§ [THIRD DAY]
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Snape.]
§ Mr. Speaker
Before calling the first speaker, I shall deal with a matter referred to earlier relating to the Order Paper and the amendments. As some hon. Members will have seen, there are printing errors in the references to the lines to which the amendments relate. They have arisen because of the difference between the typewritten copy and the printed copy of the motion. The errors will be corrected.
I have decided, always subject to the appropriate business motion being passed by the House, to pursue the experiment which we had on the Queen's Speech, and I shall give an opportunity for two amendments to be voted upon if the House so wishes. Those amendments will be the one in the name of the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition and the one in the names of the hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) and the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans). The arguments dealt with in all amendments are relevant to the general debate. But, if the House so decides, it will be possible to have a vote on those two amendments.
§ The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Edward Short)
Will you allow me to say, Mr. Speaker, that, you now having made clear the amendments which you propose to call, I shall put down the motion to enable those two amendments to be called?
§ 3.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Nicholas Edwards (Pembroke)
Three questions must be asked again and again during the debate. Will the proposals safeguard the essential unity of the 591 United Kingdom? Will they produce better government? Are they wanted by the people?
I do not propose on this occasion again to argue the case for unity, except to say that there is far more in our history that unites than divides, that language need be no barrier—in my constituency Welsh and English speakers have lived side by side in harmony together for centuries—that customs, family relationships and economics are powerful ties, and that, more important than all this, is the fact that the Welsh people wish to remain part of the United Kingdom.
The statement made by the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans) that Wales is in a condition of "national servitude" will be regarded with ridicule by the great majority of the Welsh people. They are proud to be Welsh, but they are proud to be British, too.
I am arguing this afternoon the case as it affects Wales. There, discontent with government where it exists is not linked, except by Plaid Cymru—which won less than 11 per cent. of the vote—with hostility to England, nor are our problems blamed on the fact of Union. That shows the fundamental good sense of the Welsh people, but this harmony is now threatened by the Government's proposal to set up a rival administration that will focus discontent and concentrate it in a form likely to create hostility to the Westminster Parliament.
The new Executive, for all its local government disguise, is to have at its head what is in reality a Cabinet and someone who will claim authority as the elected spokesman of the Welsh people. It is proposed that there should be established in Scotland and Wales second Governments. Each Government will be free to form a different judgment as to the interests of those whom they represent. There are to be no clear-cut boundaries, as in a federal structure, but an infinite potential for disagreement and conflict.
There can be no comparison between what is proposed and the relationship of central Government to local authorities. Because local authorities can claim to speak only for their locality, there can be no question of their challenging the right 592 of central Government to act in the interests of all. If there is established an executive body, a Government, that can claim to speak for a nation, a body that is established only because it can speak for a nation, a body that is established because it is said that the demand of the nation is irresistible, that body can claim an authority that would enable it to challenge the central Government.
There is no limit to the scope of that conflict. The act of isolating the treatment of Wales and Scotland because of their sense of nationhood at once sets them apart and sets us on a momentous and dangerous course. As I shall argue later, conflicts are likely to arise, because it will be the task of one body to execute policy laid down by another body, possibly of a quite different political complexion.
Furthermore, the fact that the powers of this new Government are initially limited will not prevent it from claiming more and will certainly not prevent it from being exploited by those who freely admit that it is for them just a stepping stone on the road to independence. Such a body, with wide social but no economic powers, will inevitably claim that it must have those economic powers. It will blame every shortcoming of its own administration on the limitation within which it has to work.
The answer, then, to my first question, "Will the proposals safeguard the fundamental unity of the United Kingdom?", is that they will not. They will be likely not to dampen discontent but to create it—to fan the flames of dissension.
Will the proposals produce better government? There is no evidence that they will. What is certain is that we shall have more government, a whole extra tier imposed upon an unchanged local government structure—an extra tier that, as the White Paper makes clear, has to be scrutinised and supervised by the Government at Westminster with its "ultimate responsibility", as it says,for all the people of the United Kingdom.The White Paper is frank about the complexity of these relationships. It says that there will benew and sometimes unavoidably complex divisions of responsibility.The consequence of all this complexity is to be a massive extension of the bureaucracy. There are to be 3,000 extra civil 593 servants, 1,600 of them in Wales—more than the entire present staff of the Welsh Office. The cost—which, like most other Government estimates, seems certain to be exceeded—is to be £22 million a year, £12 million of that being in respect of Wales.
The Government cannot even bring themselves to state clearly that, following what the White Paper calls a "massive handover of powers", there will be a reduction of the existing Government Departments—just that there ought to be net savings in these other Departments. Of course, there ought to be, but even the Government clearly fear that there will not be. We are to have more complicated government, more expensive government, and more bureaucratic government. Why anyone should believe that that will mean better government, I cannot imagine.
My third question is, are these proposals wanted by the people? The Government's course of action has throughout been based upon the assumption that there is a widespread public demand for change. They have sought to create the impression that the Welsh people are insistent in their demand for an Assembly. But it has been the experience of very few candidates in three General Elections that this is so, nor is there much evidence in the results of those elections to support the contention.
In 1973 the Kilbrandon Commission stated that there was no clear evidence of what people wanted and forecast that its Report would lead to the formation of a more clearly defined public opinion. It did not do so. But public opinion has been forming in a vacuum, because there was little agreement, among those who wanted an Assembly, about what it should do. Devolution was offered as an ill-defined panacea for all our troubles.
Now, for the first time, the Welsh people have been presented with detailed proposals, and their response is a growing hostility. That fact has been confirmed by speaker after speaker in this debate, by resolution after resolution from local authorities and political oganisations, and by public opinion polls. The one thing that people seem very—
§ Mr. Gwynfor Evans (Carmarthen)
Has the hon. Gentleman read the report in this morning's Press of the decision made yesterday by the Transport and General 594 Workers' Union in Wales, which wants a Parliament for Wales, with legislative powers for industry and the economy? The National Union of Mineworkers in Wales favours the same kind of Parliament, as does the Welsh TUC. The same kind of Parliament is favoured by the South Pembrokeshire Council, which has just decided to seek a Welsh Assembly with substantial and effective legislative and economic executive policy-making powers.
§ Mr. Edwards
I have not seen the report and I do not accept that the Transport and General Workers' Union necessarily speaks for the Welsh people. An even longer list of bodies against such views can be provided. For example, I understand that a majority of the district councils in Wales have now submitted resolutions against the devolution proposals.
The one matter about which people seem very certain, however, is that they want a referendum. Over 70 per cent. called for it in one recent poll.
The Government have no justification for their claim that they are responding to the overwhelming demand of the Welsh people. If Welsh opinion is to be considered a vital factor, it should be assesed after we know what is proposed, but not before.
§ Mr. Norman Tebbit (Chingford)
Does my hon. Friend recollect that, with the exception of the local council mentioned by the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans), all those bodies claimed that the Welsh people did not want to belong to the European Economic Community, but the Welsh people, when they voted in the referendum, proved that they did? Why should we trust those bodies, there-for, on this occasion?
§ Mr. Edwards
I entirely agree that the declarations of the hon. Member for Carmarthen about what the Welsh people want have often proved unsound in the past, but the question that remains is how the assessment is to be made.
I have never thought that referenda are a good basis for parliamentary government, and I still do not think so, though the present Government have argued that a special case can be made for referenda on constitutional issues.
The one point that is certain, however, is that if the Government are to justify 595 this constitutional revolution on grounds of public demand, they will find it increasingly difficult to resist the demand for a referendum, which is now blowing like a hurricane through Wales, and quite strongly through their Back Benches.
The centre piece of the Government's case is that there is a need for democratic control over the nominated bodies. Let us examine what is to happen. It is not the transformation of the system that many people were led to expect. We are told that it is only the nominated bodies, operating wholly in Wales and Scotland on devolved matters, that are to be responsible to the new Assemblies. Other bodies, we are informed, raise complicated problems, and they are to have no formal accountability to the Assemblies, though there is some vague talk in paragraph 263 about securingchanges in their activities and membership.I shall concentrate on the Welsh bodies. There is the Welsh Land Authority. Here powers are to be given to an Assembly in Wales which are to be given to the local authorities in England. That is hardly bringing government closer to the people.
As to the recently established Welsh Development Agency, the White Paper proposes an extraordinary system of divided responsibility and appointment, of which the essential feature is that the Secretary of State in Westminster retains control of the crucial economic functions. The Assembly is to be left with derelict land clearance and advance factory building therefore the Assembly will not have much control over that nominated body.
The next major organisation is the Welsh National Water Development Authority, which the Government propose should be responsible to two different democratic assemblies simultaneously, like Dr. Dolittle's companion the PushmiPullyu. It will have to look both ways at the same time, being responsible for Welsh water to the Welsh Assembly and for English water to Westminster. As the rivers bubble eastward out of the Welsh hills, they apparently stop swishing and splashing in Welsh and start gurgling in English. Welsh water suddenly becomes English, an even more difficult concept to understand than that of the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. 596 Mackintosh) yesterday, when he asked how Scottish salmon suddenly became British as they entered the sea.
Then there are the area health authorities, and the Assembly will now appoint all but the local authority members. My own area health authority—composed, as it is, almost entirely of local people—is reacting with great sensitivity to the needs of the area. There is a real danger that a functional committee in Cardiff will interfere with the work of these local organisations and actually take power away from the locality to Cardiff—something that the county councils fear will happen over a whole range of activities.
Then there are the community health authorities and the national parks committees. All at present contain a majority of local authority representatives. Surely it is not proposed that there should be detailed democratic control of them by an Assembly. That would certainly involve taking powers away from the people of the areas concerned. The hon. Member for Newport (Mr. Hughes) yesterday had a good deal of fun at the expense of those who at present chair such bodies as the Councils of the National Library and the National Museum, the Historic Buildings Council, the Library Advisory Council, the Royal Commission on Ancient and Historic Monuments, the Sports Council and the Welsh Arts Council. But surely specialist, sporting, cultural and artistic expertise will still be needed, and it is not immediately self-evident that these things are better run by party politicians or that the Welsh people will receive enormous benefits if they are.
I concede that there may be some advantage in being able to debate the affairs of, for example, the Welsh Tourist Board, although we could do it here in the Grand Committee. That leaves such bodies as the licensing and planning committees, the new town development corporations, the rent tribunals, the Welsh Medical Committee, the Welsh Nurse Training Committee, the Welsh Nursing and Midwifery Committee and the Welsh Pricing Committee. Is it really for democratic control of Mervyn Jones at the Welsh Tourist Board or of the Welsh Nursing and Midwifery Committee and the Welsh Pricing Committee that we are to suffer a constitutional revolution?
597 The Government have roared like a lion and brought forth a mouse. Even if they achieve some modest gains in democratic practice, they must be offset against the losses elsewhere.
There is at least one area where the consequences in democratic terms will be massively adverse. For the people of rural Wales, for those of the North and West, for farmers and for minorities generally, the scheme proposed contains the seeds of disaster. That is because Wales contains a major structural population and political imbalance. Of the population of 2¾ million, more than two-thirds are concentrated in the South and East, in the counties of Glamorgan and Gwent. It is that population mass and the political machines which represent it which will dominate the Welsh Assembly.
We have learned painfully elsewhere that if democracy is to work it must mean more than simply the supremacy of a majority: it needs the adequate representation of minorities. There have to be checks and balances, or, far from producing public good will, we shall produce bitterness and resentment. In the proposed Assembly, North Wales, including the parliamentary constituencies of Merioneth and Montgomery, initially will have 18 seats. South Wales will have 54. Rural Wales, which I define as Monmouth and the seats west of Llanelli and north of Glamorgan, will initially have 28 representatives. Industrial Wales will have 44.
The great majority of Assembly Members will come from the 45-mile belt which separates Swansea, West and Newport. It is hard to predict political events, and I hope that I am wrong, but if past patterns are repeated, the political imbalance will be equally severe, with Labour outnumbering its combined opponents by two to one.
All that is in marked contrast to the Westminster Parliament, where single-party Government is not the rule, where administrative, economic and geographic centralising tendencies are counterbalanced by the political weight of the Midlands, the North, Scotland and Wales. In this place, the farmers of Wales, Scotland and England combine to form a powerful lobby. The small towns of rural Britain and the businesses which sustain them speak here with a loud 598 voice—loud because it is the collective voice of hundreds of places like them and because its united political weight is more than enough to sway the decisions we take. In this place, in this balanced Parliament, can be advanced the collective interests of every area. I fear that it will not be so in Cardiff and that, because of the political imbalance, they will be heard there less clearly.
There will be other losses, too, in terms of democracy to counterbalance anything which may be gained from the increased accountability of some of the nominated bodies. We are told that Wales is ignored at Westminster. I do not believe that that is true. Its untruth is established by the important role played here by Welsh Members. It is expressly repudiated by Kilbrandon in paragraph 446, which reported that United Kingdom Governments, far from ignoring the Scots and Welsh,have, at least in recent years, shown a concern for them which might almost be regarded as disproportionately great".It speaks of their claims being "vigorously pursued". It tells us that they have benefited not because, compared with parts of England, they necessarily had the best case, but because they had the most effective voice.
Kilbrandon could find no grounds for the belief that Scotland and Wales are neglected under the present system and suffer in material terms on account of their incorporation in the United Kingdom. On the contrary, it reported,they tend to receive preferential treatment.But their effective voice, which has attained this preferential treatment, is now to be reduced in two ways—first by a weakening of the position of Welsh Members of Parliament and, second, by the political emasculation of the Secretary of State.
I have argued that Wales has not been ignored in this place. Certainly it must have been the fault of individual Members if any Welsh seat has been ignored. Each has the same opportunities as every other Member in this Parliament. Every Welsh Member has exactly the same chance to advance the interests of his or her constituency as any English Member. But if these proposals are approved, that will no longer be true.
Welsh Members of Parliament will be unable to debate to any effect the 599 administrative and executive decisions which arise in any of the great social issues of the day—housing, education, health, personal social services, physical planning and the environment, roads and transport. The Welsh Member's position will fall somewhere between that of the English Member, able to debate legislation and administration, and that of the Scottish Member, virtually excluded from the devolved subjects altogether.
Welsh Members will be concerned with legislation but not with the administration of Government in the devolved fields. Presumably, on those matters, they will debate the proceedings on Bills but not take part in Questions or in general debates about the performance of those responsible for the actual administration of government. Their plight will be better than that of the Scots, but they will still be second-class citizens, silenced and powerless on the majority of day-to-day issues which most interest their constituents.
But—it is a big "but"—although Welsh and Scottish Members, mute and silent on the subjects which most interest them, will be second-class citizens, in another respect they will be privileged, because they will be able by their voices and their votes to decide in England the policy on a whole range of matters—the structure of the education service and the organisation of the National Health Service, for example—which in their own parts of the United Kingdom will have been transferred elsewhere. I do not believe that that situation would for long be acceptable to this House.
Already in this debate there has been an oft-repeated demand for a reduction in the powers of Scottish and Welsh Members. If their representation were to be reduced, so would their influence on the great economic issues so vital to them, as well as on defence, foreign policy, law and order and external relations. In the case of Wales, with legislative authority remaining in this place, there is a powerful argument for retaining the existing numbers, although some suggest that there should be two classes of Member, one of whom would not be free to vote on those matters for which responsibility 600 had been transferred to another Assembly. I like that proposal almost as little as the suggestion that numbers should be reduced, because, like the Kilbrandon Com mission, in paragraphs 811–814, I regard it as almost totally impracticable.
Turning to the Secretary of State, only those who delude themselves could regard his position as enviable. There can be no disguising the fact that the scope of his responsibilities and therefore of his influence in the British Cabinet is to be damagingly reduced.The great bulk of the public services which affect the people of Wales"—I use the phrase from the White Paper—will be taken from him. No longer will he have the great social responsibilities of education, health or housing. He will not be able to demand resources for them except in so far as he speaks as a messenger boy for the Assembly.
In the industrial and economic areas the Secretary of State will be under continuous pressure from a body which, if he follows its advice, will shoulder no responsibility for the consequences of his actions.
Power without responsibility is what, in economic affairs, the Assembly will have, because it will be able to claim to speak for the Welsh people and it will carry that influence. However, the Secretary of State will have responsibility without power which in some respects is a rôle even less attractive than that of the harlot down the ages.
The fact that the Secretary of State's position will be peculiarly unpleasant is comparatively unimportant. What is important is that he will inevitably exercise less influence in the British Cabinet on behalf of the Welsh people. One task in which he will presumably be involved is the operation of the United Kingdom reserve powers. Unlike his opposite number in Scotland with his colonial rôle, the Secretary of State for Wales will not have to supervise primary legislation. However, the scope for delegated legislation and for executive power is very wide indeed. The difficulties which this could create are glossed over in the White Paper. There is only one vague sentence in paragraph 207 about the powers to step in where necessary.
The Kilbrandon Report, from paragraphs 828 onwards, showed that the 601 Commission was acutely aware of the scale of the problem that arises from the fact that there is no clear-cut distinction between policy making on the one hand and executive and administrative action on the other. There is no break in the chain between legislation and the application of administrative decisions. Moreover, Kilbrandon also recognised that to divorce the experience of administration from the formulation of policy could lead to the impoverishment of policy and produce Government far more rarified and remote than that provided by the present system.
The Commission cited as an example of the difficulties a new policy about housing subsidies. It is a good example. One has only to put it forward to realise what tremendous scope for conflict there could be between a Westminster Government and an Assembly of a different political complexion.
Yesterday the Lord President seemed blind to the difficulties. However we must face the fact, and we had better face it now, that it could be totally impossible for Westminster to carry into effect legisaltion which is felt to be essential for the United Kingdom as a whole.
It is proposed that these very wide powers of executive action are to be given to the Assembly as a corporate body, in contrast to Scotland where they are to be given to an executive. I am aware that this is the solution proposed by Kilbrandon, but none the less it is open to the gravest objection. It is a solution that obscures where responsibility lies. In some respects it is easier to get at the Secretary of State and his officials than it might be to get at an amorphous executive. If the Secretary of State makes a bad decision, we can blame him for it. The public know who to blame or to praise. However, if these proposals were accepted the public might well be inclined to give credit or blame to the Assembly as a collective body. Far from strengthening democracy, that would weaken it. Moreover, the political parties and individuals who, in fact, controlled the Assembly, would be sheltered and insulated.
The whole thing would be really no more than a charade—this collective disguise. As Kilbrandon acknowledged, the policy committee, consisting of the chief executives of the functional committees, 602 would, in effect, be a regional cabinet of members of the majority party. That would be the body that would rule the Assembly and in that body there would be no power sharing.
Kilbrandon saw the danger of this system as excessive formality and delay but believed that it might be worth it if it brought the ordinary back-bench Assembly Member into the determination of policy. It is more likely that such a Member will be made to share some of the public discontent with Government without having any real share in its making.
There is no matter from which public discontent is more likely to arise than the power to levy rates. It is extraordinary that the one taxing power that should be granted is the one that so many are seeking to replace and abolish. What is so objectionable about this proposal, apart from the inequity of the rating system itself, is that the Assembly would be able to impose an additional burden of taxation on the unfortunate Welsh people in such a way that it will not be clearly identified as its responsibility. It will be done at second hand, and therefore local authorities will largely get the blame. The local authorities will rightly resent such a proposal in the same way as they already resent what they believe will be a weakening of their position generally.
When the Bill is presented we shall have to examine more closely the ability of central Government effectively to control public expenditure under the devolved system. Parliament is to allocate the funds but to abrogate its control over the expenditure. That has alarming economic implications, especially as failure to exercise that control would have damaging consequences in the very countries that have Assemblies.
One matter has clearly emerged from our debate so far, and it is that the situations in Wales and Scotland are totally different. The solutions proposed by Government are different. There must be a Welsh Bill. The case is overwhelming in terms of constitutional propriety and in terms of practicality. It would be ironic indeed if the first move in progress to devolution were to be by means of a measure lumped together with Scottish legislation. If the Government proceed with this unwanted measure, criticised as 603 it has been with almost equal ferocity by both sides of the House, they must do so for Wales by means of a separate Bill.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) argued on Monday that we should exercise considerable ingenuity in formulating constitutional arrangements and that we should be prepared to modify the Westminster system of government. It appears to me that the Government's proposals have been designed with considerable ingenuity to create the kind of head-on collision between Westminster and parts of the United Kingdom about which my right hon. Friend went on to speak. Certainly we should be prepared to consider change, but in constitutional matters we should work in an evolutionary way, building upon the successes we have achieved and correcting the mistakes as we proceed.
We should be cautious about undertaking a constitutional revolution without any certainly that what we are creating is an improvement of what we have. We should be even more cautious about doing so when we remember that few people are enthusiastic about this matter, many are totally uninterested and an increasing number—almost certainly the majority—are positively hostile. That is the situation in Wales.
The Government's proposals are based neither on constitutional ingenuity nor on principle. Instead they are based on expediency. They are complex, devious and almost certainly damaging. They are as the Prime Minister described, a federal solution,at best totally contrived and artificial and at worst unworkable and unwanted."—[Official Report, 13th January, 1976; Vol. 933, c. 215.]Far from improving government they are likely to create conflict. Far from uniting the nation they are likely to divide it. If the Government are wise they will withdraw these proposals. If they fail to do so, I urge this House to reject them.
§ 4.14 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. John Morris)
The hon. Gentleman has sought to put up a whole series of Aunt Sallies, but he has knocked them down one after the other. During his criticisms of our proposals I listened avidly for one ounce of constructive thought. I waited, the hands of the clock went round, but 604 not for one minute did the hon. Gentleman assist the House about where his party stood on this issue. I thought he would have done that trifling service for the House, given us a little of his time and told us where the Conservative Party stood on any of these issues.
§ Mr. Nicholas Edwards
Did not the right hon. and learned Gentleman bother to attend or listen to the last debate we had on devolution. It is not the purpose of this House to repeat everything a second time.
§ Mr. Morris
The hon. Gentleman must not lose his temper. I see that hon. Members in other parts of the House are nodding assent. The hon. Gentleman knows that if he tackled this problem which we all face, I hope with frankness and integrity, he could have devoted a little of his time—not too much—to taking us into the confidence of the Conservative Party and telling us about where the Conservatives stand.
§ Mr. Douglas Crawford (Perth and East Perthshire)
I think that the Minister is being a little unfair to the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Edwards), because the Conservatives' policy changes from day to day.
§ Mr. Morris
I think that the hon. Gentleman was at least consistent in maintaining the traditional Tory role of being against change. I was not sure whether he was alleging that our proposals give too much power to the Assembly or whether, on some occasions when he was attacking us for a charade, he was suggesting that our proposals lacked power. All this may be revealed in the discussions on the Bill itself.
I have welcomed, and I do so again, the debate that has been going on in Wales on devolution, particularly since the Queen's Speech at the beginning of this Parliament. But this debate about the need to bring government closer to the people of Wales is not new. It has been going on for decades. The present Government, in which I am proud to serve, are determined to implement proposals which will ensure that the fundamental aim of increased accountability in a democratic forum for major decisions affecting ordinary people is achieved.
I have never imagined that the Conservative Party had any great interest in 605 accountability, and certainly not in a Welsh democratic forum. My right hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Mr. Hughes) was right to remind us recently that in this House in 1956 the Tories opposed the setting up of the Welsh Office. Over the years, in order to try to stem the tide, they proffered instead the facade of a Welsh ministerial presence. It was left to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to appoint the first Secretary of State for Wales in 1964 and his distinguished successors from this side of the House. [Interruption.] I was at that moment looking at the Chair, at present occupied by Mr. Deputy Speaker.
From then on, under successive Governments, that office has grown in powers and responsibility. Those of all shades of political opinion who opposed and derided it have now seen its value. I remember the great taunts that it would be a great administrative nonsense Today's opponents of devolution are the successors of those who poured cold water over the idea of setting up the Welsh Office.
In the summer of 1974 I held consultations on devolution with bodies and individuals representing between them a wide spectrum of Welsh life and opinion. It one message came over to me loud and clear in my consultations, which included political parties, it was the emphasis on preserving a strong and effective Welsh Office and a Secretary of State in the Cabinet.
I understand that the Conservatives, who opposed the setting up of the Welsh Office, now propose to strengthen it, although we were not told this today. I understand that they also made proposals in the course of the General Election—or perhaps they have been dropped since—aimed at improving the ways in which Welsh Members of Parliament could consider Welsh affairs and for more work for the nominated Welsh Council. Again, we did not hear anything of that today. The Conservatives' real opposition to devolution is that they can never hope to have a majority of the Assembly Members in Cardiff. Therefore, they have everything to fear from increased democracy in Wales.
The only way one can describe the present posture of the Welsh nationalists is that they are standing on their heads.
606 Every Government utterance since the Queen's Speech in February 1974 has prompted them to declare passionately that we were deliberately delaying matters and to challenge the good faith of our intention of implementing our policy of devolution at all.
The truth of the matter is that the Welsh nationalists have a built-in interest in not having devolution. They know that when the Assembly is set up their hope of increasing their support in Wales from their stagnant 10 per cent. to 11 per cent. will be dashed. Despite their comment in the 1974 election—Initially, the exact powers of the Assembly are not vitally important. … The important thing is to get an elected Assembly established without delay"—I was still agreeably surprised at the welcome that the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans) gave to the White Paper in November. It was not immensely warm, but it was a welcome. But now, as I understand it, the young tigers have won. It is all-out opposition. The old tamed lion has been bound up again and the good faith of the Labour Government is again challenged.
In the interests of Wales, I will forgive the hon. Gentleman and his party if they change their minds again. But what I will not forgive them is their hypocrisy if they accuse this Government of inconsistency.
§ Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarvon)
Perhaps the right hon. and learned Gentleman will accuse me, as he was doing a moment ago, when I remind him that in its election manifesto in Wales the Labour Party had a commitment to economic planning going to the Welsh Assembly. That has specifically been dropped from these proposals.
§ Mr. Morris
If the hon. Gentleman will do me the favour of reading our manifesto for the last election, he will find the words "environmental and economic planning". It is planning and planning power in that sense which will go to the Assembly. That is different from what Plaid Cymru is advocating—the division of the economic unity of the United Kingdom.
Year in, year out, the Labour Party in Wales has made its position quite clear. There is no going back. The status quo is not an alternative. The question is not whether there is to be 607 devolution but the form that it should take and the relationship of the Assembly to other bodies.
For a considerable time now we have advocated an elected Council in Wales. We gave evidence to the Kilbrandon Commission. Where was the Conservative Party then? Did it not occur to it that the Royal Commission might be interested to know whether the Conservative Party had any views on Wales? Why did not the Conservative Party appear and give evidence? Is this again a measure of consistency that, in the same way as it denied the Royal Commission the benefit of its views, it is depriving the House of Commons of the benefit of its views today?
Many of my hon. Friends who were then and still are Members of this House signed an amendment to the Local Government Bill in 1972 calling for an elected Council. We fought the February and October elections in 1974 on that issue. Our policy was reaffirmed at conferences held in Llandrindod Wells in 1974 and Llandudno in 1975.
There has been ample opportunity within the Labour movement over the years for those who hold contrary views to express them. We are a democratic movement. Democratically—this is the essence of how the Labour movement acts—we have arrived at our considered view. This we proposed to the Welsh nation in our White Paper published in September 1974 and in our manifesto issued before the October General Election. The Labour Party was the only party in Wales to increase its total vote and its share of the total votes cast, which went up from 46.8 per cent. to just under 50 per cent.
It is against that background that the demand for a referendum, which is heard in some quarters, has to be considered. Apart from the lengthy public discussion which we have already had both inside and outside the party, as a Government we have embarked on a further intensive period of widespread consultation. There will be ample opportunity for organisations and individuals to have their views heard and taken into account. Those who ask for a referendum tend not to recognise the practical difficulties involved. What questions would be asked? These could not easily be devised 608 —[Interruption.] At least, I am not approaching the problem with the frivolity of hon. Gentlemen opposite.
§ Mr. Morris
I have given way a number of times. No one is more generous than I in giving way to hon. Members, but I do not give way to the hon. Gentleman.
What questions would be asked? They could not easily be devised to allow a simple "Yes" or "No" answer. Would the referendum be confined only to Scotland and Wales, or would the rest of the United Kingdom, which is also concerned, be allowed a say? How would the results be interpreted, especially if there were a narrow balance one way or the other? Those are questions which those who advocate a referendum have a duty to answer, and those are questions which I seek to pose to the House.
§ Mr. Kinnock
Before the hon. and learned Member for Staffordshire, South-West (Mr. Cormack) seeks to send my right hon. and learned Friend to the Race Relations Board, may I ask my right hon. and learned Friend, in the interests of saving time, of which I know he has little, to read the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson), in which he will see how simply the question or questions could be put in a referendum on devolution in Wales? The justification for it is that since publication of the White Paper it has become apparent in Wales that the alleged unanimity of opinion simply does not exist and that the only way to resolve the issue between my right hon. Friend and myself—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. George Thomas)
The hon. Gentleman has made a long speech already in this debate, and this is a long intervention.
§ Mr. Morris
I have read the speeches made during this debate and I am sure my hon. Friend will do so from time to time. I am seeking to pose some of the difficulties. As a progressive party, which is determined to change society, we find that it is not always easiest to get the changes which we desire other than by General Elections, which in the traditional way elect the parties representing the majority of people through the normal traditional processes which have governed this country since time immemorial. That is our basic approach.
I now turn to the substance of our devolution proposals. There are, it seems to me, three main threads running right through these proposals. First there is no abdication of sovereignty by the Westminster Parliament. We reject both separatism and federalism. Separatism is an inward-looking and narrow doctrine that has been repeatedy and decisively rejected by the people of Wales. Federalism would create more problems than it could possibly solve. Our tradition is one of unitary government based on the sovereignty of Parliament. That tradition and that sovereignty are, I know, accepted and, indeed, supported by the great majority of Welsh people.
Under our proposals, decisions taken by the elected Assembly can, if this is necessary in the interests of the United Kingdom, be reversed through the use of reserve powers retained by Westminster. I hope and expect that the invocation of these powers will be exceedingly rare. I say this because I am confident that Welsh Assembly Members will behave responsibly and in a spirit of co-operation, not confrontation. I would expect nothing less from a body elected by the people of Wales. But even so it is right that reserve powers should be there. We are one State. Wales is a nation within a State. In the interests of the whole of the United Kingdom it is necessary to ensure that powers are available, even if rarely used, to protect the good of the whole.
The second thread in our proposals is the devolution of extensive functions while maintaining the economic unity of the United Kingdom. This is not understood by some hon. Members below the Gangway. The powers that are transferred will be substantial, but they do not infringe this basic principle. Of 610 course, the use of the block grant for financing the devolved functions will have substantial economic effects. These effects, I am sure, will not be underestimated by most hon. Members who have pressed upon me the claims for particular roads, and rehabilitation, housing and other schemes which will provide work and increase the attractiveness of their constituencies to new industry.
In future, under our proposals, it will be the Assembly which will decide the pattern of motorways and trunk roads and the allocation of resources to build them. It will be the Assembly which will oversee the factory building and derelict land functions of the new Welsh Development Agency. The Assembly will be responsible for policy and finance for new towns in Wales, for approving structure plans and deciding appeals against decisions by local planning authorities on development applications. But these and other transferred functions will not damage the economic unity of the United Kingdom. Matters vitally affecting that unity—general economic and counter-inflation policy, and maintaining the kingdom as one trading area—will continue to be the responsibility of Westminster.
As a corollary of these changes, we of course foresee a change of emphasis in the Welsh Office, losing social functions but enlarging its economic rôle. Its whole range of industry functions, of certain Department of Employment functions and of sole responsibility for agriculture will make it a substantial and important economic Department. We have seen this beginning since 1st July.
It is the functions which are and will be carried out in Wales that Welsh people talk about. Until lately the abstract term "devolution" was not a talking point. The people of Wales talk about housing, housing improvements, how resources are used for schools, the pattern of hospitals and health centres. For all these, money is needed. Once a block grant, Wales's share of the cake, is determined following discussions with the devolved administration, by the Government and Parliament, I can see no argument why the division of that cake should not be in the hands of people who are collectively very close to the grass roots. Moving decision-making from London to Cardiff, valuable though this is—in my 611 case, for industry since July—does not of itself mean greater participation. It is not the venue that is important.
What is important is that those who now urge a hospital for one area or expenditure on schools in another can collectively participate in the allocation of scarce resources to meet these and a host of other alternative ends and in deciding how those services are to be organised. The rôle of Government has changed over the years. The more interventionist the Government, the greater the need for the people to play an active part in the formulation and working of policies.
Our aim, therefore, is to place in the hands of the Assembly responsibility for the widest possible range of matters which affect the day-to-day lives of the Welsh people. This elected body will be able to devote more time to scrutinising and deciding priorities within its responsibilities in Wales than our present overworked Parliament can possibly do.
Some of our critics wrongly allege that we are creating an extra tier of government, and proceed to exploit the misinterpretation. Let us be quite clear about this point. No extra tier will be created, because the tier is there already. Our proposals involve a complete transfer to the Assembly of statutory powers and duties which I and other Government Ministers currently exercise. Every power transferred to the Assembly will be one less to be exercised in Wales by the central Government. Within the devolved subjects the Assembly will have complete discretion to take decisions and set priorities, subject only to the existing and future legislative framework imposed by Parliament, and, of course, to the availability of resources.
§ Mr. Leo Abse (Pontypool)
The Prime Minister has explained that the decision about local government reorganisation in Scotland will come from the Assembly. Is my right hon. and learned Friend saying that Wales will be over-governed by retaining the present structure of local government, or is he saying that there will be an initiative for reorganisation? The county councils and district councils are entitled to know his policy on the whole of local government if the Assembly comes into existence.
§ Mr. Morris
We have made it quite clear, and I am sure my hon. Friend has 612 read our proposals in detail, that the proposals do not affect the existing powers of local government. Later in my speech I shall correct a wrong impression given by the Western Mail, which inadvertently sought to put into the mouth of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister words which he did not utter. The proposals involve not the creation of a new tier of government but the transfer of powers which I and other Ministers now exercise. By establishing specifically Welsh policies and priorities, the Assembly will be able to ensure that existing resources are better related to need—because devolution will not mean that new resources will suddenly be created.
Those who deride the Welsh Assembly as a glorified talking-shop do not understand the commanding heights of decision-making that will be transferred. About £850 million will be under the control of Welsh Assembly members.
In our proposal for an Executive based on a committee structure, we are breaking new ground and making a powerful contribution to the matching of effective decision-making with genuine democratic control. This system will enable all political parties represented to participate directly in the processes of government. All facets of Welsh life and opinion will be taken account of in the decision-making process.
On the day following the publication of our White Paper, the Western Mail said in an editorial:More than a year ago we wrote in favour of a ministerial system in the Assembly and against the adoption of a committee system, arguing a need for effective as well as more democratic government. Local government committees are often ineffective and accountability is diluted by the diffusion of responsibility. However, the White Paper proposes a judicious blend of both systems, providing in practice for clear responsibility through the executive members and for the constructive involvement of all Assembly members, from whatever party, in policy formulation.I believe that rather than increasing the forces of bureaucracy we are strengthening the forces of democracy in Wales.
The third thread running through our proposals for Wales is that the power to pass primary legislation will remain at Westminster. In my consultations the claim for legislative devolution to be given to Wales was certainly a minority 613 one. The majority view was for an executive form of devolution.
§ Mr. Morris
My hon. Friend was not a Member of the House at the time, but he may recall the host of bodies that came to see me—the Association of County Councils, the Council for the Principality, all the political parties, the National Farmers' Union, the Farmers' Union of Wales, the Welsh TUC and the CBI in Wales. In our previous White Paper, which I am sure my hon. Friend has read, we made clear that, on the basis of the evidence given to us, the majority view was in favour of executive devolution. I am willing to give my hon. Friend any documentary proof of that he would like.
§ Mr. Anderson
My right hon. and learned Friend has given a very impressive list. Can he give a list of similar bodies which favour his proposals in the White Paper?
§ Mr. Morris
Discussions are going on in a whole host of organisations, and I hope to hear from them all in due course. I shall be interested to hear the present views of some of the bodies which came down strongly in favour of Kilbrandon's Scheme B, bodies such as the Association of County Councils—
§ Mr. Morris
The Association of County Councils in Wales has not yet met. My hon. Friend will have heard some of the views of trade unions in Wales. We look forward to hearing other views. That is what the consultations are about. The White Paper invites people to give their views so that we may take them into account in our final decision.
§ Mr. Cormack
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Will you, as a Welsh occupant of the Chair, see that an Englishman is given way to?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I am English, Welsh, Scots and Irish when I am in the Chair—for the purpose of this debate at any rate.
§ Mr. Morris
I am glad to have your definition of your occupancy of the Chair, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
If the hon. Gentleman has something useful to say, as I am sure he has, I shall give way to him.
§ Mr. Cormack
I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman. If all the bodies he has mentioned come down against the Government's proposals, will he take note of their opinions and change the proposals?
§ Mr. Morris
We shall always take account of every opinion put before us.
The Government have made their views quite clear. The manifesto on which we fought the last General Election made clear where we stood. That manifesto was endorsed by the people of Wales. It is my job, with my colleagues in the Government, to ensure that we implement that manifesto.
There may be some confusion between having legislative devolution and our proposals to give to the Assembly the power to make Orders and Statutory Instruments. This has caused concern to some of my hon. Friends. It is important to be clear about the division between primary legislation and the secondary legislation and executive action that can be carried out under it.
The present primary legislative framework is uneven. On some subjects Acts are cast in fairly general terms, leaving plenty of scope for discretion in day-to-day administration. On other subjects Acts are drawn more tightly. Perhaps the ideal would be to spend some years in consolidating every statute so that there is comparability in the detail involved and—I emphasise—in the procedure for implementing them. But clearly that would be impracticable. Depending upon a particular Act, I exercise my functions in a variety of ways: political or administrative action, the issuing of 615 circulars and the making of Statutory Instruments.
The Assembly will have to exercise its functions in a variety of ways too, depending upon the Act involved, varying from a simple resolution to the making of delegated legislation. It is not the method that is important but the function itself. And I hope it will not be beyond our wit in future both to generalise legislation where appropriate, leaving the Assembly to fill in the details, and also to simplify its implementation.
There is a persistent misunderstanding about the effect of the White Paper's proposals on local government in Wales. In her speech at the beginning of this debate, for example, the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition seemed unable to grasp this point, though it could not be more clearly and succinctly stated in paragraphs 235 and 236 of the White Paper, which say,The responsibilities to be transferred on devolution in the various fields will be those which the Government now carry. The proposals do not entail any removal of current tasks or powers from local government. …The devolution Act will make no change in the structure of local government in Wales.I fear that the Western Mail, as I mentioned earlier—I want to get this on record—misquoted my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister yesterday when it said that he promised that the proposed Welsh Assembly would be able to decide the future of local government as soon as it was set up. My right hon. Friend did not say that. The Welsh Assembly, because it will not have power to pass primary legislation amending the Local Government Act 1972, will not, as the Western Mail said,be free to scramble local government once more.It will, of course, be possible for the Assembly to give the Government its views on local government reform, but it will not itself be able to enact that reform.
The Leader of the Opposition also said on Tuesday that the County Councils Association was worried that local authorities would have less say than at present over the distribution of rate support grant. That is a mistaken view. I have no doubt that in administering the Welsh RSG the Assembly will need to 616 consult and will want to consult the Welsh local authorities, just as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment and I now consult the English and Welsh local authorities before the Government determine the amount and distribution of the RSG. No doubt this is a point which the local authority associations will raise in their official comments on the White Paper, and we will hope then to dispel their anxiety.
§ Mr. Nicholas Edwards
Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman answer the specific point made by the County Councils Association in its letter that the local authorities will no longer have a direct negotiating rôle with the central Government and will therefore no longer have the same influence as they have at present on the allocation of the resources?
§ Mr. Morris
They will negotiate with the Welsh Assembly. We have made this quite clear in our proposals.
There is too little democracy in Wales, not too much. If there is anything that arouses passion in the Principality, it is the existence of so many nominated bodies with their limited degree of answerability. Our proposals go a long way to bring nominated bodies operating in devolved fields under the close democratic supervision of the Welsh Assembly. Such nominated bodies operating only in Wales will be appointed and financed by and accountable to the Assembly. This elected body will inherit all governmental powers under existing legislation affecting these bodies, which will include, amongst others, area health authorities, the Welsh Health Technical Services Organisation, the new town development corporations and the Wales Tourist Board. The Assembly will also exercise substantial supervisory powers over the operation of the community land scheme in Wales and will appoint the members of the Land Authority for Wales. The Asssembly will, as I have already mentioned, supervise the factory building and derelict land rehabilitation functions of the Welsh Development Agency and appoint half its members.
In addition to all this I shall have the power, following consultation wtih the Assembly, to transfer the functions of a particular nominated body in Wales so that they are exercised by the Assembly 617 itself. But we will want to hear views on this, and there are strong arguments that we should also hear the Assembly's views before taking final decisions on what the long-term future of these bodies should be.
Nominated bodies operating in Wales but whose remits extend across the border to England or, indeed, the rest of Britain present difficult problems. Here we intend that the main executive bodies—the water authorities and the Forestry Commission—should become responsible to and financed by the Assembly for their activities in Wales. The functions of most remaining bodies are mainly technical, advisory or appellate. During the course of our further detailed work on devolution, we shall be considering whether any special arrangements need to be made for any of these. Otherwise we take the view that there is nothing to be gained by seeking to make changes at this stage in the constitution and activities of a large number of such bodies simply for the sake of giving the Assembly a nominal role.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
My right hon. and learned Friend has just referred to the Forestry Commisison. Have the Government decided what is to happen to the Commission's headquarters in Edinburgh? Will it be dismantled?
§ Mr. Morris
I can give my hon. Friend an assurance on that. The intention is that the Assembly will use the existing Forestry Commission for these operations in Wales and that the body will remain as it is now.
We also propose that there should be provision for the Government by Order to make any legal changes which may be needed to the structure and powers of the body in order to reflect an agreement between the parties after devolution.
It is clear, however, that we are proposing a very substantial measure of democratisation of nominated bodies devolved. Obviously, however, more consideration is needed here, particularly in connection with the bodies whose remits cross the border, and we shall readily examine any other practical proposals.
Our basic case for the Assembly is the need for more democracy in Wales. This is what my party believes in. This is why we will resist attempts to provoke 618 fears, to seek to exploit grievances. It has been alleged that the Assembly wilt rob the county councils, or when this argument runs out, will deprive district councils. The Liberal Leader has said that it will be the old Glamorgan Council writ large. Different kinds of fears are paraded in North Wales, where the bogy of industrial South Wales's domination is raised. Others again say that devolution will deliver us into the hands of a speaking one. History must teach us some lessons.
§ Mr. Morris
I should have thought that history would have taught my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) this kind of lesson. How easy it is to raise people's prejudices in order to distract attention. It has been done before. We have had recent examples right across Europe, and we know about them all too well. History has taught us lessons. How easy it is to parade prejudices in order to try to avoid the inevitable, to confuse our aim or to distract attention. I do not believe that we in Wales will be taken in by these contradictory imaginary fears.
I turn now to the decision to keep a unified United Kingdom Civil Service. Our belief that it would be essential to maintain the traditional independence of the recruitment system for Assembly civil servants at all times in the future gives the lie to fanciful notions of a Welsh-speaking elitist bureaucracy. The maintenance of a unified Civil Service means that movement will be facilitated not only between the Assembly and the Welsh Office but between those bodies and other Government Departments—in Wales, in London, and in other parts of the United Kingdom as well. This is part and parcel of the decentralisation which is now going on of major Government Departments to Cardiff, to Swansea and elsewhere in Wales. This process of cross-fertilisation will, I believe, be of the greatest benefit to the Assembly and to central Government.
The Labour Party has never been against change. What we are proposing is not contrary to our internationalist tradition of which we are proud, going back to the days of the ILP and Keir 619 Hardie, who, with his blend of idealism and shrewdness, saw no contradiction in preaching internationalism and devolution at one and the same time. The future Welsh Labour Assembly will be no less committed to the principles of brotherhood.
It is nearly a year since we had our last full-scale and lengthy debate on devolution. Much has been said in the meantime and, more to the point, much hard work has been done at very great speed. In our debate last February, I said that… executive devolution is bold and radical with Westminster yielding enormous powers of policy making and implementation to a directly elected Welsh Assembly".—[Official Report, 4th February 1975; Vol. 885, c. 1178.]I went on to outline just how extensive those powers could be. I make no great claims as a prophet, but hon. Members who have read our White Paper with care will know just how close to the mark I then was. What we are proposing is an Assembly in Wales with real and effective powers of policy-making and execution. The establishment of an Assembly with these powers will be a major step in the strengthening of democracy in Wales.
There are, of course, those who fear that this step will lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom. I understand that fear, and I assure them that I attach as much importance to the maintenance of the fundamental unity of the kingdom as they do. But I do not believe that a strengthening of democracy will do anything to weaken that unity. I believe, on the contrary, that a strengthened democracy is the cement which will bind us more closely together in the future. A major aim of our proposals is to enhance the basic unity of the whole country. I am convinced that they will succeed in achieving that aim.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell (Beaconsfield)
An advantage of living in a united kingdom is that few of us have a merely parochial viewpoint. I am of purely Scottish descent, but I was born and brought up in your constituency, in Wales, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I represent an English constituency in this House. Therefore, I can view this matter from three different angles—and I confess at the outset that that does not help me very much.
620 But I am able to sympathise with the aspirations of the hon. Members of the Scottish National Party. I have never thought that Scottish nationalism is simply a matter of oil. I can understand how the Scottish people still in Scotland feel about the metropolitan pull which brought so many families to the South of England, including my own. I understand how the Scots are attracted by the though of a neutralising magnetism of a true capital city north of the border which would prevent that sort of drain from the ancient kingdom of Scotland.
However, in this debate we have to address ourselves to the question whether this kind of thing can be seriously affected by governmental organisation. I am more doubtful of that. We find ourselves facing an insoluble position—one that has been made insoluble by the fact that we had two General Elections in 1974 and two election manifestos from all three of the main political parties in which promises were made that have now come up for redemption. My own party, having promised the least, is in the best position. The Labour Party, having promised most—apart from the Liberal Party which is not in the embarassing situation of being in government—is in the most difficult position. All the national parties are in a similar position to that of the Mayor and Corporation of Hamlin town in Brunswick—by famous Hannover City—which promised 1,000 guilders and is hoping to get away with 50. In that regrettable situation we have to ask the practical question, what is the best thing to do. I have no doubt that on purely general grounds the right answer would be "nothing", but it is inconceivable that we should do nothing when each party has promised that Scots devolution in the form of at least an Assembly.
When I visited Scotland recently to inquire about these matters for television programmes I was most impressed by the fact that everyone in Scotland expected devolution. They were not arguing or thinking about it; they were taking it for granted because all three of the main parties had promised it. Therefore, we have to decide what, in that situation, we shall do. Everything that we may do is dangerous. If we set up a mere Assembly as a talking shop it could be used by the Scottish National 621 Party—and who could blame it—as a platform for denouncing the perfidy of the national parties and their attitudes to the legitimate aspirations of the Scottish people. If we set up a legislature with an Executive we should create a separate Government and Parliament in the United Kingdom, which would not be within a federal structure and which, inevitably, at this time of great national difficulty, would lead towards separatism and the break up of the United Kingdom. If anyone doubts that, he could have been enlightened by some of the speeches made yesterday.
The hon. Member for Belper (Mr. Mac-Farquhar) faced this problem, saying that the United Kingdom would go. He said that perhaps that was the best thing that could happen. Perhaps most of these national identities should go, and we should all become administrative areas under the EEC, or whatever the body may be. The hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) said that all this arose from the decline of the United Kingdom and that while we were a great nation and an empire the component parts—Scotland, England and Wales—were proud to be Scottish, English and Welsh and to be members of the great historic unit that was Britain or the United Kingdom. The hon. Gentleman said that as decline set in, that pride went, and that we must expect regionalism to develop into nationalism. Those are very persuasive arguments: when Rome declines, Italy breaks up.
That is the background against which we must decide which of these practical alternatives we shall seize. I have no doubt that concession has strengthened the nationalist cause in Scotland. The three British parties believed that they were acting cleverly when they made these promises for votes in 1974. They would have got more votes in Scotland if they had not done so and the Members of the Scottish National Party would have got fewer.
There is no better way of giving status and reputation to a contrary ideology than to seem to adopt it for one's own immediate purposes. I do not believe that any fiddling around with little provisions of the White Paper will solve this problem. The hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) said that the veto power should be 622 taken away from the Secretary of State for Scotland and that the situation should be dealt with in another way. He believed that it would not be too difficult to do this, but in his persuasive speech he did not tell us how it could be done. I do not understand how that scrutiny, supervision or subordination could be carried out in a tactful or acceptable way. It is easier to see the defects in this scheme than to suggest alternatives.
The suggestion of holding a referendum is both useless and dangerous. It is dangerous, first, because it raises doubts which ought not to be raised, about the continuance of the kingdom and, secondly, it inevitably points to further referenda as time goes by.
An Assembly has been promised, and therefore an Assembly must be given: but it must be one that is part of the operation of this Parliament. Bills, parts of Bills, or any other matters may specifically be remitted to it but it must live by remit from this Parliament of the United Kingdom and be kept genuinely busy dealing with it.
The whole operation must be con ducted in genuine good faith. It will otherwise be used for mischief by those who want to fragment a nation that is geographically small enough already, and will bring back to us long-forgotten troubles of the days when we had in this island a land frontier between two distinct and often hostile nations. It would also lead inescapably to English regionalism and the demise of any real national entity in Britain; for Britain, ground between the upper millstone of Brussels and the lower millstone of regionalism, would become a mere province, and a peripheral province, of the Brussels system, and, of all its components, the least influential economically and politically.
During the two weeks that I was in Scotland on this purpose, no point struck me more than the frequency with which people said to me, "The Westminster layer is now dispensable. The major decisions will be made in Brussels. Their application to Scotland should be arranged in Edinburgh, not in London; for Wales in Cardiff, and for England in London." So there is, in addition to the failing reputation of the United Kingdom, this other factor—that we have opted, against my advice, for the Brussels 623 system, to which increasingly major decisions are moving across.
The Secretary of State for Wales said that this was not a new debate, but it is new to the people of England. It would be hard to exaggerate the suddenness with which this question has come to the English public and to English Members. There was virtually no consultation, I am sure, on either side, outside of the Scottish Members and organisations. [An HON. MEMBER: "And not much there, either."] That could well be. I could not know that. However, outside of Scottish Members and organisations, I am sure that on neither side was there any real consultation about the manifesto paragraphs affecting Scotland and Wales.
§ Mr. Edward Heath (Sidcup)
In order that this myth should not grow any more than the innumerable myths that we have heard already in the debate, perhaps my hon. and learned Friend will accept from me, as Leader of the Conservative Party throughout the whole period involved, that there was intensive discussion not only in this House and in the Scottish Members' Committee but in the whole party in Scotland. As for the party manifesto, this matter was discussed in the policy committee of the party, which included the Scots and English and members of the whole party and in every arm of the party. There was thorough discussion throughout.
§ Mr. Bell
No doubt there was thorough discussion among Scottish Members and in the policy committee. I am saying that certainly no one asked me, and I did not know when these paragraphs were being prepared. I am prepared to say that nine out of 10 English Members knew nothing about it and were never asked.
§ Mr. Heath
This was discussed in the policy committee of the whole party. It was also discussed in the party committees in the House and throughout the party organisation. If my hon. and learned Friend is not a member of these committees and discussed it at no time in any of the committees, that is not my responsibility as party leader at the time.
§ Mr. Bell
If I may respectfully say so, that is just the trouble about my right 624 hon. Friend's attitude. He thinks that if something is discussed in the policy committee of the Conservative Party, which is a very small body, it is somehow percolated and permeated through the whole party, and we all know about it. That is a lot of rubbish, and I dare say—although I do not know this—that it is rubbish on the Government side of the House, too. That is my view.
I have given my opinion, but what the complications of this subject and its deep underlying importance call for is time, tolerance and responsibility. The Secretary of State for Wales certainly gave me the impression—he may have given this impression to other hon. Members—that the months of the great debate will be something of a sham, because he seemed to imply that the Government were committed by their General Election programme to what is in the White Paper If that is so, I do not know what is the point of talking about consultation and the great debate during the coming months. In no matter more than this, which has already been bedevilled by competitive bidding for votes, should we now think less in terms of party and more in terms of the whole nation, its health and even its integral survival.
Though I have, expressed my own opinion, I should have no hesitation whatsoever during the coming year in changing it if I were persuaded that some other solution were best. That is the only way in which this Parliament, sitting as the council of the nation, should address itself to this absolutely fundamental subject.
§ 5.16 p.m.
§ Mr. T. W. Urwin (Houghton-le-Spring)
In joining the debate I have no intention of following the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Bell) and his obvious dissatisfaction with the organisation within his party concerning the processes of decision-making in relation to its manifesto. However, I immediately declare myself, as I have on previous occasions, as a vigorous opponent of the whole concept of devolution in any form.
I also want to take issue with the hon Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr Henderson), who, unfortunately, is not present. As I challenged him privately after he spoke briefly on Tuesday, I have 625 no compunction in making these remarks. In a massively short speech he said that in the last three devolution debates no English Members spoke or even attended. I want to tell the hon. Gentleman and his Friends that I certainly attended and spoke in the debate in February. Also, many of my English colleagues sat in the Chamber throughout the whole of that debate but were not called to speak. If the hon. Gentleman cares to read the report of the debate of the Regional Affairs Committee on 5th November he will find that I spoke at some length then in opposition to devolution.
The hon. Gentleman went on to say, in the two minutes that he took, that it was time that the House had the opportunityto hear a more authentic voice of Scottish opinion."—[Official Report, 13th January 1976; Vol. 903, c. 344.]Presumably he meant that he was one of the few people who could represent the authenticity of the views of people throughout Scotland. I am sure that that is not so. It has been thoroughly proven in the debate that there are many more Members on the Government side of the House who have the right to claim that they speak with the authentic voice of Scottish people. I see that the hon. Gentleman is now in his place. The arrogance with which he expressed himself is not untypical and is representative of comments made by some of his colleagues.
What the hon. Gentleman succeeds in doing is reinforcing my own deeply-held reservations about the continuing unity of the United Kingdom; the real fear that devolution, in the form as proposed even now, will lead at some time or other to the fragmentation and possibly the complete disintegration of the United Kingdom as we know it.
It also becomes increasing clear as this debate progresses that quite a number of people will never be satisfied with the powers that are proposed to be bestowed upon the new Assemblies. I also understand, from some of the contributions, that there will inevitably be difficulties and difficult situations created in the proposed new Assemblies—difficulties that will inevitably lead to conflict between those Assemblies and the central Government at Westminster.
626 Many people throughout the country have the same deeply-held reservations about the devolution proposition. It emerges with ever-increasing clarity that the prospect of rich prizes ensuing from the oil revenues has been used by the Scottish National Party. Incidentally, that is the only perceptible policy that has emerged from the SNP. It would seem that the revenues provides a major incentive for an early progression towards ultimate separatism once the new Assemblies have been established.
The more vociferous elements that demand independence for Scotland sometimes base their claim on unfair treatment as a development area within the United Kingdom. In fact, the reverse is true. Scotland has benefited to a greater extent than have other development areas as a result of the regional policies that have for so long been pursued by successive Governments. It is singularly unfortunate for the United Kingdom that we live perpetually within a system of inequality. I represent a constituency in an area that has for far too long been condemned to the problems and difficulties that ensue as a result of the inequalities of high unemployment, a lack of housing activity, a lack of school places, a lack of education facilities, and all the problems indigenous to the Northern Region as a major development area. The problems in the Northern Region are the same as those experienced in Scotland.
There are those of us who represent constituencies in the Northern Region—I have now represented mine for more than 11 years—who have continually drawn the Government's attention to the necessity of resolving the problems that we face. We claim, with a good deal of justification, that we have been disadvantaged because of the better facilities that are available to Scotland and, to some extent, to Wales, as a result of the application of regional policies. We are also a peripheral area. It is perfectly true to say that Scotland has considerable inbuilt institutional advantages over regions such as the North, Merseyside and the smaller development area in the South-West of England. Scotland has the Highland and Islands Industrial Development Board, the new Development Agency, and other powerful advantages. The Northern Region is certainly underprivileged when a direct comparison is 627 made. Moreover, that advantage is surmounted—this applies to Wales as well—by having a Secretary of State with a good deal of power in his individual capacity as a member of the Cabinet.
There are those on the Opposition Benches, and especially on the third bench below the Gangway, who have said that English Members have only just come to life about the implications of devoluton. That is wide of the truth, because the debate has been developing and mounting at an ever-increasing rate since the publication of the Kilbrandon Report. As an aside, I suggest that it was unfortunate that we set up the Commission under Lord Crowther. We lost Lord Crowther by death and substituted Lord Kilbrandon. One speculates what sort of report we would have had if Lord Crowther had been spared to continue and complete the work with which he was entrusted.
§ Sir David Renton (Huntingdonshire)
I happen to be the only Member who signed the Kilbrandon Report. I was a member of the Commission at the time of the sad death of Lord Crowther. I had the honour of serving under both Lord Crowther and Lord Kilbrandon. The work done by Lord Kilbrandon was a valid continuation of the fine work that had been started by Lord Crowther.
§ Mr. Urwin
I am pleased to have that assurance from the right hon. and learned Gentleman, but it does not remove the speculation that some of us have indulged in as a result of the unfortunate circum. stances that developed.
The English backlash, if it can be so described, seems to have developed from two distinct approaches. There are those, like myself, who are totally opposed to the concept of devolution, while there are others who feel that there should be a quid pro quo for the English regions once devolution becomes an accomplished fact. I do not feel that it would be right to set about another reorganisation of local government in England, and that is precisely what would be required if the second lobby were to be successful. In any event, local government is not by any means ready—it will not be ready for a long time—for such enormous change as would be required to achieve that objective. It is still struggling with the traumas of the last reorganisation.
628 I utter a word of warning to my colleagues on the Government Front Bench about the possibility of a development of regionalism in England. Such development will be met with tremendous opposition. Opposition is already building up in local government in England at the prospect of county councils being completely abrogated so as to make way for a form of regionalism. The opposition is gradually gaining momentum. No doubt we shall have extended opportunities in future to talk at greater length on a consultative basis about any emerging proposals in England.
In November, in the Northern Regional Committee, I used some rather rough language about the present proposals. So strongly do I feel about the importance and value of the retention of the United Kingdom in its entirety that I spoke of these proposals as being tantamount to an act of constitutional vandalism. I feel even more strongly as this debate continues that that is precisely what we are involved in if devolution ever becomes an accomplished fact.
I do not doubt for one moment the altruism and honesty of the Prime Minister and the Lord President, in the way in which they have set about this task. They have accepted quite properly that these proposals appeared in the Labour Party manifestos during the 1974 elections. However, I urge upon my right hon. Friends the importance of not embarking on the demolition of a structure unless and until the plans for the new building have not only been drawn but accepted by a majority in the House. On Tuesday the Prime Minister referred to bringing government and decision-making nearer to the people who matter. That is an admirable concept, and one with which I would readily concur, but why not ascertain the requirements of the people who are concerned in the decision?
There have been references to the desirability, if not the necessity, of conducting a referendum in Wales. I go even further than that. If it was necessary to have a referendum on the Common Market issue—I believe it was—it is surely equally important that there should be a national referendum on a matter of such constitutional importance as proposals for devolution.
629 I conclude by making a plea to the Government Front Bench. At the moment there are many vacant places on it, but I still wish to address my final remarks directly to the Government. It is very clear that there is a large degree of opposition to the proposals in the White Paper, as has been illustrated by this debate. Indeed, some Labour Members feel that they should not support the Government even in a take-note debate. However, I do not think there is any difficulty in the Government's winning the vote on Monday night on a take-note basis. Assuming that they do win that vote, I hope that they will take note of the many dissenting voices in this debate. Before they arrive at the stage of presenting legislation and of asking for Labour's agreement to it, I hope that they will address themselves, perhaps more constructively than they have done so far, to the composition of that legislation. I hope that they will take that step before seeking the further mandate that will be necessary.
§ 5.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Douglas Crawford (Perth and East Perthshire)
It goes without saying that this is an historic debate—and this may well prove to be the case more in retrospect than it is now.
The reality of history has been brought home to the House in the speeches of my hon. Friends in the SNP and also in three other splendid speeches. We heard this afternoon the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Bell)—a speech with which I did not agree, but a speech full of logic and clearly setting out statements of fact. The other two notable speeches in this debate came from the hon. Members for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sillars) and Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh). It is a pity they did not make those speeches from the SNP Bench. I look forward to the day when we welcome both hon. Gentlemen to this Bench.
Apart from the speeches that I have just mentioned, the other speeches in the debate have consisted largely of ritual. I do not think that we are very much wiser about the Government's position, and we have certainly gained no new view of the attitude of Government sup- 630 porters. The Conservative view seems to change, chameleon-like, day by day.
I wish to restate the position of the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru. It has been said before, and I say again, that Scotland and Wales are nations, not regions. Scotland and Wales are nations, culturally, geographically, socially and historically. For daring to suggest that, we were treated last night to the ultimate smear that the SNP and Plaid Cymru are something akin to Afrikaaner nationalists. An accusation of that sort against my hon. Friends and our parties is disgraceful. The hon. Member who made it should withdraw that statement.
I repeat that we are not regions. There are Yorkshiremen who take the view that when Yorkshire play at Headingly and England play at Leeds, it is Yorkshire who are the 1st XI and the others who are the 2nd XI. Speech after speech from Labour and Conservative Benches has accentuated the fact that, on the one hand, the Labour Party is the "Royal Imperial British Labour Party", in what the Prime Minister described as "this Imperial Parliament", and that, on the other, the Conservative Party's full title is the Conservative and Unionist Party.
Again, in speech after speech, we have been told that this Parliament is sovereign over Scotland. But when, in the ballot box, the majority of people in Scotland and Wales vote for self-government, this House cannot gainsay them. It is presumptuous of the Secretary of State for Wales to suggest a referendum for the United Kingdom as a whole, including England. When Scotland and Wales show that they desire such an aim, a referendum in England is irrelevant.
The Minister of State, Privy Council Office last night raised the spectre of violence. I say to both "unionist" parties that it is their suggestion that this House can override the democratically expressed wishes of the people of Scotland and Wales—and it is that suggestion which is by far the more verbally violent.
I do not believe that this House, with all its traditions of democracy, fair play and tolerance, would ever embrace such a dictatorial attitude. I wish to put on record that if the people of Scotland show democratically that they wish to retain the status quo, so be it. If they show that they want minimalist change, so be 631 it. If they show that they want devolution, so be it. If they want self-government, so be it. This House cannot gainsay them.
§ Dr. M. S. Miller (East Kilbride)
If Scotland will still be a nation, does the hon. Member agree that it means it must have a completely separate set-up? Can it not be a nation within the United Kingdom?
§ Mr. Crawford
I shall come to that point. I shall deal with the point about the United Kingdom. Those in England and Scotland who are against self-government must get their terms right. In 1603, two ancient kingdoms came together to form the United Kingdom. The SNP is happy to see this continue. We do not want to see the break-up of the United Kingdom. This is not just semantics; it is a real thing. It is misleading for opponents of Scottish self-determination to suggest that we seek to break up the United Kingdom. It is just not true.
It is sad that Her Majesty will not be the person who gives Royal Assent to Scottish Assembly Bills. It is disgraceful, and shows a derogation from the status of the Scottish Assembly.
§ Mr. George Cunningham (Islington, South and Finsbury)
The hon. Gentleman seems to be suggesting that the relationship between Scotland and England that he desires to see would be the kind of relationship that exists between Canada and the United Kingdom at present—an arrangement under which we have the same Crown but conceptually a different Crown. That is different from the position in the United Kingdom, in which there is a common Government and Parliament as well as a common Crown. At which status is the hon. Gentleman and his party aiming? The people of Scotland are entitled to know.
§ Mr. Crawford
If I may answer the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham), we in the SNP seek a status on the same lines as that adopted by Canada, involving a common Monarch but a separate Parliament. That is set out on our membership card. That is what the members of our party believe in.
632 I was talking about the Union of 1603. Later came the Union of Parliaments. We in the SNP believe that that Union has had its day. Indeed, the hon. Member for South Ayrshire and the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Lambie) agree with us. We believe that Scottish and Welsh Assemblies that do not have trade and industry powers and control over the Scottish Development Agency and the Welsh Development Agency will be meaningless. Hence our amendment in the names of my hon. Friend the Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) and the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans).
In the context of industry, I wish to refer to the draft initial study document prepared for future SNP discussion. That seems to have been the subject of an interesting debate by the Labour Party in trying to score over the SNP. Those are empty points, because this is not an SNP policy, nor is it ever likely to be. There are links between the economies of Scotland and England. This is bound to happen in contiguous countries. It happens in Belgium and Holland, Norway and Sweden, the United States and Canada, France and Germany, and so on.
§ Mr. John Lee (Birmingham, Handsworth)
To develop the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham), at least it can be said that although the system has been dying for some time there has been a common appellate legal system in the Privy Council. Does the hon. Gentleman envisage a continuation of that system, or a severance of it?
§ Mr. Crawford
I should like to leave that point to my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson), who hopes to contribute to the debate on Monday evening.
To continue to deal with the links between the two countries—are our opponents seriously saying that because Scotland is one of England's largest markets it must be run from one centre? If that is so, why is it that Oslo does not tell Stockholm what the exchange rates are to be? Why is it that other countries that are linked act independently in many ways and are not centralised?
It is this centralisation of the demand management of the Scottish and English 633 economies that has produced the industrial decay that we see in Scotland. The hon. Member for South Ayrshire noted this, and I agree entirely with him and some of his hon. Friends. The Scottish Assembly must have power over trade and industry in Scotland. I came into the Scottish National Party from the Scottish Council on Development and Industry, with which I had been employed in 1969. I had seen the Scottish Council's excellent thinking coming to naught because there was no political power. What we need today to rejuvenate and increase industrial effort in Scotland is political muscle. That is what the Assembly should have. I believe that the Scottish Council is coming round to this view at last.
The needs, potential and aspirations of the Scottish economy are different from those of the English economy. In all of this it is essential to assuage the bitterness. To those who are against devolution and who say that we who are for it are anti-English I say that at the last two elections in Scotland the SNP fielded English men and women as candidates, while the national treasurer of our party rejoices in the excellent Scottish name of Murgatroyd, and comes from Leeds.
Real self-government for Scotland could be one of the best things to happen to England. As an unashamed Anglophile I say that England needs a constitutional shake-up to lift her out of her lethargy, apathy and, perhaps, political and economic fossilisation. She must get away from this lethargy and the outmoded "capitalism versus Socialism" about which we hear far too often in this House
I conclude with some words spoken by a great Scotsman in 1707, when the Union of Parliaments took place. His name was Fletcher Saltoun. He said—and this is relevant to this debate:Show me a true patriot and I will show you a lover, not merely of his own country but of all mankind. Show me a spurious patriot, a bombastic fire-eater, and I will show you a rascal. Show me a man who loves every country with his own and I will show you a man extremely deficient in a sense of proportion. But show me a man who respects the rights of nations, while ready to defend the rights of his own against them, and I will show you a man who is both an internationalist and a nationalist.It is as internationalists that we in the SNP are nationalists. It is to make our 634 contribution to the world, to participate in economic affairs, reduce our bank rate, revalue our pound—it is for these things that we must have a strong Scottish Assembly, with powers over trade and industry.
§ 5.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Norman Buchan (Renfrewshire, West)
I would like to pick up one or two points made by the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. Crawford). Every time I cannot quite see how to develop my speech, I find myself in the fortunate position of hearing something from a member of the Scottish National Party which gives me just what I need. Let me take up first of all the point the hon. Gentleman made in repudiating the comment of my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) yesterday, when my hon. Friend referred to the fact that some of the comments coming from the SNP reminded him of Afrikaaner nationalists.
The hon. Member for Argyll (Mr. MacCormick) objected to this last night because he thought my hon. Friend had referred to African nationalist parties. That is in Hansard. My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North tried to correct him last night. What the SNP is saying is that nationalism is all right for it but not for those illiterate blacks. That is precisely what the hon. Member for Argyll said last night. When the answer was shouted, he would not give way. It is to be seen quite clearly in col. 524 that my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North spoke of "Afrikaaner nationalists" whereas the hon. Member for Argyll said:They say that they respect us"—that is, referring to the Labour Party—yet they say that we are like the African nationalist parties."—[Official Report, 14th January 1976; Vol. 903, c. 525.]This is the answer to a man who claims to quote from Andrew Fletcher and Saltoun. That quotation was inaccurate at the end, by the way.
I wish to quote from another Scot, from Drummond of Hawthornden, another distinguished Scotsman from the seventeenth century. I am, incidentally, appalled at the total ignorance of members of the SNP about their own culture, traditions and heritage. This is what Drummond of Hawthornden said: 635Brothers, dot I now beseech ye, look upon the mappe of the world and there you will find that Scotland is not all the earth and that England and it together make but one not immense isle.This is where we stand. We think that other things matter besides fact of nationhood, of belonging—besides being born in a particular nation. We defend the rights of nations, including African nations, and we defend the right of Scotland to see itself as a nation.
I have spent most of my adult life putting forward that proposition. I know the hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Reid) quite closely. I have never heard him mention this phenomenon. He will remember the work that I was doing. Two months after he decided to leave the Labour Party he joined the SNP, and we have heard nothing else about this from him. Members of the SNP do not know their own civilisation, their own nationhood for which they claim to speak. I repudiate them and the nastiness and malice that comes from them.
§ Mr. Iain MacCormick (Argyll)
Does not the hon. Member appreciate that any nastiness or malice has come from what he has said? He knows quite well that I used the phrase "African nationalists" as a geographical term. I never knew there was such a thing as the Afrikaaner nationalists. For the hon. Gentleman to make an implication like that is probably the nastiest and most malicious thing that has happened during the debate.
§ Mr. Buchan
Nasty and malicious it may be. It is certainly true. The very fact that the hon. Member now refers to the geographical area of Africa proves the point. He was referring to the African nationalist parties—in the plural. There is not more than one Afrikaaner Nationalist Party. The stigma of racialism is never very far from the surface of the speeches not of their supporters but of many SNP spokesmen.
The hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire referred to dishonesty. He talks about preserving the integrity of the United Kingdom. He said that his party did not wish to destroy the United Kingdom. He spoke of a relationship 636 in 1603 and asks "Why not have that relationship?" However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) pointed out, that was a separate relationship. There were two separate countries. I shall deal with the word "separatist" in a moment. There were two separate countries with one monarch, separately ruling. There was not a united kingdom.
In the second place, we are in the 20th century. What members of the SNP mean by saying they will preserve the Queen as Head of Scotland is something very different from saying that they will preserve the United Kingdom as it is now with one overall Government, one State, one membership of the United Nations and so on. This is not semantics. It is an attempt to mislead the people of Scotland in just the same way as the hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire attempts to do when he speaks of gettting rid of the bogy of separatism. The members of the SNP are afraid of the truth.
In trying to defend his position a moment ago, the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire referred to a separate Parliament. The word "separatist" is quite straightforward. It means someone who tries to create separate countries. The SNP prefers the word "independence" because it can wrap that up with all sorts of mysticism. "Independence" sounds good. We all want to be independent. A friend of mine, Alan Jackson the poet, said "The only home rule I am interested in is 16 Cathcart Place, Edinburgh." The Scottish National Party members can wrap it up in all sorts of ways to give it a miasma. They are separatists, they wish to be in a separate State. This must be understood before we can engage in discussion.
The hon. Member talks of honesty. We had a marvellous phenomenon yesterday. The hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) was dealing with a certain document dealing with aspects of SNP economic policy. He was saying that the document did not exist and then found to his horror the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire intervening to say that the document did not really mean one thing but meant something else—thus explaining a non-existent document.
637 The hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire now says that it will probably never become nationalist policy, but at the time the document was leaked he said that he supported it and would be prepared to defend it. He should not talk to us about honesty and should not equate expressing Scottishness with this kind of dishonest tactic.
I want to deal with rather more serious matters, particularly the White Paper. There was a bad reaction to the White Paper in Scotland. Over-expectations had been aroused. Indeed, some of my own hon. Friends tended to raise expectations to a level that could not be fulfilled, and there were very good reasons why those expectations could not be fulfilled. Most of the bashing articles in the Scottish Press, by the way, were written by people who were in the process of forming a separate Scottish Labour Party, so that was not altogether unexpected. The present membership of the Scottish Labour Party apparently consists almost solely of card-carrying members of the NUJ, and we should not be taken in, therefore, by the mass media's reaction. However, it is true that the expectations of many Scottish people were not fulfilled, though I believe they were wrong to have had those expectations.
The Government have accepted that the White Paper is subject to change and discussion. There are a number of points to which we should pay particular attention. First, I respect the argument of the university staffs and principals who want Scottish universities to remain outside the control of the Scottish Assembly, but I believe that their fears are wrongly based. One of their fears is that they might be subject to too much political control which would tend to remove them as "centres of excellence". Another fear is that they would lose contact with research projects being carried on throughout the whole British university structure. They should be told that universities have aspects of teaching and education as well as aspects of research, and they should be brought under the control of the Assembly. Scotland has always had strong connections between school and university, even more than in England.
I think that the newspaper judgment on the White Paper went wrong on 638 reserve powers. We had all been talking about the importance of reserve powers if we were to keep the entity of the United Kingdom, but when the White Paper was published people said that too many powers were being kept in reserve and that, therefore, the Assembly itself would have no real powers.
My hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sillars), who should have been here today after making the sort of speech he made last night, referred earlier, for example, to the fact that agricultural powers were not being given to the Assembly in total. But the reserve powers in the White Paper refer only to aspects of agriculture, such as fishing limits and the level of support, which must remain constant. If I were still a member of the Government I would not be able to put £10 on the hill cow subsidy in Scotland if there was to be no increase in England, otherwise that would mean customs barriers and we would have to face the prospect of cross-border smuggling as happens in Northern Ireland now.
As it is, these issues may be taken care of by the EEC, in which case there is no need for people to complain that the powers are not being given to the Assembly anyway. However, I feel that the reserve power in connection with ultra vires actions by the Assembly, especially where projects run contrary to the constitution, should be given to a court rather than to the Secretary of State, advised by his Law Officers. An independent court, with perhaps two English and two Scottish judges, would be the best way of dealing with this matter.
The law aspects of the White Paper give rise to certain apprehensions. I recognise that law and order may be seen as a State function. But the present mish-mash in other aspects requires a great deal more discussion.
Any person who is not aware of the dangers in what we are proposing is a fool. There are plenty of dangers in this proposition. This is not a simple step. I do not use the term "slippery slope", but I understand how it could be relevant here.
We would go wrong if we substituted a federalist solution. Wales demands and requires democratic control over the 639 Executive but does not seek to set up a powerful Assembly. Therefore, Wales is not affected. The federal argument works in relation to the United States with 51 states all of which could be juggling to get a couple of hydro-electric dams and where, say, Florida and Georgia could gang up to protest against federal proposals. But when we establish two centres of power, one in Edinburgh and one in London, we polarise the situation completely.
Let us suppose that a new steel site were to be proposed in Great Britain. Think of the power and pressure that would develop in Scotland for the plant to be sited there. The constituency would no longer be Liverpool, Walton or Renfrewshire, West; it would be Scotland. The mass media, trade unions, and the Assembly—not just the SNP, but all responsible Members—would back the attempt to get the steel plant built in Scotland. By definition, however, as we have only one-tenth of the population, we could get only one or two out of every 10 industrial plums in Great Britain. For the rest of the time, therefore, there would be a succession of failures as we pursued various projects. The SNP in that situation could wreck the Assembly. There is a grave danger that it might be wrecked in the first two or three years. Without being immodest, I can tell hon. Members that I could wreck it within a couple of years by pursuing populist policies and blaming each failure to attract industrial development on the London connection.
The SNP has virtually said that it is prepared to wreck the Assembly. It does not want a successful devolved Assembly. It wants it to fail. This is the danger and our problem is how to prevent it One way would be the solution I have suggested in the past. We should have a referendum in Wales on the whole question of devolution and a referendum in Scotland on the question of independence. We are committed to devolution and to setting up a Scottish Assembly and we must go on with it, but we should put squarely to the Scottish people the question "Do you want independence?"
If the SNP will permit me, I should like to quote from an Englishman. Colonel Rainborough, who said in the Putney debates: 640And therefore truly, sir, I think it is clear that every man that is to live under a government ought first by his own consent to put himself under that government …We should have a referendum as with the EEC.
When we are changing the framework of government, it is right the Scottish people should be given the chance to decide whether they wish to be independent. We must face up to the problem. If the answer is "Yes", the Assembly could negotiate independence. If the Scottish people say "Yes" coolly and calculatedly, it would have happened anyway through wrecking tactics in the Assembly. If the answer is "No", we can say to the SNP "Shut up, calm down, let the Assembly have a chance to get off the ground". The Scottish people will have shown that they want an Assembly along the lines the Government are suggesting and want to give it a chance to work.
There is always the problem of framing the question for a referendum. I have suggested one form. I know that SNP Members have objected to the word "separate" and other people may object to the word "independent". Some think that "separate" is loaded and others think that "independent" is ambiguous. Why not use both words so that we describe the State as "independent", with "separate" describing the process of achieving it? I believe that it would be possible to devise questions which would work.
I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland will be glad to hear that for the first time in my political life in Scotland I have the backing of an editorial in the Church of Scotland publication Life and Work. It agrees with me. The Bolshies have come home! The Church of Scotland agrees with me about a referendum. Glory be to someone!
The Chairman of the SNP defined separation quite clearly. He said:We would be no more separate than Norway or Holland.The SNP says that we cannot accuse it of being separatist because we are all in the Common Market, but he overlooked the fact that Norway is not in the Common Market. He and his party will have to stop using that dishonest argument.
641 I was astonished at the speech yesterday by my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire. It seemed to contradict everything he has been saying in the last two months about the necessity of establishing a Labour Party for Scotland. He has accused us in the past of breaking our pledges. As one who resigned over the Common Market I am an expert on broken pledges, but I can assure him that the Government have not broken their pledges in this respect. They were quite clear in their Scottish manifesto and in the broadsheet which my hon. Friend is so fond of quoting. They referred quite specifically to,powers over economic planning and the environment".That is what the Government have produced. I repudiate, therefore, my hon. Friend's suggestion that we have broken pledges.
My hon. Friend said something even more interesting last night. It was:I emphasise that I am not advocating that the United Kingdom should blow up and disappear from the political map.He could have fooled me. I thought he had been saying precisely that for the last two months. He continued:I am arguing that a United Kingdom Parliament which has the generosity and vision to initiate meaningful devolution, especially in the economic field, will retain and deepen, not lose, the loyalty of the Scottish people".—[Official Report, 14th January 1976; Vol. 903, c. 453.]He is now, last night, arguing that we should adopt proper devolutionary methods to retain the unity of Great Britain. That is a remarkable step forward, back into the ranks of the Labour Party.
I hope that in view of his speech last night my hon. Friend will go to the conference which is being called on Sunday and tell his colleagues who believe passionately in devolution that he has changed his mind and that they should preserve unity and drop the slogan calling for "Independence, not separation". I would welcome the retention of my hon. Friend in the Labour Party. With his energy and ability he has a lot to give the Labour movement. If he pursues what he has been saying for the last two months, he is on the wrong road. If he pursues what he said last 642 night, nothing but good will come of it. I wish that my hon. Friend were present now. I cannot see how in all honesty he can now advocate the formation of a separate Scottish Labour Party on the basis of creating independence without separation, especially in view of what he said last night. I confess, however, that the main consequence of his speech has been that yet another member has announced that he will join the Scottish Labour Party—
§ 6.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Roberts (Cardiff, North West)
The hon. Member for Renfrew-shire, West (Mr. Buchan) called for a referendum in Wales. There is no doubt that this movement has increasing support throughout the Principality. It is significant that more and more Labour-controlled councils are demanding a referendum. They cannot want a referendum because it will lead to an endorsement of the Government's proposals. Clearly they want the referendum to reject those proposals. I cannot personally support the campaign for a referendum because I believe that the voice of Wales can be heard in other ways, and it has already been heard clearly by the Secretary of State.
Today the right hon. and learned Gentleman shifted his ground very considerably from the bold days of September 1974. Today he depicted himself in the role of the custodian of the manifesto. I remember so well that at his Press conference in 1974 he was far more confident. He lay down criteria by which the proposals should be judged, and one of the criteria which he regarded as vital was popular support for the proposals.
I can undersand why this normally cautious man took that rash step and based his whole case on popular support. He looked back to the 1968 public opinion poll which indicated that 78 per cent. of the people of Wales wanted some 643 form of further devolution. Perhaps he forgot that 1968 was a difficult time for his Government. Perhaps he overlooked the fact that that was when Plaid Cymru almost captured Rhondda, West and Caerphilly. But in those days of 1974 he talked in terms of popular support. Today he adopts the much more limited role of custodian of the manifesto.
Many people in Wales wish that he would protect other aspects of the manifesto as zealously as he protects the devolution proposals. If his zeal were directed to reducing unemployment and inflation he would command a great deal more of our respect. The right hon. and learned Gentleman must know that a lot of his support has withered away. Consider the backing he has had in this debate. The hon. Member for Newport (Mr. Hughes) expressed his support in broad terms. He was not particularly keen on the scheme, but because the Parliamentary Labour Party had agreed with it he would go along with it for democratic reasons. That could not be described as enthusiastic support. The Secretary of State may wonder what has happened to his colleagues who were the architects and proponents of the devolutionary scheme. Those who sold the pass have lost their seats. They have been replaced by Members of Plaid Cymru and Liberals.
Today, there is no evidence of popular support for the proposal. There is no evidence in the Chamber, in the debate or in any recent public opinion poll. The last poll showed a dramatic change. Of the people interviewed in a recent Marplan survey, 51 per cent. said that they wanted no change.
§ Mr. Hooson
Does not the hon. Gentleman regard opinion polls as highly dangerous? An opinion poll in Wales showed that there was a large majority against the Common Market, yet the Welsh people voted overwhelmingly to go in.
§ Mr. Roberts
I do not regard opinion polls as infallible, but as I was approached to take part in the Marplan survey I have more faith in it.
Two days ago the Western Mail called upon us all to stand up and be counted. That is precisely what the Welsh people are doing and have been doing for a long 644 time. When we stand up in Parliament to be counted, we are speaking not for the Welsh Assembly, not for the Western Mail, but for the vast majority of the people of Wales.
The last refuge of the Secretary of State and the few supporters of the proposal for a Welsh Assembly is to drum up the argument that, because in the 1974 election Plaid Cymru, the Liberal Party and the Labour Party contained in their manifestos this pledge of which he is now the custodian, that shows general support for the proposal. That is a complete distortion of democracy. I illustrate that with two constituency examples. It would mean in the Pontypool area that 33,000 votes were cast for an Assembly and only 6,000 against. It would mean in Bedwellty that 34,000 votes were cast for an Assembly and only 4,500 against. Parties can commit themselves by a manifesto, but they cannot commit the voters.
§ Mr. Roberts
I think that the Secretary of State accepts that the votes cast for the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) and Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) were not cast in favour of an Assembly.
It is interesting to analyse why support for devolution amongst local authorties is withering away. The Welsh Counties Committee supported the principle of devolution so long as devolution did not involve any transfer of responsibilities from local authorities. Many people involved in local government today are reserving their judgment. They want clarification on several points.
To quote paragraph 235:The responsibilities to be transferred on devolution in the various fields will be those which the Government now carry. The proposals do not entail any removal of current tasks or powers from local government."Current" may be thought to mean that there is no intention to transfer responsibilities which are at present with local government but that future responsibilities of local government in England might not be allocated to local government in Wales. As a result, local government in Wales—one cannot get decision making much closer to the people—could 645 be less effective, less democratic and further removed from the people than it is in England.
Welsh local authorities have every right so to be afraid, because already that happens. The Community Land Act 1975 gave to local authorities in England powers which it did not give to local authorities in Wales.
The financial arrangements in the White Paper demand further clarification. I quote paragraph 223:Central governmental finance for the devolved services will be provided essentially by block grant voted by Parliament. The Assembly will have the fullest possible freedom to decide how the money should be spent—how much for example, should go on roads, houses, schools and hospitals, and where in Wales it should be spent.Will local authorities still have control over the allocation of resources between services, bearing in mind that, according to paragraph 223, the Assembly will decide how and where in Wales money is spent on roads, houses and schools? There is great concern in local government circles that this important part of the local authorities' task—the allocation of resources—will be to some extent taken from them. I hope that at some stage this matter can be clarified, because it is causing great concern among local authorities in the Principality.
Opposition to the proposals is also growing in other areas. In England, devolution is about bringing government nearer to the people and improving the machinery of government. That is why there is so little enthusiasm for it. In Wales, devolution is seen as being about nationalism and a step towards separatism. That is why there is growing opposition in the Principality.
There are many people in Wales, whom I respect, who see the devolutionary proposals entirely in the context of improving government, but there are also many who see it as a step towards separatism. So long as Plaid Cymru treats the Welsh Assembly proposals as a step towards the establishment of a Welsh State, the dimension of separateness will be introduced into the devolutionary argument. When so many Welsh people recognise that a separate Wales is the goal of Plaid Cymru and the nationalists, it is not difficult to understand why opposition grows.
Despite all assertions to the contrary, Wales is not rich in natural resources. 646 Our coal is the most difficult and expensive to mine of any in the United Kingdom. Wales has a far smaller proportion of prime agricultural land than has England. If Wales were to be a separate State it would be poorer and the standard of living would go down. That is a good reason for opposition to the idea, but it is not the only one.
It is not purely on material grounds that the Welsh people will judge the issue. They have an affection for and a determined loyalty towards United Kingdom institutions, and most Welshmen take a pride in their United Kingdom citizenship. The hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans) and his party have never understood their fellow countrymen who do not share their political aspirations. Worse still, they have never shown the generosity of mind to appreciate that the majority express their Welshness within the framework of the United Kingdom. He may whistle in the dark to predict great progress for his party in 10 years' time—
§ Mr. Anderson
As this is a very valid point, will the hon. Member ensure that the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans) and his colleagues, who are not present, are sent copies of the speech?
§ Mr. Roberts
I told the hon. Member for Carmarthen that I would be referring to his speech. I shall certainly send him a copy of my speech, although I cannot, of course, make him read it.
Whatever the forecast of its future electoral success in the Principality, the facts as they now stand are that, out of 36 seats contested at the last General Election, Plaid Cymru forfeited deposits in 27 of them. Therefore, whatever the BBC may say, whatever the Western Mail may say, the hon. Member for Carmarthen and his party have no right to speak for the people of Wales.
Yesterday the hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) said that what is important is whether the Scottish people want devolution, and, of course, he is right. What is also important is whether or not the people of Wales want devolution in any form. The Secretary of State might well ask himself where in the Principality he gets support at the moment for his proposals. He is proposing a major constitutional change, and he can muster only a little support and very little enthusiasm.
647 It was said of our decision to enter the Common Market that it required the fullhearted consent of the British people. The proposals concerning a Welsh Assembly have not even the halfhearted support of the Welsh people today. These proposals find such little favour that the Secretary of State should consider withdrawing them.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Myer Galpern)
There has been a steady stream of hon. Members to the Chair, all anxious to take part in the debate. I can give the guarantee to all hon. Members who are anxious to take part this evening that, if they are prepared to limit their speeches to about 10 minutes, everyone will be accommodated.
§ 6.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Fred Evans (Caerphilly)
There have been moments in the debate—I say this without any trace of cynicism whatsoever—that are bound to have brought a wry smile to many of our faces. There have been continual references to consultations which have taken place, to statements in manifestos, to declarations by the national executive committees of various parties and so on.
One recalls the remark of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to the effect that in politics a day is a short time. If that can be said to people in this House, the same prerogative must also be extended to people outside it, because politics is evolutionary—and much more rapidly so than the subject we are discussing today. If the subject before us cannot be evolutionary, it cannot be anything. It may be for this reason that politicians have regular meals of their own words. The fact that events have occurred since the consultations took place, and since the various declarations were made, does not preclude the consideration of new points of view and the necessity to take action about them.
A cardinal and central feature of this debate is that there should be consultation with the people concerning something as fundamental and irreversible as a constitutional change which will adversely affect their lives, and the lives of their descendants far beyond the forseeable future if this House does not reach a correct decision.
648 It was with the intention of exploring the depths of this kind of feeling that my constituency party in Caerphilly decided to do some questioning. Last November I put down an Early-Day Motion pointing out the deep divisions of opinion in Wales and calling for a referendum in order that the people of Wales might express themselves.
As Members of Parliament we can be fooled in politics, as much as anyone else outside, by regarding the representations of people who could be described as pressure groups as being valid expressions of the desire and will of the rank-and-file people in the movements for which those pressure groups claim to be spokesmen.
The road of every political party is littered with resolutions which have been passed at annual conferences, endorsed by national executive committees and then forgotten. Certainly it has been so on this side of the House for many years.
There have always been great arguments over manifestos, but for some reason there seems to be a feeling that this particular aspect of the manifesto is sacrosanct. I make these comments without any kind of cynicism. I simply wish to emphasise the realities of our political life.
The findings of our referendum campaign committee in the Caerphilly constituency have been circulated to every constituency Labour Party in Wales. All the county councils and district councils were contacted. We accept the information given to us by the Secretary of State for Wales as sincere, and our personal liking for him is not in any way damaged by this exercise. All except one of the county councils in Wales have decided to demand a referendum. The one exception asks for a legislative Assembly for Wales, but it also wants a referendum. Therefore, we have a 100 per cent. expression of view in that respect. At district council level, according to the replies received by the campaign committee in my constituency, 20 of the 36 district councils are also demanding a referendum. It is anticipated that the number will rise to 30 out of 36.
We have also circularised the management committees of all the constituency Labour Parties in Wales, putting to them the suggestion that this question might be a subject for resolution at the next 649 annual conference of the Welsh Labour Party. The Secretary of State for Wales may be particularly interested to note that affirmative indications have been received from about 12 of the Welsh constituency Labour Parties.
It should be borne in mind that management committees hold their meetings only perhaps once a quarter or once every two months. The normal routine is to have an executive committee meeting once a month and a management committee meeting at less frequent intervals. Bearing in mind the Christmas break, they are only just beginning to resume their meetings, yet already about a dozen have indicated support for the line taken by the party in the Caerphilly constituency.
There was an interesting letter in The Times this morning from Professor Ivor Gowan, Professor of Political Science at Aberystwyth. After analysing the present situation and Welsh attitudes to devolution, he said:The Government has found support for its policies on devolution in the 'official' views and spokesmen of a plethora of political, local government, cultural and religious organisations. But it is now learning to its cost that these pressure groups do not faithfully represent the views of their rank and file members"—
§ Mr. Wigley
Will the hon. Gentleman accept that that statement was never said by me? I have never seen it reported and I would have repudiated it if it had been reported. On that basis, will the hon. Gentleman retract it?
§ Mr. Evans
The Secretary of State says that it was reported. But I will retract it. I gave it only a passing glance anyway.
Professor Gowan's letter continues:It seems to me that the demand for a referendum on devolution will in the end prove irresistible. On present trends, it is 650 not unlikely that the majority of the people in such a referendum will decisively reject all moves towards devolution, a Welsh parliament or self-government. Sooner or later Whitehall and Westminster must learn that nationalists and 'quasi-nationalists' are a small minority in Wales.We want to ascertain more accurately what people think. The evidence of the response evoked by my Early-Day Motion and the efforts of the management committee of my constituency provide a fair cross-section; we have had shoals of letters from all over Wales pledging support. They have asked that their representations should be given some voice in this House.
There has been a dramatic change from a year ago, when information was not widely disseminated. This is one reason why, in 1969, when James Allason introduced a Private Member's Bill on referenda in Wales and Scotland, I voted against it, because it would be still more dangerous to have let something go forward on too little information, when the idea was novel and could have done incalculable damage. I accept that the knowledge and awareness of the subject and the wish to participate properly are now stronger in Wales than they were over the Common Market. The Government should take notice of this and recognise that, just as devolution is an evolutionary thing, so politics is dynamic and evolutionary. It does not mean that decisions are frozen. One of the elements in the separatist argument is that a rigid pattern would develop and that as much harm would be done as by having no devolution at all.
My constituency is not unfamiliar with questions of devolution. We have been immersed in them for many years. My predecessor, after all, formed the Welsh Grand Committee. Much as we loved him, my constituency party argued bitterly with Aneurin Bevan when he introduced into Wales the first nominated bodies on any significant scale under the National Health Service. We have published pamphlets and we can see the danger.
We accept the idea of devolution, but not with a capital "D". The aim of a Socialist movement must be to bring power as near as possible to the people through vehicles acceptable to the people. We do not say that the present proposals would necessarily do that. We do not 651 question the right of the Government to produce proposals, nor do we want to institutionalise referenda. We have openly discarded the red herring that a referendum on one subject means that it can be used on others, although we bear in mind the referenda on drinking that there have been in Wales.
It is the business of the Government to decide on deep issues of law and order, but this is a constitutional alteration which is likely to have irreversible results. Before a decision is taken, the people must have a chance to express their view. If the people of Wales decided on a parliament for Wales, those of us who seek a referendum would loyally have to accept that decision and do our utmost to make it work. If a referendum favoured the present proposals, they too would have to be accepted. But the people have a right to be consulted about their future.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I understood that the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Evans) had finished his speech.
§ Mr. Wigley
Am I right in saying that the hon. Gentleman has in the past expressed himself in favour of a Welsh parliament of some kind? Is that his position now?
§ Mr. Evans
I have committed myself to nothing except the statement that the decisions of a referendum must be accepted and made to work. That is a firm enough commitment for anyone to give.
I turn to the fears which have been expressed by many people. We are living in a time of great economic stringency and we hear many scaremongering stories. Last weekend we heard about the possibility of a 10 per cent. increase in taxation because of the bad state of our national economy. People are filled with foreboding about rate and rent increases. Many people are expressing fears about the cost of this type of exercise.
I shall not put forward my own opinion about the extension of bureaucracy because I believe that the bureaucrats should speak for themselves. I shall 652 quote what a rather eminent bureaucrat in Wales said about these proposals:The White Paper states that the Assembly will need substantial numbers of staff and that numbers are difficult to estimate. Broadly however the extra staff might be around 600 initially, rising thereafter to about 1,600 when the Assembly gets into its stride. At the earlier level the extra running costs would be around £5 million, rising at the later stage to around £12 million.He went on to say:Estimates of this sort are notoriously liable to be proved to be under-estimates and the Government's argument that there will be administrative savings in Whitehall and the Welsh Office lacks conviction".Of course, I should not necessarily agree with that.
This bureaucrat then said:The Welsh Office has grown in staff since 1964 from 200 to 1,600.We know the added functions which have been given to the Welsh Office but it is interesting to note the rise in the number of staff. He went on to say:There is the clear possibility that the cost of establishing and running the Assembly, if it proves higher than the forecasts, will be offset by reduction of the local government share of the block grant.The details of the impact on local government of other aspects of the White Paper have already been dealt with, but no doubt they will be referred to again.
I shall deal with one or two other fears expressed by ordinary people. There is the genuine fear that the Welsh economy is not strong enough to sustain a separate Wales. The Assembly will inevitably be viewed as one stage on the road to complete economic and political independence.
Although the Welsh economy has suffered great tribulations in the past, it is feared that it could suffer equally great ones in the future and for a long period if Wales does not have willing access to all markets in Great Britain. If we do not have the capability of calling upon the central Government to assist in the industrial and financial problems of our region, it is feared that separatism will inevitably mean a decline in our industrial activities which would lead to a decline in the social services and so on.
The hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. Thomas) may shake his head. However, I point out that I have raised this matter on several occasions and I have not yet 653 had a real answer. I have not heard any rebuttal of the reference of the hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Grist) to resources. No doubt he made the same statement several times.
The hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan) put forward a possible solution to the problem. He said that the desire for devolution in Wales had not shown itself to anything like the same degree as in Scotland. I believe that a referendum in Wales on the issue of a separate Assembly would be justified on the evidence which I put forward earlier in my speech. Scotland has historical differences concerning self-government. A referendum should be held, but the question asked should be "Do you want to have an independent Scotland?" That is the hon. Gentleman's solution and I think that it bears examination.
I do not want to see any deepening of the rifts between Wales and Scotland and England. Some of these rifts have existed through history and they find themselves frequently expressed on rugby fields and so on. There are differences. There are people who are conscious of their nationality, which is not the same as being political nationalists. It would be a most serious retrograde step if, as has happened in Scotland, our noble human attitude were to be used for political purposes. I am, of course, referring to the attitude which some Scots have adopted on oil.
It would be equally bad if a situation developed in Wales where the people were given a form of governmental institution which they did not necessarily want. The Welsh people want the same as all other ordinary people. They want decent jobs, homes and schools for their children and a reasonable standard of living. Their ambitions have never been aimed too high. Moreover, they want a closer democracy. They want to get rid of the nominated bodies in Wales, because they are too remote for the ordinary people. The ordinary man wants to have democratic government as near as possible to his community. I do not think that that is being offered. Indeed, a chasm may open at our feet unless we ensure that the Welsh people receive this type of democracy.
The Welsh people are pressing for the type of devolution for which the Scots 654 are pressing. They want to be treated as dignified human beings. They want the democracy in their immediate localities improved. That is a humble request. If it is not granted, we shall see the chasm open.
I hope that the Government will give serious consideration to the question of a referendum and to the other points made by Welsh Members concerning the total pattern of devolution inside the United Kingdom. For that reason my hon. Friends and I tabled an amendment to the motion on Monday—it was not selected by Mr. Speaker—asserting the rights of the Welsh people to be consulted about the future.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The Chair has no power to limit the length of speeches. I made a plea for brevity in order to accommodate all hon. Members who wish to participate in the debate this evening. If those who are fortunate enough to be called care to ignore that plea, I should indicate that I shall not listen to any criticisms or complaints from those who have not been called.
§ 6.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Emlyn Hooson (Montgomery)
The hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Evans) rightly said that the development of political thought and opinion was an evolutionary process. Whatever the Conservatives do here, the Young Conservatives in the country have declared in favour of legislative assemblies regionally and in Wales and Scotland elected by proportional representation.
It seems to me that in this debate we are largely ignoring the European dimension. Yesterday the hon. Member for Belper (Mr. MacFarquhar), in an interesting speech which I have read—I was not here to listen to it-developed this theme, and the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sillars) and my hon. Friend the Member for Inverness (Mr. Johnston touched upon it. I should be surprised if the trend towards devolution were not as inevitable in this country as the trend towards greater European unity.
In the end it is a matter of management. Our institutions have not proved satisfactory for the management of our 655 political, economic or domestic affairs. The dynastic and security reasons for the United Kingdom have largely disappeared. The rôle played by the Queen in Parliament in relation to a far-flung Empire is very different from that which we are called upon to discharge today.
The greatest tragedy that could befall the United Kingdom would be for Scotland, for example, to split off from it before adequate institutions have been built up in Europe. On the other hand, if there were greater European unity and the institutions had been created, would it matter whether Scotland was a different unit of Europe from England and Wales? Of course not.
The separatist argument can be overplayed. I do not think that there is any realistic possibility of either Wales or Scotland going separatist in the real sense of the term before the European instituttions have been sufficiently developed. It would be a tragedy if they did. That is why I have always ended my consideration of this problem by becoming a federalist. The whole concept of federalism is to preserve the unity of the whole. Devolution of this kind can be dangerous. In an economic depression it can lead to arguments demanding separatism—putting all the blame on the centre—unless we have adequately and precisely divided the powers between this House and the Assemblies.
I shall not proceed any further on the general theme. I want to deal in particular with the White Paper as it affects Wales.
I am a convinced devolutionist. I am also convinced that this country surrendered part of its sovereignty when it joined the Common Market. It is absolute nonsense to pretend that we are a sovereign Parliament when we have voluntarily given up a great deal of our sovereignty and had that decision endorsed by the people of this country. Over the next few decades, sovereignty will probably be further surrendered in a two-way process. We shall surrender some sovereignty up and some down. Let us face the reality. We are only at the beginning of the devolution debate, and its implications are only just dawning on some hon. Members. That is why much of the debate has been so confused.
656 The value to Wales of the Government's proposals is that for the first time they give Wales an elected Assembly which will be able to consider Welsh problems within the United Kingdom. The establishment of such a forum is obviously a great advantage. However, having said that, I am profoundly disappointed with the Government's proposals in the White Paper. To me, the devolution of power means what it says—devolving power from this House.
I listened with interest to the exposition by the Secretary of State for Wales of what he was proposing. What was he doing? He was merely shedding his own responsibilities to an elected body. He was entrusting to it decisions on executive and administrative matters which, in my view, are best taken by administrators and executives answerable to an elected body but not taking those decisions itself any more than happens here in Parliament.
The recommendation in the White Paper gives Wales an Assembly largely based on a county council model—a committee system. That is a retrograde step in Government thinking. Whatever the views of the Conservative Front Bench may be, if we are to have an Assembly, for heaven's sake let us have it based on a parliamentary rather than a committee system. Let us have it open, public and esteemed, not folowing the model of the county councils, which in some parts of Wales have nothing like the reputation of Parliament. The Government's proposals seem to be open not only to abuse but to gross manipulation.
There is a genuine fear among Welsh electors that the block grant is to be distributed by the Welsh Assembly and that the one-party nominated Assembly will be controlled under the committee set-up outlined in the White Paper. The Assembly will have total control over the way the block grant is shared out. We find that set out in paragraph 223 of the White Paper.
The Executive Committee will have powers delegated to it, and its committees will have the right to appoint and delegate their powers to sub-committees, and even to the Executive member on each committee. What does that mean in practical terms in Wales? It means delegating the power to the party boss 657 on that committee. The Assembly will be entitled to do that.
We can say that would never happen here. However, I am not at all sure that it would not happen in Wales. The old Glamorgan County Council, to which reference was made the other day, used, it is said, to meet on occasion for a quarter of an hour formally to discuss its business. It would steamroller everything through, everything having been decided in caucuses and committees beforehand. That is what we want to avoid.
I am a keen devolutionist, but that sort of procedure would bring the Assembly into disrepute in a very short time. The remedy is not the rhetoric of the Secretary of State, which will be soon forgotten, but to have proper safeguards in the Act which sets up the Assembly. The people of Wales should press for a proper parliamentary as opposed to a committee system. That would give minority parties a greater and more open say in the country's affairs.
The Welsh Assembly should have true, not sham, devolution. That means giving legislative powers to the Welsh Assembly. I see no point in giving the Assembly control over those matters which are now exercised by the Secretary of State for Wales. Under these proposals there will be no control by a Welsh Assembly over its economy or anything touching economic matters. There must be powers of adaptation and so on. If the Assembly is to have proper status, it should have legislative powers. Each of the States of the United States of America has legislative powers. Each of the States of the Länder Parliaments of Germany has legislative powers. The Northern Ireland Parliament had legislative powers. But Wales is not to have any legislative powers It is an absolute sham.
It is important, if we cannot have a federal constitution immediately, at least to have a quasi-federal basis. By that I mean that the powers of the Assembly should be set out precisely and that the reserve powers should be in this House.
Unlike the nationalists, I look at this problem from a different viewpoint. I do not believe that one needs to have separatism first and can merge into Europe later. It is much better for the residual powers to be in this Parliament and for precise powers to be devolved to 658 Scotland and Wales. The constitutional basis in the White Paper is far too flimsy for what the Government intend to do.
The third matter which is necessary in the Act devolving power to Scotland and Wales is a Bill of Rights to provide essential safeguards for individuals and minority groups. It is nonsense to say that this cannot be built into the constitution. Of course it can. It is nonsense to say that we are moving in the direction of a written constitution and that this is alien to our traditions. It would be nothing of the kind. Every former British Dominion has a written constitution given it by this House. We are great experts at drafting written constitutions. We have done it more than any other legislature. Bills of Rights, or their equivalents, have been built into many of those constitutions. It is necessary to do that in this process.
The next step is to encourage fair and democratic representation by means of some form of proportional representation. The Government cannot quote the Kilbrandon Commission, as they so often do, and ignore its one unanimous recommendation. The Commission discussed at length the various systems and came to the conclusion that the present majority system of voting was most unfair and that the alternative vote system was fairer and simpler that the single transferable vote, but that the single transferable vote was easily understood and much the fairest system, and it unanimously recommended it. The Labour Government owe it to the country to explain in detail why they rejected that unanimous recommendation.
§ Mr. Hooson
I wonder whether they will. They might introduce it in Scotland for fear of the hon. Gentleman's party.
Sir John Foster, who was a very distinguished Member of this House, described the British voting system as the most primitive in Europe. It is said by the Lord President that the system is difficult to understand. Is that why the Labour Party supported the introduction of proportional representation in Northern Ireland, because they believed that the people of Northern Ireland would not understand it? Of course, it is easily explained and understood.
659 In the present climate there is a great deal to be said for bringing in both a Scottish and a Welsh Assembly on trial for four years—that is, for the whole of one sitting of the Assembly. I suggest that there might be a constitutional conference in the third year, comprising Members of the Assemblies and of this Parliament, to consider the best means of setting up a much more permanent structure within the United Kingdom. This could be for an experimental period. There is a good deal to be said for this.
It is necessary to charge the Welsh Assembly with reviewing local government with a view to having a single tier of all-purpose local authorities, largely at district level. It is nonsense for the Secretary of State to say that we are not creating another tier of government. It is this House which deals today with delegated legislation. County councils have no right to deal with it, but the Welsh Assembly will have this power and will, therefore, be another tier.
The Assembly means the recruitment of about 2,000 civil servants. This is one of the most objectionable features to the people in Wales. The Conservative Government prejudiced the case for devolution by rushing on with local government reform. At the time I asked them to hold back reform until the Kilbrandon Report was published. The Tory Government have made the task of the present Government much more difficult, but nevertheless this task must be faced.
County councils in Wales will inevitably come out against a Welsh Assembly and, possibly, so will their Scottish equivalents. Their members are not fools. They can see that in a few years' time an Assembly will be a definite threat to their existence. This is a problem which must be faced and dealt with now. One of the ways to do that is to charge the Welsh Assembly with looking at the whole question of local government with a view to devolving power from county to district councils. I see no reason why the district councils should not discharge nearly all the duties at present dealt with by the county councils.
There is also the question of the unions. Where are the staff to be recruited from for the new Assembly, assuming 660 that it becomes the second tier of government in Wales? Are they all to be recruited from the Civil Service, or should not some at least be recruited from local government? I think that this service should be hybrid for the first few years, to enable the staff of county councils to be employed. The cost of devolution would then be very little indeed.
It is no use leaving the matter to the Assembly, because it could face inter-union problems, with the Civil Service unions objecting to NALGO staff being recruited to the Assembly. This problem must be dealt with by the House now. It is an essential prerequisite to the setting up of a successful Assembly.
There are, therefore, three serious objections to the Government's scheme for Wales. The first is the proposal for the committee system, which would lend itself to some of the worst practices of Welsh local government. If we were to establish a parliamentary system—a ministerial system—it would be much better for Wales and much more acceptable, particularly to the minority groups. In Wales this is the greatest single objection by people who believe basically in devolution. Hon. Members on all sides with some knowledge of the situation know exactly what I am referring to when I speak of their fears.
Secondly, I think that the powers that are proposed for the Assembly seem to most people to be essentially a right to meddle in local government. This is what it amounts to. There is a basic objection to what is regarded realistically as likely to he a one-party dominated Assembly having the right to interfere in the administration of other elected bodies such as the district and county councils if they remain. It is therefore important that there should be greater safeguards when the Bill is introduced Further, the Welsh Assembly should be entrusted with legislative powers devolved from this House.
The third, and very important, matter is the method of election, which is reprehensible. I think that it was a Freudian slip by the Secretary of State when, about three minutes before he ended his speech, he referred to the elected Labour Assembly in Wales. This is the very thing people are afraid of—that it will be dominated entirely by one party. It is 661 necessary to provide safeguards against this. Many of us who believe in devolution will not lightly enter into a system in which there are no safeguards. One of the essential safeguards is a system of proportional representation for elections. It would at least ensure a fairer crack of the whip for the majority parties, which is all-important.
§ 7.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)
I wish first to deal with the way in which we have arrived at our present discussion. It has been said that the Labour Party is fully committed to the election of Assemblies for Scotland and Wales, and that the commitment was in our manifesto covering the whole country—not the Scottish and Welsh manifestos separately, but the national manifesto for Ocotber 1974. That is true, but my hon. Friends must look at how the commitment came to be in the manifesto.
Devolution was last discussed, and to my knowledge it was the only time for many years, at our annual party conference in 1968, when a motion on the matter was moved by my right hon. and learned Friend who is now the Lord Advocate. That motion, which he moved on behalf of the Edinburgh Labour Party, was not accepted by the conference. The National Executive asked that it should be remitted, and it was; but in the course of the reply by my right hon. Friend the present Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary, on behalf of the National Executive, there was a vague suggestion that the Government would look into the constitutional position. Out of that examination came the Royal Commission on the Constitution appointed in April of the following year.
After the appointment of the Royal Commission, whenever we started to discuss devolution we were told "You cannot discuss it, because it is being discussed by the Commission, and you must give evidence to the Commission." The Royal Commission published its proposals two days before the 1973 Labour Party conference. There were no motions about the subject on the agenda, and when one asked about discussing it one was told "It cannot be discussed, because no one has had a chance to look at the proposals."
662 The following February there was a General Election. The matter was not mentioned in our manifesto covering the whole of the United Kingdom, but there was some mention of it in the Welsh manifesto. There is only one problem about that, which is that I do not fight elections on the Welsh manifesto. I did not even know that there were such things as Welsh and Scottish manifestos. I thought that we put forward a manifesto covering the whole United Kingdom.
Nevertheless, the subject was dealt with in the October manifesto. The National Executive Committee had established a working party which produced a document which went before the Home Policy Committee. That Committee issued it on 25th September, not on behalf of the whole National Executive but on its own behalf. No doubt it was endorsed by the National Executive a few weeks before the October election, but it was never discussed by the annual conference. That is how we came to make the commitment.
My dilemma is that it was in the manifesto, and I have never believed in going back on manifesto commitments, although it is amazing how some people are prepared to be nailed to the cross on this one but not on many others.
My hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sillars), who, I am sorry to see, is not here, was one of those who began to explain to me, when he entered the House, what was going on in Scotland and the growth of the nationalists. He gave me a pamphlet called "Don't butcher Scotland's future", which said:A separate Scotland would be competing against the rest of the present UK for projects floated by UK overseas capital. Scotland would not, as is the case now, be a specially favoured Development Area but an independent 'foreign' country depending entirely for attracting investment on her own resources and prospects. … In rejecting separatism, we feel we must also reject calls for a Scottish Parliament, even on a federal basis. As the trends in industry are proving to be towards bigger and bigger units"—and so on. I could read the whole pamphlet, and then I should have presented the whole case against the Government's policy.
The pamphlet helped to reinforce my views against nationalism. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan) that nationality is one thing and nationalism is very different.
663 I always like to relate my experiences from real life. I once worked on a building site in Liverpool with a Welsh joiner, who always had to translate from Welsh into English before he could speak to me. He told me that if he lost his tongue it would be like having his right arm cut off. I understood him completely. Although a building worker, he was a highly educated Welshman. His cultural background was magnificent. Through his influence I went to evening classes at Liverpool University to study Welsh culture, which interested me. I was not near enough to Scotland, or I might have studied Scottish culture.
The point is that nationality is one thing but that nationalism, which takes a hostile attitude towards other nationalities, is a pernicious, dangerous influence. I ask hon. Members who constantly speak about the insensitivity of the English "How do you think we are beginning to feel, when we are constantly told that we are nothing but a bunch of imperialists, when we are told about a master-servant relationship, and so on?" I did not even realise that I was English until the Scot Nats entered the House, but I know it now, because they keep reminding me. If I feel as I do, how do members of the Scottish National Party think ordinary working men and women in the English part of the country will eventually feel? Dangerous forces of the worst kind could be unleashed.
I should like to read a letter I have received from a man now living in Scotland who wrote to me because he went there from Merseyside. He says:Since my arrival in Scotland four years ago from Merseyside I have been appalled at the hostility shown here towards the English. Indeed, the latter are the source of every ill, injury or insult felt by the Scots, whether real or imagined, and thus serve a similar role to that of the Jews in Nazi Germany.He must be exaggerating. I hope to heaven that he is. But, if that is so, we are unleashing forces of a very dangerous kind and they could lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom.
We are caught by the commitment that was given in a manifesto on policies which I and my party in Merseyside and all other parts of the United Kingdom really did not determine. I appreciate that there were conferences in Scotland. 664 Incidentally, the Welsh were not calling for anything like that which they are getting. They were calling for a top tier of local government—[Interruption.] My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment bangs the bench beside him, but I might point out to him that I have read all the evidence. Unlike many hon. Members, whenever we get involved in this kind of situation I read every document about it that I can. I have read all the documents thoroughly.
I am now in a state of confusion, as I am sure are most of my hon. Friends. We do not want it but we do not want to go against our commitments. We are in that position. Someone said that one of my hon. Friends was being dragged into a position screaming something that he did not want. He is not alone in that. Most of us are in that position. I do not know what I shall do about this White Paper, but I know that it is time for this country to be warned that, if we allow these matters to get out of hand and if we go too far, the risk that we run is that eventually we shall see the break-up of the United Kingdom and, even worse from my point of view as a Socialist, there will be no hope of ever achieving a democratic Socialist society in the whole of the United Kingdom.
§ 7.22 p.m.
§ Lord James Douglas-Hamilton (Edinburgh, West)
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) has been saying that one form of nationalism can produce other forms of nationalism which are not necessarily creative. But I would point out to him that in my view there is a great deal of truth in what the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) said yesterday, when he claimed that a decisive majority of Scotsmen wanted devolution within the framework of the Union.
Of course, there are those who will argue that they seek devolution solely as a stage on the road to independence, but this debate is about the purpose of devolution within the framework of the United Kingdom and about the value of the White Paper in achieving a sensible form of Government at an acceptable cost.
If there is a case for a directly-elected Assembly—and I believe that there is an overwhelming case—surely it is on the basis of the better and more efficient 665 functioning of government in the United Kingdom.
I take two examples. First, in 1936 the Caledonian Power Bill was introduced into this House. By virtue of that measure, cheap electricity would have been introduced into the Western Highlands. The majority of Scottish Members, including my father, voted for it. The majority of English Members threw it out. I cannot help believing that if a Scottish Assembly existed that type of situation would be less likely to arise.
I take a second example—the Hunter Report, which was an urgent plan for the conservation of trout in the Highlands. It was produced in the 1960s. Unfortunately, the pressure of parliamentary time delayed it so much that it was 10 years before it reached this House. It went into Committee only this morning. Ten years is too long.
It is likely that a Scottish Assembly could deal with this kind of subject and countless others. For example, it could deal effectively with consolidation measures concerned with such subjects as conveyancing, compulsory purchase, consumer protection, roads and bridges legislation, which goes back to the last century, and many others. Another obvious example is Scottish divorce law reform, supported by the Scottish Law Society and recommended by the Central Moral Welfare Board of the Church of Scotland. This has been delayed constantly because of the lack of legislative time.
Ever since 1707, Scotland has had distinctive and characteristic Scottish institutions. I think especially of the Scottish national Church and the Scottish legal system, which are fundamentally different from their English counterparts. Here in England, the head of the national Church is the Queen. In Scotland, the head of the national Church is God. Scotland would never have entered the Union if it had not been for the fact that its characteristic Scottish institutions were so guarded.
The Scottish legislative problem can be stated simply and can be seen to be clearly insoluble under the present system. Scotland has less than 10 per cent. of Britain's population but because of its different legal system, we need more time than Parliament allots. If 666 Scotland gets all the necessary parliamentary time, it will impinge upon the parliamentary time necessary for the other 90 per cent. of the population. This, in a sentence, is the case for the Scottish Assembly.
I sympathise with the spirit behind the White Paper. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is all too weak. Is the superstructure of a further Executive and a large Civil Service, with an all-powerful Secretary of State with a veto, constituting a new tier of government, necessary to allow Scotland its fair share of legislative time? Put like that, the answer must be "No".
Surely a better system is the Douglas-Home plan, or the variation and development of it which was put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind). It is only relevant to mention that the Douglas-Home plan supported a directly-elected Assembly.
Under the development of this scheme, the Executive would remain at Westminster although the Assembly would have the right to examine Ministers, just as Congressional committees do in the United States. This would ensure a greater degree of control over the Executive than is possible at present at Westminster.
Under this plan, there would be no additional army of 1,000 civil servants. Yesterday I received a Parliamentary Answer from the Secretary of State for Scotland about the increase in the number of local authority officials in Scotland in 1974 and 1975. In 1974, their numbers increased by 8,000. In 1975, they increased by 16,000. In other words, over the two years of local government reorganisation in Scotland, the total increase was 24,000. That is very substantial. The White Paper says that there will be only 1,000 additional civil servants, but I believe that by the time the plan goes through there will be probably many thousands more at a very considerable cost.
Then, under the plan put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Pent-lands, instead of the Secretary of State having the veto, Parliament would retain sovereignty. The Council of the Law Society of Scotland strongly opposes the veto. It recommends that the United 667 Kingdom Parliament should decide whether an Assembly Bill is acceptable, on policy grounds, and it goes on to say that the interpretation of statutory legislative powers should not be vested in a Minister of the Crown. The same is said by the Dean of the Faculty of Advocates and by the Faculty of Procurators in Glasgow. I think that the Scottish legal profession is united in its opposition to the veto powers outlined in the White Paper.
The plan put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Pentlands would mean that all the subjects at present coming under the jurisdiction of the Secretary of State could come under that of the Scottish Assembly, and would be its legitimate concern. Under this developed version of the Douglas-Home plan, all Scottish legislation would go to the Scottish Assembly. Scottish Bills refused a Second Reading would come back here, and the Government would have to decide either to withdraw or to amend the legislation. Once a Bill had gone through the Assembly, it would return to Parliament for right hon. and hon. Members to debate and amend it, and to decide whether it should be given a third Reading.
The strength of this plan is that both the Assembly and this Parliament could amend or reject Scottish legislation coming from Westminster or from the Assembly when the circumstances warranted that course. However, in most cases there would be a saving of time, for a large number of Bills which we want to go through in Scotland are non-controversial. For example, there is the Solicitors (Scotland) Bill. A similar Bill affecting England has been passed, but there has not yet been time for one affecting Scotland. It is that type of pinprick about which Scotsmen feel so strongly. Besides, the Conservative scheme would make unnecessary the creation of a costly separate Executive. Such an Executive would be highly undesirable, because it would maximise rather than minimise conflict. We are not interested in creating conflict; we are interested in the better government of the United Kingdom and Scotland.
This Parliament has been able to survive because it has read the writing on the wall and has brought in the necessary 668 reform. Scotland's grievances can be met in full by devolution within the framework of the Union. The Conservative plan walks the tightrope of common sense between two extremes. On the one hand, we do not agree with those who wish to establish a huge superstructure of inefficient government in Scotland and, on the other, we do not accept the views of those who want to stick rigorously to the status quo. To those hon. Members who say that Scotland must put up with the present system for all time coming, I can only repeat the words of Sir Walter Scott, when this Parliament had it in mind to do away with Scottish banks and to abolish Scottish banknotes. He said:If you try to un-Scotch us you will find us damn mischievous Englishmen.
§ 7.31 p.m.
§ Dr. M. S. Miller (East Kilbride)
We have had some curious and even bizarre contributions to this debate. I am not including the one from the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton), who always makes a thoughtful contribution, or that made by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heller), to which I shall refer later. However, the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith) yesterday made a speech of such jingoism that I expected him, at the end, to unfurl his Union Jack, stand to attention, and salute it. The hon. Member for Argyll (Mr. MacCormick) yesterday began full of sound and fury and ended signifying nothing. He and his colleagues simply refuse to recognise the dangers of nationalism.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Oscar Murton)
Order. I think that the hon. Gentleman realises the mistake that he has made in not addressing the Chair.
§ Dr. Miller
The hon. Gentleman is fond of making comments like that from a sitting position. I shall deal with it later.
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. William Ross)
He is probably racialist.
§ Dr. Miller
One merely has to look around the world. I include Israel because there are problems there, too. One just has to look around the world to see the kind of situations that are produced by nationalism. That also refers to the place the hon. Gentleman mentioned. Even the friendly Dutch people, no doubt provoked by terrorism, turned on innocent South Moluccan children because they were an easily identifiable group. Nationalism whips up xenophobia. Nationalism, as my hon. Friend the Member for Walton has so eloquently pointed out, brings out in people a nastiness that is then developed into a fervour by some individuals. I am not saying that the Scottish National Party is deliberately doing this, but I am saying that these are its dangers and it is what nationalism can give rise to.
My hon. Friend the Member for Walton spoke about discrimination against minorities, which worries us so much about nationalism. I concede immediately that for some nations this is the only way to achieve self-expression, to obtain civil rights and proper representation. But are the Scottish people oppressed? Are their rights denied them? Are they not adequately represented in Parliament? Are they being exploited by the wicked English? The SNP will say "Yes", but no sensible person would imagine for one moment that that is the position of the Scottish people. Their grumbles and complaints and accusations are all fostered by a group of dedicated, calculating and often unscrupulous people.
Yesterday my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker), in an interesting speech, was right to point out that the problems of Scotland cannot be blamed on England. They cannot be put at the doorstep of the "wicked" English, because the Scots mine owner, shipbuilder, colliery owner and iron works owner were responsible both for the production of enormous wealth for themselves and then for leaving a mess after the bonanza of the late 18th and 19th centuries—a mess that Labour Governments, in particular, have had to try to tackle and clear up in the last 30 or 40 years. Even taking all this into account, most of the complains are imaginary, because the average weekly wage in Scotland today is higher than that in England, 670 the average per capita expenditure is higher than that in England, and even the growth rate in Scotland for the past 10 years has been consistently higher than that in England. These facts are set out quite clearly in the papers that are available for all to read.
However, this whole discussion is not based on logic or reason. It is based on emotion, and every rational argument that is put forward is stood on its head. Today, I heard a speech about the constitutional position in relation to the Queen and the Commonwealth. There was a quite frank admission that the nationalists would be happy to go back to the position that obtained in 1603. I refer to part of a speech that was made by the senior vice-president of the Scottish National Party. Is there anything more nebulous than this:Scotland is seeking effective government and national fulfilment. There is also the desire to preserve the spirit of unity in the UK. These objectives are not mutually exclusive, but if we are denied the right to exercise fundamental governmental powers, the Scots will be forced to choose.It is completely meaningless. It is not what the argument is about. Together with many of my hon. Friends, I deprecate the wasting of valuable time and effort in trying to penetrate smoke screens and follow red herrings.
The argument and the whole discussion and debate that are taking place today are about people, jobs, food, homes, and how best we can achieve our objectives. Sooner or later public representatives—I point the finger at the members of the Scottish National Party—must declare themselves openly and honestly and not in the way that they do here—11 people with 11 entirely different view-points and policies.
When I read, in the Scottish Press, the highly critical reports on the White Paper, I also felt disappointed and let down. The Scotsman had the headlines:Too Timid and Too Grudging.and:Main Reactions: Anxiety and Disappointment.The Glasgow Herald had the headlines:The Power of Big BrotherandNo Control of Oil.Those comments appeared in the newspapers before we received a copy of the White Paper. However, a study of the 671 White Paper shows that those reports were biased and slanted, and their objections to the White Paper were highly selective and their fears exaggerated.
Little mention was made of the positive proposals in the White Paper. In particular, I want to mention the proposed committee system. I take exception to the remarks made by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson). I fully approve of this system. In a speech on devolution last year I advocated the committee system, because it is more democratic and gives Back Benchers of all parties more say in the interplay of what goes on in committees. I commend the Government for an enlightened proposal of this kind.
The list of devolved subjects is very impressive. Adding to that the fact that 60 per cent. of the total identifiable expenditure in Scotland will be transferred to the Assembly, I think that we have an Assembly with real power. I admit that one has to safeguard the unity of the United Kingdom, and if it is necessary to err on the safe side in order to safeguard it, we must do so. It is right that we should do this. It is what the vast majority of the people of Scotland want. I and the people of Scotland reject separatism, with its selfishness and its crude appeal to base instincts. Reserve powers are also necessary, but the way in which they are invoked and used must be considered with great care.
I ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland to consider two strengthening changes to the White Paper. I believe that the Scottish Development Agency must come under the authority of the Assembly. The SDA has a considerable range of industrial and economic power—sufficient, I maintain, to satisfy all reasonable demands in this matter. As has been said, more economic power than this for Scotland would in all probability mean less effective economic power, and less actual power, because the main area in which economic decisions are taken—Westminster—would be denied proper Scottish representation.
The second thing that I ask my right hon. Friend to consider is a reduction in his vetoing powers. I think that he will have too many of these, and perhaps it would be a good thing if he devolved some of them.
672 One other point must be mentioned. With an Assembly, the danger of over-government is real. Although it is anathema to mention it now, eventually we shall have to face the abolition of the regional set-up. The Scottish National Party would have to believe that every Scot walks about with a chip on his shoulder as large as a granite block. They foster this inferiority complex. But the Scots have always been outward-looking. In order to prove that, I should like to have a referendum of the Scottish people on this subject. That has been advocated in this debate and I strongly support the suggestion.
The White Paper lays the foundation for a meaningful Assembly in Scotland, fully in accord with the Labour Party's manifesto of October 1974.
§ 7.43 p.m.
§ Mr. John MacGregor (Norfolk, South)
I speak as a Scot born and brought up in a Scottish mining village, educated up to and beyond university level in Scotland and with a family still very much based in Scotland. I visit Scotland often, but I now represent an English constituency in Norfolk, where, incidentally, every second person seems to have been a Scot, and it has been Scottish farmers who have been largely responsible for the revival of agriculture in Norfolk. Therefore, I still understand, I hope, the feelings and aspirations of the people of Scotland, but also the feelings and concern of more than one English region.
I should like to follow up immediately many of the remarks made by the hon. Member for East Kilbride (Dr. Miller). I certainly do not underestimate the strength of Scottish feeling at present. Every time I go there it is made very clear to me. It stems from many good things. Obviously there are the different national characteristics and traditions, which I think I still have and benefit from. Next, there are the frustrations at over-government and over-centralisation. This is not purely a Scottish feeling at present. It is felt in East Anglia, and in Norfolk, as I know well. But in this context there has been a failure over many years to get across the point that so many of the Scottish decisions have stemmed from and been administered from Edinburgh. This point has still not got through to the Scottish people.
673 But this aspect is a frustration at over-bureaucracy, a frustration directed not against London but against government as a whole.
Clearly there is also great concern about the Scottish economy and its future, but neither devolution nor separatism would help that. However, I think also that something less worthy is behind this feeling and this has to be said. There is an emotional hostility. I should not have dared to use the phrases "chips on shoulders" and "inferiority complexes" had the hon. Member for East Kilbride not done so, but I think that this is the basis. It is based on the misguided view that Scotland has always been very badly treated by the English. I readily admit, though English colleagues may not always like it, that there has been arrogance from people from England in the past which has produced this view, but it has not been present for a long time. Those of us who have sought our living in England have never found it so.
As the hon. Member for East Kilbride has said, living standards in some areas of Scotland are well below the national average. However, this has not been, latterly or generally, as a result of English exploitation. This feeling, which helps to reinforce so much of the emotional antagonism at present, does not, therefore, stem from the worthiest of motives.
I want to make a few comments directed towards hon. Members of the Scottish National Party. I hope that they will take them in the spirit in which they are intended. They may be making the running now but they are confusing many issues in the debate and they are doing a grave disservice in the long term to those whom they seek to represent. When there is disgruntlement, it is only too easy to play on feelings—for example, the feelings of the Scottish people—and to pretend that there are easy solutions. It is only too easy to parade a sense of outrage when one does not have to face the immediate prospect of dealing with the problems. That is what the contribution of SNP Members to the debate so often is, at least in this House. I sometimes feel that the only way that their ideas for separatism would be proved to be sterile would be to give them the opportunity of handling the economy of a separate 674 Scotland in practice. However, I hope it never comes to that, because that is my private nightmare about what might happen to the people of Scotland—to those to whom I am related—in some five years' time.
Scotland's economic problems reflect not nationalism or over-dominance from England but deep-seated structural and industrial decline best dealt with in a United Kingdom and European context. Separatism would almost certainly lead to a decline in living standards. There would certainly be as much antagonism and squabbles between Glasgow and Edinburgh, not to mention the borders of Scotland, as there is at present between Scotland and London.
I am also critical of the Government in regard to the devolution proposals. I do not believe, from what I have read in the Scottish newspapers and what I hear in Scotland when I go there, that the Government have got across the economic disadvantages. It is clearly critical to the whole debate to make clear to the Scottish people what the options are.
The Government have not put across the balance of subsidies, the disadvantages of oil as well as the advantages, the limitations, and the dangers of its being subject to price changes, the argument over how much would go to Scotland and the obvious point that the revenue that will arise from oil will not provide resources sufficient to deal with the economy of the West of Scotland. The Government have not got across sufficiently strongly the interrelationship of industry within the United Kingdom, in particular the multinationals. Much more will have to be done on these subjects in the forthcoming months if the Scottish people are to get a clear and fair choice.
In the long run, if we had separatism I suspect that ere long the Scottish people would come back and look for economic relationships with the rest of the United Kingdom similar to those which the Scottish nationalists are rejecting now. This argument is fundamental to the whole issue of devolution. I agree with the White Paper, with possible differences of view about the Scottish Development Agency, about the way in which the economic functions have been handled, because I do not believe that from the 675 point of view of the economic management of the United Kingdom as a whole—control over public expenditure and borrowing, harmonisation of taxation and matters of that sort—the devolution of more economic functions makes sense.
I want to come to the Government's proposals. In looking at any devolution proposals I would have four objectives in mind. First, any devolution proposals should reduce the burdens and overloading on this House. Clearly these proposals will reduce the burdens on the House, but self-restraint by all Governments would do much more in that direction. Secondly, I look to the proposals to deal with over-government and over-bureaucracy. I do not think that they will do anything about that. General political determination by Governments to deal with those problems is the right way in which to proceed. Sadly, these proposals will greatly add to the dangers of over-bureaucracy. As many have already pointed out, and as all experience of reforms of our institutions and structures has demonstrated, most reforms lead to greater and grander bureaucracies, to the despair of fewer and fewer doers.
The third general objective should be to reduce the remoteness of government and the over-centralisation of decisions, wherever possible. It follows that it must encourage local choice. These proposals go some way to doing that, but I am still unhappy about the way in which the veto controls are to be operated over the Assembly.
The final point is that the proposals must be fair to all parts of the United Kingdom. That is a matter about which I am extremely unhappy.
Those are the objectives that I seek, and while I understand the feelings of those who are distrustful of change, I am not in favour of the status quo if acceptable devolution proposals can be developed to deal with my four objectives.
It is my opinion that in general the Government's proposals totally fail to meet my objectives. I believe that it would be right to have either less devolution or more devolution. I shall explain what I mean by more devolution, but in dealing briefly with the point of view that says that there should be less, it seems to me that the developments arising from the Alec Douglas-Home Committee— 676 which have already been ably referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton), and which, admittedly, could still produce some conflicts between the Westminster Parliament and the Assembly—would nevertheless have the advantage of bringing local participation closer, reducing the burden on Westminster. There are, for example, the legal Bills to which my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West referred, which would pass quickly through this House—and in many other ways the sheer pressure that is placed on this House day by day would be reduced. There would also not be the requirement of major constitutional changes in the Government and Executive. In this context I hope that it will be possible also to drop the Welsh proposals. For me, that would be the "less devolution" solution.
Turning to the more devolution alternative, I am critical of the Government's proposals in another context. Although I accept the list of subjects which they have put forward for devolution to the Scottish Assembly—and I am talking now only about the Scottish Assembly—it seems that there will be a growing demand, which is right in logic and fairness, for the same devolution to be given to England. That is a demand that must grow. We have already seen much evidence of that during this debate. In my constituency I have noted great resentment. There is the feeling that the Scottish people will have a power over the subjects that are devolved to them that is almost total and complete, without the involvement of English Members, whereas Scottish Members will be totally involved at Westminster in the discussion of issues that affect England. It would seem that one of two possible solutions are required. They should have been put forward at the same time as the Government's present proposals.
Consideration should be given to an English Assembly, but for goodness sake let us not have more regional councils in England. England does not need another tier of government. As the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. Crawford) correctly identified, the English situation is different. There is no comparison between a Scottish Assembly and English regional councils. As the hon. Gentleman said quite rightly, Scotland is 677 a nation. The comparison to which we should give consideration is between a Scottish Assembly and an English Assembly. Regional councils will not help to bring Government closer to the people in England.
We have already seen from the antagonism to the regional water authorities and the regional health authorities that there is little demand for regionalism in England. If further regionalism is introduced it will be done only to try to produce something to counterbalance the Scottish situation. Concurrent proposals should have been put forward for an English Assembly in which Scottish Members do not participate. Failing that, and perhaps at the same time, the Government should reconsider the Westminster representation.
The under-representation of English constituencies, to which reference has been made on many occasions, is now approaching the dimensions of a scandal. These proposals will increase the sense of outrage. It is well known that if the Scottish representation is to be the same as the English there will be 57 Scottish seats in Westminster instead of the present 71. If the Scottish position were the same as that of East Anglia the Scots would have 50 seats and not 57. There is heavy under-representation of East Anglia. If there is to be this kind of devolution to Scotland, it is reasonable that there should be totally fair representation at Westminster. As the Economist recently pointed out, the operation of boundary changes—admittedly it is a nonsense—means that there should not even be 57 Scottish seats. To keep the same constituency average, the moment we decide that there should be 57 Scottish seats there must be a further rearrangement giving the English a further 14 seats. That is a matter that must be considered by the Boundary Commission.
There will rightly be a tremendous demand for fair representation at Westminster for all the English constituencies. Let us remember that the English also have their rights. That is why I believe the proposals we are now considering do not face the people of Scotland with a realistic choice. If there is a demand from them for more devolution, the proposals should have been properly put to them on that basis, in one package. It 678 may be that then the people of Scotland would prefer the choice of the lesser devolution proposals along the lines of the Alec Douglas-Home structure.
I recognise that this is not an easy matter. It is not easy to get the right balance when dealing with such a fundamental constitutional issue. When we are faced with such long-term repercussions it is essential that we take our time. I agree entirely with those who say that we must avoid the deplorable and retrograde step of breaking up the United Kingdom. That would be especially deplorable at a time when we are trying to work for a wider unity in Europe as a whole.
There is still the danger that the Scottish National Party will be able to claim as these proposals develop that everything that goes wrong in Scotland in the next two or three years is due to the fact that insufficient powers over the economy have been devolved to Scotland. If it were made clear that we should have the same devolution proposals in England, there might be a more rational debate in Scotland.
The Government's proposals lack logic, consistency and fairness. They show every sign of pandering to political pressures, as much as anything else. I need to be much more convinced that these proposals are right as they stand before I vote for them in legislative form.
§ 7.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Leo Abse (Pontypool)
When the debate recommenced yesterday my right hon. Friend the Lord President tried strenuously to shift our attention to the details. He invited us to eschew the debased philosophy which, in my opinion, informs the White Paper. I do not intend to respond to the Lord President's invitation.
We all know that the White Paper is not a genuine attempt detachedly and coolly to improve the quality of government in Britain. We all understand that it is a political expedient. It is a bewildered attempt to contain the irrationality of rabid nationalism. It would be best for us to examine it for what it is and not to claim spuriously that the document is prompted only by a concern to bring decision-making nearer to the people. If that was the concern, in 679 forming our approach we would not be dealing only with our democratic machinery in Scotland and in Wales.
The problems of alienation and the feelings of estrangement and anomie within our society are not matters peculiar to Scotland or Wales. Indeed, in Wales we can claim that as a consequence of our sense of locality and lively communication, because we are still living in large measure within extended families, those feelings are perhaps less compelling. But possessed they are by most people. They are a predicament common to every worker and indeed, they apply to every man and woman in contemporary society.
The collapse of yesterday's high certitudes, yesterday's confident faiths and ideologies, even of certainty in our own gender roles—these matters have now become full of doubt. Now we have doubts about the future of the family, about our self-worth, about our money and savings in an inflationary situation. All these are the hallmarks of a modern age when the hopes of men that science and technology, with rational planning, would give us serenity have been found to be over-sanguine. Therefore, in our society there have been a number of illusions lost. In such circumstances, as always, there is a chance that the charlatans will prosper by advancing apocalyptic, spurious panaceas of race, blood and nation. Those are the slogans and ideas which have cost Europe in this century 18 million lives.
We may have lost some of our illusions, but we need to beware lest we follow the fatal, well-worn path of illusion, disillusion leading to delusion. For we would be deluding ourselves if we thought that this soggy sop to rabid nationalism was a real contribution to resolving the dilemma of modern man who is lost in the labyrinthine complexities of modern industrialised society.
In this debate the Secretary of State for Wales made an elliptical reference to my origin which immediately had a resonance coming from the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley). I do not complain. My hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan) spoke about the stigma of racialism, which, to use his words, has never been far from the surface in this debate. 680 Indeed, I should like to claim in my special position, without modesty, that I have a little experience of both, belonging to a minority group and understanding the reactions and feelings of such groups, because as a Welsh Jew it is my happy fate to belong to a minority within a minority. Belonging to a minority means that one can choose to live in a ghetto. One can be resentful of any majority group, however benign. One can allow oneself to be possessed by a whining, paranoiac attitude, the impress of which we have seen displayed very clearly and wretchedly in the contributions of SNP and Plaid Cymru Members. But if one belongs to a minority group one can use one's birth not in swaggering displays of uniqueness, believing that one has some special superiority. On the contrary, one can use it to emphasise with every other small group which may be disadvantaged.
In Wales in the past the exploitation and the difficulties which our people have endured have never led into a retreat into miserable chauvinism. In my own county of Gwent—an area that gave Nye Bevan to the Labour movement and to Britain —our people always used their ambiguous minority position and status not to whine or wallow in the self-indulgence of a narrow chauvinism, but sensitively to identify themselves with all who were handicapped, not naturally part of the compact conforming majority. That is why so much of the dynamic in the creation of the British Welfare State came from the men and women of Wales. That is why it is from Wales that so many innovating social reforms of benefit to Britain have sprung.
In the last few days in Gwent 67 Labour councillors, representing the second largest population of any county in Wales, met and by a majority of 63, after six weeks of sounding their constituents, decided to write to Gwent Members of Parliament asking them to intercede on behalf of the people of Gwent and, they believe, the majority of all people of Wales, who, they insist, are opposed to any kind of devolution.
Let us examine the words in which they put that view, because they are significant. They say:We call on those responsible Members of the Cabinet and Parliament to support the demand now being made by all concerning 681 and caring people to grant the people of Wales the right to determine their own destiny by way of a referendum within the Principality.I ask the House to note the wordsby all concerning and caring people".They do not put boundaries on their compassion. They have been cradled in the tenet that a miner is a miner, whether in Wales or elsewhere. A steel worker is a steel worker, whether in Port Talbot or Scunthorpe.
That is the reason why the county council, despite the considerable authority of the Secretary of State in his own area, has demanded in similar terms a referendum to decide the issue. Doubtless this is why in all the county councils, according to the latest information brought to the House by my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Evans), they are demanding that they should have a referendum to express their views and the majority are doing so because they are opposed to the principles of the White Paper.
In Glamorgan and in the areas represented by both Under-Secretaries of State for Wales demands have also come from the county councils. Therefore, there is a growing realisation that it would be futile to try to placate a nationalism which can never be appeased but which, if there is the will and belief in Socialist democratic goals, can be overcome. It can and, in my judgment, in the end will be fought and defeated in Wales in the traditional spirit of the Welsh Labour movement permeated with internationalism. To implement the White Paper would mean paying a heavy price. In ideological and philosophical terms it is a betrayal of Socialism, because it identifies within the White Paper working people on the basis not of need but of race and nation. In practical terms—let me come to the nuts and bolts—it means the butchery of all existing local authorities.
The White Paper in its devious way says that there will be nothing in devolution legislation that will change our present system of local authorities. What idiot would believe that anyone could bring in a devolution Bill and at the same time insert in it a major reorganisation of local government? What does that comment mean? What is it other than an attempt to throw dust into the eyes of every Welsh local authority? Our local authorities and the people who man 682 them are far too politically sophisticated to fall for that tommy rot.
The Secretary of State must tell us what the Government's intentions are towards local government. Is it his intention to leave the local government structure in Wales completely alone? What sort of step dancing is going on over this issue? If he means what he says, that it is to remain intact—this is not what the Prime Minister indicated was in his mind—is it really thought that the people of Wales are so absurd as to believe that such a small country must have upon it the incubus of government from Brussels, Westminster and Cardiff, together with administration from county council, district council and the lively local councils we have in Wales, and, out of Wales, nominated bodies? Why does the Secretary of State not face the facts and tell Wales what his proposals are? If he thinks he can deceive the people of Wales into giving him a blank cheque enabling him to move to an Assembly without Wales knowing the resultant future of local government, he is showing a lack of insight into the dynamics which operate in Welsh public life.
§ Mr. Andrew Welsh (South Angus)
May I ask the hon. Gentleman to which racial comment he is referring? It escaped me.
§ Mr. Wigley
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for an hon. Member to make allegations of that sort that are totally unfounded? No allegation of a racial character whatever has been made. The hon. Gentleman may have misheard something. He certainly did not hear that.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I do not think that the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) was referring to this in any personal sense. I think it was a general remark.
§ Mr. Abse
The other detail, and it is not a small one, concerns the position of Members of Parliament. It is self-evident that if we agree to this White Paper the Labour movement will be walking into a trap. There has been a clear indication from the Opposition Leader and from many hon. Members representing English constituencies that it would be intolerable for hon. Members from Wales to continue attending here in the same numbers once their functions had been truncated and many of their functions had been transferred to the Assembly. Although we have the right, geographically and historically, to claim that we should have a disproportionate number of Members of Parliament, as Scotland has, it is no use manically declaiming within the White Paper—making this incantation—that there would be no change in the membership of this House. It is clear that there would be. The first Conservative Government to take office following the passing of this proposal would guarantee to implement such a move. We would not be able to resist it on any logical argument.
Labour hon. Members must understand that if this White Paper is implemented we are walking into a trap and almost inevitably we are giving a permanent majority to the Tory Party. It is not surprising that there are rumblings from Labour Members representing English constituencies.
Not only that, but it must mean that I and every other hon. Member from Wales would be placed in a position of having to turn away half of those who come to see us in our surgeries. We would be reduced from being the spokesmen of our constituents to political eunuchs. No hon. Member for Wales could make demands relating to education. That would not be within his province. I could not demand a public inquiry or expedition in respect of a bypass. Roads would not be in the domain of the Assembly.
684 I could not cajole or coerce Ministers to give consideration to the expansion of the new town in my constituency. That would come under the control of the Assembly. I would be seen to be an impotent representative. I do not believe that hon. Members should be placed in that position. It would not act in any way to buttress our democratic structure that Members of Parliament should be so politically impoverished. I mock at the notion that a Member of Parliament doing his job is remote from the people and that in Wales untried, untested Assembly Members in an experimental, unproven Cardiff Assembly would be able to give my constituents a greater sense of confidence in our democracy.
The price for this will be paid by Wales. It is a divisive scheme. Consider the language problems that will inevitably arise if a Welsh Assembly is established. A huge bureaucratic machine will have to be created to serve the Assembly. I gather that 1,600 is the extra number spuriously quoted. It will not be 1,600. It cannot be. Quite clearly, it would be left to the Assembly to decide whether there should be a unified or separate Civil Service. What self-respecting Assembly would choose a unified Civil Service? Kilbrandon made this abundantly clear. A civil servant cannot serve two masters. Anyone with political experience knows that if civil servants in Cardiff were serving both Whitehall and the Assembly those civil servants—watching their promotional prospects among other things—would be entirely creatures of the Treasury.
The Welsh Assembly, knowing that it would have an annual battle with the Treasury over a block grant, would realise that it needed its own Civil Service, free from any obligation or loyalty to Whitehall. So it is not 1,600. I suppose it would need about double that figure—certainly an extra 1,000. The Welsh Office staff would be trebled.
This is the scheme proffered by the Secretary of State for Wales because he says, as he goes around Wales telling us this, that he is so gorged with work, he has so much more responsibility, that he cannot properly supervise his civil servants.
My right hon. and learned Friend says that he needs a Welsh Assembly to assist 685 him. Never has there been such a confession of weakness. I have never seen a problem more compounded than by saying that because he is unable to control his existing 1.500 civil servants there will now be 4,500.
§ Mr. Abse
There is no question of imagination. My right hon. and learned Friend said this in The Times. If he wishes, I will send him a copy. He surely remembers it since the article was graced with a delightful photograph of him. He explained how the Welsh Office had grown from having a mere 200 civil servants to about 1,500, and, therefore, he was in difficulty about controlling his own bureaucracy.
§ Mr. John Morris
I was making clear that there are better ways of doing it. I am quite content with my management and administration in Wales, but I am confident that there is a better way of handling many of the social functions.
§ Mr. Abse
It is a pity my right hon. and learned Friend did not consult his own Labour group about the best ways. He would have heard that we have a Welsh Grand Committee which could and should be metamorphosed into a Select Committee before which civil servants could appear and be subject to inquisitorial inquiry over the areas on which he appears to have flaccid control: they then could be further investigated and explored. This is not my right hon. and learned Friend's method. He does not turn to hon. Members behind him. He seems to have a certain diffidence about using and maturing the parliamentary machinery. I understand the need to do something and I appreciate his difficulties. I also understand the difference between controlling an office which had very minor functions when it was originally established and the office as it is today. But the answer for my right hon. and learned Friend was to explore for the solution here rather than foolishly yielding to nationalism without giving real thoughts to the machinery of government.
We shall not only have a huge bureaucracy, but it will be a special sort of bureaucracy. Its huge Civil Service will have a special character. It will inevit- 686 ably have at the top a Welsh-speaking elite. It cannot be otherwise. However many monoglot English-speaking Welshmen are sent to the Assembly, it will be bound to have bilingual proceedings. These would be demanded immediately and, in view of the Welsh Language Act and the attitude of Plaid Cymru, could not be legitimately resisted.
It will not be just a question of the paraphernalia of immediate translation in the Assembly and bilingual documentation. The Welsh speakers, the fanatics, some of whom we have seen in Plaid Cymru, would insist on speaking Welsh not only in the Assembly but in their communications with the civil servants serving them. Any non-Welsh-speaking top civil servant needing to grasp with speed an issue or disputation which arises will find himself handicapped and before long, as has happened in other devolved bodies such as the Welsh BBC, the gravy train will speed on with a top bureaucracy drawn largely from less than one-fifth of the people in Wales. With an untried, inexperienced Assembly, a truncated local government system and Members of Parliament rendered impotent, the real masters of Wales will be a Welsh-speaking bureaucratic elite.
There is no one Wales; there are many Wales. It is not just a question of language, of English-speaking and Welsh-speaking Welshmen or, indeed, of geography, the consequences of which have been delineated in a letter to The Times today from the Professor of Political Science at Aberystwyth. There are, in fact, an infinite number of cultures within our different valleys and communities. I have a mother and wife who come from the Swansea Valley, I was brought up in Cardiff and I have served the last valley in Wales in Gwent for 17 years, so I am aware of the different cultures existing in our community.
Wales is a coalition and the Welsh Labour movement has above all else been the coalition which has brought Wales together. Unfortunately there are some in Wales who know only one idiom. I believe, though I do not want to believe it, that this sometimes applies to the Secretary of State. They seem to be attuned to only one nuance and seek to impose a homogeneity on Wales which it happily does not possess. Having so misled themselves, they then complain, as has the 687 assistant editor of the Western Mail, that we are misleading our constituents when we are actually accurately reflecting their views.
We do not want a repetition of what is happening in the Scottish Labour movement. Let the Secretary of State take care. If he advances risible reasons which raise laughter in this House against a referendum and if he has nothing more to say about a separate draft Bill for Wales which has been demanded by hon. Members on this side and by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, he will be placing himself in the undignified position of seeking to obtain his will by holding on to the hem of a tartan kilt worn by a Scottish oil sheikh—in the same way that Plaid Cymru is hanging on desperately to the Scottish nationalists and allowing them to speak on its behalf.
Let the White Paper be put to the test in a referendum. Perhaps the Secretary of State would then be in a less frivolous mood. We cannot claim to be bringing democracy nearer to the people by insisting they have no genuine say in establishing their own constitutional destiny. Let my right hon. and learned Friend stop casuistic talk about who said what at which conference and what was written in which manifesto. The majority of the people of Wales, having remained silent because of their indifference, have now awakened to the implications of devolution and at last seen the White Paper set them out. Now let them make their judgment. If my right hon. and learned Friend has the courage to put that decision to the Welsh people—and my colleagues and I will accept the decision—he in my view, when he puts that to Wales, will have a firm and courteous reply that will indicate that Wales will have no truck with what I believe would be the penultimate step to a separate State.
§ 8.28 p.m.
§ Mr. John Biffen (Oswestry)
I understand that this may be the last occasion, at least for the immediate future, when I shall speak from this place, and I am conscious, therefore, of being in what I might call injury time. That is one further reason why I should concur with the request from the Chair that my speech should be brief.
688 The White Paper refers to devolution for Scotland and Wales, yet no one observing this debate could but conclude that it really encompassed two quite separate debates which were only incidentally connected in the general rubric of devolution. The point was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke (Mr. Edwards) and endorsed by the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse), who suggested that it would be wholly appropriate that two separate pieces of legislation should be presented to this House.
I think that there is a quite candid appreciation that the White Paper is Whitehall's wary and somewhat uncertain response to the political stirrings in Scotland, the physical embodiment of which has been reduced, at least temporarily, to the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson). I therefore want to confine my remarks largely to the White Paper in the context of the Scottish situation. I shall make four observations from the English touchline on factors which, I believe, are together likely to reinforce the spirit for Scottish self-government, though I do not disparage those who believe that they will have the contrary effect. I judge that the totality of the proposals in the White Paper will enhance rather than stifle separatist sentiment in Scotland.
Let no one in this House minimise the actual significance of what is proposed in the scale of devolution as such. Paragraph 99 of the White Paper states:Expenditure on the devolved services would have come to nearly three-fifths of total identifiable public expenditure in Scotland.I believe that by any account that is a very significant element of devolution. One consequence will be that those seeking to enter public life in Scotland will be presented with a very real dilemma in choosing whether they should, in pursuit of political power, seek it in Edinburgh or Westminster.
I carry with me the keen memory of Aneurin Bevan saying that when he went to the urban district council he was told that the power lay just over the brow of the hill in the county council. When he got there he was told that he should go to Westminster. I dare say that he was not the first to find, like many hon. Members here, no doubt, that having come 689 here he was still somewhat frustrated in seeking the central source of power. Any incipient Aneurin Bevan for Scotland—a tartan Bevan—will be confronted with the very real dilemma of whether he should seek power among the three-fifths which is to be devolved to Edinburgh or whether he will say that for him the correct road is the one that leads direct to Westminster.
That leads me to my second point, because I do not think anyone in this House supposes that matters will rest where they have been delineated in the White Paper. Already we are learning of the desire that the devolved powers shall extend to trade and industry. That point was made by the Leader of the Liberal Party and by a number of Labour Members, particularly the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sillars). One has only to reflect that when, on Monday of this week, we were discussing the Northern Ireland Constitutional Convention the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland said in respect of what might be the devolved powers of a Northern Ireland legislature:The Government also accept that the transferred subjects could include all those transferred under the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973—for example … industry and coinmerce."—[Official Report, 12th January 1976; Vol. 903, c. 55.]We would be foolish if we did not suppose that that example would be prayed in aid in respect of enlarging the powers of a Scottish Assembly.
That brings me to my third point, on which I am happy to be able to draw upon the analogy of the legislative Assembly in Northern Ireland. Once an Assembly is created, it will develop its own interest and its own loyalty. Looking back at the great reluctance with which the Unionists of Northern Ireland regarded Stormont, it is remarkable how, through the passage of time, they have come to feel almost a keen affection for it. After all the traumas and dramas of the last few years, one might have expected reinforcement for those who believe that the integration of Northern Ireland more fully within the United Kingdom was a sure and secure way of maintaining the Union. But in the election manifesto of the United Ulster Unionist Party for the October 1974 election there appear these words: 690Ulster needs a regional legislature and administration, and we would insist that this should conform with British parity standards and practice.The experience of Northern Ireland indicates that once a devolved Assembly has been proffered it creates over a period surprising support even from those who initially might have been amongst the most lukewarm on the topic.
That takes me to my fourth point. We should be wise to realise that this debate does not proceed without a realistic assignment of the rôle of Section 2 of the European Communities Act. In saying that, I am being neither pro- nor anti-Common Market, but merely a realist. Paragraph 143 of the White Paper states:The main aspects of agriculture and sea fisheries are however too bound up with overall United Kingdom economic management and international agreements for devolution to be practicable.In respect of agriculture, it must be overwhelmingly evident that it is our commitments that derive from Section 2 of the European Communities Act, in concert with the present stage of development of the common agricultural policy, which give validity to that paragraph. The matter will not end there, because the common agricultural policy is the forerunner of other Community policies on transport, trade and many other subjects which will be as wide-ranging in their implications and consequences.
That dilemma will be presented to the Assembly. What will be the reaction? The reaction will be that the Assembly will wish to have more association and a more direct line of communication with the Community institutions. In a word, it will wish to see its representative in the Council of Ministers. It will wish to take a sole sovereign decision in nominating who shall be a Commissioner. It will begin to see itself paralleled by the experiences, for example, of Denmark rather than feel that it may be analogous to a Land of Germany.
Those are four observations of which we should take account. I have tried to make them with charity and without passion, but let the House be under no illusion that, if the proposals that the House is considering are put into effect and have the prospect of intensifying the debate, there will be raised increasingly the question "Is separatism inevitable?" 691 I say to my English colleagues that at the end of the day that is largely a question to be determined by the Scots. It is not a subject which can, as it were, be solely determined by the English. We should be well aware of this and be that much more sensitive in handling the problem.
I am not in any sense arguing for separatism. My concern—and this is the dilemma of both Front Benches—is how best to proceed, in this almost nightmarish situation, to secure the Union.
If I were asked to state the best policy for preserving the Union, I would say, in a very shorthand way, that it would be to create—or recreate—a pattern of economic success. Perhaps with that we could then reacquire a style of confidence and—dare I say it?—of walking tall in whatever international pattern of alliances we choose. It is a style that has eluded us for at least two decades.
Having said that, I conclude that none the less the debate will proceed, but my plea is that the word "militant" and the word "moderate" be anathematised for the purposes of this debate.
§ Mr. Biffen
And all debates, as my right hon. Friend says. There is nothing militant about having a determined will to maintain the union of the United Kingdom. There is nothing militant about wishing to repossess national institutions for a country of such historic significance as Scotland. There is nothing inherently moderate about the devolution proposals, which have been demolished—at least, so it seemed to me—in their Welsh dimension by the speech of the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse).
Having said that, I guarantee that the words "moderate" and "militant" will be thrown around in the Press with an almost reckless abandon, but I hope that at least within this Chamber we shall try to avoid the temptation.
I said that I would try to speak from the English touchline, but we are all members of the House of Commons, from whatever part of the country we come. This place, mercifully, has not vet become the rump English Parliament. But 692 let us for a moment brood on history. I can think of nothing more apt than to quote from a most admirable speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) at Prestatyn on 27th September 1968. It showed his customary prescience. He said:It is in this sense that I say England will never again consent to live through the long and harrowing episode of the coercion of the Irish. We have learnt, and learnt once for all, that enforced unity is a curse, to which almost any other consequence or condition is preferable.I reinforce that warning, so full of insight, with a further observation of my own, deriving from the Irish situation. If it is to be Scottish separation, it will be true separation, not a separation in which one party has both the bun and the penny. Particularly in terms of citizenship, since this is a matter which was raised a little earlier in the debate, it has not been to the mutual advantage of the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom to have had the particularly fuzzy citizenship arrangements conferred at the time of that settlement.
Those who contemplate the separation of the United Kingdom would do well to remember that, if this really is to be the ultimate solution—I do not say that it is, but if it should be—the decision ought to be taken with our eyes open for the totality that it implies.
I endorse the warnings given in a speech of characteristic forcefulness and native wisdom by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer). He said that we should be clear what is contemplated. We are all to some extent victims. We have drifted into a debate of this magnitude far beyond the point at which we would wish to be. The White Paper lights a fuse the consequence of which could be a constitutional conflagration. Let no one be over-confident about what kind of Phoenix would arise from those ashes.
§ 8.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Bruce Grocott (Lichfield and Tamworth)
The White Paper is aptly entitled "Our Changing Democracy". My premise is that our democracy needs to change. Without wanting to sound too alarmist about the structure we have, I think that our democracy is close to a 693 crisis and its structure is under considerable threat. It is easy to pose a problem and much more difficult to solve it, but it would be as well to recognise the problem that our democracy faces.
At the beginning of this century the population of these islands was about 41 million. It is now about 56 million. In that period the functions and responsibilities of government have expanded beyond anyone's expectation or imagination. I support almost entirely the extension which has taken place. At the turn of the century an Englishman, a Scotsman or a Welshman could move around his daily life without ever encountering the State. Now, he encounters it in all sorts of ways.
The Civil Service and the structure and administration of the bureaucracy have also grown. Yet at the top of that massive increase, both in the power and the structure of the State and in the population for which the State is responsible, we have roughly the same number of democratically-elected representatives to supervise this machine, who are ultimately responsible, politically and democratically, for its operation. At the turn of the century there were 670 Members of Parliament compared with 635 now, but they also represented what is now the Republic of Ireland.
Perhaps today's Members are a little more diligent and hard-working, and perhaps fewer are part-timers, but we have roughly the same number to control a State machine which is by comparison gigantic. No one who is concerned about democracy can view that with equanimity.
It is almost fashionable nowadays to attack the Civil Service and bureaucracy. We should consider how we control the Civil Service by proper and reformed democratic machinery instead of simply bemoaning its undoubted power and size. Our democratic structure on top of the administration has not changed as it should have done this century. That is the crisis. That is why the title of the White Paper is not a bad one.
There is another fairly simple principle which I apply to the way I view this matter. When deciding where a decision should be taken and by whom, we should bear in mind what has been referred to by philosophers through the ages as the rationalising influence of personal involve- 694 ment and responsibility. In other words, it is better if as far as possible a decision can be made by an organisation or a person who is as close as possible to the effects of that decision, whether it be in a factory or an office or whether it affects the future of our constitution. That is a good principle to remember and it is certainly one which I commend to the House. Those are the points which I would bear in mind when considering any document of this importance.
I commend the idea of devolving power and ensuring that power is democratically accountable to people as locally as possible, whether it be at work or whether it concerns the structure of government. However, there is a world of difference—a gigantic gulf—between devolution on the one hand and nationalism on the other. They are two totally different and unrelated concepts.
Devolution is a relatively new idea. It is an idea which I have sympathy for and which I would commend. Nationalism, in its political manifestations, is not only an old idea but is an entirely discredited one. Nationalism, when talked of in terms of its political objectives, has had a long and bloody history. We must clearly distinguish between a national spirit which may exist within a group of people and any kind of political manifestations which it might have.
The State can be separated from the nation. That situation exists in many nations and it has worked perfectly well. Many States comprise a number of nations. I quote merely as examples Switzerland and the United States of America. There are other States which are simply parts of nations, such as Austria.
Nationalism exists and in a cultural sense we can recognise and admire its spirit. It exists quite independent of any bureaucratic or State structure or any structure of devolution. A Frenchman is no less French for being in Quebec. An Irishman is no less Irish for being in New York. A Scotsman is no less Scottish for having been part of a unitary system of government with the United Kingdom for two and a half centuries.
Those people who constantly assert their nationalism are the ones who seem to be in most doubt about it. It is rather like the song in which the girl repeats 695 "I am a girl, I am a girl, I am a girl." If it was obvious it would not be necessary for her to repeat it. The same applies to nationalism.
With those principles in mind, I turn to the White Paper. Is this White Paper the answer to the principle of devolution to which, as I said, I have no strong objection? In general, I believe that this is something that we should look at again. I take that view primarily for two reasons. First, it appears that the White Paper as it stands at present, in proposing a structure of government, fails because it lacks intelligibility. Intelligibilility is an important idea in a democracy. It is a principle which has been long enunciated. A hundred years ago the great Walter Bagehot said of our system of government that the great thing about it was that it was an intelligible system. The people must understand the system. They must know what they are voting for. They must understand the demarcations between various levels of government. If the proposals in the White Paper are carried out, the principle of intelligibility will be seriously challenged.
On Monday we talked about government in Northern Ireland. This White Paper talks about government in Scotland and Wales and about different forms of government in Scotland and Wales. We are promised a discussion document on regionalism in England. No one doubts for a moment that any structure of regionalism in England would have a different pattern for the London area from that for the rest of England. We are talking about four, five or six different methods of government within the one United Kingdom with the sovereign Parliament on top.
That falls on the ground of intelligibility. It will not be understood by the people who have to vote for it. Indeed, I doubt at times whether it will be clearly understood by the people who will be elected to these various bodies and have to try to run them.
The other ground on which I feel concern about this White Paper—it has been mentioned by other speakers—is the effect that any of these proposals would have on Parliament at Westminster. In any political debate it is well to 696 remember whether the ground has been trodden before. This argument about devolution—the giving of power to one area of the United Kingdom—was well trodden in the Home Rule debates at the end of the last and the beginning of this century. They all hinged on three major issues—the powers to be given to the body, the way in which it was to be financed, and the representation at Westminster.
We have had the arguments many times from different speakers. Do we reduce the numbers of Westminster Members of Parliament who represent Scotland and Wales because they have devolution and England does not? Do we decide that they shall vote on certain issues, but not on others? That is and was seen to be totally unworkable in all the debates which took place at the end of the last and the beginning of this century. There is only one way of resolving the problem. That way is that the pattern should be broadly similar throughout the whole of the United Kingdom.
I submit that we do not concede the nationalist case—I said earlier that I do not like nationalism and I do not like conceding nationalist cases—by devolving power to a particular part of the United Kingdom. We concede the nationalist case if we treat one area of the United Kingdom substantially and dramatically different from other areas. That is the nationalist case, and that is the concession to it if we allow it in that way.
We should look at the whole of the United Kingdom. This—potentially, at least—is a worthwhile and interesting exercise. It could solve some of the problems of our democracy to which I referred in opening. But we must look at the whole lot. We must not be put off by the fact that the pressure is greater in some areas than in others. We must not be put off by the fact that we have had recent institutional reforms in local government and elsewhere, with which many of us would disagree. We cannot have a major constitutional decision fudged because of an already admittedly fudged local government and health structure with which many of us would disagree. Even if it takes a long time—even if the process of deliberation takes a number of months or years—we should look at this matter again from the point 697 of view of the whole of the United Kingdom. That is the way to solve the problem of intelligibility and the problem of retaining the unity of the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Myer Galpern)
Order. I gather that the winding-up speeches are due to begin at about 10 minutes past 10 o'clock. Eight hon. Members are still anxious to take part in the debate. They can be accommodated if speeches are kept reasonably brief.
§ 9 p.m.
§ Mr. Nigel Lawson (Blaby)
I shall do my best to obey your injunction, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Grocott) talked about the White Paper's lack of intelligibility. He is right. This is partly because of the confusion which the Government have introduced by talking of devolution as if it were a constitutional system. It is no such thing. There is no such thing as a devolution system. There is a unitary system and there is a federal system, and there are various degrees of federation. Devolution is essentially a process by which a unitary system can be converted into a federal system.
It would have been clearer if the Government had spoken openly of their federal proposals or, to use an old-fashioned term, Home Rule for Scotland. The Lord President tried very hard to suggest that there was some distinction between what he was proposing in his devolution White Paper and a federal system. He quoted two arguments. One was the reserve powers, which have led hint into a great deal of trouble. In this debate he said that reserve powersare simply a reflection of the central constitutional fact about devolution—that this Parliament remains sovereign and the United Kingdom remains a unitary State."—[Official Report, 14th January 1976 Vol. 903, c. 406.]Reserve powers are nothing of the sort; they are characteristic of many federal systems. Canada's is the one that I know best. The Canadian constitution gives the federal Government and Parliament two special powers, known as the power of reservation and the power of disallowance. These powers, in effect, mean that within one year of its enactment any law passed by a provincial 698 Assembly and Government can be vetoed by Ottawa. So the fact that there are reserve powers does not prove that it is not a federal constitution. Moreover, this power has been frequently used during Canada's 100-plus years of history.
The other touchstone that the Lord President used to prove somehow that it was not a federal system that he was proposing was that in a federal system sovereignty was shared and there was no superior or subordinate legislature. That is not true. As the Lord President pointed out, Parliament's sovereignty in the United Kingdom cannot be removed. What Parliament can give, so it can take away. That is true of the creation of a subordinate Assembly. The right hon. Gentleman himself pointed out that this is true even in the case of an unequivocally federal constitution—which he was not, he thought, advocating—when he said that only complete independence could not be taken away.
Therefore, what we are talking about, in the context of Scotland at any rate, is whether there should be federalism and, if so, what power and how much should be devolved and given to a provincial Assembly. This is the big question, because in legalistic terms, if the Government were to give total sovereignty over, say, sport to the subordinate Assembly, with everything else reserved to the federal Government, that would be a federal constitution, even in the Lord President's terminology. But it would be a piffling form of federation.
The question is, then, do we wish to move from a unitary system? If so, how far do we want to go? Do we have a Scottish Stormont, which is what it boils down to? Looking at it in these terms is right. It is quite clear that Wales does not want a federal system, nor does England. We do not want an English Parliament separate from the United Kingdom Parliament, but it may be that the Scots do, and we must look at the matter seriously.
For a long time Northern Ireland has been separate, with its own Parliament. We have had a sort of lop-sided federal system since 1920 on that basis. It has had problems, but they may have been more to do with the nature of the Irish question than with the actual constitutional arrangement.
699 The question is whether it is right that Scotland should be in that same relationship. I believe that it is a very dangerous step to take, for the reasons that my hon. Friend the Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen), among others, pointed out in an outstanding contribution to the debate. There are great dangers, but we must concede that there is a possibility that it may be right.
What worries me is that the Scottish people may appear by their votes to be giving more support to this sort of idea than is their wish. The reason is that they are on to a kind of blackmail game, which it is very human that they should wish to play. I do not say that in a disparaging way, but if they learn that the more votes they give to the SNP the more concessions they will be able to wring out of Westminster, and the bigger the share of national resources that will be devoted to Scotland, they will regard it as good sense to vote for the SNP and appear to embrace all sorts of constitutional innovations which they do not want and with which they would be very disappointed if they had them.
We should also have in mind whether the diagnosis is correct. Certainly, it is clear that the lack of self-confidence that we as a nation now suffer from, because of the period of economic and other difficulties that the country is going through, makes it a very dangerous assumption that the Scottish people will be disillusioned with Westminster for ever. At this time of acute difficulty they may think that they want home rule, but we need a long period to test the temperature more thoroughly.
We must also get our diagnosis right. There are two crises, that of democracy and that of over-government, neither of which has much to do with nationalism. On the question of democracy, I would add that if we are to have a Scottish Stormont it is clear that Scotland's representation in the United Kingdom Parliament would have to be reduced in precisely the same way as the Northern Ireland representation was. There can be no two ways about that.
The crisis of democracy arises essentially as a result of our auction system of elections, which ensures that expectations are created which cannot be realised. That leads to frustrations. 700 These excessive expectations are one of the main causes of the inflation from which we suffer, which leads to further frustration and disillusion. I do not see the setting up of a subordinate Assembly being the cure for this evil of the creation of excessive expectations. If anything, it is likely to make matters worse, to make unrealistic expectations even more pronounced.
The crisis of over-government can, by contrast, be met by devolution, but not in a national sense. We must devolve power to the people, not to subordinate Assemblies. It is striking that when we hear arguments from the Government Benches they are on matters such as who should control the Scottish Development Agency. Maybe there should not be a Scottish Development Agency. Maybe industry and different firms could, within a reasonably free economy—a social market economy, or whatever one likes to call it—satisfy the desires of the people far better, and then there would not be those arguments.
The more power we concentrate in the State, the more important becomes the question of who makes up that State and whether the power is concentrated in Whitehall or Edinburgh. That is why State Socialism almost inevitably breeds separatism, because eventually the overwhelming mass of the people feel so weak, and the Government become so strong, that the people are led into the blind alleys and by-ways of all sorts of separatist and petty nationalist movements of one kind and another.
In the long run, as my hon. Friend the Member for Oswestry said, if the Scottish people want independence they will have independence. But I am not satisfied that they do, and I believe that in this White Paper we are playing with fire.
§ 9.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Cledwyn Hughes (Anglesey)
This long debate is of crucial importance to the House and to the country, but we all appreciate that what we are asked to do at this time is to take note of the White Paper. We are not being asked now to come to any final conclusion either on broad principles or on the minutiae of the White Paper itself.
I have listened to a great part of the debate, and I note that a large number 701 of the matters raised in it are points that will be more properly and more appropriately dealt with in due course in Committee. I also believe that we should approach this matter as objectively as possible, with respect for and understanding of other people's points of view.
I was born and brought up in a close-knit Welsh-speaking community and was probably the first member of my family ever to leave the province of Gwynedd. Therefore what I say, what I believe and what I think are ineivtably coloured by my upbringing That is true of us all, of course. By accident of birth, I am Welsh speaking. There are others among my hon. Friends who are not. That does not mean that I do not listen to their views and respect them, and I have to accept that, unfortunately, only a minority of the people in Wales today have a command of our ancient language. But this is the situation that we have inherited. Therefore, I hope that throughout this debate there will be a lack of personalisation and an objectivity in our approach.
One lesson that we have learnt from this debate is that it is very difficult to walk the path between extremes. I believe that the White Paper is in broad fulfilment of the manifestos of the Labour Party in Wales in the two General Elections of 1974. Clearly, in the White Paper there are matters of detail about which we disagree, but no one can in fairness accuse the Government of failing to honour their general commitments made in 1974.
There has been a sudden surge of national interest in devolution, as if it were a new and strange doctrine. My hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Grocott) fell into this trap. Certainly this has not been the case in Wales; nor should it be in this House. Devolution has been debated here for a century and more—and I am not referring only to the Irish question but to Wales and Scotland as well. Indeed, the devolution of power and of functions to both countries has been proceeding progressively for decades.
The single most important measure of devolution during the last century was the creation of county councils and other local authorities in the United Kingdom. I have been reading the debates on what 702 became the Local Government Act 1888, and I find that many of the arguments used against this White Paper were used then against the setting up of local authorities. History repeats itself.
I refer especially to a speech made by a most distinguished Welsh Member of Parliament, Mr. Tom Ellis—not my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Mr. Ellis), but the Tom Ellis who subsequently became Chief Whip in Mr. Glad-stone's Government and who was the Member for Merioneth. He criticised the Local Government Bill because he said it would not give to Wales.an elected body that would have a superintending control over the vast and complex machinery which the Bill would set up.That is precisely what we say today. Therefore, when my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield and Tamworth says that devolution is new, it is not. We have been talking about it for a long time.
There are, of course, criticisms and apprehensions about the White Paper. In paragraph 293 it states thatThe Government will therefore welcome wide discussion and comment.This four-day debate provides an opportunity for that. There will be other debates to follow. The discussion will continue in the country between now and the introduction of the draft Bill in the summer. That is right and proper. However, let there be no misunderstanding that the chief commitment is that there shall be a directly-elected Assembly for Wales. This is a fundamental point to which the Treasury Bench and this party are committed.
The subjects proposed to be devolved in Wales are summarised in Appendix D of the White Paper. The nominated bodies over which the Assembly will have democratic supervision are listed in Appendix F. During the debate some hon. Members have expressed the fear that their functions as Members of Parliament will be emasculated by the Assembly. That is an argument which this House has been conducting for many years.
Over the past few days, and again this morning, I have gone carefully through the list of functions in Part IV of the White Paper. The question arises: how much time in any Session do we devote to the subjects mentioned in Part VI? 703 The list demonstrates the impossibility of properly attending to a whole range of matters that should be more adequately scrutinised by elected representatives. To those hon. Members who have criticised the Government's proposals I say: how and in what manner are we in this House to get the opportunity properly to debate and examine these matters on behalf of the people in our respective areas?
As Members of Parliament we should not be over-sensitive about our position. It is we who have been complaining that the nominated bodies set out in Appendix F have proliferated in Wales without proper accountability. The hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Edwards), in a forceful opening speech today, referred specifically to these nominated bodies. He indicated that he would be happier about the White Paper if more nominated bodies were brought under the aegis of the proposed Assembly. If that is his argument, I would be inclined to agree with it. However, these are matters into which we can go in greater detail in Committee. I look forward to the hon. Gentleman's tabling amendments that will increase the powers of the Assembly to take control over many of the bodies to which he refers.
This House, with all its Standing and Select Committees, is already gravely overburdened with work. We cannot take on a heavier work load, and it would be wrong to argue that if we cannot undertake the task no one else shall undertake it. I sympathise with the remarks about costs that my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) made in his cogent speech on Tuesday. I shall deal with that in a moment. However, I do not agree with his solution to the problem, which would appear to involve increasing the work load in this House. He seemed to argue that we could undertake more work. All hon. Members know that we are grossly overworked. The general public should appreciate that.
As Members of Parliament we do not decide—let us be honest about this—where schools, housing estates, hospitals, roads and advance factories are to be built. Nor do we decide how much money is to be allocated for them. As Members of Parliament we are a power- 704 ful pressure group, advancing the interests of our constituents in all these spheres. However, the final decisions are taken by Ministers on the advice of civil servants. In some cases, housing for example, they are recommended by local housing authorities. I shall not be unduly upset if these decisions are taken by elected representatives in a Welsh Assembly.
There is a whole range of matters that we never discuss at all in the House. When I was Secretary of State I signed a large number of Orders which were never discussed either in the House or in the Welsh Grand Committee. I understand that during his tenure of office my right hon. and learned Friend the present Secretary of State has signed over 100 Orders that have never been discussed by any elected representative anywhere. That is the present situation.
I recall reading a book by Lord Hewart, published about 40 years ago, called "The New Despotism", and later a book by Professor Keating, called "The Passing of Parliament". They were referring to the secondary legislation, which is never debated here, and the perils which this presents for parliamentary democracy.
§ Mr. Hughes
If my hon. Friend is about to mention EEC secondary legislation, I would agree with him on that as well! On secondary legislation, generally, the work load here increases year by year. It is a dog-in-the-manger attitude for us, as Members of Parliament, to say that if we cannot do it we are not prepared to see the setting up of a subordinate body with the time and opportunity to look at these matters.
§ Mr. Hughes
That may well be true, but the hon. Gentleman must know that over the last 30 years, certainly since the war, the amount of legislation has greatly increased. The Labour Party is no more guilty than is the Conservative Party in this matter. If the hon. Gentleman looks at the record of his own party from 1951 to 1964 and from 1970 to 1974, he will see that it matches the record of any Labour Government in the production of legislation. What I am arguing—and the 705 hon. Gentleman is helping me—is that in our Committees and on the Floor of the House we are unable, because of the congestion of work, to deal adequately with the matters that are referred to us. That is a basic argument, which the House of Commons must face in this debate, and it is the core of the argument for devolution.
It is no use saying, "There shall be nothing in Edinburgh, Cardiff or the English regions. If we cannot do it we are not going to give the opportunity to anyone else." I have confidence that the Welsh people and the Scottish people—and, if Parliament so decides, the English regions—are sufficiently able and sophisticated politically to elect to Assemblies men and women who can deal with much of this secondary legislation and the other matters that I have mentioned as well.
§ Mr. Hooson
The right hon. Gentleman has not so far dealt with the proposal of the Secretary of State that the Welsh Assembly should be on a committee basis. It seems to me that this is a highly objectionable feature and that it would be much better for it to be based on a parliamentary system, which is much more open. In view of the right hon. Gentleman's particular position in Wales, we should be interested to hear from him on the subject.
§ Mr. Hughes
I am obliged to the hon. and learned Gentleman. This is a matter that we shall have to debate in some detail later, when the draft Bill, and, later, the Bill itself come before the House. I am interested in what the hon. and learned Gentleman has said. The committee system works very well in many countries, Scandinavia for example, and should have attraction for him, as a Liberal Member, because it will give him and the other members of his party a greater opportunity for executive responsibilities than they could possibly enjoy under a traditional system.
The Leader of Plaid Cymru is not at present in the Chamber, but I listened carefully to his speech. He has changed his position rather often in the last few weeks, but at some stage he said that he welcomed the committee system because he felt that it would give members of his party who were elected to the Assembly an opportunity to participate in the administration of these affairs in the Principality.
706 One basic point, as the White Paper makes clear in paragraph 196, is that we, as Members, shallcontinue to legislate for Wales in the devolved subjects as well as in others.The allocation of resources through the block grant will also be debatable in this House. That will ensure that Welsh Members—this is an argument that goes against the reduction of the number of Welsh Members—have the opportunity to discuss major legislation on all devolved subjects, including housing. It will ensure that they take part in debates on the allocation of resources to Wales and Scotland.
§ Mr. Lawson
The right hon. Gentleman says that he puts forward an argument against a reduction in Welsh Members at Westminster. Does he not understand that English Members will not tolerate a situation in which they have no say over devolved subjects in Wales, whereas Welsh Members, in undiminished numbers, will have a say over the same subjects in England?
§ Mr. Hughes
The hon. Gentleman made a thoughtful speech, but he has completely misunderstood the point that I am now making. Let us remember that England is not in peril—nor is the English language! English Members will be in the majority and will decide how much money goes to Wales in the block grant. They will eventually decide the terms of the legislation stemming from the White Paper. That is the reality. The English cannot have it both ways. The major decisions will continue to be taken at Westminster, where the great majority of Members represent English constituencies. I would fight most strenuously against a reduction of one Welsh Member in this House. I hope that Scottish Members will take the same view.
I do not presume to say precisely what the Welsh people want or do not want. My general view is that they would like a moderate extension of devolution. That was the view taken by the Kilbrandon Commission. The Welsh people also want efficiency, accountability and value for money in any reform that takes place.
Up to now the reorganisation of local government has not been a great success in Wales or, I believe, any other part of 707 Britain, even allowing for the fact that councillors and officials have not had an easy task since 1st April 1974. I appreciate the arguments for saying that the Assembly will not be an additional tier of government, the point made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Wales. However, I find it hard to accept that local government in Wales should not be reconsidered in the light of these proposals.
My own council in Anglesey has considered the White Paper. It takes the strong view that further reorganisation should happen quickly rather than in five or 10 years. It believes that it should take place soon so asto ensure proper rationalisation of functions between the Welsh Assembly and local authority in Wales from the outset; to remove anomalies and uncertainties caused by the present allocation of functions between county and district councils; to remove the damaging uncertainey about its future which has hung over Welsh local government for many years and which will be propagated by the present proposals; to take advantage of the previous reorganisation experience of members and officers whilst a substantial proportion are still in office; to allow local government officers to plan their careers in the light of overall or Welsh proposals and by so doing, obviate or reduce the level of compensation payments and disturbanceto officers at a later date.The paper from which I am quoting then reads:It has been said as a reason for not reorganising quickly that local government has 'had enough' and 'could not take more' so soon, but in fact, the converse is more likely to be true in that a protracted period of uncertainty coupled with the operational disadvantage of the present system could seriously prejudice the future of local government in Wales.The council in Anglesey recommends the creation of 36 unitary authorities. There is little doubt that that would save a great deal of money. The "additional tier" argument would vanish. If we had an elected Assembly and 36 unitary authorities with grass roots community councils, taking account of the fact that Wales is a relatively small country we would provide ourselves with an efficient administration and save many millions of pounds—many more millions than it is anticipated will be spent on the Assembly itself.
I appreciate the difficulties faced by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Wales and I am glad 708 to see him present. However, I hope that the Government will consider the implications of these proposals, which should be studied urgently. They should seek to make the taxation proposals set out in paragraph 229 far more acceptable.
I note the amendment tabled by some of my hon. Friends calling for a referendum. I am not a referendum enthusiast. We should have no illusions about the complexity of a referendum ballot paper on this subject. Yesterday my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) tended to over-simplify the implications of such a ballot paper. I believe that it would provide a tough examination paper for the electorate.
The document would not be fair or complete unless it contained four questions: first, whether the people are satisfied with the status quo; secondly, whether they wish to have an Assembly broadly on the lines of the White Paper; thirdly, whether they would like the federal solution proposed by the right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe), the Leader of the Liberal Party; or, fourthly, whether they want complete independence. I believe that no referendum would be complete unless those four questions were put to the electorate.
§ Mr. Hooson
There have been two examples of referenda of this kind—namely, the referendum on Gibraltar, which contained four questions, and that on Newfoundland, comprising three questions.
§ Mr. Hughes
I am not saying that it is impossible to conduct such an exercise, but that it would involve four difficult questions. In any campaign, I am sure that advocates would argue strenuously for these four propositions. Nor do I believe that a referendum would necessarily achieve the results they would like to see.
I end with a quotation from paragraph 1224 of the Kilbrandon Report:Devolution, therefore, is not a cure for all the faults of government. But we think it could do a great deal to cure the particular faults with which we have been mainly concerned, those which are essentially regional in character".I believe in the preservation of the Union. In this year of 1976 it would be a great mistake for us to tear ourselves apart. With respect to the SNP, I believe 709 that it is the will of the British people that the Union should not break up, but that there are solutions to be found within that Union. It is not beyond the wit of this Parliament and Government to consider alternative solutions.
What the Government have set out in the White Paper has been widely criticised in this debate, and I believe that the criticism in many instances has been unfair. The Government have tried to resolve a great dilemma. Our task over the next few months is to consider all the implications carefully.
I was grateful to the Prime Minister and to the Leader of the House for stating that they were ready to study proposals for changes in the White Paper. This, is however, a genuine effort to deal with a most difficult problem. For that reason the proposals deserve our general support. But when we consider events in Northern Ireland it becomes absolutely essential for us to consider this matter with the utmost good will and respect for differing view points—and that applies to all parties in this House. We can achieve a solution, but if we introduce racial attitudes, hatred and religious differences we shall be culpable and shall deserve to be condemned by posterity. We have the opportunity to solve our problems in a rational way and in an atmosphere of respect and understanding. That is what all the people of the United Kingdom expect us to do. It is our bounden duty to do it, and I hope that we shall achieve a workable result.
§ 9.35 p.m.
§ Mrs. Margaret Bain (Dunbartonshire, East)
I have promised you, Mr. Speaker, that I intend to be brief and I have no intention of breaking that promise. It is impossible to encapsulate all my thoughts on the White Paper into the few minutes available. I shall deal as briefly and as constructively as I can with various items which cause me and my party concern. We on the SNP Bench were particularly impressed by the fact that both the Prime Minister and the Lord President said yesterday that they were willing to listen to reasonable and constructive argument and were willing to take the White Paper, look at it again and return with new ideas in the Bill. As a party we want to be constructive.
710 I found it disturbing that so many of the speeches during the debate, particularly from Scottish Members in other parties, have been the same old stories of smears and scaremongering and have been totally destructive, lacking any constructive application in terms of defining the powers of the Assembly. I refer particularly to the inverted racialism shown in the speeches of the hon. Members for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes), Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan) and East Kilbride (Dr. Miller). As a nationalist I say that the people of Scotland are the equals of all other people—no more and no less. In seeking independence for my country I am seeking self-respect and dignity for my people. Internationalism is based on a belief in one's own people. One cannot respect other nations if one does not respect and trust one's own nation.
I come to the veto powers to be vested in the Secretary of State. If such a power is to exist—something I would question—it should be vested in the Westminster Parliament and not in a representative of the Executive, which is what will happen if the Secretary of State has this power. Although the Minister of State is shaking his head, this is what would happen. I refer to the paper from the Faculty of Advocates which says:Although the White Paper describes the proposed Assembly as being constitutionally subordinate to Parliament, the mechanics of its operation mean that, in practice, it will be constitutionally subordinate to the Secretary of State for Scotland—i.e., to a member of the United Kingdom Executive. The concept of a legislative body dealing with matters affecting the life, liberty and other interests of the individual being constitutionally subordinate to a member of the Executive is offensive to the principles established in both Kingdoms at the end of the seventeenth century.These principles are even more relevant in the present set-up than they were even at the end of the seventeenth century.
The paper continues:The theory underlying the White Paper is that the constitutional check on the executive powers of the Secretary of State will lie in Westminster, but the question is whether this is likely in practice to be a sufficient and satisfactory check.I ask those responsible for the White Paper to look more closely and seriously at this aspect before a Bill is prepared. If the confidence of the people is to be maintained, it must be maintained in this 711 Parliament. Despite what we have said about the Secretary of State for Scotland, if it is suggested that he should be set up as a "Toom Tabard", to become a scapegoat for the Scottish people when democratically-arrived-at policies are overturned by another body, I do not believe that even the right hon. Gentleman would be prepared to bear the brunt of that. It would be much more logical to have the power vested in Westminster.
It has been said that the Secretary of State is being given a lot of power. While that is true in a way, there is the alternative interpretation, which he and the Prime Minister rightly defined, of his being a representative of the Imperial Parliament. The Government, recognising that Scotland has a separate identity, should be saying that if the Scottish people want to go forward—in a biblical sense unto independence—there should be some internal dynamism within the Assembly which will allow them to go forward democratically even unto independence. There is no procedure laid down in the White Paper whereby the people of Scotland can move forward democratically to full self-government. If the Government are genuinely concerned about devolving real power to the people of Scotland, they should not be setting up these points of rancour and dissent but should be easing the transition to the inevitable independence which they should concede.
As spokesperson on education for my party, I respect the views of the principals and vice-principals of the Scottish universities but feel that the basic premises of their arguments in paragraph 127 of the White Paper are not valid. There is no divine law which says that a Scottish University Grants Committee would not be an equal buffer between the universities and our Government. The universities belong, with other institutions in the educational system, in a national system of education in Scotland.
When the Lord President visited Scotland for discussions with the universities, I was disappointed that he did not also consult other sectors of education. As The Times Educational Supplement said in an article on 3rd October 1975:When Mr. Edward Short paid his brief visit to Scotland last week, to maintain his ministerial grasp on all matters relating to devolution, he met representatives of the eight 712 Scottish universities—which may be thought peculiar, for he did not meet representatives of any other sector of education.I would like the Minister in replying to answer some of the questions that people in education in Scotland have put to me. For instance, does the White Paper mean that Scotland will be permanently burdened with a binary system of education? If the Assembly wants to move to a unitary system of post-school education, would the opportunity exist for such a system to be implemented? Is it possible for the Assembly to use discriminatory policies towards further education colleges, which might well be to the disadvantage of the Scottish universities?
There are many other points I would like to put but I know that you, Mr. Speaker, like many other hon. Members, are urging me to close. Many hon. Members have quoted Burns and other poets in their speeches. While I think thatSic a parcel o'rogues in a nationmight be appropriate for some hon. Members, I prefer to end with the words of John Maclean who was one of the dominant political figures in Scottish history this century. He said:Any nation which oppresses another cannot ever itself he free.In this spirit, I urge the Members of the Privy Council to reconsider many parts of the White Paper before the Bill is produced.
§ 9.43 p.m.
§ Dr. Jeremy Bray (Motherwell and Wishaw)
The hon. Lady the Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mrs. Bain) is the sixth Member of her party to have spoken in this debate during the past three days. More than half the Back Benchers who spoke in the previous debate have been called again to speak in this debate. I do not propose to confine my remarks within any particular constraints of time, having sat through five days of debate on devolution.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I think that is a reflection on the Chair. One hon. Member from the Scottish National Bench spoke for two minutes and another for six minutes. I hope that the hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Dr. Bray) will follow their example.
§ Dr. Bray
I would not wish to make any reflection on the Chair, Mr. Speaker. 713 I hope the House will understand if I speak for a little longer than the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East. She complained about racial aspersions being cast against her and her hon. Friends. I dissociate myself from any such aspersions. I do not believe that she, the members of her party or the party as a whole are racist. In our communities in Scotland there are underlying communal tensions and no responsible political leader takes a communal attitude. We wish to avoid the terrible example across the water at all costs, but I must warn the SNP Members that they are playing with fire.
An example of this appeared in the Glasgow Herald of 6th January this year. It reported a court proceeding in which:A former chairman of the Young Scottish Nationalists at Dumbarton described at the High Court in Glasgow yesterday how he learned of the existence of a secret army whose aim was to free Scotland, using explosives.James Clubb said that he was told about itas he and another youth carried out experimental explosions in a disused quarry ….Mr. Clubb said he told Lester he wanted nothing to do with the organisation.That Monday night in September Lester and Crawford came to his house and asked him to inquire when the next train was from Dumbarton Central to Glasgow. He phoned and was told there was no train because of a bomb scare.He said Lester seemed to be expecting this and soon afterwards there was a bang from the direction of the railway line.Lester, he said, danced with joy and said: "That's it—it's magic." Then Lester told him he had planted a bomb on the line.That is the kind of atmosphere which is engendered, not within the party but in the lunatic fringe outside, by the kind of spirit which is being let loose in Scotland today, and it is not confined simply to terrorist acts.
The popular case for nationalism in Scotland is based on the exclusive claim to oil resources. The consequences for the United Kingdom economy if that claim were to succeed and to be maintained would be absolutely shattering. There would be enormous deflation, enormous cuts in public expenditure and a very big rise in unemployment. The British working man, never mind what the British Government did, would know 714 that the situation was attributable to what was happening across the border and would take action accordingly. In those circumstances the British Government could not stand by. An appalling relationship would be created between the newly independent, uncertain country feeling its way and the rest of the United Kingdom which it had just left.
I do not think that the SNP Members can expect to be taken seriously when they say that they wish to have amicable relations with the United Kingdom until they abandon their exclusive claim to the oil. Their dilemma is that the moment they do that they will lose all popular support in Scotland. Because that is the dilemma in which they find themselves, I am persuaded that the White Paper offers the way forward. We must explain to our honourable friends in England and Wales the need for proceeding broadly on the lines of the White Paper, and we must make sure that those lines work. In wishing to make them work I offer the suggestion that it is not the slippery slope that we should seek to build upon but rather that if there is a slope there we should build a properly-controlled series of steps up which or down which we can move according to the political pressures without the pressure at any point driving the people in Scotland over the brink.
Let me give one example. It is not inconceivable that at some stage in the Assembly there would be fewer than an overall majority of Labour representatives. If they were to be appointed by the Secretary of State as an Executive and then later, because of the inevitable unpopularity of any administration, the Executive were to be refused the essential financial Bill which enabled it to continue, there would have to be a constructive vote of no confidence proposing another Executive before the old Executive was required to give up office. Failing that, the Executive should then continue in office and the legislation which was already standing should continue in effect until an operable alternative was offered within the Assembly. In that way the Assembly would not be able to wreck itself constitutionally. The consequence of having to suspend the Assembly would be politically quite disastrous.
Within the taxation context the plea has been made that the powers should be broadened beyond the raising of rates, 715 and that puts the Government on the spot in their reactions to Layfield. The argument in the White Paper regarding needs and resources means inevitably that there will be an equalisation grant or a block grant of some kind. But it need not be for the total public expenditure within Scotland. Indeed, it will not be because we already have the rates. The rates being too narrow a base, an additional base has to be provided but not necessarily all at once.
To start with, the right basis could well be the hydrocarbon duties, which yield about £150 million in Scotland. That would by no means be sufficient to finance the bulk of the remaining public expenditure, but the duties applied in Scotland could be varied, and the sum that would have been raised at the United Kingdom rates of hydrocarbon taxation could be deducted from the block grant. It would be entirely within the powers of the Scottish Assembly to spend either more or less if it wished to do so by varying the hydrocarbon duty. The effect would be that Scotland would have the power of taxation.
If the Scottish people are asked whether they want the power of taxation they say "Yes, but we do not want to pay more tax". If asked about public expenditure, they say "We do not want less public expenditure either". This would mean that they would have exactly the same rates of taxation as exist in the United Kingdom, and indeed the Assembly might adopt that line. If it did, there would be no need for the devolution of further tax powers. If there were an effective use of that power to vary the hydrocarbon duty, and it were done responsibility, with no disastrous economic effects either in Scotland or the United Kingdom, the tax base could be extended.
The fear in Whitehall is that if the powers of taxation of the Assembly were too wide, the Scots would help themselves to public expenditure increases by using taxation and, because of the inflationary effect, would then help themselves to increases in private expenditure by increasing wages, leading the inflationary process in the United Kingdom. No one can look at the experience of 1974 and 1975 in collective bargaining in Scotland and 716 say that the Scottish wage bargainers could not put their case effectively.
That brings me to the argument about incomes policy in general. There is no possibility of solving Scotland's economic problems than of solving the problems of the rest of the United Kingdom without finding a way to master inflation. It is not a "yes" or "no" answer on taxation powers. It is a matter of feeling our way forward, and I suggest that some such way could be found.
The arguments about the powers of veto of the Secretary of State have been amply met. Given the balance of opinion in the House, the Government can put forward a Bill which will command a majority on Second Reading and there will be no problem there. Subsequently, the Government cannot be sure in what shape the Bill will emerge from the House. I ask the Government to trust the House. The debate has shown a great deal of political wisdom on both sides of the House. If we trust each other—particularly the national parties—to play a responsible part, we can pass safely through a dangerous period in the constitutional history of these islands.
§ 9.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Leon Brittan (Cleveland and Whitby)
In assessing the Government's proposals, the first question to ask is, what was the real reason for bringing them forward? The answer is obvious although it has sometimes been shrouded in verbiage. It is certainly not to improve the system of government in England, Scotland or Wales; it is to assuage what is seen as a rising tide of nationalism in Scotland. That is not a criticism of the Government's proposals, because the motive is not an unworthy one.
I believe that the dismemberment of the United Kingdom would be an irretrievable tragedy for the citizens of all parts of the country. The collective achievements of centuries should at all costs be preserved, and they have largely been created precisely because of the different component parts constituting the whole, each contributing in different ways to the welfare and advancement of all. Once that unity is shattered it will not easily be recreated, but will these proposals achieve their object, namely, of 717 preserving the unity of the United Kingdom? Will they really turn the tide against nationalism, as they are designed to do? I do not believe that they will. I share the view expressed by many hon. Members on both sides of the House that they are a recipe for disaster.
Most Scots are opposed to total separation, but the built-in scope for conflict in these proposals can only give the nationalists a platform and that most precious possession of all nationalist movements, a grievance, which they otherwise would never have had.
The most obvious scope for conflict, as has been pointed out, is the right of this Parliament to decide that the Assembly has exceeded its legislative powers, and the right of this Parliament to veto the legislation put forward by the Scottish Assembly.
It is interesting that, when he considered the matter, the Lord President tried to pretend that it was all a hideous exaggeration—a great misunderstanding—and that the veto powers were merely formal in character, introduced as an alternative to a complex procedure of statutory intervention in the event of the highly extraordinary, most unlikely and extremely rare occurrence—disagreement on a major question between the Scottish Assembly and this Parliament. But that simply does not stand with paragraph 27 of the White Paper, which reads:It is imposible to predict what situations might lead to the use of these powers, and it is largely for this reason that the Government propose to provide them. …The key sentence is the next one:Their use should not therefore be regarded as a last resort implying a serious confrontation.If it is nota last resort implying a serious confrontation",it must mean that their use is something to be undertaken on a reasonably regular basis. If that is not a recipe for conflict, I cannot think what is.
But if the direct legislative intervention is not enough, far more Draconian is the power to intervene in Executive acts. For actions in prospect the Government will be able to issue a direction prohibiting the action. For subordinate instruments already made they will be able to 718 make an annulment order. For other actions already taken, or for omissions, if the Scottish Administration decline to put the matter right, the Government will be able to resume responsibility for the devolved subject. Surely that is a recipe for conflict and, as such, a recipe for disaster.
Worst of all is the point already made, that there are sure to be disagreements as to the extent of the powers that have been devolved and the vires of the Scottish Assembly. There will be deep resentment in Scotland—rightly so—if this Government in Westminster, represented by its Secretary of State, dare to take upon themselves, as one of the parties to such a disagreement, the right to determine who has acted intro vires and who has acted ultra vires. It would be regarded—rightly so—as an outrage to the Scottish Assembly for an executive body to assume a wholly judicial function of that kind. The nationalists would call it a phoney devolution, and they would be seen to be right.
The existence of a Scottish Executive, which would be polarised in an individual who would inevitably be labelled the Prime Minister of Scotland, would provide yet another focus of dissent and of opposition.
As pointed out in an excellent article by Geoffrey Smith in The Times, the economic proposals envisaged with negotiation of the block grant are even more a recipe for conflict and for disaster.
The Conservative Party has put forward alternative proposals involving an Assembly with even more limited scope, because the Assembly's legislation would have to be sent back here for Third Reading, and this Parliament would have the power of veto. I understand the reasons and the circumstances which have led to these proposals, but with due respect to those who put them forward, I fear that they would lead to more conflict and give the SNP more capital than would the Government's proposals.
The road to devolution is beset with many perils, and there is much to be said for not embarking on it at all. The risks to the United Kingdom are great, but half-baked proposals of this kind are the greatest risk of all. When, in 1905, the Tsarist Government faced a 719 revolution that was partially successful, they conceded a toothless legislative assembly in the Duma. That did not assuage the demands for change; it provided fuel for the fires and led directly to the revolution of 1917.
If we consider that the desire for devolution in Scotland is so great that something must be done about it, the only hope of assuaging it is to adopt a bolder course than that so far adopted and follow some kind of semi-federal approach, in which the Scottish Assembly would have unfettered legislative authority within the area devolved to it, with no veto for this country. It is far better, if we wish to meet demands in Scotland, for it to have fewer powers than are proposed, without a veto here.
Such a system would have to have an independent judicial determination of the question whether the Assembly had acted intra vires or ultra vires. In the arguments against that, the Government, as represented by the Prime Minister, were at their most narrowly insular. The right hon. Gentleman said that fundamental questions must be resolved here, but judicial authorities of all kinds are always considering fundamental questions of interpretation. That is what they are for. It was then suggested that the intervention of the judicial authority would cause delay, but it did not take the Leader of the Liberal Party long to provide an ad hoc mechanism to deal with that.
When he pointed out the risks of a judicial striking down of legislation that had been passed, the Prime Minister seemed totally unaware that this can happen today in respect of delegated legislation, and we seem to have survived with such a system. It happens yearly with the United States Supreme Court, so that is not a sensible argument. If there is to be a solution to that question, the powers must be unfettered and there must be independent adjudication to establish whether they have been exceeded.
I describe such a system as semifederal because the Leader of the Opposition said that the distinctive feature of a federal situation is a perpetual division of sovereignty. I agree that that would mean constituent Assemblies and a written constitution, and that if a semi-federal solution were suggested there would be no need for all that. That 720 would be possible under a simple Act of Parliament, which could, theoretically, be juridically repealed but in practice would have all the permanence of a constitutional settlement.
I am envisaging, although not suggesting, a semi-federal solution for a much more important reason—because I am taking into account what I hope I may describe, without treading on sensibilities, as the English dimension. A truly federal solution would have to include an English federal Chamber, but this would be a semi-federal one. It is clear that there is no demand and no need for any kind of federal Assembly in England.
The Liberal Party's proposals in this respect were a triumph of theory over practicality, and of ideology over politics. It is all very well for that party to say, "Oh well, we shall have the federal tier—the regional tier—instead of the county councils". I assure hon. Members of the Liberal Party that my constituents would find the concept of a regional government exercising federal powers in Newcastle or Leeds no less remote than a county council in Middlesbrough. If anything, it would seem far more remote. There is no need to be drawn by those red herrings in order to prevent the further threat of Scottish nationalism. That would be an utterly unwanted and cumbersome structure to impose upon England.
If we must proceed in the direction of devolution the only possible way of making it work is to follow Disraeli's example and "dish the Whigs", creating an Assembly with limited but clear-cut and unassailable powers, subject to judicial review. That is not a course that should be lightly followed. We should embark on it only if we are truly convinced that there is a clear and long-term majority feeling in Scotland in favour of so substantial a degree of devolution. We should not follow it merely for a short-term political response to the attractions, in Scotland, of North Sea oil or the blandishments of the Scottish National Party. I am by no means sure that there is such a long-term demand in Scotland for devolution of that kind. If there is no such demand we should have the courage to do the most difficult thing of all—nothing. If there is such a demand 721 the Government's proposals will only make matters worse, and should be rejected in favour of a more workable, less conflict-ridden, semi-federal solution.
§ Mr. Speaker
Are we finishing the debate now? This situation has never occurred before. No one has risen.
§ Mr. George Cunningham
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. We understood 722 that the winding-up speeches were to begin at 10 minutes past 10 o'clock.
§ Mr. Speaker
I do not know about that. From my negotiations with the Front Bench I understand that the winding-up speeches will not begin until 10.20 p.m. The extraordinary spectacle of no hon. Member rising has amazed me.
§ 10.7 p.m.
§ Mr. George Cunningham (Islington, South and Finsbury)
I am perfectly willing and have been anxious during the past three days to speak. I had assumed that the winding-up speeches would begin at 10.10 p.m., but I understand now that it is to be 10.20 p.m.
In the time available no hon. Member is able to say all that he wishes on this subject. Therefore, I shall try to make only a few points in staccato fashion. I speak in the hybrid role of a Scotsman who by the long-suffering tolerance of Englishmen and especially of Londoners, has been permitted to represent a constituency right in the heart of the capital city. I want to pay tribute to the tolerance of Londoners to those who come from outside the area. I think that this country has drawn great benefit from the fact that we draw our language from two sources, unlike almost any other country in the world. Socially we have achieved great advantage from the fact that we have drawn our population and nationalism from two or more sources. The narrow single nationalism which is pushed by the Scottish National Party would lead all parts of the United Kingdom to be weaker than the multiple nationalism which we currently enjoy.
There are certain basic facts which we should recognise. First, if the Scottish people persistently, for reasons based not on illusion, or at least removable illusion, wish to be independent, they have a right to be independent and it is inevitable that they will enjoy that independence. Although legally this House has the right to stand in the way, it does not have the moral right to do so. Our job in this Westminster Parliament is to satisfy ourselves whether the Scottish people, not as a flash in the pan but on a persistent basis, want that independence.
The Government's proposals are supported by three totally different groups of people for totally different reasons. First, there is the Liberal approach, that devolution is a good thing in itself and that something like this would be a good thing even if there were not a separate Scotland with its own feeling of separatism. Secondly, there are those in the Scottish National Party who support these proposals because they see them as a step-ladder to independence. Thirdly, there are those—I should guess 724 they are a majority in the House—who support these proposals as a means of forestalling independence.
If these proposal or anything like them are finally passed into law, that will be done by the unholy alliance of those three different groups, two of which are in total conflict with each other, and one of those two groups is bound, in the light of history, to be proved to have made a wrong guess.
I do not want to say much about the devolution-in-itself group—the Liberal argument. I would only say that the notion that local or regional government—we have had a form of regional government in London for a considerable time—is more responsive or nearer to the people in any real sense than national government does not bear examination. All Members of Parliament know that there are far more occasions when they are asked to intervene in local government matters than when local government representatives are asked to intervene in national matters. That is because, despite what has been said in this Chamber, national government is more efficient and responsive than local government. Members of the public get what they want and deserve better through their elected representatives in this House than through any other elected representatives who currently or are likely to exist.
If we were going for devolution for Scotland for its own sake, we certainly would not devolve to Edinburgh. We would devolve to Glasgow, Edinburgh and Inverness, or something like that. That would be a genuine form of devolution. This form of devolution can be justified only as a means of leading to independence or attempting to buy it off.
Scottish National Party representatives have used phrases such as "We should look after our own affairs. We are a nation." What is a nation is an interesting question. If the whole population of Scotland identify themselves exclusively with Scotland, that is a self-justifying situation which requires Scottish independence. It is comparable with the situation between this country and the European Community. The European Community is artificial because people in this country—whatever this country is for the moment—identify with this country, not with the Community as a whole. 725 I suggest that, whatever SNP representatives think and however they feel, the majority of Scotsmen are conscious and proud of being not only Scotsmen but British. As long as that situation continues, there will be a need for a United Kingdom, not a separate Scotland.
Let us also face the fact that in Scotland there is, as there is not in England, the possibility of something like the religious divide which exists in Ireland. It is not so serious but it exists in Scotland more than it does in England, and in an independent Scotland it would be even more real.
The final group of supporters consists of those who say that we must go for these proposals to forestall the inevitable, irresistible demand for independence. When I look at the cock-a-hoop expressions of Scottish National Party Members, I wonder whether that can be a valid argument. At least they believe that this route leads straight to independence. My instinct is that they are likely to be right. We shall have created the essential institutions of independence. We shall have a legislature, an Executive, for Scotland and someone who will certainly call himself Prime Minister of Scotland. All that would be required to transfer this into independence would be a relatively simple step, a step which was constantly being pushed for by the Scottish National Party.
There would be a growing number of people who would believe that, since we had gone that far, there was really no reason to stop at the next step or the step after that. This process is a one-way ratchet. One can never go back. If we did not have semi-autonomy for the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man, we would never have invented it. These places would be counties like the Isle of Wight. But because it has existed it has never back-tracked, whatever may be the case for back-tracking.
I hope that if there is a majority in the House which passes these proposals—I hope there is not—economic power will be given to the Assembly in Edinburgh. If it is not, it will be a major grievance of those who want full independence. The main burden of complaint in Scotland has always been the failure of the economy, the lack of jobs and the need to go south of the border. As long 726 as economic planning remains the responsibility of London, there will be an unanswerable grievance that it is all because of London.
I would prefer powers to be transferred to the Scottish Assembly so that people can see how totally irrelevant it is whether decisions are taken in London or in Edinburgh. The Scottish people have to be faced with this harsh truth. It does not matter whether they have a separate government or not. The future of the Scottish economy is determined by factors which are much more fundamental than that. Scotland is the top end, the far-away end, of a peripheral island off the Continent of Europe. In future there will be one hell of a battle to keep jobs in this island and to stop the drift of the economy to the Continent. The whole island might just manage to resist that drift if it holds together and stays strong. Without Scotland, England will be just about as strong. Without England, however, Scotland is 5 million people at the far-away end of an offshore island.
The Scottish people must face up to that. They need to make a decision now, and we must have their answer. Do they want independence? I totally support the view that Scottish people must face the fact that, if it is independence they want, it must be total independence without subsidies. The oil will not last long and will be only a blink of the eye in terms of the history of nations. Scotland must have separate citizenship with no free immigration for jobs or for any other purpose into England. If Scotland goes its own way, it goes on its own. When the Scottish people pose that question to themselves honestly, they will then decide that their best interests and their emotional leanings are to maintain the connection of the Union as it has been successfully maintained in the past.
§ The Lord Advocate (Mr. Ronald King Murray)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Before my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) rose, you observed that the unprecedented situation had arisen that nobody was rising to take part in the debate. I owe an explanation to you, and I should also make it for the purpose of the record. Mr. 727 Deputy Speaker had indicated that the winding-up speeches would begin at 10.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Speaker
Indeed, and I was amazed at the obedience of the House. But I had managed to extract an extra five minutes from each Front Bench speaker so that I could call another hon. Member from the Back Benches. I am grateful to the Lord Advocate for what he has said.
§ Mr. James Lamond (Oldham, East)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I respectfully draw your attention to the fact that a number of us did not rise because we believed that the winding-up speech was about to begin and that the two minutes remaining were not sufficient to make the contribution that we would wish. Therefore, we hope that we may catch your eye on Monday.
§ 10.21 p.m.
§ Mr. Malcolm Rifkind (Edinburgh, Pentlands)
After three days of intense debate on the principles of devolution and the proposals of the White Paper, if one thing is clear it is the extreme unlikelihood of the proposals of the White Paper in its present form ever getting on to the statute book. As hon. Member after hon. Member on both sides of the House has condemned the White Paper from virtually every possible vantage point, it has begun to have the smell of death about it.
The Government can take no comfort in the belief that it was inevitable that, whatever they proposed, there would be opposition from the House, because they started with the unusual advantage that every party is committed in principle to a Scottish Assembly. Therefore, many of us on both sides would have hoped to be able to give, if not an unqualified welcome, at least a general welcome to the proposals.
It should be made clear that the opposition to the White Paper is not on the same basis from all quarters. While the Scottish National Party Members and the Welsh nationalist Members have, predictably enough, opposed it on the basis that it does not go far enough, for many 728 of us the basis of our hostility is not that it does not go far enough or that it goes too far but that the criterion that should be applied, and if applied should result in the White Paper's failing is whether it proposes a workable system, a feasible system that will improve the quality of government for the people of Scotland and Wales. It is on that basis that the White Paper must be criticised.
The SNP would naturally reject any proposals for devolution because it is not devolution that it is interested in. It is a party that stands for the break-up of the United Kingdom, a party of separatism. But if I was not surprised by the hostility of SNP Members to the White Paper I was surprised by their hypocrisy over the past few days. The hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. Crawford) today and the Leader of the SNP—the hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart)—on Tuesday tried to suggest that somehow they were not in favour of breaking up the United Kingdom. The leader of the party said that it intended no break-up of the United Kingdom, and a couple of sentences later he was quite happy to contemplate customs posts on the border between Scotland and England if they proved necessary. He cannot have it both ways.
§ Mrs. Bain
I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for persuading the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind) to give way. Instead of using this destructive tactic, which the Conservative Party always uses, will the hon. Member tell us what is the Conservative Party policy towards devolution?
§ Mr. Rifkind
If the hon. Lady did not interrupt, she might learn the answer to that question.
The basic fallacy in the nationalist position is that it rests on the false prospectus that there is a basic conflict of interest between the people of Scotland and the people of England. Do SNP Members seriously maintain that at the present time there is no harmony or unity of purpose within the United Kingdom?
729 Although that is what they tell the House in this debate, it is significant that the lady who is vice-president of the SNP, Mrs. Margo McDonald, a former hon. Member, was reported some weeks ago as referring to the harmony and unity of purpose which existed in the United Kingdom. If Mrs. McDonald, who is a senior member of the executive of the SNP and one of its leading spokesmen in Scotland, believes that there is unity of purpose in the United Kingdom, does not that in a most eloquent fashion deny the whole basis of the nationalist hypothesis?
There is one other interesting curiosity, and it is the position of the Labour Party. In the last few weeks we have seen how in Scotland, although in every party there are strong differences of opinion, devolution has led to the breakup of the Labour Party. I pay a special tribute to the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sillars), who has achieved a remarkable feat. For a good number of weeks he has been able to be simultaneously a member of two political parties locked in mortal combat with one another without being expelled from either. That is no mean feat, and we wait with interest to see how long he can survive.
In a speech a few weeks ago the Secretary of State drew a slightly classical analogy when he said that he was seeking to steer the ship of devolution between the twin perils of Sillars and Charybdis. I thought that I had better check why he had chosen that example. According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica Sillars was a dreadful sea monster with six hands, 12 feet and a voice like the yelp of a puppy. I have no idea whether the Secretary of State had this in mind. But he should realise that, according to Homer, if he is Odysseus steering the ship between the twin perils, Scylla snatched six men out of his ship as he passed. That is an ominous prospect for the future of the Labour Party in Scotland.
Many of us see certain parts of the White Paper which, broadly speaking, are acceptable. We support the belief that a directly-elected Assembly in Scotland is desirable. We believe that the Government are right to stress the ultimate sovereignty of the Westminster Parliament and the need to ensure that 730 sovereignty in Westminster remains constant. Again, the Government are right that, in order to preserve the industrial and economic integrity of the United Kingdom, major industrial and economic powers must remain at Westminster. They are further correct about the role of the universities, and I hope that they will use that role as a pointer to the criterion to apply in this debate. The Scottish universities have made it cleat that they wish to remain part of the United Kingdom structure. Last week I met members of the Scottish Council of the British Medical Association, who put forward a similarly strong view. I hope that they will not be forced into a straitjacket of devolution which can only be of disadvantage to them.
The major objections to the White Paper must lie in the fundamental principles involved in its proposals. We have the proposition for an Executive—not merely an Assembly, but an Executive drawn from it. The failure of this proposition is that it will result in two rival governments in Scotland. The Secretary of State will not merely have his governor-general responsibilities. He will be the executive for various matters reserved to the Scottish Office.
The objections to a twin Executive are serious and basic. It produces the whole panoply of separatism by establishing a government in Edinburgh. The present Government are conscious of this danger. Why else have they chosen the absurd description for members of the Executive? They are to be called "Chief Executive", "members of the Executive" and "assistants to the Executive". The irony of the comparison with the terminology used in local government will not be missed by many.
The danger also is that by having an Executive we shall create a mass of new bureaucracy. The White Paper points out that of the 1,000 new civil servants required in Scotland—itself a gross under-estimate—only 200 are necessary for the Assembly itself and the other 80 per cent. are required simply because of the new Executive.
The third major reason why a twin Executive is farcical and unnecessary is the absurd duplication that will result. We have, for example, the Scottish Development Agency which is to be responsible to the Secretary of State 731 for its industrial functions and to the Assembly for its environmental functions. It is to have five of its members appointed by the Secretary of State and the other five appointed by the Assembly. Its chairman will be appointed by the Secretary of State but on the advice of the Assembly. There will be a similar absurd duplication in respect of the Highlands and Islands Development Board, the agricultural requirement of the Assembly and in each and every sphere.
Equally, a major fault in the White Paper must be the reserve powers given to the Secretary of State. We do not question in any way the importance of Parliament remaining sovereign, but there is a vast difference between an elected House of Commons being able to review or to revoke the wishes of the Assembly and an appointed political Minister. The hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mrs. Bain) was quite right to refer to the statement by the Dean of the Faculty of Advocates that this was a battle fought centuries ago which the Government are now trying to revoke.
Although it is correct that in certain circumstances parliamentary approval may be necessary before the veto applies, the important point is that no such approval will be required for ultra vires matters or for matters connected with EEC legislation. On all other issues Parliament will exercise no initiative of its own. Only at the end of the day need the Secretary of State ever inform or involve Parliament, and even then there will be no power to amend or improve but merely a power to veto completely and utterly. What a recipe for crisis and conflict!
In many instances it will not be a whole Bill that is objectionable. Only one clause might be objectionable, and its removal would meet requirements. The Assembly might be unwilling to remove that clause. If Parliament had power to amend, even if it were only a limited power, it could remove the offending clause and the rest of the Bill could go through unscathed. On the basis of the proposals in the White Paper, the Secretary of State will be able to accept or reject the Bill only in toto, and at the end of this complicated and 732 obscure procedure Parliament will be able to accept or reject it in toto. There is no power to review or reach some form of compromise.
Those are fundamental flaws in the White Paper. The Government cannot expect support from the Opposition and those who are strong believers in the principle of devolution unless those major flaws are removed before Parliament is asked to reconsider these matters.
The Conservative Party has a long and honourable tradition about devolution and decentralisation within Scotland.
§ Mr. Rifkind
I have not yet mentioned the Liberal Party. It was a Conservative Government under Lord Salisbury who first established the office of Scottish Secretary, and it was a Conservative Government under Mr. Baldwin who first established the office of Secretary of State for Scotland. It was a Conservative Government who in 1939 brought the Scottish Office lock, stock and barrel up to Edinburgh from London, and it was the Conservative Party long before the present Government ever contemplated devolution who produced the Douglas-Home proposals which are the basis of the policy of the Conservative Party as endorsed by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition last Tuesday. The House should be well aware what the Douglas-Home proposals constitute.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cleveland and Whitby (Mr. Brittan) correctly pointed out that the federalist option is a logical proposal. However, if that is not acceptable the attractions of our proposal are that they provide for the Assembly the rôle of a third chamber of a United Kingdom Parliament.
It is quite clear that the Douglas-Home Committee recommended a directly-elected Assembly in Edinburgh with an important role to play in the framing and passage of legislation on all Scottish matters. It was extraordinary that the Lord President should have suggested yesterday that those proposals were somehow unworkable. I should have thought that, at the very least, before the Lord President made such a remark he would have done the House 733 the courtesy of reading the Kilbrandon Commission's Report.
Unlike the Lord President, the Kilbrandon Commission considered the proposals of the committee chaired by Lord Home of the Hirsel, as he now is. Although the Kilbrandon Commission did not believe that the proposal went far enough, it made it clear at page 293 in Chapter 30 of its Report that it accepted that the proposals were perfectly workable and would be a considerable improvement for quality of government in Scotland. This is an important matter, and the Lord President has done a disgrace to the House by not even having acquainted himself with the findings of the Royal Commission on this matter.
Therefore, the Conservative Party approaches the whole question of the White Paper not from a negative or desstructive standpoint but as a party that has a long and honourable tradition in the belief in the decentralisation of government and the iniquity of concentrating power at the centre. It was not a coincidence that it was the Conservative Party and not the Labour Party who had brought forward proposals to this House and to the country as a whole. I am certain that those who are concerned to know the details of our policy have never even read the document or considered the proposals in detail. They would allow the Assembly, sitting in Edinburgh, not merely to discuss and to debate but to be the Assembly responsible for the Second Reading of Scottish legislation, for the important debate and vote on the principle of a Bill and for the Committee stage, the clause-by-clause guts of a Bill, and, indeed, for the investigation, scrutiny and control of every Scottish Office Minister.
It has been suggested that somehow such a proposal is not acceptable because one cannot have a legislature that does not have an executive responsible to it. Any member of the United States Congress would find that proposition remarkable. But one does not have to go in this matter simply to the United States, because one finds not only in the United Kingdom at present but in every Commonwealth country an Upper Chamber—in virtually all cases an elected Upper Chamber—which often is not of a similar majority to the Government responsible to the Lower House and which does not 734 have a Government drawn from it. This is not a new principle. It is a tried and tested principle that can improve the quality of government without breaking the essential framework of the United Kingdom.
The Conservative proposals will centainly not satisfy everyone. They will not satisfy SNP Members. They will not satisfy many people who wish for a large or, indeed, massive degree of devolution. But those are not the only people to contemplate when considering adequate and proper proposals.
The White Paper is quite correct in one respect when it states, I think on page 2, that whatever proposals are put to Parliament must be capable of getting the broad agreement of the people not simply of Scotland but of the United Kingdom as a whole. We know, and the House knows, that not simply in England or in Wales hut, indeed, in Scotland there are a large number of people who are very concerned, if not immediately hostile—[Interruption.] Perhaps the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire will remain quiet and not make sedentary interruptions.
There are many people who are concerned about, if not hostile to, the principle of devolution. They are worried, anxious and afraid that we are treading a path that may lead to enormous dangers. Their views must be taken into account—as well as the views of the gentlemen from the separatist parties—and their views must be reconciled with the views of those who want devolution.
Our proposals offer a bridge, means of reconciling those who want no devolution with those who want a great deal, reconciling those who want to move towards a federal system with those who wish to maintain the full responsibility for legislation in this House.
Our proposals are a recognition of the fact that Scotland already has its own legal system, already requires its own legislation and already has a situation in which only Scottish Members participate in the consideration of Scottish Bills. By an Assembly sitting in Edinburgh with the powers that we propose, we could reconcile all points of view and encourage a system of devolution that would strengthen the quality of government in Scotland and not threaten the United 735 Kingdom. That would be our approach and the comparison that is made with the present proposals put forward by the Government.
§ 10.40 p.m.
§ The Lord Advocate (Mr. Ronald King Murray)
The people of Scotland and Wales, whether all Members of this House like it or not, have a historic sense of national identity within the British community. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said:The people of Scotland and Wales demand, and rightly demand, a greater say in their own affairs and those demands need a constructive and positive response."—[Official Report, 13th January 1976; vol. 903, c. 219.]In that context it would be wrong not to examine our established preconceptions about government or to refuse to act upon reasonable proposals which would put more power into the hands of the people nearer to their homes.
The Government's proposals are based upon two objectives—namely, decentralisation of power to the people and the unity of the United Kingdom. Decentralisation is easy to conceive and simpler to carry out where there are well-defined national communities who want better expression of their national identity and national institutions. But as it would be unjust to suppress reasonable self-expression to Scotland and Wales, so it would be unfair within the unity of the United Kingdom if the benefits of decentralisation, a[...]d the lessons learned from implementing it, were not to be enjoyed by citizens outside Scotland and Wales. I say that in comfort to my hon. Friends, including the hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Urwin), who have spoken to that effect.
Unity imposes inescapable disciplines in this and other respects. If there is to be an integrated economy, for example, within the United Kingdom, there is a limit to the degree of economic devolution which is possible. My hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sillars) should very well remember that today as he spoke eloquently about it some eight years ago in Ayr.
Similarly, since the Government have prime responsibility to protect the security of the State and the interests of all the citizens of the United Kingdom, there 736 must be certain functions related to that paramount trust which cannot be devolved, including certain functions of law and order. In the case of Scotland the police and prosecution come to mind. The White Paper proposes that the key police functions will remain with the Secretary of State and that the prosecution function will continue in the hands of the Lord Advocate.
Perhaps I might dwell shortly upon some of the legal and constitutional topics raised in the White Paper. Comments on these aspects have been made inter alia by the supreme court Judges and the Dean of the Faculty of Advocates, as the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mrs. Bain) recognised. However, I am hound to say that the hon. Lady spoke as if the representations from which she was quoting were from the Faculty and were being quoted with its full authority. In fact, she was quoting from a letter from the dean that gave the interim views of a committee of the Faculty that is still meeting. I am sure the hon. Lady accepts that that is the position. The other bodies I mention are the Law Society of Scotland and the Scottish Police Federation. Other bodies have made submissions, and comments have been made in the various media.
Three of the bodies I have named favour the Government's proposals on law enforcement which are set out in paragraphs 147 and 148 of the White Paper. The Law Society of Scotland is divided in its counsel. At the outset it should be pointed out that general criminal law is to be devolved. Exceptions to devolution of general criminal law there must be in terms of the discipline imposed by unity. The exceptions include matters that may affect the security of the State such as the law on treason, espionage and terrorism. The second area is that in which the law can work effectively in any part of the United Kingdom only if it is uniform throughout the United Kingdom—for example, as regards explosives, firearms, dangerous drugs and poisons. The third area is offences relating essentially to subjects such as taxation and road traffic law, which remain with Westminster. Apart from such exceptions, the whole area of substantive criminal law will be the legislative responsibility of the Assembly. This is the counterpart of 737 substantial legislative devolution of private law, which the White Paper also envisages.
The enforcement of the criminal law is subject to rather different considerations. Enforcement is partly in the hands of the police and partly in the hands of the prosecution. In Scotland these are separate functions and different Ministers are responsible. The Secretary of State is answerable for police matters. The Lord Advocate is public prosecutor carrying out his functions through the Crown Office in Edinburgh and through the Procurator-Fiscal service in any part of Scotland. These key law and order functions are basic to sovereignty, and therefore the sovereign Parliament cannot logically or responsibly divest itself of them. From a democratic point of view, they are functions for which the authorities should be responsible not to part of the British people but to all the British people.
§ Mr. Gordon Wilson (Dundee, East)
The Lord Advocate is dealing with a most interesting matter. He will be aware that, in the United States, State police forces come under the authority of the State concerned. Will he consider the fact that the Scottish criminal law, of which he is the first prosecutor, is distinctive and has no other appeal beyond Scotland to the House of Lords or even to the Privy Council. Does he think it fitting to have a Scottish Ministry of Justice responsible to the Assembly, and does he believe that its functions should be devolved? I take his view about State security, which may fit into a special classification.
§ The Lord Advocate
The hon. Gentleman raises an interesting and constructive matter. I know that he recognises the difference between sovereignty in a devolved scheme and in a federal scheme. The example he gave was a federal one. Secondly, the decision whether the Assembly will have a Department of Justice must be a matter for the Assembly itself. It would be wrong for this Parliament to impose such a concept. There has been wide discussion of the matter and the Government are sympathetic to the concept.
I mentioned the need for sovereign responsibility of Parliament to all the British people. In addition, as regards prosecution, one has to recognise that 738 responsibility for this function, which has to he examined in a quasi-judicial manner in the knowledge of all the facts, cannot readily be split. Indeed, the advantages of unifying it were reflected in the recent District Courts (Scotland) Act, which provided for the Lord Advocate to be the public prosecutor in every Scottish court.
Furthermore, prosecution must be pursued in regard to offences under laws in the reserved field as much as for those in the devolved field. It is the sovereign Parliament at Westminster which alone has responsibility over the whole field. The Minister with overall responsibility for prosecutions should be democratically accountable to that sovereign Parliament.
The Dean of the Faculty of Advocates and the Law Society both made pleas for flexibility in the lines of demarcation between reserved and devolved subjects. It is the Government's intention to achieve that, but one has to recognise that in some areas there are formidable difficulties. The demarcation between private law generally and such matters as company law, industrial law, and consumer protection involve a difficult area, as is illustrated in paragraphs 145 and 160 of the White Paper. There are complex interactions between these respective jurisdictions and they are sectors in which a common code of rights and duties is of considerable general advantage as the basis for a common framework of trade throughout the United Kingdom.
Further study is proceeding to find the best way of reconciling maximum devolution in the field of private law with those wider United Kingdom interests. In this connection the Government will welcome serious and constructive suggestions as to how this can best be done. The Scottish Law Commission is also being invited to consider this difficult matter, among others. Indeed, it is a subject upon which the present Chairman, Lord Hunter, has spoken publicly on several occasions.
Another fundamental criticism mentioned much today is advanced by the Dean of the Faculty of Advocate and the Law Society in saying that the Assembly, instead of being constitutionally subordinate to Parliament. would be subordinate to the Secretary of State for Scotland—that is, to an executive Minister—rather 739 than to a superior legislature. That seems to be the kernel of today's Conservative policy. The Leader of the Opposition pressed a similar point in her speech on Tuesday. This criticism is based on a misconception of the White Paper proposals.
It would not be disputed, I imagine, that it is inherent in a scheme of devolution that the devolved Assemblies must be subordinate to the sovereign Parliament. Shared or split sovereignty would be a form of federalism, not devolution, and the right hon. Lady recognised this. There must be some office or offices through which the relationship of devolution—subordination to the sovereign Parliament of a devolved Assembly—is exemplified. The office chosen in the White Paper is that of the Secretary of State.
I notice that one or two Scottish National Party Members were suggesting that the channel should have been the Queen or the Queen's representative. In a democratic scheme of things, the Queen's representative would have to be someone chosen democratically in some fashion. Presumably those Members would be satisfied with a colonial governor or viceroy provided that the correct process was gone through. The constitutional point is that the exercise by the Secretary of State of this function in the legislative and executive areas alike requires the positive agreement of Parliament. That can be seen by reading paragraphs 59 and 73 of the White Paper. Constitutional subordination of the Assembly is therefore truly parliamentary.
§ Mrs. Bain
While I appreciate the right hon. and learned Gentleman's constructive arguments, may I ask whether he would not agree that if this House is to be the sovereign body it is ridiculous to interpose between the Scottish Assembly and this House someone who is not directly responsible to the Assembly yet who would be the butt of criticism in Scotland? It is much better to have this body as the butt of criticism.
§ The Lord Advocate
Obviously I do not agree with the hon. Lady. It is essential to have someone who has a means of communication, of a constitutional form and type, with the Assembly. 740 The hon. Lady's criticism would, no doubt, be made against any choice.
The Law Society's cure for this supposed defect appears to be worse than the alleged disease. Instead of the White Paper proposals it suggests that an Assembly Bill should be presented for Royal Assent only if no negative resolution has been passed within a month by the House of Commons. This would materially reduce the weight of legislative devolution and would subject every Assembly Bill to a parliamentary veto. This would be a regular, in place of an occasional, application of veto arrangements.
One matter which has caused the Government considerable concern is where responsibility should lie for the legislation with relation to the Scottish courts and for their administration. The Government are satisfied that the courts constitute an integrated system in Scotland and that responsibility for different levels or aspects should not, if possible, be split. Division would pose difficult problems of jurisdiction and balance as well as of procedure and administration.
However that question may be resolved, the Government consider that Supreme Court Judges should continue to be appointed by the Crown and that their tenure and conditions of office should be reserved, as should the right of appeal to the House of Lords in civil cases—a matter mentioned earlier. The Government welcome informed comment on this difficult matter. Many may feel that the key criterion by which to test alternatives is to ask which will best ensure the independence of the judiciary and openhanded justice in the face of two legislatures and two Executives and which will best continue the role of the Court of Session, entrenched as it was in the Treaty of Union.
§ Sir Michael Havers (Wimbledon)
Since the Lord Advocate is the only Law Officer speaking in the debate, I hope that he will give the House his views upon the alternative to the legal veto, using the Privy Council.
§ The Lord Advocate
I think that the hon. and learned Member is probably referring to the scrutiny of powers. The Lord President has indicated that the Government have an open mind on this 741 subject. We have put forward our proposals and arguments in the White Paper, but our mind is not closed.
The hon. and learned Member made a very clear speech last night but failed to deal with one particular problem. He made his argument in favour of a judicial reference in the course of the Assembly taking a Bill through its various stages and considered that a judicial review should be open to litigants when Bills were enacted. If there were a judicial reference while a Bill was going through the Assembly, the court could pronounce in a vacuum in general terms without hearing the arguments of the litigants and could bind people's rights for the indefinite future. I am sure the hon. and learned Member will agree that this is not a satisfactory solution and that a way must be found of reconciling these points in his scheme.
§ Mr. Dalyell
It is a genuine worry of a number of us that the judiciary is to be placed in an embarrassing position. After all that my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson) and other hon. Friends said about Sir John Donaldson being put in a highly political position, should we not beware?
§ The Lord Advocate
It would be wrong to put the judiciary in that position, but nothing in the White Paper would have that result.
There are certain arguments for having the courts under the Assembly. On the one hand it can be argued that the Scottish courts are a distinctive part of our legal heritage and are wholly suitable to be entrusted to a Scottish legislature. It may also seem logical that, when much private law and most of the criminal law is being devolved, the courts which will administer and apply them should also be devolved.
On the other hand it can be urged that courts are one of the keystones in the fabric of our constitutional unity and that, since they have to interpret and apply reserved as well as devolved law, they should be the responsibility of the sovereign legislature, which has to deal with all the United Kingdom law, whether devolved or not, rather than the respon- 742 sibility of an Assembly with no functions and no responsibility in the reserved field. Public policy and national security point to reserving the courts on the same grounds as the police and prosecution are to be reserved.
On the question of a voice in the EEC, I have little to add to what the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) said in a clear and cogent speech. We have to cope with the EEC as it is now, not as it might be. In the meantime one has to make do with less formal arrangements than some hon. Members have proposed in the debate. This is the substance of the White Paper's reference to "pragmatic arrangements". These may nevertheless be effective, as pragmatic arrangements within the organs of the EEC have proved to be time and again. What is important is proper and punctual consultation and the power to influence EEC decision-making. Effective informal arrangements in this field are more likely to succeed than empty formal ones. This may, in fact, be an advantage for devolution compared with separation. In addition, the Assembly could do a great deal to ensure that EEC developments take full account of Scottish interests by effective use of a strong subject committee system.
It should be remembered that much of what is reserved by Westminster is reserved for Scottish Ministers of the United Kingdom who will carry out their functions and make their decisions in Scotland as well as at Westminster. Considerable though the volume of devolved functions will be, the Government's decentralisation proposals will give the Secretaries of State for Scotland and Wales a vital role in relation to economic and other matters, under the control of Parliament with its full complement of Scottish and Welsh Members. Similarly the Lord Advocate will have an important role in regard to law and legislation affecting Scotland. This Scottish ministerial presence at Westminster will mean that the Scottish dimension—
§ It being Eleven o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put, pursuant to the Order of the House this day.