§ Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [13th December], That the Bill be now read a Second time.
§ Question again proposed.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the representations made to you and to the Lord President, may I ask whether there has been any request for the Lord President to make a statement on the misunderstanding which may have arisen from his statement on Thames Television last night about possible violence in Scotland?
§ 6.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Teddy Taylor (Glasgow, Cathcart)
My first task is to pay tribute on behalf of my colleagues to my hon. Friend the Member for North Angus and Mcarns (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) for the work he has done for Scotland and for the Conservative Party. I know the anxieties and problems involved. My hope is that when my hon. Friend returns to the Front Bench it will be in happier circumstances than my own transfer from trade to Scottish affairs.
I mention trade only briefly because I see from the tape that we have had the announcement on the worst-ever trade figures—a deficit of over £500 million. I hope that the full responsibility will not be placed on myself ! This is an issue that will probably unite most of us in the House. We certainly do not hope that the activities of the Department of Trade concerned with foreign trade will be extended to trade with Scotland or Wales.
There is no doubt that the Prime Minister's speech in opening this great debate yesterday was a disappointment. I have never before heard such a poor case put forward for a major Bill. There was no argument whatever that the Bill would achieve better government. There was no argument that it would produce cheaper government. In fact, all the evidence is the other way. There was no argument that it would produce less complex government or more prosperity for Scotland or Wales. In fact, the only issues mentioned by the Prime Minister 1250 were, first, that he hoped to make up his mind on a referendum before long and, secondly, that he was looking for some ideas from the House about new taxes to raise. Quite frankly, the present Government, with their long experience of raising new taxes, should not look to this side of the House for ideas in that connection. It was not a good case for a major Bill which is to take up about 30 days of the time of the House.
On the other hand, as the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) said a moment or two ago, last night we had a more compelling argument put forward for the Bill. What was said by the Leader of the House and what I hope the Secretary of State will refer to was a most unusual and, in my view, a very irresponsible argument for the Bill.
The Leader of the House said that Ulster-type violence could erupt in Scotland and in Wales if the devolution proposals were defeated. He said that he thought that that was quite likely. In my view, that was one of the most wholly irresponsible statements ever made by a Government Minister. It shows that the right hon. Gentleman is wildly out of touch with feelings in Scotland and in Wales. I am very sorry that he is not present at the moment, but I hope that at some time during this debate he will make it clear whether he meant those words and whether on reflection he would like to withdraw them. There is no doubt that, if there are potential terrorists in Scotland or in Wales, they will not be deterred by this Bill.
§ Mr. Dalyell
As the hon. Gentleman knows, I am not the most ardent supporter of my right hon. Friend in this matter, but I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be fair. Has he seen, as I have, the full text of what was said last night?
§ Mr. Taylor
I am afraid that I have not. I have seen only what appeared in the Scotsman newspaper this morn-in. If it is wrong, I hope that it will be withdrawn, but I think that the hon. Gentleman will accept that, with one of the major Scottish newspapers carrying such a news item on its front page, the effect could be very substantial. If it was wrong, and the right hon. Gentleman was misreported, I hope that it will be made clear.
1251 One of the factors to have caused divisions and doubts in all the parties over the issue of devolution is the knowledge that, if the wrong scheme is enacted, it could precipitate the break-up of Britain. The recent events in Canada and Quebec show, if nothing else, that the existence of substantial devolved powers to territories or nations within a union will not of themselves automatically undermine or frustrate the forces of separatism, even within a federal structure. This danger is one which we in Britain should be particularly aware of, observing that there are strong forces, happily still very much in the minority, both within and outwith Parliament, who have as their sole aim the break-up of Britain and who have openly admitted that they hope to use devolution and the establishment of Assemblies in Scotland and Wales as a vehicle to achieve their ends.
§ Mr. Harry Gourlay (Kirkcaldy)
The hon. Gentleman quotes the position in Canada, but he ignores the position in Belgium, where, after the nationalists in both the Walloon and Flemish parts got devolution, the nationalist case disappeared completely.
§ Mr. Taylor
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman knows more about Belgium than I do, but the experience of Canada and elsewhere is that the giving of federal powers or other provisions similar to those in this Bill have not necessarily undermined the forces of separatism.
I am fully aware that there are those who sincerely believe that without a Bill along these lines, it will be more difficult to preserve the Union, but I hope that, in this lengthy debate, they will listen to and think upon the views of those who believe that this Bill, if enacted, could stoke up the feelings of frustration, hostility and injustice upon which separatism and fragmentation grows and thrives.
In this connection, the most obvious point worth thinking about is why the representatives of the Scottish National Party and the Welsh nationalists are so enthusiastic about the Bill. Of course, they have made it clear that they would like the Bill to go much further, but if, as has been argued by some, the enactment of this Bill will frustrate and destroy parochial nationalism, we should ask ourselves why there are no looks of depression and resignation on the faces 1252 of the nationalist Members as this Bill is being debated. They smile, I believe, because they see all the seeds of frustration in the Bill staring us in the face.
Scotland is to have an Assembly with its own Executive or Government dependent entirely on a block grant from Westminster and on borrowings approved by Westminster. In normal times this would be a recipe for an annual battle between Edinburgh and Westminster, as the new Scottish Government, conscious of the problems crying out for attention, found that a block grant, however generous, could not match desired public expenditure. But in times of economic stringency like the present and like the foreseeable future, when cash allocations from Government to local councils assume a major cutback in existing services and massive staff redundancies, the arrangement set out in the Bill could provoke a continuing crisis.
If we add to this difficult and dangerous situation the possibility or probability of the political make-up of the Assembly and its Executive being different from that of the Westminster Government, the crisis could become a catastrophe.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind) pointed out in the White Paper debate, the Conservative Party has opposed consistently the establishing of a separate Executive or Government in Scotland, largely on account of the over-government and additional bureaucracy it would create; but to have a separate Government without any revenue raising powers, as the Bill proposes, would be to sow seeds of frustration and disillusionment throughout Scotland.
Even local councils, while largely dependent on the rate support grant, are restrained in the demands and plans they make by the knowledge that each fresh demand or plan involves extra calls on the ratepayers who are their electors. Just as this Government will, in the next election, reap a bitter harvest in consequence of the tax demands and economic misery they have inflicted on the British people because of their failure to contain their spending during their first year or so in office, so the responsibility of charging rates is a restraint on the power of local councils. But there are no 1253 such restraints on the proposed Scottish Government.
In their original White Paper the Government sought to deal with this problem with a preposterous plan to give the Asesmbly power to levy a surcharge on rates. This proposal provoked such a fierce reaction from Scottish ratepayers, whose burdens have been doubled under this Government, that the plan was dropped like a stone in the supplementary White Paper. Instead, it was merely stated that if, at some time in the future, new national or local taxes could be invented—and this, at least, is an annual possibility when Labour is in power—consideration would be given to handing over part of that money to the Assembly. In the Bill, we are back to square one: we have an Executive, a Government, but no revenue raising powers.
There are many other seeds of conflict in the Bill, some of which I will mention later, but, of course, there are more fundamental objections to the Bill.
As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition mentioned yesterday, we consider it ludicrous and insulting that the Government should have presented devolution proposals for Wales and for Scotland in one Bill. The problems, the needs and even the present constitutional arrangements in both nations are entirely different. Apart from the constitutional objections to having both Scotland and Wales covered by one Bill, it will make proper debate much more difficult. We will, in effect, have two debates going on at the same time.
In this time of economic crisis, when the Government are up to their ears in debt, and when the Cabinet, we are told, is meeting almost daily to discuss ways in which it can borrow more, it seems utter folly to indulge in any unnecessary travagant, even if we give the Govern-the scheme of devolution outlined in the Government's Bill is monstrously extravagant, even if we give the Government the benefit of the doubt and say that for once they have got their sums right. In the White Paper which we discussed some time ago it was stated that Scottish devolution would involve between £2 and £3 million capital expenditure and annual running costs of about £10 million. In Wales, capital costs were estimated to 1254 be between £1 million and £2 million, with initial running costs of about £5 million, rising, we were told, at a later stage to £12 million. In short, there would be about £4 million of capital outlay and about £15 million revenue expenditure at the first stage. That was to be the initial cost.
That was in November 1975. Now we have the Bill, which has its Explanatory and Financial Memorandum showing that at November 1976 prices, only one year later, the likely capital outlay on buildings, reconstruction and equipment comes to about £8½ million, with annual running costs of about £24½ million. The Bill also mentions the little extra of £3 million for publicity, election costs and removal expenses.
§ Mr. David Steel (Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles)
By now we are fairly clear about what it is the Opposition oppose. Will the hon. Gentleman state what they are in favour of, and in particular what would be the costings of the Conservative Party's proposals?
§ Mr. Taylor
The Shadow Cabinet's position on devolution was made absolutely clear in a statement made after its meeting last Wednesday. What we are discussing is whether the Government's proposals will help Scotland and Wales, and whether they will be good for Britain as a whole. I am trying to prove that, whatever we do, the Bill will not be the answer for Scotland or Wales, or for the unity of Britain.
I have pointed out that at 1976 prices the expenditure comes to about £36 million. As the Assemblies get "into their stride", as the White Paper says, the running costs, at least in Wales, will increase sharply. Running costs alone will come to about £10 a year for the average Scottish family, and more for the average Welsh family.
If the Government are unable to produce a more economical plan they have at least an obligation, which they have not yet discharged, to say who will pay. Will it be a charge on the general taxation of the United Kingdom? Or will it be clawed back from the ratepayers and taxpayers of Scotland in a lower level of public services, by deducting Assembly costs from the block grant? Or will it be the friendly International Monetary Fund that will foot the bill and pass 1255 on the costs to our children and grandchildren?
Another major objection is the bureaucracy involved in the scheme. It is considerable. The new arrangements are calculated to involve the employment of an extra 2,300 civil servants, a considerable number. In the case of Wales the number is expected to rise. At a time when Government Departments and local authorities are being obliged to cut staff in almost every field of activity, the proposals seem ludicrous. There is not even a suggestion that the public in Scotland or Wales will benefit from better public services. In fact, it is pretty clear that, at least in the foreseeable future, the level and quality of public services will be reduced because of the Government's other policies.
The Secretary of State must be well aware of what is happening in, for example, Glasgow and the Strathclyde Region. Some of my hon. Friends and I had the pleasure of meeting the convener of and leader of the Labour Group on the Strathclyde Regional Council only a few minutes ago.
Does the Secretary of State believe that it would serve any useful purpose to employ an extra 1,000 civil servants in Scotland, so that there would be more people available to tell local authorities in Scotland that they must employ fewer home helps for the elderly, fewer school crossing patrol attendants and fewer public servants? But it seems inevitable that more civil servants will be employed by the Government to tell local authorities and other Government Departments to employ fewer.
§ Mr. Douglas Crawford (Perth and East Perthshire)
The hon. Gentleman talks about increased bureaucracy and expense. Will he do the House the courtesy, which the Leader of the Opposition did not do, of answering the question put by the Leader of the Liberal Party? What is his party's view? What are its concrete proposals?
§ Mr. Taylor
We would have no separate Executive, which is one of the main reasons for the extra 2,300 civil servants. We calculate that about 80 per cent. of the additional staff would stem from having a separate Executive. My party has always opposed having a separate Executive.
1256 It is not just staff that will increase in number. The numbers of politicians will substantially increase as well. Whereas the legislative and executive needs of Scotland are at present attended to by 71 Westminster Members of Parliament, the Bill provides for an extra 150 Scottish Assemblymen to carry out part of the legislative and supervisory tasks now being done by Members of Parliament. On any reasonable basis of calculation, the total of 150 appears excessive.
The Conservative Party has been attacked on many occasions for the alleged element of over-government involved in the reform of local government in 1973—rather unfairly, I suggest, on the part of Labour, Liberal and nationalist Members who allowed the Bill to have its Second Reading in the Scottish Grand Committee without calling for a vote. However, even if these allegations are true—and with hindsight they may be seen to have some justification—it seems foolish to add to the extent of over-government with the Bill. In my own constituency, in the 1960s, the democratic interests of the community were looked after by one Member of Parliament and two town councillors. On present plans, in 1978 it will have a share of one Member of the European Parliament, a Westminster Member, two Scottish Assemblymen, three regional councillors and six district councillors. In some constituencies, under the Bill, there will be three Assemblymen.
It can be argued that Members of Parliament are overworked, and, because of pressure of work, unable to fulfil their task efficiently, but if that is so, surely the argument applies to Members of Parliament as a whole, not just those in Scotland and Wales. There are no plans for devolution in England.
Another feature of the Bill which causes real concern is that, with the proposal to have the entire legislative process of Bills carried out in the Scottish Assembly, subject only to a Westminster veto, initiated by the Secretary of State, a most unstable and divisive situation will be created in the Westminster Parliament. Scottish Members of Parliament in Westminster will, unless the Secretary of State invokes his veto powers and therefore must come to the House of Commons, have no say in the formulation of education, housing, police, planning or 1257 health legislation for Scotland; but their votes and voices could be decisive in determining what policies are adopted in England. It would be a strange situation if the Secretary of State and I, as Glasgow candidates in the next election, had to indicate to our electors what education and housing policies for England we would seek to support with our votes in the House of Commons, while having to make clear that we could not pledge anything for Scottish education and housing. No doubt Members of Parliament from England will feel a unique sense of grievance if the electoral choice of their voters is overturned by the votes of Scottish Members of Parliament.
There are some who argue that there is a simple answer, that we can resolve the matter tidily and happily, not, as suggested by the SNP, by a complete break, but, if we continue with this system, by having a convention that Scottish Members of Parliament do not vote on English legislation. That suggestion will probably be discussed in this debate, but the issue is not so simple as it appears. The Cabinet would represent the majority in the House of Commons as a whole, and it would be frustrating, to say the least, if, for example, a Socialist Cabinet were unable to implement Socialist housing and education policies in Scotland, because there was a Conservative and Liberal majority in the Assembly, or in England, because the majority of English Members of Parliament were Conservative. That could well happen. We can think of other permutations, such as not having a Conservative or Liberal majority in the Assembly. We could have in charge of the country a Cabinet unable to implement its policies in Scotland or England if the Bill went through in its present form. That would not make for stable government.
§ The Minister of State, Privy Council Office (Mr. John Smith)
Before the hon. Gentleman passes from legislative responsibilities and how they are apportioned, will he spell out what the Conservative proposals for a directly-elected legislature would involve? Which responsibilities would go to the directly-elected Assembly and which to Westminster, and how would one deal with the clash?
§ Mr. Taylor
The Shadow Cabinet's position was made quite clear on Wednesday. Our policy is to oppose the Bill, and that is what we are doing now. These constant interruptions show that the Government are not very anxious to talk about their Bill. If they feel that there are ready answers, they should give them to us. But the answers are not clear. We should spend our time talking about the Bill.
The fact that parliamentary and Assembly elections are unlikely to coincide makes it more than likely that a Government in Westminster would be unable to get through their manifesto policies in Scotland, England or Wales in a very wide field of policy. Apart from this, the existence of a non-voting convention in the House could have the effect of creating a new race of second-class MPs. Anything that would undermine the power and effectiveness of Westminster Scots would not be good for Scotland.
Apart from anything else, matters which are on the face of it English, involving expenditure or borrowing, are not matters which have no effect on Scotland. While Scotland's domestic policies will be restricted by the block grant, there is no proposal for a limiting block grant for activities in England.
One obvious flashpoint in the Bill before us is that, by arranging for the entire legislative process of Bills affecting Scotland to be considered by the Scottish Assembly, the Government have felt obliged to insert a whole series of restrictions in the Bill. The Prime Minister called them safeguards, but if the Bill became law would they be safeguards? As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said, there is no exclusive right to legislate for the Scottish Assembly.
There is the power in Clause 45 to reject Assembly Bills subject to the approval of Parliament; the power in Clause 46 to prevent or require action on the part of the Executive; the power to revoke Statutory Instruments in Clause 47 on grounds of public interest; the power to fix council rent and rates levels in Clause 52; the power to fix rent and rate rebate schemes in Clauses 53 and 54; the power to fix public service wages and salaries, including those of teachers, 1259 in Clauses 56 and 57; the power to control borrowing limits in Clauses 65 and 66, and even restrictions on planning decisions in Schedule 3.
Recently, for example, we debated a Bill in the House to determine whether the Secretary of State should have power to make orders exempting oil rigs and offshore installations from rating. Rating law is a devolved power, but when I asked whether the Assembly or its Executive would take over these order-making powers I was advised that they would not have any such right. What rating law will the Assembly be able to approve? For example, would it have powers to revoke the 50 per cent. derating which Scottish industry enjoys? It would be helpful if the Secretary of State could indicate the position on this very vital issue for Scottish industry.
On legislation, there appears to be a logical case for permitting a devolved Assembly to participate in the lawmaking process, just as there appears to be a logical case for giving full powers in specified areas, subject, of course to ultra vires restrictions. But there is surely immense danger in provoking conflict by appearing to give full legislative powers but restricting the freedom by such a mass of clauses, subsections and schedules.
We therefore oppose the Bill because it is about as bad a way of producing devolution as is possible. It is costly, bureaucratic, and full of ingredients which could precipitate constitutional clashes and thereby lead to the break-up of Britain. But there are some who would accept all these things. They would say that we should accept the Bill even though it is costly, bureaucratic and a threat leading to the break-up of Britain, and that we should go ahead for a number of other reasons. It is, they would claim, the desire of the people of Scotland.
But why do they claim that? Of course, there are indications in opinion polls that a majority of Scots have expressed a desire for devolution, the percentage depending on the way the question has been asked. Such a result, however, is far from surprising when all the media in Scotland have been promoting devolution with enthusiasm and when there has not been, until recently, 1260 a specific Bill which could be used to work out how the Government's proposals would affect the average Scots family.
Perhaps the most interesting poll of all was the one which showed that a year ago 10 per cent. of Scots had never heard of the Government's proposals and that this month 28 per cent. had never heard of the Government's proposals. Perhaps some people are "switching off", but it would certainly not surprise me if the people of Scotland, when they realise what the Government's scheme will involve in extra taxes, over-government and, extra bureaucracy, show less enthusiasm than they have up to now for the Scotland and Wales Bill.
§ Mr. James Sillars (South Ayrshire)
Is there not a fallacy in that argument? On the one hand the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) has said that if the Bill goes through it will lead to separation, but on the other hand, just a minute or so later, he said there was no real demand for anything. If that is so, why is the Bill a danger?
§ Mr. Taylor
There is no great demand for the Scotland and Wales Bill. I am absolutely convinced that if it were enacted the people of Scotland would find it a ghastly farce. What will happen if it is passed How will it affect the average family in South Ayrshire? They will have more taxes to pay and more civil servants to support, and we shall face the real danger of a break-up of the United Kingdom, which we both oppose.
One interesting feature is that a number of the organisations whose business it is to study White Papers and Bills in detail the moment they are drafted have expressed real concern about the Government's Bill. The CBI, for example, which represents most industry in Scotland, is opposed to the Bill. It sees it as a threat to prosperity and jobs. Likewise the chambers of commerce have come out against the Bill. Any Scottish Secretary of State who, like the present one, shares responsibility for creating a postwar record of unemployed Scots should pay careful attention to the views of those whose decisions will determine whether the frightening total of unemployed Scots can look forward with hope or hopelessness.
1261 Another argument used is that, although the Bill has bad features, it is necessary to stop people supporting separatist parties like the SNP. Apart from the fact that the polls show that about half of nationalist voters do not support separation, the rest apparently being concerned with protesting against Socialist misgovernment, I would argue that, far from frustrating nationalism, the Bill could create more of the stresses, tensions and complaints of injustice on which nationalism thrives.
If, as I suspect, the Bill has been designed with a view to appeasing nationalist sentiment, it could well have the opposite effect. Sensible economic policies leading to stability, greater investment and more jobs are the real answer to the separatist disease. The proposed Assembly, starved of cash by an almost bankrupt Government with a background of crisis and instability, will simply feed nationalism and not destroy it.
It is jobs, prices, rates and taxes that most hon. Members find that their constituents want to talk to them about today. Those are the issues which our constituents worry about, and they expect us to find solutions. Very few voice opinions on the Bill. It is our task to do that, and that is what we will do today, to- morrow and on Thursday.
§ Mr. David Crouch (Canterbury)
I understand the argument presented by my hon. Friend in opposing the Bill. Is he also arguing against devolution and a directly-elected Assembly? That was not the view of the Kilbrandon Report, which was unanimous about this. I shall be grateful if my hon. Friend will clear up this point.
§ Mr. Taylor
I am sorry if I have not carried my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) with me. I am arguing against the proposition before us, and that is the Bill. That is what we have to discuss, and we must determine whether it is a good or bad Bill for Scotand, for Britain and for all the people.
We should think of this not just in constitutional terms but from the point of view of the people. We make a great mistake in this House when we put forward legislative plans and discuss ideas and proposals without thinking them through in terms of people. If we think 1262 them through this week, are not scared off by Scottish nationalism, and consider the effect of the Bill on the unity of Great Britain and on the average family in Scotland and Wales, there is no doubt that we shall reject it.
The most interesting feature of the Prime Minister's speech was that he gave no indication or assurance that the Bill would improve the lot of the average Scottish, Welsh or English family. The right hon. Gentleman did not argue that it would bring better government. We know that it will not. Nor did he argue that it would make government less remote. We know that it will not. Or make government less complex. It will make government much more complex.
We have to consider the Bill carefully in relation to the situation of the country, the various priorities for spending, and the dangers inherent in this legislation. My party, the Shadow Cabinet and I believe that this is a bad Bill which has been presented for the wrong reasons. If enacted it will produce the wrong results, which this House will live to regret. In these circumstances the Bill should be rejected, and I hope that the House will do that on Thursday night.
§ 7.2 p.m.
The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Bruce Milan)
I wish to take up a number of matters that were discussed yesterday and to answer some of the points raised then. I shall also answer a number of the points made by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor).
We have had two lengthy speeches from the Opposition Front Bench, but the House has still not been informed of what is the Conservative Party's policy on devolution. Either it does not have a policy—which is what I suspect—or it has a policy but is frightened to tell the House what it is. It is monstrous, to use one of the favourite words of the hon. Member for Cathcart, that one of the parties in the House which aspires to becoming the Government is unable to tell the House and the country what its policy is on an issue of this significance which has been debated for years.
The Leader of the Opposition and the hon. Member for Cathcart have both made a number of criticisms of the Bill, and I am entitled to say one or two 1263 things about what we understood, until recently, to be the Conservatives' proposals. The last election manifesto of the Scottish Conservative Party said:Therefore we now propose an Assembly sitting in Scotland. Its powers will include the major stages of Scottish legislation. It will be a forum for Scottish opinion and act as Scotland's voice in issues of national debate. Initially, the Assembly's membership will be drawn from the elected members of the new local authorities, though direct election could evolve in the future.Is that the policy of the Conservative Party? The Leader of the Opposition has disappeared. Obviously we shall not get an answer from her.
The document "The Right Approach". published only in October this year, said:We have argued for the establishment of a directly elected Scottish Assembly acting as another Chamber of the UK Parliament. Its functions would be to take an important part in legislation with Parliament and to subject Government in Scotland to full democratic scrutiny.Is that Conservative policy? If not, what is? If we assume that Conservative policy—if it has not been abandoned altogether—is still that certain parts of Bills relating to Scotland which come before the House should be referred to a directly-elected Scottish Assembly to deal with certain bits of procedure—for example, Committee and Report stages—we can confidently say that, if ever there was a recipe for conflict, this is it.
How could the last Conservative Government have got their Rent Act through a hostile Assembly in Edinburgh? Their legislative process would have come to a halt. Who would be elected to a Scottish Assembly to sit in Edinburgh dealing with certain parts of the procedure relating to Scottish Bills and, at the end of the day, have their work eliminated by the vote of a hostile House of Commons?
That scheme is utter nonsense and a recipe for conflict. We do not know from the two Opposition Front Bench speeches so far whether this is the scheme that the Conservatives are putting to the people of Scotland. We are entitled, before the end of this four-day debate, to have an answer to this question, not just for the House or for hon. Members on this side, but for certain members of the Conservative Party in Scotland, including some who still hold Front Bench responsibilities for the Opposition in the House.
§ Mr. Julian Amery (Brighton, Pavilion)
The right hon. Gentleman's criticisms of what he explains as Conservative policy may have some force, but surely they apply with even greater force to the larger legislature and Executive proposed by the Government.
§ Mr. Milian They do not. The right hon. Gentleman no longer speaks officially for the Conservative Party. If an official spokesman would like to tell us the Conservative policy on these matters, I should be delighted to give way. We have not had it explained in the two Front Bench speeches so far.
§ Of course, we know the view of the hon. Member for Cathcart. He is against an Assembly of any sort and against devolution, as the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) implied in his question at the end of the hon. Gentleman's speech. If the view of the hon. Member for Cathcart is the view of the Conservative Party, the House and the country should be told. It is not a view which is shared by many Conservatives in Scotland. I draw attention particularly to the perceptive article by the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) in today's Daily Record and to the recent statement by Lord Home, who has considerable experience in these matters.
§ I wish to deal with the claim made yesterday about there having been inadequate time for consideration of the policies underlying the Bill. In Scotland, we have been talking about devolution for at least 10 years and many people have been discussing it for even longer. The same is true in Wales. The subject also appeared in the last General Election manifestos of the Labour and Conservative Parties. It is utterly ludicrous to pretend that the Bill has suddenly appeared without time for adequate consideration. We are producing something that is very much in line with our manifesto at the October 1974 General Election.
§ There is no doubt that the people of Scotland want more decision-making in Scotland and an Assembly sitting in Scotland. I believe that Welsh people have a similar view in relation to their own country, and my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Wales will speak about that tomorrow. If we 1265 were to turn our backs on that long-expressed demand by the people of Scotland for an Assembly dealing with Scottish affairs, it would, in political terms, be disastrous for Scotland and for the future of the United Kingdom as a whole.
§ Before I come to the proposals in the Bill, I should like to comment on the present system of government in Scotland, because the system is obviously not wholly understood in Scotland itself and is certainly not wholly understood in certain quarters of the House.
§ The Scottish Office already covers a very considerable range of Scottish affairs. I have five separate departments responsible to me. They are Home and Health, Education, Agriculture and Fisheries, Scottish Development, and the Scottish Economic Planning Department. There is also another group of civil servants providing central services. Therefore, we already have in the Scottish Office separate arrangements for dealing with a whole range of subjects in Scotland within the United Kingdom Government set-up—health, education, social work, environment, civil and criminal law, police, new towns, electricity, selective industrial assistance, the Scottish Development Agency, the Highlands and Islands Development Board, and many other matters.
§ Hon. Members who are not Scottish Members might ask themselves why these responsibilities of the Scottish Office have been constantly added to over the years. The reason is that there has been a continuing and growing recognition that there are certain specifically Scottish aspects of political problems in this country which require to be dealt with in a specifically Scottish way. However, the process of adding to the powers of the Scottish Office in this way while it remains a part of the United Kingdom Government has gone about as far as it can go, because there is a limit to the number of responsibilities and burdens which can be placed upon Scottish Office Ministers.
§ I do not believe that there is any way of improving decision-making in Scotland by continually adding to the already very considerable burden of Scottish Office Ministers and Scottish Office civil servants. Equally, however, I 1266 do not believe that there is any possibility of taking away from Scottish Office Ministers any of the functions which they have at present. That would be politically impossible. That is also true as regards the Welsh functions in relation to the Secretary of State for Wales and the Welsh Office. It would be absolutely impossible to take away any of the powers that we have at present.
§ As these powers have been built up, and as the functions of the Secretaries of State have increased over the years, there has been no corresponding increase in democratic accountability. I do not believe that any person who has held the post of Secretary of State for Scotland would say that the way in which the Scottish Office is accountable to Parliament is wholly satisfactory from a democratic point of view. Therefore, what we are proposing is a very logical and sensible continuation of the process of decentralisation—which has taken place in the Scottish Office up to the present—by way of democratic control through an Assembly sitting in Scotland, directly elected by people in Scotland and with Members of that Assembly specifically and exclusively concerning themselves with Scottish affairs. That is what we are proposing in the Bill, and it is a recipe for improving the government of Scotland.
§ I find it an extraordinary proposition that we in the United Kingdom cannot decentralise or devolve decision making in this way and that everything has to be done in London by an overburdened House of Commons. That proposition is absolutely extraordinary and in constitutional terms it is ridiculously conservative.
§ We are meeting the logical consequences of what we have already done in terms of Scottish and Welsh government by establishing Scottish and Welsh Assemblies. Not only is this far removed from separatism. It is far removed from the policies of the SNP and the motives which underlie those policies. It is not only not separatism; it is not a move towards separation, and it will not be such a move.
§ If the House denies the legitimate aspirations of the Scottish people—and the Welsh people—to make more decisions for themselves and to make them 1267 by way of an Assembly, it will give a boost to nationalism and separatism which I think the House will ultimately regret bitterly. What we are providing, therefore, is good government. It is not a move towards separatism. It is one of the best guarantees that we can have that the Scottish people will not accept the misguided doctrines of separatism. Indeed, there is no indication that they are accepting them at present.
§ Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
The right hon. Gentleman has said, quite rightly, that in certain ways the Executive will be more accountable under the Government's proposals, but does not that really affect the Chief Executive? Is he certain that the Secretary of State for Scotland, when he exercises the very important powers of virtually vetoing certain Bills, will be any more responsible to the people of Scotland, if the Bill is passed, than he is now?
§ Mr. Millan
Many of the functions of the Secretary of State will be completely removed from him. I shall come to that later, if time permits. Regarding the functions for which he will remain responsible, he will be just as responsible to the House as he is now. As these functions will be a good deal narrower. this will increase democratic accountability at Westminster for Scottish functions—in the same way as the Scottish Assembly will increase democratic accountability in Edinburgh for the Assembly functions.
I was about to describe briefly the Scottish scheme of devolution. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Wales will no doubt refer to the Welsh scheme for devolution tomorrow.
The three main principles and themes which underlie the scheme for Scotland are, first, that the scheme in Scotland must be a legislative scheme, for obvious reasons. We already have separate Scottish legislation over a whole range of functions. Perhaps I may say to my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) that this was made clear before the 1974 General Election. It was specifically provided for in the White Paper of September 1974.
Secondly, we have aimed to devolve functions to the Scottish Assembly which are specifically Scottish and concern Scotland alone, but at the same time we have 1268 retained in the United Kingdom Parliament those matters affecting Scotland where there is a substantial United Kingdom interest.
Thirdly, we have drawn up our proposals so as to avoid constant interference by the Secretary of State for Scotland and the United Kingdom Government in the day-to-day work of the Assembly in discharging the devolved functions.
There was a considerable improvement in our proposals in that respect between the White Paper of November 1975 and the White Paper of August 1976. That was well recognised in Scotland. The Bill reflects the White Paper of 1976.
§ Mr. Donald Stewart (Western Isles)
How does the right hon. Gentleman square that intention with the intention of retaining control of the universities in Scotland?
§ Mr. Millan
The universities in Scotland have a function which extends far beyond Scotland. They do not provide simply for Scotland's needs. They have in proportion to the population of Scotland a much greater student population than the universities in England. There are many faculties in which we produce far more graduates than are needed for Scottish purpose Medicine is one example. Scottish universities can be dealt with in detail later when we come to the appropriate clause.
§ Mr. Tim Renton (Mid-Sussex)
Can the Secretary of State assure the House that the Law Officers have considered this Bill hand in hand with the Act of Union and have come to the conclusion that there is nothing in the Bill which goes against those provisions in the Act of Union with which the English Parliament agreed in perpetuity not to tamper?
§ Mr. Millan
All these matters have been considered in the preparation of this Bill.
A number of requirements come from the main considerations that I have already outlined to the House. First, there has to be precision in the wording of the Bill to determine the boundaries between the devolved functions and the reserved functions.
Without dealing in detail with examples of this, I point out that the Scottish Development Agency is basically devolved 1269 to the Assembly, but there is reference in Clauses 49 and 51 to the responsibility of the Secretary of State and the United Kingdom Parliament to lay down guidelines for the industrial functions of the Agency, because in those functions the work of the Agency has considerable impact in the United Kingdom as a whole and is not exclusive in Scottish terms. These provisions are designed to get the precision in wording that is required if we are to separate the devolved functions and the non-devolved functions.
I turn now to the question of vires. We have in the Bill dropped the political mechanism originally proposed in the White Paper of November 1975. We now provide for a mechanism which involves the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. That provision is in Clause 20 and it is a considerable improvement on the original proposals. Again, it removes a potential source of conflict by taking it out of political considerations.
But it has been stated explicitly at all times by the Government that, even if one had a precise delineation of functions and a mechanism outside politics for dealing with the vires of Scottish Assembly legislation, circumstances might arise in which a piece of legislation from the Assembly, perfectly within order and within its competence, nevertheless impinged seriously on a non-devolved function, and in which the United Kingdom Government wanted to provide a mechanism for dealing with such a situation. That is what Clause 45 does. It is expressed in terms which made it clear that the mechanism will operate not when the Assembly is acting wholly within its competence and on a devolved subject with full responsibility to act, but when the legislation has an impact of a serious nature on a non-devolved function.
In all these matters, it was extremely difficult to draft the Bill in a way which made it clear that we have got it right, but I believe that we have got the provisions basically right. There will no doubt be an interesting Committee stage, and we can then consider any particular points put up from any quarter of the House. But to suggest that some doubt about Clause 20 or Clause 45 would be good enough reason for rejecting the Bill on Second Reading is absurd.
1270 To every one of the detailed points raised by the Leader of the Opposition yesterday there are very good answers, and they will be given at the appropriate stages. The right hon. Lady's was a Committee stage speech, if anything. It was legalistic and destructive. It paid no attention to the underlying political considerations behind the Bill. She said that she had consulted some of her legal friends. It is a pity that she did not consult some of the ordinary people of Scotland, for otherwise she would not have made that rather silly speech.
§ Mr. Dalyell
As a point of fact relating to Clause 20, yesterday I asked whether the Government had had any representations from the judges on their view of being involved in politics in the form of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House had a lot of very eloquent things to say at one time about Sir John Donaldson as a judge involved in political decision-making.
§ Mr. Millan
The judges discussed that matter in a memorandum which we took into account. I may point out that all these matters have been exhaustively considered, not only within the Government but with the appropriate bodies outside. On the legal issues, we have had memoranda from the Law Society of Scotland and the Faculty of Advocates as well as the Scottish Law Commission. Most of these documents were published by the submitting bodies themselves at the same time as they sent them to the Government.
§ Mr. Peter Rees (Dover and Deal)
The right hon. Gentleman refers to a memorandum put in by the Scottish judges. I am not aware that it has been published or that it has ever been placed in the Library of the House. Will he arrange to put it in the Library before we move any further?
§ Mr. Millan
That may be a matter for the judges themselves, but I will take account of what the hon. and learned Gentleman has said. There has been a mass of documentation and representation about the Government's White Papers, and most of that documentation is at least familiar to Scottish Members if not necessarily to English Members.
§ Sir Bernard Braine (Essex, South-East)
Surely the right hon. Gentleman must be aware that, whatever our view of devolution or of the Bill, there is a deep unease about the long-term constitutional implications lying behind the measure. Is not the House entitled to have a clear answer to the point asked by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dover and Deal (Mr. Rees)? It is not sufficient to say that, if the judges prepared a memorandum which the Government took note of, perhaps the judges would publish it themselves. The right hon. Gentleman must take the House and the country into his confidence and tell us what were these considerations. We are entitled to know.
The proposal in the latest White Paper took this technical matter relating to the vires of the policy content of the Assembly's Bills out of the hands of the politicians—in the previous White Paper it had rested with the Secretary of State—and put it into the hands of the judiciary for decision. The judiciary will decide not on the policy content but on the question of whether it is technically competent. The change has been widely welcomed in Scotland. My hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian is making heavy weather of this. The original proposal left it in the hands of the Secretary of State, and it was almost universally criticised, the critics including the legal profession. We have met that criticism by Clause 20, and no doubt we can discuss it at some length in Committee.
I want to speak now about the financial arrangements, because there has been criticism of the concept of the block fund. I do not want at this point to explain in detail how the block fund will operate—that will come later when we discuss the clauses. But a lot of the discussion of the financial arrangements in the Bill has been rather unbalanced, because it has almost completely neglected the mechanism of how the block fund will be negotiated, calculated, and the rest. There has been an almost exclusive concentration on the question of independent revenue-raising powers, but it is how the block fund operates that will be immeasurably the most important part of the financial settlement between the Westminster Parliament and the Scottish and Welsh Assemblies.
1272 The original criticism was that the Government had not thought about independent tax-raising powers at all, and therefore had not produced any conclusions because they had not given the matter any consideration. We had a variation of that criticism yesterday. We were told by a number of hon. Members that we had thought about it very firmly but had not reached any conclusion or produced any solution, so therefore the problem was insoluble. The second criticism is contradictory of the first, although a little more flattering to the Government. But neither criticism is justified. We have given great thought to this matter, and the fact that we have not so far produced a solution does not mean that a solution is impossible. We have made it clear on a number of occasions that if a possible solution to the problem emerges, we will be happy to consider it for incorporation in the Bill.
§ Mr. Teddy Taylor
The Secretary of State has said that it will take some time to consider this. The Explanatory and Financial Memorandum says that it will cost about £36 million to set up and run the Assemblies for one year. Who will pay? Will it be the British taxpayer, the Scottish taxpayer or the Welsh taxpayer?
§ Mr. Millan
There is one category of taxpayer. This matter will come into the block fund negotiations. The expense for establishing the Assemblies will be a United Kingdom charge.
§ Mr. David James (Dorset, North) rose—
§ Mr. Millan
I should like to develop my argument a little further and then I shall be perfectly happy to give way to the hon. Member because I know that he is interested in these matters.
I was about to make a number of preliminary points about the question of block funds and independent revenue-raising powers. First, in terms of a devolution settlement I think that it is accepted by most that independent revenue-raising powers could be only marginal. The block fund is bound to provide the bulk of finance for the Assemblies. That is why we ought to be turning our minds to—and I hope we shall in Committee—the problems arising from the block fund, how it should 1273 be negotiated, how we estimate the needs of the Scottish and Welsh Assemblies and what are the needs of the Scottish and Welsh people in terms of devolved services and so on.
These are all extremely important matters and they are the more important because the block fund will provide—even if we find an independent tax-raising power—the bulk of the money. What we are talking about in terms of independent revenue-raising powers is only at the margin.
Second, there is a growing clamour in Scotland, as well as alsewhere, for independent revenue-raising powers for the Assemblies, Scottish and Welsh taxpayers ought to be asking: are we in favour of paying more taxes to keep the devolved functions of the Assembly going? That is the problem for the Scottish and Welsh taxpayers.
§ Dr. Colin Phipps (Dudley, West)
Will my right hon. Friend explain to the House what will happen if the devolved Assemblies overspend their block grants in any one year?
§ Mr. Millan
Before answering that question, I should like to say one or two other things about the tax system generally. I think that the House ought to take these general points into consideration before making up its mind about the question of independent tax-raising powers.
The overall settlement would be based on need, not on revenue. That is absolutely fundamental to the devolution scheme for both Scotland and Wales. In terms of expenditure per head of population, Scotland and Wales have done well, on a crude comparison with England. The figures were published in a recent answer to a Parliamentary Question. That does not of course mean that Scotland and Wales have necessarily done well in terms of their real needs. That brings in considerations other than just the crude expenditure per head measurement of public expenditure. Over the years, the way in which money for Scotland and Wales has been voted by the House and the way in which Ministers have come to conclusions about money for Scotland and Wales has taken account of the fact that there are special needs in those countries.
1274 Therefore, it is not possible to provide a crude expenditure per head of population for individual parts of England as well. If we had regional figures for England, they would demonstrate that in some parts of England public expenditure per head is legitimately greater than in other parts. That is done within the Government at present. It does not present an absolutely new problem, but it will have to be dealt with in a different context after the Assemblies are established. It is a problem with which we are familiar at present.
I accept absolutely, however, that there are powerful arguments in favour of independent tax-raising powers for Scotland and Wales. The first is the argument of flexibility, because it would allow the Assemblies to have a certain amount of money at their disposal rather than remaining utterly dependent on the block grant. The second argument is about accountability. If one is to have financial discipline in any elected body which is spending large sums of public money, the fact that it has to raise some of the money itself is obviously an important factor. I accept that it is important, if we can achieve it, to get independent revenue-raising powers for the Scottish and Welsh Assemblies.
§ Mr. David James
In considering the method of raising finance, will consideration be given to the possibility of doing away with the very much disliked regions, particularly Strathclyde, and transferring their powers to surcharge rates to the Assemblies?
§ Mr. Millan
That raises the question of local government reform. Local government reform, whatever else it may do, does not by itself—as we know from past experience—produce a reduction in public expenditure. I do not think that there will be any additional money involved through local government reform which would help to finance the Assemblies. There may be a different distribution of revenue, but that would not help by itself.
§ Mr. Russell Johnston (Inverness)
Does the right hon. Gentleman recollect that the Treasury, in evidence to the Wheatley Commission, argued that local government, far less Assemblies, ought to be given greater tax-raising powers of its own? The Treasury then seemed to think 1275 it possible that tax-raising power would be far less than marginal, as the right hon. Gentleman has suggested in regard to the Assemblies.
§ Mr. Millan
Rates are not marginal at present. We have just had the report of the Layfield Committee on local taxation which has not proved a very encouraging document. Many of the Scottish local authorities are not saying to me that they would like to raise more of the money on their own. They are asking for more Government grant. That is the way in which things have developed over the past year or two.
The subject of finance has been raised on a number of occasions. I want to say something about local taxes, and perhaps hon. Members will take account of it when making suggestions to us during the passage of the Bill. There are a number of criteria for having any local Scottish or Welsh tax. First, it has to be something which can be operated as a marginal supplement, capable of being turned on and off as needed. That is important. Secondly, it should be cheap to collect in relation to the revenue to be raised. Thirdly, it should fall on Scotland or Wales only and it should not be paid directly or indirectly by English taxpayers. Conversely, it should not be a tax that could be avoided by a change of business location so that it was not payable in Scotland. Fourthly, it must be compatible with EEC regulations. That rules out variations in VAT and virtually rules out a retail sales tax. Fifthly, it must be broadly-based and not restricted to special groups within the population. Sixthly, it should not significantly affect the management of the United Kingdom economy. Finally, it should be seen by those paying it as a tax imposed by the Scottish Assembly and not lost in the mass of general taxation.
It must be a tax which is politically possible. Some of the taxes which are technically possible would not be any help to the Assemblies because politically they must be put into operation. We have considered the existing taxes with these criteria and these major considerations in mind. There is not likely to be a new tax which no one has so far thought of—we have been so fertile in thinking of different ways of taxing our people—which 1276 will be available to the Assemblies. Again, an assignment of taxes with the rates determined elsewhere does not help. A number of suggestions have been made for passing over to the Assemblies taxes which are collected at the standard rate throughout the whole of the United Kingdom. But that gives the Assemblies absolutely nothing in the way of independent revenue-raising powers. It has to be a specific tax, where the Assembly could have power to fix its rates on its own without being committed to the rates fixed by the United Kingdom Government.
There are immense practical problems in meeting these criteria. The Layfield Committee, in a different context, demonstrated the extent of some of these problems. We have looked at the possibility of a local income tax, again in a different context from Layfield. But the Layfield Committee demonstrated that that would be something which would take a long time to put into operation and would be extremely expensive. We have not so far found any tax that fits the criteria I have outlined in a satisfactory way, except a surcharge on local rates and that is extremely unpopular. It was a proposition that was disliked by everyone. That is why we have abandoned the idea.
It is not absolutely impossible to find a tax that fits these criteria. If we do find one, and there will be plenty of opportunity for discussing this during the passage of the Bill, we shall be happy to consider it and, if need be, put in it into the Bill. It is no good hon. Members, or people outside for that matter, being vehement in their criticisms of the Government about the lack of independent tax-raising powers and then being incapable of putting up any sensible alternative. There has been a tremendous amount of destructive criticism, some of it absolutely misguided, and showing no understanding of the problems. There has been virtually nothing in the way of constructive alternatives put to the Government. We shall consider any constructive alternatives. I do not believe that in yesterday's debate there were any such alternatives put forward. If we get these alternatives over the next couple of days no one will be more delighted than the Ministers who are dealing with this Bill.
§ Mr. Millan
That has nothing to do with the point that I was dealing with. I might add that my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian did not always take that view. Immediately after the October General Election my hon. Friend, who was then Chairman of the Scottish Labour Group, in the Scottish Daily Express of 18th October 1974, was demanding that the newly elected Labour Government should introduce a devolulution Bill not in 1976 but in the 1974–75 Parliamentary Session. He said:I was one of those most hostile to the move for an Assembly but I am now the first to say that because we have given an undertaking we must go ahead quickly to prove good faith.That was what my hon. Friend said immediately after the October General Election. Incidentally, the Daily Express added:It is a dramatic contrast with Minister of State Bruce Millan's go-slow ideas the day after the election.I was about to deal briefly, because I want to draw my conclusions to an end, or, rather, I want to bring my remarks to a conclusion—
§ Mr. Dalyell
My right hon. Friend will have studied a fairly long passage, perhaps an all too long passage, in my speech yesterday which dealt with these matters absolutely frankly and fully.
§ Mr. Millan
I think that we can deal with these matters in a number of different ways. I have dealt with them in my way. Not only did I read my hon. Friend's speech; I listened to it. For a Back Bencher there is always the luxury of being able to change one's mind constantly. It is not a luxury which Ministers can afford.
§ Mr. Millan
The fact is that my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heller) fought the October 1974 General Election, as I did, on a commitment by the Labour Party, if elected, to introduce directly elected Assemblies for Scotland and Wales.
§ Mr. Millan
That is what we are implementing in this Bill. [Interruption.] That was in the party programme and election manifesto. [Interruption.] I was about to say one or two things—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Oscar Murton)
Order. I appeal to hon. Members not to interrupt the Minister from a sedentary position.
§ Mr. Millan
Quite apart from what was said in the election manifesto of October 1974, the Labour Party Conference this year overwhelmingly welcomed the Government's commitment to Scottish and Welsh Assemblies. Some of my hon. Friends who are anxious that we abide by conference decisions might take that into account when deciding how to vote on Thursday.
I was about to say something about the rôleof the Secretaries of State after devolution. First, there will remain a considerable number of functions in the hands of the respective Secretaries of State. We are adding to this by decentralising responsibility for the activities in Scotland and Wales of the Manpower Services Commission and the associated agencies. There are a number of other functions—agriculture, fisheries, general economic planning, selective assistance to industry, and so on. There will still be a considerable rôle for the Secretaries of State for Scotland and Wales.
Secondly, I repudiate entirely the point made by the Leader of the Opposition yesterday that the devolved Assemblies will be subordinate to the Secretary of State. That is an utter misreading of the Bill. It is completely inaccurate to say that. The Bill has been drafted in such a way as to give the Assemblies devolved powers in a wide range of functions and to enable them to carry out these powers without constant interference from the Secretary of State or the Westminster Government.
This Bill meets a long-expressed and definite wish in Scotland and Wales for more decision-making there and for the decision-making to have its expression by means of directly-elected Assemblies. It does not solve all the problems facing Scotland or Wales. None of us has ever made these extravagant claims for it. The Bill will enable these problems to be dealt with in a different context and, 1279 I think, dealt with more successfully. Of course, by itself, the solution to the problems will depend on the quality, and on the politics, of the administrations elected in Scotland and Wales. This is a Bill which will improve the government of Scotland and Wales. It is a Bill to which the Government have given a considerable amount of consideration. It expresses the main lines of our thinking about devolution to Scotland and Wales and, although we have said that it is subject to detailed consideration in Committee, I would not pretend that we have not thought through and decided the main lines of policy expressed in the Bill. We are firmly committed to them. Obviously we shall listen to what the House has to say.
If the House were to turn down this Bill, it would be turning its back on the genuine aspirations of the people of Scotland and Wales—
§ Mr. Millan
—and that would be disastrous not only for the people of Scotland and Wales but for the United Kingdom. I do not believe that the House will be foolish enough to do that. I believe that the House will be wise enough in its judgment to give the Bill the Second Reading which it deserves.
§ 7.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Reginald Maudling (Chipping Barnet)
I was saddened that the Government found it necessary to introduce this Bill this Session, and my sadness has been in no way alleviated by the intensely dreary nature of the speeches of the Secretary of State today and the Prime Minister yesterday. This is surely a matter of enormous importance. We do not want to know just what is in the Bill; we want to know why the Bill is before us. What will it do for the people of Scotland? What will it do to create more happiness in life in Scotland and Wales and inspire more in the United Kingdom?
We have had not a word about that. We have had merely an accountant's report about what is in Clause 2, Clause 4 or Clause 5. Surely we as a House of Commons want to know, on a major issue—one of the greatest issues, as the Government recognise in the amount of time 1280 they are allocating for it—the reason for it, what it will do, what it will make better and richer and happier about the life of Scotland and Wales and of the United Kingdom. I hope that we shall hear that during this debate.
I was saddened, as I said, that the Bill had to come forward. Nor can I regard it as urgent enough to take so much of the time of Parliament this Session. It is important, of course, but importance and urgency are not the same thing. I cannot help feeling that, with the economic problems we face at the moment, there are other matters which might command more of the attention of Parliament in the next six months than the kind of time that is to be devoted to this Bill. But we have the Bill. It will not go away, and we must deal with it.
Much of the argument about this subject has been bedevilled by sloganising. People say that they are either pro or anti devolution. One cannot be for or against devolution any more than one can be for or against government or sunlight. There has to be devolution in any country. A country cannot be run without devolution. The issue is how much devolution, on what subjects and to whom. Separatism is another matter. It is crazy, but it is another matter. The issue of separate countries is at least a real issue. But it makes no sense to argue that one is for or against devolution.
This country, under the umbrella of an omnicompetent Parliament, as we have and will continue to have, must devolve many of its decisions within the confines of our country. The practical questions are what should be devolved, to whom and why. I do not forget Collingwood's famous principle that differences of degree and kind merge into each other. That is perfectly true. Nor do I ignore the simple fact that a great amount of emotion can come into these decisions about the degree of devolution. But let us make no mistake: we are discussing not whether to devolve or not to devolve, but how much to devolve, in what circumstances, why and to whom. That is what the House of Commons will be considering as it considers this Bill.
I speak today as an English, as a London, Member of Parliament. Having represented my constituency in North London for 25 years and having been born there many years ago, I think that 1281 I have some idea what the people of Chipping Barnet would say about the Bill. First, we would say "We must admit that we have not properly understood the importance of this issue. It has not come into our consciousness as much as it should have done. We regret this." Second, if we were honest, we would admit to a certain sneaking suspicion that foreigners start slightly to the north of St. Albans.
Having said that, however, and having recognised the jokes, the feelings and the sayings about our Scottish friends, we have still in our hearts an immense affection, respect and admiration for the Scottish people, for their tenacity, their courage and their integrity. If we were to wake up one morning to find that, through some misunderstanding of ours, we and the Scots were divided, we should be deeply and bitterly desolated by that discovery.
§ Mr. Crawford
We in the SNP are talking not about dividing Scotland and England but about renegotiating our relationship.
§ Mr. Maudling
I am grateful to the hon. Member: I shall be coming to that. I just wanted to try to put what seems to me a point of view of people in my constituency about this issue and what we really feel about our relationship particularly with the Scottish people.
We would be inclined to say, if the Scots want to run their own affairs in a particular manner, good luck to them, as long as they do not interfere with the integrity of the United Kingdom—I am glad to have the assurance of the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. Crawford) on that point—in matters of defence, foreign affairs, the currency and basic industry and, as long as the method of governing Scotland's internal affairs does not harmfully repercuss upon England.
That would be our first conclusion—if the Scots want to run their own affairs, good luck to them. But I must add two other conditions. First, they must not present us with the bill. If they want to run their own affairs, they must pay for it. That is fair enough. Second, if in Scotland they want to run their own housing, industry and social services, 1282 they cannot run ours as well. If it should be decided that the Scottish dimension in these matters should be independent or devolved, why should not the English dimension equally be devolved? That is perfectly common sense
I do not see why, on that basis, it should be impossible for this House to reach a sensible solution. If we can establish principles of this kind to start with and put aside a little of the silly argument about "pro" and" anti" and try to decide what we are trying to do, can we not by arguing about it solve the problem—solvitur ambulando—and reach some sensible and agreed solution?
However, all this will surely come in Committee. Out of prolonged and serious discussion of these issues will probably emerge solutions that will be for the greatest benefit of the greatest number. Looking at the proposals in the Bill, comparing them with experience and proposals elsewhere, one sees basic objections to the Bill. The inclusion of Wales, frankly, is a great mistake. As for the Scottish Assembly, I am not quite sure—
§ Mr. D. E. Thomas (Merioneth)
Would the right hon. Gentleman care to expand on the reasons why he considers the inclusion of Wales a mistake?
Because I think that it is a different country—but I shall come to that in a moment.
I am not so sure that the idea of a Scottish Assembly, which is merely part of the apparatus of Westminster and subject to being overruled by Westminster, is wholly adequate to satisfy the aspirations of the Scottish people.
§ Mr. Millan
I absolutely agree with the right hon. Gentleman. But he is describing the Tory scheme, not the scheme in the Bill.
§ Mr. Maudling
I was trying to deal with this issue on the basis of what suits the United Kingdom and rather less on the basis of scoring party points.
Second, there is the question of a Scottish Executive. I am not sure that having an Executive responsible to a Scottish Assembly is all that different from the old Stormont system in Northern Ireland, which in many ways 1283 worked pretty well over a long period but finally collapsed under the totally exceptional pressure of the internal struggle between the two sides, whatever one calls them, in Northern Ireland.
It is perfectly feasible, on the experience of Stormont, to have within the United Kingdom an elected assembly to which an executive is responsible. It may not be a good idea, but it can certainly work. An example is the Greater London Council. Its members are not primary legislators but they legislate in many matters which affect the livelihood of every person who lives in that area. The GLC also has an executive.
Therefore, although I accept that the argument about adding another tier of government is a strong one, cannot it be met in the discussion of the Bill or by amendment of the Government's proposals? If it is a question of our having too much government, that is a practical matter which surely can be cut back in the course of discussion. If the cost of this measure were to be the price of maintaining the integrity of the United Kingdom, might it not be worth paying? I do not know.
This brings me to the basic argument. Is this degree of devolution—it is, I over again, a matter not of kind but of degree—on the one hand, as some would argue, essential to maintain the integrity of the United Kingdom, or, on the other hand, is it the beginning of the breaking-up of the United Kingdom? That is really what it is all about.
I am worried because I cannot find adequate evidence of the real feeling of people in Scotland on this issue. I have spoken to many of my Scottish friends and I believe them all, but they tend to contradict one another. It is extremely important to try to obtain a more definite appreciation of what the Scottish people really want when they know what they are being given as a choice. I am coming more and more to the view that some form of referendum is necessary. I do not like referenda and I did not like the European referendum, but it happened. It is hard to find any other basis upon which to come to a conclusion on the real wishes of the people of Scotland.
We are discussing the Bill's Second Reading and I must decide how to vote. I consider it to be a bad Bill. Surely there 1284 is not much doubt about that. At any rate, no one has said very much for it. Should the Bill be opposed on Second Reading? There has been a great deal of fuss in the newspapers about three-line Whips. I believe that we have been diverted a great deal from what really matters—namely, the future of the United Kingdom. With all respect to the Chief Whip and his representatives, in Opposition we sometimes tend to elevate the status of whippery beyond what it should be.
In Opposition surely we can indulge in the luxury of a little latitude. It was right for the leadership of my party to indicate in the strongest possible way its attitude to these matters—namely, to issue a three-line Whip to the effect that it believes that the party should vote against the Bill. I am sure that that is right. On the other hand, I am quite certain that in Opposition those who believe strongly in their conscience that they cannot agree with the decision of their party should follow their conscience rather than the three-line Whip.
There is a difference between Opposition and Government. If a Government lose a vote, they resign. No one makes an Opposition resign if they lose a vote. We should not be too serious about our position as that attitude is bedevilling a great deal of important discussion.
There are some Bills that are wrong in principle and we vote against them whatever they contain. For example, I should vote against a Bill to nationalise banks whatever it contained. That is not the position when dealing with this Bill. Devolution should be a matter of degree. The question is whether the Bill is so bad that it is incapable of amendment in Committee to make it right. Frankly, I believe that it is incapable of such amendment.
My main objection is the inclusion of Wales with Scotland, thereby making the Bill a dog's breakfast. Surely different considerations apply. There are many other objections to the Bill that have been put forward by my right hon. and hon. Friends, including my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition. There are enough objections to make me feel that the Government should take the Bill away and think again. To argue that to do so is to bring an end to devolution is 1285 bunk. They could take the Bill away and come forward, if they felt like it, with two Bills, one for Scotland and one for Wales. We could then argue about both Bills on a more rational basis than at present.
§ 8.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)
The right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Maudling) went to the heart of the argument, especially when he said that there are those who are in favour of devolution because they believe that it will mean the continuation of the unity of the United Kingdom and that others are opposed to the Bill because they believe that it will lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom. That is exactly the heart of the argument, although there is another group in the House that does not believe in the unity of the United Kingdom.
There are forces who want to see the break-up of the United Kingdom. As the hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart), the Leader of the SNP, said yesterday, his party regards the Bill as only a first step. A first step to what'? Is it a first step to be followed by improvement of the Bill, a first step to greater economic powers or a first step towards the ultimate independence of Scotland from the rest of the United Kingdom?
If there are Members who do not believe that that is what the SNP wants, I suggest that they look at the statement made by the SNP in July 1976 entitled "The Context of Independence". The SNP stated:The Scottish National Party looks forward to an independent Scotland within the Commonwealth".In the manifesto on which it fought the General Election in October 1974, the SNP stated:Self-government for Scotland: that is, the restoration of Scottish National Sovereignty by the establishment of a democratic Scottish Parliament, within the Commonwealth, freely elected by the Scottish people".Again, self-government for Scotland.
The aim of the SNP is clear and we should all understand it—namely, national independence and the separation of Scotland from the rest of the United Kingdom. When we are talking about devolution, 1286 we must remember that factor in the argument. It is not merely a question of whether we should have devolution to preserve the unity of the United Kingdom or have no devolution so as to keep the United Kingdom together. There is another important body that argues for the break-up of the United Kingdom.
I have heard some of my colleagues say on many occasions that it has always been Labour Party policy to argue for Home Rule for Scotland. That is true. It is right that Keir Hardie made speeches in South Wales arguing for a Scottish Assembly and a Welsh Assembly or Welsh Parliament. I do not deny that. But Keir Hardie also demanded Socialism, and we do not have that yet. I believe that some of my hon. Friends are slightly selective in their arguments about manifesto commitments. There is a manifesto commitment to introduce a wealth tax, but such a measure has not yet been introduced. I am not certain that it will be introduced. The Labour Party is committed in its manifesto to the nationalisation of the ports. I am not certain that that measure will be introduced. There are many other things in the manifesto, but above all it seems to be said that we must support devolution and Assemblies for Scotland and Wales.
Let us consider what has happened in the Labour Party on this issue. I am never against manifesto commitments, nor am I against conference decisions, and in 1968 my party discussed a resolution moved by the Leith constituency. That resolution was never passed. It was remitted to the National Executive because the present Prime Minister, speaking on behalf of the National Executive, said that the whole constitutional position would be considered and that it would be wrong for the conference to decide in advance one way or the other. Therefore, it did not decide and the matter was remitted.
In April 1969 the Royal Commission was established. The Royal Commission reported in October 1973, one week before the Labour Party Conference. When some people suggested discussing the Royal Commission's report, the Government said that they had not had time to look at it and they could not, therefore, give a considered opinion. Devolution was not discussed at the Labour Party Conference in October 1973. Devolution was not in the 1974 manifesto, 1287 which covered the whole country. It was in the Scottish manifesto and the Welsh manifesto, and both the Scottish and Welsh parties have been discussing it for the past 10 years.
The factor left out by my hon. Friends is that there are many people who belong to the Labour Party in England. I have always believed that the Labour Party is not a Scottish Labour Party, a Welsh Labour Party or an English Labour Party but a Labour Party that covered the whole of the United Kingdom.
More people live in the North-West Region than live in Scotland. Suppose that a North-West conference decided to have UDI and wanted an Assembly. We should be told, rightly, that unless it was carried by the national party conference it was not party policy. Devolution was not party policy, and it was not discussed at conference.
Devolution was included in the Labour manifesto. The party conference was not held before the October election. The Scottish Executive did not want it, but it was discussed by the NEC, of which, I hasten to add, I was not a member. I regret that I had not at that time been elected to it. Had I been a member, I would have raised my voice earlier. The Scottish Executive was opposed to it by a small majority. The Scottish Executive was asked to reconvene the conference, which it did, and the decision was reversed. Devolution went into the October manifesto, but the membership of the Labour Party throughout the country was never consulted. We were not passionately concerned about it. I believe that what is carried at our party conference should be in our manifesto.
When this matter was discussed this year, I fought it in the National Executive. Unfortunately, I was defeated. The only other person on the National Executive who supported me was a Scotsman, a member of the National Union of Seamen, who was as opposed to the idea as I was. A number of other people did not like it, but they would not vote against it because they felt that it was a commitment.
I would be dishonest as a politician if I said that I had changed my views purely because of a conference decision and because devolution was in the manifesto. I have thought and worried about the Bill. 1288 I do not believe in bucking conference decisions. I do not want constantly to go against manifesto commitments—there are plenty in my party who do that, and I do not want to be one of them. But I feel passionately about the unity of the United Kingdom and about the Socialist answer to our problems, and I do not believe that there is a Socialist answer to our problems if the United Kingdom breaks up.
The Scottish nationalists are the most pernicious group of politicos I have met for a long time, and I have met many. They have raised in this country the ugly face of nationalism. Nationalism can be a positive force. If a colonial power is genuinely oppressing the people, it is right to throw off that power, and the answer may lie in national independence and a national upsurge. For how long have we been oppressing the Scots? The SNP rubbish I read gives me the impression that the English people have stood with a boot on the neck of the Scots. It is not true. Yet the SNP says this time after time and has raised the ugly face of nationalism in Scotland. Unfortunately, some people are trying to do that in Wales as well. I warn the House that the outcome will be the ugly face of English nationalism. [HON. MEMBERS: "What about you?" I am not an English nationalist.
I heard Flora MacDonald, or some such person—perhaps it was Margo MacDonald—say on a television programme that unemployment was deeper, more prolonged and worse in Scotland than it was anywhere else in the United Kingdom. I looked up the facts in my area. I have the figures for Glasgow, Liverpool, Strathclyde and Merseyside. The figures given by the Department of Employment are as follows: for the Liverpool travel-to-work, area 11.2 per cent., Merseyside special development area 10.7 per cent., Glasgow travel-to work area 8.5 per cent. and Strathclyde 8.7 per cent.
How dreadful it is that I have to come to the House of Commons and boast that unemployment is worse in my area for the sake of contradicting the SNP. When I was a Minister in the Department of Industry, deputations consisting of Members of Parliament for London and the Midlands came to see me demanding that I should stop the IDC policy, which 1289 involved getting industry to Scotland and other areas because it was needed there more than in the Midlands and the South-East. That has been the policy of the Government and of previous Governments. It is not true to say that the English have stood with a foot on the neck of Scotsmen.
Freedom is a wonderful thing. We should all fight for freedom, but not for a "phoney" freedom which does not exist and is a myth in the minds of certain people who are using it to make political capital and to advance themselves.
I looked up the Treaty of Union of 1703. A lot of jiggery-pokery went on when that treaty was signed. I would not say that people were bribed to vote for union, but a great deal happened in those days that was very near to that situation. That happened because it was said that it would be economically advantageous for Scotland to be with England. With the advent of Scottish oil, it is now economically advantageous not to be with England. That is a depressing situation in politics, and it worries me.
I could give other facts and figures, and I outlined the situation in an article that I wrote for the Scotsman, clearly showing that Scotland got a great deal from the English who were alleged to oppress them. We in the Labour movement believe in solidarity. Indeed, we built our movement upon it. We are as concerned about the working man in Glasgow and Edinburgh as we are about the working man in Liverpool, Newcastle, London, Sheffield or anywhere else in the country. Whenever one sees television programmes involving interviews with workers in the Midlands, one notices that in nine cases out of 10 the shop steward who is selected to speak for those Midlands workers, who are mainly Englishmen, is a Scotsman. That happens because that is the basic attitude of the British Labour movement.
I warn my hon. Friends that, unless we are very careful, we shall never achieve our Socialist objectives. If we split up and divide the United Kingdom, there will be no Socialism. Instead, we shall have three small countries nationalistically inclined, competing with each other, suspicious of each other and watching each other but certainly not working in unison 1290 to better the lot of the mass of the people. I am opposed to this concept from a basic Socialist attitude.
I have thought deeply about this matter. Indeed, I have worried so much that I have lain awake at nights thinking about the problem. There are times when we have to think in the interests of our basic Socialist—and not nationalist—beliefs in the United Kingdom, and we must put that before everything else as a first step to a wider unity in the world. That is something I shall always argue for, and it is something I have always believe in. On those grounds, I do not find myself in support of this measure.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Alick Buchanan-Smith (North Angus and Mearns)
I hesitate to follow the criticisms voiced by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) of those on his own Front Bench on the subject of whether they normally follow conference decisions. Although I agreed with many of the criticisms he made of the SNP and what motivates its Members. I ask him to realise that not everybody in Scotland is nationalist. There are many other people in Scotland apart from the nationalists who believe that we require an improvement in government in Scotland. Therefore, I ask the hon. Gentleman not to condemn those people in his blanket condemnation.
In matters affecting the constitution we are playing for very high stakes indeed. We are not dealing merely with the future of Scotland and Wales. We are dealing with the future of the United Kingdom. I could not endorse more fully what was said yesterday by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition—namely, that we want a stable and lasting solution. In working for that solution we must take account of the feelings and aspirations of the people in Scotland and Wales.
Although I appreciated what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) in his opening remarks, I believe that this is not just a bread-and-butter matter, not just a matter involving material considerations, but that there are important things to be considered, such as national identity and the aspirations felt in various parts of the United Kingdom, not just in Scotland alone.
1291 Although we are playing for high stakes in these deliberations, the subject in hand is important not only for Parliament but for the great national parties in this country. We must demonstrate in what we do and say in the House that we are sensitive and that we can show our sensitivity towards individual parts of the United Kingdom that make up the whole. If we take that course, we shall truly show that we believe in the integrity and unity of the whole nation.
I agree with the Secretary of State for Scotland that time is no longer on our side, although that may at one time have been the case. I remind my colleagues that we in the Conservative Party have now been discussing these matters for about 10 years. The Labour Party has come to these matters more recently. However, I welcome the fact that the Labour Government have at least been prepared to bring forward a measure for consideration at this time.
It is right to criticise the provisions of the Bill, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition did yesterday. I, too, have my doubts about some of the detailed provisions. I have doubts about how some of the responsibilities are divided between the United Kingdom Parliament and the Assembly in Edinburgh. I should like to see many of those responsibilities more clearcut because that would lead to less risk of conflict.
I am also concerned about some of the problems of resolving those conflicts, and some of them derive from the fact that there is a dual Executive. I am also worried on the subject of cost—a point dealt with by my hon. Friend the Member for Cathcart earlier in the debate. However, I agreed with my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Maudling) that if we are to keep the United Kingdom united, we must at the same time put the matter of costs into perspective.
What concerns me is that so far it has been left to Opposition Back Benchers to speak of our party's commitment and belief in devolution and of an Assembly in Scotland. It is true that this matter has been spelt out outside the House, because the Home Committee report went into the matter in considerable detail, and there were also the recommendation from the Committee so ably chaired by my hon. Friend the Member 1292 for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind), which carried forward many of these proposals into practical form. It is a way of devolving government for the United Kingdom, I believe that it has a great deal to be said for it, and I hope that we shall hear more from the Opposition benches about the benefits of that solution. It maintains the link with the United Kingdom Parliament, it provides continuing machinery that will seek to resolve conflict when conflict arises, and it avoids a second Executive.
Let me say to those who seek to pour scorn on the matter that the Kilbrandon Committee did not pour scorn on the proposal, but treated it as a sensible and practical alternative. The Kilbrandon Committee rejected the proposal, but it regarded it as one way of trying to deal with the problems of devolution in the United Kingdom.
I emphasise to my hon. Friends that simply to criticise the Government's proposals without spelling out any alternative will not do. Of course there will be conflicts which require explanations. There are conflicts in our proposals, just as there are conflicts under the present system. In fact, the present conflicts have given fire to the desire for devolution in Scotland.
Having listened to the criticisms of the Leader of the Opposition yesterday I was tempted to say, just as the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) said, that, if these criticisms are so valid, perhaps the Government proposals do not go far enough. If we are not prepared to consider some framework of devolution, as the Government are trying to do in this Bill, then perhaps we should not dismiss out of hand the idea of some federal solution which might cope effectively and adequately with the conflict to which my right hon. Friend referred yesterday. That is not necessarily the right thing to do, but if we are exposing some of the risks, we must face up to the consequences, consider them constructively, and then either accept or reject them.
Be that as it may, the worst course of all is to do nothing. Opinion in Scotland cannot be ignored. This is not something which will just go away. If we in the House appear to frustrate the genuine aspirations of the Scottish people, this is the very thing which turns 1293 moderates into extremists. Scotland is not a country of extremists—Socialist, nationalist, or anything else. It is up to us in this debate to ensure that we do not turn moderates into extremists.
§ Mr. Heffer
In order to make the record absolutely clear, I did not say that the Scottish people were extremists. I did not say that all Scots take the view of the Scottish National Party. My attack was on the Scottish National Party, not on Scots in general.
§ Mr. Buchanan-Smith
I am grateful to the hon. Member for saying that, and I accept it as his view. In that case, I hope that he will consider these proposals for devolution in a constructive sense and take account of the interests of the Scottish people whom he does not class with the SNP.
I believe very strongly that we must pay regard to the feelings of the Scottish people. In Scotland, whatever my right hon. and hon. Friends may say, people do see the vote at the end of this debate as an indication in principle of whether the Parliament of the United Kingdom is for or against an Assembly in Scotland. I know that it is very confusing for my hon. Friends who represent constituencies south of the border when they hear different things from different people. However, I move around and talk to people in Scotland as much as, and perhaps more than, most hon. Members, and from my observations I know that it is an inescapable fact that people regard this debate and the vote at the end of it as being of very considerable importance.
There is a broad desire in Scotland for the proposals for an Assembly to be debated in detail. In the course of the past week I have had more representations made to me, and have received more letters, than at any time in my whole period in this House. Not all the letters and representations have been in favour of devolution. In fact, many are openly against any form of Scottish Assembly. But there is one thing which all the letters and representations have in common. They cannot understand why we should vote against this Bill on Second Reading and thus seek to curtail any other detailed discussion on this, the first devolution proposal which has come forward to the House of Commons.
1294 There is a further dimension to this. I echo the words of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet, who said that this is the first occasion when, on the details of devolution, we have elevated the debate to a national—that is, a United Kingdom—level. In the debate this week and in the weeks and months to come we should stimulate rather than stifle debate. That is why I believe that it is wrong to vote against the Bill at this stage.
There are alternatives. This is a constitutional matter and there are deep convictions on it, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet said. It could have been dealt with by a free vote, although I know that is not welcome in certain quarters. But, if it is necessary for us on this side to register our opposition on this, surely, if we are in favour of the principle of devolution and of a Scottish Assembly, we can do so by tabling amendments spelling out our objections to the inclusion of Wales and the dangers we see in the proposals for Scotland.
A vote against the Bill—I say this in particular to my right hon. and hon. Friends from south of the border—will be misunderstood by many of the people in Scotland if we are to remain true to our commitment to an Assembly for Scotland. The Prime Minister has promised to consider constructive amendments in Committee. If we were unsuccessful in Committee, there would still be Third Reading. But at this stage we should get the debate going.
Finally, I appreciate that there are many hon. Members on both sides of the House who oppose the Bill out of fear for the future integrity of the United Kingdom. I respect that view, and I paid tribute to it earlier. The view is sincerely held, I know, and I yield to no one in my support for the United Kingdom. But I ask my right hon. and hon. Friends to consider one fact. The Union to which we all rightly pay allegiance will not be preserved and strengthened by us ignoring the aspirations of one party to that Union; the Union will not be preserved and strengthened by denying the opportunity to discuss one possible way of meeting those aspirations; and the Union will not be preserved and strengthened if we ignore the views of 1295 the majority of Scottish MPs on a matter so deeply affecting Scotland.
On the other hand, I believe that the Union will be preserved and strengthened if we in this House can recognise and react to the fact that the majority of those in Scotland who want more say in the running of their own affairs want it to be within the framework of the United Kingdom. By doing that in a proper way we destroy the very attractions of narrow nationalism of which the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton spoke.
For nearly 10 years I have campaigned within my party and in Scotland for what is embodied in the principle of the Bill—an Assembly for Scotland within the United Kingdom. I do not intend to change my position now.
§ 8.38 p.m.
§ Mrs. Judith Hart (Lanark)
The hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Buchanan-Smith), who is in a difficult position, spoke with immense sincerity and forcefulness. His speech will be greatly respected for that.
I suppose that there are still anti-devolutionists. There are also reluctant devolutionists and positive devolutionists. I regard myself as one of the last. I want to address myself to the positive, logical arguments in favour of the principle, not the detail, of the Bill. I agree with much of what has been said in the debate so far about certain aspects of the Bill that will need to be very carefully considered in Committee. But in terms of the principle of devolution and of creating Assemblies in Scotland and Wales, I direct my attention particularly to Scotland.
As my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench know, I believe that it would have been better to have had a separate Bill for Wales. In that I agree with many hon. Members on the Opposition side and with some of my hon. Friends simply because the two situations are different.
I have been a positive devolutionist for more than 20 years. I became a positive devolutionist while I was working and living in Scotland, when I came to the belief that an Assembly or Parliament in Scotland was necessary because of the remoteness of democracy for the Scottish people and because of the difficulty of expressing in legislation and administration affecting Scotland the very different 1296 economic and social circumstances of Scotland.
When we look at the history of Scotland—everyone is familiar with it—we see that there have been some crucial differences in the pace of economic and social development in Scotland compared with other parts of the United Kingdom. The Industrial Revolution really began there. For many generations in Scotland there has been a legacy of neglected housing and social conditions which, at least at certain stages in Scottish history and until very recent years, surpassed most other parts of the United Kingdom in their adverse consequences on the people.
I remember, for example, in the mid-1950s—these were perhaps two of the factors that led to my early conversion to the Labour Party's Keir Hardie principle of a Scottish Assembly—that in Glasgow there was a rate of tuberculosis vastly higher than anywhere else in Britain. In Glasgow at that time there were 49,000 people living at the rate of about seven to a room. Those conditions were, perhaps equally matched in some other parts of Britain. I am not suggesting for one moment that there were not, and are not, equally bad conditions on Merseyside or in Manchester.
But what I minded about at that time was that the proportions of Scottish expenditure allocated to health and housing as against, for example, roads—and at that time car ownership per head of the population was only about half the rate of that of England—were essentially the same as those in England. There was a marginal difference, but it was very marginal. Indeed, they were determined on a basis of consideration of United Kingdom priorities.
That is not to say that the end result of devolution, and the end result of having a Scottish Assembly, should be that Scotland gets more favourable treatment than Merseyside or any deprived area of Britain with a long industrial revolution legacy to be overcome. It is to say that it is socialist, democratic and right that decisions affecting people should be taken in a context which takes account of their priorities and needs. That is what the block budget, as it was called in my days of 1969 and 1970, is about. Now it is called the block fund.
1297 My Scottish Office experience and my experience of Government in various Ministries confirmed me in my view that it is not right that public expenditure decisions within any Government, Conservative or Labour, should be taken without regard to the relevant differences in the economic and social background of Scotland. Nor should they be taken on a United Kingdom basis and the sum divided up to arrive at Scotland's share of what should go on health, roads, housing or education.
These services are already administered by the Scottish Office. They are administered not by an elected body, but by a Civil Service—a competent and efficient Civil Service—in St. Andrew's House. A greater degree of remoteness from Government exists than in other parts of the United Kingdom simply because the Secretary of State, as he explained tonight, carries so much in his portfolio. Inevitably, there is a greater degree of remoteness from the centre of decision-making.
What we are now asking for is that people should be brought closer to the decisions which affect them. That is what the Assembly means. What is un-Socialist about that? Where is the threat to the unity of the United Kingdom in that? It simply means that in those areas where we have had separate legislation and administration decision-making should rest with the Assembly.,
When I was at the Scottish Office I myself put through a separate Universities Bill and a separate Bill with regard to Scottish teachers. brought in a separate White Paper on comprehensive education which was slightly different from that in England and Wales. I was responsible for initiating the beginning of the work which led to the Scottish Social Work Act, which again was slightly different from the legislation in England and Wales, although no English Members noticed the differences. Apart from Members who served on the Scottish Committees which considered those measures, they were unaware that this was happening in Scotland. Until the issue of devolution was aroused by the knowledge that this Bill was coming before the House, I do not think that most members of the general 1298 public in Britain—and even some Members of Parliament—appreciated how much separate legislation, separate responsibility and separate administration had been practised in Scotland for generations.
Those of us who are positive in our view of this Bill now ask that there should be a closer democratic relationship between people and what happens to them. Is that a threat to the economic unity of the United Kingdom? I know of no Socialist, no member of the Labour Party in Scotland and no member of the trade union movement in Scotland who supports the Bill who would not agree thoroughly with every word said by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) about the need to retain the economic unity of the United Kingdom. The Labour movement in Scotland recognises that we shall achieve the kind of society that we want only if we all work together in a common cause for a common purpose.
There is no provision in this Bill which threatens the economic unity of the United Kingdom. This is the difference between those of us on the Government Benches who are positive devolutionists and the Scottish National Party. SNP Members want to threaten the economic unity of the United Kingdom, and my hon. Friend the Member for Walton is right when he says that we must be clear about the differences between us.
When we come to look at the details of the Bill, it will be good if we can find a way of giving powers to raise additional revenue. That will not threaten the economic unity of the United Kingdom. It will be good if we can improve the Bill in one or two other ways. But there is a profound misconception amongst some of my hon. Friends who believe that to extend democracy is in any way a threat to Socialism. For me, Socialism and democracy are inseparable. Therefore, it is in total accordance with loyalty to the United Kingdom and the loyalty to the principles of our movement that we can give total support to the extension of real democracy which is embodied in this Bill.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Before my right hon. Friend sits down, will she answer one brief question? If what she says is true, 1299 why are not we busily engaged in setting up legislative assemblies in England?
§ 8.49 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Fraser (Stafford and Stone)
The right hon. Member for Lanark (Mrs. Hart) put up a gallant defence of the principles of devolution. However, one of the confusions before us is the fact that we talk about devolution in much the same way as we talk about participation or the social contract, necessarily dealing just by word with the problems facing us.
I am sure the right hon. Lady will agree that one of the major problems facing the world in general, whether it be the Socialist world or the capitalist world, is the power of big government, big business, big trade unions, big administration, big taxaton and the big weight of the removal of responsibility from the ordinary individual. We have an excellent example in Yugoslavia. The feeling is that, somehow, the problem will be overcome by devolution, by the building up of nationalist feelings and by protecting people through these various organs of devolution from the evils of the day.
The right hon. Lady's aspirations are fair and should be considered by everyone. But we should consider the Government's measures on the basis of hew they will affect two issues—first, Scotland and its administration, and, secondly, the question whether the Bill, which is called a Bill for devolution, is not really a Bill for the dissolution of the Union.
I have had some experience of constitution-making, with the late fain Macleod and my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Maudling). It is appropriate on Second Reading to look down the tunnel of the Bill's 115 clauses to see their likely effect. In doing so, I should like to consider the two criteria of the governance of Scotland and whether the Bill will affect the Union of the United Kingdom.
I am sure that those who heard the speech of the hon. Member for West 1300 Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) yesterday will bear in mind the point made by Mr. Peggie, Chief Executive of the Lothian Region. But the Government will not give any more money to Scotland. Last year, when the right hon. Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson) was Prime Minister, the amount of block grants was to be £2,000 million. Today it is £2,500 million. Precisely the same administration as before will administer the money. There will be the same organisation, the same number of civil servants and the same amount of money.
The only difference that is proposed for Scotland is a new tier of government. I am certain that the Assembly's first action when it comes into being will be to get rid of another tier of government, and that tier is bound to be the regions. There will be administrative chaos of the highest order in Scotland as a result of the Bill. The regions are bound to go, because otherwise this new tier of government will be seen as a waste of time, with remarkably little to do.
How will getting rid of the regions affect the relationship of the ordinary citizen with the government? How will it make him closer to government? How will people feel that they are more involved? They will not feel more involved. On the contrary, by going from the regions, however inefficient they may be, government will now be concentrated in Edinburgh and will be even more remote.
Let us take housing as an example. There will be a block grant from the United Kingdom. But the new tier of governance will make things even more difficult. Industrial development—a matter which affects both trade unions and employers—will be affected and decisions will be hard to get. In every field of activity, for the ordinary person living in Scotland the Bill will mean less closely-woven, receptive and dynamic government. It will mean a new tier, which will not necessarily be effective.
Of course some people, such as the Liberal Party, claim that all these problems can be overcome by a federal constitution. The former Leader of the Conservative Party, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath), has spoken about the effectiveness of the German Läander. Suggestions have been 1301 made from both sides of the House today that the problems could be overcome through greater definition of the powers to be devolved. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said yesterday that the Bill will lead to a total confusion of power because it will mean the rights of this House and those of the Scottish Assembly running in parallel, without definition of where those rights begin and end.
There could be no future in a federal system unless all the parts were almost in balance, which is a ludicrous idea. I see the right hon. Member for Down. South (Mr. Powell) shaking his head. Unless there were proper proportion and a rough balance. a federal constitution would be invalid without the States or sub-States in England for the North-East and the North-West hinted by the right hon. Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson) yesterday. One could bring back the Mercian kings and the heptarchy. Then there would be some balance. But one cannot spend the rest of the century devolving political institutions which will not be effective against the problems which affect us today.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)
The right hon. Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Fraser) referred to me. What I was summarising with a shake of my head was that it is not the difference between elements forming a federation either in size or importance that could be fatal to the United Kingdom. There are disparities between the States of the United States and between the component parts of many federations. The objection to a federal system is simpler and deeper than that. Neither England nor the people of Great Britain as a whole want a federation, nor are they capable of conceiving a destruction of the political system which they understand.
§ Mr. Fraser
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for reinforcing my argument. I do not believe that at this stage we can seriously contemplate the federation solution adumbrated to some extent by the Liberal Party and by the former Leader of the Conservative Party.
§ Mr. Russell Johnston
Would the right hon. Gentleman at least admit that what he and the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) have just said represent 1302 assertions rather than arguments based on evidence?
§ Mr. Fraser
I could waste the time of the House for 25 minutes in a recital of various historical examples where this has not begun to work because of the imbalances beween the centre and parts of the federation.
This will not lead to better, more popular or more effective governance of Scotland. There is no way round our problems except roughly the present way, unless we got to a position, which is unattainable under the present United Kingdom structure, in which new elements of taxation and new methods of raising funds could be introduced.
The second question which the House must ask itself is whether this type of Bill will lead to the dissipation and undoing of the Act of Union. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition that there are many points of friction which will grow. There may be friction between this House and Edinburgh, between the Administration in Scotland under the control of the new Assembly and the Secretary of State here, between Assemblies which are not elected at the same time and between the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council and this House acting against the will of the northern Assembly. Members of this House could be in conflict with their representatives in Scotland. There are so many areas which could be fuelled by the fire of persons who wish to break the United Kingdom, for reasons which they believe to be perfectly good, and to set up an independent State.
That is clearly the view of the Scottish National Party and was expressed clearly and charmingly by the hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) yesterday. He set out what he wanted to do and said that it would not be destroying the United Kingdom but would be returning to the action of James VI of Scotland becoming James I of England and uniting the Crown. The hon. Gentleman said that it would be going back from 1707 to 1603. I can think of no more unhappy analogy. In those 100 years the relationship between Scotland and England was probably at its worst. On three occasions the Scots came down, and it needed Cromwell to beat them back at Dunbar. In those years there was the massacre at Glencoe and the destruction of a great 1303 variety of heroes, together with probably the worst religious persecution ever suffered in Scotland. That period, however, is pointed out by Scottish nationalists as the golden, halcyon days to which we should return.
I believe that on these two main considerations—advantage to the ordinary person in Scotland, who will be deluded by promises which cannot be fulfilled in this Bill, and the other, wider issue of the tunnel of legislation down which we shall be proceeding—there can be only one answer. That answer is friction between Westminster and Edinburgh, with Westminster having the power and that power being fought for by Edinburgh, which has to take the kicks without the ha'pence.
That will be a disastrous situation. There will be conflict and rows, but they will not be the same rows as those in the 1640s about bishops and prayer books. They will be rows about oil, which some Scots say belongs to them. That oil can belong only to one Power—the Power which controls the naval forces. If that is the sort of issue which the Scottish nationalists are to raise, and the sort of dreams that they are trying to create, they are perpetrating the worst thing that politicians can do, which is to raise the expectations of people to aims that can never be fulfilled.
§ 9.7 p.m.
§ Dr. Jeremy Bray (Motherwell and Wishaw)
If the House will forgive me, I shall not follow the rhetorical style of the right hon. Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Fraser), whose sentiments seem very far from the sentiments of the people in Scotland whom I represent.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Lanark (Mrs. Hart) said, we can take pride in Scotland in having given birth to the Industrial Revolution. We still bear those scars heavily today. They are not only the scars of social deprivation. They are scars which as a community we need to be able to heal in our own way. I say that with the experience of having represented an English constituency before my present Scottish constituency and having been persuaded of the importance of devolution from my experience on Teesside, from my experience of the inadequacy of our industrial development policy to deal with our unemployment 1304 problems, from my experience in the inequities of judgment and social policy in the balance between primary, secondary and tertiary educational development in that area, and my experience of straight technical misjudgment on transport policy and other areas of public expenditure.
They were all mistakes which no self-respecting north-eastern authority in England would have made. Because of that, I became a convinced devolutionist long before any of my friends in the North-East were, and with scant support from them.
The reason why there was no sentiment for devolution in the North-East was that in the Labour Party there we allowed ourselves to be patronised, to be lauded by the leaders of the Labour Party when they came to the absurd annual ritual of the Durham Miners' Gala, which celebrated the feudal traditions within the Labour Party and muted the social and industrial complaints which should have been voiced in that area.
One cannot patronise the people of Scotland, nor, in the long run, can one patronise the Teessider. I am convinced that in the legislation upon which we are embarking we shall find that there are many in England and Wales who would wish to follow further down the path which we are pioneering in Scotland.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I came into this House on the same day as my hon. Friend and I know that his credentials are absolutely authentic in wanting more devolution for the North-East. Is he suggesting that there should be a legislative assembly covering the Middlesbrough area?
§ Dr. Bray
No. The key lies in the powers of local authorities—in the financial powers in the first place. The points raised by my hon. Friend are fundamental to the powers we are giving to the Assembly.
It has repeatedly been said that we are not giving the Assembly power to raise its own finance. We are not giving it any powers of taxation. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State spelt out the reasons, one of which could well contradict the possibility of raising a local tax at all. He pointed out that there were reasons for having a local tax: the fundamental issue was fiscal 1305 responsibility, since one should not have a spending authority which does not also have to take the political responsibility for having to raise the revenue for its expenditure. But surely, if there is to be political responsibility, likewise there is also what my right hon. Friend would call the political impossiblity of levying a tax locally which was not levied elsewhere or which was levied at a higher rate than elsewhere. Apart from the requirements of responsibility, it is necessary to be able to embark on what he described, mistakenly, as this political impossibility.
The Scottish group of Labour Members put forward a proposal that on a package of taxes it should be possible for the Scottish Assembly to vary the rates at which the taxes were levied in Scotland and to take the benefit or incur the cost of the lower revenue in the block fund. That proposal was dismissed by my right hon. Friend. He suggested that the polical life in Scotland could not get beyond the stage of the political begging bowl and that the Assembly could be entrusted with no more than a judgment of balance between one social expenditure and another. In other words, the recognition that expenditure had to be paid for by taxation was not something that could be entrusted to the Assembly.
My right hon. Friend is a high-class politician. He knows that revenue has to be raised in taxation, but he is not prepared to concede that dignity to the Assembly. We can go further and say that there is yet a higher class of politician which knows that the amount that can be made available for taxation is not limited, that wealth can be increased and that the economic life of the community depends on its social expenditure and on its disposition of economic resources.
The Scottish TUC and the Labour Party have made various pronouncements asking for economic and financial powers for the Scottish Assembly without perhaps having thought out throughly how those powers should be exercised. I accept that there is responsibility in the Bill in the powers over the Scottish Development Agency, which I welcome.
We have to consider the question of the powers of the Assembly, and, indeed, 1306 of the local authorities within England, in a gradual, evolutionary approach. Given the present baroque structure of taxation in Great Britain, it would be difficult to devolve sensible powers of taxation to the Scottish Assembly or the English local authorities. There are inevitable tendencies in, let us say, the development of income tax which will make it easier for the future.
When I was a member of the Government in the 1960s, the Inland Revenue made the absurd proposal to computerise its whole operations into half a dozen or so large computing centres. I said that it would not work. The last such centre was not to be installed until the mid-1980s. The Inland Revenue insisted that it would work, but the scheme was abandoned in 1972.
Likewise, with the further complexities that we are adding to the workings of the Inland Revenue, the present system will certainly break down. It is already breaking down. We shall inevitably move to a simplification of the system. We shall change from tax allowances to grant. We shall see personal allowances replaced by grants, and the possibilities that this will bring for self-assessment. When we get to that stage, it will be perfectly possible to raise a local income tax within Scotland. I believe that the question should be put constructively, to give the Assembly powers to raise such a tax. The implementation of that would inevitably have to await the developments which I think are coming within the Inland Revenue in Great Britain.
If we see a developing system of local finances in Britain, how would we see the political implimentation of devolution in the United Kingdom? We are plainly sick and fed up with the reforms of local government which merely consist of the redrawing of boundaries and the reallocation of existing functions. We want to see some way by which the local authorities are able to exercise power over the more fundamental things in the life of their communities. That would mean a greater rôle for local authorities in the economic development of their own communities.
I assure the House that we shall see this happen as a result of the pressures in the Scottish Assembly. We shall not get a Scottish Assembly which could 1307 neglect a situation such as exists at Marathon Shipbuilders. It will not happen. If we are to allow the Scottish Assembly to act in situations like this, are we to deny that facility to Merseyside or Teesside or South Wales? It is out of the question.
What can we do within the situation as it exists on Teesside and Tyneside? We have a splendid metropolitan authority on Tyneside which was staffed to do jobs like this. We have a Teesside county borough, which is perfectly capable of organising support from surrounding local authorities. This amounts to a highly pragmatic development in response to the obvious and demonstrated political needs of the developing local economic situation. We ought to set ourselves free to allow these developments to take place.
The Secretary of State's anticipation of the working of the block fund, both in his speech and in the detail drafting of the Bill, somewhat alarms me. He has powers for effectively determining the rates of pay of people in the public sector. By controlling the total of the block grant, he is effectively able to control the standards of services—that is, the number of teachers employed in Scotland, the staffing of the National Health Service and so on. It is up to the Assembly whether it accepts that distribution. It can shuffle it around. I do not see that as the long-range pattern in the development of the block fund. I see the situation more as one in which Scotland will develop its own emphases in social services to deal with its own problems and its own nuances in taxation to finance these.
This again will reflect the economic structure of Scotland, which will differ from the economic structure of different areas of England just as they differ from each other. The machinery of administration for the block fund will need more detailed examination. We should allow for the possibility of further development.
Finally, we ought to have an eye to the political situation which is developing in Scotland. I am afraid that the Conservative Party has done itself the most violent injury as a result of its split over this Bill. The people who will reap the consequences will be not only the Conservative Party in Scotland but the Conservative voters in Scotland. For whom 1308 will they be able to vote? Will they vote for a Conservative Party which denies the right to devolution? Will they vote for a Scottish National Party which is separatist or a Labour Party which is Socialist? Heaven knows how the voters will vote. It is creating a degree of political uncertainty in Scotland which can only feed the most rabid forms of nationalist separatism. We need to think carefully, perhaps not so much the Conservatives but certainly we on the Labour Benches, about the political risks we are creating.
As a result of developments in the past few days, I am beginning to be persuaded of the wisdom of looking more carefully at the single transferable vote for the Assembly. The single Member, one-man one-vote constituency is right in a situation where we have two major parties which roughly divide the field between them. It makes sure that when there is a party which enjoys majority support it has a substantial working majority in the House. Where there is fragmentation, or a high degree of political uncertainty with three or more parties having a substantial share of the vote, the one-man one-vote single Member constituency can create the most extreme political instability.
It is wholly logical to argue that a situation could exist in Scotland where the single transferable vote was justified without setting any precedent for England and Wales, where there is no such political situation and where the traditional position of two large parties dominating the field prevails. I do not see this as setting a precedent for the break-up of the single Member constituency in this Parliament. We all, as Members, greatly value the relationship with our constituents, our total responsibility, the fact that we do not share this with other Members and that when one of our constituents comes to us we have the responsibility for acting on his behalf.
Also, there are advantages in having a single Member for a single community. There is then no confusion of boundary lines. That argument, alas, cannot guide us in the present situation in Scotland, and I would wish to hear much more argument about the electoral system during the course of proceedings on the Bill.
§ 9.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Russell Johnston (Inverness)
The great thing about listening to and participating in debates in the House is that one always learns something. I learned, for example, that the right hon. Member for Lanark (Mrs. Hart) had been a passionate and positive devolutionist for 20 years. I confess that this fact had not previously registered with me. I am happy to learn of it and to note it. It was not particularly evident when the right hon. Lady was a Minister.
I was fascinated by the interchange between the right hon. Members for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Fraser) and for Down, South (Mr. Powell), who put forward the view that what I, as a federalist, had always regarded as a major objection to federalism, to wit, the disparate sizes of the component parts of the United Kingdom, was really a matter of no account and not a serious criticism of federalism. What was a genuinely serious criticism of federalism, in the right hon. Gentleman's view, was simply that it had never been done before and that people would not regard it as being something within the British tradition. I have learned a great deal during these two days.
I begin the major part of my speech by quoting from the speech made yesterday by the right hon. Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson). He said, at column 1007—I thought very hard of something funny to say at this point, but could not think of anything—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 … should on this Bill, not by formal resolution, but by its demeanour and tolerance, resolve itself into something like a Council of State."—[Official Report, 13th December 1976 ; Vol. 922, c. 1007.]That approach, happily different from the approach that the right hon. Gentleman himself adopted when he introduced the debate on the White Paper in January this year, is the only one which can possibly lead us to an acceptable resolution of the grave differences which separate us.
The House, which in its very construction is designed for confrontation, must now bend its will to compromise. The essential prerequisite for this is that the Government, having previously rejected 1310 concepts such as constitutional conferences which my party has advocated, should now genuinely be prepared to listen and to adapt their proposals according to the merit of argument and the evidence of political acceptability.
If the Government do not do that, the long Committee stage upon which we are shortly to embark will not provide, in the Prime Minister's words yesterday,… time for serious and measured discussion of all the different parts of the Bill."— [Official Report, 13th December 1976 ; Vol. 922, c. 978.]It will, on the contrary, provide time for all of us to move further apart, to become more entrenched in our own views and more self-righteous about them. It will give time also to destroy the hopes which many people in Scotland still have—as the Minister knows as well as I—that the Bill will bring better government.
I stress this because, for all the Government's protestations that they are open-minded, the plain fact is that all the main criticisms of the Bill have already been rehearsed as main criticisms of the White Paper—and with sadly little effect in between. The Leader of the Liberal Party on my right, yesterday listed seven major areas in which he regarded the Bill as deficient. I should like to consider two of those in a little more detail than he was able to do and to ask the Government directly how willing they are to look at these matters freshly and genuinely to reconsider them.
First, there is the question of how the Assembly is to be elected—a matter to which the hon. Member for Mother-well and Wishaw (Dr. Bray) turned his attention at the end of his speech. When one remembers the words with which the Gracious Speech introduced its reference to this Bill—My Government attach great importance to strengthening the democratic processes of our society"—I find it incredible beyond belief that the Prime Minister yesterday made no reference at all to the arguments for electoral reform.
The Prime Minister may reject those arguments—that is one thing—but to ignore a substantial and weighty bit of evidence in favour of change consciously warps the wide-ranging constitutional debate that he claimed to be initiating 1311 and lends little credence to the Government's open-mindedness. How can the Government in one breath lay stress on Kilbrandon—I have heard the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, the hon. Member for Stirling, Falkirk and Grangemouth (Mr. Ewing), do it many times, saying "My view of devolution is contained in Kilbrandon"—and in the next breath ignore the only significant change in constitutional practice which attracted the Commission's unanimous support?
Paragraph 787 of the Kilbrandon Report states:An overriding requirement for the regional assemblies would, in our view, be to ensure the proper representation of minorities, and it would be no bad thing for a regional government to have to pay regard, in the formulation of its policies and in its administration, to the views of the minority parties, or indeed to be obliged to seek a consensus with them. This would be particularly desirable in any region in which there were likely to be long periods without alteration of parties in power.In paragraph 105 of the conclusion, the Kilbrandon Commission came down in favour of the single transferable vote. That has long been my party's policy, and that was the system introduced into Northern Ireland by the Conservative Party, with all-party support. For the benefit of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor), who looks as if he does not remember, I recall the words of the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw), who was then responsible for these matters. He said that the Executive could not henceforth be based on any single party if that party drew its support and elected representation virtually entirely from only one section of a divided community. It was for that reasoning that the House introduced the STV system. Although that is my party's view, in the very spirit of compromise that I advocated at the beginning of my remarks I say only that the important thing is that the Kilbrandon Commission unanimously proposed a proportional system of election.
§ Mr. Teddy Taylor
I accept what the hon. Gentleman says, and I was very interested to hear the matter recalled, but would he describe Scotland as a divided community?
§ Mr. Johnston
It has the potential to be a divided community even on a Monday morning. The opposition to a proportional representation system has mainly been on the ground that it is terribly difficult to operate. In the debate on the White Paper in January, the Lord President, who was then Ted Short, said:It is important that the public should understand and have confidence in the Assembly elections. That can best be done by using the system … which has commanded general support in this country for many years."—[Official Report, 14th January 1976 ; Vol. 903, c. 4161]Ted was always conventional to a conservative fault!
Yet the fact is that the Ministry of Information film that was used in Northern Ireland for the STV elections had the persuasive sloganIt's as easy as 1, 2, 3.When my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) asked if the film could be shown in Wales as part of the great debate in which we are supposed to be involved, he was told by the Secretary of State for Wales in a Written Answer that that would not be appropriate as arrangements for the first Assembly elections would be as set out in paragraph 177 of Cmnd. 6348. In short that meant "We shall take advice if we agree with it." Through the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland now sitting on the Treasury Bench, I ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make the films available, first, for a showing in the House—I should be only too pleased to sponsor such a showing—and, secondly, to the organisations in Scotland which want to use them and are prepared to pay the going commercial rate for using them. I would appreciate knowing that and, if the Government are serious about being open-minded, there is no reason why I should not. It would be an eye-opener for people who think that electoral reform is terribly complicated to see the Government's argument that it is simple, straightforward and uncomplicated.
If, on the other hand, it is said about electoral reform that the public are not interested in it, that they are bored, and that this is not a matter that excites them, 1313 I would remind the Secretary of State for Scotland that the public opinion polls published in the Sun and the Evening Standard—the latter certainly not widely read in Scotland—at the beginning of this year showed that 64 per cent. of voters believed that a system based on PR at the last election would have been fairer, while 55 per cent. of voters would support some form of PR even if it meant the party they supported getting fewer votes.
§ Mr. Johnston
This is serious. The hon. Gentleman, who represents a southern part of England and a somewhat fringe part of politics, is entitled to his view, but, with respect, I suggest that I am even more entitled to mine.
§ Mr. Russell Kerr
The hon. Gentleman is usually extremely alive to the intelligence of the House, but he is not at this moment.
§ Mr. Johnston
I am putting on record arguments that should be put on record. I am sorry if they bore the hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. Johnston
In conclusion to this part of my argument, I should have thought that the editorial opinions from time to time canvassed in The Times, The Guardian, the Sun and the Daily Express should not be totally disregarded.
The Government are proposing three Members for six heavily populated constituencies and two for the rest. Had that system operated in October 1974, on the reasonable assumption that the voter, presented with two or three votes instead of one, would have used those votes in the same way as he used his one vote, the result for the proposed Assembly of 142 Members would have been 82 seats for Labour, 32 seats for the Conservative Party, 22 seats for the SNP and 6 seats for the Liberal Party—an overall majority of 22 for the Labour Party for a percentage vote of 36. That is a wholly unacceptable and unfair proposition. The position would, of course, be different next time, but, unless the Government 1314 think again, the injustices would be just as savage and, I suspect, not necessarily to their advantage.
It is ironic that, as a Liberal, I should be making this case, as in the Scottish context it will not make much difference to my party. Scotland is different from England. We polled 8 .3 per cent. in October 1974 in Scotland, which was our best vote since the war. We are a firmly based, if small, minority, but we are putting forward the argument, not because it would bring us advantage, but because it is fair and would make the first Scottish Parliament genuinely representative of the Scottish will. This is a matter the Government must seriously contemplate.
§ Mr. loan Evans (Aberdare)
The hon. Gentleman is applying his mind to Scotland, but is not the situation in Wales different? Of the 23 Labour Members in Wales 18 had an overall majority, and a changed system would not affect the majority of Labour Members. Therefore, if proportional representation were introduced into the Welsh situation, the chances are that there would be a more dominant Labour majority than there is at present.
§ Mr. Johnston
I am pleased to learn that the hon. Gentleman is in favour of proportional representation—
§ Mr. Johnston
—even on the basis that it would give him an advantage. All I am saying is that it is a fairer system. If it gives the Labour Party in Wales greater advantage than is now the case, that would be the way the people of Wales voted and the way in which they should be represented. That is all I am saying, no more and no less.
In my speech on the White Paper on 14th January—and for a change I shall quote myself—I said:For me, the establishment of a Scottish Parliament—as I prefer to call it—is not a step towards creating some kind of super local authority administration; it is a means of creating a legislative focus in Scotland, which is an entirely different thing."—[Official Report, 14th January 1976; Vol. 903, c. 488.]The Assembly as proposed by the Government has less powers of finance-raising than has any local authority. Indeed, it has no powers of finance-raising at all because at least a local authority has the rating power to raise its finance.
1315 I served on the Wheatley Commission, now a much-maligned body. A basic part of our report, seldom quoted but for us—who were wrongly excluded from dealing with financial considerations—fundamental, was set out in paragraphs 1025 to 1052. I quote from paragraph 1033:The only real solution, in the view of the Treasury, is for local authorities to raise more of their own finances, so that they have 'sufficient incentive to take spending decisions responsibly and to secure economy and value for money'. Along with this, it is desirable that they should have more freedom to determine their total expenditure and its distribution among services.That was the view of the Treasury, whose officials gave evidence to the Commission, and that related to local government, not to regional assemblies or to devolution.
The Government are proposing to produce a solution that gives less financial freedom and less room for manoeuvre to the Assembly than the Treasury proposed for local government. That seems to be a highly contradictory situation. Surely the whole point of creating a Scottish Assembly at all is to permit it to do different things. There is no point in having an Assembly if one seeks to crib, cabin and confine it. The situation would be no different from what would normally be expected from government at Westminster.
First, it appears to necessitate independent sources of income. If it has none, it has no meaning. That perhaps might mean that some of the existing centrally-controlled powers of finance-raising should be transferred to it. Secondly, it also means that it should be enabled to vary Government-controlled financial questions such as industrial grants, the SDA and HIDB, or through the local authorities in providing guidelines on rents and rates.
The hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw spoke about teachers 'salaries. It is all carefully laid down in page after page and line after line that teachers' salaries must not go out of kilter with the rest of the United Kingdom. Why not? Why should we spell this out? The reality is that, if the Assembly wanted to increase teachers' salaries above the United Kingdom average, the rest of the services—social services and others— 1316 within the Assembly's powers would ask why money was being used in this way. There would then be a natural political corrective. If, on the other hand, the Assembly proposed to pay teachers less money than in the rest of the United Kingdom, it probably would have a full-scale teachers' strike on its hands immediately, and once again there would be a natural political corrective.
What we must do if we are to create an Assembly which feels responsible for what it does and which has a realistic financial income is to reduce the block grant and increase the area in which it has an income of its own.
Ten years ago—and I believe that the Secretary of State was around then—I introduced a Scottish self-government Bill on behalf of my Scottish colleagues and my Liberal colleagues. We argued then that the Scottish Parliament should raise all the money and contribute to a central federal Exchequer. Obviously that solution was quite unacceptable to the House. I accept that. However, I do not see why the Government should not look seriously at the two following propositions.
The first is the question of a VAT split. Certainly this would be much easier to do than anything else. It is easier to make a separation of VAT than any other tax. Income tax is too complicated. Obviously, however, because of the EEC rules VAT is not very susceptible to adjustment.
The second consideration is oil tax. The examples of Alberta and Texas show that this is an area in which particular payments can be made. If the Scottish Assembly got direct shares from oil revenues, apart from being fair this would be of tremendous psychological significance to Scotland. The Scottish National Party says that it is Scotland's oil, but the great majority of Scots, whether they be Tory, Labour, Liberal or nationalist, feel that they are entitled to some share. That position is one which the Liberal Party has taken up since 1971. It has also been argued by some totally illiberal sources such as the Scottish Council (Development and Industry). I think that the Government should look at this, because obviously it works elsewhere. 1317 The objection to any moneys being raised outwith the block grant is the claim that it damages what is called the economic unity of the United Kingdom En many ways this is a myth. At a time when we are discussing a common regional policy within nine independent countries in the EEC, the idea that such limited but nevertheless important and valuable variations as a Scottish Assembly would be a threat to the whole United Kingdom economy and puts it out of balance and is an invalid argument. After all, Stormont had far more powers of economic freedom than the Government are offering Scotland in this Bill, and that did not damage the British economy. I urge the Government to be prepared to look at the transference of some existing taxes to Scotland or to the Scottish Assembly. Have they looked seriously at places such as Alberta, where the division of oil revenues has been operated and has not broken up Canada or breached its economic unity?
We are engaged upon framing a new structure for the government of Scotland. It is an exercise which Scottish Liberals and Scottish Nationalists have argued about, from very different standpoints, for a long time. For the Government and the Conservative Party this is relatively uncharted country. It has not featured prominently in their manifestos.
I advise the Government not to pretend that at the moment we are dealing with a joyous juxtaposition of the Government's ongoing thoughts about the evolution of the British constitution and the evidence impartially produced by the Kilbrandon Commission. We are dealing with a fierce emotional demand for self-expression in Scotland, and if that feeling, which has been welling up for a long time and has found its haven in the SNP, is not met I think that the whole exercise fails.
I say with all respect to the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) that it is not good enough to do as he did and lash the SNP. It has been used by a large chunk of the people of Scotland to express their frustration, dissatisfaction and unhappiness, and, therefore. it is not good enough simply to condemn it. It is true that the problems 1318 of Glasgow and Merseyside are the same, but I often wondered during the debate on the EEC what was the difference between workers on Merseyside and the Clyde and workers in the Ruhr and Paris. Were they somehow different? It has always struck me as strange and paradoxical that the strongest opponents of devolution were the strongest British nationalists on the issue of the European Community.
§ Mr. Heffer
The hon. Gentleman should be aware that for many years I advocated the entry of this country into the EEC. Only when I saw the actual terms, the fact that we would not be able to change the Treaty and the fact that the conditions would not benefit our people, did I oppose it.
§ Mr. Johnston
I was aware that the hon. Gentleman had advocated entry for many years. I see no point in our pursuing that argument, but I reject his contention that somehow the terms were any different from any terms that any Government could have achieved. The terms were laid down absolutely in the Treaty of Rome.
I say to the Conservative Party that it should not play at politics, which it is being tempted to do. I do not address that comment to the hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Buchanan-Smith), for whose stand I have the greatest respect. I do not know, quite frankly, what the Conservative Party's policy on devolution is. Many questions were asked about it in the debate, and no satisfactory answer has emerged. From that position and standpoint it cannot mount an effective offensive, which is, I imagine the object of the Conservative three-line Whip, against the Government. It cannot do so without an effective alternative proposition.
I say to the SNP that it has undoubtedly achieved a great deal, and even if what comes out at the end is far short of the independence that it seeks—and which it is entitled to seek and to continue to seek—it is nevertheless in its interest to show restraint and co-operation, because it is in the interest of us all that the new Assembly should work.
From this Liberal Bench we will continue to argue the federal case. 1319 [Interruption.] There is no federal blueprint, but in its essence it represents a separation of the powers and is a clear identification of who is responsible for what. In our view that remains the right course, and we will continue to advocate it. At the same time, we shall continue to try to contribute as best we can to finding a fair, balanced and acceptable solution, which is what Scotland wants.
§ 9.56 p.m.
§ Mr. James Sillars (South Ayrshire)
Like the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Johnston), I can make a number of criticisms of the Bill. It contains a number of serious flaws. However, the Under-Secretary of State, the Secretary of State, and the Lord President are pretty well aware of the criticisms that I made of the proposals in the White Paper, and the Bill now gives legislative form to most of those proposals.
I understand from the Prime Minister's statement, and others, that the Government will be prepared to listen to arguments in respect of amendments. My hon. Friend the Member for Paisley (Mr. Robertson) and myself will try to put amendments to the Government and argue them as reasonably as possible as long as they do not conflict with, or infringe upon, Clause 1.
I shall not seek to sustain the type of Committee stage speech that we had yesterday from the Leader of the Opposition or earlier this evening from the new Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland. There will be plenty of time in Committee—I hope that it will not stretch for the rest of this year—to point to the sources of friction and the flaws and to suggest improvements to the Bill.
I want to address myself to what I regard as the central issue in this debate which is that we are now irreversibly launched on a period of fundamental change in the political and constitutional relationships between Scotland and England. Why are we now launched on this irreversible and fundamental change? With all its defects, the Bill marks a point of no return. Even if it were to be defeated on Thursday, it still marks a point of no return.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley pointed out yesterday, this is the first Bill to give Scotland its own Assembly or Parliament that has been introduced by a Government as opposed 1320 to a private Member. There is no chance whatever of the Scottish people turning back from this particular milestone on the road to a Scottish Assembly with substantial power.
The old centralist Unionist order, if not completely gone, is certainly in retreat and is on the way out. Things will never be the same again. A process of adjustment is under way and will continue. The driving force in the Scottish context is the Home Rule movement which has a 270-year-old history. This movement has gathered pace in recent years. It has had some recent converts, as I and other people well know. It has gathered pace in recent years as historical circumstances, that once kept it at bay and worked against it, have changed and are now working for it.
Some hon. Members put the blame, if blame is the correct description, upon the SNP. Anyone with a knowledge of philosophy knows that people who have an imperfect understanding of a subject often get cause and effect mixed up. The SNP is not the cause of the House of Commons discussing devolution, Scottish government and Scottish Home Rule this evening. The SNP is the effect of the cause. Certainly in recent times it has made a contribution, but every effect makes a contribution to the causative origins that give rise to it in the first place. It is a matter of cause and effect and cause and effect.
If it had not been the Scottish National Party—and I wish that it had been the Socialist movement—it would have been some other organisation which stepped in to articulate the growing need in Scotland, as seen by the Scottish people, for their own advancement to Home Rule.
§ It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
§ Question again proposed.
§ Mr. Sillars
As I understand it, there are certain provisions in the Bill which will allow the Scots on occasion to alter the time. It might well have been done there.
There is a rising demand for self-government, and I believe that it is a natural process of Imperial decline. The 1321 decline has been going on for more than a generation and it has now reached the point where the basic home unity—that is, England and its minority appendages—has entered into a phase of realignment. We see the minority nations in the United Kingdom seeking a new post-Imperial partnership with England which gives them greater recognition, greater understanding, greater international standing and greater self-respect as nations.
Both in the burgeoning years and at the zenith of the Empire, there were Scottish Home Rulers. The movement is as old as the Union itself. But it is with the benefit of hindsight that one sees that the imperial dimension tended to dwarf most other constitutional issues inside the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Gwilym Roberts (Cannock)
How can the hon. Gentleman talk, in this context between England and Scotland or England and Wales, of an Imperial dimension when this Parliament itself is swamped by people who are first-generation Scotsmen or Welshmen?
§ Mr. Sillars
I am trying to point out to my hon. Friend that there is in the historical process a connection between the Empire and the position that we are in now. During the burgeoning years of the Empire and at the time when the administration of that Empire was at its height, there were people in Scotland and in other parts of the United Kingdom who supported the point of view of Keir Hardie, Jimmy Maxton and Tom Johnston, who argued in this House for their version of devolution.
But, because India and Gandhi were far more important on the horizons of the people making up the Parliaments at that time, people like Gandhi and issues like India were far more important than the Dr. Robert Mclntyres and the John McCormicks, the Scottish conventions and the idea of Home Rule which emerged from the Jimmy Maxtons and the Tom Johnstons. That was perfectly understandable, and if my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock (Mr. Roberts) wants proof he will find written proof of the Imperial dimension in the United Kingdom's political affairs in all the volumes of Hansard available in the Library, which show that, day after day 1322 and week after week, it tended to be the Empire factor which dominated, not just simply before the war but after the war.
When I first entered politics and was going round the housing schemes in the town in which I live, trying to get people to understand, to argue and to accept the need for social reform in respect of domestic issues like housing and pensions, I found that all they wanted to talk about was Archbishop Makarios and Cyprus. Those subjects tended to be of much greater priority in their Imperial eyes than the domestic issues. But, having shed the Empire, the domestic issues which had much lower priority before have now emerged as matters which have to be tackled and have to be understood and to which we require to find a response. The wheel has turned, and time has gone on.
At this point I turn to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer), though not in any sense of animosity, because, although he and I disagree on this subject, it makes no difference to the degree of mutual respect which exists between us. I want to refer my hon. Friend to the national question.
I imply no criticism of any other quarter of the House when I say that Socialists have a special responsibility to respond adequately to the national question, because we have had the benefit of a major debate among people, now dead, who have contributed to the theory and practice of international Socialism. At some time in his life my hon. Friend must have read the major debates between Lenin and Rosa Luxemburg on the national question. There is theoretical backing for my argument that it is no part of the Socialist credo to deny nations forms of government and institutions that establish for them a truer, more positive identify in the world community and advance their cultural and intellectual development and their control over economic development.
My hon. Friend will probably agree with the proposition that the current Labour Government's economic policies are getting Socialism a bad name, but what he and other friends of mine on the British Left must understand is that in getting the national question wrong, as 1323 I believe they have done with their attitudes towards Scottish government, they are also in danger of getting Socialism a bad reputation.
§ Mr. Heffer
My hon. Friend was absolutely right to suggest that I had read the debates between Rosa Luxemburg and Lenin. But in my youth I also read a book by Joe Stalin on Marxism and the national question. He argued in the most passionate terms in precisely the way my hon. Friend is arguing. Unfortunately Joe Stalin ended up with a policy of destroying the nationalities inside the Soviet Union when there were wholesale movements of people. Theory is one thing and practice is another. We have not yet got the national question right in the Socialist movement. I agree with national identity and cultures, and with developing them to the highest possible degree, but there is a limit to how far we can go, particularly if no oppression is involved.
§ Mr. Sillars
The difficulty with Stalin probably was that he did not practise his own theories. There is plenty of evidence and good theoretical grounding for us to get the national question right. It is a remarkable phenomenon of the British Left's attitude to the national question that when we talk of Czechs and Slovaks we understand that in the country known as Czechoslovakia there should be respect for the autonomy of the two nations that make it up. We acknowledge that in the country known as Yugoslavia the separate character of the Serbs and Croats entitles them to a degree of autonomy. Even if Spain were free and democratic, as we would wish, I believe that my hon. Friends on the British Left would say that the Catalan and Basque people were entitled to a degree of autonomy.
To continue the theoretical argument, I believe that from a Socialist point of view it is not legitimate to say that a nation can go off on its own, away from another grouping, if it does so to the damage of the grouping with which it has been associated. But in Socialist eyes it is legitimate for a nation to go off on its own if it does no damage to any other grouping in mankind. That would be an argument in respect of the Basque and Catalan peoples in the context of a State called Spain.
1324 When the point of view of my hon. Friend, which is expressed by others as well, is heard north of the border, there is a great danger of his gaining for Socialism the reputation of being an unyielding, ironclad theory whose main purpose is to press out every line of character on the face of mankind. That is one of the tragic consequences of his attitude and the attitude of some of his hon. Friends on the devolution argument. By allowing themselves to be haunted by the spectre of separatism and, through theoretical error, opposing Home Rule, they exhibit a depressing lack of trust in the capacity of the Scots to understand and act upon their responsibilities to the other peoples making up communities of the British Isles. My hon. Friend the Member for Walton and other hon. Members have failed to grasp the significance of the fact that within the EEC the concept of separatism is not a valid one. But the reality of the European dimension has yet to emerge.
There are differences and similarities between the Scots and the English, but 250 years of living, working and often dying together have not been for nothing. There is a fund of good will and fellowship among all the peoples in this island. Common care and concern will endure no matter what our future constitutional relationships may be. The creation of a Scottish Parliament, or even some form of independence for the Scots, will not be injurious to our mutual respect, trust, understanding and willingness to help each other.
I do not believe that if a Scottish Parliament had existed six years ago, when the tip slipped at Aberfan or when the pit cage collapsed at Markham Colliery, the Scots would not have shed tears, or that when Upper Clyde Shipbuilders was led by Jimmy Reid money for assistance would not have come from the pockets of the English and Welsh working people. I do not believe that the creation of second or third Parliaments will have any disruptive effect on the relationships that have been built up between peoples.
Some hon. Members think that we are at the top of a slippery slope that leads to future acrimony, discord and dissention between the Scots and the English. 1325 It should not be that way, and it will not be, provided that this House has the vision and wisdom to interpret the tides of history and to act upon that interpretation. We should collectively respond with imagination to the forces that are at work. We should collectively rise to this big occasion—because it is a big occassion—and see those forces as welcome democratic developments that should be assisted by constructive legislation. That is the essential issue before the House.
§ Mr. Ronald Atkins (Preston, North)
My hon. Friend has mentioned similarities between the Scots and the English. What are the dissimilarities? We are the same racially. Many Anglians and Lothians share a common culture and language. They share centuries of common history and democracy. What are the dissimilarities that require separatism?
§ Mr. Sillars
They could be found in culture. I acknowledge that there is a common British cultural dimension which embraces all the people of the United Kingdom. But there are also special Scottish cultural attitudes and aspirations. I advise my hon. Friend the Member for Preston, North (Mr. Atkins) to talk with someone who has had long experience of the background to devolution, such as my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan). He is an acknowledged expert on the cultural development of Scotland. My hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, West and I have had disagreements, but it would be foolish for anyone to ignore the contribution that he has made to Scottish life in politics, and more especially in terms of cultural development.
The creation of a Scottish Parliament has an importance which goes beyond economic development. The Scottish Parliament will have an impact on Scottish democracy. Nationhood does not necessarily mean that a nation must have statehood, but when a nation's political life is almost wholly determined outside its boundaries there is bound to be a suffering in terms of cultural and intellectual development.
In Committee I shall explain to my hon. Friend the schizophrenia in the Scottish mind and Scottish culture because 1326 of the problem of being externally controlled, in political terms, for nearly 270 years. The lack of a Scottish Parliament is a pain which has gnawed at the heart of the Scottish body politic for 270 years and is perhaps not fully understood by English Members. The Act of Union on their side and on the Scottish side and the Treaty of Union had no loss for them. They have regarded this place as the English Parliament continuing. However, there was a loss to Scotland and we have suffered a degree of cultural, intellectual and political debilitation because of it.
§ Mr. T. G. D. Galbraith (Glasgow, Hillhead)
The hon. Gentleman represents me, though not my views, in Parliament. He is talking about a loss of culture in Scotland because we lost our Parliament, but how does he explain the great age of enlightenment at the end of the eighteenth century?
§ Mr. Sillars
It depends at which end of the social scale one was standing as to whether it was an age of enlightenment. No doubt I shall be able to take up this matter with my constituent in Committee, or he can write to me.
I was about to argue, in winding up, that our nation needs a Parliament around which and through which we can have debates, discussions and dialogues about the nature of our society and the contribution we can make to the wider community. The creation of a Scottish Parliament will certainly compel attention on issues such as the economy, but it will also compel attention on the fundamental conceptions which we have about our democracy, our place in the United Kingdom, Europe and the world and how our democratic institutions should be shaped and formed, to stimulate, release and engage the ideas, energy, ability, and action which our people are capable of for the common good.
The Bill does not give us that kind of Parliament, but it is the beginning of the beginning and I shall be delighted to vote for it on Thursday.
§ 10.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Maurice Macmillan (Farnham)
The hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sillars) said, in effect, that the introduction of the Bill into Parliament meant that we had passed the point of no 1327 return. If he meant that, he was saying that the Union is virtually at an end. I hope that he is wrong, for two reasons.
First, according to the hon. Gentleman's definition of nationhood, no nation can obtain independence as a nation except by fighting. I am sure he will agree that this is not something we wish to see within this kingdom. Second, the separate parts of the United Kingdom, no matter on what terms they were divided, would be far weaker, poorer, less effective and of less help to each other than they could be within the Union as it is now constituted.
So I am glad that we have a three-line Whip on the Bill on both sides of the House. It means that each hon. Member will be forced to think clearly about how he will vote and why. It will not be possible for anyone to duck the issue.
I have heard most of the speeches in the debate so far, and they have all convinced me that the House would be wrong to give the Bill a Second Reading. That goes as much for the speeches in favour of the Bill as for those against it. Those who want to give the Bill a Second Reading seem to be in favour of it for all the wrong reasons from the point of view of the United Kingdom.
Perhaps the only nearly valid reason for giving the Bill a Second Reading was put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton). That was that it would give us an opportunity to expose the follies of the Bill and the measures contained therein to the people of Scotland and thereby turn them against the concept of the Bill and the ideas that underlie it. However, that is a dangerous view, as is that of my hon. Friend the Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Buchanan-Smith), who told us to beware of driving moderate men into the extremist point of view exemplified by the Scottish nationalists.
My hon. Friend, and my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West have to face another danger—the desire of people generally to jump on a bandwagon once it gets rolling. I do not think that the Scots are any more backward than people in any other part of the United Kingdom in wishing to be associated as quickly as possible with what looks like being success.
1328 There is also the danger that in the course of this debate we might build up a sort of false sense of inevitability—that this must happen; that fate has decreed it ; who are we to fight against it; and that we must accept it. I do not accept it, and those who believe in the unity of the kingdom should oppose the Bill on Second Reading.
Devolution, as a word, describes not a state but a progress, a progress which in this case can lead, through conflict, only to separation. It is, so to speak, putting the entire process of the Act of Union into reverse. The hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) made it quite clear in his enchanting speech when he said that the Assembly was but a first step and that the object was to increase power. He quoted—somewhat oddly, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Fraser) pointed out—the Union of the Crowns in 1603 as an argument against the Union of Parliaments in 1707, but he remained silent on the events of 1689.
Yet the Union of Parliaments was, in effect, a direct consequence of the Revolution Settlement. I do not believe that after that Union of the Crowns would have been enough, since both countries were then trying to get more representative government. When Scotland as well as England strove to develop responsible government, only two arrangements were possible: either the two realms had to be separated altogether, or their Parliaments had to be amalgamated. I do not believe that the Crown could continue to govern the two countries under any other conditions.
The Leader of the Liberal Party half accepted that when he suggested that this devolution Bill was a step on the way to federal government in the whole of Britain. He accepted the need for the supremacy of the United Kingdom Parliament but implied a division of powers between England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, which would leave Westminster, so to speak, a superior federal Parliament. That is not what the Bill is discussing. It will take a long time before we ever get around to discussing that sort of settlement. Meanwhile, the separation that the Bill puts into being will increase the forces of nationalism and the demand for separation.
1329 Perhaps I may quote from Professor Mackie's "History of Scotland" referring to the Union of the Parliaments. He says:The Monarch could not adopt one policy along with the Parliament of one country, and, at the same time, pursue a contradictory policy to meet the demands of the other Parliament. All this is obvious.The hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) pointed out yesterday how obvious it is and the fallacy in assuming that one overcomes such difficulties through some form of federal solution in the near future. He pointed out that what was dangerous was to give rights to Scotland and Wales, not as districts or regions within a country but as nations—rights as nations to legislate separately and to have their separate Executives.
When this has been done before, it has always led in the end to separation, unless the countries so granted separate legislatures and separate executives have themselves been the neighbours of greater Powers whom they feared might take them over. For example, Ulster, Gibraltar and the Falkland Islands are all willing to endure this curious state because they have a fear greater than their desire for independence.
Those who compare the present situation to that which obtained with Home Rule in Ireland, and who imply that we are likely to have the same sort of difficulties in Scotland as we have had in that unhappy island if we do not pass the Bill, are talking nonsense. Does anyone suppose that if the first Home Rule Bill had been passed Ireland would have been content with that degree of devolution? Of course it would not. If it had, would it have had that savage civil war? Would Collins have been murdered? Would the events of 1920 have happened? Never. There is no analogy to be drawn there, except perhaps the other way round—that in passing the Bill, even as we might amend it, we are much more likely to set up a situation with such inherent contradictions as are bound to lead to strife, not only between England and Scotland but also within Scotland itself, because we shall have an Assembly in Scotland dominated by one political persuasion with a minority getting more and more restive under the dominance of that political persuasion, with which it entirely disagrees.
1330 The difficulties that would be likely to arise have been pointed out repeatedly, and I shall not go through them again. I must admit, however, that the dangers I see in the Government's proposals I find not quite so violently present but inherent to some degree in any form of directly-elected Assembly, no matter how constituted. That puts us in a dilemma, because nationalism does exist. If it is not to be met by a directly-elected Assembly, what can we do?
First, why does nationalism exist? Is it because England has been unfair to Scotland and Wales or to their people? I must, I suppose, declare a slight interest here. I believe that it has not been unfair. My forebears were able to come from Scotland and earn far better livings in England than they would ever have done if they had stayed at home. They and many others like them had a far wider range of opportunities, without leaving Britain. The same is true of an enormous number of people from all over the United Kingdom without distinction of nation. Looking through the names of distinguished soldiers, Service people, Ministers, Prime Ministers, doctors and surgeons, one is struck by the high proportion which conies from Scotland and Wales, and, indeed, from Ireland.
There was an element of truth in what the hon. Member for South Ayrshire was saying. One of the reasons why nationalism is starting to become so strong a force now is that this wider opportunity has shrunk as the influence of Britain in the world has shrunk. The answer is not to make that influence shrink still more by dividing the nation into its separate and component parts but to try to build up the position of Britain in the world by doing everything in this Parliament that we can to restore our economic strength and political position as Great Britain, a force and influence in Europe and the world.
It is not simply a question of influence, nor, indeed, am I talking about any neo-imperialist concept. I am talking about existence. What is at stake is not simply a great future but any future. We need all the unity we can get to protect our liberty and our capacity to exist as a United Kingdom in an increasingly hostile world. Sometimes when I see new nations and the difficulties they go through I reflect on the melancholy fact that so 1331 often countries gain independence only for their citizens to lose their freedom. We have seen that happen, alas, all too often. It must not happen here.
The second thing which has caused the increase in nationalist feeling is the increasing remoteness of government, not in the physical sense but in the sense of understanding and caring less and less about what people are doing, what they mind about and what concerns them. To many, the Bill makes it worse. It increases the bureaucracy and remoteness of government by introducing yet one more tier. It forgets one important point, particularly in dealing with Wales. I refer to the error which has been made, in copying the methods by which local government works, in making the Welsh Assembly itself the Executive.
We all receive letters from our constituents dealing with matters which should properly be dealt with by local authorities. One of the reasons why it is so difficult for councillors to deal with these matters is that every elected member of every local authority is part of the Executive through his membership of various committees. There is a blurring there between the elected representatives and the Executive, a blurring, in the terms of the Bill, between the functions of the Assembly and those of the Executive.
Therefore, if we are to meet this growing feeling of remoteness, we should turn our attention not to the structure and organisation of local or regional government but to the methods by which it operates internally. If we do not, if we rely instead on the measure which the Government have put before us, things will be no better for the people of Wales, of Scotland and, indeed, of England. We shall have sold them a dud. We shall have provided for them an Assembly, an Executive, a whole enormous apparatu—sall to make things, if anything, worse and certain not to make them better. That surely is enough to cause even the mildest Welshman or Scotsman to give a very angry jeer at the United Kingdom Parliament.
For I do not believe that Clause 1 of the Bill is a fact. It says that the Bill does not affect the unity of the United Kingdom. It says that it does not affect the ability of Parliament to 1332 make laws for the whole United Kingdom or for any part of it. I just do not believe that any Bill with the provisions which this one contains cannot have a great effect on the unity of the United Kingdom and on the different, separate parts of it—on England and Northern Ireland as well as on Scotland and Wales. If it does not, it should, because there is no right to give this degree of devolutionary powers to an Assembly and Executive and expect the representation at Westminster to remain the same—at least without redressing the inequity of the representation from Northern Ireland.
The nationalist policies make sense. They will lead to separate nations, with the disastrous results that I think will follow, but they make sense. It could happen. No doubt, if the people of Scotland are mad enough to want it, it will happen. But I do not believe that it is what the people of Wales or Scotland really want. Perhaps if they are told it often enough and in loud enough voices they will be deluded into thinking that they do want it and will regret it deeply afterwards. But it is the largest duty of the Conservative and Unionist Party to tell them in an equally loud voice that it is the Union which matters, that Scotland is part of Britain, not subservient to England but a partner with England in a Union in Britain, in the United Kingdom.
There is nothing more that can be done at this moment in putting forward ideas—no doubt we shall have opportunities in Committee, though I hope that it will have to be in some other separate forum, for the Bill will never do any good, no matter what is done to it in Committee. Indeed, I think that it will do great harm. It is frivolous and irrelevant to the plight of Britain. Our preoccupation with these matters can only be seen abroad as in some sense a sign of our decadence. Britain was once a great country. Let us reject the Bill and start once again to make Britain great.
§ 10.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Ioan Evans (Aberdare)
The right hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. Macmillan) has made a strong plea for the unity of the peoples of these islands to be maintained. That view is probably shared by Members on both sides of the Chamber. If there are differences, they 1333 are not about maintaining the unity but are about how we can maintain it. Although I have some comments to make about the proposals brought forward by the Government, I am sure that it is their intention to try to maintain the unity.
The right hon. Member for Farnham speaks from a Scottish origin while representing an English constituency. As the debate unfolds, we should realise that there is no longer a situation that there is a geographical part where all the Scots live, a part where all the English live, a part where all the Irish live and a part where all the Welsh live.
For some time I represented a Birmingham constituency. I represented Yardley, which is not very far from the heart of England. When I engaged in canvassing in that area, it was clear that there were many thousands of people who had come from the valleys in South Wales. Indeed, there were perhaps more Welsh people in the Yardley constituency than in many Welsh constituencies. There are many English people who have settled in my Welsh constituency of Aberdare. There are also many Irish people. The list of councillors' names indicates that there are many of Scottish and Irish origin.
The name of Keir Hardie has been mentioned from the Government Benches. Keir Hardie had to go to London to get to the House of Commons. When he lost his seat in London, he went to Aberdare and became the first Labour Member to represent the constituency that I now represent.
If we are to consider the Kilbrandon Commission—[Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. Thomas) wishes to intervene, perhaps he will get to his feet.
§ Mr. D. E. Thomas
I remind the hon. Gentleman that Keir Hardie was an ardent Welsh Home Ruler. The Labour Party in Wales has been constantly reviving that policy for the past 10 years.
§ Mr. Evans
If the hon. Gentleman reads Keir Hardie's election address, he will find that he was concerned with man's inhumanity to man. He claimed to be an internationalist. It is right that at one stage in the history of the Labour Party there were some who spoke about 1334 Home Rule. They talked about it because they thought that the only way of getting Socialism in a part of the United Kingdom was by having some sort of independence for Scotland and Wales. I believe that that is old hat.
§ Mr. Ronald Atkins
Is my hon. Friend aware that there is a large Anglo-Saxon family in South Wales called Atkins, which is 100 per cent. opposed to separatism?
§ Mr. Evans
One of the members of the family is in the House.
In the Kilbrandon Commission's report, it was stated that there were three ways in which Parliament could confer powers on a region. It was said that it could transfer sovereignty in all matters, which is separatism. The vast majority in the House reject separatism; let there be no doubt about that. Do not let us confuse the argument and think that separatism will be a part of anything that emerges from the devolution proposals.
The Kilbrandon Commission also stated that sovereignty could be transferred in certain matters only, which would be federalism. That is a concept that has been put forward on behalf of the Liberal Party by the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Johnston). Federalism, like separatism, was wholeheartedly rejected by the Kilbrandon Commission. The Royal Commission said that the United Kingdom could retain sovereignty in all matters and delegate the exercise of selected powers. That is where we get the definition of devolution, and that is what we are talking about today.
I believe that certain powers should be devolved. I agree with the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Maudling) that we support devolution just as we support the sunshine. We are committed to liberty, freedom and democracy and, therefore, it is difficult to argue against the theoretical concept of devolution. There is a strong case to be argued for regional authorities throughout Britain. We could think in terms of changing the machinery of government, which is not perfect, and extending government throughout the regions.
The proposal put forward to the Royal Commission by the Labour Party was that Wales should have a top-tier local authority. A similar solution could have 1335 been put forward for the English regions. What we should be debating is a devolution for Britain Bill, not a devolution for Scotland and Wales Bill.
The Government have made a political error. Knowing how the House works, they wanted to save time. They did not want to have one Bill followed later by another. It was argued that if a Scottish Bill were introduced there would be no time for a Welsh Bill. But both Bills could have been brought in at the same time and have gone through the House in parallel. I regret that Wales and Scotland are being dealt with in one Bill.
I welcome the declaration made by the Shetland Islands Council. The Leader of the SNP tried to dismiss it by saying that the council was merely an elected democratic body, so why bother with it. If that is how the SNP tries to lead Scotland, it is as well that the Scottish people should realise just where the party is going. I recall the words of Rabbie Burns:It's coming yet, for a' that,That man to man the warld o'erShall brothers be for a' that.The SNP is unwilling for us to live as brothers in this island. It wants to divide the Scots from the English and the Welsh. It was said at Question Time that the Bill enable different times to be set for summertime in England, Wales and Scotland. The Bill makes provision for turning back the clock in Wales and Scotland.
There is strong opposition in Wales to nationalism and separatism. It is the dominant force in Wales today. As the hon. Member for Merioneth said, Plaid Cymru had 27 lost deposits at the last General Election, the total number of candidates being 36. Plaid Cymru cannot be imagined as a real political force in Wales. The Labour Party polled over 50 per cent. of the votes, followed by the Conservative Party and the Liberal Party, with Plaid Cymru polling the smallest number of votes. It is the smallest parliamentary force in Wales.
§ Mr. Gwilym Roberts
While my hon. Friend is on that point, would he not agree that the cardinal fact in Wales was that the only party which put an Assembly as the main point of its programme rather than the economic issues which the other parties put forward—that 1336 is, the Welsh National Party—polled only 10 per cent. of the votes?
§ Mr. Evans
I think it was 10.9 per cent., but otherwise my hon. Friend is right. It was the only party which made the central issue in the General Elections in 1974 the fact that it wanted independence and separatism. It is true that in our manifesto we had a reference to an elected Assembly.
In a recent opinion poll by the Western Mail and Harlech Television, it was shown that there was not much support for devolution in spite of the fact that we have been arguing about it for 10 years. The survey showed that 27 per cent. are in favour and 40 per cent. are against, with 33 per cent. still undecided. In fairness, one should say that there is little public appreciation of the full implication of the Bill. As the debate goes on, if the Bill survives Thursday and goes to Committee, people may get more acquainted with the Bill.
I do not want to make great play of one opinion survey, but the opinion poll dealt with a referendum. It is revealing to know what the people of Wales are saying. In the same survey 79 per cent. favoured a referendum, only 18 per cent. were against it and a mere 3 per cent. of the people who were asked did not know whether they wanted a referendum. That is why I hope that when my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House makes a statement to us on the attitude of the Government he will take this into account. There is a great need for the people themselves to decide. Surely, if one is to speak of devolution there is no greater act of devolution than to let the people decide.
If there is to be devolution, let us devolve to the people and see whether we meet the aspirations of the Welsh people. If we say that this is what they are demanding, let us put it to the test and let the Welsh people decide.
I am not one who believes in referenda on all issues. I think it was right on the Common Market, although I did not agree with the decision of the people and I think we were led up the garden path to the Common Market. However, that was fair enough; the people made the decision.
On the question of whether we should make a major constitutional change, the 1337 Government are arguing that it will end the separatist argument, but some people have fears that we may be pushing it further by bringing separatism into consideration. We are discussing the possibility of the greatest change in the British constitution for hundreds of years. That is what the Government have themselves said in their White Paper. It is a major constitutional change. One of the important arguments for the Bill is that we are meeting the aspirations of the Welsh people. If that is the case, let the Welsh people tell us.
There is a difficulty about a referendum. As I mentioned earlier, many Welsh people have settled in London, Liverpool and on Merseyside generally, and there are English people in Wales. One wonders whether we should confine the referendum to Wales and Scotland or do it on a whole United Kingdom basis. There is a difficulty there.
There is another vital reason for a referendum, and this is something that the Government should take into account. The Government were making a number of proposals, but I am convinced that by the time the Bill gets to Third Reading, goes to the House of Lords and comes back—if it does—the Bill that we shall then have before us could well be a very different Bill from that which we now have. The Government should think seriously in terms of having a referendum, because it would then act as a safeguard for them.
§ Mr. D. E. Thomas
I do not see the point of the argument about who would vote in a referendum. If a referendum were to take place, it would embrace all the people resident in Wales and in Scotland. All the English people resident in Wales would vote, as, indeed, many English residents in Wales voted for me in the General Election, and would vote as residents of Wales. Does not the 1338 hon. Gentleman accept that all the Welsh people living in Wales are resident in Wales and, therefore, are entitled to decide the political future of the country in which they live?
§ Mr. Evans
If we are talking about devolution and about unity, Welsh people who happen to reside in London should have some kind of say. If the hon. Member for Merioneth denies them that right, it is as well to have that on record.
The Government mean well and are seeking to fulfil an election commitment. They face a difficulty because this matter was included in the Labour manifesto. Indeed, there has been no change of the election commitment in these proposals. The road to the Welsh Assembly might be paved with good intentions, but they are not good enough. I believe that the people of Wales have said definitely that they do not want separatism, and they want assurances that this is not a form of legal separation which in time might well lead to divorce proceedings.
We must draw attention to the fact that there is now in Wales great feeling and anxiety because there appears to be a degree of over-government. We have community councils, district councils, county councils, the Welsh Office, ad hoc authorities, Westminster, and the EEC bureaucracy which has now been added in recent years. We are now to have a Welsh Assembly inserted into the other tiers of government. We also have the semantic argument about whether the Welsh Assembly is another tier of government. It appears to me that it is. If it is to add yet another tier, it is a matter that we should examine closely.
The Tory Government made mistakes in their local government reorganisation and in seeking to reorganise the National Health Service and the water industry. That is recognised by people in all parties. If we are to have devolution, we must ensure that we do not compound mistakes made by the previous government and that we do not maintain the existing reorganisation within what is added on to all the rest.
1339 At a time when we have a serious world economic crisis, and at a time when public authorities are being told to cut back public expenditure, we are embarking on the creation of two massive spending authorities, although they will not have any extra money to spend. It has already been made clear in this debate that administrative charges will be taken from the money allocated to Wales and Scotland.
I have received a further statement from the Association of County Councils speaking on behalf of the Welsh Counties Committee. It says:The Association have consistently maintained that proposals such as those in the Bill must have serious fundamental implications for the future of local government in Wales.It quotes from the Government's supplementary statement on devolution, which clearly states:The Government will ask the Welsh Assembly to consider and report, after appropriate consultation, on the future local government structure in Wales in the context of the Assembly's own new responsibility for the whole of Wales.In fact, it is reported in the Press that the Secretary of State has said that the first priority should be a re-examination of the local government structure.
In Wales we have already gone through a traumatic experience with regard to local government reorganisation If we are to look at it again we must get it correct this time. I believe that other dangers will be brought out as the debate progresses.
I support the Government's rejection of proportional representation. The hon. Member for Inverness raised this in his speech this evening. The present system of voting is easy to understand and to operate. It creates a strong link between MPs and their constituencies. It enables MPs and the Government to be elected by quotas rather than by backstairs deals between politicians of different parties. This applies in particular to Wales.
Of the 23 seats won by Labour in the October 1974 General Election in Wales, 18 were won by over 50 per cent. of the vote. One of the seats was won by 49.9 per cent. of the vote. Therefore, 19 out of 23 seats had an overall majority. To try to change the electoral system or the representation in Wales is just not 1340 on. All 13 Opposition candidates in Wales who won last time were elected on a minority vote. I do not think that PR would have any influence on the representation of Wales. Although it would help the Labour Party to increase its representation if an Assembly were to be established, I do not think that we should seek to change the election system.
There is a danger that written into the Bill will be a demand to reduce the representation in this House from Scotland and Wales. I would oppose that. Nothing would do more to undermine the unity of the people of this island.
I sympathise with the Government, because they have sought to meet a promise made to the people to devolve power. Government must be brought nearer to the people. I believe that Socialism is the extension of the idea of democracy into the industrial and social fields. People in Wales today are concerned about the real things of life—job opportunities, the educational needs of their children and housing.
I hope that I carry the two representatives of Plaid Cymru with me when I say that it is a false illusion to think that we can solve the problems of Wales by separating ourselves from our friends in Scotland and England. It is not the boundaries that have to be changed. They have to be removed, and we should seek to change the economic system in which we live.
§ Mr. David Madel (Bedfordshire, South)
With regard to the number of hon. Members in this House, does not the hon. Gentleman think that we should represent constituencies of roughly the same size? Is it not utterly deplorable that there are some seats in England with more than 90,000 constituents while others in Wales are way below that figure?
§ Mr. Evans
There are some quite large constituencies in Wales as well. But there has been a tradition in this House recognising that, where there are larger constituencies, some rural areas have had smaller electorates than urban areas. These are matters which no doubt we should consider.
The Government are keeping their options open about a referendum, but I hope that by Thursday night we shall 1341 have been given an early lead from them telling us what they intend to do about a referendum.
I refer briefly to the speech of the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans), the Leader of Plaid Cymru in this House. He said that the power of nationalism was probably the strongest moral power in the world. I deny that absolutely. Surely it is the great religions. Certainly they are a stronger moral force in the world than nationalism. Those great religions preach a belief in the brotherhood of man.
In my opinion, nationalism is the greatest force for evil in the world. We have only to look around the world to see that. Wherever people are at each other's throats, nationalist powers are at work. We in this House have witnessed the emancipation of one-quarter of the world's population. In those territories there were freedom movements which sought individual liberty for the people. That is a constructive force. But it will be a destructive force in this small island if people who have lived together for generations seek to pursue policies that will divide us.
I hope that in discussing the Bill we shall look at it very closely. I think it is very untimely that we should be involved in a major constitutional change. The Government may say that it is impossible to choose the time exactly because we are nearing the end of this Parliament. I hope, however, that the Bill will be examined line by line and clause by clause, assuming that it receives a Second Reading on Thursday, and that we can change it drastically.
§ 11.2 p.m.
§ Mr. lain Sproat (Aberdeen, South)
I speak tonight very conscious of the unique and rather sombre importance of the Bill. After all, we are discussing a measure which could mean, without intending to, the break-up of the United Kingdom and the ending of 270 years of unparalleled achievement between the peoples of this island. That is the solemn perspective in which we must consider the Bill.
I oppose the Bill. I oppose it in principle and I oppose it in detail. I do so because I believe that the people of Scotland, England, Wales and Ulster are 1342 so bound by the ties of history, culture, social life, economics, sentiment—
§ Mr. Sproat—and hope for the future that they are one nation, and it is natural and best for them to have one centre and capital for their political ideas.
§ Before I make any further remarks, I want to examine the motive behind the Bill. Although many people have many different points of view about the introduction of a devolution Bill, I do not believe that anyone in Scotland, of any political party, believes seriously that if it had not been for the victory of the 11 Scottish National Party Members at the last General Election we would be debating this measure. That is the motive. There are others, but without that we would never be discussing devolution at this moment.
§ Mr. Jim Craigen (Glasgow, Maryhill)
Then will the hon. Gentleman explain why the Douglas-Home Commission was set up in 1968 if we had to await the arrival of the 11 SNP Members?
§ Mr. Sproat
Many hon. Members have different reasons. It may well be that the Douglas-Home Commission's acceptance was not unrelated to the fact that the present Member for Moray and Nairn (Mrs. Ewing) had just won a famous victory at Hamilton. I am certain that the Tory Party would never have accepted these proposals if it had not been running scared because of what the hon. Lady had achieved at Hamilton.
We listened to an honourable and forthright speech from my hon. Friend the Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Buchanan-Smith). There are many reasons why people support the Bill. We know perfectly well that the House would not be proposing to devote six months to it but for the fact that the Labour Party in Scotland was afraid of losing seats to the SNP. That is the basic reason. It shocks me that the House should be putting at risk the constitutional unity of this country for what amounts to party political gain. That is a shameful and humiliating thing to have to say in the House of Commons.
The hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sillars) said in a rather oblique disquisition on cause and effect that the 1343 SNP was not the cause but the result of a natural evolution of emotion in Scotland. Any politician in Scotland knows perfectly well that there are three things which mainly fuel the SNP. The first is discontent with Government—both Conservative and Labour Governments—with rising unemployment, rising inflation, the feeling that the Government are remote, and so on.
Secondly, there is North Sea oil. Without it the SNP would not have one Member here—or would have perhaps just one. For years the SNP was a joke, on the same level as mothers-in-law and honeymoon couples, until North Sea oil came along and gave it a kind of economic validity. Without North Sea oil it would be regarded as the joke party which it was for years in Scotland.
Thirdly, I am happy to admit that there is the question of Scottish identity, the fact that people feel that they are Scottish. The combination of discontent and the feeling that there is some economic validity in it becomes dangerously mixed up with the emotional, nationalistic argument.
The SNP, with its 11 Members, has prompted the great Labour Party to produce this ridiculous Bill. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) said that if we look at the reasons for discontent—oil and national identity—we see that there are many other parts of the United Kingdom which have greater cause to be discontented than Scotland. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I hear the traditional cries of "Oh" from the SNP Bench. Perhaps SNP Members were not here when the hon. Gentleman read out figures showing that Liverpool and Merseyside have much higher unemployment than Glasgow or Strathclyde.
One of the more satisfactory passages in the speech of the Secretary of State for Scotland this afternoon was when he pointed out what control over her own affairs Scotland already has. There are more people in the North-West of England than in Scotland, but they do not have their own Secretary of State and they do not have five Ministers to look after their affairs, yet the area has worse unemployment than Scotland has. These are the points which all hon. Members 1344 should be throwing at the SNP, instead of adopting the craven and timid approach of seeking to appease it.
Let us look at the economics. For some reason that I do not understand, the Secretary of State talked about crude figures. They were figures, produced by his own Government, showing that Scotland per capita gets roughly 20 per cent. more out of the Treasury than England does. I do call that not a crude figure but a wonderful figure for Scotland. If I were an English Member I would wonder how Humberside and Merseyside, with worse problems than Scotland, receive less per capita from the Treasury.
Even though I am a Scotsman representing a Scottish constituency, I have no hesitation in saying that the money from the United Kingdom Treasury should not be given to Scotland because it is Scotland but should be given to whatever part of the United Kingdom has most need of it. We should have taken our stand on that years ago, instead of throwing out money in an emotional response when it was more needed elsewhere. Parts of Scotland need it desperately, but we should think of them as being important not because they are Scottish but because they are deprived.
§ Mr. Russell Fairgrieve (Aberdeenshire, West)
I had not intended to intervene, having made yesterday a speech which those who do not agree with me on the matter thought was very reasonable. But I remind my hon. Friend, who was one of those who won back three seats in Scotland for our party in 1970, for the first time since 1955, that his election address at that election supported the implementation of the Douglas-Home proposals. He said:Conservatives believe we must have more control of Scotland's interests in Scotland itself. The plan for an elected Scottish Assembly will form a basis for the devolution of more power to Scotland.What has made him change his mind?
§ Mr. Sproat
All of us in this House change our minds, or most of us who have any sense do so. I said that as a basis for our plans for Scotland we all wanted decentralisation. What I am against is a separate legislative Assembly for Scotland, which is what we are discussing. That was not among the Douglas-Home proposals, although I would now reject those proposals as well.
1345 I return to my second point, that of North Sea oil and why the SNP has got to where it is. The following question needs to be put again and again, not only to the SNP but to the Liberals. If North Sea oil is to go to Scotland, what happens to the coal from the Selby coalfield in Yorkshire? Why should Scotland suddenly receive the riches and other parts of the United Kingdom with mineral reserves not be similarly entitled to them?
We heard from the Liberals tonight that part of North Sea oil should go to Scotland. Is it part of the Liberal proposals that Yorkshire should have special funding out of the Selby coalfield'? The hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Wainwright) shakes his head. Why should Scotland be treated differently? This is the sort of lunatic economic irrationality that we face.
As for a Scottish identity, I do not think that any of us who are Scotsmen are other than proud to be Scotsmen. But I am also proud to be British, and that is my wider loyalty in political matters.
We cannot beat the SNP by trying to appease it. The Bill is basically an act of political appeasement, dress it up as one will. The only way to beat the SNP is to fight it. I have no doubt that at the next General Election we shall see many of the SNP faces disappear. Certainly in our part of Scotland we shall not see the SNP come back here again.
My hon. Friend the Member for North Angus and Mearns, to whose forthright speech I have already gladly paid tribute, said that we could not simply do nothing—I paraphrase him rather inelegantly. He seemed to be saying that either we should go for something on the principle of the Bill or we should accept the status quo. But that is not the argument. No one in any party can be satisfied with the way in which the House conducts itself at present. I am not arguing for the status quo in the House; I am arguing that whatever reforms there may be—and there should be reforms, including the ending of the hereditary basis of the House of Lords and the establishment of a committee system to enable this House to scrutinise and control more effectively the actions of the Government and the Civil Service—they should be within the existing British institutions. We should not set up a lot of new 1346 institutions such as Scottish and Welsh Assemblies. Reform, yes; decentralisation, yes; but it should be reform and decentralisation within our existing institutions.
The tide is turning in Scotland as it has already clearly turned in Wales. It would have been thought impossible a year ago that we could see the establishment of a group called "Scotland is British", which combines the managements of the CBI and chambers of commerce and representatives of trade unions who are becoming increasingly disaffected with the ideas in the Bill. The unions include UCATT, AUEW and the railway-men. The hon. Member for Stirling, Falkirk and Grangemouth (Mr. Ewing) will see what action the AEUW takes at its conference in the spring. There is no doubt that the tide is turning in Scotland.
§ Mr. Sproat
Those important bodies, together with the accountants, doctors, bankers and farmers, as well as the chairmen of Scottish local authorities, are saying that after consideration they have concluded that we are going down the wrong road. This is happening increasingly.
§ Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)
The hon. Gentleman makes a strong point when he refers to the tide turning in Scotland. Will he accept that in Wales the tide never came in?
§ Mr. Sproat
I am extremely glad to hear that, and I look forward to a great deal of support from Welsh Members as the Bill pursues its no doubt weary way.
The major errors of the Bill have been mentioned many times. These points have been made many times because they are true. They are points which strike home. The Bill means more government when almost everyone believes that we need less government. We shall have six layers of government and be the most over-governed country in the world. The Bill means more bureaucracy and more civil servants when everyone agrees that we need fewer.
§ Mr. Sproat
The hon. Gentleman does not come here very often, and now when he does he sits with his feet up claiming that the Bill will not mean one extra civil servant. The Government admit that the Bill will result in the appointment of 2,000 extra civil servants. The hon. Gentleman should read the Bill instead of continually making sedentary interruptions.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bryant God-man Irvine)
Order. Observations from a sedentary position are completely out of order, as the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) well knows.
§ Mr. Ian Gow (Eastbourne)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) referred to my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) as a coward. If there is one word which does not apply to my hon. Friend, it is that. Ought not the hon. Member withdraw his remark?
§ Mr. Mackintosh
Now that the hon. Gentleman has given way to a challenge, I am prepared to say that he is not cowardly. What I am saying is that he is quite wrong to suggest that devolution means an extra tier of government in Scotland. What we are proposing in devolution is democratic control of an existing Government Department which exists there. All that we are proposing is democratic control of 6,000 civil servants 1348 in the Scottish Office. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept that.
§ Mr. Sproat
This really is semantic hair-splitting of the most ridiculous kind. Everyone knows that the Bill will mean another layer of government, by definition. It will mean another 2,290 civil servants. That is in the Bill. In addition, it will mean more expense. The figure in the Bill for next year is £36 million. As my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) pointed out earlier today, that figure has risen in the last 12 months alone. If the Bill ever were to see the light of day as an Act, no doubt the figure would have risen to £50 million before it was ever operated.
When we have the International Monetary Fund on the doorstep telling us that we must cut public expenditure, what are the Government doing? On the very day before the Chancellor of the Exchequer is to come to the Dispatch Box to tell us how our expenditure on housing, education, the social services and defence is to be cut, we are seriously being asked to spend, at the minimum, another £36 million on devolution.
The matter does not end there. Not only will taxes have to rise to pay for these Assemblies in Cardiff and Edinburgh, but once they are set up no doubt the means will be found to enable them to tax us even more. Indeed, the Secretary of State was at some pains today to tell us that we need not worry because, although he had not found the exact way in which he could tax us more, he would do so. He was looking for a way in which the Assemblies could levy taxes.
We shall have more government when we want less, more civil servants when we want fewer, more expenditure when we want less, and more taxation when we want less.
§ Mr. Sproat
Indeed—although perhaps not Members of Parliament such as my hon. Friend. We want more like him.
The greatest reason why I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the House will unite to throw out the Bill is that within a very short measurable space of time, within a decade, it could lead to 1349 the break-up of the United Kingdom. I think that it was the hon. Member for South Ayrshire who said "If no one wants it, how does it happen?" He said that he was a student of philosophy. If he directed his attention to history, he would discover many events which no one really wanted but which have fallen upon the world, such as two world wars. They occurred although only a very small number of people wanted them.
§ Mr. Sproat
Indeed, as my hon. Friend has shrewdly said.
What those of us who are most staunchly opposed to the Bill believe is that it will lead to the loss of that which we prize most—the unity of this country. We are now in a very said economic situation. However, all of us, of whatever political party, believe that we can pull ourselves together again and make this country count for something in the world once again. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Farnham (Mr. Macmillan) so eloquently said, we believe that we can play our part in the world again as a British people.
That is what we are risking throwing away by fragmenting ourselves in to little Scotland, little Wales and not-so very-big England. The reason why that is likely to happen is that the Bill is a guaranteed recipe for conflict. Every constitutional matter on which Edinburgh disagrees with London will be come a constitutional dogfight. The people of Scotland will become sick of that. They will be told that everything that happens to Scotland that is good has happened because they have an Assembly. Everything that is bad, they will be told, will be because they are still partly shackled to Westminster. The constitutional dogfights would grow and the divisions between our two countries of Scotland and England would grow. That is what we are risking by the Bill.
In conclusion, I prophesy confidently that Parliament and public opinion will destroy the Bill, and Parliament and public opinion will be right to destroy it.
§ 11.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Jenkins (Putney)
As is his custom, the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) talked a great deal of 1350 nonsense. He did so with some eloquence, but I thought that part of his speech was not only anti-devolutionary but actually anti-Scottish.
I do not know whether that is customary in Scotland, but certain things about Scotland have become plain to me tonight of which I was not aware previously. I am a Londoner of Welsh origin. One of the myths on which I was brought up was that the Welsh are eloquent and that the Scots are dour, quiet people. During the hours that I have sat here today, that myth has been destroyed. One thing can be said of the Scots is that they are talkative people, as the Welsh are supposed to be. The balance of eloquence has been on the Scottish side tonight.
However, the quality of what has been said has not always matched the volume of words in which it has been clothed. The speech of the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South was an example of that. The Bill contains proposals for changes which, if not made, will place the United Kingdom under very great strain. The hon. Gentleman says that the changes will have the opposite effect. The hon. Gentleman's argument does not stand up to sober examination.
I look at this matter from the point of view of a London Member. It is time that someone who lives in, and represents a part of, the capital said a few words about the Bill, because Londoners will be affected by it, though not to as great an extent as people in Scotland.
I take the view, and I do not regret it, that if the Bill becomes an Act, as I am sure that it will and as, incidentally, the right hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. Macmillan) conceded, it will not be a decision in itself. It will be a decision which will lead to other decisions. The establishment of regional government in England will follow the devolution of power to Scotland and Wales. What we are seeing here is not only the establishment of a new form of government for Scotland and for Wales but the beginnings of the establishment of devolution in England.
I welcome this. We living on this island are beginning to realise that we are one of the most centralised countries in the world. We are, in fact, grossly over-centralised. There are few countries 1351 which are centralised to the same degree. We are centralised not only in the political sense of the word but in the industrial, financial and even entertainment—the area which I know best—senses of the word.
No other capital contains the centre of the theatre, most of the great museums, the film industry and the television industry. I am a Londoner and I take the view that it is not beneficial to London for Britain to be so centralised.
A few years ago I took a trip around Europe and, instead of looking at countries as is customary, I looked at the organisation of towns.
I tried to compare the relationships of towns with their national Governments. I found some surprising things. I found that, with the exception of France, we are one of the most highly centralised countries, certainly in Western Europe and possibly in the world. Another thing I discovered was the power of national traditions, spread over a long period of time. I found that there was a great deal in common between Vienna and Bucharest, with one under a Communist regime, because of the traditions of the Austro-Hungarian empire, traditions of decentralisation.
Municipal power is exercised even today in Budapest and Bucharest. These cities have taxation powers conceded to them by national Governments which are not enjoyed in this country. The extraordinary thing is that in these highly centralised countries, in which national planing is the be-all and end-all, practices persist so much that within centralised planning a good deal of freedom is exercised by each of the capitals.
This is what we lack in this country. We lose profoundly. We lose in every conceivable way. We lose culturally. The great talent of the country is not spread as widely as it ought to be. One of the reasons for this is that we persist in having a single national centre in London towards which every person of talent, in whatever capacity, must come if he wants to get to the top. This is what we have to move away from. We shall not do so unless we shift from the centre out into the various parts of the country a degree of the power of decision-making.
The need for moving decision-making outwards will not end until it extends to the power to raise taxes. I realise the 1352 difficulties about conceding taxation powers, and I do not say that I have an answer to that problem. While devolution is a necessary step to ensure the continuation of the Union, I believe that it is possible, within a devolved system, to concede an element of responsibility for raising taxes. This will have to come.
I want my hon. Friends to look carefully at the question of a referendum. The referendum is sometimes held out as the ultimate instrument of democracy. I do not believe that. The essential part of democracy is contained in Parliament, in this Chamber, where we discuss issues with one another, listen to different points of view and reach our conclusions. The hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Johnston) said that he always learned something when he took part in a debate. One thing a referendum will never do is to teach anyone anything. All that it succeeds in doing is testing what people already believe to be the case.
My hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) recently took part in a radio debate presided over by Mr. Taverne. I have often disagreed with my hon. Friend on other things, but we have in common a doubt about the efficacy of the referendum. He opposed the idea of a referendum in that programme. Before the debate began, my hon. Friend started with only a small number on his side. After the debate, there was a 60 per cent. swing to his opinion. Certainly he lost the debate, but the movement of opinion during it among those who had heard the argument was profound.
Therefore, the disadvantage of the referendum is that people do not hear the argument. It cannot provide the democratic process of debate and discussion which takes place here. It is a dangerous instrument. Democracy is not simply opinion-polling.
§ Mr. Dalyell
What does this prove, except that my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) is a man of dazzling and bewitching eloquence?
§ Mr. Jenkins
It proves that my hon. Friend, by the exercise of the powers which my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) rightly attributes to him, managed to change the opinion of many of those who heard him. 1353 It proves the value of democratic discussion.
§ Sir Raymond Gower (Barry)
Does the hon. Gentleman envisage a referendum with no campaigning? Does he not realise that there would be campaigning by both sides?
§ Mr. Jenkins
I may be influenced by the fact that in the only referendum that we have had—that on the Common Market—I was on the losing side. My conclusion is that the referendum fails to provide for the interchange of ideas and the opportunity to hear the other man's point of view. The Common Market referendum was taken after the event, after we had been in for three years. If there is to be a referendum on devolution—I am not sure that there should be—the time to take it would be three years after the establishment of the Scottish and Welsh Assemblies.
The experience of referenda is that people will decide to keep what they already have—to maintain the status quo, whatever it is. The time to take a referendum is after the change has been made, and then people will endorse it.
§ Mr. Neil Macfarlane (Sutton and Cheam)
Why has the hon. Member chosen three years? Why not one, two, four or five years?
§ Mr. Jenkins
I am going in for the process of democratic discussion which I have advocated. I propose three years. The hon. Member suggests two or four years. He may be right—
§ Mr. Jenkins
But he may be right. We are discussing it. If we were deciding this matter by a referendum, we would say simply "Three years—'Yes' or No'?" So the hon. Gentleman is answering his own question.
§ Mr. Jenkins
For various other reasons.
The view that the Labour Party has taken of this issue over many years is the right view. We have not been very active about it. Those who have said that our eyes have been opened by the arrival of the Scottish nationalists have 1354 a point. But whether that is the reason or not—
§ Mr. Jenkins
—does not make us wrong. If what we are doing is right, the presence here of the Scottish nationalists does not invalidate it. Therefore, in this respect their presence is irrelevant to us. I say—
§ Mr. Jenkins
—that we should support the line that the Government are taking. I do not always take that view, but on this occasion I have great pleasure in supporting my right hon. and hon. Friends. I am convinced that when we go through the Lobby on Thursday night we shall give the Bill a Second Reading, that it will complete its passage through the House and that we shall have a historic and essential Act of Parliament.
§ 11.45 p.m.
§ Mr. George Reid (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)
The hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Jenkins) is an optimistic man. He must be one of the few Members who are confident that the Bill will pass through all its stages and become law. I would not be so sure at this stage.
I suggest that there is a shorthand phrase by which the hon. Gentleman might judge the success of the Bill, which runs as follows: no guillotine, no Bill; no referendum, no guillotine. In the case of Wales: referendum, no Bill. In the case of Scotland: no referendum, no Bill.
Seldom can a Bill have been agonised over for so long in Cabinet, researched in such great detail and pored over by the brightest of bright young men in Whitehall yet had such a miserable effect when published. Apart from the occupants of the Treasury Bench, hardly anyone has had a good word to say for this measure, but it would be churlish if my hon. Friends and I were not prepared to accord the Bill at least a cautious welcome.
I take that view for two reasons. The first reason is that although the Assembly is to be rammed into a constitutional straitjacket from the start, it still represents the greatest single transfer of 1355 responsibility back to the people of Scotland in the 269 years since the Act of Union. If so few of us can achieve so much in such a short time, it is not unreasonable that we can look for more progress in the not-too-distant future.
Secondly, I welcome the for the reasons advanced by the Secretary of State for Scotland—namely, on grounds of democratic accountability. English Members may not know to what extent there is already administrative devolution of the bread-and-butter issues in Scotland. It is right and proper that there should be a legislative Assembly in Scotland to guide that process, but that is only half the message. The other half is what the Assembly will be able to do.
The level of expectation of what the Assembly will achieve is already considerably in advance of the powers that will be devolved to it. If we examine the opinion polls of recent years, we find that the average Scot will give an answer broadly similar to the man from Merseyside or Tyneside when he is asked about his political priorities. He will say that he wants more jobs, better houses and better schools, for example. Devolution will come further down the list.
If the Scots are asked simultaneously whether they want an Assembly, 80 per cent. will return a resounding "Yes". Of those replying "Yes", more than half will want an Assembly with significantly greater powers than those contained in the Bill. In that sense the people of Scotland expect the Assembly to be able to deliver the goods.
In Scotland we have enormous poverty and great wealth existing side by side. We have some of the poorest housing, the highest unemployment, the worst health and the greatest emigration in Western Europe. In Clydeside we have the single greatest centre of multiple deprivation in Western Europe. In the Assembly's back yard, however, there is £200,000 million worth of oil.
In Scotland we have the ability to feed ourselves. We are self-sufficient in food. We have a skilled work force, a high export rate and manufacturing industries. The reality is that the Scottish people would like to use some of that wealth to eradicate the poverty.
§ Sir David Renton (Huntingdonshire)
If the hon. Gentleman will make further inquiries he will find, alas, that Scotland is not self-supporting in food and has not been for many years.
§ Mr. Reid
The right hon. and learned Gentleman is wrong, as he will see if he adds together Scotland's exports of mutton, fish and so on. According to parliamentary answers, we have a net surplus of between 2 per cent. and 3 per cent.
How does the SNP against that background approach the Scotland and Wales Bill? Our attitude should be to strengthen the Bill—without delaying unnecessarily its progress through the House—in the key areas of giving the Assembly powers to do the job. These areas, are, first fiscal powers to give the Assembly responsibility and accountability for raising money as well as spending it; secondly, access to our oil revenues; and, thirdly, control over the outposts of central government in Scotland—trade, industry, nationalised industries and so on.
Is that somewhat less than an outright position of independence? Yes, of course it is, but it does not imply a diminution of what the SNP stands for. The purpose of the SNP is twofold. First, it is the furtherance of all Scottish interests and, secondly, it is the return of sovereignty to where we believe it rightly belongs—to the people of Scotland. That inevitably means the withdrawal of all Scottish Members of Parliament from this House. We make no attempt to hide that. That has always been our policy and it continues to be our policy.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Harry Ewing)
The hon. Gentleman is enunciating SNP policy, but I gather that one of the constitutional experts who represents the SNP, Professor Neil MacCormick, takes a different view, having been in the SNP for longer than has the hon. Member May we know the official policy of the SNP? Is it the policy of Neil MacCormick or of the hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Reid)?
§ Mr. Reid
There is no difference within the SNP. There are two possible routes to independence for Scotland. One is the revolutionary route through the Assembly, and on this the hon. Member 1357 for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) and ourselves are quite close. He may talk about the slippery slope of separatism, whereas we talk about Scotland's gradual progress towards independence. The other way is the way in which the Government became elected, and that is by winning a majority of the Scots seats in Scotland. If that is good enough for the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, it is good enough for us in Scotland.
The hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) offered to take on the SNP. We shall be glad to oblige him at the earliest opportunity since those who do not realise that the status quo is not an option for Scotland will disappear remarkably quickly. There is a good Calvinist anecdote that relates to the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South. The guilty men find themselves consigned to oblivion in the nether regions and, looking up, say "Oh, Lord, we didna'ken", and the Lord, looking down in His infinite mercy and wisdom, said" Well, ye ken the noo". That will be the hon. Member's fate.
§ Mr. Norman Buchan (Renfrewshire, West)
Two minutes ago the hon. Gentleman said that there was no difference between himself and Professor MacCormick. One minute ago he enunciated the difference when he said that the way forward was by a majority of seats. Professor MacCormick said "a majority of votes". There is a big difference.
§ Mr. Reid
Yes, Professor MacCormick was speaking for himself, as do certain members of the Labour Party. The party policy of the SNP has consistently been that what is good enough for the Labour Party and the Conservative Party is good enough for the SNP.
Given the rise in temperature in the House—there was a singular example of that when the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) spoke—we on the SNP Bench have a great responsibility to handle the Bill with tact and diplomacy. Tempers are rising too. Labour Members, who possibly did not know they had a devolution commitment in their manifesto—or was it simply something soothing to spout at the hustings?—are under pressure from their constituents in Merseyside and Tyneside. People are saying" The Scots are at it again". There is a polarisation of attitudes 1358 in the House and the media, especially among cartoons. Labour Members who a year ago were lambasting the SNP are now criticising the Scots in general. That polarisation is profoundly depressing.
§ Mr. Reid
There are three major determinants of what is happening in Scotland. The first is perfectly obvious: that we are a nation in our own right. We were never put down by conquest but came to this House free and equal partners, after a thousand years of independent history. If the Commissioners of 1707 had wanted to "un-Scotch" us they would have done away with the institutions which are the main carriers of Scottish nationalism and nationality.
What is the difference between Merseyside, Tyneside and Scotland? Hon. Members comparing Merseyside with Scotland are not comparing like with like. There is no separate church system on Merseyside. There is no separate legal system on Merseyside, there is no separate schooling system on Merseyside, no separate university system, no separate administrative system. There is a difference of degree and kind.
§ Mr. Nicholas Fairbairn (Kinross and West Perthshire)
How many Scots in Britain live in Scotland, and how many do not?
§ Mr. Reid
I am not quite sure of the hon. and learned Member's point, but I can say that we have a legacy of enforced migration from Scotland the like of which is not known in Europe this side of the Mezzogiorno. One million people, one-fifth of our population, have left—our legacy of London rule—since the war.
§ Mr. Craigen
Bearing on the point the hon. Member made, the Union of 1707 left Scotland with distinct institutions but we gave up three estates then. That is one problem we are facing in the modern Scotland, the Scotland of 1976, now that we have four estates. The Press and television have become an important dimension in Scottish life and politics.
§ Mr. Reid
Yes, and rightly so. All of us look forward to the growth of an indigenous Scots Press and broadcasting service in Scotland.
1359 English MPs fail to understand that the United Kingdom is not a nation. Do they recite "O to be in the United Kingdom now that April's here" or sing "There'll always be a United Kingdom"? The United Kingdom is a multinational State comprising the separate nations of the British Isles. Against that background, we should be heading for the sort of close interrelationship which is possible between the peoples of Scandinavia, the Swedes, the Norwegians and the Danes. We have that sort of potential relationship.
§ Mr. Dalyell rose—
§ Mr. Reid
No, I have given way several times.
What is taking place, as the Leader of the Conservative Opposition said yesterday, is that we have come to the end of the Empire and the United Kingdom is currently in a state of economic decline. No one here would deny that. I may be making a point against myself, but we Scots had a privileged position in the days of Imperial grandeur. We were both Scots and British. We ran the docks in Hong Kong, the judicial system in the Punjab and held Burns suppers in temperatures of 102 degrees in India. Those days are gone and those options are no longer open to us. We stay at home. The young Scots in Scotland today, looking at the obvious degradation and neglect, are not prepared to tolerate these conditions. They are back in our own country for keeps and wish to do something about the situation—usually by joining the SNP.
The third determinant is the EEC referendum. I agree with the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sillars) that that was a big constitutional divide in British history. For the English it marked the final, formal abdication of sovereignty. For Scotland it marked a simultaneous reawakening of a future rôleas a small North European Country. The arguments deployed by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr Powell) and the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) against the Common Market also apply with equal logic to arguments about Scottish—English relationships.
Devolution is far too big a matter for the United Kingdom. One must look at 1360 the European connection. It is interesting that Lord Kilbrandon, whose report is the basis of so much of our discussion, is on record now as sayingI see a new relationship emerging between Brussels and Edinburgh with the London link gradually fading away.That is a future pattern for the development of our country—an independent Scotland as an equal partner—within the European Communities.
The Prime Minister yesterday dealt with the small national units in Europe—the desires of the Alsatians, Bretons, Catalonians and the Scots. There is a difference in kind and in degree, however. Scotland has a degree of muscle equalled only by Catalonia. We have our oil and fish, and we have our strategic waters, which are the forward development area of the Soviet Murmansk fleet. That gives us a strong bargaining position.
The SNP is the fastest-growing party in Europe, but we must remember that nationalism has been around for a long time.
§ Sir Raymond Gower
On the subject of a new dimension in Europe, does not the hon. Gentleman appreciate that if the West German Federal Republic were split into separate entities, of Baden-Baden, Wurtemburg and so on, it would not be as important a part of Western Europe as it now is?
§ Mr. Reid
I would answer the hon. Gentleman by saying that we have commodities that Europe wants—namely, oil and fish. Only if we are independent can we negotiate these at the top table with the European Community. The only way we can achieve a proper representation in Brussels is through independence, and the only way we can have a fair representation of Scottish Members at the European Parliament is again through independence.
Home Rule has been around for a long time—indeed since 1886, when the Home Rule Association was formed. In the early part of this century 11 Home Rule Bills were supported by 80 per cent. of Scottish Members of Parliament. Jimmy Maxton said that our country would achieve more as a self-governing Scotland in 30 years than was achieved by centuries of an Imperial Parliament. 1361 The famous radical, Cunninghame-Graham, in the 1920s said that he had often seen English Members go to the Bar of the House and, having realised that "the Scots were at their bagpipes", go away again—but that did not stop those Members going in for a Division and voting down Scottish issues with which they were unacquainted.
In 1945, as a small boy in my constituency, I remember the Labour Party producing a manifesto that contained two objectives. Objective one was "the defeat of Japan", and the second objective "the establishment of a Scottish Parliament". They have been a long time about it. I do not want to dwell on the number of about-turns and constant chopping and changing on the devolution issue which have characterised the Labour Party in recent years. Its mass conversion reminds me of the Chinese general who baptised his troops with a hose. [Interruption.]
I am reminded by the presence of the ron. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan) of what happened in the mid-60s between the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) and myself. I attended a council meeting of the Scottish Council of the Labour Party in Troon. The hon. Gentleman at that point was seeking devolution all round to England, Scotland and Wales. He was abused, castigated. pushed and jostled by people in the hall. If his mode for devolution had hen adopted at that time, perhaps the SNP would not now be in its present powerful position. However, one cannot make history stand still.
I now turn to the Conservative Party. It has been a long time since 1967 and the Declaration of Perth. We have had the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Pent-lands (Mr. Rifkind) going on record as saying that he wanted an Assembly which had the priorities of expenditure within its control. We have had the Chairman of the Scottish Conservative Party agreeing with the Young Tories that the White Paper did not go far enough. He wanted the Assembly with economic powers. But these are issues that we can explore in Committee.
All of us in the SNP are grateful, however, to the Leader of the Opposition for providing one of the most hilarious party 1362 turns seen in many a long Christmas. She has ruled that a constitutional issue can simultaneously be a matter of conscience. She enforced the resignation by the Shadow Scottish Secretary of State but not by other office-bearers who are also Scots MPs. That apparent anti-devolutionist of last week, the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor), is now doing somersaults with the Saltire in one hand and the Union Jack in the other.
With respect to the hon. Gentleman, I remember a rather fine cabaret song of the 1930's by Ronald Frankau which goes:I am half the horse in the Panto,Please do not let on it's a sham,If you know I am a horse in the PantoDo not tell him which half I am.The reality is that the Douglas-Home proposals are no longer an option.
What do we in the SNP want? Hon. Members must remember that in the Kilbrandon Commission Minority Report, popularly considered to be a much less radical document than the main one, Lord Crowther-Hunt—the Government's constitutional adviser—said that when a devolved Assembly was set up it should have powers extending over the outposts of central Government.
Lord Crowther-Hunt said that not through greater commitment to devolution but on the basis of straight logic. Five-sixths of civil servants who work in Scotland work outwith the Scottish Office. If the function of the Assembly is to provide democratic control of this intermediate tier of government—in energy, employment, social services and so on—it cannot exclude two-thirds of civil servants involved from its terms of reference.
There is an additional expectation in Scotland, which is that the Assembly will transform social and economic control. But how can it when control is, in fact, vested elsewhere, in London? The various Government Departments are far too closely interlocked to allow any coherent social or economic strategy which does not involve them all.
How is a Scottish Government to tackle the deprivation cycle if it has no control over the poverty trap aspects of taxation? How is it to provide incentives and to encourage entrepreneurs and other creative people if it lacks the power to adjust 1363 fiscal and industrial regulations? How can it plan for the economy as a whole in Scotland if offshore oil, which will amount to one-third of the GNP in the next three years, is excluded?
§ Mr. Fairbairn
Since the hon. Gentleman has quoted from Volume II of the report the Royal Commission on the Constitution, perhaps he ought to know what it says. It says:Scotland and Wales, like certain of the poorer regions of England, are now heavily subsidised by the richer regions of England. It would neither be right nor just to deny to the people of the richer regions of England equality of political rights over the people of Scotland and Wales while at the same time expecting them to continue to provide, certainly for Wales and possibly for Scotland, very substantial economic and financial support".The hon. Gentleman invoked the second volume of the Kilbrandon Report. There it is.
§ Mr. Reid
Let me deal first with the intervention of the hon. and learned Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Mr. Fairbairn). I do so by looking at the question of funding the Assembly. I think he will agree that the present suggestion of a block grant is a recipe for acrimonious conflict between Scotland and England. The hon. and learned Gentleman may, some day, be the Conservative Premier of a Scottish Assembly. He will have to come from Edinburgh to London to negotiate his block grant and, because of his own political base in Scotland, all that he will be able to do is go home and say that he was robbed. In that sense, it is a recipe for acrimonious conflict.
There is a simple and logical way of getting round the difficulty. It was suggested by Labour Party Members in the Home Rule Bills which they introduced in the 1920s, especially in the Barr Bill of 1927. That sought to establish a Scottish Treasury which would allow the Government in Scotland to collect all taxation in Scotland, including royalties, fees and other revenues, and then pay back to the London Treasury an agreed sum for such common services as still exist, be they defence, foreign affairs or whatever. Such a system would place on the Scottish Administration the onus of 1364 funding such projects as they thought desirable, and it would have the additional advantage of permitting specifically Scots innovations in terms of fiscal control over social and economic matters.
§ Mr. Dalyell
The hon. Gentleman referred to fees. I have in mind a subject on which he is an expert. Does he disagree with the head of the BBC in Scotland, who said that in an indigenous television set-up in Scotland the licence fee would have to be £120 if existing services were to be preserved?
§ Mr. Reid
I am happy to answer that question. My party gave evidence at considerable length to the Annan Commission. We took as our first point that Scotland is a difficult country in which to broadcast and that it will cost more. It is difficult on the grounds of terrain, it being not easy to get a signal into the Highlands. It is difficult on grounds of population base, advertising base and of licence base. We went on to make a very important suggestion. We considered how it was possible to put money into the pocket of the Scottish broadcaster without putting the broadcaster into the pocket of the politician. The suggestion from my party was that in Scotland the major capital costs—transmitters, for example—should be a charge on a Scots Treasury. In that sense, we should be providing in remote areas for something which is every bit as much a public service these clays as drains or electricity.
After all those interventions, I want to suggest that what we should be seeking in these shared islands is a new relationship. I hope that that is possible. I ask Government supporters to examine their consciences. If we were talking today not about Scotland but about Micronesia, some small speck of an island in the Pacific with its own national party, Government supporters would be on their feet demanding that they be given their freedom. The cry would be "Give them self-determination. Let them have their guano. Let them have access to their own resources." If they accept that for Micronesia, why not for Scotland?
§ Mr. Buchan
Will the hon. Gentleman give us his opinion on precisely this situation—the Micronesia of the North, Shetland? Shetland wants no part of a devolved Assembly, though I think that it is wrong. It also says that the resources 1365 of Shetland, the oil and the water, belong to the United Kingdom and should be used in the interests of the United Kingdom. The SNP should not accuse Government supporters of having imperialist attitudes, because one of its conference decisions was to say "We are prepared to give them independence, but the oil is Scots." Even British imperialism in its heyday was never quite so crude.
§ Mr. Reid
The hon. Gentleman has arrogated to 14 people in Shetland the voice of the islands. The only people to have spoken so far are the 14 members of the islands council. Furthermore, if the hon. Gentleman looks at the one democratic result in Shetland in recent years, the last General Election, he will find that the combined votes of the Liberal and the Scottish National Parties came to 73.4 per cent. of the total. That, surely, is a remarkably large Home Rule vote.
My party will be delighted to see the people of Shetland put their view on their future relationship to the test in a referendum. Having talked to them, we feel that they are frightened not about independence but about being ground between the twin mills of an Assembly in Scotland and a Parliament here. They want a simple and a direct relationship with one body only. My party has suggested that the islanders should have considerable autonomy and 1 per cent. of the revenue from the East Shetland basin, which would enable them to establish island banks, farm banks and the fishing banks which are so desperately needed.
§ Mr. Ted dy Taylor
If, after all that the hon. Gentleman had said to the people of Orkney and Shetland, they said that they did not want to join an independent Scotland, would the SNP allow them not to do so?
§ Mr. Reid
I have never heard the people of Shetland saying that they are a nation, but we shall see. We shall put it to a referendum. The SNP, being a democratic party, will abide by the result.
The hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan) has said on previous occasions that the girl in the Lyons tea shop across the road is every bit as remote from this House as a crofter in Shawbost. I agree, but that is a matter 1366 we can deal with inside the Assembly once we get back home. I am sure the hon. Member will agree that the Edinburgh Establishment could easily move in on the Scottish Assembly, and for that reason it is vital that we establish new and more open and democratic models of government, bringing government closer to the people at all levels.
Lastly, I turn to those who say that independence for Scotland will never take place. I recently read an article in a Swedish newspaper of 1904, when the Norwegians were becoming restive. The debates in the Swedish Parliament were not dissimilar to this. It was suggested that a bit more could be given to the Norwegians to keep them happy, that they could have some additional powers. The following year, because the essential areas of natural resources, trade and industry were not conceded to the people of Norway, Norway was herself a sovereign nation. Out of that secession, separation—a new, more open, honest relationship—was established between the people of Sweden and Norway, based on mutual respect, equality and understanding. That is the relationship that we in this party wish to see with our English neighbours. Poland re-emerged as a State after 170-odd years divided into three parts. Finland came out of Russia. Would anyone suggest that Finland would be better off as Russian today?
§ Mr. Galbraith
The hon. Member is leading the House astray. The situation in Sweden and Norway was utterly different from the relationship between England Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Members do not tell the whole truth. I obtained some information from the Library. The new State that the hon. Gentleman referred to entered almost immediately into a union with Sweden under the terms of which the King was represented in Norway by a Governor-General. It was not a proper union with one Parliament, as we have here. It was a colonial administration. Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that the relationship of Scotland to England is that of a colony?
§ Mr. Reid
This is a start of a great adventure for the people of Scotland. My hon. Friend the Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) said that the Assembly would be a half-way house, a stepping stone, a staging post for independence. We in the SNP do not claim that it will inevitably lead to independence. We only think it highly probable. That decision will be taken by the people of Scotland at the polls in their own due time. This certainly is not the end of the devolution road. To use Churchill's phrase, it is not the beginning of the end, but it is perhaps the end of the beginning.
We are not seeking a static model of government in our new Scotland, a devolution "settlement", a once-and-for-all transfer of powers. People who talk about getting the process right first time round fail to understand the mood of the people of Scotland. Devolution is a dynamic continuing process. Where it stops will be decided not by this House but only by the people of Scotland at a General Election.
I have a last quotation for the Labour Party, words spoken by James Barr, accompanied by Tom Johnston and Jimmy Maxton at the Wallace Monument, Stirling, on 27th August 1921. I ask Labour Members to reflect on it. He said:Let nations learn a fundamental principle of government. If you would make nations trustworthy, trust them. A true democracy must yield to all other peoples the claim it makes for itself. Contrary it is to all democracy to hold a nation against its will.This Bill marks the start of a new beginning for an old people. Scotland is about to get a future for its past.
§ 12.22 a.m.
§ Dr. Colin Phipps (Dudley, West)
The hon. Member for Clackmannon and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Reid) has done the House a service by making the SNP's position absolutely clear. I have heard him speak on these matters before, and I felt then, too, that he was doing the House and the nation a service by making the SNP's aims quite clear to us all. These are among the things that make the Bill such a dangerous measure for those of us who do not want to see the United Kingdom split and break up.
1368 In a passionate speech, my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sillars) strongly made the point that he was not seeking separation. He said that the Scottish people could be trusted and would not be leaving the United Kingdom. If they were governed by people such as my hon. Friend, that would probably be so, but his is not the party that is pressing for devolution. Unfortunately, we are having to deal with the SNP, not my hon. Friend's party.
If I had been the chief strategist or tactician of the SNP, I could hardly have dreamt up a better first step towards what that party wishes ultimately to obtain than the Bill. It does everything the SNP requires, giving it too little in the wrong way. It does not give the sort of powers that would allow the Assembly to be seen to have responsibility and to have to take responsibility.
I do not wish to argue with the SNP about its objectives. They are different from mine. The hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire has made a very honest and straightforward speech in which he has let us know exactly what those objectives are. I oppose them completely, and in opposing them I must oppose the Bill, because in it we are giving the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues the perfect weapon to bring about the end that they desire.
§ Mr. Sillars
I do not want my hon. Friend to misinterpret the position that my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley (Mr. Robertson) and I adopt. We believe in ultimate Scottish representation within the EEC. We have argued that the concept of separatism within the EEC is not valid. Independence outside the EEC is entirely different in quality from independence inside.
§ Dr. Phipps
I accept that point.
We do not have to go beyond page 1 of the Bill to establish why I and some of my hon. Friends will be voting against it. 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 or the supreme authority of Parliament to make laws for the United Kingdom or any part of it.That second sentence is one of the most dangerously complacent sentences ever to have appeared in a Bill. How can the 1369 Government possibly make such a statement? The proposed structure is so unstable that it is bound to lead to just such changes and to major changes.
If the Bill becomes law, we shall have the four parts of the United Kingdom with different forms of government. Northern Ireland will be governed directly from Westminster, with a very small representation here—one hon. Member to 114,000 electors. Scotland will have largely devolved powers and a representation rate of one hon. Member to 51,000 electors. Wales, with a 1–58,000 representation rate, will have a bastard Assembly, acting as both Executive and Assembly. England will have no separate Assembly.
I am not suggesting that this Government or any future Labour Government will wish to change the representation of the Scots in this House, but it is surely conceivable that there will be a Government of another political complexion which will not be prepared to see Scotland retain 71 hon. Members. The right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) has already said that there will have to be a reduction in the number of Scottish Members. The logic is surely that on matters which are devolved to Scotland there is no reason why any Scottish Member should vote in this House but that on United Kingdom affairs there should not be a reduced representation from Scotland taking part in the vote.
The logic of the Bill is a federal system in which we would have local governments in all four countries and a United Kingdom Parliament in which all countries would be fully represented. I do not suppose I could support that, but I could find in it something more attractive than the terrible mish-mash and mix-up of the Bill, which will give us the worst of all worlds.
Any Labour Government who gave up central power to decide on matters such as comprehensive education and the moving of money around the United Kingdom would be foolish. The underprivileged child in Eastbourne is as important as the underprivileged child in Glasgow. If comprehensive education is right in Glasgow, it is right in the South of England and I cannot see a Conservative-dominated southern region producing plans for comprehensive education.
1370 As a Labour politician, I have a vested interest in maintaining some central powers. Do not let us pretend that the Bill is put forward as the result of a deep-seated conviction to devolution by the Government. The Government have said that the subject has been under consideration for 10 or 20 years. To find the real reason for the Bill we have only to compare the Labour manifestos for the General Elections in February and October 1974. What happened on 28th February 1974 which suddenly made devolution such a vital issue? We all know. It was the fact that seats were won by the SNP in Scotland. The present Labour Government were then frightened of losing seats in the future.
We might be able to rationalise all sorts of special reasons why this is a great thing, and we might have had a deep and abiding commitment for over 100 years, but between 28th February 1974 and 10th October 1974 we suddenly went from nothing to this—167 pages of closely-reasoned Bill. Should the Bill ever reach the Committee stage, hope to have the opportunity of discussing it line by line. I hope that we shal even have the good fortune to reach page 30 by day 30. I do not expect to see it get through the House. I shall not rush it. I shall wish to consider it in great detail. I imagine that even SNP Members would wish to do that. I have counted 37 references to the powers of the Secretary of State over the Assembly. I trust that there will be 37 reasoned amendments along those lines from the SNP which we can discuss in great and intricate detail.
I believe that one of the things about which most of us feel proud is being British. That may not include certain SNP Members. All of us are a tremendous mixture. I have four grandparents. Two originated from Northern Ireland, one from Southern Ireland and one from England. I was born in England. I went to school in Wales. I have a Welsh wife. I have two children, who were born in Venezuela. One is in Holland and one in Wales. My brother lives in Glasgow. I am an archetypal Britisher.
Most of us are of that kind. I object very strongly to those who seek to divide me from other Britons. I wish to expand my national sovereignty. One of the 1371 reasons why I was in favour of the European Common Market and why I wish to see Europe expand is that I want to put my sovereignty together with that of others.
Nineteenth-century nationalism was an integrating force. In the nineteenth-century this House supported Garibaldi just as it supported many of the other European forces of nationalism operating at the time. Twentieth-century nationalism has become a form of disease. It has become a divisive force.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare (Mr. Evans) pointed out, wherever one looks one finds examples—in Bangladesh, Biafra, Northern Ireland and the Middle East—of people fighting each other, for no stronger reason than supporting Aston Villa as against West Bromwich Albion. In Central America a short war was actually fought over just such a thing as a football match. That is the strength of much of what has been put before us.
I do not dispute with SNP Members their aims and objectives. I accept them entirely, but I am opposed to them. If the Bill is passed, we shall be putting into their hands a weapon that will lead inevitably to the fragmentation and the break-up of the United Kingdom. I must tell my Government now that that is something that I cannot contemplate or support. It is something for which I shall not be voting on Thursday.
§ 12.33 a.m.
§ Mr. William Craig (Belfast, East)
I could not disagree more than I disagree with the hon. Member for Dudley, West (Dr. Phipps). To me, the Bill is momentous. I agree with the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sillars) that wherever the Bill takes us, things will never be the same again.
I was hoping, and I still hope, that the House will realise that the Bill is an opportunity for Parliament to lead. I should like to think that it will lead with a touch of greatness. Unhappily, the debate so far does not give me reason to feel optimistic that that magical touch of greatness will make itself felt.
I am conscious that all changes cause apprehension in some quarter or other. Constitutional changes of a fundamental 1372 nature are inevitably met with heightened apprehension. It is a natural and proper that this should be so. We must all he conscious of that, having regard to the recent decision to join the European Economic Community.
As regards the EEC, there is one thing I find very interesting. We apparently are now committed to envisaging direct elections to the European Parliament, the rôleand function of which no one has worked out. We have accepted the principle that we make a start on the job and work it out as we go along. Perhaps that is what will happen with the Bill. I should be the last to argue that the Bill is the final and right answer for the better government of the United Kingdom.
I agree that it is right to be concerned about the unity of the United Kingdom. In all parts there is reason to believe that the majority desire in each part is to maintain the Union. As long as that is the case, we must uphold the will of the people and do nothing that might subvert it. It is wrong to assume that the unity need be threatened by a sharing of power in altered measures or devolution or in a federal system.
The Prime Minister reminded us of experiences elsewhere, particularly in Canada, West Germany and the United States. One of the things that is of particular interest in West Germany is that the architects of that constitution had very much in mind the idea of avoiding a strong central German Government that might one day threaten the peace of Europe. That very admirable federal system, far from avoiding a strong central Government, has brought into being one of the most effective Governments in the Western world today. No one in Western Germany complains about being over-governed. The people have a two-chamber central Parliament, governed by 13 Länder. They have county councils and district councils. They are so happy with the system that they have agreed to pay their Members of Parliament about £22,000 a year, so they must think that they are getting value for money.
I congratulate the Prime Minister on the reasoned speech he made yesterday and express my great appreciation of the reasonableness of his approach and the generous opportunity the Government extended to the House fully to explore the options open to us.
1373 The Bill has had an exceptionally long gestation period, which has been more than usually watched over. It has also been subjected to an unprecedented torment of advice. There has to be something at the end of it all, and the Bill is not at variance with the consensus of the general debate that has taken place down through the years. That is not to say that it is a good Bill or that it is even the right approach, but it is a start to a process that, in my opinion, cannot be delayed. It is wrong to assume that the Union can be maintained without change—all the lessons of history teach one that—once one sees such strong forces building up in any community of people.
There is a very real need for change. I base my case for change on at least two counts. One of them has not been dealt with adequately in this debate so far. I refer to the inadequacies of the present parliamentary institutions governing the United Kingdom. The second is the one that has occupied most of our attention, namely the quite natural national and regional aspirations of the people who make up the United Kingdom, coupled with a strong feeling and desire to be more closely involved in government. After all, is not the true essence of government expressed in the historic declaration ofgovernment of the people, by the people, for the people"?I was given to understand that the Government's approach was to have better government for the United Kingdom. The emphasis now seems to have switched somewhat to strengthening the democratic processes. That is not quite the same thing.
For me, the right approach is unquestionably the better government of the United Kingdom. As we look at the problem, it will do none of us any harm to be totally frank and honest about the performance of all Governments over the past 20 years. We have put up a pretty poor show when we compare our performance with that of, say, France or Germany. We have suffered a national decline that was avoidable. That is something which should shake us. Our world role is less than it should be. Our standard of living is lower than it should be. Our dependence on others, economically, militarily and politically, is 1374 greater than it need be or should be. The cards have not been stacked against the United Kingdom. As a nation we have made a botch of our affairs, and we cannot blame Joe Bloggs in the street. The blame must lie in this institution of Parliament, which has so consistently got its perspective wrong.
§ Mr. Fairbairn
I am impressed by the argument of the right hon. Member. Since the Bill does not attempt to reduce in any way the size of this Parliament but intends to create another piece of government, on what possible basis does he imagine that it is an improvement?
§ Mr. Craig
I never argued that the Bill was perfect. It is capable of being changed. It may be the beginning of a rather long process of evolution. I am totally opposed to sitting back and doing nothing in the face of what has happened to our nation. If we want to maintain the Union—and everyone, with few exceptions, has been talking of the need to do so—it can be maintained only when we all have a pride in being British, not the pride of sentimentality but the pride of achievement.
Let us ponder on the conclusions of one of our great elder statesmen in a recent television broadcast, Harold Macmillan. His appeal for a Government of national unity drew much comment but little was said of his reasons. In that broadcast he properly and ably drew attention to the economic decline of this nation. He also referred to the moral decline. There was something else that made a great impression on me. He told us that in all his long career he had never witnessed as much bitterness in the political divide as now exists in our Parliament and in our country. Do I need to labour the point? Something has obviously gone wrong with the government of the country.
Perhaps it would be as well to remind hon. Members of the warning of Lord Hailsham. He said that our institutions were drifting towards totalitarianism and, that the Government machine controlled Parliament rather than Parliament controlling the Government. He called it an elective dictatorship.
All of us in our hearts are concerned at the way in which things are going, at the way in which the different checks and balances in our constitution are being 1375 eroded. We all know that the growing anger and bitterness in politics is a recipe for disaster. The problem is that the growth of the scale and range of government is proving too much for this institution. Both Ministers and Members are tied too much to this House, immersed too often in the ritual of Parliament.
There is a need for change. This Parliament will serve the nation better if it reduces the scale and range of its functions by sharing out functions to other appropriate parliamentary institutions. This is an argument not for more government but for more people in government in the right places, moving effectively to discharge their responsibilities. That will be the big gain of devolution, that there will be people in the right places for the particular job which has to be done, be it national, provincial or regional.
I do not think I need add support to the argument for meeting the legitimate aspirations of the peoples in our kingdom or their desire for closer government. It has been well stated by others and it is a self-evident world-wide fact. We all watched with interest the recent elections in the United States, which has a federal constitution. Even with the ramifications of that federal set-up, there was a growing outcry about over-centralisation in Washington. People wanted a greater liberalisation of the machine.
The hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) tried to use the example of Canada to prove that federalism led to the break-up of a nation. I do not know how well he knows Canada, but Quebec would certainly not be part of Canada if Canada had not become a federal nation. There was an interesting letter in last week's Economist from a Canadian who mounted a cogent argument that if the Quebec crisis is to be contained there will have to be a further liberalisation of federalism in Canada. I thought that it was an impressive argument.
I hope that the House recognises the need to do something. The real question is what and how. I do not like the Bill, but it gives us a start and should be supported at this stage for that reason. My main criticisms of it will come most properly at a later stage. I and others 1376 —notably the Liberal Party—believe that ultimately we must move to the order of checks and balances provided for in a federal system. Ideally we should move to that position immediately, but that simply is not practical politics. Devolution should be a stepping-stone to allowing federalism to evolve. Ideally, the measure of devolution should be common form throughout the United Kingdom, but that too at this point is not practical politics.
It is really a question of making a good start and letting matters evolve according to the will of the people. Here we approach the most difficult hurdle: what is the will of the people in these matters? If we are to do different things and have different standards for various parts of the kingdom, we have a democratic duty to respect the wishes of those directly concerned and affected by the variations in government and standards of democracy. That was the mistake that was made in Ulster. In its wisdom, the House sought to impose a different standard of democracy regardless of what the people in Ulster felt, and we all know that it did not survive for very long.
If we are to have different forms of government in different parts of the country, we must satisfy ourselves that the proposals are in accordance with the wishes of the majority in the areas affected. I suppose that we all have our own ideas of what the people want. For instance, last night, my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim South (Mr. Molyneaux) appeared to be convinced that Ulster would settle for better representation in the United Kingdom Parliament and a measure of administrative devolution along the lines of the metropolitan areas of Great Britain. My view is that that is utter rot, but that is one Member having a view and another Member having a different view.
I reinforce my argument on the simple basis that Ulster is the only part of the United Kingdom where the Government have taken the trouble effectively to test the will of the people in these matters. The elected Convention showed an almost unanimous desire for extensive parliamentary devolution for both legislative and executive functions. Absolutely no one proposed for discussion that which was put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, South, although 1377 many went out of their way to say that it was not on even as an interim measure.
My hon. Friend's conclusions, based on the Stormont experience, were also wrong. The legislative side of Stormont was more successful than the administrative side, and certainly more innovative. If it had not been for the legislative capacity of Stormont, I do not think that we should have succeeded in transforming and diversifying Ulster's economic base. Our Parliament was able to introduce measures that pioneered such things as advance factories and intensive training programmes, measures that came to this part of the United Kingdom only many years later. I could recite countless instances of legislation in Ulster of a most experimental nature that was beneficial to the Province and enabled it to make progress that could not have been made by any form of administrative devolution.
There are real gains to be made by those who seek to improve the living environment and working opportunities for their people through devolution. Stormont, with many geographical factors working against it, often succeeded in attracting major industries to Northern Ireland that first looked at sites in Great Britain. I asked industrialists on several occasions why the ultimate decision favoured Ulster, and the invariable answer was that the decision was made because of the speed of decision and availability of contact with our Government. That brought some large and useful industrial plants to Northern Ireland.
I only regret that the Bill does not appear to give Scotland the same economic benefits that were capable of being devolved in Northern Ireland, but let no one underestimate the advantages that can be obtained from the decentralisation of government to other parliamentary institutions. Parliamentary institutions have an advantage over glorified forms of local government because they enjoy a status and authority. No doubt later in the debate we shall be able to draw more usefully on the Northern Ireland experience.
What I am concerned about is how we can be sure about the will of the people in Scotland and Wales. I do not think that a referendum is an adequate or fair way of testing that question. If I may be bold enough to make a suggestion in this 1378 respect, I would say let us get on with the Bill and make the best job out of it that we can. Let us have elections to the Scottish and Welsh Assemblies without transferring any power. The Members of those Assemblies will have faced their respective electorates fairly and squarely on the issues before them, and they can report to the House whether they find the measures in the Bill satisfactory or whether there is something that needs to be reviewed. Perhaps at that stage there can be a referendum. The debate that would ensue in the community would ensure that the arguments for and against devolution would be far better understood by the people in both countries.
There is a lot of vital work to be done. I hope that there will not be any question of delay for the sake of delay. I would not go as far as saying that the Bill needs to be taken apart and put together again, but some fairly massive changes are necessary.
For instance, Scotland has not enough room to control the peaks of its economy. Perhaps my greatest criticism is of the structure of the Bill. I do not understand why the Government did not take the dominion model, which was the guide for Stormont. It would be very much easier to settle the relationships between the central Government and devolved government by a process of exclusion and reserve, but perhaps we shall learn later why this complicated and difficult way was chosen. Some subjects are devolved of which I do not see the wisdom—for instance control of the time, although Westminster is to keep control over flora and fauna.
I thought that the Stormont model was about the best that man could produce in terms of devolution within the United Kingdom. It is a pity that a conflict of different aspirations spoilt that system. When it was not involved in that nationalistic conflict, Stormont worked extremely well for our people.
The detail of the representation of Scotland and Wales in the House of Commons if we agree to devolution can be sorted out when we know the extent and scale of devolution. I see no great difficulty in separating the conduct of English business in the House by a simple procedural device.
1379 The block grant system of financing is definitely an improvement on Stormont, but I am not happy about the way it is calculated. No doubt in the Committee stage we shall be able to exchange views as to how it should be calculated. The object must be to see that each Assembly gets its fair share of the national cake, having regard not only to its contribution to taxes but having regard to the needs of the community. It will not be easy to devise such a form, but one has to try because the business of negotiation annually on very loose terms will lead to conflict.
I shall not go into detail on some of the things I have in mind, but I ask hon. Members to address their minds to the block grant system. One has to ask whether it is enough. There is a case in terms of economic development for having some taxation power. It is not impossible to arrive at it, although it is perhaps better left until we have further experience of the situation.
Stormont was allowed to reduce income tax by sixpence in the pound provided that it raised an equivalent revenue from some other source. The result was that we did not bother ourselves because we did not see the advantage. We had control over capital taxation and the benefit of variation of the estate duty taxes of those days. It may be that we should think about the variation of taxes on a minor scale, which would assist the attraction of industries to the remoter areas.
One aspect of the Bill bothers me. I refer to the procedure for giving Royal Assent to an Act of the Scottish Parliament. The present proposal is certainly better than the White Paper proposal, but I think it may be necessary for the Scottish Executive to have a voice in Her Majesty's Council. Do we need a Scottish Committee of the Privy Council, for instance?
The proposals for Royal Assent appear satisfactory if everything is running smoothly, but when we are setting up a Government we must bear in mind that it is important that Government actions and legislation need to be certain, authoritative and expeditious. If one arranges things in such a way that there is a question mark hanging over them, so that outside sources can impose delay, one makes it impossible for the Assembly 1380 and the Government to cope with an emergency in the country.
I believe, and I say this having experience of the Northern Ireland Parliament, that devolution can and will strengthen the Union. The hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart), who leads the Scottish National Party makes no secret of his party's aspiration, but he makes clear that it will do its darndest to make sure that the system will work well for the people of Scotland and will govern Scotland. Whatever one may say about the hon. Gentleman and his party, one will not question his sincerity. If it undertakes to make the system work, it will make it work.
If the SNP rushes into independence, it will get that far only if that is what the Scottish people want. If it is hell-bent on independence and rushing its fences, it may hold no seats in the Assembly. We must have confidence in the people of Scotland wanting to maintain the Union, or forget it altogether. We cannot maintain the Union against the will of the people of Scotland.
I believe that the great majority of people in Scotland will want to maintain the Union. When they obtain their devolved government and there is Government dialogue between Edinburgh and London, they will realise more and more the value of the United Kingdom. We should not worry too much about different party complexions. I well remember that the Government of Northern Ireland never had a closer or more intimate relationship with any Administration than we had with the Attlee Administration. Party politics never bothered us in our discussions between London and Belfast.
I hope that hon. Members will not allow the bogy men to frighten them off of an initiative that will give the Government of the United Kingdom a chance to cope with the serious problems that face the nation. I look forward to the ongoing development of government in the United Kingdom and to a growing degree of happiness among the British family in enjoying a system of government that people will find more satisfying than the present one.
I shall support the Second Reading because I believe in the principle of devolution, if not in all the detail, and because 1381 I am convinced from deep conviction that there is a need to act now.
§ 1.7 a.m.
§ Mr. Dennis Canavan (West Stirlingshire)
I welcome the Bill, despite its imperfections. It has already been said that the Bill proposes the most fundamental and far-reaching constitutional changes in Scotland for 269 years. I think that the Bill will give the Scottish people more democratic self-government than they have ever had in their history, because the Scottish Parliament that existed before 1707 could never by any stretch of the imagination be described as democratic or as a truly representative Parliament. It was so out of touch with the ordinary people of Scotland that it took three years for that Parliament to discover the real truth about the massacre of Glencoe.
The Act of Union of 1707 was never unanimously accepted by the Scottish people. Since then there has been the feeling among a substantial number of the Scottish people that the Treaty or the Act of Union was not the best solution. We must add to that the centralisation of decision-making in government and industry that has taken place since then, and a feeling of remoteness among people that decisions are being taken too far away from them, which leads to a desire to bring the decision-making apparatus closer to themselves. We must also add the fact that Scotland has a distinctive legal system. We must bear in mind the shortage of legislative time in this Chamber and the existence of the executive and administrative devolution that already exists in the form of the Secretary of State for Scotland and his Scottish Office.
All those factors make a reasonable case for devolution. We are, however, meeting a great deal of resistance. That is understandable from the Tory Party because its members are the traditional arch-unionists of British politics. It is not surprising that such arch-unionists as the hon. and learned Member whom I might describe as the Scarlet Pimpernel from Kinross and West Perthshire (Mr. Fairbairn, the right hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. Macmillan), whose daddy was Prime Minister, the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition, who is trying desperately to become Prime 1382 Minister but who never will, and her new man the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor), who is one of the most reactionary people in Scottish politics and who hopes to lead the Scottish people if and when he ever becomes Secretary of State for Scotland, are trying to impose a kind of union jackboot of uniformity through all parts of the United Kingdom. They do not have a good track record in giving power to ordinary people.
§ Mr. Fairbairn
Will the hon. Gentleman tell the House when he became acclaimed to the concept of devolution? When did he first think it wise to take the view of the Scottish Labour Party that it was a good idea? Can the lm. Gentleman give us that view?
§ Mr. Canavan
I am glad that the hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned that, because I was about to refer to opinion within the Labour movement. Certainly I have taken an active part in discussions about devolution within the Labour movement for many years.
§ Mr. Canavan
I cannot put an exact date on it just now, but it was a long, long time ago. I would turn my attention to some of my hon. Friends on the Labour Benches, particularly those on what could be called the radical wing of the Labour movement who seem to be so opposed to the idea of devolution in principle. They seem to treat the idea of devolution as a threat to Socialism. But Socialism is not equivalent to centralisation.
For the information of the hon. and learned Member for Kinross and West Perthshire, I have believed for many years, for as long as I have been a member of the Labour Party, that Socialism is not equivalent to centralisation.
We in the Labour Party believe in local democracy. Did we not believe, for example, that the councillors of Clay Cross, Clydebank, Denny and Dunipace or Saltcoats should have been given the freedom to decide things that we considered to be their own affairs? Does not this movement also believe in industrial democracy—that is, giving people maximum opportunity in their work situation to run their own affairs?
1383 Did not the Labour movement—it was a pity that the Government of the day did not support us—resist our entry and our continued membership of the Common Market because we thought that one of the biggest disadvantages of that institution was to make decision-making even more remote from the people? What, then, is so anti-Socialist about wanting to give the Scottish people some say in the running of their own affairs? To my mind, it is most appropriate that the Labour Party, the Scottish Council of the Labour Party, the TUC and the Scottish TUC should all unanimously be calling out in support of the devolution proposals.
§ Mr. Teddy Taylor
The hon. Gentleman is perhaps being unfair to the House in not answering the excellent question from my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Mr. Fairbairn). Has the hon. Gentleman always been in favour of a Scottish legislative Assembly?
§ Mr. Canavan
I cannot remember right back to the day I was born, and I cannot remember when I was baptised. I can, however, assure the hon. Member for Cathcart that I did not take part in the mass Chinese baptism to which the hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Reid) earlier referred. I have been more consistent than the hon. Member for Cathcart on this matter, and certainly ever since I have been active in politics within the Labour Party in Scotland.
I should like to get on to my next point, which is that the Bill proposes amongst other things an enormous transfer of power with regard to housing, health, education and social work and a certain amount of power with regard to industry and employment.
I admit that it is arguable whether enough power is proposed in the Bill. But it is dismaying to hear some of the phrases that have been used. The hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire used the term "miserable" with regard to the Government's proposals. Ten days ago, in the Falkirk Herald, the hon. Gentleman described it as a "toytown" Assembly. Last night the Leader of the SNP described the proposed Assembly as 1384 "an anaemic mouse". It is debatable whether the Government have given enough powers, but to describe the Assembly in terms such as those, and by such exaggerated language as that, shows a complete misunderstanding of the sense of values of the Scottish people.
It appears that either SNP Members have not read the Bill or that they have read it and misunderstood it, or else they have a strange sense of values which is wholly alien to that of the Scottish people. The traditions and values of the Scottish people place great importance on matters like housing, health, education and jobs, and the proposed Assembly will have a very valuable role to play in all these areas of Scottish life.
§ Mr. Gwilym Roberts
Does it occur to my hon. Friend that SNP Members are preparing for the next round, when they will use the Assembly as their battleground for fighting the House of Commons in Westminster?
§ Mr. Canavan
That is exactly what they hope to use the Assembly for. Whether they will be successful remains to be seen. I do not think that they will. However, I hope to deal later in my speech with that point.
My consistency on this issue has been challenged. It so happens that I have been reading the debate on the White Paper, which occurred 11 months ago. In my contribution to that debate, I pinpointed several respects in which the Government's proposals could be improved. The first of them was in the area of financing. The Bill proposes that the Assembly should be financed by an annual block grant, which at today's levels would work out at over £2,000 million, or two-thirds of all public expenditure in Scotland. It is important to remember that public expenditure per head of the population in Scotland is 27 per cent. more than the corresponding figure for England.
I still think, as I said 11 months ago—I am not saying this just for the sake of consistency—that the Assembly should have some revenue-raising power. After all, even the smallest local authority has a certain amount of responsibility for finding its own cash, and this Assembly, as a legislative body, has far more power than a local authority, and I believe that 1385 it would make the Assembly more responsible if it were given power to raise some of its own money.
I welcome the Government's good in-tensions to consider any revenue-raising proposals which are made in Committee, but they have had well over a year now in which to think about this. It is a pity that they have not come up with some definite proposals in the Bill.
§ Sir Bernard Braine
I am trying to relate what the hon. Gentleman was saying earlier about the SNP with what he is saying now. Is he saying that the Assembly as conceived in the Bill will provide a basis for confusion, clamour and discontent which will enable the SNP to pursue its aim of taking the people of Scotland on to separation? If so, what sort of Assembly is it?
§ Mr. Canavan
I hope to see some amendments accepted in Committee, but I think that the Government have it just about right and that the Assembly, with some minor amendments, will be acceptable to the Scottish people. [Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Cathcart, who hopes one day to become Secretary of State for Scotland, would belt up for a moment, he might learn something.
I also made a point in my speech 11 months ago about Scottish universities, and I am sorry to see that the Government have not shifted their position. I think that devolution would be an opportune time to establish a closer relationship between the Scottish universities and the rest of Scottish education and, indeed, the rest of the Scottish community.
In the debate earlier this year, another matter to which I referred was the lack of autonomy of the Assembly. I note that there has been some shift in the Government's attitude here. Instead of the Secretary of State deciding the vires of proposed legislation, it will be done by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. But I still think that Clause 45 gives too much power to the Secretary of State for Scotland.
Another point that I made in the previous debate concerned the Scottish Development Agency. I am pleased to see that the SDA will now be accountable to the Scottish Assembly. Incidentally, earlier today a new SDA programme of 1386 advance factories was announced, amounting to £5.3 million, giving a total over the year of £13.3 million in its advance factory programme. I note, too, that 2,300 jobs have been created in Scotland by the SDA and that another 3,000 are on the way. That is all in the first year of the SDA.
Clearly, those who say that the Assembly will not have power to create any new jobs in Scotland have misunderstood the Bill. Some people want more powers in trade, industry and employment, but it is important to remember that not all problems in trade, industry and employment can be solved in a Scottish context alone. If we take the mining industry as an example, it would be suicidal to set up a separate Scottish Coal Board. as the SNP proposes, because the output per man-shift in the Scottish coalfields is less on average than the corresponding figures for English coalfields.
The Scottish miners work every bit as hard as their English counterparts, but the geological structure of the Scottish coalfields makes it more difficult to work those fields. If the coal mining industry had not been taken into public ownership by the post-war Labour Government on a United Kingdom basis, many of the Scottish pits, including Fallin in my constituency, would have closed many years ago.
§ Mr. Fairbairn
If the Scottish pits are not viable on a Scottish basis, on what possible basis should they be separate?
§ Mr. Canavan
The hon. and learned Member seems to misunderstand. The mining industry is one example of an industrial problem which is not best solved in a Scottish context alone. There are other areas of decision-making where solutions can possibly be found in a Scottish context, and devolution is an attempt to obtain a balance between decisions best taken at Scottish level and decisions best taken at a United Kingdom level. Unless we find the right balance, it is possible that Scotland could lose and it also is possible that England could lose. It is even possible that both partners in the present relationship could lose.
It is very important that we should retain as much as possible of our present 1387 partnership with out closest neighbours. We do not want to create a barrier between Scotland and England. There is an example of partition on our own doorstep in Ireland. There we had one small island where a border was set up. I would not like to see the re-establishment of a border here in this island. It could lead to tension. I think that if the whole of Ireland had been offered, much earlier in this century, the measure of Home Rule now being offered to Scotland, perhaps the men of violence and the extremists would not have got as far as they have in Ireland.
Now is the time to break down barriers, not to re-establish old barriers or borders. Even the hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart), the leader of the SNP, referred yesterday to the possibility of some partnership remaining after his style of independence was achieved. His proposed partnership seemed to be based on the monarchy. With respect, the partnership and comradeship that has been built up over the years between the people of Scotland, England and Wales has not depended solely on whoever was the tenant of Buckingham Palace, Holyrood Palace or Balmoral Castle. It has been a partnership and a comradeship built up in many organisations—for example, in the trade union and Labour movement.
People of many different backgrounds and many different work situations, people who have lived together and worked together, and who have seen people from other parts of the United Kingdom with similar living conditions and similar work situations, have united to better their living standards and the living standards of their families, their neighbours and their neighbour's families, irrespective of whether they lived on Clydeside, Merseyside, Tyneside or Teesside. The hon. Member for Western Isles wants to break up that valuable partnership.
I know that the hon. Member for Western Isles and his party will never be appeased by the Bill or by any other devolution proposal, even if we went so far as to propose a form of federalism. What the SNP wants is a separate, breakaway Scottish State with all the trimmings and trappings of a separate State, with separate Scottish embassies, and a separate Scottish Army, Navy and Army Force—all paid for by the separate Scottish 1388 taxpayer with a separate Scottish pound. That is what it wants, and it will never be satisfied until it achieves that.
I do not say that there is anything intrinsically evil about that, whether one calls it separatism, independence or whatever else. I would say that I do not think it would be in the best interests of the Scottish people, although it is a perfectly legitimate aspiration on the part of the SNP. I believe that the legitimate aspirations of the broad mass of the Scottish people could be better satisfied by the changes proposed in the Bill.
§ Mr. Donald Stewart
The hon. Member may well be right. The point I am trying to make, with my colleagues, is that it is not a question of what the Labour Party wants or what the Government want. It is the people of Scotland who will make the final decision.
§ Mr. Canavan
I entirely agree. The Kilbrandon Report referred to this in dealing with the possibility of independence. It said that independence could never work unless it had the full-hearted consent of the Scottish people. If there were that full-hearted consent, I would agree that independence would be the solution. But there is no sign of that full-hearted consent, either in the opinion polls or anything else. How could we measure such a consent? A referendum is one of the possibilities that has been mentioned.
In that connection I was interested in the speech made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson) yesterday. My credentials are fairly good over this question of a referendum. I am no sudden convert to the idea. On 6th March 1975, just six months after I entered this House, I asked the then Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton, to consider the possibility of a referendum on this question. He replied:I am not in favour of a referendum on this question."—[Official Report, 6th March, 1975; Vol. 887, c. 1766.]It was because of that answer that I was interested to read what my right hon. Friend said yesterday. He said, at column 1008:I am not against a referendum proposal. I would like to see the Government consider it."—[Official Report, 13th December, 1976: Vol. 992, c. 1008.]1389 Well, some of us are consistent. I welcome that conversion and I hope that it finds a mention in my right hon. Friend's memoirs.
If a referendum were held, and I would welcome it provided that it did not delay the passage of the Bill and could be properly phrased and timed, it would show that the vast majority of the Scottish people reject the status quo. That is no longer a tenable proposition. It would also show that the vast majority of the people reject separatism and favour some form of devolution as proposed in the Bill.
Like most politicians, I rarely make forecasts. I forecast, however, that this Bill will receive a Second Reading on Thursday and that the majority will be greater than 11. In other words, it is nonsense to say that if the Bill gets a Second Reading it will be because of the support of the 11 Members of the SNP. If they were honourable they would abstain because they do not believe in devolution; they want their own style of separation. I challenge them. They are not interested in the Bill itself. Why do they not go home or, to be more honest, vote against the Bill? We have put many pieces of good Socialist legislation on to the statute book without the help of the SNP, and we can get this Bill on to the statute book without its help. If and when the Bill reaches the statute book, it will be because of the courage of the Labour movement in sticking to its manifesto promise to the people of Scotland and Wales.
§ 1.30 a.m.
§ Sir Bernard Braine (Essex, South-East)
I have sat through the whole debate and found it fascinating. Hon. Members, whatever their views, have spoken with force, sincerity and conviction, yet I have heard nothing which convinces me that the Bill should be given a Second Reading.
The real issue before us is not this confusing Bill. The right hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Craig) came close to the heart of the matter when he spoke of the relative decline in our national fortunes in recent years—some economists would say that this started in the 1880s rather than in 1918 or 1945—turning inward of our people and their growing dissatisfaction with our institutions and system of government. Dean 1390 Acheson said 15 years ago that the trouble with Britain was that she had lost an Empire and had not yet found a role. How we hated that observation at the time—but it was true.
The real issue confronting us is whether the road along which the Government want us to travel is one which, at the end of the day, we can be confident will improve the quality of life of our people and not diminish it, will repair our economic system and not weaken it and will restore the pride of the British people, which has been injured so much in recent years, and not destroy it. Devolution may, as the right hon. Member for Belfast. East argued, be part of the recipe. The argument in the debate however is not about the principle of devolution but what kind of devolution, how much of it and to whom it should be extended.
The increasing Government interference in the lives of ordinary people—and this applies to all Governments, not just to the present Administration—has led inevitably to a growing demand, perhaps not always expressed in an articulate fashion, for greater control by the people over their local affairs.
There is a classic example in my constituency, where for more than a decade successive Governments refused to listen to the pleas of a relatively small community on Thameside for the protection of their environment against piecemeal planning decisions which threatened their health and safety. Appeals were made to Ministers, who would not listen. Government inspectors held local inquiries and their recommendations that the views of local people should be heard were ignored. It was not until the Flixborough disaster when people were killed that notice was taken.
For 10 years I listened to people of all political persuasion and none—for there was great disillusionment with the political processes at this time—saying that planning inquiries were a farce and asking what was the use of voting in elections when on an issue affecting people's health and safety no notice was taken of their views. That has been our experience. I do not doubt that it has been the experience, perhaps in lesser measure, in many other constituencies.
1391 On the other hand, it must be conceded that 10 years of regional government in Greater London has hardly made for greater economy, efficiency or imaginative administration or has brought the governed in the capital city into a closer and more harmonious relationship with the governors.
I agree, therefore, with the right hon. Member for Belfast, East that we can conclude that government in Britain, at central and local level, has become increasingly inefficient and remote as the bureaucracy that fattens on it has been allowed to grow, but I draw very different conclusions from those that he laid before the House. For the life of me, I cannot see how adding another tier of authority and thousands more bureaucrats in Scotland and Wales will improve these matters. I should have thought that they would inevitably add to inefficiency and that the sort of Assembly envisaged in the Bill would lead to frustration and discontent of a kind that would enable the Scottish National Party to continue to thrive and to move towards the inevitable conclusion that only complete separation is the answer. I see that I carry with me in that the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mrs. Bain). If that be so what a mess of pottage to put before a serious deliberative Assembly.
The County Councils Association made plain earlier this year in connection with Wales—its fears about the effect of an Assembly in that country upon the recently reorganised system of local government. It envisaged delay and frustration. It did not see any improvement in local government or any benefit accruing to the people of Wales.
§ Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarvon)
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the body making that comment may have had a vested interest in that the almost certain result of setting up a Welsh Assembly would be a reorganisation of local government in Wales into a one-tier system?
§ Sir B. Braine
Yes, that might be so. However, I have no evidence—perhaps the hon. Gentleman has such evidence—that the present system of local government in Wales is inefficient and is not serving the interests of the people. It is 1392 not for me to say. I express no view on that matter. I am merely citing the association. I should have thought that the views of such a body should weigh with the House.
If the Bill was about a genuine devolution of power from Parliament to all the British people, I should be for it; but it is not. It proposes to give an Assembly—a very odd, rum sort of Assembly—to Scotland, although whether that will satisfy the majority in Scotland remains to be seen. It proposes to give an Assembly to Wales, where, as I understand it, the majority of the people do not want it.
§ Sir B. Braine
And it offers nothing at all for Northern Ireland, which for 50 years had a Parliament of its own until we took it away. As for England, we are to be left governed by a Parliament in which Scotland and Wales continue to be over-represented and their Members will have a decisive voice in the conduct of English affairs, while Northern Ireland is under-represented. There is no rhyme, reason or sense in these proposals.
I do not propose to waste any words over the form of devolution proposed in the Bill. In my view, it is another example of the way in which in constitutional matters leaders of all parties—I am not pointing an accusing finger at the Labour Government; it has been so throughout the years I have been in Parliament—always walk backwards into the future, completely unable to see where they are going.
Neither the Redcliffe-Maud Commission nor the Wheatley Commission on the reform of Scottish local government was allowed to discuss finance. What idiocy that was! Some of us said so at the time, though our voices were not heard. How can one deal meaningfully with powers and boundaries without dealing with finance? The new local authorities resulting from the reports of those Commissions were established before the Kilbrandon Commission on the Constitution had reported. The Layfield Committee on Local Government Finance, which I believe was set up by the last Conservative Government, was established only after the rates revolt of 1973 and even then the possible 1393 financing of regional assemblies was expressly excluded from it.
The grant system proposed in the Bill gives the worst of all worlds to Scotland and Wales. It will do nothing to strengthen grass-roots local government. It will encourage the growth not of real devolved responsibility but of endless bickering about the meanness of the central Government while doing nothing about the growth of unproductive bureaucracy.
The conclusion for me is inescapable. Before we take a step which will have incalculable consequences for the whole of the United Kingdom—the debate has revealed that there will be incalculable consequences—it is surely essential to ascertain the views of all the constituent parts of the kingdom. This is not to deny the people of Scotland and the people of Wales their legitimate aspirations but rather to make them and the rest of us aware of the options that are open and the consequences that will flow from taking a particular course.
After all, nations are composed not only of the living but of the dead and of the still unborn, and before we take a step which could lead to the breakup of an association which previous generations have valued, have fought for and have died for, and for the ending of which our children, perhaps wiser than we, may curse us, it is surely right to pause and take stock.
I submit that it is more important to do that than to tinker with the present unsatisfactory Bill. Indeed, I do not believe that we should have the Bill first and a referendum afterwards. What if a referendum shows that the Welsh people do not want an Assembly? It will kill the Bill stone dead, for the reasons given yesterday by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, and we shall have wasted parliamentary time. We shall have made fools of ourselves.
I concede that there are dangers in restricting the questions in a referendum to a simple "Yes" or "No" to separation or a "Yes" or "No" to devolution. We already know that a great many people in Scotland, and no doubt a great many in Wales, want devolution. What we do not know, and I defy anybody 1394 body in the House to give the answer, is how much devolution they want. Nobody knows. The claims of the Scottish National Party can be taken for what they are worth—the utterances of a political party that is out for the separation of Scotland from the rest of the United Kingdom.
But does the Scottish National Party speak for the whole of Scotland? We do not know. There is some evidence that its members do not speak for the whole of Scotland. But the people of Scotland, Wales and England should have the right to say what degree of devolution should be permitted. It would not be sufficient merely to ask people to choose between the package in the Bill and the status quo, as that would put into one category those who think that the package goes too far and those who think that it does not go far enough.
§ Mr. Donald Stewart
Does the hon. Gentleman really think that if a referendum were held in all the countries of the United Kingdom, and England, with its enormous population relative to the others, said "No", that would be regarded as a fair end to the whole question?
§ Sir B. Braine
No. The hon. Gentleman anticipates an observation I was going to make. Of course, the preponderant population is in England. I do not suggest that any of the four constituent parts of the United Kingdom should have a veto over the rest. I am anxious to establish their views. I do not see why the people of England or the vast numbers of Scotsmen, Welshmen and Ulsterman who live and work in England should not have a voice.
Let there be an early referendum in which the people in all parts of the kingdom vote separately but simultaneously. Let it offer a fourfold choice between outright independence for Scotland and Wales, devolution on a greater scale than is offered in the Bill, devolution on the lines of the Bill, and no change. Let each part of the kingdom answer for itself and have an opportunity to say what ideal it would wish for the rest, but without a veto.
§ Mr. W. Benyon (Buckingham)
My hon. Friend must come clean and answer the question put to him by the Leader 1395 of the SNP. Suppose, for the sake of argument, that England said "Let us consult the people" and the other three component parts of the United Kingdom said "Yes". What would my hon. Friend say about that result?
§ Sir B. Braine
My hon. Friend is anticipating what I wanted to go on to say. If the majority of people in Scotland want independence, they should have it. I would not be party to seeing a repetition of the Irish tragedy in the northern part of our island. But I do not believe that the people of Scotland want independence and separation. Every Scotsman to whom I have talked in recent years laughs at the idea.
Devolution, with greater control over local affairs, is another matter—but how much devolution? The hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan) indicated the difficulties. There is little in the Bill to please the SNP, but it does not mind, because that is a recipe for the discontent that will lead to clamour for separation and make it inevitable. For others it might be too much. Until we have a referendum to ascertain the views of the people, asking them such a variety of questions that it will be possible to have a genuine picture of what they really want, we are wasting our time. If a referendum is held after the Bill is passed, and if the idea is rejected by the people of Wales, the Bill will be a dead duck and we must start all over again.
Therefore, my argument is that, if in the outcome the majority of Scots want separation, nothing can or should prevent it. Certainly the present Bill would be utterly irrelevant. It must be the resolve of all of us to see that there is no repetition of the Irish tragedy.
However, if, as one suspects, the majority of Scots properly want greater control over their own affairs but no separation, there is a much better chance of the Scottish Assembly getting off to a good start in a constructive way and with the utmost good will from the rest of the kingdom. If, as I suspect too, the Welsh repudiate the whole idea of an Assembly, the Bill is dead. The matter is not so urgent that we cannot take time to get the right solution.
1396 A genuine devolution of powers which is wanted by the people, introduced with good will, could strengthen our democratic system and re-emphasise the underlying unity of our people, but the ill-considered scheme in the Bill will do nothing but divide us. Why should the Scots and Welsh enjoy devolved responsibility for their own affairs, but not the English? If this is to be denied us, what sense is there in permitting Scotland and Wales to have the exclusive right to influence their own affairs yet retain the right to influence ours? If the Bill goes through, the number of Scottish and Welsh Members sitting in this House must he cut and there will be demands from English constituencies for it to be cut. By the same token, there should be an increase in the number of hon. Members representing Northern Ireland.
The Bill thus sets in motion a whole host of dreadful uncertainties and lays up a store of immense political difficulties for the future. It is for those reasons that I say that the Bill is bad and should be rejected.
§ 1.52 a.m.
§ Mr. Gwilym Roberts (Cannock)
It is a privilege to follow the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) again. On this occasion I shall be following him closely in many respects.
I was brought up to believe that the problems of working people in England, Scotland and Wales were fundamentally the same, that most of them needed economic solutions, that the only importance of ideas like racialism and nationalism was to separate one working man from another, and that the solutions depended not on where the Government were based but merely on the complexion and policies of that Government.
The Bill departs from that principle. We all know that there is a greater need for democracy and for people to feel that they are involved in decisions which are closer to them. Of course there is a need to take away some of the powers of the unelected bodies and to make the system more democratic. But that problem is not confined to Scotland and Wales. It is equally great in England. The incredible thing about the Bill, and what makes it so nationalistic, is that Scotland and Wales have been selected to have these problems dealt with and nothing is 1397 offered to England, apart from the miserable consultation paper containing only alternatives for discussion and no specific proposals.
One has the horrible suspicion that the Bill is the product not of a sudden realisation of the growing need for devolution in Wales and Scotland but of a calculation of methods to oppose the growth of the nationalist vote, particularly in Scotland. I do not like it because it is that type of calculation, but what makes it even worse is that it is the wrong calculation. There is no evidence that this will reduce the movement or growth of the nationalist vote. All the available evidence from by-elections shows that in statistical terms the more concessions we make to the nationalists, the more titbits we feed them and the more we move towards Assemblies, the greater the nationalist vote becomes. There is no evidence that this sort of Bill will have any effect on the movement towards the nationalist vote.
I do not believe that there is a real demand for the Bill, especially in Wales. There might be a case for devolution in Scotland, if not for independence, because if we look back to the General Election we find that the SNP, whose main plank was devolution or separatism, collected about 30 per cent. of the total vote. In Wales the only party that put forward nationalism as its main plank—devolution featured in the manifestos of the other parties, but in the main they were arguing about economic solutions—attracted only 10 per cent. of the total vote.
§ Mr. Wigley
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, as one whose origins are in my constituency, for giving way. Does he seriously suggest that the only reason why he would advocate any form of devolution, not to mention self-government, is the vote given to the national parties in Scotland and Wales? Does he say that the people of Wales should completely forget all the promises on devolution that may be found in the election manifestos of the Labour Party and the Liberal Party, not to mention Plaid Cymru, because their emphasis does not happen to be the emphasis that he puts upon them?
§ Mr. Roberts
Of course I do not believe that that should be the only criterion for devolution. I should like 1398 to see devolution for the United Kingdom as a whole, not merely for these two specific nationalistic areas. I shall turn to the hon. Gentleman's second point as I develop my argument.
Not only is it true that nationalism was not the burning issue at Cannock in the General Election. I suggest to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House that perhaps nationalism or devolution was not the burning issue at Ebbw Vale. Before we go any further with these very proposals, I believe that there is a strong case for having some form of referendum to measure opinion in general. I do not go as far as some of my hon. Friends who suggest that a referendum should include people in England, whether they be first generation Welshmen or first generation Scotsmen. Apart from expressing a general viewpoint, I do not see what a referendum in England would achieve, unless it were concerned with the general question of devolution, which is a different matter. If the referendum concerned the need for devolution, that should be a matter for England as well.
In Scotland and Wales there is an overwhelming case for a referendum before the Bill proceeds. In my view the overwhelming majority of people in Wales would vote for the retention of the status quo. They would argue, rightly, that to replace the county councils with this super-tier of local government would be of little or no advantage to them. They would see an extra tier of local government involving extra cost and more bureaucracy.
I am glad that the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley) supports my view that there should be an early referendum. If he believes, as he says, that the Welsh people want devolution, he should be prepared to test that belief by a referendum at an early stage.
§ Mr. Dalyell
What does my hon. Friend mean by an early referendum? Does he mean April, October, or when?
§ Mr. Roberts
There is an overwhelming case for a referendum before the Bill pro. ceeds further in the House. Once it is in Committee and is being treated seriously, the situation will change. I shall not go back to the analogy of the Common Market, but the answers before the process starts are different from the answers when people feel that there has 1399 been a fait accompli. My believe is that in Wales there will be no support for this proposal.
§ Mr. Anderson
On the basis of public opinion polls, that seems to be a valid point. Both Marplan and the recent Harlech and Western Mail public opinion polls suggest that that is so. There is no recent public opinion poll suggesting otherwise. Given that, does my hon. Friend consider that there is any valid reason for coupling Wales and Scotland in one Bill?
§ Mr. Roberts
One of the major errors is that two countries which do not run in parallel are coupled. There is a stronger argument for devolution in Scotland. I am not sure to what extent that argument in Scotland has been kindled by the theory of oil for 5 million instead of for 55 million, which is often pushed by the SNP. The Welsh National Party is not in a position to put forward that argument.
§ Mr. Macfarlane
Is the hon. Gentleman able to throw any light on why the Government have coupled the two countries, bearing in mind the electoral results a little over two years ago when 37 Plaid Cymru candidates were defeated? Is not that a valid reason for Scotland and Wales being treated separately?
§ Mr. Roberts
Fortunately, I am unlikely to be in the position of having to speak for the sins of my Government. Wales has been attached to the tail end of Scotland's coat.
Even in Scotland, support for the Scottish National Party may not be due to any great nationalist revival or anything of the sort. One must realise that votes for that party are exaggerated at General Elections by the alternative vote system, in which people of our party cast votes for the national parties to keep the Tory Party out and people on the other side vote for them to keep our people out.
I cannot speak in any way for first-generation Welshmen. I am not attempting to do so. There are nearly as many outside Wales as are in Wales, and I certainly do not speak for first generation Scotsmen, although the only people in my constituency who have made representations to me on that Bill have been first generation Scottish miners who 1400 work in my constituency. I have many thousands of them. To a man, those who approach me have said. "We certainly do not want this. It will make us feel foreigners away from our own country." They point out, rightly, that the advantages are already with Wales and Scotland in every sense, not only financially but in having Secretaries of State to represent them in the Cabinet and in having a Question Time in the House. They have an enormous advantage over the rest of the United Kingdom. Their position will be enhanced by this proposal.
What I fear about the proposal is that, whereas at present there is only little real support for separation in Scotland and virtually none for separation in Wales, the position could be very different once the so-called Assemblies come into being, because in Scotland the Assembly will become the battleground.
If the SNP gets substantial membership in the Assembly, everything glorious will come from Edinburgh and everything evil will come from Westminster. That will be the way in which the Assembly will be used. It will divide the United Kingdom still further and place the SNP ready for the next step towards separation.
Even in Wales, where in my youth—
§ Mr. Roberts
It was some little time ago, but the Welsh National Party was treated as a laughing stock, and deservedly so. It is not taken seriously today by the overwhelming majority of Welsh people, and the 10 per cent. vote which that party got was largely a vote against other parties. Where there is an Assembly, even that sort of party gets the mantle of credibility.
The real reason why the Bill has come about at precisely the wrong time is that we have a Bill involving additional public expenditure and the wasting of days—we do not know how many yet—of the time of this place at a time when we have enormous economic problems. The real problems of Wales, Scotland and England are not these trivialities of devolution or nationalism. The real problems are those of inflation, economic expansion and housing. 1401 Those are the problems which affect people now in need.
If the present or any other Government can tackle some of these problems and get somewhere near the economic solutions we all want to see, I believe that a large part of the case for nationalism will disappear in Wales and in Scotland too. I do not think that this is a permanent feature of our country. I believe that, if we can find that kind of economic solution, we as a party can return to some of the ideas of egalitaranism and brotherhood that dominated the Labour Benches in earlier years.
I am sure we all agree that our objective must be to make Britain great again. We may not agree on the solutions, but that is our common target in this House. I do not believe the Bill offers anything in that direction. I do not see anything in the Bill that will be of use to the people of the United Kingdom in general.
§ 2.11 a.m.
§ Sir Nigel Fisher (Surbiton)
I agree with most of the comments made by the hon. Member for Cannock (Mr. Roberts), but I shall not take up his remarks because at this late hour I want to be brief. Some of the speeches to which I have listened over the past seven hours have been unnecessarily long, and I wish to show some courtesy and consideration to hon. Members who are still waiting to speak.
Having begun on that note. I shall go on to be thoroughly disagreeable, and perhaps a little cynical, by saying that I believe that both main parties in the House of Commons have got themselves on the devolution hook mainly for the most material of motives: to save some votes and seats which, they fear, might otherwise go to the SNP. It seems to me that the appeasement of a minority of voters in Scotland is not a very elevated motive for an important constitutional Bill which will reverse the whole trend of British history.
I acknowledge that, whether we give or withhold devolution, it can be plausibly argued either way that we are on the slippery slope to separatism. Views on each side of this argument are held with conviction, cutting across party affiliations—which is why each party is deeply 1402 divided on the principle as well as on the Bill.
As an English Member I can claim no special knowledge, but as a Unionist I am instinctively against the principle as well as against the Bill. I believe that it is a Trojan horse for separatism that will lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom. If I am right, this surely is the overriding issue, of far greater importance than a probably unsuccessful attempt to save a few seats in Scotland.
The Scottish nationalists acknowledge that their objective is independence.
§ Sir N. Fisher
One of the hon. Lady's SNP colleagues, the hon. Member for elackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Reid), said earlier in a most eloquent speech that the Bill was the road. That is the real condemnation of the Bill. Yet the disintegration of the United Kingdom would be the denial of two and a half centuries of our history and the severance of social, commercial and industrial ties of great value to both England and Scotland, but especially perhaps to Scotland, because she would lose influence and opportunity in Britain, which, for her is and must remain the most vital economic and political centre.
I do not care at all for the idea of referenda in a parliamentary democracy. I think it a contradiction in terms. But in this constitutional matter I believe that the very least the Government should do is to hold an early referendum in Scotland. One of the questions should be "Are you in favour of separatism?". I believe that that would result in the decisive rejection of that concept. That would be a help whether the Bill becomes law or not, because it would hinder the aspirations of the nationalists which are a menace to Britain. It would also be useful guidance to English Members, like myself, who would rather like to know what Scottish opinion on this matter really is.
Of course Scotland has a case: it is badly governed, over-governed and most expensively governed, like the rest of Britain. But another tier of government is not likely to cure that. At a time of grave economic crisis, when we are living beyond our means on borrowed money, the Government now propose 1403 spending £8 million on capital account and about £25 million a year in running costs and employing 2,300 extra civil servants—for what?
To many people in the Highlands and Islands, Edinburgh is as remote as London. They fear that a Scottish Assembly dominated by Glasgow and the Lowlands will give more of the block grant to those more densely-populated areas—of course it will—than to the North.
In my dislike of the Bill, I by no means exclude my own party from criticism. Even on the lowest and most politically material motivation of saving seats, who will be impressed by a weak "me too" policy that waters down devolution virtually to the level of a debating chamber without executive power? There would be more honour—perhaps, even more votes—in boldly stating the case for the Union than in seeking abortively to appease nationalist feeling.
§ Mr. Dalyell
As the hon. Gentleman knows, I read with great pleasure his biography of Iain Macleod. Is it a matter of fact that before Lord Home and the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) put forward their various proposals kin Macleod, as an ex-patriate Scot and ex-Highlander, was never consulted on this issue?
§ Sir N. Fisher
As Iain Macleod's biographer, I ought to be able to answer the hon. Gentleman's point. He certainly never mentioned having been consulted in any way, but I cannot swear to it that he was not.
A minority of people in Scotland want separate government, but I believe that the majority—just as we do in England—want less government but better government. An Assembly will only give them more government.
The most dangerous aspect of devolution, mentioned so often in this House in the last two days, is the resulting struggle for power. Who believes for a moment that the SNP, pledged to separatism, will be content with the powers under the Bill? From the day that it is passed, they will demand more and more power to tax and spend. The hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Reid) admitted it proudly when he spoke earlier.
1404 If the SNP has a majority in the Assembly, it will mean a running war between Edinburgh and London. I cannot think of anything worse for Britain than the bitterness which that sort of battle will generate. At best there will be endless bureaucratic bickering between the House of Commons and the Assembly. At worst it will lead to the dissolution of the United Kingdom.
That is quite likely to happen with our present electoral system. Under the first-past-the-post method of voting, a party can obtain the largest number of seats even though it has obtained little more than one-third of the votes. The SNP could gain control of the Assembly with fewer than 40 per cent. of the votes in Scotland. Yet the Government propose to ignore the only unanimous recommendation of the Kilbrandon Commission by refusing to introduce a system of proportional representation for the Scottish Assembly.
§ Mrs. Bain
The hon. Gentleman may perhaps be interested to know that the Scottish National Party has always supported the system of proportional representation. On that basis, does he not agree that my party is more representative of Scotland than the Conservative Party, which is over-represented in terms of the votes cast at the last General Election?
§ Sir N. Fisher
I am glad to hear that the hon. Lady supports the system of proportional representation. It would be more to the advantage of her party in Scotland if she did not. But I welcome recruits to this cause even from the most improbable quarters.
The Prime Minister quoted the Kilbrandon Commission when it suited him to do so over federalism, but not in this context of electoral reform. The reason why he did not do so is that to grant proportional representation for Scotland and Wales, having already accepted it for Northern Ireland and being, presumably, bound to accept it in future for Europe, in the end would mean giving it to the English electorate too, which each of the main parties is most unwilling to do because, although it is a much fairer system, it would lose them seats to the Liberal Party.
Quebec should be a warning to us, because the same thing could happen in 1405 Scotland, and Lord Home was right to say that the future of the United Kingdom should not be put at risk for party political purposes.
It sometimes saddens me in politics—I have been in this House rather a long time now, and I have seen a good deal of it—that party advantage so often takes precedence over every other consideration.
The Kilbrandon Commission also recommended a reduction in the number of Scottish and Welsh Members in the House of Commons. Of course, the Commission was right. The present system of representation will look indefensible and will be indefensible if devolution is accorded to Scotland and Wales. How can anyone possibly defend a system which gives Scotland an Assembly of 142 seats and at the same time retains a Scottish representation here of 71 seats?
Already, without devolution, as we have heard again and again in this debate, Scotland is over-represented, with one Member for every 53,000 votes, whereas England has one Member for every 64,000 votes and Northern Ireland has only one Member for every 86,000 votes. If Scotland is given an Assembly, in my opinion it will be gerrymandering of the most blatant kind to continue with the existing number of Scottish seats in the House of Commons. Yet that, apparently, is precisely what the Government intend to do.
§ Mr. Dalyell
It is not only a question of numbers. It is also a question of responsibility. It does not make much qualitative difference whether it is 71, 50 or 35 voting on measures for which they are not responsible in England and where English Members have no responsibility in Scotland.
§ Sir N. Fisher
I quite agree. The hon. Gentleman makes a perfectly fair point. Really, the Government's present position on this issue is a disreputable posture of which the better members of the Labour Party should be ashamed.
I believe that all that devolution will do is damage Britain without meeting the needs of Scotland or the demands of the nationalists. I hope very much that the Bill will be rejected by the House of Commons. If it secures a Second Reading, I hope that it will be amended drastically in Committee. If it ever reaches 1406 the statute book, I hope that it will only be with less Scottish representation here and a fairer electoral system in Scotland.
§ 2.24 a.m.
§ Mr. Ifor Davies (Gower)
The hon. Member for Surbiton (Sir N. Fisher) emphasised the importance of the unity of the United Kingdom, and that theme has run through many other speeches tonight, notably those of the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Maudling), the right hon. Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Fraser) and my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer). I would emphasise that the interdependence of nations is such that no people can live to themselves, and no nation can separate its national life from that of the rest of the world. Neither can the people of Scotland and Wales separate their national life from that of the rest of the United Kingdom.
The Bill is called the Scotland and Wales Bill, but there is a great difference between Scotland and Wales in this matter. This debate started yesterday afternoon and was continued last night on television. I have great respect and great admiration for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, but I was quite astonished when I heard him comment that if devolution for Wales was not carried it was likely to lead to violence. He even referred to the situation in Ulster. With great respect to my right hon. Friend, if he believes that he is entirely out of touch with the feelings of people in Wales.
Part I of the Bill deals with the unity of the United Kingdom. I want to deal with this point in a Welsh context. The doctrine of separation or independence is still the great dividing line between the Welsh nationalists and Labour Members. I am glad to see the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley) in his place.
I contend that Welsh nationalism is interested not so much in devolution for the benefit of the Welsh people but only in purposes that will realise its dream of separation of Wales from the United Kingdom. I pay tribute to SNP Members, who have been quite frank with the House tonight. They have said that they regard the position as a stepping-stone towards independence and that it is a first step. I have not heard that statement in such clear terms coming from 1407 the Welsh nationalists. At least it has not been said in Wales, although I am sure that it is their objective.
Stripped of its superficial outer shell, the policy of the Welsh nationalists boils down to plain separation across the whole industrial and economic front. The great majority of Welsh people are becoming sick and tired of the repeated statements of the nationalists—and I could quote dates and column numbers in Hansard—that the Welsh people are in a condition of servitude. What utter nonsense that is. It is an insult to the intelligence of the Welsh people.
The hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans) said again yesterday that only when it is automous can we hope to see Wales developing a strong, balanced economy. That is an example of the exaggeration which has been used by the nationalists to appeal to the emotions of the people. But what are the economic facts? We hear a great deal quoted from the Kilbrandon Commission's report on the principle of devolution, but what does it say about economic facts? Some people forget to quote that, as stated in Paragraph 459 of the Kilbrandon Report, a Treasury publication in 1971 stated that Wales's share of central Government expenditure exceeded the revenue which it produced in United Kingdom taxation by £182 million, equal to nearly 22 per cent. of Welsh expenditure.
§ Mr. Wigley
Will the hon. Member confirm that those figures included an extraordinary high level of expenditure on defence projects which a Welsh Government would not pursue, and that it was a year in which there was an explosion of expenditure on nationalised industries? The Kilbrandon Report said that if the majority of people in Wales wanted self-government there was no economic reason why it should not be granted.
§ Mr. Davies
No one has challenged what Kilbrandon said in the report. It stands there as evidence. I am convinced that the great majority of people in Wales—as I can say from my contacts with Welsh people as much as anyone in the House—have no doubt that the central issue of this debate is to retain the unity of the United Kingdom. Of course, Wales is a proud nation with its own traditions and its own language, which I am proud 1408 to say I can speak, and has a unique culture.
The indivisibility of the United Kingdom has been realised all along, and Wales has greatly benefited by it. I need mention only, for example, how Wales benefited from the policy of the dispersal of Government offices and industry to development areas and the regions. The Royal Mint went to Llantrisant, the census office to Newport and the vehicle registration office to Swansea. Does anyone believe that those things would have happened but for our being part of the United Kingdom?
§ Mr. Anderson
Would my hon. Friend also include in that context the decentralisation of the Ministry of Defence, with 5,000 jobs, to Cardiff, which is opposed by the Welsh nationalists?
§ Mr. Davies
The unity of Wales with the United Kingdom has proved a strength, not a weakness, in tackling our problems. Therefore, our main concern must be to prevent any action which could undermine the relationship. That is why some of us are very worried that the proposals before us will provide a springboard for separation or a step towards the slippery slope leading towards the break-up of the United Kingdom. We have heard clearly tonight from the SNP that the Bill is a stepping-stone, the first step.
We have been invited to express our opinions, hopes and fears frankly. My great fear concerns the all-important issues of timing in any constitutional change. Devolution at a time of economic well-being would stand a far better chance of survival than devolution in the middle of an economic crisis. At about 3.30 p.m. tomorrow we shall be told about certain matters to do with the economy and to restruct expenditure. Then, at about 4.30 p.m., we shall resume a debate that in some respects will run contrary to what we shall have just heard.
1409 There is a large and growing body of opinion in Wales that, after the reform of local government and many other changes of recent years, the time has come to pause and consolidate before inflicting additional changes. That does not mean the rejection of any principle of devolution, but it raises the all-important question of timing. Getting proposals right is of the first importance, more important than being tied down to a timetable. Many people have told me that they consider it a great mistake that the House should be concentrating its time and energies on devolution when our grave economic and industrial problems demand a higher priority.
I am not unmindful of certain commitments to the principle of devolution and the need to deal with the position of nominated bodies in Wales. We are also committed to strengthening local government, which I regard as the grass roots of democracy. I speak as the President of the Glamorgan Association of Local Councils. There is an opportunity to improve and bring government nearer the people by improving local government's powers, even those of community councils. There is a strong feeling in Wales that local government should be tidied up before we proceed with other measures.
I am not unmindful of commitments we also made that the United Kingdom Parliament must remain supreme and that the Welsh Office should not be weakened. I am afraid, however, that that will be one of the consequences of the measure before us.
As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said in opening the debate, we are considering a Bill of great constitutional importance. I have never been anxious to embrace the concept of a referendum, but, having regard to the constitutional importance of the Bill and the mood of the Welsh people—together with the fact that no poll, whether organised by a newspaper or otherwise, can be a substitute for a proper reference to the will of the people, as the right hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Craig) pointed out in his thoughtful and interesting speech—I urge the Government to respond favourably to the idea of a referendum.
§ 2.36 a.m.
§ Dr. Alan Glyn (Windsor and Maidenhead)
I am glad to follow the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Davies) because he said many things with which I agreed.
It is clear from this debate that the Scottish National Party intends to use the Bill as a springboard to separation. I shall be referring to referenda, but I wish to keep my speech as short as possible. I have sat here for 15 or 16 hours and I know that a number of my hon. Friends still wish to speak tonight.
We have before us the most important constitutional change presented to Parliament since the division of Ireland and the creation of the Irish Free State. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Maudling) said earlier that if the Bill were to be of any use, it had to show that it was of benefit to the people of the United Kingdom as well as to the people of Scotland and Wales. I do not see how the addition of another tier of government, with additional proliferation and expense, will achieve that objective.
I should like to examine the origins of current nationalistic feelings. There is a feeling throughout the United Kingdom, not just in Scotland, that the country is being over-governed, yet there is also a feeling of remoteness from government. Of equal significance is the fact that we once had an Empire and a Commonwealth to which many Scottish people went. There is no similar outlet now. These facts may have resulted in an increase in feelings of nationalism.
This measure is called the Scotland and Wales Bill. There is no mention of England in the title, yet suddenly, almost as a placenta or afterbirth, the Government have produced a document entitled "Devolution—The English Dimension". It is almost as if they forgot to put anything in the Bill and sought to rectify their mistake by showing what effects the Bill will have on England.
We are to have four days for Second Reading and 30 days, perhaps more, in Committee. It is wrong to proceed with the Bill until we have had referenda in Scotland, Wales and, possibly, England as well. The difficulty about a referendum is what to put in it. We know the difficulty of having a referendum after 1411 a Bill has been considered and put into effect. We would have a similar procedure to that followed in relation to the Common Market. We were already in, and people were reluctant to change the status quo.
The proper time to have a referendum—the Prime Minister made only fleeting reference to this yesterday—is before Second Reading. Let us make sure that the Welsh and the Scots are in favour of some form of devolution before we embark on the long parliamentary procedure.
§ Mr. Fairbairn
What possible question could one put in a referendum before devolution? What will devolution mean to the ordinary person, who is to be asked "Are you in favour of devolution?"? Is it not rather like asking a child aged 6, Are you in favour of sex?"? The child will have heard of it, and will understand that people think that it is a good idea, but will have not the slightest conception of what it means. Therefore, is it not just idiotic to talk of a referendum on that basis?
§ Dr. Glyn
I do not agree at all. My hon. and learned Friend's countrymen are not as unintelligent as he thinks. If the question in the referendum were properly phrased, they would be perfectly capable of interpreting it.
What happens if as a result of a referendum Wales wants to come out of the Bill? I do not know what one does then. Perhaps one would have to start all over again, I stand to be corrected, but I should have thought it almost impossible to take Wales out of the Bill once it becomes law. Therefore, we should be presented with the situation of having wasted at least 30 days going through a Bill which ultimately had to be completely altered and started again from scratch. The only sensible thing is to start by finding out what people want and then to proceed after discovering their wishes.
I very much agree with the hon. Member for Gower, who said that to implement the Bill now, when the country is in a grave economic position, would be quite wrong. As he rightly said, the International Monetary Fund is breathing down our necks and all that we can do is to spend 30 days debating the Bill. It is quite wrong.
1412 I also entirely disapprove of lumping Scotland and Wales together in one Bill. This legislation should have been presented as two separate Bills.
In the end we shall have a local representation in Scotland of 150 Members at Westminster 71 Members. We shall have to look at that representation. As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has said, there are elementary defects and contradictions in the Bill. Conflicts will result between this House and the Assemblies. It will be extremely difficult to resolve those conflicts. The Bill will entail about 2,000 extra civil servants and will ultimately involve an an annual cost of probably more than £36 million.
I thought that the Leader of the Liberal Party was quite right when he said yesterday that if the Bill were passed into law, it was essential that the Scottish representation here be brought down to size. If my notes are correct, he suggested that there should be a Speaker's Conference to make sure that the representation of Scotland was proportionately on a par with that of England. I would add that at the same time Northern Ireland should have its representation increased.
The difficulty in having Scottish Members of Parliament at Westminster is that they will have the power to vote on English Bills. I do not believe it possible to separate English and Scottish Bills. It is rather like trying to find out whether a Bill is hybrid. It will be extremely difficult. Whether or not we like it, we shall be left with Scottish Members here who will also be able to represent their constituents in the Scottish Assembly. The conflict between Edinburgh and lyre will be considerable, and I do not believe that the procedure which is being provided for in the Bill will be sufficient to deal with it.
The Assembly will have no revenue-raising powers. I do not believe that a Parliament without any method of raising taxation is tenable. After all, the counties, the districts and the parishes have a method of raising revenue. Too many tiers of government will be involved, and I do not think that we shall derive any benefit from it. The House will have to alter the Bill so as to make it work 1413 and to provide for Wales being taken out, if that is what is desired.
The most essential thing is, first, to discover the wishes of the people before we start wasting parliamentary time on the Bill. Let us test the reaction of the people of Wales and of Scotland before we go through the whole rigmarole of the Bill and then discover, perhaps, that Wales does not want it and we have to start the process from scratch.
The right course is to stop at Second Reading and to test the feeling in Scotland and Wales. The Government should then produce two Bills—one for Wales, if necessary, and one for Scotland. They certainly should not mix it all up in one Bill.
Finally, it is important for us at this time to build up our prosperity and to make the country strong economically once again. Then we can be a united force which can play its part in the world rather than messing about with this measure.
§ 2.47 a.m.
§ Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)
The hon. Member for Windsor and Maidenhead (Dr. Glyn) made many powerful points in his measured speech. He made only one point with which I disagreed, and that was on the timing of the referendum. The problem about holding a referendum before the Bill proceeds further is that there would have to be a separate Bill. Those who hear ill will to the concept of devolution as such would use the debate on that Bill to spin matters out for the rest of the Session, perhaps.
If there could be a guarantee that a Bill to provide for a referendum could be got through speedily, I would agree with the hon. Gentleman. However, I fear that this would not be so. There. fore, even granted that there is the danger of wasting 40 days and 40 nights—in the Old Testament term—should the Welsh, as seems likely, reject the package as finally agreed, in practical terms it is probably best to have the referendum at the close of the debate in Parliament.
I was struck by the description of "a form of Trojan horse" that the hon. Member for Surbiton (Sir N. Fisher) applied to these proposals. To take the hon. Gentleman's analogy somewhat 1414 further, I hope that he and I and others who have doubts about the Bill will not be playing the rôleof a Cassandra, seeing perhaps a little further than others either can see or want to see and yet being rejected, with the unfortunate consequences that ensued.
My impression about the approach to the Bill, certainly by the Government and also to some extent by the Conservative Party, is that from the start there has been no overall strategy, that the whole concept has been developed by piecemeal methods and as a result of individual pressures along the line, whether those pressures were by-elections in Wales or Scotland, or an estimate of party electoral advantage at one time or another. That is hardly an auspicious background to a Bill of such monumental constitutional importance as this. We are talking about the British constitution, a constitution which has stood the test of time and which over the centuries has been adapted by change to meet the new pressures and demands upon it—yes, from precedent to precedent, without any revolution.
Since we are talking about the United Kingdom constitution, it strikes me as a little odd that the Bill is called only the "Scotland and Wales Bill" as if it affected only those two parts of the United Kingdom, when on any analysis. it will have the most profound implications for the future of the United Kingdom as a whole.
Almost as an afterthought the Government, perhaps as a reaction to some hostile statements from English Members, decided that they had to do something about the English situation and latterly produced that little White Paper—so green— posing several options, suggesting that there was no real commitment or proper analysis of the English situation. One wonders how deep is the commitment of the Government to devolution as such.
I wish to pose a number of questions. In the past our constitution has been able to accommodate itself to the new pressures and demands put upon it without in any way moving outside the free flow of easy development. Why, now, is it suggested that the situation cannot be adapted, as in the past, without stepping outside the existing constitution and 1415 establishing rival Governments at Cardiff and Edinburgh? Why, now, are the pressures such that a totally new direction is needed?
How should our constitution be changed? The first obvious answer is that it should he done in as non-partisan a spirit as possible because we are dealing with the rules of the game, the framework within which the individual decisions within this House are to be made. Secondly, the constitution should be changed ideally by consensus, built up from experienced, expert opinion and then endorsed by the public. We know that Britain today is at the frontier, possibly, of major constitutional changes, because of the European dimension as it is called, the Assemblies and also because, at a different level, of the prospect of local government reform in Wales and Scotland, partly, it is said, as the consequence of the proposed establishment of these Assemblies. Perhaps ideally given the need for consensus, there should have been some form of constitutional convention to achieve a far more coherent structure than appears in the Bill. Certainly "Scotland and Wales"—the title of this Bill—cannot be seen as a coherent whole.
One thing is crystal clear about the Government's intentions as stated in the Bill, namely that they are only an interim statement, only a temporary position, holding the ring for a while. Does anyone seriously suggest that the proposals put forward in the Bill are likely to remain as they are in five years' time or 10 years' time? This is a staging post, as the nationalist parties readily admit, because they wish to use the Bill for their own ends. It is temporary and, being temporary, it will be pushed further in the direction of greater powers and greater separation as a result of the different pressures which will be put upon it. There will be pressure from the Assembly men who currently according to the present proposals, will not be given a particularly substantial roleand who, human nature being what it is, will seek a greater role.
The vested interests will be mobilised to carve out a greater role to play. As in the genesis of the Bill, there will be a Dutch auction in an attempt to feed the beast of the nationalist parties in the hope that it will go away and the whole concept of separation will be forgotten. Civil servants will find it difficult to serve 1416 two masters, perhaps of different complexions.
There is no binding philosophy in the Bill, as there would be in a federal structure. In a cogent speech, the right hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Craig) spoke about how the Länder system in West Germany works without over-government. But there is no danger of separation there. With the exception of Bavaria, not one of the State Governments or a significant group of them wants to be separated from the Republic. That is not the case in our system.
The Bill will be the basis for many conflicts. Housing is to be the responsibility of the Assemblies and social services of Westminster, which ignores the mix between the two. The Assemblies will have a fixed four-year term, so there will often be an Assembly election between Westminster elections, at a time when the Government of the day, whatever its complexion, will be in a trough of electoral support, and the Assembly voters will wish to protest against it. So, for non-nationalist reasons, they might vote for the separatist parties.
There may be within our unitary system no coherent and lasting model which can be attempted. Perhaps only a federal system can provide the necessary checks. But within our system, unless the pressures are overwhelming—I am not convinced that they are—we should first seek to modify rather than to set up rival governments.
Having asked how a constitution can be changed, I come to my second and last question—when is it appropriate to change it? First, it is when the constitution has proved inadequate to changing needs and demands and, second, when there is a clear popular recognition that it has failed and there are demands for change. Has our present system proved inadequate to meet changing needs and demands? The starting point is the definition of the needs and demands of our present system.
There is a world wide call for decentralisation. We have had a Cook's tour during the debate. Reference has been made to Quebec, France, Italy and various other countries, yet in the Welsh context, which I know the best, the idea of Wales as a unified entity it not wholly accepted. In terms of decentralisation, it 1417 might be said in the Welsh context that the real identification of our local people is more with their own township or country than with Wales as a whole. Now that we have the super-countries following local government reorganisation, there is at least an argument for the sort of decentralisation that was attempted by means of the Transport (Grants) Act 1972, with central government giving transport supplementary grants to the individual countries for the men on the spot to allocate according to the needs as they saw them.
That form of decentralisation could well be attempted over a wider area than that envisaged in the Transport (Grants) Act. That may be a far more promising model when considering decentralisation in terms of existing counties and the existing local government structure because there would be the very real danger with the present proposals, with a committee system at an all-Wales level proposed to sit alongside a committee system at the level of the local government structure, of power being removed from the people and taken to an all-Wales level so as to give it a job to do. In that way power would be much further away from the people than hitherto.
How do the Secretary of State for Wales and Government spokesmen argue the case for devolution in the Welsh context? It is argued that it is more democratic. It is as difficult to argue against democracy as it is against peace, but in what way is devolution said to be more democratic? First, we are told that there is now a lack of parliamentary control. Delegated legislation is cited as an example. Secondly, the devils of nominated bodies are frequently used to suggest that we should have an all-Wales structure. I have never understood the argument about delegated legislation.
The Secretary of State argues that over the year he signs or enacts 100 examples of delegated legislation that are not debated in the House. I should like to examine those items of legislation more closely. I suspect that most of them are of a technical nature and not appropriate for parliamentary scrutiny.
What about the nominated bodies? It is easy to raise a cheer at a party conference when talking about the several 1418 nominated bodies as being wholly unresponsible and in need of being brought within some form of democratic control. Even if that case is cited, we do not have to create the whole paraphernalia suggested in the Bill to control them. We could do the same thing by having, for example, a Welsh Council composed of MPs or possibly senior representatives from the local government structure. It could sit at an all-Wales level without creating the bureaucracy, the rival government and all the dangers in the structure suggested by the Government.
§ Mr. Dalyell
In spite of my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson), the former Prime Minister, arguing that there should be democratic control of the water supply, is it immediately obvious that elected Assembly men will run highly specialised agencies, such as those responsible for water, health and tourism, more efficiently? Is there any evidence that they will be dealt with more effectively?
§ Mr. Anderson
I do not think that there is any evidence in a technical sense that that would be done, but we must recognise that there is substantial dissatisfaction in Wales with the role of the nominated bodies. In an attempt to meet that dissatisfaction, I am putting forward a form of democratic control, albeit on an indirect basis, which would not run into the dangers that the proposed Assembly would run into.
In addition to the arguments on delegated legislation and nominated bodies, we are told that there must be a democratic structure to oversee the £850 million or so expended by central government in Wales. For roughly half of that £850 million the Assembly would simply be a conduit for transferring it to local authorities. The other half of that £850 million concerns policies which are often United Kingdom policies. I fear that the Assembly would seek to trim, modify and alter that expenditure for the sake of being different. I am not convinced by any of those three arguments put forward by the Secretary of State.
If there is dissatisfaction, can it be met without this sort of Assembly? I would like to explore the possibility of meeting that dissatisfaction by adapting the present system. That would be consistent with the development of devolution in 1419 Wales thus far, with the establishment of a Secretary of State for Wales and the Welsh Grand Committee by the Conservative Government. Increasing powers could be assigned to the Welsh Office as the Welsh Office was capable of taking them over. That would add to the weight of the Secretary of State in Cabinet but not establish a rival government and make a gift to the separatists as would this Assembly.
§ Mr. Wigley
I have listened with great interest to the hon. Gentleman's coherent argument, although he will not be surprised to hear that I do not agree with it. Given that he has knocked down the practicability from his point of view of any form of Assembly, will be explain what sort of Assembly he had in mind at the last General Election when he had a commitment in his personal manifesto to an elected Assembly?
§ Mr. Anderson
I had no such Assembly in mind. If we look back to our manifestos we find many skeletons. My views have gelled and been modified as the result of this debate, and I hope that the views that I put forward now will be considered on their merits and given more weight than comments of the sort made by the hon. Gentleman, which do not advance the argument. If I have to give an apologia for my views, I can say that I made no speech on devolution during the 1974 election campaign, and I was not asked a question about devolution during that campaign. It is a dead issue for Swansea and for most of the population of Wales.
The proposals do not represent a coherent structure. They are a half-way house. For that reason there is no logical stopping place—as there would be in a federal structure—from this halfway house to full sovereign separation. There will be many opportunities for separatists to exploit every possible discontent and to push further along the road to full separation. That is why separatists such as the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley) support the Bill. The support which the separatists give the Bill reminds me of Lenin's definition of support for Social Democratic parties. It is the support that the rope has for the hanging man. That is the form of support that the separatists have for the Bill, because they know that it is gift 1420 to them. It has been provided for them by myopic Governments of both parties when other people were diverted. The people of this country are waking up more to the implications for them and for the constitution of the United Kingdom as the debate unfolds.
I turn finally to the nature of the demand and the dissatisfaction. Certainly, Kilbrandon showed that there was greater dissatisfaction and a greater sense of alienation from the Westminster Government among several regions in England than there was in Wales. Let us be aware of the nature of the Welsh dissatisfaction.
We know that public opinion polls—whatever the scepticism one may have about polls, particularly when one does not agree with their conclusion—in Wales have shown consistently that the Welsh people do not want this devolution. Marplan showed that 60 per cent. or more wanted the status quo and the final poll last Friday showed a substantial majority against this Bill.
§ Mr. Wigley
In that last poll, last Friday, 33 per cent. supported the powers advocated by the Government and a further 35 per cent. wanted further powers for the Welsh Assembly so how can the hon. Member say that 68 per cent. or more constitute a majority against devolution?
§ Mr. Anderson
Roughly 12 to 14 per cent. of the Welsh population did not want an Assembly. After that it was on the basis of "If an Assembly is around, do you want it to have more or less power?". The basic views, however, of the Welsh people are that they do not want it.
That is why, when the Prime Minister talked about popular demand and the initial White Paper in its final paragraph talked of clear popular demand in Wales and Scotland, many who know Wales and spend a little time there wondered where the popular demand comes from. It is not reflected in public opinion polls and not in major channels of public opinion, so if there is no basis of public support, for what reason does one set out on this road with the ending so unclear and dangerous? That is why I and other colleagues have argued for a referendum. That would provoke debate not just in the columns of The Scotsman 1421 and the Western Mail among the so-called elites but among the people, just as the debate on the Common Market was provoked by the referendum. That is a major reason in itself.
The other reason for a referendum is that for a major constitutional change such as this, when the rules of the game are to be altered, one needs an endorsement greater than that provided by this House.
This is potentially a dangerous path. If the people of Scotland and Wales want this, no force on earth will stop them having it. I do not think they do. Certainly, initially, one should try to seek the traditional way in this country of adapting existing institutions rather than seeking to set up a rival and dangerous Government.
§ 3.14 a.m.
§ Sir Anthony Meyer (Flint, West)
It behoves me to speak with considerable humility. There is no Welsh blood in my veins, so far as I am aware, but I have the great privilege of representing a Welsh constituency—and a particularly beautiful one. I feel bound to pay greater regard to the wishes of my constituents on this than on any other issue, and it so happens that on this issue, the wishes of my constituents are particularly clear and forcefully expressed. I think I can say that 100 per cent. of them want a referendum. I have not received a single representation against it, but a very large number in favour.
On the subject of the referendum, my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor and Maidenhead (Dr. Glyn) made the point which I intended to make—namely, that if we have a referendum at this stage, what is the question to be? Indeed, it is difficult to formulate a satisfactory question to be put in a referendum at this stage. If, as seems more satisfactory, the referendum is to be on the basis of the Bill as finally adopted by this House—if it ever gets that far, and I doubt it—and if the question is "Do you want the Bill that Parliament has put through all its stages?", what would happen if Wales were to vote "No"? All the indications are that Wales would vote No".
§ Sir A. Meyer
How at that stage would it be possible to get Wales out of the Bill? The Government has framed the Bill in such a way as to make it virtually impossible to extract Wales from the Bill. I can only suppose that if at that stage there is a referendum and a "No" from Wales we would have to go back to the drawing board and all the work in Parliament over the preceding six months would have been wasted.
I said that 100 per cent. of my constituents, as nearly as I can judge, want a referendum and some 90 per cent., so far as I can judge. are opposed to devolution, or at any rate to the measure of devolution that is now before us. Therefore, on those grounds, whatever my own personal hesitations, and they are few, I have the duty to oppose the Bill, to vote against Second Reading, and in Committee to do everything I can to get Wales out of the Bill—even if, in the process, those of us who are working to this end succeed in wrecking the Bill altogether.
In so doing, I shall find, as will many of my hon. Friends, that we shall have some unexpected allies. It will not surprise me a bit to find myself in alliance with the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Davies), who made a magnificent speech. or in alliance with my good friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson), with whom I have fought many battles arm in arm, but it will surprise me to find myself in alliance with the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) and perhaps with the hon. Member for Cannock (Mr. Roberts). One of the features of the Bill is that it will produce some odd alliances, and also shifting alliances. At one stage in Committee I shall be arguing strongly in favour of PR for the Assembly, if there is to be an Assembly, as I hope there will not be. In that battle I shall no doubt have another set of allies.
It has been said that the curious combinations produced by this measure in Parliament will have a damaging effect on the public's view of Parliament. do not believe that for a moment. One of the few good results of the marathon through which we are now passing is that it might to some extent, and in an odd way, succeed in raising the public's estimate of Parliament. For once it will see 1423 Members of Parliament acting as individuals—not just obeying party Whips, but backing their own judgments and to a large extent reflecting the views of their constituents.
Possibly the only beneficiaries of this miserable process will be Parliament itself. But the Government will not be a beneficiary of the process. Ministers must have been dismayed as this debate has wound along at the total absence of support from the Benches behind them. They can expect from Members on the extreme Left and from hon. Members on the Opposition Benches a growing realisation of the deepness of the opposition to the Bill.
§ Mr. Dalyell
On the point about support, the hon. Gentleman might have noticed, as I did, the fact that the Government Front Bench has been denuded of Cabinet Ministers, very few of whom turned up even when the Prime Minister introduced the Bill.
§ Sir A. Meyer
One thing that cannot be said is that the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) has failed to attend this debate. The hon. Gentleman has been here assiduously throughout and has virtually dominated our proceedings. He is quite right in his comment. Perhaps Ministers were wise to keep away from so mournful a process from their point of view.
Devolution cuts across party lines. This will be very much in evidence during the coming months. I am not worried about the effect that it will have on Parliament—and why should I worry about the effect that it will have on Government. None the less, we must attempt to be responsible in this matter.
I have said that I am prepared to oppose the inclusion of Wales in the Bill even to the extent of wrecking the Bill itself. In saying that, I am conscious that the Bill and the debate will arouse expectations in Scotland that it may become extremely dangerous to disappoint.
I have a horrible feeling that before long we—Parliament and Government—will find ourselves in a position where it becomes impossible to go on and impossible to go back. We shall be in the position of being half-way up the north face of the Eiger and we cannot get to the top or get down and the winter 1424 blizzards have set in. At that point I do not see what we can do. At that point it will become necessary to have a conference between the leaders of all parties to see whether anything can be salvaged from the wreckage.
I have made no secret of the fact that I would like to see very much closer cooperation between the parties in facing our economic problems. It would not be too difficult to evolve a common programme, covering the next two years or so, to tackle our economic difficulties. I believe that we in this House could sit down and in a couple of hours draw up an agreed short-term programme. But it will be 10 times harder to agree a rescue programme for this measure.
It is easy enough for Socialists and non-Socialists to agree short-term measures for the economy, but I do not see how devolutionists and anti-devolutionists can get together and draw up an agreed solution that will be acceptable to the English Members and at the same time satisfy the minimum expectations of the Scottish Members. I am frankly very worried indeed as to how we are to get out of the situation into which we seem to be rapidly steering ourselves.
§ Mr. Dalyell
There is no possible solution. It is no good even trying. It is counter-productive to try to paper over the cracks. With regard to the hon. Gentleman's previous point, let us admit that some of us are worried about the myth, which has already been started, of the Assembly that we never had. It is a great myth.
§ Sir A. Meyer
Yes, that may be right. None the less, I believe that expectations are now building up in Scotland. Clearly I have no qualifications to speak about this, but I have the impression that expectations are being deliberately built up in Scotland that will be impossible to satisfy.
I am not in a position tonight to suggest an answer. I merely draw attention to it as being the most worrying aspect of this debate. But such problems do not exist for us in Wales. Our task is an easy one. So far as we are concerned this is a bad Bill. It is a Bill that we can fight with an easy conscience, and we can do so with great pleasure.
§ 3.25 a.m.
§ Sir John Gilmour (Fife, East)
I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West (Sir A. Meyer) has confirmed the difficulty which he acknowledges of the possible different solutions for Wales and Scotland.
One of the troubles that we face is best illustrated by the situation which obtained when I first came into this House just after the 1959 General Election. Then, it appeared to be all right if the Government lost a seat to the Opposition. To some extent, it was all right if the Government lost a seat to the Liberals. But then there came the day when we started losing seats to nationalists. At that time, the nationalists' platform was one of separation, so those of us who were dead against separation tended to ask "What is there that we can possibly do to meet these demands, if there are any real demands?"
Looking at the history of the development of the Scottish Office, we see that it started off originally with the Lord Advocate. In 1885, it moved to a Secretary for Scotland. In 1925, the office became that of a Secretary of State. In 1939, the Government set up St. Andrew's House in Edinburgh. In postwar years, we saw the creation of a Minister of State, with the idea that there would be someone more resident in Scotland and better able to keep in touch. All the time, there has been an evolvement and some move towards trying to see whether we could not get better government for the country.
When we debated the White Paper almost a year ago, I said that the trouble stemmed largely from the fact that many people had lost confidence in this House. We have assumed our involvement in Europe, electing 80 or so Members to the European Assembly, leaving this Assembly in the House of Commons as it is. As a result, people do not feel that they are getting the service that they should get. That is why the Conservative Party in Scotland started talking about the need for an Assembly. We have been criticised for doing it. It has been suggested that we did so simply as a means of winning electoral support. I do not think that that is really so.
One of my hon. Friends described how people got in a "tizzy" when the hon. 1426 Member for Moray and Nairn (Mrs. Ewing) won Hamilton. But it was no concern of ours as Conservatives when a perfectly safe Labour seat was lost to the SNP. Of course, it was recaptured. But, nine times out of 10, the reason why people have voted for the nationalists is not that they wanted what the party stood for. It has been the only way in which they could make a protest. After all, people have done the same in England by voting for the Liberals.
How do we set about proving the desire for devolution? Some people say that it should be done by holding a referendum. But what can we have a referendum about until we know exactly what sort of devolution is to be offered? This is where we get into real trouble, because it seems to me that we have to go through with these proposals now. That is why I say that it would be delightful if we could scrub the whole thing. But I do not think that that is practicable any longer.
We have a Bill now. It is not one that I like. I do not think that it is the right sort of Bill. When we debated the White Paper, I complained bitterly about the proposal to appoint 120 Assembly Members—now it is to be 150—and still have me and all my other colleagues staying in Westminster. I thought that that was entirely unacceptable. In my view, the proposed Assembly was far too big.
Is it possible for us to resolve the problem by giving the Bill a Second Reading and then, in Committee, seeing whether we can improve it? If we just dispatch it on Thursday evening, I fear that we shall be in a complete vacuum. This is not a tenable situation. Therefore, I hope that we shall be able to combine to see whether in Committee we cannot produce a measure which is acceptable to the people of Scotland, and, if Wales does not want it, presumably we can vote to take the Welsh Assembly proposals out of the Bill altogether.
§ Mr. Macfarlane
Is the hon. Member saying that despite the shortcomings of the Bill he will support it on Second Reading?
§ Sir J. Gilmour
I think that that is the only way in which we can get ourselves out of our dilemma, particularly 1427 because my hon. Friends on the Conservative Front Bench have said that we as a party are committed to an Assembly. If we are committed to an Assembly we should either produce one or say, "Sorry, we have misled you, and we do not believe that this will happen."
Many people feel that there is a great deal of room for disagreement between the Assembly and this Parliament. I asked the Library to look up all the Bills that have been passed since 1970 which affected Scotland. They told me that in 1970–71 there were six Bills of which only one was voted against on Third Reading. In 1971–72 there were five Bills, of which one was voted against ; in 1972–73 there were three Bills, of which one was voted against, and 1973–74 was such a short Session that there were no Bills. In 1974 there were two, with none voted against; in 1974–75 there were four Bills, with one voted against; and in 1975–76 there were eight Bills, of which one was voted against.
§ Mr. Fairbairn
My hon. Friend is referring to Bills passed by this Parliament in Committees reflecting the balance of parties in this Parliament, and not Bills passed by an Assembly which has nothing to do with this Parliament, possibly of a different complexion.
§ Sir J. Gilmour
I take my hon. and learned Friend's point. I was arguing, perhaps ineffectively, that only a small percentage of Bills were so opposed by the political parties that they were voted against on Third Reading.
My hon. and learned Friend refers to an entirely different Assembly with a completely different membership, but I doubt whether the membership will be completely different. The Bills that were contested on Third Reading dealt with education and housing, where there is a direct dichotomy of ideas between the Conservative Party and the Labour Party. This is something that we would have to face up to in devolving legislation to an Assembly in Edinburgh.
It is worth recalling that local government reform in Scotland was not opposed by the Opposition on Second Reading or on Third Reading. It was an agreed measure. This was not so with reform in England and Wales, and some people may 1428 regret that they did not oppose local government reform in Scotland, but now it is a fact of life. It is possible to see that one could, with proper safeguards, have an Assembly which was not perpetually in conflict.
I would like to take up the points that have been made about the over-representation of Scotland at Westminster. I have always favoured a reduction in the membership of this House. We have too many Members, and I do not think that they have the status and standing that they should have. Membership of the whole House should be reduced, and this is the one moment when we could do it. We shall shortly send 81 Members to Europe, and I cannot see any other occasion on which Members would vote themselves out of a job. With some Members going away, we have an opportunity to reduce the number of Members, which would lead to a pro rata decrease in the number of Scottish Members.
The House must accept that geography must be taken into account. I do not think that Orkney and Shetland, Caithness and Sutherland, Ross and Cromarty, Western Isles, Inverness, Argyll and possibly Galloway are the type of constituencies which one can readily amalgamate. The distances that one has to travel are so great that one is forced to say that these constituencies must remain.
I see no reason why the constituencies in Edinburgh. Glasgow, the Lowlands and other parts of Scotland should not be represented on almost exactly the same basis as the rest of the United Kingdom. Constituencies that might be amalgamated on that basis would be Moray and Nairn and Banff, two comparatively small constituencies next door to each other.
In the meantime, even under the Bill, which I do not like, at least we in this Parliament must vote the money that goes to the Scottish Assembly. If Parliament votes more money to England or Wales, there will not be the money to go to Scotland. Therefore, we are entitled to have our present representation. It would be wrong for us to give it up, unless there is a situation in which we are voting on matters for which we, as Scottish Members, have no power over the money. But as far as I can see we shall always retain the power over the money.
§ Mr. Dalyell
The hon. Gentleman has always been a man for financial prudence. In 12 hours' time my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be bringing us the news from the IMF. In the circumstances, does the hon. Gentleman think it acceptable to go in for all the costs of what he and the Government propose?
§ Sir J. Gilmour
I agree that this may well be a time at which we could say "We are sorry. It must be postponed." But the lie has been cast, and I see little likelihood of that.
§ Sir J. Gilmour
That might be the best way out.
There may be agreement about Wales, but I very much hope that more sympathetic consideration will be given to the Scottish case.
§ 3.38 a.m.
§ Mr. W. Benyon (Buckingham)
I have great respect for my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, East (Sir J. Gilmour), but I take a completely different line.
Nothing typifies this debate more than its start, when the Prime Minister made an unenthusiastic speech to Government Benches that were largely empty. Incidentally, it is nice to have a Minister back on the Government Front Bench, even at this early hour.
Having listened to the debate all yesterday and all today. I have a greater sense of foreboding than I had when the debate started. When the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sillars) talked about Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia, I wondered what sort of language I was listening to. We are talking not about a Balkan hotch-potch but about a Union that has lasted nearly 300 years and which created the flag, the Union Jack, under which there have been so many great achievements of this country and her people.
It is said that those whom the gods wish to destroy they first make mad. Surely it is a madness at this time—we have just been talking about the IMF—to spend two days a week for six months, the greater part of the Session, discussing a Bill that is totally irrelevant to the 1430 country's problems. Will it save any money? The contrary is the case. Will it invigorate industry and commerce? No. Will it alter by a jot or tittle the standard of living? No. It is irrelevant, and our friends abroad, particularly in the countries that are friendly to us, feel that we are totally mad.
Ironically, it is economics, not politics, that has brought us to this pass. If Scotland and, to a lesser extent, Wales were prosperous, the Government would have no fear of losing their traditional votes in these Celtic strongholds. I suspect, though as an English Member I have no means by which to prove it, that the Scottish and Welsh nationalists' votes stem not from strong ideological conviction, but from people who are dissatisfied with their lot and wish to take it out on the system.
§ Mr. Benyon
But the English are dissatisfied with their lot too. It is not only Scotland which has high unemployment, bad housing, inadequate transport and a lack of industrial investment. For generations, glorious, tolerant, lazy old England has been prepared to put up with less representation in Parliament and less expenditure per head in order to safeguard the Union. The basis of the Union has been this single, unified Parliament which has given life to the Union and directed all its achievements. It is incredible to me that there are some hon. Members on these Benches, in the Unionist Party, who are prepared, even unwittingly, to put the Union at risk. I include in my condemnation of the Bill a condemnation of my party's proposals on an Assembly. They suffer from the same defects.
The Bill cannot avoid becoming an endless source of friction and dispute betwen Westminster and Edinburgh. The separatists will latch on to every policy and every provision of finance. No matter how big the block grant may be, they will find something in it with which to quarrel. We have the example of Canada clearly before us.
I listened with great interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Reid). No one who heard it could be in any doubt that if the Bill became law now, the SNP would be asking for full 1431 independence within three years at the most.
§ Mr. Benyon
In the last election, the electorate of England was 33 million, 3½ million in Scotland, 2 million in Wales and 1 million in Northern Ireland. To put this in perspective, the electorate of Greater London—about 5.2 million—is almost exactly the same as that of the combined Welsh and Scottish electorates.
The Bill will mean £8 million of capital expenditure, £24 million for current annual expenditure and £3 million for removals and elections. There will also be 2,300 extra civil servants, and all this is for a total electorate of 5½ million.
What, pray, will my constituents in North Buckinghamshire get out of this? They will foot part of the bill, that is for sure. But they might be excused for thinking that, in these circumstances, they would be given greater control over their affairs in matters such as education and housing which are to be devolved to the Scottish and Welsh Assemblies.
Not a bit of it. The same number of Scottish and Welsh Members will troop back here and vote on our English health, our English education and our English housing. It is a disgraceful situation and the backlash has already started. There will be fury in constituencies such as mine—where I represent nearly 100,000 electors—when they realise what is happening.
In an attempt to forestall this backlash we have had this extraordinary document on "the English dimension" of devolution. What does this document say? It says that devolution equivalent to that in Scotland and Wales cannot be granted to England because it would bea grave risk to national unity.Every argument that has been put against devolution for Scotland and Wales is used in this document against devolution in England. If any proof were needed that the Bill is both dangerous and ill thought out, one can find it in that document.
In pure logic, there is no reason why a county such as Buckinghamshire, or a region such as the North-East, should not be able to decide on its own housing and education provision. That has certain 1432 attractions. I admit straight away that there is no demand that I am aware of in Buckinghamshire for such devolution. I do not know about the North-East, though I doubt whether there is such a demand there.
The crux of the matter is the preponderance of English population and wealth. We all know that without the Celtic fringe Socialism would stand no chance at all in England. That is the political fact of life, and the Bill has been produced entirely to safeguard the votes of the Government party.
Neither in the Bill nor in the White Paper, nor in any other document, has any mention been made of Ulster. I am sure that this is the moment when Ulster must be considered. When we reach the Committee stage, I hope that Ulster will be considered, because it is a denial of justice that Ulster should remain with its present representation at Westminster while direct rule continues.
I come, almost finally, to the question of a referendum. Having had the referendum on Europe—and because this is a major constitutional issue; one cannot get away from that—I suppose that one cannot in logic oppose the holding of a referendum on this occasion. I intervened on this matter during the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) to point out that as these proposals affect the United Kingdom as a whole, the referendum, if held, must be a referendum of the United Kingdom as a whole. It would be a grave affront to the people of England if they were not included in a decision which so gravely affects their future.
§ Mr. Dalyell
On a factual question, perhaps, I may tell the hon. Gentleman that a number of my constituents, in the 1930s and 1940s, went to Slough, which I think is not in his constituency but is in Buckinghamshire. Such people are writing more and more letters to those who share my point of view saying that if there is to be a referendum they want to be included in it.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Meyer Galpern)
The hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) is intervening so often in the debate.
§ Mr. Benyon
That was a very interesting intervention, and I welcome it. Last 1433 Friday night I addressed a sizeable meeting in my constituency. I made this point about a referendum. Many people from the audience said to me afterward that they were born and bred in Scotland and did not see why they should not have something to do with this decision. Therefore, I entirely agree with what the hon. Gentleman says. That is another reason that makes this matter so difficult.
As we move more and more into this morass of legislation—and it will be a parliamentary morass—I find my mind turning increasingly to the position of Lincoln and the Northern States prior to the American civil war. There are great differences between that situation and the situation in which we now find ourselves, but there are also great similarities. The conflict was essentially economic. The same things were said then about Home Rule being a substitute for secession. Yet we all know that if Lincoln had not fought for the Union, the strongest democracy in the world today would never have been born and the Southern States of the United States would now be the South Africa of the northern hemisphere.
The vital point is this: are we in this House of Commons, after 269 years, going to reject the Union? That is what the Bill is all about.
§ 3.50 a.m.
§ Mr. Nigel Forman (Carshalton)
This is my first chance to take part in the parliamentary debate on devolution. My reasons for wanting to do so are that there are a considerable number of Scots living in my constituency who are interested in the matter, but, more important, my own views are rather complicated and need some explanation.
The Government are trying to do some of the right things in the Bill but without conviction, in the wrong way, for the wrong reasons, and at the worst possible time. The whole story reflects little credit on any of the political parties, since they have all, without exception, responded party politically to what is really a systemic crisis in our constitution and methods of government.
The first question to be asked is: why is the Bill before us now? In my view, it is because both major parties panicked in the late 1960s in the face of an apparent revival in the fortunes of the Scottish 1434 National Party. Next, both major parties responded to popular pressure in Scotland by including devolution commitments of varying degrees of seriousness and intensity in their General Election manifestos.
§ Mr. Fairbairn
My hon. Friend should check his history. In 1964 Sir Alec Douglas-Home, as he then was, set up his first seven committees, one of which was to consider devolution. That was just after he lost office and was long before there was any question of the nationalists winning any seats.
§ Mr. Forman
There was an element of panic in the reaction, none the less. The other powerful reason is that the Labour Party now believes that it will lose as many as half its seats in Scotland at the forthcoming General Election if it cannot go to the country next time with this Bill or something like it on the statute book.
Next, one must try to establish what are the present discontents which the Bill is supposed to remedy. The first most obvious one which has been referred to by many of my hon. Friends is the economic failure. Successive British Governments since about 1963 are widely thought to have failed the British people in general and those in Scotland, Wales and the outlying British regions in particular.
The next problem is that of unresponsive remote bureaucracy. Successive British Governments are widely thought to have been guilty of these undesirable characteristics in the way they have sought to govern the country, and this criticism has been applied as much to local as to national government.
Then there is the problem of centralisation or Anglicisation. People in Scotland and Wales, and for that matter in the regions of England, have increasingly thought that their particular needs and aspirations have been neglected by the central Government. On this point it is as well to notice how the aspirations of the Scottish people, at any rate, have changed over the years, and more so over recent months during which this subject has really come to the fore.
In the survey conducted by the Kilbrandon Commission, for example, in the summer of 1970 the most popular option in Scotland was the idea that more 1435 of the decisions affecting Scotland should be taken in Scotland, and 26 per cent. supported that. In a System Three survey in the middle of October 1976 the most popular option was the idea of an Assembly with wider powers than those proposed in the Government's White Paper, and 38 per cent. in that poll wanted that. In an Opinion Research Centre survey at the end of October 1976 the most popular option was the idea of a federal solution for Scotland and by extension to the rest of the United Kingdom, and 27 per cent. wanted that. In the Daily Record so-called referendum at the end of last month the most popular option was the idea of independence for Scotland, and 44 per cent. wanted that.
The moral of the tale is that the more concessions that are made and the longer it takes to make them the greater the tendency of Scottish aspirations to grow. I believe that the appetite grows with the eating.
What, then, are the remedies proposed for the Government for these discontents? For Scotland the remedy proposed is to devolve power in certain specified areas from Westminster to a directly elected Assembly in Edinburgh. This would have an Executive with considerable powers of parliamentary legislation in those devolved areas. For Wales, the remedy proposed is to set up a directly-elected Assembly in Cardiff which would have powers of decision over the ways in which certain moneys were spent but only a secondary legislation function and organisation of the Executive along local authority lines. For England, by contrast, the Government have not proposed a remedy at all and in their recent consultative document they seem strongly disinclined to indulge in any constitutional tampering.
§ Mr. Donald Stewart
Why should the Government be so inclined? No one in England is apparently asking for a change.
§ Mr. Forman
I seek to point out the differentiation in the treatment of the various parts of the United Kingdom. In examining these proposals I am bound to pose the following questions. Do our present discontents require institutional remedies? If they do, is this Bill the right way to go about things? If they do not, in what other ways ought we to try to deal with the situation? Finally, 1436 I ask: what will be the likely consequences of this House taking one course of action or another over the coming months?
First I deal with the question, do our present discontents require institutional remedies? As regards economic failure, I do not believe that our comparative economic failure over recent years can be remedied solely or even largely by changes in the institutions of government. To believe that we have to believe the fallacy that because Governments are perceived to have been the main cause of our national troubles, therefore changes in our institutions of government will solve our national problems. The faults lie not so much in our institutions of government as in management, unions, our education system, our political attitudes, our traditional class assumptions and our unwillingness to change.
If we turn to the problem of unresponsive and remote bureaucracy, in so far as this is an institutional failing it can be susceptible to institutional remedies. For example, the remoteness of Government could be countered by devolving more power and responsibility to existing local authorities. The bureaucracy of government could be countered by a self-denying ordinance on the part of this House against the passage of all legislation which would extend the sphere of the public sector, require the establishment of public bodies or make the Welfare State more complicated than it has already become.
However, the unresponsiveness of government is a different matter. In today's new world of harsh choices imposed by scarce resources it might be considered our duty as politicians to offer proscriptive rather than prescriptive solutions to people's problems. After all, unless and until we can deliver our promises again it would be better to foreswear promises altogether, especially when they depend upon other people's efforts and good will for their fulfilment.
There is also the problem of centralisation and Anglication. This is the nub of the discontent in Scotland for which devolution could conceivably be a necessary but not a sufficient remedy. In this Bill the Government are attempting, for electoral reasons I believe, to leave the Scots with all the material advantages 1437 of remaining in the United Kingdom while giving them the extra perk of an Assembly with devolved powers. From an English point of view this must be seen as an unacceptable double advantage for Scotland which promises to be an extra burden upon the people of England. The Bill treats the Welsh as second-class Celts. Recent opinion polls have shown that the Scots want to have their cake and eat it.
A Gallup Poll in May 1976, for example, showed that while 69 per cent. of those polled in Scotland wanted Scotland to remain part of the United Kingdom, 66 per cent. of the same sample considered the establishment of an Assembly as a stepping-stone to independence. This underlines the vital importance of holding a referendum in Scotland and Wales in due course to determine once and for all whether the people there wish to remain in the United Kingdom, regardless of whether they signify their approval of the devolution package as it eventually emerges.
§ Mr. Fairbairn
As the hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) has said, the referendum would not be a once-and-for-all exercise: it would be an on-and-on referendum in which they go on asking to see whether they get the answer.
§ Mr. Forman
That is what we did in the precedent of the European referendum and that is the only sensible way to proceed. If the issue of the integrity of the United Kingdom is not settled in this way, it will be open to the Scots in particular to opt for the ambiguity of devolution, thereby leaving open to themselves the option of complete independence at a later stage.
My conclusion at this stage therefore is that certain of these present discontents could be alleviated by institutional arrangements, and the next question is whether the Bill is the right way to do so. I do not believe that it is. The Government should have dealt with Scotland and Wales in separate Bills, since they are separate peoples, with separate 1438 problems and separate aspirations. Second, they should have included provisions for the Scottish Assembly to have significant revenue-raising powers of its own and for it to be elected on proportional representation.
Third, they should not have departed so far from the principle that all parts of the United Kingdom should normally have broadly comparable structures of government. If this Government believe in equality of economic rights and opportunities, as I believe they do, they should also believe in implementing equality of political rights and opportunities throughout the United Kingdom.
Fourth, they should not at this time be putting forward legislative proposals which will add further tiers of govern-ment to an already over-governed country—what one might call a vale of tiers—and adding further overhead costs to an already over-burdened wealth-creating sector. At the very least, devolution to Scottish and Welsh Assemblies should mean the elimination of the upper tier of local government in each case.
§ Mr. Dalyell
If one "eliminates" the upper tier, that is the opposite of devolution. It is not the dispersal but the concentration of power.
§ Mr. Forman
I am just trying to address the point that I believe that there is likely to be too much government in this country if we go ahead with the devolution proposals. At least there would be a more respectable argument for it if it could be said that we were getting rid of one of the existing tiers.
On all these objections to the Bill, I very much agree with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, who said in answer to an intervention by the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh):… one either has a system based on Lord Home's proposals or one goes much further … this structure is totally unsuitable, cannot endure and will cause endless trouble."—[Official Report, 13th December, 1976; Vol. 922, c. 1001.]These are substantial objections to the Bill and to the way in which the Government propose to proceed.
But on a constitutional issue such as this, everyone who criticises should propose some alternative. I therefore will 1439 address myself to the third main question—in what other ways should we try to deal with the problem? If we were universally resolved to proceed with a package of constitutional and institutional reform my own suggestions would be broadly in the spirit of the memorandum of dissent to the Kilbrandon Report. If this were to be considered at a time when the country could afford the luxury of changing its constitutional and institutional arrangements, we should proceed along lines which I shall set out.
First, we should set up democratically-elected Assemblies in Scotland, Wales and each of perhaps five English regions. Such Assemblies should have significant revenue-raising powers and their very existence should imply the abolition of county councils and metropolitan authorities, especially the GLC. Second, we should reform our procedures at Westminster, so as to increase our power vis-à-vis the executive and to improve the quality of our advice and decisions. That would probably require the establishment of functional sub-committees which would be involved in the policy-making process at the pre-legislative stage and would deal with the present Committee stages of all Bills. It would probably require a smaller House of Commons in which the Members were fully equipped to play their full part as full-time legislators and serious contributors to the policy-making process. It would certainly require the devolution of Members' constituency welfare functions to those serving on the new regional Assemblies as well as those who would continue to serve on district councils.
Perhaps most important of all, we should seek to change the limits within which successive Governments have felt free to operate their "elective dictatorship", which is the phrase used by Lord Hailsham, by drawing up some form of written constitution, embodying the safeguard of a Bill of Rights as interpreted and enforced by a Supreme Court of some sort.
Naturally this would end the unqualified formal supremacy of Parliament. Naturally it would presuppose new rules governing the conduct of the House whereby, for example, certain measures which touched upon subjects safeguarded in the Bill of Rights would require a 1440 two-thirds majority in the House before they could be implemented.
I realise that there will be those who are older and wiser than myself who will consider what I am saying to be dangerous nonsense. I reply to them by asking what could be more dangerous than for this place to continue to console itself with a charade of power and influence if the substance of power had long since passed to the Civil Service, the most powerful trade unions and pressure groups, and our international creditors?
To return to more immediate issues, we must consider the likely consequences of the House taking one path as opposed to another over the coming days, weeks and months. If the House were not to give the Bill its Second Reading, the English backlash could prove to be one of the best recruiting officers the SNP could hope to have and the demand for Scottish independence would probably grow. If the House does give the Bill a Second Reading, there will still be all to play for, although the consequences in Scotland would probably be the same if it were killed or emasculated in Committee.
If the Bill finds its way on to the statute book and the Assemblies are duly established, nearly everything will depend upon the form in which it eventually becomes law. It might be considered tolerable law if it included provisions for giving the Assemblies their own revenue raising powers, appropriate reductions in Scottish and Welsh representation at Westminster, and a clear undertaking that the whole proposal would be subject to the outcome of a subsequent referendum.
However, if it did none of these things but simply added to the financial and bureaucratic cost of government, it would be an intolerable irrelevance that would deserve to be thrown out at the earliest opportunity. It would be like rearranging the chairs on the "Titanic". Above all, I do not believe that the Bill should become law unless and until the Scottish people as a whole are made to face the full implications of their present airy and ambiguous aspirations as well as their future inescapable choices.
Of course, this strengthens the case for a full referendum campaign in Scotland and Wales to thrash out the real issues 1441 before the people are asked to decide. In such a campaign, in which it would be right that English spokesmen should take part, it should be spelled out to the Scottish people that they, too, must pay the price for the privileged status implied in devolution.
Above all, it should be clearly established that if Scottish politicians were to scorn the half loaf of devolution in favour of the full loaf of independence, we English would not hesitate to withdraw our material support, thus creating a real fall in Scottish living standards. If the Scots were to imagine fondly that all the North Sea oil were theirs, or that they could easily join the EEC as an independent country, we English would have something to say about that, too. We would not be bereft of negotiating strength in either case.
§ Mr. Forman
I should put the question whether the people concerned approved of the proposals as they came out from Parliament, or whether they wanted to remain with the status quo ante before the Bill came into Parliament. I would put the parallel question, whether they wanted their part of the United Kingdom to remain in the United Kingdom. I would expect them to answer all those questions simultaneously.
I believe that legislation which stems directly from the reports of the Royal Commission on the Constitution should have dealt with constitutional issues as a whole or not at all. The Kilbrandon Report defined the Government's options as first, separatism; second, federalism; third, various form of devolution ; and fourth, maintenance of the status quo. The only options which should have been considered are first, radical reform of our whole constitution and second, maintenance of the status quo. As it has turned out, both those options lie outside the limits of the Bill.
That fundamental decision in its turn should have been made by the Government in the light of the broadest considerations of the national interests and constitutional wisdom. Instead, we have this squalid measure, born of a furtive and disreputable union between expediency 1442 and calculation somewhere in the innards of Transport House. It is because I believe that in the Bill the Government are trying to do without conviction only some of the right things in the wrong way for the wrong reasons at the worst possible time, that I shall be unable to support them in the vote at the end of the debate.
Unless I hear something from my Front Bench before the end of the debate to convince me that the official policy of my party is evolving in either direction away from its present untenable position, I shall be left with no logical course other than abstention when it comes to the vote on Thursday night. I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends will provide me with the clear indications which I seek.
§ 4.12 a.m.
§ Mr. Neil Macfarlane (Sutton and Cheam)
Yesterday afternoon we listened to the Prime Minister for the better part of an hour and many of us on both sides of the House will say that his heart was not in his speech and that he had no conviction in delivering it. Many of the speeches I have listened to during the past two days confirm the Opposition's view that the Bill is a bodged and shoddy piece of legislation. It has been hastily cobbled together for political, not constitutional, reasons. If it is passed it will lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom.
The Bill is bad on several counts. First, there is no positive proof that the peoples of Wales and Scotland want the Bill to be passed. Secondly, if we are to debate such a Bill, a series of other issues should of necessity be debated before we reach this proposal. We should be debating the reform of Parliament—reform of the Upper House, reform of the Lower House and the future of both Houses—electoral reform, federalism. All those subjects are within the orbit of the subject we are debating. They are all fore-runners of the Bill.
We should be debating federalism, but the position we are in is typical of the Government's record of muddle and expediency. In the past 12 months we have had the opportunity only to debate the Government's proposals contained in the White Paper. We have had no opportunity to debate devolution as a whole.
1443 We have four days for this debate. It is interesting to note that in 1703 before the proposed Act of Union the debate in the Edinburgh Parliament lasted for four months. We, alas, have only four days, but that is part and parcel and typical of the muddle into which the Leader of the House has plunged us.
We have no proof that the Scots and Welsh are in favour of the form of devolution outlined, because the strength of the nationalist parties in the House fails to give conclusive evidence that the peoples of Scotland and Wales are in any way enamoured of nationalism. In October 1974, 36 Welsh nationalist candidates stood, 33 of whom were defeated. In the same election 71 Scottish nationalists candidates stood and 60 were defeated. Of the 60 defeated, a number lost their deposits, 42 came second and the fact is that at that time there was a tremendous resurgence of fourth party candidates in Scotland and England which confused the voting pattern.
§ Mr. Macfarlane
The hon. Member says "Nonsense" but that is not the case. It is true that the record of the Conservative Government may well have prompted in England a resurgence of Liberalism and in Scotland it prompted a return to nationalism for the same reasons. There is no positive proof, even on the basis of by-election results of the last nine months, that the peoples of Scotland want nationalism.
§ Mr. Donald Stewart
The hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Macfarlane) is going contrary to all the facts of the situation. The fact that there are only 11 of us here is due to the voting system. We had 33 per cent. of the vote in Scotland and we lost no deposits, unlike the hon. Member's party, which lost 10. It is true that the Scottish National Party have doubled their vote at each of five successive General Elections, all the time regardless of the colour of the Government.
§ Mr. Macfarlane
I accept what the hon. Gentleman said about the percentage of his party's poll, but let us look at voting patterns of four constituencies, south of the border, won by a whisker, which prove that there was a return to Liberalism for a variety of reasons. I 1444 found when I contested Sutton and Cheam in 1972 what Conservative supporters were saying to the Conservative Government then in power. My hon. Friend the Member for Ripon (Dr. Hampson) would fortify that if he were here. There were confused voting patterns throughout 1974. Four members of the SNP stumbled into this House, the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mrs. Bain) by 22 votes, the hon. Member for Galloway (Mr. Thompson) by 30 votes, the hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mrs. Ewing) by 367 and the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. Crawford) by 793 votes.
The fact remains that there was a confused pattern and that in another General Election those seats would be won back by Conservative MPs—and the hon. Members below the Gangway know that to be the case. I have said enough to show—
§ Mr. Macfarlane
A General Election would prove precisely what the people of Scotland and Wales want. I do not think the hon. Lady can look forward to it, in view of the recent poor showing of the Government in the country.
§ Mr. Macfarlane
The Government majority will get even smaller after the Stechford by-election.
I did not begin by declaring my interest. I have a Scots father and a Welsh mother and represent an English constituency.
No doubt the Welsh will forgive me if I concentrate for a moment on the problem in Scotland, not because the Welsh are any less important but because the Government are offering greater autonomy to the Scots in this Bill than they are offering to Wales.
Before we go any further down the path to devolution, may I say that I think that all the talk of a referendum is largely misplaced and that a General Election is the only way to determine what the people of Scotland and Wales want. If they return Scottish and Welsh nationalist 1445 MPs in any numbers we shall know what to expect. I should view that with great alarm, because it would lead to the breakup of the Union.
§ Mr. Fairbairn
My hon. Friend seems to be contradicting his own argument. If he takes the view that the fourth party phenomenon is a protest vote, how can he argue that if that protest vote is to be demonstrated in a further election it is an indication of the genuinely nationalist or independent interest of the Scottish people? That is a major fallacy.
§ Mr. Macfarlane
Does not my hon. and learned Friend agree that we would be ill-advised to pander to the views of the vociferous minority, which is what we have at the moment? It is unrealistic in respect of the true feelings in the United Kingdom. There is no doubt that the Scots have many grievances about the present system of government. So, too, do the Welsh, and so indeed do we in England. We certainly have a sense of grievance in Greater London. These grievances stem from real dissatisfaction with the reorganised system of local government. There lies the cause of a widespread dissatisfaction—one which can be removed only by a complete reorganisation of the whole system of national and local government. Let us not rush, for the sake of party politics, into ill-considered remedies for an ill that affects all the peoples of these Islands. Let us not treat one member when it is the whole body that is unwell.
The Act of Union was an act of farsightedness in an age when co-operation was not the watchword of Europe. It was ahead of its time and was one of the prime causes of the future greatness of Britain. In the present century, when the world is moving towards an era of greater co-operation, as we can see in the European movement, it would be folly to do anything that could lead to the fragmentation of the power of Great Britain. One has only to think of the probable results of severing links between Scotland and England. First, we would see the probable loss of the United Kingdom seat on the United Nations Security Council, which would happen forthwith.
§ Mr. Macfarlane
I doubt it, because each country would small. Furthermore, representation in the EEC would be on a par with that of Luxembourg or Belgium or Holland. Is that what the British peoples really want? Do they want to be unequal with France, Germany and Italy? Do they also want fragmentation of the Armed Forces?
§ Mr. Dalyell
On the matter of representation, having had discussions last week with the leaders of the Italian Socialist Party and on a previous occasion with the Federal German Chancellor, who was sharp on the issue involving 17 million Bavarians, may I say that the Scots had better not imagine that in circumstances of a break-up of the existing members of the Nine Scotland would be welcome as the tenth member. The situation in Greece, Luxembourg and Portugal is different.
§ Mr. Macfarlane
I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for making that point. If the Scottish nationalists desire to have their own individual armed forces, the logistics of such an exercise are too monstrous to contemplate. Is it not true that the Soviet bloc would be delighted to see a break-up of the United Kingdom and would regard it as a major step forward? Commercially, scientifically and for all aspects of trade and inventiveness the United Kingdom would decline.
There are hosts of other arguments whose significance will no doubt be revealed in this debate. Whether my party had issued guidelines on our attitude to this Bill, I would have voted against it as being a thoroughly bad piece of legislation. The fact that the Scots and the Welsh are both Celtic peoples is insufficient ground for coupling them in one Bill. Yet what other reason can we find? There is no similarity between the two regions—and those responsible for lumping them both together show a lack of understanding for two dissimilar nations.
The introduction of yet another tier of government is contrary to the wishes of all the peoples of these islands. We are not to be divided by the rantings of a few vociferous people who have seen the finding of energy sources as an opportunity to bring about the dismemberment of the United Kingdom. If there are any hon. Members who feel that this is not 1447 their object, we have only to recall nationalist sayings in the past year.
I conclude by saying that this is a bad Bill because it combines Scotland and Wales under one mantle. The Bill has been hastily drafted. It has not been drafted all in one piece. In 1975 we had Government proposals in "Our Changing Democracy", later they brought out a Supplementary Estimate on the subject, and this year they brought out yet another document on devolution, "The English Dimension". It is a hotchpotch and a Bill that has been badly cobbled together.
We have no direct evidence of how much devolution of power the Scots people want. Furthermore, the people of Wales do not want yet another tier of local government, which is all that this Bill offers them. We in this House must do nothing that might bring about the break-up of the United Kingdom without much greater discussion and debate than has been allowed so far. Reorganisation of local government, with a certain amount of devolution of power to regional assemblies—including regions of England—would go a long way towards alleviating grievances and creating a better climate for discussion.
I have no hesitation in saying that I shall support the leadership of my party on Thursday evening.
§ 4.25 a.m.
§ Mrs. Margaret Bain (Dunbartonshire, East)
The hon. Members for Carshalton (Mr. Forman) and Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Macfarlane) referred to the airy and ambiguous aspirations of the Scottish people and the rantings of a vociferous minority in this House. I would say categorically to hon. Members who are present that there is nothing airy or ambiguous about what the SNP stand for. Indeed, of all the parties which have contested elections in Scotland over the last years the SNP is an example to other parties because people know exactly where the SNP stands with regard to this issue. We have stood categorically for full independence for Scotland and for self-government within the Commonwealth. I did not join the SNP to work for devolution. I joined to work for independence for my country. The fact that we are to support the Bill does not mean in any way that we are 1448 climbing down from the commitment to the Scottish people that we shall once again be a sovereign nation participating fully in the international decision making bodies of the world.
Second Reading debates are, of course, about principles. Devolution is not a principle in itself. It is an expedient. The hon. Member for Cannock (Mr. Roberts), who spoke earlier, admitted as much. He admitted that his Government were bringing forward the Bill as an expedient because they were basically worried about their power base in Scotland and Wales. We in Scotland know this only too well.
Those of us who contested the February and October elections noticed the difference in the manifestos of the Labour Party on those two dates. The party political broadcasts of October 1974 were very different from the Labour Party's political broadcasts in February 1974. That was a direct result of the fact that SNP representation had increased from one to seven in February 1974 and it looked as if we would win more seats. Indeed, in October 1974 we took another four seats. But I am quite sure, as are many other political commentators in Scotland, that had the Labour Party not changed its manifesto, the SNP would have taken a greater number of seats.
Indeed, the people who spoke on behalf of the Labour Party in the October 1974 election—the hon. Members for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sillars) and for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh)—were chosen specifically as people who represented a strong commitment to the idea of some form of Scottish Government. The anti-devolutionists did not have much opportunity to put their point of view across in those broadcasts.
What we have in the Bill is a response and a reaction. It is not a genuine commitment to the Scottish or Welsh people. There is no ideology whatever behind this piece of legislation.
Yesterday the Prime Minister, in introducing the Bill, gave us a short history lesson. We all know that history can be interpreted in different ways. I, too, have been a student of history, I would take the House back to the Act of 1707, to which reference has been made. 1449 There were two sides, even in 1707. When the Parliament was finally closed in Edinburgh the Earl of Seafield said:This is the end of an auld sang.Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun said:The Scottish Parliament shall rise again".It is the tradition of Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun that we in the SNP are continuing.
The hon. Member for Paisley (Mr. Robertson) yesterday spoke of the 1820 rising. I am quite sure that very few English Members have ever heard of the 1820 rising in Scotland and how significant it was. Yet most of our history books in Scotland speak of Peterloo and make little reference to people such as John Baird, who came from a mining village in my constituency and fought for the ideal of an alternative solution to Scotland's economic and industrial problems. That is precisely what we are doing in 1976.
The major error in the Prime Minister's speech came when he spoke of breaking up a partnership. What we are trying to do is renegotiate a partnership. We must look upon each other as equals. As the hon. Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen) said at the Conservative Party Conference this year, a union can be only significant if all constituent members accept that union and respect it.
We look for a situation in Scotland where we shall not blame what is wrong in Scottish society on someone else. We do not want to look for scapegoats. We want the rights and responsibilities of taking our own decisions. If errors are made, they will be our errors, and we cannot then blame Westminster or the English. We can blame ourselves, and I think that that is an important and fundamental right for all nations and for all people.
§ Mr. Fairbairn
I live in the Kingdom of Fife, which was a kingdom long before the Kingdom of Scotland was. Would the hon. Lady grant the right to Fife to secede from Scotland, so that we might make our errors and our decisions, because we have the coal, the agriculture, our oil and our electronics industry, rather than have all the resources of Fife swallowed up into Strathclyde?
§ Mrs. Bain
The hon. and learned Gentleman shows his usual talent to reduce everything to an absurd level. I put it to him that the people of the Kingdom of Fife showed one important lead to the people of Scotland when they fought determinedly to keep Fife as a local government unit. Would it that many other areas in Scotland had followed their example.
§ Mrs. Bain
The hon. Member for South Ayrshire said that his hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan) had an understanding of Scottish culture. I am sorry the hon. Member for Renfrewshire West is not here, because, although I appreciate that he has studied Scottish culture, folk literature, and so on, I feel that he does not empathise with the basic identity, which underlies that Scottish culture.
I trust that the hon. Gentleman will read my speech, because I want to refer him to Hamish Henderson, of the School of Scottish Studies, and the song "Freedom, come all ye". It talks of a rough wind. and we see that there is more than that rough wind blowing through the great glen of the world today. I ask people such as the hon. Gentleman to think very carefully about what that wind means. To use a cliché, there is a wind of change blowing through the world, and what is happening in Scotland is part of that change in attitude. In his support for other emergent nations, what is it about the Scots that the hon. Gentleman does not trust? Why has he not confidence in the Scots to make an attempt at running their own affairs, since he trusts everyone else in the world?
Unlike the hon. Member for Renfrew-shire, West, I do not want to have to prove that I am a Scot. I am a Scot. I am also a European. I am a citizen of the world. But, unlike other hon. Members. I do not feel British. I have never identified myself as British and. interestingly enough—
§ Mr. Canavan
Has the hon. Lady ever gone abroad? If so, what kind of passport does she use for identification? Is it not a British passport? Is she ashamed to use a British passport?
§ Mrs. Bain
The hon. Gentleman knows that I have travelled abroad. Of 1451 course I have to use a British passport. I look forward to the day when I have a Scottish one. I have always found it useful at borders to say that I am a Scot rather than someone from Britain. I find that it is much easier to get through—
§ Mrs. Bain
Much play has been made with the word "separatism". We all know that words can be used in a pejorative way. Most hon. Members from the Opposition, from both Unionist Parties, when they talk of separatism use the word in its pejorative sense because they want people in Scotland to think of the SNP as an isolationist party.
If by separatism one means the right to have our separate legal system, the right to have separate education, the right to have separate representation and the right to have a separate tax system, then on that basis I am a separatist. That is what independence means. Independence means the right to be different. It is a fundamental human right. The respect of other nations depends on respect for one's own nation. I want my nation to be part of these other nations.
The SNP would welcome a referendum. We have no fear of a referendum. We have backed the idea of a referendum on many occasions. Strangely enough, many Members from Scotland who now shout most loudly for a referendum opposed the whole idea of a referendum when they had the opportunity a few years ago.
We would oppose a referendum only if it were used as a delaying tactic to hold up the whole process whereby power can be given back to the Scottish people. The time for a referendum to be held is when the Bill has been passed. That is the logical time because then we can put it to the people and say, "Here is the Assembly. Do you want the Assembly's powers to be extended?" That is the logical question.
A referendum is meaningful in Scottish terms because in the Scottish legal system—and I am sure the hon. and learned Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Mr. Fairbairn) would back me on this—we believe in the sovereignty of the people, not of Parliament. 1452 Therefore a referendum is that much more meaningful in Scottish terms.
This goes back to the Declaration of Arbroath, when Robert the Bruce had been appointed King of the Scots, when he was warned that if he ever displeased the people of Scotland he would be replaced. The people are sovereign—not the monarch, not Parliament, but the people. Therefore the referendum is very important to the Scottish people.
By holding a referendum on whether we should accept the Assembly as it emerges at the end of the Bill we should have a precedent. We should then be able to hold referenda on other issues as they occur, and on whether the Assembly should have its powers extended.
I see the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan) is here. I listened with interest to his contribution to the debate and read what he wrote in the Stirling Observer last week about the massive transfer of powers in housing, education, health, social welfare and so on which the Bill will involve. We already have the administration of these functions in Scotland. Where I would argue with him is that we shall not have the money to make sure that we can look after these powers in the way that we would wish in Scotland.
The powers being, transferred do not give us the opportunity to alter policies radically enough to get rid of the slums, deprivation, poverty and lack of employment opportunities that have existed for so long in Scotland. Money is the fundamental key. This is where the Bill is wrong, and this is why it is a bad Bill, because it does not give us the finance.
§ Mr. Canavan
I appreciate that there is something lacking in the Bill—the opportunity for revenue-raising powers of some sort in the Assembly—but will she not accept that this massive transfer of powers, to which I referred in the Stirling Observer and earlier in the debate, makes the existing powers in the Scottish Office more accountable? Will she please also emphasise to her party and the Scottish people that these powers are also accompanied by a level of expenditure per head of population in Scotland which is 27 per cent. more than the corresponding figure for England?
§ Mrs. Bain
I agree that we shall have democratic control in the Assembly, because of the elected representatives who will be there, but I cannot accept that there will be a massive transfer of power until economic power comes to the Assembly. That is basically what power is about—the wealth to back the Assembly's policies. It is essential that the Scots people have the right to raise their own finance to fund important aspects of policy.
It is said that there is extra public expenditure in Scotland. That is because we have been deprived for so long. It is a condemnation of the present Government and previous Governments of another colour that that expenditure is necessary. The figures are always a bit difficult, because much of the revenue coming from Scotland is not so recorded, as many head offices are elsewhere.
The hon. Member for Cannock said that we should not be spending time on the issue when there were serious economic problems facing the United Kingdom. It is precisely because the SNP and the Welsh national party have offered alternative solutions to the people of their nations that we are discussing devolution and ultimately independence. The solutions offered by the other parties have been meaningless. We provide the radical alternative solution to the economic problems.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I understand perfectly well that there are many complaints, often justified, about head offices being in London and away from plants and factories. But what would the hon. Lady do about it? In an independent Scotland, would we require the head office of any manufacturing unit in Scotland to be in Scotland?
§ Mrs. Bain
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman accepts the point. Many people in his party find great difficulty in understanding it. The SNP has stated time and again that it welcomes companies from all countries coming to our nation to provide employment opportunities. They will come on the term negotiated between themselves and the Scottish Government.
I have massive reservations about the Bill. I shall vote for it only on the basis that it is a psychological breakthrough. Other hon. Members have said that there 1454 is a need to reform this Chamber, the upper Chamber and the voting system. There is a need for constitutional change, and the SNP and Plaid Cymru are the catalysts of that change.
I shall support the Bill because it is a step towards independence. Interestingly enough, I understand that yesterday Union Jacks were being sold at half price in London.
§ 4.44 a.m.
§ Mr. T. H. H. Skeet (Bedford)
It is. somewhat ironic that I should follow the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mrs. Bain). I was interested to hear that the SNP wanted full independence. I had no doubt about it, but I was glad to hear it confirmed.
§ Mr. Skeet
I am totally opposed to the SNP's view, and for different reasons I am totally against the Bill and against the Government for not recognising that it will lead to exactly the consequences described by the hon. Lady. She spoke of an extraordinary situation. England, Scotland and Wales are economically inextricably linked. Scotland depends on England for its markets. Without them it would fall. Scotland also depends on England for its coal. I could go through a number of industries, but at this time in the morning, I shall not deal with too many.
Scotland's coal represents only 4.88 per cent. of United Kingdom reserves. It is made up of 224 million tons of main reserves, 50 million tons of new reserves on the Firth of Forth and 19 million tons of reserves suitable for open-cast mining. Scotland's reserves therefore total 293 million tons and if this were run down in the foreseeable future—by the end of the century—coal would have to be imported into Scotland from England. There are difficulties with flooding and fractures in Scottish mines. The seams in England are better, output per man-shift is higher and coal is therefore produced more economically. I was interested to receive a document from the Shetland Islands Council dated 29th November 1976 saying that the oilfields in the East Shetland Basin would bring in an average annual income of £2.2 billion to the national Exchequer and that it was right that this income should be used in the interests of 1455 the United Kingdom as a whole. The council's final argument was that it believed that Shetland had the right to its own choice and that it would choose a status similar to that of the Isle of Man if Scotland were to seek separation.
Under the 1958 Geneva Convention, to which we are a signatory—though Scotland is not—the question of which oil belongs to Scotland and which to the United Kingdom is a matter to be determined. If a three-mile limit is drawn, Scotland will get nothing and all the airy-fairy ideas about what will be done with this enormous revenue will not materialise.
In the North Sea, there are 14 billion barrels which may be developed and 8 billion are in 15 proven commercial fields. The breakdown may be of interest to the Scottish Nationalists. If we took a line round the British coast, pursuant to the Geneva Convention, and bearing in mind that Shetland has decided that it wishes to go its own way and to remain linked to the United Kingdom—
§ Mr. Skeet
I have just read a memorandum from the Council in which it indicates that it wants nothing to do with independence however it comes—whether the Bill leads to the fracturing of the United Kingdom or because of the determination of the SNP to take Scotland out of the United Kingdom and disintegrate the Union.
In the circumstances I was describing before the hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) interrupted me, Scotland would have the Claymore, Forties, Montrose and Piper fields, producing 3.1 billion barrels—38.4 per cent. of the proven reserves in commercial fields. The Shetland area would include Beryl, Brent, Cormorant, Dunlin, Heather, Ninian, Statfjord and Thistle. That is 4.99 billion barrels, or over 60.2 per cent. of the total.
This is rather interesting. All the ideas of the Scottish nationalists on being able to provide their revenues from their sources will fall because the areas will never be ceded to them and they will have no legal claims to them.
§ Mr. Donald Stewart
I should like to make two points. First, the SNP was in existence long before we ever knew 1456 anything about oil under the North Sea, and on the basis of the resources of Scotland. Secondly, all the oilfields that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned are in the Scottish sector of the North Sea according to the British Government's Continental Shelf Jurisdiction Order 1916.
§ Mr. Skeet
It was decided to draw a straight line from the coast. It did not have to follow the international Geneva Convention at all. It is purely and simply for the administration of justice. To suggest that this should supplant the principles laid down by the international agreement is just sheer nonsense, and the SNP knows it.
When the SNP came into the picture and when it discovered that there was a considerable amount of oil under the North Sea, it then conceived the notion "Let the SNP in Scotland be the Kuwait of the North." It did not conceive that Shetland could be the Kuwait of Scotland and could deprive the SNP of all the booty.
§ Mr. Skeet
I appreciate that it is 4.52 a.m. I do not agree that Britain would lose its representation at the United Nations if Scotland were to secede. I would hope that that would never come about. However, if one compares the size of the countries, one appreciates that on gross domestic product, at factor cost, Scotland works out at £6.1 billion and Wales works out at £2.8 billion. Then one examines the size of GDP for 1457 England—£61.3 billion. It is the largest element by far. It is over 85 per cent. of the total. It is only a splinter breaking away, but it is an important and significant splinter.
What I am saying is that we are concerned with the efficiency of government. The setting up of an Assembly as the Government propose will not, as is claimed, lead to any efficiency whatever. As my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) indicated, it will float off in the course of one year capital and running costs of £36 million, and it will need over 2,000 civil servants to run it. It is quite nonsensical to suggest that the existing Scottish Office would be satisfactory for this purpose.
Before leaving the subject of gross domestic product, I remind the House that it is £6.1 billion for Scotland, which is almost equal to that of the West Midlands in England at £6.5 billion. Therefore, it would be arguable that if Scotland and Wales are to have independence or an Assembly, the West Midlands should have that, or the North-West, with £8.2 billion, or the South-East, with £25.9 billion. I could go right around England finding many locations which could have their own Assemblies.
Hon. Members have made very relevant comments about the Title of the Bill—the Scotland and Wales Bill. I was one of those who voted against the destruction of Stormont. As that country had self-government for 50 years before it was abolished—by a Conservative Government, to my great regret—it should have been included in the Bill.
The complaint which is very reasonably made is that there should be one Bill dealing with Scotland, a separate one dealing with Wales, and, it could be argued, a separate one dealing with Northern Ireland. As the Government are dealing with two countries together, why not cover a third? It is a very serious matter to deprive a country of its self-government. It is even more serious not to give that country its self-government back after having deprived it of it.
Clause 1 states:
The following provisions … do not affect the unity of the United Kingdom or the supreme authority of Parliament".
I hope that these words will be enshrined in the annals of history and that they will be respected by all political parties—majority and minority.
§ However, we have heard that the Scottish National Party is determined to go for complete independence and intends to use this unfortunate Bill as a first step on that road. That is the only reason the SNP is supporting the Government. There is a possibility that what happened in Northern Ireland will happen in Scotland, in that if the SNP cannot get what it wants it will take it by force, or there will be unilateral declaration of independence.
§ Mr. Skeet
It is a logical consequence of the course on which the SNP has embarked. The nationalists are determined to achieve their goal. They start by adopting constitutional means and move to unconstitutional means. These are fitting words that I have quoted from the Bill. All of us no doubt wish to see the unity of the United Kingdom maintained, but one does not preserve it simply by making a declaration in an Act of Parliament. In Africa, minority parties have been given guarantees, but later the guarantees have been worthless and the minority parties have disappeared.
Here, a minority party is prepared to do anything in its power to subvert the unity of the United Kingdom. Whilst Britain is integrating with the European Community, the Scottish nationalists and others are trying to splinter our country.
I say this to the Scottish nationalists and to the Government: they are trying to placate a minority. If they want to be prudent, let them follow this advice: after the Bill has passed through the House of Commons, let a referendum be held before the Bill goes to the House of Lords. If the expressed wish of the people were to be for local government with an Assembly in Scotland, well and good. However, if it turned out to be against the view which has been expressed by the Scottish National Party, the Lords would adopt their constitutional practice, as they should, and reject the Bill. It is a question of the timing of the referendum. I understand that the Government are not ill-disposed towards such a proposal.
§ Mr. Crouch
On this point of consultation and timing, does my hon. Friend not think that it would be better to have a referendum now, before we start muddying the waters with months of debate?
§ Mr. Skeet
No, I do not agree. The Press in Scotland has been favouring the SNP for too long now and other ideas have not been able to prevail. Now a few others ideas are beginning to persuade the Scots that perhaps their ideas are not particularly sound. It might be a good thing to start the slow process of education to persuade the Scots that the course recommended in the past is not suitable, either for the United Kingdom or the people of Scotland. I am convinced of this. Therefore I would hold referendum at a later date rather than an earlier one.
I am mindful of the time, Mr. Deputy Speaker—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Member need make no reference to the time. This is an open-ended debate.
§ Mr. Skeet
You encourage me to speak for longer, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am aware, however, that a number of my colleagues want to make a contribution. I am also aware that many people want to go back to their beds.
It gives me cause for great anxiety to find the authority of the United Kingdom beginning to dissolve. There was once a Union which led to the establishment of a vast Commonwealth. We were in a position when the United Kingdom was able to govern the entire Commonwealth of India, and all the other countries, with one set of statutes a year. Now, when we probably govern nothing other than Malta and Gibraltar, we have three books of statutes a year, together with regulations. This never occurred earlier.
If we are becoming so divisive, if we are moving into a situation in which we have to dismantle our services and break up the unity we once had, it will be a tragedy for all of us, for the people of the United Kingdom, the people of Scotland—many of whom do not appreciate it—and for the people of Wales. I earnestly hope that at a later date those who have had self-government in Northern Ireland, and have been deprived of 1460 it by the Government, will be able to merit the opportunity of a debate.
§ 5.4 a.m.
§ Mr. John Stradling Thomas (Monmouth)
I was interested by the way in which my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Mr. Skeet) dealt with the parrot cry that we have heard over the past two years in this House that "It is Scotland's oil." Coming from Wales I am familiar with a similar cry—"It is Welsh water." I had always believed that water came from Heaven, that it might land on Wales but it was not a commodity that belonged to any one nation but was something that should be used freely by all the people in the vicinity. I was fascinated by the way in which my hon. Friend disposed of this rather greedy argument of which we have heard so much from the nationalists.
This Parliament may well come to be known as the "bad Bill Parliament". That would be an apt title for it. Many of its Bills have been bad. Most of them have divided the Government and Opposition on traditional lines. This one does not. As the Minister of State rightly says from a seated position, this Bill is the worst. I agree with him on that, at least. We have become accustomed to living with hybridity. The word "notwithstanding" has been the hallmark of the Lord President's contempt for the rules of Parliament—
§ Mr. Stradling Thomas
The Lord President is in charge of the Bill, yet he has probably spent less time in the Chamber than any other Front Bencher—
§ Mr. Stradling Thomas
You will decide, Mr. Deputy Speaker, what is fair and what is not, and not the sedentary Minister of State, who has been given a heavy burden—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
The occupant of the Chair does not sit here all the time—we are replaced occasionally—so it is impossible to say how long any Front Bench speaker has been present. But the Minister of State has been here throughout my occupation of the Chair.
§ Mr. Stradling Thomas
I am grateful for your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
Of all the bad Bills we have seen, this one takes first prize as the worst of the lot. That is not surprising because it is the special responsibility of the Leader of the House. What sort of nag is he trying to sell us this time? We shall have the pleasure of his usual auctioneering act on Thursday. An honest description might go like this: "Ladies and gentlemen, the next lot is a well-bred animal with no trace of hybridity. Notwithstanding my well-known impartiality for the stud book rules I can thoroughly recommend him to you as he has been bred in my own stable—a colt by the old political stallion Partisanship out of a rather flighty Scottish mare known as Expediency, born in bitterness, a difficult birth with acute labour pains, an unwanted offspring." No doubt he would utterly reject the allegation that it is a mule with no pride of ancestry and no hope of posterity, because the colt has the seeds of conflict in him.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I think that the hon. Gentleman is trying to tell us that he has sold someone a pup.
§ Mr. Stradling Thomas
Thank you for your kind help, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You have summed it up beautifully.
It is easy to spot a wrong'un when one sees it, but it is not enough to call the Lord President's Bill a bad one without going over a few of its bad points. Many hon. Members have rightly called the Bill a recipe for conflict. So it is—first, conflict between Cardiff and Westminster; second, conflict between the Assembly and the Secretary of State; third, conflict between this proposed form of overblown bureaucracy and other Ministeries, fourth, conflict between Wales and England.
Second, the structure of the Bill is wrong, as was admirably demonstrated by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition. Third, as others have asked, why wrap up Scotland with Wales? They are different countries with different problems and should be so treated. I have news for the Government: very few of the people of Wales 1462 and Monmouthshire want any part of the Bill. The questions of cost and the fact that the Assemblies will have no powers of taxation have been pointed out by other hon. Members.
So everyone know that it is a bad Bill. It can lead only to separatism. I as a Welshman reject that because of the great benefits that the unity of the United Kingdom has brought to all of us in these British islands. I am a Welshman. I hope I am a patriotic Welshman. I am also a Briton, and a patriotic Briton. I am a European, and I hope a patriotic European. Can the Lord President make the same proud claims? No, he is not a Welshman and he is a well-known and passionate adversary of the European Community, if windy rhetoric is a true reflection of passion. I tell the right hon. Gentleman through the Minister of State that my pride in being a Welshman needs no footling Assembly in Cardiff to sustain me, no costly piece of bumbling bureaucracy between Parliament and the people. I speak with feeling because I am basically in favour of devolution—that is, real devolution.
I agree with my hon. Friends who have spoken about a properly thought out package of constitutional reform, which would mean devolution to the people and not a measure that panders to nationalism because a few Labour Ministers have neither the wits nor the guts to stand and fight even in their strongholds.
§ Mr. John Smith
If the hon. Gentleman is putting forward the case for comprehensive devolution, will he explain to the House why the Conservative Party has proposed a directly elected legislative Assembly for Scotland but no other devolutionary measure for any other part of the United Kingdom?
§ Mr. Stradling Thomas
I am most pleased to do so. As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, prominent Conservatives have not talked about comprehensive devolution—the hon. Gentleman puts words into my mouth—but comprehensive constitutional reform viewed as part of many of the issues that have been raised by various Members—for example, parliamentary reform, direct elections to the EEC, the position of Scotland, Wales and the English regions and proportional representation or electoral reform. All these matters must be considered in 1463 context if we are to see our institutions maintained in the face of continuous change. My party has never been afraid of change and it is nonsense to try to say that I am talking about comprehensive devolution. I did not mention it. I spoke of comprehensive constitutional reform. I believe that our proposals for a legislative Assembly for Scotland would fit better into that context than the muddled Bill we are now discussing.
There is no question of principle—
§ Mr. Dalyell
I could hardly believe my ears. Was the hon. Gentleman speaking about his proposals for a legislative Assembly for Scotland? He may have done so because of the time. If that is what he was saying, it must have been a slip of the tongue.
§ Mr. Stradling Thomas
I was speaking of my party's proposals for a legislative Assembly for Scotland, not an Executive. It is the unnecessary Executive to which there is the strongest objection.
For many people in Scotland, as the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) will know better than I do because he comes from Scotland, there is no question of principle involved in the Bill. It is merely one muddle on devolution, and a bad one.
I have conducted a test over many months. I have asked dozens of Members and other people from Scotland and Wales whether they believe that these proposals will lead to the better government of Scotland. Not one person has answered in the affirmative when taxed with that question. I have heard certain hon. Members claim during the debate that that would be so but I have heard many more deny it.
When this gift-wrapped package has been opened it will be seen for what it is —namely, a cumbersome piece of costly bureaucracy to be put between the people and their elected representatives. The people will have none of it. That is why the Prime Minister waffled around the question of a referendum on Monday. Such great measures of constitutional reform should be based on consensus, not on expediency.
This is a time for uniting, not dividing, the United Kingdom. That is why I appeal to the Government to show for once a magnanimous spirit and to take 1464 this measure away and think again. I shall have no hesitation in going into the Lobby on Thursday night to vote against the Second Reading of this most unsatisfactory Bill.
§ 5.15 a.m.
§ Mr. Michael Roberts (Cardiff, North-West)
My hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (Mr. Stradling Thomas) asked why Scotland and Wales had been wrapped up together in the Bill. He went on to demonstrate that it was a bad Bill.
The linking of Scotland and Wales has caused a great deal of embarrassment to many of my hon. Friends in deciding what to do on Thursday. Many of them recognise that there is in Scotland a demand for some form of Assembly. They argue on the general principle of devolution that they are right to support the Bill because many people in Scotland—perhaps the majority—want devolution in some form. I hope that my hon. Friends will face the embarrassment in that argument of the vast majority of people in Wales wanting no Assembly. While arguing in principle that they want to give an Assembly to Scotland because the people want it, my hon. Friends are forcing an Assembly on Wales when not even the most ardent member of Plaid Cymru would suggest that there was anything approaching a majority in favour of it. I hope that those who support or give encouragement to the Bill Will take that argument into consideration before Thursday evening.
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) told us that he often stayed awake at night wondering what to do about the Bill because of the commitment in the small print of the manifesto. I can tell him how the Welsh commitment got into the manifesto. The Welsh Parliamentary Labour Party met on 6th November 1973, and 26 out of the 27 members of the committee made the commitment. The only person who was missing on that occasion was the present Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan). Because it was argued at that meeting that democratic control could be established over various bodies in Wales, the committee made the commitment, which the party accepted. I hope that the hon. Member for Walton will not continue to stay awake at night worrying about that. 1465 The commitment was entered into without great thought and deliberation. It was a short cut because the party was a little scared of Plaid Cymru. That is the origin in Wales of the commitment to an Assembly.
It is too late to say now that there were splendid moments in the Home Rule campaigns of 20 or 30 years ago and 50 or 60 years ago. There has been a constant theme in Wales, a theme from a tiny minority in favour of Home Rule, in favour of Parliaments, in favour of devolution. On each occasion the people of South Wales have ensured that those schemes will be rejected. I can assure you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that when this Bill was published there was no dancing for joy in the streets of Cardiff, Tredegar or Ebbw Vale. There was general indifference and a certain amount of resentment.
I have no difficulty on a matter of principle because I am opposed to an Assembly for Wales. I am opposed for many reasons and I shall deal with two or three. One is that linked with this has been the reorganisation of local government. It is, of course, a fact that local government is unpopular. The reason that local government is particularly unpopular is that inflation has led to an enormous increase in rates. The Labour Party have contributed to the problems of local government reorganisation. It is very easy to do. It is appallingly superficial, but there is worse.
I do not mind Labour hon. Members taking a superficial view of local government in Wales, but their action was totally irresponsible. They are prepared to put in jeopardy the local education authorities set up in the last three or four years. Anyone who knows anything about local government or local education authorities will know that that corporate body takes time to establish its relationships with parents, teachers and teacher unions, but because they want an argument for bringing in an Assembly Labour Members are prepared cynically to jeopardise the whole structure of local government, not in the interests of children, the aged and sick, or of the people who need the support of local govern-bent, but by cashing in on the feeling that rates are too high, to get an 1466 Assembly. It is a disgraceful attitude on the part of the Labour Party and the people of South Wales are seeing through it without much difficulty.
I have another good and democratic reason for rejecting an Assembly: I think that the people do not want it. The people of Wales have been subjected for a considerable period to an enormous barrage of propaganda from the national daily newspaper of Wales, the Western Mail, and from the Welsh BBC. The anti-devolutionists have hardly made any running but yet the demand for an Assembly in Wales is seen to be from a minority, and a tiny minority at that.
I accept that one can argue that an Assembly would have some advantages on the lines of democracy but I think that they are outweighed by the disadvantages. Before I refer to the major disadvantage, may I make one reference to the words of the Leader of the House quoted in the Western Mail, words which he used in a Thames Television interview:I want them not to turn to violence,"—he said of the Welsh people—but I think it's quite likely.The right hon. Gentleman said that he thought it quite likely if they did not get the Bill. I sat in the House earlier and listened to an intervention in which it was suggested that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Teddy Taylor) had been quoting out of context and had not quoted the whole speech.
I regret what was said in that report in the Western Mail because it is dangerous. Ot the bottom of the pile of nationalism there is some nasty person who could be incited by those words to take some form of violent action that could result in attacks on some of the colleagues of the Leader of the House. Not only was the right hon. Gentleman's contribution dangerous and irresponsible, but it was wrong. The right hon. Gentleman showed in that statement that he did not understand the Welsh people. The Welsh people have always rejected the sort of violence which unfortunately has torn Ulster. It is totally irresponsible to suggest to the people of Wales that if they do not get this Bill—a measure that nobody wants anyway—they may resort to violence.
1467 But if the right hon. Gentleman is right, is he implying that because of a threat of violence from a tiny minority —and he can regard it only as a miserable, tiny and evil minority—this is blackmail to which the House of Commons should bow and that Britain should accept that argument because somebody said he might fire a gun or let off a bomb? Before this debate concludes, the Leader of the House should explain fully what he meant, because there are many of us who are saddened and distressed by what appears to us to be the most irresponsible thing said by a Secretary of State for a long time.
My final reason for rejecting the Bill and for voting against it is that I recognise that it is principally about nationalism. It panders principally to the peoples of Scotland and Wales to buy them off. But I do not think that will be the effect of the Bill. I believe that it will start the break-up of the United Kingdom.
Many examples have been quoted. Some hon. Members have instanced West Germany and have suggested as did the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans), that its economic success was due principally to decentralisation. It is a splendid claim, but I cannot take it seriously. He did not bring forward any evidence to suggest that that was true. When one takes the example of West Germany in the context of British, Scottish or Welsh nationalism, one has only to go to the Länder in any of the 11 communities and ask "What are you?", and they will not reply that they are Westphalian, or whatever it may be, but will say that they are German.
If this measure goes through, will it tend to move towards separatism or will it not? I believe—and it is a matter of judgment—that it will.
The hon. Member for Carmarthen has chosen to recognise his own Welsh heritage and the other Members of Plaid Cymru have also chosen that course and to recognise that they are part of a Welsh nation. They reject the idea that they are British, and always have done. I respect their right to do so, but I do not in any way admire them for it. Many of us who are just as Welsh—more Welsh in many ways if one is talking about ancestry—take a different view, and have done so over many years. Tens 1468 of thousands of Welshmen fought in two World Wars. To tell them now that there is no such thing as being British is to place a very bitter wreath on so many hallowed graves. The majority of us in Wales regard ourselves as British as well as Welsh.
The vast majority of Welshmen have an affection and loyalty to British institutions, to Parliament and the Monarchy, and believe that they are British. It is arrogance of the first order for any member of the Welsh National Party to say that there is no such thing as British when the majority of their countrymen believe they are British. The 27 forfeited deposits of the Welsh National Party is some measure of the support that the Bill commands in the Principality.
Nevertheless, I recognise that Welsh nationalism will not go away just because it is a tiny and pygmy minority. It will remain. I only ask that the Welsh nationalists have the sense of history to appreciate that the British connection is such that British nationalism in Wales, in the sense of being British, will not disappear merely because they do rather well in an occasional by-election.
It is because the British dimension to an extent will be dimished by an Assembly, and because the nationalists accept that an Assembly will be a step towards independence, that many Welshmen reject the principle of an Assembly.
It is with that confidence as a Welshman that I speak for the majority of my people when I say that I shall vote against the Second Reading of the Bill on Thursday.
§ 5.32 a.m.
§ Mr. John MacGregor (Norfolk, South)
It is right that voices speaking up strongly for English constituencies should have been heard latterly in the debate. I intend to follow them as coherently as I can at this incredible hour.
I do so not only as one who represents an English constituency but as one who was born, brought tip and educated in Scotland, and most of whose family is still in Scotland. Indeed, as the Minister of State knows, had I stayed where I was in Scotland I would now be one of his constituents. I am one of those hon. Members who can boast many Scots in my own constituency of Norfolk, South.
1469 The debate has been fascinating not only because of the enormous cross comments across party lines, but because of the large number of Scots and Welsh who have spoken as hon. Members for English constituencies.
That shows the degree of unity that exists and the inter-relationship between the peoples.
Largely because of the interrelationship in the economy, one of my great fears is that if the Bill leads, as many suggest it may, to separation in Scotland, what we shall find in a few years' time—because of the paucity of the economic policy of the SNP and the relative lack of resources in Scotland—is an enormous backlash against those who led Scotland to separation.
I do not want to go over all the criticisms that have been made about the Bill, except to reinforce one point, which is that the most cogent criticism of all that has been made is the fact that Wales and Scotland are being dealt with in the same Bill. It shows the extent to which the Bill is being dominated by Scottish interests that Wales should have been lumped in in a way that so many Welshmen do not want. This Scottish domination is also shown by the fact that English interests are simply not dealt with at all.
I would simply say to the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mrs. Bain) that I well understand Scottish aspirations. I used to feel antagonism to the English when I was very young. I used to think that the English were disdainful of the Scots and uninterested in Scotland, until I came south and discovered that that was not so. Equally, I was always delighted when Scotland beat England at football or rugby—I am still. I understand those feelings, just as I understand some of the other feelings which have led to the desire for more devolution to Scotland.
§ Mr. MacGregor
But I know from talking to Scots, often late at night, when their true feelings come out, that many 1470 supporters of the hon. Lady's party feel that antagonism.
I understand the other feelings that have led to support for devolution. But these same feelings arise in England, too. They are feelings that have led to discontent with Whitehall and Westminster. Many of them have been referred to in this debate. They are feelings about the remoteness of the institutions of government, feelings about over-government, the sense of disillusion about economic expectations, about the loss of control over local affairs because of too much centralisation, and the feeling, which I very much share, that this Parliament is heavily overloaded and that it could be assisted by moving some of the load elsewhere. These feelings are common in England, as well.
I accept that there is one difference. There is a national sense of identity in Scotland. But there is also an English sense of identity, and the argument about what should be done for England has, in my view, gone down the wrong track. So often people supporting these devolution measures have argued that the equivalent for England should be some form of regional devolution to the English regions. That is missing the point. For England, the sense of identity is towards England as a whole. With the possible exception of the North of England, there is not much sense of regional identity.
England has a very important interest in this Bill, not just because the English taxpayer will foot some of the bill for the individual Assemblies and not just because England will continue to subsidise Scotland to the extent that public expenditure per head in Scotland will be greater than in England, but because, with 85 per cent. of the population of the United Kingdom, all English people have a great interest in any major constitutional change.
That brings me to the consultative document "Devolution: The English Dimension", which obviously was produced at the last moment to provide a sort of quid pro quo for the English and some sort of sop for the fact that a Bill had been produced for devolution to Scotland. I find it a total dog's breakfast. It is perhaps significant that most of the suggestions that have been put forward in the consultative document are shot down forcibly as one gets to the end of it. Therefore, one is bound to ask 1471 whether the Government are serious in their intentions.
I refer briefly to the two main suggestions. The first is the radical solution of regional assemblies. I have said already that I do not think that is the sensible alternative or equivalent for England to a Scottish Assembly. I suspected that this was the sort of solution that the Government would try to put forward for England, and I have been putting this proposal for regional assemblies to my constituents over the past 12 months at meetings practically every weekend.
I have not found one voter in my constituency who wants anything of this kind. There is already a tremendous feeling that the regional health authorities and the Anglian Water Authority are as remote as Westminster is from the people of Norfolk. They feel that a regional assembly would simply perpetuate this. It would add new tiers of government when we want fewer. It would increase the bureaucracy when we must cut down the number of people in the unproductive public sector.
It would clearly add to public expenditure. The Consultative Document itself says that this would cost hundreds of millions of pounds at a time when public expenditure must be cut back. It would also involve a massive overhaul of local government when we are only beginning to absorb the last reorganisation, and it would foist a sense of regional identity on regions when there is none.
The non-radical solution is to build on the economic planning councils, which would be equally unacceptable to my constituents. It perpetuates a non-elected element, and very often the planning councils are not in touch with local feeling. The solutions that have been put forward in my area have already been shot down in flames. This is not the solution to adopt.
The Conservative Party has now said that we should have a much greater degree of devolution to existing local authorities, particularly the principal tiers, which in counties will be the county councils and in other cases will be the metropolitan boroughs.
We need greater devolution of decision-making away from Whitehall, and less 1472 Whitehall interference on all sorts of detailed matters that should be settled locally. While central Government should continue to give block grants it should allow the details of the allocation to be determined much more locally than at present. That is how things should be tackled in England. For local control and devolution to local people, the Government should follow this line in England. It is certainly not what was advocated in the Consultative Document. I have come to the conclusion that the Consultative Document is a smoke screen and a con trick to cover up the patent unfairness of the devolution proposals for English people.
The Government have no intention of acting on the Consultative Document, so it is a waste of time to embark on the prolonged consultation that they ask for. What, then, are the proper alternatives, to give a sense of fairness to the separate nations in the United Kingdom? The first alternative is some form of federalism. The second alternative is to do nothing at all.
I do not find the solutions that came from the Douglas-Home proposals satisfactory, because they fall in the middle of these alternatives, but I can see attractions in a federal system. The Kilbrandon Report did not really deal at all properly with the whole question of the federal system. Time has moved on since the report, and many more people would be prepared to look at a federal solution in a more constructive way.
The report, in paragraph 515, when looking at federalism in other countries, states thatWhat is actually in operation is not true federalism.I believe that we should reach a solution in this country which would produce a form of federalism that would meet the aspirations of the Scottish people, and if the Welsh did not want it we would not need to give it to them.
§ Mr. John Smith
In his assessment of opinion in England the hon. Member said that there was a feeling of English national identity. How can we have a federal system when 85 per cent. of the people are in one unit? But if we have four or five units, how is the sense of national identity to be presented?
§ Mr. MacGregor
It should not be four or five. I reject the solution of regional assemblies. I do not think that we are ready to go towards a federal system, but if we did go down that road there should be a single English national Assembly.
When talking about the form of federalism, I would exclude economic matters. There is such a strong interrelationship between the different parts of the United Kingdom economy that economic matters should be a federal Parliament responsibility. The Government's Consultative Document rejects a federal solution, because the United Kingdom has a close economic unity. I would leave that with the federal Parliament. It rejects it also because England would be preponderant in a federal system. That is bound to happen. It happens under the present system, because England is so much larger than the other four nations in the United Kingdom.
The unfairness in what the Government propose is not to Scotland and Wales but to England, because the Scots and Welsh may well have the deciding and controlling hand over English affairs in many cases. The document rejects that solution, because an English Assembly would be a rival to Parliament. I do not believe that that would be so if economic affairs were excluded, because the expenditure needs of England represent a large part of the total programme. That is a reality that exists irrespective of the constitutional arrangements. I do not believe that we are ready for the federal solution. It would have to be looked at afresh. There are many problems which would require much further thought. But it is at least a logical and fair alternative. However, we are being offered nothing like that solution.
What the Government should do—I know that they will not—is to tear up this hotch-potch, start again, and look at the prospects for federalism. I believe that the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East would be prepared to see such a solution, because I think that she recognises that the English nation has a right to decide its own affairs just as much as the people of Scottish constituencies have.
§ Mr. MacGregor
I would prefer the straight federal system, but I do not think that we are anywhere near reaching conclusions on that. Therefore, we must deal with the Bill as it stands. I would not go down this road, but if we are to do so we can at least try to move a little more towards the federal solution. That could be done with two short measures, which should have been incorporated in the Bill to bring fairness to the 85 per cent. of the population for whom the present proposals are unfair.
The first measure would exclude the Scottish and Welsh Members of this House from voting on matters affecting only England—the same subjects as are being devolved to the Scottish Assembly. While there is no support in Norfolk for a regional assembly, there is growing anger at the fact that Scottish and Welsh Members may often speak and vote on matters that affect my constituents most, such as education, health and local government, whereas their own English Members will have no opportunity to speak or vote on similar matters affecting Scotland. If Wales, through a referendum, refuses to accept a Welsh Assembly, Scottish Members should be excluded from voting on matters affecting England and Wales.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Would it not create an odd form of government if my hon. Friend the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Mr. Smith) and I partly made up a Government majority but were not able to vote on the most delicate issues of English politics'?
§ Mr. MacGregor
My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) made that point. I accept that that may sometimes happen. It is an inevitable consequence of the dog's breakfast with which we are presented. I should prefer that to the present alternative, which will be unfair to all English constituencies.
§ Mr. David Penhaligon (Truro)
Surely the hon. Gentleman cannot be proposing 1475 a system that could boil down to our having a Labour Government on Monday and Tuesday and a Tory Government on Wednesday and Thursday?
§ Mr. MacGregor
If we are to have a separate solution for Scotland on all vital matters such as local government, health, education and housing, it is right to look for a separate solution for England as well. That is the fundamental flaw in the Government's proposals.
We must also deal with the overrepresentation of the Scots and the Welsh in this House. It is no good the Minister's saying that this is a matter not for the devolution proposals but for the Boundary Commission proposals. The devolution proposals will make this unfairness extremely obvious.
There will be strong and growing pressure from English constituencies for changes of this sort. Even if the Government do not take the necessary action in the Bill, it is logical and fair, and will be impossible to resist.
There is a strong English interest in these matters. So far, it has not been properly taken into account, so we have the Scottish tail wagging the English dog. It would be preferable for the Government to start again and try to find a solution that is fair to all parts. If they do not, but, rather, continue the undue Scottish and Welsh influence on English matters that will inevitably result from these proposals, it will be entirely right to vote against what they propose.
§ 5.52 a.m.
§ Mr. David Crouch (Canterbury)
This Bill is about devolution and the creation of Assemblies for Scotland and Wales. The problem is not new; it has been extensively examined and widely commented on for a long time. It has also been the subject of public debate in Scotland and Wales, though it cannot be said to have been extensively debated here. That has now been put right.
The extensive debate in the House has now been running for two days and it is right that it should already have gone on for so long. What is the debate about? There are different views of its nature in various parts of the House.
The Government look on devolution as the creation of Assemblies for Wales and Scotland. To my party, the Bill appears 1476 to lump together Wales and Scotland for the purpose of producing a major constitutional change. To the Liberals, it is a chance to air their not insubstantial views on federalism, and it gives them a special opportunity to gain ground in their demand for proportional representation. For the SNP, this is not so much a debate as a departure on a journey to the promised land of a separate Scotland. For Plaid Cymru, this is probably completely inadequate, and for the United Ulster Unionists the Bill is another reminder that they are being left out in the cold again.
I was dismayed and disappointed to realise that my party was not supporting a measure to grant devolution to Scotland by means of a directly-elected Assembly.
I am not so sure about the situation in Wales. I have been impressed by the contributions of Welsh Members on the unnecessary nature of such measures for Wales. However, for Scotland, I accept the Kilbrandon Commission's conclusion thatOur preferred schemes all provide for the establishments of Scottish and Welsh assemblies, directly elected—I was not so happy with what followed—by the single transferable vote system.I accepted, too, the Commission's belief thatdevolution could do much to reduce the discontent—with the system of government—and thatit would be a response to national feeling".
§ Mr. Fairbairn
Will my hon. Friend remind us of what the Kilbrandon Report said happened to the Secretary of State when this Assembly was set up? Under Lord Kilbrandon's system of government the Secretary of State for Scotland disappeared, because he would abolish the job and the person would be part of the Assembly.
§ Mr. Crouch
That intervention does not help me much. I should prefer to leave that matter on one side, as I am leaving on one side the question of Wales.
I do not think that the Opposition Front Bench disagrees with me on either of those two points. Certainly my Front Bench does not agree with the question touched on in the Kilbrandon Report of 1477 proportional representatiion. However, I am sure that my Front Bench accepts what I have said and what I have quoted from the Report. After all, they were essential planks in my party's platform on the Scottish problem. They were stated by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) when he was Prime Minister, and they were repeated last summer by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition.
In a letter to The Times, of 13th December, my noble Friend Lord Home of the Hirsel said,There is a powerful case for devolution in terms of the better government of Scotland as part of the United Kingdom.He not only repeated his belief in this fact of Conservative policy but went on to call for a referendum now, before Parliament gets bogged down in "long and acrimonious discussion." I believe that he is right. We should find out what the Scottish people want before we muddy the pool with months of debate. Let them say whether they want to remain an integral part of the United Kingdom. Let them say also whether they want a directly-elected Assembly.
It is no good the Prime Minister's saying, as he said in a speech the day before yesterday, that the Scottish people should not be asked to vote until they know what they are being asked to decide—as though they do not know already. I believe that they know now. They are therefore entitled to be asked now, before we go any further.
Lord Home's letter also contains a serious warning to Members of all parties not to make this matter asport of the politics of antagonism.He pleads that we must avoid an English-Scottish line-up in this game. Here again, I most profoundly agree with him. We must not allow the English backlash to emerge. If we see it trying to show itself, or even assert itself, we should resist it vigorously. It can do only harm—not to Scotland, and not perhaps even to England, but it can do very much harm to the United Kingdom and to the unity that we rightly value so much.
My anxiety stems from this thought: what will the Scots think of Conservative attitudes and actions in the great debate now taking place and our subsequent decision? 1478 If they want devolution and are looking forward to their own Assembly, how will they react to the Conservative Party's decision to vote down the Bill? Will they understand that we have their best interests at heart and that we have not deserted our declared policy of wanting to give them what they appear to want? How will they regard our criticisms of this long and unwieldy Bill? Will they appreciate our constitutional lawyers' arguments against it?
Will the man on a No. 11 bus in Sauchiehall Street get the message that it is the Bill that is wrong and not the principle? Is not there a very real danger that he will think that it is the man on the No. 11 bus going down the Strand who has had the last word on what should be done with the Scots? If that is the result of this muddled Bill and an apparently equally muddled response from the Opposition, we must expect a Scottish backlash that will threaten our unity and that many bring about a crack in the United Kingdom which will be hard to repair.
I believe this danger to be there, and my inclination is to support the Bill, or at least to let it go through in principle, so as to avoid such a threat to our essential unity. But I do not like the Bill in many parts, because to me it is such a botched-up affair. There is so much that needs ironing out and putting right. I ask myself: can it be done during the Committee stage, of several months?
Wales and the Welsh problem must be treated separately. Can this be done by amendment? I am advised by constitutional lawyers that it may take as many as 500 amendments to do so. I can understand why my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, the day before yesterday, concentrated on attacking the Bill. I can understand why my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) did the same. The Bill is bad, and deserves fierce criticism, but I am sorry that my right hon. Friend and my hon. Friend studiously avoided saying what we would put in its place, because I think that the Scots want to know and are entitled to know. I cannot believe that they want to know only how bad we think these Labour proposals are. I hope that they will 1479 not feel that we are allowing the issue to become asport of the politics of antagonism".
§ Mr. Dalyell
The hon. Gentleman is making a serious speech. I interrupt him in the same vein. Is not the truth for those on his own Front Bench, though they will not say so at the moment, that any Assembly, however small, however miniature, can have directed against it many of the criticisms that the Leader of the Opposition, the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor), and others made, namely, that even an Assembly with few powers is in present circumstances a point of departure?
I concede that this was not immediately obvious in 1974, but there is a new fact of 1976–77 which is becoming increasingly clear. Although it may have been thought in 1974 that somehow all the good men would come to a consensus, it is obvious that in 1976–77 there are people on the Opposition Front Bench outside the consensus who are determined to use it as a point of departure. In 1974 there were many good people who thought that if the Scottish National Party tried to use it as a point of departure it would, to use the words of Ted Short, wither away. Two years later it is obvious that the Scottish nationalists are not going to wither away. It alters the situation materially.
§ Mr. Crouch
I appreciate that intervention, because it points to the difference between 1974 and what we realise is the situation now. My party has shown a greater wariness to a directly-elected Assembly in the past two years, for the very reasons to which the hon. Gentleman pointed. I do not share this same wariness. My wariness is of another nature altogether, as I have tried to hint in this short speech. My concern is that it is possible for the average man or woman in Scotland not to appreciate what is going on in this place and not to appreciate our studies of the detail of constitutional devolution, and so on. I fear that they will say that the Westminster Parliament has given the "thumbs down" to the demand for a measure of self-government that is a response to national feeling. I take the hon. Member's point.
I formed the view that we should approve this Bill in principle and amen 1480 it in Committee. I have told my colleagues that this is my view and that I shall not oppose the Second Reading on Thursday. How difficult it is to change one's mind in politics. People think that it is easy, but it is not, particularly when one has declared one's views strongly and publicly. It is very much easier to dig in and engage in trench warfare, irrespective of whether one feels in the innermost parts of one's consciousness that one is still right.
Perhaps the Shadow Cabinet was right. Perhaps there was some wisdom in condemning the Bill as bad constitutional law. Perhaps it would be bad for the Scots, the English and the United Kingdom. Perhaps, too, we should have told the Scots exactly what the Conservative Party wanted to do for them. Better by far, perhaps we should ask the Scots before we go any further. That would be the best course of action. If we can do that, if the Conservative Party will make a proposal to do that, we can vote against this ill-starred Bill and start afresh, knowing what the Scots want and with the Scots knowing what we are prepared to grant them.
§ 6.6 a.m.
§ Mr. Nicholas Fairbairn (Kinross and West Perthshire)
I fundamentally disagree with a great deal of what my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) said. I disagree, first, with his proposition that if we ask the Scots what they want before we are willing to grant it to them we shall discover what it is that we are to grant. The word "devolution" can be used to mean anything. If there is a referendum asking the general voting public "Do you want a directly-elected Assembly or do you want devolution?" they will not comprehend what we are talking about. It is vacuous to imagine that the answer to that question would be a proper basis upon which the judgment of responsible political leaders could be based.
What I ask first is: what is the intention and purpose of devolution? If we are to make a major constitutional change we should start out with an objective. What is the purpose of these changes, if we are to make any? Surely the purpose must be the improvement of government. How do we improve government? If we read the Kilbrandon Report, which many people seem not to have managed to read 1481 before reaching this point—certainly they have not read its conclusions—we find that paragraph 123 says thatAny reform of our system of government must recognise that one of the main developments of the twentieth century has been the vast expansion of bureaucracy.The evidence reveals, following analysis, that people feel:
If major constitutional changes have any purpose it is to resolve those conflicts and simplify government. The reason why I think that those on the Opposition Front Bench have got the matter correct is that this is not about the simplification of government. The octopus that exists in Westminster, which I believe is futile and farcical and hopeless, and is the parent of an authoritarian regime, is about to have a baby in its own image. That baby is here, in the Bill. It is the same rotten process repeated.
- "(a) Lack of effective two-way communication between government and governed.
- (b) A widespread concern for a greater share in. or influence on, government decision-making.
- (c) Dissatisfaction arising from a large body or unresolved individual grievances against central and local government and the services for which central government has ultimate responsibility—the nationalised industries, the health service, etc."
We shall not have a better, cheaper closer Government in Scotland; we shall simply have another one. That is why I fundamentally disapprove of the Bill. No one—I blame my party as much as anyone—has thought out the fundamental implications of derivative or any other type of Assemblies. If anyone had, he would surely have said, "If the parent is going to cast off on its child some of its powers, surely we must study the parent to see whether it should be revised and altered and not consider only whether it should create a child in its own image".
The first power that the Assembly will have is to elect what is called a "presiding officer". He will not be called Mr. Speaker, because if he is it may he thought that it is a Parliament. Then there will be a Chief Executive. He will not be called a Prime Minister, lest the Executive think that they are a Government, but that is what he will be.
The Bill is about a separate Government for Scotland. I am against that, and 1482 I would like to think that every hon. Member is against it—except for the members of the Scottish National Party, some of whom are here and some of whom are not. At least my constituent is here. The Bill will provide for a separate government for Scotland, in addition to the one at Westminster. That fundamental fact does not seem entirely to have been understood.
Kilbrandon said that the purpose of any revision of the constitution was to simplify government, to bring it closer to the people. Any Scot who is asked what he means by devolution will say that he wants something which is closer, cheaper, quicker, better and more effective. This Bill will create a more complicated, expensive and enlarged Government in Scotland. Some say that all we need do is abolish the regions. But the regions do something. They cannot just be struck out.
I cannot understand the attitude of my right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) or of my hon. Friend the Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Buchanan-Smith). At the last election, in October 1974, I was asked to back a non-elected Assembly which was going to consist of regional councillors. If that is sticking to one's principles, I do not understand it. What was that unthought-out, non-elected Assembly of regional councillors in Scotland going to do? That was what I had to defend. It was after that election that we came back to the concept of a directly-elected Assembly which would be formed of different people, either from Members of Parliament here or from the regional councillors in Scotland.
It is because there has been muddled thinking throughout the House about giving something to Scotland of some kind that its people are supposed to want in the way of some other form of Scottish Government can be called Scottish Government that I think the matter has been confused. There has been no clear constitutional thinking about the simplification of government, and that is what we all want.
§ Mr. Crouch
My hon. and learned Friend is arguing strongly for doing something for Scotland that would produce better government. That is the 1483 purport of his speech. He is intimating that the Scottish people are supposed to want an Assembly. If he is not sure, or if he questions what they are supposed to want, does he not feel that there is merit in consulting them before different views are expressed on both sides of the House about what they are supposed to want?
§ Mr. Fairbairn
I do not think that that is the way of going about the matter. If the Scottish people were asked "Do you want devolution?" they would probably say "Yes". But would they know what it means? What would they say if they were asked whether they wanted a directly-elected Assembly? If we were to ask them "Do you want more elections?" they would say "No". If we were to ask them "Do you want four times as many representatives? Do you want more Departments of State? Do you want twice as many Executives? Do you want twice as many laws? Do you want twice as many Statutory Instruments?" they would say "No" to each question, but if they were then asked whether they wanted devolution they would say that they did, without appreciating the inevitable consequences of the wording. That is why I do not think that simplistic concepts, such as having a referendum to ask children whether they are in favour of whatever it is, is the proper way to go about these matters.
Nor do I think it right that it should be said, after the Bill has been going through the House for a month, two months, three months, four months, five months, or a year, that the Scottish people should be asked what they want. I do not believe that one person in 100,000 in Scotland will read the Bill, amended or unamended. Therefore, it is irrelevant to ask people whether the Bill as amended is what they want, far less whether the Bill as unamended is what they want.
I am certain that the people want simple government. The nationalist position derives from a resentment about the application of government, which is resolved in people's minds by the fantasy that if something is done on one's own and closer to where one lives it will be done better. I should love to move Westminster to Edinburgh. By God, people 1484 would say that because government was closer it did not get better.
It is important that we should understand ahe inevitable fact that separatism will flow from the Assembly. It will do so for alternative reasons. If the Assembly were to work, if it were apparently to bring better and cheaper government closer to Scotland, the nationalists would say—I should be the first to applaud them for saying so—"There you are, it works. Why not give it more powers? If the little doll works, give it more powers and it will work even better." But if it did not work, which it is not likely to, they would say "Of course it does not work; it does not have enough powers. If it were given more powers it would work." Either way, it is the inevitable road to separatism. If we set up a separate Government, we shall have a separate force.
I regard the proposals as constitutional insanity. I regard our proposals for a separately-elected Assembly as equally ill thought out. I am perfectly happy with a separately-elected Assembly which has a right to sit here. I am equally happy with the view that if we are going to devolve part of the Assembly's functions, half of its Members should sit in Edinburgh.
I recommend to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition that when she becomes Prime Minister she should send us to sit in Edinburgh and legislate there, so that the people of Scotland have their own Assembly. consisting of the representatives they have elected to this Parliament. To set up four times as many rivals—all the constituencies with three seats happen to be Labour constituencies, needless to say—is a constitutional insanity.
§ Mr. Dalyell
There is a logistic problem here. The hon. Gentleman's former opponent and my former colleague, Tom Oswald, suggested that the Scottish Grand Committee should sit in Edinburgh. It is difficult to do that during the parliamentary Session. Is the hon. and learned Gentleman suggesting that it should be done during the parliamnetary recess?
§ Mr. Fairbairn
There is no difficulty. This place should sit for six months only. No other Parliament sits for more than 1485 six months. There would then be no difficulty about sitting in Edinburgh. If the Leader of the House organised the business sensibly there would be no reason why, for one week in two, or half a week in one week, we should not sit in Edinburgh. The Scottish legislation that went through the House and Committees this year could have been dealt with without difficulty in a month.
It is false to imagine that we can elect two bodies of people, responsible to two Executives, both of which have concurrent but disjunctive responsibilities to the same Secretary of State. That is a recipe for confusion, irritation and the enlargement of government.
The hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mrs. Bain) spoke of the Scottish people wanting independence. Let us remember that at one time there was a reason for the line which runs from the Tweed to the Solway Firth and divides Scotland and England. On one side of the line at one time lived the Scots and on the other side lived the English, just as now on one side of a line live the French and on the other side the Germans. That is no longer the case. More than half the Scots who live in Britain live in England, and less than half of the people who live in Scotland are Scots. So it is an utterly false line to draw. The line no longer has ethnic relevance. It is a fantasy that those who live north of the line feel deprived because they do not have an Assembly.
To those people an Assembly would mean more expense, more Departments of State, more elections, more confusion, more bureaucracy, more laws and more taxes. They do not want that. They want government to be simplified. Therefore, transfer us and our powers from here to Scotland. Do not, for God's sake, let the octopus have another child in its own image.
I remind the House of a warning given by the Kilbrandon Commission. The hundred or so Scottish and Welsh MPs at Westminster thought that they should have a full share in the legislative process for England, while the Commission agreed that in the framework of its scheme for separate Assemblies there was no practical alternative. That does not commend the Commission's solution; it condemns the scheme, for it must be 1486 completely unacceptable—not only to give the people of Scotland and Wales political rights denied to people in the various regions of England—but, in addition, to give the people of Scotland and Wales a share in determining the policies applying to the people of England while denying the people of England a similar share in shaping the policies of Scotland and Wales. It must be unacceptable.
Here, Scottish and Welsh Members will sit incapable of discussing Scottish education, Scottish roads and other subjects because they are all devolved—capable only of discussing the affairs of England. The whole matter has not been thought out.
Let me issue a last warning. I hope that the people of Scotland will remember this and that the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East will not think that I was frivolous when I spoke of the Kingdom of Fife being separate, because any Government in Scotland will be essentially overburdened by the membership for the Strathclyde Region. That will be the main membership, and it will have the main run on the resource. The whole of the rest of Scotland—the East Coast, the Highlands, the Borders, Galloway, Dumfriesshire and Perthshire—will be dominated by Strathclyde Region. By God, they will regret it.
§ Debate adjourned.—[Mr. Ashton.]
§ Debate to be resumed this day.