HC Deb 10 December 1975 vol 902 cc444-8
12. Mr. Reid

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland when he next intends to pay an official visit to the site of the Scottish Assembly.

13. Mr. Gordon Wilson

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will pay an official visit to the site of the Scottish Assembly.

14. Mrs. Bain

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will pay an official visit to the proposed site of the Scottish Assembly.

Mr. Harry Ewing

I would refer to the reply which I gave to the hon. Members for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Reid) and Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind) on 12th November.—[Vol. 899, c. 734.]

Mr. Reid

Given that reply, may I put a very simple question? Will the Minister take the opportunity today to define, for the first time, what he understands the word "separatism" to mean?

Mr. Harry Ewing

I have noticed in recent days the touchiness of the hon. Member regarding the question of separatism. I should have thought that the responsibility was on the SNP to publish—[HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] I know that the SNP finds it difficult to accept responsibility at any time, but I suggest that it would be in the interests of SNP Members if they were to publish a White Paper containing their separatist policies. I agree with the hon. Gentleman in that I should be delighted to debate for the next year what separatism means, because to date—on the eve of the hon. Gentleman's second anniversary as a member of the SNP—the SNP has been running away from separatism. I welcome the hon. Gentleman's fresh approach to putting this matter to the people of Scotland.

Mr. MacCormick

No answer.

Mr. Skinner

I think that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will agree that now we are to have a Scottish Assembly at some time in the future, Scottish Question Time can no longer be regarded as being the property of Scottish Members of Parliament. Will my hon. Friend take it from me, as an English coal miner for 21 years before coming to this House, that I was quite happy to assist the Scottish coal miners by producing coal that was cheaper than that which could be obtained in Scotland? Will my hon. Friend accept that if there are to be any changes arising out of North Sea oil, I should expect the Scottish Assembly to take into account the fact that English ratepayers and taxpayers will no longer be happy to contribute that extra 50 per cent. which, seemingly, we contribute over and above the contribution of Scottish taxpayers, if there is any attempt to prevent the British people getting North Sea oil at the same price as everyone else?

Mr. Harry Ewing

My hon. Friend has put his finger on one of the consequences of separatism. The Scottish miners will give careful attention to exactly what separatism would mean. I welcome my hon. Friend to Scottish Question Time. I hope that the SNP will follow his example of exemplary behaviour as a Back-Bench Member on the Government side of the House, because the behaviour of the SNP today has been absolutely deplorable.

Mr. Wilson

The Minister has failed to define the term "separatism", but, on the other hand, when he next visits the site of the future Scottish Assembly will he consider the wise words of Lord Kilbrandon in a recent television programme, "Panorama", when he said that a natural consequence of devolution could very well be an increase in contacts between Edinburgh and Brussels and a falling away and withering of the connection with Westminster? If that were to be so, would the Minister describe independent Scottish membership of the EEC, according to his definition, as a form of separatism?

Mr. Harry Ewing

The hon. Member is in great danger of joining the same circus act as the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) and riding about six horses at one time. Perhaps I should refresh the hon. Gentleman's memory. He was opposed to entry to the EEC. I am sure that he would not want that to be forgotten. I happen to take the view that the flow of information and discussion between Edinburgh and Brussels, Edinburgh and London, and Edinburgh and all other world centres will increase with the establishment of a Scottish Assembly.

I should warn SNP Members that I do not intend to assist them in finding a definition of what separatism really is. It is for them to defend it.

Mr. Sproat

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that a growing number of thinking people in Scotland regard the Government's White Paper as a load of expensive rubbish? They feel that it is a guaranteed recipe for more civil servants, more bureaucracy, more government, more public expenditure and more taxation, and tragically—although the hon. Gentleman does not want it—would inevitably lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom within a decade.

Mr. Harry Ewing

I know that these views are held rather strongly by the hon. Gentleman, but there has been no evidence to support the views that he has been putting forward in recent months.

Mr. Buchan

Perhaps I could be helpful, as always, to SNP Members by helping them in their search for a definition. Is my hon. Friend aware that the Chairman of the SNP gave the definition a week ago when he said that Scotland would be no more separate than Norway or Holland? In other words, England would be a foreign country so far as Scotland was concerned. Does not my hon. Friend agree that this would apply to many of our own relatives living south of the Tweed if the SNP's policy were implemented?

Mr. Harry Ewing

However unacceptable that view may be to the SNP, it is a fact of life. It is also worth noting that the leader of the SNP is on record as saying that Scotland would have its own army—dare I say a tartan army—its own navy—dare I say a tartan navy—and its own air force—dare I say a tartan air force? I note that the hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Reid) nods his head in vigorous approval. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will find it easy to explain to the dockyard workers at Rosyth exactly what will happen to the Royal Dockyard in that situation.

Mrs. Bain

Has the hon. Gentleman heard of the United Nations Charter, which grants the right of self-determination to all small nations? Has he further considered the savings which would accrue if the powers which are to be split between the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Assembly were entirely devolved to the Assembly? Does he appreciate that that would entail an additional staff of approximately only 200? Will the hon. Gentleman put on record that the conversion of the Royal High School into a fit establishment in which to have the Scottish Parliament will cost more than to establish a regional headquarters but probably less than buying ostrich plumes for the Secretary of State when he becomes governor-general?

Mr. Harry Ewing


Mr. Russell Johnston

Will the Minister take this opportunity to explain how it will be possible to give thorough consideration to representations about the Scottish Assembly if the deadline for making representations is to be the end of February and if the Bill is expected to be produced in March?

Mr. Harry Ewing

This debate has gone on for a very long time in Scotland. I do not think that anyone on either side of the House would disagree with that statement. We think it reasonable to expect that those who want to comment on the White Paper which was published a fortnight ago will have adequate time to consider the White Paper and to submit their views in the time given.

Mr. Gourlay

Has my hon. Friend read the report in today's Scotsman which indicates that the hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Reid) believes that we require a year's rational debate on separatism? Will my hon. Friend take the year that is suggested as an opportunity to explain to the people of Scotland what separatism will mean?

Mr. Harry Ewing

As I said earlier, I am certainly prepared to join in the year's debate on what separatism really means. I am sure that the people of Scotland will welcome the opportunity that has been presented to them not once but twice in recent days by the hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire. I am sure that once the people of Scotland are given clearly to understand what separatism really means—

Mr. Donald Stewart

Tell us.

Mr. Harry Ewing

I challenge the SNP to publish its own White Paper. The hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) says "Tell us". I have already quoted some of the things that the hon. Gentleman thinks it means—namely, a separate army, navy and air force. I think that the debate in the year ahead will bring out a great many more of the bizarre consequences of separatism.