§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Mr. Speaker
May I inform the House that it would have been easier for me on this occasion if right hon. and hon. Members who did not wish to speak had dropped me a line. Right hon. and hon. Members in considerable numbers have been kind enough to indicate to me not only that they wished to speak but the day on which they wished to speak and whether their speeches should be made early in the debate or later.
I regard myself as a servant of the House and I try to meet the wishes of right hon. and hon. Members, but I must express the warning that it may be difficult to do so on this occasion. I hope to ensure that every point of view—and there are many—has a chance to be heard during the debate. Unless I receive very strong representations to the contrary from the House, although the Secretary of State for Scotland will speak on one day and the Secretary of State for Wales on another, I propose to regard the debate as a whole and not to have a Welsh day or a Scottish day, but to have each day for the House.
May I say to right hon. Members that today I shall rely on their kindness in waiting a little longer before they are called, because I propose to see that the minority points of view, as well as the views of the major parties, are heard early in the debate.
§ Mr. Leo Abse (Pontypool)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I have on the Order Paper a reasoned amendment calling for a referendum before the Bill comes into effect, an amendment signed by at least 70 of my hon. Friends and 20 Opposition Members. I should be obliged if the House could be told whether the amendment will be called.
§ Mr. Speaker
I am still giving consideration to the question of the amendments on the Order Paper. I shall in due course indicate to the House my decision. The hon. Gentleman may be well assured that I have been watching the Order Paper very carefully. I do not propose to call an amendment today.
§ 3.48 p.m.
§ The Prime Minister (Mr. James Callaghan)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen to acquaint the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Bill, has consented to place her Prerogative and interest, so far as they are affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.
The parliamentary debate on the Bill will be one of great constitutional importance. I should like to begin with a sentence or two about the background. Since the time when Scotland first entered voluntarily into Union with England she has guarded her own systems and institutions, and the arrangements for her government under the Crown have always been different from those for England.
The present arrangements are the outcome of steady development, through the establishment of a Secretary for Scotland in 1885—he became a Secretary of State later—and the transfer of most Scottish Office work from London to Edinburgh in 1939. There is now a very large administrative structure in Scotland, although it all pivots on the single office of the Secretary of State for Scotland.
The setting in Wales is somewhat different. There is no separate Welsh law but the awareness of nationhood is plainly felt, and Wales has maintained a distinctive culture and a sizeable minority of the people, including a number of hon. Members, speak the Welsh language. The desire for a separate Welsh dimension of government was recognised in ministerial titles in 1951. In 1964 my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson) took the crucial step of establishing the office of Secretary of State for Wales. Its administrative functions have grown markedly since then, though as in Scotland the political aspect has remained centred on the single office.
Nevertheless, despite these developments dissatisfaction continued to exist with the relationship between Wales and Scotland and Westminster, coupled with the demand for a greater measure of self-government. I think that it is as well to pause here and to note that this movement of popular will is not something 976 that is odd or isolated to the United Kingdom. It is an expression in the British context of a tendency—an aspiration—which can be seen in other parts of the world.
As government has become bigger and more pervasive, operating internationally in ever larger groupings, components of the old sovereign States, and especially minority components, have become more conscious of a special individual identity and tradition. They have increasingly felt a fresh need to assert and maintain their identity. There are illustrations of this in other countries, even though the exact circumstances differ—within France. Brittany and Corsica; in the regions of Italy; most topically in Quebec.
I do not subscribe to the view—although having studied all these cases I agree that there are differences—that in general these widespread feelings represent a considered demand for separation or a desire to break up partnerships which in many cases have endured for centuries. What seems to me to be true and important is that where no better or more representative means is available for the expression of that individual identity and tradition, the vehicle often tends to be a vote for a party with a separatist dogma.
If that is right, it is for this Parliament to provide channels for the real desire to express itself—namely, in a fuller and truer recognition of the continuing identity of the component parts of the kingdom. It is not for us in Parliament to block those channels and assume the responsibility of rupturing a shared and a splendid history.
The purpose of the Bill, therefore, is to give the Scottish and Welsh people a surer guarantee and a more relevant instrument of national identity than a protest vote thrown to an extreme theory.
§ The Prime Minister
There will be a long time for debating these matters.
The essence of the nationalist parties is to believe that national identity and a United Kingdom are competitors and rivals. We think exactly the opposite. They are partners, each enriching the other. It is on that fundamental judgment 977 that the Government's policy and this Bill are based.
The origins of the Bill can be found in the Royal Commission on the Constitution, which was set up seven years ago. The Commission did not arrive at an agreed prescription, but there was during its course a continuous discussion which helped to illuminate the implications of change and the difficulties we faced and face now. Since the present Government came to power in 1974, we have published a discussion document and sought wide consultation upon it. Later, a White Paper was published, in September 1974, that committed the Government to setting up directly elected Assemblies. That commitment was repeated in our General Election manifesto in the following month. A year later a White Paper was published containing detailed schemes built around the basic decisions.
In that connection, I should like to pay tribute to the work done by the former Leader of the House, Edward Short, and to the contributions made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) and by my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Fowler).
As a result of the continuing flow of consultation and comment, including the very important debates that were held in this House and in another place in January this year, the Government have proposed several important modifications of the original schemes for Wales and Scotland, and we published our conclusions in August. Now, after these years of discussion, the Bill is placed before Parliament.
I doubt whether any major measure has come before the House after such extensive discussion, certainly not in recent years. That is as it should be in the case of a constitutional measure of such great scope and lasting importance. This is a measure for Wales and Scotland and a measure for preserving the unity of the United Kingdom.
Before I pass on to describe some of the major features of the Bill, perhaps I should comment on the procedures.
§ Mr. John Mendelson (Penistone)
On the cardinal point about the public discussion, does not my right hon. Friend agree that that does not include time for a discussion by the major political institutions 978 of this country, such as party conferences? The Labour Party has spent 20 minutes on this major subject so far.
§ The Prime Minister
The conferences in Scotland and in Wales debated these matters on many occasions, over a period of probably 10 years or even longer. I do not speak for the Conservative Party conference. I looked up this matter, wondering whether I should be questioned about it. I understand that there was no resolution at the Conservative Party conference, but there was a discussion—though what discussion there was of devolution took place in a short constitutional session. However, the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition will be able to tell us more.
As regards the Labour Party conference, I have in front of me a long resolution that was passed by a very substantial majority, welcoming the White Paper and urging the Government to establish a timetable that would allow the Bill to become law in 1977—indeed, carrying through the particular proposals that I think my hon. Friend will find are included in the Bill now, although not absolutely all of them. The resolution concluded by saying that the conference called on all Labour Members of Parliament and the Labour movement to unite behind this policy.
However, perhaps I may be allowed to comment on procedures. The Government plan to make more Government time available on the Floor of the House than for any non-Finance Bill in recent years—indeed, more than for nearly every Finance Bill. We have in mind that about 30 sitting days should be made available for all stages in this House. This is a large slice of the parliamentary year to set aside. We do it so that there can be adequate time for serious and measured discussion of all the different parts of the Bill.
I should like to go further this afternoon. We are ready to discuss with all the parties affected how this large slice of time might be allocated among the different stages and among different parts of the Bill so as to give an effective and balanced scrutiny to its various aspects. We are ready to try to reach agreement on this matter.
That proposition is made in all good faith. We do this because we believe 979 the people of Scotland and of Wales look to Parliament to reach a definite conclusion on the Bill and not just to allow it to be filibustered into oblivion. Now that the Government have placed the Bill before Parliament, Scotland and Wales are entitled to a clear verdict and not just an interminable and never-ending flow of argument. I repeat that on the question of how we conduct our proceedings the Government will seek to proceed by agreement, and I hope for a response.
This may also be a convenient moment for me to refer to the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Ponty-pool (Mr. Abse) before the debate started and to the proposal for holding referenda in connection with the Bill. The House will have seen from what I have said that there is no question of rushing legislation in the programme that the Government are proposing. It is, therefore, perfectly proper, in strict constitutional terms, for Parliament to take the final decision.
On the other hand, I note from my hon. Friend's motion, and from a motion in the names of, I think, the hon. Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson) and others, that there are many on both sides of the House who would like to see the final schemes subjected to a special test of popular opinion. I recognise that there is a substantial body of opinion in favour of this.
I should like to describe the Government's position on this matter. I admit freely that it is an interim position. Although we have begun consideration of the question of referenda—and I take it that hon. Members would sooner that we gave proper consideration to it than just jumped to a conclusion—we have not yet reached a conclusion. It is not an entirely straightforward matter. The Government's studies include the very important practical questions that will need to be settled if a decision in favour of referenda is reached. We shall, of course, be influenced by what is said during the course of this debate, which the Lord President will wind up, and we shall take this into account in considering both the principle and the practical and procedural questions that would be involved.
980 I can give an undertaking to those honourable Members who are in favour of referenda that the Government will come forward with considered conclusions at an early stage in our discussions on all the issues that would be involved in holding referenda and will ensure that the House has adequate time to discuss the whole matter during the Committee stage. I repeat that the House will be able to reach conclusion on the question of referenda in a properly considered manner, with the full assistance of the Government and with our recommendations in front of it. I hope that with those assurances honourable Members will be prepared to give a Second Reading to the Bill, knowing that their position is fully safeguarded.
§ Mr. Neil Kinnock (Bedwellty)
In view of the enormous importance that large numbers of people in Scotland and Wales especially attach to the holding of referenda on this considerable constitutional proposal and in view of the large number of submissions made over a long period to various Ministers, is my right hon. Friend aware that this dangling proposition is not enough to satisfy the deeply held opinions of many Government supporters? Can he say whether the Government will be putting forward at an early stage—and, if so, when—any amendment to the proposals in the Bill to give a watertight assurance that this proper consultation will take place?
§ The Prime Minister
I understand my hon. Friend's point of view, and I am trying to meet it. I am not trying to dangle anything or to dodge anything. When we come to look at the practical problems involved, we should have proper consideration. All that I am saying is that we are considering this matter seriously. We are impressed by what has been said and by the volume of support given to it. We want to examine these questions fairly and properly.
I cannot say at what exact moment they will be brought forward—it may even be during the Christmas Recess. But at any rate I shall try to ensure that it is before the Committee stage starts or immediately afterwards, so that there will be proper time for discussion of them, and the considerations 981 that we have reached will be before the House. If it is our view at the end of these conclusions that there should be referenda, we shall put down properly drawn amendments for that purpose. If that is not our conclusion, we shall at the same time ensure that everyone has a full opportunity, with time being provided, so that this matter can be thrashed out properly with the full information before the House. I do not think that I can go further than that. I hope that that will be thought to be fair.
§ Mr. Patrick McNair-Wilson (New Forest)
Does not the Prime Minister agree that the price of the failure of this legislation could be very high? In view of the differing views to which he has referred, is he now saying that he has closed his mind to having referenda before the whole parliamentary process has been completed? It seems to many hon. Members that it is a waste of a parliamentary Session to discuss a measure which may have the wrong solution at the end, and that it would be wiser to have the referenda now.
§ The Prime Minister
The Government's view on that differs from the hon. Gentleman's. We believe that the people should be aware of the matters about which they are voting and that the scheme should be put before them so that they know what it is. But it is precisely this kind of question and the way in which the questions in referenda should be framed that we are thinking about now.
§ Mr. Abse
I appreciate my right hon. Friend's comments but, in the consideration that he may be giving to these matters, will he note that the fundamental problem arises because of the manner in which, lamentably, despite the advice received from all sides, this Bill enmeshes both the Welsh and the Scottish questions and, therefore, that in any referenda which took place Wales could give a contrary view to that in Scotland? In any consideration that my right hon. Friend is giving to any proposal, we require clarification to make quite sure that, if the people of Wales give the reply which I believe they will, namely, to get rid of this miserable measure, we may be certain that the Government will be prepared to effect the massive task of disengaging the Welsh aspects from this dual Bill so that there can be a clear and unequivocal 982 response to what I believe will be the demand of the people of Wales.
§ The Prime Minister
This is one of the problems engaging the Government's mind at present. [Interruption.] I can give my hon. Friend and those who scoff the preliminary answer, which is that it would be possible to draft amendments to produce different answers in different parts. If that happened, that would be a successful ending to my hon. Friend's problem. This is exactly the kind of matter that we shall want to consider in detail later. But I do not think that my hon. Friend will find that it is such a massive task as he thinks at the moment. I give only a preliminary answer to that. We shall give a final answer later, but in proper time for a full discussion of all these matters.
There are four guiding principles which underlie the present Bill. They are: a respect for the diversity and distinctive tradition of Scotland and Wales; political and economic unity of the Kingdom; the sovereignty of Parliament; and fairness to the whole of the United Kingdom. Let me elaborate briefly on each of these.
The first is a respect for diversity and distinctive tradition. The unity of the United Kingdom should not mean uniformity.
§ Mr. Neil Macfarlane (Sutton and Cheam)
Will the Prime Minister give way on that point about the unity of the United Kingdom?
§ The Prime Minister
I have a feeling that we shall hear a lot about the unity of the United Kingdom in the debates that lie ahead. I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman will seek to catch Mr. Speaker's eye in order to advance his point of view. I hope that he will excuse me if I do not give way to him now.
I was saying that the unity of the United Kingdom should not mean uniformity. Otherwise the possibility of a divergence in aim or method embraced in the devolution idea would have no point. In essence, therefore, the Bill leaves domestic decisions to the new Assemblies, which will answer for them to their electors and not to Westminster or Whitehall. The kind of issue for which the Assemblies will have responsibility include such important matters as 983 housing, health, and education, economic issues such as industrial development and factory building, aspects of local government, the social services, forestry and fisheries and, in the case of Scotland, many law functions. But, at the same time, the Bill provides reserve safeguards to enable the Government and Parliament to restrain divergence where its practice could harm other parts of the United Kingdom and thus damage our unity.
The next principle is political and economic unity. The components of the United Kingdom have an immense bond of shared history and friendship.
§ Mr. Macfarlane
I am grateful to the Prime Minister for giving way to me at long last. On this point about the unity of the United Kingdom, will he comment on the fact that a little more than two years ago some 60 candidates of the Scottish National Party were defeated and that 33 Plaid Cymru candidates were defeated? On what basis does he deduce that this Bill is what the United Kingdom wants to hear a debate about at the moment?
§ The Prime Minister
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has got that off his chest. Now I can proceed.
Working in union over the years, the component parts of the United Kingdom have achieved far more than any of us could have done separately. This Bill reflects the overwhelming desire of the country to preserve and maintain the unity of the kingdom.
The third principle is the continuing sovereignty of Parliament. Devolution as expressed in this Bill is the delegation of part of Parliament's powers and not the surrender of them. The expression and guarantee of our political unity under the Crown is the common authority of Parliament and particularly of this House. That theme runs through the Bill.
The fourth guiding principle is fairness throughout the United Kingdom. Devolution is not an instrument for conferring advantages on Scotland and Wales that will not be available to England. The people of Scotland and Wales do not seek that. Devolution is a concept for the improvement of democratic government. 984 It is not a device for the redeployment of the resources of the United Kingdom in a different way, or for changing the economic balance within the United Kingdom to the detriment of one of its parts. This Parliament will remain the guardian of fairness and equity between the different parts of the United Kingdom.
Last week the Government published a consultative document on the English dimension. The purpose was to make clear that, whilst the Government have no present plans for altering the structure of government in England, we wish to focus thought and discussion to assess how people in England would like to see our institutions develop. There will be a full round of consultations on these matters and in the light of them the Government can come to a conclusion on what action, if any, ought to be taken.
The arrangements in the Bill for sharing resources are specifically designed to ensure fairness. The people of Scotland and Wales, like some of the English regions, will continue to receive shares of public expenditure above the national average for so long as their needs justify this, without having to pay higher taxes. The final decisions on these matters will properly rest with Parliament, where all parts of the Kingdom are represented.
Overall industrial and regional policies will continue to be settled by Parliament. There are safeguards where powers affecting industry are devolved, such as the guidelines within which the industrial investment powers of the Scottish and Welsh Development Agencies will operate. These safeguards ensure fairness between all partners in the United Kingdom, and the legitimate interests of all are firmly and visibly protected.
The shape of the Bill faithfully reflects what Members will have read in the more accessible language of the Government White Papers. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has made available an informal simplified account of how the Bill is constructed and what it contains.
Part I is brief. Within this single brief clause there are three vital propositions. The first is that changes shall be made:in the government of Scotland and Wales as parts of the United Kingdom.985 The second sentence of the clause does two things. It rejects separatism and federalism. No doubt there will be much argument about these two concepts during the passage of the Bill. I have made some references to separatism already and I shall spend no more time on it today. Let those who believe in it argue their case, but it will be overwhelmingly rejected by the people of the United Kingdom.
The other proposition, federalism, which is rejected in Clause 1, has a more superficial attraction because it has been widely applied in successful States which share with us the Western tradition of democracy. The Kilbrandon majority report ruled out federalism firmly, some might think harshly, and the Government have reached the same conclusion but perhaps without the same harshness. We looked realistically at the characteristics of federalism and at the conditions in the United Kingdom, and we concluded that they simply did not match. Federalism is an excellent system, but it is not for us.
Let me pick out just two reasons why this is so. First, full-blooded federalism is most effective in large countries which, by reason of geography and tradition, can tolerate wide divergencies in law, practice and economic matters. None of these factors is present in this country, where there exists a situation of close economic and social integration, and where expectations of parity of treatment are high.
Secondly, in our judgment, we cannot have a country which is part federal and part unitary. A federal Scotland, or Wales, or Northern Ireland, would compel federalism in England and would impose on England a wholly unwanted and artificial set of divisions. For no federation so far has worked with one federal part having five-sixths of the total population of the whole. The task before us is to modernise and reinvigorate a partnership between a large historic nation and three much smaller historic nations. I say that federalism is simply not a relevant road for the United Kingdom.
Part II of the Bill provides for the establishment of the Scottish Assembly and the Welsh Assembly and provides that initially each parliamentary constituency shall elect two Members to the 986 Assembly, except in the case of large constituencies, where there will be three Members. This will mean that there will be about 150 Assembly Members in Scotland and 80 in Wales.
They will serve for a fixed term of four years—that is to say, there will be no provision for earlier dissolution of the Assembly—and will be elected by the same system as the House of Commons. Members of local authorities as well as Members of Parliament are not barred from standing for election, nor are clergymen and peers disqualified.
Clause 16 provides for full freedom of speech in the conduct and reporting of Assembly business.
Clauses 18 and 19 provide that the Scottish Assembly shall have powers of legislation. Schedule 2 sets out the general principles governing the extent of these powers, including a bar on amending the Scotland and Wales Act itself.
Clause 20 is an important clause that has been inserted following debates in the House of Commons last January. It relates to the scrutiny of Scottish Assembly Bills and provides that, if the Government think a Bill exceeds the legal powers of the Assembly, the Government themselves cannot reject it, but can submit it to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, by whose finding they and the Assembly must then abide. The clause also provides that if the Government regard a Bill as contrary to the international obligations of the United Kingdom the Government can reject it, for international obligations must remain the responsibility of the central Government.
Clauses 21 to 25 are about the main functions of the Assemblies, providing for the setting up of a Scottish Executive, headed by a Chief Executive, with assistants who would be like Parliamentary Secretaries. The appointment of the Executive is formally in the hands of the Secretary of State, but he will be bound by the Assembly's and the Chief Executive's wishes. In the case of Wales, Clause 22 provides for the Welsh Assembly itself to exercise executive powers in devolved matters. These administrations will have wide and real executive powers.
987 This feature seemed to be criticised by the official Conservative line in so far as we are privileged to know what this is. For Wales the Conservative Party seems to offer nothing that can even pretend to be devolution. For Scotland it advocates an Assembly that would be somehow spatch-cocked into the Westminster process and be wholly without executive powers.
Such a policy is a bold leap that lands the Conservative Party precisely half way between two stools. As a prescription for practical government and for response to the present situation it defies comment, and is matched only by the latest proposal we hear, namely, to have a voluntary three-line Whip.
Clause 25 and its related Schedules 6 and 7 set out the main subject powers of the devolved administrations. The schedules are long, 44 pages in all, and formidably complex. This is the price of precision and we regard it as fundamental that there should be the most exact possible definition of the line marking the powers of the devolved legislative and executive bodies which is compatible with flexible and efficient administration.
In the debate last January many Members on both sides pressed for an exact delineation to keep argument and uncertainty to a minimum, and we have tried to follow this advice. It requires great length because of the close texture of our existing legislation and because there are many statutory powers which have to be transferred in relation to devolved matters but reserved in relation to others.
Clauses 26 to 40 are mostly concerned with the internal workings of the Assemblies, such as providing for their standing orders, the nature of their committees, the officers of the Assemblies and so on. Although the clauses contain a number of specific provisions, much is left to the Assemblies themselves. We have thought it best to lay down reasonably thorough foundations to begin with to ensure necessary safeguards and so that the Assemblies can begin the practical work of running the devolved services without having to spend too much time debating their own procedures.
Part III of the Bill is about relations between the Welsh and Scottish Assemblies 988 and the Government. The main features here are central and reserve powers: general powers in Clauses 45 to 48 and a variety of particular ones, including guidelines to the Scottish and Welsh Development Agencies and powers to limit rent increases and so on, in Clauses 49 to 57. I should draw Members' attention to Clause 45, for it provides that, if a Scottish Assembly Bill has repercussions judged unacceptably damaging on matters outside the Assembly's responsibility, the Government may invite Parliament to set it aside. I do not expect the use of these powers to be a regular or an obtrusive feature of the devolution schemes in practical life. But they are necessary safeguards and a reassurance for the United Kingdom as a whole.
Clauses 49 to 51 are important because they empower the Government to prescribe a general framework within which the devolved administration will operate in supervising the industrial activities of certain bodies so as to ensure that these activities do not operate to the disadvantage of other parts of the United Kingdom. For example, Clause 49 provides that the Government shall lay down guidelines subject to annulment by Parliament which will govern the use of the industrial investment powers of the Scottish and Welsh Development Agencies. In virtually all other respects these Agencies will be entirely under the control of the devolved administrations.
Part IV contains a number of clauses concerned with the financial arrangements that will be required. The most important clause is Clause 62, which provides for each devolved administration to be financed by an annual block fund approved by Parliament. Within the total they can thereafter allocate resources between services as they choose in the light of their own judgment of priorities, and neither Ministers nor the Treasury will have a rocirc;le in their decisions.
§ Mr. Jeremy Thorpe (Devon, North)
The Prime Minister has indicated that there will be flexibility by the Government on the question of a referendum. Will there likewise be flexibility by the Government on the question of taxation, since many of us think that the absence of powers of taxation might be a fatal flaw?
§ The Prime Minister
As so often, the right hon. Gentleman is just a minute ahead of the game. I am coming to that point now.
The Bill does not give the Assemblies power to raise extra taxes. We dropped the power to surcharge on the rates that we had originally proposed because it was clear that Scotland and Wales did not want it. Our minds are not closed against a replacement if hon. Members can identify a tax that would operate fairly and economically to provide the devolved administrations with the option of a limited additional revenue over and above the block fund.
§ Mr. Thorpe
Surely the Government of Ireland Act 1921, enacted over 50 years ago, dealt with this subject successfully in giving powers of taxation.
§ The Prime Minister
When I was Home Secretary, I had to give very great consideration to that Act, and my recollection is that those powers were never used—for very good reasons which no doubt will be debated at some length in this context. In theory, I agree that there is a case for such powers. I am not making a debating point, but the more one thinks about the matter the greater the difficulties one sees in doing this.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)rose—
§ The Prime Minister
Perhaps my hon. Friend will allow me to get on. I may cover the point he wishes to raise, and I shall gladly give way to him if I do not do so.
The block fund must remain the main source of revenue for the devolved services, financed by national taxes paid by United Kingdom taxpayers at uniform rates. Thus, the Assemblies, which will be controlling these grants, will have very substantial funds at their disposal. For example, the block grant of Scotland at 1974–75 prices is some £1,800 million, and adding to that revenue from the rates and the capital borrowings totalling another £800 million, a sum of over £2,500 million will be at the disposal of the Scottish Assembly to determine according to its priorities.
For Wales, the figures will be smaller, the block grant being £850 million, with about about £300 million in revenue from the rates and the capital borrowings, mak- 990 ing a total of £1,150 million for the Welsh Assembly. In our view, the block fund will remain the main source of revenue, however the debates proceed in this House.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Whereas it may be flattering to our self-esteem to suggest that we could come up with some painless form of taxation, is that very fair when this problem has baffled the ablest minds among Ministers and Treasury civil servants who have been working on it for three years?
§ The Prime Minister
I was not exactly saying that, although I may have been implying it. I was trying to meet the point put by the right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe). This issue has aroused concern, and, therefore, if it is possible, as a result of the combined wisdom of the House, to find some solution, we shall consider it. We are not against it in principle. We have simply not yet found a scheme which would be satisfactory.
§ The Prime Minister
Perhaps that is the answer. Perhaps that is what I was implying. If we have not been able to find an answer, perhaps the House can. But even if we have not found and the House does not find an answer, substantial funds will be available to the Assemblies.
Those who criticise this basic concept must be clear about the consequences. Once we discard a system where the main assessment of finance is made centrally, we also discard the notion of equality of treatment based on need throughout the United Kingdom. The Kilbrandon Commission rightly recognised that, and the Government adhere to this principle, which is essential to the unity of the kingdom.
Part V covers a variety of matters. Clause 77 maintains a unified Civil Service. The Government do not accept that there are any insoluble problems of loyalty in this concept.
Parts VI and VII set up an Ombudsman system closely modelled on existing legislation and also contain definitions and ancillary provisions.
In addition to providing for a large measure of self-government, the Bill also 991 defines as clearly as possible the line separating the powers of the Assemblies from Parliament. It provides for minimum intervention by the United Kingdom Government and by Parliament in the affairs of the Assemblies. It provides a method for settling disputes when they arise, and it ensures that matters that concern the United Kingdom as a whole remain under the control of the United Kingdom Government so that no other part of the kingdom is disadvantaged by these proposals.
We recognise that the Bill cannot meet every aspiration or remove every objection. There are some, especially the separatists, who will never be satisfied, whatever is done or not done, because their political cause would disappear if their demands were met. But the Bill should appeal to the great majority in all countries who wish to reconcile the legitimate demands for Scottish and Welsh control over their own affairs with the need for an effective Government of the United Kingdom. For them, the large majority, we can claim that this Bill is a bold step forward. It will provide a wide measure of self-government for Scotland and Wales, and, by bringing goverment in those countries closer to the people, will lessen any sense of alienation.
During the debates, the Government will stand firmly behind the key features of the Bill, which reflect a great deal of intensive thought and are the result of considerable consultation over a long period. We believe them to be soundly based and we shall explain and defend them. But having said that, we recognise that there is a great deal of experience on both sides of the House on these matters, and we shall listen very carefully and weigh seriously what is said as the debates proceed. If we are persuaded that there are improved solutions on particular matters, provided of course that they do not strike at the cardinal features such as the need for continuing unity, we shall not obstinately reject other concepts and will welcome the attempts by the House to fashion the Bill constructively.
That is what I hoped that the Opposition would do, and indeed I still have hopes in that direction. The Leader of the Opposition must recognise that if, by her votes on Thursday, she defeats 992 us, she will kill this Bill stone dead. She will be destroying any chance of devolution in this Session. Another devolution Bill cannot be produced in the time available. That is the message that Scotland and Wales will draw. I say to the right hon. Lady that it is not too late for her to think again before she commits what I regard as an act of folly in this matter, an act which, if successful, would drive a wedge between the peoples of these islands.
It may suit the Opposition to pretend that the Bill is wholly bad, but they know that that is not so, that it represents the considered views of a great many people. The task of the Conservative Party should be to amend and not to destroy, to help us to improve the Bill and not to kill it. I ask once again that the Opposition approach the matter in that spirit.
I know that there are difficulties and I do not want to tread on them, because we are starting a very important constitutional debate. I think that it is necessary that the Bill should have a Second Reading so that the House can proceed to give it detailed consideration, improving it where necessary, provided that the main structure remains unaltered.
The long debates that begin today mark a great constitutional change. None of us in this House underestimates the significance of what we propose. If this Bill becomes law, as I believe it must, there will be a new settlement among the nations that constitute the United Kingdom. We shall be moving away from the highly centralised State that has characterised our system for over two and a half centuries.
Constitutions should not be lightly tampered with, but neither should they be rigid and inflexible. They must adjust to meet the real aspirations of a nation. This Bill is well known to be the result of massive consultations and intensive discussions. It has in our view demonstrated that constitutional change is required despite the complexity of the subject.
When enacted, the Bill can ensure a more democratic Government, more truly accepted by the people within the unity of the United Kingdom. It will not weaken our unity. On the contrary, it will provide an enduring constitutional framework for reconciling legitimate demands for Scottish and Welsh control over their 993 own affairs within the unity of the United Kingdom Government.
§ The Prime Minister
If that is the view of the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Hannam), I wonder what he has to say about the new spokesman for the Tory Party, the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor), who is cowering down here reeking with righteousness as he expounds publicly what he disbelieves privately.
The Bill will permit an improved political expression.
§ Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)
The Prime Minister has used phrases like "legitimate aspirations of the people" and "the popular will". Is he not concerned with the fact that the last opinion poll in Wales showed that the popular will, such as it is, did not want the Bill?
§ The Prime Minister
I am not sure how much we should rely on the judgment of public opinion polls. If we had done so at the time of the General Election in 1970, instead of holding an election, the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) would not have won. This raises the old question about referenda, which are a means of determining the popular will and the rights of Parliament. We are discussing a fundamental constitutional issue. I shall say no more than that this afternoon, but I beg my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) not to believe public opinion polls.
The Bill seeks to encourage diversity in the British Isles while maintaining unity. The House of Commons is called upon to make a bold judgment, and we commend the Bill to the House in the belief that it will more firmly secure the unity of all our peoples for the future.
§ 4.34 p.m.
§ Mrs. Margaret Thatcher (Finchley)
The Prime Minister has gone through the Bill in chronological order, which was not, perhaps, the best way. Some of the powers are widely scattered about the Bill and it takes a great deal of study to see their precise effects.
There is one matter that I want to take up with the Prime Minister at the out- 994 set. He said towards the end of his speech something which I thought reflected on his observations when he replied to the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse). At the beginning the Prime Minister said that the Government were considering the amendment on the Order Paper about a referendum being held for Scotland and Wales before the Bill took effect. If the Prime Minister is genuinely considering that, he must also be considering the possibility that the Bill may fall after 30 or 40 days of debate and that the Bill may be killed after a whole Session has been spent on it. The Prime Minister must be considering that possibility or he would not be considering a referendum at all.
The Prime Minister has structured tills Bill so that Wales is inextricably bound up with Scotland. If a referendum in Wales produced the result that au Assembly was not wanted there, and if the House accepted that advice, it would be impossible to untangle Wales from Scotland and the whole Bill would fall. At any rate the Prime Minister would have to withdraw the Bill at that stage. What else could he do? He would have to withdraw the Bill and to produce another or else spend such a long time amending it that he would have a fundamentally different Bill. Many of us believe that whatever happens to the Bill it will end up fundamentally different from that which is now before the House.
That is why many think that this is a bad Bill. I will attempt to adduce my arguments for that. It would be better to withdraw the Bill now and to present another while there is still time.
The Prime Minister spoke about the background to the Bill and he gave his version of it. I agree that there is a great deal of background to the measure. We have not had a constitutional provision before the House of Commons for almost a generation. Now, within 18 months to two years, we are making provision to go from having one elected Parliament, the United Kingdom Parliament, to having four elected Assemblies within a period of two years. There will be this House, an elected Welsh Assembly, an elected Scottish Assembly and a directly elected European Parliament.
That is a considerable constitutional upheaval and we do not want to be 995 forced to have another. We must be absolutely certain—and I beg the Prime Minister to believe that we feel as strongly and sincerely about this as he does—that we should achieve a stable and lasting solution. We do not want a solution that is unstable and that must be constantly amended by constitutional statutes.
I agree that part of the reason for the Bill is a feeling of remoteness from Parliament or Whitehall. This applies to hon. Members who represent English constituencies as much as to Scottish or Welsh hon. Members. It also arises from the feeling that there is too much government of the people and too little government for the people. The answer to that is not to increase the amount of government but to reduce it.
The third part of the background to the Bill is that as long as the United Kingdom was successful in its economic policies and high in prestige, there was no problem in keeping the United Kingdom intact. It is the moment when one becomes unsuccessful in the economy and prestige falls that the demand for separatism increases. We must bear that in mind because the economic success of this Government has a bearing on the demands from various parts of the kingdom.
§ Mr. Donald Stewart (Western Isles)
During the 1880s and 1890s there were six Scottish Home Rule Bills brought before the House, five of which were initiated by Scottish Members. There were others in the 1920s. It is not correct to say that this has been caused by the economic difficulties of our time.
§ Mrs. Thatcher
I do not think the hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) was listening. I did not say that it was caused only by economic difficulties. I said that we have not had any constitutional measures before the House up to recent times and that now we shall go from one Parliament to four within two years. That is considerable upheaval.
I agree with the Prime Minister that we must further the interests of the United Kingdom as a whole. The measure is called the Scotland and Wales Bill, but it will have considerable effect on the United Kingdom as a whole, and it is foolish to deny that or to pretend that 996 it is otherwise. The objective must be to satisfy the wishes of the Scottish and Welsh people. Inevitably there is a subjective assessment about how far either of them want a directly elected Assembly, particularly the Welsh, and what sort of directly elected Assemblies they want. It is difficult to explain the latter point and it is difficult to decide by way of referendum the kind of directly elected Assembly that people want when they probably have very little means of judging.
I hope that during the next four days many of the Bill's provisions will become clearer than they are at present. It is also important to be satisfied that the Bill works harmoniously. It will not work without difficulty, but it is important that it works without resentment, bitterness or acrimony. In fact, the Bill will give rise to a great deal of conflict, bitterness and acrimony.
I turn now to try to scrutinise the only measure before us, and that is this Bill, which is called the Scotland and Wales Bill when really it is "Changes in the Government of Scotland, Wales and the United Kingdom Bill". I start by dealing with the unwisdom of putting Wales in the same Bill as Scotland. The more one goes through the Bill the more one sees how unwise the Government have been to do this. There are two basically different Assemblies, two basically different structures and even though they have both been put into the same Bill they have not been put clearly into Scottish and Welsh sections but have been entangled.
First, this is wrong. Secondly, it has led to one or two parts of the Bill being difficult to understand and confusing. Thirdly, it will be difficult to tease them apart because I do not believe—perhaps some hon. Members will disagree with me—that the majority of the people of Wales want a directly elected Asesmbly. Yet the Government try to put in the same parts of the Bill a structure whereby one Assembly has power to legislate and the other has not, except on secondary legislation, and one Assembly has a separate Executive while the other Assembly is the Executive. There are all sorts of confusions which arise from the right hon. Gentleman's decision to legislate in this way.
I turn now to the form of devolution which the Prime Minister has chosen for 997 Scotland. We are not discussing devolution in general. We are discussing the particular measure before us. What the right hon. Gentleman proposes to do is to legislate in Scotland with defined powers. But he has chosen a form of legislation under which the Scottish Assembly is always subordinate to the United Kingdom Parliament and always subject to supervision. The right hon. Gentleman has chosen a Scottish Executive which is subordinate to the Secretary of State for Scotland. Having those—namely, a legislature and a separate Executive—the right hon. Gentleman has chosen representation without taxation. He has chosen, in addition to having 150 Members of Parliament in the Scottish Assembly, also to keep 71 Members of Parliament for Scotland in the United Kingdom Parliament. That is the structure, and it is that which we must examine.
It is not easy to examine it by going through the Bill in chronological order. I look at it first on the basis of what are the powers of the Scottish Assembly to legislate or to act. First, the Scottish Assembly has not excluded powers to legislate on any matter whatsoever. It has concurrent powers through the entire Bill. The United Kingdom Parliament can legislate—this is in Clause 1—for the United Kingdom or any part of it".The structure the right hon. Gentleman has chosen does not give the Scottish Assembly exclusive powers to legislate on a particular matter but concurrent powers.
At once we are in a difficulty. What if there are two Acts, one inconsistent with the other? What is the poor citizen to do? Must he go to courts to allow them to decide? Curiously enough, even then the right hon. Gentleman does not have a provision in the Bill saying that the laws of one Assembly shall prevail over the other. Clause 1 says that the United Kingdom shall have authority to legislate for all of the United Kingdomor any part of it".Clause 18 declares that a Scottish Assembly can set aside the laws of the United Kingdom. We are left with one Assembly legislating in one way and the other Assembly legislating in another way. What are the rules of consistency to be? It seems a thorough hash and muddle.
998 Many other legislatures have had to sort out this problem. There are many systems, in Canada and Australia for instance, where there are inconsistencies but where there are well-established sections in the statutes for sorting them out. This will lead to the possibility of more conflict between a Scottish Assembly and the United Kingdom Assembly.
The Prime Minister skated over this point, I thought, without revealing exactly what the position is. First he said that if there is a question whether the Scottish Assembly has power to legislate and it does legislate, when the Bill comes to the Secretary of State for submission to Her Majesty in Council for final assent the matter shall be referred to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council for a decision. That sounds fine. It was what we suggested. It might be thought that that is an end to the matter. Yet in the same clause—Clause 20—it is said that the Scottish Assembly cannot legislate on matters affecting international law or matters relating to the European Economic Community.
Let us deal with the last point first, because that does not have to be submitted to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. Normally if there is any question whether one Assembly in Europe is at odds with the European Economic Community, the matter is decided at Luxembourg by a court set up for that purpose. But not in this case. If it appears to the Secretary of State that the proposed legislation conflicts with EEC directives or EEC legislation, he does not have to submit it for Royal Assent or to the Judicial Committee. We have, therefore, one conflict there.
That is not an end to the conflict, not in the least. We move to quite a different part of the Bill, to Clause 45 and find that the Secretary of State may—even though a Scottish Assembly has legislated within its devolved powers—say that a Bill might indirectly affect something which was the exclusive province of the United Kingdom Parliament and can veto its passage by using the parliamentary machine.
The Bill does not have to be submitted to the Privy Council. The Secretary of State has a wholly separate veto. He can put it before this House. It is difficult to see how Scottish Members of 999 Parliament would vote on such an issue. If, representing the same constituency, there were two Members of a Scottish Assembly and one Member of the Parliament here and they had to veto what the Scottish Assembly had done, it would be a very difficult matter.
Even though we have gone to Clause 45 we are not at the end of the conflict surrounding the subordination, the supervision or the veto. Clause 107—[Interruption.] I am scrutinising this measure. I hope that the Prime Minister will realise that someone has been through this Bill very carefully.
§ The Prime Minister
If I may say so to the right hon. Lady, it is clear from some of the points she is making that, whoever has been through the Bill carefully, she has not.
§ Mrs. Thatcher
That remark is less than worthy of any Prime Minister. I notice that the right hon. Gentleman has not had the knowledge to contradict me on any point.
We now turn to another important point, namely how the veto provisions are to operate. They are to operate by the Secretary of State laying them before this House. They are to be approved by this House and the House of Lords. If the House of Lords does not approve them within 10 days of the motion being laid, the House of Lords is to be dispensed with. We are to have two resolutions of the House of Commons and then, in this Bill, we shall have achieved what Members of the Labour Party have longed to achieve—a unicameral legislature.
§ Mr. Thorpe
I have listened with great care and attention to the argument of the right hon. Lady. May I put two short points to her? When she says that we must look at these points again is she not saying that these are matters that must be considered in Committee and does not that become impossible if the Bill is killed on Thursday night? Secondly, does it not trouble her conscience that the last time her party killed the Home Rule Bill it led directly to the secession and partition of Ireland?
§ Mrs. Thatcher
I am taking this form of argument because it goes to the root of the Bill. The powers, structure, and 1000 approach I am indicating go to the root of the Bill and affect the whole Bill. That is precisely why I am taking the trouble, and have taken the trouble, to go through the Bill with some of the best constitutional lawyers in the land.
Secondly, I consider some of the devolved powers. There are some measures on which, according to the Bill, the Scottish Assembly is competent to legislate—including housing, health and education. But when one looks at them more closely one sees that they are nothing like as simple and as straightforward as that. Power is given with one hand and very largely taken away with the other. I cannot but feel that there will be a sense of disappointment and a feeling that many people in Scotland have been cheated by this structure.
Let me give some examples to substantiate my argument. What the Prime Minister has done is to choose the ideal way to create dissatisfaction. On housing, the powers in Schedule 6, Part I, Group 13, allow the Scottish Assembly to legislate on theprovision, improvement and management of dwellings, including the regulation of rents.One would think from this that the Bill gave the Assembly power to regulate rents; but not a bit of it. In Clause 52 the Secretary of State has power to restrict rents; he does not leave it to the Scottish Assembly. He also has power in another clause to insist upon model rent rebate schemes.
This is an example of giving power to legislate on housing and rents with one hand and taking it back in another clause. That is fundamental to the structure of the Bill. It is absurd for the Government to give power to legislate in one clause and to take it back in another.
Let me now deal with the rates argument. In Group 9 of Part I of Schedule 6 the Scottish Assembly has power to legislate with regard to rating and the distribution of the rate support grant to local authorities. In another part of the Bill the Secretary of State can prescribe model standard schemes for rates. This is another example of giving powers and then taking them away. There are other interferences with executive powers. Where the Scottish Assembly does not have power to legislate, it has power to exercise existing powers under United 1001 Kingdom legislation; but even that power is fettered. It must fit in with pay policy and a number of other things. The Scottish Development Agency must submit to guidelines from the Secretary of State. There are various other matters which put a fetter on the Executive's power. Again, power is given and taken away.
§ Mr. John P. Mackintosh (Berwick and East Lothian)
I am following with interest the right hon. Lady's detailed analysis of the powers, and I agree with what she has said on the question of constant reservations interrupting an apparently clear grant of power, but would she not agree that every point she has made about the Scottish Assembly suggests that the powers should be more extensive than they are in this Bill, more complete and more clear-cut, yet the Conservative Party is proposing a less effective Assembly with more restricted powers, which will cause more disappointment?
§ Mrs. Thatcher
What I am saying is that this structure and this approach, and the Government's deviousness, will inevitably lead to trouble. It will mean that one cannot stay at this point. It will create an unstable legislature. That is the point I am making. I agree with the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) that one either has a system based on Lord Home's proposals or one goes much further. The hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian has substantiated my point that this structure is basically unstable and cannot endure and will cause endless trouble.
I now wish to make a point about the structure of the Scottish legislature. In the British system, when we set up a legislature, the Crown is usually one of the elements. In these proposals, a Bill has to go through the Secretary of State to Her Majesty in Council, but, with all due respect, that is not the same as going directly from an Assembly to receive Royal Assent. It is an Assembly submitting a Bill to the Secretary of State who submits it to Her Majesty in Council.
This is because the Prime Minister has chosen, and it is relevant to the point which the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian has just made, always to 1002 have a subordinate legislature. This is his choice. I think this model will lead to trouble.
The Prime Minister has chosen a halfway house which I believe is unstable. There are two points on the structure of the legislature of which the Prime Minister must be aware, because he said something affecting the Royal Prerogative.
The Secretary of State has power to appoint a Chief Executive who is responsible to the legislature but also responsible to the Secretary of State for Scotland. If he could be dismissed, by whom would he be dismissed? Presumably it is the person who appointed him, the Secretary of State for Scotland. Normally a Minister is responsible to the Crown.
What I believe the Prime Minister has done is to legislate away part of the Royal Prerogative. He has also ensured by this system that there will be conflict, not only between one person and the legislature but between two Governments, which would create a crisis between two Governments. Normally the Secretary of State would advise on the use of the Royal Prerogative. In the Bill there are statutory provisions for its exercise. I cannot remember any other statute—and I have taken advice on this matter, although we have not been through all the statutes—where there has been legislation delegating the Royal Prerogative on the scale that we have in the Bill. The Government are in fact taking it away. It becomes only nominally the Royal Prerogative. Once we alter that, we alter a basic reserve power in the constitution. That is what the Royal Prerogative is.
I hope the Prime Minister will look at this matter. The problem arises partly from the structure he has chosen. We now have a statute directing the Crown in part of its Royal Prerogative, and the words "on behalf of the Crown" do not alter that. The Executive may exercise the Prerogative in the Crown's name, but it will no longer be the Crown's Prerogative except nominally.
§ Mr. George Reid (Clackmannan and East Lothian)
The right hon. Lady has made much of the conflict that will result from the Bill, but would not her own proposals lead to constitutional chaos? With an Assembly in Scotland, which 1003 would be a tier of Westminster government, what would happen to a Bill going to Committee in Edinburgh in an Assembly of a different political colour and then coming to a Parliament of a different political colour? Would not the right hon. Lady's criticisms have more credence if she had thought through her proposals more carefully—and what are they?
§ Mrs. Thatcher
The hon. Member will use the Scottish Assembly as a basis of conflict and will urge that more and more powers should be devolved. But always he will have to say, to make devolution meaningful, "We must have more." One would finish with a structure that was totally different. There would be a far-reaching effect on the United Kingdom as a whole and on the authority of this legislature. One would have an entirely different legislature.
We also find—[Interruption.] I am scrutinising the Government's proposals, and I find them wanting. On the Royal Prerogative point, we find that, in a curious way, it is also being granted to the Welsh Assembly, which is an Executive as well.
I urge the right hon. Gentleman to look again at this matter. This is a reserve power in the British constitution, and the Crown has a definite place in the British constitution. The right hon. Gentleman's proposed structure denies that place and can have far-reaching consequences on the exercise of the Royal Prerogative.
§ Mr. John Lee (Birmingham, Handsworth)
Is the right hon. Lady really saying that the Royal Prerogative can ever be exercised independently of the advice of Ministers? Is she implying that she would allow a Sir John Kerr situation in this country?
§ Mrs. Thatcher
I am suggesting that the Government have not looked at the Australian situation, recently or in 1932, when the Government of New South Wales were dismissed because they were at odds with legislation of the federal Government. I have been through a period of advice on these matters, and it is because of that that I raise the matter.
§ Mr. Norman Buchan (Renfrewshire, West)
Has not the right hon. Lady got it entirely wrong? The appointment of the Chief Executive is to be at the command 1004 of the Scottish Assembly. Is not that a valuable democratic experiment?
§ Mrs. Thatcher
My understanding of the Bill is that the nomination is to be in the hands of the Assembly; the appointment is to be in the hands of the Secretary of State. That is rather different. Exactitude in constitutional matters is extremely important.
I turn to a third point—not so much a constitutional point as a point about the cost of the bureaucracy. What the Government have managed to do is to ensure that their proposed Welsh Assembly has far fewer powers than the Scottish Assembly. The running cost of the Welsh Assembly will be far more than that of the Scottish Assembly. The capital cost of the Welsh Assembly will be £3.8 million and the cost of the Scottish Assembly £4 million. Although the Welsh Assembly would have far fewer powers, its annual cost would exceed the cost of the Scottish Assembly. A large number of extra people will be taken on for it. I understand that when that is added to the forecast increases in the number of civil servants, in Scotland there will be a total of 14,000 in 1978 and in Wales a total of 2,720. It makes the EEC Commission, which employs only 7,810 people, look very economical by contrast.
The demand has been for much less government. The response has been more government, more Members of Parliament, more bureaucracy, and more cost.
§ Mr. Abse
The right hon. Lady is understating her case. The cost for each Assembly man in Wales and his support is said to be £31,250 per annum, but that is on the basis that there will be a shared Civil Service—something which will never come about with a Welsh Assembly, which will be jealous of its powers. Therefore, despite the advice which the right hon. Lady has received, she has considerably underestimated the massive bureaucracy which will be imposed on Wales if the Bill is passed.
§ Mrs. Thatcher
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. The advice which I received was on constitutional matters. On the question of figures, I took the Government's. Perhaps that is why they are wrong.
I believe that the Government have ignored the effects of the Bill on the 1005 United Kingdom Parliament. The whole essence of the United Kingdom Parliament is that all hon. Members are equal in their powers and right to vote. The basis for that is that we are each equal in representation proportionally. That basis has not been honoured in recent years. England and Northern Ireland—and Northern Ireland, in particular—are under-represented in the House. Scotland has had more Members than the proportion of her population, and so has Wales. That should be corrected by the customary way of referring the matter to a Speaker's Conference.
That is a grievous imbalance as it is. The Government propose to aggravate the imbalance by keeping the existing numbers but adding to the 71 Scottish Members 150 people sitting in Edinburgh and, in the case of Wales, another 80 people sitting in Cardiff. Inevitably, if there is an unstable structure, the demand for more and more powers for Edinburgh will continue. Then there will soon be a demand here to restrict the voting powers of the Scottish Members of Parliament. I should be reluctant to see that, and that is one reason why I believe the structure of the Bill is wrong. Although the Government have tried to ignore this factor, it will not go away just because it is ignored.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Is it not a fact that even the Assembly which the right hon. Lady apparently is proposing would ask for more and more and would never be satisfied?
§ Mrs. Thatcher
There is a great difference—and I do not have to respond long to show the hon. Gentleman this—between an Assembly geared into the Westminster structure, an Assembly which has powers of primary legislation, which will then have to come to this House merely for final assent, and an Assembly which has a separate Executive, which itself can be a great source of conflict. The Government propose two legislatures, two Executives and two groups of civil servants. Such a structure does not make for efficient government for the citizens of any part of the United Kingdom.
I believe that the Bill is a bad Bill, first, because it is wrong to have Scotland 1006 and Wales in the same Bill—and one reason that the Government put Wales in the same Bill was that they knew that they would not get the Bill through otherwise—which will cause us considerable difficulties. The Government have chosen a completely wrong approach to and wrong structure for the Scottish Assembly. They have chosen to make it separate but supervised. That is giving power with one hand and taking it back with the other. It will satisfy no one and will lead to the very discord and conflict which it is our purpose to avoid. It will be used as a basis of agitation and eventually as a basis to try to fragment the unity of the kingdom.
It is inevitable that an extra layer or government on the Government's model will lead also to delay, confusion and complication for those who have to get on with the business of providing jobs and prosperity in Scotland. They will have to respond, not only to the requests of the Whitehall Departments of State, but to a whole series of requests from the Executive and Departments in Scotland. It will add to, not reduce, our problem of creating greater prosperity in Scotland.
We recognise that the needs and wishes of the Welsh people are different. I believe that the Welsh people do not want an Assembly, and if they were allowed the chance to say so that is the answer that they would give.
The Prime Minister referred to Clause 1, which states that the provisionsdo not affect the united of the United Kingdom or the supreme authority of Parliament to make laws for the United Kingdom or any part of it".The unity of the United Kingdom and the authority of Parliament are not maintained merely by making a declaration to that effect. I do not believe that they would be maintained by starting on the course upon which the Government have embarked in this Bill; they would be endangered. I believe that the structure which the right hon. Gentleman has chosen will have a far-reaching effect on the United Kingdom Parliament, and I have set out my reasons for saying that. It will cause increasing conflict. I believe that many people in Scotland, when they realise the consequences of this structure, will say that they would rather not have this kind of Assembly.
I believe that these proposals will satisfy no one. This Bill is a bad Bill and the 1007 thing to do with a bad Bill is to say so fearlessly, as I have done, and to vote accordingly, which I shall do.
§ 5.10 p.m.
§ Sir Harold Wilson (Huyton)
I feel almost like asking for the indulgence of the House in addressing it for the first time for nearly a quarter of a century from the Back Benches. I shall detain hon. Members for a much shorter time than was often the case when I spoke from much nearer to your Chair, Mr. Speaker.
I do not propose to follow the right hon. Lady, interesting though her speech was. It did not seem entirely like a Second Reading speech. It seemed like a long session of Committee points, adding up to no real or considered view of the main issue which we are debating today.
I begin by expressing full support for the Government on this Bill recognising that, as the Prime Minister has said, it will need to be carefully studied and perhaps amended during subsequent stages of its proceedings. There will be a welcome for the Government's clear indication that they are prepared to listen to the House on a fundamental constitutional measure of this importance and complexity. It is right that the House, as far as possible once the major Second Reading decision has been taken, should on this Bill, not by formal resolution, but by its demeanour and tolerance, resolve itself into something like a Council of State.
There will be a welcome in many parts of this House for the Prime Minister's statement that there should be further consideration of a referendum. This is interesting because a year or two or three ago when we were in favour of a referendum on the Common Market, I heard so many denouncements of unconstitutional proceedings. Now we are seeing demands for a referendum from all parts of the House. We considered that the other referendum was a once-off job on a special question which did involve a substantial surrender of our sovereignty. What we defended then has now become more widely accepted and is in fact in danger of becoming too widely accepted.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)
May I take it from what the 1008 right hon. Gentleman said that he will put his considerable weight behind the proposition that any referendum must include all the people in the United Kingdom, including the 85 per cent. who happen to be English?
§ Sir H. Wilson
This is a point I have raised in discussion. We should wait until the Government have time to consider this proposition so that we can see what is put forward. I am not against a referendum proposal. I would like to see the Government consider it.
The legislation before us today fully honours the commitments in the White Paper which the Government tabled in September 1974 and on which they fought the election. It is also in harmony with the statement by the Labour Party's National Executive Committee in July 1974 and the specifically Scottish document issued just before the October election campaign, and on which my hon. Friends and I spoke in that campaign. In what the Government have put before the House today I believe that they have kept faith.
The use by many of us—and I plead guilty to this—of the cold, inelegant, unharmonious word "devolution" inevitably fails to carry persuasion in itself. It is a horrible word. At the turn of the year I reminded one of my Cabinet colleagues that the British people do not like four syllable words such as "devolution" or "metrication". What we are debating this week and in the many months to come is a much warmer concept than is conjured up by this word. There is a need to bring the essential processes of government nearer to the people and to secure identification with them in both Scotland and Wales—I will come to the English regions later—and to do it without weakening the vital unity of the United Kingdom. I believe that the basic proposals in this Bill will strengthen that unity.
The whole of our history over the last 700 years—and some would say, over the last 1,000 years—is one of closer links between Government, Parliament and people. Unlike some hon. Members below the Gangway, I, and I am sure most of the House as a whole, totally oppose separatism. I reject the argument, which is so often heard, based on oil—oil in the 1009 North-East or the hoped-for oil riches in the Celtic Sea.
§ Mr. Donald Stewart rose—
§ Sir H. Wilson
No. I will not give way to the hon. Member on this point. I answered him on this point some time ago. Perhaps he has forgotten. Perhaps I should remind him that no one used the words "English gas" during the energy revolution of the 1960s. Nor do I understand from contributions to our previous debates that the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) or his constituents accept the doctrine of Scottish oil.
The arguments for separation do not necessarily stop at the point which is most convenient to those who press for separation. How do they know that there will not be a further process of separation by Orkney and Shetland, which are far nearer Norway than some constituencies in Scotland? In a previous debate I tried to draw an analogy between the Scottish National Party and the Social Credit Party of Alberta. The Social creditors' flyblown philosophy would have been discredited within months of their arrival in power had not that arrival coincided with the discovery of oil in that part of the world. Of course no one begrudges the Scottish National Party's exploitation of the oil argument, but that does not mean that we all have to accept it. In fact, we reject it.
It is not only oil which is at issue. There is the wider employment argument. Without the resources of the United Kingdom as a whole I believe that the industrial and economic future of Scotland would be very grim. Unemployment would be very much higher than it is today. I remind hon. Members of the Scottish National Party of the arguments we were having a year ago in this House about Chrysler. If there had been separatism in Scotland, assuming that Chrysler had ever gone there, I do not believe that what was done to save employment could have been extended to Scotland at all.
§ Mr. Donald Stewart
I want to take up the point of separatism. A search through the records of the various parties shows that the first and only time this 1010 argument was used was by the Labour Party conference in 1918 which called for a separate Scottish Government.
§ Sir H. Wilson
Yes. I believe that Keir Hardie campaigned once on this question. But that was a little while ago, and we have now campaigned in several general elections, including the last two, on the perfectly clear and specific commitments in the manifesto and White Paper. The legislation before us today honours these.
I have no intention of entering into a perhaps less than edifying discussion of the disputes in the Conservative Party on this matter. I want to extend to right hon. and hon. Members from this seat the tolerance and understanding I always tried to extend to them from further up the Chamber. I did not always succeed in that in those days, and my efforts were not always reciprocated. However, let me say this to them, because it might help them in their difficulties: in my experience, which covers quite a few years on the two Front Benches, it has been borne in on me that the hardest part of being in Opposition, and especially of being on the Opposition Front Bench, is that one has to say, and frequently to vote, "Yes" or "No" to a proposition that one would have preferred had not been put in the first place and certainly not in the form in which it is put in legislation.
Nothing that I heard in the speech of the Leader of the Opposition this afternoon contradicts this. There is assuredly the strongest case, even on the basis of the speech we heard, for accepting the broad proposition involved in the Second Reading and then seeking in Committee to amend it, to make it more workable, to strengthen the safeguards necessary to ensure the unity of the United Kingdom, and generally to establish the idea of bringing extended participation in our Government closer to the people. Surely that is what we all want, and I do not think that the right hon. Lady denies that that is in accordance with Conservative Party's heart's desire, whatever that may be.
But there are—very little has been said even in past debates on this subject—genuine fears and anxieties in the English regions south of the border and east of Offa's Dyke, especially in some 1011 of the hardest-hit regions such as the North-West, the Northern Region, Yorkshire, the South-West and others. The principal fear in these regions has been that the powers available under decentralisation for Scotland and Wales will give those two countries an unfair advantage in attracting industry, particularly in attracting those projects known in the jargon of industrial development as "footloose" concerns—concerns which are capable of being attacted to areas where the State incentives are the greatest.
The arguments on what I understand is a Green Paper on the English dimension are convincing as they affect the provision of incentives and I will not trouble the House by repeating them. However, the English regions do seek additional powers and incentives themselves not only, and perhaps not even mainly, in the sphere of industrial development. If, as I believe, the argument is one of bringing the process of decision-making in major social and political issues closer to the people, which I support, the English regions cannot be totally ignored.
I have come increasingly to believe in the transfer of powers to the regions—North or South, East or West, or Central—in England, above all in transferring power from Whitehall, let us say, in planning decisions about motorways and other roads, and transport suggestions, to the regions. There is nothing new in this. In 1973 in the course of speeches in the so-called Edinburgh series, I dealt with this concept at Newcastle. I will not weary the House with quotations. It is more important to stress some of the difficulties, which I do not underrate. That speech was made against the then unhappy background of the local government changes introduced by the previous Conservative Government, particularly the introduction of the two-tier system and the corresponding, though democratically non-accountable, changes that were made at the same time in both the Health Service and on the question of water supply.
With these three the case for further reconsideration became necessary, but it became more difficult. I believe that more than two and a half years' experience of all three—local government, health 1012 and water—have confirmed the warnings we then gave. There is increasing dissatisfaction all over the country, and when concern is expressed, for example in the context of public expenditure, or anxiety is expressed about the growth of local government bureaucracy, let none seek to underrate the importance of these so-called local government reforms two and a half to three years ago in increasing both public expenditure and bureaucracy throughout local government.
§ Dr. Cohn Phipps (Dudley, West)
What my right hon. Friend seems to be saying is bringing out the essential difference between devolution to the English regions, to Scotland and Wales, and nationalism, which is exactly what this Bill is about. This Bill is a reaction to nationalism, and it has been concentrated entirely on Scotland and Wales. If we were to have a true devolution Bill, my hon. and right hon. Friends would vote happily with the Government, but instead we are facing the nationalist threat which will lead to separatism.
§ Sir H. Wilson
I can tell my hon. Friend that I shall be voting happily with the Government, and I hope that by the end of the week he will be doing the same. I cannot be drawn into all the questions of nationalism and so on here, though I would advise my hon. Friend not to under-estimate the importance of Yorkshire nationalism, Lancashire nationalism and all the other local loyalties in our country. What I want to see, and what I have been concerned with on these matters, is the transfer of more decision-making further from the centre and closer to the people it affects. That is what this week's argument is all about.
In 1973 our problem about the regions and about advocating some kind of democratic regional administration was that the changes made in local government, involving the creation of the two-tier system, made it harder to advocate the insertion of a further tier, that is to say a regional tier, however desirable the case for it might have been. We would then have had a whole series of tiers—parish councils, community councils, district councils, metropolitan or county councils, and Parliament, to say nothing of the European Parliament.
1013 A frightening proliferation of tiers of government already exists, and it was for that reason that, even with our enthusiasm for regional transfers, we had to warn against a precipitate reversal of the Local Government Act. That would have meant, and it still will, throwing the whole of local government—boundaries, powers, elected representatives and the appointment of officials—back into the melting pot. My right hon. Friend, then Secretary of State for the Environment and now Foreign Secretary, and I repeated at the local government conference at Eastbourne a year ago that we could not contemplate that in the immediate future. But our warnings were not for all time.
There is a case for looking to the 1980s, for considering a reform which brought more power to the regions and as far as possible devolved from Whitehall, but to some extent moved upwards from the counties certain powers such as planning. Of course, their geographic coverage would be adequate for planning, in terms not only of land planning but of social and economic planning, building on the regional economic planning councils which were set up by the Labour Government in the1960s. These considerations are for the future, but they are relevant to the anxieties of hon. Members in the English regions.
§ Mr. Michael Latham (Melton)
Is the right hon. Gentleman, with all the authority of a former Prime Minister, seriously trying to suggest to the House that the way to reduce remoteness and to deal with the problem of bureaucracy is to set up massive regional authorities?
§ Sir H. Wilson
No, I do not suggest that. I am suggesting that at the right time—we have been precluded from acting before because of the unthoughtout proposals which were carried through and which are causing so much concern to local government, water supply and the health services—we could devolve more powers downwards from Whitehall to the regions. By reconsidering the whole question of two-tier local government we could give to the regions responsibilities that could sometimes be undertaken on a larger scale than can be undertaken by existing councils.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Is it suggested that we should devolve powers to Strathclyde, 1014 Lothian, Grampian and other regions? If that is the logic of my right hon. Friend's argument, is he not arguing for a legislative Assembly in Merseyside?
§ Sir H. Wilson
In the first place, Merseyside is a county council. I am talking of a much larger region than Merseyside. I am talking of the North-West. I believe that there should be more power for the North-West as a whole. I agree that that is currently precluded. We have been reminded that we are looking further forward than a period of three, five or six years, as the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition made plain. She stressed the importance of getting the Bill right, whatever difficulty there may be about what is meant by "getting it right". In doing this we should be prepared to examine the future of the English regions, otherwise there will be a sense of grievance that they are being left out of things.
The considerations are for the future, but they are relevant in considering people's anxieties. I hope that in the wider debate which the document on the English dimension is intended to generate, and in the debates that are still to come, more thought will be given to these matters and that detailed proposals will be worked out. They are not for decision now, although they are relevant to the decisions that we have to take.
There might be a temptation on the part of some Members to oppose the Second Reading of the Bill from a sense of grievance that the English regions are being left out. For my part the decision that we shall take this week will, I hope, show a clear majority for the Second Reading, and for the decision of principle which has to be taken before the House can pool its wisdom and experience—as I believe it will be ready to do to the full—in co-operating to seek the maximum degree of agreement on possible improvements during the succeeding stages of the Bill.
§ 5.32 p.m.
§ Mr. David Steel (Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles)
. The right hon. Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson) began his speech by claiming the indulgence of the House. I do not know whether he expects a series of congratulations on a maiden speech. 1015 At any rate the whole House looks forward to a number of distinguished contributions to this debate from former Prime Ministers within this House, in another place and outside. I believe that they have a great deal more to offer on this issue than have others.
I see no point in making a long Second Reading speech because we are in for a very long Committee stage and most points can be made then. Therefore, I shall confine myself to outlining my party's basic attitude to the Bill.
I felt sorry for the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition because I thought she was reciting a long Committee speech. Throughout the whole of the recent turmoil in the Conservative Party, I have never been able to discern the answer to the basic question: why impose a three-line Whip against? It dawned on me during her speech that the reason is that if we reach a Committee stage the Conservative Party will have to come forward with actual proposals and policies during the debates. That would impose enormous difficulty on the Conservatives.
The hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor), whose attitude on devolution was described in The Times this morning in a piece of masterly understatement as "flexible", only a few days ago on television denounced the whole concept of any form of Assembly. Indeed, if we ever reach Report stage the Conservatives will argue their way to the creation of a legislative Assembly that will achieve the very thing to which the Leader of the Opposition objects. They would give with one hand and take away with the other. They envisage an Assembly that would be little more than the Scottish Grand Committee taken by removal van to Edinburgh and subject, at the end of the day, to the authority of this House for all its legislation.
I believe that there are only three tenable positions. One is that advocated by several hon. Members on both sides of the House—namely, that we should stand against the whole thing. They may be in favour of administrative devolution, but they basically believe that this Parliament should remain in total control of everything that goes on in Scotland and Wales as in England. I do not agree with that position, but it has a certain logic.
1016 The second position is that advocated by Members of Plaid Cymru and the SNP, who argue the case for a total secession from the United Kingdom and the creation of separate sovereign States. I do not agree with that concept, but again as an argument it has a certain logic and consistency.
If one does not accept either position, one is forced to argue a case involving a clear division of powers between this Parliament and devolved Assemblies for Scotland and Wales acceptable to the majority of public opinion in those countries.
My quarrel with the principle of this Bill is that it does not set out such a clear division of powers. It muddies the water at almost every stage. The Government's Bill is in a mess because it proceeds from no discernible fundamental principle.
The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister dealt in passing with federalism. I looked at the Kilbrandon Report and discovered that federalism was dismissed in a somewhat cavalier way. Many commentators in recent weeks and months have reached the view that federalism and the federal principle is the right solution. It is interesting to note that there were two reasons why Kilbrandon went wrong. One is that there has been a genuine shift in public opinion since the opinion surveys conducted in Scotland and Wales by the Kilbrandon Commission seven or eight years ago. The Kilbrandon Commission asserted the rejection of federalism rather than argued it. I quote from paragraph 527:We have noted that a federal system of government would require a written constitution, a special procedure for changing in and a constitutional court to interpret it. None of these features has been present in our constitutional arrangements before, and we doubt very much whether they would now find general acceptance.That is a straight assertion.
I believe that the advantage of pursuing the federal principle is that one could at least construct a system of change that would include changes in devolved Assemblies for Scotland and Wales and would leave room for future constitutional changes in England. Furthermore, it would deal with the question of what to do with the other place—a matter that has been with us since the Parliament 1017 Act 1911, when there was a preambular commitment to the replacement of the hereditary principle. It could also have been the means of introducing the concept of a fundamental Bill of Rights.
All these courses have been rejected in favour of a piecemeal approach—and that is where the Government have gone fundamentally wrong. Moreover, they are wrong according to the public opinion polls. I agree with the Prime Minister that one should not place too close a reliance on single opinion polls. However, what we have seen in Scotland and Wales recently is a series of opinion polls carried out in far greater detail in those countries than we have seen before.
I wish to refer to two such polls. On 18th October this year the Glasgow Herald published a poll conducted by System 3, and on 28th October The Scotsman published a poll taken by the Opinion Research Centre. The figures thrown up by those polls are remarkably close to each other. Both polls clearly indicate that the largest slice of opinion is in favour of what the Glasgow Herald callsan assembly with wider powers than are proposed",and of what The Scotsman callsa Scottish Parliament which would take in most Scottish affairs, including many economic matters, leaving Westminster responsible for defence, foreign affairs and international economic policy.I noted in passing that in both polls the number of people who expressed a wish for a completely separate and independent Scotland was quite low—namely, a figure of 19 per cent. in the Glasgow Herald poll and a figure of 18 per cent. in The Scotsman.
I turn to the Government's proposed referenda, in which there is a potential pitfall. If the Government are to put the question to the people of Scotland and Wales "Do you like our package?" or "Do you want total independence?" they will drive more and more people into the total independence camp.
The proof of that statement lies in a survey conducted by the Daily Record a few weeks ago. That was not a scientific poll but what can be described as a purely write-in readership poll. However, it concluded—because it emitted 1018 the middle option—that a much higher proportion of people responding were in favour of independence.
§ Mr. Kinnock
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the answer to the problem which he underlined, which must also be in the Government's mind when they give this new and inordinately close consideration to the whole procedure of a referendum, is to ask two questions, one on devolution and one on separation, which will provide an opportunity for those in favour of neither to say "No/No", for those who want devolution but not separation to say "Yes/No", and for those in favour of separation but not devolution to have the stark alternative of being able to vote "No/Yes"?
§ Mr. Steel
The hon. Gentleman is a highly intelligent Member of this House, but he has not been listening to my last two or three sentences. I was arguing that the danger of saying that is that one leaves out the option which the scientific opinion polls have shown the majority of people in Scotland want, and if that is left out one gets a distorted result. If there is a referendum with a series of questions which leaves out the thing that most people want there will be a distorted result.
§ The Minister of State, Privy Council Office (Mr. John Smith)
The hon. Gentleman is suggesting that an Assembly with wider powers equals federalism, which is doubtful. Can he say whether in the Liberal proposals England is to be one unit in the federation or several?
§ Mr. Steel
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will allow me to answer the questions in the order in which they were asked. The first is whether the option about an Assembly with wider powers necessarily means federalism. It does not. The answer to the other question is that there would have to be an English unit, but whether it was called an English Grand Committee or a legislative Assembly would be for the people of England to decide as devolution and the argument for it develops.
I come back to the first question. I am not arguing that we should consider a 1019 federal United Kingdom. That is what my colleagues and I would like, but I am prepared to accept that there may be a lag of public opinion, particularly in England. The legislation that we are being asked to approve should be based as closely on federal principles as will allow for major adaptations to deal with further demands within England. That is the basic difference between our views and those of the Government.
I want to list briefly six or seven points on which the Bill will have to be altered fundamentally if it is to meet with final acceptance.
First, there is the question that cannot be ignored of the over-representation of the people of Wales and Scotland in this Chamber once domestic Scottish and Welsh matters have been devolved. The Kilbrandon Commission dealt with this and came out with figures as they should be. I do not blame any English Member for complaining that 71 Scottish Members—not 57, which would be the right number—over whose housing, education and road programmes they will have no further control but who will be allowed to sit, vote and judge in this Chamber cannot be right, and the Government must tackle that problem.
Second, the rôle of the Secretary of State for Scotland as outlined in the Bill is far too powerful. In Clause 45 in particular there is a reference to his opinion. It says that if it appears to the Secretary of State that Bills being passed by the Scottish Assembly would not be in the public interest he can refer the matter here for parliamentary veto.
There is also the lack of any European dimension. Why should not it be the case that if the Scottish Assembly passes a provision that is repugnant to the regulations of the Community that is referred to the European Court? It seems that here is an opportunity to build in a direct European relationship between Scotland and the rest of the Community.
The result of the lack of a federal principle is that the Bill is bitty. No doubt we have our favourite examples, and I should like to give one. When one looks through the schedule of the things to be handed over to the Scottish Assembly, one finds in Schedule 6, Group 10, an interesting list of matters 1020 that are to be handed over to the Scottish Assembly, ending withNew towns, Caravans. The provision, development and improvement of facilities for the enjoyment of the countryside and the conservation and enhancement of its natural beauty and amenity, but not including the conservation of features of geological and physiographical interest or of flora and fauna",which are too serious to be left to a Scottish Assembly ! That stems from the lack of a coherent principle in the division of powers.
Fourth, the Government will run into hot water for not having provided for any revenue-raising powers. To have representation without taxation, and to have the block grant principle decided at Westminster, is a recipe for conflict. The Prime Minister even now is urging us to bring forward suggestions. I give him one. The international oil companies are well used to dealing with different revenues being taken by different layers of government. This is done in Australia, Canada and the United States, and it should be possible to devise a scheme whereby one of the oil revenues is levied by the Scottish Assembly and not directly by the United Kingdom Treasury.
Fifth, there is the lack of power over industry, the economy and agriculture, and a lack of control over public corporations and the branches of nationalised industries which could be under the control of the Assembly.
Sixth, and most important, there are no proposals which lead one to believe that there will be a reduction in the scale and cost of government. I come back to what was said by the right hon. Member for Huyton. It is unfortunate that by an accident of history we tackled the reform of local government and the reform of the Health Service and dealt with water administration before we tackled these fundamental constitutional questions. We got them the wrong way round, but that is not an excuse for leaving them now and pretending that we can proceed with devolution with no apparent reduction in the Civil Service in Whitehall, no provision for nominated bodies in Scotland to be handed over to the Assembly and no reduction in the numbers of local authorities in Scotland. That is a mistake.
§ Mr. Dalyellrose—1021
§ Mr. Steel
The hon. Gentleman has had a fair innings, and no doubt he will wish to intervene in other speeches.
Lastly, though I concede that this does not stem from my federal point, the Government will have to examine the unanimous recommendation of the Kilbrandon Commission for proportional representation for these Assemblies. As we have seen in Quebec, and with the development of five political parties in Scotland, the chances of any one gaining anything like an overall majority of votes in Scotland are slim, and it would be wrong if the Assembly were to come under the control of any one party with the support of a tiny minority of votes at its birth when it needs every form of encouragement and public support to get it going.
I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends will vote for the Second Reading of the Bill, but I say that on the clear understanding that we intend to press amendments on all those points and others in detail in Committee and that if the Bill is to succeed and to make progress through the House the Government must approach these issues with the utmost flexibility.
§ 5.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Donald Stewart (Western Isles)
I begin by congratulating the Government on bringing this Bill before the House, and I think that the Prime Minister today made a real effort to rise to the level that such a Bill demands.
I want to say all the pleasant things first, as I may have some other things to say later. I want to be as charitable as I can. However, I do not want to offend any new converts or to prevent anyone from going through the Aye Lobby at the end of the debate who might wish to do so, but many adjustments have had to be made since we started talking about devolution.
A number of hon. Members can come to the House and look the rest of us in the eye. The hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) has a long pedigree of support for devolution. The hon. Members for Paisley (Mr. Robertson) and South Ayrshire (Mr. Sillars) saw the realities of the Scottish situation a long time ago.
But a different view is taken by other Labour Members. I am in total disagree- 1022 ment with the position of the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell), but his opposition is honest and open. Unfortunately, in the 1974 election he had to support devolution and backed down after that. We have heard about St. Paul's conversion, but the hon. Member was on the road to Damascus twice in three weeks.
I reject the high-flown sentiments about this Bill being concerned with more democratic government in the United Kingdom. I state bluntly that the Bill is before us for one reason alone—the support given to my hon. Friends and myself and the representatives of Plaid Cymru, and for no other reason. A Conservative Member pointed out to the Prime Minister that 60 SNP candidates had been defeated in the last election, but he forgot to add that they beat the Tories into second place and that the Tories had 10 lost deposits while my party had none.
The Government have faced the reality of Scottish intentions and the effect of ignoring them. They accept devolution—not, I am sorry to say, from any coherent and voluntary belief in it, but in the spirit of the French Canadian who said, "Let the barn burn to save the house".
Home Rule for Scotland has come before the House many times, as I reminded the Leader of the Conservative Party, and has never got anywhere, despite the support on many occasions of the majority of Scottish Members of all parties. That should be remembered by those who complain that 71 Scottish Members and 36 Welsh Members in this House will be too many after devoluiton. What difference does it make if at the end of the day, when the great majority from England wish it, they can be crushed? The Caledonian Power Bill, which was the precursor of the North of Scotland Hydro Board, came before the House in 1936 supported by a majority of Scottish Members of all parties, and it was defeated here. Scotland was powerless, although the majority of Scottish Members voted for the Bill.
It is regrettable that all the labour lavished on the Bill has produced only a mouse, and a very anaemic one. My hon. Friends and I do not expect to turn it into a Scottish lion, but we hope in Committee at least to put some backbone and perhaps a few teeth into it. We shall be spelling out the areas where the powers or the lack of them are an insult 1023 to Scotland. The powers to be reserved to Westminster, as we have said before, are in those areas in which Westminster has totally failed Scotland. We shall be powerless as the Bill stands to take the correct measures to put Scotland on its feet.
It has been suggested that my party will seek to wreck the Assembly. That is a ludicrous slander. Obviously, the Assembly will be in the interests of my party. We welcome the chance to show that government in Scotland will work, although we shall see to it that the Assembly will have more and more powers.
We regard the Assembly as a first step. We accept it and we shall play a constructive part, but we shall pursue a policy of widening its control over the economy and Scottish society as a whole. We shall ask the Scottish people to support us in those aims and when we achieve them with public support, will anyone in this House deny the right of the Scottish people to go to the lengths they wish to go?
§ Mr. James Sillars (South Ayrshire)
The hon. Gentleman says that once the Assembly is established—he assumes that the SNP will be the Government—his party will ask the Scottish people to support the extension of the Assembly's powers. Does he have it in mind that the Assembly, given that the precedent would he set here, would have referenda?
§ Mr. Stewart
That is something that the Government will have to take into account if they have a referendum. They will be starting a process which they may at a later date be unable to stop.
On the question of a referendum, it is of interest, in view of what the Prime Minister said, that my party has asked every Government here, from that of Atlee in 1945 certainly right up until that of the right hon. Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson)—I am not sure whether it applied to the present incumbent—for a referendum on Scottish Home Rule. The answer was the same in every instance. We were told, "We do not do things like that in this country. Get your support at the ballot box and your case cannot be gainsaid."
They cannot be surprised if we regard it as somewhat suspicious that, when they think that a referendum might give 1024 them the right answer, they want to change the rules. We have operated within the parliamentary and democratic process to which my party has been committed for nearly 50 years. Now we are told that the rules might be changed.
The same applies, of course, to proportional representation, which my party has backed all along. We were told, "That is not the way we do it." But now that my party is in a position in which, by the rules of this game, we might collect the whole jackpot—ah, now there are second thoughts. We shall discover that it will suddenly dawn that the present system is very unfair and must be changed for a system of proportional representation.
Another ploy for the saboteurs of Scottish Government is the Shetland red herring. My party has given assurances to the Orkney and Shetland Islands, recognising their special needs and the arrangements that they have made—[Interruplion.] It does not lie in the mouths of politicians who have never given any thought or consideration to those islands to come along now and be so sympathetic about them. The noises about preferring this place to a Scottish Government have come from the Islands Council. I suggest that that is not the authentic voice of the people.
§ Mr. Teddy Taylor (Glasgow, Cathcart)
On behalf of his party, does the hon. Gentleman accept that if the people of Shetland want to opt out, they should have the democratic right to do so?
§ Mr. Stewart
I do not accept that hypothesis, for this reason—[Laughter.] I am about to answer the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor). I am glad that he has come back because I wanted to put a stone on his cairn, and I thought that he had gone.
The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) and the SNP candidate who was unsuccessful in October 1974 gathered between them 73 per cent. of the total vote. Whatever that is, it certainly is not a vote against Home Rule, considering the policies of the Liberal Party and my party. It is therefore a lot of eyewash to say that the people of Orkney and Shetland want to act in the way which is suggested.
§ Mr. Douglas Henderson (Aberdeenshire, East)
Does my hon. Friend recall that during the referendum on the Common Market, Shetland voted against staying in the Common Market? Presumably, on those grounds, the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) and Labour Members would favour legislation allowing Shetland to leave the Common Market.
§ Mr. Stewart
My hon. Friend is quite right. That is the difficulty that they will face. Scottish oil was the admission ticket to the Common Market and if the Shetlanders went they might take the entrance ticket with them. For those who regard the separation, as they call it, of Scotland from England as a heinous crime, what do they think of the separation which they suggest for Shetland from Scotland?
Another red herring is created by the totally inaccurate references to the "break-up" of the United Kingdom. Whatever happens—whether the status quo, devolution or independence—that will not be affected in any way. The United Kingdom was united in 1603 with the Union of the Crowns and whatever the system, changed or not, there will be no change in the constitutional position of the Monarchy—none whatever. It is the aim of my party to remain in the Commonwealth, recognising the Monarchy. Therefore, the United Kingdom part will not be changed.
What hon. Members who use that phrase really mean is that they will not accept any change in the supremacy of Westminster. There are English Members who equate Scotland with English regions. The Scotsman newspaper asked in an editorialWhat faith, it will be asked in Scotland, can be placed in a House of Commons which has so many Members who are insensitive to, or ignorant of, Scotland's claim to nationhood?The aim of my party for the independence of Scotland arises from the fact that Scotland is a nation. It proceeds to a constitutional principle—the right of self-determination by that nation. That is something that the Labour Party always recognised in a better day.
The right hon. Lady the Leader of the Conservative Party demonstrated a very insensitive attitude to the people of Scot- 1026 land. As the Leader of the Liberal Party pointed out, her speech was a political speech—and a wrecking speech at that. Her party will pay dearly for it in Scotland. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart—the shadow Secretary of State for Scotland—now claims to support a directly elected Assembly in Scotland absolutely and without hesitation. He would, would he not? He says that the Tory Party in Scotland will fight Socialism and parochial nationalism—"parochial nationalism", not the broad based total nationalism, in which, presumably, he believes. In a circus sometimes a performer will ride two horses. The hon. Gentleman is doing that, and turning somersaults at the same time. He might end by balancing a Scottish flag on his forehead.
The hon. Members for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) and Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind) have gained respect for their refusal to vote against the Bill. But I warn them that abstension will not be enough. They must show their feeling by supporting the Bill and making their contribution towards strengthening it.
The Bill does not come forward as a bold new initiative. It is very grudging and niggling. It is the least the Government can deliver. Dr. Robert McIntyre, the President of the Scottish National Party, said of the Bill that Edward I would have been quite happy with it. We know what that means for Scotland. That should colour our whole attitude to the Bill.
The Bill comes to us because Scotland is demanding the fundamental right of all free nations to assume the responsibilities and duties of a free people. It is our wish that Scottish government shall come through friendly negotiations and that our two nations at the end of the day shall live and prosper side by side. We regard the Bill as a first step. We shall support it and try to strengthen it. We in the Scottish National Party have a duty to our own people and the international community and we intend, at the end of the road, to honour that obligation.
§ 6.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Moonman (Basildon)
I found parts of the speech made by the hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) 1027 rather frightening. Those who believe that this Bill represents the total demands from the Scottish National Party should read the speech that we have just heard. I do not know what was meant when the hon. Gentleman said that those outside would see that it would not be sufficient for Conservative Members to abstain. That is a worrying phrase.
Those of us who have been unable to take part in so-called Scottish debates and who represent English constituencies welcome the opportunity for England's voice to be heard. No one imagines that although the Bill is called, delicately, the Scotland and Wales Bill, it concerns only Scotland and Wales. The motivations of those who sponsor or who stimulate Bills are always a fascinating exercise for Members of Parliament, particularly Back Benchers. The best explanation I have heard for producing this Bill, cynical as it may be, was given to me by an industrialist last week. After listening to my explanation of my reasons for opposing the Bill he said that at least it would keep the people in the Labour Party busy, so that they would not fool around nationalising the banks, or other industries in their manifesto. He was serious about it.
There are, indeed, those on the Labour side who feel that we should be devoting our energies next year to matters other than devolution. Banks might not be at the front of my list. I have greater concern for the mentally sick and the handicapped. I believe that more priority should be given to them. But we all have our priorities. Another cynical view put to me suggested that Parliament should have a long reasonable discussion on devolution, recognising that the Bill will never see the light of day anyway, in view of the economic crisis.
I can hardly take the Labour Party conference discussion on the issue too seriously. No one who heard the 32-minute debate and the 20-minute speech made by right hon. Friend the Leader of the House at Blackpool will imagine that that is the way to reach a major decision on an important constitutional issue. At the same time, I regret the way some of my colleagues have been sold a bill of goods by the electoral success of the SNP. If there is any reality in modern-day politics, it is not to go down the 1028 road of devolution and Assemblies. That is no way to improve communication between the people and those who are elected to take decisions.
There are comparable problems in inner city areas such as Glasgow, Liverpool and Manchester. It is ridiculous to imagine that we can draw a line across the country and ignore the links, the needs and the aspirations of people across the whole country. I know that Scotland is a nation; I know of its traditions. To ignore the unity of ordinary working-class people in Britain to gain a devolution Bill is arrogance which the Scottish National Party is aiming for. Those who represent the Labour Party should never be so foolish to support them.
§ Mr. Mackintosh
My hon. Friend is being very passionate. Many of us have worked on deprivation in Scotland for many years. After 10 or 15 years of tackling this problem, I know, and hon. Members should realise, that there is still a Scottish dimension.
§ Mr. Moonman
I do not deny that my hon. Friend has worked hard for the deprived and the needy, but his efforts have not succeeded. He knows as well as I do how inadequate has been the attempt to deal with the problem of organisation within the Labour Party. He knows the absurd number of agents we have to tackle problems from the party point of view. So how can we judge the effectiveness of the Labour Party? I do not deny that work has been done, but it is obvious that successive Governments have not given priority to Scotland's problems over the past few years.
I will conclude my references to motivation affecting the Bill with an extract from a letter in the Daily Telegraph dated 27th September 1976, as follows:Most of the people who vote SNP are not voting for the SNP or its policies: they are simply voting for the party which stands most chance of defeating the Socialists".Some of my Labour colleagues who represent Scottish constituencies should take note of that.
A Government contemplating a major constitutional change like devolution must show a positive case for it. No such case has been made either this afternoon or in the past. The longer the debate continues, the weaker the argument seems, 1029 and the greater appear to be the defects in the proposed legislation.
At the root of the call for independence has been dissatisfaction with the treatment received by Scotland and Wales. Even such a devoted supporter of devolution as my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) has to admit that there have been insufficient resources and opportunities in Scotland. There are problems in respect of decaying industry, jobs and housing. In Wales, the language question has also played a significant rôle, but in Scotland nationalism did not become a viable cause until the discovery of oil in the North Sea.
§ Dr. M. S. Miller (East Kilbride)
Is my hon. Friend making a case not only against devolution to Scotland but for more devolution of administrative and legislative matters to English regions as well? Cannot he see that, if that is not on the cards at the moment for England, it ill behoves him to deny it to the people of Scotland, who can well see the possibility of doing something along the lines he might be suggesting for other regions in England?
§ Mr. Moonman
I am grateful for my hon. Friend's contribution. I do not think that he is in dispute with me on my major argument. If he is saying that we need to have a greater opportunity of sharing in decision-making in this country, that is something that I have advocated for a long time, but what is fundamentally wrong in the Bill and in the arguments of its supporters, is that we have one time scale that will give a selective form of devolution to two parts of the country and not to the rest except possibly, and not definitely, at some time in the future. The consequences of this tortuous argument are immense, and it is only right that Parliament should consider them in considerable detail. We shall pay a heavy price for this Bill in many years to come. Not only is it the job of anyone who feels that the Bill is wrong to vote against it on Thursday night; it is also his duty to ensure that it never sees the light of day, should it get a Second Reading.
I do not deny that the Scottish nationalists have been around for a long time, but they have never surfaced. That 1030 is because they have needed an economic base. They have needed something that would allow them to create the illusion that they could go it alone and become independent from the rest of the United Kingdom. That is the monstrous part of their argument. On the best information available, the oil that has yet to flow in in significant quantities is likely to be with us for about 15 years. What happens after that period? Yet here we are making a major constitutional change to meet the pressure of a political group on the basis of 15 years of oil. The top figure for oil production is 17 years.
§ Mr. Moonman
It is not rubbish, but based on hard-headed estimates of the oil industry. The hon. Gentleman will have his moment to speak. The fact is that on no other occasion has the country been fooled into considering introducing a major constitutional change on an economic indicator that does not take us beyond 15 years or 17 years.
The Assemblies will almost certainly create more problems than they will solve. Reference has already been made to cost. In terms of total commitment and responsibility that may seem to be a rather uncertain argument, but it goes deeper than the difference in the figures presented between the White Paper and the Bill. We must take into account the cost of direct Government involvement if the Assemblies are set up. Entirely new activities will be drummed up by the Assemblies. There will be the building of the Assemblies, and then some loss of economies of scale in support services. There will be new and complex divisions of responsibility, which were reflected in local government reorganisation but which will be reflected on a greater scale. There will be possible duplication of specialist expertise.
Does anyone in the House seriously suggest that in making a change of this dimension, whether in central Government or in a local authority, we shall make savings?
The Government in the White Paper have described expenditure on the lowest possible estimates. In answer to a Parliamentary Question, I was told that the present number of civil servants in the Scottish Office is about 10,747. I was further informed that there might well 1031 need to be a 10 per cent. increase with an Assembly. However, it now seems much more likely that the increase will be about 30 per cent.
Devolution will not solve the problems of Scotland and Wales. If we are looking for a means of trying to create a better participation that is one thing, but I do not believe that such an Assembly will be able to create more housing or jobs, nor will industry gain greater stimulus or support. At the end of the day, when the propaganda has stopped, along with the electioneering on the part of the SNP, the Assemblies may well sit, but the social and economic problems will remain.
The Assemblies will have no power to solve the problems. If anyone has doubts about that, they should have listened to the Front Bench speeches. Economic power will continue to rest at Westminster. Those who claim that Scotland should have complete control of Scottish problems should at least reflect on the economic power that rests in the hands of transnational companies. Investment is largely in their hands. Devolutionists seem to have the idea that the argument is merely about the power game between Westminster and Edinburgh. They take no account of the enormous changes that have taken place in the industrial world over the past few years. Their bogy will be not Westminster but something much more sinister. They must remember that an increasing number of decisions are now taken by the transnational companies and, I accept, by Brussels.
§ Mr. Douglas Crawford (Perth and East Perthshire)
The hon. Gentleman is going on about transnational companies, but in Norway, Sweden, Austria and Switzerland the respective Governments have commercial laws that ensure that the transnational companies operate for the good of the people.
§ Mr. Moonman
To relate the situation in Norway to this particular debate is most odd. The whole of the EEC finds itself unable to cope with the power and force of transnational companies. For instance, a secretariat within the EEC has been examining the major American organisations and their decision making in Europe and it finds that it is unable 1032 adequately to monitor the power and strength of IBM, for example.
Naturally, Scotland wants industry. Every region and sector of the country wants to be given an opportunity for development but at least we in England do not try to provide illusions for our constituents. I am arguing that in 1976 there is sufficient power and sufficient decision-making outside the country to add to the complications of decision-making in general for any government structure which has nothing to do with decentralisation or devolution. There are simply no elements of reality in those who argue the devolution case.
Those who support the case for Scottish devolution, and those who say that Scotland has had a raw deal, have not taken into account the important developments over the past two or three years. Some of us in England have high levels of unemployment in our constituencies. There is 9 per cent. unemployment in my constituency. I do not think that there are many parts of Scotland that have the same sort of problems that are to be found in some of our new towns, for instance.
We need not a devolution Bill but a national strategy that deals with the whole issue of remoteness of government—something that is felt in Liverpool, Cornwall and East Anglia. Should there be regional autonomy in respect of employment and housing, for example? Although regional autonomy in respect of employment and homes is particularly important, account should be taken of the anticipatory demands of industrial democracy.
If the Government are determined, despite the weakness of their case, to press on with devolution, they should not do so without taking the opinion of the whole nation. Like many of my colleagues who signed the amendment, I was not entirely clear about what was suggested by the Prime Minister. Did he mean that some consideration is to be given to a referendum by Thursday night?
This is an important issue that must affect the minds of many, if not most, of my right hon. and hon. Friends, as well as those on the Opposition Benches. I tell my right hon. Friends that when they reply it would be more helpful if they were to make it crystal clear whether 1033 there is likely to be a decision on a referendum and made explicit in the Bill. Even if a referendum is to take place after the Bill has become an Act, although perhaps before initiation, it is certainly a matter that should be taken into account by my right hon. Friends.
Let us be more specific about two or three detailed aspects of the Bill. The role of the Secretaries of State is one matter of concern. It has been said that the posts of Secretary of State for Scotland and Secretary of State for Wales will continue to exist. That is to be the position even if Scotland and Wales have their own Chief Executives—they will be like Prime Minister—and Scotland has its own articles of government. Surely this is an unfortunate example of bureaucratic muddle and unnecessary levels of command.
Another issue is the Scottish representation at Westminster. Scotland sends 71 Members to London, and strict proportional representation would give it only 56 Members. Will English Members tolerate it if the 71 Scottish Members vote on English matters, such as primary and secondary education—matters that would be developed were they Scottish? What are the 71 Scottish Members to do about domestic Scottish affairs? Will they meddle in devolved subjects? If not, why should so many continue to come to Westminster?
Others will raise many other different facets of the subject. It is right that in a debate on the constitution we should always return to what such a Bill means to Parliament. We are considering creating Assemblies in Scotland and Wales which will affect the rôle and function of this Parliament. It is a great mistake that this has become a matter of a "voluntary" three-line Whip for the major Opposition party and a three-line Whip for the Government side as well. Surely, as the merits and demerits of devolution have not been tackled this is one issue where a free vote would have been worthy of the occasion.
The Government's motivations and the pressures that have been put on them to introduce the Bill make the matter extremely depressing for many hon. Members and many people outside the House. The job of providing information 1034 as to the merits and demerits of devolution has not been tackled. The failure to explain to the public why we are to devote such an enormous amount of time to the Bill over the next six or nine months, when so many other more obvious matters need to be dealt with, will produce cynicism which will last for a long time.
If Socialism is the language of priorities, why has the Bill been given such priority? How many men in my constituency and how many parts of Scotland or Wales will be assisted by the Bill to find work? How much will it contribute to the economy? How much will it encourage the building of a fairer, just society? The answer is that on those tests the Bill is an unhappy irrelevance. This is a sad day for the House and indeed for the nation.
§ 6.21 p.m.
§ Mr. Gwynfor Evans (Carmarthen)
The Bill would not be before the House but for the growth of Scottish and Welsh national consciousness. I hope that hon. Members realise that they are dealing with two nations, two of the oldest in Europe.
About three and a half centuries ago, in a play performed before the Council of Wales, John Milton wrote of Wales that she wasan ancient nation, proud in arms".At that time, the magnificent literature of Wales had an unbroken history of a thousand years. Welsh was the language of government and the law in Wales when French was the language of government and the law here. The House is dealing not with two regions, two parts of the country, two colonies, but with two old national communities.
§ Mr. Abse
As half the people in industrial South Wales are descended from Englishmen and Irishmen who came there in the nineteenth century, by what presumption does the hon. Gentleman state that those people, English-speaking Welshmen as they describe themselves now, fall into the medieval category that he is now describing, so insulting more than half the people of Wales?
§ Mr. Percy Grieve (Solihull)
I take the hon. Gentleman's point that the Scottish and Welsh peoples are ancient peoples with roots deep in history, but does he not appreciate that over the centuries we have created a British people, in which the blood and names of all the British races run together? We have achieved greatness as the British people, and it is for the British people that many of us are here to speak.
§ Mr. Evans
What has been created is a British State. Whenever hon. Members speak of the nation, they mean the State. They confuse nation and State. There is not just one nation on this island; there are at least three, and Wales is one of them. Do hon. Members acknowledge Wales and Scotland to be nations? If they do, do they acknowledge that Wales and Scotland have a right to live as nations and to act as nations? That is behind our policies as national parties in both countries.
§ Mr. Anderson
The hon. Gentleman has often spoken about the identification of nation and State. Will he confirm his view of the future of Wales as a self-contained State, with all the panoply of a State, including separate armed services?
§ Mr. Evans
I shall come later to my idea of what Wales should be.
In the two national parties we have something that does not exist in the regions of England. Those national parties are strong. In recent years the Scottish National Party has been making headway more quickly than we have. But for the leap forward in Scotland, Welsh nationhood and Welsh nationalism, as expressed through Plaid Cymru, would be seen as an important European phenomenon.
The Establishment parties had thought, as many of their members still do, that Welsh nationalism would fade away. They must face the fact that once nationalism is as deeply rooted as it is now in Wales and Scotland it will not go away.
§ Mr. Ioan Evans (Aberdare)rose—
§ Mr. Gwynfor Evans
I have given way three times. My speech will be far too long if I keep giving way.
1036 As the people of Wales increase in self-confidence and their sense of loyalty to their nation, in their capacity to accept responsibility, so will Welsh nationalism grow until it becomes irresistible. That is the history of nationalism, and the House must face it. No one can afford to ignore the dynamic in the power of nationalism, least of all those who do not want to repeat the mistake made in Ireland at the end of the last century.
For a generation, it was a part of the Labour Party's policy that Scotland and Wales should be self-governing nations. The policy was Home Rule all round. It was affirmed and reaffirmed more than once after Ireland had achieved self-government. Labour leaders, from Keir Hardie down to the last generation, spoke strongly in favour of a considerable measure of Welsh self-government. Some of them would have gone further than we as nationalists would do. Arthur Henderson, the most able Secretary the Labour Party had, said that if Wales had her own Government she could be a Utopia among the nations. We may think that to be exaggerated, but at least he had a sympathetic understanding of the possibilities of Wales. That is what most hon. Members lack.
In those days, Labour did not propose to make a distinction between Wales and Scotland in the matter of status. It did not propose to give Scotland a higher status than Wales. It saw both nations as having the same rights and needs. There is no justification for denying the Welsh Assembly the legislative powers to be given to the Scottish Assembly. The justification which is attempted and repeated ad nauseam is that Scotland has a separate legal system. That is a notable fact of life in Scotland, and the Scots are rightly proud of their legal system. But the power to legislate is the power to make decisions, to make policy decisions about, for example, housing. One house in every seven in Wales has been condemned as unfit for human habitation.
We say that we should have the right to decide such matters for ourselves, through our own legislature. Other matters such as health, transport, education, local government and roads do not 1037 require a separate legal system for the ability to legislate, as we see in any federal country. In Switzerland, for example, there are 25 canton Governments. Three of the cantons are divided into two. Each canton Government has far more legislative power than the Government now propose to give Scotland. That fact should be noted. Yet there is one common legal system in those cantons. It is dishonest to keep repeating the argument about the legal system as justification for denying the Welsh Assembly legislative power.
§ Sir Raymond Gower (Barry)
Would the hon. Gentleman and his party be content with the sort of status within the United Kingdom that the separate cantons of Switzerland enjoy today in Switzerland?
§ Mr. Evans
I think that the hon. Gentleman knows what the policy of Plaid Cymru is. It is one of full national status for Wales. We have never tried to hide that.
In the kind of thing that the Government are trying to do, it is not necessary to have a separate legal system in order to have the power to legislate. When the Labour Party espoused the policy of Home Rule all around, it was a decentralist party. However, it succumbed to the attractions of centralism and its policy for the smaller nations of this island went the way of Guild Socialism.
It cannot be sincerely denied that if Wales had had in the last 50 years what the Labour Party and the Liberals were proposing in those days, the history of Wales during the last 50 years would have been happier and better. We could have avoided much of the social disruption and suffering that we have seen during that period.
It is to the credit of the Labour Party in Wales that it recovered, some 10 or more years ago, a part of this programme—10 years before the Labour Party was in favour of any measure of self-government or self-control for Scotland, or of any elected Assembly there. The Welsh Labour Party pioneered in that way, and the Liberals, the Communists and Plaid Cymru were in favour of a Parliament. Since then, the TUC of Wales and the strongest unions in Wales have come out in favour of a Parliament 1038 with legislative power. That is a part of the background of the Bill. The Bill follows broadly the line advocated by the Welsh Regional Council of Labour for all these years.
A debate on this measure is not a debate for full self-government or against that. It is a debate on centralism or decentralism. That is the heart of the debate. It is a debate that is taking place in many countries, as we have heard—in France and Spain. Spain has not been mentioned, but the debate is taking place there very strongly. France and Spain are similar to Britain in being unitary centralist States. It is profitable to compare those centralist States with decentralist States, such as, for instance, Western Germany and Switzerland.
Western Germany is certainly the most prosperous of the countries of the EEC. Those eminent people who are in the best position to know say that much of Western Germany's prosperity can be attributed to the fact that it has been decentralised. England has much to learn from the West German experience. When power is decentralised, great advantage is gained from the creation of human scale structures in a country. They are structures that can enlist the energies of the people in tackling their problems. The problems may be just as grave, but as the structure is smaller the problems are, therefore, smaller in scale.
I do not think that Scotland and Wales have a greater advantage than their size from the standpoint of good government. They are both comparatively small countries in size, and they have a cohesion and a potential energy which their nationhood gives them. I find it extraordinary that so many people think that Scotland and Wales are best governed as peripheral regions in a huge unitary centralist structure, especially when the advantages of decentralisation are to be seen in West Germany and the advantages of small size are to be seen in the five Scandinavian States, whose total combined population is only half that of England.
We have heard about the multinationals, and one sees how a very small country can control the multinationals in the recent history of Norway, whose control of the multinational oil companies has been much firmer than the control of a huge State such as Britain.
1039 Equally obvious are the advantages of decentralisation and human scale structures from the standpoint of democracy. Decentralisation is the condition of a truly participating democracy. The power of the people in Britain is small in comparison with the power of bureaucracy because in centralist States the power almost inevitably gets into the hands of the bureaucrat. What we have here is a country whose government has a bureaucratic character. Lord Hailsham was quite right when he said the other day that the powers of government are now largely in the hands of the government machine.
That is what the centralists seem to want for Wales—more power for the bureaucrats but no power for the people of Wales. There is already in existence in Wales a large genuine tier of government, but it is bureaucratic government which is centred on the Welsh Office. The centralists want to add to that, to add to bureacracy. They say "We shall strengthen the Welsh Office. This is our alternative to this kind of devolution. We shall add more bureaucrats there who are not accountable to anyone."
The truth is that what they are opposing is not more government, as they keep saying, but more democracy, more power for the people. They want to see Whitehall maintaining its monopoly of power of decision in all Welsh national matters, but Welsh people should not be allowed any power of decision at all in any of their affairs according to what we hear from many Opposition Members and from some on the Government side.
Those who are seriously concerned for democracy and for human freedom must face the necessity of dispersing power. Despite the glaring weaknesses of the Bill—and we have been very critical—it has the very considerable virtue of proposing to decentralise some power, to democratise an existing tier of bureaucratic government, and to give to people in Wales some measure of control, a little more initiative and power, something that will encourage them, at any rate, to develop their own sense of self-reliance and of social responsibility.
Having said that, however—that has to be said to the credit of the Government—what a great disappointment it is that the Government should not propose 1040 to decentralise more effectively control over industry and the economy. Nowhere has the centralist system failed more in Wales than in the economy. Some of us remember personally—all of us ought to know—the history of Wales during the decades between the two world wars. We should never forget it. Some 500,000 people had to leave our country to find work, most of them going to England. They were needed in English industry. There was no work for them in Wales. Even after this drain of emigration, about 30 per cent. were left unemployed in Wales. That was the failure of centralism.
That sort of thing does not happen in countries that have control of their resources. Wales is a country that is rich in resources. This sort of thing does not happen in small rich countries that have full control of their resources, and I am comparing those countries with Wales. At the time, from the centralist standpoint, those persons who left Wales to seek work were not so much persons who were rooted in the local community and the national community, as real people; they were drops in a labour pool.
Although the post-war years have not been as harsh as the pre-war years, it cannot be sincerely claimed that the centralist system has been succeeding economically in Wales. No serious attempt has been made to secure for us in Wales some balanced form of development. No adequate infrastructure has been built there. There is still no economic plan for Wales. These are things that a Welsh Assembly could see to, and we need an Assembly very much to see to them.
Because of these failures, the depopulation and migration that we have known over the last three generations have continued. Unemployment has continued. For most of this time it has been twice the English level, despite the migration and depopulation; and there are today 103,000 fewer jobs for men than there were in 1964. The equivalent for Britain as a whole would be 2 million, and there would be something like a revolution.
That is our situation in Wales. The cultural and social consequences are appalling. The centralists regard unemployment and emigration from a peripheral region as a temporary distortion. 1041 The truth is that they are a permanent feature of the conflict between the centre and the periphery, and palliatives in the form of regional policies have failed to deliver the goods. Perhaps they are not meant to do so.
Only when Wales has its own centre, its own structure, its own plan that it can implement, and only when it is autonomous, can we hope to see Wales developing a strong and balanced economy. Only then will it be strong enough to sustain every aspect of Welsh life, and only then will the energies of the Welsh people be tapped as they have not been tapped in recent centuries.
For generations, we in Wales have heard that things will be different and better in future. As long as the centralist system is preserved intact, anyone who continues to declare that is simply not credible. The record of centralism convicts it as a failure.
As one listens to the arguments for and against radical decentralism and political autonomy for the smaller national entities in this Island, one thinks of the great debate in Wales two or three generations ago on the disestablishment in Wales of the Church of England. That was a far rougher and more bitter debate than anything that we see in our time. The defenders of the status quo then were prophets of doom who described the future in the most horrific terms as a calamity which would almost destroy the Church in Wales if it were disestablished and became autonomous. It was a nightmare to contemplate so small, so weak and so poor a Church standing on its own feet. The proposals were castigated in the strongest epithets as being nationalism in religious dress. Well, the Church in Wales has been standing on its own two feet for more than half a century now, and I doubt whether it has a member who thinks that it should return to the old status of dependence, with its begging bowl mentality. There is general agreement that the Church in Wales has gained spiritually and materially from autonomy and that the Church of England has won a vigorous partner. I say that as a nonconformist.
The arguments of those who opposed with such bitterness autonomy for the Church of Wales are now being repeated in our time against any measure of 1042 autonomy for the nation of Wales. Welshmen who argue in this way have no faith in their country and in their people, no belief in the possibilities of their land and no vision of a future for their nation. But the muster of those who have faith in their fellow countrymen—and that is the meaning of "Cymry"; its literal meaning is "fellow countrymen"—is growing. Those who see the great possibilities of their nation—a nation whose people are as gifted, as talented and as well able to govern themselves as any—are on the increase as well. They believe that their little land, which is no bigger than Israel, has all the conditions necessary to becoming a social laboratory which will have positive value for Europe and the world. They see Wales in the future as a member under the Crown of a closely knit partnership of nations in no way subordinate one to the other in any aspect of their domestic or external affairs but freely co-operating as members of a Britannic confederation.
§ 6.52 p.m.
§ Mr. James Molyneaux (Antrim, South)
On 12th January of this year, I was privileged to be called in the debate which concentrated on the Report of the Northern Ireland Constitutional Convention, and on the four succeeding days this House debated the future of other parts of the United Kingdom. On that first day, I asked right hon. and hon. Members to bear in mind the fact that we were then starting a whole week's debate on one and the same subject, namely, the future of the United Kingdom as a whole and not just arrangements for its component parts. Within the hour, that view was supported by the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) and he reiterated that support when he spoke a week later at the end of the debate, when he said:It has been a debate on the future of the United Kingdom as a whole, as well as a debate on the possible machinery of government for the individual component parts of it."—[Official Report, 19th January 1976; Vol. 903, c. 957.]It is the question of that machinery of government to which I wish to return.
In taking part in this debate, we from Ulster draw further encouragement from the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who said on 26th November 1976 that he invited—and, indeed, at that time incited—Ulster politicians to take advantage of the strong tide flowing for devolution.
1043 We respond to the right hon. Gentleman's invitation and we give to him the very same assurance that we gave to those who elected us in 1974, namely, that Ulster and her representatives would play a full part in all the discussions on devolution within the United Kingdom.
In this Bill there is no indication or suggestion that Scottish or Welsh representation in Parliament will be curtailed or reduced, whatever the degree of devolution eventually established. The House will not expect my colleagues and me to support the Second Reading of the Bill when not a vestige of just or logical reason exists for denying to Ulster equal representation in Parliament.
Parliament legislates for Northern Ireland and will effectively continue to do so whatever form of devolved government Northern Ireland may have. As Stormont's experience during 50 years proved, any devolved Northern Ireland Legislature would still effectively be bound by legislation passed in the United Kingdom Parliament. Neither in the present nor in the foreseeable future, therefore, can it be justifiable for the electorate in Northern Ireland to remain under-represented in the House of Commons.
The acceptance of this plain and undeniable right of the electorate of Northern Ireland cannot in logic and justice be made subject to the prior condition of any arrangements which may or may not be made for the better administration of the Province.
As a Unionist, I feel instinctively that the Bill undermines the integrity of the United Kingdom, because, as has been made clear already, it is as separate nations that it proposes to give to Scotland and Wales the right to make laws which are different from those of the rest of the United Kingdom.
The threat and the danger arise not from the creation of directly-elected Assemblies, any more than an elected local or regional council implies or constitutes a threat of the separation of that area from the rest of the nation. It is the direct election of a body with legislative powers which launches the part concerned on the slippery slope towards separation—a slope on which there is then no longer any logical stopping place.
1044 I know that I have now provoked the question: why did not Northern Ireland slide towards separation in the past 50 years? The answer is that Ulster is the exception which proves the rule. It obtained its own Parliament not because it was, or wanted to be, a nation, nor because it wanted to legislate differently from the rest of the United Kingdom. In fact, under the principle of parity it used to duplicate every comma, word and line of the vast majority of Great Britain legislation, even when that legislation reflected policy with which Stormont disagreed. This point was explained very clearly in this House last Thursday by my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley), who was himself a Member of the Stormont Parliament.
The compelling motive then, as now, in Northern Ireland was the determination that nothing should be done to damage the Union, first, because the devotion of Ulstermen to the Union has been passionate and sincere and, secondly, because the end of the Union would have meant not independence but eventual amalgamation into a foreign State. I often wonder how far Scottish and Welsh separatist aspirations would be tempered if they had on another border a neighbour which, in its written constitution, asserted its claim to possession of their lands.
The devolution which matters and has always mattered in Ulster is not legislative but administrative devolution. This is why we nearly always talk about devolved government for Ulster. It is the lack of control over the application and execution of the law which is intolerable to us and which places our citizens at a crying disadvantage compared with all the rest of the United Kingdom.
Once this is understood, the old difficulties about power sharing and widespread acceptance present themselves in a different and more amenable light, for it is essentially legislative and not administrative devolution which raised the dilemma between the irreconcilable ultimate objectives in Ulster and rendered insistence upon majority rule as essential to one side as it was unacceptable to the other. This made devolution either a Loyalist talisman or a Republican back door, instead of being what it should 1045 have been—an essential guarantee of good government for the whole population.
The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland was right to ask "Is Northern Ireland to be left behind? Are we going to fail and leave progress to our successors?" We, the present generation of Ulster's political representatives, have a duty to answer those questions. We shall discharge that duty. Ulster needs a regional Government now. It needs a regional Government in which—as in the present government of metropolitan regions in England—all political parties would automatically participate in proportion to their elected representation. We believe that what we ask is in line with the Government's own thinking, as set out in Part V of their consultative document on England.
If we are made to wait for the implementation of a formula designed to grant legislative powers on conditions to which our electorate would never permit us to assent, we shall be denied the satisfaction of our basic rights and present needs indefinitely.
He would indeed be a brave man who would predict the shape and the form of the Bill if and when it completes its tortuous passage through the House. Whatever our present differing attitudes may be, we are all haunted by the feeling that we are starting on a journey into the unknown. In the part of the kingdom for which I speak, the political upheavals, constitutional experiments and contrived devices have achieved something which 1046 could not be underestimated. They have clearly demonstrated that certain arrangements will not work. What is more, they have clearly charted the rocks on which further unwise expeditions will perish. Uncertainties about other parts of the kingdom do not now apply to Ulster, because all the essential facts are known.
In Ulster, the way is now clear for a start on devolving administration. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland promised that the Government would not be slow to respond. He gave the quotation:There is a tide in the affairs of men,Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune".He ought to be assured that the tide is flowing more strongly than even he has reason to believe.
The House will recognise that the attitude of the Ulster Unionist coalition is anything but unconstructive. However, faced as we are with this Bill and the vote on Thursday there can be only one answer from us, and that is the answer indicated in our reasoned amendment. My right hon. and hon. Friends simply could not look their constituents in the face if, while they are still denied fair representation here, and any but vestigial local, let alone devolved, government, we were to support a Bill to give all these things to the over-represented parts of the kingdom.
We shall go into the Lobby against the Bill confident that this debate and those, perhaps to follow ought to be the means of hastening the achievement for Northern Ireland of what is no more than its manifest right and due.
§ 6.57 p.m.
§ Mr. John Robertson (Paisley)
Like most hon. Members, I have comments on most subjects but I would never venture an opinion on the problems of Northern Ireland. That is one subject which I prefer to leave to the Northern Ireland Members and to the people of Northern Ireland. All I can do is to offer my sympathy and hope that a solution will be found. However, one thing is clear—after 50 years, there has not yet been a solution.
We must not forget that, whatever troubles there are today in Northern Ireland, they began from this place with years of discussion on the problems of devolution and Home Rule. They began because demands from certain of the Irishmen, who believed that Ireland should not be split in two were not listened to but rejected because the Unionists in this building would not listen to the plea. Perhaps if there had been a simple process of devolution about 50, 60 or 70 years ago, we might not have had the situation that has developed in Ireland.
For the people of Scotland this is a great historic occasion. For the first time in 270 years the Government have introduced a Bill which, when it becomes law, will re-establish a Scottish Parliament. It is a long time to wait, and it is inconceivable to me that this Bill will not become law.
I thought that the Leader of the Opposition made a niggling speech. I, too, do not much like this Bill, but probably for different reasons. But it is the best Bill we have and it is probably the only one we shall get. We had better make the most of it if we believe in any kind of devolution at all. The leopard does not change its spots and that well-known Unionist, the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor), will no doubt either lead Cathcart into UDI or hold the Union together. I suspect that he will do neither; like most other Unionists he will go.
It is only to be expected that anything which will be said during the course of the debate must all have been said before. Scottish government has been a live political issue in Scotland for all of the 270 years since the Treaty of Union was 1048 signed. Just two years after the Scottish Parliament was abolished a measure repealing the Treaty was defeated by only two votes. As the initiative in that was take by McCallum More, it could not be blamed on the Jacobites, although the Jacobites made use of the great discontent of the Scottish people. The demand for the restoration of a Scottish Parliament is as old as that. At that time, however, the demand was no more the creation of the Jacobites than the same demand today is the creation of the Scottish National Party.
The demand for Scottish Home Rule is not a live issue because the SNP has Members here. The SNP is here because Scottish Home Rule is a live political issue, and because the Labour Party in Scotland did notfulfil its promise, not a promise in one General Election but its promise over a lifetime. The Labour Party right from its inception has promised Home Rule for Scotland. The issue has always permeated Scottish politics. One thinks of "Purly" Wilson and others leading the craftsmen from Strathavon into Glasgow under the great revolutionary banner "Scotland Free or Scotland a Desert". The issue was more democracy, reform of Parliament and a Scottish Government.
Almost 100 years ago in this Chamber, in 1889, a debate was initiated by a Dr. Clarke, who was Member for Caithness, on Scottish Home Rule. In that debate, R. Cunninghame Graham declared himself to be a Socialist and said that he was no narrow nationalist but, being a Socialist, had a wider concept. He said that he could see a free and sovereign Scotland playing a full and important part within a United Socialist States of Europe, and he added that only if Scotland were free and sovereign could she make her unique contribution. That was a remarkable speech. Here was a Common Marketeer in 1889. Both Dr. Clarke and R. Cunninghame Graham were members of the first Scottish Labour Party. I think that that is worth noting.
I do not want to go through the whole story of Labour Party manifestoes calling for Home Rule all round, even for England, since 1918. In 1924 Geordie Buchanan introduced a Home Rule Bill; in 1927 the Rev. James Barr introduced another; in 1935, the Leader of the 1049 Labour Party, writing to a Scottish constituency, reaffirmed that Home Rule was one of the first priorities of the Labour Party; in 1941, the Labour Party in Scotland produced a very important document, "The Post-War Reconstruction of Scotland", and one of the first proposals in it was for a Scottish Parliament.
In 1945, the Labour Party manifesto in Scotland proclaimed the need for a Scottish Parliament. In 1951, that was played down. In 1955, it was still there, even if it was in the shadows. At a conference in 1958, the Scottish section of the Labour Party tried to clarify the issue, calling for the greatest degree of devolution within the context of the United Kingdom. That was thought to be a victory for the anti-devolutionists, and as far as I know it is the situation we are still in today and which is still Labour Party policy.
§ Mr. Buchan
Has my hon. Friend not forgotten one element of history? At the debate in Ayr in 1968, the proposals for devolution were defeated largely due to energetic and vitriolic attacks on them by the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sillars).
§ Mr. Robertson
That is not my recollection of the events. The proposals were certainly defeated, but I never understood or accepted the reasons why they were defeated. But I do not mind converts to the cause. However, while I have gained one convert, I seem to have lost another. I remember that my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan) was one of the full-blooded proponents of Home Rule. I wish that he would get up and be the same again instead of wallowing in the shallows and dealing in nuances.
§ Mr. Buchan
I was a powerful devolutionist, but I also said that it should not be devolution which was a surrender to separatism. That was five years ago.
§ Mr. Robertson
Enough said. The only point I want to make, in view of comments made by some of my hon. Friends earlier, is a little reminder that there is a long history of demand for Home Rule and a Scottish Parliament. It has been an issue in Scottish politics not just for the last few years but certainly for the last 100 years. Indeed, it 1050 could be argued that it has been an issue for the last 270 years. It has never ceased to be an issue in that time, and it would not cease to be an issue even supposing that the SNP was to go away.
§ Mr. Crawford
I want to go away to a Scottish Parliament as soon as possible, and I look forward to sitting with the hon. Member for Paisley (Mr. Robertson) in that Parliament. But will he not agree that, were it not for the existence of the SNP and its vote in 1974, we would not be discussing this Bill today?
§ Mr. Robertson
Yes, I will agree with that. But what the hon. Member and his hon. Friends must not do is play down the importance of the issue by claiming that only because they are here is Home Rule an issue. If they put it the other way round, I will be happy and content with that view, because I myself was trying to do a little about it in this House before there was sight or sound of SNP Members in this House.
I have also had occasion to receive some rather heavy stick from some of my hon. Friends on the national question. Socialism is international but they seem rather blocked in their logic. I always wonder how they can have feeling and understanding for emerging nations in Africa, or South America, or any other part of the globe except these islands.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Is not the difference in the fact that the emerging nations in Africa and elsewhere do not expect to have 71 Members of the British Parliament?
§ Mr. Robertson
My hon. Friend knows the advice—"if you are going to sup with a Dalyell, you have to have a long spoon". My hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) is a rather remarkable creature. I remember a meeting in Keir Hardie House in Glasgow on 18th October 1974. Afterwards, he put forward a demand that the new Labour Government introduce a Bill for a Scottish Parliament. He was well reported. Of course he is entitled to change his mind, but not at every election. I can remember other occasions.
The great national argument has taken place not only here. For example, the Austrian Socialists asked for the continuation of the Empire even after the 1051 Emperor had gone, but in the event we got Yugoslavia. Hungary, Romania, Poland and Czechoslovakia. Who would say today as a Socialist that it was wrong that those independent countries should have been established and Austria left as Austria?
The idea of nationhood is difficult to describe. Like the elephant it is recognisable but difficult to define. It is not an argument about economic advantage. We argued about Home Rule when it was clearly against our economic advantage. It is not a matter of party political attitude. It is a feeling of belonging, of a need for identity, and of a need to give expression to oneself. It is the need for a nation to have being, to have a form of expression for its culture, to give forth, to create, to make a contribution, not only to its own well-being but to the well-being of all nations.
What happens to a worker in Merseyside is of concern to me, but so its what happens to workers in Paris, Bonn, Milan, Vietnam and South Africa. That does not mean that we should carry the idea of internationalism to a stupid, logical conclusion, and abolish all states and nations, and have one world government. Even then one would need to determine the unit of administration and it would probably be the nation.
This is not a good Bill, but I welcome it, warts and all. I want to praise the Ministers who worked hard to bring it before us. I want to mention particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling, Falkirk and Grangemouth (Mr. Ewing) with whom I have disagreed on many occasions over the last year or two. I congratulate him but say this to him: the political situation never stands still and there is something which must be provided for in this Bill yet which is not in it. I never wanted this country to become part of the EEC, but the people voted and decided. That being so, a Scottish Government must have direct representation at all levels in the councils of Europe. Anything else would be a nonsense and unsatisfactory.
I give the Bill my blessing. This is a great day. I look forward to the greater day when the Bill become law, and to the day when the Scottish Parliament meets for the first time. I hope to be there.
§ 7.13 p.m.
§ Mr. Russell Fairgrieve (Aberdeenshire, West)
It gives me pleasure to take part in the debate following the speech of the hon. Member for Paisley (Mr. Robertson), although I was troubled by some points in his argument. I had not realised that he and his party had argued so strongly in favour of Home Rule for Scotland during the 20 years that he has been a Member of Parliament.
This has been an interesting debate, in that I am the first Tory Back Bencher to speak, while we have heard from every one of the minor parties and from two or three Government speakers. We have heard about the problem that will be faced by the Scottish National Party after the devolution issue is out of the way, and about the question whether it will propagate Socialism—which looks like the majority view—or the policies of my party.
We have now arrived at the Second Reading of the devolution Bill. I shall confine my remarks to the Scottish dimension. One may wonder how it comes about that we should discuss the subject this week when there are so many more important subjects to be discussed. There is inflation, unemployment, the cost of living, the value of sterling, rents, rates, the cost of food and travel, and the standard of living. Yet we divert ourselves with the expensive luxury of devolution, which gets bigger and better headlines and more media coverage. Why are passions aroused, resignations in the air, and Members talking about defying three-line Whips?
The trouble with constitutional changes is that there is never a right time for them. As constitutional changes evolve, a nation always has more immediate and practical problems. Yet if the need for change is not faced up to, one cannot achieve the structure in which to put other matters right. There is no doubt that the spirit of devolution has a firm grip on the minds of Scots, and that it has done so for a decade. It did not start last month. Some action must be taken, and it must be the right action.
Without the evidence of a referendum, which may have to happen now, by averaging polls, votes, and so on, so far, taken in and across political parties, the figures show that only about 10 per cent. 1053 of the Scottish electorate want the breakup of the United Kingdom and an independent Scotland, a similar pecentage wanting no change in the status quo. If one adds to these figures the 20 per cent. or so who do not vote, or do not care, or do not know, one is left with about 60 per cent. or more of the Scottish people wanting a thing called devolution. This is a very wide spectrum, ranging from tinkering with the constitution at one end to a full federal solution at the other. The real question to be resolved is where to put the marker down on this spectrum.
Let us look at the logical history of why Scotland has reached this stage in the devolution problem. Taking only the era since the end of the Second World War, it started with a drift of power away from Scotland to the Midlands, the South-East of England and the London area. To be fair the same problem has affected Wales and the North and West of England to some extent. By a drift of power, I mean that competent young managers had to move out of Scotland to get promotion in their firms. We got landed with the branch factories. The main plants and headquarters were not located in Scotland.
It is a staggering and sobering thought that about 80 per cent. of Scottish manufacturing industry is owned outside Scotland. It is imperative that this balance is reversed radically if ever we are to have indigenous power.
§ Mr. T. G. D. Galbraith (Glasgow, Hillhead)
I agree entirely with my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. Fairgrieve) that what is wrong is the lack of devolution of decision-making jobs, but will he explain how this will be altered by a change in the constitution of the country? This is what I find difficult to understand.
§ Mr. Fairgrieve
I shall explain that when I come to that point in my speech.
In this post-war period certain bodies like the Scottish Council (Development and Industry) recognised these facts and gave detailed attention to the problem. We all know that the Scottish Council is made up of industry, employers and employees, local government representatives, the Scottish TUC and every aspect 1054 of Scottish industrial, commercial and administrative life. It is the most influential, neutral and broadly-based body of information and opinion in Scotland today. We have no other potential forum, apart from the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.
The Scottish Council's worry eventually caused the setting up of a working party in about 1966, under the chairmanship of Sir William McEwan Younger to study the machinery of government as it affected Scotland.
This committee reported about a year later, to the effect that every effort had been made by Government to decentralise, to move Departments, to encourage firms to set up in Scotland, to give incentives, and to cajole, bribe and even threaten, but that these attempts were not working. Its final conclusion was that there could be no real and lasting administrative and productive decentralisation without some political devolution.
This catalyst report caused the then Leader of the Conservative Party, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sid-cup (Mr. Heath), to set up the Constitutional Committee under Sir Alec Douglas-Home—as he then was—in 1968, and it reported in 1970. That Committee gave us the now famous Douglas-Home proposals for a directly elected Assembly in Scotland, with some legislative powers and certain responsibilities for many Scottish domestic matters.
These proposals were accepted by my party. I remind those who say that the Tories took their decisions out of a fear of the SNP that this policy commitment was in our 1970 election manifesto when we won back three seats in Scotland. At that election only one SNP Member was returned—the hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart)—besides which the hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mrs. Ewing) lost the seat she had won earlier in the by-election at Hamilton.
We lack a Scottish forum. The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland has in many debates discussed secular matters because there is no other forum for such matters in Scotland. The same is true of the Scottish Council, the Scottish TUC, chambers of commerce, Conventions of Royal Burghs and many other bodies. What is required is an Athenian Court in Scotland, where we can discuss 1055 and debate and decide upon purely Scottish domestic matters. After all, we have our own legal system, our distinctive educational traditions, our own Church, our different local authorities and our national banks and commercial institutions.
This brings me to the main difference between the "Tory" Assembly and the "Labour" Assembly. Leaving aside matters of technicality, details to be resolved, amendments to be tabled and so on, the real difference is an Assembly with or without an Executive. Returning to the spectrum I mentioned earlier, if we do not stop around the Douglas-Home proposals but move on to the type of Assembly called for in this Bill, we introduce elements of stress and strain which would necessitate going further to a quasi-federal solution with money-raising powers and a Bill of Rights. For these reasons we on the Tory Benches say that the Assembly should be another chamber of Parliament, without any bureaucracy or further layer of government.
§ Mr. Fairgrieve
It does—as much as the hon. Member's industrial and economic policy represents the united voice of the SNP.
The Bill calls for an Executive in Scotland, with its necessary attendant staff of civil servants—another layer of government and therefore of costs. We have had enough of the reorganisation of local government in Scotland not to be conned on that one again. There must be few people in Scotland now who do not think that, be it painful or otherwise, our present local government structure must be got into one tier of all-purpose authorities. I do not say that we should scrap the regions or the districts. There has to be an amalgam, putting them together into areas of the right size and responsibility.
If we call the revised authorities "areas" prior to naming them regions or districts, Scotland could be divided up roughly into 20 or 25 of these, probably based mainly on the regional structure in the North, East and South of Scotland, and the district structure in Strathclyde and the rest of the central belt. We can 1056 get out of over-government in Scotland by creating a structure consisting of the European Assembly, Westminster, the Scottish Assembly, one tier of local authorities and real community councils.
Looking at the residual position here, after the setting up of the Scottish Assembly, it is patently obvious that the number of Scottish Members of Parliament must be reduced. Already on an actuarial basis Scotland is over-represented and should have only 60 Members compared to our present 71. After the setting up of the Assembly the position compounds itself. When issues are debated here, which are devolved to the Assembly, we cannot expect to take part in the debate or in the vote. The idea of keeping the same number of Members of Parliament here after the setting up of the Scottish Assembly is preposterous. Let us be sensible. Not one English, Welsh or Irish Member of Parliament could be expected to tolerate such an absurd proposition, nor would any sensible Scot expect him to. This is one obvious price for our Assembly.
§ Mrs. Bain
The hon. Member is talking abour power. Does he agree that until the Assembly has real economic power we could not possibly reduce Scottish representation at Westminster, because this is where the economic decisions will be taken? Does he not further agree that if he wishes Scotland to have a European dimension it must have direct representation, and that this can only be achieved through an independent Scottish Government?
§ Mr. Fairgrieve
I shall touch on the hon. Lady's second proposition in a moment. I take her first point. Much depends on how the Bill appears after it has been in Committee.
Another reason why the pressure is on for devolution to Scotland is one that many people do not like to admit. It is the anachronism and conservatism of this House. It is because this House steadfastly refuses to change itself, its methods and its structures that these demands by the electorate for a European tier above and a Scottish tier below have arrived. It would be better if Europe and Scotland were part of a fundamental change at Westminster. If this cannot be as yet we have to get on with the other changes as best we can and trust that this place will catch up eventually.
1057 Let us consider proportional representation as an example of what I have been saying. A total of seven countries out of the nine in the EEC will use this method to elect their European Members of Parliament. The Royal Commission on the Constitution and Scottish Tory briefs on the Assembly advise the use of proportional representation to elect its Members. I am not suggesting using proportional representation to elect Members to this place, but why, because of some obscure fears of infection, deny it to other bodies where it is patently more sensible and realistic? We must not have too many representatives or too many bureaucrats in these various layers of government. Scotland should have 10 Members of Parliament in Europe, and 50 here in Westminster, while 100 will be fully adequate for the Assembly.
I return to the much-derided idea of a talking shop. A talking shop is no bad thing if it talks sense. If Scotland talked in a proper political forum with certain legislative powers, Westminster must listen. Relaxed, sensible talk is better than over-crammed lousy legislation. Sir Alec Douglas-Home, as he then was, was not far short of the mark with his original shot at the target.
May I conclude by saying this. Many people believe that any move towards any Assembly for Scotland is the first step on the slippery slope to separatism and they are fully entitled to their views. But others of us believe that if sensible devolution is not given to Scotland the break-up of the United Kingdom is inevitable, and that legislation for an Assembly, seen to be denied to Scotland by a majority in this House, will be a one-way ticket for a majority of Scottish Members who will arrive in this place and wrench Scotland out of the United Kingdom.
Without being in any way alarmist or wishing to exaggerate, I must make the point that there are surely some people here who can recognise a parallel between the nineteenth century problem of England and Ireland and to-day's problem with Scotland. Shall we never learn?
§ Mr. Galbraith
My hon. Friend has referred to the parallel between Scotland and Ireland in the nineteenth century. Does he not realise that the Irish settle- 1058 ment which was almost passed before the First World War was regarded by the Irish as merely a stepping-stone to independence? That is precisely what this Bill will do for Scotland.
§ Mr. Fairgrieve
I have made my opinion quite clear. It would be tragic if Scotland came to feel, rightly or wrongly, that a majority in this House was unsympathetic, ignorant or even arrogant towards what she believes to be fair and reasonable.
During the early months of next year when the House considers this Bill I ask it to ponder deeply on the possible consequences of denying to Scotland something which a majority of its people demonstrably want, namely more control and power of decision-making over our domestic problems, but all within the financial and political integrity of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
At first glance, and superficially, it might seem sensible for the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. Fairgrieve) to say that in all the circumstances there should be 50 Members of Parliament from Scotland, but on this issue of reduced representation is it any more tolerable that 50 or 35 Members of Parliament should cast votes on subjects for which they are not responsible than should 71 of them? The issue is not one which can be judged very easily.
It is not just a question of saying that we Scots shall have reduced representation. The issue is one of responsibility. I admit that we have somehow coasted along with a Stormont type of situation, because Northern Ireland is much smaller than Scotland and the situation could be tolerated for a while. But if there is to be a similar situation in Scotland there, will be repercussions on the question of responsibility. I therefore say to the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West, with a certain amount of coolness, that, although his argument may look very attractive on the surface, there are deep issues of principle involved.
§ Mr. Mackintosh
It is misleading to suggest that the question of responsibility applies only to Northern Ireland. My 1059 hon. Friend will be aware that the agriculture, tied cottage Bill and the Education Bill were passed in the last Session on the votes of Scottish Members on subjects completely restricted to England. If we carry this ridiculous argument further, how can we legislate for the GLC if we are not London Members? These arguments do not apply. There are United Kingdom aspects to a devolved Scotland.
§ Mr. Dalyell
The short answer to that argument is that at present English Members decide matters in relation to Scotland which they would not decide if there was a Scottish Assembly. I think that that is a fairly complete answer.
This Bill purports to be about an Assembly, but many of us fear that in reality the issue is the end of the Union that has lasted for 270 years and the dismantling of the United Kingdom.
The Ministers who introduced the Bill are in the position of architects who go to enormous trouble to design and build some great edifice only to find to their dismay that the geological strata on which they have built are seismologically unsound.
The Bill lies astride that fundamental flaw. Clause 1 states:The following provisions of this Act make changes in the government of Scotland and Wales as parts of the United Kingdom. They do not affect the unity of the United Kingdom.At best, such a statement is innocent and naive to the point of fault. The seeds of conflict sprout vigorously from Clauses 18 and 19, Schedule 2, Clauses 20 and 21, Clauses 23 to 25, Clauses 26 to 28, 35 to 37, 41, 43 to 47, 49 to 51, 52 to 54, 55 to 57, 58, 61 to 64, 77 to 78 and 84. Each of these clauses contains a fruitful source of conflict.
I take as an example Clause 20 on the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. I recollect that when I sat on the Opposition Benches I marvelled at the eloquence of the now Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House on the subject of Sir John Donaldson and the judges. Compared with the kind of delicate issue which the Judicial Committee will have to look into, Sir John Donaldson was absolutely pure in political terms.
I ask a very direct question of my hon. Friends: have they had an opinion from 1060 the judges who will make up part—I know it is only a part—of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council? What have the judges said on this matter? That is a direct question I would like answered. Have the Scottish judges agreed that the procedure of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council is a good procedure? The answer must be yes or no.
Another example of conflict arises in Clause 43, on Treasury borrowing powers. Is there any conceivable way in which conflict will not take place on this subject? There is not only little hope, there is no conceivable chance, that this scheme will remain stable. Everything that goes wrong, everything that people think should be rectified overnight, every hope, however impractical or Utopian raised by the SNP and not fulfilled forthwith will be attributed to the fact that this Assembly has inadequate powers and insufficient money.
What would Members of such an Assembly say? Hon Friends of mine, no less than hon. Members of the SNP, will say "We should have more from the block grant and from that parsimonious English Treasury."
The truth is that one cannot have a legislature with a Cabinet and Prime Minister in part—though only part—of a unitary State.
It is all very well to say, as has been said by some Ministers, that these matters can be left to Parliament, and that Back Benchers will come up with some bright ideas that will improve the Bill. I suppose that we should be flattered by the notion that Back Benchers will come up with fertile ideas. The truth is that if such fertile ideas existed for overcoming thorny problems such as taxation powers they would have occurred long ago to some clever civil servants and able Ministers who have been engaged in preparing this Bill.
It is inconceivable that my hon. Friends the Members for Lanarkshire, North (Mr. Smith) and The Wrekin (Mr. Fowler) or some other Ministers who have been diverting their abilities to the Bill would not have come up with the answers, had the answers existed.
How could Back Benchers be expected to come up with a scheme for raising taxes painlessly from the Scots to pay 1061 for the Assembly when the Secretary of State for Scotland, who does me the courtesy of being present—he is no mean accountant and tax expert himself—with all the official advice available to him, with the entire Government machine, has been baffled.
If he cannot do it, I doubt whether any of us can do it.
No solutions have been found because the problems are not soluble. The Leader of the Liberal Party suggested that a way out of the problem of taxation would be to take a layer of tax from the oil companies. I do not know what "a layer of tax" means in this context, but that was the phrase he used. The idea of taking some of the oil revenues has consequences. Once one hypothecates certain revenues from natural resources in this country, will there not be results elsewhere? If it is Scottish oil, what about the English coal industry or the English china clay industry? It is a game of tit-for-tat.
Let us take the strongest arguments in favour of the Bill. I always take the strongest arguments of my opponents. The strongest argument is that "it was all a dreadful series of events which got us into this morass; it should never have happened, but promises were given and it is too late in the day to stop it." I have three observations to make about that.
First, exactly what promises were given? In August, September and October 1974 it was not clear that we were to have a legislative Assembly. It was still less clear that we were to have a Scottish Cabinet or a Scottish Prime Minister. My hon. Friend the Member for Paisley (Mr. Robertson) has talked about people being struck on the Road to Damascus. I was struck on the Road to Damacus, and I shall say when it was. It happened dreich January one night in Keir Hardie House, in Glasgow, when my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin, then a Minister of State, came along with my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling, Falkirk and Grangemouth (Mr. Ewing) and said "We shall have a Scottish Prime Minister; we shall have a Scottish Cabinet." That was the first news I had heard of that.
§ Mr. Gerry Fowler (The Wrekin)
Odd things happen when one is struck on the 1062 road to Damascus. For a brief period it could affect one's memory. I did not use the words "Scottish Prime Minister" on that occasion, nor the phrase "Scottish Cabinet".
§ Mr. Dalyell
My hon. Friend used the phrase Prime Minister of Scotland "because I have it in my diary.
If at the crucial August 1974 Labour Party Conference the pro-devolutionists had made it clear that there was to be a Prime Minister of Scotland and a Cabinet, some of us might think that the results of that conference would have been very different, and they would not have succeeded in persuading the Scottish Conference, that their Executive Committee, of which I was a member, was wrong in its opposition to an Assembly.
The truth is that the Labour Party in Scotland has been edged along, not least by the eloquence of my hon. Friends the Members for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) and South Ayrshire (Mr. Sillars), to a position where the Bill is far away from the campaign promises of October 1974. If I seem to be departing from the party promises of October 1974, so, too, is every one of my hon. Friends who supports the Government's Bill. I have had to deal with this subject at some length because both my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and the Leader of the Scottish National Party referred to my rôle in the matter.
There is the serious question whether campaign promises hastily given, as every one of us knows, in the circumstances of the juxtapositioned elections of February and October 1974 should determine the future constitution of our country.
We are told that the Bill is about good government in Scotland, and in his speech my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister talked about better and more democratic Government. The Leader of the Liberal Party spoke about a reduction in regional government. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said that we should move further away from a highly-centralised State. My right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson) raised the very real problems of control of the water and the health services. For once I think that my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton is a little confused on a narrow issue. There is all the difference in the world between what he said, which 1063 is doubtless perfectly right in terms of the North-West of England, and the no doubt urgent need for democratic control over the health and water services, and the setting up of a legislative Assembly.
Let me quote from Mr. Robert Peggie, who is Chief Executive of the Lothian Region. He says:There is talk, certainly at political party level of the abolition of the Regions providing a neat solution to the charge of over-government following introduction of a Scottish Assembly. This suggestion is not merely another reorganisation of local government—make no mistake about that—it represents the beginning of the end for local democracy. The District authorities could not assume responsibility for the present Regional functions and what is implied here is that the major functions of local government as provided by the Regional authorities would be transferred to the Assembly, i.e. the State. It strikes me as odd that the people of Scotland, having pressed for Devolution from Westminster and Whitehall, should contemplate a centralist solution within Scotland for what are essentially local services. I hope most sincerely that the good sense of the Scottish people will force those who advocate abolition of the Regions to think again. Whatever the present critics may say, Scotland without a strong local government system would be a sorry place. Centralised control of services by the Assembly would be no substitute.I come now to the speech of the Leader of the Welsh National Party. He spoke about the dispersal of power. Some of the reasons that a number of us are against these proposals are precisely that in reality and in fact, in contradistinction to objective, they tend to centralise power rather than to disperse it. I mention the Leader of the Welsh National Party because I was horrified at the assent he was getting to those parts of his speech from my right hon. Friend the Lord President. People like me, who believe in local government, are the best devolvers of power of the lot!
It is all very well to talk about the failure of centralism, but these proposals could be centralism with a vengeance in Scotland. If that is denied what are the alternatives?
The hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West said we should have another reorganisation and 25 new all-purpose authorities. Any reorganisation is extremely costly, but of course the real alternative is to have 60 new district authorities, 60 education authorities and 1064 60 police forces, or a centralised education system and a centralised police force. When the hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Reid) states his ambition to be Minister of the Interior for Scotland, I must tell him that I am against a centralised police force.
At the crudest electoral level, devolution will not in my opinion deter voters from voting for the SNP. What might deter them is the realisation that by doing so they could be bringing about the end of the Union. I must refer to my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson), because some of us do not think it is either sensible or right to go for Government by public opinion poll.
There is a third consideration. In 1974, misguidedly perhaps, a lot of people thought that an Assembly would attract a consensus of opinion on what was best for Scotland.
Even those who did not believe, with Mr. Ted Short, that the SNP would "wither away" none the less supposed that it would modify its demands, come an Assembly in Edinburgh, and that if it did not, it would be easily defeated at the polls by an electorate grateful to those who had set up an Assembly.
In 1976–77 there is not the remotest chance of such a consensus. The SNP quite openly—I do not blame it—has proclaimed the Royal High School as a stepping stone, a tool for, a moving escalator towards, a launching pad for a separate Scottish State. The hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) this afternoon used the words"It is a first step".I have a question for the Prime Minister. In opening his speech, the Prime Minister said that this Bill was part of a steady development, and he then gave us a brief history of the Scottish Office and the establishment of the Secretary of State. I would like the Lord President of the Council or some other senior Minister to explain to us precisely at what point we call a stop to this steady development. There must be an answer to that question. Steady development can go on and on and on until we have a separate State.
§ Mr. Hooley
Surely that decision rests with the Scottish people. My hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) is completely under an illusion if he supposes that this House can carry on as if the aspirations and desires of the Scottish people do not exist. If those aspirations carry on to independence, then they will get it.
§ Mr. Dalyell
The aspirations of a people is a very difficult concept. Some of us think that the aspirations of the Scottish people are to remain British and to have job security and many other things.
Many Scottish people find it mighty curious that we are discussing devolution at length to the exclusion of a number of other measures. For example, the Secretary of State for the Environment has said that we cannot have a measure on homelessness because of the long debates on devolution. That seems very odd to many Scottish people.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths
I am glad that the hon. Member said that. It may be that the aspirations of the majority of British people are to preserve the Union, and they should not be stopped from doing so.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I would agree with that. The Leader of the Scottish National Party made a point which registered semi-agreement with me, on the issue of the referendum. I beg my hon. Friends on the Front Bench to be very careful about apparently changing the rules in the middle of the match. I think that I am probably in favour of a referendum, but I also think that great care must be taken about its presentation and the way in which the questions are framed. I am trying to be helpful here. If the referendum seems to be "fixed", it may well be that some of us are in for a rude shock. There is a real danger in presenting this referendum.
§ Mr. John Smith
Would my hon. Friend tell us why he signed the motion on the referendum, when he seems to be so hesitant about it?
§ Mr. Dalyell
It may be that at the end of the day it was quite a sensible thing to do, but this referendum must be presented with extreme care and that 1066 should be stated publicly. I do not apologise for signing the motion. However, I feel that the referendum must not be seen to be putting forward a "political fix", because unless it seems to be a genuine question referendum it might well backfire on us, in North Lanarkshire as well as in West Lothian. A referendum designed by a Government to get a particular answer could even backfire.
§ Mr. Moonman
When the Prime Minister spoke of changing the rules in the middle of the match, he made the point that we shall not know the full result by Thursday evening. If we continue to go on as we are at the moment the rules will change after the Second Reading, and that is a different matter.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I must not intrude on the time of the House too much. I could be drawn on all sorts of matters.
If this Bill is passed, it is likely that Scotland will be a separate country within a decade. If the House is persuaded to ditch it, at least there is a chance of stopping at the edge of the precipice of separation.
There are those who say that hon. Members on either side, Labour or Tory, in current politics in Scotland, will suffer electoral humiliation. I wonder whether, when the Scottish electorate faces the real possibility of frontiers, passports, currency regulations, industrial and commercial chaos, £ sterling and £ Scots, and friends and relatives in England being Foreigners, they might return to the traditional parties whatever shortcomings they may have.
I turn now to the subject of voting against one's party on a three-line whip. I am not really used to this, unlike some of my hon. Friends who give me public lectures on loyalty.
In fact I have not even withheld my vote in 14½ years, other than on the East of Suez defence White Paper, in company with my right hon. Friends the Members for Birkenhead (Mr. Dell), and Heywood and Royton (Mr. Barnett), and on the Common Market. On the former occasion my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton in his 1964–70 Labour Government said that there were wiser counsels than his. I am not a natural rebel, but in the vote on Thursday I do 1067 not quite see it in terms of voting against a Labour Government, but rather in voting against my old opponents since 1962 in the Scottish National Party.
My local paper had the headline "Billy Welcomes Assembly". In that instance, "Billy" was William Wolfe of the Scottish National Party, and I am not surprised that he welcomed it.
I am fortified in the knowledge that there are many people up and down Scotland who for many years have worked hard to return Labour candidates who share the kind of views which I am putting forward. If I thought that I was alone in my party in Scotland on this issue, I might act differently.
We had some long discussions in the West Lothian Constituency Labour Party yesterday afternoon, and most of them have the gravest misgivings. There are agonies in most constituency Labour Parties on this. On the effective issue of voting against the Labour Government on a three-line Whip, the constituency party was divided 13 to 13, though the chairman went out of his way to say that it was in no sense mandating its Member of Parliament.
Ultimately, one's highest loyalty is, in a conflicting situation, to one's electorate and one's own values—in my case, to the people of West Lothian.
If in my considered judgment, this measure would be greatly to the disadvantage in the long run of the thousands who have, rightly or wrongly, trusted me in six elections, it is clearly my duty to vote against it, and this I will do.
§ 7.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Julian Amery (Brighton, Pavilion)
The right hon. Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson) criticised the Leader of the Opposition for having made what he described as a Committee stage speech. He could have said the same about the Prime Minister. Of course, it is natural that leaders of divided parties should speak with muted voice; accordingly, the greater responsibility rests on the rest of us to make our positions clear. I cannot help feeling that the right hon. Member for Huyton bequeathed this Bill to his successor, perhaps as a means of diverting Parliamentary attention from our grave economic and social problems, and of 1068 dishing the Tribune Group, much as Mr. Gladstone, when he was Prime Minister, reacted to Irish Home Rule by dishing the Radicals. The last thing I would wish to do is to give more scope to the Tribune Group, but I would much rather give them scope to extend nationalisation or increase social services than I would wish to see the kingdom break up. That is what many of us feel.
The hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) rightly said that, whatever else the Bill did, it did not make for better government for Scotland and Wales. There have been many advocates of devolution. There have been those in past years who have advocated "Home Rule all round"; and there are those who advocate federalism and see in their solutions a means of producing better government. But it is clear from paragraph 11 of the White Paper on the English dimension and from the fact that no reduction is contemplated in the number of Scottish and Welsh Members in this House that this Bill is not concerned with better government but with something quite different.
The White Paper is concerned with providing a response to the undoubted revival of nationalism in Scotland and Wales. It is a response stimulated no doubt by the dependence of the present Government on the votes of the minority parties to maintain their own majority. It is also stimulated by the party machines on both sides of the House which are worried about their prospects at the next General Election. These are perfectly respectable considerations in a democracy that should be sensitive to the tides of public opinion.
There is undoubtedly a revival of nationalism, as is evidenced by the presence in this House of our honourable colleagues the nationalist MPs. I understood from the leaders of the Scottish and—today—the Welsh nationalists that their aim is full independence—as full as that which is enjoyed by the Republic of Ireland today.
The Leader of the Liberal Party asked how strong was the desire for full independence and how strong was the tide of nationalism. Opinions differ a good deal on the matter. But it does not matter so much what public opinion polls tell us today. I am not greatly concerned 1069 how strong that tide is at present, but I am concerned how strong it will be in the time that is to come. If we want to find the key to where we are going, we have to look back to where we came from.
Why is this revival of nationalism taking place? In the last 270 years, since the Act of Union occurred, our Scottish friends have joined with us as partners in a going concern. The economy expanded following the Industrial Revlution, so did our Empire, and it was a force in the world. It provided jobs on the shop floor, in the board room, in Parliament and in Cabinet. The list of Scottish and Welsh Prime Ministers is a long and honourable one. The system also provided jobs overseas—military, administrative and commercial. But in the last decade the glory has departed. We have seen the dissolution of the Empire; the Commonwealth no longer is an effective economic or political force; and Europe is still in the making.
The union that provided the Celtic fringes with an escape from poverty and parochialism is sinking once again into poverty and parochialism. There will be no glittering establishment for the few, no jobs for the many and, indeed, no money to borrow for either. The only glimmer of hope lies in the oil resources. No wonder that find has stimulated the nationalists who wish to take power. No wonder there are doubts about the British connection. Yet I believe that those doubts are in the minority and that the balance of interest lies against separation. But public opinion is not always moved by objective and logical considerations. Ireland paid very dear for its independence in economic and social terms. We see that today in the lower standards of living and the much worse social services enjoyed by the inhabitants of Ireland.
I suspect that most hon. Members are against separation. If any of us felt that the Bill aimed at promoting separation, we would throw it out. The central issue, therefore, is: will the Bill promote or prevent separation? Is such a measure, as Lord Home of the Hirsel said in his book, "a stitch in time" or "the thin edge of the wedge".
The central feature of the Bill is a directly elected Assembly and an Executive that is responsible to it. Will that 1070 promote or prevent separation? It is a difficult issue, and it is not easy to form a judgment on the matter. It is true that there is a three-line Whip on both sides among the major parties. I am in favour of three-line Whips because, according to the best traditions, such a Whip does not say which way one should vote, but merely says that one must be present to vote for or against—or, if necessary, to abstain, but to be in one's place rather than be casually away, as though the subject under scrutiny does not matter. It is no longer an academic question. Each of us is being called upon to decide this week.
Will the Bill prevent or promote separation? The first piece of evidence one must call forward is the view of the Scottish National Party. Its members believe that these provisions will provide them with the means of achieving their goal. They do not accept the Bill or believe that it goes far enough, but they regard it as a step in the right direction because they believe, as did Parnell and other Irish nationalists, that the Assembly will give them a launching pad to bring them to their goal.
I know that historical allusions are almost as unpopular these days as Latin tags used to be, but it is worth looking back at the Irish parallel. When Mr. Gladstone brought forward his Home Rule legislation, his party was divided, as is the Labour Party today, into two or three main groups. There was a "manifesto group" led by Lord Hartington, and then there was the "Tribune Group" of the day, led by Mr. Joe Chamberlain. Mr. Chamberlain had every hope of succeeding the grand old man as party leader. Lord Hartington was destined to play a great part in the counsels of his party. Both hated the Tory Party. When Gladstone brought forward the Home Rule decision they sat down with him and others to try to draft a Bill which would avoid the separation of Ireland from the United Kingdom. Yet they found it impossible to draft an acceptable formula. As a result, both sacrificed their deepest political convictions—and, in Chamberlain's case, the strong ambition to be leader of his party rather than put the unity of the kingdom at risk.
Some who have studied the history of Ireland have concluded that if only we 1071 had conceded Home Rule, matters would have ended differently. But does anybody in this House think that if Home Rule had been granted in 1886, Ireland would not have moved on to independence? Now that we have seen how Ireland reacted in the first and second world wars, does anybody believe that we should have maintained the unity of the kingdom by the concession of Home Rule? I do not take that view.
§ Mr. Amery
My hon. Friend is right, and a number of nationalist leaders beginning with Mr. Parnell made it clear that they regarded it as a first step, as indeed, to her credit, did the hon. Lady the Member for Moray and Nairn (Mrs. Ewing), the Leader of the Scottish National Party. She has never taken a different view.
§ Mr. David James (Dorset, North)
On what ground does my right hon. Friend write off the possibility that had Home Rule been granted in 1886 the Irish might not have remained a member of the British family? Is my right hon. Friend aware that two of the most notable VCs in the last war were obtained by Irish nationalists?
§ Mr. Amery
My hon. Friend puts his finger on the point when he talks about "the British family", because that brings me to the next point in my case which I hope will answer his question.
The whole history of the Commonwealth—I am talking of the English-speaking Commonwealth—confirms the view that once a legislative Assembly and an Executive are set up, albeit with limited powers, they always go on to ask for more. The Oliver Twist syndrome is natural. If the Executive finds that it is unpopular with the Assembly, it says that it is because its power is limited. The Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly then says "When I come to power I shall ask for the limitations to be removed" and so one gets an almost automatic breakaway.
Canada after the Durham Report went in for that. South Africa secured it under the Liberal Party, without—be it said in passing—any provision for a franchise for the African population. Australia and 1072 New Zealand, the most loyal and most intimately connected countries to the United Kingdom having, before the First World War, got limited authority for their Executive, their Legislature decided, after the war, to go the whole hog and take the rest. The UDI of the Rhodesian Assembly is only the last manifestation of an Executive and an Assembly with limited powers impatient of the restraints of Whitehall. There have, of course, been exceptions. Stormont is one, Gibraltar is another, and the Falkland Islands are a third, but in each case not because the Assembly itself enjoyed the limitations but because they were more afraid of the external dangers.
When I mention Stormont I am conscious of a certain irony in the situation. Both parties in this House—I am not sure that they have been right, but perhaps they have—have declined to restore self-government to the Province of Ulster in case the majority should oppress the minority. The minority in Ulster is confessional. The Scottish divergence is political rather than confessional. I do not know what the proportion will be, but I do not see why we should favour the oppression of the Scot-Brits by the Scot-Nats, or the Scot-Nats by the Scot-Brits.
There is no successful example that I can find of devolution, but one was mentioned in the debate last autumn by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath), and again in the debate by another hon. Member, and that was the German Länder. The Germans have a federal system and have prospered under it, but it must be said that the Allied Powers imposed a federal system on them precisely to keep them weak.
It is arguable that the powers contained in the Bill will, with the common sense of the Scottish people, militate against separation. All I say is that we are putting a powerful weapon in the hands of the separatists if we go ahead and give them an elected Assembly and an Executive responsible to it. The hon. Member for Moray and Nairn knows that well enough.
More seriously, if we concede an Assembly and an Executive we concede a cardinal principle, because once we establish a directly elected Assembly, and 1073 still more an Executive, we set up an embryonic State. It may be content with the limitations imposed on it at the beginning, but suppose it is not. Suppose a separatist majority takes over. Suppose it demands to break up our integrated economy. Suppose it demands its share of the oil. Suppose it opts for neutrality and control of the waters between Iceland and Scotland that are vital to the entire strategy of NATO. Will we suspend it in the way that we suspended Stormont?
Once this Assembly is brought into being we go a long way towards recognising the right of self-determination not of the Scottish and Welsh nations, but of the Scottish and Welsh geographical areas. I may be asked "Do you deny their right to self-determination?". Everything depends upon the terms upon which self-determination should be based. Would we concede self-determination to strategic areas such as Cornwall or Kent?
What is a nation? I accept and believe that there is a Scottish tradition, a Welsh tradition and an English tradition. We are proud of that, and I have a bit of them in me one way or another all through, and I am proud of them. But I deny that geographical Scotland and Wales are nations. When the Act of Union was signed there were 5 million people in the whole of Britain. There are now 55 million. They have not just grown up in the individual seed beds from which they have sprung. There has been an enormous movement of population—Scots to England, Welsh to England, English to Wales, English to Scotland, and Irish to all three. The British people have evolved from that movement of people and the intermarriage that followed.
If anyone wants proof of that, the telephone book is the best answer. More people of Scottish descent live south of the border than north of it. The first Government in which I had the honour to serve was almost entirely led by Scotsmen. I was one of the few English people in it. There was Macmillan, Macleod, Douglas-Home, Kilmuir, Maclay, and the list goes on. How many Members in the Chamber now can claim to be pure English, pure Scots or pure Welsh? The Prime Minister, a Sussex farmer of Irish descent representing a Welsh constituency 1074 and now the tenant of 10 Downing Street—is a good example of the point I have in mind.
Over 270 years a British nation has come into being. It is this British nation that has achieved something unseen since the days of the Roman Empire—the build-up of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and even the United States of America to a large extent. We were all in this together. To accept separation would be to amputate a living body, to cut off the people of Scottish and Welsh descent who live in England from the country from which they spring. It would be a blasphemy against all that Britain has achieved; and yet that is what the SNP intends.
That is what the Bill could drive the Government to accept. I recognise that there is a risk in the rejection of the Bill as a whole. It could create a mood of disaffection north of the border or west of Offa's Dyke. I see the point that Lord Home has raised in his proposal for a referendum but, in my judgment, if there is to be a referendum—and I am against it in principle—it should be on a United Kingdom basis so that those of Scottish or Welsh or Irish descent who live in one another's countries can all express their view.
It is no accident that the rise of Britain followed the union of England and Scotland. It has happened in other countries, too. The greatness of Spain followed the union of Castile and Aragon. Cardinal Richelieu's unification of France was the basis of the two centuries in which France led Europe. Bismark, for good or ill, created a powerful Germany. Abraham Lincoln waded through blood to produce the United States which is today the guardian of Western security. It may be said that our course is run, that if the Empire and the Commonwealth are dissolved, why should we not let the kingdom dissolve as well and opt out of any responsibility? [Interruption.]
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Myer Galpern)
Order. I wish that the hon. Member for South Angus (Mr. Welsh) would not keep muttering to himself all the time.
§ Mr. Amery
I would not accept it even if it were practicable, but it is not; with 55 million people to look after and feed, half of whose food and most of 1075 whose raw materials come from abroad. We must exercise an influence in the world if we are to maintain the standards of living and of liberty to which they aspire.
Much more is at stake than the mere structure of the United Kingdom. What is at stake is our influence in Europe, because it is only through Europe that we shall be able to play our part in future. If we are to play a part in Europe, we must be able to speak there with a united voice. On this will depend our individual freedom, the prosperity of our people and the contribution that we can make to the world—what we can give as well as what we can get out of it. These are much larger interests than those of Whips' Offices and party machines.
I dare say that it was not in our power to prevent the dissolution of the Empire and of the Commonwealth. But it is in our power to prevent the dissolution of the kingdom. This is an issue which transcends party loyalties. I therefore believe that all those who feel as I do about this matter should vote against the Bill, or at least should not give their names to the breaking-up of the United Kingdom.
§ 8.21 p.m.
§ Mr. Gerry Fowler (The Wrekin)
The right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) demonstrated just how difficult and delicate an art is constitution-making when he told the House that the Länder system was imposed on West Germany to keep that country weak. Perhaps we should learn that whatever we do in this Session of Parliament may not be a permanent solution, and that we may make mistakes.
We should also recognise that constitution making is an activity which arouses deep passions. Deep passions can sometimes lead to faulty memories.
I noticed that my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) earlier today referred to the Bill's proposal for a shared Civil Service, suggesting, I suspect, that the Civil Service in Scotland and Wales would serve two masters. That is certainly no one's intention. I think that he meant a unified Home Civil Service.
My hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) seems to have 1076 forgotten that the White Paper of September 1974 set out clearly a proposal for a Legislative Assembly in Scotland. He said that it was a total surprise to him when I and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland referred not to a Scottish Prime Minister or a Scottish Cabinet but rather to a Scottish Executive and to a Head of that Executive. I must in my turn express surprise, because it is clear that if we are to have an Assembly exercising wide legislative power and also exercising over a broad field detailed administrative and executive powers, it must be one of the major questions whether executive and administrative power and the initiation of legislation should be devolved to individuals or to groups—that is to say, whether one creates a ministerial system or a committee system, to put it in terms with which we are familiar. Two people constitute a committee system, not a ministerial system.
That is a question which had to be posed at the outset, and it was obvious that the answer was likely to be a system modelled to some extent at least on our ministerial system, although that system as it appears in the Bill is much modified, in the interests of democratic control and the democratic initiation of legislative proposals within the proposed Scottish Assembly.
I think that all who have spoken today have spoken primarily about the major issue that should be at the heart of a Second Reading debate, especially on a constitutional matter. The sole exception to that statement, I say with some regret, was the Leader of the Opposition. I was somewhat saddened by her speech, because I though it not simply a Committee stage speech but a pettifogging Committee stage speech. Is it really apposite to a Second Reading debate to suggest that Clauses 1 and 18 may be in conflict, and that the Bill should not have been presented in this form?
There is no conflict. I do not know where the right hon. Lady gets her eminent constitutional advisers from. I hope that she is not paying them, because if she is, she is being cheated. There is no conflict at all between Clause 1, which makes clear the legislative supremacy of this Parliament, and Clause 18. The 1077 right hon. Lady drew attention to Clause 18(2), which provides:A Scottish Assembly Act may amend or repeal a provision made by or under an Act of Parliament.Of course it may, but nothing prevents this Parliament, if the Bill becomes an Act and an Assembly is set up, from legislating in any field for any part of the United Kingdom or for the United Kingdom as a whole, and nothing prevents it, either, from building into future legislation a provision that, notwithstanding the provisions of any section of the Scotland and Wales Act—as it will be—that legislation shall not be amendable by the Scottish Assembly. There is no contradiction between those clauses.
I hope, too, that when hon. Members speak on Second Reading and later in Committee they will think carefully about some of those provisions in which, the right hon. Lady said, the Government seem to have handed over power with one hand and taken it back with the other. There is often good reason for reservation. The right hon. Lady herself drew attention to the devoluton of power over housing and rents, and then said that the Government took it back with the other hand because they retained power to control maximum rents, and rent rebate schemes.
If the right hon. Lady had thought for a second she would have realised that it is arguable—I put it no stronger at this stage, but that is all that one need do on Second Reading—that the rent rebate structure is essentially a question of social support and social payments, and not essentially a matter of housing policy, and that if one intends to reserve control over the social security system it may be wise also to reserve control over rent rebate schemes or maximum rents. I put it no more strongly than that, but at least it is an argument to which the right hon. Lady might have given a moment's thought.
§ Mr. Dalyell
My hon. Friend is very candid in these matters. If he were a Member of a Scottish Assembly, would he agree to the proposition that Members of that Assembly should accept the state of affairs on housing and rents which he has outlined?
§ Mr. Fowler
I do not know what my attitude would be were I a Member of a Scottish Assembly. I trust that I am a reasonable man and that I would take a reasonable view. However, in my long experience of my hon. Friend's native land, I have found that some of his fellow countrymen are eminently reasonable and others are slightly less so. Perhaps the less reasonable element has become a little more dominant in recent years; so my hon. Friend may be right in his implication.
I noted that the Leader of the Liberal Party expressed surprise—some hon. Members have been picking on individual passage in the Bill—that the conservation of flora and fauna should have been reserved. "Was that," he asked, "too serious a matter to be devolved?" It might have occurred to him that while the conservation of flora and fauna in many federal States may be a responsibility of the state or province rather than of the federal Government, simply because most federal States have arisen from a coming together of what were once separate entities, there is no point in separating such activities within a presently unified country, where it could be done not only at great financial cost—one would have to separate all activities of that sort—but also at a cost to the efficiency of the service itself.
It will be obvious to the Leader of the Liberal Party that it is difficult to persuade fauna to observe the line running from the Solway Firth to Berwick. Even the seeds of flora may sometimes unwittingly cross it. Therefore, it is better to have a unified conservation policy.
In this Second Reading debate we should concentrate on the major issue—why devolution?, and why devolution to Scotland and Wales specifically? My answer would be that we have to begin by asking what it is that could lead anyone to believe that the historic growth of the nation State and the later creation of entities of local government somehow ensured that every governmental function was at precisely that level of government where it could be exercised with maximum efficiency and, in so far as the two were compatible, with maximum democratic control? Can we not at least open our minds to the possibility that there may be a tier of government other than of the nation State, if the nation 1079 State be of the size of the United Kingdom, and other than that of local government, and that there are certain functions, most of them presently exercised within central Government, which could be exercised at that power level without loss of efficiency and with great gain in democratic control? That, in a sense, is the nub of the argument.
When people talk of the cost of devolution they should consider, too, a corollary of that argument. Is it not possible that we shall, in terms of substantial elements of public expenditure, get better value for money if the supervision of services which are at present controlled essentially from Westminster and Whitehall can be co-ordinated closer to the ground by people who understand the local problem? If we can get co-ordinated policies in housing, welfare, employment, education and the like, may we not in the end get a much higher return on the investment we make? At least it is an argument worth consideration. Those who dismiss devolution out of hand seem not to have thought of it.
§ Mr. Galbraith
Are not the services mentioned by the hon. Gentleman precisely the services which are devolved in Scotland, run by the Scottish Office and controlled by the Scottish Members of Parliament? Why is it necessary to change that?
§ Mr. Fowler
No, Sir; the services described by the hon. Gentleman as devolved are decentralised to the Scottish Office. He says that control is exercised by the Scottish Members of Parliament. It is not, in any direct fashion. Control is exercised by the Secretary of State for Scotland and his junior Ministers, and it is they who are responsible to the House. That control can never be as effective and as detailed as the control that can be exercised by a democratically-elected Assembly in Scotland.
The hon. Gentleman will next ask me: but does not that argument apply equally well to England? Of course it does. It applies equally well to the English regions. I must confess to disappointment with the wet and windy Consultative Document—Devolution: The English Dimension—that we had last week. I was surprised at some of the hostages to fortune that it gave. I should like to read to the House one sentence from it: 1080If regional authorities were able to determine the allocation of resources to particular programmes within their regions … this would fundamentally affect the ability of Ministers to account separately and collectively to Parliament for the policies, standards and priorities of the services they administer.Of course—but exactly the same argument applies to Wales by the terms of the Bill. That is devolution. So why the Consultative Document should go out of its way to say that the difficulty with devolution is that it is devolution is beyond my comprehension.
I strongly believe that we should apply exactly the argument to the English regions. The time has come for a radical examination of the proper levels of government. I make no bones about saying that I am convinced that there should be central Government, and a regional level in England, and a national level in Scotland and Wales, with a single local government level below that. By that means we should get a rational distribution of functions and an effective government of the country.
Why proceed first with Scotland and Wales? I give three reasons. First, we know perfectly well what are the boundaries of Scotland and Wales. We cannot yet answer that question for any English region. We can answer the question in terms of particular functions of Government. Central Government still have 20 different sets of boundaries for their regional activities in England and Wales. That is absurd. Ever since the war we have been saying that we would try to get a coherent structure of regional boundaries and regional activities, but we still have not done so. We know exactly where the boundaries are with Scotland and Wales.
We have a coherent infrastructure for devolved government, as represented by the Scottish Office and the Welsh Office and the activities that they undertake. Above all, there is a demand for devolution that is coherent and, in part, an expression of what some people would want to call—I have great sympathy with this—a sense of nationhood. We should recognise that sense of nationhood. There is nothing discreditable about it. It is a sense of being specifically Scottish or specifically Welsh. It is not of itself to deny a sense of being British. It is a peculiar English disease that we believe it to be such a denial. In England we 1081 seem to think that if we take too much pride in being English we are denying that we are part of the wider British race. However, I am proud to be both English and British. I do not see why we should deny a sense of nationhood of this kind. Once it is accepted, we can make progress towards devolution for Scotland and Wales.
I know of no argument that Scotland and Wales should stand still and wait until such time as we English make up our minds about our singularly messy structure of regional government, take our courage in our hands, and, instead of saying what is said in the Consultative Document, which is essentially "You must not on any account offend the county councillors by suggesting that they might lose some of their power", say that we have decided to go ahead with a rational reorganisation of government.
There is no reason why Scotland and Wales should wait for that stage to be reached. Why should they? Until we decide that we in England want to make progress, we shall have a system in Scotland and Wales that is unsatisfactory in two respects. The first respect is money-raising powers. What is the essential difficulty about giving tax-raising powers to the Scottish Assembly? I suppose that the central difficulty is that if we take any tax, direct or indirect, and apportion power over it to the Scottish Assembly or Welsh Assembly, we shall, in effect, be saying that the Scots and the Welsh can overtax themselves, because we shall not renounce any of our United Kingdom taxation. That cannot be renounced for the simple reason that we have to levy it over the United Kingdom as a whole.
As soon as it is said that we shall have a regional structure in England, too, it becomes possible to consider central Government exercising a self-denying ordinance in respect of the level of income tax, so that we can have a regional income tax. That is an answer to the Layfield localist-centralist dichotomy. A regional structure of raising income tax can be envisaged. I am not advocating that as a system, but it can be envisaged. Perhaps it is impossible at district or county level, but indirect taxation at regional level can be contemplated.
1082 It is imperative that we make up our minds about England. I say that not in the sense that we should implement such a reform in the immediate future. I understand the argument against doing things too quickly. There must be time in which we can decide where we are going. We must give ourselves time to take the people with us. That is necessary so that we may make a better job of it than we made of local government reorganisation. In no other way shall we be able to solve some of the financial problems that will otherwise remain with the Scottish and Welsh Assemblies.
As many Members have suggested, until we sort out England we shall have constant pressure for the reduction of representation of Scotland and Wales in this House. There is an answer to that. It can be argued—I have argued it often enough—that the representation of Scotland and Wales must remain high partly because the House will continue to exercise functions of great importance in respect of Scotland and Wales, not least economic functions, as well as defence and foreign policy. Secondly, over-representation, as it is called, of Scotland and Wales, bearing in mind the sparsity of the population in many parts of those countries, seems a perfectly fair argument. I suspect that my own county of Salop is over-represented, for a rather similar reason, as is the West Country, but we never say that.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths
I acknowledge what the hon. Gentleman says, but does he not also recognise that the main problems of over-representation are that the big city centres—notably of Glasgow and other cities in Scotland, but of others as well—have a remarkably large number of hon. Members per head of population, compared with the rural areas of England? For example, my own constituency, I believe, contains more electors than the smallest four urban seats in Scotland. Therefore, on that point the hon. Gentleman is not quite right.
§ Mr. Fowler
There are remarkable disparities. I believe that my own electorate is 92,000, but that is because I have a new town. There can be phenomena of that kind, and I take the hon. Gentleman's point. All that I am arguing is that in Scotland there is a large geographical proportion of the country with a very sparse population, and irrespective 1083 of over-representation in some cities—perhaps in Glasgow—we must keep a high level of representation for those sparsely populated areas where travel is difficult.
But hon. Members and the general public will not listen to that argument, because once we have created Scottish and Welsh Assemblies many people will get the bit between their teeth and say "We do not want to listen to such arguments. We believe that Scotland and Wales are over-represented, that England is not getting a fair deal, and Northern Ireland least of all." We shall find that very hard to resist. Therefore, I say that we should at least decide where we are going in respect of England, and do so with a little more firmness than was manifested in the Consultative Document.
I wear my heart on my sleeve with regard to devolution. It is well known that I am a passionate believer in it as a matter of principle, not as a matter of concession to nationalism. For that reason I very much hope that at the end of this four-day debate we shall give the Bill a fair wind, whatever improvements we may need to make in Committee. Let us at least have the courage to say that in 1976 it may be that the British constitution could do with some improvement, and that taking government closer to the people in this way is the way to improve that constitution.
§ 8.42 p.m.
§ Mr. William Shelton (Streatham)
Perhaps I shall be echoing the sentiments of many hon. Members if I say that it is with some sadness that I find myself debating these proposals. The reason for the sadness is that the Bill is before us because of the increased and increasing conflict and tension within the peoples of this country. That must be deplored by every hon. Member.
There is no doubt that there is the increasing national consciousness of which we have heard—in Scotland especially, in Wales and indeed in England. It is only recently that, for the first time in the seven years I have been a Member, I have begun to regard myself as an English Member and not a British Member. I deplore this. I have always regarded myself as a British Member, but now my colleagues and I must look to ourselves in England as well as to our 1084 colleagues in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
I believe that this increasing national consciousness in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland springs, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) said in his excellent speech, from bad government, poor performance, economic decline and perhaps loss of Empire and colonies over the past five to 10 years, and especially over the past three or four years. We have seen a surge in the SNP vote from about 11 per cent. in 1970 to about 30 per cent. in October 1974. I regard that as a condemnation of the present Labour Government.
§ Mr. Crawford
I remind the hon. Gentleman that the Conservatives were in power between 1970 and February 1974.
§ Mr. Shelton
I have always regarded Scotland as a prime example of bad Labour government, because Labour has had a monopoly of local government there for many years. Many of the problems of Scotland emerge from that difficulty.
Of course there is a case for better government in Scotland, Wales and England. I take the point made by the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) that what we should be looking to is devolved administration and not devolved legislation. I noted that because it seemed to sum up the dilemma in which we find ourselves.
Speaking on these lines, the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Fowler) asked why we were proceeding with this devolved legislation. The answer, very simply, is that only twice since the war, in 1945 and in October 1974, has the Labour Party had a majority of the English seats. It has found itself, like an army advancing or retreating at its front, suddenly to its dismay being attacked on the flank. In consequence, we have before us this sorry Bill, as a direct result of the Labour Party's situation in Scotland and its dependence for forming Administrations on the votes of Scottish and Welsh Members of Parliament.
§ Mr. John Smith
The hon. Gentleman has drawn the distinction between legislation and administration. Would he care to comment on the fact that his own party, the Conservative Party, has reiterated its 1085 commitment to a directly elected legislature? What is the motive for that?
§ Mr. Shelton
The hon. Gentleman has slightly jumped the gun. I shall come to that matter shortly. Perhaps he could contain his patience for a moment.
I must accept the case made by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. Fairgrieve) when he said that there is this great strength of feeling in Scotland at present.
§ Mr. Shelton
My hon. Friend may be right. I was about to qualify that by saying "at least in Scotland".
If the hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart), the Leader of the Scottish National Party, were still present in the Chamber—I wish that he were—I would have said to him that had he not made the comments that he made about the Shetland Island Council, I would have read to him two lines from a document that has been sent to me and, I suspect, to most hon. Members. It said thatThe Council's sole allegiances are to the Queen, her Parliament, and her subjects in Shetland. The Council believe that the majority of Shetlanders are satisfied with the present status quo and with what has been achieved for Shetland.I suspect that the hon. Gentleman would have reiterated his previous answer—that the Shetland Island Council is not representative of the people of the Shetland Isles. I hope that this remark of his is noted in the Shetland Isles.
However, if there is this strength of feeling, however great it may be, it seems to me that in the scale of changes there are only three stopping points. There is what is more or less the status quo; there is more or less some kind of federal system; there is complete separation.
My personal inclination is for the status quo. That may answer the question put to me just now by the Minister of State.
§ Mr. John Smith rose—
§ Mr. Shelton
Perhaps I may finish this point. My personal inclination is for the status quo with improved administration not only in Scotland but also in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. I 1086 accept that federalism is a difficult matter because of the disparity in the sizes of the countries involved. Separation I abhor. However, it it were shown conclusively in a referendum that the people of Scotland wanted separation, I for one would not believe that I could deny it to them.
Therefore, I believe that we have these three stopping points. I do not believe that this legislation is anywhere near one of those stopping points. Inevitably there will occur the ratchet effect towards separatism, which at present the people of Scotland do not want but, because of that ratchet effect, in five or 10 years' time they may want, because of the pressure of public opinion and of SNP Members, should there be a directly elected Assembly.
In this difficult and dangerous situation, there are two specific points which need to be made. First, I urge the Government strongly to hold a referendum to determine the views of the people of Scotland, Wales, England and Northern Ireland. I do not believe that we can have a referendum on a matter of this profound importance in only part of the United Kingdom. Quite apart from the local difficulties of the Scots people living in England and the English people living in Scotland, and whether they are entitled to vote, how does a person prove his nationality in a referendum if it is limited only to Scotland? Has it to be done by residence or on production of his birth certificate? I can see increasing difficulties in having a geographically limited referendum. So I urge the Government to have a referendum and to make it for the whole United Kingdom.
The second point is one which has been commented on by several hon. Members. It is the representation of Scottish Members of Parliament at Westminster. I see two difficulties. Should the people of Scotland have a directly-elected Assembly, as the Bill suggests, will it be just if Scottish Members of Parliament here vote on English matters which are devolved in Scotland—education, for instance? Will it be right that they should be allowed to vote on education matters affecting England when English Members will have no jurisdiction at all over education matters in Scotland?
1087 When I put this point to a Labour Back Bencher he replied that there was no difficulty about this: that Scottish Members of Parliament ought perhaps to be debarred from voting on those subjects which were devolved in Scotland. My reaction was to envisage a situation where that might give the Conservative Opposition a majority, resulting, in the case of these specific matters, in the Conservative Party forming a Government and the two sides of the House changing. He replied that obviously I was treating the matter too lightly. But these are real problems, and I see no solution to them, especially given the level of representasion suggested in the Bill.
A number of hon. Members have commented on this. I remind the House that in England the size of the average electorate on the February 1975 register was 65,400. That in Wales was 56,400, that in Scotland 52,500, and that in Northern Ireland 86,700. If there were equal representation, the number of Scottish Members of Parliament would be reduced by 14 from their present 71 to 57.
The hon. Member for The Wrekin pointed out that in Scotland, of course, there are vast areas which are sparsely populated. But my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) answered that when he reminded the House that the level of representation in Scotland sprang not from the representation in the under-populated rural areas, but from the cities which were overrepresented compared not only with English rural areas but also with many English cities.
If we had equal representation, it would result in there being 14 fewer Scottish Members of Parliament and five fewer Welsh Members in this House. If Scotland had an elected Assembly, and if the same principle was applied as that which was applied to Northern Ireland when that Province had an elected Assembly, Scotland would then have not 71 but 43 Members—28 fewer. If Ulster had equal representation to this country, it would have 16 Members of Parliament and not the present 12. But where Scotland is concerned, there would be a drop from 71 to 43 Members of Parliament if that principle were applied.
The hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mrs. Bain) said "Yes, but why should the Scottish representation 1088 be reduced until Scotland has complete power?" I can give her two answers: first, it was reduced in the case of Ulster when Ulster did not have complete power; and, second, Scotland is over-represented anyway at present in numerical average compared with this country.
§ Mr. Robertson
Surely the hon. Gentleman is not arguing, for instance, that Newcastle, Central should continue as it is at present? Who is objecting to this, and whom is he trying to convince? The point he must understand is that at present one Highland vote is equivalent to three Glasgow votes. That is the problem he has to solve. It is the sparsely populated areas which have the low electorates. If each vote carries the same weight, I cannot see any objection for Scotland.
§ Mr. Shelton
If the hon. Gentleman wishes to redistribute the seats in Scotland, while reducing their representation at Westminster, I accept that. He asked whom was I trying to convince. I am trying to convince the Government and the Treasury Bench, who are proposing in their legislation to perpetuate this nonsense, which is an injustice to the English people and a result of party jerrymandering by the present Government.
§ 8.56 p.m.
§ Sir Arthur Irvine (Liverpool, Edge Hill)
I wish to express my admiration broadly for the distinction of the work that has gone into the preparation and drafting of this Bill and for the outcome of it. I shall confine my observations to Scotland, which is my native land, but in doing so I shall bear in the front of my mind what I interpret to be the views of my constituents on Merseyside on a matter of this scale of importance. I do not presume to speak of Wales.
I would wish first to know whether the majority of the people of Scotland really want the extent of devolution which the Bill proposes. And I think this is best determined by a referendum in Scotland. Such a referendum should take place in Scotland, it seems to me, well before the Bill has completed its passage through this House. If it were to take place after the Bill has been passed, there would be two dangers.
1089 First, there would be the risk that a referendum result adverse to the Bill would in that situation have the consequence that this House would retrospectively be seen to have suffered from the maximum waste of its time. Second, the fact that the Bill had received full and comprehensive consideration here might have the effect of diminishing the value of the vote as an expression of Scottish opinion by introducing the element of fait accompli. It will be seen that my position in this regard is not far removed from that of Lord Home as set out in his letter in The Times today.
It is true that resort to a referendum may reveal a lack of robustness and confidence in this House in its capacity to interpret public opinion unaided. But I do not think that that should be regarded as calamitous. It is a passing phase. It is not defeatist, in my view, to recognise a certain loss of confidence in our institutions, if one is absolutely sure, as I am, that the tide will turn and that these institutions and the country as a whole will achieve a massive recovery in due course.
As I say, one wants to be sure in one's mind what it is that the majority of the Scots really want. It may be that their desire not to be swallowed up in a too bulky administrative machine which gives insufficient attention to their needs and aspirations is a deep-rooted and healthy condition. The trend has been for so long towards greater amalgamation and towards loss of identity. It has been accompanied by kindred manifestations of ecumenicalism and permissiveness which may be regarded as having done harm in recent years and as possibly still doing harm now. It has been a move, at least in some respects, away from clarity to "flannel", in the context of a great lack of intellectual distinction. If the Scots were really wanting to break away from all that, it would be indeed a most welcome event. But we want to be sure that the majority of the Scottish people see it in that light, recognise devolution for what it is and desire to have it.
On the assumption, then, that there is a real need and desire in Scotland for the amount of devolution that the Bill makes provision for, I feel that on the whole the Bill achieves its purpose with great skill 1090 and great success. It is right to provide that Parliament will remain constitutionally able to legislate on any matter. It is right to proceed on the basis of an expectation and intention in practice to stand aside from devolved fields while retaining a general reserve power to intervene subject to Parliament's approval. This approach to the whole matter is a sophisticated one, the kind of approach at which we were much better in earlier years than we have recently become.
Matters of form are very important, and nothing is gained by disparaging them. A criticism I make of the Leader of the Opposition's speech is that the right hon. Lady seemed to underestimate the significance and importance of the matter of form in dealing thus with the reserve powers.
On this central matter, which is of the greatest significance for the whole operation of the Bill, I am not sure at present that it is correct to confine to the Secretary of State the power to refer questions of the Assembly's legislative competence to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. I should have thought that others should be able to refer these questions as well.
The possibility of a flood of references of a spurious or frivolous or time-wasting kind could be avoided by the simpde process of application for leave. I am aware that it is proposed that the Bills which have become law may be challenged in the courts as falling outside the Assembly's legislative competence. That is good as far as it goes. But I would like a widening of the opportunity to take points of legislative competence to the courts before the Bills passing through the Assembly become law.
It will be recognised, I think, from what I have said, that I favour the Bill, and that such changes as I hope to see made in Committee will have the character of strengthening the unity of the United Kingdom without any significant detraction from the vastly important transfer of power which the Bill proposes.
§ 9.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Clark Hutchison (Edinburgh, South)
It would seem from the speeches today, and in particular that of the Prime Minister, that this Bill does not have many friends. I am certainly not 1091 among them. There will be plenty of time at Committee stage to go into details, and I hope that they will be gone into thoroughly and at length.
The timing and the whole basis of the Bill is faulty. When the United Kingdom faces considerable economic and financial difficulty, it is not wise to choose that moment to embark upon far-reaching constitutional change. In any event, an Assembly in Scotland will not produce one extra job, one extra man or woman doing productive work, nor will it get rid of inflation. Many people in Scotland, and nearly all the organisations there, regard such a body as an extra, expensive obstruction in their daily lives. This is certainly the view of the CBI and of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce.
The Bill was designed with a view to political parties saving or gaining seats. It springs from fear and expediency, and those are both bad guides. People see through these manoeuvres. The Bill is shabby and irrelevant. It has nothing to do with the good government of Scotland or with good government anywhere else. It seems strange, and makes no sense, that at a time when we are all concerned about outstandingly heavy taxation we should embark on this absurd programme.
The Bill makes clear that in Scotland alone £5 million is anticipated as the capital cost of building and reconstruction. There will be an annual running cost of £12 million, and the Assembly will require a staff of 240 as well as another 750 civil servants. All these figures are greatly in excess of what is envisaged in the 1975 White Paper, as I pointed out at that time.
Our priorities are wrong. The money would be better spent in other ways, or not spent at all and that might be better still. The increase in the number of civil servants is counter to the policy of my party. The Bill does not get the Government off our backs. It will put a lot more government and burden on our backs.
I foresee endless conflict between the Assembly and Westminster, and between the Assembly and local authorities. Clauses 20 to 25 show that friction is certain. I agree with the right hon. and learned Member for Liverpool, Edge Hill (Sir A. Irvine) that the Judicial Com- 1092 mittee of the Privy Council is being asked to act in a manner foreign to its traditions. This is entirely wrong. I do not believe that this Bill is wanted in Scotland or in Wales. Every business man and every professional man or woman to whom I speak believes that it is an expensive nonsense. All of the letters I have received, with two exceptions, support that view.
Any agitation for devolution has arisen simply through the media and as a result of Britain's poor economic performance. The vote for the SNP is only a protest vote, and a temporary one at that. The SNP certainly put up a poor show against me. The Scottish element in the United Kingdom, or in the world, is the contribution her people make. That contribution is not limited by geographical boundaries.
§ 9.11 p.m.
§ Mr. Tom Ellis (Wrexham)
My right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson) was right when he pointed out that the Leader of the Opposition had made not a typical Second Reading speech but a speech more suited to our proceedings in Committee. The right hon. Lady looked at the technical points in the Bill and attempted to show that there were inconsistencies. That may be so. I have a lot of criticisms to make of the Bill but it is important that we first get clear in our minds why there is this demand for devolution.
Let there be no doubt that there is a demand for devolution on the part of Scotland and Wales. I was heartened when my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said that this phenomenon was occurring across the world. He quoted Brittany and Corsica. He could as easily have mentioned Valencia, Asturias, the Basque province, Spanish Catalonia French Catalonia, Alsace, the Friesian Islands, and Schleswig-Holstein.
It is self-evident that we as politicians have seriously to ask ourselves why this sudden phenomenon has come about. It is nothing to do with the arguments which are playing a major rôle in our debate tonight. It is nothing to do with an extra tier of government, on the one hand, or doing away with nominated bodies, on the other. There are much deeper issues to be looked at. I am disappointed that so far in the debate, in this House and 1093 throughout the country, there has been this superficial approach.
I am glad that we in the Welsh Council of Labour—the Labour Party in my region—have been seriously concerned with this question for at least 12 years. We published a report of our deliberations on this issue in 1964. Then we advocated broadly the kind of proposals that the Government are now introducing for Wales. I do not agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson), who says that there has been no discussion in the Labour Party. There may well have been no discussion in the English part of the Labour Party.
I and many of my Welsh and Scottish colleagues were disappointed that when the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath), when he was Prime Minister, introduced the Kilbrandon Report, our English colleagues treated it either as a great yawn or as a reason for ribaldry. If they are behind the times now it is no good their objecting because we have been concerned with the issue. We regarded it as important. They cannot now say that they missed the boat. That is their fault. There is a great deal of sense in what my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton said about the need for the decentralising of government in the English regions. Let there be no question about this being a sudden flash in the pan; it has been coming about for many years, certainly in Wales. I can speak with some knowledge of that.
I come now to the question of the referendum. Again, I was heartened when my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton said that he was sceptical about the idea of a referendum. I do not believe that it is the right answer. We in this House talk proudly about the sovereignty of Parliament, yet at the same time we say to the people "You tell us what to do." Those two attitudes do not match up. I was keen on our entry into Europe, and I know all the arguments about the consequences for the sovereignty of this place.
I do not see any point in arguing for a referendum. The basic principle is that it is our job to give a lead. One can find in the history of the past 150 to 200 years all kinds of major reforms where if a referendum had been held 1094 the reform would not have taken place. For example, had there been a referendum we would not have had the introduction of universal education in 1870. It is for the politicians to go ahead, and not to try to take refuge in the referendum. Let us leave aside the practical problems of who should take part in a referendum, and whether it should be confined to Scotland and Wales or whether England should come in and swamp the result. I had nightmares during the referendum on whether Britain should stay in Europe, wondering what on earth would happen if the result was 50 per cent. to stay in and 50 per cent. to come out. What an unearthly mess we would have been in if that had happened. It was sheer good fortune that the result was decisive. We could not rely on good fortune for a decisive result in this instance. Therefore, I have nothing much to say on the question of a referendum.
The Prime Minister said that it was important that fairness should be done and should be seen to be done, not only to Scotland and Wales but to England. I say "Amen" to that, but my right hon. Friend's concern is a little odd. One of the big drives for devolution has been the plain fact that fairness has not been done to my country for the past 50 years. Taking demographic trends, which are perhaps best, because they are concerned with people, Wales has had nothing but unfairness for the past 50 years.
I could give all sorts of facts, figures and statistics to prove my point, and no doubt people in Scotland and the northeast of England could do the same. People moving from the North-East of England to London are moving within the same nation and the same country, but people moving from Wales to England are moving from one country to another. That is the fundamental difference.
The population trends reflect very badly on Wales. Let me give an illustration, in a qualitative sense. Wales in 1972 produced 5.15 per cent. of the graduates in physical and biological sciences in Britain. If one wants a job in research in the physical and biological sciences and one comes from Wales one is in a bit if a predicament. Most of the research jobs are in government, the nationalised industries, or industrial research associations.
1095 There are 99 Government research establishments which in 1972 employed 13,850 graduate scientists, 50 of them in Wales. There were 36 industrial research associations, not one of them in Wales, and 26 nationalised industry research associations, not one in Wales. If a Welshman studying for a degree in science wishes to follow a research career, he is automatically obliged to leave Wales. That is anything but fair. I was therefore heartened to hear what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said about fairness.
§ Mr. Galbraith
I agree with what the hon. Gentleman is saying, but I do not think that the solution to the problem, which applies to Scotland as much as it does to Wales, has anything to do with constitutional change. What is wanted is for the Government of Great Britain to decentralise not government but the nationalised industries and the Civil Service—the decision-making jobs. If they did that, there would be jobs on the spot in Wales and Scotland and we could continue with our system of legislating at Westminster for the whole country.
§ Mr. Ellis
The hon. Gentleman may be right in saying that constitutional change has nothing to do with the solution of the problem, but that is not the point I am making. My point is that certain events have been taking place on the economic side which have caused disillusion with the present state of affairs. I am not for one moment saying that the Bill will cure that problem. I could make a case along those lines, but at the moment I content myself with trying to point out why some people in Wales have become profoundly disillusioned with the present state of affairs. The Leader of the Opposition said that there was no cause for disillusion, but I am trying to show why this disillusion has come about.
There is the question of jobs, and the whole question of regional policies, which is very interesting. We have a belief in this country—and it is held generally in other countries as well—that by providing certain grants, carrots or incentives, we ensure that there will be some kind of automatic self-regulating process which will establish equality between one region and another.
1096 After 50 years of failure—with one or two exceptions, which are particularly interesting—people are becoming very sceptical about these theories, and about the objectives of the Government on regional policy. When the Government introduce regional policies, one assumes that their objective is to establish some kind of equality. But when, after 50 years, that equality does not materialise, obviously one becomes sceptical. Then one turns to Hirschman, Perroux and, most recently, Stuart Holland, with his two books—writers who expound the opposite point of view—that there is an inherent contradiction and conflict of interests between rich and poor areas. They say that a rich area needs a poor area alongside it in order to sustain its wealth. I am not an economist, but I know that many people are thinking along these lines. One is forced to the conclusion that the answer is political.
If we look at the instances where regional policy has been successful we see that this has occurred in circumstances where there has been a strong political will. Berlin is an example of this. This is a region which one might say is on the edge of a volcano, politically. The economy of West Berlin is prosperous, and it has prospered because it is important politically that it should do so. Because it has to be prosperous the Bonn Government have made sure that it is. Therefore, it is obvious that there is a need for a political will as a strand pushing us towards devolution, and there is a possibility that it should be a federal kind of structure. This argument has been advanced, rightly or wrongly, and it leaves us with a demand for some kind of devolution.
We must look at the employment position which exists in Wales, Scotland and North-East England. I quote here from Command No. 6058 of 1975 on regional policies. It says:Had Scotland, Wales, and the North of England secured 42 per cent. of national employment growth during the 60's, they would have experienced a growth in employment of 270,000.In fact employment in this region fell by 100,000, therefore there was a deficit of 370,000–180,000 in service industries. 70,000 in manufacturing industries and the rest in primary industries, including the coal industry. This was matched 1097 in the same period by an increase of 6 per cent. in employment in the South and the Midlands. The conclusion is drawn that the mass emigration from Wales of the 1920s and 1930s cannot yet be regarded as an historical aberration. This is what makes people in Wales insist that something must be done. This is what is in this Bill before us, and it is the best Bill we have, the Government have said that the Bill can be modified in Committee.
If one says to the Government that growth is needed in under-developed regions and they say that they are trying to enable these regions to catch up with the rich regions, of course one replies that growth in the rich regions must be stopped.
The Government's argument is that national economic growth is a prerequisite of growth in the developing areas, and that national economic growth is impossible without growth in the richer areas. Therefore, we have the intractable problem that we shall never catch up. It is not that Wales is less rich than it was 10 years ago; it is richer. But in comparative terms it is not as rich as the richer areas, so the problem is getting worse. We are reaching a state of desperation in insisting upon a political solution.
That is the economic argument, but there are other arguments, such as the sociological argument, which is profound. People still think in terms of the pyramid of power, whereby power can be located in one spot, and that is here in this House, at the top of the pyramid. The power is no longer like that. It has changed and for all kinds of reasons. The main reason is that the very nature of decision-making in industry has changed.
Decisions are not programmed—people do not make decisions according to a specification put upon them by the man at the top of the hierarchy. The men at the top tells those lower down to make the decision, and he says that if it is outside their competence it should be referred up the hierarchy until eventually it reaches the repository—the seat of power at the top of the pyramid. That is where power is invested. Aneurin Bevan spent his life looking for the seat of power, and even he in later years 1098 realised that it was something of a mirage.
People have to make non-programmed decisions, and they have to use their judgment at whatever level they may occupy in their industry. A junior man might be making a decision using his judgment. That means that society is no longer vertically structured, but has become laterally structured. The moment a man is asked to use his judgment he is put into a position equal to that of the man at the top of the old hierarchy. It is crucial that we begin to understand this new social structure.
When I was at school I read Lord Tennyson's "The Charge of the Light Brigade", and I still remember the coupletTheir's not to reason why,Their's but to do and die".Those brave soldiers did not argue. They were told to charge and they charged. That poem was a hymn of praise. Had it been written today it would have been regarded as insufferably stupid. Who would charge without knowing the reason why? This is a measure of the profound social change which has taken place in our society in the last 50 years. This is another argument that leads people to want to decide things for themselves and to look with scepticism at the centralist establishment at the top of the pyramid.
There is then the ethnic argument, which is a profound, complex and deep-seated issue. I shall not go into all the questions of nationhood which are mixed up with nationalism. I have concluded that I am one of the very few in this House who are not nationalists. Throughout the Common Market debate I kept telling my colleagues who opposed entry that they were being motivated by a profound sense of British nationalism. To me British nationalism is as bad as Welsh nationalism. That is my criticism of the nationalists. The Scottish and Welsh nationalists want to set up in Scotland and Wales a classic nineteenth century European nation State as outmoded as it is in Britain.
Therefore I am basically clear that I am not a nationalist, but I am aware of the fact of nationhood. That is a fact that my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) tried to deny. At a meeting not long ago he said that 1099 to him a coal miner was a coal miner whether he was Welsh, Scottish, English, or from Timbuctoo. Using a little rhetoric, I told him that when I was shovelling my guts out in a Welsh coal mine 25 years ago.
I would have regarded as an idiot anyone who told me that I was the same as an Englishman. I would have said that I was Welsh, just as you are Welsh, Mr. Speaker. I am certainly not the same as an Englishman. I am no better and no worse—but I am different. That is a profound fact of life. I sometimes think that we have barely begun to scratch the surface of the ethnic group and its relationship to politics.
In Northern Ireland we have two ethnic groups. I know nothing about Northern Ireland, other than from what I read as an intelligent outsider. I do not take a keen interest in the subject, but again I am well aware that there are profound differences in that country. There are deep divisions that go back into the mists of antiquity.
All these feelings have built themselves into overwhelming pressures in Scotland, Wales, Corsica, Brittany, Schleswig-Holstein and many other areas to want to be separate. These things have not occurred merely by chance. Something profound has happened.
I was disappointed in the speech of the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition. She dealt with important nuts-and-bolts matters, but she did not deal with the important question: do we or do we not want devolution? All we now have is what is before us for debate. I should like to have seen a fairly limited measure. The English genius is gradualist and empiric. I would have settled for devolution clearly within the terms of sovereign nation States, provided that two things had been done. The first was a move towards an ultimate federal state, and the second involved financial arrangements in respect of the raising of money. I am happy to support the Bill, and I shall work hard to get the measure through the House. However, I hope that in the process it will be modified and will eventually resemble something on the lines of what I have tried to sketch out in my brief comments.
§ 9.33 p.m.
§ Sir William Elliott (Newcastle upon Tyne, North)
We all agree with the hon. Member for Wrexham (Mr. Ellis) that something profound has happened. I should like to take issue with him on one matter. He said that he supported the Bill, but earlier he said that he did not agree with the regional policy.
§ Sir W. Elliott
The hon. Gentleman suggested that it was wrong for there to be richer areas sustaining not so rich adjoining areas. But the Labour Government have become converted to the idea that a healthy national economy is important to the development areas. If the hon. Gentleman supports the Bill, as he said, he must also support the continuance, as embodied in the Bill, of regional policy as we have known it and as it now is. I have grave doubts about regional policy continuing successfully if there are Assemblies in Edinburgh and Cardiff. That is what the Bill now suggests.
§ Mr. Tom Ellis
If I may make my point clear, I visualise Wales very much as part of a greater whole, but I see the need for Wales to institutionalise its political will because without such a concept we shall get nowhere.
§ Sir W. Elliott
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is aware of the deep feeling in Wales on this subject. Equally, I am aware of the deep feelings in another area mentioned by the hon. Gentleman. He said that it did not seem to matter when people moved from the North-East of England—the area from which I come—to London, but that it did matter when they moved to London from Wales. I take the hon. Gentleman's point because he had in mind the fact that when people move from Wales to London to seek work they are moving from one country to another. Therefore, he was speaking in a nationalist sense. But people do not particularly like moving from Newcastle to London or to anywhere else to seek work.
Did the hon. Gentleman hear the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) which I thought was exceptional and one of the best speeches that it has been my privilege to hear in this House for many 1101 a day? I thought that one of the points made by my right hon. Friend was extremely good, namely, that we are a nation composed of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and that over the years there has been a great deal of, as he put it, cross-breeding and that people are British, whether they live in Wales, in North-East England, in Scotland or in Northern Ireland. It bothers them as much to move from any part of the United Kingdom to find work as it does to move from Wales. Nevertheless, I am sure that the hon. Member for Wrexham spoke with absolute sincerity, and I have taken note of what he said.
This debate, which has been going on for a few hours, has been fascinating to listen to. We have heard some remarkable speeches. In addition to that from my right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion, I very much enjoyed the speech of the hon. Member for Paisley (Mr. Robertson) who took us historically all the way from the Jacobite rising to the Labour Party manifesto at the last General Election. Then we had the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) talking of what happened one autumn night in Keir Hardie House in Glasgow. I suggest on that point that whether it is a Prime Minister or a Chief Executive that we are to have for Scotland, call him what one will, he will be a rather important person—and I think that I should now get on to what I have to say.
I believe that the Bill is a long-term danger to the unity of the United Kingdom. I shall vote against it, and I shall do so with the greatest enthusiasm. I wholly agreed with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition when she said that the Bill has in it the seeds of a great deal of conflict. If we devolve—and this is my opinion and always has been—two areas of the United Kingdom, there will be a backlash that will be felt for many a day. I cannot believe that the proposal before us is other than very dangerous to the future prosperity of this nation, and particularly dangerous to the region that I serve in this House.
During the debate we have been told a great deal about nationalistic feelings in Scotland and Wales. I suggest that there are strong feelings in the northeast of England for that region. I, like 1102 many other Members who have spoken in this debate—and I am thinking particularly of the speech of the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Fowler)—am not against eventual devolution. I should like a strategy for eventual devolution. As the hon. Member for The Wrekin said in his most interesting speech, surely we can try to think in terms of a new system of Government. I thought that he would go on to join his hon. Friends the Members for West Lothian and Basildon (Mr. Moonman), and say that he would vote against the Bill because it did not bring in a plan for the devolving of England as a whole. Unfortunately, he did not go that far, but I am sure that others will.
It is wrong to bring in this Bill at this moment, because it is brought in for the wrong reasons. It is brought in because of the pressure of the Scottish National Party, and not for reasons of true evolution and true devolution. I therefore think it is wrong. The proposals in the Bill are a mass of compromise, and it is compromise that runs all the way through the measure. The proposals are impractical. With the powers of veto that are suggested, what sort of situation will that lead to for Scottish Members of this House when we have—if we have it—an Assembly in Edinburgh? How will the Scottish Members in this House vote when this House, the national Parliament, vetoes that which has been decided in Edinburgh? It must lead to considerable confusion and difficulty.
I know that the Bill aims to set up two Parliaments and has been rightly criticised for this very fact, but it is the effect of the establishment of the Scottish Parliament on my region just south of the border to which I should like now to address myself. It has already been said, but cannot be over-stated, that this measure will lead to an extra layer of bureaucracy. It will also lead to considerable cost. According to the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum, £3 million will be spent on setting up the two Parliaments, £25 million on annual salaries and £8 million on capital account.
We are presented with those startling figures at a time of grave economic crisis. According to my morning papers, before the week is out we may be told of further expenditure cuts including defence—which I hope my party will resist. Yet 1103 we are told that these figures will be spent on creating an extra layer of bureaucracy.
Is it necessary? Apart from the cost, what we are having suggested to us, as has been said, is representation without taxation. That cannot be overemphasised. It cannot be democratically healthy to propose bodies with governmental powers without giving them some responsibility for raising the money they will spend.
Coming back to my own region, I can see nothing but considerable difficulty being created when the block grant for Scotland is being determined. I live 50 miles south of the border and am proud to bear a border name. I am told that my ancestors were occasionally involved in border conflicts. When the block grants are fixed for Scotland, I have a feeling that border warfare could start again. It is my desire and my duty to tell the House that there is very strong feeling against the creation of a Parliament just over the border from the North-East.
What will that Scottish Parliament mean? Just a few days ago, we received the discussion document "Devolution: The English Dimension". I would criticise that in terms of devolution as an eventual solution for the whole of the United Kingdom, and we should have received the document much earlier. The hon. Member for The Wrekin described it as "wet and windy". I would not do so. I have read it with considerable interest. It contains some suggestions which merit considerable attention and I look forward to speaking when the document is eventually discussed.
But at present the Northern Region, especially the North-East, has many fears despite the assurance in the document that regional policy will continue to apply to the whole United Kingdom—I hope that the hon. Member for Wrexham will note this—beyond this Bill becoming law, if it ever does. I hope that it does not. Yet despite this, a Parliament is to be set up in Edinburgh.
Whether we call the top chap a Prime Minister or a Chief Executive does not matter: he will have considerable powers of persuasion. There will be a mass of civil servants, also with considerable powers of persuasion. There will be lobby correspondents attached to the Scot- 1104 tish Assembly who will write a great deal about Scotland's needs.
The sum total is that, as a representative of a development area just south of the border, despite the assurances given in the consultative document about industrial development being treated over the United Kingdom as a whole as in the past, I believe that the powers of persuasion of Scotland will become very much greater, to the detriment of the English development areas, and, therefore, I very much disagree with the Scottish Parliament being set up.
Since the war, the development areas of England, Scotland and Wales have not done too badly under both major parties in office. A great deal has been achieved. The North-East of England has had particularly difficult problems to overcome. In the period when my right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) was responsible for industry, Wellbar House was set up in Newcastle, and our Economic Planning Board and Economic Planning Council, and we have sought and obtained the co-operation of planning authorities. We also have the North-East Development Council which has done a good job.
Perhaps in future it might be wiser to bring all these bodies together. Perhaps in time to come we can evolve some form of regional authority, but it should be as a replacement for a tier of authority, not an addition to it. An extra tier of bureaucracy in Scotland and Wales or any of the regions of England, is completely unnecessary and highly expensive. The people are fed up with over-much interference. They want less, not more, Government.
My contention is that Parliaments for Scotland and Wales are premature and certainly dangerous to the North-East of England. For this reason I shall vote against the Bill. Many Labour Members for my region in speeches in the House and outside have rightly questioned the wisdom of setting up Scottish and Welsh Parliaments in terms of the future prosperity of their region. I invite them to join me in the Lobby when I vote against the Bill. This island is far too small for disunity. We can achieve great things in balanced unity, and it is for the continuance of the United Kingdom that I shall strive.
§ 9.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Roderick MacFarquhar (Belper)
I agree with much of the analysis made by the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Sir W. Elliott) but draw different conclusions. This is a devolution Bill, and devolution is about increasing democracy. In paragraph 1 of the White Paper, significantly entitled "Our Changing Democracy", which was the basis of the Bill, it was stated thatThe activities of central government now include substantial powers and functions that could be exercised at a level closer to the people.My principal complaint against the Bill, taken as it must be in the context of the Consultative Document "Devolution: The English Dimension" is that the Government have failed to live up to those fair words. I shall deal first with the Bill and then with the way in which it fits into the overall context of constitutional reform upon which we embarked when we entered the European Economic Community.
The Bill is a nervous measure, which concedes some powers but does not truly devolve. On the one hand, it applies a tight tourniquet which denies to the Assemblies the rich life-blood of autonomously decided tax revenue. That is where I agree with the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North. I heard my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister say that the Scottish Assembly would be allotted £2½ billion to spend, but he must surely realise that such a financial arrangement positively encourages extreme irresponsibility.
If Governments—call them Executives, or what one will—are totally dependent on handouts from Big Daddy in Westminster, how can they be truly accountable, in the full sense of the word, to their own electorate? Indeed, one of the fundamental characteristics of government is the capacity to raise funds. That right is possessed even by the smallest parish council in my constituency. However, the devolution Bill, so long in the gestation, does not confer upon the Scottish and Welsh Assemblies a right that is already possessed by local authorities in those areas.
When, 200 years ago, the American colonists revolted against the British Parliament and this country, one of their major slogans was "No taxation without 1106 representation". The Bill, if passed in its present form, will ensure that all Scottish Assemblymen, no matter what their party, will campaign on the slogan "No representation without taxation". If taxation without representation is unjust and dictatorial, certainly representation without taxation is unjust and nonsensical. I hope that the Government will be as good as the nods and winks that they have given and make concessions.
§ Mr. Dalyell
What concessions can they make? This is the problem for many of us. There is no painless way of raising revenue, including, certainly, a levy on the rates.
§ Mr. MacFarquhar
If I catch the Chairman's eye in Committee, I shall go further into the matter. I am suggesting that there should be taxing powers for the Assemblies, including, possibly, income tax raising power.
As if the financial tourniquet were not enough, the Bill suspends Swords of Damocles, in the unlikely shapes of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Wales, over the heads of the Assemblies. I shall not go through the many clauses where the Secretaries of State figure. We shall come to them in Committee, and with, I hope, a number of my hon. Friends and, perhaps, Opposition Members, I shall seek to expose the problems of this device. The reserve powers of the Secretaries of State will be seen by some Scotsmen and Welshmen to negate the very concessions that are made elsewhere in the Bill. With the greatest respect and affection for my right hon. Friend and right hon. and learned Friend, I believe that devolution will be a chimera as long as their offices continue to exist.
Let me now set this inadequate but nevertheless welcome Bill in the context of what I can only describe as the puny Consultative Document on the English dimension. I cannot understand why the Government have taken so long to produce a document which is totally negative and which does nothing to advance an argument which has been continuing for 1107 many years. I can only assume that it was introduced to head off an English parliamentary revolt on this Bill, and at the same time to prevent any ground swell of anger to build up within England.
Be that as it may, the effect of the document, if it is allowed to remain the last word on devolution in respect of England, will be without question to ensure that Scotland and Wales move towards separatism. To devolve in Scotland and Wales and not in England is to elevate nationalism over democracy and to give precisely that special status to Scotland and Wales that the nationalist parties seek to obtain. Devolution for the English regions would indicate that though nationalism may be the spur, democracy is the objective.
If Scotland and Wales alone achieve Assemblies, it must be the case that they have them only because they are regarded as distinct national units. If Scottish and Welsh Assemblies stand alone, they will gradually be seen, and will be encouraged to be seen, as the equivalents of Westminster. If, on the other hand, they are eventually just two Assemblies, among, say, a dozen British Assemblies, such pretensions will seem unreal. If the Government pluck up their courage and initiate steps towards devolution in the English regions—I was glad to hear my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson) hint at his support for such measures—the devolution of the present Bill will be seen for what it is, namely, a realisation that our changing democracy, as the White Paper states, demands greater powers to be handed down to dilute the excessive centralism of the modern industrial State and to give people more control over their local environment.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I agree with my hon. Friend about excessive centralism, but is he suggesting that there should be legislative Assemblies—that is what we are talking about—in Derby, Liverpool, Birmingham or wherever? Is there to be a Legislative Assembly for Mercia?
§ Mr. MacFarquhar
Yes. I realise that there is some bewilderment outside the House among those who see only that the constitutional changes of the 1970s are adding a layer of government above Westminster, in the EEC, and another layer below Westminster, in the devolved 1108 areas. It is important to see these changes in an overall context. I shall not repeat my speech on the original White Paper. Let me say simply that I believe it to be inevitable that the movement towards European unity and progress towards devolution will weaken the powers of existing levels of government. If we have devolved Assemblies throughout the United Kingdom, one present layer of local government must disappear.
§ Mr. Iain MacCormick (Argyll)
Does the hon. Gentleman appreciate that the only reason why he can adduce that kind of argument is that he is one of those odd people who have left their environment in the North and come down here? I do not think that any English Member would advance that sort of argument.
§ Mr. MacFarquhar
The origins of my argument are irrelevant. What is important is whether it has force.
If we also have a directly-elected European Parliament, obtaining increasing powers for itself, as I hope, the powers of Westminster will inevitably be diminished by devolution and the movement towards European unity.
What is most important to realise is that within the context of growing European unity the whole issue of Scottish and Welsh separatism is totally irrelevant. Whatever our precise interrelationship in the years ahead, the Scots, Welsh, Irish and English will remain linked with Europe.
It has been argued that our entry into Europe ended a thousand years of history. It has already been argued in this debate that the Bill, if it goes through, will end 270 years of history. History is continually ending and beginning. It ends each evening and begins each dawn. The constitutional changes of 1970 are ushering in a new era, which I welcome, and I see no reason for holding back. If our predecessors in the Scottish Parliament in 1707 had held back in fear of signing their death warrant as a legislature, there would have been no speeches today proclaiming the achievements of the British people under the Westminster Parliament over the past 270 years.
If the Bill is defeated on Thursday primarily by Members representing English constituencies, that will not prevent devolution; it will merely delay 1109 it, and perhaps ensure that it takes place partly by non-parliamentary means, though I hope not. But a defeat on Thursday would be even worse, because it would represent a cowardly unwillingness by the House to set forth on another 270 years, or perhaps another 1,000 years, of history. And who is to say that the past 270 or 1,000 years will have been any more glorious than the years that lie ahead?
§ 9.59 p.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Kershaw (Stroud)
The hon. Member for Belper (Mr. MacFarquhar) wanted so many amendments to the Bill, which it would be impossible to make during even our 30 days of debate on it, that I was surprised that he ended by saying that he would support it. I had rather hoped that he was coming to another conclusion.
The hon. Gentleman's words illustrate the general anxiety expressed by hon. Members on both sides of the House about the Bill and how it will work out. One reason is that no one can accurately foresee what kind of Assembly there is likely to be after the elections in Scotland and Wales. There also seems to be a reluctance to trust the intentions of those Assemblies. That reluctance has not, perhaps, been diminished by the very forthright insistence by the hon. Members who represent the nationalist parties on saying that they regarded the matter as just a first step.
§ It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
§ Question again proposed, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
§ Mr. Kershaw
This reluctance to trust the Assembly, or an inability to see in what way the Assembly will operate, some have sought to meet by the device of a referendum, and there stand on the Order Paper today some amendments. I wish to discuss only one aspect of this anxiety, and to propose another way in which we could ascertain and be able to rely upon the wishes and votes of the people.
1110 I wish to urge that the system of voting for the new Assemblies should be by a system designed to produce an Assembly that accurately reflects the division of opinion among voters. Hon. Members will have noticed on the Order Paper Early-Day Motion No. 26, supported by a substantial number of hon. Members on both sides of the House, which urged that this course should be followed. In its wording it recalled that the Kilbrandon Commission, which was divided on a number of things, was yet unanimous on one—that a system of proportional representation was suitable for Scotland.
Our electoral system is designed to work in a situation in which there are two parties. No doubt it is desirable that the power of government should alternate between the parties. Our system of first-past-the-post helps in that, because quite small changes in public opinion are reflected in quite large changes in representation. It seldom happens, therefore, that an election under the first-past-the-post system does not result in a clear majority in this House.
Where, however, there are more than two parties, the system is less satisfactory. Not only may a small minority party exercise a balancing and, to some extent, an unfair influence, but it also becomes increasingly likely that the party that gets the most seats is nevertheless supported by a minority of opinion of the voters and must, therefore, lack moral authority to a greater or lesser extent.
It is not, for example, very surprising to me that when from time to time the Prime Minister of the day goes on television and urges the country to work harder for less, we find that such appeals have fallen on largely deaf ears. After all, more than half the people to whom the Prime Minister is appealing voted against him, and most of them will be holding him largely responsible for the evils against which he is warning us.
Today we do not have two parties. We have at least seven that can properly be called parties and that exert or can exert on proper occasions political influence. It is, therefore, very hard to say what will be the result in seats at any election, save that it will be an eccentric result and will not correspond with the numbers of voters who have supported each party.
1111 The second condition which must be present if the first-past-the-post system is to work satisfactorily is that the ideology of the contesting parties must not be too far apart. Clearly, that condition is not present today. Not only have the dogmas of the two main parties drifted far apart, but we have minority parties as well within which there are some who do not accept the very basis upon which our constitution at present rests.
The result has been that successive Governments reverse the legislation of their predecessors, introducing an element of uncertainty into all our transactions, whether public or private. I believe that this uncertainty, hostile alike to the political, the industrial and the social development of our country, and to industrial investment, has been a prime cause of the relative lack of success in our national affairs over the past 20 years. I believe that as the gulf between the parties has widened, so the lack of success has been more marked.
It is not the people who have changed so much as this House. The evenness of public opinion is astonishing. Hardly ever does public opinion veer by more than a small percentage. But the representation in this House changes wildly. I believe that this is no longer a merit. It is a weakness. It is no longer providing strong government. It is providing changeable and, above all, unpredictable government. It no longer provides government for all the people. It provides government merely for a faction. It no longer provides popular government. It provides government disliked and increasingly despised by a majority of the people.
We talk of "one man, one vote". But in hundreds of constituencies up and down the country at present most people's votes are not worth having. A Conservative in Govan or Durham, a Labour man in Sussex, or a Liberal almost anywhere might just as well not have the vote for all the good that it does. How can anyone be surprised that the total numbers of those voting in General Elections continue to fall, with all the danger of losing that sense of participation and responsibility which is so at the heart of a healthy democracy?
I believe that the system of proportional representation would enable almost 1112 all voters to have in the House someone for whom they had voted and that 80 per cent. of voters could feel that their vote had not been wasted.
Hon. Members, especially those who are especially assiduous in their constituency duties, have told me in objection to my ideas that they take a special pride in representing all their constituents whatever their political colour. I have no doubt that in personal matters we all do that. We never inquire about political allegiances, and we give whatever help we can to anyone who comes to us. But it is rather conceited to suppose that in political matters we give the same service. Of course we do not. We all have political policies which we made clear at the election and upon which votes were cast. It would be absurd to imagine, for example, that a fervent believer in nationalisation living in Stroud regarded me as the best representative that he could have.
But it is said that if our first-past-the-post system produces King Stork—that is, a Government altogether too active in directions which the majority do not want—proportional representation will produce King Log, incapable of any useful action at all.
I cannot understand these misgivings. In the first place, there is nothing in proportional representation which precludes one party getting a majority of the votes. What proportional representation does is to say that if they get a majority, they can have a majority in the Assembly. This did not happen in 1951 and in February 1974. In 1951 the Labour Party got 2.25 million more votes than the Tory Party, and we got 17 seats more than the Labour Party. In February 1974 the Conservative Party got nearly 300,000 more votes than the Labour Party and the Labour Party got the majority of seats. I do not know how one can defend so perverse a result of the first-past-the-post system.
Of course, proportional representation goes on to say that if a party does not get a majority of the votes it should not have a majority of the seats. I cannot see what is undemocratic about that.
Let us suppose that a coalition is the result. Why should that necessarily inhibit action? In Germany, where they have the system, I have not heard a 1113 German Government criticised recently for their lack of action and decision. Sweden is often held up to us as some kind of model which, it is suggested irritatingly, we should copy. I have never heard criticism of the Swedish electoral system. In Denmark, where admittedly there is an extraordinary number of parties which seem to change completely every four years or so, nevertheless they carry on happily and have the highest standard of living in Europe. Nor do I hear that Holland, Belgium or Luxembourg are badly governed.
The whipping boy, of course, is always Italy. But I find it noteworthy that a country with so little tradition of parliamentary democracy and so short of practice of it should over the past 30 years have had peaceful and democratic government. Let us not forget that Mussolini came to power on a system of first past the post.
Nevertheless, if the voting system produces a balance of force and opinion, why should that not impose upon the Government of the day an obligation to act in accordance with that balance of opinion? Is it not arrogant and undemocratic to insist upon the right of the Government of the day to ignore these matters? Many Governments defy the wishes of their electors but I see no reason why they should be held up as models which we should copy.
Of course, there are plenty of vested interests in this House who would resist a change to proportional representation. Any assembly which is asked to reform itself is in that danger because it would naturally condemn some of its members to political oblivion. However, for new assemblies this obstacle does not exist.
We are starting with a clean sheet and we can ensure fair representation in the new Assemblies. Certain of the conditions in Scotland, I suggest, point to the desirability of proportional representation. We find four parties there, each of comparable strength and very divided. There are other parties whose strength may grow. Therefore, we can be fairly certain that whichever party gets a majority of the seats will be supported by a minority of the voters.
At present it is a fact that 56 out of the 71 Scottish seats are represented by a 1114 minority vote. The other condition is present, too—the wide ideological divergence. If one party obtains more than 50 per cent. of the vote we cannot continue our objections. We have no grounds to complain if it carries out policies on which it was elected, although the size of the majority would be of some relevance.
I emphasise that those of us who advocate proportional representation do not do so as a device to stymie or prevent the machinations of one party or another. The terms of the Early-Day Motion, which is supported by so many different parties, shows that we are content to rely on the truly ascertained wishes of the voters. If any great changes are brought in by any method which calls into question the moral authority of the Government who bring the changes, the new edifice will be built on shifting sands. Many hon. Members have referred to this danger in the course of the debate, in particular the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell). If we insist that the Assembly shall be brought in in circumstances which do not convince the ordinary person that it is a fair representation of the majority view in Scotland, I believe that edifice is built over a gap which it will not be possible to close.
There are uncertainties in the unpredictability of our present electoral system. It was absurd in the case of Europe not to be able to rely on our system here. It was curious that after repeated and enormous majorities in this House for joining Europe and after several General Elections in which it was the policy of parties which headed the polls, we still did not know, because of the eccentric nature of our system, whether to stay in Europe. We had to have a referendum to find out. I am not necessarily against referenda but I do not think they are necessary if we have a system of proportional representation.
The system which I think would be appropriate in Scotland and Wales is that elections for the 71 and 36 seats should take place exactly as they do now. That would disturb us as little as possible. It would preserve the cherished relationship between the Member and his constituency and would cause no extra expense or delay. To achieve a proportional result a number of Members would be added. These Members would be chosen from 1115 those who have stood in the elections as candidates. Thus, the Members on the second list would also have to run the gauntlet of selection committees and the voters, and the party caucus would not be elevated to a position of too great power.
This would be a sensible variation of proportional representation systems. It would present no difficulty to the voters. It would result in an Assembly for Scotland of about 100 Members and for Wales of 45 to 50 Members. It would, above all, result in the Scots and the Welsh getting the Assembly they voted for.
§ 10.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Frank Hooley (Sheffield, Healey)
I do not intend to bequeath to my grandson a situation in Scotland comparable to that which my grandfather has bequeathed to me in Ireland. I believe that that is part of the argument we are debating. Nationalism is a powerful force. It can take cruel and barbaric forms, as we see currently in Northern Ireland. It can also be a constructive force in cultural and social terms and a basis for the development of harmonious national life. It is a real force, and it is no use our pretending that we can disregard it.
I have for 30 years supported the United Nations. I am an internationalist. The United Nations is built on the recognition of the force of nationalism, of the existence of national groups with their own identity or which feel that they have their own identity. We cannot ignore the phenomenon.
I believe that there is a genuine national feeling within Scotland and within Wales and that it will have to be given some form of political recognition. Those who have argued against devolution have, so far in this debate at least, put nothing in its place. I have not heard one constructive proposition as an alternative to the Bill. Those who oppose it simply assume that if we do nothing, if we do not devolve powers or set up any kind of assembly, the situation will either stay put or the claims of the national feeling in Scotland and Wales will evaporate or disappear or go away. That is nonsense. The feeling will clearly develop.
I believe that the Bill offers a way in which this enormously powerful force can be channelled constructively and 1116 sensibly to a peaceful resolution of the future relationships between the English, the Scots and the Welsh. I would not presume to argue whether that would be a stepping stone on the way to total independence. I would be prepared to speculate that had something of this kind been brought forward in the mid-nineteenth century as a possible solution to the problems of Ireland, we might well have had less bitterness and strife and murder than we have had over the past 100 years in that unfortunate land. It might not have proved to be a solution to the problem of Ireland, but it might have done.
I believe that by going forward with these proposals we are making a genuine effort to meet the national aspirations of the Scots and the Welsh, and whether it goes on to develop into total independence, which I doubt, I am convinced that to sit back and to do nothing, to pretend that the problem is not there or that it will evaporate or go away, is simply a recipe for disaster. I find it difficult to understand the arguments in this matter of some of my hon. Friends who in the past have passionately supported the national movements in countries throughout the world but suddenly find the nationalism of Scotland or Wales spurious or unreal or not valid because it happens to be on our own doorstep.
§ Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)
There is the distinction that in Africa and Asia one has been talking about ending colonial domination. That is patently not the case with Scotland today.
§ Mr. Hooley
That is so, but I think that there are Scots and Welsh who believe that England and a Parliament with a great inbuilt English majority are a domination which they do not care to tolerate further. I remember the argument that was adduced about Cyprus, the Yemen and Kenya, where it was assumed that English supremacy had to continue. I remember a Minister telling the House that Cyprus could never be independent and English domination had to continue. Such arguments are now being adduced in respect of England and Wales.
§ Mr. Phillip Whitehead (Derby, North)
Many firm supporters of devolution find this an absurd length to which to take 1117 this argument. Cyprus did not have representation or over-representation in this Parliament.
§ Mr. Hooley
I acknowledge that distinction, and that is why I support a Bill for devolution and not one for independence. The House cannot disregard or ignore national feelings because they happen to be on our doorstep and not 1,000 miles away. They are a powerful argument for a devolution Bill. Those who argue against the Bill should give the House some concrete proposals and definite suggestions as to what they would put in its place. The situation will not remain stationary. We cannot sit back, watch what is happening and take no notice. If we do that we shall blunder into the same situation as exists in Ireland.
§ Mr. Dalyell
How many days during the past year has my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Hooley) spent in Scotland?
§ Mr. Hooley
I spent three years working in Scotland. I have not been there recently, but I do not think that I am disqualified from expressing an opinion on Scotland merely because I did not go there last Saturday. That is an absurd comment.
If we are to legislate for devolution—and I am in favour of that—there should be clearer lines drawn between the powers of Parliament and those of the Assembly than are drawn by the Bill. If the Bill is left as it stands there will be trouble about this point. I have read through the supplementary statement to Cmnd 6585 of August 1976. There is a trend there—not a strong trend but a certain one towards devolving more definite powers to the Scottish Assembly and defining more clearly the authority of this Parliament and the Assemblies of Scotland and Wales.
Many hon. Members are concerned about the English dimension of the argument. One of the hon. Members on the Tory Benches spoke of his concern about the region of which his constituency forms a part. There is no doubt that the English economy will dominate the United Kingdom, whatever political or constitutional arrangements are made. While 85 per cent. of the population and 1118 the great industrial complexes are based in the South-East, the West Midlands, Lancashire and Yorkshire, economic domination is bound to rest with England.
The political problem will arise over regional devolution. The problem in England is different and distinct from the problems in Scotland and Wales. I do not detect in England any nationalist sentiment of the kind which clearly exists in Scotland and Wales.
There is a problem of regional devolution which has to do with the satisfactory decentralisation of power from London to the English regions. That problem is immensely compounded by the botch-up produced by the Tory Government's reorganisation of local government. It will be difficult now to disentangle that reorganisation and replace the current system with a more orderly and sensible arrangement in terms of regional and local government administration. There was a chance of creating elected regional authorities and below them a single tier of all-purpose local government authorities. That would have made sense. Indeed, it was suggested in the minority report of the Royal Commission on local government.
We have to face this difficult problem of what to do about a regional tier of government in England without totally disrupting the mechanism of local government. It is difficult to say whether we can resolve this issue. I am convinced that the devolution issue in England is not concerned with nationalism but rather is to do with the decentralisation of the power of the Government so as to produce a more reasonable regional basis. The claims of Scotland and Wales are of a different order.
I agree that it is a thoroughly bad principle to give representation without the power to tax. It is absurd that an Assembly in Scotland or Wales should be able to spend over a wide range of public services without having to incur the responsibility of raising money by taxation. That is a recipe for bad—indeed irresponsible—government. I am not at all persuaded that the technical problems of devolving certain powers of taxation are insuperable. I believe that it would be perfectly feasible, and not unreasonable, to devolve such taxes as those on petrol, alcohol, gambling and 1119 possibly even VAT to the Assemblies while obviously retaining income tax and corporate taxation within the remit of the Government at Westminster. Certainly Layfield suggested the possibility of devolving such taxes to local government units within England and Wales. It is absurd to allow these Assemblies wide spending powers, yet give them no responsibility to their electorate to raise the necessary taxation.
It is a little curious that within the arrangements for the Assemblies there is no power of dissolution. It may well be that an election could produce a situation in a Scottish Assembly whereby 25 per cent. of the seats were held respectively by Labour, Liberal, Conservative and National Members. That would not provide the Assembly with a workable Government for any length of time, certainly not for four years. Under such circumstances some power of dissolution should rest with the Secretary of State or the Westminster Parliament.
Clause 20 raises some odd questions about the relationship with the Common Market. Under the clause, international obligations are reserved to the Westminster Parliament. Presumably the various EEC directives and the mass of other legislation that we are supposed to observe which comes from Brussels would fall into the category of international obligations. In those circumstances it seems that this House would have the power to agree or disagree on a vast range of matters which otherwise under the Bill ought to be the responsibility of the Assemblies. I think that the Government will have to sort out this problem, because a general definition of international obligations, if it is to cover everything from Brussels, will mean that there will be conflicts of responsibility within the devolved areas of power under the Bill.
There is a curious notion in Clause 45 that the Westminster Parliament has the power to disallow Acts of the Scottish and Welsh Assemblies which have unacceptable repercussions elsewhere in the United Kingdom. This really does seem to be a recipe for perpetual argument and quarrelling. I think that we shall have to abandon the constitutional notion of unacceptable repercussions if the Bill is to work effectively.
1120 Clauses 49, 50 and 51 suggest that the Westminister Parliament should retain the power to lay down guidelines in respect of the Scottish and Welsh Development Authorities. I cannot regard this as a very sensible arrangement. If the Scottish and Welsh Development Authorities are to have an effective separate existence—and it is envisaged that they should be controlled by the Scottish and Welsh Assemblies—there is no good reason for having guidelines laid down by Westminster. If any quarrel arose as to the powers and activities of these bodies, surely this should be a matter for discussion between them and the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State. I cannot see the practicality of so-called guidelines.
Another curiosity is in Schedule 15, which suggests that certain local government powers in Scotland should relate to the powers of the Westminster Parliament—the police, weights and measures, food and drugs, and so on. If the bulk of local government activity is to relate to the Scottish and Welsh Assemblies, all of it should do so. There is no good reason for hiving off parts which are responsible to Westminster while other parts are responsible to the Scottish or Welsh Assemblies.
There is the most curious and most dangerous proposition in paragraph 14 of the White Paper. I do not know where it is in the Bill, or whether it is even in the Bill, but it suggests the process of judicial review on the insistence of an individual litigant in respect of the powers exercised by the Scottish and Welsh Assemblies. In other words, if I understand this correctly, it would appear that any individual could challenge the validity of an Act of the Scottish Assembly in the courts on his own initiative. This is an astonishing proposition. It is a clear remedy for the factious, obstructive and awkward individual to call into question what would be the normal legislative process by appealing to the courts on possibly highly obscure points.
I accept the arrangements under which the Westminster Parliament might want to review whether powers fall within its vires, but the idea of an individual litigrant going to the courts to challenge legislation of the Scottish Assembly does 1121 seem most curious. As far as I know, this does not apply in English law at the moment. I am interested to hear why this has been included in the Bill.
I have two smaller points which are not of great constitutional importance. I would be inclined to hive off the Scottish Universities and make them responsible to the Scottish Assembly so that Scottish education would become one piece, rather than having the universities separated in this somewhat artificial manner. Likewise, I see no reason why a Scottish Assembly, once created and functioning, should not legislate in respect of the professions. The White Paper is quite happy about teaching and the law, but why not medicine and other branches of the professions which may choose that their Scottish activities should be the responsibility of the Scottish Assembly.
There is, finally, the question of the electoral system. I regarded it as rather a missed opportunity when local government was revised in this House and we did not experiment for once with a slightly different electoral system, perhaps some system of proportional representation. I see the force of the first-past-the-post system of which we in this country are so proud. I am not persuaded that it is the final wisdom of electoral systems. I am not persuaded that other countries which have proportional representation are less efficient, less effective or have less satisfactory societies than our own. It is time we got away from the intense conservatism of nearly everything that pertains to our attitude towards political life.
I am sorry that the opportunity was missed with the reorganisation of local government. I think that it could be taken in the context of devolution. I am, however, basically certain that if we do not pass this Bill the problem of Scottish and Welsh nationalism will not go away. I have no intention of bequeathing to my grandchildren the sort of evil, vicious and savage problem that has occurred in Northern Ireland.
§ 10.37 p.m.
§ Lord James Douglas-Hamilton (Edinburgh, West)
The hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Hooley) said that he did not wish to bequeath a world of conflict to his grandchildren. He echoes 1122 the sentiments of us all when he says that, but it is not easy for all of us to see exactly how this subject can be dealt with best.
We are not the only country to be threatened with disunity. Before the United States Civil War when the United States was threatened with break-up President Abraham Lincoln saidWhatever I do with regard to the Institution of Slavery, I do because it will save the Union.He not only helped to abolish slavery but also succeeded in saving the Union. Today few would disagree that the United States has been a far stronger and greater country through retaining its unity than it would have been through breaking up into smaller, hostile groupings.
The wise Unionist today would say "Whatever I do with regard to devolution, I do because it will save the Union". For the Unionist there must be three principles in any plan of constitutional reform. They are first, the maintenance of the Union; second, the provision of better government; third, the proposals must be acceptable to the United Kingdom as a whole.
Unhappily, it seems that the Bill does not meet those stringent requirements. How can the Bill be acceptable to all parts of the United Kingdom when Scottish MPs would in future be able to vote not on Scottish health, Scottish housing and Scottish education, but on English health, English housing and on English education? We in the Conservative Party believe that the only reason for this is that the Government wish to rely for their majority on their 41 Scottish Members and are determined to keep them voting on English subjects, whether or not they know anything about them.
How can this Bill be acceptable to all parts of the United Kingdom when Northern Ireland is under-represented at Westminster and Scotland is over-represented? The Kilbrandon Report recommended that the number of Scots MPs should be reduced from 71 to 57. There is no mention of that in the Bill. We believe that the reason for that is that the Labour Government are relying for their majority on their 41 Scottish Members.
The Bill reeks of expediency. It says that each constituency in Scotland should 1123 have two Assembly MPs except those greater than a certain level of population, and they should have three. Is it not remarkable that those constituencies to have three Assembly MPs are virtually all represented at present by the Labour Party? The electoral system that has been devised by the Government would be of great benefit to the Labour Party.
For those Scots like myself who dread the prospect of Scotland being dominated exclusively by the special conditions of the intensely urbanised West of Scotland, it seems that proportional representation in some form might well be a necessity.
But, however inadequate the Bill may be, the question before us is whether it will strengthen the Unionist case to throw it out without further discussion. In answering this question, it is worth glancing at British history in a Scottish context. Every Scottish student of history knows that Scotland in 1707 entered into Union voluntarily because it was essential that institutions, including the Church and the legal system, were safeguarded.
The essence of the Union was summed up by the famous constitutional historian Dicey, who wrote in "Thoughts on the Scottish Union", at page 245:With the one exception of the introduction of representatives of Scotland into what had been the English and now became the British Parliament, no English political institution whatever was changed.England and Scotland ceased to be separate political units, the Union being a fundamental change for Scotland and a minimal change for England. Scottish patriotism in general became out-ward-looking and the Scots were completely involved in the foundation of modern Britain. Each nation has been greater and stronger through co-operating with the other nations in the United Kingdom than any of them could have been on their own.
After the last World War, with ever-increasing centralisation, gradually and imperceptibly a change of outlook took place. In 1949 over 1 million persons in Scotland signed the Scottish covenant. It contained this key phrase:We pledge ourselves in all loyalty to the Crown and within the framework of the United Kingdom to do everything in our power to 1124 secure for Scotland a Parliament with legislative authority over Scottish affairs.Now we have the Leader of the Opposition's commitment to establish a directly-elected Assembly in Scotland with legislative powers. In my view, her commitment meets the aspirations of the Scottish people without in any way creating a separate Executive, which might lead to immediate confrontation between the Assembly and Westminster.
The trouble with this Bill is that it risks creating a running conflict between the Assembly and Westminster. However disastrous this Bill may be, if the majority of Scottish Members vote for it and the majority of English Members throw it out without further discussion, I do not believe the Scottish people will see it as a bad Bill. I vividly remember my father telling me after he had represented a constituency in Western Scotland for 10 years of the one episode that rankled in his life. It was the Caledonian Power Bill. The majority of Scottish Members voted for that Bill, which would have introduced industrial development to the North-Western Highlands, but the majority of English Members threw it out. At that time it caused only a ripple of nationalist dissent, but if a majority of English Members threw out this Bill without any further discussion, there would be more far reaching repercussions.
There is a great deal of bewilderment and many questions Scotsmen would like to ask, and they will get the answers only if this Bill is debated clause by clause. For example, will the cost of the Assembly be borne by the British or the Scottish taxpayer? Indeed, that may be a question to which Englishmen would like to know the answer, too. If the Bill fails later because it is seen to be disastrous, that would strengthen rather than weaken the Unionists' case.
When some of my colleagues suggest that the only way to deal with separatism is to kill the Bill on Second Reading, I suggest that the only way to deal with separatism once and for all is through the use of a referendum. There is no mention of it in the Bill. The Prime Minister's assurances today were far from clear. It may be that no form of devolution will work satisfactorily until the issue of separatism is dealt with once and for all.
1125 In the last referendum I cannot help remembering that the hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Reid) said on television that he thought Scotland would be kept in the Common Market by the English vote. But it was not the English vote that kept Scotland in the Common Market, but the Scottish voters—and I was one of them. It seems to me that if this matter is dealt with by way of referendum, it could turn out to be the Achilles heel of the separatist movement. If the SNP claims that a majority of seats in Scotland would be a mandate for independence, the answer must be that only a majority of votes cast in a referendum could constitute a mandate for independence, when the question and answer are beyond doubt. There is an old Maori saying that the tree which is split is nothing but food for the axe. Unity makes for strength, and we are resolved to maintain the unity and integrity of the United Kingdom.
In the meantime, this Bill raises questions involving matters of patriotism and national pride, and in such matters there is always a need for patience and statesmanship. Certainly great tolerance is shown by Scotsmen and Englishmen towards each other, but not always very great understanding. It may be tempting to vote against a bad Bill, but I cannot vote against the Second Reading and will therefore abstain. I shall abstain because I believe that the issues are of such fundamental importance constitutionally to the United Kingdom as a whole that they should be thoroughly discussed in order that justice to this Bill should not only be done but be seen to be done. I do not want to see the separatist movement given a major propaganda weapon through blocking the Bill without discussion. Above all, I do not want to see the Unionist cause run the risk of being blown away in the winds of history.
§ 10.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)
The hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton) made an interesting speech during which he referred on a number of occasions to the Unionist cause. There is nothing sacrosanct about the Union between Scotland and England, and there is nothing sacrosanct about our consti- 1126 tutional establishments. They exist to serve a purpose, and that purpose ought to be the well-being of the people of this country, the people whom we represent.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Mr. Ellis) said that he felt something profound was happening not only in this country but throughout the world, and he was referring to the growth of nationalistic sentiment, or something of that kind, be it in Canada, Spain, or here. It is difficult to be precise about what is happening, about what motivates the views of people in this debate on devolution, but of one thing I am certain, and it is that the SNP, following what could be termed the breakthrough at the Hamilton by-election, could never have dreamed that it would succeed to the extent that it has done in the past decade.
I think we recognise that the debate on devolution is taking place entirely on nationalist terms. Too often the arguments for or against devolution are put forward for or against what people feel about the SNP and its electoral prospects. I said that it is difficult to be precise about what is happening, but what is certain is that what we are seeing now pre-dates Hamilton. It goes back possibly to even before the Second World War.
During the past 20 years there has been growing disenchantment with the Government. There is a feeling that they are not delivering the goods. There has been a growing feeling that it is all too easy for politicians to produce manifestos in which they make promises about what they intend to do in the five-year period for which they are elected and then find that because of circumstances beyond their control they cannot fulfil those promises. I shall not go through all the examples. We are all aware of many of them. The incomes policy is only one. One of our difficulties is that we are trying to deal with that disenchantment by constitutional change. We are trying to solve it by changing our parliamentary institutions.
There is an echo in the devolution debate of what happened over the reform of local government. Then, there was a disenchantment with local government in its old form in Scotland, and in England and Wales, too, no doubt, with the way in which people thought they were being 1127 served. Gradually, a feeling grew up that contact between local elected representatives and local electors had broken down. The same happened with the National Health Service. There was a feeling that, although the NHS was doing a great deal for people—
§ Mr. Donald Stewart
I would contest the hon. Member's argument that that was the reason for the reorganisation of local government. I was in local government for 20 years, and I do not remember a public demand for reorganisation, either in local government in my area or in the Convention of Burghs and County Councils. It was purely a decision of the Government, for their own purposes.
§ Mr. Hughes
With respect, that is where the hon. Gentleman is misunderstanding the argument. There was no question of the Government, whoever they may, be suddenly deciding "Let us have a reform of local government because it suits out purposes."
§ Mr. Hughes
It is not so. There was undoubtedly a feeling that local government needed changing because of disenchantment with it and because it did not serve the needs of the times. One could give umpteen examples of that.
Because of this general foggy idea that something was wrong with local government and that change was needed. Royal Commissions were set up—the Wheatley Commission for Scotland and the Redcliffe-Maud Commission for England and Wales. They heard almost the same views expressed as were put forward to the Kilbrandon Commission—there was a lack of contact, institutions needed to be closer to the people, institutions needed to be changed. There was a general belief that we could change local government and the administration of the NHS so as to improve matters.
Similarly—this is where I hear the echo, although other hon. Members may not agree—there has been a growing feeling that Westminster as a Parliament has not been meeting the people's needs, that some change is needed. Largely because of the rise of the nationalist parties, we have begun to think of devolution in these terms. There is no denying that the Kilbrandon Commission would never have been set up but for the advance of those parties. Its 1128 very remit led to the belief that devolution was coming. So devolution appears to be coming.
It is odd that there is a contradiction in the attitudes of people in Scotland towards devolution. If people are asked three direct questions—whether they favour the status quo, whether they would prefer devolution, whicich is not precisely defined, or whether they want complete independence—the majority say that they are in favour of devolution. But their enthusiasm is contradictory. If people are asked to place in order of priority 20 or 30 subjects in which they might be assumed to be interested, one always finds devolution second to last.
Why, when there is apparent enthusiasm for devolution—with great enthusiasm in the public Press—does one find when people are asked where devolution fits into their ordinary lives, that it does not play a great part? The answer again is that people are searching for some way in which they will become more closely involved in the democratic life of their society. We are trying to cure this disease, but people do not know what the chosen medicine is, or even whether they want it.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Has my hon. Friend considered that the Scottish media have a considerable vested interest in devolution?
§ Mr. Hughes
It is true that there are many vested interests in devolution. It may even go beyond the media and into the minds and hearts of those who wish to control Scottish society in the way in which it was controlled in the past. We are dealing with economics as much as with constitutional change.
Another curious feature of devolution and the SNP case is that I rarely hear argument in favour of devolution on the basis of how Scotland will be improved as a result. Many people tell me that we need devolution because there is insufficient time to discuss Scottish affairs at Westminster, and the biggest case being made in favour of devolution is that Scotland wants to have the same sort of things as are to be found in England and that the only way in which we can get parity in economic and social affairs is by having more devolution, but if we want the advantages that the SNP is always claiming England has we should 1129 be moving in other directions. If that is the case, surely we should be doing away with the Scottish Office and centralising. It is curious that in order to be the same it is thought that we should have two separate political institutions.
The fact is that on the basis of public expenditure Scotland is doing far better per head of population than England.
§ Mr. Donald Stewart rose——
§ Mr. Donald Stewart
If the hon. Gentleman is basing his claim on the so-called Scottish budget of a number of years ago, the figures were exploded even by the researchers of the Kilbrandon Commission.
§ Mr. Hughes
That is not so. The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that the Kilbrandon Commission made it clear that Scotland was at that time doing better than England in terms of public expenditure per head of population, and now it is doing even better. The hon. Gentleman cannot deny that.
§ Mr. Donald Stewart
Let us consider two items. It was said that Scotland receives more per head in unemployment benefit. Is that an argument for our case or is it not? Surely that is an argument that Scotland urgently needs an Assembly or Government. Secondly, it was said that we receive more per head for roadways. As Scotland has a third of the land area of the United Kingdom, surely it should receive a third of the expenditure on roads.
§ Mr. Hughes
First, the hon. Gentleman denies that Scotland is doing better per head of population over the whole range, and then he takes two specific sectors and says that Scotland is getting more but there is a reason for it. He cannot deny the basic fact that we are getting more in terms of public expenditure.
§ Mr. Hughes
I could not believe my ears when I heard the hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart), the Leader of the SNP, say that he and his hon. Friends would support the Bill. He 1130 described it as an anaemic mouse. I think that that was the term he used. If it is such a creature, surely he and his party should be voting against it.
§ Mr. Hughes
The fact is that the Bill provides massive powers for the Scottish Assembly to deal with Scottish domestic matters. There are checks and balances and anomalies and I shall not go into all the anomalies because I am concerned with the principles.
Another curious fact is that I am now beginning to receive letters from people who tell me that basically they are in favour of devolution but that they do not think, for example, that it should affect the Health Service. They say that there should be some provisions to protect the service—for example, to ensure that there is no change in the amount of money it receives. I get letters from social workers who tell me that they more or less accept devolution but want special provisions written into the Bill so that social workers are protected from what might happen in the Assembly.
No one must imagine that there is in Scotland a great body of opinion waiting for the Assembly to be elected to bring forward a large number of new ideas on how Scotland should be run, on how we should deal with housing, health, education, and so on. The Assembly will not provide any great new body of knowledge or opinion. There is euphoria in the Press, suggesting that overnight Scotland will turn into a marvellous country. People write that we should change local government again before we have an Assembly. All these things are nonsense.
The people of Scotland should realise that if we have an Assembly they will have to take the rough with the smooth. If things turn out badly in certain respects, blame, if blame there be, will rest entirely on the Assembly.
§ Mr. Hughes
If things begin to go badly, it will be said that the Assembly needs more powers. That will not be true. There are ample powers in the Bill for people to make up their minds. There must be a sense of responsibility.
1131 What we are trying to do, what the Bill sets out to do, and what the whole debate is about is to end conflict, to hold back the divisive nature of politics in Scotland. There are great divisive factors at work in Scotland. It is probably inevitable that for a decade or more after we have an Assembly we shall be bogged down week in and week out, year in and year out, in constitutional argument about more powers or more money for the Assembly. The SNP will ensure that.
Although the hon. Member for Western Isles has said that the SNP will not be out to wreck the Assembly, that it will try to make it work, it cannot set out to make the Assembly work and be true to the principles which it has espoused. It has a vested interest in the Assembly's not working. One SNP Member is shaking his head and the other is nodding, as usual. That is why the party will bedevil the argument, because in the Assembly one set of heads will be nodding, with SNP Members saying "We shall make it work", while members of the SNP outside will be shaking their heads. SNP members outside will be trying to get the tail to wag the dog.
In many respects the face of politics in Scotland has changed, I believe very much to the detriment of democracy. How shall we fight the elections for the national Parliament at Westminster? What will be the basis of our election manifestos? I cannot tell the electorate "Vote for me. I shall ensure that housing in Aberdeen and education will be improved through the good offices of the Scottish Office and the Government." Unless we are very careful, we shall be forced into an auction election on the basis of whether we are prepared to transfer more power or money to the Assembly.
We may very well be in great danger of turning Westminster into an English Parliament and giving credence to the SNP belief that this place is irrelevant to the needs of the people of Scotland. We must state the difficulties on that score and say where we stand in relation to the Assembly and its future.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Is there not also the great danger that we might be told by the same electorate "It's your job to get more out of the pork barrel in Westminster"? That really would lead to conflicts.
§ Mr. Hughes
Yes, but, as my hon. Friend has said, to some extent we are in that game now. I agree about that, but we are in it on a different kind of basis. In asking for more money for education and the health services, I believe that I have always been speaking not merely for the people of Aberdeen or of Scotland but for working people throughout the length and breadth of Britain. I have never taken the parochial attitude that we should be concerned solely and wholly with what happened in Scotland, or indeed in England or Wales.
In that respect at least, this is where the question of taxation powers arises. If the people of Scotland have an Assembly, if they want more spent on education, health, social services or something else, they must be prepared to pay for it. Therefore, quite apart from the argument about whether taxation powers would bring a sense of responsibility to the Assembly, there is a very powerful argument for the Assembly having taxation powers if it is to exist.
The proposal of a referendum appears to have advocates in all quarters of the House. Whatever else I do in relation to the Bill—that is not yet clearly determined—one thing is certain: I shall not go into the Lobby in favour of a referendum. I did so on the question of the referendum on the EEC very much against my better judgment, because I was willing to accept the will of the majority of my party on that matter. However, I think that it was a profound mistake, because the referendum resolved nothing. Very few people in the country or in this House accept that the result of the referendum was that we accepted membership of the EEC and that we then went on to argue that we were in the EEC and that we would have to play a constructive role within it. As soon as we run into any difficulty whatsoever, over fisheries policy, for instance, we all say "It is not our fault. It is the EEC's fault." However, we must recognise that we are in the EEC. Just as Scotland must take the rough with the smooth with an Assembly, we must take the rough with the smooth with the EEC.
I may have to spend the next 10 years of my life arguing constitutions. I would far rather spend them arguing about how we are to democratise the EEC and turn 1133 it into the kind of body that those enthusiastically in favour of it said that it was—an organ of Socialist and democratic advance. That would be a far better use of our time than arguing constitutions and about Scotland versus England or Scotland within the United Kingdom.
At one stage the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) seemed to be nodding in agreement with what I said about the referendum on EEC membership. On the other hand, I thought that he was disagreeing about our approach following membership.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the referendum on membership of the EEC settled nothing, as indeed the Government, in their official paper introducing the referendum, said that it would settle nothing, because they said that continued membership would depend upon the continued assent of Parliament. Therefore, I agree with the hon. Gentleman on that. What I was disagreeing with was the hon. Gentleman's pipe dream of using the EEC as an organ for Socialist advance in any sense acceptable to any section of the population of this country.
§ Mr. Hughes
I understand perfectly that the right hon. Gentleman would disagree with me about anything that produced Socialist advance. However, I was not saying that I believed that the EEC was or would be a great force for Socialist advance. The point that I was trying to make was that, having had the referendum, we then had perhaps three choices open to us. The first was that we should simply accept it and do nothing. The second was to ignore it—as I believe the right hon. Gentleman does; he feels that we ought to continue the campaign to come out of the EEC. The third was to say, once we were in, that we should proceed to play a constructive part.
But the real point about the EEC referendum is that it has not been accepted by the vast majority of the people involved in the argument as an end to the debate about whether we are in or out. Similarly, a referendum on separatism or on devolution will not end the matter. It will simply give rise to the cry in a 1134 few years for yet another referendum. There again lies the divisiveness of this kind of debate.
I want to take up the argument put so persuasively by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Hooley) that those of us who express doubts about the wisdom of devolution or who are opposed to it to the extent of voting against the Bill have nothing to put in its place. In a sense, if we argue against a proposition which fundamentally changes our parliamentary system, we do not have an alternative because we are saying, in effect, that the parliamentary institutions that we have offer the best possibility of fulfilling our dreams and aspirations for the future. It may be that in these days of materialism or of "Straight cash today; jam tomorrow", or whatever the term is, we are wrong to have any aspirations beyond tomorrow. But I believe that we in this country, especially in the wider context of international affairs, retain our faith in Socialist principles. We have to try to see how those Socialist principles can best be effected and how we can bring them to some fruition.
We are in great danger of destroying the solidarity of working-class people. The people who will benefit if we destroy that solidarity are the merchant bankers, the capitalists and the people who have raped the resources of this country, whether we speak of Scotland, England or the United Kingdom.
I reject the view that there has been some golden age in the Scottish past where the people of Scotland lived a much better life than they have since the formation of the Union. It is not true. We have to maintain our solidarity and the unity of our working-class people so that we may make progress in taking over what Nye Bevan used to call "the commanding heights" of the economy. If we speak of the real devolution of power, we should not speak only about parliamentary institutions. We should speak also about the control and the devolution of economic power, because that is the key to the issue.
Therefore, I find myself in a very great dilemma about whether we should simply let this Bill go through and face the possibility that in a decade we shall be setting up a Royal Commission to decide 1135 how to get rid of the Scottish Assembly. In my view, we are not improving democracy by lopping off a bit of bureaucracy which exists in Whitehall and transplanting it firmly to Edinburgh and hoping that, somehow, it will become more democratic in the process. We may simply be transplanting something which will grow even bigger as a result.
If the Bill gets a Second Reading and we proceed to a Committee stage, it will be a fairly long and hard Committee stage. I take the view that if we are to have the Assembly, it must have no scapegoats and it must be responsible for its own actions. If we have too many checks and balances, I believe that we shall simply give the Assembly a "cop out" and make it impossible for it to face its responsibilities. It will have responsibilities if it exists, and it will have to do the best that it can for the people of Scotland.
§ Mr. Hughes
Not in the least, although the right hon. Gentleman may think that I am, but I often think that about what he says. We are faced with this dilemma, which is not easy to resolve. It can only be resolved on Thursday night, and we shall see where we go from there. I retain the belief that, whatever happens, we can stick together and face the difficulties we are going to have as a country which is willing to set aside its individual feelings as English and Scots or Welsh for the greater good of the working people.
§ 11.16 p.m.
§ Mr. David Knox (Leek)
As a Scot representing an English constituency with a Welsh name, I think I have some entitlement to take part in the debate, and I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for calling me. I hope that the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) will not mind if I do not follow his many points.
§ Mr. Knox
Because I want to be brief. The hon. Gentleman, on the other hand, 1136 took almost half an hour, although a large number of hon. Members wish to speak.
This is the most important Bill that will pass through this Parliament. It is much more important than most of the contentious measures recently forced through by the Government. It is much more important than most of the rest of the legislation which passes through the House, much of which has little or no effect on the outside world, despite the intentions of those who introduce it.
The Bill is important because it will have a profound effect on the future of Scotland and Wales and the United Kingdom as a whole. It is therefore imperative that the House should get it right. As it stands, there is much in it that I consider wrong. But that is a matter for the Committee stage. I welcome the principle of devolution for Scotland—and perhaps also for Wales, although I am not quite sure about that—contained in the Bill.
I shall confine my remarks to Scotland because I know it best. I was born, grew up and was educated there, and still visit it regularly. I welcome the principle of devolution for Scotland because it is a recognition of the rise of nationalism in Scotland in recent years and because it is a recognition of the prominence of nationalism in Scotland.
For over 50 years, and particularly over the last 10 years, there has been a rising tide of nationalism north of the border. This has been partly but not entirely reflected by the growth in support for the Scottish National Party, but it is foolish to think that the SNP is the sole manifestation of that nationalism. Anyone who knows Scotland and the Scottish people knows that amongst all the people—those who vote Conservative, Liberal and Labour as well as those who vote for the SNP—there has been an increase in national feeling. There has been nothing comparable in England, which may, in part, explain the indifference to devolution and the lack of understanding of the Scots and their attitudes and outlook which exist south of the border. I am sorry to keep referring to the border, but I was brought up as a borderer.
In my view, the national feelings in Scotland are deeply rooted. They are not some passing whim. They have probably 1137 always been there. But they have developed over the last 50 years, and particularly over the last 10 years, for reasons dealt with by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) in the outstanding speech he made on the White Paper in January.
Apart from the economic reasons, which are very significant, there are also deeply rooted emotional feelings and a passion for country which has led in recent years to the demands by the Scots to have a greater say over their own destiny and for a measure of executive and legislative power over their own affairs. Talk about this in Scotland is not new. It was taking place during my boyhood and has been taking place with increasing intensity in the last 10 years. Most important, the demand for devolution has been commanding increasing support, and now undoubtedly commands the support of a substantial majority of the Scottish people.
Nationalism in Scotland, and the consequent demand for devolution, will not go away if the Bill is defeated. It will not go away if these devolution proposals disappear. Nationalism does not react in that way.
§ Mr. Galbraith
The hon. Member for Leek (Mr. Knox) said that it will not go away. Does he recollect from his boyhood in Scotland that about 30 years ago there was the national covenant, which was signed by two million Scots but which completely disappeared when the economic situation improved? Is not my hon. Friend confusing constitutional, nationalistic feelings with something that results from the poor economic showing of the country?
§ Mr. Knox
I do not think that it went away. The fact that Scottish nationalism is as strong now as ever makes the point that it did not disappear. My hon. Friend is deluding himself. Nationalism in Scotland has become more intense as time has gone past. It has fluctuated, but overall the tendency has been towards a strengthening of national feeling. It will not go away if the Bill disappears. Nationalism does not react in that way. It reacts in precisely the opposite way. If the Bill is defeated and nothing takes its place immediately—and I doubt whether anything could— 1138 that would further fuel the fires of nationalism in Scotland. Scots demands for a greater say in their own affairs would grow. Before long, there would be majority support in Scotland for separatism, not because the Scots want separation, but because separation will seem to be the only means of achieving their legitimate demands for a greater say in their own affairs. Already there has been a drift in this direction.
The degree of devolution which will satisfy the Scottish nation today is substantially greater than would have been necessary a few years ago. Because we failed to deal with the problem then we are having to concede much greater powers today. Greater powers are being demanded by Scots, and will have to be given in order to satisfy them. That is why devolution schemes that were suggested in good faith a few years ago and that made good sense then no longer meet the demands of the Scottish people today.
The Bill is a recognition of the existence and power of nationalism as it is in Scotland today. It is an attempt—admittedly not a very good one—to give real executive and legislative power. It is probably our last chance to stop separation and that, in my judgment would be an unmitigated disaster for England as well as for Scotland.
The Bill is also welcome because it meets an increasing public demand in Scotland for decentralisation. There is no doubt that the Scots feel, and have felt for a long time, that the Westminster Government is remote. They are deeply dissatisfied with what Parliament does and think that they could better manage their own affairs.
The devolution of executive and legislative powers will remove powers from the House of Commons to Edinburgh, to be exercised by people able to concentrate on a more limited area of activity than we are. Such people would be better informed and more responsive to Scottish opinion. That would lead to better and more democratic government in Scotland.
At the same time, devolution will remove the burden of Scottish legislation from this Parliament. Freed from much of this Scottish business we shall be able to concentrate on fewer tasks and to do 1139 them better. I do not believe that there is any hon. Member in any part of the House who thinks that there is not room for some improvement in the performance of the Westminster Parliament. Devolution would result in better Government, not only for Scotland but for Britain as a whole.
I turn briefly to one of the major defects in the Bill, namely, the absence of powers to tax. This is dangerous. It has been referred to by other hon. Members during the debate. If the Assembly has no powers to tax, what will happen is that it will immediately blame the Westminster Parliament every time it has to refuse a spending project. As a result Westminster will get the blame for everything that goes wrong in Edinburgh. This could well fan the flames of separation. It is important that the Assembly be given the power to tax.
I have a feeling that there is the idea on the Treasury Bench that the Scots should not have the right to over-tax themselves. But what is democracy about if it is not about giving to the electorate a choice about how much money they should raise and how much Government should spend? This seems to be a perfectly legitimate subject for political debate and I cannot see why the Scottish Assembly should not have this power.
I know that there are difficulties. I am not suggesting that the Assembly should raise all the money it spends. Surely it is possible for it to raise revenue, either by levying VAT at a higher level, or by putting something extra on petrol, or by fixing higher car licence fees, or something of that sort. I hope that the Government will think again about this or, if they fail to do so, I hope as the Prime Minister suggested this afternoon, that the House will make the necessary amendments to the Bill.
This is the only devolution Bill we have before us and it is the only such Bill we are likely to have, at least during this Session. The vote on Thursday will be a vote about the principle of devolution. It will not be a vote about whether this is a good, bad or indifferent Bill. In the same way, the vote at the end of the Second Reading of the European Communities Bill in 1972 was about the principle of British entry to the Common Market. That was not a vote about whether that Bill was a good, bad or indifferent Bill. It was not even a vote 1140 about the so-called "Tory terms". At that time, in 1972, I condemned pro-Marketeers in the Labour Party for the way in which they voted on the European Communities Bill.
Feeling as I do about devolution, although I have reservations about certain parts of this Bill, it would be quite contemptible if I were to vote against it on Thursday. I shall not, therefore, be voting with my party in the vote at the end of this debate. It gives me no pleasure to say this, but since I believe that a separate Scotland is the most likely result of the rejection of the Bill, I can do nothing else.
I hope that the Bill will get a Second Reading with a comfortable majority. I hope that the House will then knock it into shape to enable the Scots and the Welsh to fulfil their legitimate aspirations for a meaningful devolution of power within the overall framework of the United Kingdom.
§ 11.28 p.m.
§ Mr. L. R. Fletcher (Ilkeston)
I seem to be the only hon. Member who does not know exactly how he will vote on Thursday night. In other words, I intend to preserve an open mind and to listen to the arguments and to try to deal with the Bill with my customary coldness. Unfortunately, or fortunately, as the case may be, I cannot bring to this debate the kind of passion that we hear from the Celtic fringe—and I mean no disrespect when I use that phrase.
I have no passionate affection for Scotland since I do not know enough about the country to acquire any. I have no passionate attachment to Wales, although I spent some years in that delightful country. I do not even have a passionate attachment to England, because I do not think that passions should reign in a debate of this kind.
We have heard many observations in the course of the debate and I find it difficult to think of anything new to say. But, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you have my permission to rule me out of order if I indulge in one sentence of party sloganising or one piece of superfluous rhetoric.
One of the delusions that has threaded its way through the debate, and that has come from both sides of the House, has been that if we establish Assemblies in Edinburgh and Cardiff, by some mysterious process as yet unknown to man 1141 jobs will be generated almost from the time of the establishment of those Assemblies.
We must get away from this delusion that an Assembly, or even a Parliament, can create jobs in manufacturing industries. It is only those who invest in manufacturing industries who create jobs in those industries. It is not a matter for 80 chatterboxes in Cardiff or 150 chatterboxes in Edinburgh. If they talked through the whole night they would not generate one extra job, except for those in the Press Galleries, who would have the misfortune of having to listen to their long-winded speeches.
The second delusion is that because a process is democratic it must therefore be sacrosanct and somehow holy. I accept democracy. It is the only possible civilised form of government, but in the short run it is always a very bad form of government.
I accept democracy simply because the freedom which it gives to me in this House guarantees the freedoms that are enjoyed by the 50 million citizens of the United Kingdom outside it. I am certainly not a passionate devotee of democracy, and the adjective "democratic" does not inspire in me the feelings which perhaps it should.
To look at the map of the world properly we have to shoot ourselves into space—and perhaps out of order. When one looks at photographs sent from American satellites showing the economic regions of this planet one obtains a totally different view of national boundaries and their relevance or irrelevance to our normal world of political discussion. It is rather interesting to look at what are called false-coloured maps of the Pacific area and to discover that what the Japanese forces, headed by the militarists who engaged in the Second World War, called the co-prosperity sphere, which they sought to establish by force of arms and about which they had to be defeated because it was an uncivilised aim pursued by uncivilised methods, now actually does exist—the natural economic hinterland and which covers roughly the area occupied by Tojo's armies. One can see from these maps that the economy of the world is being transformed not only geographic- 1142 ally but structurally without the benefit of legislation and without the superfluous advice or guidance that is normal in any legislature on the face of the earth.
I recently pointed out in the journal for which I am privileged to write from time to time that a major change is taking place in the United States of America which has passed almost unnoticed by almost every commentator in the United States and by those who participate in the increasingly irrelevant debate about the merits of capitalism or socialism. By 1985 half the capital and perhaps more than half the capital of the United States of America will be controlled by employee pension funds. This is a decisive change and a decisive shift in actual or potential power which has not registered and certainly does not show on any map. Is it relevant in this kind of world, which is changing of its own volition, and whose rate of change or type of change can neither be hindered nor accelerated by legislative action, to discuss what we were always told was a nineteenth century phenomenon in a twentieth century context.
I happen to believe that there is a place on the map for nationalism. The stable world economy to which I believe we are moving—the more stable world into which, in defiance of all the surface evidence, we are moving—will generate and intensify nationalism. Oddly enough, one of the prophets of this development was Lenin, the leader of the Russian revolution. I hope that mentioning Lenin will not place me on the list of the 12 "reds under the bed" being bandied around by some Conservative Members. I never hide under beds; I am always in them. It is much more comfortable.
Nevertheless, I should like to give a definition of a nation. It is one that I take up for the purpose of argument, because the speech that I intended to deliver has already been delivered, in parts, by other hon. Members. I quote:A nation is a historically evolved, stable community of language, territory, economic life and psychological make-up, manifested in a community of culture.That is the first and last time that I intend to quote in the House the late, unlamented Joseph Stalin. Those Tories who are looking for reds in, or under, or by the side of beds can put me down as having 1143 quoted two great revolutionaries in one speech. If that does not rule me completely and totally out of order, I do not know what will. But that is not a bad working definition. I happen to regard Stalin as a villain, but for once he penned something, under Lenin's direction, that happened to be right.
The emergence of nationalism in this sense is one of the features of our time, and to ignore it would be idiotic. What I beg leave to doubt is the framework for nationalism presented in the Bill. It is not a satisfactory response to nationalism as we know it, experience it and frequently—I speak for my hon. Friends from north of the border—vote against it.
I beg to submit that the paper cage that is being constructed in the Bill cannot contain the lion of Scottish nationalism—if such a lion exists and is rampant. We must abandon the idea—it is sometimes my duty to try to educate my hon. Friends—that we can construct societies and institutions as though we were building a Mecanno set construction. A society is an organism. An organism grows and develops and sometimes is killed off by another organism. In the case of man, sometimes it kills itself off. We are almost the only species that commits suicide, though I believe that there are a few other species that also do it.
A society is an organism. That is why I refer to the Scottish National Party—in what, in the eyes of some of my hon. Friends, no doubt, are far too complimentary terms—as a lion. I cannot imagine Scottish nationalism remaining for long in this paper cage that we have erected for it. The members of the Scottish National Party have made it clear that they will accept the Assembly in order to transcend it.
It is no use Governments arguing that separatism is not the issue for those whose activities and support have produced the Bill—and here I am not referring to my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Government Front Bench. Those whose activities have produced the Bill have no more use for an Assembly that is a constituent part of the United Kingdom than I have for the blade of a guillotine. They want separatism, and, as the Leader of the Opposition pointed out, they will use this Assembly as a 1144 springboard for separatism. They would be damned fools if they did not. They would not be nationalists if they did not. I am glad that I have been able to unite the Scottish National Party, for once. My right hon. Friend could not do it.
I like to be able to support measures produced by my Government, but I am afraid that what we have in the Bill is a dog's breakfast—although no self-respecting dog would eat it. Certainly not a Scottish dog, and I do not think a Welsh corgi would touch it either, in its present form.
I informed by hon. Friends in the Whips' Office that I would make my decision on this Bill after being convinced or otherwise by the arguments, and after what I learn from my own speech. I do not denigrate either Scottish or Welsh nationalism. I freely accept that, in spite of our own legislative efforts to frustrate the process, we are moving towards a stable and prosperous world in which every kind of eccentricity will be generated and multiplied, including my own.
§ Mr. Whitehead
As my hon. Friend is amenable to persuasion, would he not agree that it would be a springboard for the worst and most chauvinistic element in Scottish nationalism if we were to turn down a Scottish Assembly or some form of devolution by a majority of English votes?
§ Mr. Fletcher
My hon. Friend has given me something to think about, as usual. In spite of the fact that I have something to think about, I shall continue talking, unless I am disposed of, right through the Committee stage. However, I do not think it would have the effect my hon. Friend suggests. What is likely to happen it what I have forecast—this Assembly will, first, require the power to tax, as was sensibly pointed out by the hon. Member opposite, whose constituency I cannot remember but whose accent I can. The power to tax is a fundamental condition of separatism. Once the Assembly has that power, it is on the road to being a separate nation, and a separate State encompassing that nation.
To offer this kind of Bill to the supporters of Scottish nationalism is like offering a cheese sandwich to a hungry lion. The lion would regard the cheese 1145 sandwich as a pleasant hors d' oeuvre to the main meal—which would be the person who was daft enough to give it the cheese sandwich.
§ Mr. Dalyell
But is it a constructive proposition to go to the electors of Ilkeston and say that because of this great upset, their car tax will have to be doubled?
§ Mr. Fletcher
I shall consider that proposition. Unlike some hon. Members I never claim to speak for the people with a capital P, or even for my own constituents. I am judged on my form in each election. I am not required to submit every speech I make to a kind of committee stage in my constituency organisation.
If we want to dismember the United Kingdom, and remove it as such from the map of Europe—and that is the process upon which we have embarked—we must have sounder reasons than those which have been presented today by the advocates of devolution.
§ 11.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Tim Sainsbury (Hove)
The hon. Member for Ilkeston (Mr. Fletcher) has brought us to the end of, if not a five-day match, the first day of a four-day match, and he has very commendably shattered some of the delusions. He may indeed have shattered some of his own delusions by listening to his own speech. He brought humour to our discussions—and that has been somewhat lacking up to now—and a positive menagerie of lions and dogs and other animals. But he also brought us back to the main principle with which we should be concerned when he spoke of what would happen if we set about dismembering the United Kingdom, and the issues we should think about in deciding how to vote on this difficult and complex measure.
These issues are the unity of the United Kingdom and the better government of the United Kingdom as a whole—not just of Scotland, Wales, Ireland or England. I do not believe that the unity of the United Kingdom should be taken for granted. There is no reason why we should not question its validity at times, or examine it dispassionately. I do not 1146 think we should find any historical imperative requiring us to keep the unity. But we should find a history, a cultural heritage and a language which unite us far more than anything I can find to separate us.
I become immensely confused by talk about the Scots, the Welsh, the Irish and the English. I believe myself to be English and I am unable to distinguish in my ancestry any blood that may be said to be Irish, Scots or Welsh. When it comes to the Calcutta Cup my children inquire which side is expected to win before they decide which side to support, because they have a Scots mother.
I do not know whether we can firmly draw lines across Britain and say that the Scots live on one side and the English live on the other. I know, not only from my family but from my constituency and from the whole country, that there are many Scots living on "our' side of the border and many English living on the other side. Our identities are blurred and I cannot see that we would serve any useful purpose by trying to draw hard lines and reestablish old identities on either side of the border.
The unity of the United Kingdom is of immense benefit in economic and social terms. It is surely not sensible for this small island to create barriers to people, barriers to commerce and barriers in industry. Therefore I believe that that unity is worthy of the greatest possible support and we should ask, as the hon. Member for Ilkeston has asked, whether the Bill helps to preserve that unity.
I would find it easy to say that as drafted the Bill cannot help preserve anything except some sense of astonishment that the Government should introduce such a monstrosity. We must face the consequences, however, of rejecting it at this stage. What would be the consequences for Scotland? How would the Scots feel, with the depth of historical, cultural, legal and geographical reasons they have for feeling in some need of devolution if we, the English-dominated Parliament, were to refuse a Second Reading to a Bill for which there has recently been consistently a considerable measure of support in Scotland?
1147 The Bill may be diffuse and ill-defined. There may be a lack of definition about what is wanted. But surely no one in this House could deny that there has been in Scotland a substantial majority of people seeking some measure of devolution.
I do not think that the same goes for Wales. It may be that the geography of the matter is part of the answer. In Wales approximately two-thirds of the population lives in the industrial belt, but that belt is more closely related to England across the Severn and the Bristol Channel than it is to North Wales. That is one of the reasons that there is not in Wales the demand for of justification of devolution that exist in Scotland where three quarters of the industrial population live in the industrial belt, but where the belt is well separated from England by the sparsely-inhabited border area. That belt is nearer to the geographic centre of the country and therefore there is a much greater geographic feeling of separation in Scotland than there is in Wales.
These are the reasons why there should be some measure of devolution. I believe that they are sufficient reasons for this House to give a Second Reading to a Bill providing for devolution. If we refuse to do so, the Scottish people will have sound reasons for believing that their views are being ignored in this place. They could come to accept, rightly or wrongly, that this House was not in favour of any degree of devolution at all. I go along with those who accept that, if that were so, we would fatally damage the union that we are seeking to preserve.
There is a further reason for seeking to give the Bill a Second Reading. In the House, in the whole of England and, I suspect, even throughout the United Kingdom there is a considerable lack of understanding of the issues—issues involving complexities and difficulties—relating to devolved Assemblies and Westminster and establishing the relationship of each Assembly to its Executive, if it is to have one.
The 30 days—or perhaps it should be 40 days and nights—we shall spend debating this issue will at least be educative to us here, and I hope that, with the benefit of the presence of representatives of the 1148 media, what they report will again be educative to the whole country. I trust that we shall all emerge from this wearisome process with a greater understanding of the general issues and of the issues of principle that are now bothering us, and also a greater understanding of the issues brought before us by the Bill.
We have heard in the debate a great deal of criticism of the details—indeed more than just the details—of the Bill. The creation of an Executive for the Scottish Assembly has been criticised as bringing with it a series of inherent tensions between that Assembly and Westminster and also in its train an unnecessarily burdensome bureaucracy and expense.
We have heard from all sides a large number of criticisms of the failure to give taxing powers to the Assembly and Executive. These things may be weighed against each other, but we cannot doubt that those who have criticised the Bill have sound reasons for doing so. I believe this measure justifies the appellation of an awful Bill. It may be too bad to be improved sufficiently to make it acceptable to this House at a later stage, but we may not even have long enough, despite the time allocated, to carry out the necessary improvements. I believe that it would be wrong for the House, despite the Bill's inadequacies, to refuse to give the measure a Second Reading.
Devolution should make government more local, more responsive and less bureaucratic. I personally believe that small is not always beautiful but is quite often to be favoured. I always believe, however, that big is far too often bureaucratic. Therefore, in principle I accept the intent of devolution as a method of bringing government nearer to those who are governed and of making government more locally responsive and more recognisable to the people.
§ Mr. Dalyell
There is a misapprehension that must be cleared up. Whatever else its friends may say about the Bill, it does not make government more local.
§ Mr. Sainsbury
I hesitate to contradict the hon. Gentleman about the locality of 1149 Edinburgh in relation to Scotland's geography, but I was under the impression that Edinburgh was more local to most of Scotland than is Westminster. It will be open to a Scottish Assembly to make itself even more local. It could move to Inverness, or to Stirling which is suggested to be more nearly the centre of Scotland. It is my understanding of the intention of those who favour devolution and those who favour local democracy that the Assembly should be more local to those who are governed. I suppose I should thank the hon. Gentleman for having intervened, because had he not done so he would have broken his record of having intervened in almost every speech. I do not know whether he will be able to keep it up on the other three days.
This Bill should in theory create smaller units of government that are more local and more responsive, but I find that as drafted it will create bigger battalions of bureaucracy. The answer is that we should have started by looking at Scottish local government. That opportunity has, unfortunately, passed us by. My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. Fairgrieve) covered this aspect of the matter extremely well and I believe that what he said would repay careful study, because if we are to satisfy the objectives of devolution without creating bureaucracy we must look at the whole gamut of government from Brussels right down to the local level to make sure that we get the relationships of Government, of the Assemblies and of officials right. It is because we have not started with that organisation of local government that it will be so difficult to put the Bill right and put it into a form that will be acceptable to get the approval of the House on Third Reading.
As I have said, I believe that the effort to get the Bill right will be educative for us all. It is something that we should attempt. Giving the Bill a Second Reading will enable us to make a substantial contribution to retaining the unity of the United Kingdom, and it will also give us an opportunity to provide better government. If it were a better drafted Bill I should find it fairly easy to vote for it. As it is, I find it a Bill which I do not 1150 wish to vote against. Therefore, it is my intention to abstain.
§ Debate adjourned.—[Mr. Bates.]
§ Debate to be resumed tomorrow.