§ 3.10 a.m.
§ Mr. Robert J. Bradford (Belfast, South)
I am pleased to have this opportunity to introduce the debate on this most important subject of devolution within the United Kingdom. It is of great importance and relevance not only for Northern Ireland Members but for my hon. Friends from Scotland and Wales who also sit on the Opposition side of the House.
It is a matter of deep regret that the House was not given an opportunity to deal with the subject much earlier in the Session. It is deplorable that we have only a small group of Members applying our minds to one of the most far-reaching and fundamental developments this Session.
The debate is important for two reasons. The first is the need for unity and the preservation of unity within the United Kingdom. Secondly, the Government must always be seen to have integrity. The whole House would have liked to apply itself to safeguarding the unity of the United Kingdom by discouraging separatism. While that would be acknowledged by most hon. Members, many of the regions have aspirations. They have a historical and cultural background which can find expression only in a devolved assembly ensuring fair and informed legislation.
It is also a matter of regret that while the Government intend to produce a White Paper in the autumn they have not afforded the House—a full House—the opportunity to share their thinking. The Government would benefit greatly from a comprehensive debate on the subject.
262 This debate and the White Paper will be of special interest and relevance to the Ulster people, because the constitutional Convention in Ulster will be able to discover the thinking of the rest of the United Kingdom with regard to devolved assemblies or parliaments. It is unlikely now that the Convention will benefit from an exhaustive study, debate and record of the findings of this House because the debate has been neglected.
The Ulster Unionists desire the unity of the United Kingdom. We desire complete parity within the United Kingdom. Therefore, whatever emerges from the debate and from the ensuing White Paper will be given serious consideration by the Ulster Convention when it is formed and when its gets under way.
Chapter 11 of the Kilbrandon Report outlines certain central principles without defining them specifically. It states, for instance, that there is a need forpolitical and economic unity of the United Kingdom".Political unity is of vital importance. I illustrate that from the point of view of the Ulster situation. Political unity is vital because of the close proximity of a foreign sovereign State which claims control over part of the United Kingdom. Any legislative assembly in Northern Ireland would therefore need to have control over its own security and judiciary.
Because these powers and these matters are transferred under Scheme A in the consultative document we would see the scheme as the very minimum, with perhaps even more transferred powers and matters envisaged in Scheme A. We can appreciate and accept that no such feeling exists in very many other parts, if any, within the United Kingdom, but if we wish to preserve the unity of the United Kingdom such transferred matters and powers should be available.
The Kilbrandon Report emphasises the need for economic unity. We in Northern Ireland, with our friends from Scotland and Wales, are conscious of the tremendous generosity which has been afforded to us, but it would be wrong to limit the concept of economic unity to this moment. There has been a tremendous contribution in the past particularly from our Welsh friends. There is at present a fundamental contribution from Ulster in terms of agriculture. I believe that this 263 will become very much more important when we realise that half our balance of payments deficit is represented by the importation of food. Of course the time will very quickly come when our Scottish friends produce enough oil for us to exist without any great albatross of financial liability. Therefore, it is true to say that economic unity must not be viewed in terms only of the present. People have made a marvellous contribution to the United Kingdom in the past and are doing so now. Some of the regions will do even more in the days to come.
The second central principle expressed in the Kilbrandon Report is that of safeguarding democracy. Whatever scheme emerges should bear no resemblance to the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973. That was a negation of democracy since it gave special privileges to the minority for all time. I believe that the will of the majority must be reflected in ministerial responsibility within any regional parliament or assembly. That responsibility must be produced by the majority party. The consultative document, particularly in Scheme A, appears to me to be the minimum requirement for a serious attempt at a regionally devolved parliament.
I turn now to the question of proper representation at Westminster. In pursuit of parity with the rest of the United Kingdom I am loth to rob our Scottish friends of the representation they now have in this House. The same applies to our Welsh friends. Indeed, I am not anxious to reduce the representation of others so much as I am to increase Ulster's representation to at least 17 Members of this House. That is the number given in the Kilbrandon Report.
The reason for insisting upon proper representation is that Northern Ireland is without a regional legislative body. When matters of national, international and regional importance are discussed in this House, the people of Northern Ireland have only two-thirds of the total vote they should have on every major issue, including issues which determine the destiny of Ulster, while Scotland and Wales do not suffer at all. I repeat that I am not anxious to reduce the representation of the Scots and the Welsh so much as I am 264 to achieve proper and full representation of the people of Northern Ireland.
As foreign affairs will remain always a reserved matter to the central sovereign Parliament, it is vital that a region or province should have full and proper representation at the seat of central Government to influence legislation. The importance of this I again illustrate from the Northern Ireland experience.
In Ulster sovereign control is at least claimed by a foreign State, albeit in a partial sense. In this critical situation affecting foreign affairs, it is vital that this House should reflect the will of the majority of the people of Northern Ireland. That can happen only if Northern Ireland expresses itself not in terms of a two thirds representation but by its full representation. The problem of foreign affairs legislation will surely increasingly arise, especially in relation to the Common Market. Therefore it is vital for every region—Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as well as England —to have full representation to safeguard the peculiar interests of each.
I want now to refer to the remoteness and yet the complete paternalism of the central Government. Unfortunately I must again illustrate the point by referring to Northern Ireland. Without indicting anyone, I think it is true to say that decisions have been made about Northern Ireland by some Members of this House who know as much about Northern Ireland as I do about stuffing a haggis. This is an illustration of the problem of central Government now—their remoteness and yet the power of complete determination which that central Government have.
In the Kilbrandon Report there is an unfortunate dismissal of the federal system. The report states that it must be looked at and discussed, yet it is totally rejected and dismissed so lightly and so quickly. I think that this is wrong. That system of federal government has its merits. Again, this can be clearly seen in relation to the history of Northern Ireland. The most important merit of a federal system—not the only merit by any means—is that each province, state or region would have a degree of sovereignty not afforded under the devolution system. I believe that this would have safeguarded the province of Northern Ireland in a way which could 265 not be done under the devolved system which obtained in that province.
In 1949 the Ireland Act stated that the Parliament of Northern Ireland could not be abolished without the consent of the Ulster Parliament, and yet we know that that Act was completely ignored and the Government of Northern Ireland was abolished. Under the federal system, with the degree of sovereignty afforded to each region, province or state, that simply could not happen. Because of this great attribute of intrinsic sovereignty the federal system is worth considering and ought not to be dismissed so quickly and readily.
I offer those observations and I thank the House for its attention.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. George Thomas)
Order. I hope that hon. Members who hope to catch my eye will not delay our proceedings with interventions.
§ 3.28 a.m.
§ Mr. D. E. Thomas (Merioneth)
I am grateful for the opportunity afforded to me in this debate to discuss the developments in policy on devolution as far as they affect the people of Wales. I should like to say something, however, about the way in which this debate on devolution has arisen and to echo the remarks of the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Mr. Bradford).
This is the second time that hon. Members who have wanted to debate this major constitutional and political issue have had to resort to the terms of the Consolidated Fund Bill to do so. Perhaps the most powerful argument for devolution to Scottish and Welsh parliaments is that the Government in this Parliament has not been able to find the time to debate devolution. The Government seemed anxious to get involved in rounds of discussion outside the House, with local government, national organisations and, indeed, political parties. There are queues building up and stretching for miles outside the Welsh Office in Cardiff waiting to consult the Secretary of State for Wales.
If this were in reality the great exercise in participatory democracy which it is made out to be, why does the Government have talks with all forms of bodies outside the House but does not find time 266 for a full debate on the report of the Royal Commission in this Chamber? The fact that this debate, and its predecessor in March—when I recollect that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, were also in the Chair—is taking place at all is due to the luck of the draw coupled with the resourcefulness of the Whips of the minority parties.
The Government may say that the appropriate time for debate is after the publication of the White Paper. However, the real relevance of debate is in policy formulation. In other words this is the time for discussion, when an exchange of views, an analysis of options and an assessment of the implications of various models can be pursued.
If there is to be a real debate about devolution, as opposed to an empty public relations exercise conducted through Press releases from the Welsh and Scottish Offices, this debate must take place in the Chamber, certainly if it is to be about the transfer of power from this Chamber to other chambers in Cardiff and Edinburgh and perhaps, at a later date, to the English regions. The Government may alternatively take the view that time should have been found on an Opposition Supply Day. Those occasions are arranged through the usual channels with the Opposition Chief Whip.
The Conservative Opposition and their foremost front organisation in Wales, the CBI, have no policy on devolution short of retaining what I can only describe as a refined version of the status quo, ensuring an assembly with a nominated element which will make certain that the various members of the CBI in Wales still find themselves on some form of Welsh Council and still get their expenses to Cardiff. The Conservative Party has no constructive views at all on devolution. Certainly they have not been produced so far.
Maybe the Conservative Party is waiting until four o'clock in the morning to produce its views on this. This may be the great revelation of this debate. The most radical shift in the political system of Great Britain should not be relegated to discussion at four o'clock in the morning, however bright the Opposition or Government benches may be at this hour. I am certain that this will not be lost on the people of Wales in the forthcoming election—if there is to be a forthcoming election.
267 It is in the context of the possible timing of a General Election and the electoral pressures on the Government that I see the developing devolution debate. The motivation on the devolution issue has been governed all along by electoral pressures. I am not blaming the Government for this. I believe that it is to their credit. The Labour movement in Wales, or at least my Socialist colleagues in the trade union wing, still have the sensitivity to respond to electoral pressures. This does not seem to be paralleled by the Labour movement in Scotland. I am not here to comment on that. No doubt some of my hon. Friends will seek to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to deal with that.
It was electoral pressure which brought about the setting-up of the original Royal Commission. It was announced in the Gracious Speech of 1968, a Gracious Speech which had been preceded in July of that year by certain by-elections. Caerphilly was the third in a succession of by-elections in Wales—
§ Mr. Gwynoro Jones
Will the hon. Gentleman tell the House what was the attitude of the leaders of the Nationalist movement in Wales to the establishment of the Crowther Commission?
§ Mr. Thomas
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be able to enlighten the House on that point when he makes his speech. When that Commission was set up it was felt by the leaders of Plaid Cymru at that time that the Commission was a strategy to delay, or a reaction to, Nationalist pressure. This was how it was seen in the Press too.
It was a fact that the Gracious Speech announcing the setting-up of the Royal Commission was preceded from the Government's point of view by certain unfortunate by-elections. Caerphilly was the third in a succession of by-elections in Wales, in one of which Plaid Cymru had taken a seat from the Labour Party and in the other two it came second. A strategy was called for and the then Government opted for a Royal Commission, as this present Labour Government have done so often.
I am not saying that the setting-up of the Royal Commission was entirely due to Plaid Cymru. Credit must also go to 268 the Scottish Nationalist Party. Credit must also go to that section of the Labour Party, certainly in Wales, which has been responsive over the years to devolutionary demands. This group has, however, tended to need a lot of hard driving from the back, particularly on certain occasions, to activate it and overcome resistance or reluctance to stand by what one hopes are its positive views.
The exercise of a Royal Commission was gone through for four and a half years, but the Commission duly reported in October 1973. However, despite the one General Election success of the SNP in its 1970 General Election and the presence in the House of the hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Stewart), the pressure appeared, at least to the Conservative Government, to be off in terms of a massive advance by the national parties in Wales and Scotland.
The reception given to the Commission's report in October 1973 led the Secretary of State for the Environment to appeal to the House not to "give way to total cynicism". Following the 1974 General Election the pressure was turned on again, with the present composition of the House, and the new Labour Government were made instantly more responsive to the need for devolution. This went so far that on 9th April, the Prime Minister, in reply to an Oral Question, said:I am not making a commitment to any particular date but I hope that we should have it"—the White Paper on devolution—before the Summer Recess".—[OFFICAL REPORT 9th April 1974; Vol. 872 c. 161.]That was presumably when he was still keeping a June election as an option. Now that he is keeping an October election option open, the Leader of the House said today that we can expect the White Paper in the "early autumn". The Secretary of State for Wales today made great play with the fact, as he said, that "To get action on devolution we need the return of a Labour Government". I hope I can share his optimism that if an election takes place in the near future the Labour Party will be returned.
However, there is a further vital element which the Secretary of State for Wales rather ungraciously saw fit to leave out of his equation, namely the proven necessity, going by the experience of the 269 past six years, for positive electoral pressure from Plaid Cymru to commit the Government irrevocably to action and ensure that they carry out their commitment on devolution. The political lessons of the need for a substantially increased Plaid Cymru presence in the House to represent radical social and devolutionary policies will not be lost on the Welsh electorate if there is a forthcoming General Election.
But there is an impetus towards devolution and an impetus to the whole devolutionary debate which goes much deeper and which the presence of Plaid Cymru Members in the House only reflects. This is the increasing determination of various sections of Welsh opinion to move rapidly towards a substantial degree of legislative devolution. I say in the House what I have said in Wales—in fact, in the constituency of the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Jones)—namely, that I believe that the most important event which has taken place in the political life of Wales this year was the decision of the Wales TUC, representing the force of the working people of Wales, to come out in favour of legislative devolution.
What is being increasingly felt by the Wales TUC and by other radical thinkers in the Labour movement in Wales, and what supporters of a monolithic political and economically unitary United Kingdom are missing out on and failing to appreciate, is that total political and economic unity means the permanent retention of stratified inequalities between the constituent countries of this union. I have asked a series of questions during the latter half of this Parliament to obtain a profile of the relative socioeconomic position of the various parts of Britain. The picture is grim for any political unionist, particularly one who purports to be a Socialist in outlook and has some vision of social justice and the redistribution of resources.
I quote a few of the indicators of relative social and economic deprivation in Wales relative to the average for Great Britain. In each of the indicative statistics I give, Great Britain is taken at 100 per cent.
The Family Expenditure Survey for 1972 shows Wales as having the lowest average household income per person—89 per cent. of the average for Great 270 Britain. Consequently Wales has an 18 per cent. above average number of households with household income per person less than half the British average or less. The number of supplementary benefit payments per head of the population in Wales is 25 per cent. above the British average.
The male unemployment rate in Wales stands at 130 per cent. of the British average. During the previous Labour Government from 1965–69 that rate climbed to 177 per cent. of the British average. The female activity rate is 20 per cent. below the average for Great Britain. The number in low-paid jobs in the various socio-economic groups of semi-skilled manual workers, unskilled manual workers, farmers without employees and agricultural workers is 30 per cent. above the British average.
To take the basic health statistics per thousand population, the figure for certified incapacity for males, expressed as the rate per man at risk for sickness benefit purposes, stands at a staggering 188 per cent. above the average in Great Britain. That is partly because of the preponderance of heavy industry and partly because of the basic social deprivation suffered in Wales. The proportion of households lacking basic amenities—a bath and hot water on tap—is 200 per cent. of the British average. I have chosen just a few of the socio-economic indicators which point to the relative deprivation of Wales in relation to the average for Britain as a whole.
The opposite pole of these indicators is the level of social and economic performance in South-East England, the region which regularly tops the league when Wales hits the bottom. It is the centre of wealth, it has a hugely unequal share of Britain's resources and it is also the centre of political power.
Yet in the context of a deprived Wales in relation to Britain, in the context of a profile of social deprivation which calls for Government intervention to tackle the basic problems, the discussion document on devolution asks inane questions on whether "divergency of policies" is acceptable between the constituent parts of the United Kingdom. The logic and the inequalities of the situation clearly dictate different policies to bring up the relative position of Wales.
271 The devolution debate is taking place in a social and political context in which Wales is an unequal partner, and in which increasing demands for legislative devolution are being made, led by the Welsh TUC and followed by local authorities and other organisations throughout Wales. It is a positive and deep-seated motivation to tackle at Welsh government level the problems of divergence in social and economic attainment which the British Government have neglected.
The argument for legislative devolution is that Wales needs a structure of powerful government to devise and implement policies to tackle its problems. It needs a government with ability to plan and execute a strategy of economic and social planning on a level which the British Government have not attempted. This must include full legislative powers over a range of domestic policy functions. It must include control over natural resources, including the ability to bring Celtic Sea oil under 100 per cent. public ownership by the Welsh people, to utilise the revenues and profits from the oil, to control the rate of extraction, minimise the environmental impact and combat the social deprivation suffered by the Welsh people, and stimulate job diversification. For this purpose the Welsh Development Agency rather tentatively proposed by the Government should be under Welsh parliamentary control.
The Welsh Parliament must have powers in social policy to enable it to tackle housing deprivation by building a minimum of 25,000 houses per annum for 10 years, particularly in the public sector. It should also be empowered to reorganise the administration of the social security system in Wales, so as to simplify the method of claiming for social security benefit and increase take-up by linking the administration more closely with the local authority social service departments.
The new Welsh parliament must also have broadcasting functions to ensure the allocation of the fourth network to alleviate the linguistic pressure on the broadcasting services. In addition it must take the lead in providing a bilingual form of administration so that hon. Members who represent Welsh constituencies will be able to speak in Welsh not only in Strasbourg but also in the assembly in which they will represent the Welsh people.
272 In all these policy areas there is a clear need for full legislative powers to be vested in the new Welsh parliament. This legislative flexibility must depend on granting financial flexibility, as outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley) in the debate on the economic situation last week. He called for the introduction of a gross domestic product equalisation payment to ensure a transfer of resources into the Welsh economy from general taxation.
The need for legislative devolution is dictated by the need for greater social justice in these islands. The drive for devolution is a drive to create a new centre of power within the Welsh community which will be able to devise the kind of policies that will make Wales a more equitable country with its resources more evenly distributed in order to bring about a more equitable social stratification than we see at present in Great Britain.
I believe that within the Welsh context a great social experiment is possible. It is an experiment about which the Welsh people have been talking for fifty years ever since Wales became a left-of-centre and socialist country. I believe that the time is now coming for the Welsh people to act on their social experiment. I also believe that in the course of the next five years that social experiment will be begun.
§ 3.46 a.m.
§ Mr. Iain MacCormick (Argyll)
I regard it as somewhat grotesque that this debate is taking place at this hour of the morning, and even more grotesque that it should be held at this stage of the parliamentary Session. I should have thought the Government, particularly a Labour Government, would have made it possible for us to debate this most important subject far earlier in the Session and at a much more sympathetic hour.
However, let me get down to the subject of the debate. I understand the subject under discussion to be the consultations which are rumoured to have been held on the proposals set down in the Government's consultative document. I do not think it would be wise for us to consider those consultations in their widest possible scale. It would surely be more sensible to think about them in terms of the political parties represented in this House.
273 Let us begin with the Labour Party. How can the Labour Party hold consultations with itself when the party itself has not decided what its point of view is? We have the ridiculous—indeed grotesque —position whereby the national executive of the Labour Party in England has already made up its mind what the national executive of the Labour Party in Scotland ought already to have said. The interesting convolution of the situation is that the national executive of the Labour Party of Scotland has already decided something quite different. We have come to a position in which the Government, in consultations between themselves and the political movement which gives rise to the Government, faces two diametrically opposed solutions. In the lifetime of this Government we are faced not with sensible decision-making but with a ridiculous kind of shilly-shallying.
Scotland also faces other problems than devolution. One of the most important questions facing Scotland today is what is to happen to its oil. However, I do not want the only Member of the Scottish Labour Party who is now present—the Minister of State, Scottish Office—to feel that I am chastising him unduly.
I turn now to the more interesting and heinous case of the Scottish Conservative Party. Here we shall all enjoy ourselves. Here we have a much more desperate situation, where people from the South are affecting people in the North. It has been the history of the Conservative Party in recent years that those in the South have been more progressive than those in the North on the subject of devolution. Time after time we have had the ridiculous spectacle of the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) telling his minions in the North what they should do. Now, of course, the Conservative Party has begun to climb down from what the right hon. Gentleman previously insisted was the case. We have the position today that the Conservative Party, which claimed to be the outright spokesman for Scotland suggests that we in Scotland should be satisfied with an assembly which is not directly elected—in other words, an assembly which is the antithesis of democracy. The constitutionalists may say that that is a matter of detail. But the charge which I lay at the Conservative Party's door is much more serious than that.
274 The Conservative Party in Scotland has gone out with the evil intention to split the nation of Scotland. It has done what no other party—Labour, Liberal, Scottish National or anyone else—has tried to do. The Conservative Party has spread the evil doctrine that somehow Scotland must be split into two nations, one of which demands varying degrees of devolution and the other of which must resist any such move. It is sad that men whom I used to consider honourable have set out to do this. It is even more sad because they do it for one reason. They realise what many other people in Scotland have yet to realise: that there is one body of people in the nation of Scotland who have a vested interest in keeping matters as they are. That body of people are the Conservative politicians.
As soon as we have a genuine degree of devolution in Scotland we shall find that the ambitions of those men and the platform on which they aspire to those ambitions will have been pulled from beneath their feet. That is why they are prepared to go to Scotland to do in Scotland what their predecessors were prepared to do in Ireland 100 years ago. Their predecessors went to Ireland not simply to utilise the conditions which they found but to create the divisions and then to exploit them.
I have never been a political animal in the real sense, but I despise those Conservatives in Scotland who are prepared to play this game today. At the same time I praise all those in Scotland who are taking part in meaningful debate. I regret that the Labour Party so far has chosen to pay such a faint-hearted rôle in these proceedings.
The other cases that I want to mention are those of the Liberal Party and the Scottish National Party. I do not agree with the Liberal Party, otherwise I would be a Liberal. None the less, I think that the Liberal Party has made a constructive contribution to the debate that is going on in Scotland at this time. Indeed, the submission that the Liberal Party made to the consultative document is fairly close to that made by my Party.
However, the case with which I want to deal seriously is that which the Scottish National Party has placed before the people of Scotland and, indeed, of the United Kingdom. It is probably true—this is a sad reflection on the way that 275 the average political mind on the Front Benches of both major parties thinks—that neither of the major parties expected the Scottish National Party to put in any kind of submission to the consultative document. I believe that it shocked them rigid when they found that we had not only responded to their invitation but that our response was as reasoned and moderate as it was found to be.
The consultative document, Scheme A, is close to the majority report of the Kilbrandon Commission. I suggest that the additions that we proposed are the product of genuine statesmanship. We have said that we want more than the Kilbrandon scheme offered. We have said in particular that we want control over the oil revenues as well as the United Kingdom Ministries which operate in Scotland outwith the control of the Secretary of State. The basic point, however, is that we have been, are and will go on being prepared to accept that any kind of devolution in Scotland will be achieved stage by stage.
Indeed, three months ago in this House I said that we were prepared to go to the people of Scotland and to our English friends in this place and say "Fair enough, it is not possible or practicable for you to give us all that we want in one fell swoop. Therefore, we will be prepared to argue the point and to accept one stage. We will then put that stage to the people of Scotland and ask them what more powers they want. We will then gradually extend them until we arrive at a situation where everyone agrees that the maximum desirable stage of devolution, self-government, independence, whatever word might be used, has been achieved".
To our detractors in other parties who make capital out of this or that proposal, I say that we will do this with the support not only of those who have always supported the SNP—dare I say it, the Scots—but of those who have chosen to live in Scotland and to support the policies of the Scottish National Party.
I have always sincerely believed in the sanity of a reasoned, sane and moderate policy. I have always believed that Scotland, virtually alone, apart from Wales and other places close by, of all countries obviously moving towards self-government, has a national movement of 276 which the nation may be justly proud. There has never been any serious suggestion that my party would move towards this position in anything other than a totally constitutional way. There will never be any questions of that as long as I am a member of this party, and I bet that I shall outlive any of my contemporaries here.
I ask the House, in considering this issue, to remember that that is the case and to remember, moreover, that the big parties, the Labour Party to a lesser extent and the Conservative Party in a gross and obscene fashion, have been misguided enough to see our case in an entirely different way.
§ 4.0 a.m.
§ Mr. Gwynoro Jones (Carmarthen)
As the hon. Members for Belfast, South (Mr. Bradford), for Merioneth (Mr. Thomas) and for Argyll (Mr. MacCormick) have reminded us, yet again the Opposition and the minority parties in this Parliament are claiming credit for many things.
§ Mr. Jones
That is true, but some parties are smaller than others, and the electorate will soon remedy that when the issue is brought before it.
I will not venture into Northern Ireland politics beyond saying that the hon. Member for Belfast, South, who suggested a federal system, did not apply himself to that substantive and important part of the Kilbrandon Report which deals with the financial implications of such a policy. The hon. Gentleman will doubtless be able to explain to his constituents where the money would come from under a federal system. He will no doubt have to tell them that they could rely on no subventions from Westminster and that local resources would have to be found to finance the devolved services he has in mind.
The speech of the hon. Member for Merioneth, for whom I have a great deal of respect and regard and who is an amiable Member, easy to get on with, was perplexing. This was not the hon. Gentleman I have known over the past few months. He resorted to a form of speech one expects from the leader of 277 his party. I thought that the hon. Gentleman was far more mature and politically educated than to follow that line of argument. However, as the hon. Gentleman raised the matter in that vein I shall have to reply accordingly.
We are informed that the Crowther Commission was set up because the minority parties in Wales and Scotland exerted the necessary pressure and that the commission was established because the Welsh nationalists won a seat in 1966 and afterwards came very close to winning another two seats in solid Labour areas in South Wales. In 1970 the Welsh nationalists lost the seat which, they claim, had led to the establishment of the commission. Are we to suppose, if we follow their argument logically, that in 1970 there was not a continuing demand for greater devolution in Wales.
I know that the hon. Member for Merioneth believes in his cause. I do not impugn his motives. However, if he wants to propagate his cause, I advise him that devolution in Wales should not be measured by percentage points, or by the fact that one party has two or three seats or that another party has lost a seat in a General Election or at a by-election.
Devolution is a greater and far more important issue than whether the party of the hon. Member for Merioneth, or my party, or the Conservative Party or the Liberal Party make any constitutional or electoral advances. It is not a matter of opinion polls, or percentage points, or who wins or loses particular seats. I intervened in the speech of the hon. Member for Merioneth to ask what was the official view of his party when the Crowther Commission was established. He was reticent in his answer. I was not surprised. Perhaps I can tell him the view of the leader of his party. Every party has a leader. We may disagree with our party leader from time to time, but at the end of the day we have to conform to certain beliefs and accept the leadership. The leader of the hon. Gentleman's party told the people of the Principality, at the time that the Crowther Commission was established:no one seems to be convinced that although the Government have planned to establish this Commission. they will take any action as a result of any report. It is … a gimmick to 'take the steam' out of Welsh and Scottish nationalism….278 The leader of the Welsh Nationalists went on …Governments normally find people to serve on these Commissions who share their prejudices and premises. If there are to be Welshmen on this Commission, I could almost name the likely nominees now—and they could be relied on to co-operate cordially with the Government."—[OFFICIAL REPORT 4th November 1968.; Vol. 772. c. 524–5.]What Kilbrandon has proposed is far more than what the Labour Party in Wales or in Scotland believes in, yet the leader of one nationalist party was then telling the House that there would be collusion, and that the members of the Commission would be so selected so as to ensure that a decision was arrived at to suit the view of the Government party—
§ Mr. D. E. Thomas
The hon. Gentleman was misquoting what the leader of my party said, when he spoke in the debate on the Queen's Speech on 4th November 1968. He said:It is thought to be a gimmick".He also said:no one seems to be convinced …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT 4th November 1968; Vol. 772 c. 524.]He was referring to general reaction which was seen in the national Press to the announcement of the setting up of the Commission.
The hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Jones) has referred to remarks made on 4th November 1968 by the then Member for Carmarthen about membership of the commission. It is clear that those remarks had such an effect on the Government of the day that they ensured that the membership of the commission was balanced, so as to represent the different view points of the various parties. Some claims made by various parties regarding the setting up of the commission have been idle speculation. I have paid generous tribute to the devolution lobby in the Labour Party in Wales. I only wish it was stronger.
§ Mr. Jones
I understand why the hon. Gentleman has turned Queen's Counsel for the leader of his party. He is under an obligation to do that. One does not want to enter into an argument whether the views expressed by the leader of the hon. Gentleman's party were, in fact, the views of the Western Mail, the South Wales Echo, or the Liverpool Daily Post. The then Member for Carmarthen said those words in 1968 and they are on the 279 record for people to analyse and pass judgment upon. The hon. Member naturally has to save his leader, or the repercussions from his national executive in a few weeks would be indescribable.
It is unkind of hon. Members to expect results after five months of a Labour Government, when the report was published months before the election. I cannot recall similar agitation in the autumn of 1973. It is fashionable for the nationalist parties of Scotland and Wales to make a Labour Government the target for protest.
§ Mr. D. E. Thomas rose—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. George Thomas)
Order. I am anxious not to give any impression of trying to curtail the debate, but there are another 40 debates to come, in which other hon. Members are just as interested.
§ Mr. Thomas
How does the hon. Gentleman construe my party's regular support for the Government on vital issues as an attack?
§ Mr. Jones
The Labour Party is grateful for the hon. Member's support and that of his hon. Friend. My constituents will however have noted that while they have helped us during difficult times, the leader of their party has expressed different views, attacking the Labour Party and pleading for the chance to oust Labour in Carmarthen.
I am sure that the whole of Scotland and Wales expect this Government to produce a White Paper on Kilbrandon in the near future. We expect publication of the White Paper certainly before the autumn if there is to be a certain event then. We expect the Government to outline in detail its proposals on devolution and to embody these in a White Paper in September or early October. My party will go into that election with a clear commitment for the establishment of an elected assembly with significant executive and administrative authority and functions in Wales even empowered to partake in the legislative process. I will not argue whether that would be the sort of policy the nationalists could accept or which 280 would be acceptable to the Principality generally. Labour has a clear policy for Wales and we are not ashamed of it. We are not afraid to put it before the people.
In 1964 the Welsh Office was established, with two or three functions, operating on a budget of £150 million. By 1970 the budget had reached £450 million to £500 million and now it is £600 million. Its functions involve roads, housing, health and local government. Various functions have been devolved to the Welsh Office since 1964, and clearly that is how the Welsh elected assembly would have to develop. That is a compromise, but we are all compromising. When the nationalist party gave evidence to the Crowther Commission in Cardiff it demanded a seat in the United Nations for the independent Welsh State. That was rejected in the report. The federal system put forward by the Liberals was also turned down. Thus we are all compromising.
Politicians can argue about legislative or executive power, but the fact remains that the report makes a strong case for an executive assembly enabled to choose priorities within certain devolved services. If water and the reorganisation of the health service together with other functions of nominated bodies were to be devolved to an elected Welsh Assembly, that would mark significant progress for Welsh devolution and determination, encompassing a budget of £300 million. Constitutional advancement is not an argument about the number of MPs a party has but about whether devolution will result in good government, can be argued and defended as a result, and is democratically justifiable. We have reached a clear consensus view in Wales. If we allow the situation so to deteriorate that the advance made is fritted away then we shall never be forgiven by the people of Wales.
The largest minority party in the Opposition, the Conservatives, argued at its recent conference in Llandrindod, that it did not believe in any form of elected body for Wales. The people of Wales will clearly understand therefore that it is no use increasing minority representation in the House and as a result securing a Conservative Government, because that will not result in the necessary constitutional advance for the Principality.
281 The majority of the people of Wales expect, demand and support an elected assembly with substantial powers. I am sure that they will also understand that there is only one course of action they can take whenever the country is called to decide on such matters. Only a majority Labour Government can possibly secure the creation of the elected assembly.
§ 4.21 a.m.
§ Mr. Teddy Taylor (Glasgow, Cathcart)
The one consistent theme of the speeches, at least from the Opposition benches, is that it is a shame that we did not have such a debate a long time ago, and that it was so late at night. Although there might well have been a case for such a discussion earlier, the contributions so far make me wonder whether a long debate at another time would have served a useful purpose.
The Kilbrandon Report was about how we could achieve better, more efficient, more responsive government in Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and England, We had from the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Jones) what was virtually a party political broadcast, in which he talked about the relevance of the Welsh Labour Party and Plaid Cymru. In an interesting speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, South (Mr. Bradford) said that devolution in Northern Ireland would mean getting away from power sharing. For the hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. Thomas) one of the red terrors of Plaid Cymru, devolution meant what appeared to be a Welsh workers' apartheid. We heard an astonishing, scandalous, ridiculous speech from the hon. Member for Argyll (Mr. MacCormick), for whom devolution was nothing to do with good government but had to do only with how we could get on the slippery slope towards the separation for which the Scottish Nationalists stand.
It has been a terrible debate. If we are to have a debate about the report we must have some speeches about how we can bring about more efficient government for the people of the countries concerned, not how we can try to pursue narrow, sectional interests of strange parties that arise in different places to exploit greed and pure folly.
282 If they say that they want an assembly—whether to establish a workers' republic, to get us on a slippery slope to independence, or for any other purpose—all the parties must ask whether there is a rôle for an assembly, and how it would bring about more effective and efficient government. There are strong arguments on both sides. When we consider the present position of Scotland, can we say that there is room for a Scottish Assembly with the present governmental situation? We have on the one hand new regional councils, one of which covers about half the population of Scotland. The councils have significant powers. That is a fact of life in Scotland today whether it is a good or a bad thing.
§ Mr. MacCormick
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that his own Government set up the Strathclyde Region? Does he further agree that it was a piece of nonsense and that every person living in the region outside the Glasgow area would wish to be well clear of it?
§ Mr. Taylor
I know that many people have expressed that view and, like all issues, there are arguments for and against. However, I am getting a little sick and tired of this constant carping from the SNP. It is against everything in general and for nothing in particular. We are seeing massive oil development, and the hon. Member for Argyll made a fleeting reference to it. The SNP is saying that Scotland should benefit from the oil and that we must ensure that Scotland benefits. But for every proposition that I have come across for the setting up of sites for oil platforms, I have found the local SNP representatives to be the first to lead the objections. It seems that the SNP is for such matters in general—
§ Mr. Taylor
The hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) says "Nonsense". Where does he think that we should build oil platforms in Scotland? Let him tell the House and let us have it on record. Where does the hon. Gentleman think that they should be built?
§ Mr. Stewart
A Norwegian company is building at Stornoway and will employ 1,000 men. It has the full backing of the local SNP.
§ Mr. Taylor
I am delighted to hear that. We now know that there is one place in Scotland where the SNP is in favour of building oil platforms. Let us hope that that will remain the position. It is a ludicrous situation when general propositions are put forward that Scotland must benefit and when the SNP says, "Not here. We do not want it here." In my part of Scotland we are prepared to consider any proposition that is put forward. I can assure the SNP that in Cathcart we are benefiting from North Sea oil through the interests of the Weir Engineering Group, which is doing extremely well. However, like many Scottish firms I am afraid that it is getting worried about some of the ugly and rather strange statements that are being expressed by the SNP and by Socialists.
Let us get to the real issue—I am tired of being diverted by SNP Members—which is government of Scotland, government of Wales and government of Ulster. If we have an assembly in Scotland we must take into account that we have large regions established with considerable power. Another matter that we cannot avoid and which is a fact of life, whether we like it or not, is the Common Market. It has considerable power over many aspects of government in Scotland. That was not the situation two or three years ago. The Common Market Commission has the power to determine regional policies throughout the EEC. It has considerable power—the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Johnston) knows this well as he goes to that strange European body called the European Assembly—and it has taken some of the sovereignty which would formerly have been available for an independent country, whether Britain or Scotland.
If we have an assembly it must have the power to raise money. If that were not so it would in some respects be less effective than a regional council which has the power to levy its own rates. That is one side of the argument, but there is another, and that is basically the reason for having an assembly.
It can be argued with some merit that Scottish legislation is not fully considered by the Scottish Grand Committee and Scottish Standing Committee. That may be because Scottish Members are involved with United Kingdom business or because the size of the Committee makes it 284 impossible for a substantial number of Scottish Members to take part. We were very conscious of this matter when the Local Government (Scotland) Bill was considered in Committee. There were many areas of Scotland which did not have representation in that Committee. Yet it was a crucial issue for Scotland.
Perhaps more of a worry is that, under our present arrangements for considering Scottish legislation, there does not appear to be any machinery whereby new ideas, particularly from the back benches, could emerge.
Again, because we are in the unique position of having Members located by and large in London and our Ministries are by and large in Edinburgh, those Ministries tend to be very powerful and are not under the same democratic and daily control exercised in this House over other Ministries. Inevitably, the tendency has been towards strong Ministries and weak Ministers—and here I am not thinking in any respect of either Conservative or Labour Governments.
It has been argued, rightly, that even without power to raise its own money a Scottish Assembly could have considerable power if it had the right to spend a block grant which would take account of Scotland's special needs. But we could well have limited power to raise cash, perhaps by vehicle licensing or the splendid oil development fund suggested by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and now apparently accepted by the Government. This system could well be consistent with the Union.
The argument appears to be in favour, on balance, of having a Scottish Assembly which would have greater control of the Scottish Office Department than is exercised at present and which would have considerable influence in making Scottish law. But there would have to be a dividing line.
I see no reason why a Scottish Assembly should not be able to decide, for example, that the school-leaving age should be different in Scotland or even that Scotland should have capital punishment. But as long as we had the Union it would be difficult to have complete freedom and flexibility.
A Scottish Assembly could also perform useful tasks in the cross-examination of Ministers, not only Scottish but United 285 Kingdom, whose work affected Scotland. It could also do something that is not done effectively now—scrutinise and question the rôle of the Scottish nationalised industries.
A crucial question for us is whether we should have elected members of a Scottish Assembly or nominated members, or whether we should go for a nominated assembly with the option of changing to an elected one later on. The Conservative Party has, on balance, decided that our policy will be to go for a non-elected assembly in the short-term but to leave the options open for an elected assembly if it appears that this would be in the best interests of Scotland and its good government.
What are the arguments for a non-elected assembly? First, when we talk of non-elected members we are not saying, as has been suggested by the "Red terror" from Wales, that we would take people from the CBI and tell them to govern Scotland. The suggestion is that people from the already-elected regional and district councils would have a proper rôle to play.
Secondly, unless considerable power was readily available to a Scottish Assembly, directly elected members would be looking for more power than was possible from the spread of sovereignty from our various institutions.
The third point of which we have to be reminded is that some non-elected bodies, such as the Counties of Cities Association and the Convention of the Royal Burghs of Scotland, have played a considerable part in helping to influence Government policy and to put across the views of different parts of the country. On the other hand, there are arguments for the elected assembly—first, that democracy by remote control is not a good thing and that people should be directly answerable for the work they are doing; second, that there is no guarantee with a non-elected assembly that all areas would be represented.
The danger with a nominated assembly might be that regions such as Strathclyde could send all city men, or we might find one party being pushed by the representatives of particular regions. Therefore, it is very important, if we are having a non-elected assembly, that clear rules should be laid down that each area should 286 be entitled to specific representation, and the balance of parties or representatives with independants should be fairly representative.
There is also the argument that a non-elected assembly would not have the same authority as one directly elected. Bearing in mind that I feel that there is a rôle for an assembly, I believe that at this stage the evidence has not been submitted that there would be a full rôle, a rôle which would be meaningful. If we had direct election, there certainly could be circumstances, if we tried the Conservative suggestion of an assembly for a period of, say, five years, in which we could reconsider the whole matter.
The most crucial thing for us to do, however, is to look at this matter from the point of view of what will be good for the people of our country and of what will be good for the people of Wales or of Scotland. There is a great danger that in the enthusiasm for devolution and for setting up elected assemblies we may be making ourselves grossly over-governed. We would have a situation in which the people of Scotland would have to some degree rule from Brussels, Westminster, Edinburgh, the regional council and the district council, and to some degree they would be influenced by the work of a community council.
When we have the movement at one end towards the EEC, of which I personally was not in favour, and when we have had, on the other hand, the movement towards the setting up of regional and district councils, it would be unrealistic to blunder without thinking of the consequences for a straight directly elected assembly immediately unless we are absolutely convinced that it will work towards better and more efficient government and if we convince ourselves that it will not lead to the split-up of the United Kingdom.
This is the one point on which I very much agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, South. I believe passionately in retaining the United Kingdom. Britain is a force for good in the world. I look upon myself very much as a British nationalist. There are two forces which could break up the United Kingdom. First we have the class conflict which is fomented by Socialists in both local and national government. 287 The class conflict could break up our great nation. The second force is parochial nationalism, advanced for different reasons by the Scottish Nationalists, the Welsh Nationalists and others. Both these forces, which I regard as extremist forces, could destroy Great Britain and split it up.
While I hope that we shall all work together for the better government of Scotland and to bring more efficient government to all our people, I hope that at least in the House of Commons those men of good will who believe in our own nation will work together to preserve the unity of Great Britain, irrespective of politics.
§ 4.40 a.m.
§ Mr. Russell Johnston (Inverness)
It is twenty minutes to five o'clock in the morning. To debate this issue with any proper attention at this hour is nonsense. I echo everything said by all previous speakers on this subject. It is highly unsatisfactory that the Government, who are presumably serious in their intentions to consult, should not have initiated any debate but left it to what is virtually a raffle to produce a debate at this hour with about 19 Members present, only one of them a member of the Scottish Labour Party.
I question whether the basis on which we are debating is valid. We are debating on the basis of the document entitled "Devolution within the United Kingdom. Some Alternatives for Discussion." This is the Government's document arising out of Kilbrandon. Despite what the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Jones) has said—and he has now fled into the night, or into the dawn—I think I am uniquely entitled to point out that the Crowther Commission was established because of the upsurge of nationalism in Wales and Scotland.
I am entitled to say this because I, as a Liberal, am a member of a party which has consistently advocated devolution for a long time, alas, with the moderation which certain elements in the Labour Party now regard as being divisive, but which perhaps in its immediate impact was less forcible than the effect of certain by-elections in Wales and Scotland when the Nationalists were successful. That must be conceded because it is a fact. I am not a believer in hiding facts.
288 The hon. Member for Carmarthen was quite wrong to pretend that somehow or other this commission was set up because the Labour Party was basically interested in devolution. That is completely untrue. I will pursue later some of the remarks made by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor). He is "the routin' rovin' robin" of Scottish politics, and is able to summon up immense quantities of vitriol even at this late hour. I rather admire him for it. Some of his arguments were less than logical.
Is it a fair basis for constitutional change in this country to seek to rely upon the recommendations of the Royal Commission? At the beginning the White Paper said:Both separatism and federalism have been rejected".Therefore, "No discussion of those any more, thank you very much." My party has consistently supported federalism. This was rejected in the Kilbrandon Report on the basis of various papers produced by an academic gentleman who rejoices in the name of Professor Vile. In my view his arguments are unsound. That is my contention, my opinion. I do not think that these are things that can be proved or disproved. They are matters of opinion.
The view that the Scottish Nationalists take, that they want sovereign status, is a matter of opinion. In short, what we are dealing with are not matters of constitutional or administrative moment but are matters of spirit. Various hon. Members have said that the people of Wales think this, the people of Scotland think that. There is no means of measuring either of these rather esoteric concepts effectively. There are no set views. Views on these things vary from time to time.
Let me take the four basic alternatives which are argued politically in Scotland and Wales, though they become not as clear-cut in the regions of England. The right hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) is much lambasted by the Scottish National Party as being stiff-necked, stubborn and many other things. [HON. MEMBERS: "Where is he?"] That is not something which I am capable of divining. Nevertheless, the right hon. Gentleman is a very honest Scotsman who takes the view as a Scotsman—and 289 no one, in my view, can criticise the Scottishness of the right hon. Gentleman—that Scotland should be part of the United Kingdom; he favours a unitary system in the United Kingdom. That is a perfectly honest, straightforward view. The right hon. Gentleman, to do him credit, does not sway to winds which blow, as a number of members of his party appear to be anxious to do. I am not saying whether he is right or wrong, but, speaking as a party politician, I admire the right hon. Gentleman for the consistency of his view. He may be consistently wrong, but he is consistent and reliable.
Secondly, there is the point of view of the Conservative Party, which was expressed, to some degree, by the hon. Member for Cathcart. I understand that the Conservative policy is the baby of the hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Buchanan-Smith), who is at present adopting on the Opposition Front Bench the posture of a philosopher. He succeeded in persuading his party—which was subject to a similar split to that which exists in the Scottish Labour Party—to the compromise of an indirectly elected assembly. This is, in my opinion as a Liberal, a canonised county council, and not something which I, as a Scotsman, find acceptable.
The Conservative Party makes the basic mistake of confusing matters of administration and matters of spirit. We must give to the nationalists the fact that we are talking about this matter only because the Scotsmen feel Scottish and the Welshmen feel Welsh and, therefore, they want some kind of Government to represent that feeling, whatever that Government may be. I am against indirect election and, as a former member of the Royal Commission on Local Government in Scotland under Lord Wheatley, may I say that one basic principle that we accepted unanimously was that indirect election was not satisfactory.
Thirdly, there is the question of the attitude of the Scottish National Party, which seeks sovereign status. I am still unclear about whether the Welsh National Party spokesman seeks sovereign status—
§ Mr. Johnston
That is grossly unfair to the Welsh National Party spokesman. 290 He did not mention a workers' republic at any stage. He indicated that he was inclined to support Labour Party views, but that is a different matter. He made no reference to sovereign status for Wales, which I always understood to be the posture of the Welsh National Party. On the other hand, the Scottish National Party has never made a secret of the fact that it believes that that is what Scotland should have. Nor, may I say for the benefit of English Members on the Government Front Bench, is this anything to do with oil.
I disagree with the Scottish National Party about the desirability of Scotland establishing itself as a sovereign state. Although the SNP has been talking more about oil than anything else for the past one-and-a-half years, the fact that Scotland has "come up on the pools" has nothing to do with the SNP's belief that Scotland should be self-governing. That is a side argument, not a central one.
I recognise that it was the nationalist by-election successes which resulted in the establishment of the Royal Commission on the Constitution. In November 1966 I introduced a Bill for the establishment of a Scottish parliament for Scottish affairs. I still believe that to be the right policy. Scheme A to some extent goes towards this but does not meet it. The Government should be urging a degree of change which will be acceptable broadly within Scotland and Wales—and within England, although the immediate national pressures in England are not the same. That means legislation based on Scheme A.
The White Paper contains no reference to a referendum. I do not regard referenda as a good way of reaching a considered decision. Nevertheless, the Labour Government are seriously contemplating a referendum to establish whether the United Kingdom should remain within the European community. If they take that view on that issue, logically there is no reason why they should refuse a referendum for the equally important constitutional issue of the future of the nations of Scotland and Wales.
The hon. Member for Cathcart in his rumbustious fashion said that the European Commission would have control over regional policy. No regional policy has been established. If it is established, it will be according to guidelines laid down 291 by the Council of Ministers in which the United Kingdom plays an equal part and would if necessary be able to veto any guideline or arrangement which it found unsatisfactory.
§ Mr. Teddy Taylor
The hon. Gentleman must know what I meant. Under Article 92 of the Treaty of Rome, which has been applied in three separate cases, regional policy proposals have to be submitted and can be rejected by the commission. He must be aware that I was referring to that article and to the regional policies of individual countries, and not to the Regional Fund which is a separate matter.
§ Mr. Johnston
I do not think there is any point in arguing further. My initial point remains valid. It is not the commission that establishes anything. All things within the Community are established by the Council of Ministers, in which we participate.
In conclusion, I should like to refer to the consultative document. Scheme A was recommended by eight of the 13 members of the commission. I do not regard that as a sacrosanct statement, but it is the basis on which we are proceeding. They not only recommend that there should be a legislative assembly for Scotland and Wales, but that these should first be elected for a fixed term and should be elected by the single transferable vote system of proportional representation.
The hon. Member for Carmarthen spoke of democracy. I would remind the House that the Labour Government have made no move at all to set up a Speaker's Conference on electoral reform, and indeed the Conservative Opposition also resisted any proposal for such reform.
This question does not involve only the Liberal Party wanting fairer representation—though it is a stark and brutal reality that in the last election the Liberals received 4 million more votes and won only three more seats. That is an absolute obscenity in democratic terms. That is equally true of the nationalist parties. Their representation within Scotland and Wales is less than they are entitled to, 292 particularly in Scotland. It has a great deal to do with fair, effective and responsive representation which is presumably what we are talking about, as the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart emphasised. It is not only a matter of form but of creating a system of government which people feel to be responsive and to reflect their point of view. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart looks puzzled. It is possible that the imputation that he is seeking a democratic solution is offensive to him.
§ Mr. Johnston
I turn to paragraph 54 of the consultative document, and in my view Scheme A which offers little devolutionary power in the trade, industry and employment fields is unsatisfactory. We would recommend that power should exist in those areas.
The question of variation was raised in paragraph 54(b), and surely it follows that if we are prepared to set up legislative assemblies in different parts of the United Kingdom, we must be prepared to accept the possibility that they may do different things and establish different norms in various areas of policy. There is no point in allowing people to decide matters for themselves if they always have to correspond to common standards. Nor is that necessarily in conflict with the concept of the European Community, which is far more willing to allow a diversity of standards than many of its critics are prepared to admit.
Paragraph 56(b) asks whether the Scottish and Welsh Governments could theoretically…re-cast completely the structure and powers of local government … they would be able to abolish private medical practice".The answer is that they might do this if they chose. The choice should be available to them, whatever they might decide to do.
I accept subparagraph (e), which points out that the problem of Scottish and Welsh Members contributing to debates in England if Scheme A were introduced in matters of health, education and local government is difficult. I accept the view that Scottish and Welsh Members ought to be excluded from discussing these matters if they had control over them within their own countries.
293 I also accept what the Scottish Labour Party has consistently refused to accept, namely, that Scheme A logically means a reduction in the number of Members from Scotland and Wales attending the Westminster Parliament. It is not unfair to say that, in the same way as it is equally fair to say to hon. Members from Northern Ireland that Northern Ireland is entitled to more Members and that that is proper in the circumstances. However, it might be pointed out that the justification for reducing the number of Scottish and Welsh Members is that they would have their own legislatures. The same would apply to Northern Ireland, and perhaps the force of the point is mitigated by that since the argument runs that, if one is able to control one's own internal affairs, the total numbers necessary for other matters might be reduced.
Equally, I am prepared to see the Secretaries of State disappear. With a Prime Minister in a Scottish Parliament, his capacity to negotiate will be quite as effective as the presence of a Secretary of State within the Cabinet.
The trouble with the Ulster situation is that, because of the conflict in Ulster, it has been overlooked completely that as an exercise in government it was quite successful. Before the outburst of the troubles, I can recall in the early 1960s making comparisons between what the Stormont Parliament was able to achieve in trade and industry terms and what the Secretary of State for Scotland was able to achieve. Stormont was able to achieve more because of its freedom of operation. The fact that there was no one from Stormont in the Cabinet was no drawback, because the Stormont Prime Minister was able to exercise greater influence.
A great many of the matters queried in the White Paper can be answered by pointing to what has happened in Ulster. I do not say that the Ulster arrangement is adequate. But it would be a mistake to overlook the fact that the system of devolved government which was applied to Northern Ireland—as a system per se, separating it from the religious and nationalistic problems which emerged—in many ways was quite effective. The way that it operated vis-à-vis the central Parliament at Westminster answers many of the questions within the document that has been produced as a result of Crowther.
294 I am sorry for having delayed the House for so long at this late or early hour. As a Liberal I want to see a better system of representation evolved whereby the individual can of himself and through his accepted community exert an effective voice.
To my mind that means proportional representation of some kind. I repeat this very firmly as a canon of faith. I find it incredible and incomprehensible that Members of the Labour Party, which regards itself as progressive and democratic, should refuse to introduce some reform of that kind. I hope that they will change their attitude in this regard. I would say the same to the Conservative Party which, let us face it, has approximately 500,000 more votes than the Labour Party and yet sits in Opposition. The realities of the split between people of different opinions in this country is not just that we are all minorities but that there are no majorities of any kind. The electoral system has totally clouded this issue since the war.
People who wish to achieve control on a national basis—I am talking principally of Scotland and Wales—should be allowed to do so. Speaking as someone who favours a federal system, I would accept and support a form of government considerably less than that as a first step, partly because I accept that great constitutional change should presumably be taken slowly.
That means co-operating on a European scale, though there are different views about that. I certainly believe that the greater the concentration of power, equally the greater the need for devolution within it, and the one complements the other. If one is, on the one hand, reaching for economic, monetary and political union, one should, on the other hand, be reaching for ways whereby the nations and regions of Europe can express themselves effectively within the whole organism and can equally well have control over their own affairs in a realistic way.
§ Several Hon. Members rose—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. George Thomas)
Order. I think that representatives of every party in this House have now had an opportunity to express their views at length. I hope that, out of fairness to others who are waiting up all 295 night in the hope of getting their debates, hon. Members could at least be very brief in the remaining speeches.
§ 5.8 a.m.
§ Mr. Donald Stewart (Western Isles)
My speech will be brief in any case, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
The hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Johnston) made a valuable contribution to the debate. His facts were facts and his judgments, although I did not agree with all of them, were fair and rational.
I agree that it is disgraceful that a debate on this subject should be taking place at this time in the morning and at this time in this Parliament. It reflects badly on the Government in that they did not allow time in this Parliament to debate this important matter and equally on the main Opposition party because they did not put it down for a Supply Day or even for discussion in the Scottish Grand Committee.
The hon. Member for Belfast, South (Mr. Bradford) referred to the demands of Northern Ireland Members to have their numbers here increased. I believe that that request is justified. But I would caution the hon. Gentleman if he thinks that that will make any great difference to the effectiveness of their views.
Scotland has 71 Members in this place. The Liberals were in favour of entry into the Common Market, but a majority of Scottish Members voted against going in. However, if did not make the slightest difference. Therefore, although I believe the hon. Gentleman's claim is justified, the net effect might be smaller than he thinks.
The hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) made a rather curious speech, although it was a clever one. It was like the Christmas tree at the children's party—there was a toy for everybody. He could produce one side of HANSARD and say, "Here are my arguments against an assembly" and another side of HANSARD and say, "Here are my arguments in favour of an assembly."
I will not take up the time of the House by dealing with the statistics or otherwise in favour of self-government, even to the degree we have it recommended in the Kilbrandon Report. I will talk about its implementation. As the 296 hon. Member for Inverness pointed out, the Secretary of State for Scotland has made great play at different times of the fact that the Kilbrandon Commission was set up by the Labour Government. That is factually correct. It is also undeniable that it arose because of the winning of by-elections in Wales and Scotland by Plaid Cymru and the Scottish National Party. It was clear in the late 1960s that this trend was taking place in Wales and in Scotland.
The then Government employed the time-honoured device of stalling and appointing a Royal Commission in the hope that it would report three, four or five years hence, by which time, they hoped, the problem would have gone away. The problem is now bigger and more urgent than ever. The Government are now required to stand and deliver.
It is clear that the Labour Party in Scotland is deeply divided on the issue, A few members of the Labour Party—some from sincere motives; some, I regret to say, from opportunism—are pressing for some action. There is a core of hard liners opposed to any degree of devolution.
In this Parliament the promised time scale of firm proposals has been deserted. All we can now hope for is a White Paper during the Recess. If a General Election materialises during the Recess, the Kilbrandon Report will have the relevance of an announcement that Mafeking has been relieved.
The Conservative Party did not give evidence to the Kilbrandon Commission. That shows how much interest the Conservatives had in the suggestion that a measure of devolution should come back to Scotland. They set up a rival investigation at that time. We can throw serious doubt on their commitment to any sort of devolution. They nearly all claim to be devolutionists now, but none of them was known to me to be devolutionist three years ago.
The situation now demands an end to any further procrastination. The Leader of the Conservative Opposition made a grandoise announcement at Perth in 1970 just before the General Election—the declaration of Perth, as it became known. He moved not a finger during the term of his Government from 1970 to 1974 to 297 redeem that promise. He made a similar promise in Ayr just before the election earlier this year. How does he expect the Scottish people to place any credence in promises that are betrayed in this way?
Now the Conservatives have come up with a toothless assembly. The hon. Member for Inverness referred to it as the child of the official spokesman for the Conservative Party. If it is his child, it is one abortion that I would be very pleased to support.
Self-determination for small nations used always to be a plank in the platform of socialist parties. They regarded it as something honourable and something which small countries were entitled to in justice. It is a great pity that they have departed from that philosophy.
A new situation has now arisen in Scotland and Wales. The Government must delineate their plans. They must be plans for an elected assembly with financial powers. The hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Jones) said that the Government have been in power only since February. That is correct, but the promise was made that firm proposals would come forward in this Parliament. Now the Parliament is ending and we still do not know what they are. The lesson will be drawn in Wales and in Scotland.
§ 5.15 a.m.
§ Mr. Gerard Fitt (Belfast, West)
I had not intended to make any great contribution to the debate, but I feel I must echo the sentiments expressed by the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Johnston). The debate on this particular subject could be one of the most important debates that has ever taken place in this House, and the whole future of Scottish and Welsh democracy could depend on it. However, a debate at this hour of the morning does not reflect the true opinions of the majority of Members. The question of democratic self-government throughout these islands is of such a serious nature that more time should have been given by the Government to debate it.
I do not wish to go into the defects of devolution, even though I have known them and have lived with them; nor do I wish to enter into a debate on Northern Ireland, particularly as I understand that the House will be debating Northern Ireland after consideration of the Con- 298 solidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill. The proposals for devolution put forward in Kilbrandon are known to most hon. Members as Schemes A, B, C and D, but Northern Ireland Members have lived with devolution since 1930. Therefore, we know its defects and we know whether it is good for a community in general. We also know that for some people it can prove to be an absolute disaster.
Before the Government attempt to present their thoughts on the matter in the form of a White Paper, it would behold every hon. Member to look closely at what has happened to the experiment of devolution in Northern Ireland. I recognise at the outset that neither Scotland nor Wales—and certainly no regions in England—would have the same sectarian divide which has existed in Northern Ireland since the creation of the Province. The devolution in Northern Ireland and the system of Government we had there approximated as I understand it to Scheme A, but I believe that that scheme would not be a very good thing for either Scotland or Wales.
We are told that under the proposals it would be necessary to have a Cabinet system similar to that which we have at Westminster and that the leader of the largest party would form a government for Scotland or Wales, as the case may be. However, if a system of devolution were given to Scotland or Wales it would no longer be possible to have nationalist parties in those countries. People in those parties would have to split up into Conservative or Socialist groups in those areas. [Interruption.]It is a strong possibility that that would happen—otherwise there might be a one-party ascendancy in those areas, if there is a one-party philosophy.
One readily accepts that at present there are Scottish and Welsh nationalists, but if devolution is granted to Scotland and Wales, there would have to be a political divide, with people going to the Right or the Left in those areas.
§ Mr. Gordon Wilson (Dundee, East)
Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that in the circumstances he has described the other political parties in Scotland—the Conservatives, the Liberals and Labour—would remain and would be able to function, and that therefore whatever happened to the nationalist parties there 299 would still be the existing party structure to participate in government?
§ Mr. Fitt
I believe, particularly bearing in mind the outcome of the last General Election, that the days of two-party government in the United Kingdom are rapidly coming to an end. That may not be reflected in the next election, but it will in the following ones.
There might still be Socialists, Conservatives and Liberals in Scotland, but under devolution the majority party would attract the most support. If its present monolithic structure remained, this could create an atmosphere in which it was taken for granted that it would control Scotland's fortunes indefinitely. That has happened in Northern Ireland. At election after election, a majority supported one political philosophy, known then as the Loyalist Party. Sectarian divides and history assured that party of being returned at every election.
Such a situation breeds arrogance and a contempt for one's opponents. That may be accepted for years but eventually those opponents will be so frustrated that the democratic system could break down, as has happened in Northern Ireland. I believe that Ireland is a political unit and that the answer to its problems will come only when it is a sovereign, independent and united State, with the friendliest and most harmonious relations with Great Britain. The two islands are so close geographically that any other situation would be nonsense. I do not believe that the struggle of Irish nationalists through the centuries or the present campaign of violence for a united Ireland will result in a panacea for all Ireland's troubles, but certainly the present system in Northern Ireland would not be acceptable to Scotland and Wales. Dangers are inherent in that system. Unless every effort is made to safeguard the new assemblies from their inception, the door could be opened to further troubles.
Any system for Scotland and Wales must have inbuilt safeguards for minorities. They would not be in the same position as the minority in Northern Ireland, because that minority is separated by the sea from the rest of the United Kingdom, they have an allegiance with the majority in the Republic and a united Ireland would mean another minority in the six 300 counties. We have heard from the Ulster Unionist party in the debate that devolution should not contain any elements of power sharing, that the majority party, or the Unionist coalition, should dictate affairs in the Province. I believe that both the major parties in the House have rejected that form of Government for Northern Ireland. We have clearly said that in any system of government that is to emerge from the chaos of the last few years there must be an inbuilt system of power sharing because of the history of Ireland and the divisions created over the centuries.
It is unnecessary to send an enlarged representation to this House from Northern Ireland. The system of power sharing which broke down earlier this year is the only acceptable form of Government. It provided that 12 representatives were sent to Westminster. That would have left the way open for both communities in Northern Ireland to try to change the political system, not by coercion but by common consent.
§ Mr. Bradford
Does the hon. Member accept that by listening to the story secondhand, successive Governments have got completely the wrong picture? There is obviously some misunderstanding about our points on Kilbrandon. Does the hon. Member not agree that democracy is a "must" in any devolved system and that if this House refuses to integrate Northern Ireland fully into the United Kingdom the only alternative will be a devolved system where democracy as it is conceived in the rest of the United Kingdom obtains. That has existed since 1920—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
We have been discussing this subject for hours. May I suggest that the hon. Member in intervening has exhausted his right to speak in the debate?
§ Mr. Fitt
I do not want to detain the House unduly but the argument put forward by the hon. Member is most contradictory. He is suggesting the adoption of one part of Kilbrandon which would enable a new Stormont to be created but with all the old attachments which brought so much discontent to Northern Ireland. The hon. Member seems to have something in common with the Scottish and Welsh nationalists. We have heard the hon. Member's philosophy which is 301 that of an Ulster nationalist, but here he seems to be throwing that overboard and demanding total integration. He is saying that if he cannot get total integration, he and his colleagues will settle for nothing less than the old Stormont system in which the majority will form the Government. That is what he alleges to be democracy.
Democracy means that the will of the majority must prevail while giving adequate safeguards to the minority. That never happened in Northern Ireland. The trouble was that the majority arrogated to themselves all the power and privilege and denied the minority any right to participate in the government of the province. I warn both Scottish and Welsh nationalists to be very careful of the type of devolution they wish to bring into operation.
§ 5.30 a.m.
§ Mr. Russell Fairgrieve (Aberdeenshire, West)
I echo the words of those who have said that this is a shocking hour to have this most important debate. But if it had taken place in the full light of day, with many more hon. Members present, it would have been better if more speakers had spoken on the subject, the Kilbrandon Report. I exempt from that criticism my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) and the hon. Members for Inverness (Mr. Johnston) and Western Isles (Mr. Stewart). Kilbrandon ruled out the federal system and complete independence. I have some sympathy with the hon. Member for Inverness about the immediate ruling out of the federal solution.
The hon. Member for Argyll (Mr. MacCormick) attacked the Scottish Conservative Party. I remind him that it was the Scottish Conservative Party which, before Kilbrandon or Crowther, set up the Douglas-Home Committee, which suggested an elected Scottish assembly.
§ Mr. Fairgrieve
Since then we have entered Europe, a matter on which my sympathy lies not with my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart but with the hon. Member for Inverness. There has been reorganisation of local government, with regions and districts, and we are now over-governed. The Con- 302 servative Party has not turned its back on an elected assembly but has merely said that a number of things have happened since then, and that we shall set up art assembly, which we hope will become elected one day. I should like to see an elected Scottish Assembly, and only one tier of local government.
§ Mr. MacCormick
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it would be a good idea if the Strathclyde region were disbanded at once?
§ Mr. Fairgrieve
I do not think that that is the point at issue. We have set up a local government system in which half of Scotland is in one authority, which makes it difficult to have one other body covering the whole of Scotland. My solution would be an elected assembly and one tier of local government with rather more authorities than the present regions but fewer than the present districts.
What I and all my party are against is the complete separation of Scotland from the United Kingdom. Members of the Scottish National Party fail to mention exactly what they mean. Independence means a border, customs and tariffs. Oil can bring to Scotland 26,000–36,000 new jobs, but there are 2¼ million other people employed in Scotland, and their biggest export market is England. If we have an independent Scotland we shall damage the industries in the central belt and cause some unemployment in Scotland until there are readjustments.
§ Mr. Fairgrieve
Scotland has industries that would not be in Scotland if it were not part of a United Kingdom economy. For more than 250 years there has been no such thing as a Scottish economy; there is only a United Kingdom economy, and to break it up would do damage to Scotland.
I am all for devolution, all for change in government, all for a Scottish Assembly and an elected assembly in due course. But I am utterly against a break-up of the United Kingdom.
§ 5.35 a.m.
§ Mr. George Reid (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)
I shall be very brief. The one common strand throughout the debate has been that it is wrong that we should have to be here in the small hours 303 of the morning to debate a matter of such significance to the Scottish people, the debate basically having been drawn out of the hat. I believe that that is the view of hon. Members from all parties.
The hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) made a relevant contribution when he suggested that the two-party system is breaking up. He said that the last election was not a rogue election or a one-off election but a harbinger of what we are to experience in future. That is true.
In the regions and throughout the country there is a feeling that we should move away from the two-party system and move back to the separate regions and the separate nations within the United Kingdom. There is a rejection of the basic view that "big is better". That, too, underlies the whole debate.
It has been sad to see only one Scottish Labour hon. Member present during the debate. Many of the smaller countries of Europe which have been separate and nationalist have also been socialist. Many useful contributions to social democracy have been made by the Yugoslavian Republics and by Czechoslovakia before the War. That applied to Chile until the junta and to the countries of Scandinavia.
What 28th February did for Scotland was to bring a divide in our history. It was brought about by the presence of the SNP here, by its 17 second places and by its 630,000 votes. It jolted the complacency at Westminster and the Government started to make things move. Initially we thought that the Government were moving with speed but we see what has happened in five months. The Green Paper was to come out at tremendous speed. In fact, it took three months. Lord Crowther-Hunt had to go through a period of conversion. He had to take his own minority report and deny it. There was a reply from the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister to the hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. Thomas) that a White Paper would, he hoped, be published before the Summer Recess. That has now gone into the Autumn.
It is not surprising, when we consider the debates that took place at the special conference of the Scottish Labour Party and the deeply divided nature of that body, that five members of the Scottish 304 Labour Executive voted for devolution and six against. Despite the fact that the Scottish Labour Party is so heavily against devolution, the curious thing is that the National Executive of the Labour Party in London overruled it and decided in favour of devolution.
The catalyst in all this is Scottisn resources. Hon. Members are well aware of my party's view on this subject—namely, that Scotland itself should have a degree of social justice, a degree of wealth and prosperity. My party believes that the oil is our natural resource and that it should not be used to shore up a bankrupt United Kingdom. There has been some form of consultation on this, but I believe that the ultimate decision will be taken at the next election. It is not this House which will decide self-government for the Scottish people. It is not the Government that will make that decision. It is the Scottish people themselves.
§ 5.38 a.m.
§ Mr. Alick Buchanan-Smith (North Angus and Mearns)
I shall be very brief at this late hour. Those Members who complain about this subject being debated at this hour must bear in mind that we have been able to have a longer debate, albeit at a somewhat awkward time, than would have been possible in the morning in Scottish Grand Committee. I hope that those who have complained will realise that we have been able to have a very full debate. I shall be brief in respect to those who have to follow us.
I make my second point with particular reference to the hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart). The hon. Gentleman criticised the Opposition for not choosing this subject for debate in Scottish Grand Committee. I remind him that we are debating the report of a Royal Commission which affects the whole of the United Kingdom. I am sure that the Minister will accept that the initiative in these matters rests very much with the Government. It is the Government who take the initiative regarding when and how such a matter is debated. I make that point simply as a matter of accuracy to which I hope the hon. Member for Western Isles will pay attention.
To reiterate what my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire West (Mr. Fairgrieve) said—here again I appeal to 305 the hon. Member for Western Isles to get the facts right and to be accurate—the Douglas-Home Committee was established in advance and not following the establishment of the Kilbrandon Royal Commission. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman does not want to mislead the House so I point out that the initiative in these constitutional matters which was taken by the Conservative Party was in advance of the Hamilton by-election. That is a fact for which he should give credit to the Conservative Party not only in Scotland but in the United Kingdom. It took the initiative in advance of some of the events that have taken place and not as a consequence of polling.
It is vital that this subject should be debated in the context of the United Kingdom and not confined simply to Scotland or Wales or Northern Ireland. We in the United Kingdom are spread over a relatively small area of land. Historically, we are very much tied together. What happens in Scotland affects people in England; what happens in Wales affects people in Scotland. We are very much integrated communities.
This House is the right place to debate the subject, and I beg all right hon. and hon. Members, particularly hon. Members representing the Scottish National Party, to consider and debate properly and fully the consequences for everyone else in the United Kingdom and not to be selfish in considering simply how the issue affects themselves only.
I beg all parties and individuals with contributions to make to state plainly where they stand. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) plainly spelt out where the Conservative Party stands. But the hon. Member for Argyll (Mr. MacCormick) did not spell out where the SNP stands. I beg the SNP to be fair to the electorate of Scotland and to the people elsewhere in the United Kingdom and tell us just what the party means in terms of nationalism and separatism. If the debate is to be conducted fairly and honestly, that must be done.
We owe a great deal in the debate to the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt). We have to face the practicalities of what is involved. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart spoke of the context of central and local govern- 306 ment and all that that means. We have to accept these things as facts of life. My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, West spoke of the organisation of industry and commerce in the United Kingdom. That, again, is a fact of life that we have to accept.
The hon. Member for Belfast, West spoke of how this issue has affected Ulster, of what some of the consequences may be, and how dangerous it is simply to pursue narrow political ideals without working out the practicalities involved. We all, particularly the SNP and the Welsh nationalists, must face the practicalities of what is involved and not talk simply in terms of political idealism, important though that is.
That is all I want to say on the subject now. What is so important and vital is that so many hon. Members realise above all, as the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Johnston) showed, that we must get the answer right at the end of the day. That is why debates like this are important and why, if we go too fast and get the wrong answer, it is not we who will suffer but our children and our children's children.
I beg all those who will contribute to ensure that at the end of the day we pursue this matter, not from the point of view of narrow party advantage but to ensure that what we do is to the benefit of the people of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland so that we all find our rightful places historically in the United Kingdom.
§ 5.45 a.m.
§ The Minister of State, Civil Service Department (Mr. Robert Sheldon)
In quite a long debate for a Consolidated Fund Bill debate we have covered nearly all the points of view one would expect to be expressed in the House of Commons. The hon. Member for Belfast, South (Mr. Bradford) expressed a point of view which was reiterated by many other hon. Members. That concerned the lack of debate on this very important subject over the past few months. Perhaps at this stage I should give some reason why it has worked in that way.
We all know that the level of consultation and the way in which consultation was arranged and decided upon by the Government meant that the normal processes of debate were postponed until the 307 Government were in a position to put something before the House which arose from this kind of consultation. At this point I should stress the very wide range of consultation and the great amount of work that has been involved; the collecting, collating and preparation of the wide range of views—very important views. Although these views found expression in the speeches of so many hon. Members, it would be insufficient, for a matter as important as this, to leave it to such a debate in order to get the full expression of views.
There will be need for a great debate in the House, but there is also a need to collect views from all those claiming to represent industry, commerce, the professions and a wide range of people in various parts of the United Kingdom. That has gone forward with quite exceptional speed. This is a matter of fundamental importance. We may be taking steps which will be very difficult, perhaps impossible, to reverse. In a matter as important as this, it is clear that we should progress with careful procedures.
These procedures have been examined. I do not think that anyone is in a position to condemn or even criticise the way in which this has been done. I notice that no hon. Member who has spoken in the debate has attempted to do that. I take comfort from the fact that the procedures initiated by Lord Crowther-Hunt and the manner in which he has conducted his consultation have raised not a breath of criticism in this fairly long debate. Because of that, I think that the way in which this matter has been conducted has the support of the House.
The hon. Member for Belfast, South stated that he was in favour of Scheme A, as did a number of other hon. Members. One thing is fairly clear: this is one of the particular aspects which needs to be considered by those concerned, as to how we can retain the economic unity of our country with the measures that would lead both to Scheme A and the consequences that would flow therefrom. The hon. Member talked about the ill of the majority needing to prevail in the Scheme A that he had in mind. The Government feel that this matter is fundamentally important, and that there must 308 be power-sharing in the context of Northern Ireland.
The hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. Thomas) talked about the need for legislative devolution and pointed out in emotional terms—which I am sure struck a chord in the hearts of anyone who looks at certain disadvantages to be found in his country and other parts of the United Kingdom—the economic disadvantages that exist. We must not inevitably look for a sollution only in terms of legislative devolution. The Government's regional policies represent one way of dealing with the problem. I believe that regional policies are only in their infancy. As long as there are inequalities in economic progress throughout the country, that shows that central Government, to some degree, have not succeeded in a fundamental part of their objective, namely the equalising of economic advantage. It is no coincidence that regional policies wax strong when there is a Labour Government. The development of the regions has always been an important part of the Labour Party's economic objectives.
The hon. Member for Argyll (Mr. MacCormick) attacked the Conservative Party in Scotland. It is not part of my task to enter into that kind of warfare. I should say that the hon. Member, while favouring Scheme A, also favoured control over United Kingdom ministries. If this were to be a proposal, the consequences would need to be thought out in great detail. Once we give that kind of power to an elected parliament in Scotland, or the other countries, the consequences for industry and the changes overall could be of much more fundamental importance, affecting the livelihood of all the people concerned.
§ Mr. Gordon Wilson
Has the hon. Gentleman read the detailed submission made by the SNP to Lord Crowther-Hunt?
§ Mr. Sheldon
Yes. I believe that these are matters which the Government might want to consider. The important point is that at the end of the day the more fundamental the proposition, the more thorough the scrutiny must be.
The hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart made a useful speech. I was not able to agree with all of it. There was one point made by him upon which I think 309 we can all agree, namely that whatever form of government might be devised for Scotland, however allied to the Government of the United Kingdom, it needs to be efficient and responsive. This will be one of the tests of the success of any devolutionary form of government that might come to be established. I noted the point the hon. Member made about the non-elected assembly with a later option to convert to something better and more representative. I do not wish to go into that at this point because it is a viewpoint which seems to be peculiar to his own party.
When we are considering fundamental changes it is not unreasonable for the Government to say that while they are collecting the voices and taking note of the experiences of all concerned, they should have the advantage of being in a position to await the crystalising of opinion. Although there are a number of hon. Gentlemen who came into this House representing points of view held by their electors, and as such they deserve and must expect the right to be listened to, it is not entirely unnatural that the Government should also want to make sure just how strongly that opinion has formed. If errors were made as a result of over-hasty legislation, it would be regretted for decades.
§ Mr. Teddy Taylor
The hon. Gentleman said that he did not want to comment on the indirectly elected aspect because it was peculiar to the Conservative Party. Does that mean that the Government have determined that, although their policy has not been clarified, they will opt for a directly elected assembly?
§ Mr. Sheldon
I have made no such comment. I do not want to prejudge any of the decisions which the Government will make when they bring out the White Paper in the autumn because the consultations are not yet complete. Expressions of view are still being received and collated and until that process is complete the White Paper cannot be prepared.
When we have the various expressions of view from the Scottish National Party and the Welsh National Party, we must reconcile as best we can the different views in order to come to one conclusion. This debate has clearly shown the division of views. We must put together a package which will cause the least dissatisfaction 310 and distress and present an efficient and responsive assembly or body.
Our country has suffered a consider able decline in the past 10 or 15 years. It is natural in such a period of decline that we should scrutinise our own institutions. All out national institutions—Government, Civil Service, universities, trade unions and elected bodies—have been scrutinised to discover where they are wanting. Perhaps we sometimes tend to overdo this because many of our institutions, even those we want to improve and change, have been some of our greatest assets.
There is a need for change; that is recognised in the House. There is a need to recognise the diversity and talents of our people. We must institute change with an understanding of its consequences and about where it will lead, not only in the various parts of the United Kingdom but in the United Kingdom as a whole.
The hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Johnston) said that there must be an acceptable degree of change, and he went on to say that great changes should be taken slowly. I would not say very slowly. I would not possibly say slowly, but these great changes—some of the greatest we can envisage being made in the House—probably need to be examined with greater care than almost any of the other great changes which are upon us.
The results will be available in the autumn. For a matter as important as this, I do not think that that is going too slowly. I urge the House to have this minimum amount of patience for the great changes which may lie ahead.