§ Motion made, and Question proposed. That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Dormand.]
§ Mr. Speaker
I should like to say something to the House about this debate. It will obviously be an extremely difficult debate for the Chair to handle. I already know of about 100 right hon. and hon. Members who want to catch my eye. I have no discretion to limit the length of speeches, which I regret. I think that this is an occasion on which two hours each day set aside for those who speak for only 10 minutes might be a good thing. I have no such power. However, I hope that those who catch my eye will be reasonably concise. I also hope that those who are responsible will consider the possibility of an extension of time both tomorrow and on Thursday.
Secondly, this is a general debate. There is no question of limiting the speeches on a particular day to those representing certain parts of this country.
Thirdly, as to the usual procession to the Chair, those seeking to withdraw their names will be welcome. As to the others, I will try to be as helpful as I can, but it is no use anyone coming near me for about three hours. Indeed, it might be counter-productive.
§ 3.35 p.m.
§ The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Wilson)
Whatever the feelings of any individual hon. Members about the White Paper—" Our Changing Democracy "—which we are debating, there will be no disagreement that this debate and the legislation which will follow is of fundamental constitutional importance. That would be true of any debate about proposals to improve and develop our democratic institutions and bring them closer to the people. It is, above all, true of a debate on the Government's far-reaching proposals on devolution to Scotland and to Wales, proposals which have been developed from the broad policy statement which Her Majesty's Government placed before the electorate of the whole of the United Kingdom 16 months ago.
The whole of our history over more than 700 years—some would say far 208 longer than that—has been one of creating and developing institutions to provide closer links between Government, Parliament and people. In the last quarter of the twentieth century, with Government and Parliament so much involved in the life of all communities, of every individual family, it is more essential than ever that those links be improved and strengthened.
Indeed, as Leader of a party which believes that political democracy cannot flourish without economic democracy—and industrial democracy—I have seen in the past year or two, as we all have seen, the need for a much closer and more intimate degree of co-operation and involvement with those engaged in the economic process on both sides of industry.
This White Paper—Command Paper No. 6348—is an attempt to secure participation and involvement of the people of Scotland and Wales, and, of course, as the House knows, we shall shortly lay before the House a discussion paper on the future of regions in England.
The White Paper we are debating today was intended by the Government to initiate a great debate on the system of devolution proposed and the precise institutions that we regard as appropriate for making it work. The four days of this week and early next when we shall be debating it here in Parliament will inevitably reflect the thoughts expressed in the public debate so far and will provide an important lead, or leads, one would hope, to the further conduct of that great debate outside.
Inevitably—and rightly—speeches will be made which stress the interests, objectives, hopes, fears, and proposals in respect of major parts of the United Kingdom, such as Scotland and Wales. But, no less, it is essential that the House directs itself to the problems of strengthening the overall unity and cohesion of the United Kingdom itself.
Before I come to the main provisions of the White Paper, let me repeat that the Government believe in the importance of the great debate here and outside. The fact that we have insisted on this great debate in advance of the framing and laying of legislative proposals for Parliament's endorsement does not indicate any go-slow, dilatory, ca'canny approach on 209 our part or any desire for avoidable delay. But if it is agreed that these proposals embody the most fundamental constitutional development in this century—one might go a great deal further back—it is our duty as a Parliament to get the proposals right, properly thought through, and to the highest possible extent acceptable by all who will be affected by them, North and South of the Border, East and West of Offa's Dyke.
The need to bring essential processes of Government much closer to the people and to secure their identification with them is particularly strong in respect of both Scotland and Wales. Both countries have for a long time shared political institutions with the rest of the United Kingdom, though the appointment of a Secretary of State for Scotland in 1885 and of a Secretary of State for Wales in 1964 have led to a considerable degree of administrative decentralisation.
Each of the two countries, as all others who do not come from them equally recognise, has made its own distinctive contribution to the political life of the Kingdom as a whole. If we include Canadian-born Bonar Law, who was educated and spent his working life in Glasgow, seven of the 16 Prime Ministers of this century—that includes Harold Macmillan—came from Scotland or Wales, and in our own time we have seen Government and Parliament enriched by senior Ministers such as Aneurin Bevan, Iain Macleod, James Griffiths and John Anderson, as well as two post-war occupants of the Chair.
Even before the Act of Union, 270 years ago, Scotland had a long tradition of separate Government, and to this date has maintained its own traditions in its courts, its education system, its Church, and in many areas of the law. In Wales, too, national identification has remained strong, particularly in cultural matters.
The constitutional process of which the debate this week and next Monday forms so important a part was set in motion with the appointment, by the Labour Government in the late 1960s, of the Commission on the Constitution, under the chairmanship of Lord Crowther, and, after his death, of Lord Kilbrandon, which reported in October 1973. After we returned to office, we 210 embarked on consultations, taking as our text the consultative document of June 1974, "Devolution within the United Kingdom Some Alternatives for Discussion".
The first round of those consultations was followed by the White Paper—Command Paper No. 5732—of September 1974, which clearly set out the proposals for directly elected Assemblies in Scotland and Wales, indicated the main subject areas that might be devolved, and then set out the basic principles of financing. That White Paper was before the United Kingdom electorate in the October 1974 General Election and, on its endorsement, became the basis of the Government's much more detailed work over the following year, culminating in the White Paper published on 27th November last.
The document turns the general principle of the 1974 White Paper into specific provisions. Because of its inevitable length and complexity—and it is long and complex—a popular version has been published, as the House knows, for easier reading and assimilation, which is informal and simplified; but the White Paper itself must remain the full and authoritative version. The reaction to the White Paper, not entirely unpredictable, of certain parties within the House requires me to compare the Government's authorised version with various suggestions and popular pronouncements made by other parties.
I take first the proposals of the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru. They make no bones at all about standing for an independent Scotland and an independent Wales. No one should be in any doubt about the implications of what they propose. I am sure that in this debate their spokesmen will be crystal clear about those implications, whatever temptation they may be facing to confuse the situation for the benefit of those of their supporters who may not in all cases share the enthusiasm sometimes expressed here for the breaking up of the United Kingdom as we know it and have known it. Certainly that is what these two parties in all their official pronouncements make clear that they want. The Kilbrandon Report completely. rejected this approach. So do Her Majesty's Government.
211 There has been a development here. Winston Churchill, writing of the First World War, said:The Allies floated to victory on a sea of oil".The SNP is hoping to do the same, to emulate that achievement by counting in the riches of the North Sea to add to its otherwise ineffective and unconvincing arguments. It hopes that the oil has produced some help here.
I have always thought that there was a parallel between the SNP and the Douglas Social Credit Party in Alberta, which promised great things by the printing of money. On taking office, the utter economic impracticability of its proposals was disguised for a time by the discovery of oil in that province. But even it was saved only for a time.
We keep hearing about "Scottish oil". Every time the phrase "North Sea oil" is used, SNP members shout, "Scottish oil." I do not remember the natural gas that was discovered a few years before in the North Sea ever being referred to as "English gas".
§ The Prime Minister
In a moment. I am sure that it will help the hon. Gentleman to concentrate his thinking if he lets me go on a little.
It is a great embarrassment to hon. Ladies and Gentlemen opposite that there is nothing like unanimity north of the border in favour of calling it "Scottish oil". I have, for example, never heard that phrase interjected across the Floor of the House by the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond). Indeed, the right hon. Gentleman's constituents, who are working so hard, fully engaged in the task of getting the maximum flow of oil in those waters, have courteously indicated that they would prefer the devil they know in London to the devil they do not know, and apparently do not want to know, in the capital of an independent, breakaway, secessionist Scotland. Edinburgh, or wherever it may be.
The Scottish National Party Members in this House—there is considerable sympathy and affection for them here—are always troubled when they are reminded that their own party chairman. 212 Mr. Wolfe, has made it clear on behalf of their party that they were prepared to offer local options to the Shetlands on the lines of the Faroese type of constitution granted by the Danish Parliament some time ago.
§ Mr. Gordon Wilson
The right hon. Gentleman refers to "English gas". Is he not aware, first, that the Scottish National Party has no claims on that natural gas and, secondly, that there are substantial resources of natural gas to be found in the Scottish sector of the North Sea and that all this will be available to an independent Scotland? Is he not also aware that the Scottish National Party came second in the Orkney and Shetland constituency, with the Labour candidate at the bottom of the poll?
§ The Prime Minister
Obviously, the hon. Gentleman was not listening closely. I said that when gas was discovered in the North Sea, no one thought of calling it English gas. It was North Sea gas. Yet SNP members insist on calling oil "Scottish oil". The hon. Gentleman is of course right about the discovery of the gas. Much of it has been discovered in the Brent field in the Orkney and Shetland area.
§ Mr. Donald Stewart (Western Isles)
If, as the right hon. Gentleman appears to be arguing, it was British gas, why did Scottish consumers have to pay half as much again for it?
§ The Prime Minister
That is a matter that the hon. Genteman might put to the Scottish Gas Board. I am sorry that hon. Members are so humourless, because it is not like them. All that I am saying is that when it comes to drawing a line and saying that oil is Scottish or English, that is not done with fish or any of the other yields of the sea. For SNP members to base their whole argument on the assertion that it is Scottish oil is somewhat meretricious.
But it is not a question of oil only. The whole history of Scotland, this century and before, as of many parts of England and Wales, has been marked by the decline of the Industrial Revolution industries, which have established some of Scotland's major economic areas and industrial sectors. That is why this century has been one in which Scotland and successive United Kingdom Governments have 213 tried to help industry and the people of Scotland by establishing a modern and diversified economy operating as part of a larger whole.
I am not inviting hon. Members to get up and answer this question—I cannot stop them, but I hope that they will make more considered comments in their speeches—but without the benefits of integration with British operations as a whole, what prospects would there be for mineworkers at high-cost Scottish pits? What prospects would there be for rail-waymen operating a scattered and expensive network condemned to heavy losses? What chances would there be of maintaining the present standards of radio and television services, particularly network services, which are already substantially subsidised by English viewers?
§ The Prime Minister
They may think that they would do it better, but they would have to pay more to do it.
What chances would there be for steel workers, many of whose products depend on market conditions outside Scotland?
The House was divided before Christmas in the debate on Chrysler. What hope would there have been for the Chrysler workers at Linwood on a separatist basis? Would a Linwood ever have been created on a separatist basis? What hope would there have been for a Bathgate? Some hon. Members who opposed the Chrysler decision were ready at one time—we considered this ourselves—to suggest that Linwood should be saved if Chrysler wound up, as was threatened, by moving British Leyland production and employment facilities from south of the border to Linwood. That was an option that we considered when a purely Chrysler solution seemed hopeless. What would have been the opportunity of doing that if we had had a totally separatist solution?
What would be the prospects for workers on the Clyde in a separatist Scotland when the whole world faces a recession in shipbuilding? SNP spokesmen should not duck this question. They must prepare serious speeches to answer these questions about separatism. With a separatist Scotland, where would Scottish interests or Members of Parliament go to press for defence orders, whether 214 for the shipbuilding yards or for the factories in other parts of Scotland that are producing sophisticated electronic defence products?
North Sea oil will be a major help to the United Kingdom economy. It will be a major help to the Scottish economy. However, of itself it will provide no lasting substitute in Scotland and no substitute for Scotland for the benefits of a broadly based economy integrated with the major resources and markets of the rest of the United Kingdom and our trading partners in Europe and elsewhere.
What is true for Scotland also applies to Wales, with greater force in some cases, because even the collective imagination of Plaid Cymru run riot cannot concoct a basis for its claims out of so far undiscovered oil in the Celtic Sea. For many years, I have believed that there is a great deal of gas and oil in that sea. I hope that we shall find them quickly. Many other people are confident that we shall. Oil was found in Formby in my constituency during the last war and along Merseyside. Plaid Cymru knows that many of the blocks licensed for exploration in the Celtic Sea are closer to England than to Wales. Therefore, there is not much point in talking about dividing all this up.
It is not just that the Government reject the break-up of the United Kingdom as a basis for a new relationship between Scotland and Wales and the rest of the United Kingdom. The Government believe that the vast majority of the Scots and Welsh people do not want it, either.
I turn to the proposals of the Liberal Party. Hon. Members of that party will correct me when they speak for themselves if I have their proposals wrong. They advocate a federal system for the United Kingdom. It is of crucial importance to understand exactly what this would mean. I hope that they will spell it out when they seek to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker. The essential feature of federalism is a division of sovereign powers and functions, including taxation powers, between the federal and provincial governments.
Within their own specific fields, federal and provincial governments are both sovereign, neither being subject to the other. It is because of this that some 215 authority, usually some sort of constitutional court, is frequently needed to hold the ring between the two layers of government and to ensure that neither intrudes into the responsibilities of the other.
Even countries with long experience of federal systems—which we do not have—have problems, particularly over finance. The revenue-raising resources that can be given as a rule to the State Governments are rarely able to match their increasing financial obligations. Therefore, in practice, economic power gravitates back to the centre. Any of us in any part of the House who over the years have spoken to successive Prime Ministers and provincial premiers, irrespective of the party in power in their State or Province, can confirm the problems which both the federal and the provincial governments have had and do have, for example, in Canada, Australia, India, the United States and, indeed, European countries even nearer to our shores.
There would be special difficulties in the United Kingdom about a Federal solution, because the situation here is different from that which obtains in those Commonwealth and other federal countries with whose experiences we are familiar. There is the question of size. What would be the federal units in the United Kingdom? Scotland for one, Wales and Northern Ireland, and then we should have England with over four-fifths of the population in one Province. We should then be faced with proposals that England itself would have to be split, not into regions, but into sovereign units to match more fairly—even so, not all that fairly or closely—the populations of the other territories. Therefore, any such solution to this problem would at best be totally contrived and artificial and at worst unworkable and unwanted.
However, there would be still further basic difficulties.
§ Mr. Russell Johnston (Inverness)
Will not the Prime Minister agree that, despite the perfectly logical argument that he is advancing, it is equally true that the Provinces in, for example, Germany, Canada and the United States vary immensely in population?
§ The Prime Minister
They vary to the same extent in most federal States. The figure I have given is four-fifths in one of the separate Provinces. The hon. Gentleman will know that when he uses the word "logical" he can produce a lot of logical and legalistic proposals about a federal solution. However, we are concerned with realities. We know the realities because of the work of the Inter-Parliamentary Union and the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association through which we have met so many of our parliamentary colleagues abroad.
I want to go a little further into this matter. There would be still further basic difficulties going beyond these constitutional problems, great though they are. The federal solution would have to be artificial, arbitrary and highly legalistic. It would inevitably mean a written constitution, entrenched provisions and, whatever the authority given to the almost certainly inevitable constitutional court—it is not denied that there would be a constitutional court—that court could not possibly match—here I come to the practicabilities of the matter—the maturity of our own democratic institutions, traditions and functions through Parliament.
We assert that Parliament is the right method for dealing with these problems. I am dealing only with the proposals of the Liberal Party. Perhaps hon. Members of the Scottish National Party, which has a different policy, could confine themselves to their policy and not make common cause on a totally different policy. I am dealing with the Liberal Party's proposals and I suggest that they mean a legalistic, court-ridden, bureaucratic system and that the safeguards, checks and balances provided by this House would, as a consequence, not be available.
We all know what happens when legalistic and judicial processes are inserted into human affairs. A few years ago, we saw the chaos that resulted when an attempt was made to insert judicial procedures and processes in the very centre of the most human of all modern problems, industrial relations. The use of these judicial courts, set up under that legislation, was tried once, twice, perhaps three times, and then even those who had fathered the proposal were no longer prepared to entrust such sensitive and 217 basically human problems to their judicial progeny.
However, a federal solution would impart the same degree of judicial determination, theologising, legalistically-inspired findings not merely into industrial relations, but into the whole of our economic and social life. More than that, we are above all a social democracy where the needs of all our people—the needs of all our peoples—are the concern of all of us. I am not prepared, and I hope that the House would not be prepared, to contemplate removing that assertion of concern, which we express in our different ways, depending on our different political views—that ultimate responsibility for the well-being of all—from the Westminster Government and from this House.
§ Mr. Jeremy Thorpe (Devon, North)
The Prime Minister spoke of federalism and the artificiality that that would produce, presumably distinct from the plan that we are being asked to consider. Will he address his mind to paragraph 57 of the White Parser in which it is stated that the decision will not be taken by this Parliament? It says that any decision may be set aside by the Secretary of State if he thinks that it should be set aside on general policy grounds. Does the right hon. Gentleman regard that as a better system than legalistic references to the courts, because it he does, some of us do not agree?
§ The Prime Minister
The right hon. Gentleman has not understood the situation. I was criticising a situation in which decisions affecting average families, industries, employment and the rest would be taken by judicial courts on the pure legal construction of some legislation passed in this House and the fact that this would be governing and overriding. Today the decisions are taken by this commonsense Parliament—with all its faults—based on a day-to-day and month-to-month identification of hon. Members with their constituents.
When the right hon. Gentleman, interpreting paragraph 57, tries to lift the position of the Secretary of State above Parliament, he is totally wrong. The Secretary of State is answerable to Parliament. No court is answerable to Parliament. We found that in all the arguments about 218 industrial relations in the early 1970s. However, not only is my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland—and the Secretary of State for Wales and all other Secretaries of State—answerable to this Parliament; I think I am right in saying that, under paragraph 57, his actions would require an affirmative order by this imperial Parliament. That is the difference. That is the difference between a parliamentary democracy and a legalistic, judicial bureaucracy of the kind that the right hon. Gentleman has in mind.
§ The Prime Minister
I have given way enough, and many right hon. and hon. Members wish to speak.
I turn now from below the Gangway to the suggestions from the official Opposition party. As I understand it, the Conservatives—or a narrow majority of them—would have an elected Assembly in Edinburgh with some legislative rôle—albeit subordinate to Westminster—and no executive rôle at all, nothing more, in fact, than the right to debate and advise on Scottish affairs. I may be putting this unfairly. I shall be corrected by Opposition spokesmen in the light of whatever recent decisions the Opposition have taken.
However, an Assembly debating subjects and putting questions to Ministers responsible to another Assembly, that is, to this House, would be a continual source of frustration, friction and confrontation. The Opposition must realise that this scheme, desperately put forward in 1970 and to which they now even more desperately cling, is neither administratively workable, nor, I understand, politically acceptable to the Scottish people or, as far as I know, to anybody else. However, we have four days of debate in which their spokesmen, beginning I hope this afternoon, will be able to tell us how they see all this working and what the advantages would be, in contrast to the much more thoroughly worked out proposals in the White Paper.
To Wales, as I understand it, the official Opposition offer chiefly an extension of administrative devolution which, although valuable in its day, goes no way to meet the aspirations of the great majority of the Welsh people now. What the 219 official Opposition party would give the Principality is too little and too late.
But I assure representatives of not only the Conservative Opposition but all other parties in the House that all the alternatives to which I have referred and which I have been trying to examine, and many others as well, were examined with the greatest care by the Government before we reached our conclusions. Indeed, they had been very thoroughly examined and worked over by the Kilbrandon Commission and dismissed by the majority of its members.
Therefore, we reject the separation into mdependent political units of the countries that make up the United Kingdom. We reject the rigid and legalistic approach which is the very essence of proposals based on federalism. We reject as unworthy and totally inadequate to meet the needs of the people of Scotland and Wales a shadow Assembly which has no real substance, on the one hand, and mere tinkering with administrative machinery, on the other. We also reject the idea—perhaps many of us agree on this; not all of us—that because of the difficulties, the safest thing would be to do nothing, that as things are, so they shall remain.
It is not only that the people of Scotland and Wales demand, and rightly demand, a greater say in their own affairs and that those demands need a constructive and positive response. It is in our view an offence against the spirit of the age in which we live to refuse to examine and act upon proposals, however novel, however unprecedented, which have the effect of putting more power into the hands of the people and of enabling them to exercise that power nearer to their homes.
The Government's proposals are based on two objectives: a decentralisation of power to the people and the unity of the United Kingdom. Those are the twin objectives that the Government put forward. The first, giving real powers to the people of Scotland and Wales, means ensuring that their needs and the means of dealing with those needs are reflected in the democratic process by bringing decisions that affect the welfare of every family closer and closer to their home.
220 Modern government is essentially a problem of allocating inevitably limited resources—money, material and manpower particularly—between competing and virtually unlimited needs. The essence of democratic government is making those allocations on the basis of clearly defined and sincerely felt priorities. What we are saying is that the principle of our proposals is that more and more the allocation and priorities shall be decided by those in close touch with the families affected there and ultimately by the democratic process exercised by those families themselves.
§ Mr. Nigel Lawson (Blaby)
Is not the right hon. Gentleman aware, however, that the really important sort of devolution to the people is reducing the power of the State and increasing the power of the individual? It is not the setting up of subordinate assemblies in parts of the United Kingdom.
§ The Prime Minister
I might have guessed that the hon. Gentleman would put that sort of question. These are matters for great debate—I do not deny it—between the parties, decided at various times by a General Election. We are talking here about the important issues of devolution. We are saying that there are many more questions which the hon. Gentleman's party is opposed to being decided more locally—more nationally, indeed. We are saying that there are very many important questions that ought to be devolved from this House to Assemblies in Scotland and in Wales. However, it does not cut across the fundamental political or theological divide that the hon. Gentleman is never very backward in mentioning.
§ Mr. Leo Abse (Pontypool)
Why is my right hon. Friend so insistent that this is being given at the demand of the people of Wales when every opinion poll is saying that they do not want devolution at all and when Labour-dominated county councils are making it abundantly clear that they do not want it? I hope that my right hon. Friend does not exclude from his mind the holding of a referendum in Wales, which has been demanded throughout the Principality.
§ The Prime Minister
My hon. Friend is entitled to his view. I do not think 221 that he is speaking necessarily for all the people of Wales. He will know that there were very full consultations over a period of very many weeks by my right hon. and hon. ministerial Friends all over Wales. One thing that impressed me about this—indeed, even before the first of the 1974 General Elections—was that the whole of the Welsh Parliamentary Labour Party went on record in signing a document—whether my hon. Friend signed it, I do not know, but I saw everyone else's signature there—
§ The Prime Minister
—in support of the proposal put before the people in the General Election and which we are putting before the House.
§ Mr. Neil Kinnock (Bedwellty)
As a signatory to that document, may I inform my right hon. Friend that the document itself, together with the manifesto commitments on which he and I fought, bears no resemblance at all to the White Paper proposals? Secondly, coupled with the proposals in the document was a major reorganisation of local government, of which there is now no prospect whatsoever.
§ The Prime Minister
No, I do not accept that. Every hon. Member will want to express his own view. I think that half of the critics say that we have gone too far and the other half say that we have not gone far enough, whether in Scotland, Wales, or even, indeed, in England. But my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Wales and other leading figures take an entirely different view.
§ The Prime Minister
This will obviously be a very good debate. I should like to suggest, however, for the convenience of the House, that as so many Members wish to speak, hon. Members should try not to conduct the whole debate by interruptions in my speech.
The second objective means maintaining both the political and economical unity of the United Kingdom. It is my belief that our proposals, so far from weakening that unity, can even, indeed by bringing government closer to the people of Scotland and Wales in devolved 222 institutions, enrich, enhance and strengthen that unity.
To fulfil these objectives, the Kilbrandon Report recommended the devolution of powers from Westminster to directly elected Assemblies in Scotland and Wales, and this is the approach of the Government. This was the approach of the September 1974 White Paper, before the last General Election, and of the White Paper now before the House.
The Assemblies will have real powers. In Wales the powers will relate to the exercise of executive powers, and in Scotland they will be legislative as well as executive. In both cases they will cover a very wide range of sectors of policy and administration.
But, because of our adherence to the essential objective of maintaining and strengthening the unity of the United Kingdom—and I wish to emphasise this aspect—the Queen's sovereignty, the duty and obligations of Her Majesty's Government and the sovereignty of the Westminster Parliament will not be affected. This means, inevitably, that Westminster must retain the ultimate responsibility and therefore the ultimate power in all matters.
The legislation that we are preparing will confer power over a very wide area, but the ultimate responsibility and sovereignty must remain with the United Kingdom as a whole. Let there be no misunderstanding about this. Those who object to reserve powers being retained at Westminster are rejecting devolution; they are asking for federalism—or even something beyond that. Our objectives clearly require that the Government must remain responsible for all international relations —membership of the United Nations, of our alliances, and, of course, those concerned with our membership of the European Community.
This is a four-day debate, and so my right hon. Friends will be able to develop these general themes more fully later in the debate, both as to the devolved sectors and as to how it is proposed that they should be administered, and also on broad general questions such as the issue of Westminster's overriding powers, which I imagine will play a leading part in the debate.
Inevitably a great part of this debate will be about economic questions and the effectiveness of the devolution proposals 223 in this very important area. What the whole House will want to ensure is that decisions so intimately affecting the individual family will be taken as close to the people as possible. At the same time, the interest of every individual family requires that the general responsibility for providing for the needs of all parts of the United Kingdom should rest with Government and with this House.
I have said that it is our belief—I hope that no one will counter this—that the economically strong parts of the country should help those less economically well-off. We have never believed that help for industry or jobs, that housing, health, or education programmes, should be determined simply by the availability of resources locally to pay for them.
United Kingdom provision needs to be made in order to help areas facing particular difficulties—whether because of the decline of major industries, or because of an inadequate economic and social substructure—to be developed by the central administration in ways to strengthen and to make local action the more effective. It is needed also—and I stress this particularly—to direct and stimulate the help by firms and economic institutions in strongly developed areas for those whose expansion we want to see in areas which were historically under-developed or which may be facing threat of decline.
The general conduct of an economic policy—and I am including the fight against inflation as well as the fight against unemployment—needs to be tackled on a total basis, under the control of this House. We cannot have different regions, desperate for jobs, competing with each other to offer incentives to employers and management to solve one region's problems by intensifying unemployment in another region. It is against this back-around that the massive devolution of administration and policy-making is set.
In the case of Scotland—and I am now trying to show the size of what is involved in devolution since there is a good deal of humorous talk about it—public expenditure on the services we propose for devolution was about £2,000 million in 1974–75, which is about three-fifths of the total identifiable public expenditure in Scotland. That is a very sizeable transfer 224 of powers. If our devolution proposals had been operating, for example, in 1974–75, of this £2,000 million there would have been a block grant from the United Kingdom Government of about £1,300 million, including a contribution towards loan charges, about £300 million would have been met from local authority revenue raising, and about £500 million from capital borrowing. Before any hon Member rushes in to point out that these figures add up to £2,100 million, I would point out that that is probably accounted for by established conventional borrowing procedures.
In the case of Wales, about £850 million would have been involved for services which it is now proposed should be devolved, and the block grant would have been about £650 million.
Deciding the priorities in the expendi[...]ture of sums of this size represents for the devolved administrations a major degree of economic power as well as social power and certainly political power. My impression of the initial public reaction which followed the publication of the White Paper is that many commentators have entirely failed to recognise the significance and extent of the devolution of financial power. illustrated by the figures I have given.
One of the main criticisms of the White Paper, indeed, of the whole concept devolution, can be summarised in the familiar phrase, "this creates still one more tier in the governance of the areas concerned, one tier too many". Many people say that.
I do not underrate the importance of this criticism. But, first, our proposals do not add a tier of government; they improve the democratic control of an existing tier by decentralisation. Second, very many people, north and south of the border, will feel that if there is to be one tier too many, this is not a consequence of the proposals for devolution. It is a consequence of the local government reform carried through this House by the Conservative Government in the early 1970s.
Recently, at all levels of local government, I find, and I am sure that honourable Members in all parts of the House find, the severest criticism of duplication, overlapping and bureaucracy, through 225 this entirely unthought-out and, as it has now become clear, scatty proposal. I cannot, therefore, accept the argument that we should repudiate the programme of devolution, endorsed by the people in two General Elections, simply because we have inherited the recently created two-tier system of local government in the three countries.
§ Mr. John Mendelson (Penistone)
My right hon. Friend has referred to what will be regarded by many as the crux of the debate—the national responsibility of the better-off regions to look after the poorer regions, as has been done for a number of years, with the full support of our constituents. He has also referred to the danger of losing this national solidarity. He has also referred from time to time to the Labour Party manifesto, the election programmes and platforms. Will he bear in mind that the policy-making body for this side of the House, the Labour Party, as a national organisation has never had the opportunity to discuss these proposals? There has never been proper national debate within the Labour Party about these proposals.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. George Thomas)
Order. The hon. Gentleman's intervention is very long. He will be taking up the time of other hon. Members who wish to speak.
§ Mr. Mendelson
I am coming to the last part of my question. The Prime Minister, who rightly referred to himself as party leader, must take account of the fact that these proposals carry not the imprint and support of the movement, but only that of the Government at this stage of the debate.
§ The Prime Minister
I thought that my hon. Friend was going to make a rather more serious point, but I want now to come to the position in England. He is wholly wrong from start to finish in what he has just said. My hon. Friend must have forgotten the document that was issued with the authority of the National Executive Committee about a month before the election of October 1974. That document exactly represented the view put forward in the White Paper.
§ The Prime Minister
Oh, yes, it did. My hon. Friend may also have forgotten 226 that the manifesto on which we fought the election was approved jointly by the National Executive Committee and the Cabinet. The Scottish manifesto was also approved by the National Executive.
§ The Prime Minister
No, I have already given way on many occasions. I was dealing a short time ago with local government when my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson) interrupted. I was dealing with the question of whether we have one tier too many. The short answer is that from the moment the devolution proposals in the White Paper are carried into legislative effect, it will be the people of Scotland, through their legislative assembly, and they alone, who will decide whether to reconstruct their own system of local government and reverse the decisions of the early 1970s. [Interruption.] I shall turn to England in a moment. I ask Liberal Members to be patient. I have already spent a great deal of time answering interventions by Liberal Members.
A great part of this debate will deal with devolution to Scotland and Wales. I should make it clear that our proposals for Scotland and Wales are in no way applicable to nor appropriate for Northern Ireland. [Interruption.] I know that this is a hilarious debate for some Conservatives and for some members of the SNP, but I ask them not to be hilarious when Northern Ireland is mentioned. We do not want to add to existing difficulties by further misunderstandings.
As our White Paper makes clear, Northern Ireland is distinguished both by its history and geography from the rest of the United Kingdom. The problems of Northern Ireland are unique to Northern Ireland. The House was debating its future yesterday.
I now take up a point made in an earlier intervention. I would have done so about 20 times earlier but for the number of times that I have given way.
Clearly, we shall also be concerned about England. Just as criticism of the proposals in Scotland and Wales is sharply divided between those who say that the Government are going too far and those who say that we are not going far enough, it is clear that some hon. Members and a wider public are divided 227 between those who fear the effects on England and what they may regard as a truncated country and those who feel that regions of England should be given a degree of devolution similar to that now proposed for Scotland and Wales: for example, the Northern Region, the North-West, or areas such as Merseyside, where there are acute problems of industrial structure and unemployment.
Many hon. Members from English constituencies, in common with Welsh and Scottish colleagues, will judge these proposals first and foremost by applying the test of whether they damage seriously, as some feel, the unity of the United Kingdom. I have given my reasons for believing that they do not do so. I have explained why I feel that, by breathing new life and a more intimate democratic structure into Scotland and Wales, the proposals can contribute to a still stronger and more prosperous United Kingdom. It will be the duty of the United Kingdom Government to ensure that resources are made available throughout Britain—England, Scotland or Wales—on the basis of the needs of each part. That will be the test. The object of devolution is not of itself to give Scotland or Wales a greater share of the national resources, but to ensure that their fair share of resources is allocated in ways that the peoples of those countries wish for themselves, and that their institutions and economic and social life are regulated more closely to their homes.
The Government will publish in the near future—I hope next month—a discussion document about the English regions. It is not intended at this stage to put forward specific proposals, but to provide a basis for an informed public debate.
There are many who would like to see a greater degree of decentralisation from Whitehall to the English regions. I am one of those who have always shared that aspiration, and my Newcastle speech three years ago set out proposals for much greater devolution from the centre to the regions. But the problem I underlined then, which is still the problem today, was what I have already referred to in the Scottish context—namely, the creation of two-tier local government. That was what 228 was being carried through three years ago. I had in mind then—and it is an aspiration which I hope we can keep before us—not so much a transfer of functions to the regions upwards from local government in England but a devolution downwards from Westminster.
There are some who believe that a more effective system of regional government, once we can get over the two-tier problem, could help to solve the problem of local taxation, in that larger areas would be available, thereby removing the sharp disparities in incomes, property and wealth among local authorities. As I have said, there is the problem of the second tier. All of us have recognised that we do not want to inflict on local government in the near future a further massive reorganisation, but that means a limitation on what we can do for regional devolution. I know that when the Government's discussion paper on the implications for the English regions and England as a whole is published, the House will want to subject it to the same serious examination and debate as we shall be having in the next few days.
In commending these proposals to the House, I assert my belief that they represent a major step forward in bringing the Government closer to the people of Scotland and Wales, in making the processes of government more responsive to people, and in developing democratic institutions to meet changing needs and circumstances. I referred to the two objectives which guided and dominated the preparation of the White Paper—namely, a decentralisation of power to the people and the unity of the United Kingdom. These proposals give real and extensive powers to new administrations within Scotland and Wales and at the same time they maintain the essential economic and political unity of the United Kingdom. In doing that we shall be fulfilling the two objectives which I have said are essential to the future of all of us, the two objectives which I trust the House will endorse.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Before I ca[...] the right hon. Lady the Leader of tilt-Opposition, I wish to say that Mr. Speaker has asked me to inform the House that in exercising his discretion, he proposes to call the Leaders of the Liberal Party, 229 the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru—
§ Mr. John Mendelson
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You will know that it is never my custom to interfere with your announcements, but I object most strongly to any selection beyond the Leaders of the Government and the official Opposition.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Mr. Speaker has been entrusted by the House with the exercise of discretion, and he is using it.
§ 4.28 p.m.
§ Mrs. Margaret Thatcher (Finchley)
I agree with the Prime Minister that we are discussing major constitutional changes even more important than those brought about by the oil situation, changes that will endure far longer than the oil deposits. They are not confined to two parts of the United Kingdom—namely, the 5½ million people who live in Scotland and the 2½ million people who live in Wales. They are changes that will affect the future of our country as a whole, and the future of its Parliament. Therefore, it is important that these changes are made on a sound constitutional footing, and that we are clear about what they will do and where they will take us. After all,The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men Gang aft a-gley,I was going to stop at that line, but I am tempted to go on:And leave us nought but grief and pa[...], For promised joy.Before following the Prime Minister into an analysis of the specific proposals, I wish to say a word about two fundamental factors. My hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Lawson) has already referred to one of them—namely, the extent and rôle of Government powers. The Prime Minister referred to the second factor—the future of Great Britain as a whole, although he dealt with that aspect in rather different terms from those which I shall be deploying.
230 On the extent and role of Government powers, I believe that it is no accident that the demand for devolution has come after a period in which Government powers have increased, are increasing and look like continuing to increase. To some extent centralisation is a result of too much government, and over-governed societies can expect trouble and protest—and get both. I believe that the true demands of the people are not merely for the distribution of powers from central Government to other Government bodies or Assemblies but for a more fundamental dispersal, returning more of the decisions directly to the people.
We must watch to see that any particular system of devolution that creates new Assemblies does not result in increasing the powers in the hands of Government compared with the powers and decisions left in the hands of the citizen. I see that this possibility is already being widely discussed. Indeed, at a Glasgow seminar last week it was reported:Some of the ablest Scottish local government chiefs fear that devolution, which aims to bring government nearer the people, will in fact remove it further away from them. They argue that, if a Scottish Assembly is established, local city hall decisions will be far more tightly controlled from Edinburgh than they now are from London.That is a view stemming not from London but from a Glasgow seminar.
Similar powerful points have been made by the Association of County Councils referring to the proposed Welsh Assembly. In a letter which many hon. Members have received they set out five points. The first is thatthe proposals appear to have implications which could seriously weaken local government in Wales.The second point the Association makes is that the whole tenor of local government arrangements tends to move, and is increasingly likely to move,the actual decision-making for local services further away from the local areas and their own local authorities.Thirdly, it says:… what local authorities now require is a removal of central control … not the further imposition of new processes and new controls from Westminster and Whitehall or from a new intermediate level of government.The fourth point is as follows:In the financial field the proposed role of the Assembly will mean interference in the 231 discretion of local authorities to determine how they spent their available funds.The fifth point sets out the Association's conclusion:It appears that this powerful new instrument is to be achieved at the expense of, and by taking away discretion from, existing local authorities.The objective may be to bring power to the people, but the result may be to remove it from the people.
We must make it clear that this need not happen in a devolution process, but it could happen, and I believe that it will happen, under these proposals.
§ The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Edward Short)
Will the right hon. Lady tell the House one discretion which the document proposes to take from local authorities?
§ Mrs. Thatcher
There is a great deal about the administration of the block grant. That is referred to in detail and is fundamental. It is referred to in detail in the letter from the Association of County Councils—[HON. MEMBERS: "The policy is clear."] Then it is strange that none of the local authorities seems to understand it, for local authorities are protesting quite vigorously. Apparently it is suggested that I am misquoting. I am not misquoting. I have the whole letter with me. It is a letter from the Association of County Councils dated 8th July.
§ The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. John Morris)
Will the right hon. Lady answer my right hon. Friend's point? Is there any one discretion which it is proposed to take away from local authorities? In other words, are any of the existing powers of local authorities being lost to them as a result of our proposals?
§ Mrs. Thatcher
I quoted directly from the letter from the Association of County Councils. The passage I quoted was the following:In the financial field the proposed role of the Assembly will mean interference in the discretion of local authorities to determine how they spend their available funds. After Parliament has voted a block grant for Wales, in a process in which there appears to be no part for local authorities to play, as there now is in England and Wales, the Assembly is to decide how and where in Wales it shall be spent.232 That is what the Association I thinks. It would appear that the Government have not made themselves clear to the major local authorities.
Part of the dislike of increasing power and the rôle of Government is the spread of the bureaucracy it has created, and the cost of paying for that bureaucracy. A true devolution should reduce both.
§ Mrs. Thatcher
Every single word—and so has the Association of County Councils.
Let me turn to the question of the future of Great Britain and of the United Kingdom as a whole. Let it be remembered that we are the Unionist Party. Nothing like enough attention has been paid in the White Paper or elsewhere to the remarkable achievements of the British people together. It is true that the Prime Minister devoted a section of his speech to dealing with the economic consequences that would flow from separatism. I believe that there are deeper consequences.
I believe that the case for union has been assumed and not argued. But it is only when we remind ourselves of it that we fully understand the compelling reasons why the union must continue and why the possibility of separation or any proposals which lead that way must be rejected or modified.
§ Mrs. Thatcher
Scotland has played an active and marvellous part in the achievement of the union, and we are anxious that we should stay together to continue those achievements. The hon. Gentleman is a member of a Scottish separatist party. I am a member of a Scottish unionist party. He has his views. Will he respect the fact that we have ours?
§ Mr. Gordon Wilson
Does the right hon. Lady accept, following her argument that the Conservatives are a unionist party, that the Conservative Party has declined in strength in Scotland from 45 seats in the 1950s down to a present figure of 16 seats, whereas the SNP has been gaining strength?
§ Mrs. Thatcher
Will the hon. Gentleman also realise that the Conservative 233 Party and the Labour Party have been in existence for a long time and have endured many changes, and no doubt will endure many others?
For centuries the people of these islands have made an unparalleled contribution to the history of the human race. They have popularised the ideas of freedom under law and representative government. They are responsible for the industrial revolution and the scientific revolution which, for the first time in history, have brought material comfort and security within the reach of the many instead of the few. They have spread the English language—one of the richest, most copious and most expressive of human speech forms—across the world both as a first language and as a second language used as a means of communication between persons of different speech. They have saved the liberties and preserved the soul of Europe at least twice in human recollection. They have given to a quarter of mankind and the same fraction of the earth's surface the best laws, an impartial system of justice, and an incorrupt administration. Together we carried through these great things, but they would never have come about had we been separable or separate entities. We have achieved what we have achieved through unity which permitted and encouraged diversity—and diversity which did not contradict that unity. We all recognise the contribution made by the people of Ulster by the Welsh and the Scots to this unity which is every bit as important as the contribution made by anyone else. No better partnership has existed in the history of mankind, and we must do nothing to jeopardise its future, for it has much to contribute still.
Against that background, let us examine the specific proposals in the White Paper to see where they are likely to lead. The first feature of the Government's proposals is that they are likely to lead to maximum conflict, friction and argument between the Assemblies, Government and Parliament. There will be conflict in that there will be rival Executives, and disputes will surely arise between them. It is difficult to adjudge the extent of the devolved powers in each of the 12 groups of subjects set out. We need other tables in the White Paper showing which powers will be left with the Secretaries of State for Scotland and 234 Wales and the powers which will be left with other United Kingdom Ministers.
On the face of it, it looks as if in Scotland there will be a Minister for devolved local government matters and one for retained local government maters, a Minister for devolved development and industry and another for retained development and industry, and so on. The problems of overlap, co-ordination and dispute will be considerable.
Again there will be conflict because the Assembly will be used as a forum to demand more powers, and even attempt to pass legislation to that effect. There will be conflict in Parliament because the more different schemes of devolution we have, the greater the difference between the powers of Members of Parliament themselves over policies affecting their own constituencies. Some Members of Parliament will not be able to vote on health and education matters as they affect their own area but will nevertheless be able to vote and even have decisive votes over these matters in other Members' areas. I doubt whether such a situation could endure for long without more resentment and demands for changes here. We must be careful that the contribution and influence of Scottish and Welsh Members here is not diminished. There will be conflict because the Government have taken upon themselves not only to decide whether the Assembly is acting within its legal powers but also to operate a political veto even though it is acting within those powers. In that case, the Government would have set up a system to take back the very power it had devolved, just because it did not like what the Assembly had decided to do. The right to legislate would then turn into arguments about the compatibility of policies, and that would inevitably lead to great political tension. That is the first feature of the Government's proposals—conflict.
The second feature is the massive extension of bureaucracy and its costs. About 3,000 extra civil servants, on the Government's own reckoning, and £22 million a year at present-day prices would be required. Within this figure would be 1,600 civil servants and £12 million for Wales. If that system were to be applied to England and Wales as a whole, I understand that the cost could be £150 235 million a year—not exactly an example of economy. So we are to have more complicated and more costly government and for those with devolved Assemblies, more government, but not necessarily better government.
The third feature is the reduced status in practice of the Secretaries of State for Scotland and Wales. The White Paper tries unsuccessfully to disguise that fact. It is inevitable that the greater the degree of devolution which involves a second Executive, the less the standing of the Secretaries of State for Scotland and Wales. I believe that this would diminish the voice of Scotland and Wales in the affairs of the United Kingdom Government and Parliament.
It seems to many of us that the particular model of devolution which the Government have chosen is designed to in-increase the grievances and disputes between the parts of Great Britain and thus to jeopardise that precious unity of which I spoke earlier.
The Prime Minister optimistically hoped that we might wholly approve the White Paper, but we certainly could not wholly approve it. It may be that after the debate the Government will reconsider the particular form of devolved Assembly they have chosen. [Interruption.]
§ The Prime Minister indicated dissent.
§ Mrs. Thatcher
Did I hear the Prime Minister say "I think not "? I see that I must have misheard the right hon. Gentleman. If the Government decide to go ahead with the White Paper structure of devolution, we on this side must consider a better constitutional basis. We should be faced not with expressing a point of view on the system, but with a particular proposal in a statute. In these circumstances we ought now to indicate how it should be changed, even though we dislike the system.
§ The Prime Minister
The whole House is interested to know how the right hon. Lady thinks it ought to be changed. This is a long, four-day debate arranged so that we can hear the views of hon. Members from all sides and consider whether any change should be made in the White Paper in the light of the debate. We want to go as quickly as 236 possible to the preparation of legislation We think that the proposals are right, but we want to listen and not present the House with a fait accompli.
§ Mrs. Thatcher
I understand from what the Prime Minister has said earlier—perhaps in the debate on the Address—that instructions have already been given for the draft statute, and it seems probable that the main structure of the White Paper will continue. The Prime Minister is probably thinking of less fundamental changes than are some of us. If that is so, the Government should consider a better constitutional basis for their chosen system.
The Government should try to mitigate[...] the conflict by first subjecting the use of devolved powers to judicial control by the courts and not to political control by the veto. The question whether the Assembly was acting within its powers would then be seen to be decided on an impartial basis on well-established legal principles. The Prime Minister referred to this as legalistic. Sometimes I think the Government Front Bench calls any law legalistic. But a legal basis for devolved powers is much better than an arbitrary political basis. It is much sounder and much more likely to endure. It gives much more effective boundaries which are likely to be maintained. It would get rid of the terrible idea in the White Paper that because one does not like what the Assembly does with the powers one gives it, one can say "No." That is not devolution at all.
If the Government go ahead, we must face the possibility that any elected Assembly could use its powers in such a way as to deny some of those freedoms which many of us regard as fundamental. Some of us feel that that has already happened to some extent in this Parliament.
The way to deal with this is not to have a political veto but to enshrine Bill of Rights clauses in the devolution statute. It would be not a Bill of Rights but clauses tantamount to it which would become part of the devolution statute and ensure the future of these fundamental freedoms. It would be a new constitutional venture, but the whole exercise is a new venture. The drafting should not be too difficult because there are a number of precedents.
237 The third point I have to make is that if the Government go ahead with legislation on this basis—
§ The Prime Minister
The right hon. Lady said just now that I had objected to any court as being legalistic, fussy, bureaucratic and so on. She will recall that I expressed those views specifically in relation to the Liberal proposals for full-dress federalism, and that I was not referring to lesser forms of devolution.
§ Mrs. Thatcher
I do not think that a federal solution is possible or that it is wanted. If one were to go that way, one would not start from here. One would have to start with a constitutional conference and one would have to have a similar system of federation for most parts of the country. I do not believe that it is possible, but one can take some of the good things in a federal system and embody them in a devolution statute, such a statute is not setting up a federal system, because it is not a perpetual division of sovereignty. The statute can be changed under the ordinary laws of the supremacy of Parliament. The fundamental point remains that it is better to define in the statute the scope of the powers and to have those powers and their use interpreted by the courts.
My third point refers to international treaty obligations, which are mentioned in paragraphs 87–92. These penetrate into almost every aspect of law and activity of government. If central Government are to retain their international responsibility for treaty performance—as they must, for they have no alternative—they should be competent to override the Assemblies. The Government's solution is to have a veto to quash Assembly action, without the approval of Parliament. That could not be satisfactory. Surely, as regards the EEC we could leave the matter to the relevant court. As for other international obligations, could we not spell out the responsibilities in the devolution statute itself?
While many aspects of conflict to which I referred earlier would inevitably remain, and we are still against the Government's system of devolution and would prefer that an Assembly should not have a separate Executive, I believe that these proposals would provide a sounder constitutional basis than that 238 contained in the White Paper. A statutory relationship monitored by the courts, with fundamental safeguards, would be more likely to be stable than that which the Government propose.
I turn to one other extremely important point, relating to paragraph 150 onresponsibility for the court system and its administration".The question is whether responsibility for the courts should remain with the Government and Parliament or should be devolved to the Assemblies, subject to the qualification in paragraph 149 that responsibility for different levels should not be split.
We believe that responsibility must remain with Government and Parliament, for two reasons. First, the provision and oversight of the judicial system is a function of the sovereign power, and that power will still be the Queen in Parliament. Secondly, the courts will have to administer not only statutes derived from the Assembly but the common law of Scotland and United Kingdom law. It would be wrong to give authority on those matters to an Assembly which had responsibility for only one of the sources of the law which the courts will have to apply.
The Government's proposals have already come under severe criticism as regards Scotland and also Wales, where it seems that the majority of the people do not want an Assembly.
§ Mr. Cledwyn Hughes (Anglesey)
How does the right hon. Lady reconcile that claim with the fact that the great majority of the people of Wales in the two General Elections of 1974 voted for parties which advocated a greater or lesser degree of devolution?
§ Mrs. Thatcher
A greater degree of devolution does not necessarily involve an Assembly, particularly of the kind proposed for Wales. I have heard many descriptions of the proposals in the White Paper for the Welsh Assembly. It is likened to a rather grand county council. I do not think that it is like that at all, because at least a county council is not subject to a political veto. I have found few people who have much to say for the Welsh Assembly, and we shall certainly oppose it.
§ Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarvon)
I agree with the right hon. Lady that many people do not like the proposals in the White Paper for a Welsh Assembly, but does she accept that for many of us they do not go halfway far enough? Will the right hon. Lady clarify her party's stand on the matter of the Assembly? At the last election many of her candidates in Wales proposed an Assembly for Wales, but they did not agree that it should be directly elected. They wanted it to be indirectly elected. In other words, they rejected the democratic principle.
§ Mrs. Thatcher
The hon. Gentleman will find the position clearly set out in our manifesto. We never proposed a Welsh Assembly. We proposed a wholly different system. My hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke (Mr. Edwards) has already said publicly that we shall oppose a Welsh Assembly.
We do not like the Government's proposals for the Scottish Assembly. We are all in the position of criticising one another's proposals. That is partly what the debate is for. The Prime Minister made some allusions to our scheme. It was certainly very different from the Government's, because it made the Assembly essentially part of the Westminster system and not part of a system in parallel to Westminster. We felt that it should have certain legislative powers and wide powers of consultation, inquisition and debate. I would ask the Secretary of State for Scotland whether his proposed Scottish Assembly will have powers of debate wider than the subjects over which it is competent to legislate. The normal rule is that a parliamentary Assembly can discuss only subjects over which there is a measure of accountability to that Assembly.
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. William Ross)
Despite the difficulties over the Chrysler decision, I am sure that a Scottish Assembly would have debated it, and would have given public advice to any Government.
§ Mrs. Thatcher
Is the right hon. Gentleman saying that he will appear 240 before the Assembly to reply whenever he is summoned?
§ Mrs. Thatcher
I thought that the right hon. Gentleman was not saying that.
The matter needs a little more working out. The right hon. Gentleman and his right hon. Friend the Lord President know full well that there are many times when Ministers, especially those who have to reply to Adjournment debates, almost plead with Mr. Deputy Speaker that there is no Government responsibility for the subject chosen, and that therefore it cannot be debated. Perhaps it means putting the subject in a different form.
In the end there must be some responsibility to the Assembly.
§ Mrs. Thatcher
If the right hon. Gentleman says that, we clearly have very different views. Perhaps we can discuss them afterwards.
The White Paper sets out three tests for the success of its scheme. It says:The new system must work efficiently as well as democratically, and it must stand the test of time.I do not believe that what is proposed by the Government will be efficient, but it will be cumbersome and conflicting. I do not believe that it will leave things unchanged democratically. It will probably alter our United Kingdom democratic system, because I doubt whether, on the Government's proposals, the number of hon. Members from devolved areas could stay the same as at present. I do not believe that this scheme will stand the test of time. Its constitutional basis is too flimsy.
Our tests for a devolved Assembly are very different. It should genuinely improve the machinery of Government and not extend it. It should lead to a diffusion of power and not a confusion of power. Above all, it should retain our characteristic unity as one kingdom. We do not believe that the present form of White Paper proposals will pass these tests. What we can achieve together in the union is far greater than the sum of anything we can do separately.
§ Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
Am I right in thinking that the 241 right hon. Lady's proposals would move the Scottish Grand Committee to Edinburgh where it would, as now, discuss Second Readings of Bills, and that whatever the Assembly did at Second Reading or in Committee, it would still be open to this House to deal with Bills on Third Reading as it does now?
§ Mrs. Thatcher
I think the right hon. Member has read the Report very carefully. That is why I described the Assembly as a system linked into the United Kingdom Parliament. The early legislative functions—Second Reading, Committee stage and Report stage—would be in the Assembly there, and Third Reading would come here. However, the Assembly will have powers over a much wider range of legislation and also have inquisitorial powers to discuss economic matters. In some ways I would go wider than the Government's proposals do at the moment, but I accept that the Third Readings would come back here. That is why the Assembly is linked into the Westminster system rather than being in parallel.
§ Mrs. Thatcher
I will not give way again because my objective is to take about only half as long as the Prime Minister took.
§ Mrs. Thatcher
I have also given way a good deal. I have even given way to an intervention by the Prime Minister.
What we can achieve together is far greater than the sum of anything we can do separately. The devolution scheme which is eventually enacted must both conserve and enhance that union.
§ 5.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Jeremy Thorpe (Devon, North)
There are two points on which I agree with the right hon. Lady the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher). The White Paper is a recipe for conflict, and if there is to be a conflict it will be better resolved in the courts than by the ipse dixit of the Secretary of State backed by the majority that happens to be behind him in the House at any particular time. However, it appears that under the plans of the Conservative Party, the people of Wales and Scotland would have con- 242 siderably less power than they have even under this White Paper.
I think the right hon. Lady underestimates the feeling of frustration people have about the centralisation of government and their inability to affect decisions which affect their lives. This has not crystallised in England to the same extent as in Scotland and Wales, but we have a system of administration at regional level without any democratically elected control at all, whether it be in planning boards, planning councils, regional construction units or any of the rest.
Those who now talk about union must realise that those who talked about union in the past were sometimes so much in favour of centralisation that they destroyed the very union they sought to preserve. I do not think we would have such a disunited Ireland today if there had been as much talk about devolution and home rule as about union. The United Kingdom which the right hon. Lady rightly wishes to keep intact is more likely to break up if there is a system which breeds conflict and uncertainty than if there is a system which recognises the desires of people in the Kingdom of Scotland, the Principality of Wales and the regions of England to have more say in the running of their own affairs. This is a movement we ignore at our peril. It will lead to greater frustration with our democratic processes.
The Prime Minister said fairly that the Liberal Party was in favour of a federal system but then tried to blur the issue by saying that such a system would be legalistic and that courts would have to decide matters affecting people's family life—matters which were for this House to deal with. But that begs the question. It all depends on which powers are allowed to be referred to the courts. In case the Prime Minister has forgotten, we already have a constitutional court in this country—the Privy Council. Although there is now direct rule in Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Act specifically refers to the question whether acts of Stormont were ultra vires the constitution, being referred to the Privy Council.
I have found that if one wants to convince somebody that something is possible, one has to show that it has been heard of and tried before and it helps if one can say that somebody who is very old and 243 respectable is in favour of it—provided it is not Bertrand Russell.
The Prime Minister said that federal experiences had always produced very great difficulties. Of course they have. This is because federalism has so often been introduced in countries with great political differences. I very much doubt whether, without federation, Canada and Nigeria would still be in one piece and whether the problems of the United States of America would have been resolved. Where one has a difficult situation, one needs a federal system, and that is true of this country.
The Prime Minister went on to say that the sizes would be different. But what does it matter if the sizes are different? They are different in regard to Wales and Scotland. What does it matter if the powers are different? They are different already in the White Paper in relation to Scotland and Wales. Why does everything have to be so standardised?
The right hon. Gentleman almost gave the game away when he said we are not creating an extra tier of Government but clothing with democratic control the administrative machinery which exists in Scotland and Wales. I am asking him to do the same thing in respect of the regions of England. The right hon. Gentleman must be prepared to see great diversity. There cannot be a monolithic system and the Prime Minister will have to think again about this matter. There are defects in his proposals which he will ignore at his own peril and at the peril of the unity of the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. George Reid (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)
I hope the right hon. Gentleman can help me because I am confused about one aspect of Liberal Party policy for Scotland, Wales and Ulster. Am I right in thinking that they believe that for Scotland, Wales and Ulster there should be respective Parliaments, plus an English plus a Federal Parliament, whereas English Liberal policy is that this House should be both the Federal and the English Parliaments?
§ Mr. Thorpe
We are in favour of Assemblies for Wales, Scotland and Ulster. We have to discuss the question of England. If a few more people had been discussing this matter, we would be further down the road of constitutional 244 reform in this country. I believe that this Parliament should be a Federal Parliament of between 200 and 300 Members. It is ridiculous to say that hon. Members from Ulster cannot have greater representation in this House because they enjoy devolved powers, or at least we hope they will enjoy these powers in the future, and then to say that Welsh and Scottish Members will have devolved powers but they must have just as many Members as hitherto. That is crazy.
My answer is that I want this place to be essentially a Federal Parliament of 200 to 300 Members and it is then, I believe, for the English to discuss their position at a constitutional conference, which is the correct way of deciding these matters. That was how it was begun at the 1920 Speaker's Conference, and that is how every constitutional reform in any country for which we have had any responsibility has been discussed in the process of attaining independence or federation. The decision would then be taken whether there would be a separate English Parliament or whether there would be provincial Assemblies with the English Members of this House sitting separately as an English Parliament. I believe that the latter is more likely to be effective.
I was less concerned with the Prime Minister's specific discussion of details of the White Paper, important though those details are, than I was with his general philosophy which led him and the Government to believe that devolution was a good thing in its own right. I introduced a Bill in this House in 1968 in which I sought the right to set up a federal system of Government, and, as would be expected, I prayed in aid that great constitutionalist. Mr. Gladstone, who was in favour of Parliaments for England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland as being in the general interests of the nation as a whole. I believe that the federal solution is the only one which will work in logic. Mr. Colin Jones put the point acutely in the Financial Times on 28th November last when he said:Devolution is not separatism, nor is it federalism. So long as these options are ruled out as politically unacceptable to both the Labour and Conservative parties, there is probably no satisfactory half way house between independence and dependence.My reason for paying particular attention to the philosophic basis of the Prime 245 Minister's discussion is that there are people, wicked no doubt, who are cynical about governments. There are some who believe that the setting up of the Royal Commission on the Constitution, the inclusion of devolution proposals in the Labour manifesto, and the White Paper itself were simply an example of the Government acting under heavy pressure, conceding the minimum they thought necessary or the maximum that could be wrung out of those two stern headmasters the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Lord President of the Council—how much, in effect, the headmasters were prepared to grant to their errant pupils.
The Labour Party has been truly horrified at the proposition that there might be an autonomous Labour Party in Scotland which might in some way impair or lessen the centralisation of Transport House. That indicates to me that a degree of reserved cynicism is not misplaced.
I believe that the two aims are, first, to deal with the over-centralisation of Government in this country. This has compelled Westminster Governments to devolve to regional administration things they cannot operate from the centre. Therefore, all the planning councils and boards, transport authorities, area health boards and the rest are without any form of democratic control. The second aim is that we need the maximum amount of choice, variety and influence over our own affairs in this country.
It was said in the great Home Rule debate in this House in 1886 that:The passing of many good laws is not enough in cases where the strong permanent instincts of the people, their distinctive marks of character, the situation and history of the country require not only that these laws should be good, but that they should proceed from a congenial and native source and besides being good laws should be their own laws.I believe that Mr. Gladstone—surprise, surprise—was correct in saying that the important point was not only the quality of the laws, but whether they sprang from the people whose lives they would influence.
We must consider whether the White Paper is consistent with the unity of this country. Is it founded on political equality between the nations of this country? Is there to be an equitable distribution of burdens and are there 246 safeguards for the minority? Finally, is it in the nature of a settlement and not the mere provocation for the revival of fresh demands?
We would all agree that above all we must be clear over the powers of Westminster to control. Even on this point there is a conflict. The White Paper says in paragraph 26 that the reserve powers mustenable the Government of the day to intervene, subject to the approval of Parliament, in actions by the devolved administrations which the Government judge seriously harmful".One would have thought that that was the last reserve power which the Government would use, and then only with the greatest caution. Paragraph 57 says that even if a Bill emanating from the Scottish Assembly is infra vires the Government. will be able to consider whether the Bill is acceptable on general policy grounds.
§ Mr. Edward Short indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Thorpe
It is no good the right hon. Gentleman shaking his head. That is in the White Paper. If that is not what it means, we should be told the meaning.
§ Mr. Thorpe
I am sorry if I have a different copy of the White Paper from the right hon. Gentleman. I will read paragraphs 57 and 58 completely:
247 I cannot imagine anything more likely to start a conflict with an Assembly which perfectly properly passes measures which are intra vires. It might be an Act passed by a Labour majority in Edinburgh but which on general policy grounds happens to conflict with something which a Conservative majority Government here feel is unacceptable. That is the first conflict. The Government cannot have it both ways. Either they devolve powers and expect them to be used, or they can run around like the Secretary of State for Scotland, acting like a cross between a Tudor monarch and the Australian Governor-General. But there cannot be both situations. That simply will not work. Therefore, I believe that the seeds of conflict are contained within this document.
- "57. When a Bill has passed its final stage in the Assembly it will be forwarded to the Secretary of State. The Government will then consider, with advice from the Law Officers, whether any part of the Bill is ultra vires. In accordance with normal legal principles, ancillary provisions reasonably incidental to a main purpose falling within a devolved field will be treated as intra vires even though they may not strictly relate wholly to devolved subjects. The Government will also consider whether the Bill is acceptable on general policy grounds.
- 58. In order to be submitted for Assent the Bill must be both intra vires and acceptable on policy grounds. If it contains ultra vires provisions, or is unacceptable on policy grounds, or both, the Secretary of State will send it back to the Assembly with a clear statement of the reasons."
One extraordinary fact is that the Faculty of Advocates in Scotland was never consulted. That was the situation according to the letter from the Dean of the Faculty. The Faculty says that although it is Parliament which will have these powers, it is the Secretary of State who will have the executive power, and it does not believe that the power of veto should be given to the Executive. It is an executive decision. It happens to be one of the great constitutional issues. We mucked up the last devolution proposals for Ireland and the House should not do the same thing again. I take no pleasure from the fact that Ireland is bitterly divided, but I belong to a party which tried to introduce Home Rule for Ireland and it is a thousand pities that we did not have the necessary majority in the House.
There is virtually an executive veto. Worse, what happens if, in the view of the Secretary of State, anything the Assembly does is ultra vires? That is much more dangerous. Although paragraph 63 states that the advantages of a judicial review should be set out, it goes on to say that there are equally strong arguments for having no judicial review. [Interruption.]
If the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Molloy) wishes to intervene I shall be happy to give way. I qualify my invitation on two grounds; first, that the intervention is helpful to the debate and, secondly, that it reduces the hon. Gentleman's sedentary interruptions.
§ Mr. William Molloy (Ealing, North)
Was not the Liberal Party responsible for the mess-up in Ireland?
§ Mr. Thorpe
The hon. Gentleman's sense of history is somewhat distorted. It was not the Liberal Party which opposed Home Rule but the party which had to pick up the bits in 1968 when things went wrong again.
Paragraph 64 is a remarkable paragraph. It states:Against judicial review, it can be argued that its exclusion would have the merits of simplicity and finality and would therefore reduce doubt and room for argument, which might otherwise hamper good government.That is what I call the "General Franco" clause. If there is a conflict, we need not have the courts to resolve it. I can think of nothing worse than a judicial decision whether something is ultra vires the act being taken by the Secretary of State. Section 51 of the Government of Ireland Act 1920 contains an express provision for a reference to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council on such matters as that. If the Privy Council is to be used for that purpose, its composition must be equally if not overwhelmingly composed of representatives from the country from which the appeal comes.
§ Mr. Edward Short
We shall consider the right hon. Gentleman's view on this. We have left the question open. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will take into account that in considering whether there should be a judicial review we propose, a few paragraphs back, a three-stage check on the vires of an Assembly measure. In view of that three-stage check it is unlikely that any Bill that was ultra vires would get on the statute hook from the Scottish Assembly. Therefore, there is doubt whether a judicial review is necessary.
§ Mr. Thorpe
I do not agree with the right hon. Gentleman but, for the sake of argument, let us suppose that he is correct and that it is not necessary. Let us suppose that the number of occasions on which there is a conflict would be few. Perhaps even he will agree that after a clash with the House lasting many months it would be better for the matter to be resolved in the calm, reflective atmosphere of the courts rather than by the exercise of a prerogative power by the Secretary of State for Scotland.
§ Mr. Edward Short
What the right hon. Gentleman is proposing means that perhaps 20 years after the passing of the Act it could be challenged in the courts.
§ Mr. Thorpe
The right hon. Gentleman has not read his own White Paper. We are talking about conflict between the House and the Assembly on whether something is intra vires or ultra vires the Act. The only litigants could be either the Scottish Assembly making a reference comparable to a reference by a State in the United States to the Supreme Court or the Law Officers of the House. Therefore, it is possible to limit the people who could make an application and limit the time in which application could be made for a case stated.
§ Mr. Edward Short indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Thorpe
It is no good the right hon. Gentleman shaking his head. That is precisely the position in the United States of America, of which he may have heard. That is how the Supreme Court can act in a conflict between an individual State and the Federal Government. I ask the right hon. Gentleman, respectfully, to go away and look at paragraph 64 and then wring its neck.
I come to taxation. If there is one matter which is abundantly clear—on which I congratulate the Government—it is paragraph 93 which, said that:Financial arrangements lie at the heart of any scheme.goes on to say:Those which the Government have chosen reflect their general approach to devolution.They can say that again. The only power that will be given, according to paragraph 108, is a surcharge on local authority taxation. I can think of no form of taxation more unpopular amongst any group of citizens than a surcharge on local authority taxation.
We know that there has been a political failure to bring together the two communities in Northern Ireland, but let us not overlook the great administrative successes of Northern Ireland, particularly in the spheres of industry and agriculture, where great services are available. Let us remember that under Section 21 of the Government of Ireland Act those services were backed by considerable taxation powers. It is ironic that in 1920 David Lloyd George was prepared to give far 250 more taxation powers to the people of Northern Ireland than the present Prime Minister is prepared to give to the people of Scotland and Wales. If that is progress, I want none of it.
In fairness to the Government, I agree with the Prime Minister that one problem is that we had the Conservative Government's local government reorganisation first and then constitutional change. My party, my colleagues and I believe that that was wrong. We should have had the Kilbrandon Report first. Now the whole taxation system of Scotland is being based upon a system of local government finance which is being investigated by Lay-field, so that we do not even know what it will be. Again, the Leader of the House may have to make dramatic changes.
There has been no reference either by the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition or by the Prime Minister to the one factor on which Kilbrandon was unanimous—the electoral system by which the Assemblies are elected. Lord Crowther-Hunt in his minority Report said that the system used should be the single transferable vote so that—we can be sure that minorities will he fully represented—which is particularly important in those areas whose recent voting patterns suggest one party could be in a 'perpetual' majority.That is why proportional representation was introduced in Northern Ireland in 1920. It was to secure that the Roman Catholic minority was fairly represented. That was why it was introduced in Eire and has remained in Eire ever since. It was also introduced for another reason which, fortunately and happily, does not apply to Scotland and Wales. The Government of the day were determined to ensure that a man's religious beliefs did not determine his political affiliation. That has succeeded in the South, but it has not succeeded in the North because in 1929 the system was abolished but, to his credit, in 1973 the then Conservative Secretary of State reintroduced it.
According to the White Paper, the Scottish Assembly will have the same system of membership because it is simple to operate, easily understood by the public and provides for clear and direct accountability by the elected representative to his constituents. That rather suggests that it is possible for the Irish 251 citizen to understand it but that it is much too complicated for anyone else in the United Kingdom.
I will tell the Government what will happen. It will be agreed that the contest in Scotland for the Assembly will be fought between those who wish to solve Scotland's problems within the United Kingdom context and those who want to solve them within an independent Scotland. The votes of those who wish to remain within the United Kingdom will be divided three ways. If the Labour Party splits they will be divided four ways. We have a wonderful "winner takes all" system. If a vote splits three or four ways, it is necessary to get only a 30 per cent. or 35 per cent. vote to get the majority of the seats. That is what will happen. It does the SNP intellectual credit that, although on present opinion polls the party believes that it would benefit from the "winner takes all" system, it still believes that there is a fairer and better system than the Westminster system which it wishes to see introduced.
If the Government want to see an unrepresentative Assembly, they are going about it in precisely the right way. Let them adopt the system which the Tory Government rejected in Northern Ireland in 1929 and had to reintroduce in order that the Catholic minority could be fairly represented. The break up of the United Kingdom could then follow.
As to agriculture and industry, virtually no powers are given to Scotland—certainly not as many as were given to Northern Ireland.
As to the Civil Service, to think that it could have loyalty to the Scottish Assembly while being the creature of Westminster is incredible. Let us consider, on the very different level of local government, what would be the position if the employees of local authorities were all seconded and under the employ of the Government of the day. The idea is ludicrous.
I believe that Scotland will not get very much, but that what she will get will be the basis of conflict. Wales, with no legislative powers, will get even less.
My second favourite paragraph in the whole of the White Paper is No. 198. I have already indicated that my favourite 252 is what I called the General Franco clause in paragraph 64. Paragraph 198 reads:The Assembly will be able to debate"—Bills originated in this House—as they are published. It will no doubt make representations to the Secretary of State for Wales and to others, such as Welsh Members of Parliament and Government Departments, suggesting how Bills might be improved to fit Welsh needs. It may sometimes take the initiative itself and press for new Westminster legislation. In time Parliament might wish to give the Assembly greater discretion, by passing legislation which would lay down only broad guidelines, leaving the Assembly to fill in the rest.The power to consult Members of Parliament and the power to ask for the initiation of legislation have been enjoyed by the Women's Institutes of this country for 50 years. This is what the Prime Minister calls this "massive transfer of power". I like the thought of an "intimate" democratic Assembly as he calls it. It would certainly be very intimate, because there would not be much purpose in turning up.
The Secretary of State for Wales asked the Leader of the Opposition what discretion would be removed from the local authorities in Wales. The answer is that very little discretion would be removed. He is quite right. There is another source of conflict. If he will look at paragraph 236 and onwards, he will see that the local authorities and the Assembly will very often find that they are exercising equivalent powers in transport, health, education and personal services. I can see great scope for conflict there. Again, there are no powers in relation to agriculture and industry.
§ Mr. John Morris
Does not the right hon. Gentleman realise, from his familiarity with the White Paper—and I am grateful for his endorsement of the question I put to the right hon. Lady—that these very powers are now held by me, and are, I hope, exercised successively by Secretaries of State amicably in regard to local authorities, even though we do not always agree with each other?
§ Mr. Thorpe
Provided I heard "successively" and not "successfully", I agree. It is precisely these powers that I wish to see conferred upon the Assembly. This is something for the people 253 of Wales and Scotland to decide—and later for the English, who are slightly slower in these matters of constitutional change. It should be for them to decide whether they wish to get rid of one tier of local government. Personally, I should like to see the county councils go. I should like to see Assemblies with real powers. I should like to see the Minister given minimal powers. I do not want to see a Governor-General of Wales or Scotland. I do not want to see the Secretaries of State for Scotland or Wales arriving in feathers to open the Assembly.
What I am saying, therefore, is that the right lion. Gentleman has answered his own question. It is the degree of power that he has retained that has led to so much frustration at local government level. I believe that one tier of local government could be dispensed with. Speaking as a Member for an English constituency—although I am also three-quarters Celt—I would in return have a regional Assembly. I believe that there should be 12 for England. I would gladly dispense with the county councils. But I would also widen and enhance some of the powers of the district councils. That is why I think it will be very interesting to see the Government's proposals for England. They will indicate whether the Government are merely buying off trouble in Scotland and Wales or genuinely believe in devolution for the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)
The right hon. Gentleman has made much play about the conflict between local government and central Government, whether from Westminster or under a devolved system. Will he tell us how his system would work? Would the local authorities get no money from central Government and raise all their money by some kind of local taxation, with no control whatsoever of how much they spend, how they spend it and where they spend it?
§ Mr. Thorpe
I see the conflict coming, as in this White Paper, between existing Welsh local councils and the proposed Welsh Assembly. There are four or five spheres in which they both overlap. The right hon. Gentleman says that he is giving to the Assembly only the powers which he operates as Secretary of State. I do not think that is quite the case, 254 because the Assembly will have certain powers of control over policy, even though it will not have an executive committee. It will have executives—a very Welsh way of expressing it in a White Paper.
I want Wales, I want Scotland and I want the regions of England to have certain powers of local taxation, But I also accept that as long as we are a United Kingdom—which I welcome and want to see—there will have to be federal taxation and a block grant system, but I want to see very much greater variety, and I want to see local taxation. If Layfield says that there should be discretion concerning powers of local taxation, that would be a very good thing.
I believe that there is a very real risk in Wales not that there would be a majority for separation, as in Scotland but that we would in effect, certainly on the present characteristics of Wales, risk the possibility of permanent one-party rule—a sort of Glamorgan County Council on stilts. Such a body would not be able to represent all the best interests of the people of Wales. Therefore, I ask the Government to be a little less cynical about this matter and not just to dismiss it. The Tories dismissed it in Northern Ireland and it was a disastrous thing to do. It was not the only factor involved, but it polarised the community in Northern Ireland, and the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) had to reintroduce the electoral system which preceded it.
§ Mr. Roy Hughes (Newport)
Does the right hon. Gentleman think that he is being less than optimistic about the future prospects of his own party in Wales?
§ Mr. Thorpe
No, I do not think so at all. I am well aware of the present position in Wales, where my own party has the largest number of votes in favour of Home Rule. As the right hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. Hughes) rightly said, there is now a majority of votes in favour of some form of devolution. On present evidence, if there were to be an election in the next year or two, there could well be one-party rule. I do not know. But I want to see a system in which all shades of opinion can be fairly reflected. I do not mind whether the suppressed minority 255 is the Tory Party, the Liberal Party, the Labour Party or Plaid Cymru. Each has a right to be heard in proportion to its strength. Nowhere was this principle more apparent than in the case of the rights of the Roman Catholic minority in Northern Ireland.
In Scotland and in Wales I want to see powers over local taxation, and over industry. As to the criticism about being legalistic, it is better to be legalistic and certain than to be unlegalistic and to have conflict. There must be a removal of one tier of government, unless we are to have five tiers of government, from parish councils up to the European Parliament. There should be a written constitution and a right of appeal by the Assembly, in the case of conflict, to a constitutional court. I believe that a federal system would work, but it is vitally important to have the right kind of electoral system to ensure that all shades of opinion are fairly represented.
I cannot see the logic of saying that the House of Commons must remain with the same number of Members. If we believe in a federal system, we should accept the logic of the House of Commons being reduced to 300 or 400 Members, because genuine powers over specified areas would be given to the regions of England and to the people of Scotland and Wales. We have no idea of the proposals for England. Perhaps we shall know them soon. What we are trying to do is to bring up to date our own institutions, but we are doing it in a rather timid way.
I should like in conclusion to quote three lines from a speech made in Swansea in 1887 by a man who had something worth while to say—Mr. Gladstone. [Interruption.] I am pleased to note this posthumous recognition from those whose party so rigorously opposed his proposals on Home Rule, and who now appear to recognise the validity of what he said.
Mr. Gladstone said:It is the recognition of the distinctive qualities and the separate parts of great countries and empires which constitutes the true basis of union, and to attempt to centralise them by destroying those local peculiarities is the shallowest philosophy and the worst possible of all political blunders. It is a mode at once to destroy strength and to impair and break up union.256 By that test, this is a bad White Paper, and I hope that the Government will think again.
§ 5.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Donald Stewart (Western Isles)
When the Prime Minister was speaking he challenged me to answer certain questions. I did not think that they were all that important in this debate, but, since he regarded them as being unanswerable, perhaps I may take a moment or two to deal with them.
The right hon. Gentleman made great play about the situation of the Shetland Islands and the fact that there is oil up there. I suggest to him that this is a matter which he should not carry too far, bearing in mind that the Shetland Isles, along with my own constituency, were the only parts of the United Kingdom that voted against entry into the Common Market, and, since the British entrance fee to the Common Market was Scottish oil, if the Shetlands decide to stick to their oil they may also decide to come out of the Common Market. And where would the United Kingdom be then?
Following that, the Prime Minister raised a hare about the gas off the East Coast of England. It was never our intention to prove that we ought to remain as one unified country, even if that were the case, but as that gas is coming now to Scotland it is costing Scottish consumers half as much again, so that any pretence that it was shared by Scotland is totally false.
§ Mr. Richard Buchanan (Glasgow, Springburn)
Is not it a fact that the British Gas Corporation gets gas in Scotland at the same price as other parts of England, but that it is the administrative costs in Scotland which put up the price?
§ Mr. Stewart
The answer is that that is why the Scottish Gas Board was abolished and enshrined in a British Gas Corporation. It was done for that purpose.
Then the Prime Minister asked who would pay for television and radio in Scotland. Anyone coming to my constituency and to many others in the North of Scotland will discover that we pay for radio and television that we do not enjoy. We still get only BBC 1 television 10 years after the rest of the country has BBC 2, Independent Television, colour television and so on. Far from the British Government subsidising our television, 257 we are subsidising television south of the border.
Then the Prime Minister raised a question about Chrysler, similar to the point made the other day by the Secretary of State for Scotland. The Prime Minister suggested that the problem at Linwood could not have been solved by economic powers granted to a Scottish Assembly. I do not accept that; but, even if it were the case, it does not say much for the powers and finances of the proposed Scottish Assembly. There is no doubt, in any event, that if it had not been for the presence of my hon. Friends and myself on this bench Linwood would have been dealt with in accordance with the ancient custom of this place. The Scottish end would have gone first.
§ Mr. Norman Buchan (Renfrewshire, West)
The thesis of the Scottish National Party put forward by the hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Watt) was that Chrysler in Coventry should go to the wall and that production should continue in Linwood—
§ Mr. Buchan
The hon. Member for Banff said so. We all heard it, and he is reported in Hansard as having said so. No SNP spokesman has demurred from that statement. The consequence of it, apart from its incredible immorality, was that Linwood would have closed the following day. Because of the structure of Chrysler, no engines were being produced there. Therefore, the message of the SNP—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. It is not fair, when so many right hon. and hon. Members are anxious to catch my eye, if interventions are long ones.
§ Mr. Stewart
No. I am sorry. This is developing into a very long question which will require an equally long answer. For that reason, I shall pass from it.
I return to the matters raised by the Prime Minister. He asked next from where we thought defence orders would come. The latest figures that I have show that Scotland's share of them is 6 per cent., which is just about half of what we are entitled to on a population 258 basis. We would not lose very much on that, either.
Finally, the Prime Minister referred in passing to "this Imperial Parliament". Our message is that Scotland is coming to the end of being the sepoys in this imperialist setting.
These are irrelevant matters, however. What is important is whether the Scottish people want devolution. That is what it comes to at the end of the day.
Even if these facts were true and even if Westminster, London or England were feather-bedding Scotland, the case for self-government would not be diminished one whit, and we have never fought on that basis. We made a claim for a Scottish Government long before oil was ever discovered.
The Leader of the Opposition—which she openly declared to be a unionist party, thus giving the lead to the rest of her remarks—made a speech a good deal of which was irrelevant platitude, some of it patronising platitude. It boiled down to the right hon. Lady's intimation that the Tories had no policy meantime and that the Government's Bill would be met by every possible obstruction short of actual opposition.
The great debate on devolution and self-government has gone on long enough. It is no use hon. Members coming here to talk about the principle. We have been discussing that for at least 10 years. We have the details before us, and that is the stage at which it is now. There is no going back.
I draw attention to The Scotsman newspaper of today which says:MPs will argue against the self-government case with that mixture of complacency, patronising condescension and ignorance which has been visible in the preliminary English contribution to the devolution debate.Whatever this White Paper has produced, it has loosed a cloud of lamentable and restricted catchphrases. We hear about the break up of the United Kingdom, the slippery slopes to independence, maintaining the integrity of the United Kingdom, separatism, additional tiers of government, and so on.
Let me make it clear that my party has never been separatist. Certainly we stand for the resumption of Scottish self-government, but as a people we have always been prepared to co-operate with other people. Throughout the world we 259 have worked amicably with the peoples of all nations. We have never been an insular people, and I challenge anyone to contest that.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Harry Ewing)
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that every Scottish National Party councillor in the Central Region council chamber voted in favour of separatism on Friday morning of last week? When the motion before the Council wasThe Council accepts the White Paper and opposes separatism",every SNP councillor voted in favour of separatism.
§ Mr. Stewart
On a motion like that, it is not surprising. That is a totally dishonest way in which to present the facts. What is more, the hon. Gentleman was challenged to give his interpretation of separatism, which he could not do.
Our fundamental outlook has been spelled out in our manifesto in election after election. It is that:The SNP recognises that no nation can benefit by isolation and that the needs of world peace and stability depend on nations agreeing among themselves to yield sovereignty in certain respects.We accept that. We never anticipated that we would get off the world. We want to rejoin the world from which we have been kept so long since the unfortunate association which was made in 1707. We intend no break up of the United Kingdom. Our aim is to be part of the Commonwealth, recognising the Queen. Indeed, the only anti-Monarchist I know in this House is the Labour Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton). He is the only anti-Monarchist I know in Scotland.
The Scottish desire for self-government is not based primarily on economics—[Interruption.] I have plenty of good to say about the English and I have said it on many occasions. I do not want hon. Members to bring that kind of pink herring into the debate. We have nothing against the English, and I am sure that eventually, when we assume our own Government, we shall exist with amicable neighbourliness with our friends south of the border.
§ Mr. Robert Hughes
Does the hon. Gentleman deny that one of his spokesmen has said that if and when Scotland becomes independent nobody but Scots will be allowed to own property or take part in business in Scotland?
§ Mr. Stewart
I am not aware of that. If hon. Members want to quote hon. Members on all sides who have said something different from their party we can carry on this debate till the cows come home.
We ask for self-determination, an aim which was supported by the Labour Party in a better day but which has gone by the board—namely, the self-determination of small nations. Scotland has been and is an appallingly deprived nation, and there is no getting away from that.
About 10 years ago at a conference of the Scottish Council of the Labour Party the Lord Advocate argued I do not say along the lines of the White Paper but certainly along the lines of Government returning to Scotland. Some of his colleagues at that conference pointed out that Scotland was too poor to go it alone. I shall paraphrase him to some extent but I hope that the gist of what I say is correct. He told that conference:If it is true that after 250 years of Union it leaves Scotland an economic parasite, what reason is there then for retaining machinery that has so singularly failed?That is the question which the Scottish people are increasingly asking. What is the good of retaining machinery which has totally failed?
§ Mr. David James (Dorset, North)
The hon. Gentleman will recall that I am half English and half Scottish. Therefore, I have a foot in both camps. When I motor to and fro shall I expect to find Customs posts at Gretna, or not?
§ Mr. Stewart
That will be up to a Scottish Government in due course. I confidently expect that we shall be able to make some arrangement to avoid that. However, if it is necessary, we shall have such posts. No one would impugn the integrity and the sovereignty of France and Germany because they have Customs posts; I can only assume that approval of that would be by people who want to deny the rights of the Scottish people.
§ Mr. Peter Rees (Dover and Deal)
What provision will the Scottish National Party make for Scots who are living south of the border? I am referring to Scottish patriots of whom there are a great number in my constituency and in the constituencies of other hon. Members who represent English seats.
§ Mr. Stewart
It will be up to the individuals concerned whether they wish to return or not. It is not a one-way traffic. The proportion of English people in Scotland is more than the proportion of Scottish people in England. It is up to the English people living in Scotland to decide whether they wish to return. There are many Englishmen in Scotland who are enthusiastic supporters of the Scottish National Party. They realise what it is to live in a country which does not have the power to make its own decisions.
Reference has been made to a referendum. That is the great get out which the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan) is flogging although he voted against one a number of years ago. My party has asked Prime Ministers from Sir Winston Churchill onwards to have a referendum on this question in Scotland but it has been turned down every time. The answer has always been that these things are done through the ballot box in this country. So be it. However, it now appears that they wish to change the rules. My party—
§ Mr. Stewart
It does not matter what the percentage is. The hon. Gentleman knows that we have this fraudulent system at this time. Like the right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) we support a fairer system, although, as he said, it would suit us to go along with the present unfair system. The Labour Party claims the credit for setting it up. Keir Hardie said it. However, as the BBC questioner put to the Lord President of the Council. "There has been a bit of a gap, hasn't there?". However, no doubt the Labour Party will get round to dealing with it eventually. The Secretary of State for Scotland and the Lord President have nothing to do with the Scottish National Party. If Labour are in power in two or three years, I forecast that they will tell us why proportional representation is so necessary and fair.
262 The Conservative Party, the third party in Scotland, in a report commissioned by itself—according to The Glasgow Herald —has discovered that it will be left with four seats after the next election. That party has opposed direct representation to a Scottish Parliament but now it is in favour of it. There are almost as many different voices on this question in the Conservative Party as there are in the Labour Party. The right hon. Lady the Leader of the Conservative Party would be wise to listen to the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. Fairgrieve), who knows the atmosphere well, and who has said that two-thirds of the Scottish people want meaningful devolution. It is extremely interesting that the Conservative Party in Scotland is in favour of a form of PR for the Assembly but not for Westminster. It takes that view because it thinks that it would suit it better for it to be along those lines.
The right hon. Leader of the Liberal Party referred to the regions of England. I have heard him do so in public speeches. This seems to be a delaying tactic. It is a question for a later stage. It is Scotland and Wales which put on the pressure for devolved power, and that issue should be resolved before anything else begins. The Redcliffe-Maud Commission report gives no signs of any support for such a proposition. However, I strongly agree with the right hon. Gentleman that if there are devolved powers they must be available for use.
The Secretary of State for Scotland has accused the Scottish people of not reading the White Paper. I think I should clear my party and myself of that charge. Under the provisions of the White Paper we shall have no power over employment, trade and industry, oil revenues, agriculture and fisheries. Moreover, there is the veto power of Westminster. If the Government at Westminster like the legislation, it is well and good, but if not, it is just not on. It is the old Henry Ford system of any colour as long as it is black—any legislation as long as it suits Westminster. The powers which are to be retained at Westminster concern the areas where Westminster has totally failed Scotland for generations in the past. We shall have no powers to overcome the unemployment, the lack of opportunity and development, the deprivation and so on.
263 However, the degree of independence will be the degree that the Scottish people will require. If we go from Westminster we want to go without acrimony and with good will. My party does not want to burn any bridges. We want maximum co-operation. Whatever the degree of independence this House can share, we can part on these terms. That is how it will be.
We support the White Paper. However, we have grave doubts about what is left out rather than what is in it. It is up to this House to face the fact that people in both Scotland and Wales want the rights of free men and women to make their own decisions. That is what this debate is all about. If people vote accordingly, it will have to come, and it can come with comradeship and co-operation if this House supports it.
§ 6.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Gwynfor Evans (Carmarthen)
A great part of the significance of this debate lies in the fact that four days are being provided to discuss the future of both Scotland and Wales. That in itself is a clear indication of the change of attitude of this imperial Parliament, as the Prime Minister called it, towards our two countries. That change would not have occurred but for the rise of the national parties. The people of Wales and of Scotland can thank Plaid Cymru and the Scottish National Party for the fact that their two countries are now getting more attention than they have had in the past.
The general attitude of the main parties towards devolution is well known. The supporters of the White Paper will argue with some justice that an elected assembly would make for more democratic government in Wales. That is the great merit of the proposal: it does not add a tier of government to what we already have. Some people allege that it would do so. What it does is to democratise a tier which already exists.
Professor Ivor Gowan, whose flickering candle lights the darkness for Welsh Tories, stated the position clearly in an article in The Times. He said:The Welsh Office, like the Scottish Office, and unlike any similar institution in England, is a genuine tier of intermediate government in that it successfully co-ordinates and welds together an important range of regional activities in Wales.264 We already have this genuine tier of intermediate government and in it must be included the host of nominated bodies in Wales. I am sure that the Secretary of State will be the first to admit that this is a bureaucratic, not democratic, tier of government.
As I understand it, the Government's proposed Assembly does not add a new tier of government. It proposes to democratise this bureaucratic tier which exists today by making the powers of the Welsh Office and of these nominated bodies answerable to the people's representatives. That will give the Welsh people a little more power and responsibility at small cost. That is the merit of the proposals and it must be acknowledged.
Conservatives on both sides of the House are opposed to giving more power to the people. They argue that the more power the people have, the more they will want. They say that even this puny measure of democracy puts us on the slippery slope to a wholly free Welsh democracy enjoying full national status. For me, that is a result devoutly to be wished, but for Conservatives it is as shattering as was the 1832 Reform Act. If the Conservatives get their way and succeed in preventing the people of Wales from getting any more power over their own affairs, that success could be as disastrous for Wales and, indeed, for England in the long run, as was their success a few generations ago in wrecking Gladstone's mild measure of home rule for Ireland.
The basic fact about Wales in this debate is the fact of Welsh nationhood. The basic fact of Welsh nationhood is ignored by the Conservatives as of little or no account. That is dangerous. It is perilous to ignore the rights of a nation, especially when that nation is awakening to the condition in which she finds herself. The fact of Welsh nationhood must be accepted. The Welsh people are now awakening to the fact that they are in a condition of national servitude. They have no control over any aspect of their national life. They cannot make a single decision affecting the national life of Wales.
§ Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)
As the Welsh people do not appear to recognise this condition of servitude, may I ask whether the hon. Gentleman will force them to be free and will force them 265 along his road without giving them the chance to express their views?
§ Mr. Evans
The hon. Gentleman must be patient. I shall be coming to that point later. The point that I am now making is that the political and constitutional position in Wales is colonialist. That is undeniable.
The people of Wales are now awakening to the consequences of being governed as an internal colony which is also a peripheral region. When they are fully awake to this fact—the history of national movements throughout the world testifies to this—they will not be satisfied until they can act and live fully as a nation enjoying the rights that pertain to nationhood and fulfilling the duties of nationhood in the international sphere. The awakening then will become a renaissance.
I have seen Plaid Cymru grow from a very small movement—a tiny group of people—to a powerful political force. Anyone who thinks that this growth will stop now is deceiving himself. It will accelerate. In 10 years Plaid Cymru will be the strongest party in Wales. That is the answer to those who talk about a one-party Government. We shall take the place of the Labour Party, just as the Labour Party has taken the place of the Liberal Party. That is in the history of things.
§ Mr. Ioan Evans (Aberdare)
The hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans) has been forecasting this tremendous growth of Plaid Cymru for many years. Is it not a fact that at the General Election, although Plaid Cymru put up candidates in 36 constituencies, it lost 27 deposits, that in Wales now the Labour Party has the vote of nearly half the electorate, that next comes the Conservative Party, then the Liberal Party and, a long way behind, the party which the hon. Gentleman leads?
§ Mr. Gwynfor Evans
Eleven years ago, members of the Labour Party were predicting that Plaid Cymru would never get a seat in this Parliament. We now have three seats in this Parliament. Next time we shall have a lot more.
§ Mr. Evans
The policy of Plaid Cymru is making an increasing appeal to the 266 people of Wales. It wants to create conditions in which an ancient civilisation can develop and flower. It seeks to enlist the power of nationhood in creating a just and humane social order. It looks forward to seeing Wales playing a responsible part in the life of Europe and of the world. It asks questions of fundamental importance concerning the great spiritual issues which underlie all politics and economics. It is concerned with creating the conditions of a fully human life and with enabling the people of Wales to realise as fully as possible their own personal potential.
I think that one can say that the Welsh nationalists have a dream. This dream has captured the imagination of a great part of the intelligent youth of Wales. The British Establishment may exert itself to prodigies of action, but it will fail to prevent the success of the Welsh nationalist movement. In this debate and in the White Paper we are seeing the British Establishment fighting a rearguard action against the advancing forces of moderate nationalism in Scotland and Wales. The Establishment now is just as divided as it was when faced with Irish nationalism in the 1880s and 1890s.
The Labour Party is for conceding a little power to the Welsh people. The Conservatives are for continuing to deny them all power over their own affairs. One party wants to relax bureaucratic control, the other to cling to it. One strives to maintain the centralist order intact, and the other to decentralise a little. Neither considers what is best for Wales. The moves of both are based on a cynical calculation of what is most likely to hold the Welsh back and so maintain London's power. But they still desperately hope to check the rise of the new spirit of confidence and self-respect in our two nations.
The difference that they propose between the treatment of Scotland and Wales illustrates this strikingly. Scotland is to get a little legislative power, Wales none at all. The excuse given is that Scotland has a different legal system from that of England. So it has, of course, but that is no reason for denying legislative power to Wales. In Switzerland, with a population of just over 5 million, there are 25 canton governments, each of which has far more power than the Government now propose for Scotland, but they share 267 a common legal system. There is no difference between the legal systems of the cantons. This is irrelevant to the power of making policy, which is what law-making is. There is no reason here for denying Wales these policy-making powers. The need for giving them to Wales is certainly as great as for giving them to Scotland.
The difference in treatment is to be explained not in terms of the needs of Wales or the Government's attitude to them, but by the fact that the SNP is stronger today than Plaid Cymru. But even the Scottish proposals are pathetically inadequate to deal with Scotland's economic, social, political and cultural needs. But the needs of Wales are every bit as great as those of Scotland. Faced with these needs and London's failures, the inadequacy of the Government's proposals in our case is total.
Occasionally, one has the impression that the London Establishment honestly thinks that it has been a success in Wales. What it has succeeded in doing is bringing the civilisation of an old nation close to destruction. To destroy Wales by assimilation was the policy of the Act of 1536 which incorporated Wales in England. The people and the natural resources of Wales have been exploited ruthlessly. The 1870 Education Act showed the power of these policies in language and culture; and the decades between the two wars showed the same ruthlessness in the social and economic spheres.
Faced with massive unemployment in Wales—in some counties amounting to 50 per cent. of the insured population—the only effective policy that the Governments of the day had in the decades between the two wars was to transfer people out of Wales. They transferred 500,000 of them. There was work to be had in England for them, but in Wales the people had to rot on the dole.
Apologists for the English order maintain that this kind of failure belongs only to the pre-war period. Since the war, they say, the good government that Wales has enjoyed has been a more than satisfactory substitute for self-government. Of course, in comparison with pre-war days, there has been an improvement, but the performance of self-governing coun- 268 tries such as the five Scandinavian countries shows how much improvement there really has been. It puts the improvement in perspective.
Each of those five countries of Scandinavia has been far poorer than Wales in natural resources not one of them has more human resources, but each has a higher standard of living today than England. Every one has seen its language and culture flourish. These small nations prove beyond doubt the value of national freedom the contrast between their success and failure of London government in Wales is most dramatic. It is they who provide a standard by which London government in Wales must be judged.
Despite the continued emigration drain of Welshmen, Welsh unemployment today is still worse than that of any region or country on this island. There are 115,000 fewer jobs for Welshmen in Wales today than there were 10 years ago. The equivalent for the island as a whole would be 2½ million. If we had that sort of figure on the island, there would be a revolution. Now the position is likely to get worse, because we are seeing the steel industry threatened in the way that the coal industry was threatened not long ago. Our coal industry in the past has dug as much as 60 million tons of coal out of the earth in a year.
What have we to show for the immense wealth taken out of our country? What do we gain, for that matter, for the huge resources in water that we have in Wales? Water is an immensely important natural resource for any industrial country. Despite our wealth in water, Welsh ratepayers pay the highest water rates in Britain. Yet the average per capita income of the Welsh people is 14 per cent. below that of the people of England. The average personal wealth of the people of Wales is only 72 per cent. that of the people of England. Yet the value of manufacturing output in Wales is greater per capita than that of England.
We maintain that with self-government the rich natural resources of Wales would have meant that the Welsh economy would be at least as strong as that of any one of the Scandinavian countries; but, as an internal colony, Wales has never known even as much as a development plan to ensure balanced development for our country. That is why a Parliament 269 for Wales is such an urgent necessity now—to create a sound economic basis for the nation's life.
The Welsh Development Agency, which we have welcomed, should be made answerable to the Parliament. It should have power to develop Welsh communications by road, rail and air. The future of the only national airport we have, at Rhoose, near Cardiff, is now in jeopardy, because the Government have no interest in it and will accept no responsibility for it. Welsh road building has lagged far behind that of England, let alone that of continental countries. Not a mile of Welsh railways has been electrified, although we have always been a great exporter of electricity.
There was a terrible attack on railways in Wales following the Beeching Report. Southern Wales was the most prosperous railway region in the whole of Britain, but it probably suffered more cuts than any other region. Now, apparently, the remaining fragments are to be attacked again. Therefore, our infrastructure is in a rudimentary state. The only people with the incentive to build it up are the Welsh people, and until they get control, it will always lag behind.
I do not see how anyone can honestly question the need for a Welsh Parliament when one is confronted with the appalling failures of London government. Its housing record is atrocious. Local government building in Wales has one of the lowest rates in Western Europe. In local government, rates have soared, inflated not only by the insistence on exploiting Welsh water resources and not allowing us to take advantage of them, but by the imposition of a centralist reorganisation scheme for which both major parties were responsible. That reorganisation was originally a Labour Party scheme but it was inflicted on the people by the Conservative Government and was based on criteria which were totally inappropriate to Wales and which have destroyed much community government there.
The havoc wrought in our civilisation in Wales is even more dismaying. Although the State has, at the eleventh hour, begun to mitigate some of the worst effects of the centuries of attack on the Welsh language, it has not had a complete change of heart. It knows that 270 English television is doubling the injury that English education has done to the language of Wales. Yet it has not ensured, as it should ensure, a channel for Wales. A fourth channel is available over which we could broadcast Welsh language programmes which would have priority of place for children and adults at peak-viewing hours. That is a possibility, but the Government have not thought it urgent enough to take action.
In a word, what Wales needs immediately is the kind of Parliament for which the Welsh TUC has called—a Parliament with legislative powers in spheres which include industry and the economy, and a Parliament which will tackle intimidating problems which London has so dismally failed to resolve. Wales needs the national status which will give her permanent representation at Brussels—which has taken over so much of the government of Wales—a representation in the Council of Ministers and in the Commission and as fair a representation in the European Parliament as Ireland has.
However, we shall not achieve this until we have national status for our land. We must have a Parliament that will create the conditions of a vital Welsh democracy, one which can draw upon the tremendous latent power of nationhood, and one which will release the untapped energies which exist in Wales. Wales will then be able to make a fresh start. She will be on her way to creating the kind of humane decentralised order for which the Welsh nationalists are working.
We have faith in our people. We know that they have the ability to govern themselves far more successfully than they have ever been governed from London. Our nation has tremendous possibilities and we are determined that that potential shall be realised.
§ 6.21 p.m.
§ Dr. J. Dickson Mabon (Greenock and Port Glasgow)
It is a privilege to follow the remarks of the leaders of the two national parties. It is possible that I am slightly prejudiced, being a Scot, but I much preferred the remarks made by the hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) to those made by the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans).
At the end of his remarks the hon. Member for Western Isles said that he 271 welcomed the White Paper and that no doubt his party would vote for it. I hope that that applies to the Welsh National Party. Whatever amendments may be tabled, at the end of this debate on Monday this White Paper deserves to be passed. If it is rejected it will be a setback not only for the United Kingdom but for all those throughout this island who have striven to decentralise Government and secure specific Assemblies for Scotland and Wales. If it is rejected we shall go back 10, perhaps 20, years.
There have been movements of opinion over the decades. In 1945 it was the fashion in the Labour Party in Scotland overwhelmingly to favour home rule. Almost every election address of our candidates advanced that view. However, when I became a Member of Parliament in 1955 the reverse was true: most hon. Members did not believe in a decentralised assembly. In 1965 opinion switched more or less in favour of some form of decentralised assembly, and today that view has crystallised. I am citing the opinion of Scottish Members only. I am not referring to the position as it affects our colleagues in England.
The hon. Member for Western Isles said that he thought the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Conservative Party would use every form of obstruction short of actual opposition to defeat this White Paper. Many unionists—and there are many unionists in both major parties—do not want the system that we have inherited from the last century to change. Many unionists believe that somehow or other this movement towards devolution is part of the decline of Britain, that it is part of our economic demise, and that it is the end of a great nation which has lost its empire and is now about to lose its territorial integrity and its soul.
That is rubbish. The most significant political fact of last year was the success of the referendum campaign that we should stay in the Common Market. It was not a fluke referendum, and there was a uniform proportion in favour. The only exceptions, honourable or otherwise, were the Western Isles and the Shetland Isles. As an ex-Scottish Minister I can well understand why those island communities took the perverse attitude that they did. However, the homogeneity of the 272 United Kingdom was well expressed by the sheer consistent figure in favour. I cannot speak on the position in Wales. However, the Scottish National Party was officially opposed to Scotland remaining in Europe.
It is singularly important for us to recognise that, in demanding some form of devolution, the Scottish people are not demanding any form of separation. Some of the nine member States of the European Community are not in long-term economic difficulties; indeed some are very successful economically. For example, there is the Federal Republic of Germany, France, Belgium and the Netherlands. Ultimately in the EEC there will be democratic Spain, which was as highly centralised under Franco as Germany was under Hitler.
In these countries there is a distinct movement not to separate from the nation States but to identify on a more regionalised basis. In France alone there are five distinct areas. We may not sympathise with the Alsatians, the Bretons or the Basques, or understand many of those peoples, but they are there. Even in Belgium there are three distinct areas which are demanding a form of provincial or regional government that we have not seen in this island.
I now turn to England, because Scotsmen and Welshmen tend to forget that there is England. I cannot understand why the Redcliffe-Maud recommendations for a provincialised England were turned down and no peep was uttered from almost any hon. Member.
§ Dr. Mabon
It may be true, but I cannot understand it.
In the early years of the last Labour Government one of the most successful Ministries was the Department of Economic Affairs. That Department left behind economic committees that are still working. The area groups of my party are similar to some extent to those very economic areas. Those committees do not have any power of administration or law making, only power of influence, but they are useful and important and survive. I cannot understand why there is not a case for the regionalisation of England. Nye Bevan used to say that the only way in which we could democratise the health 273 service was to elect people regionally rather than to appoint people locally. This cannot be done on the district council or even the county council basis which was established by the right hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker) in the last Conservative Government. A White Paper is to be published on the English regions because every time this matter has been discussed someone from an English constituency has asked, "What about England?"
In a free vote I fear that the White Paper and any Bill flowing from it could be defeated. I say to the nationalists, the Liberals, and those in the Conservative Party who believe that some form of devolution is wise, that we all have to stick together and win on devolution, otherwise we shall see the disruption of the political system of the United Kingdom, with enormously bad effects for us all in the long run. Therefore, I hope that, in jumping over one of the three obstacles, that is, this White Paper, in this Session of Parliament a draft Bill will be presented and that we insist that the Government think again about a number of matters. One or two of my hon. Friends want this reduced de minimis but some want it expanded almost to a point where we would be nationalists. I shall not go into that matter. However, 36 of the Scottish Labour Members of the group of 41 Members of which I have the privilege of being chairman are solidly in favour of a White Paper of this character. Of course there are blemishes. We should like to see the blemishes examined carefully and revisions made in a Bill to be put forward.
I have two propositions to make on an entirely personal basis. We ought all to speak in a personal way on these matters. I wholeheartedly agree with the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition when she argues about the so-called ultra vires and intra vires argument on reserve powers. It is an absolute insult to any assembly to say that one will withdraw its right to pass a Bill just because the Secretary of State or another parliament does not think that it is good on policy grounds. Incidentally, although some may say "Oh, no, this is only a reserve power and will be used only rarely", let me remind the House that paragraph 27 of the White Paper says 274Their use should not therefore be regarded as a last resort implying a serious confrontation.Putting it the other way around, it means that the reserve powers are useful in the normal, friendly day-to-day business and are to be employed from time to time to tell the Assembly Chief Executive or the Minister in charge—and they are given the right to do that—that he cannot go on with the Bill. At about the Third Reading stage it may be said by the Secretary of State for Scotland "Do not send the Bill to me because I do not like it."
I understand the argument about attempts by the Assembly to do things it has no legal right to do. The right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) muddied the waters on this matter and got two things confused. The reason why the Bill must be thought about very carefully is that in effect the Bill will be a constitution. It will be a kind of constitution for Scotland and for Wales, and will in effect be partly written and partly, the other part, our unwritten British constitution, as at present, by convention and the way we have arrived at it in the evolution of parliamentary government.
However, this will not be the last Bill on the subject. There will be others afterwards, devolving more or retreating. There ought to be some clarification in law for the courts as to the rights of the Assemblies and the rights of this Parliament. There then should be no argument as to who has the ability to try to change this in Scotland or add to it in Wales. That must be made absolutely clear. I do not deny that were I a Minister I would find it extremely difficult to write all this, but it is certainly unacceptable at present. The caricature of the Secretary of State for Scotland given in the Scottish Press on 28th and 29th November, after publication of the White Paper, undeserved though that was, nevertheless is the main butt of the argument against the White Paper as a good concept—the idea that we are not giving the Assembly its proper powers.
Many hon. Members wish to speak in the debate so I will be brief. My only other point is about money. An Assembly of free men, however limited their powers are in relation to their own region or country, will resent interference by 275 another Parliament in the manner I have just described. They will also not be very good at their work if they cannot raise any money. I agree that the proposed rate surcharge is laughable. It is a most unpopular tax, which can raise only a derisory amount. There must be some way of raising money.
It would be an extraordinary kind of Assembly were it entirely dependent on the block grant system. A very good article by Geoffrey Smith appeared in The Times today. He tried to argue the reasons why the block grant system is bad. However, at the end of the article he could not tell us what he would put in its place. As someone who has had something to do with block grants I know that one cannot devise a system that will satisfy everyone at one time. It is impossible.
Mr. Smith's conclusion is, "Let us have a very definite formula." He writes about all the various things to be, and says that we should stick to that formula. We have tried formulas. The general grant formula devised by the Conservatives for both countries turned out to be very unpopular. I think it was in the Rate Support Grant Orders from 1966 onwards that we solemnly said "We shall have no formula. We shall invent one every year." What we did was to decide the answer and then go back and invent the formula. The local authorities were part and parcel of this. It was a bargain between honest rascals. What we were doing in the block grant was making highly political decisions. Whether we are Tory, Labour, nationalist or Liberal, we have to administer. These highly political decisions were made. The block grant system cannot rest on its own and I do not think that it will ever prove to be satisfactory in the long run.
Some thought must be given—not necessarily in the first Assembly—to alternative funding of these Assemblies. It must be substantial funding. If Scotland is to spend £2,000 million and Wales is to spend £800 million, obviously it will have to be substantial.
In the atmosphere of this decade and the next, but not much longer than that—oh, well, perhaps the decade after that—in Scotland we shall be obsessed with oil, and the great fortune that we would have made with oil if only the other half 276 of the island had sunk and it had been all left to us. However, we must accept the fact that there are some revenues coming from oil and revenues which can be clearly identified as coming from oil. Perhaps the thought ought to be put in the Government's head that as part of the taxation on oil companies—which has been opposed in various degrees from time to time by nationalists and others; the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) will elaborate on that—we should grasp the nettle. Although the Treasury would put up great resistance—because this is fiscal heresy in 200 years of United Kingdom administration—on this occasion, in order to raise the money for Scotland, perhaps we should say "We shall impose an identifiable tax on oil extraction and distribution which will go to the revenues of the Scottish Assembly." It would be open then to the Assembly to debate whether or not there should be a rise or a fall in the level, with its economic consequences for Scotland. There would be consequences from over-taxation such as reduced exploration, production and so on. There would be adverse consequences. The United Kingdom Goverment would have to say to the Scottish Assemblymen "You ought not to do this. Therefore we shall raise the block grant allowance that is due to you in order to stop you inhibiting the supply of petroleum."
I am not arguing my case very well because of the short compass of time available. However, I want to stress my concern about both points. The Scottish Assembly and the Welsh Assembly—and, I hope, regions in England, when formed—ought to be Assemblies of men and women who are able to stand up to the Westminster Government. Nothing is more abject than having Assemblies that have no strength at all.
§ Mr. Molloy
Surely my hon. Friend will have heard the speech of the leader of the Plaid Cymru, the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans). The pointed out that one of the disasters of this White Paper is that there are two different forms of power. His argument was that Wales would be more neglected and that Scotland is getting certain powers. Where, then, is the wonderful unity on a regional basis that my hon. Friend says will come, when he expresses views like that even 277 before the White Paper has been implemented as law?
§ Dr. Mabon
That is a good point. My objection to federalism is that one must have different forms in different parts of these islands. We already have island Governments in the Channel Islands and in the Isle of Man. We have an entirely different system of administrative devolution, with Ministers in Scotland and in Wales. In 1964 no such thing existed for Wales. For Scotland we have, in effect, been passing laws for 100 years. Although it is regarded as a punishment for an English MP to be appointed to serve on the Scottish Grand Committee, it is the Scots who in effect pass their Bills and have the right to legislate here. There are bound to be different patterns and stages of development at different times.
I ask the Government to consider these and other points and to think again. The truest thing in the White Paper is its title. We have a changing democracy. We should welcome the fact that our democracy is being changed and hope that we shall change it for the better.
§ 6.39 p.m.
§ Mr. Percy Grieve (Solihull)
I am particularly grateful for an early opportunity of speaking in this debate. I am also grateful that I should be the first English Member to speak from the Back Benches.
I approach the whole problem of devolution with a profound emotional reaction against it. I have that reaction because, although I represent an English seat, I am of Scottish origin. Therefore, perhaps I am peculiarly well placed to realise that, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said, it is through the partnership which has existed since 1707 that we have together made the greatness of Britain—and that, in my submission, is not something which should lightly be abandoned.
It is true that one must look carefully at the intellectual and political case made for devolution today by the Prime Minister and first made in the White Paper. But it is only if that case is strong and overwhelming that we should embark on dangerous courses which, subject to whatever legislative restraints we may impose now, may in the long run lead to the dissolution of the United Kingdom.
278 With that aim in view, I want to analyse briefly what seem to me to be the reasons for the increase in nationalist feeling which undoubtedly exists in Wales and Scotland. Those reasons I believe to be three-fold.
The first arises from the fact that we have, in words which have become time honoured, lost our position in the world and not yet found a new rôle. We have gallantly relinquished a great empire. We have come to economic extremity. It is in these circumstances that it is natural that people who are justifiably dissatisfied in all corners of the realm should look for new ways out of their difficulties. That is the first cause of these nationalist movements in the various parts of the country.
Secondly, it seems to me that Scottish oil has been exploited—I am sorry to have to say it—as a reason which could be put before the people of Scotland to enable them to stand on their own feet and do without the other parts of the United Kingdom. But could anything be more spurious than that? The oil will not last more than a generation or two at the most. What will be the state of a Scotland whose exploitation of the oil has been exhausted and whose other natural resources over the last 100 years have come close to exhaustion as well? The Scottish oil is a completely spurious reason, and I suspect that the people of Scotland themselves would reject it.
Then it seems to me, as my right hon. Friend emphasised, that one of the reasons for nationalism in Wales, Scotland and elsewhere is that we are suffering from over-government in every sector, a piling of bureaucracy upon bureaucracy. Since the present Government took office, new commissions have been created almost at a rate of knots—new bureaucracies, new committees, to deal with the many social problems with which we are undoubtedly faced, but all of which take more and more choice from the individual and put the power of decision more and more in the Government. Therefore, it is natural that in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Shetland, Orkney, Carmarthen and elsewhere, people should resent government—though they call it central government, it is government in its modern form—and one of the best ways of combating this kind of devolutionary feeling is to relieve the country 279 of some of the burden of over-government from which we are all suffering.
These proposals will not do that. They will increase the burden. They will impose yet another tier of government on the people of Scotland and Wales, one which may well be vastly more out of sympathy with large parts of Wales and Scotland than the Government who now reside in Whitehall and in St. Andrew's House in Edinburgh and in Cardiff through the respective Secretaries of State. This was underlined in an article in The Times in late autumn when the White Paper came out. The article was headed "London rule or Glasgow rule?"
Would it not be the case that a large number of members of the Scottish Assembly, because of population distribution, would come from Glasgow? Would they have more in common with the people of the Borders, where my family come from, or of the Highlands, or of Galloway, or of Fife, than many people in the counties of England more to the south and in the Government at Whitehall? I suspect not.
One of the vices of these proposals is the room they provide for future conflict. That is dealt with in great detail in the White Paper and has been gone into again today. Of course, there are many proposals for dealing with conflict—for example, the final proposal for veto by a Secretary of State when something is done of which he does not approve, be it political or constitutional, but principally political.
Is not another of the vices that if there is an election in Scotland every four years, as is proposed, there might be in Scotland a Government of a completely different political complexion from that of the Government here in Westminster?
§ Mr. Grieve
So this—there will be infinite room for conflict and disagreement on profound political decisions and therefore every reason for a veto and every reason for the further conflict ensuing from that veto. These are reasons which it seems to me are so cogent that we all in the House of Commons ought to have them in mind when approaching the proposals in the White Paper.
§ Mr. Russell Fairgrieve (Aberdeenshire, West)
But is it not the case that for over a generation we have continually had Governments of one political persuasion and local authorities of another, and that the system has worked?
§ Mr. Grieve
I concede that. How far it has worked is another matter. Will it work when, behind the respective legislatures—these will not be local councils—there is the build-up of nationalist feeling? This is what we must beware of. This is what we must be most careful of in considering these proposals.
I have stated in a nutshell my case against the proposals in the White Paper. They make no appeal to me. I believe that they show that the intellectual and political case does not overcome what must be the natural feeling of a very large number of our fellow countrymen against this sort of division of the United Kingdom, possibly leading to greater divisions in the future.
I should not wish to conclude without observations on two other matters which are of very great importance. The first, referred to already, is whether the control of the question of whether the exercise of power by the Assemblies is ultra vires should be left to the courts. It seems to me that it must be left to the courts, not only because the courts will decide it with justice and detachment, but because they will be seen to be deciding it with justice and detachment. If the question is left to the Secretary of State of the day, there will always be those who suspect, however enlightened his decision or however right it may be, that it was done for political motives and not for those of justice.
The second matter is what representation there is to be in Westminster from Scotland and Wales if these proposals are put into operation. I think it is paragraph 296 of the White Paper that says that they must be left the same. How is that reconciled with the part of paragraph 293 which reads:Irrespective of any later plans for England or Northern Ireland, devolution must never be seen as conferring unfair advantages on Scotland or on Wales."?What conceivable case can there be for giving Scotland 71 Members when its natural population, in proportional terms, would give it 54 or 57 Members? What 281 conceivable reason can there be for giving Wales 36 Members instead of 31 while keeping Northern Ireland down to 12 Members instead of the 17 which would be its natural population complement?
In my submission, there can be no such reason. I do not want to diminish the Scottish or Welsh complement in this House. I want things to remain substantially as they are, subject to the sort of proposal that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition outlined this afternoon.
I do not want this proposed measure of devolution. However, if we are to have it, we must follow the consequences to their logical conclusion and reduce the Scottish and Welsh representation at Westminster.
§ Mr. Speaker
May I express my thanks to the hon. and learned Member for Solihull (Mr. Grieve)? If I may say so, in 10 minutes he has made very many significant points. I hope that others will follow his example.
§ 6.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Joseph Dean (Leeds, West)
My hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Mabon) said that there was no certainty that the proposals before the House would be passed. I believe it most unlikely that they will be passed.
I take a dim view of the repetitive statements made by various hon. Members, statements that are bandied about by the Press in Scotland, that English Members have suddenly become interested in devolution. I have had nearly 20 years' experience of local government in one of the major cities and I have always had an interest in devolution. I have been very angry because successive Governments of both major parties have taken major responsibilities from some of the most progressive cities. However, that is dealing with the past and it is important that we deal with some of the things being said in this debate.
I am pleased and proud to have been called in this debate. I was more than a little annoyed when 25 of the 30 Back Benchers who spoke in the debate last February represented non-English constituencies. I say that in the kindest sense. I sat in the Chamber for two days 282 to try to put an English point of view, but I was not called. I listened to a succession of my colleagues from Scotland and Wales, and to some extent Northern Ireland, putting their points of view.
One of the fundamental mistakes that we are making is bringing before the House a White Paper that does not fully include the considerations that must be applied to English devolution. Are the Government seriously telling me that devolution to Scotland, Wales, or Ireland will have no effect on the infrastructure of the United Kingdom? Clearly, our infrastructures are dependent on each other.
It would be remiss of me if I did not refer briefly to Northern Ireland in my 10 minutes. I appreciate that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister asked us not to become involved in the Northern Ireland issue, but I wish to pay tribute to the speech that was made last night by the right hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Craig). The right hon. Gentleman made a wonderful contribution in trying to bridge the troubled waters in Northern Ireland. It was a constructive speech.
Unfortunately, the history of devolution in Ireland is one of the features that has led to the tragic experience that Ireland is now suffering. I am not saying that it is an example that will be followed in Scotland and Wales, but devolution is not blameless in the present situation in Northern Ireland.
I listened with some concern to the Leader of the Plaid Cymru, the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans). The hon. Gentleman referred to certain facts and gave the impression that the Welsh Province has been rather badly treated. The rest of the speech would have been better delivered at one of the eisteddfods. It seemed to bear little resemblance to a speech normally delivered in a serious political discussion.
The hon. Gentleman said that insufficient public money had been spent in Wales and that Wales had done rather badly compared with other parts of the country. Let us consider that argument. In development grants per capita Wales receives six times as much as its English counterpart. Scotland receives five times as much. The same trend follows through the whole gamut of public expenditure.
283 The rate support grant per capita with £94 as the English base is £124 in Wales and £129.6 in Scotland. One of the most important items to be considered is the ordinary domestic ratepayer. Domestic rate relief to the English ratepayer is 18½p whereas it is 27p to the Scottish ratepayer, nearly half as much again, and almost double to the Welsh ratepayer—namely, 36p. It is not good enough for hon. Members from Scotland and Wales to come to Westminster with the begging bowl and saying that they have been badly treated. It is clear that they have not been badly done by in the general situation.
§ Mr. D. E. Thomas
I accept the hon. Gentleman's statistics for regional development grants, but does he not agree that the number of jobs created and the total job situation are the important criteria? Does he agree that the money that has been spent in Wales has been spent tremendously ineffectively?
§ Mr. Dean
That may be so, but we have never had a Government that has been able to dictate where capital shall be directed. Until we have a Socialist society, we shall not rectify that situation. Even if we have Assemblies in Scotland and Wales representing 5 million and 2 million people respectively, they will not be able to control capital. It is capital that provides jobs, not the printing of money.
I apply a cost-analysis exercise to anything in which I become involved. I have had to ask myself whether the devolution proposals before us will provide a better deal for the average person in Scotland. I am not talking about Scottish politicians, as they are somewhat different from Scottish people—no doubt the same comment applies to some English politicians. I also applied the same criterion to Wales. I cannot understand how such an exercise will benefit the Scottish and Welsh populations.
I would be bitterly opposed to block grants being provided to finance a Scottish Assembly. Are the Government saying that such grants will be taken from the existing money that is made available to Scotland as a region? If it is the imputation that extra money is to be provided at the expense of my constituents, I shall not vote for this proposal.
284 I represent an area—and my colleague from Leeds, South-East (Mr. Cohen) knows this well—that receives very little Government aid, but that has suffered a great deal from unemployment. But we are told that the devolution proposals will not cost anything because the infrastructure already exists in that the civil servants are already there.
Let us remember what happened when local government was reorganised following action taken by the right hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker). Some weeks ago, the right hon. Gentleman said in the House that the number of people employed in local government had altered very little following local government reorganisation. I have some news for him: the situation has altered so little because there are no civil servants left to whom to give jobs.
Indeed, local authorities under the reorganisation are short of people. In the Greater Manchester area the council is looking for people to fill posts in the new county engineering department. What is taking place in that area one can translate to other parts of the United Kingdom whose local services have been reorganised. It may not have inflated the number of civil servants, but it has dramatically inflated their salaries. Officials merely walked from the town hall to the county hall, took on the same jobs, but doubled their salaries. The extra money was found out of services. I predict that that is what will happen as a result of these devolution proposals.
In face of that extra expenditure, are we saying that the social services, housing, hospital services and all the rest, are to be kept short of money? We all know that those services have already suffered. Surely we cannot afford to indulge in expensive experiments of this nature. The whole idea is complete rubbish. The cost of the proposals may be phenomenal. Furthermore, nothing is certain about the benefits that will follow.
Another factor that must be considered is the subject of job dispersal. I understand that 31,000 jobs will leave London. Many of those jobs have already gone to Scotland. They have certainly not gone to the region that I represent. Leeds is the second largest city in England after Birmingham and it has not had any consideration in terms of job dispersal. It is a sink or swim situation for us in Leeds.
285 Let me warn the Government that we are reaching a stage when the English regions will start to be counted. I cannot understand why the whole of Scotland is designated as a development area when we all know that Aberdeen, for example, is one of the most affluent areas in the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Stanley Cohen (Leeds, South-East)
I wish to emphasise what my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Dean) is saying. For the first time to my knowledge, hon. Members from Lancashire and Yorkshire, concerned about the development in their areas, have got together jointly and have reached joint decisions about their problem. They want to know what will happen to their areas following devolution to Scotland and Wales. Such cities as Leeds, Sheffield, Bradford, Manchester and Liverpool are involved. Certainly in terms of population they have a good case to argue. My fear is that if the devolution proposals go through in their present form, the United Kingdom could break up.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. One city Member interrupting another city Member speaking for the same area is not a particularly good practice. The hon. Member for Leeds, South-East (Mr. Cohen) has made his speech. Let us proceed.
§ Mr. Dean
It is regrettable that devolution to Scotland and Wales is being considered as an issue separate from devolution for England, because we all know that the infrastructures are inter-linked.
I hope that when Ministers prepare to place proposals before the House for devolution in the English regions, they will undertake full consultation downwards. Such consultations with grassroots opinion have not yet occurred.
I wish to make a special plea on behalf of the Association of Metropolitan Authorities which represents more than 21 million people, a figure five times the population of Scotland and six times the population of Wales. That Association is Labour-controlled and represents stress areas in England. I believe that if a document is brought before the House without the fullest consultation with people who spend their lives making local government work, we shall be doomed to failure in the presentation of the propo- 286 sals. I hope that the Government will be able to assure the House that those consultations will take place.
§ 7.6 p.m.
§ Mr. Russell Fairgrieve (Aberdeenshire, West)
I was surprised at the initial reaction when the White Paper was first published. A great amount of detailed work had been put in by a number of extremely competent civil servants who serve both parties in this House when in Government. Although there was much in that document with which I disagreed and, indeed, much that was bad, I must confess that there was a good deal of good in the document. When the White Paper appeared, out came a host of prepared phrases which had been manufactured in the previous weeks. We heard about dogs being given bones devoid of meat; and we heard of insults to the Scottish people and all the rest of it.
The matter was well summed up in a leading article in that famous publication "The Press and Journal" which because of an archaic air service joining the oil capital of Europe and this City hon. Members do not see on the morning of publication and which spoke of an "automatic reject button". Nowadays people appear to want to destroy rather than construct, to criticise rather than to examine how something can be changed constructively. The object of the White Paper is to examine the situation and then the time comes for proposals to be put forward in a Bill. That Bill will be considered in the House for many months. During that consideration amendments will he tabled to improve the measure. Therefore, I see no fault in the White Paper as a starting point on a take note basis.
The Conservative, Labour and Liberal Parties—by whatever majorities, or whatever means or time scale—agree that they want devolution for the better government of Scotland. But there is one party—the SNP—that wishes to see an Assembly as a means of breaking up the United Kingdom, in other words, as a Trojan horse.
There are four options open to us—namely, the status quo; devolution within the United Kingdom; a federal solution; or a separate nation as 287 advocated by the nationalist parties. There is no doubt that two-thirds of the Scottish people wish to see devolution. I was grateful to the hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) who mentioned my name when he argued that point.
§ Mr. Douglas Crawford (Perth and East Perthshire)
I am anxious that the hon. Gentleman should appreciate that we do not wish to see the break-up of the United Kingdom. We are not concerned about the Treaty of 1603. We are concerned about the Treaty of 1707.
§ Mr. Fairgrieve
It seems that the new policy of the nationalists is to seek Commonwealth status. We now know. We have now moved to the idea of Commonwealth membership. A small proportion in Scotland, the half of one-third, leaving out the separatists, believe that the status quo and not devolution is acceptable. If they can get their view across to this House, any Government will accept it at their peril.
It is rightly said that we are in danger of over-government in Scotland with its community councils, districts, regions, Westminster and Strasbourg—to which I hope Scots will soon be directly elected under Article 138 of the Treaty of Rome—and now an Assembly. There is one possible solution. We must, to have our Assembly, move the two levels of local government back to one. I do not say which we should abolish, but I suggest that we might keep the present regional structure as it is in the North, down the East Coast and through the Borders of Scotland but probably break up the present Strathclyde Region. But on the basis of having government nearer the people, one could have also on a voluntary basis something like the old town councils, present districts and community councils put into one. The devolved powers that are suggested in the White Paper are broadly along the right lines but this remains to come up in the long debate when the Bill comes forward.
The devolved Government should deal with health, social services, housing and transport and education but not universities. The universities themselves have said that they must remain a United Kingdom responsibility. But education below that level could be for the Assembly. 288 Industry and the economic integrity of the United Kingdom cannot be devolved. I say this with some feeling, having spent most of my life in line management in industry and a very short time here. The reason is quite simple. The Act of Union 250 years ago was signed before the Industrial Revolution. Industry before then was in a pretty primitive state. The revolution took place with Britain as one country and therefore we cannot break up an integrated economy. This is just not possible.
No doubt some of the proposals will have to be looked at again. The question of the veto is obviously unsatisfactory, because if powers have to be devolved, let them be devolved and do not say that they can be brought back again. They must be devolved or not.
The method of election, the "three, two, one" proposal in the White Paper, would probably conserve a few rotten burghs in some Labour-held areas. The proposal is particularly insensitive to the rest of the Scottish nation because Orkney and Shetland would have only one Member whereas they should surely be entitled to a Member each in the Assembly.
Constituencies should be looked at again, along with the number of Members in this House. I agree with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Solihull (Mr. Grieve) that it is logical that if devolution is to be massive—I am not saying that it should be—it will be difficult for us to argue for the same representation here. I would like to have the same representation, but we must discuss these things when the Bill is examined in detail.
There seems nothing wrong in the fixed-term principle. Although a surcharge on the rates was a ridiculous suggestion, I have no objection to local taxation. Sales taxes are operated successfully in many other parts of the world.
I close by quoting a note Sir Robert Menzies sent to the Scottish Constitutional Committee under Sir Alec Douglas-Home, as he then was. I believe that what a statesman of some maturity said then is relevant. Although he was discussing the federal solution, he arrived at the following three conclusions:
I have always been a devolutionist. I believe that devolution will give better Government to Scotland and England within the United Kingdom. Therefore, I call upon the House to treat the White Paper as a start towards a Bill which will give maximum devolution to Scotland within the United Kingdom through a directly-elected Assembly.
- "1. Many people in Scotland feel that they want a more direct voice in what goes on in the government of their own country. This is a motion which I understand and with which I
289 have sympathy. But it does not lead by any local or sensible process to the fragmentation of the United Kingdom by making Scotland an independent nation. I am proud enough of my Scots blood to believe that this would be a bad thing for England. The fragmentation of a great nation would be no contribution to the peace and well-being of the world. It would, on the contrary, weaken the voice of Great Britain at a time when that voice needs to be clear and unambiguous.
- 2. The establishment of a federal system in Great Britain under inevitably a written constitution and judicial determination as to the demarcation of powers would, in my opinion, be a retrograde step. It would not give Scotland sovereignty for the reasons I have mentioned; but it would introduce a new series of problems, difficult to work out and in a country of Great Britain's size perhaps almost insoluble, except in an atmosphere of emotion which does not normally lead to good conclusions.
- 3. The alternative is to be found in the example of South Africa. Let Scotland and Wales, etc., have regional provincial councils; let them be elected councils; let them know that they will attend to a variety of local problems with close knowledge of those problems; let them be elected and have their own executives. But let it be always understood that on matters which involve national interest there is an overriding authority on the part of the Parliament at Westminster. There would be particular value in adopting the South Africa Acts' provision where the provincial council (e.g. of Scotland) could recommend to Parliament (i.e. the Parliament at Westminster) the passing of any law relating to any matter whatever. This provision would enable the Scottish Council or assembly to make recommendations which represented the majority voice of the Scottish people and therefore could not be lightly brushed aside except for powerful and supervening national reasons."
§ 7.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Neil Kinnock (Bedwellty)
There are many issues of principle on the subject of devolution which I would like to take un with the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. Fairgrieve) but time prevents that. Since he did not refer to Wales I shall do him the favour of not mentioning Scotland in my speech, except to say that many might think that from my name I have Scottish ancestry and yet I was born and brought up in Wales. Everyone has heard the joke of the 290 Welshman and the Scotsman and I suppose that I am it in one person indivisible.
The debate provides us with the opportunity to insist to legislators, commentators and Members that Scottish and Welsh Members would like everyone to remember that in their treatment of devolution the two countries are separate and distinct. Both need entirely different governmental responses to their problems within the context of the provision for devolution. Both need entirely different models of devolution. The White Paper contains insufficient acknowledgement of that distinctiveness. The answers proposed for Scotland and Wales are not different enough to make them appropriate to the differing demands of the Scottish and Welsh people for a measure of self-government or for devolved decision-making.
There are two kinds of people who, deliberately or accidentally, confuse Wales and Scotland and the Welsh and Scottish cases on devolution. One is the suburban South-East England civil servant who probably believes that Wales and Scotland are the same place. The second is the Welsh nationalist, who, for reasons of convenience and expediency, wishes to attach himself to the different and more profound economic case of Scottish nationalism. I do not comprehend the former though I understand the tactical reasons for the views of the latter. If we are to construct an irreversible and major new constitutional development for Wales, we must make sure that we get it right, not that we do it quickly or as a second-rate form of Scottish devolution. It must be a form of devolution precisely tailored to the demands of the Welsh people and the way in which they see their future within the United Kingdom.
I support that statement by calling for a separate Bill for Welsh devolution, if we ever get that far, so that specific attention can be given to the exact situation in Wales and not to the situation as some people would like to imagine it. Imagination has certainly been used in the writing of the White Paper. We are asked to stick to detailed comment on the White Paper, and in the time at our disposal that is difficult. In the best tradition of Welsh preachers, I shall take a text. Appropriately, it is 291 the last paragraph of the White Paper, paragraph 298, which says:The Scottish and Welsh Assemblies will no doubt have teething troubles, and these will be a financial price to pay. This however is well worth accepting in order to meet the clear popular demand in Scotland and Wales for bringing nearer home the democratic control of much government activity.That is a fair summary in two sentences of the White Paper's general philosophy, that there is a popular demand, that the people of Scotland and Wales are willing to put up with the risks and costs to provide an answer to that demand, and that the Westminster Parliament is moving to meet the aspirations of the Welsh and Scottish people.
Whatever the polls say in Scotland, whatever inroads the Scottish nationalists make on the major parties, whatever the consequences for my party in Scotland, the fact is that there is no popular demand in Wales for the form of devolution proposed, or for considerably less than that form. There have been resolutions by representative bodies in Wales, but bodies which met months ago and which have vested interests. Those resolutions were said to be passed on behalf of a broad section of the Welsh people.
But with the production of the White Paper, the debate on devolution in Wales has been crystallised in a way in which I and others have been trying to crystallise it for the past five or six years. Letter after letter is arriving on the subject. Resolution after resolution is being passed by local Labour Party after local Labour Party. Organisations and individuals the length and breadth of Wales are asking that we should look more deeply into the whole question of devolution in Wales. One of the best ways to do that and to test public opinion properly on this constitutional change is to have a referendum on the subject in Wales. No one can gainsay that.
There are people in Wales, people in my party and others, who have tried to make the attitude to devolution a test of Welshness. Others have tried to make it a test of radicalism. Both sets of people are guilty of calumny. There is nothing in the White Paper that is particularly in favour of the Welsh people. It could betray their interests by superimposing on them a constitutional structure which at best bewilders them and which infuriates many thousands of them.
292 As for radicalism, I have been stung by some of the accusations in recent weeks that those who propose a referendum are adopting a power-miser position, a conservative position, and are afraid of change. I deeply resent that. At every opportunity, I demand other changes, but on devolution I and many who support my point of view are not maximalists or minimalists—to use the horrible terminology spawned by the debate. We are differentists. We want something entirely different for the Welsh, British and Scottish people, something different from this sop to the nationalists. We differentists want Socialism. We are Democratic Socialists, representatives of the working class. We do not see answers to the problems of our communities in the construction of new constitutional models, which might please the academic and more philosophic of our colleagues but which have nothing to do with the realities of the way in which people conduct their lives.
Therefore, we are saying "If it is change you want, if it is radicalism you want, let us abolish the House of Lords, let us insist on full-time MPs, let us transform the Committee system in the House of Commons and give Members real powers of scrutiny and examination over the Executive. Let us have a universal right to postal ballot. Let us pay councillors and do thousands of other things, such as paying political parties." Those things would be the beginnings of radical constitutional change that would make representatives more responsive and citizens more vigilant, and refresh our democracy. But there is no White Paper about them. The reason probably is that while there are nationalist parties there are no House of Lords abolitionist parties or parties for other constitutional changes.
§ Mr. Kinnock
We are doing our best. We are doing rather better than the hon. Gentleman is in trying to construct a Socialist Party. Perhaps he would like to join us.
I hope that that is the background against which we shall realistically start to discuss devolution. I hope that we shall not just talk about popular demands to bring decisions nearer home. There is a cosy delusion that by appearing to 293 bring decision-making nearer home, or constructing representative institutions nearer home, wherever home is, we shall advance democracy and efficiency of government. That is not true. If it were, if proximity meant democracy and effectiveness, I should not receive one letter that should go to local councillors. The people of Greater London would have more affection for this place than the people of Aberystwyth, Aberdeen, Bodmin or any of the other peripheral areas have. If proximity meant participation and vigilance in democracy, more of the people of Greater London would vote in General Elections than the people in peripheral areas, but the opposite is the case. There are many reasons, but the significant fact is that proximity has little to do with assuring democracy.
When we talk about the Assemblies offered in the White Paper, we must ask what democratic control there will be. The moneys they will manage will almost entirely be earmarked already. The great block grant is already earmarked for expenditure by local authorities or nominated bodies in Wales. If it is not to interfere to stem the flow of money from the Exchequer to the local authorities, what will the Welsh Assembly do? What will it do if it is not to function only as a talking shop dressed up in £12 million-worth of equipment and with nowhere to go? Perhaps it would like to decide what to do with the £12 million. That would provide four good-sized district general hospitals, 10 good-sized comprehensive schools or 10 miles of motorway, or—dare I mischievously say?—it could buy us two Welsh television fourth channels. This is being realistic. These are the things people are starting to consider.
With all these costs, risks and dangers, there is no spontaneous demand for some form of self-determination which will give us the status of nationhood. There is the most minimal demand in Wales for nationhood. There is a universal acknowledgement and instinctive feeling of nationality. Nobody would argue with that—it is there on every rugby field and in every representative opportunity we have. In our poetry, our lives and our local communities, there is something distinctively Welsh, from the eastern valleys in Monmouthshire to Holyhead, but nationhood 294 is a different thing altogether. There is no demand for the formal status of nationhood.
This is not because the Welsh are subservient or afraid of the English, or because they are apologetic for the public expenditure deficit we have with England. There are good historic and democratic reasons for that. We are a United Kingdom and we have special needs for special assistance. We want to relieve ourselves and liberate ourselves from this, but not because we are embarrassed by these things. There is no demand for nationhood, because people do not think it would bring them any advantage. There is nothing intrinsically virtuous in the Union of the United Kingdom. It is an historical accident and if it were to the advantage of my constituency to be part of a separate Wales, I would be waving the flag with the hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. Thomas). But it would be a most profound setback for my constituents and they know it very well.
This is not subservience; it is reality. My constituents want more, better and improved democracy and a vibrant economy with opportunities for their kids, decent homes, and all the other things that everybody else wants. But my constituents do not equate nationhood with getting these things, and nor will the two be equated for a very long time. I am not afraid of separatism as a consequence of a formal status of nationhood embodied in a Welsh Assembly. I am afraid of the unnecessary, unasked for and crippling strains which will arise for the people of Wales and in their relationships with the people of England as a consequence of this devolution plan. This proposed devolution creates for the first time in the modern history of Great Britain tangible political and economic borders.
They will be in laws and men's minds even if they are not drawn on maps. Where a person comes from could become a deciding factor in his political attitudes. In the past, with the exception of a few paranoiacs in all three countries, most people have, fortunately and voluntarily, been blind to these factors. It is now about to become a reality and there will be people on every shop floor, in England, who will be saying that they have the same problems of decay, deprivation and depopulation as Wales and Scotland, yet 295 annual public expenditure in Wales is perhaps £110 per head and in Scotland £120 per head, compared with £100 per head in England. There are good reasons for this, and we could be reasonable and logical about it, but we would not persuade many people who have the same problems.
These borders do not exist at the moment, but they will be extended with every new spending decision by nationalised industries, every regional development grant and every advance in industrial development legislation. They could be applied to me as the hon. Member for Bedwellty. With a Welsh Assembly looking after health and housing in my constituency, hon. Members may ask what right I have to vote on these matters as they affect English constituencies. No hon. Member has ever been concerned about this situation before. No Welshman has ever objected to an Englishman voting on matters concerning Wales. Hon. Members have not looked at the issue in that way.
But now the first germ of hatred and alienation is about to develop. It is unavoidable. It will not come from me or the hon. Member for Merioneth or from one of the hon. Members in the Scottish National Party—we are all part of the club. But when people are facing dole queues and homelessness, many lose their instinctive wish to be reasonable and objective, especially when they have other people to blame, and there will be parties—I hope the SNP will not blush at this—who will be prepared to use this kind of argument in elections.
§ Mr. Wigley
In talking about borders that do not exist, does the hon. Member accept that there are bodies in Wales, including the Tourist Board, water authorities and the Arts Association, which already have borders? They are controlled by nominated people. Is he spurning democratic control over these institutions?
§ Mr. Kinnock
I have never done that. It would be a very good function for an elected Welsh Assembly to look after those areas of expenditure which are governed by unelected bodies. My constitutents will understand that, but they want nothing further. What the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. 296 Wigley) has suggested is the democratisation of an undemocratic system, but this has nothing to do with devolution. This could be introduced simultaneously throughout England and would assuage the feelings we have about the historic consequences of implementing the Government's proposals.
There will be a temptation for some hon. Members from English constituencies to adopt a defensive attitude to some of the things people from Wales and Scotland, in all parties, will be saying in the next four days. It would be wrong for them to believe that the best reaction to the Government's proposals is simply to say that they must have a similar system of provincial government. I plead with them not to ask for constitutional developments along these lines on the superficial basis of "me, too". That is no justification for major constitutional change. They must not confuse the implicit racialism of some things said by some nationalists in this House with the general consensus of opinion in Wales and Scotland and should not react by adopting an Englishism which is entirely alien to this House.
Many struggles confront the people of this country and not a single one—whether economic problems, repression or illiberality in Scotland, England or Wales—will be resolved by this kind of constitutional change. It will not assuage the frustration and alienation. It is actually causing it in Wales. It will not change economic realities.
I shall listen closely to the debate and there will have to be profound explanations of what the Government mean in order to get me into the same Lobby as my hon. Friends, not just on the White Paper but on any consequent legislative proposals.
§ 7.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Ian Grist (Cardiff, North)
This is the second time in less than a year that I have spoken after the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) in a debate on this subject and I could scarce forbear to cheer at his speech in view of the reference by the self-proclaimed national newspaper of Wales to his so-called college debating style. I thought it was a splendid speech and it reflected the view of the overwhelming majority of the people of Wales.
297 The Government's proposals in the White Paper are a regular dog's dinner. They satisfy neither the nationalists who want us out of the United Kingdom, nor those who want to perpetuate unity with the United Kingdom. It seems as though those Ministers in the Cabinet who are known or thought to be opposed to devolution allowed these proposals to proceed in order to discredit the whole idea. It is certainly becoming discredited in Wales.
As the hon. Member for Bedwellty said, we have had numerous demonstrations of what every politician has known We have had demonstrations in the shape of opinion polls, resolutions and so on showing that a majority of people in Wales are against change and that certainly a minority are in favour of change. There is a fear that though the Government's proposals for Wales are different from and do not go as far as those for Scotland, the wishes of the people of Wales are being ignored.
The Government should pay attention at least to grass-roots Labour opinion, if to no other. They should go round the clubs and pubs of the valleys, talk to the people and party members there and find out what they have to say about the proposals. If they did, I believe that they would drop them like a hot brick
Many people in Wales are deeply concerned and sceptical about the Government's estimates of the cost of the Welsh Assembly. In fairness, the White Paper saysThe long-term cost of devolution in manpower and money cannot be calculated exactly".It goes on to speak about running costs for the Assembly beginning at £5 million a year and rising to £12 million. If anyone believes that, he will believe anything. Presumably, someone actually believed at one time that Concorde would cost only £70 million. The Government's cavalier approach to the subject of money has been demonstrated by their estimate of the cost of adapting the Temple of Peace in my constituency as the headquarters of the Assembly. They blandly say that it will cost between £1 million and £2 million. That is almost like saying that it will cost between nothing and £1 million—there is still a £1 million gap. That is symptomatic of the Gov- 298 ernment's sloppy guesswork in this respect.
It is said that the Assembly will need an extra staff of 600 rising to 1,600 civil servants. Experience of both national and local government bureaucracy has rather jaundiced most people's view of the accuracy of this estimate. Worse than that, however, the Government believe that these men and women should be full civil servants interchangeable with those in Whitehall. It seems madness to put such people under the strain of serving two masters, especially when the Government at Westminster might be of a different political colour from that at Cardiff.
To serve Governments of alternating political complexion must be difficult enough at times for individual civil servants, but to have to serve two politically different masters at the same time would induce a form of bureaucratic schizophrenia. If schizophrenia is to be the lot of the civil servant, electoral exhaustion or boredom will be the lot of the ordinary Welsh elector.
Many people say that should an Assembly be set up, we must again tear up the roots of local government, roots which are still very tender, and turn local government into a unitary form. I have never quite understood what is meant by that. If we were to have control of education at local government level, for example, we should presumably have about 19 directors of education in Wales instead of the present eight. We should have a separate director for each of the individual authorities' services.
Lest anyone run away with the idea that the two-tier form of local government was the policy only of the last Conservative Government, let me remind hon. Members that it was the proposal also of the previous Labour Government. Presumably, had they continued in office after the 1970 General Election, we should have had to face the two-tier problem just the same.
The Prime Minister hit the idea of the reform of local government on the head this afternoon, at any rate in part, as he did at Eastbourne in November. On that occasion he said:No one sees a further major change in local government in the years immediately ahead. I repeat, local government has enough on its plate without adding the prospect of another reorganisation.299 That means that if we have an Assembly, we shall have, to face layer after layer of electoral bodies. We shall be electing community councils, district councils, county councils, the Welsh Assembly, the Westminster Parliament and the European Parliament. On and on and on it will go, and I predict that people will soon get tired of it, question the expense and necessity of it, and feel that it is electoral bureaucracy gone mad. It would be a clear case of excessive and over-expensive government and of an indecisive and querulous form of government.
People are concerned about the financing of the Assembly. The block grant from Westminster will form the basis of the financing. Once we have our Assembly, it is questionable whether the English Members at Westminster will be minded to be as generous to Wales as they have been in the past. However, in addition to the block grant the Assembly will be able to surcharge the rates.
We all know what surcharging the rates at an all-Wales level leads to. We have the example of the Welsh National Water Authority to guide us, and we can be sure that if that seems heavy, the Assembly will be a great deal heavier. The Assembly will be dealing with those huge spending programmes which are politically highly desirable, such as housing, education and health, with all the rolling programmes that that would entail. They are not easily cut back and they involve millions of pounds. Wales is a large country with a scattered population and relatively small means but great needs. The surcharges would be a heavy burden on the people, on industry and on business. They would therefore be a disincentive to new business and new industry to come into Wales.
There is the constitutional problem. The setting up of an Assembly must be counted as a triumph for the nationalists. It is quite clear that had the nationalists not won parliamentary seats, the Government would not have panicked in the unnecessary way that they did. But the votes of the nationalists are falling, and I predict that they will fall still further at the next election. The fact that Plaid Cymru has three Members in the House is purely a matter of tactical voting in the right areas to unseat Labour Members. All three Members come from West Wales, from the counties of 300 Gwynedd and Dyfed, which contain eight parliamentary divisions. In 1966 the Labour Party held all eight. It now holds two. Plaid Cymru holds three, the Conservatives hold two and the Liberals hold one. That is a general revolt in West Wales against the Labour Party and it should not be seen as a triumph for Welsh nationalism. The situation has panicked the Labour Party, and that is deeply to be regretted.
What will the nationalists do at the Assembly if and when it is set up? The hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley) said in The Times last July that his party wouldargue in the Assembly, which will become much more important to us than Westminster. The Assembly, though it will almost certainly be Labour-controlled, will become a part of the nationalist movement.That is the truth of what the party wants with an Assembly. The party's Leader, the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans), is quoted in the Western Mail of 28th November as predicting that within five years the Assembly would demand and obtain legislative powers. He added that the party's front line politicians would then concentrate exclusively on the Assembly. That might almost be a relief. I have no doubt that what the hon. Gentleman predicted would come about.
The proposed powers of the Assembly and the Secretary of State are tailor-made for specious and damaging complaints and excuses by those politicians in the Assembly who either want powers for themselves, or want to break up the unity of the United Kingdom. Without the power to raise taxes, control industrial incentives and, in short, to run the economy of Wales, every failure and every disappointment experienced by the Welsh people would be blamed on Westminster.
It must be understood that the establishment of an Assembly would be irreversible. Advance could come only from Westminster, and from time to time that advance woud no doubt be made. The Government presently pretend that establishing an Assembly will have little effect on Wales at Westminster. We are to retain the Secretary of State and our full quota of Members of Parliament, but for how long could the post of Secretary of State survive? That question was raised in the discussion White Paper 301 issued in 1974, and it has not been answered.
The powers with which the Secretary of State would be left, apart from controlling local government boundaries, cover training, employment, agriculture and industrial assistance, but those policies will be formulated and controlled by senior Ministers here in Westminster, and the Secretary of State will be playing second fiddle to those powerful individuals. A previous Secretary of State has been known to comment on the unreality of one or two of the powers which the Secretary of State is supposed to exercise.
Who, in this weakened and unenviable post, would wish to be Secretary of State? He would be bullied and kicked around by the Assembly, which would debate all the Bills he introduced. The Assembly, claiming to speak for Wales, would say, with a more broadly based right than that of the Secretary of State, what it thought of his Bills. He would have little power to carry through and execute the Bills which it would be his lot to put forward in this House.
Welsh Members of Parliament would have a gloriously irresponsible time. We should be completely cut off from the day-to-day problems and concerns of our constituents. We should no longer have to deal with the health services, schools, education, housing, rates and water. We should no longer have to deal with any of those contentious, difficult and painful hut earthbound tasks that come the way of Members of Parliament who keep in contact with their electorate. We should he able to devote our time to grander and nobler subjects, such as defence and foreign affairs-and meddling in the affairs of English Members of Parliament.
That would be a glorious freedom, but would the English Members of Parliament allow Scottish, Welsh and Irish Members to continue to have that freedom and that right? The answer is clearly "No". The answer also is that the Government have obviously given no serious thought to this matter. They simply hope that the problem will go away if they ignore it.
§ Mr. Wigley
The hon. Gentleman refers to the possible superficiality of the Secretary of State's powers in the functions that will be retained. Is not the 302 logic of his argument either that the Secretary of State's functions should be transferred in their entirety to the Welsh Assembly in Cardiff, or that the Secretary of State's functions should be done away with?
§ Mr. Grist
If those functions are transferred to a Welsh Parliament, the answer is "No". The hon. Gentleman misunderstands what happens in Government. Although the Secretary of State does not necessarily have supreme powers say, in his agricultural functions, he has powers of persuasion and influence, because he has a powerful Department behind him. If that Department were taken away, as the White Paper proposes, his influence in Whitehall and in Cabinet would be commensurately cut.
In 1974, introducing the discussion paper issued that year on devolution, the Secretary of State for Wales laid down four main principles by which devolution proposals should be judged. The first was that the taking of powers from any central agency should meet a genuine need. I claim that that need has not yet been demonstrated by the Government. The second was that any proposals should be based on widespread public support. That is clearly lacking. The third was that any changes should be a clear and definite improvement. That has yet to be demonstrated. The fourth was that the proposals must provide a stable constitutional framework for the future. It is clear from what has been said by Liberals and members of nationalist parties that these proposals would not provide a stable constitutional framework for the future.
So on all four points the Government's proposals fail the Secretary of State's tests. If he meant what he said then, he cannot possibly believe in the proposals that he now peddles.
§ 7.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
One of the regrettable aspects of the whole of the discussion about Assemblies is that a lot of voices that ought to have been heard long before have not been heard and have probably not had an opportunity to be heard in the House. Therefore, there is an obligation on those of us who are lucky enough to have been called early in the debate, on those of us who have had a lot to say on the 303 subject and who, like me, have been given a tolerant and generous hearing by colleagues in the House, by our parties and by the Press, to condense our views at this stage.
My contribution on this occasion is, therefore, confined to discussion of one issue and what flows from it—the difficulty of resolving the inevitable differences between Westminster and the Assembly. For example, in paragraph 61 of the White Paper this sentence appears:Against a background of co-operation and good will however Parliament would normally legislate on a devolved matter only where this was agreed with the Scottish administration as being the convenient course.Co-operation? Good will? Agreement?
How can we suppose that on any crunch issue between the Assembly and Westminster there will be much co-operation, good will or agreement? I fear that to suppose that there would be is wishful thinking to the extent of being unreal. Will there not be endless and open-ended argument about what is to be devolved and what is not to be devolved, about oil revenues, about the size of the block grant, which will be a fruitful and everlasting source of dispute?
What troubles me is when the Secretary of State for Scotland goes to the Albany Hotel in Glasgow and, in answer to a question, tells us that the relationship of Westminster to the Assembly when it comes to differences of opinion will be little different from the relationship between St. Andrew's House and the local authorities. The Secretary of State for Wales interrupted the leader of the Liberal Party to say that the arrangement would work amicably, just as it worked with the local authorities. My hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Mabon) talked about normal, friendly day-to-day business and called upon his experience as a Minister. Indeed, we had the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. Fairgrieve) interrupting the hon. and learned Member for Solihull (Mr. Grieve), who I thought made a speech that cannot be lightly put aside. "Have not Governments dealt with local authorities 304 of different complexions for many years?", he asked, so he, too, must think that this is the kind of relationship.
Do not let us suppose that it is only my right hon. and hon. Friends, because the Rev. Geoffrey Shaw, the leader of the Strathclyde Council, said on television on 9th January that the relationship was very much the same as that between the Government and the local authorities. It is nothing of the kind! Indeed, these remarks reveal a very deep fault in the rock upon which the White Paper is supposed to be built.
There are hon. Members opposite of the SNP—no dishonour to them—who simply are not in business to accept a constructive Government-local authority relationship. They will tell us that it is an insult to the Scots, and they will hugely enjoy parading their sense of grievance. Every ill, real or imaginary, afflicting Scotland will be ascribed by them to the Assembly's lack of powers.
In addition, a number of my hon. Friends who wish to be members of the Scottish Assembly will not be outdone by the SNP in calling for powers and rights. A gentle compliance is not exactly among the most noticeable virtues of my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) or of my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sillars). Do not let us imagine that they, as members of a Scottish Legislative Assembly, would be content to be treated like a local authority.
Here we have a recipe for strife. Conflict is built into the situation. The mere fact of establishing an all-Scotland elected legislative Assembly means the establishment in the United Kingdom of a rival power centre, which the United Kingdom will be unable to contain.
The truth is that any legislative body, especially if it is born in a highly charged, competitive political atmosphere, will scream for more and more power, either until it wins those powers, or until someone abolishes it.
Once an Assembly is established, it will be a little tricky to dismantle it within the lifetime of any of us. I think, therefore, if we have an Assembly at all, that we are on a one-way street to independence. This is the moving escalator 305 to independence, the launching pad for independence, once we have an Assembly.
Perhaps the point was best put by the hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart), the Leader of the SNP. In a very revealing interview with The Sunday Times on 16th November, he said that after years of pushing the boulder towards the top of the hill, the summit was in sight. It would be reached, he said, with the passage of a Government Bill setting up an elected Scottish Assembly. He said that after that the boulder would rununaided down the other side of the hill".In this, if in little else, I agree with him.
Incidentally, I register it as my personal opinion that if the SNP achieved more than half the seats in an Assembly, it would then be difficult to deny them the right to embark on independence negotiations, not for any legal reason so much as for the reason that we should otherwise be seen to be manipulating the democratic system—and electors do not like what they interpret, rightly or wrongly, as cheating.
Fortunately and wisely, we are on a take-note motion, and this is a discussion document. I shall have no qualms, if necessary, about voting with my party should there be a vote. But in the days and nights that we shall be spending on the Bill I predict that it will emerge even more clearly that we are trying to appease the unappeasable, that we are trying to placate the unplacatable, be that the SNP, the SLP, The Scotsman, or even the Daily Record.
I have listened to all of the speeches such as that of the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans) and when hon. Members use words like "servitude", we know that in this matter they are not appeasable. There is no argument. This is an emotional attitude. May I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) that, having come into the Labour Party in the days of Aneurin Bevan, Morgan Phillips and Jim Griffiths, I would not exactly recognise the Welsh as being in political servitude. Indeed, it seems that their influence, far from diminishing, increases as the years go on. Some of us often wonder whether the party is not run by the Welsh.
I predict that some time next spring, weary and overworked hon. and right hon.
306 Friends of mine, frustrated Ministers, will have to say something along these lines: "We did our best to honour our election pledges, some of which—such as a strong Scottish voice in the United Kingdom and a meaningful Assembly—have turned out to be mutually incompatible." I say this in the full knowledge that in August and September 1974—I am not casting any blame—I tagged along very reluctantly as a member of the Scottish Executive, whose decision was overturned.
This is not pointing a finger. If there is blame, I share some of it, and let that be clear. I am not "holier than thou". I simply say that I would prefer an early recognition that we are embarked on what is "Mission Impossible", and that it should be brought to a speedy end rather than being allowed to drag on.
In relation to the dangers of drooling on, I should like to quote briefly from the Daily Telegraph of 11th December 1975, in which Mr. Stephen Maxwell wrote a perceptive article ending with the statement:Nationalists are confident that the frustrations engendered by such an Assembly will swing Scottish opinion firmly behind SNP's demand for a radical extension of the Assembly's powers over finance and industry as the penultimate step to independence.If we do not make some kind of fairly quick and clear break, that frustration will become very dangerous from the point of view of anybody who happens to think roughly upon the same lines as I do.
I believe, therefore, that the Government will sooner or later have to say to the Scots that we must choose whether we want devolution of many powers through the regions which will bring government closer to the people. I listened carefully to the Prime Minister, who fondly thinks that this scheme will bring government closer to the people. In fact it is centralising Edinburgh government, but the argument in that respect can be deployed on another occasion.
An Edinburgh Assembly would concentrate power and would not devolve it, other than having 40 or 50 all-purpose authorities. According to my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian, there would be 40 or 50 fire services, 40 or 50 education services, and 40 or 50 police forces—unless the fire and, more sensitively, the police forces 307 are to be concentrated in the Assembly. I put down the marker here that I for one would be uneasy about any proposal to concentrate control of the police forces in an Assembly.
At the end of the day, of course, it is, I suppose, for the Scots to choose our own way, and so be it, but before taking a cataclysmic step, many of us wish to be clear that our fellow countrymen and countrywomen really know what they are doing before hiving off from the United Kingdom. The next General Election may well be unlike any by-election or any previous General Election, because for the first time it should be clear to the people of Scotland that by our votes we really could bring the Union to an end. If that question were put as unblurred and as cleanly as it should be, I believe that there would be a decisive decision.
On Monday, The Times leader writer posed the question:Can the Scots be satisfied?The answer is: perhaps, but some significant number of Scots can in no conceivable circumstances be satisfied, and it is counter productive to fudge issues and to try to paper over disagreements. The sooner that the Government allow themselves to be driven to the conclusion that it is either effective devolution of decision-making and an injection of democracy in non-accountable organisations through—though they are less than popular at present—Strathclyde, Lothian, Grampian and the other regions, or possible independence within the decade, the better it will be for us all.
Not only is it difficult to take a firm stand half-way down a slippery slope, but, given the political and economic realities, an Assembly is a basically unstable situation and could launch us towards the direction of independence, though most of us do not want to go that road. Therefore, I say to the Prime Minister and the Lord President that their good intentions are not in doubt, but that in their endeavour to behave honourably they are in danger of planting the seeds of the break-up of Britain.
§ 8.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)
I agree with almost every word spoken by 308 the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell). So far as I know, there is not a drop of Scottish, Welsh or Irish blood in my veins. But it is not on that account that I regard this as a very sad occasion. It has all the impression of what was once a proud, economically prosperous and militarily strong nation descending to squabbling about the terms of its own disintegration.
There is no justification for devolution in the sense proposed in the White Paper. The only motive behind it on the part of those who espouse and support it is that the country as a whole has been doing so badly lately that parts of the United Kingdom—perhaps those which have been suffering most in recent years—feel that they would be better off on their own.
I can understand the emotional argument. Yet these proposals are no remedy for the problems faced by the Scottish and the Welsh. What the proposals do is to add another Government on top of Government, and we should consider the European context of all this. When we are adding another level of government in the shape of Europe and the European Community and when we are talking in terms of giving power to institutions in in Europe, it is madness to create yet another government machine at a level below that in the United Kingdom itself.
We are already overgoverned because in recent years Governments of both parties have tried at times to do too much. The effect therefore has been only to produce a greater bureaucracy. But the effect upon this Parliament, this institution of ours in this House, could be catastrophic. It is bound to be a weakening of the power of this Assembly, the national Parliament, which was once itself the country's biggest asset.
What would be left for us here in Parliament at Westminster? On some subjects, the power to legislate for England alone would be left to this Assembly; for example, in education. Votes would be taken in a House which at present contains and would under the Government's proposals continue to contain 20 per cent. of its Members—119 out of 635—who were not representing English constituencies and whose own regions would be controlled by Assemblies 100 per cent. their own.
309 My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Solihull (Mr. Grieve) referred to the unfairness of the present proportions of the Scottish and Welsh representatives in this House compared with those of Northern Ireland especially and of England. He might have added a further injustice that, despite having their own Assemblies, under these proposals the Scottish and Welsh would continue to have a part in determining what are purely English affairs.
According to the Answer to a Parliamentary Question given in this House on 10th November last year, if each constituency in the United Kingdom had the average number of constituents for the United Kingdom, Scotland would have 13 Members fewer, Wales would have four fewer, Northern Ireland would have four more and England would have 12 more. Is that proportion fair to England? Why should it be retained? Why, above all, should it be retained when it is proposed that Wales and Scotland should in addition have their own Assemblies?
The English are just as proud of England as the Scots are of Scotland—
§ Mr. Stanbrook
—or the Welsh of Wales. My hon. Friend the Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen) says that he wishes they were. Sometimes I too wish that. But the fact is that we English—
§ Mr. Stanbrook
It may be that sometimes we defer too much to others because we place a greater value on the partnership which we call Britain. Together, the four elements of the United Kingdom have made some wonderful achievements in the world. In modern times, no other nation than the British have benefited the cause of mankind so much. Are we, in a pit of self-pity and disgust at our present low fortunes, to fling all this away?
I ask those who espouse this cause to reject the continental examples of government with their experiments in devolution and federalism. Since when have we learned any lessons in good government from our European continental neighbours?
§ Mr. Stanbrook
I am glad to have the right hon. Gentleman's approval. By all means let us seek ways of increasing power at the local level and of making decisions closer to the people. But it is not proved that that can be done by erecting another tier of government where one does not exist at present.
The machinery is already there for devolution in the sense of giving back power to the people and of making decisions closer to the people. We have a well-established, well-tried and experienced system of local government. It may be that it needs a boost, especially after the disastrous reorganisation which took place last year. But we do not need another system and another level of government to render power to the people at local level.
The Government are playing a highly dangerous game. I hope fervently that they will not destroy the United Kingdom for ever.
§ 8.20 p.m.
§ Mr. E. Fernyhough (Jarrow)
I have listened to most of the debate and concluded that the Scottish and Welsh nationalists are broadly taking the line that if they had been in power the economic and social problems and difficulties which their respective nations have experienced during the past few decades would somehow have been easily surmounted. I only wish it were possible for us tonight to give to the Welsh and Scottish nationalists power immediately and then for us to have two years before the next election to see what would be the effects.
It is over-simplifying the position to pretend that the deep-seated difficulties and problems from which Wales and Scotland are suffering can be solved merely by changing the personnel of those in control. The problems which hon. Members have enumerated tonight are precisely the problems from which my own constituents have suffered. I point out, especially to the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans), that in the North-East we have had a much higher rate of unemployment during the post-war years than has existed in Wales. Even today we have a higher rate of unemployment. That fact can be checked in the Library. 311 I do not believe that if we had had a separate regional government dealing with our own affairs we could have solved the general problems of the North-East.
The problems of the North-East are attributable to lack of resources. We know that Wales and Scotland have been well served when we consider their share of the resources. They have had a bigger share than England in general has received. It does not mean that the resources of Scotland and Wales would have been greater had they been on their own. They would probably have been less. Therefore, the problems they would have had to face would have been greater.
There is one aspect of the attitude of Welsh and Scottish people which I cannot understand. For the first six months of this year they were subjected to a terrific barrage of propaganda. They were told that if they wanted an answer to their problems, it lay in entering the Common Market. There were large advertisements in my local papers telling the people of Jarrow and of the North-East in general about the jobs that would come to Jarrow and the North-East. There were advertisements saying how capital would flow to the North-East if only the people made the decision to go into the Common Market.
§ Mr. Fernyhough
Against my advice the Welsh, Scottish and British people in general decided to enter the Common Market.
§ Mr. Fernyhough
They voted for going into the Common Market. When we talk about the need for closer relationships between Governments and people, I cannot understand why people who object to being governed from London have no objections to being governed from Brussels. That is what we have done. We have taken some of the powers of this House and given them to the gentlemen at Brussels. I think everyone would agree that if we have economic monetary union plus direct elections, that means that we are giving away powers from this House, from Wales and from Scotland. 312 If anyone does not believe that that is so, they do not know what is the purpose of the EEC.
I am blaming the nationalists because they did not do their work as effectively as they should have done it. They conveyed the impression that they were speaking for Scotland. Their propaganda was very ineffective because when the results of the poll were announced it was clear that they had not spoken for Scotland. The Scottish people, like the Welsh and English people, were misled by tremendous propaganda machinery, which had unlimited money at its disposal. The effects of that decision will become more and more apparent as each succeeding month passes.
Basically the White Paper is about democracy and power. We cannot possibly do what we did last June as a nation and then pretend that somehow Scotland and Wales can have the powers that would have been available to them had we not entered the Common Market. A lot of power has already left this House. Each succeeding month we shall see more and more power leaving. Therefore, we are missing the substance, and, as it were, grasping at the shadow.
The problems of Scotland and Wales are the problems of the North-East. They are the problems of unemployment, housing shortage and—
§ Mr. Fernyhough
Yes, capitalism. They are the problems of the older cities. These problems will not be overcome unless, as a nation, we can substantially increase our resources, and, having done so, ensure that they are allocated to better effect. We are in, as it were, the same bed whether in England, the North-East, Scotland or Wales. We are facing the same problems and experiencing the same difficulties.
We must be careful that we do not allow this issue to introduce into our relationships bitterness which has not hitherto existed. All my life I have had countless friends in Scotland. I have three grandchildren in Scotland. I have had countless friends throughout Wales. There has never been any major basic difference between us. I should not like 313 to think that any group or party for political purposes would create an atmosphere which could ultimately lead to even more violence than we already have in this nation. We must remember that some people have got hold of a tiger by its tail. They must be careful that he does not turn round and devour them and in devouring them destroy every ideal which they have embraced and for which they long stood.
My hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) said that he believed that this was the beginning of the break-up of the United Kingdom. I believe that that is possible. If we look at what happened in India, Korea, Cyprus and Vietnam, where artificial barriers have been drawn where there were no barriers before, we see the consequences of those decisions. I hope that those who demand complete independence will appreciate some of the tragedies which followed the breaking up of what otherwise were unified nations and people.
§ Mr. Molloy
Does my right hon. Friend agree that what perplexes many people is that the voices which called for the unity of Europe and an ultimate move towards world government and which have given more power to Brussels than any other one city has had in the history of mankind are now intent on breaking up the United Kingdom?
§ Mr. Fernyhough
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. We took the same line on the Common Market issue. I am sure that time will prove that we were correct.
§ Mr. James Dempsey (Coatbridge and Airdrie)
In 1939, when St. Andrew's House was established in Edinburgh and the Secretary of State and his Ministers operated there with a large band of civil servants directing all Scottish affairs, the arguments used at that time were exactly the same as now—that that was the beginning of the break up of the United Kingdom. But does my right hon. Friend recall that the United Kingdom was never so united in history as in 1939?
§ Mr. Fernyhough
I will not quarrel with my hon. Friend. I have too much affection for him but let me say this.
None of us chooses his nationality. It is chosen for us by others. We are unable to determine where we shall be born. That is determined by someone else 314 Likewise, very few of us determine our religion. That is mostly determined for us long before we are able to understand and express any opinion about it. If we are unable to determine our nationality and have so little say in determining what religion we shall follow, is it not important that mature men and women, understanding something of the past struggles of mankind, should be very careful when using either of those factors—nationality or religion—not to interpose differences and create conflicts between people who otherwise would live in harmony and peace?
§ 8.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Clark Hutchison (Edinburgh, South)
I must declare myself as an anti-devolutionist in so far as the legislative process or the setting up of assemblies is concerned. Some alteration in general administration and in the powers and locations of Government Departments may be desirable from time to time. It could even be said that a block grant for Scotland administered by the Secretary of State and his office would be an improvement on the present situation. However, I doubt whether Scotland would benefit from this change. There would be one argument over money, whereas under the present system there are many arguments, and at the end of the day Scotland might not be so well off.
I have no doubt whatsoever that over the years Scotland has had her fair share, and more, of United Kingdom Government expenditure. I am also impressed by the fact that the average weekly income of male manual workers last year in Scotland was £56.70 compared with £55.70 for Britain as a whole. These figures do not show that Scotland is in any way being dragged down or that her people are being penalised.
On general grounds I am opposed to devolution and major constitutional change which may involve the Act of Union. Our partnership over the centuries has been markedly successful. It has brought untold benefits on both sides of the border.
One thing is certain. Any of the changes contemplated in the White Paper will lead to a weakening of the ties between our two countries and will tend towards a break up. Not only that, but an Assembly 315 would be in constant conflict with Westminster over its powers and over finance, and it would probably be in conflict with the new regions. The White Paper really admits this and shows the scope for it.
I often wonder where the agitation for devolution originates. It is certainly not in the Shetlands or South Edinburgh or Kilmarnock. I suspect that it comes from a rather noisy minority, aided and abetted by certain newspapers and sometimes by other media. It is certainly not the view of the majority of Scottish or English people. It may also be partly due to the fact that both the Labour Party and the Conservative and Unionist Party have been operating policies from expediency rather than from their basic beliefs and traditions. They seem to have got into a blue funk over the whole matter. Expediency and funk are not sound guides.
Creating an Assembly will be costly. I judge the White Paper figures to be an under-estimate. But far more important is the certainty of continual constitutional conflict between an Assembly and Parliament. I also foresee a demand, if an Assembly were to have substantial powers, for less Scottish representation in this House. That would not be in the interests of any Scot, whether living in Scotland, the United Kingdom or overseas. In my years in Parliament, I have noticed no resentment among English or Welsh colleagues at our slight overrepresentation mathematically. Why then give people a chance to object" Such a change could only be detrimental to us all.
Furthermore, an Assembly will lead to more government and not less, to more inefficiency and obstruction, as many in industry and commerce fear. If anyone doubts this, let him ask the CBI in Scotland. Already, a Scottish voter has recourse to a district councillor, to a regional councillor, to a Member of Parliament, and through him to all Ministers. Eventually, there may be European elections, although I hope not. What on earth is the use of adding two Assemblymen as well and calling on the long-suffering taxpayer to pay for them? All that the Assemblymen will do is talk and legislate.
Our recent local government reorganisation has not had time to settle down, 316 but the signs are pretty ominous. The changes have not been greeted with rapture in Scotland. They are expensive. There are already disputes between the regions and districts. There is already duplication. An Assembly with revenue-raising powers would simply worsen the entire situation.
It seems wise when big changes are contemplated affecting millions of lives for those advocating them to show clearly the advantages, material and spiritual, and to demonstrate that they are soundly based and widely wanted. The onus is on them. The case for devolution has not been made out. It has not even begun to be made out.
Many other points have to be made which will be brought out when the Bill comes before us, if it ever does. I hope it will not. Meanwhile I shall mention one important point. Let us suppose that an Assembly is set up, and that is closely bound up with Parliament and the legislative process. It would be odd if the Assemblymen were elected on proportional representation instead of as hon. Members here are elected, which is on a first past the post system. Such an arrangement would be regarded as gerrymandering on a substantial scale. There would also be claims and counter-claims about who genuinely represents the Scots or the Welsh.
My final plea is for the Conservative and Unionist Party to be true to its traditions.
§ Mr. Molloy
Inasmuch as the hon. Gentleman made a telling point about the so-called Assemblymen, in so far as this has been the gravamen of the Liberal Party's case and in so far as there is not one Liberal Member in this Chamber, will the hon. Gentleman ensure that the Chief Whip and the Leader of the Liberal Party, and for that matter the other half a dozen Liberal Members, receive a copy of his very good speech?
§ Mr. Hutchison
I hope that they will read my speech. But I have always ignored Members of the Liberal Party in my political career, as did my father and brother before me.
My final plea is to the Conservative and Unionist Party to be true to its traditions and not to indulge in change lightly. I do not believe that in their 317 hearts many Conservative supporters want this change, whether they be in this House or outside. I doubt whether Labour Members want the change. We do not want the upheaval involved. I remind hon. Members that in the first four General Elections that I fought I stood as the Unionist candidate. In the subsequent three I stood as the Conservative and Unionist candidate. If there is a conflict I am a Unionist.
§ 8.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)
There was one significant moment in this debate when my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister sat down after making a good speech which was greeted with a significant lack of enthusiasm on all sides of the House. Since that speech the prevailing wind, save for the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Mabon) and the expected speeches from the Scottish and Welsh National Parties, has been quite hostile to the principles set out in the White Paper. I believe that hon. Members who have expressed those views properly express the view held by the great mass of the people in this country of profound scepticism, born of uncertainty and questioning about the whole genesis of the enterprise set out in the White Paper.
I see my rôle and that of colleagues who hold similar opinions to mine as helping my right hon Friends to get off the hook on which they have impaled themselves for a whole series of reasons, creditable or otherwise. There are certain features upon which all hon. Members are agreed. This should be an historic debate about the future of the Union and about where we go as a country in our post-imperial phase. Many of the speeches have reflected this serious level. It is a radical and new departure by a Socialist party—and there is nothing wrong in that. It is an irreversible step. We know that if, after the Assemblies are created, as a result of practice they are found to be wholly misconceived there would be no going back. People may say, "This is only a little baby", but my constituents, who comprise the majority of the Labour movement in South Wales, are saying, "It may be a little baby now, but what will it develop into?" They ask profound questions 318 which pierce the superficiality and lack of cohesion of the proposals set out in the White Paper.
Therefore, if it is irreversible, how much more important is it that we ensure that we do not set up permanent institutions to reflect what may well be a transient mood, a mood which has passed.
Again, we have to accept the fundamental importance of this issue to the United Kingdom. The argument is put forward by proponents of the measure that this is bringing power closer to the people. With respect, I thought that that argument was met and shattered by the great speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock). There is nothing in terms of geographic proximity in relation to democratising our people. The real problems of industrial relations and political alienation, the problems of dealing with the multinationals, which really concern our people, are wholly irrelevant to the creation of these Assemblies, which are a nineteenth century naive solution to the much more profound social and economic alienation of our times.
I have one question to put to the Government Front Bench. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister talked about a great debate. I wonder how far he conceives the scope of that great debate. Does it include probing at the very starting point of this debate, wondering whether we need Assemblies in the first place, or do the Government conceive of the great debate as merely being about the details of the White Paper? I fear that already the parliamentary draftsmen have been given their instructions to go ahead. Certainly the timetable suggests that the broad lines of the Bills which will in time be put before this Parliament have already been delineated for the benefit of the parliamentary draftsmen and that we may already be at a late stage of influencing Government policy in relation to these Assemblies.
Having looked through the White Paper, I come to two broad conclusions. The first is that it has been drafted by people who are remote from the actual situation in Wales. The second is that it has been drafted by people who may well be good at system drafting, at constitution drafting, but who are far removed from the real stuff of politics, the 319 play of power and the realities of how such an Assembly would develop.
There is some recognition of the profound difference between the situation in Wales and that in Scotland—an executive Assembly and a legislative Assembly. However, in my view this profound recognition has not gone far enough. There is a very profound difference, certainly as reflected, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty said, in the pressure that we experience from our own people in Wales. This inability or unwillingness to appreciate the situation on the ground in Wales is shown, for example, by the concluding paragraphs of the White Paper. There is the suggestion that the proposals in the White Paper are meeting a widespread and popular demand in the Principality. Nothing could be further from the truth. Even Plaid Cymru Members do not suggest that there is popular demand in Wales for this White Paper.
It is manifest nonsense to say, as is suggested by my own Front Bench, that existing structures for local government and Westminster government—a point made by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Hutchison) in relation to question marks about parliamentary representation here, about the role of Members representing Scottish and Welsh constituencies in this place—can remain intact after these changes have been brought about. This is nonsense. I am sure that the good sense of our people profoundly recognises that.
Again, there is an apparent unawareness of how politics works. The suggestion in paragraph 27 that this can be based on "harmonious co-operation" is manifest nonsense. There is little consideration or appreciation of the necessity of building a machinery for resolving disputes between the Assembly and the Westminster Government. There is built-in conflict, as a number of hon. Members have suggested, partly because of having a fixed four-year electoral term, which means that the elections for the Assembly will come during the trough of the popularity of the Government at Westminster, and partly because the Assemblymen will have to prove their virility. Some may even be guiled by siren voices such as that of the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans) into putting all the ills that 320 they have at the door of London government.
The key element is that on many occasions different parties will be in control at Westminster, Cardiff and Edinburgh, and those of us with experience of local government in Wales when the same party is in office in London and in district and county level in Wales know that that in itself does not necessarily mean a congruence of views.
There is lack of consideration of alternatives to the setting up of an Assembly. I concede that perhaps the most cogent point put by the proponents of devolution is the non-responsible elected bodies in Wales and the need to deal with them. I answer that in two ways. First, it is not necessary to meet the problem by developing a monster of this dimension. Second, the problem could be met in a democratic way by the development of a local government structure which was much closer to the ground in Welsh terms. One of the problems is at Westminster in the development of the powers of surveillance by ordinary Members of Parliament over governmental machinery, but that again does not need the qualitative changes in government which would be brought about by the development of an Assembly.
The fundamental point about the Welsh situation, which is not appreciated, is the lack of acceptability of these proposals to the people of Wales. There is clear evidence that there is among the people of Wales profound scepticism about the proposals. If our people were prepared to pay the price—a price not just in political but in economic terms—I would say, "Amen. Let it be". But it is clear from my personal impressions, from my meetings and from my postbag, and from the evidence of opinion polls, that our people do not want this change.
I predict that there will be a considerable backlash in the Principality if our people are led unwillingly along a road they do not want to take and which they are being led along because of supposed problems in Scotland. Why is there this hostility in Wales? The first factor is the local government reorganisation, and this reason is in itself twofold. The first is on the more popular level, where our people think that an Assembly would be 321 a further costly and irrelevant bureaucracy. The second is on a more sophisticated level, illustrated by the cogent argument put by the Association of County Councils in a letter dated 8th January and circulated to many hon. Members. That argument, broadly, is, first, that our new county structure is just beginning to settle down and to be recognised by the people of Wales, who are now beginning to identify with it. By and large, it is now doing a good job.
Secondly, there is a danger of interference in the day-to-day responsibilities of local government, particularly as the committee structure of the Assembly is apparently to be designed to parallel the committee structure within local government, if there were to be a delaying process because of the intervention powers of the Assembly, and also interference in the financial discretion of the local authorities. One thinks particularly of the power of surcharge. This is a new situation. The reality of local government reorganisation is just now beginning to gel and to work.
The other factor—and I regret having to say it in some ways—is the fear one finds not far below the surface in Wales of the dominance of a Welsh cultural establishment within the Principality. It is deep in the social psychology of many of our people. I recall speaking recently about devolution at a meeting in Cwmbran. All the questions which came back to me were about language. Personally I would wish to see the language fostered, but we must recognise the deep-seated fears that exist in Wales on both sides of the linguistic frontier. There are the job reservations, for example, which the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley) and others endeavour to ensure in their own areas.
Our people ask "Where are you taking us?" There is a danger of the Assembly being planted without the advice and consent of the people of Wales. Given that the destination is certain and that we need to have democratic backing for it, it is clear that there is substantial evidence that more and more bodies in Wales are jumping on a rapidly rolling bandwagon in favour of a referendum.
I know of the arguments against such a course. There are those who ask where we shall finish if we have a referendum on this issue. However, this is a matter of 322 such constitutional significance—further, it is analogous to the European issue—that it can be easily distinguished from other issues. There are others who want to know the sort of questions we would ask in a referendum. One would obviously ask the people of Wales whether they approve the proposals as set out in the White Paper. I would add a second question—namely, whether they believe in separation. We would then see how much support the Welsh separatists and their allies have in the Principality. This is why the bandwagon is rolling very heavily.
Swansea City Council, West Glamorgan County Council and the majority of county councils in Wales are asking that they and the people be given the right to express their view on a matter of such profound constitutional significance. The Government must surely react in favour of granting a referendum to our people.
§ 8.57 p.m.
§ Sir Anthony Meyer (Flint, West)
The hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) and I are former colleagues, and it gives me great pleasure to speak in the same sense as he has been speaking. I envy the hon. Gentleman's certainties. I have come to much the same conclusions by perhaps a more tortured route. I can assure him that in the campaign to see that a referendum is held before the people of Wales are committed to this folly, I shall be on the same side as the hon. Gentleman, as on many occasions in the past.
The hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Mabon), who is no longer in the Chamber, was the solitary St. Bernard to come to the assistance of a Government overcome by the avalanche of objections that has poured down on them from both Labour and Conservative Benches. I think that the hon. Gentleman will recognise himself from that description.
The proposals that the Government nave put forward in the White Paper combine the unattractive, the unacceptable and the unworkable with a sureness of touch that betrays the hand of the Lord President. For us in Wales they offer the prospect of perpetual and costly conflicts between the three tiers of government, all permanently Labour-dominated, in which the only losers will 323 be the Welsh ratepayers and taxpayers. In North Wales we shall be exchanging interference by Whitehall officials for domination by even more remote Cardiff officials.
The present proposals are peculiarly Inept, and there have been few who have had a good word to say for them. But, to be fair, it is almost impossible to envisage any specific proposals that would have secured the approval of even a substantial minority in Wales and Scotland, let alone in England. As long as the concept of devolution remained vague, it was possible to imagine a gradual growth of support for it, but once it became necessary to spell out in detail all that is involved, it was inevitable that the irreducible opponents—namely, those who think that devolution goes too far and those who think that it does not go far enough—would be joined by those who found the details of any specific scheme to be totally unacceptable. If the devolution of power is right for the people of these islands and for their future, however little enthusiasm there may be—in England and Wales, anyway—the Government should keep pushing until they get the proposals through.
As for individual Members, I know that only a small minority of my constituents want to have any truck with devolution in any form, let alone what is now on offer. None the less, if I thought that devolution were right, I should feel bound to speak up for it, as I felt bound to support British membership of the EEC when that was a far from popular cause. I hope that we are not weathercocks.
If devolution is right, not even the large expense that it will entail is a conclusive argument against it. As for expense, I am convinced that it will turn out to be very much more costly than even the largest present estimates. The factors that operated to make the reform of local government so hugely expensive will operate even more powerfully to increase the cost of setting up and running the apparatus for devolution. Certainly NALGO has lost none of its muscle power. As a union it is operating, as few other unions now operate, within an expanding sector of the economy. The present situation gives it colossal bargaining strength.
324 If I thought that devolution were right, I should still feel bound to support it, despite the cost, and despite what is still more undesirable—namely, the further transfer of manpower and resources to the already swollen public sector. Nor can I use, to convince myself that devolution is wrong, the stock economic argument that Wales and Scotland are too small to prosper cut off from the English economy, and that their best prospects are to be part of a prosperous United Kingdom. The plain and nasty fact is that the economy of the United Kingdom has been so badly ordered for such a long time that it is at least possible that Wales—and still more possible that Scotland—would be more prosperous as separate members of the EEC—and I wish to stress that point—than as part of the United Kingdom.
Then there is the philosophic-patriotic argument for devolution. As a non-Welshman representing a Welsh constituency, perhaps I may be allowed to say a word on this topic, particularly to sceptical English colleagues. The notion that a Welsh nation, taking its own decisions, making its own mistakes, would develop a pride of achievement, a sense of national identity, and a willingness to make sacrifices for the community—qualities not conspicuously present in the United Kingdom as a whole at present—is a notion that it is wrong to scorn. I have seen something of this kind at work in those schools where instruction is carried out entirely in Welsh. They may be hot-beds of Welsh nationalism: they are also places of outstanding achievement. I believe that this factor of national pride, in Wales as in Scotland, would go some way to counterbalance the negative factors that come from dividing an economy so small as that of the United Kingdom.
The trouble with this idea, in Wales anyway, is that Welsh Home Rule is, and is likely to remain, so much a divisive factor, so bitterly opposed by half the people or more, that the plus factor of patriotism would be cancelled out by the bitter divisions that would ensue. To those divisions would be added those between North Walians and South Walians, even among those who support devolution—so much so that it is only realistic to suppose that an autonomous Wales would soon produce a demand for 325 autonomy for North Wales. There is enough evidence of a lack of shared interest between North and South. Shotton steelworks, which the British Steel Corporation wants to cut down in order to expand Port Talbot in the South, has had precious little support from Port Talbot steelworkers in its efforts to keep going. Furthermore, there is not much enthusiasm in North Wales for Cardiff's efforts to expand Rhoose Airport.
This division of interests between North and South Wales, which would lead to a further break-up of even an autonomous Wales, leads me to the argument which has convinced me that I must oppose the present, or almost any other, conceivable measure of devolution. Devolution of decision-taking, as we see it in many foreign countries, such as West Germany and Switzerland, is a system that can work well. In trying to move this country in that direction successive Governments have been following good examples. Moreover, they are attempting to find an answer to the most intractable question of our time—the growing failure of modern society to engage the sympathy or loyalty of the mass of its citizens. I was not convinced by the hon. Members for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) or Swansea, East who tried to write off this consideration. I think that it is valid.
Alienation is a feature of Communist societies every bit as much as of our own capitalist society. Maybe it is inseparable from industrialisation, or, at any rate, from the specialisation, the endless repetition of boring jobs, which necessarily go with industrialisation. Perhaps the right Government at the time will be able to use policies of devolution to re-establish a bond of sympathy between the citizen and the system of government under which he lives.
But, at a time when British Governments have shown to all the world that they are incapable of upholding legitimate British interests abroad and that, still more disastrously, they are incapable of holding the interests of the community against the arrogant claims of well-organised minorities at home, any measure of devolution is all too clearly seen to be what it really is—the merest electoral defeatism leading ineluctably to the 326 break-up and disintegration of the United Kingdom.
The Scottish and Welsh nationalists have learned the lesson taught by the trade unions—that the British Government are a pushover. If they are a Conservative Government, they can be pushed over because the Labour Opposition will combine with anyone to push them, whatever the risk to the nation. If they are a Labour Government, they will roll over before they are pushed. So, until a British Government can convincingly demonstrate that they are capable of doing what they are there to do—to uphold legitimate British interests abroad and the general interest at home—devolution will be regarded as a further admission of incapacity and a step towards disintegration.
It is for that overriding reason that I oppose the present measures, as I would oppose any other measures of devolution. The time to start thinking about Scottish and Welsh Governments will be when there is a British Government in the proper sense of the term.
§ 9.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Roger Stott (Westhoughton)
No matter where we stand on the argument, we can all agree that this debate is probably the most important that we have had in this House, possibly, since the Act of Union. We are discussing the probability, not the possibility, of fundamentally changing our democratic institutions of parliamentary Government. The document "Our Changing Democracy" says in Part I:The fact that our democratic institutions have been admirably stable over a long period does not mean that they are perfect. A healthy democracy must develop and adapt itself to changing circumstances.That is a very laudable and imaginative suggestion, but no one should be in doubt that this debate is not solely about devolving powers to Scotland and Wales. It is about the validity and cohesion of the Union of the United Kingdom itself. Over the Christmas Recess I read the Hansard report of the first debate we had on devolution a year ago. Out of 30 Back Benchers called in that two-day debate, only six were Members from English constituencies. I am not implying that the Chair was partial in its selection. What I am saying is—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Myer Galpern)
Order. It would be a most unfair imputation if the hon. Gentleman did suggest that. The Chair is doing its level best, although some hon. Members fail to understand this, to see that viewpoints from different parts of the United Kingdom are expressed.
§ Mr. Stott
I meant to say that. I was not criticising the Chair. My conclusion from reading that debate, and from the number of English Members who took part, was that there was a general lack of enthusiasm by English Members of Parliament for the subject of devolution.
I was prepared to believe that the people of Scotland and Wales were genuinely and enthusiastically in support of devolution. The main political parties have included the promise of devolved government for Scotland and Wales in their election manifestos. Some cynics have construed that as a posture of political expediency. In my naivety and perhaps complacency, I condoned it, or at least was not then inclined to oppose it. But 12 months have gone by since our first debate on devolution, 12 months in which we have had the opportunity to think about what the proposals would be.
Having read the document before us, I find that any vestige of complacency I may have had has disappeared. The House is debating the validity of the Union of the United Kingdom, in the total absence of any proposed powers for the regions of England. In its Introduction, the White Paper tacitly acknowledges the existence of England by saying:England is different again, and the Government will publish a document to provide a basis for discussion of possible—note the word "possible"—future arrangements in England.It also acknowledges that legislation of the magnitude required cannot be passed this Session. Its passage will be possible only in the next Session. Therefore, if England is to have any measure of devolved powers it may not be possible to debate them and legislate for them until the end of the decade. In the meantime, Scotland and Wales will presumably have their Assemblies, which will be funded by the national Government and will receive substantial benefits. The logical conclusion is that the English regions will not 328 be afforded the privilege of devolved government for a considerable time, if ever, and will suffer as a consequence.
I have always believed that we in Britain owe our strength, dignity and status to the fact that we have been a union of people from different backgrounds and different cultures, a union which has sustained a healthy democracy over the years. It is only through the existence of our democratic institutions that the Labour movement has been able to make a sustained attack throughout this century upon poverty, inequality and unemployment. Through the institutions of our Parliament in Westminster, it has been able to see some of its egalitarian ideals realised through legislation. They have come to fruition because we have had a Parliament based on the unity of the United Kingdom. The emancipation of the working people can best be fought for in the House of Commons. We have had unity because we comprise one economic unit.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock), who made a marvellous speech, made a similar speech last year, when he said:I believe that the emancipation of the class which I came to this House to represent, unapologetically, can best be achieved in a single nation and in a single economic unit, by which I mean a unit where we can have a brotherhood of all nations and have the combined strength of working-class people throughout the whole of the United Kingdom brought to bear against any bully, any executive, any foreign Power, any bureaucratic arrangement, be it in Brussels or in Washington, and any would-be coloniser, either an industrial coloniser or a political coloniser."—[Official Report, 3rd February 1975; Vol. 885, c. 1031.]Those are my sentiments exactly. I have always believed that the unity to fight the evils of poverty and deprivation can best be achieved by having a common political Socialist approach throughout the whole United Kingdom manifesting itself in this House.
I represent a constituency in the North-West which has known the rigours of unemployment, social deprivation, bad housing and hard times. Until recently, I had never contrasted our problems in Lancashire with those of the rest of the United Kingdom because the problems of deprivation and unemployment—what might be called the personal heartache problems—are the same throughout the United Kingdom. I wish the Scottish 329 National Party would recognise that these problems do not necessarily wear a kilt. They are with us all in the United Kingdom. I have never particularly objected to the fact that Scotland and Wales are substantially over-represented, per head of population, in this House.
§ Mr. Dempsey
Is my hon. Friend aware that the White Paper does not propose to transfer the functions dealing with the problems of unemployment and social insecurity to Scotland? They will remain with the United Kingdom Parliament.
§ Mr. Stott
I appreciate what my hon. Friend says, but it has been my misfortune to sit on various Committees opposite the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) and to have to listen to his rhetoric. I am merely answering the points he has often made. I have never believed that it was particularly unfair for Scotland and Wales to be over-represented here. My hon. Friend the Member for Newton (Mr. Evans), who cannot be here tonight because he is at the European Parliament, has produced some interesting statistics and comparisons of population and representation for Scotland and Wales showing that the people of these countries are substantially overrepresented here. I have never wanted to change that situation.
My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Dean) spelled out earlier the details of Government spending through the rate support grant and in other ways in England, Scotland and Wales and the Department of Industry has also produced some interesting figures. England receives £13.1 per head per annum from the Department of Industry compared with £29.5 in Wales and about £28 in Scotland. I am not complaining. This money has been given to Scotland and Wales to solve their very difficult problems, but while there has been an imbalance in central Government spending over the years, this will be compounded if we go ahead with the Government's devolution proposals. My colleagues and I are not prepared to stand by and see that happen at the expense of our own regions that suffer as much, if not worse, social deprivation as do many other parts of the United Kingdom.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty warned, this is the dangerous 330 game we are playing. I never expected to make this kind of speech in the House, but I have been forced into that situation in order to defend my constituents. That is what they sent me here to do.
I sometimes get thoroughly sickened by the utterances of the Scottish National Party Members. What a motley crew they are. They comprise failed Conservative candidates, disillusioned Liberals and failed Socialists, continually bound together by a policy of selfishness and greed. Their only political philosophy has been one of beggar my neighbour, we are all right, it is Scotland's oil, and hard luck to the rest of the United Kingdom. Politics have fallen to a pretty low level in recent years because of the spurious attitude advanced by those hon. Members.
If we are to have devolved Government in Scotland and Wales, we have to consider what recent similar example we can use for guidance, and that is local government reorganisation. It was supposed to have been beneficial, more efficient, and less expensive and to have brought people closer to the source of government. That myth has certainly been laid low. The reorganisation was a total disaster—[HON. MEMBERS: "It was a Labour plan."] It was not a Labour plan—
§ Mr. Robert Hughes
Is my hon. Friend aware that one of the reasons for the reform of local government was that there was a chorus for over a decade which said that the previous system was thoroughly bad? Now we hear siren voices asking for the old system to be returned.
§ Mr. Stott
If there is one example of devolved government, it must be local government reorganisation. Anyone who believed at the time that it was the right approach must by now be having second thoughts.
Perhaps I may give an example. If one of my constituents wants to get in touch with me he can put 10p in the telephone in Westhoughton, dial my number at Westminster, and converse with me in the very heart of the British legislature. However, if I want to get in touch with my local authority by telephone I shall be lucky to get the tea boy, let alone the chief executive. If that is devolved government, it is time we seriously reconsidered what we are 331 doing. I believe that we are about to perpetrate the same mistakes in Scotland and Wales.
Wales is a small nation of about 2.5 million people. It will be governed, under these proposals, by parish councils, district councils, county councils, the Welsh Assembly, Westminster and Brussels. I wonder whether the Welsh people know what is in store for them. They will be gorged on government and smothered in bureaucracy. As a Lancastrian I say "God help them", because this House does not appear to be doing so. I am as proud of my heritage as any Celt in this House is proud of his. I should like the unity of the United Kingdom to be maintained. I want our political parties universally to tackle the problems which affect our constituencies rather than pursuing the spurious proposals in the White Paper.
§ 9.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Teddy Taylor (Glasgow, Cathcart)
In his interesting speech, the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Stott) referred to local government reform. One lesson I draw from that is that when local government reform was considered as a possibility, it was found from Gallup polls that the vast majority of the people in Scotland, England and Wales were in favour of the principle of local government reform. Everyone wanted it. Everyone said that there was need for a change and an overhaul of administration, electoral arrangements and boundaries. When the proposal was put before the House of Commons by the Conservative Government in discussions in the Scottish Grand Committee no one objected to the proposals in principle, but changes were suggested here and there. There is little doubt now that most people in Scotland are dissatisfied with the new arrangements for local government.
§ Mr. Dempsey
I notice from reading the report of the debates in the Scottish Grand Committee that three of my hon. Friends were opposed to the proposed reorganisation.
§ Mr. Taylor
No one voted against the proposals on Second Reading, although many people added dots and commas. I am sure that the people of Coatbridge and Airdrie are lucky to have an excellent Member to look after their affairs.
332 The lesson we should draw is that, although it is alleged that most people in Scotland are in favour of devolution, it may be that for many it is simply a slogan, just as local government reform was.
The Government have tried hard to arrive at the right balance in their proposals for devolution. When we look at the proposals in detail and at how they are to be applied, we may find that they are just as weak as were the local government reorganisation proposals. The Government should consider carefully the dangers, troubles and expense that will arise from their proposals and put on the other side any advantages that they see. Most hon. Members who have spoken today have pointed out considerable disadvantages and dangers, and there appear to be few advantages. It was interesting that the Prime Minister chose to put forward the proposals with a broad brush, leaving the details to the Secretary of State for Scotland and his other Front Bench colleagues. That is usually a sign that the Prime Minister has a bad case.
Let us look at some of the immediate dangers and disadvantages. For the Assembly the Scottish people will have to pay a great deal of money. The Government say that it will be £10 million a year, but we have experience of Government estimates and the final cost usually proves to be a great deal more than the original estimate. Expressed in real terms, that estimate of revenue and capital is equivalent to 1,000 home helps, 500 policemen, 20 football pitches for children, 10 nursery schools, 300 teachers and four community centres. We have to remember that while £10 million may appear to be a small sum in terms of benefit to Scotland, if it were spent in the way I have suggested, it would be more valuable.
I hope that the Government will say something about the position of the Civil Service in Scotland, particularly in the Scottish Office. The White Paper in paragraphs 80 to 85 says that it will still be possible to have one Scottish Office and that there will be no need to have a separate Civil Service. How will it be possible for the same Civil Service and the same officials to advise and serve the Scottish Assembly's Executive and members of Her Majesty's Government in 333 Westminster if they are in conflict on the issue on which the advice is sought?
§ The Minister of State, Privy Council Office (Mr. Gerry Fowler)
The hon. Gentleman has misinterpreted the White Paper. The White Paper speaks of a unified Civil Service, not of the same civil servants serving and advising simultaneously the Scottish Office and the devolved Assembly on points at issue between the two sides.
§ Mr. Taylor
That is precisely the point I am coming to. The Minister said that some civil servants would serve the Assembly and some the Secretary of State for Scotland and his colleagues. There will be two separate parts of the Scottish Office providing the same information in a different way for a different purpose to two groups of people who may be in conflict with each other.
Let us take the size of the block grant, which is a very important issue. Naturally, the Secretary of State, in arguing for the size of the block grant in the Cabinet, would want information about how much to ask for. A Scottish Assembly would decide that it would want rather more than the Secretary of State offered. It would be looking for some kind of justification for this kind of money. At the end of the day, even despite all the attempts of any Government, there would inevitably be two separate Civil Services duplicating information and providing separate information to two groups of people in conflict.
In addition, it must be accepted that an Assembly, as set out in the White Paper, would inevitably be divisive. It would not be possible for Westminster to pass a law for Scotland without the Assembly's agreement, and it would not be possible for the Assembly to pass a law for Scotland without Westminster's agreement. This would inevitably lead to a good deal of conflict, unless we had an Assembly and a Parliament occupied by saints with the same views on every political situation. Clearly, that will not happen. Although the Government will claims that these are reserve powers to be used at the end of the day only if there is a major clash of policy, I suggest that their mere existence, and the mere fact that laws cannot be passed unless 334 both bodies approve will make it impossible for the Westminster Government to apply their policies equally throughout the United Kingdom, and also impossible for the Assembly to have its own laws decided unless Westminster approves.
Very little refer[...]nce has been made to the position of Scottish Members of Parliament in Westminster. One of the bases of the Union is that all Members of Parliament in Westminster have effectively been in the same position in relation to the House of Commons and in relation to the powers they have, but would this be the position if we had an Assembly in Scotland today? An Assembly would mean that I, as a Scottish Member of Parliament in Westminster, would be able to play a part—perhaps a decisive part—in deciding what kind of educational policies, housing policies and transport policies should apply in England and Wales, but I should have little or no rôle in relation to these matters in Scotland, other than at Question Time.
The Secretary of State knows that I take the view that he gives unsatisfactory answers to some of my Questions—he may not like the Questions—but would not the Secretary of State accept that every Question we asked him on a Wednesday would receive the simple answer "This is a matter for the Scottish Assembly"? That would be a change from "No, Sir", but he would not be able to deal with these matters, because clearly they would be the concern of the Scottish Assembly.
I am not arguing that as a Scottish Member of Parliament I could do the job better than anyone anywhere else, but it would put Members of Parliament from Scotland in this House in a totally different position from that of the rest of their colleagues. We should not be able to play a part in decision-making about home affairs in our own country. We should have a part to play only in the domestic policies pursued in England and Wales, and that would certainly cause resentment among the English and Welsh Members. What a ludicrous position it would be if we had a Conservative majority returned for England and Wales, Scotland doing its own thing north of the border, and a group of Members of Parliament from Scotland, partly Socialist 335 and partly Scottish National, coming down to Westminster to overturn the democratic will of people in England!
There may be a case for Scottish nationalism, as instanced by the presence of the SNP Members here, though it is a case that I do not accept. But it is much harder to see a case for something in between. It is messy and will only make government more divisive and more costly.
What about our constituents? We often forget about people when we are having these great debates at a high level. I know that some have found it a little difficult and complicated to determine their political problems and to decide to whom they should go on local government questions. If we have surgeries with a Member of Parliament, together with a regional councillor and a district councillor, people are often confused about whom to approach about various matters. What kind of situation should we have if in addition there were a European Member of Parliament from Strasbourg, someone from Westminster, someone from Edinburgh, and people from the regional and local councils? It would create maximum confusion and make it more difficult for people to know who was responsible for any particular question.
Another factor to bear in mind when considering this White Paper and similar Assembly proposals is whether we are devolving enough to satisfy directly-elected members of an Assembly in Edinburgh. Are we giving them a job to do that will give satisfaction to people directly elected to a Scottish Parliament or Assembly? Is there real power for them?
We have heard from the Prime Minister and others of spending £2,000 million. If and others were given the sum of £2,000 million to spend as we thought fit, without restriction, that would be a power. But is this a real power in practical terms in the present situation? We know that the vast proportion is distributed to the local authorities to spend according to their priorities. It is they who will decide how much to spend on education and on housing.
We know that a block grant is given to the local authorities and that they determine the priorities. As my right hon. 336 Friend the Leader of the Opposition said in her splendid speech, if we are to give powers to the Assembly, we may be taking away some of the decisions on priorities taken by the local authorities. I am sure that the Secretary of State has no such intention.
Let us consider, for example, the hospital boards. At present, the Secretary of State allocates them money for their purposes. If we gave the decision-making power to a Scottish Assembly, the situation would be altered completely. But it would be monstrous, unjust and divisive to have 142 elected representatives going to Edinburgh without a really significant job to do.
Then we are told that there is our domestic legislation. Are the Secretary of State and his colleagues arguing that the Scottish legislation at present considered by the Scottish Grand Committee and any additional laws required will be adequate to take up the time, expertise and intelligence of people directly elected to Edinburgh? Nothing would be worse than to create frustration by electing people directly to do a job only for them to find that there was not sufficient work for them to do. Inevitably they would say "We are the Scottish Parliament. We represent the Scottish people. Is not it monstrous that on issues such as employment, the expansion of regional grants, development areas and the rest of it we should not have a say, then consultation, then power and then complete control?". Such an Assembly would be a washout, or it would become the slippery slope towards the break-up of Britain.
All these matters may be argued about, but everyone agrees that there are potential dangers that could become factual. We have to ask ourselves what are the advantages on the other side which will compensate for these obvious dangers.
Will it, for example, make government less remote to have four Members for each constituency rather than the present one, and shortly, under Common Market arrangements, two? Will people feel less remote from government? For example, will people from the North of Scotland feel themselves less remote from government knowing that they will be dominated by the south and central areas? One of my hon. Friends pointed out the division between North and South Wales. In Scotland we do not have the clash that 337 is building up in Wales. But there is no doubt that people in the North of Scotland look more favourably upon their present rule than they would upon the kind of rule which might come from a Scottish Assembly dominated by Strathclyde and the Central Belt.
I do not condemn the Government's proposals out of hand. It is virtually impossible to draw up an Assembly White Paper without costing a great deal of money, without creating more bureaucracy, without delay in decision-making, without frustration and without the possibility of leading to the break-up of Britain. No matter how it is approached, I suggest that we come to the same conclusion: although there is a case for more decentralisation and although we want more of our decision-making process for the United Kingdom as a whole spread throughout the country, if we have two Parliaments and two Governments in one island sharing power in this mysterious way we have a recipe for disaster.
That is why I believe that we must concentrate all our endeavours on improving the economic prospects for Britain and, indeed, for Scotland. Scottish Members of Parliament and hon. Members from other areas should fight for their areas and for a more prosperous Britain. It will do no good for Scotland or Scottish people to have this type of messy middle of the road position that will satisfy no one and that will certainly not create better government.
I recommend that the Government should drop this proposition and appreciate that they are trying to do a virtually impossible task, a task that I believe will bring no benefit to Scotland or its people.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
In the remaining 20 minutes I should like to accommodate two additional speakers. I think that we shall be able to do that.
§ 9.41 p.m.
§ Mr. Richard Buchanan (Glasgow, Springburn)
I am mindful of your request, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and therefore I shall be a brief as possible. I imagined that I should be out on a limb in putting forward my view of the White Paper. Instead I find that I am echoing many of the views of my hon. Friends.
338 My hon. Frends the Members for Leeds, West (Mr. Dean) and Westhoughton (Mr. Stott) seemed to be in the vanguard of an English backlash. They seemed to be saying that Scotland would not get any more than was its due.
They were justified in putting forward that view. They are elected to represent their constituents and loyally they have moved through the Lobby when Scotland and Wales have been considerably subsidised by this and previous Governments They have taken the view that the United Kingdom is an entity and that Scotland requires the help that the Labour Government and the previous Conservative Government have given it.
We are now putting the cart before the horse. We have set out on the reform of local government without even considering the reform of local government finance. We have set out a programme of devolution while still awaiting the Green Paper on devolution within the English regions due to be published shortly. By constantly putting the cart before the horse we do ourselves no good. Devolution should have been considered for the United Kingdom as a whole.
On average I get around and about as much as any other hon. Member. I meet many people. My hon. Friends have spoken about the groundswell of support for devolution. I am completely unaware of it. I have never found a terrific groundswell of support for devolution. I believe that my colleagues of some influence were influenced by the razzmatazz of the Scottish National Party, which is considerable.
During the recess I addressed four meetings on devolution and advanced the views in the White Paper. I thought that they were instructive meetings. To my astonishment, the reaction from women's guilds, trade union branches and tenants' associations was totally against devolution of any kind. It was that the break-up of the United Kingdom would be disastrous.
There is no support in my constituency for separation, but that is not to say that there is no support for the Scottish National Party. However, support for the Scottish National Party stems from the basis not of separating Scotland from England, but from some of the most outrageous propaganda ever put out by any political party.
§ Mr. Buchanan
By setting up the Crowther and Kilbrandon inquiry we have given the nationalist movement credibility. In Scotland the North Sea oil has lubricated that bandwagon.
We are stuck with this White Paper on devolution. I am sorry to see that the federal flag has been lowered. I had expected some support from the Liberal Bench. Eventually the Assembly will either disintegrate into separatism and home rule, or we must have a federal system. At heart I am a federalist. I came out of the ILP 34 years ago. At that time we believed in home rule, but in our hearts we knew that home rule was not viable. We had our own steel, roads, and other industries.
§ Mr. Buchanan
That is due to Scottish indifference, not Westminster neglect. Whatever changes are carried out must be justified by the long-term economic and social progress of the people of Great Britain as a whole. Federalism could be the key.
A great deal is said about involvement, getting people involved, and bringing government nearer to the people. In Scotland hundreds of local authority seats are not contested. Some are not even filled. Before the reform of local government in Scotland, literally thousands of seats were not contested and hundreds were not filled. This is the myth of involvement.
The psychologists ought to get their teeth into the problem of involving the people. It is one of the hardest jobs imaginable to get anyone involved. At big trade union branches there may be 10, 12 or 14 people involved. On tenants' associations, unless there is a complaint, we have much the same numbers. Getting people involved is extremely difficult. It is not as easy as the Government seem to think.
The proposed Assembly could become a nonsense. We need consider only the situation in this House where the parties are so evenly divided. Let us consider the situation of a minority Government in a similar position, the Assembly taking a decision and the Secretary of State 340 disagreeing and coming to this House to get an Order. It would be like looking at the all-in wrestling on television at four o'clock on a Saturday afternoon. The people we represent would laugh their heads off. Some conflict!
The hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) talked about the difficulties in Westminster versus the Assembly. Recently I had occasion to speak to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State with responsibility for education on two matters—the closure of Robroyston Hospital and primary education. If and when the Assembly is set up, I shall not be able to talk to my hon. Friend about such matters. If a hospital in Liverpool were to be closed, or there was something wrong with primary education generally and I lived in London, I could say something in this House, yet I could not voice my feelings; the decision was made in the Assembly. The whole thing is ridiculous. Someone referred to it as a recipe for dispute and conflict, and that is absolutely right.
Some of my hon. Friends are worried about the time that the Bill will take to go through this House. I counsel my right hon. Friend to take as long as is necessary to get it absolutely correct. Let him take a good long time to consider. We cannot afford to make any mistakes.
A purely Scottish economy has never existed. To talk about a Scottish economy without taking into consideration the needs and aspirations of people in other places is quite ridiculous. We are now in a situation in which any alteration in Scotland is an improvement. Scotland's problems will not be solved simply by setting up an Assembly or—
§ Mr. Buchanan
This is the best White Paper we have at this moment. It keeps the promises that we made at the General Election. I accept that the Government are trying to improve the quality of government in this country. I note this and on Monday night I shall welcome the White Paper with reluctance and apprehension.
§ 9.49 p.m.
§ Mr. Nick Budgen (Wolverhampton, South-West)
Most contributions in this debate have centred upon the problem of devolution in relation to Scotland. That is understandable, because the main pressure for devolution has come from the highly successful, if rather self-centred, pleas from the Scottish National Party.
§ Mr. Budgen
Many hon. Members on this side of the House, particularly those who represent English constituencies and who, like me, may be Englishmen who have little knowledge of the situation in Scotland, will be asking themselves, as they view the debate with some doubt and apprehension, whether anything can placate the SNP.
One of the first arguments that the SNP puts forward is that government in Scotland is over-centralised. They are not uniquely unfortunate in that. Government in the whole United Kingdom is over-centralised. Indeed, there is far too much government throughout the United Kingdom. We want less government. We want to get the Government off the back of the people. But what we do not want to do is to suggest yet another layer of government imposed by the taxpayer on the backs of our fellow citizens. What we want to see thoughout the United Kingdom is a spirit of choice and individual freedom which may give to the people of the whole United Kingdom, including Scotland, that sense of economic well-being which we have so sadly missed for so long.
But there may be many of my right hon. and hon. Friends from England who, knowing as little about Scotland as I do—
§ Mr. Budgen
Yes, that may be, but although I know little about Scotland I may be able to devote myself to some of the principles of government rather than just thinking about how to placate a special interest in the SNP.
§ Mr. Hamish Watt (Banff)
Has the hon. Gentleman ever taken the trouble to go to Scotland and find out what the people are thinking?
§ Mr. Budgen
I have often visited Scotland and talked politics with people there 342 but what I am not saying is that I am any expert on Scottish politics. I do not represent a Scottish constituency and will not try to parade myself as any quasi-expert on Scotland.
But what I believe many of my hon. Friends are asking is whether the Scottish nationalists can be in any way placated by some form of directly elected Assembly.
§ Mr. Budgen
I agree. I think that the Scottish nationalists are fair and open in their attitude. Many hon. Members say, "Let us have a directly elected Assembly but let us not give it any powers." That is a dangerous idea. It would be as dishonest as anything can be and it would give rise to great conflict in future.
Let us consider the whole process of getting elected. Inevitably, it means making promises and adopting postures. If promises are to be made by people who wish to be elected to this Assembly, it is impossible for the candidates to say, "I want to make these promises, but I should tell you that there is nothing I can do once I am elected. We have no legislative or executive powers. All that I can do is put forward ideas and say that I will shoot my mouth off." That is hardly a helpful position for a candidate to take.
I would say to my hon. Friends who may be considering their attitude to this important problem that there can be no compromise here. If we tell the people of Scotland that they are to have a directly elected Assembly, inevitably we must later give them legislative and then executive powers. As many hon. Members have said with such eloquence—in this respect I am delighted to see the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) here—such an Assembly must inevitably lead to conflict between Scotland and Westminster. Nevertheless, many important people on this side feel in their hearts that some concession must always be made to a special interest.
§ Mr. Budgen
No, a spirit of conciliation runs in all of us: it runs in me, too.
Let the Scottish Grand Committee sit in Edinburgh to consider the details of 343 Scottish legislation. That would be a significant and much welcomed change. It would recognise the fact that Scotland has its own law and would recognise the difficulties of travel that are bound to be met by those who wish to make representations to Scottish Members of Parliament at Westminster.
§ Mr. Budgen
Most of all it will recognise the one factor that is vital to the Union of the United Kingdom, the supremacy of the British Parliament at Westminster. I say to any doubting Tory who has a vote on this issue—as do Scottish National Members of Parliament—whose constituency is just as affected by these proposals as that of any Scottish Member and who in the past may well have thought that this was a Scottish or a Welsh issue and that he should not concern himself with it, vote against the White Paper.
I say most of all that the Conservative Party is the party of the Union and the Union is based upon two propositions. The first proposition is that each section of the community of the whole United Kingdom is prepared to subordinate its will to the will and the good of the whole of the United Kingdom. The democratic unit is the United Kingdom. There is no lesser democratic unit. The second proposition is that the Union of the United Kingdom depends upon the supremacy of the Westminster Parliament.
I say to my doubting friends, of whom there are many, that they should vote against the White Paper as part of their duty as parliamentary representatives. The Labour Party may be the party of radical constitutional change, but parliamentary democracy depends most of all upon the vigour of debates, which depends in turn upon the clash of parties. Let the Labour Party split up the United Kingdom if it wishes to do so. The Tories are the party of the Union. We must fulfil our historic role, and when in doubt it should be our abiding principle that we fulfil our historic function. We, the Tory Party, should vote against the White Paper. We should vote against any proposal which involves a directly elected Assembly.
§ Mr. Donald Coleman (Lord Commissioner of the Treasury)
I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.
§ 9.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Douglas Henderson (Aberdeenshire, East)
I had not intended to intervene in this debate, but as the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen) gave me the opportunity to do so I thought it unwise to allow even two precious minutes to be wasted. Therefore I give the House an opportunity to hear a more authentic voice of Scottish opinion.
I welcome the fact that a few English hon. Members have ventured forth to participate in this debate and I hope that we shall hear more from them in the days that follow because in the last three devolution debates not one English hon. Member took the trouble to attend or speak.
§ Mr. Henderson
The hon. Gentleman says that it is not true but I treat that remark as I treat other remarks made by him.
§ Mr. Henderson
I shall not give way because I have only one minute left. The Minister of State will have plenty of time to speak on a later occasion. English hon. Members, to whom we speak in the kindliest and most fraternal way, must realise—[Interruption.] We have heard patronising remarks from the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition and others in the Conservative and Labour Parties. The Scottish people are no longer prepared to have progress held up by this House, by English hon. Members or by any other force in these islands. The Scottish people have made up their minds that they are going forward towards responsible self-government, and I hope that Scottish Members—
§ It being Ten o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.