§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. John Ellis.]
§ Mr. Speaker
Before I call the Secretary of State for Wales, I want to point out to the House that there were only 12 back-bench speeches yesterday. Five of these lasted over 20 minutes, two were 19 minutes long and two were 18 minutes long.
I wish very much that I had added to my discretions one to impose a time limit, at least for part of a debate. I hope very much that today hon. Members will not follow the example, if I may say so, of the Leader of Plaid Cymru, who spoke for 28 minutes yesterday, while he and his hon. Friends made seven interruptions in other speeches. Their chances are not very high today. I ask hon. Members to try to aim at speeches lasting for 10 to 12 minutes.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I can anticipate the hon. Lady. The Leader of the Scottish National Party was very good. He spoke for only 11 minutes, so do not spoil it, please.
§ 4.31 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. John Morris)
Yesterday, my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council said that he would be listening with great interest to what right hon. and hon. Members had to say. I, too, have been listening to the debate with the greatest attention. Of one thing there can be no doubt—the importance that the Government have attached to the whole subject of devolution, and as a member of the Government there is no need for me to tell the 1175 House the importance that I myself attach to it.
Not unnaturally, the interest of individual Members will vary, but, not unexpectedly at this time, a much greater interest will be shown among my fellow Members from the Principality and Members from Scotland. But those concerned as Ministers in the work of furthering the Government's ideas on devolution, in putting flesh on the bones, in turning ideas and aspirations into hard legislative proposals, will carefully listen to what all right hon. and hon. Members have to say.
My personal commitment is well known. I take pride in the steps that Labour Governments have taken in bringing government closer to the people. It was a Labour Government who appointed the first Secretary of State for Wales. Last year, we celebrated the tenth anniversary of the Welsh Office. Its powers have grown under two different administrations. Those who scoffed ten years ago now acknowledge its success. No one wants to turn the clock back—that was the message, loud and clear, during last summer.
We also take pride in having appointed the Royal Commission on the Constitution, and it will be a Labour Government, dedicated to democratising the whole machinery of government, to bringing government and decision making closer to the people, who will advance further along the path we then started to tread. We have a twofold aim. There is the need to ensure that the peoples of Wales and Scotland are able to have a decisive voice in their own domestic affairs, and at the same time it is essential to preserve the political and economic unity of the United Kingdom.
It was interesting at the last General Election to note that those who were most strident in Wales in shouting at the hustings, "Implement Kilbrandon" were separatists who wanted to tear apart the bonds which welded us together, a number of different nations, into one country. Yet the Kilbrandon Report never, in any of its proposals, countenanced separatism or even federalism.
In the debates since the report was published, we must distinguish between those who sincerely advocate different forms of devolution and those whose 1176 commitment is to separatism, which is the negation of the whole thesis of Kilbrandon. Whatever one would propose would always be criticised by some as a step short of the next stage.
I do not believe that in Wales there is any significant demand for separatism or even federalism. Certainly, in my long consultations throughout last summer, it did not manifest itself to me. I believe, however, that there is a genuine demand to change our pattern of government in Wales so as to bring the process of decision making closer to the ordinary people who are affected by it. Democratic control over the institutions that govern us must be extended.
Wales and Scotland are both proud nations. We have maintained our national identities. The centuries have not dimmed them. Indeed, the feeling of belonging together has strengthened in the face of the storms which have been weathered. Who would have dared to prophesy at the beginning of the century, with two world wars to fight, that this would be so? Whether it be a village settlement, a long-established industrial community or a nation, one does not lightly throw aside the sense of community which can be such a firm foundation for the building of a new governmental structure.
What we are considering will necessarily have far-reaching consequences for the United Kingdom. The fact that solutions may be novel does not in my view constitute an argument against them. Novelty and innovation have never been regarded as obstacles to reform on this side of the House. What is important is that we adopt solutions which are the right ones—the solutions which are expected by the majority of our peoples in Wales and Scotland, the solutions that will ensure the fulfilment at the outset of our twin aims of unity and greater democracy.
I turn now to the question of the timetable. I appreciate that many hon. Members are anxious for us to move ahead with all possible speed. In the face of what we have done already since taking office, no one can seriously contend that we are hanging back. A great deal of work is already in hand and a great deal of ground has been covered.
Immediately following the last General Election, I set up a new devolution division to strengthen and co-ordinate work 1177 on the subject within my Department. At the same time, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil (Mr. Rowlands), undertook special responsibility within the Welsh Office for devolution matters. Our aim is to bring the proposals before Parliament as quickly as possible, but our first priority must be that of getting the right answers to problems of the greatest magnitude and complexity.
In our White Paper, we proposed forms of devolution different in some respects for Wales and for Scotland. In making these distinctive proposals, we recognise that the two countries have different historical backgrounds, distinctive existing governmental structures, and different systems of law. We do not feel that what is right for one country must be copied slavishly in the other. I believe that we know what we want in Wales, and we want to get on with it.
There have been calls for the same kind of devolution to be adopted for the Principality as that proposed for Scotland, but I am more concerned with the substance of devolution than the form which it takes. I am more concerned that the end product should be suitable, stable and fully acceptable government in Wales. What we do now must satisfy and must be done in such a way that it will endure. Acceptability is therefore vital. It is essential that, when the Welsh Assembly begins to function, it should do so not against a background of petty criticism but with the support of the ordinary people of Wales.
The House will be aware that I am not attracted to the devolution of primary legislative powers to the Welsh Assembly. There is, first of all, no general demand for it. Indeed, many would be deeply opposed. Many of the legislative needs of Wales and England are often identical and usually similar. The broad pattern of legislation has served us well. I am not attracted to having a difference for difference's sake. It is important that what we devise for Wales fulfils the objective of devolving real executive powers—that is, powers of policy making—as well as that of putting these policies into operation. I believe that what we propose meets that objective.
§ Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarvon)
Concerning the demand for legislative functions for the Welsh Assembly, if there is no demand in Wales, on what basis does the right hon. and learned Gentleman base the demand in Scotland—on the vote of the Scottish National Party in Scotland? Secondly, when it is said that Scotland has its own legal system, is it not the case that over the two and a half centuries since Scotland and England united, that fact has not led to a separate Assembly? Is it not the case that it is the substance of legislation that matters and not the colour of the ink in which it is written?
§ Mr. Morris
The hon. Gentleman knows full well that the Scots already have their own form of lawmaking which takes place in this House. If he speaks of a demand, he knows that his party's vote has gone down in three General Elections from 175,000 to 166,000 now. I commend these words for his consideration, if no more:Initially, the exact powers of the assembly are not vitally important. They can be adjusted according to the needs of the time and the wishes of the people of Wales. The important thing is to get an elected assembly established without delay.That is a quotation from the Welsh Nationalist leaflet in February 1974. I find it odd to hear now the carping criticism of what we seek to do.
I am seeking to put before the House policies that will be accepted and effective. There are those who now seek to denigrate executive devolution. They denigrated the establishment of the Welsh Office and they sneered—I recall those sneers—at the setting up of the Kilbrandon Commission. They also fail to recognise that executive devolution is bold and radical with Westminster yielding enormous powers of policy making and implementation to a directly elected Welsh Assembly.
Although as Secretary of State my decisions occasionally involve legislative action, the overwhelming proportion of them involve the exercise of executive powers. I make crucial decisions over the allocation of resources available to me for the development of our schools, roads, health service and housing. I do so through executive decisions. No one has suggested that I do not have power and major responsibility in these areas that matter so much to our people. These are 1179 the kind of decisions the Assembly would have to take. They would have to shoulder the burden of allocating the block grant.
Within many subjects there is a whole range of decision making which is executive, the whole pattern of road development and transport—the priority we are giving to our main strategic links such as the M4 and the A55 is promoted by executive action, and in the same way the whole pattern of education. Is there anything in the type of executive policy making at this level which bears any resemblance to that of a local authority? The critics have failed to understand.
I followed with interest what the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans) said yesterday. When commenting on our road pattern, and speaking of a North-to-South road, he said,But now the people of Wales can do nothing about it. They cannot decide even to build a road for themselves. I wonder whether their power will be any greater when they have their elected Assembly."—[Official Report, 3rd February 1974; Vol. 885, c. 1009.]What nonsense. First, I could, as Secretary of State, decide to give priority to this road. I have not done so because I and no one else would accord it that priority. The priority is to ensure that there is built speedily a good M4 motorway and an A55 in the north. Those are the important roads to ensure that our centres of production can send their goods to the areas of consumption.
Our proposals for executive devolution have not been understood. I wish to educate the critics on this point. [Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley) will keep quiet, he will hear my point in due course. There can be a little courtesy in the House of Commons and, I hope, in the Welsh Assembly as well.
Under our proposals for executive devolution, it would be possible for an elected Assembly to decide to allocate priority for such a road. Perhaps it will be a rude awakening to the members of Plaid Cymru when they find that the democratic decisions of the Assembly do not accord with the priority they seek to give to their own projects.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)
In taking the large executive decisions about which the right hon. and learned 1180 Gentleman has told us, is he acting upon collective Cabinet responsibility or upon his personal responsibility?
§ Mr. Morris
If the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) had read the two White Papers published last year, he would know of the indications we gave and the views of the Government. With respect, I presume that he did not read the White Papers we presented on that occasion.
Last summer, during our consultations with bodies representing a wide spectrum of Welsh opinion, we ascertained as best we could the views of those bodies. It is worth mentioning the views of the Welsh local authorities, whether expressed through their associations or individually. Those were overwhelmingly in favour of an executive form of devolution for the Principality. They were of course, and still are, understandably concerned that their present functions should remain with them. We made clear in the White Paper that the Welsh Assembly would not be expected to assume existing powers from local government. I repeat that commitment now and draw hon. Members' attention to it.
I now wish to consider in more detail what the powers of the Welsh Assembly might be. We have already decided provisionally that the Assembly will have a block expenditure allocation voted by the United Kingdom Parliament. It will be for the Assembly to judge its own expenditure priorities within that block allocation. This would give the Assembly considerable powers of decision in an area which is now reserved to central Government.
The Assembly will also have wide powers in terms of delegated legislation. It is true that under the present framework there are considerable variations as between different subjects of Government. In some areas, wide powers of delegated legislation are conferred. In others, primary legislation is far more specific.
Devolution means a quite new partnership between Parliament on the one hand and the Welsh Assembly on the other. In the development of this partnership, new principles will almost certainly evolve which may make the primary framework more general with regard to Wales, laying down broad principles and 1181 leaving the Assembly to fill these out by means of delegated legislation. This I visualise as a growth area for the Assembly, and that is not the only legislative rôle the Assembly might have. It may be possible to involve it in the legislative process and devise a means for it to bring its views on primary legislation affecting Wales to the attention of Parliament.
Further, the Welsh Assembly will assume responsibility for the work of nominated bodies within Wales. This would transfer to the Assembly a substantial block of powers and would at the same time extend democratic control into many areas which for too long have been remote from it. In Wales, we have had a surfeit of nominated bodies, and it is high time that they became politically accountable.
Finally, the Assembly will exercise certain of my present powers, many of which are not detailed in legislation. All this will give the Assembly considerable discretion to govern as it chooses, subject only to primary legislation, financial constraints imposed by the block expenditure allocation and any special provision which we might apply to both the Welsh and Scottish Assemblies to deal with cases where their activities might conflict with the essential interests of the United Kingdom as a whole.
What I have just described would amount to a formidable set of responsibilities and powers if devolved to the Welsh Assembly. They would nevertheless take account of the distinctive needs of Wales and the wishes of the Welsh people. For these reasons, I am satisfied that our proposals contained in the White Paper are right for the Principality.
I now turn to particular problems which arise on the work and operation of the Assembly and on its relationship with Parliament and the central Government.
One question which has given rise to no little interest is the form of Executive to be established. Broadly, as hon. Members will know, there are two options. The devolved powers might be vested either in a ministerial executive—that is, the system that we have here in Westminster—or in the Assembly as a whole and administered through Committees of the Assembly.
1182 The choice between what might conveniently be called a ministerial system and a committee system is by no means straightforward. Both have their advantages and disadvantages in the context of Welsh devolution. One advantage of the ministerial system is its familiarity to people in this country. We are well used to an arrangement under which individuals holding government responsibility are closely identifiable and can be held accountable for what they do. In the Westminster environment, this works reasonably well. At least, many think so, though the system is not free from criticism.
On the other hand, we need to bear in mind that we are seeking to make the system of government for Wales as democratic and open as we can. I believe there is merit in an arrangement in which there is wide consultation and opportunity for the sharing of power among the representatives of the interests affected. One way of achieving this is the adoption of a system of executive committees, each of which would so far as practicable reflect the balance of representation in the Assembly as a whole.
Another question concerns relations between Parliament and the Government on the one hand and the Assembly on the other. Devolution will call for co-operation and good will. Indeed, without these, it cannot be made to work. There is no reason to believe that both sides will not have the interests of Wales at heart, and, with this as the guiding principle, a true partnership in government should be possible.
We have a long tradition, whatever our political views on the issues of the day, of a responsible system of government at every level. I have no anxiety on this score when we devolve governmental functions within the United Kingdom.
Important elements in the Assembly's freedom are the width and depth of its responsibilities. We are carrying out a detailed study of the complex considerations involved in delegating responsibilities for such subjects as health, education, roads and housing. As the White Paper made clear, the intention is that the Assembly should undertake many of the executive functions now carried out by myself. We fully intend to honour that pledge.
1183 A great deal of work is in hand in studying the problems involved. Much of our present legislation, which was not of course drafted with devolution in mind, allows wide latitude to Ministers of the central Government. By and large, the Assembly should have similarly wide discretion, but we have to examine with particular care those matters which Parliament deliberately intended to operate uninformly throughout Great Britain, for instance the qualifications and conditions of employment attaching to various professions.
Concern has been expressed over the position of the Civil Service after devolution. Consultations have already taken place between the Government and the Staff Side of the National Whitley Council, about the implications of devolution for the Civil Service. We are most anxious to ensure that the interests of the staff of Government Departments are taken fully into account, and I have myself discussed these matters with the Welsh Office Staff Side. I fully understand the issues which worry them, and I want to assure them that I will pay the closest regard to their views.
Before I leave questions relating to the operation of the Assembly, I should like to touch briefly on the matter of nomenclature, which is not without significance, especially in Wales. The name given to the Assembly needs to be right, both in English and Welsh. I have said in the past that I am unhappy about the way that the word "Assembly" is translated into Welsh. In saying that, I am no way blaming the translators. The word "Assembly" in English seems to have gained broad acceptability, and it fits our conception. One suggestion which seems to have support is that the equivalent to the word "Assembly" in English should be the word "Senedd" in Welsh. These are not precise synonyms, but it may be thought that they carry the right connotations in both languages. There is also the question of what title should be given to members of the Assembly. It should of course be readily distinguishable from that applied to hon. Members of this House. In these as in other matters, I shall welcome further suggestions.
I turn now to the future rôle of the Secretary of State for Wales. I heard a great deal about this during the long 1184 consultations last summer. From our consultations in Wales and from the representations which we received, it is clear that there is a widespread—I think I may say almost universal—desire that there should be a strong continuing rôle for the Secretary of State. This, I must say with all modesty, I take to be a tribute to the office, rather than to anyone who has occupied it or to myself as the present occupant. I hope that the right hon. and learned Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Thomas) will not take that amiss. But there was great concern that the office should have a strong position. The problem is, of course, how to achieve this desirable aim if many of the powers formerly exercised by the occupant are devolved to the Assembly.
These are stirring times in the evolution of the machinery of government in Wales. Not only are we now taking decisive action to create a Welsh Assembly, but we are also engaged in creating new institutions to deal with the particular needs of Wales. I have in mind the proposed Wales Land Authority and the Welsh Development Agency. Furthermore, the rôle of the Secretary of State is being extended into new areas. As the House will know, as from 1st July, I shall be responsible for the administration of selective financial assistance under Section 7 of the Industry Act. This is a major development since it involves crossing a new threshold into a completely new area of activity for my office.
There will also be the vital rôle of watching over the interests of Wales when legislation affecting the Principality is passing through this House. Again, the Secretary of State will have an important responsibility in advocating the claims of Wales within the central Government when national resources are being allocated.
Finally, there will be a liaison function with respect to the relationship between the Assembly and Westminster. Therefore, while there will be reduced concern at the centre with the day-to-day matters of administration which will fall within the purview of the Assembly, there could well be greater concentration on broad economic and other strategic issues which vitally affect the well-being of Wales.
I turn now to Welsh representation in Parliament. If these broader responsibilities continue to be exercised at the 1185 centre, as they undoubtedly must, it follows that Wales will continue to need strong representation in this House. The Government therefore see no case for a reduction of the present representation as a consequence of their proposals for devolution to Wales.
§ Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)
Why should the people of Wales be entitled to more than their share of representation in this House than the English people?
§ Mr. Morris
I am not suggesting that they should have more than their share. Great areas of responsibility will remain in the House for broad strategic matters—the sharing of the national cake. Therefore, it will be of the utmost importance to have strong representation in this House from the Principality to safeguard those interests and to take part in general legislation affecting the whole of the United Kingdom. I hope that I have the support of the Opposition Front Bench on that score.
§ Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South-West)
Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?
§ Mr. Morris
This is a two-day debate. The hon. Gentleman may yet catch Mr. Deputy Speaker's eye.
In various ways the pattern of government in this country will be undergoing substantial change. We have set ourselves determinedly on this path, and I am sure that in so doing we are following a deep underlying desire in both Wales and Scotland. It is the duty of politicians elected by the people of both Wales and Scotland to be aware of, to reflect, and even to anticipate these wishes of the population. If we fail to do this, we shall be increasingly seen as irrevelant.
We are an innovating and also an accountable Government. We seek to reflect the needs and aspirations of our people. We believe that distance between those who govern and those who are governed—I do not speak of geographical distance—does not help good government. In every sphere of society there is a need to involve people and to bring decision making closer to them. I believe that our proposals will give to the people of Wales the power of decision 1186 on many matters which affect their daily lives.
Novelty, if necessary, stability necessarily, and acceptability are our three aims. I am confident that we shall fulfil them.
§ 5.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Thomas (Hendon, South)
The Secretary of State for Wales said that his commitment to bringing government closer to the people of Wales was well known. I think that is right. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has been known among many of us for a long time as being committed to greater devolution, and we respect him for it. I think that justifiably he appeared to take great pride in the fact that a Labour Government set up the Welsh Office in 1964. I echo everything that he said about the value of the Welsh Office to Wales and its people. But I think it right to say something about my commitment to what the Secretary of State described as bringing government closer to the people.
Throughout the whole of the time that I have been a Member of this House—it now goes back some years—I have been associated with and actively interested in the promotion of Welsh constitutional development. A great deal has happened during that period.
I was returned to this House in 1951 on a programme which included the appointment of the first Minister for Welsh Affairs with a seat in the Cabinet. Shortly after that we had the appointment of a Minister of State who was wholly committed to Welsh Affairs. We then had the Welsh Grand Committee and other things which, over the years, meant that there was a steady process of administrative devolution in Wales and a steady building of the foundation and fabric which enabled the Welsh Office to be set up by the Labour Government in 1964. The process of decentralisation from Westminster has continued and accelerated. Not least part of that process took place when I was Secretary of State for Wales and continued with the important measures of devolution referred to in the White Paper.
It is in the interests of Wales and of the United Kingdom that this process should continue and that the people of Wales should become still more closely 1187 involved in the process of decision making for the Principality.
§ Mr. Cormack
I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will accept that there is a strong feeling that to proceed towards an Assembly in this way is not the best way of giving the people of Wales an extra voice. Indeed, many of us feel that it would lead to the break up of the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Thomas
My hon. Friend is very helpful and has added to my speech. However, if he were to listen as I develop it, he would find that we are not very far apart.
The important point to note is that each of the measures to which I have referred—measures of administrative devolution referred to in the main in paragraphs 9 to 12 of the White Paper—commanded widespread public support in Wales and has proved to be a change for the better. I mention that because no British Government should embark on constitutional change unless they are absolutely clear that they have the—
§ Mr. Thomas
—support of the people affected and that it is a change for the better. This is so true and vital that my right hon. and hon. Friends and I have been deeply concerned about the course that the Government seem intent on taking in Wales.
The truth about constitutional reform, as was said in the debate yesterday, is that it is irreversible. Any change, other than a gradual or evolutionary change, must inevitably be viewed with anxiety and tested with the greatest caution.
I agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman that there is no logical argument for saying that Wales and Scotland must be treated the same. Scotland's situation, with its separate system of law, the preservation of which was provided by the Union Settlement in 1707, and its totally different history and administration, is very different from that of Wales.
I agree that any substantial scheme of devolution raises major problems—this matter was referred to yesterday by the Lord President of the Council—relating 1188 to finance and economic management, trade, industry and employment. All these matters must be looked at in depth.
I also agreed with the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) when he said that this is first debate we have had on this subject and it is not detail that we should be discussing. The question is one of principle, and in this debate that is what we should be discussing.
Last night my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Grist), in a speech which was generally accepted as impressive—incidentally, he was expressing the united view of the Welsh Conservative Parliamentary Party—referred to four main principles which the Secretary of State set out when he helped launch the consultative White Paper last year. At that time the right hon and learned Gentleman explained his Government's commitment to devolution, and I think it is right that these four principles should be referred to again because he did not mention them today.
The first was that the taking of powers from any central body should meet a genuine need. The second was that any proposals should be based on widespread public support. The third was that the changes should be a clear and definite improvement. The fourth was that the changes must be designed to provide a stable constitutional framework for the future. Those are principles which I can not only accept but wholly endorse. However, having heard the Secretary of State today, I am far from convinced that, in the light of those tests, those principles, the proposals envisaged for Wales can be justified.
I leave the case for "genuine need", although the case for it is deplorably weak, and start with the requirement of widespread public support. My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North was right last night when he said that there was no evidence whatsoever of a widespread demand in Wales for a directly elected Assembly, legislative or executive. Apart from the three constituencies in which it was felt that support for the Nationalist candidate could defeat the Labour candidate—that is, the Welsh establishment candidate—any candidate of the major parties in Wales will confirm that devolution was hardly an issue in last year's elections. The Kilbrandon Report was almost as remote from the minds 1189 of the ordinary electorate as the Kinsey Report.
The Welsh electors were not seeking more government in Wales. They wanted better government in Britain. The whole of local government, the whole of the National Health Service and the whole of the water services in Wales had just been drastically reformed and reorganised. The citizens of Wales can now vote for new community councils, new large district councils, and new powerful county councils, as well as voting for parliamentary representatives at Westminster.
There is no demand and no enthusiasm for yet another tier of elected government. To most it would be just an added confusion, expense and cumbersome irrelevance. The Kilbrandon Report was correct when it said thatthe overwhelming majority … are concerned more with the success of government than where it comes from",and I refer again to the hon. Member for Bedwellty, because he was right when he said last night that alienation and frustration in our society cannot be cured by proximity to Parliament.
Before the last election we, in the Conservative Party, thought it right to make clear our position on devolution in Wales. In our Welsh Manifesto—
§ Mr. Cledwyn Hughes (Anglesey)
I am sure the right hon. and learned Gentleman would not wish to mislead the House. He said that there was no demand of any kind in Wales for an Assembly, and he went on to call in aid the report of the Kilbrandon Commission. Paragraph 376 of the report says,The concern for democracy … in Wales … shows itself in the widespread demand for an elected Welsh assembly, and in the vigorous criticism of appointed ad hoc bodies.The right hon. and learned Gentleman ought to put the whole case before the House.
§ Mr. Thomas
I said that there was no widespread demand, and I do not believe there is. I refer to paragraph 449 of Kilbrandon, where it says,… whereas it seems likely that the overwhelming majority of people in Scotland and Wales are concerned more with the success of government than where it comes from.I say that that is true. I did not say that there was no demand. I said that there 1190 was no widespread demand, and I gave examples of how it can be assessed.
I think it will have been the experience of right hon. and hon. Members during the last two elections that, apart from in the constituencies which I mentioned, the Assembly for Wales was hardly an issue. I suggest to the right hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. Hughes) that he consults his hon. Friends, because I am sure they will agree that in the course of those elections Kilbrandon did not loom large in any area, apart from those in which it was brought up mainly by the Nationalist candidates. The elections in Wales were fought on the ordinary political issue of the time.
§ Sir Anthony Meyer (Flint, West)
Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the demands were from very few people, but were very loud? In fact, they were loud enough to put the Labour Party into an absolute panic.
§ Mr. Thomas
I agree that those who wished to champion the case for an elected Assembly did so as loudly as possible, but the general mass of people in Wales are uninterested in this issue. That is the view of most people who went through the constituencies in Wales, as I did, during the last two elections.
I said that before the election we, in the Conservative Party, thought it right to make our position clear. In our Welsh Manifesto we stated firmly that we were against a directly elected Assembly, whether it be executive or legislative. We stated our belief in the essential unity of the United Kingdom, and our belief that the interests of Wales are best served by building on and improving existing and well-tried institutions rather than destroying them. We spelled out the measures which we thought were right at the time. They included, an increase in the functions of the Welsh Office, a block grant for Wales and a strengthened and more democratic Welsh Council.
It is a matter of record that we retained all our seats in Wales at the last election—seats which ranged from Welsh-speaking areas, such as Denbigh, the Conway division of Caernarvon, to seats which are agricultural, such as Pembrokestore, and seats which are residential, commercial and industrial, such as Cardiff and Barry. Not only did we retain our 1191 seats, but in all of them the Plaid Cymru candidate was at the bottom of the poll. I call that in aid to show that the firm attitude taken by our candidates at the last election did not demonstrate a feeling among the electorate that it was important to have an elected Assembly.
§ Mr. Caerwyn E. Roderick (Brecon and Radnor)
The right hon. and learned Gentleman has spent some time discussing the question of demand in Wales. Can he say what demand there was for a strengthened Welsh Council?
§ Mr. Thomas
What we said was that we felt that there should be moves towards gradual devolution in Wales, that people in Wales should have a greater say in the conduct of their own affairs. But we said that it should move in an evolutionary way and that there should be no experimentation, no immediate change. That was one of the things that we felt was right. A strengthened Welsh Council was something which many people had been talking about for a long time. It commended itself to many people on the Welsh Council itself who considered the matter. If the hon. Gentleman will read the report of the Welsh Council, he will see the arguments that are set out there.
The question of constitutional change is an "in" group subject in Wales. It is mainly confined to Welsh TV, radio, some of the Press and certain politically-minded people, and they obviously try to keep this alive. But the mass of the Welsh people are totally uninterested.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman talked about consultations. I was trying to find out from him exactly how many people wrote to him directly. The only information I have had is from the White Paper. I see that he consulted many bodies in a wide variety of fields. They were asked to pronounce on a subject which in most cases was secondary to their main functions. They gave their views either willingly or under some feeling of dutiful compulsion, but a relatively small number of individuals wrote. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has not told us how many, but was it not a very small number, and were not most of those committed people who were in favour of legislative devolution?
1192 If one looks at the White Paper, one sees that no consensus emerged except that in nearly all the suggestions made there was a proviso. That proviso was that nothing should be done which would disrupt the essential political and economic unity of the United Kingdom. That is not surprising, for in Wales we know the immense value of that, and the right hon. and learned Gentleman referred strongly to it today. The overwhelming majority of the people in Wales deeply believe in it because they know full well the benefits it brings. The Welsh Council firmly spells it out in its observations on the Kilbrandon Report.
Our anxiety is that we believe that what is proposed for Wales and what was spelled out in some detail today by the right hon. and learned Gentleman, could well be the beginning of the fragmentation of this unity. The belief that the setting up of an elected Assembly in Wales with certain powers to delegate legislation and with certain executive functions will satisfy or even subdue nationalist demands is a delusion. It will be the biggest stimulus yet created to those whose ultimate goal is independence.
I was interested to hear what was said by the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans) yesterday in the debate. He said:My regrets about this are somewhat tempered by the thought that this kind of ineffective arrangement will prove very temporary indeed, because it will precipitate Welsh disillusion with the English political parties, and that will be to the advantage of Plaid Cymru".He further said:The weaker the Assembly, the stronger we shall grow; the smaller the concession the more temporary the structure."—[Official Report, 3rd February 1975; Vol. 885, c. 1010.]I mention that because I believe that the lesson of the past few years is that there is no benefit to be gained by half embracing separatism. All it does is give added vigour and credibility to the full body—the body that one shuns.
No amount of anodyne phrases like those that the right hon. and learned Gentleman used, some of which I took down—for instance, giving reality to the "principle of democratic responsibility"—can persuade my hon. Friends and myself that these proposals can possibly 1193 provide what is required by the principles he has enunciated, a stable constitutional framework for the future. Despite what the right hon. and learned Gentleman said today, they will provide an emasculated Welsh Office, and, I am sorry to say, an emasculated Secretary of State, too. Ultimately they will provide the demise of both.
They will provide an elected body which will demonstrate increasing discontent with the limitations of its powers and functions. That body will increasingly demand more and will be in sustained and increasing conflict with central and local government. As time goes on, Welsh MPs will become more and more politically enfeebled and there will be a marked diminution of Welsh power at Westminster. The demands one has heard already in this debate will increase and there will be a demand for fewer and fewer Members of Parliament from Wales.
I believe that what is proposed by the right hon. and learned Gentleman is too big a step. It is fraught with dangers and difficulties. It affronts each of the principles which were declared by the Secretary of State. I agree with the Welsh Council that the right line is one of gradual evolution and I think that the proposals we put forward last year are about right.
I agree with what my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North said last night—that there are many hon. Gentlemen on the Government benches who, if they were free to do so, would wish to follow the sort of course that I have proposed for Wales.
About the only comfort I gained last night from the speech of the Leader of the House was when he said,I cannot succumb to pressures for speed at the cost of hasty and ill-judged decisions."—[Official Report, 3rd February 1975; Vol. 885, c. 957.]I would say to him, to the right hon. and learned Gentleman and to the Government that time is not of the essence here. There are daunting problems to consider. If these are considered objectively I am sure that, given time, wisdom will prevail in regard to Wales and the Government will follow our course.
§ Mr. Douglas Crawford (Perth and East Perthshire)
On a point of order. At the beginning of the debate, Mr. Speaker referred to the fact that my hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans) took 28 minutes in his speech yesterday and that for that reason other Plaid Cymru Members might have difficulty in catching his eye. Since both Front Bench speakers today have taken 28 or more minutes each, would you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, give a similar ruling about Labour and Conservative Members?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. George Thomas)
I happened to be here when Mr. Speaker gave his ruling. He also referred to seven interruptions, which the hon. Gentleman left out of his point of order. I do not blame him, but my memory is as long as Mr. Speaker's. There will be an attempt, as there always is, by whoever is in the Chair to see that every point of view is represented.
§ 5.29 p.m.
§ Mr. T. W. Urwin (Houghton-le-Spring)
I must confess to being one of those Members with deeply held reservations about the wisdom, first of all, of setting up the Commission on the Constitution. I had some further reservations, much more deeply held ones, on reading the Kilbrandon Report and on listening to some of the comments which have since been made on this vitally important subject.
I was also concerned when the Labour Party first embraced the idea of devolution to Scotland and Wales, later to be followed by my own Government, thereby raising some very important questions in my mind and, I am sure, in those of many other Members. We are now finally embarked upon a fundamentally important constitutional change which is clearly of far-reaching importance to the United Kingdom with effects which as yet are obviously unquantifiable.
The debate so far has by no means begun to allay my personal fears. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, in opening the debate yesterday, quite properly emphasised the outstanding requirement of the preservation of United Kingdom unity, and the preservation of the sovereign Westminster Parliament. In opening the debate today my right hon. 1195 and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Wales, in common with other hon. Members in the debate, emphasised that there is to be no separatism or federalism as a result of devolution.
We must ask what guarantees there are of the maintenance of this essential unity. The right hon. and learned Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Thomas) referred to confrontation between the Welsh Assembly and the Westminster Parliament and to the erosion of the powers or authority of parliamentarians at Westminster with the development of that situation. It is inevitable, parliamentarians being what they are and politics being what it is, that these confrontations will arise, perhaps with increasing frequency, once the Assembly is established. Whatever form the Assemblies eventually take—and if some of the ideas canvassed in the debate are accepted, such as raising revenue by taxation, the establishment of a Customs system on the border, the appropriation of oil revenues—
§ Mr. Urwin
It is our oil, and I use the term "our" to include everyone. This is nothing to do with the Scottish National Party. The fact that points such as this are made in the debate makes the preservation of the unity which we hold so dear increasingly remote and unlikely.
The proposals in their entirety encompass the first steps towards disunity. The ideas put forward are so incredible as to be inadmissible. The suggestion of devolution of powers of trade, employment, and the procurement and allocation of industry have already emanated from certain hon. Members. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House referred to the necessity—although these were not his precise words—of the new Assemblies having devolved powers in these areas.
What stands out perfectly clearly is that the English regions will lose out heavily to the Scots and the Welsh who will acquire the right to determine their own future, to make their own decisions, decisions which might be detrimental to their English counterparts. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State 1196 for Wales said clearly that we have had enough of nominated bodies, but that is precisely what the English regions would be left with in those circumstances. They would be left with nominated, non-elected and unrepresentative bodies such as the regional economic planning councils and the water and health authorities.
Opposition from the English regions to such proposals is inevitable, but it would be tragic if regional councils were to develop in England merely in response to the setting up of the new Assemblies in Scotland and Wales.
§ The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Edward Short)
My hon. Friend will have noticed last Friday, with the announcement of the devolution of powers to the Scottish and Welsh Development Agencies, that as a result the English regions will gain. They will now get 100 per cent. of the cost of clearance of derelict areas because the Scottish and Welsh will get 100 per cent. There is a clear gain for the North-East as a result of the first instalment of devolution.
§ Mr. Urwin
We have always benefited from the policies of central Government on the clearance of derelict land.
There is no tangible evidence of a clamour for regional government in England. Last night my hon. Friend the Minister of State made the welcome statement that no change is envisaged in English local government. That will give relief to many people, especially to the elected councillors. To introduce a third tier would impose very considerable problems. However, some form of devolution could be made to the English regions by restoring to local authorities many of the powers they have lost to the non-representative bodies.
I turn to the devolution of power in industrial procurement, trade and employment. I shall dwell more heavily on comparison with Scotland since the Northern Region has a great deal in common with Scotland. Of course we have a great deal in common with Wales as well, since we are the three major development areas in the United Kingdom. Our problems are of a common nature. We suffer from the decline of heavy basic major industries. We are all involved in 1197 the mad scramble for new industry to broaden the industrial base. There has been healthy competition which has so far been carried out on an equal basis and is subject to central Government policies. There is equality of treatment on incentives and a fairly well-defined policy of industrial location.
If there were to be Scottish and Welsh Assemblies the North would undoubtedly be disadvantaged. There would be no effective machinery except that to which my right hon. Friend has just referred—the Scottish and Welsh Development Agencies—for the generation of new employment and economic growth. Yesterday the Scottish nationalists were complaining that Scotland had had a raw deal through the management of the economy. We can all roll up our sleeves and display very deep regional scars.
§ Dr. Jeremy Bray (Motherwell and Wishaw)
Does my hon. Friend suggest that the administration of regional policy in the Northern Region, which I once had the privilige of representing along with him, has been so brilliant that it cannot be improved by a measure of regional government?
§ Mr. Urwin
I do not dispute that there is room for improvement, whether by the introduction of regional government or not. I am not advocating regional government at this stage for obvious reasons. We are top of the unemployment league. I tell those hon. Members who apparently find that funny that this is no laughing matter. For too long we have held this unenviable position. We have had as much of a raw deal as have our Scottish and Welsh colleagues.
§ Mr. Urwin
I will not give way. I am trying to respond as much as possible to the appeal by Mr. Speaker for brief speeches and to resist the temptation to give way to interventions.
We are top of this unemployment league. I make it abundantly clear that we have no intention in the Northern Region of being quiescent on the problem of devolution. The Scots and the Welsh, particularly the Scots, in this House have considerable independent powers already which we in the English regions do not 1198 have. In terms of the presentation of their problems in this House of Commons they are in a decidedly more favourable position than those of us in the other development areas who have the same sort of problems confronting us.
§ Mr. Lambie
I want my hon. Friend to give way because I am not going to catch the eye of the Chair.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I hope that hon. Members will let other hon. Members continue, and that those who have been told secrets will keep them to themselves.
§ Mr. Urwin
Undoubtedly inequality exists in this matter. I fully understand the problems of our Scots, Welsh and Northern Ireland colleagues in presenting their problems and getting the correct answer, because of the heavy pressure on the machinery of government.
The other advantage which our colleagues have over us is the fact that they have Secretaries of State with places in the Cabinet. While we are not suspicious, we feel that in an area like ours we merit the same kind of treatment as our colleagues have. They have special days for Parliamentary Questions and special days for Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland debates. They have authoritative Grand Committees which we lack in the Northern Region.
From the industrial revolution onwards, the North has yielded first place to no other region in terms of a major contribution to the national economy. We shall continue to make this contribution with equal success, especially if we are not subjected to impossible handicaps reflected in preferential treatment to our major competitors.
The Northern Region has always had a great affinity with Scotland and the Scottish people. There are many intermarriages between families in the North of England and the Scots. We share common problems. I have long forgiven them for marauding over the border, pillaging, plundering and leaving destruction in their wake. They used to 1199 come down and steal our sheep, our cattle and our women—they had their priorities wrong. They are more educated and more enlightened now. When they come raiding they steal only the women.
I do not advocate the revival of the ancient kingdom of Northumbria. I am proud of my origin. We are all proud of where we are born and the places we represent. But there is no room in the United Kingdom for the kind of fragmentation which we are about to embark upon. We are far too small to indulge in this dubious luxury. Whatever strength we possess—and that is by no means inconsiderable—it should be devoted to fighting off the real challenges which confront the people of this United Kingdom, the economic pressures to which we are all so vulnerable.
My right hon. Friend hinted that there was to be a timetable for legislation. I would have preferred this debate to be regarded as a further step in the consultative procedure, because clearly there is a great division of opinion in the House about the proposals which are being put before us for our consideration. My strong and firm advocacy is to proceed with caution. Let us have another, more objective White Paper setting out what powers are to be devolved to Scotland and to Wales. My right hon. Friends on the Front Bench would be doing a service not only to hon. Members if they pursued this cautious course but to the people of the United Kingdom, including Scotland.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)
This has been a weird sort of debate. The television annunciators say that the subject is devolution, but hon. Members who have taken part in the debate have nearly all discovered that it is a debate about the constitution of the United Kingdom. We were supposed to be discussing devolution to Wales and Scotland, but the course of the debate has shown that it is the problem of England which is central to whatever conclusions are going to be reached.
I could hardly not smile when I listened to the introductory speech of the Leader of the House and reflected how gaily the vessel of debate can sail as long 1200 as it is traversing the waters of platitude and vagueness. But as soon as any details come above the horizon, as soon as we are invited to envisage at all definitely what is proposed, then the angry reef of rocks appears upon which so many previous ventures that set out so gaily have been splintered and shipwrecked.
The first reef is representation in this House. It is said that certain parts of the United Kingdom—Scotland and Wales perhaps—shall have Assemblies with executive powers and with legislative powers over a considerable area of the subjects which engage the attention of this House and form the bread and butter of politics. Immediately the question arises, how are those parts of the Kingdom to be represented in this House? There are various alternative answers, but none of them is satisfactory and none of them is tenable. We are immediately confronted with a conundrum, and it is not a new conundrum. It is a very old conundrum. This is a conundrum which was explored in the context of Ireland throughout the greater part of the nineteenth century in this very House. It is old, but no possible solution to it has yet been discovered.
Let us look at the alternatives. Wales and Scotland, so it says in the Government's tentative White Paper, would be still represented as at present—71 Members and 36 Members respectively—in this House. Instantly the inequity becomes visible—and the absurdity—of those hon. Members not merely taking part in debate and vote in this House, but probably often holding the balance and altering the political complexion of the answer and outcome of debate, upon a whole series of subjects where in their own part of the country the responsibility is carried elsewhere.
I leave on one side case 1(a), as it were—that we should impose upon ourselves in this House a self-denying ordinance whereby we do not talk upon subjects which are dealt with in our respective countries and regions by their own local parliaments and governments. I think that Kilbrandon dealt with that one quite adequately, by pointing out the impossibility of definition for that purpose, as well as the damage to a debating and legislative assembly of having self-denying ordinances on a different range of subjects for different sets of hon. Members.
1201 At the other extreme, there is the possibility that those parts of the Kingdom are not represented here at all. But as long as there is a United Kingdom, there must be common subjects and there must be common policies—on defence, foreign affairs and finance; and it is impossible to have taxation without representation or policy without representation.
So a compromise is sought. It is said "Let us cut them down. If they are concerned in this House with only two-thirds of the subjects that we debate, let us give them two-thirds of the Members." There is no logic in that. There is no reason why on subjects which do not concern their own parts of the country at all, subjects for which this House does not legislate in those parts, two-thirds of the members should vote and their vote be decisive, any more than that 100 per cent. of them should vote.
If anyone should say that this is strange doctrine to come from a Member representing a constituency in Northern Ireland, I reply very promptly that Northern Ireland is the exception that proves the rule. For Stormont—the Stormont constitution 1920–72—was the cut-off, burnt-down rump of an unworkable solution for home rule in Ireland. It survived and was tolerated by this House only because it was so small that it just managed to be treated as an exception. After all, in most Parliaments it meant only a net addition of seven, eight or nine votes to the Government or Opposition side. So, rather than stir up what was then quiescent, the House let it be. But not 100 seats! Not an element of this House which could change the outcome of every debate, which could result in a different Government from that which would otherwise be seated on the Treasury Bench! Not at all!
Faced with the insolubility of this conundrum, anyone revolving the questions finds himself led to the conclusion that it must be "fair do's" all round. My right hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Craig), in what those who heard it will have regarded as one of the most important speeches in this debate, showed clearly that we are led to the conclusion that the various parts of the Kingdom must be treated alike if we are to maintain the Parliament, and the Parliament of the Union.
1202 That is all right, as long as one leaves it there. As an abstract proposition, it is tenable. But does that mean an Assembly for England, a legislative Assembly, an English Parliament?
§ Mr. Powell
There is a convention in this debate, which we are all anxious to follow, that we are as brief as possible. That involves not being led away from the main theme, so I apologise to the hon. Lady for not replying to her intervention. However, I think that I shall satisfy her.
The point is simply that if we have a corresponding institution for this part of the realm, it will be quite disproportionate to the rest of this imaginary federation. Indeed, it would be a competitor with this House. It would be almost five-sixths of an image of this Chamber. Here I am taking the hon. Lady's point.
Therefore people begin to say "Then we must break up England. We must discover ancient kingdoms, regions, sub-divisions of England, and give them a set of assemblies which will appear to be of the same nature as those envisaged for Wales and Scotland." But we all know that that is nonsense. There is nothing in the regional nature of England—here I am entirely with the hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Urwin)—which would properly be represented by semi-self-governing legislative assemblies.
But that is not the whole of the difficulty. Even if we are prepared—which I do not believe we are—to envisage breaking up the United Kingdom into a federal State, with the component States enjoying roughly similar powers and constitutions—which we have seen to be the necessary condition of retaining this House, of retaining the union at all—we find that thereby we have still destroyed the House itself and the union.
There is no analogy between the federal States of the world and this United Kingdom. My hon. Friend the Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen), in his speech yesterday, drew attention to a fact about the union of the United Kingdom—the fact that it is a parliamentary union. It is our common representation in this House, and our common readiness, so 1203 long as that exists, to accept the will of this House as overriding and binding, which is the heart and essence of the union and of all its parts. Wales, Scotland, Ireland in 1800, whatever has been of the union, has belonged to it by way of parlamentary union. We cannot think of Britain, of this United Kingdom, apart from this Parliament.
But the Parliament of this United Kingdom bears no resemblance to a federal Assembly dealing with certain residual or supreme subjects, with foreign affairs, with defence, with the major allocation of block grants to the various States of the United Kingdom. The nature of the House of Commons is that its sovereignty reaches into every nook and cranny of the national life, that there is no compartment of the national life from which its searching view is withheld. There are no powers which it will concede within this realm to any other authority. This House is a jealous House, and that is of its nature.
§ Mr. Crawford
Does the right hon. Gentleman accept, then, that if the majority of the people of Scotland and Wales voted for self-government this House has the power to gainsay them?
§ Mr. Powell
I have always said that if it be the preponderant and settled wish of the inhabitants of any part of this Kingdom no longer to remain part of this Kingdom, that preponderant and settled will should not and could not be resisted. I have long been on the record as saying that. The experience of our forefathers in Ireland is as drastic an object lesson as we could require.
I return to the central point about the House. It is not just any House of Commons, any United Kingdom Parliament, dealing with certain limited subjects, which is of the nature and bond of the union of the United Kingdom. It is the House of Commons of Pym and Pitt, of Burke and Gladstone. It is the House of Commons which brooks no competition and no concurrent authority in any part of the realm.
That House of Commons today, as we were accidentally reminded by a sort of echo in the speech of the right hon. and learned Member for Hendon, South 1204 (Mr. Thomas), is threatened from outside. It is fighting for its existence externally. If we embark further upon the incautious, hastily cobbled and unanalysed course of action that the Government have embarked upon, the existence of this House—with all that it means to our country and our people—will be in danger from within as well as from without. I cannot believe that the House will tolerate that course when it addresses its mind to what is implicit in it.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Ifor Davies (Gower)
The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) began by reminding the House that it was expected that the debate would be about devolution in Scotland and Wales. As he said, the debate has developed into a discussion about England. I would go further and say that the debate has developed into a discussion about the unity of the United Kingdom. The right hon. Gentleman's speech reiterated what has been said a number of times by many right hon. and hon. Members—namely, that devolution is not only a difficult but a complex matter. The right hon. Gentleman spent most of his speech in pointing out how complex an issue it is in relation to the British constitution.
I am convinced that the great majority of Welsh people believe that there is no complexity and no doubt whatsoever on the central issue, and that is, of retaining the unity of the United Kingdom. My hon. Friends have always stressed—they did so long before the Nationalists arrived—that Wales is a proud nation with its own tradition and its own unique cultural values. No one stressed that more than the first Secretary of State for Wales, James Griffiths. Every Secretary of State since has done so, as did my right hon. Friend in opening today.
At the same time, the indivisibility of the United Kingdom has been realised all along. Despite the criticism, Wales has greatly benefited by it. Time will not allow me to go into great detail, having regard to the appeal of Mr. Speaker for brevity. I need only mention, for example, how Wales has benefited from the policy of the dispersal of Government offices and industry to our development districts and regional areas. For example, the Royal Mint moved to Llantrisant, the 1205 Census Office moved to Newport and the Vehicle Taxation Office moved to Swansea. In addition, many major firms have been attracted to Wales as a result of regional policies. Does anyone in this House believe that that would have been possible without a unified United Kingdom policy?
The proof is that the unity of Wales with Britain has proved a strength and not a weakness in tackling our problems. The fact is that stripped of its superficial outer shell the policy of nationalism boils down to plain separatism across the industrial and economic front. The plea for a legislative assembly is the thin end of the wedge. There are those who advocate that instant devolution is a panacea that will resolve all our problems. Nothing is further from the truth. I get a little tired of the parrot-like cry of those who contend that Welshmen have no say in our affairs and the sheer exaggeration which we have heard again in this debate that we are downtrodden and enslaved to the English. What utter nonsense this is.
As for independence and paying our way, the argument was destroyed by Kilbrandon when it was shown in paragraph 459 of the Kilbrandon Report that as a result of the Welsh budget produced in 1971 there was revealed a deficit of £182 million or 22 per cent. of Welsh expenditure. It is also high time that we nailed the charge of remoteness that is levelled against hon. Members of this House. Our weekly interviews are ample proof of that.
Great pressure is placed upon my right hon. and learned Friend to proceed at full speed with measures of devolution. Indeed, the right hon. and learned Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Thomas) began by revealing his commitment to devolution. He emphasised the importance of the question of principle that we should be discussing. My right hon. Friend the Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Urwin) mentioned not only the principle but the timing. In my view, timing is the all-important issue. The pressure does not come from the great majority of Welshmen, and I am convinced that there is no desire for speedy action. On the contrary, the feeling is that the Government should concern themselves, as a matter of first priority—especially after today's announcement—with the problems of unemployment and Indus- 1206 trial reorganisation. Moreover, it would be foolish and irresponsible to impose another new system before the reorganisation of local government has at least been allowed to settle down.
I urge my right hon. and hon. Friends not to give in to the demand for a quick and strict timetable. I urge them to make haste slowly. The great majority of Welsh people believe that the essential need is for an evolutionary approach. The experience of the Welsh Office has demonstrated the advantage of limited devolution in the first place, with improvement as experience is gained. I remind the House that the machinery for accountability and democratic control already exists in this Parliament. There is room for further improvement by taking advantage of the means already available and perfecting their use.
The Welsh Grand Committee has the potential for a more effective service. New techniques could be worked out to allow Welsh Estimates, orders and regulations exclusive to Wales to be brought before the Committee. On the other hand, I accept that there is a case for some measure of executive devolution arising from the greater consciousness that economic and administrative efficiencies are insufficient in themselves to create a satisfactory society. Democracy, after all, is about discussion as well as the efficient use of resources. It is about accountability and understanding, as well as economic progress. There is of course a need for examination in far greater depth into Welsh affairs, which time does not permit in this House. Some important functions were outlined to us by the Secretary of State today and I would accept that some meaningful and important functions are possible for an Executive Assembly.
I would see merit, for example, in a Bill significantly affecting Wales being discussed on First Reading. At present, First Reading is purely formal. I put forward the suggestion that in a First Reading debate the Welsh Assembly could indicate how Welsh interests could be affected, so that the Government and hon. Members could be alerted, at an early stage, about the Assembly's views.
There is a case also for the extension of democratic control over the numerous nominated and statutory bodies operating 1207 in Wales. It is no great secret that there is grave dissatisfaction with the appointed or nominated bodies which increasingly perform duties of great importance to Wales. No proposals for devolution in any respect can be realistic without reference to the financial implications. In this respect I commend to the House the warning that is contained in paragraph 574 of the Kilbrandon Report, which reads:If a particular scheme of devolution gave so much financial weight to the regions that they were in a position to challenge the authority of Parliament, the scheme would go too far along the road towards regional autonomy. The regional assemblies, particularly those controlled by authorities not in power in Westminster, would be tempted to exert their financial powers to the full. In practice such a scheme could undermine the sovereignty of Parliament and lead to disunity.I am sure that hon. Members will appreciate the significance of those words.
The supporters of a sovereign Welsh State base their policies not on Wales's present problems but on an emotional decision adopted many decades ago. We are living in a new age, and the message that must come out of this debate, loud and clear, is that the interdependence of nations is such that no peoples can live to themselves, and no nation can separate its national life from the rest of the world.
§ 6.11 p.m.
§ Miss Harvie Anderson (Renfrewshire, East)
I agree with much that was said by the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Davies). It is right for us to take this opportunity to express our views on the principle which lies behind the debate. The debate has done much to make clear the overriding importance of placing the problem of devolution in a United Kingdom context. That is important because it is not just the next step in a devolutionary process that in Scotland has been going on for many years, but a step which, if wrongly directed, can lead to the dissolution of the United Kingdom.
I have been consistently against devolution, not because I do not want to see a greater sense of power being given to Scotland or to Wales but because I cannot see a way in which that can be done without separation following. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hen- 1208 don, South (Mr. Thomas) issued a warning that points more clearly than I can to the dangers of half measures in any form, and separation, perhaps within a decade, means the break-up of the United Kingdom. It is clear from the debate that, at last, many people are beginning to think what it means. It has been set out most clearly for us all by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell). Many voices from both sides of the House have expressed fear and determination that the break-up of the United Kingdom shall not happen.
When one considers the Scottish position, one sees within Scotland five Scottish Departments of Government based on St. Andrew's House. With devolution, presumably legislative responsibility would be given to an Assembly, which would assume the wide functions now within the Scottish Office. They were referred to in detail yesterday. Here, I wholeheartedly support my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hendon, South in his advice that there should not be a Scottish—or indeed a Welsh—Civil Service. Civil servants are well known for their integrity and competence. They are also well known for their fierce departmental loyalty. Such loyalty in action between a Scottish and an English Civil Service could offer only another area of dangerous conflict, leading to further constitutional difficulty.
Whatever may be done, it has to be paid for, so the consideration which is perhaps more important than any other when one is examining ways and means is that it has to be paid for either by a block grant or by giving power to raise as well as to spend money.
Yesterday the Lord President said that he was in favour of a block grant. If we are determined—as I believe we are; it has become clear in the debate—to retain the sovereignty of the United Kingdom, that seems to be the right, indeed, the only, course, but it brings at once into the open the foundation of conflict—"That is not enough; we need more; that is not our share". It is easy to imagine the conflicts to which that would give rise. In the end, if I understood the Lord President aright, it would come back to the sovereign Parliament in Westminster, and the 72 or 71 Scottish 1209 Members, perhaps having swayed the Government of the day and changed the minds of those who sit on the Treasury Bench, would then join their English colleagues in deciding what should or should not be done. Let no Minister make any mistake; I should campaign as avidly as would any Scottish Nationalist in circumstances of decision given under these auspices.
I shall leave aside the question of oil, although it is highly relevant, because it has been set up as the provider of a bottomless purse, but the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) put it in proper perspective yesterday in his admirable speech.
So we have the sovereign Parliament at Westminster making the most important decisions on a block grant. That assumes an agreed partnership, as the Secretary of State for Wales made clear today. I see no hope of that partnership of nations within the United Kingdom, and we were given no encouragement to hold that hope by the response of some of our colleagues yesterday. I see a block grant as a possibility, but I also see that that system could provide the cause for the immediate disintegration of the United Kingdom.
Apart from the question of what resources are available in Scotland—I have already made clear the position, as I see it, of oil—where would that lead? The Minister of State rightly expressed concern yesterday over our great universities. How would they stand? What about our Lords of Appeal in another place? No reference has been made to them. What about our broadcasting? I happen to have come across figures today which must be well known to other hon. Members. The joint revenue from STV and Grampian is approximately £9 million. The annual cost of just one service is approximately £25½ million. That is a fairly wide discrepancy, which would be repeated in many other fields.
What about defence? We have not had a clear explanation, from those who advocate separatism, of what will be the position on defence. Those who advocate a separate Scotland also advocate the abolition of our alliances and some advocate the abolition of all defence.
Let us see whether the position is any easier in the realm of trade and industry. The difficulties here are even greater, and 1210 I do not see how it is possible to retain responsibility for them at Westminster. I was amused to hear the hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) cheerfully say that there could be a Customs barrier. In my constituency the car industry finds a home market of 50 million too small. How will it fare with a home market of 5 million? What of the four trains a day to Linwood, from England, bringing car components for the assembly line? Will the car industry become English and withdraw to the Midlands? How can there be separation of company taxation? These arguments apply equally well to other industries on which Scotland depends.
Meanwhile, our small nation is already over-governed. The weight of local government reform and its cost have not yet been fully realised. The possibility of a full Cabinet system as opposed to the committee system has been suggested. That seems to me madness, in cost, in weight of bureaucracy and in the United Kingdom position in which we shall find ourselves.
Even more impossible is the position of the Secretary of State. I have considerable respect for the right hon Gentleman who holds the office now, but if he reads again paragraph 23(d) of Cmnd. 5732 he will find within it the best recipe for an early coronary that I have ever read. The question of principle to which I come back is that which is before us first and foremost today.
I run second to none in my pride in my native land, where, for centuries, and in the same parish, my family have lived. However, I see for our small, proud country of 5 million people a solemn plan that we shall carry the heaviest bureaucratic structure yet envisaged. Why? Because we have allowed our hearts to rule our heads. We have failed to stand up and say, as I say now, "Self-government you can have, but at a price, and that price includes, above all, the disintegration of the United Kingdom to which we Scots are proud to belong".
§ 6.22 p.m.
§ Mr. James Sillars (South Ayrshire)
Many of the arguments should logically lead those opposed to devolution to argue for the complete integration of all the nations of the United Kingdom and the 1211 elimination of the concepts of the nationhood of Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland. That is the ultimate, logical position of many—I do not say all—who have argued against devolution.
I am intrigued by the different attitude that we bring to bear on the subject of devolving power from Westminster internally as opposed to transferring sovereignty from Westminster to Brussels. I would argue that neither is an easy task, but the question of the Common Market presents a much stiffer test than does that of devolving power within the United Kingdom. There are Members in this Chamber who will recall that when questions were raised about the details, the consequences and the implications of entry to the Common Market—what was meant by possible political and economic union, not only for sovereignty but for the electoral system and the constitutional position of the country—they were frequently met by the words, "All that will be solved in the fullness of time".
If there we raised any possibility of confrontation between the British, French, Germans and Italians, we were told that decisions would be taken bearing in mind that if any were against the basic interest of any member of the Community the Community would not survive. The implication was that such decisions would not be taken.
However, when we come to the possibility of devolving power within a group of people who have been together for almost 270 years, suddenly all the obstacles become so great that we cannot mentally overcome them. I am struck by this remarkable difference.
Let me make it clear that I do not want to see a break-up of the United Kingdom or a divorcing of the close co-operation and good relations between the various peoples who make up the country known as the United Kingdom. I certainly do not want to see the trade union movement divided into its national components, so that there is a Scottish TUC which has only a fraternal relationship and not an integral relationship with the British TUC.
What I find remarkable is that those who argue in favour of the Union are quite certain that it is a fragile flower—that put under too much pressure the 1212 petals will fly off in different directions. Is it really the case that after nearly 270 years of all these peoples being together—with the social intercourse, the financial and political mix, giving one another a great deal of strength and benefit and learning from one another—the Union is so fragile it will break up almost overnight? Where is this belief in the solidity of the Union in the minds of those who are afraid to loosen the Westminster reins a little in case the Scottish horse bolts from the stable?
§ Mr. James Dempsey (Coatbridge and Airdrie)
I am impressed by my hon. Friend's arguments on this claptrap about the transfer of sovereignty. On Sunday I attended a conference of trade unionists and learned about the deplorable rate of redundancies in Lanarkshire which were decided in America. There is no argument about the transfer of sovereignty or the right to decide whether the people should be employed or unemployed in that situation.
§ Mr. Sillars
The multinationals will be dealt with not in a European context but on an international basis, by international co-operation on behalf of the international working class. My hon. Friend is talking about a workers' democracy and participation as well as devolution. To return to devolution, we are engaged in an adjustment of the relationships between a majority people and a minority people—between the Scots and the English on the one hand, and the Welsh and the English on the other. I make no comment on the Northern Ireland situation at the moment.
§ Mr. Norman Buchan (Renfrewshire, West)
This is Socialist theoretical heresy. Is it the suggestion that we shall deal only with the multinational companies when the working class of each country has assimilated itself into one kind of international working-class body, capable of dealing with the multinational companies? I am sure that Karl Marx would never have thought of that.
§ Mr. Sillars
It may surprise my hon. Friend, but I never thought that Karl Marx was an absolute authority on everything. I approach all "isms" with scepticism. I believe that Karl Marx was a remarkable man. I am not saying that we must wait until the day arrives when all the workers spontaneously gather together in an international trade union 1213 movement before we finally deal with the multinationals.
There are ways and means whereby national government can cut down the sovereignty of multinationals. However, I argue that even that will not be capable of overcoming all the problems until we link hands with our fellow workers in other countries and are able to take action in the United Kingdom in defence of workers in Spain, or workers in Yugoslavia can take action in defence of workers in the United States of America. No doubt my hon. Friends and I will conduct this type of seminar on the theory of Socialism, and my heretical views of Socialism, at some other stage—perhaps at the Labour Party Conference.
I want to refer now to the question of anomalies. It would be quite wrong if we tried to draw up a watertight system that could be uniformly applied to the whole country. There are all sorts of anomalies inside the Union at the present time. Indeed, the greatest anomaly is that for all the passionate arguments about the integrity of the United Kingdom, this Parliament has freely conceded the right of a part of the United Kingdom to secede from the Union by plebiscite—Ulster has that right at periodic times throughout the next 10 or 20 years. People may disagree or agree with that, but it is a fact. Many who argue about the integrity of the United Kingdom voted for that policy. I remind hon. Members that the United Kingdom used to be bigger than it is now. There were the 26 counties, which made up part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.
My hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) made a powerful speech last night. He ended up by saying that one of his great fears was that Scotland would end up as the North European Albania. He may be reading too much Karl Marx as well. He seemed to be haunted by the fear of us becoming a very lonely, isolated people. I think he does less than justice to the Scottish nation when he says that. There is no possibility of our ceasing to visit our relatives in Manchester, in Corby New Town, in Canada, Australia or New Zealand, provided we can afford it. There is no possibility of our stopping selling our whisky or drinking our whisky, talking to 1214 the world or listening to it. There is no possibility of our not participating.
It is perfectly possible to be intensely patriotic, in the full Scottish sense of the word, and yet to be internationalist at the same time. If my hon. Friend reads the history of a man called John Boyd Orr he will see that he is an outstanding example of a patriot and an internationalist. Since the Union was born in 1707 there has been a profound desire on the part of the people of Scotland to have their own Parliament returned in some form or other. This can be proved by a reading of Hansard. Scottish Home Rule is no new subject. It is just that events since 1967 have lent a more telling urgency, so that this House has long passed the stage when it can deliberate at leisure. It is now coming quickly to the time when decisions are called for.
My hope is that the Scots and English are sufficiently mature and broad-minded to resolve the problems with give and take on both sides, and that the bonds of affection and respect which are real 'twixt one nation and the other will be strengthened, not damaged, by the decisions that we take in the coming year. In my view this is a question of the majority bending to accommodate a minority. That minority, in turn, has to accept certain limitations on its freedom of action.
A number of my hon. Friends from English and Welsh constituencies may wonder how it is that we have come to this stage. From its birth the Labour Party supported Home Rule. Its views on the merits of a Scottish Parliament did not abate until after the 1945 election. The Home Rule commitment was retained until around the mid-1950s, when it was finally dropped. The paradox is that, far from becoming less Scottish in its attitude, the Scottish element of the Labour Party became the first of the successful, modern, distinctly national parties in the United Kingdom.
That was no cynical move. Labour played its rôle in Scotland quite unconsciously, and its attitudes were a genuine expression of its views and aspirations for the Scottish people. Let me quote from what I regard as an important policy statement, "Signposts for Scotland". This was the policy document 1215 upon which we fought and won the 1964 election. In that we said:In Scotland bridges, piers and ferries are in many cases extensions of the highway and should be treated as such. It is unjust that, while millions of pounds are spent on motorways and trunk roads in the South to which the public has free access, tolls are still being imposed on essential bridges and ferries in Scotland, many of which are in any case completely inadequate for the traffic they carry. The Government's projected imposition of tolls"—that was a reference to the then Tory Government—to finance the building of the Forth road bridge, to be followed by the Tay and Erskine bridges, is indefensibleThat was the Labour Party in 1964. From that quotation—from the spirit of the message—one sees the whole attitude betrayed by its assertion of Scottish needs as being different from those of England. One gets a clearer understanding of why, when Harold Macmillan was sweeping to his victory in 1959, north of the border the Labour Party was reversing the trend and gaining seats.
Between 1955 and 1964 the Labour Party in Scotland stoked the expectations of the Scottish people. It did that through its Scottish policy. We all know the history of 1964 to 1970. This trail of events, plus a rising Scottish demand for self-government, which would have occurred anyway, has led us to the present day and has led the Labour Party to a firm commitment to set up a Scottish Assembly.
I turn now to the issue of what powers the Assembly is to have. It is essential for this body to have control of the present Scottish Office functions, plus economic authority. I would certainly consider, in addition, internal transport, coastal shipping, energy, ports, the attraction and location of industry, land use, agriculture, forestry and fishing, shipbuilding, tourism, the Scottish Development Agency and the right to take initiatives on industrial relations, with a statutory obligation to consult the United Kingdom Government. I would also like to see an Assembly have certain limited revenue-raising powers.
Were such powers to be allocated we would have a powerful instrument of meaningful self-government placed back in the hands of the Scottish people. I 1216 believe that a Parliament with these powers would satisfy their needs and aspirations and make this Union stronger, always provided that we do not, as a British electorate and a British Parliament, continue with the policy of remaining in membership of the Common Market. [Interruption.] In a sense all of our discussion until now has been like The Guardian study, which was published on 16th January. [Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook) keeps saying "Oh." He should read the speeches I made during the passage of the European Community Bill in 1972. He will find that I am saying now what I said then.
What The Guardian and others have missed is the fact that we have talked against a background of a Britain which might be no more. We have talked against a background of a self-governing, independent Britain, when in reality the Common Market poses a great question-mark about the continuation of that situation. My fear is that by the time the Government present their Bill, events on the EEC front will have overtaken them. Like The Guardian, many people have failed to realise the importance of the Common Market in relation to the internal Government of Britain.
I conclude by remarking that if we are locked inside the EEC I would not argue that Scotland should come out. That is, perhaps, some comfort to my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian. I believe that we should retain our close links with the other people inside the British Isles, but I would certainly argue that it would then be in the interests of the Scottish people to have direct nation-State membership of the Community. If we were foolish enough to continue inside the EEC it might be time to write a new verse to an old "sang".
§ 6.38 p.m.
§ Mr. George Reid (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)
If this debate has achieved anything it has furthered the demand for self-government for the people of Scotland and Wales. Those who read this debate will not be slow to note how ill-informed many hon. Members have been about what is happening in those two countries. What is happening in Scotland is not confined to the rise 1217 of the Scottish National Party. What we are witnessing is the rebirth and regeneration of the nation of Scotland. That is why there is a corresponding demand for meaningful institutions to be established in Edinburgh.
Those reading the debate will have noted too, the divisions among Government and Opposition on the subject of devolution, with some hon. Members saying that we should go forward with speed and others saying that we should pull back. There is a clear message to the Government from Scotland. It is that the Government cannot possibly hope to go on saving both their faces on this subject for very much longer.
I listened with interest to the speech of the Lord President yesterday and to that of the Secretary of State for Wales today. There was the opportunity then for a clear enunciation of what the Government have decided on this subject of devolution. Instead there was nothing. I am reminded of what the White Queen said to Alice in "Through the Looking-Glass":The rule is, jam tomorrow and jam yesterday—but never jam today.Many people in Scotland had expected some detailed announcement of what the Government are up to at this stage. I read with interest an authorised and authoritative interview in the Scotsman given by the Under-Secretary with responsibility for devolution a few weeks ago. He said:The timescale is bang on target. Indeed we may be exceeding the timescale.If the timescale is "bang on" does that mean that nothing has been decided? If it has been exceeded does that refer to the small crumb which emerged during the debate namely, that the Assemblies—big surprise—are to be in Edinburgh and Cardiff?
We shall want to know more about the position of the Assembly, how many members it will have, what boundary system will be adopted, whether there will be two members or one member per constituency? Where in Edinburgh is it to be? What investigations have been made into the suitability of the Royal High School and Donaldson's Hospital and other properties? What office accommodation, library accommodation, research accommodation is available?
1218 We should have some clear indication of what form of government there is to be in the Assembly. Scotland will have no truck with the committee system. The dignity of Scotland demands a Scottish Prime Minister and a Scottish Cabinet. There should also be some answer to the more detailed questions of revenue—raising powers, control of trade, industry, energy and employment. I accept that these cannot be given completely during the debate. They are for the White Paper. But at least we would appreciate some clarification of the guidelines on which the Government are working. As a declaration of good intent, perhaps the Secretary of State will say clearly that in due time the Scottish Development Agency will be responsible to the Scottish Assembly. Then we shall know that in Scotland we shall have an Assembly with real meaning and with real teeth which is capable of solving our enormous social and economic problems by taking advantage of the opportunities that will face Scotland in the years ahead.
The aim of my party is clear. It is the restoration of national sovereignty to the people of Scotland and, ultimately, the withdrawal of all Scottish Members from this House. It seeks an end to the separatism which has been imposed on the people of Scotland by successive London Governments—an end to the separation from our kith and kin in the Commonwealth, separation internationally, and separation in education and in trade.
Our method is through democratic action via the ballot box. I say this as a member of the fastest-growing party in Europe. With 30 per cent. of the Scottish vote at the last election behind us, we can take some credit for this debate on devolution. We shall continue the process through the Assembly. Of course we shall sit in the Assembly. We shall make it work and abide by the ground rules.
Devolution is not a once-for-all, immutable transfer of powers, but a continuing and ongoing process. Where it stops will be decided not by this House but by the people of Scotland. We want an Assembly that is a workshop not a talking shop—a place where hard work and endeavour can bring genuine Scottish solutions to Scottish problems. We want to eradicate the poorer housing, lower wages, greater poverty, worse health and appalling 1219 emigration which has been our lot under successive Westminster Governments.
There is a model before us in the various Government of Scotland Bills which have been introduced since the 1880s. I have only to refer to the work of Tom Johnston, George Buchanan, Jimmy Maxton, James Barr, Campbell Stephen and others. Their reason for introducing legislation was the same as ours—namely, to bring social justice and equality to the people of Scotland.
Barr's Bill of 1927 stated:the power of levying and collecting all taxes, including income tax, in Scotland shall be transferred to the Scots Parliament and the taxes so levied and collected shall be paid into a Scottish Treasury.It makes sense to have a Scottish Treasury and a Scottish Consolidated Fund, with due provision through a joint council for a Scottish block grant to pay for shared services on a United Kingdom basis. I hope that hon. Members on the Labour benches will not betray these traditions. James Maxton said: "I am convinced that we can achieve more in five years in a self-governing Scotland than in 25 or 30 years of heartbreaking struggle in a British House of Commons". I agree with that.
Root and branch change such as I have suggested has practical advantages. It avoid the conflicts and frustrations inherent in a constitutional system based on a de facto division of authority between a subordinate assembly and government on the one hand and a nominally sovereign parliament and government on the other. It also poses far less difficult problems in draftsmanship, and subsequently even more delicate problems of interpretation. Furthermore, it provides through a joint council for formal machinery for consultation and co-operation in economic social and fiscal matters.
The only people with any clarity of purpose and vision in this debate are my colleagues in the SNP and our hon. Friends in Plaid Cymru. Ever since Hamilton successive Governments, no matter what their hue, have approached the problems of Scotland and Wales in a cynical, dilatory and enforced manner. Long periods of inactivity have been followed, for blatantly electoral reasons, by seductive propaganda.
1220 The Government's White Paper "Devolution and Democracy" was produced on the very eve of the General Election—a piece of sticking plaster produced at the end of the day to paste over the deep divisions in the Labour Party. It is obvious that these divisions are now beginning to show. Opposite me I see hard-line Unionists and devolutionists, centralisers and decentralisers, sporran socialists, supporters of a Scots workers' republic, and a great silent majority who hope that the problem will somehow, sometime go away. But I say to them that the problem will not go away. The divisions are equalled in the ranks of the Scottish Tories—
§ Mr. Reid
No. I would not support a workers' republic. I support a social democratic state in Scotland, but I shall come to that point subsequently in my remarks.
I was saying that these divisions are equalled only in the ranks of Scotland's third party, the Tory rump. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, North (Mr. Fletcher) is a recent convert to federalism. The noble Lord, Lord Home of the Hirsel, recently announced that the Assembly should have a legislative function in relation to Scottish Bills. He also said that Assembly Bills should be referred back to Westminster for Report and Third Reading. Much as I respect the noble Lord, I believe that most Scots will find his suggestions totally unacceptable and out of touch with the times. I call on leaders of the Tory and Labour Parties to come clean.
I refer to an authoritative and authorised interview given by the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland in the Scottish Press. The interview appears at the same time when headlines in the Scotsman and in Glasgow Herald read as follows:Devolution fiasco at Chequers … Cabinet allies for slow down … Support for letter from Scottish Labour Executive … Secret battle on devolution plans.It is not for me to speculate about internal wrangles in the Labour Party but I want to know what is going on here in 1221 the House of Commons and not learn it from the Scottish Press.
We were told by the Under-Secretary of State in that interview that his plans are "bang on target". What does that mean? He went on to say that the debate now was "whether to go beyond the original commitments." Again what does that mean? The Minister said in that interview:When it comes to finance, the person responsible for finances would negotiate direct with the Exchequer.I should like to know how he would conduct those negotiations. He went on to say that his own view—and in these days of diminished collective responsibility what is a Minister's "own view"?—… the Assembly should have marginal taxing powers to raise within Scotland 10 per cent. more of its revenue.'What does that mean?
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I dislike intervening in an hon. Member's speech, but I must warn the hon. Gentleman that he is prejudicing the chance of one of his hon. Friend's to catch my eye a little later.
§ Mr. Reid
I shall be brief, Mr. Speaker.
Let me turn to the European connection, which is the biggest dimension to Scottish politics this year. Events are moving faster than the Government, and I am aware that their carefully constructed timetable may well go awry.
English politicians have just re-discovered the issue of sovereignty. Perhaps in so doing they understand the SNP case a little better. Every complaint they make about British decisions being overruled in Brussels and about the bureaucracy there parallels our complaint about Scottish decisions being taken here. In the event of an English vote taking Scotland into the EEC, there will be tremendous pressure for Scotland to strike out on its own. That will mean leaving this House. It is inconceivable for the Scottish people to accept less than the people of Luxembourg or of the Irish Republic.
Lastly, I should like to speak briefly about the subject of finance. The power of the purse is the key area. The main criticism of the White Paper is that it does nothing to change the present economic set-up. Jobs, incomes, prosperity—these are the vital areas and, unless the Assem- 1222 bly has economic control, it is doomed to failure from the start. We need full power over the way in which our money is raised and spent.
Hon. Members will remember the cry of the American colonists—"No taxation without representation". The obverse is equally true. No assembly can claim to represent a country in which is does not raise and spend the tax revenue, and if the Assembly does not have this power it contains the seed of its own decay. A block grant system of finance is totally unacceptable. It is mere pocket money from Westminster, and reduces the Assembly to the status of a glorified county council.
The people of Scotland have a clear choice. Lord Chancellor Seafield said, on 25th March 1707, at the last meeting of the Scottish Parliament, "There's an end of an auld sang." In these days there are new tunes in the making and new settings for the old song. Hon. Members will agree that there is nothing better for an old Scots song than that it be sung over again. Barr said in 1927:We propose that it should be sung over again in richer, fuller and clearer notes, to call the people to new hope and a higher and nobler endeavour.
§ Mr. Speaker
I intend to call the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook) and then we shall come back to Wales and possibly to England.
§ 6.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Robin F. Cook (Edinburgh, Central)
Mr. Speaker, I get clearly the inference that we should keep our speeches brief, so I shall refrain from answering in detail the speech of the hon. Gentleman who went before, although I would tell him in passing that it was a bit much to hear the Dick Taverne of Clackmannan quoting James Maxton, Lord Kirkwood and John Paton in support of a social democratic Scotland—a proposition to which I am sure none would have put their names.
I emphasise the point made by the hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), who compellingly took apart the argument that we could continue with 107 Members of Parliament in this House if we had Scottish and Welsh Assemblies. I entirely agree. I do not believe that this House would tolerate that situation. From another viewpoint I am equally confident 1223 that it would not be possible to find 107 men of calibre and principle prepared to come here and vote time and again on issues in which they have no interest, no mandate and no affected constituent.
There is another area in which we have not yet faced the consequences of what we are discussing. It concerns the Secretary of State. The right hon. Gentleman the Lord President of the Council, who spoke only yesterday, gave a firm commitment that the Secretary of State would be kept in the Cabinet. I do not see how we can reconcile that with what is proposed. Nor, again, do I see how we can find a man of calibre and principle prepared to sit in the Cabinet with no Department, no Budget and no power, who will be answerable to this House for what is done in Scotland by a Scottish Assembly but blamed in Edinburgh for what is done down here.
I acquit the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sillars) of not having looked at these consequences. I believe he has looked them full in the face and is prepared to face them, although he gives them less emphasis than he might.
I am certainly one of those who, a year ago, when we first discussed the matter, was very doubtful and said that this could well be a slippery slope which could only end in full independence. I would tell the hon. Gentleman that those who felt that are anything but reassured by the way the debate has gone since. Only 10 months ago we were debating whether we should have the Kilbrandon A scheme or one of the less devolved schemes. Now, only 10 months later, the Kilbrandon scheme is so much a part of the ministerial consensus that the only question is how much further we shall go from here.
It is timely to remember that considerations were put forward by Kilbrandon against devolving the functions in trade, industry and employment, and my hon. Friend quite rightly—
§ Mrs. Winifred Ewing
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am sorry to raise this point, but the television annunciator has only just this second changed to indicate that the hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Reid) has finished speaking. I am begin- 1224 ning to wonder whether the record is sometimes inaccurate.
§ Mr. Cook
I am sure the House will have observed that I am not speaking on behalf of the Scottish National Party. If I may take only one remark put forward by Kilbrandon against devolution in these fields, if we have an Assembly in Edinburgh, which has the sole right for industrial promotion and industrial and regional development in Scotland, it will become impossible, and we must face the fact, for Scotland to claim to have a say, through positive and negative controls, on industrial growth and development in England.
We in the Labour Party have always said firmly that one cannot have balanced regional progress unless there are positive and negative controls. The Lord President of the Council did not address himself to these points yesterday, or refute the argument in Kilbrandon. He referred only to a general belief that the control of trade, industry and employment is very dear to the hearts of the Scottish people. I accept that that is probably true as a general proposition. I accept that many Scots would like to have control of their own industry and their own place of employment but, with respect, that is not what my hon. Friend is proposing to give them. It is proposed to give them another vote, every four or five years, for another Parliament in which these powers will rest. I admit that in this ballot only 2 million will vote, as opposed to 20 million, but I doubt whether individual electors will accept that as a meaningful extension of democracy.
One of the difficulties is that so long as there is no Assembly in being it is very easy to argue that denying powers to that Assembly is denying power to the Scottish people. It will be different when the Assembly is there, when, say, my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Queen's Park (Mr. McElhone) is Prime Minister. Then it will no longer be regarded as giving power to the people of Scotland. It will be seen clearly as giving more power to my hon. Friend. That may be sensible and effective, it may be visionary, but it may not prove a populist cause.
1225 Why is there not a great demand for more power to be placed in the hands of Edinburgh Corporation? It is because the people of Edinburgh appreciate that that would not give more power to the people of Edinburgh but only more power to the town council. These are the considerations with which we should deal in discussing the powers we are to give.
I ask hon. Members to reflect that it is an odd paradox that those who wish us to give more power also wish us to achieve it in the shortest possible time. I would have thought there must be some relationship between the speed with which we progress and the mass of legislation we wish to devolve. If we try to give too much over too short a time my feeling is that we shall end up with a botched job, which will suit no one except, perhaps, the nationalists.
I shall draw to a conclusion by dealing with them. In a sense, the nationalists are curiously irrelevant to our debate today. It could be argued that the nationalists of all parties in the House are the only ones fundamentally opposed to devolution as a permanent solution. Their irrelevance to this debate has been underscored by the time taken by the hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Reid) in dealing with the actual physical building in which they are to sit. That kind of decision can come far behind other decisions on functions, power and taxation. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell), who said yesterday that the commitment into which we entered last autumn in no way undercut the vote of hon. Gentlemen opposite. If anything, the SNP did better and gained votes at our expense by that commitment. By a curious process of reasoning a leader in the Scotsman in the week of the election said:The Labour Party have now got their policy on devolution right and we should all vote nationalist to make sure they carry it out.Returning to my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire, perhaps he did a great disservice to the rest of us in the party by constantly harping on in the Press, saying that unless we agreed to this or that we would suffer at the polls—because once that has appeared as a 1226 headline in the Press it is very difficult for the party to get out of it with credit, because either we do not agree, and suffer for it or we are in a situation in which it appears that we have been craven in agreeing to it in face of possible electoral defeat.
Having said that, I return to the fundamental point that there is nothing dishonourable in the representatives of the two major parties in this House saying, "We represent two-thirds of the population in Scotland who voted against separation, but here also are the representatives of the one-third who did. Let us see whether we can find a compromise solution, a half-way house". There is nothing dishonourable in that. It is the stuff of democracy. What worries me is that, whilst we have sincerely and genuinely tried to find that half-way house, and have abandoned every former position we held in the matter, throwing more and more functions and powers into the melting pot, I see no sign that the representatives of the other one-third—the Scottish National Members of this House—are as yet prepared to come to any compromise.
I end by putting to SNP Members the question which I put to their leader, the hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) yesterday, in an intervention. I asked him whether, if we gave meaningful devolution in the terms outlined, the SNP would accept it. He said that he would deal with it later. When he did so, he said, "We would participate if we accepted." But of course every Member in the Chamber knows that whatever Assembly we set up the SNP has already resolved to participate in it. But if it is going to participate in any Assembly clearly we cannot accept its participation as indicating its acceptance of what it regards as meaningful "devolution". I therefore ask them again. If we were to give them what they would regard as meaningful devolution, would its members reply "Yes, this means a real recognition of the legitimate demands of the Scottish people and we will accept and participate in the system and seek to make it work"? Or will they say "We will participate in it, but participate in order to exploit it—not in order to solve the problems which come before the Assembly, but in order to use each and every one of these problems as yet another argument for full independence"?
1227 The speech by the hon. Member for Western Isles yesterday underlined the precise fears that many of us have of the way in which the Scottish National Party will use that forum. If we cannot get an answer to this question, and the Scottish National Party continues to equivocate, one course is open to us. I accept that if the majority of the Scottish people voted for independence there should be no question but that they must have it. Therefore, before we have an Assembly, let us, like the Northern Irish in their situation, and the United Kingdom in the Common Market, have a referendum. Let us ask the Scottish people to make clear their own views on the matter. If the Scottish people decide that they wish to have a devolved Assembly, with certain powers, I am sure that this House will accept it. We can then go on and make that system work. But I am sure that the referendum will scotch once and for all the idea that there is a substantial body of opinion in Scotland which really does want full independence.
§ 7.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Emlyn Hooson (Montgomery)
I want to follow up the question of a referendum. If it is right to have a referendum on the constitutional issue of membership of the Common Market, then we should remember that any form of devolution to Wales and Scotland is a major constitutional matter. If it is right to have a referendum on the one, it is equally right to have it on the other.
The Secretary of State for Wales said that his proposals for Wales had to be acceptable and, secondly, had to prove to be effective. I do not think that his proposals are either acceptable to the people of Wales or are likely to prove effective. I want first to deal with the question of acceptability. I want to deal with it against the background that we are an over-governed people in all parts of the country. We are groaning under the weight of government.
We have no fewer than three main tiers of government. The first is the Westminster tier—and I regard the Welsh Office, which takes executive decisions, and all the bodies associated with it, as part of that tier. The second tier is the county councils, which are excessively remote, highly-centralised and were 1228 thrust upon an unwilling people by the Conservative Government. Below that, as the third tier, we have the district councils. It may also be the case with other parts of the country, but I know that in mine I hear many complaints of the excessive government from which we are suffering.
The truth is that the Conservative Government greatly prejudiced the debate on the Kilbrandon proposals by rushing through their system of so-called reform of local government, the so-called reform of the health services, and the reorganisation of water supplies. They were all thrust through Parliament between 1970 and 1974, and the Conservative Government must take a great deal of responsibility for the fact that people are so fed up with the excessive weight of government today.
Secondly, we are an overtaxed people. We are the most heavily taxed country in Europe. Here we are, gaily discussing measures of devolution with hardly anyone mentioning the cost. Who is to pay the bill? Are we to pay the bill for ineffective devolution? Are we to have another tier of government thrust somewhere between the county council level and Westminster? It is not a tier in a form that anyone in Wales has asked for. It represents Labour reaction to pressure from nationalism in particular. I think the whole thing is extremely dubious.
I do not believe that the ordinary people of Wales are prepared to accept an additional tier. I think that the real issue is that of balance. Either we abolish the county councils—and there is a good case for that—and have multi-purpose authorities close to the ground in the form of district councils, and above them a Welsh domestic Parliament or Assembly dealing with the matters that are devolved to it from Westminster—and possibly one or two matters which could come out of the county councils—and have that as a second tier; or the real alternative is that the devolved powers proposed by the Government should go to the existing large county councils. I do not think that the people of Wales will stand for the present proposals super-added, as it were, to the county councils.
Another reason for thinking that the Government's proposals are completely 1229 unacceptable is reflected in one of the Kilbrandon recommendations. The Kilbrandon Commission, from whose report the right hon. and learned Gentleman quoted extensively, relying greatly upon it, came out unanimously in favour of proportional representation. It was pointed out yesterday that the Labour Party in Scotland has 56 per cent. of the parliamentary seats on the basis of only 34 per cent. of the votes. How can that be right or justified? The fact that the Labour Party has ignored this unanimous recommendation of Kilbrandon is political chicanery and nothing else. They have given no reason for refusing it. They have simply chosen, in their own party interest, to ignore it.
What will be the position in Wales? Wales has been heavily dominated by the Labour Party for many years. It is suggested that the distribution of block grants should be left to the elected members of the Welsh Assembly, with no proportional representation to enable minorities to be properly represented. How would that distribution take place in that kind of Assembly? I would much prefer to see it, as a practical proposition in the hands of Westminster rather than in the hands of an elected Welsh Assembly without proportional representation. With proportional representation the interests of the minority parties and of the rural areas can be better safeguarded in a Welsh Assembly. On that ground alone I do not think that the present Government proposals are acceptable in Wales.
Will the proposals be effective? What will they be effective to do? If there is to be effective devolution, we want real devolution. The Government proposals, according to the Secretary of State, will devolve executive authority to the Welsh Assembly. I would have thought that the Welsh executive authority was best wielded by a Minister, since the function of an Assembly is to decide legislative matters.
§ Mr. Hooson
Because executive decisions are best taken and best carried out at ministerial level.
Taking, for example again, the question of the block grant, the Minister knows that the costs of services in many 1230 of our scattered rural areas are much larger per head of the population than in the urban areas. A Secretary of State can size up the position and make up his mind on it. If an elected Assembly decides this issue, its decision will be heavily weighted in favour of the urban areas. The temptation to exercise that power in favour of their constituents and to divide in that way is obvious.
If there is to be effective devolution of real legislative power from this House to that Assembly we need only two tiers of government in Wales—multi-purpose authorities on the ground floor level and a domestic Parliament with legislative powers at the higher level. Otherwise I do not think we shall attract in the first instance the kind of people necessary to a Welsh Assembly, to make it really effective.
I do not think that the Government proposals are, therefore, likely to prove effective. They amount to nothing more than an unacceptable, glorified county council exercising some executive powers to be devolved from the Secretary of State. However, the truth is that no powers are to be devolved from this House to the Assembly. To call it devolution is nonsense. It is not devolution. Not one power or executive privilege exercised by this House is to be devolved on the Welsh Assembly under the Labour Party's proposals. I think therefore that the proposals will be unacceptable to most of the people in Wales and ineffective.
In future the reports of this debate will read like a period piece. I agree with the view that when our position vis-à-vis Europe emerges, and we know whether we are to remain in the EEC, totally different considerations will apply in a debate of this kind.
Basically there are two particular trends in our age. Because people want security and sustained economic health, they wish to avoid the possibilities of friction between old nation States, and, as in Europe, there is a tendency to wish to belong to larger unions. Thus, we have formed larger unions, for example, in defence, through NATO, and, in economics in the European Common Market. Therefore the concept of sovereignty that overused word becomes more and more illusory. On the other hand, among 1231 the ordinary people of the country, there is a real and desperate feeling that Government are becoming too remote. They are anxious to keep their communities together. This leads to the other trend. How do we balance those two trends and how do we safeguard the one against the other? How do we find a practical way of dealing with this problem? We do not want too much government, yet we want government that is effective and close to the people.
This debate forms an early stage of discussing this issue. I agree that the matter must not be rushed. It is very important to obtain the right answer. I am sure that the Government are on the wrong track. At the very least Wales should have the same powers as Scotland.
§ Mr. Hooson
I will give the reason. The reason given for dealing with Scotland differently is that there is an independent Scottish legal system. However, that is an inadequate reason for distinguishing between Scotland and Wales. There are legislative measures in regard to Wales which should be separately dealt with in a Welsh Assembly. For example, the health service in Wales is administered entirely by the Welsh Office. In future Bills concerning health could deal exclusively with Wales, at the Welsh Assembly.
As the Under-Secretary of State for Wales will remember, when local government reform was introduced there was one composite Bill for England and Wales, yet many different considerations applied in discussing the Welsh part of the Bill as opposed to the English part of the Bill. Surely that measure could have been dealt with in a Welsh Assembly, if a Scottish proposal could have been dealt with in a Scottish Assembly.
I feel that the Government's proposals are inadequate and ill conceived, and I intend to oppose them. The members of my party think that England comes very much to the fore in our consideration of the Kilbrandon Report. Many of the arguments which were applied on behalf of Wales and Scotland when pressing for devolution equally apply to the regions of England. Although his conclusions were different, the hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Urwin) in my 1232 view made out a very good case for a regional Assembly in the North East of England. There is a good case for some kind of federal solution on the basis of Scotland, Wales and the regions of England. If we remain in the Common Market, and Europe evolves so that our security and economic prosperity are safeguarded within a larger union, the case for regional government in the United Kingdom will become even more important.
Therefore, we think that this is a very early stage in the evolving debate on devolution. If we move into a larger union it will be even more important to have strong regional and national units to protect the interests not only of Wales and Scotland but also the regions of England. England cannot be disregarded in that respect. If we continue with the present proposals, without any compensatory benefits to the English regions, there will be a danger of a great reaction from the English Members. That is why my party believes it essential to consider devolution to the English regions at the same time as we consider devolution to Wales and Scotland.
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. William Ross)
In opposing the devolution proposals, is the hon. Gentleman applying his argument purely to Wales or to both Wales and Scotland?
§ Mr. Hooson
I apply them to Wales only. I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for raising the point. I speak as a member of the Liberal Party representing the Welsh interests here. I have made no comment, save a comparative point, on the Scottish proposals.
§ 7.20 p.m.
§ Mr. John Evans (Newton)
I had better make it clear at the outset that although I bear a Welsh name I am not a Welshman. What is more, although I speak with a North-East accent, I do not represent a constituency in the north-east of England. My constituency is in the north-west of England.
Like a number of other hon. Members, I believe that this debate is the most important that this House has had in its entire history. I also believe that the real background to the debate is money and power. We are discussing the raising 1233 and the spending of public money. The debate is about who has the power to raise the money, who has the power to spend it, and who has the power to decide on what to spend it.
For generations, most of the wealth generated by all the people of all the regions of the United Kingdom has been sucked or channelled—depending on one's point of view—from the outlying regions into London and the South-East, at the behest of big business and private industry, without regard to the social consequences and the effects that it was having upon the nation.
Successive Governments have recognised the problem and they have all tinkered with it. We have had the Hailsham Report, a Minister with special responsibility for the North, development areas, special development areas, regional economic planning councils, and the Industry Act and its provisions. They are but a few of the tinkerers. But we have never succeeded in getting to the root of the problem—the serious regional imbalance existing in Britain today.
This White Paper is just another example of attempting to solve the effects of the regional imbalance without tackling the imbalance itself, and it ill-becomes a Labour Government to bring such an ill-thought-out document before Parliament.
I ask my right hon. and hon. Friends to study an electoral map of the United Kingdom. They will see from it that the North-West and the North-East of England, Yorkshire, the West Midlands conurbation and inner London, as well as Scotland and Wales, are Labour strongholds. They must appreciate that the reason is that it is in precisely those areas where the quality of life is lowest and that it is those areas which are making the real wealth that the parasitic City and the over-prosperous south-east of England are drawing from them. It is those same areas which look to a Labour Government to improve the quality of their lives. This document will not improve their living standards one iota—not in Scotland, not in Wales, nor in any other part of the United Kingdom.
The people of Scotland and the people of Wales did not create any demand for 1234 independence, for devolution, for self-government or for decentralisation. The demand was not created by Plaid Cymru or by the Scottish National Party. In my view, it was created by the stupidity, arrogance or inertia of central Government. It was created by the appalling superior indifference of Whitehall civil servants who, if the late Richard Crossman was right—and I strongly suspect that he was—regard Cabinet Ministers of all political parties either as damned nuisances, who try to interfere with the preordained plans of Departments, or simply as figureheads of the Departments who are provided with ministerial cars and have their speeches written for them.
Over the years, a destructive myth has been created—that Britain has the finest Civil Service in the world. It is not true. I accept that we have some outstanding individual civil servants, but, by and large, the British Civil Service, especially the Treasury, is probably the most skilled in the world at thwarting the will of democratically-elected Governments. Certainly it is the most secretive in the world.
I suggest that it is primarily the Civil Service which has been responsible for bringing us to the present highly dangerous position, with its absolute determination to keep its hands on every aspect of decision making and spending and its utter disregard of the demands from all the under-developed regions of the United Kingdom to restructure our country's economy in their favour.
§ Mr. Hector Monro (Dumfries)
Whatever the rights and wrongs of the hon. Gentleman's argument, he has made some astonishing statements about the Civil Service which I am sure are not acceptable to any hon. Member present at the moment. Would the hon. Gentleman care to substantiate some of his criticisms by making comparisons with other civil servants in the world?
§ Mr. Evans
I took care not to interrupt any other hon. Member when he was speaking, and I am trying to abide by the Chair's request to hon. Members to keep their remarks as brief as possible. For that reason, I shall not deal with that intervention.
I am trying to draw attention to the attitude of the British civil servant which causes him to refuse flatly to hand over 1235 any power to anyone and to retain control in his own hands, because it is that attitude which has brought us to the present situation, in which we have demands not only from Scotland and Wales but from England itself for more participation in the decision making process.
The proposals in the White Paper are not the answer. I am of the opinion that, if they are carried through in their present form, they will lead inevitably to the breakup of the United Kingdom.
I beg every hon. Member to apply a logical train of thought to the likely outcome. There is no demand for independence in Scotland and Wales, outside the wilder fringes of the nationalist parties. But there is an enormous and growing demand for democratic participation in the whole decision-making process and this applies not only to Scotland and Wales but throughout England. If we ignore it or think that we can deal with Scotland and Wales in isolation, treating England with the contempt that it receives in about 12 lines in the White Paper, we are fools, knaves or a combination of both and we shall deserve the inevitable English backlash which will arise.
What is the present situation in Scotland and Wales compared, say, with the north-west of England, in which my own constituency lies? Scotland has a population of 5,212,000 and has 71 members of Parliament. In broad average terms, each Member represents 73,400 people. Wales has a population of 2,749,000, with 36 Members of Parliament each representing, on average 76,300 people. The North-West Region of England has a population of 6,755,000, according to the latest census—
§ Mr. John Evans
They are population figures. In the North-West, there are 78 Members of Parliament, each representing an average of 86,600 people. In other words, by north-west standards Scotland and Wales are already over-represented in this House.
What of the economies of the three regions? No one will deny that they 1236 have similar problems—ageing and declining industry, unemployment, bad housing, poor environment, acres of derelict land, ageing population, and emigration of the youngest and best brains. Equally, no one will deny that the north-west was once the powerhouse in which the United Kingdom's wealth was created, and I say that with no disrespect to Scotland and Wales or to my native Tyneside.
It is also true that the north-west receives far less than its fair share of the nation's wealth. It receives far less than it contributes to the nation's economy. It receives far less than Scotland or Wales, even though it has greater problems than either of them.
Paragraph 8 of the White Paper makes this clear. It says:… identifiable public expenditure per head in Scotland has been at a very significantly higher level than elsewhere in the United Kingdom".Again, paragraph 10 says:… identifiable public expenditure per head in Wales has for many years been running at a substantially higher level than in England.In terms of the spoken word, no one can deny that Scotland and Wales are grossly over-represented in this House. Every month we have a Question Time devoted to Scottish and to Welsh affairs. There are Secretaries of State for Scotland and for Wales. There are Scottish and Welsh Grand Committees. There are regular debates on their problems, especially on Scottish problems. When did this House last debate the serious problems of the North-West of England? We cannot even get a debate on the Strategic Plan for the North-West.
We are told in this document that the Scots and the Welsh are not only to have their own Assemblies, but to retain their full quota of Members in this House, presumably with all their existing privileges.
I consider this part of the document to be dangerous, wishful thinking. I submit that within months of setting up these Assemblies, there will be pressure from them to reduce the number of Scottish and Welsh Members in this House and that that pressure will certainly be heavily endorsed by the English. The Assemblies will certainly insist that Members of this House do not interfere in their affairs, and there will be a whole 1237 range of issues about which hon. Members here will not be able to ask questions. They will be told that they are matters for the national Assemblies.
What will we make of the situation when, as could happen, we have a Tory United Kingdom Government and Labour-controlled Assemblies, or vice versa, the United Kingdom Government wanting to adopt certain policies because of international pressure and the Scottish and Welsh Assemblies refusing to implement them? Will not the pressure to break completely become irresistible?
I believe that we are tackling the problem from the wrong approach. The three national political parties have been panicked into this situation by the short-term success of the nationalist parties.
I believe that there is a tremendous case for decentralisation of parts of the administrative machine away from Whitehall into democratically elected regional councils for the whole of the United Kingdom.
Local government in England and Wales is now in a state of utter disarray. We have created a monster of Frankenstein proportions which is now developing its own terrible momentum and threatens to devour all of us. Certainly the people are utterly disillusioned with it. They were told that local government reorganisation was necessary to give them a more efficient, economical and democratic service. If it did not hurt so much, that would be the horse laugh of the century.
I remind hon. Members that this House forced on the people the reorganisation of local government in England and Wales, and presumably next year in Scotland. I suggest that it is our duty to try to rescue something from the wreckage that we have created.
With elected regional councils we could immediately scrap all the existing county councils and transfer their functions, including education, to the regional councils. The new undemocratic Regional Water Authorities and the old undemocratic, but newly constituted, Regional Health Authorities could then move to their proper places in democratic regional councils. The Economic Planning Councils would also be transferred.
1238 Serious consideration could be given to transferring powers relating to the publicly-owned gas, electricity and Post Office services. They may be publicly owned, but they are certainly not publicly controlled. In a regional council transport policies could also be planned in a proper and meaningful context instead of the hopeless jumble that they are today.
Local income tax, based on a regional council, would be a realistic proposition instead of the present farcical talk that is going on in the Layfield Committee. Anyone with knowledge of local government finance knows that income tax based on the present local government boundaries is utterly unrealistic and would create far more problems than it would solve.
I believe that if we are imaginative enough we can open a new door on truly exciting and democratic participation in government based on the historic regions of the United Kingdom. In my view, that will strengthen the unity of the United Kingdom. I submit that this document threatens the very fabric of the United Kingdom. I beg the Government to withdraw it and to come back to us again with a truly regional policy.
§ 7.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Jones (Daventry)
The concept of devolution can readily be debated in relation to Scotland and Wales. Indeed, the composition of the debate in the past two days and the fervour with which many speeches have been delivered are evidence of that fact. These are characteristic areas of the British Isles marked out by history and acknowledged by existing administrative arrangements to possess identities of their own. In regional terms, alone among the composite nations of the British Isles, it is the English who find it difficult in community terms to claim an identity of their own.
Yesterday, the Lord President of the Council said:We are looking forward to the development of a new relationship between … the English regions and the central Government.The right hon. Gentleman did not attempt to define the British regions. There is no statement on the form that any regional arrangements should take. Later the Lord President said:it would be dangerous for us to ignore these aspirations in the regions of the United Kingdom."—[Official Report, 3rd February 1975; Vol. 885, c. 957–8.]1239 There is no evidence of or any great advocacy for regionalism in England. We have not had any in this two-day debate and, although we have talked about some evidence in Scotland and Wales—that is understandable, but it has been challenged by a number of speakers—there is no evidence in English terms.
I think that to link regionalism in England with the devolution of powers to Scotland and Wales is to deal with two important matters which I recognise, but which have no similarity. There is no continuity in the concept of the devolution of powers to Scotland and Wales and the formation of regionalism in England.
The advocates of English devolution—they are limited in number—suggest division into five or eight regions. In 1972 the Town and Country Planning Association advocated 12 or 15 provincial councils.
History has not given a kingdom identity to England as a whole, and there are no easily discernible regions with local loyalties and historic associations. Natural boundaries in fact provide no support for the theme of regionalism.
It is from the planners and administrators, interested principally in the strategic use of land and industrial development, that the chief advocacy for regionalism stems. I think that I am right in saying that they think of it as an additional or third tier to elected administrations. If their advocacy succeeds, we shall have central government, regional democratically elected organisations, and local government. They do not appear to take into account the need to provide people with an acceptable basis for their personal loyalties, or to acknowledge sufficiently that administrative machines are not necessarily improved by acquiring size and supposedly increased resources.
In my experience and knowledge, there is no political advocacy for regionalism in England. I consider it extremely doubtful whether those who advocate regionalism in England could support their case on grounds of greater efficiency than is already provided by the existing system. An advocate for regionalism in England would need to demonstrate not only how present policies are failing, but how the administrative machinery could be improved by any regional arrangements.
1240 Practical considerations also need to be taken into account regarding political representation at regional level. The political parties already find it difficult to provide enough candidates willing, suitable, and able to serve as elected representatives to operate existing local authorities. How could they successfully find the talent and ability necessary to man a third tier? Would there be an adequate community of interest on a regional basis to enable members to adopt positive policies and programmes in the context of the larger areas which regional organisations must comprise? We find that difficulty emphasised in the regional economic planning councils. Those who are on those councils find it difficult, and understandably have limited experience to enable them, to bring any judgment to bear on a regional basis.
There is also a need to consider the financial implications of the proposal for regionalism in England. To think in terms of independent resources for a regional administration is to ignore the problems concurrently facing both central and local government in finding alternative or additional sources of revenue to rates and Exchequer funds.
Again, in terms of administration, have the advocates of regionalism in England thought the matter through sufficiently? What would be the relationship among central, regional and local authorities? In any event, is a further dose of reform likely to prove acceptable after the recent reorganisation of local government? We need to be far more explicit on the purposes of regional devolution in England and to consider with greater reality what political institutions we have in mind.
Is there, in fact, room for a third tier of elected administration? At present we have strong central government, balanced by proper and active representation at county and district level. What justification can there be for a third tier in these circumstances and what possibilities are there for devolving really significant powers from either central government or local government to a third tier?
To work effectively, regionalism will need to be put into practice by men and women with motivations attuned to local needs. Will the idea of devolution stimulate a dynamic political force of its own and will it offer sufficient challenge to the 1241 people of the right calibre to undertake government at such a level? We clearly see that that question is met in terms of Scotland and Wales, but I see it as very questionable as far as regionalism in England is concerned. Our population is highly mobile and it is important to preserve and encourage this feature of our national life. To superimpose on the country an artificial concept of regionalism might serve to hinder this mobility and unnecessarily to divide the community within itself. Indeed, this is what I suspect that any proposal for regionalism in England would lead to.
I was interested to see in The Guardian of 20th September 1974, a report on a devolution seminar arranged by the Centre for Studies in Social Policy. The article, by Mr. John Ardill, quotes Sir George Godber, former Chief Medical Officer at the Department of Health. He is reported as havingwondered what would happen in England when people became aware of the 'extraordinary disparity' in the amount of money the Government was even now prepared to make available for health in Scotland compared with England.'It is not that Scotland is getting too much, it is that England is not getting enough and within England some areas get even less'. He foresaw considerable regional agitation, particularly in the North, North-West and West Midlands.That is my fear about devolution. It would in national terms, as far as England is concerned, be dangerously divisive.
Although it is not spelled out in that way in the Kilbrandon Report, certainly eight out of 11 signatories to the report said in the summary of conclusion, in paragraph 198:Eight of us favour the establishment of regional co-ordinating and advisory councils, partly indirectly elected by the local authorities and partly nominated.That is a reference to the establishment of regional co-ordinating and advisory councils. I do not think that it is what the Leader of the House was referring to and what is generally meant by an arrangement of regional government in England. It is clear that the Kilbrandon Report came out against a recommendation of that character. It is my submission that regional government would detract from the present administrative objectives of national standards and the maintenance of a fair distribution of national resources.
1242 I welcome what the Government said in the second paragraph of the White Paper that theyregard it as a vital and fundamental principle to maintain the economic and political unity of the United Kingdom.I very much welcome the emphasis which has been put on that most important aspect of our discussion. At present there is no acceptable case to be made for a third tier of administration in England and a series, as is proposed, of elected regional councils.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Cledwyn Hughes (Anglesey)
Most of the speeches which I have heard in this debate have reflected the two seemingly conflicting themes which have run through the entire discussion that we have had during the last two days. Both themes arouse the most profound emotions. One theme is nationalism and the other is the survival of the Union. It is not unfair to make the point that the survival of the Union has to do with nationalism as well—that is, British nationalism.
I am both Welsh and British—Ancient British, in fact—and I am proud of being both, although I hope that I am not chauvinistic about either. I back Wales at Twickenham and the British Lions in New Zealand. Our task in this House is to reconcile the two loyalties by creating constitutional machinery which will preserve the co-operation between the nations which inhabit these islands while, at the same time, enabling the Scots and the Welsh to have an ample voice in the managements of their own affairs.
The fear exists—it has been expressed in many speeches during the course of the debate—that further devolution will tear the Union apart. This has been another constant theme, which the hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Jones) also mentioned. It do not believe that this need happen, nor do I believe that it will happen. There are precedents both here and abroad which show that one can devolve power and maintain unity. The Isle of Man has substantial devolution—it has never been mentioned in our debates on devolution—as have the Channel Islands. The same is true of countries like Switzerland and Germany.
1243 I do not believe that the people of Wales or of Scotland want independent statehood, as some hon. Members have claimed. This, again, is the constant theme of the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans) and the hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart), both sincere advocates of their cause. Of course there was oppression and injustice in the past, and it is very easy to arouse the emotions, especially of young people, by talk of Owain Glyndwr and William Wallace, but we cannot turn the clock back to 1282 or 1707. We cannot construct a better society on the treacherous ground of past grievances. This is the lesson, above all others, which Ireland has taught us over the last few years.
The Kilbrandon Report summed up the position in this way, in paragraph 130:Despite divisions and gradations, there remain a strong sense of Welsh identity, a different way of looking at things and a distinct feeling that the needs and interests of people in Wales must be considered separately from those of people elsewhere in the United Kingdom.On the other hand it says clearly, in paragraph 356:In Wales, as in Scotland, support for the nationalist cause is not, in our view, anything like sufficient to constitute a general vote for independence.Some hon. Members have argued that Wales and Scotland would be economically better off if they were independent. This was not the view of the Kilbrandon Commission, which sat for four years and heard a mass of evidence, reflecting every viewpoint. That commission consisted of gentlemen who were respected in all four countries. Paragraph 452 of the report saysIn our view, therefore, there are no grounds for the belief that Scotland and Wales are neglected under the present system and suffer in material terms on account of their incorporation into the United Kingdom; on the contrary, they tend to receive preferential treatment. Their complete economic recovery requires an expansion of the United Kingdom economy as a whole, since their economic prospects are tied to those of England, and this would be true also if they were independent.I accept that North Sea oil has introduced a new dimension into these matters, and the discovery of Celtic Sea oil may do the same in Wales. I do not find this argument attractive. The Scottish Council Research Institute calculated that in 1244 1972–73 public expenditure in Scotland, including defence, totalled £2,900 million and that public sector revenues were £2,100 million. The deficit was £800 million. The nationalist argument runs, however, that oil revenue for Scotland alone would provide a surplus by 1981. The nationalist must consider the probability that the price of oil will have slumped by then. We must bear in mind that it is very expensive to exploit the oil around our coasts compared, for example, with the Middle East.
There will be substantial changes within five years and whilst the discovery of oil is a bonus, we would all do well to remember that we have lived together and been interdependent in the past and that what is discovered off the coast of Wales, Scotland or England should be shared equally by all the people of the United Kingdom. I see no other honourable argument. I respect nationalist Members and their conviction, but I appeal to them to abandon this approach, because it is not a worthy one.
Leaving separation aside, the Government are proposing radical constitutional changes and it is crucial that we should know where we are going and that we should get it right. The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) referred to the county and district councils, and to the possibility that we might be electing members to go to Strasbourg it the country decides to stay in the Common Market. These are substantial points, but the hon. and learned Gentleman should bear in mind that the creation of a legislative assembly would involve an even greater bureaucracy than an executive assembly. I think that the Civil Service in Ulster is about three times the size of the Welsh Office staff.
§ Mr. Hooson
My proposal was tied up with the abolition of the county council. I said that if we had a Welsh Assembly the county council should be the tier to disappear. I said that we could not have all three.
§ Mr. Hughes
The hon. and learned Gentleman is right in his proposition that it would have been better if we had been discussing the reform of local government alongside the question of devolution. When I was the incumbent at the Welsh Office in 1967 I commenced the 1245 preparation of a case to this end because I believed that it was essential to tackle these matters concurrently. However, if the hon. and learned Gentleman is now saying that we must disentangle and rebuild British local government before we begin to think about devolution he must accept that it will be many years before there is any devolution in Wales and Scotland.
The hon. and learned Gentleman must realise the consequences of what he said. I was also disappointed to hear him say that he was proposing to fight these proposals for Wales all the way. Knowing him to be a fair-minded man, I believe he is wrong to say at this stage in a consultative debate that he will oppose a Bill which he has not yet seen. He should await the event before he declares publicly that he is going to oppose it.
§ Mr. Hooson
The right hon. Gentleman comes from Anglesey, so he must surely appreciate the vital importance of proportional representation to areas in rural Wales. He has not said a word about that.
§ Mr. Hughes
On that point, I think that the hon. and learned Gentleman was especially unfair when he charged the Government with chicanery. He was carrying criticism too far. The Government have continued with a system which has prevailed in this country for many years, including the periods of Liberal Government, and the criticism that he levelled at the Government over the position in Scotland is unfair because that position was far more evident in 1905 at the time of the Liberal landslide. The hon. and learned Gentleman has a right to pursue his argument, but he should not accuse the Government of chicanery, because that is going too far. It is not chicanery, and he knows it.
If proportional representation were introduced tomorrow there would be no guarantee of a significant change in the electoral position. When proportional representation was introduced in Northern Ireland recently there was no change. I am prepared to argue the merits of proportional representation with the hon. Gentleman, but I am not prepared to hear him say that my right hon. Friends are engaging in chicanery.
1246 I come now to the position of the Welsh Assembly. I believe it should be established on the basis of two members for each of the existing parliamentary constituencies. That would provide an Assembly of 72 members. To seek to carve out new Assembly constituencies would take a great deal of time and would not achieve any appreciable advantage. The Assembly should sit for a fixed term of four years. Perhaps I should point out that I am answering the series of questions which my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House asked yesterday. A fixed term of four years would give stability and continuity. One can imagine the confusion that would exist if there were two General Elections and two elections to the Assembly in one year. The people of Wales would never recover from it. With local government elections we could even end up with six or seven elections a year, and we should end up doing nothing but holding elections. We would be back not to the three-day working week but to a two-day working week.
There is a great deal to be said for an Assembly operating on committee lines. As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Wales have said, it would make for more open government, which is what we are about in this debate. The chairmen of these committees will be key figures. I envisage them as the link between the Assembly and the Secretary of State and other Ministers.
The White Paper refers to the powers of subordinate legislation which would be vested in the Assembly. We should pay careful attention to this proposal. We need to know a great deal more about its mechanics. It could strengthen democracy. Far too many orders go through the House without adequate debate or no debate at all because we do not have time to deal with them. Is it proposed that the primary legislation which comes before this Parliament will make provision for subordinate legislation to be debated in the Assembly when appropriate? It is on such a point that a preliminary White Paper for further discussion would be helpful.
There is also a case for taking the voice of the Assembly in the early stages of primary legislation. In due course 1247 this could well be the function of English regional councils, if they are set up. This is the way to avoid the kind of confrontation where there might be conflict between the Assemblies and this Parliament, which my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House discussed yesterday.
Interpretation of the powers of the Assemblies might be better resolved by reference to the courts, as happens in countries where there is a written constitution, rather than by reference to the ballot box.
In addition to the substantial executive powers which are contemplated, there will be the ad hoc powers referred to in paragraph 873 of the Kilbrandon Report. The list is given in the report, and I do not want to go through it now as there is not enough time. There is profound discontent in Wales about the proliferation of nominated bodies of various kinds. I put it to the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery that taking on those powers could be a further worthwhile function for the Assembly.
On last year's figures, nominated bodies in Wales have about £280 million a year to spend. They are not accountable to any elected body. For example, an official in the Postal Board in Cardiff decided, of all things, that "Anglesey" was no longer to be a name for postal purposes. That has offended the people of Anglesey beyond measure. [Interruption.] Anglesey existed before counties were created. We have appealed to the Chairman of the Welsh Postal Board and to the Chairman of the Postal Board here in London, and we receive meaningless, frustrating bureaucratic replies saying that for some inadequate reason no change can be made. The people of Anglesey are determined, notwithstanding that bureaucratic obstinately to continue to use the ancient name. They are right to do so. I am urging them and my hon. Friends to do it. I do not want to be known as the Member for "North Gwynedd".
The Government are right to opt for the "expenditure" basis of finance as apposed to the "revenue basis". I can say one thing for the people of Wales without any fear of contradiction, and that is that they do not want to pay any more taxes as a result of this reform. The calculation of the block grant will 1248 therefore be of the utmost importance. Something along the lines of a revised Goschen formula will have to be considered. Perhaps my right hon. Friend will give us further clarification of the Government's thinking on this central issue.
I conclude by reading from paragraphs 62 and 63 of the Kilbrandon Report, because of all the material I have read in connection with devolution—and there has been a great deal of it—it seems to me best to state the mood of the country. The paragraphs say:Nevertheless, outside Northern Ireland, there has been little general disposition to question the maintenance of the union, particularly in times of political crisis and when the security of the United Kingdom has been threatened. At such times, indeed, all sections of the British people have never failed to reassert their loyalty to the wider entity.We do not believe that this loyalty has faded. On the contrary, a new challenge would call forth the old response. Although, as we note in the country chapters which follow, there remain within the United Kingdom some marked geographical differences in social and cultural characteristics and strongly held national and regional loyalties, there exist also, quite apart from the more tangible things we have mentioned as being held in common, innumerable close ties which result from centuries of intermingling and from shared language, experience, social institutions and attitudes to such fundamental matters as personal liberty and the rule of law.There is nothing more important than personal liberty and the rule of law. The report says thata new challenge would call for the old response.We should accept that challenge with good will and faith, do what is necessary to secure the Union and, at the same time, give the people of Wales and Scotland a stronger voice in their own affairs and a renewed sense of the dignity of nationhood.
§ 8.7 p.m.
§ Mr. Alexander Fletcher (Edinburgh, North)
One of the rare privileges of being a Member is to listen to debates which cross party lines, in which we do without some of the usual dogma, in which the blinkers are taken off Members and, just for once, they express their real views and convictions on a subject such as the one we are discussing.
I was disappointed that in opening the debate yesterday the Lord President of the Council got bogged down in detail 1249 early in his speech, and failed to present an imaginative approach to what is a debate on broad lines of principle regarding the future constitution of the United Kingdom, and not just a debate about Scotland and Wales.
One of the difficulties from which all hon. Members suffer is an inability to look ahead and plan for the sort of Parliament, the sort of structure of government, we shall need in the next decade or so, as most of our thought is naturally based on what we have been doing during the past decade. That is unfortunate, because most of the criticisms of the various systems of government and parliament that have been presented tend to hark backwards rather than to look to the future.
The Lord President's lack of imagination was second only—I say this with a great deal of sorrow—to the persecution complex that is constantly evident on the nationalist bench. It is a great pity, and they do themselves and Scotland and Wales a great disservice, when they continue to harp on those countries as being poor, downtrodden, colonial States, instead of their both being a vigorous part of the United Kingdom.
However, I was equally disappointed by the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw), when he suggested that the level of social security benefits was a vital factor in persuading the Scots against separatism. I hope that he will reconsider this, and agree with me that the case for the United Kingdom is much stronger than the level of social security or any other such benefit.
If nevetheless we are to have a change in our constitution and if we are to have an Assembly or Parliament in Edinburgh and in Cardiff, there are many questions to be asked, as the Lord President rightly said, about Scotland, Wales and England. Contrary to the views expressed by nationalist Members of Parliament, it is true that anyone who visits Scotland today and who has not been there for some years will notice that there is a new confidence and a marked change of attitude.
§ Mr. Fletcher
The feeling of remoteness and relative economic insignificance has given way to a new sense of purpose within the national and international community. As we can hear, there is no shortage of people who are willing to claim credit for this achievement. Just as failure is an orphan, so success has a thousand fathers—in Scotland's case at least 11. What matters is the need for us in this House to harness the new confidence and the new national pride in a way that will be beneficial to Scotland and to the United Kingdom.
Scotland's new confidence is based on economic improvement. Successive Labour and Conservative Governments can take credit for the regional policies which have brought about a transformation of the Scottish economy. I cannot think of a comparable country in the Western world that has enjoyed such an industrial revolution as has taken place in Scotland since the end of the last war. Scotland's confidence has been boosted by the appearance of North Sea oil. When all the easy and cheap criticisms and gibes are made about Scottish affairs, we would do well to remember the new manufacturing and service industries that are evidence of the benefits to Scotland of the United Kingdom. It may well be that North Sea oil will prove to be the icing on the economic cake, but I think we would do well to remember that even with North Sea oil, and even if the oil proves as beneficial to the Scottish economy as some people make out, nine out of 10 jobs in Scotland will still depend on the success of the British economy. The British economy will still be the key to Scotland's economic success and prosperity.
In the circumstances that I have outlined it would make no sense for Scotland to reduce its influence and to rush to demote itself as a constituent part of the United Kingdom. It would make no sense for Scotland to demote its influence in this Chamber and in Government here and in Whitehall.
There is another question to which I address myself which cannot be ignored by those who advocate change in the British constitution and in the way in which we run our affairs. This is a matter that has been raised by a number 1251 of right hon. and hon. Members—namely "How does England feel about the proposed change?" England must be the key to any constitutional change that takes place. The question might well be asked "How important to England is the United Kingdom?" Would it matter very much to England if Scotland and Wales were to do their own thing and to go their separate ways? I believe that what happens to the rest of the United Kingdom is of paramount importance to England and to everyone who does not wish to witness the break up of the United Kingdom.
There is little evidence in this debate and little evidence generally that England is aware of the likely consequences of treating this subject as a purely Scottish or Welsh affair rather than as a British problem. After listening to the hon. Members for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Urwin) and Newton (Mr. Evans), I believe that there are elements of what, perhaps inadvisedly, I shall call nationalism in England. There are areas such as the North-East and the South-West where people feel more than a little neglected or out of touch with Westminster and Whitehall.
§ Dr. Keith Hampson (Ripon)
The survey which the Kilbrandon Report undertook showed clearly that the North reflected that sort of disenchantment to a greater degree than Wales and not much less than Scotland itself.
§ Mr. Fletcher
I appreciate that Scotland is in a privileged position within the structure of government in the United Kingdom. Scotland is represented in the Cabinet and in Government generally, as any English Member will recognise. In this House Scotland is in a far more privileged position than any other part of the United Kingdom, yet the drive for change is coming from Scotland. The position in Wales is roughly comparable.
I do not believe that the drive for change can be ignored. The question is, if we go ahead with change, what sort of Assembly shall we have, what structure of government shall we have in the United Kingdom and in the component parts? It has been said by several hon. Members that the Royal Commission on the Constitution rejected 1252 federalism. Indeed it did. The reason it gave was that it was a cumbersome system and much too legalistic. It took the view that it would lack balance in the United Kingdom because of the predominance of England. Those are valid arguments. If we are to make a major change in our constitution we must do it properly or not at all.
It is hard for me to imagine any constitutional change which would be meaningful and effective, which would evolve political as well as economic power to the constituent parts of the United Kingdom and which would not be in itself some kind of federal system. Anything else is likely to be little more than a talking shop. All that it would do would be to add to the frustrations which are evident in Scotland and elsewhere.
§ Mrs. Margaret Bain (Dunbartonshire, East)
Does the hon. Gentleman agree with what the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sillars) has said—namely, that the relationship between the constituent parts of the United Kingdom needs to be renegotiated and that in a federal system, because of the nature of the United Kingdom, we could not have four equal constituent parts? Therefore, the only meaningful way to renegotiate the relationship between the four parts is to give Scotland and Wales self-government?
§ Mr. Fletcher
I do not agree with that proposition. We should be considering the British constitution and the way in which we run our affairs. We should be looking forward to the sort of Parliament and the sort of Government that we shall need during the next decade or more.
Earlier last month I was in the United States and Canada. I spoke to politicians and officials. I began my remarks with the suggestion that we might have in the United Kingdom before very long a two-tier system of government. Invariably the answer was "Tough luck, but welcome to the club". The Americans and the Canadians find their federal system cumbersome and tiring. They get involved in lengthy negotiations between the provincial or State Government on the one hand and federal Government on the other. Regional and national interests are reconciled in a way that is not particularly apparent in the United Kingdom. That is why if we are to do this job we should 1253 try to do it properly or not at all. I do not want to become involved in a lot of the mechanics except to say that such a system in the Scottish sense would mean that in Scotland there would be a First Minister and a Cabinet and not the committee system that has been mentioned. The First Minister and the Cabinet would be responsible for Scotland's domestic affairs. That would be in addition to a directly elected Assembly.
If we are looking for a guide to the sort of terms of reference that the Assembly and Government might have, we could do worse than to look at the terms of reference that a provincial Government has in Canada. Further, I happen to think that the office of Secretary of State should be abolished as Scotland's interests would be better served by a First Minister whose political base and appointment was independent of the British Prime Minister of the day.
The key lies in the attitude of English Members and of England as a whole. I hope that those of us who advocate change, as I do, will be able to arouse in our English colleagues some enthusiasm towards the situation in England and the changes that will have to be made in England if the Government's proposition is to be a success and to work out in the best interests of all the people of the United Kingdom.
§ 8.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Norman Buchan (Renfrewshire, West)
May I first thank the Chair for so unexpectedly allowing me to take part in the debate? The usual channels said something like, "Can you make a short speech?" to which I answered "Yes", and I shall keep to within 10 minutes.
I was struck by the speech of the hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Reid)—the new Social Democrat from north of the border. Why he should take a Dick Taverne attitude when that attitude has been rejected south of the border I do not know. It is interesting that he should call in aid Jimmy Barnes and Jimmy Maxton in advocating this peculiar Right-wing social democracy. It has a family interest to me, because it was to my wife that the hon. Member wrote his resignation from the Labour Party. It was also to her, six months before, that he had applied to join. Three weeks later he joined the 1254 Scottish National Party. He will understand why I treat with not unnatural scepticism his great devotion to the principles of Socialism.
I wish to refer to another hon. Member who is not here. All Scottish nationalists should be here when we are discussing our country. I refer to the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. Crawford), as an illustration of what gets thrown out as accepted fact in the process of mythology which is actively assisted by members of the SNP. The hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire, in his maiden speech said:Even before oil came upon the scene the respected and scrupulously non-political Scottish Council for Industry indicated that Scotland had a balance of payments surplus."—[Official Report, 30th October 1974; Vol. 880, c. 328.]That struck me as curious, so I wrote to the Scottish Council for Industry, from whom I received a letter in the following terms:I have inquired into the question raised in your letter but can find no record of the Council having stated that Scotland has no balance of payments deficit. I can only suggest that you seek clarification from …and the letter names the hon. Member. I looked further and discovered that the council had delved into its records back to 1952, which is certainly pre-oil, and no such statement had been made. Here it is dropped out in the House as an accepted fact. It passes into the columns of the media in Scotland and becomes a fact. It is not a fact. That is an example of some of the problems with which I wish to deal.
Before getting on to my main topic I wish to refer to my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sillars). He gave a history of the situation within the Labour Party over the last few years. It was rather like Hamlet sayingSomething is rotten in the State of Denmarkwithout Hamlet being present, because the Prince was missing. I remind hon. Members of this important declaration:In rejecting separatism we feel that we must also reject calls for a Scottish Parliament, even on a federal basis. As the trends in industry are proving to be towards bigger and bigger units, we believe that it is essential to have a strong central government to ensure society has adequate control to mould industrial growth to suit its needs.That passage is headed "Scottish Parliament—a Bogus Proposition", and it was 1255 written five years ago by my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire.
I have no objection to that. As Keir Hardie said, no change would be a monument to failure. But I ask, when people make such dramatic changes in such a short time, that they give us an explanation. What new situation has caused the change of view? We want an explanation of it.
I ask, further, that people should express their new-found beliefs with a little modesty and less certainty. I have found nothing more appalling in this argument than the incredible certainty of so many people who have stated their views within the last 12 months.
§ Mr. Iain MacCormick (Argyll)
Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that it is a sign of an adult mind to be able to change one's opinions? Does not he agree that he has made a substantial change from a view which he previously held?
§ Mr. Buchan
I do not know which view the hon. Gentleman is talking about. He is probably referring to my having been in the Communist Party, which I left to join the Labour Party. I did not immediately say how wrong I had been. I took a long time to think out my philosophy, and I have written at great length of my change of view. But my views are known in Scotland. I did not suddenly say "These are my views" as if no change had taken place. We are debating a serious matter—our nation—not cheap interventions.
§ Mr. Buchan
I was not. I was asking for a little humility and a little less certainty. I should also like a little less frivolity from SNP members who have giggled their way through two days of debate on their own nation.
I want now to deal with the central problem. A major error has been made by many people in believing that one can somehow alter a basic social economic structure by a constitutional change. Those people have misunderstood the nature of their problem, and their analysis is wrong. My hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) had it right. With one exception, the nature of the problem Scotland faces is exactly 1256 analagous to the economic situation that has prevailed in many other areas throughout England. There is no basic difference between the problems of the North-East, the heavy industry-based North-West, and West-Central Scotland. Therefore, it is an economic problem.
The Scottish Trades Union Congress understood that in its evidence, in which it said that it did not want a Scottish Parliament. The STUC believed that the Assembly should have direct control only over those matters which are at present administered through the Scottish Office and the Secretary of State for Scotland. The STUC recognised that this was a common economic problem. Therefore, the analysis is wrong and the diagnosis is wrong.
The second element is alienation. Hon. Members are right to refer to alienation from Government, but that, too, is common. The lassie who serves on the counter at Jo Lyons across Bridge Street can see Parliament every day, but she is every bit as remote from Government as anyone who lives at John O'Groat's or in the Orkney Islands, 700 miles to the north, where I was brought up.
§ Mr. Buchan
It proves that the analysis is wrong.
The third element is that there is a sense of nationhood in Scotland, which I share. If people believe that they are a nation, they are a nation, but it does not necessarily mean that a State follows from that. There are probably no nation States in the world, in that sense, thinking in terms of the co-terminous nature of nation and State. That is the whole substance of the argument.
Let us now look at the problem of the Assembly. As I see the future, vociferous forces will be set in motion as a result of the simple proposition that people should elect those who will fight for the sole issue which will exist. That issue is the strength of the Scottish Assembly in relation to London. My hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire used the comparison of the EEC to draw attention to the so-called fragility of the Union. However, in the EEC there are nine countries—perhaps soon it will be eight—each balancing the other. If two 1257 poles are established—Edinburgh and London—it will be simply a question of which party will fight hardest to gain most resources. This will immediately create the separatist issue.
In the process, even the most responsible members of the Assembly would adopt this attitude. Undoubtedly, the SNP element would be large—perhaps a majority. Responsible members of other parties would be forced into taking this vociferous attitude. The result would be separation within 10 years. That is why the Scottish nationalists support this move. That is the best evidence we have of our errors.
The sense of disillusionment which will arise as that happens will lead to the breakdown of the Assembly and will give rise, not to a national alignment, but to the kind of bitterness which will lead to a Right-wing, authoritarian régime. That is the scenario. There is one way in which we can begin to deal with the mess into which we have got ourselves. My position is simple. I am in favour of devolution. I believe in devolving power from those who have it to the ordinary people whether they are in Yorkshire, Lancashire, Cornwall or Cardiff. I believe in the ordinary people beginning to control their means of organising. I do not particularly like States. I believe in democracy.
I do not think that the equation of all life with a geographical entity is democracy. It can be over-government, but not necessarily democracy. We have to emancipate working people in this way. I do not think we do it by splitting up sections of the working class and setting them against one another, so that the North seeks the grants which are sought by Scotland.
The second thing we must do is ask people whether it is their wish to have such an Assembly. Here I agree with the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell). If, over a period, people say quite firmly that they want this, that settles the issue. They ought to be asked, "Do you want total separation?" That is the issue. In putting that question, the Scottish people will have the chance to reject separation. Then we can get on with trying to sort out a devolved Parlia- 1258 ment with maximum powers for the nation of Scotland, to which I belong. I resent the frivolous attempts of others to pre-empt this nation.
§ 8.33 p.m.
§ Mr. W. Benyon (Buckingham)
As "a mere Englishman"—and I use that Elizabethan description advisedly—and as a representative of an English constituency, I make no apology for voicing what has been described as the English backlash. It is interesting that we are debating a Government White Paper which makes certain proposals, and yet my researches and those of the Library show that the principle of devolution has never previously been debated in this House. There was a Speaker's Conference on the subject in 1919, and two Liberal Bills were introduced in the 1966 Parliament which were not discussed at any length.
In logic, devolution on anything except a minor scale is nonsense. It is certainly nonsense economically—to Balkanise the United Kingdom when nearly every other grouping in the Western world is seeking a greater unity must be nonsense. It is also political nonsense for reasons stated by a number of hon. Members. If we put our hand to this particular plough there is no turning back. We all know that the people who sit on the nationalist benches will do everything they can to exploit every difficulty and to enlarge every dispute between any Welsh and Scottish Parliament and Westminster. They look, as they are entitled to do, to complete independence.
The real question that faces the House is whether the people of Scotland and Wales want this solution. If it can be proved that they do, the choice is stark, and has already been dealt with by a number of speakers. Either we accede to that demand or, like Lincoln in the United States, we fight to preserve the Union.
§ Mr. MacCormick
In view of the fact that the present Government have decided that the only way the nation can decide what is to happen on the Common Market is via a referendum, will he agree that we should hold a referendum in Scotland to decide what degree of self government the Scots want? Does the hon. Gentleman agree that that will be the ideal way to settle the issue?
§ Mr. Benyon
That must be implicit in my remarks. A referendum would be one way, and if it proved that this demand existed, two choices would be open to the Westminster Parliament. I do not believe that this demand exists but, if it does, let there be no doubt that it will be equalled in very strong terms by English nationalism. It will be as strong as any demand outside the borders.
I represent a constituency of 82,000 voters, of which approximately 30,000 voted for me. Let me say, in passing, that those 30,000 voters were considerably more than the entire electorate of the constituency of the right hon. Gentleman the Lord President of the Council—but that is an English problem and does not concern this debate. My constituents do not realise at the moment that the mass of highly objectionable legislation passing through the House at present is being allowed through by the votes of the Celtic fringe. It is unarguable that that is so. Even the October election result produced, in England, a Labour majority of three over the Conservative Party, and the balance is held by the Liberals. Even now, on present constituency sizes, the average size of Scottish seats is 52,000, the average of Welsh seats is 56,000 and for England the figure is 65,000.
§ Mr. Benyon
The position there is even worse. The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) described the situation in his speech. Whatever happens, this imbalance needs correcting.
§ Mr. Benyon
If certain functions are to be devolved to the Scottish or Welsh Parliaments, we, the English Members of this Parliament, have every right to demand that the Welsh and Scottish Members should have no say when these matters are discussed here at Westminster.
My own preference—this has been echoed in other speeches in this debate—is that there should be no devolution at all. I include in that view direct rule for Ulster. But if there is to be devolution on subjects such as education and housing, the Assemblies, the powers and the repre- 1260 sentation at Westminster must be on the same basis, whether for Scotland, Wales or Ulster and indeed for England. If these aspects are not covered in the Bill produced by the present Government, I and many of my hon. Friends will—like the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell), but for different reasons—fight it clause by clause and line by line. We take the view that what is sauce for the Welsh and Scottish geese—if that is an apt description—is sauce also for the English gander.
§ 8.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Gordon Wilson (Dundee, East)
I have been very interested in this debate, which has spread over two days, since it has given an opportunity for many hon. Members to give their views on devolution. It is apparent that there has been an insufficient opportunity in the past, as we have seen from the comments of many hon. Members, to debate these matters and they constitute one of the most crucial subjects ever to face the United Kingdom.
Reference has been made in other speeches to the fact that the Government are proposing various matters on devolution out of their own appreciation of the needs of Scotland, Wales and, perhaps subsequently, of the English regions. Some people have given credit or demerit for this policy to the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru although in fact, looking at it from a Scottish point of view, thanks for the situation must really go to the Scottish people for having impressed on the Labour Party opposite, and even on the Conservative Party, the need for some self-government.
It is perfectly obvious that in this debate we are discussing the question of devolution. In that sense we are not discussing the question of self-government for Scotland, which the Scottish National Party would like to see achieved, because it is obvious, looking at my colleagues in this Parliament, that there are only 11 of them. Even allowing for the iniquities of the British electoral system, on a voting system worked out in terms of proportional representation we would not have that democratic mandate which the Scottish National Party has always said should be the target if we are to succeed in our achievement of self-government—that we must get a majority of seats in this House. That is the criterion laid upon us by successive Governments.
1261 The matter of a referendum has been raised. We have certainly conceded this recently in connection with the Common Market. It is for the Government to decide what they ought to do. One thing the Government cannot do is to let this matter go on mouldering, trying to push it out of sight every time the issue of self-government or devolution crops up—because if there is one thing that is now certain, it is that the Scottish people do not wish the subject to be hidden under the green benches of the House of Commons any longer. A decision is required.
Probably the most disappointing part of this two-day debate is that we have been discussing what might be the answers to various questions posed by the right hon. Gentleman the Lord President right at the start of his speech. Many of us had come here prepared to disregard some of the Press reports which we have seen about the lack of decision on the part of the Government, in the hope that the Government might at this stage have been able to give some lead on what they feel should happen. It is 11 months since the February General Election, when the political complexion of the Government changed. That has given them a considerable period in which to work out their ideas. Certainly, it cannot be said of them that they would have approached the issue of devolution without any thinking whatever until February 1974 because they had themselves set up the Kilbrandon Commission on the Constitution which in due course of time—almost the eternity which, it seems, is taken by Royal Commissions—eventually reported and helped to project the issues involved in this debate on the constitutional structure of the United Kingdom.
What surprises me, in a sense, is that even for those who look at the matter in purely British terms, there has been very little debate focussed on the need for reform of the House of Commons itself and what can be done, for instance, to deal with the problems of the congestion of business which frequently keeps us up late at night. There are questions dealing with European legislation, which seem to be taking another half day or day of the House of Commons almost every week.
1262 These are problems because a House of this kind, regulating the affairs of one of the most highly-centralised countries in the world, is faced with a crisis in dealing with its own business. I speak humbly, as a comparatively new Member, but I am surprised that very little attention has been directed to the parliamentary need for decentralisation or delegation of decision making.
Passing from that general aspect to what must be done in relation to Scotland, the lack of any lead having been given by the Government at the outset of the debate will be criticised very strongly in Scotland. I have not yet had an opportunity of seeing all the Scottish newspapers so far today but certainly some comment is critical. People are waiting for something to happen and all that we have had, in a momentous announcement, was that the Assembly was to be located in Edinburgh. That is, no doubt, an important decision, but perhaps minor in relation to the functions which the Assembly will have. I did not overhear what the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland said just then from a sedentary position. Perhaps he will discuss it with me later. The whisper of objection to the lack of decision making on the part of the Government will grow until it becomes a roar, and it is up to the Government to make up their mind quickly and to prevaricate no further.
My hon. Friend the Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) and my hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Reid) have spelt out some of our ideas in relation to the functions which the Assembly should have. I want to concentrate attention on some of the constitutional issues which might be raised in relation to some of its principal functions. The first is the question of the executive structure. Kilbrandon recommended a Cabinet, with a chief minister who would be responsible to the Assembly—in other words, out of the collective will of the Assembly, elected by the Scottish people, there would be executives or officers who would be responsible for carrying out its decisions.
This is very important, because the Government have decided in principle to retain the office of Secretary of State. It is clear that, within the Cabinet in London, the office of Secretary of State 1263 must be one of some significance, and he has certain responsibilities in relation to the administration of Scottish affairs and is answerable to the House of Commons as a whole, particularly to the Scottish Members. But if we go for the situation where there is a chief minister or a group of ministers responsible to the Assembly, and if the Assembly has in turn taken over the responsibilities of the Secretary of State, what is to happen? It is the situation described in the biblical rule—that no man can serve two masters.
Who will the Secretary of State for Scotland serve? Will he serve the Assembly, which is responsible for many of his functions? Or will he cease to have such functions and be representative of the Scottish interest in the Cabinet generally? This aspect must be elucidated by the Government. They are in the constitutional quandary over it. Should they take a decision to continue with the office of Secretary of State and also to have a Cabinet structure, sooner or later one of them will be phased out. I think that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, North (Mr. Fletcher) was correct in his assessment of that position.
One other important thing would come out of an executive structure for the Assembly—who would be responsible for negotiations with Whitehall? Who would be responsible for negotiations with the Treasury for adjustment of the budget of the Assembly? If, instead of an executive structure, we had a committee structure, it would leave us with the position that committees would have to appoint delegations for negotiations over what the block grant should or should not be, and what elements might form part of it. This is one of the difficult matters in relation to a committee structure.
If we adopt the committee structure, we are then faced with the question of responsibility for steering through legislation. It is relatively easy for people with ministerial responsibility to take a decision, bring the legislation before the legislature, having worked in conjunction with the Civil Service in its preparation, and try to persuade the Assembly or the parliamentary body to accept it as produced in its draft form. But if a Committee of the House was responsible both for the preparation of the legislation and 1264 for steering it through, we should find ourselves in a legislative jungle. That is one problem which the Government must look at seriously in their constitutional review.
Probably one of the most important facets in the relationship of the Scottish Assembly with Westminster and Whitehall is that of funding. The matter has been raised by many hon. Members. It is well accepted that where the purse is, there the power resides. If we take the independent form of funding away from Scotland, the Assembly must of necessity remain a neutered body. If the Government give the Assembly the opportunity to raise finance, looking at it from the point of view of those who might be against the idea of Scottish devolution evolving into something more radical, and if they accept the argument that the power of the purse will take it a long distance to power, we shall find that the Government have gone further than they intended.
Looking at the matter from the point of view of many people in Scotland—I do not pretend that it is held by all people in Scotland—there will be a substantial claim that Scotland should have a direct interest in the revenues coming from the exploitation of North Sea oil. Anyone who has fought an election in Scotland during these past two years, or who has attended parliamentary debates recently, will know that this is a matter of great concern to the people of Scotland. We want this natural resource, which has been found off our coast, to be used for the restructuring of the Scottish economy and for the improvement of the social condition of the Scottish people.
I said that not everybody in Scotland would accept that viewpoint. Some hon. Members on both sides will immediately take exception if I say that everybody in Scotland holds that view. But a substantial number of people in Scotland feel that there should be direct funding of Scottish governmental activity from the oil revenues.
One of the problems of fund raising for the Scottish Assembly is the difficulty of evolving a separate taxation system or of the additional costs of the assessment and splitting up of the accounts of companies operating in different areas of the United Kingdom. However, if we apply the argument to oil in the first instance, before 1265 the Government throw in their hand in dealing with the oil companies, as I suspect they will, and rely upon the original estimate of £3,000 million per year in revenues once oil flows at the full rate, it will be simple to earmark the taxable oil profits to Scottish purposes.
If the Government accept the principle of what I am saying, they will have to decide what proportion they wish to give to Scotland. A petroleum revenue tax can be very simply worked out in relation to oil exploitation in the Scottish jurisdiction sector of the North Sea. Again, if we work on the basis that oil companies involved in the contracting exercises of the exploitation of oil are to be registered in Scotland and have their accounts arising from the North Sea oil, it will be a simple matter both to earmark the proportions of the PRT and corporation tax arising from the ultimate profits after deduction of PRT. There is no difficulty in that. The Government must reconcile the battle which they undoubtedly will have with the Treasury, which intensely dislikes the idea of earmarking any funds away from general purposes, with the clamant demand of the Scottish people for participation in Scottish oil resources.
Looking at the economic situation of Scotland, it is clear that in these difficult days the only real chance of restructuring the Scottish economy comes from the vast sum of cash available for investment in the Scottish economy. It has been estimated that it may take £10,000 million to improve the environment and economic structure of West-Central Scotland alone. That is the magnitude of the task which faces government in Scotland, whether it emerges from Westminster or from a Scottish Assembly.
I suggest that the Government should give close attention to the devolution of trading and industrial functions to the Scottish Assembly. We are not asking for an Assembly which will deal just with legislation or with the functions which the Secretary of State exercises at present. We want it to deal also with matters which will lead to an improvement in employment in Scotland. At the basis of much of the demand for self-government is the wish for greater opportunities within Scotland. We believe that it is from the inefficient economic 1266 policies from Westminster in the first instance in managing the British economy and secondly from policies which have in their centralist aspects discriminated against the development needs of Scotland that a great many of the problems of emigration and unemployment have stemmed.
Reference has been made to the report of the Scottish Council Research Institute. If hon. Members from other parts of the United Kingdom wish to look at the possibilities of devolved economic policy, I counsel them to consult that report.
This House must realise that people in Scotland insist that trade, industry and economic opportunity be among the first objectives of the Scottish Assembly. In our view, the delegation of powers already made under the Industry Act to the Secretary of State, while welcome, is insufficient and should be followed up with the delegation of further and more substantial powers.
I want briefly to refer to two other important matters raised in the debate. The first concerns the Common Market. The hon. Member for South Ayrshire was right to refer to the political consequences of certain decisions which might be taken by the United Kingdom about the Common Market. They could provoke a different response to the question of government within Scotland. The Government must consider that as a general possibility. In addition, they must consider now, in their devolution discussions, the kind of representation which the subordinate Scottish Assembly which they have in mind might have in the Council of Ministers or in the EEC structure if it eventually proved that the United Kingdom was to remain in the EEC. That is a thought which I leave with the Government to consider at what, unfortunately, has almost become their leisure.
The final matter which I wish to raise concerns the veto powers to which the Lord President referred. The right hon. Gentleman obviously feels that he is picking his way through a minefield in relation to reserve powers and to the right of the United Kingdom legislature to override decisions which might be taken by a Scottish Assembly even in relation to the functions devolved upon it but which at 1267 some date the United Kingdom legislature might decide were not welcomed by the United Kingdom generally.
The Government should bear in mind that even if they considered putting into the Bill some provision enabling Westminster to override the Scottish Assembly, those powers might not necessarily be exercisable. It is one thing to put such powers into a Bill. It would be quite another for any Government to try to override a body which had been elected by the Scottish people.
We are disappointed at the lack of progress that has been made by the Government during the 11 months that they have been in power. It suggests a reluctance on the part of certain Ministers to carry forward the proposals in the Labour Party manifesto in a purposeful and positive fashion. Time will tell. We ask the Government to keep to their timetable and to produce specific proposals for discussion in this House at a very early date.
§ 9.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Blenkinsop (South Shields)
I welcome the amount of emphasis on the United Kingdom element in this issue. The unity of the United Kingdom must be of prime concern. That does not mean uniformity, rigidity, and a loss of any chance of developing wider democratic action. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House had this point in mind in seeking to meet what he and I feel is the need for democratic control and decision making at regional level.
We already have regional government of a sort in England. We have it in the form of the officers of our Government Departments who take major decisions, in effect, off their own bats, and the enormous number of regional statutory bodies that we have all been responsible for setting up throughout the country. We in the North-East are not prepared to accept that situation without some attempt being made to establish effective democratic control.
Whatever may be the attitude amongst the constituents of the hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Jones), who said that there was no feeling or demand for regionalism, certainly in the North-East and in many other parts of England there are strongly growing demands, all the more strength- 1268 ened by the possibility of major changes industrially and economically proposed for Scotland.
We have been left with an unsatisfactory set of compromises which amount to the Local Government Act and give no regional provision for major planning, land use, or independent finance. However, we could start by reviewing the rôle and constitution of the regional economic advisory councils as either directly or indirectly elected bodies with an effective link with the major regional ad hoc bodies responsible for health matters and water. I see no reason why an experiment on those lines could not be begun in the north of England where there is a real demand for it to prove its value and importance.
I should like to emphasise what was bluntly and vigorously expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Urwin). I do not think that anyone in the North-East, or probably in the North-West and many other areas, could accept major devolution of industrial and economic decision making to Scotland without its full impact on England and Wales being understood.
§ 9.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Alick Buchanan-Smith (North Angus and Mearns)
I think that hon. Members on both sides of the House must be grateful for having had the opportunity of a two-day debate to express their views on this important matter. This is the first occasion since publication of the Kilbrandon Committee Report on which we have had the opportunity, in Government time, to debate this vital issue on the Floor of the House.
The great advantage of the debate has been to bring out into the open the whole question of devolution, which has unfortunately been too much behind the closed doors of the different parties represented in this House. The subject has been debated in the media at great length, but there have been only reports of the views of hon. Members and it has been refreshing to hear them stated in the House in this debate. The most significant result of the debate is that, as many of us suspected, the views held have been shown to cut across party boundaries. Let us not minimise the importance of this debate, which has been useful in 1269 bringing out into the open the opinions of many hon. Members.
Until we have resolved the arguments of principle about what form of evolution is appropriate we should not put too much pressure on the Government to spell out in great detail what they intend. I felt that the Lord President yesterday was a little inclined to put detail ahead of principle. I was more encouraged by the Secretary of State for Wales, who tried fairly to deal with the major matters of principle. We want to know where the Government stand on the principles. If there is still doubt, I would not mind the debate being extended until these matters are resolved, before we reach conclusions on details. Dealing with the detail first is putting the cart before the horse.
The debate has also helped, for the first time, to emphasise the implications of devolution for the whole United Kingdom—not just Scotland, Wales and Ireland. We have all welcomed the speeches of hon. Members from England. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) said yesterday, the consequences of getting this wrong will be there for us to regret for generations, and will be felt not only in Scotland and Wales but by every citizen of the United Kingdom. That is why, at this late stage, the views of hon. Members from England have been of particular value.
Up to now, there has been a temptation for hon. Members from England to ask what this debate means for the political and electoral balance of the House. That is important, but much more so is the long-term stability of the United Kingdom—and we must take account of the views of everyone in the Kingdom. I hope that we shall continue to have contributions of the English point of view when we discuss details in Committee. If this matter is ignored south of the border and we do not carry the whole Kingdom with us, we may regret what we do.
§ Mr. MacCormick
Does the hon. Member think, as I do, that what is much more important than some airy-fairy idea about the United Kingdom is the relationship between the Scots and the English? Does he not agree that that is more meaningful than just maintaining a certain set idea about the United Kingdom?
§ Mr. Buchanan-Smith
The hon. Gentleman has shown himself in his true colours. He has shown that he speaks for a minority in Scotland, in referring to the airy-fairy nature of the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom is a reality—and I say that as a Scot who has relations and friends on both sides of the border and in the Commonwealth. The nationalists have shown they are not prepared to accept the realities of the situation which face the people of Scotland today. The people of Scotland understand these things, if the hon. Member does not.
If things go wrong and we reach the wrong conclusions, bitterness and divisiveness will be unleased. An unwise action over the next year may be something we shall regret for many generations to come. We must try to make a much clearer distinction than hitherto of some of the principles underlying the debate. I regret that some hon. Members seemed to be dealing more with details than with principles. The hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Reid) said that he wanted us to discuss principles, but he then went on to deal with the question of where the Assembly should be located, its exact number of members, and so on. I do not believe that he and his party have worked out precisely on what principles they feel this devolution should take place. He and his party have allowed themselves to be carried far down the emotional road of nationalism, but they have ignored some of the realities which must be faced.
This fact was highlighted by the speech of the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson), who referred to the rising crescendo of the Hampden roar. This is the way in which many Scottish National Party Members have seen the whole debate—in the form of the Hampden roar. I prefer to see it, as do my friends, relatives and constituents, in terms of what is good for Scotland—the prosperity of Scotland, jobs, the standard of living and the quality of life. These are the things which concern me, not simply the Hampden roar. I hope that in further considering this matter the Government will look at this not simply as a reaction to a particular political situation. There is a political situation, and we are right to recognise it and to take it into account. I am quite prepared to face up to reality, 1271 and that reality is that only a small minority of people want separation. That is the reality the rest of us take into account, unlike the nationalists.
The debate has demonstrated precisely where the Scottish National Party stands. Too often in Scotland, in the constituencies and in the General Elections, the Scottish National Party has sought to be all things to all men. It stands for devolution without defining devolution. When its members talk of self-government they carefully seek to avoid mentioning the word "separation".
§ Mr. Buchanan-Smith
I shall not give way. The debate has shown clearly and categorically that the Scottish National Party stands for separation, that it is a party of separation, and that it would be better termed the Scottish Separatist Party. Only a minority of people in Scotland believe in that, but we must take account of political motivation and political feelings in Scotland.
Let us get down to the roots of the debate. It is about one thing more than any other, and that is the question whether we shall have better government for Scotland. That is the point from which I start, and I believe that it is the question by which people in Scotland and elsewhere will judge what we seek to do. Better government must be our objective, and the touchstone by which we judge the Government's proposals.
§ Mr. Crawford
The question is not "Shall we have better government?" but "Shall we have a Government in Scotland?"
§ Mr. Buchanan-Smith
I enjoy giving way to members of the hon. Gentleman's party, because they always show themselves up a little more. They show what they really stand for, and what an irresponsible party theirs is. The hon. Gentleman was not here yesterday. If that is the kind of respect he shows for the Government we have now, what kind of example does he set to people in Scotland and elsewhere? His is a party of demagogues, who seek to work with words instead of dealing with the realities of Government.
§ Mr. Buchanan-Smith
No. I would love to give way if I had more time, because if I did so the hon. Gentleman and his party would put their feet still further into the mire, and disappear down the drain. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman and his party do not want to hear the principles on which devolution should take place. They do not want to hear the arguments. I hope that hon. Members from other parts of the United Kingdom will note how they try to conduct the debate in Scotland. Fortunately, people in Scotland are not so foolish as to be deluded by this.
There are two principles on which we must work towards better government. First, we must achieve more diffusion of power from the centre. In many different ways we must seek government closer to those who are governed. But we must be careful when we say that. We must see that it does not just roll off our lips as a glib phrase instead of becoming a reality. I hope that the Government will pay more than lip-service to it.
It does not go without notice in Scotland that the planning agreements the Government are talking about entering into, and their proposals for organisations such as the National Enterprise Board, are moves of a centralising nature. These vitiate the diffusion of power which many of us genuinely seek. Therefore, I hope that the Government will seek to temper their policies of a particularly party political nature to make sure that we have the reality of diffusion of power, and not lip-service to it.
Secondly, it is important that we place more democratic control on the processes of government, in which I include many of the statutory bodies. The complexity of modern government has led to a degree of centralisation that affects people throughout the United Kingdom. It is true that in Scotland we have achieved a high degree of administrative devolution. What must be realised is that a great deal of the devolution that has been achieved so far has been of an administrative nature. Although the House of Commons has ensured that there has been democratic control, that has not been seen to be the position in Scotland. Democratic control has not been exercised in the way in which people in Scotland genuinely aspire towards.
§ Mr. Buchanan-Smith
I believe that the Kilbrandon Report demonstrates that much of the devolution that has been achieved has not been understood by the people in Scotland. It is worth reminding the House of the attitude that was reflected in the survey carried out by the Kilbrandon Report. About 34 per cent. of those surveyed did not realise that a Scottish Office existed. Another 18 per cent. were in doubt about its existence and only 48 per cent. were fully aware of its existence—[Interruption.] Members of the Scottish National Party joke and treat these matters with levity, instead of facing the realities of the present situation. I am prepared to accept the realities and I ask them to do so as well. We must accept the reality that devolution in Scotland has not had the effect on the Scottish people that many of us would have wished. That is why I believe we are right to seek to make the devolving of power administratively more of a reality through further measures of devolution.
§ Mr. Buchanan-Smith
The hon. Member for Argyll (Mr. MacCormick) has had plenty of time to speak and plenty of time to attend the debate. I have sat through nearly the whole of the debate and I have missed very few speeches. If the hon. Gentleman had done that I would have more respect for the kind of intervention that he is seeking to make. Until the Members of the Scottish National Party learn to behave in a democratic institution they can sit on their benches.
The next matter that concerns me in the improvement of government—I believe that that is the core of the debate—is the way in which, in recent years, we have been conducting Scottish business in the House. I question whether we have necessarily adopted the most effective way of doing so. Many hon. Members also have reservations, and I do not intend to go over them all tonight. The operations of the Scottish Grand Committee and Scottish Standing Committees are not fully understood by the people in Scotland. More important—this is a point that has not been made so far—is the fact that so many of us who genuinely take part in Scottish affairs in the House find that to a great extent we are hindered 1274 from taking a wider part in the affairs of the United Kingdom.
If through this search to get better and more effective devolution we can at the same time improve the processes of Scottish legislation, not only will that be a worthwhile end in itself; at the same time it will release Scottish Members at Westminster to play a more effective rôle in the United Kingdom Parliament. Through seeking devolution in further ways we can not only achieve a better diffusion of power from the centre; at the same time we can introduce a more democratic control of the processes of government as they now exist. Further, we can make the rôle of the Scottish Member at Westminster more meaningful than it has been for a number of years.
I now return to another central theme of the debate—the unity and integrity of the United Kingdom. The debate has been useful in showing up those who believe in it and those who do not. The hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire referred to devolution as a continuing and ongoing process. All of us know the end of the road which the hon. Gentleman and his party seek—the break-up of the United Kingdom. The commentators in the media have not realised that devolution beyond a certain stage will lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom.
To take one example, the Scottish Council Research Institute Report started with the premise that the unity and integrity of the United Kingdom should be maintained. In arguing for devolution the report came logically to the point of conflict between the Scottish Executive and that of the United Kingdom. In that case, the report said, the view of the Scottish Executive must prevail. That immediately shows the weakness of arguments which follow that road. If devolution goes too far one reaches that conclusion. What do the integrity and unity of the United Kingdom mean if on certain issues of United Kingdom importance the subsidiary part has the final decision?
In the debate on devolution as it continues I hope that those who pay lip-service to the unity of the United Kingdom will be honest with themselves and accept that there is a certain point beyond which it is dangerous to pass if that unity is not to be broken up once and for all.
1275 Those who believe in separation may not be satisfied. But if we are complacent in believing that we have a solution, unless we define the limits the solution will blow up in our faces in the years ahead. That is why my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border was right in saying that this is a choice which must be spelt out clearly and uniquivocally. It is an issue which we cannot fudge, and we fudge it at our peril.
I say to the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, East (Miss Harvie Anderson) that saying that there are certain limits beyond which we should not go is no excuse for doing nothing. Those who speak from that point of view are neither facing the political realities nor accepting the tremendous scope that exists for improving the machinery of government generally. I agree with the principle expressed by the hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire, but not with his conclusions. I hope that devolution is organic and continuing. We have administrative devolution and the time has come to take this step towards legislative devolution.
I refer to three major areas on which I hope the Secretary of State will comment. The first is finance, which is crucial. I favour what the Lord President said about the block grant. The expenditure approach is less likely to lead to difficulties than are some of the other methods suggested. The whole question of raising finance was gone into in relation to local government. We know the problems, and a clear-cut and well understood system will be best. We must take into account oil revenues. I say that not in the sense of greedily trying to claim everything that comes from oil revenues, because oil is a matter for the United Kingdom as a whole. Oil development in Scotland will involve increased expenditure. We must ensure that that expenditure takes place.
The nature of the Executive of the Assembly will require further discussion in the future. I have an open mind on this. I ask the Government not to close their mind to the idea of the committee system. I urge those who laugh and joke about that to refer to the 1276 Kilbrandon Report at paragraphs 897–901, which form a considerable justification—with one reservation—of the benefits of that system. It is a system I have heard advocated within this House. It is a system which has motivated some hon. Members into trying to extend the Select Committee procedure. Members of a Scottish Assembly may feel a lack of participation in the same way as do many hon. Members in this House. If the committee system will import a degree of participation we should not reject it because of certain defects. One defect concerns the introduction of legislation. I hope that more work can be done on that issue.
I have no reservations about the devolution to the Assembly of those powers already devolved to the Secretary of State. It is right that the Secretary of State or the Assembly should have certain powers dealing with regional development, because this is not just a question of industry and jobs. It concerns roads, communications, houses, schools, and so on. More control over such matters should be vested in Scotland. Those who say that all of these powers should be devolved to Scotland should remember that in doing so we would be opting out of many of the benefits of United Kingdom development policy. Without such a policy, where would Ravenscraig, Bathgate or Linwood have been? I hope that in Scotland we shall be able to make our claim to mobile industry.
Those who argue for complete separation are opting out of such benefits. They are completely ignoring the benefits we have received through the industrial development certificate system. If we opt out of such a system it will be to the detriment of the livelihood of the people of Scotland.
Everyone realises that we are on the threshold of constitutional changes of monumental proportions. We must make those changes not simply to meet the emotions of nationalism but to achieve better government, not only in Scotland but throughout the rest of the United Kingdom. If we seek simply to satisfy political aspirations with measures which can never satisfy the appetites of those who seek total separation and the break-up of the United Kingdom, our endeavours are bound to fail.
1277 This debate has shown that we cannot and must not treat the subject casually, with the kind of levity we have heard from those on the Scottish National Party bench. The views of hon. Members are strongly and deeply held, and I respect them. I hope that the Government will seriously consider what has been said. I know that they will do their best, through a White Paper on or in other ways, to deploy the arguments fully. I favour devolution to a Scottish Assembly, provided that the limits of devolution are recognised and clearly laid down. We cannot afford to create a muddle.
§ 9.35 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. William Ross)
In most quarters of the House there has been an appreciation of the importance of this debate. I am not for one moment suggesting that this is the last of these debates.
What is a little disappointing about the debate is that some people seem to think that we should now begin to talk about the issues. It came as somewhat of a surprise to me that the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw), and indeed the hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Buchanan-Smith), should make those comments, bearing in mind that it was in the Queen's Speech in June 1970 that the then Conservative administration said that they would bring forward proposals for a Scottish Assembly. I would have thought that by now they had settled whether they were in favour of that idea and that they would give the House some idea of what it would involve. The Conservatives preceded the Royal Commission on the Constitution with a commission of their own chaired by Sir Alec Douglas-Home, as he then was. It is a little late to say that we must now start arguing right from the beginning.
§ Mr. Ross
The hon. Gentleman has some responsibility for that within his own party. We have instituted a debate within the country. What did people say who were interested in the subject? They said "We must have Kilbrandon". The word "Kilbrandon" was raised all over the country. I should like to think that as many people who raised that cry have now read the report.
The hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook) said that to a certain extent the SNP in his considered view was irrelevant, and that is quite right. One thing that Kilbrandon showed, having gone into the matter for four years, was that only a small minority of people in Scotland and Wales favoured separation. It is exactly the same situation today. I should like to feel that those in Kilmarnock who voted for me voted for red-blooded Socialism, but if every member of the SNP thinks that every vote he received was registered by somebody who wanted separation, the SNP has a lot to learn.
§ Mr. Ross
The hon. Gentleman should have been here yesterday. The fact is that there is no doubt that the people of Scotland are not yet persuaded that separation is what they want. The people of Scotland—Socialists, Conservatives and others—are just as proud of being British as they are of being Scottish. The Kilbrandon Report brought out that identity. The national identity of Scotland does not require the establishment of a nation State in order to preserve it.
The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) spoke of the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom existed 100 years before the union of the Parliaments. We in Scotland, whether we calculate from 1603 or 1707, have not lost our sense of national identity, nor have we within Scotland lost our sense of identity in regard to the people of the Western Isles and their culture. I refer to the people of Shetland and Orkney and 1279 their culture. [HON. MEMBERS: "They are different."] Of course they are different cultures. That is the whole point. Being part of one State does not mean that they lose that identity. I remember that in the war I was not in the Army, the Navy or the Air Force. I was in the HLI. We liked to keep our identity—even though a Tory Government later wiped us out.
I was in the Shetlands for some time during the war. One of the things I had to do during the war was to see the Home Guard in various parts of the country. I made the mistake of calling them "Scots". They were highly offended, and rightly so. It means that after all this time of union within Scotland they retain and are proud of their separate culture.
This is one of the things we have to watch in relation to the kind of exaggeration we get from the Scottish National Party. We can retain our identity, and we can play our part in what I consider is an essential political and economic union that gives strength to the whole country.
I know what hon. Members opposite will say. Perhaps an hon. Gentleman will quote Burns. I heard them muttering something about it yesterday. I wondered whether perhaps I should propose a toast to the Lassies tonight, in view of what has been happening outside. The mistake that hon. Gentlemen on those benches make is to believe that one has only to label something as Scottish and therefore it is wonderful. The hon. Lady, the Member for Moray and Nairn (Mrs. Ewing), in one of her many interventions last night, said we led the first industrial revolution. Where were the decisions made? They were made in Scotland. By whom were they made? By Scots. But what was the result for the Scottish people? The result was the tenements from which we have not even yet escaped, the huddling of our people in towns and all those horrors.
When hon. Gentlemen and the hon. Lady talk about Scottish oil, I would say that it is oil belonging to the people who own the companies—and it will, until they face up to the fact that profits come from ownership and are prepared to join with us making this the people's 1280 oil. It was suggested that we were only making this devolution to please Willie. I wanted to know whether it was Willie Whitelaw, Willie Ross or Willie Hamilton, but I can assure the House that we are not doing this to appease the nationalists. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] You will agree, Mr. Speaker, that at least they are predictable. From this point of view one can never satisfy their appetite. When they tell me that they intend to co-operate with the Assembly when it is set up, irrespective of the power and irrespective of its financing, I must reply that I would like to see a little more co-operation in the debates in this House and different behaviour from that of the past few days and the past few minutes, behaviour which gives me little justification for considering that they are very serious about this matter.
We are concerned about a change in the machinery of government which, to my mind, will not conflict with the unity and political integrity of the United Kingdom. The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) made a very good speech. When he started talking about Pitt and Burke in the context of this place, I wondered whether what we were proposing would lead to the collapse of democracy. We are proud of Pitt and Burke and of their part in British history, but we did not have democracy at the time. I draw his attention to the fact that tomorrow the House will have its time devoted entirely to Scottish affairs. The Housing Rents and Subsidies (Scotland) Bill will be followed by the District Courts (Scotland) Bill. He is suggesting that taking these measures off the Floor of the House and dealing with them in Scotland in a Scottish Assembly would mean the collapse of this place.
§ Mr. Powell
I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman. Tomorrow, should there be a Division, the English Members and maybe even the Northern Ireland Members will also vote. But in the event of these subjects being removed from this House to an Assembly alsewhere, that would be an impracticable relationship.
§ Mr. Ross
I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman has noticed what has been happening even over the past few years. When I came to his House, the Scottish Committee dealt with the Committee stage of every Bill, and it was made up by a sufficient number of added Members to retain the majority of the Government of the day. That is not the position today. There are no English Members on the Scottish Standing Committee—and a Government of which the right hon. Gentleman was still a supporter made that change. He should have been protesting about it. As a measure of interim devolution, I would like to see the Scottish Grand Committee restricted to Scottish Members of Parliament, with a membership proportionate to the parties. It would be an interesting exercise in parliamentary devolution in this place. The right hon. Gentleman overplayed his hand in this matter.
We have been told that we must do the same for Wales as for Scotland, but the histories of the two countries are entirely different. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Wales pointed out that it is 10 years since his office was created. It is 90 years since the office of Secretary of State for Scotland was created. We have had 90 years of change in this Parliament affecting the way in which Scottish business is dealt with. We got to the stage of having a Scottish Committee.
§ Mr. Ross
I did not realise that the hon. Gentleman had not even paid his dues.
It is 90 years since this Parliament passed an Act creating the office of Secretary of State for Scotland.I certainly never expected to have such an honour imposed on me as that of carrying out a measure I have unceasingly denounced, fortunately only in private.That is what the Duke of Richmond and Gordon said when he was offered the job by Lord Salisbury. He expressed his 1282 gratitude and took on the job. Lord Salisbury was concerned that he should do so because he required the right man for the job. He thought that certain other people would be an insult to Scotland. He said thatthe effulgence of two dukedoms and the best salmon river in Scotland will go a long wayto make him the right person for the job.
We are way beyond that kind of appreciation of what will satisfy Scotland today. Taking the changes that have been made in administrative devolution, since 1951 there have been changes in relation to transport in Scotland, a Countryside Commission, a Highlands and Islands Development Board and changes in relation to many aspects of Scottish administration. It becomes more and more difficult for the Scottish Minister properly to supervise those.
The right hon. Lady the Member for Renfrewshire, East (Miss Harvie Anderson) asked what would happen to the Secretary of State. It was said that the problem of who would hold his position after the devolution of functions was enough to give anyone a coronary. That will not worry me, because after acting as Secretary of State for Scotland for nearly seven years I seem to be immune from that. Easing of these pressures will be one of the achievements of an Assembly dealing with some of those matters that are presently the concern of a Secretary of State for Scotland. Let no one underestimate what we have already decided in relation to education, housing and health, which are important aspects of the lives of Scottish people.
There are others who say that we must have this or that, and hon. Gentlemen nod their heads. However, we must not arrive at the point where we have difficulty in controlling the economy, and will strain the political unity of the United Kingdom. The hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Urwin) spoke about that today. He said that there was concern that Scotland and Wales are getting away with things. I think he is wrong. We have always been modest in our demands, although perhaps persuasive and successful.
There was a time when I was worried, when special development areas were created. It was right that they should 1283 be created. This is what can be done when we control the whole of the United Kingdom from the economic point of view, being fair to all parts, and being flexible in relation to the aid given. The amounts allowed per job under the regional policy were higher in the more remote areas. My right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay), then President of the Board of Trade laid down our regional policies. Let us not think that in throwing that away we shall gain something for Scotland.
I should like to quote what was said by the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. Crawford) about the motor car industry and aluminium industry in Scotland.
§ Mr. Ross
I shall not give way since I must deal quickly with some of the points raised in the few minutes left to me.
The hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire asked a question about the location of the Assembly. I was asked whether I could make clear the thinking of the House of Commons on certain aspects. I was disappointed that many speakers gave no indication of what they felt. The location of the Assembly will be Edinburgh. On the basis of yesterday's announcement, the Scottish Assembly will initially meet in Edinburgh. Today we have, through the Property Services Agency, initiated local consultation by making a first approach to owners of certain existing buildings which might be suitable. Edinburgh Corporation are being asked about buildings in their possession and in particular about the buildings in Regent's Road, which were formerly occupied by the Royal High School and which now house the City Arts Centre. The Church of Scotland has been approached about the availability of any of its properties. Finally, officials have today written to the Governors of Donaldson's Trust about their building in west-central Edinburgh.
§ Mr. Ross
The hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith) made a good speech. Unfortunately, he delivered it with his customary blimpish aggression, 1284 with the result that the sound sense of it was lost.
I mention these approaches because we are not ignoring essential details which must be taken into account in relation to the culmination of our policy.
As for the government of the Assembly itself and whether it should be a committee or a ministerial system, we received some guidance from right hon. and hon. Members. But most of them ignored one important factor. In the Welsh Assembly it may be that the committee system will be better. But it is difficult in a Scottish sense for me to understand how it would be better in terms of the preparation of legislation. If we look at the major local authorities, where the committee system is in operation, we find that they tend to be controlled by caucuses and that they create their own ministers. It is important that this matter should be given further consideration, and I should like more advice from hon. Members about some of the essential details on which these decisions must be based.
As for the position of the Secretary of State and the number of Members, this is a matter to which I have no doubt hon. Members representing English constituencies will be turning their minds. It is very difficult to justify the continuation of 71 Members of Parliament and a Secretary of State. However, taking away even what is to be taken away from the Secretary of State, the result is a difference of only two Questions every three weeks. Bearing in mind all the other matters which will still touch the affairs of Scotland and which are of importance to Scotland, I think that the Government are right to say that there should be 71 Members of Parliament.
The functions of the Secretary of State have changed over the past 90 years. Even last week, announcements were made giving further powers and responsibilities to the Secretary of State. I remind the House that Scotland is affected by decisions which are made in relation to such matters as the Channel Tunnel or Maplin. Important decisions which apparently have nothing to do with Scotland can affect Scotland, and for that reason we must have a voice in the Cabinet.
We did not get very much advice from right hon. and hon. Members about 1285 the number of Members for the Assembly. I was hoping to hear a little more about whether it was felt that the number should be 71 or 142. But I assure the House that we have gone past the stage of just talking about the principle. We accept the principle of the need in Wales and Scotland for meaningful Assemblies. We think that a Scottish Assembly will be to the benefit of the good government of the people of Scotland. We think that it will be acceptable to the people of Scotland, and we do not consider, judging from the advice which we have been given today, that this House wants to endanger the political and economic integrity of the United Kingdom. Apart 1286 from one party in this House, the general feeling—[Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Western Isles spoke for the Scottish people yesterday, he spoke very badly—or perhaps I should say that he read very badly. He was prepared to look at passports, at Customs houses, and at all the paraphernalia of separation. The Scottish people reject that view.
We can retain our identity. We can retain it within the United Kingdom. I am sure that this will be the decision of the Scottish people in the future, as it has been in the recent past. Yet—
§ It being Ten o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.