HC Deb 01 February 1974 vol 868 cc835-8

Order for Second Reading read.

3.52 p.m.

The Minister for Energy (Mr. Patrick Jenkin)

I have it in Command from the Councillors of State acting on Her Majesty's behalf during her absence from the United Kingdom to acquaint the House that they, on behalf of Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Scottish and Welsh Parliaments Bill, are content to place Her Prerogative, so far as it is affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.

3.53 p.m.

Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

In the few minutes left to me I can only point out the main purposes of the Bill and say something about its principal suggestions.

The main purpose is that this should be the first step towards self-government in Scotland and Wales. Both the Liberal Party and the Scottish National Party want to go a great deal further than the Bill, but the first step is an essential step. It is essential to get a parliament set up in Scotland and in Wales and there to give the Scottish and Welsh people a chance to discuss the affairs of their own country, to consider how much further they want to go and to gain experience in exercising certain functions.

We have written it clearly into the Bill that it must be reviewed within 10 years. I wish to stress that because it shows that, in our view, in a very few years both Scotland and Wales will probably want to go a great deal further than the Bill allows.

The Bill is based on the Kilbrandon Report. This was a report drawn up by a Royal Commission after a great deal of consideration, and the majority proposals were quite clear that devolution was essential for Scotland and that there was a great desire in Wales for government nearer home.

Further, by presenting a Bill which has behind it the weight of the majority report of a Royal Commission, which admittedly is not by any means extreme, which retains the essential unity of the United Kingdom while allocating certain functions to Scotland and retaining others here at Westminster, and which retains the present number of Scottish and Welsh Members at Westminster, I hope to mobilise the maximum range of Scottish and Welsh opinion. My object is not to create dissension but to try to rally all the Scots—I am sure that they are a majority—who want home rule, and also all the Welsh who are behind this proposal, which I believe has a wide attraction in Wales.

The Conservative Party was pledged at the last General Election to introduce some measure of devolution during this Parliament. It may be asked why it has not done so. It hardly has time to do so now. I make no excuse for bringing these proposals forward at this stage, because it is late in the day and the Kilbrandon Report has been before us for three months. The Labour Party appears to have no proposals one way or the other for Scottish self-government. The curious line of argument from some Labour Members is that the Bill is not extreme enough. Other Labour Members object to devolution altogether, and the rest of the party has no official policy. All those who are in the least anxious that there should be devolution should support the Bill. After doing so Ihey can go further. The only people who are entitled not to support it are those who are against the whole idea of devolution.

The Bill follows Kilbrandon but it goes further in some respects. Among the services which we want to devolve to Scotland and Wales are aid to industry and regional development. We have extended the financial powers of the Welsh and Scottish Parliaments further than Kilbrandon suggested by proposing that they can raise a sum equivalent to 10 per cent. of their revenue from United Kingdom sources. This could come from oil. We believe that local authorities should share in the oil revenues, and we also propose setting up a fund to be provided for out of the oil revenue for the restructuring of the economy after the oil boom is over. We do not want to find Scotland left in the position which followed the decline of heavy industry and coal.

Further, we have accepted the present Scottish constituencies. We suggest that they should send three members each to the Scottish House and that the same should apply in Wales. We have kept the present number of Members at Westminster. The functions which we have devolved start with local government. I regard it as a great error that the Government brought in local government reform in Scotland before considering Kilbrandon. Otherwise the devolved functions are largely those of the Secretary of State for Scotland, although we have gone beyond his functions in various ways as I have indicated. They are those functions which are in general supported by Kilbrandon.

The parliament will be elected by proportional representation. That too is in Kilbrandon. There will be certain entrenched clauses, although ultimately a two-thirds majority of the house could in extreme cases—although I do not think they would ever arise—enforce some control over the general running of the United Kingdom.

This is not a Bill which grants independence to Scotland. Nor does it represent a federal system. In fact it follows Kilbrandon. It does so not because that is the policy of the Liberal Party or the Scottish Nationalist Party but because it appears to be what is recommended by a highly respected Royal Commission after close examination of the problem. We believe that that is a good starting point.

If this House does not soon attend to the widespread demands in Scotland and Wales for devolution, the dissatisfaction with the parliamentary system which already exists will grow still further. This is the first debate—this is some reflection on our proceedings—after three and a half months have passed in which Kilbrandon has been discussed. We are within a year of an election. I urge strongly all those who, having considered the matter, are convinced that we need a change and more power for Scotland and Wales to support the Bill.

3.59 p.m.

Mr. George Lawson (Motherwell)

The right hon. Member for Shetland and Orkney (Mr. Grimond) began his speech by saying that the Bill was a first step. My undertanding of the Kilbrandon Report is that the Bill has not been produced as a first step. To what is it a first step? Is it a first step towards devolution? It is not the argument of Kilbrandon, which insists that separation would be almost a calamity for Scotland.

When the right hon. Gentleman talks of a first step, it is a first step towards separation. We should be clear that that is what is intended. I would say——

It being Four o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed upon Friday 17th May.