxter
I agree that I am an exception to the general rule, but an exception which proves the rule. I am a little different in this respect from my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell (Mr. Lawson). For many years he took great exception to me because he thought 1769 that I was undermining the party, because I did not accept in every respect the great thing called the Whip. I believe that it would be better for all our people if there were more independence in the House.
Like many others, the Minister lives in the past. He read the brief which he had received from the Cabinet. I do not think much of the Cabinet. You may read it, if you like, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and if that is not your conclusion after you have read it, I apologise. Perhaps you will let me know what are your conclusions. It is a brief from a Cabinet fixed in the past, bogged down by old, musty ideas. It is the tragedy of our day and age. We live too much in the past and do not focus our attention on the future. We have too many commissions and inquiries into what happened in the past, when one commission or inquiry which is of paramount importance to the wellbeing of our nation would be a commission or inquiry focusing on what we shall do in the future. That is the importance of our being here—not to produce arguments based upon what Gladstone may have said or what Lloyd George may have said or even what the newspapers may have said yesterday. Let us come to our own conclusions and put our point of view.
I do not want to take up the time of the House. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."'] Thank you, I will go on a little longer. Paragraph (b) saysto devolve additional powers and functions to the Secretaries of State for Scotland and Wales and to the Scottish and Welsh Grand Committees of the House of Commons".Can any hon. Member with truth say that the "Scottish Grand Committee as constituted at the moment, and as it has done its work over the last 10 years or so, is a method whereby we can rejuvenate the people and the economy for Scotland? I defy anyone to say so. That was outwith the baby which the Front Bench speaker threw out with the bathwater. Paragraph (c) saysto establish domestic Parliaments in Scotland and Wales having jurisdiction over all internal affairs and with federal status within the United Kingdom".This must give rise to more questions in our minds. Is there a way whereby this could be done without destroying some 1770 of the things which my hon. Friends and others believe to be the unity of purpose of the United Kingdom? There is a way in which we could set up a federal system which would give us all a great deal of local or national control. That to some extent commends itself to me, and it is advocated by the Liberal Party.
A problem which is not unsurmountable is the question of controlling and raising of money. This could be done if Scotland had a Parliament of its own under a federal system by which rates for local authorities would be on a new structure of financing. A region called Scotland could be based not only on a partial property tax but also on an income tax, which would give a greater degree of equity and fairness to all. The whole aspect of education, police services, hospitals and other major services could come under such a body. We could play a part in such a federal system with England and Wales. This would avoid the necessity for increasing the membership of this place because only a few Members would have to come here to do their duty. This is worth consideration.
I have referred to paragraph (d). It is of paramount importance. In view of the tempo of life at present, the constant changes in science, the development of the human race, developments in communications—I saw at B.O.A.C. the other day the sketch of a plane which within a few years would be able to go to Australia in something less than four hours—
§ Mr. Baxter
I wish only to illustrate the tempo of life in which man is at present. We should not be satisfied that our pace should be the opposite. We should give to the people of Wales and Scotland an opportunity to express their point of view on four specific questions. We may not get answers which my hon. Friends or I may want, but on a great constitutional issue the people of Wales and Scotland are entitled to express a point of view. If it only brought this place to a sense of reality, a sense of purpose and a going forward, it would serve a very useful purpose for all mankind.
§ 1.15 p.m.
§ Sir Fitzroy Maclean (Bute and North Ayrshire)
As most of the previous speeches have borne out—and I think the same could be said for the speech of the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. W. Baxter), so far as I was able to follow his trend of thought—the object of our debate today is not so much to decide the future Government of our country or to discuss the various possibilities open to us, but rather to consider whether the Bill could help either us or the country to arrive at such a decision. For this reason we are bound to give it the closest scrutiny.
I wart first to look at its origin. It originates with the Liberal Party—or rather with one section of the party, what I might call the more extreme wing. It is interesting to speculate on why the Liberal Party should have given birth to this particular Measure at this particular time. I think the answer is fairly clear—it is a desperate attempt to save their political bacon.
Most of us have considerable affection and admiration for the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond). I am sorry that he is not at the moment in the Chamber. It seems that he has all the attributes of a successful political, indeed national, leader except one; he is short of followers, although it was not only a generous but probably a wise move on his part to hand over the leadership of the party to his right hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe), who is not with us at present either.
I hope that the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. James Davidson) will not accuse me of being unduly tortuous-minded if I see the present Bill—I am not the only one who has seen it in this rather unfavourable light—in the nature of a take-over bid designed to pick up a few followers cheap at the expense of the Scottish and Welsh National Parties.
§ Dr. Winstanley rose—
§ Sir F. Maclean
It is not a material point. I was about to say that, not being a member of the Liberal Party, and not likely to become one, I view the whole 1772 project with rather less enthusiasm than I might otherwise do.
§ Dr. Winstanley
Is the hon. Member suggesting that it is in some way improper for a political party to recommend something which it thinks the people want?
§ Sir F. Maclean
Not at all, especially if a few votes go with it. It is interesting to find the motives, which have now been confirmed to me by the hon. Member.
Like other hon. Members, I have never been enamoured of plebiscites as such. Direct consultation may be all right for deciding relatively simple straightforward questions admitting of a plain answer "yes" or "no"—such as whether alcoholic refreshments should be sold in a given part of the country at a given time or not. When it comes to more complicated political issues admitting of a variety of different solutions and requiring a great deal of specialised knowledge and research, it seems that they have very little to recommend them and that a gradual and more complex method of consultation is called for.
It would be interesting, for example—here I am delighted to give way—to know what view the Liberal Party would have at the moment on plebiscites on capital punishment or immigration. I believe such plebiscites would introduce some very interesting, if not very valuable results.
§ Mr. Hooson
As the hon. Member invited an interjection, may I say for my party that I am sure we would adhere to the view expressed by Asquith, in 1911, that the occasion for a referendum is on a constitutional issue and no other as a general principle?
§ Sir F. Maclean
Well, all I can say is that I do not agree with what Mr. Asquith said in 1909.
Of course, plebiscites have been used for deciding big political issues, almost always to the entire satisfaction of those who instituted them. Napoleon I, Napoleon III, Adolf Hitler and more recently General de Gaulle, all held the most successful plebiscites, some with a vote approaching 100 per cent., but I doubt whether even the wild men of the Liberal Party really want to see that sort of plebiscite here. Surely, if ever there was an 1773 issue which did not lend itself to solution by plebiscite, which did not admit of a snap decision, it is the extremely complicated and controversial one of the future government of this country.
§ Sir F. Maclean
The hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. James Davidson) will have another opportunity.
§ Sir F. Maclean
As both of the major parties have recognised, and I am glad to say that they have done it publicly, the present subject is one which requires the most careful investigation into all its aspects, and not those of some past time but those now, the present circumstances, pertaining today; investigation by experts, and up-to-date. This needs to be done before a decision can fairly be taken or the issue fairly put to the electorate. I suppose that most of us here are fairly aware politically, otherwise, presumably, we should not be here, but I very much doubt whether many of us, except the most presumptuous, would consider ourselves competent to decide these issues, or to decide between one possible solution and another, without far more information of all kinds of aspects of the case than is at present available.
§ Mr. James Davidson
The hon. Gentleman really must give way. He keeps speaking about making a decision. What the Bill seeks to do is to give people the opportunity to express a view, to indicate a view, not to take a decision. The hon. Gentleman is perpetually sliding over this fundamental point.
§ Sir F. Maclean
If the hon. Member will wait I will come in a few moments to the point which he has raised.
There is no doubt about it that what he is proposing is a plebiscite or referendum. He himself has called it a referendum. I will now come to the 1774 point which he has made. I think not plebiscite outlined in the hon. Member's Bill with its four alternative solutions is the worst conceivable kind of plebiscite. It is a real dog's dinner of a referendum, which could only cause chaos, which only that a plebiscite is the worst conceivable way of trying to decide this particular issue but that the type of could only confuse the issue even worse than it is confused already. He said that he might add further alternative solutions; I think the only effect of them would be to make it even dottier than it is already.
I do not want to give the hon. Gentleman the slightest encouragement, but if there has to be a referendum, if the people of Scotland had to be asked the simple question "Yes?" or "No?", then at least the question which would make some sense as a question for them to be asked would be, "Do you want complete separation from the rest of the United Kingdom or not?". I myself believe that that is a question which will be answered in the ordinary way at the next election.
The hon. Lady the Member for Hamilton (Mrs. Ewing) said just now that if her party got a majority of seats in Scotland at the next election it would be too late for a referendum. I agree absolutely that there would no longer be any need for a referendum; the question would have been settled in a proper democratic way, and, I imagine, accepted by all concerned, whether gladly or reluctantly, as we accept the results of a General Election in the ordinary way. If this were to be the result, then the majority of people in Scotland would have voted for separation, and we should get separation. But that is quite a different thing from a referendum.
To return to the idea that we might have a referendum, which I think would not be a good idea because I do not think it is the right way to do it, it would be better at least on that single point than this dog's dinner of the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West, and I have a fairly good idea of what most people's answer would be, because a recent opinion poll, quoted by the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) in an extremely interesting article, shows that only some 14 per cent. of the members of the 1775 Scottish National Party itself want complete separation, although, as the hon. Lady the Member for Hamilton has just told us, that is her party's official policy.
Of course, whatever way that particular referendum went, it would not suit the Liberals, because, as far as one can make out, the Liberals favour the federal solution, and that, as other speakers have pointed out, shows the hon. Members Bill in an even stranger light, because although presumably, the federal system for Scotland and Wales would mean a federal system for England, no provision whatever is made for consulting the unfortunate English about something which concerns them all extremely directly.
For all these reasons I hope that the hon. Member will take his Bill away and lose it. I am afraid I have to catch an aeroplane—at least, I should say I hope to catch an aeroplane—and therefore, will not be able to vote, but I hope that I have made my attitude to the Bill abundantly clear. It seems to me that it could not be better described than it was by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Wylie) when he called it "an irresponsible Bill likely to produce an irresponsible result." It can only confuse an already confused issue. I have no doubt—and this is clear from all kinds of things, and has been for a good long time—that the people of Scotland, and, indeed, of Wales, want more say in the conduct of their own affairs, and should have more say, and will get more say, but even in this age of public opinion polls—and the Bill is really a thinly-disguised public opinion poll—I do not think it is the right way to bring about that result, still less to work out its modalities.
§ 1.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Fred Evans (Caerphilly)
During the debate there have been many implications that those on this side of the House who will oppose the Bill are necessarily people who have no interest and certainly no faith in devolution. I would rebut them immediately. I think that it ii going to be some answer in Wales and in Scotland that we do have some form of devolution.
I think it not only true of Wales and Scotland but a fact in many countries in the world today. Indeed, the urge to devolution is almost an instinctive re- 1776 action on the part of the individual, to protect himself from being depersonalised any further in a world of gigantic scientific and technological advances, so that, while distance is shrinking through the development of communications, he at the the same time is made to feel more remote, more isolated, and inside his own personality he is shrinking back into himself. That is one of the reasons why, I feel, in the not too distant future we shall see a new concentration on family life. This is why in Wales and Scotland devolution has become such an important issue, and why ignoring devolution would be such a dangerous act of folly, both in Britain and elsewhere.
To come to the referendum, I largely agree with the cogent arguments put forward by the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Wylie). His attitude is correct, and it is an attitude which is echoed in Wales, the Western Mail, which calls itself the national paper of Wales, has been mentioned. I would hardly say that it is a supporter of the Labour Party. Indeed, it is claimed that it gives far too much prominence to the Tory point of view and, now that Toryism is getting weaker in Wales, to the Welsh Nationalist point of view. It was felt at one moment that it was becoming not a Thomson paper but a Plaid Cymru paper. During the last six months the paper has given detailed examination to devolution in Wales; it has held polls and run a sustained series of articles, recently producing an editorial, arising directly out of the publication of this Bill, which turned its face against the idea of a referendum.
The arguments put forward were, first, that a referendum was far too blunt an instrument to measure accurately all the aspects of the situation in Wales, which is so highly fraught with emotionalism; secondly, that the electorate had insufficient access to information. Both these points were made by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Pentland. The Western Mail is not a supporter of the Labour Party, and I shall, therefore, be content to accept the arguments of my opponents in this respect.
In discussing plebiscites, the House may be interested in this extract from a South Wales paper last Tuesday night: