§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine)
Before we start the next debate, I would draw the attention of the House to the fact that it must be conducted on a very narrow front. It should be limited to the salaries and general expenses of the staff involved in the Government's plans for devolution to Scotland, and particularly the Constitution Unit in the Cabinet Office.
§ 10.0 p.m.
§ Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, Central)
I am well aware, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that the debate has to be a very narrow one, confined to expenditure on the Cabinet Office Constitution Unit, which I presume is included in Class XIII, Votes 21 and 22, and I shall try to relate my remarks to those matters.
Those Votes make no specific mention of the Unit. Neither its costs nor its staffing are given. They are hidden in global figures which are probably small but in inverse proportion to the importance of its work. The total cost of the Cabinet Office, according to these figures, was £3,046,000 in 1974–75 and £3,381,000 in 1975–76. Is that increase simply because of inflation or because more intensive work is being done, or is the Unit getting on more quickly or in greater depth with its investigations into the implications and complications of this exercise?
I may be wrong, but I think that Lord Hunt is now the head of the Constitution Unit. I do not know whether his salary is included in the Vote. We do not know how he is operating or thinking but we do know that he recently expressed himself in favour of a referendum of the Scottish people—and presumably the Welsh and English people—on devolution before legislation. I suspect, I expect, I hope, that Lord Hunt's views will be taken into account by the Unit over which he presides. Yet the Government have said that they are against referenda, although they are favoured by the head of the Unit whose cost is the subject of this debate.
Every public opinion poll on this matter has shown that we Scots do not want complete separation. I presume that this Unit has ruled out the possibility 1682 of complete separation, yet that is the kernel of the policy of the SNP. I am glad that the sole representative of that party tonight is the hon. Member for Reid), because on 4th February 1975 he Reid), because on 4th February 1975, he said:The aim of my party is clear. It is the restoration of national sovereignty to the people of Scotland and, ultimately, the withdrawal of all Scottish Members from this House.He went on to say:It makes sense to have a Scottish Treasury and a Scottish Consolidated Fund."—[Official Report, 4th February 1975; Vol. 885, c. 1218–19.]It is quite clear, therefore, that the hon. Gentleman has aims other than those of the Government and of the Constitution Unit, the cost of which we are debating tonight.
It is quite clear that the Constitution Unit would be wasting its time, its staff and our money if it were to discuss and probe the consequences of the complete separation advocated by the hon. Gentleman, either now or in the foreseeable future. The Paymaster-General spelt out the reasons in his speech in West Lothian on Saturday 13th March. It was a devastating demolition job. In that speech he showed with frightening clarity how the SNP's policy of separation could be damaging to both Scotland and England—to the whole of the United Kingdom.
My right hon. Friend gave figures, produced not by the Department but by Dundee University, showing that between 1961 and 1971 Scotland had a balance of payments deficit in goods and services of about 10 per cent. of gross domestic product, roughly three times higher than the average for the United Kingdom over the whole of that decade. He referred specifically to oil, and I see that in this Vote the salary of the Chancellor of the Duchy is referred to. The Chancellor of the Duchy is dealing with the oil companies and presumably vetted the speech by the Paymaster-General on that occasion.
When the Paymaster-General made that speech, he assumed what is really an impossibility, and the hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire, who now sits very lonely on the SNP Bench, is sufficiently intelligent to know that it is an 1683 impossibility—that all the oil revenues will accrue to Scotland. He must know that that is a sheer impossibility. When Margo McDonald appeared on television a month or two ago, she said that it was non-negotiable, and, by Heaven, she is right. We know it, they know it, everybody knows it.
For the sake of the argument, however, the Paymaster-General assumed that all oil royalties would go to Scotland. He conceded that in that unlikely event the balance of trade deficit could be removed and eventually converted, but he went on to state facts of which we are all aware: that the oil is a finite resource and that it will run out at some time; its future price is unpredictable; it is extremely costly to produce and is getting more costly every day; and if the OPEC cartel decides to reduce the oil price, the profits from North Sea oil will plunge catastrophically.
The Unit must be aware of these matters, and that is why it is ruling out consideration of separateness, because any economy based, as the Scottish economy would be based, on one product is extremely vulnerable to international forces completely outside its control. Examples are to be seen all over the world, especially in the underdeveloped world. Such an unbalanced economy could well result in increased inflation. A serious increase in unemployment would result from the need to redeploy labour from industries such as those in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline (Mr. Hunter). If Scotland became a one-industry economy, the coal industry would have a pretty thin time. There would be massive unemployment in the coal industry, to say nothing of the dock which my hon. Friend represents.
§ Mr. James Lamond (Oldham, East)
Perhaps my hon. Friend will draw attention to the area which I represent, the North-West of England, which for many years depended almost entirely upon the textile industry and suffered badly when it declined, when over 750,000 people lost their jobs.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I must encourage the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) not to follow 1684 that road too far. We are discussing the Constitution Unit of the Cabinet Office.
§ Mr. Hamilton
The Constitution Unit deals with the whole of the constitution. Every region in Britain is involved. That is why my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Lamond) is here. My hon. Friend is an Aberdonian. He is the Lord Provost of Aberdeen, but he represents an Oldham constituency. We in the Labour Party do not give a damn where a fellow is born. What counts is that for which he stands. My hon. Friend is a Scot, and we are glad to have him representing an English constituency. I was not born in Scotland but I represent a Scottish constituency. That is how our internationalism works.
The terms of reference of the Constitution Unit are not so narrowly drawn that the Unit is to devote all its resources to devolution to Scotland and Wales. No doubt my hon. Friend will try to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to discover how much of the Unit's resources are being spent on considering the problems of devolution to the North-West, the area which he represents. It is right and relevant to put that question.
My hon. Friend has posed an economic problem that concerns areas of the United Kingdom other than Scotland. It is a United Kingdom problem, it does not relate exclusively to Scotland and Wales.
I return to the predictable, hysterical and ignorant outburst of that renowned and brilliant economist, the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. Crawford), the official economics spokesman of the SNP. It seems that the hon. Gentleman has gone home to his bed. He started from an impossible assumption that is accepted by only few people in Scotland—namely, that oil revenues would accrue immediately to the Scottish people and would continue to accrue for an indefinite period.
§ Mr. Hector Monro (Dumfries)
Will the hon. Gentleman make it clear whether the speech of the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. Crawford) was actually made or whether it was a phantom speech that might have been made?
§ Mr. Hamilton
Yes, the hon. Gentleman has been known to publicise the gist of speeches that were never made. He puts out statements to the Press which he alleges to have made in debates in the House when he was never even present for the debate. That is the sort of thing that we get from the SNP. However, that is to stray from the subject of the debate. I wish to stick narrowly to the Vote before us.
The hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire talked about a strong Scottish pound. I shall quote from the Glasgow Herald. He said:the costs of our imports will be stabilised.In God's name, how can we do that? The hon. Gentleman makes that bare statement and leaves it there. But how can we control the cost of imported oil, cotton, rubber or any other commodities?
The Government and the Constitution Unit are presumably still receiving representations on the contents of the White Paper. Is the Unit, of which my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary is a distinguished member, taking fully into account the views of the Scottish CBI which were published on 1st March? The CBI says:speaking as we do on behalf of industry as a whole in Scotland, we are bound to express the view that the elected Assembly is unnecessary from industry's viewpoint. As proposed"—in the White Paper and this wretched Unit—it could lead to confusion, dispute and delay in decision-making on matters which affect business. Due to the importance of these proposals to the United Kingdom, we would wish to see two draft Bills in place of the joint Bill currently being proposed.The CBI goes on to welcome:the emphasis placed on the need to safeguard the economic and political unity of the United Kingdom"—That is what the Unit is seeking to do. The CBI alsoseeks an assurance that the cost of the Government's proposals have been accurately assessed"—I shall come back to the cost, because it is directly relevant to the Vote—points to the risk of Scotland becoming over-governed, to the possible cost and adverse effect on industry of an over-complicated Government machinery and advocates that the Government should re-evaluate the likely true cost of its proposals".1686 I mean to press the Under-Secretary on this matter. He and I addressed a meeting in Fife recently, and in answer to a question he said the cost was about £10 million. The CBI and I very much doubt whether that is remotely like the figure for the eventual cost.
The CBI representations continue:Defects in the proposals to empower the Assembly to levy taxation are highlighted; a crucial omission from sources of finance is pointed out and a more up-to-date system of public audit and financial control is advocated".I hope that the Government are looking at a system of financial control and public audit as recommended by the CBI. More important, the CBI regrets the cursory treatment accorded to EEC considerations thoughout the White Paper, and that is a fair point.
I think that most hon. Members are agreed on the question of unity. The Scottish CBI document further states:This is of overriding importance to industry in Scotland and therefore to Scotland as a whole. The interests of British industry in Scotland are indistinguishable from and inextricably bound up with those of industry throughout the United Kingdom; and with the growth of European integration it is imperative to preserve the cohesion of British industry as a powerful force at home and abroad on whose success in creating new wealth depends the possibility of further political and social advance in the United Kingdom. The CBI strongly urges therefore that in proposinig new political institutions this underlying principle must never be lost sight of by the Government and the political parties.It must not be lost sight of by the Constitution Unit, for which my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will be speaking in due course.
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House this afternoon said that the draft Bill was ready and was being studied and that it would be produced, presumably, very soon. I do not know how soon that will be. But that is not by any means the end of the story—in fact, it is scarcely the beginning. The CBI document goes on to emphasise that after publication of the draft Bill the Scottish CBI and no doubt others may wish to comment further on the composition and constitutional basis of the elected Assembly and on other points.
On the last page of the CBI document it is stated that 1687So far as the CBI's own consideration of the devolution proposals is concerned it is intended to refer some of the issues which are raised in the White Paper to specialist committees and panels for more detailed study. These specialist considerations could relate to such subjects as education, rating and valuation, Local Government finance, pay in the public sector—and a number of other issues.It is quite clear from this that the Scottish CBI, the Scottish TUC, all the political parties and all the professional organisations in Scotland have virtually all come already to the same conclusion—that they do not want separation as advocated by the SNP. I do not know of a single responsible body anywhere in Scotland which has come to that conclusion. Neither have public opinion polls nor anyone else.
The Parliamentary Labour Party has been having lengthy discussions on the White Paper. I do not think I am revealing any secrets when I say that it has completed them only this evening and that it proposes radical changes in the White Paper. So, too, does the Scottish Executive of the Labour Party.
All these matters will be further thrashed out at our party conference at Troon later this month. Then there will be a long and bitter, controversial and extremely costly and dangerous haul in front of everybody in this House and in front of the whole of the Scottish people. It will flow over party boundaries and national boundaries. It is very much a United Kingdom matter.
It would be a very bold, rash, and, I think, ill-advised Government could pretend that they could adhere to any kind of strict timetable. Whatever may have been promised in the past, circumstances have changed. They have changed even in the last 72 hours.
We shall very soon have a new Prime Minister. It might even be me. The party could do worse, I suppose. The new Prime Minister will be installed very soon, and he will want time to play himself in, to change his team, perhaps abolish some of it, or to change the composition of the Constitution Unit and reduce its costs. At any rate, there will be changes which will take a great deal of time.
Perhaps after six or 12 months the new Prime Minister will decide that he wants a new mandate from the people— 1688 an election mandate—before any Assembly legislation is passed. That would be a good, sound, democratic principle which I am all in favour of. I would not fear the result either personally or, when I look at the Opposition, for my party. The Liberal Party is in some sort of state at present. The Scottish Nationalist Party Members are a bunch of incompetents who are unscrupulous at times. The Conservative Party has nothing to offer. Indeed, we are desperately hoping, for the sake of democracy, that it will strengthen itself and pull itself together.
Whatever happens, I do not believe that in the present situation there is any prospect of getting legislation about the Assembly before the next General Election. However this depends so much on the next Prime Minister and when he calls an election. I shall not shed any tears if that is what happens.
I do not think that the British public would care too much. It will judge the parties at that time not on whether there is an Assembly in Scotland or Wales but on whether the dole queues are down and the rate of inflation is seen to be under control. Those are the matters that count. Afterwards, we can all settle down cosily, coolly, calmly and with less hysteria and emotion to examine in great detail the problem that this Constitution Unit is playing around with now.
There needs to be more consideration, and the CBI recognises this in its memorandum. An increasing number of organisations are coming to realise how serious and fundamental are the constitutional implications of this exercise. It ill behoves any Government to try to speed it up for any kind of political opportunism.
I end where I started. Although this appears to be a small Vote, the exercise upon which we are embarked is extremely important and we must take a great deal of time to make sure that we get the right answer rather than the quick answer.
§ 10.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Iain Sproat (Aberdeen, South)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) on the excellent sense of his speech. It is not often that an Opposition Member can agree almost totally—apart from a few unfortunate strictures on the Conservative Party 1689 which no doubt slipped out by mistake—with what a Labour Member has said and can congratulate him on his speech. My only surprise was that the hon. Gentleman made such a short speech. I assure the Government Whip who is present in the Chamber that the brief speeches we are making tonight will be as nothing compared to the speeches that we shall be compelled to make on this vital issue in the future.
The hon. Member for Fife, Central said he did not believe that this legislation would ever get through the House. He is absolutely right. I do not suppose there is any hon. Member present who would foresee a General Election much further than two years in the future. That would not be nearly long enough to get through the House any Bill which changes the constitution of the United Kingdom as radically as we understand the Constitution Unit is proposing. Therefore, I ask the Government Whip to take note of what we are discussing and the brevity with which we do so.
I am absolutely astonished to see no one but the hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Reid) on the Scottish National Party Bench. We all known that the only raison d'etre of the SNP is separation, and yet this debate on the Constitution Unit, which is the one thing, if anything, which will lead to separation if it is given its head, the SNP Members are not here. It is astonishing. Perhaps tomorrow we shall read in Hansard a phantom speech by the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. Crawford), or perhaps we shall see headlines in the Scotsman explaining how he slayed the House of Commons with a wonderful speech. Phantom eloquence is a wonderful commodity.
Like the hon. Member for Fife, Central I acknowledge that we are tonight discussing a relatively small amount of money. But what about the expenditure which is hidden away in the global sum? My memory is that the cost of the Constitution Unit will be about £239,000, but I speak from memory and I am prepared to be corrected. That shows the House what we would be in for in this whole foolish time and money-wasting Scottish and Welsh Assembly exercise. Here we are, in a period of extreme financial stringency, spending nearly £¼ 1690 million of taxpayers' money to set up the new Unit. It serves notice of what the Scottish and Welsh Assemblies—and, no doubt, the assemblies for the various English regions—will cost.
How many extra civil servants have been taken on for the Constitution Unit in order to service this nonsense? Will the Minister tell me, since this has been the subject of some debate over the last few weeks, whether the salary of the assistant to the Lord President comes within the sum we are discussing tonight and whether he is prepared to tell the House how much the Lord President's assistant is actually paid?
The figure of £239,000 is a pointer to what is to come. The White Paper told us that the approximate cost of the Scottish and Welsh Assemblies was to be £22 million. The one certain thing in this uncertain world of politics is that if any Government—Labour or Conservative—say that something will cost £22 million, it will eventually cost two, three or four times that figure.
Already at a time of extreme economic crisis, when the fishermen of Aberdeen think that they are going out of business for the loss of £4 million, we plan to spend on a miserable bunch of Assemblies perhaps £100 million, and that does not cover the English assemblies. Are we mad to do this at a time of economic crisis when we should be, and are, tightening our belts? We could all point to schools, hospitals, housing programmes and roads that are having to be cut. We are telling the people that we do not have enough money for the necessities of life, yet here we are spending £239,000 to set up a Unit which will tell us that it will spend £100 million on Scottish and Welsh Assemblies. That Unit is about to come forward with the cost of English regional assemblies. I am quite certain that the hon. Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Lamond), in his new persona as a Member of Parliament for an English constituency, would not allow us to have an Assembly in Scotland and allow the conurbation around him to be unrepresented. That would be totally unfair.
Therefore, the Constitution Unit will have to spend even more money. No doubt the Minister will tell us that it has already spent a lot of time deciding what to do about the English assemblies. That 1691 Unit has told us that Scottish and Welsh Assemblies will cost £22 million. If we extrapolate that sum on exactly the same basis—I do not believe that we can, because it is an under-estimate—English assemblies would cost £140 million.
Therefore, already we are talking about a minimum of another £160 million or £170 million a year to be paid for by the British taxpayer. Is that the sort of sum we should spend? Is the Constitution Unit spending that £239,000 of British taxpayers' money wisely in producing that sort of rubbish? In my opinion it would be crazy at any time, but especially now when we are in debt up to our ears and when we are having to cut down all round on our welfare programme. It is the height of madness that this Unit should be set up—itself an expensive exercise—to produce even more expensive exercises.
If £22 million is the estimated cost of the Scottish and Welsh Assemblies, they may cost £100 million by the time we are finished and the various regional assemblies in England may cost £150 million.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I am not convinced that the regional assemblies in England are relevant to what we are discussing at the moment.
§ Mr. Sproat
I take the point, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is extremely difficult to know when one strays and is out of order. I understand that at this very moment the Constitution Unit is producing a paper on the English regional assemblies. Therefore, the cost of what it produces should be relevant to this debate. However, I shall leave that point.
I shall be surprised if this exercise of Assemblies for Scotland, Wales and England costs the taxpayer anything less than £250 million extra a year. The Constitution Unit proposes not merely that we fork out the money now but that we fork it out for the Assemblies in the future. It wants the Assemblies to have the power to tax us even more. Therefore, the British taxpayer will have to pay to keep in being a body that will demand that we pay more. The White Paper proposes that the Assembly should have the power to levy local taxes. The wretched citizens will be hit over the head yet again. Not only will it cost £250 million to set these bodies up, but 1692 they will have the power to raise even more taxes. We shall be in an intolerable position.
The fruit of the Constitution Unit will be more government when we should have less and better government, more expenditure when we have to cut expenditure all round, more taxes when already the Chancellor of the Exchequer has said that we are an over-taxed country and that there is not enough incentive because taxes are too high, and more civil servants, bureaucracy and red tape. I should have thought that it was common ground between all sensible hon. Members that already taxes are too high and civil servants too many, yet here we are wasting all our time at this hour of the night discussing the work of a Unit which proposes more government, more taxes, more public expenditure and more civil servants. It is absolutely ridiculous.
The hon. Member for Fife, Central made a good point about the balance of trade deficit and the work that the Unit must do on this. He quoted a series of figures. I think that it was the Paymaster-General who produced them. The hon. Gentleman is quite right. He mentioned the figure of 10 per cent. of the gross domestic product, or something like that.
The only trouble with those figures is that no one understands what 10 per cent. of the GDP means. We can have people such as the phantom Member for Perth and East Perthshire talking about a strong Scottish pound, but no one knows what it is. However, if one says that 10 per cent. of GDP is a minimum of £537 million a year and that that is Scotland's balance of trade deficit every year, perhaps one will bring this matter home a little more. If the Unit were doing its job properly, that is the figure that it would be hammering home.
Instead of the Unit wasting time speculating on how Assemblies in England, Scotland and Wales should be set up, I should like to see it emphasising to the people the real advantage of the constitution, which is the unity of the United Kingdom. I would not mind paying my contribution to the £239,000 a year if I thought that that was what the Unit was doing. But, alas, it is not.
Again, as well as emphasising the balance of trade deficit that Scotland suffers annually, about £537 million, I 1693 should like to see the Unit spending more of its time in emphasising what Scotland already gets from the Treasury. It is extremely difficult to get this information from the Treasury. I do not know why, but every time I ask the Treasury I am told that this is too difficult to work out. However, we know that identifiable public expenditure in Scotland is about £3,700 million a year. I speak from memory, but that is the rough figure. We also know that Scotland gets about 20 per cent. more out of the United Kingdom Treasury than she puts in by way of tax. Last year it was 19 per cent., and the previous year it was very much more.
That means, in effect, that Scotland is being subsidised. I do not shrink from the brutal fact. I wish that more people in Scotland would wake up to the brutal fact that Scotland is being subsidised by England every year to the tune of about £800 million. That is the sort of fact that the Unit should be putting forward.
I hear the usual sniggers and laughs from the rather depleted SNP Bench. No doubt if SNP Members were here doing their duty the laughter would be even louder. But they are not here. They are either snoring on the way up to Scotland or making speeches in Scotland while we are here doing our duty.
§ Mr. Sproat
No doubt, as the hon. Gentleman says.
The Constitution Unit ought to be spending its time and money on emphasising to the people of Scotland the figure of £800 million by which they are subsidised every year. While the Unit is doing that, by all means let it mention the great contribution Scotsmen and Scotswomen have made to the United Kingdom in terms of their ability and brains, as the inventors or discoverers of coal-gas, sticky stamps, pneumatic tyres, tarmacadam, television, logarithms, the steam engine, the breach-loading rifle and all the other great contributions that the brains and ability of the Scots have made to the United Kingdom.
But let not the Unit or anyone else try to say that today that contribution is in money terms. It is not. It may have been in the great days of Clyde- 1694 side. In the days of heavy engineering in Scotland, we made a greater contribution than we do now. No doubt in the future, thanks to North Sea oil, once again Scotland will make a financial contribution. But that is not so at present.
I should like to see the Unit spending more time spelling out to the people in all parts of the United Kingdom the advantages that Scotland receives from her membership of the Union. Again, the hon. Member for Fife, Central very shrewdly pointed out that we were talking about the salary of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. He also referred to the speech—no doubt vetted by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster—that was made by the Paymaster-General in West Lothian last weekend. It was an extremely good speech. I wish that more hon. Members would take such a robust and sensible attitude towards it.
The Paymaster-General, with his speech vetted, no doubt, by members of the Unit which we are discussing, pointed out the true position regarding North Sea oil. What is the true position? We cannot say exactly what North Sea oil will bring into this country, because we do not know the price. The price may fall. Who knows what will happen to the various Arab Governments on which we depend for the price?
Let us assume, as is common ground between the two Front Benches, that the approximate sum will be in the region of £3,000 million a year from North Sea oil. We know that two-thirds of our North Sea oil lies off the coast of Shetland. The Shetlanders have made it clear, above all, that if there is a Scottish Assembly, if there is any independence, they will not be attached to an Edinburgh Assembly or Edinburgh as the capital of an independent Scotland but will stay with London. So, of that £3,000 million, we can cut off at a stroke, if I may coin a phrase, £2,000 million. Therefore, we are left with only £1,000 million. But even that £1,000 million would not accrue to an independent Scotland, because if the frontiers of England and Scotland were projected out to sea in the normal manner in international relations—namely at 38 degrees—the effect would be to chop off the three southerly oilfields.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Member must come back to the salaries of the Unit, which is what we are discussing.
§ Mr. Sproat
This is a difficult debate for all of us. My point is that we are discussing the salary of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, whose main job is regulating North Sea oil. That is a most important job. In that job he must have regard to three fields in particular—Auk, Josephine and Argyll—which would not fall within the Scottish sector. We would have to chop those off. We are, therefore, talking about £700 million a year, which is less than the balance of taxes that Scotland gets from England. We would be worse off.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. Will the hon. Gentleman look at page 414 of the Supplementary Estimates and instruct himself on what we are in fact discussing?
§ Mr. William Hamilton
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will allow me to help him. In the Supply Estimates 1975–76, Class XIII, Vote 21, "Other Services: Cabinet Office", there is an itemAl Cabinet Office. (1) Salary of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster £11,000.It was static in 1974–75 and in 1975–76. My right hon. Friend is setting a good example to others who are putting in for wage increases. There is a note to the effect that this is additional salary payable to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in accordance with Schedule 3 to the Ministerial and Other Salaries Act 1972. Clearly, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is getting that salary for dealing with the oil problem in the North Sea.
§ Mr. Sproat
That was certainly my understanding. I read it closely last night I took advice from the Clerks of the House on the matter. I shall not pursue this question further than to say that £700 million from North Sea oil to an independent Scotland would not even pay for the balance of expenditure over taxes which we get now.
As for the idea that we could finance an independent army, navy, air force, diplomatic service and customs post, I should point out that Sweden, which is often held up to us as an example of what an independent Scotland could aspire to, spends £1,100 million on its army every year, which again the—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I must ask the hon. Gentleman to borrow a copy of the Supplementary Estimates and to look at page 414. There is nothing there about Sweden either.
§ Mr. Sproat
I am sorry, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I shall immediately return to the Constitution Unit.
The Lord President was in Aberdeen 10 days ago. We were pleased to have the head of the Constitution Unit there because it is well known that Aberdeen and the Grampians Region are totally opposed to a Scottish Assembly. We hoped that we would be able to persuade the Lord President of that and get him to justify his salary. I was amazed to be told that during that meeting at the University of Aberdeen it became clear that the Lord President was apparently unaware that Shetland had said that it would have nothing to do with a Scottish Assembly or an independent Scotland. Something is amiss in the Constitution Unit. Perhaps it is not getting enough money to enable it to take these representations on board.
I ask the Minister, who I know was in Aberdeen and made a good impression with his open-mindedness, to tell his right hon. Friend that Shetland has made clear where it stands, with the result that its attitude would wipe out two thirds of North Sea oil revenue for an independent Scotland. Has the Constitution Unit received representations from the Aberdeen Chamber of Commerce, which this week made it absolutely clear that there is no way in which it would accept a Scottish Assembly? My impression was that it would sooner declare UDI than accept domination from Strathclyde—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. Irrespective of whether representations have been received, we are discussing the salaries of the Cabinet Office.
§ Mr. Sproat
I am trying your patience, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Perhaps I have made my point. I shall discard at least 80 per cent. of the speech which I had prepared and ask the Minister to take on board the fact that there is no way that he will get an Assembly Bill through this House. There is not the support for it. Let him tell that to the Constitution Unit. I am sure he will find that there are those behind him who will agree with me that 1697 the Unit is wasting its time and the taxpayers' money in pursuing these fashionable ideas, which, like so many fashionable ideas, will fade—as I am sure the SNP will shortly fade.
§ 10.53 p.m.
§ Mr. James Lamond (Oldham, East)
This is the second occasion in recent weeks when I have had the pleasure of addressing the House immediately after a speech by the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat), who is my Member of Parliament. His speech reflects the views of at least one of his constituents with uncanny accuracy. There was not a word in it with which I would disagree. I can assure the hon. Member of the same support at the next election as I gave him at the last one.
It is no coincidence that the tenor of the hon. Member's speech was as it was. The area he represents is seriously concerned about the working of the Constitution Unit, the cost of which we are discussing. There have been many indications from that area to which I hope the Unit will give full weight. It is unfortunate that the sole remaining member of the Scottish National Party who could summon the energy to attend the debate has now departed—presumably to present the Press with a copy of some speech he will be claiming, perhaps, to have made in the House.
Therefore, the news of what has been going on in the House tonight and about these important discussions concerning the Constitution Unit, the expenditure on it and its work will have to be carried to the people of Scotland and elsewhere in the United Kingdom, where there is great interest, by members of the Conservative and Labour Parties. No first-hand news can possibly be conveyed by Members of the SNP, but no doubt that will not deter them from giving their advice to the people of Scotland based, as usual, on a complete lack of knowledge of the matters about which they are speaking.
What worries me about this Vote is not that it is too large but that possibly it is not large enough to cover the work which the Constitution Unit will need to do if it is fully to discharge its brief. To begin talks about the devolution of Scotland and Wales is like dropping a pebble into a pool. The waves begin in a small way. They are of great interest to 1698 the people of Scotland and Wales. But the waves increase in circumference as the knowledge of the talks grows throughout the United Kingdom.
I am sure that this Constitution Unit is designed to serve the United Kingdom. The money that we are spending on it is raised from taxation throughout the United Kingdom, and it must be used for the benefit of all the people, including my constituents in Oldham, East. Gradually, people throughout the whole of Britain will become interested in devolution and how it will affect the areas in which they live.
It is very interesting, Mr. Deputy Speaker—I beg your pardon, Mr. Speaker—
§ Mr. Lamond
I am sure you will share my hope that this Constitution Unit will receive information from all parts of the United Kingdom, just as I have been doing. For example, I have received a letter from the North-West Industrial Development Association. I refer, of course, to the North-West of England, not the North-West of Scotland. I refer to the Manchester area, part of which I represent. That Association has been giving great consideration to the implications of this Constitution Unit and the effect that the Government's proposals will have on the United Kingdom. It has come out strongly against any proposals to have an Assembly in Scotland—
§ Mr. Lamond
You are correct, as always, Mr. Speaker. However, I hope that those salaries, which are paid by the taxpayers in my constituency and the constituencies of other hon. Members, are being used in the interests of my constituents as well as those of the people of Scotland and Wales.
The main basis of the complaint of my constituents is that they already carry a very considerable degree of taxation the purpose of which is to assist Scotland and Wales, and they are not happy about having further burdens added to them without their views being fully considered by the Constitution Unit.
The Government's proposals have a very serious effect on the area which I 1699 represent. For instance, I hope that the Constitution Unit will take into consideration relevant statistics such as the fact that the people of Scotland have a higher average wage than people in the North-West of England, that the unemployment position in Scotland is healthier than it is in the North-West of England and that the people of Scotland already enjoy very much superior representation at Cabinet level than do my constituents in the North-West. Although many distinguished right hon. and hon. Members come from the North-West, including the Prime Minister, we have no direct voice in the Cabinet such as the Scottish people have in the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Welsh people have in the Secretary of State for Wales.
§ Mr. Speaker
Although the hon. Member is doing his best—and it is a very good best—I must remind him that only the reasons for the increase may be discussed and not the policy implied in the original Estimate.
§ Mr. Lamond
The reason for the increase is that the Constitution Unit is expanding its work to include representations from my constituents, the North-West Industrial Development Association and the economic committee in the North-West which is a separate body on which there are representatives from the Liverpool and Merseyside area who have expressed views similar to those of the Industrial Development Association. They are determined that there shall be no further improvement in the position of Scotland relative to the rest of the United Kingdom.
Mr. Speaker, I can see that I am causing you some concern, so I shall come directly to the salary of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. His salary has not been increased.
§ Mr. William Hamilton
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has some influence over the Constitution Unit.
§ Mr. Speaker
I must remind the hon. Gentleman that this is a saving on the salary of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and that it would, therefore, be out of order for the hon. Gentleman to discuss his salary.
§ Mr. Lamond
I accept your ruling, Mr. Speaker, but it is strange that we are allowed to comment on increases in salary 1700 while the more worthwhile matter of a decrease in salary must pass without comment.
§ Mr. Speaker
This is a strange place, and the hon. Gentleman has accurately described the position.
§ Mr. Lamond
The salary of the 649 staff in the Cabinet Office is mentioned in the Vote and, as one would expect, there are increases. The salaries etc.—presumably that includes such things as expenses—of the staff this year total £3,147,000 compared with £2,822,000 in 1974–75. That represents an increase of about £300,000. It is an increase, and perhaps I might comment on that. The Cabinet staff must include personnel who are concerned about the matters that we are discussing. I am sure that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, able and knowledgeable though he is, must have some staff assisting him in the valuable work he is doing on the oil industry, which must also play an important part in the discussions of the Constitution Unit.
The oil extraction industry has developed a great deal in my beloved native city. The people in the area are the least enthusiastic in all Scotland about even the Government's modest devolution proposals. There was an interesting article in the Financial Times, which I am sure the staff of the Cabinet Office who are concerned with the oil industry will have studied carefully, giving a very different picture of the future prosperity of Scotland if it depended entirely on the oii industry.
I echo the cautionary remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) who drew attention to the difficulties which always arise when a country is financially dependent on one industry or one source of finance. No one would wish to see Scotland experiencing such difficulties. Even as an English Member, I should not like to see the Scottish people suffering as many areas, including the North-West of England, have suffered because they depended too much on one product.
I finish on that point.
§ 11.7 p.m.
§ Mr. Hector Monro (Dumfries)
It is a pleasure to follow two Aberdonians, 1701 although they are apparently on opposite sides of the fence in this debate.
I am not quite clear about your strictures, Mr. Speaker. In Vote 21, Class XIII, there is an increase of £402,000 in expenditure on the Cabinet Office and in Vote 22 there is an increase of £386,000 for the Scottish Office. Both increases relate to the subject we are discussing—the Constitution Unit. But I hope that I shall keep strictly in order, and I shall be brief.
I made some flippant remarks about Aberdeen going in for UDI because of dissatisfaction about devolution, but I am not really contemplating that, because Aberdeen's contribution to the Scottish economy is something we could not forgo.
I come to the expenditure on the Constitution Unit. I am very much in favour of a Scottish Assembly and devolution to Scotland. I am highly critical of the Scottish National Party for wishing to use it as a stepping-stone to separation, which I entirely oppose, as we must keep the United Kingdom one unit.
§ Mr. Speaker
That is very interesting, but the debate must be limited to the increase in salaries and general expenses of the staff engaged in the Constitution Unit.
§ Mr. Monro
I accept that, Mr. Speaker, but I must say where I stand.
My first point in relation to the cost of the Constitution Unit is a point made by the hon. Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Lamond), and that is whether it is sufficient to carry out the work that it is presently required to do by the Government. We are intending to legislate in the near future not for the short term but for the rest of the century and, perhaps, the subsequent century. We must get the facts right and the policy right when the Government introduce a Bill for devolution. Is the Minister satisfied that he has the resources and the staff necessary to carry out the work in preparation for the Bill which the Constitution Unit, through the Government, will present in the comparatively near future?
Secondly, a series of Government answers to Questions over the last three months shows a difference of opinion on how many staff there are in the Constitution Unit. In December we were told that the Cabinet Office increase was 182, 1702 and yet in relation to the Scottish Office subsequently there seems to have been an increase of something over 300 over the last five years. Yet again my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton) asked a Question on 16th February, from which there seems to be an increase of 3,092 in the Scottish Office over the previous year. This seems to be very much at variance with the earlier replies.
However, the more important one, which I am sure the hon. Gentleman will confirm, is in relation to 2nd February in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Hutchison) that there was a staff of 18 officials to deal with the devolution unit in the Scottish Office. This again is a matter for clarification, and we would be grateful if the hon. Gentleman could give an indication of what the staff is and whether it is adequate for the most important job in hand. Can he say whether this includes the possible development of Waterloo Place? Can he also say what is happening in relation to the staff in the Constitution Unit concerning the probable Assembly site on the Royal High School?
We have been given the facts by the Secretary of State in relation to Vote 22 of the Supplementary Estimates to the Scottish Office. I think we are all slightly critical of these Estimates in general because they are so vague. It is very difficult to tie down exactly what the money is to be spent on. However, we realise that it is to be £386,000. Can the Minister again say what proportion of this £386,000 is to be applied in the present year to the work which, I accept, is valuable in relation to the Constitution Unit as applied to the Scottish Office? Obviously, the Scottish Office has a very substantial interest in what is going on in this Unit.
I know that you would be outraged, Mr. Speaker, if I were to deviate into the plusses and minuses of the Assembly but it would be relevant to ask whether the expenses of Officers of the House engaged in discussion of this matter with the Scottish Office and the Cabinet Office will be paid by the Government. They have played an important part in discussing the practicality of an Assembly, and there must have been some expenditure by their offices.
1703 Although I am concerned about Government expenditure overall, I accept that if these Estimates are to provide a background and policy for legislation in regard to Scotland over the next decade and into the next century they are justified. If the Minister will set out the reasons for the expenditure, I shall be satisfied.
§ 11.16 p.m.
§ Mr. George Reid (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)
Perhaps surprisingly, I have a sneaking regard for what has been said by other hon. Members. My reasons are best illustrated by an anecdote told in the New Statesman by the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh), who is an academic. He discussed the Constitution Unit with a number of civil servants and academics in Whitehall, and one bright young man from Oxbridge said "I am off on a devolution caper". So I have some sympathy for what the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) said. A week ago the hon. Member announced that he would have nothing to do with the "charade" of devolution, so I welcome his renewed interest in the subject.
I have five questions for the Minister. First, to what extent has the £386,000 been devoted to looking at Scotland's role as a possible European nation? Second, to what extent has the Constitution Unit considered the fact that, whereas joining the EEC probably represented the end of Empire for our English neighbours, for Scotland it marked a simultaneous rediscovery of a possible role as a small European nation?
Third, to what extent has the money invested by the Unit in research been devoted to devolving economic management north of the border, to determine whether the Keynesian grip on the economy of the United Kingdom could be loosened, doing away with aggregate demand management? Fourth, to what extent has the Unit costed the real business of Civil Service reform in Scotland and of a Civil Service devoted to the Assembly and to a Scottish Parliament?
Fifth, to what extent has the Unit considered Shetland? Has the money devoted to research covered the Law of the Sea Conference? Have those bright young men considered the ratio of land to population and sea area, and the question 1704 whether Monaco, although supposedly independent within the European Community, has a place at the Law of the Sea Conference, and whether San Marino has a seat at the top table? That would be helpful in terms of the East Shetland Basin.
Finally, I should like to devote myself to the whole question of the Scottish economy.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. If the hon. Member did that, it would be enough to make me leave the Chair. He knows what he must do tonight. This is a very narrow debate. It should be limited to the increase in salaries and general expenses of staff engaged in the Constitution Unit.
§ Mr. Reid
I shall try to approach the matter in another way, Mr. Speaker.
I asked a certain noble Lord who is fairly close to the work of the Constitution Unit whether he would define separatism. After considerable thought, he said that as the Government ruled out separatism it was not a matter to be considered.
The Unit might spend a little time in the months ahead considering Scotland's GDP, central Government revenue from Scotland, the value of oil production and its value come 1980, and the value of oil revenues today and the value come 1980. Let it consider those matters in terms of its work and the work of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.
Scotland has about 9.3 per cent. of the population of the United Kingdom, and the present value of the oil is about £800 million. Scotland's share of the United Kingdom GDP—this is worthy of consideration by the Whitehall men—is 9.5 per cent. or 96 per cent. The expenditure that is received by Scotland is about 9.85 per cent. Another factor worthy of consideration is that the revenue contribution from Scotland is about 10.1 per cent. to 10.2 per cent.
It is significant that the Treasury has refused to produce a Scottish Budget. It was willing to do so in the days when it was considered that Scotland was too poor for Whitehall to worry about. It is significant—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman is beginning to make general points again. I am sorry if I am being 1705 difficult, but I must observe the rules of order.
§ Mr. Reid
The Unit might like to consider producing a Scottish Budget in the months that lie ahead.
Most of us will be aware of what the hon. Member for Fife, Central has said. There is something of a constitutional polarisation within the United Kingdom. There is probably little chance of an Assembly being agreed upon outside Scotland. If there is a group of civil servants and Ministers at the centre of the United Kingdom Government considering the constitutional destiny of all the peoples of the United Kingdom, it is high time that it began to consider the polarised possibilities. At one extreme there is the continuation of the status quo; at the other extreme there is an independent Scotland within NATO and within the European Community.
§ 11.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Ted Leadbitter (Hartlepool)
I have made clear my views about devolution. I have made it abundantly clear that I shall not be moved, motivated or influenced by any SNP Member who finds time to spread abroad the sort of propaganda that the SNP does not have the courage to state inside the House. That is my position.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. It is a very interesting position but it has nothing to do with increases in salary and general expenses.
§ Mr. Leadbitter
I had made up my mind, Mr. Speaker, to work in full accord with your ruling, having responded to it in a gentlemanly manner.
When I consider the Supplementary Estimates and the Bill before us, I immediately get the impression that the situation is confusing for a Member who wants to seek to pursue the particulars arising from the terms of reference of the debate. The Bill embraces the generality of the Supplementary Estimates, but the debate is confined to increases of salaries in the Cabinet Office and the Scottish Office. Having found some difficulty in relating the two in the kind of debate we are having, I also have to consider how best to address myself to the justification for these salary increases in the Scottish and Cabinet Offices.
1706 My opposition on some questions of devolution is known, but I have a wholehearted desire to be in full accord with your ruling, Mr. Speaker. I understand that the wider debate which might have been expected to follow the subject of this debate as set out on the Order Paper has been limited by you, Mr. Speaker, to the salaries of certain officers.
I have taken some time to say how willing I am to accede to this change of direction. I am sure that those who arranged tonight's business did so in the best interests of the House. However, we must ask what is to happen to the officers who may be involved in extra work because of these salary increases. What are they doing? What are their terms of reference? If they have to work within rules as strict as those in this House, and if they have the same difficulty as I have in keeping within those rules, it will take a long time to set up an Assembly.
§ Mr. Douglas Henderson (Aberdeenshire, East)
I am following the hon. Member's argument very closely as it progresses within the properly strict lines laid down by you, Mr. Speaker. Would the hon. Member like to consider whether the increase in expenditure is due to continuing shifts in Government policy and Conservative Party policy and perhaps partly due to the time involved in having to study innumerable reports from various sections of the Conservative Party which to most rational people are very confusing?
§ Mr. Leadbitter
I am not a forceful hon. Member, but I noticed that the hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Reid) had left when that intervention was made by an hon. Member we have not seen in the Chamber for a long time. Questions about shifting would be better directed towards the oscillations of Members of the SNP. However, a good question requires another good question, even if there is a reluctance to provide an answer to the first question.
What does the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. Henderson) mean by separatism? If I may hastily come to your aid, Mr. Speaker, the officers who are to benefit from these salary increases are working on this 1707 matter and will want to feel the temperature of the House on questions such as the one I have just asked.
I suspect you are about to say that this is out of order, Mr. Speaker, but I want to help the officers for whom we are about to provide money by a vote of this House, albeit "on the nod", so that they can understand whether they will be pursuing an argument about an Assembly, devolution or separatism.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. They will have to be helped by the debate on the White Paper when the general principle was decided. Tonight the hon. Member can help them by discussing these increases in salaries and general expenses of staff.
§ Mr. Leadbitter
Yes, Mr. Speaker, and I agree that that is the nub of the matter. The very silence of hon. Members opposite strikes its own note. I need not pursue the matter further, because cross-examination does not necessarily produce answers. Silence is often the better answer to have, and I leave it there.
The hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire posed five questions but managed to remain in order. I seek to pursue only one of the questions he raised. He asked, quite justifiably, about the £386,000 to be allocated in the Supplementary Estimates to the Scottish Office. He asked how much of this would be devoted to Scotland in terms of nationhood under a Common Market arrangement.
This is a narrow debate and it is extremely hard to keep in order. I am doing my best. I am discussing the question of increasing the salaries of the honourable men in our Civil Service— worthy men, as I called them in Committee. They are the best civil servants in the world, particularly to those who travel abroad and see some of the tripe in the civil service there, advising other Governments. The hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) knows my views on this, and it is interesting that in a great democracy we can find an affinity of relations on things that matter—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I hope I can find an affinity with the hon. Member. What happened in the Standing Committee must have been interesting, but perhaps the hon. Gentleman will return 1708 now to the question of the increase in salaries and general expenses.
§ Mr. Leadbitter
I am drawing on my last resource, as it were, and I am tempted to impose upon your generosity, Mr. Speaker, a little more by talking about Wales. But I shall desist.
We are dealing with an important matter which is taken very seriously by the House. The hon. Member for Aberdeen, South has emphasised this, as have other hon. Members, in particular my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton). The House must make no mistakes about this. We may be voting tonight for moneys for the Constitution Unit for the Cabinet Office or for the Scottish Office but there can be no foregone conclusion, whether this Government or any other Government are concerned. There must be no illusion that Parliament is so weak that a Government will be allowed to slip through questions of devolution, even when we give them moneys to examine the matter.
I make this abundantly clear. This country is entitled to know, Scotland is entitled to know and Wales is entitled to know that many of us in the House are willing to vote moneys for the Constitution Unit to examine without prejudice a matter of vital importance to this nation. But at the end of the day—I close on this note—what is important—
§ Mr. Reid
Will the hon. Gentleman concede that a small amount of the £386,000 being voted might go to examining the curious paradox of a Government committed to a Scottish Assembly and an official Opposition committed to an English and Scottish Assembly Doth reneging on their commitments? Would that not be a useful subject for study?
§ Mr. Leadbitter
Mr. Speaker knows me very well. I would not slip into being out of order.
I close on a matter which is of great importance to the House. We are dealing with the Supplementary Estimates for the Cabinet Office and the Scottish Office. I believe that no Government will make an error of judgment on this matter because there is sufficient influence in the House 1709 to preserve the unity of the United Kingdom.
§ 11.36 p.m.
§ Miss Harvie Anderson (Renfrewshire, East)
I apologise to you, Mr. Speaker, and the House for not being present throughout this short debate. Unfortunately, one cannot be in two places at once. I hope that the House will appreciate that some of us have been attending a Standing Committee which rose about five minutes ago.
We are considering the additional expenditure of the Constitution Unit in both the Cabinet Office and the Scottish Office, occasioned by the proposals which the Government have put forward for having a directly-elected Scottish Assembly. I suggest that this expenditure could be greatly reduced by having fewer people working on this very bad idea.
It is felt in the House and in Scotland that this is one additional tier of government which is being planned within this institution which has been costed to date by the persons whose salaries we are discussing tonight and who will become increasingly costly and will create an equally costly and proportionately costly additional tier of government. This extra expenditure will fall upon the backs of the taxpayers, and if it is allowed to continue so, also in due course will the cost of an extra tier of government.
This is a very narrow debate, but the point I wish to make is one which is never faced up to by those who suggest that one more tier of government is a good thing. We have a responsibility to know something of the precise way in which money is being spent. I have some sympathy for those who would seek, as I would wish to do, to ask certain questions which are difficult to formulate within the narrow confines of tonight's debate. Therefore, I do not propose to detain the House for long. I wish to re-emphasise that only a relatively small part of Government expenditure is under discussion tonight, but it is part of something that will involve a great deal more than has been suggested in money terms.
For that reason, I am critical of the expenditure which we have before us, and it is right that at this relatively late hour so many of us with a particular interest in preserving the United Kingdom and in avoiding for Scotland the 1710 expenditure which is before us should express our views with force. We know that in doing so we are speaking for literally hundreds of thousands of people who will consider what we say tonight with great care and will give us increasing support.
§ 11.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Ian Gow (Eastbourne)
I hope that it is in order for a Scotsman who represents an English constituency to speak in this debate. I am concerned at the way in which we are invited, late at night, to approve even these Supplementary Estimates under Class XIII, Votes 21 and 22. The two Votes total £788,000. Compared with the Government's total over-spending in the current financial year of about £12,000 million, although a final sum has not yet been disclosed, £788,000 may be regarded as a trifle.
I respectfully dissent from that view. For my constituents, for the taxpayers, for the ratepayers and even for those who do not pay taxes and rates that is an enormous sum of money. It is one of the sad signs of our time that we should be discussing this expenditure in an almost empty House.
I have tabled a Question to the Lord President about the composition of the Constitution Unit, which is apparently discussing how to increase devolution in Wales and Scotland. We are told that the cost will be £279,000 in the current year. We are entitled to ask what benefit Scotland and Wales in particular, and the United Kingdom generally, will derive from it. We rarely have a chance like this to challenge the Executive.
I was told in a Written Answer on 1st March that the civil servants who work in the Unit are as follows: one second permanent secretary, three under-secretaries, five assistant secretaries and one assistant solicitor—and here I declare my interest as a solicitor. If I lost my present appointment, perhaps I could qualify as a recruit to the Unit, no doubt at a salary considerably higher than I now receive. No doubt my salary then would be inflation-proofed, and no doubt I should be on a pension scheme which would be protected against the ravages of inflation perpetrated during the short time in which the Labour Party will be in power.
§ Mr. Gow
My hon. Friend mentions the wealth tax. Happily I am well below that limit. The list also includes one senior legal assistant and four principals. I wonder what is the definition of "principal" in the Constitution Unit. What function do the principals perform in relation to the future of what my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) still likes to call the United Kingdom?
§ Mr. Sproat
We have all followed with great admiration the work that my hon. Friend has done in quizzing various Ministers of the Crown about the assistants they employ. Can he say whether that list acknowledges the assistant to the Lord President and whether the salary-paid to the assistant to the Lord President is included in the £279,000? If it is, would it not be suitable for the Minister to tell us tonight, as we are presumably voting on a sum which includes that salary?
§ Mr. Gow
By current standards that is a great virtue, because the Prime Minister has seven special advisers. I do not wish to prevent, in the words of the prayer that we have at the beginning of our proceedings, the Adjournment debate on Tuesday next when I shall seek to raise the question of special advisers, including the subject of the special adviser to the Lord President. Therefore, I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South will be kind enough to wait until next Tuesday.
I had dealt with the four principals in the Constitution Unit. We have had one second permanent secretary, three under-secretaries, five assistant secretaries, one assistant solicitor—and I have laid claim to that office if I should lose my present position—one senior legal assistant and four principals.
Then we come to the keynote that there are 19 supporting staff. Here we may indeed wonder what is meant by "supporting staff". What do they do? What 1712 are they engaged in? What plots are they hatching for the well-being of the United Kingdom? Whom are they supporting? Is it the Secretary of State for Scotland? Is it the Lord President of the Council? It is certainly not my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South. He stands here on his own account—not for him 19 supporting staff, not for me and not even for my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Mr. Monro), who until recently spoke from the Front Bench.
§ Mr. David Walder (Clitheroe)
May I suggest that the supporters are there to support the principals, and that a collective noun to describe the principals could be a "lack" of principals?
§ Mr. Gow
The total number in the Constitution Unit is 34, yet the supporting staff number 19. Therefore, more than half of the total members of the Unit are supporting the Unit. In military terms, we are used to having more people cooking the food than fighting with the guns. My hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries, knows full well about these grave matters.
The House ought to express its concern that there are 19 members of the supporting staff and a total of 34 in the whole of the Constitution Unit. These matters ought not to be allowed to pass lightly because we are now moving on towards midnight. Happily, on this occasion we are able to go on talking until dawn breaks, as I understand it. It is true that on Sunday we have to put the clocks on by one hour, but we have a few more hours to go before that occurs.
I turn from the Constitution Unit to the very important matters set forth in Class XIII, Votes 21 and 22. What do we find here? We find that reference is made to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. We on the Opposition side of the House regard him as being one of the best Ministers in the present Administration.
§ Mr. Gow
That is not saying a great deal. But at least we can say this about the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. He is not, so far, a candidate in the election for the leadership of the 1713 Labour Party. We have not had from the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster a manifesto dissenting from the policies of the Government.
I have a particular affection for the Chancellor of the Duchy—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The House will be pleased to hear that, but the hon. Gentleman must realise that he is not here to discuss the salary of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, because that was decided in the original Estimate, and the House is not being asked to vote more money for the Chancellor of the Duchy tonight.
§ Mr. Gow
I naturally defer to your ruling, Mr. Speaker. However, if I read correctly Class XIII, Vote 21, on page 413,Supplementary Estimate of the amount required in the year ending 31 March 1976 for the expenditure of the Cabinet Office, including the salary of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster"—
§ Mr. Speaker
I should like to help the hon. Gentleman because I am reading the same order. The Subhead detail indicates a reduction in the case of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster—a saving—and, therefore, the House is not being asked to vote any extra money for him tonight.
§ Mr. Gow
—is founded on precisely the point that you have raised: that he of all Ministers is not asking for more but is accepting less. If it is in order to say so, I suppose that he can afford it more than the rest of us.
It is only right that I should turn now to page 415 and to the Scottish Office. Grave issues face the House, in particular the question of devolution. I find myself in profound but respectful disagreement with the Secretary of State for Scotland on the subject of devolution. The House is being invited to approve expenditure on a study and a research of proposals for an Assembly in Scot land—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. Perhaps I may explain that the House has already decided the policy. It has had the discussion on original Estimates and on the White Paper. Only the reasons for the increase can be discussed tonight, and not the policy implied in the original Estimate.
§ 11.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Malcolm Rifkind (Edinburgh, Pentlands)
I think we should be grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow), who, with his usual clarity and originality of expression, has provided a slightly profound and unexpected contribution to this debate. It was unexpected in terms both of content and delivery.
I hope that this debate will be long remembered in the House. I very much regret that the Government Benches in particular are not as full as they might be. I note that the originator of the debate, the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton), has taken his leave for the time being. That is unfortunate, because this must be the only occasion on which he has rested much of his argument on the views of the CBI. In commenting on the expenses of the members of the Constitution Unit and whether account had been taken of the views of other organisations, I noticed that the hon. Gentleman did not go beyond the views of the CBI in support of his argument. It will be of interest to his constituents and to others elsewhere that that body should be considered to be of such weighty opinion by the hon. Gentleman.
As we have been reminded on many occasions, the confines of the debate are very narrow, it being concerned only with the increases in expenses and salaries of the members of the Unit. When we consider the Unit and the work it is doing, clearly there is no disagreement that that work of is of such profound importance to the future of the United Kingdom, whatever views we may hold 1715 on devolution, that the members of the Unit should be of high calibre and of sufficient numbers to enable the work to be done properly.
If a study is to be made and proposals are to be brought forward for devolution, it is vital that is should be done properly and comprehensively. Clearly, nothing would be worse than a shoddy performance because of lack of calibre of the individuals concerned or insufficient staff to do the job properly.
Having said that, I have certain questions to put to the Minister. First, when considering the salaries of the members of the Unit and the time span, is it the intention that the Unit will cease to exist when the Bill is published in October? Will it continue until the Bill is on the statute book? Indeed, will it become a permanent feature with the staff of the Unit responsible for considering extension of devolution to other parts of the United Kingdom?
Secondly, when considering proper salaries for the members of the Unit—this is important now—will account be taken of the fact that they will have to work under a control which is not very satisfactory? The Minister to whom they are primarily responsible, the Lord President of the Council, is only a part-time Minister on devolution. When considering whether the members of the Unit are able to carry out their work and whether they should receive salaries which enable them to do it properly, will account be taken of the fact that the responsible Minister is also Leader of the House and has to spend a great proportion of his time on other matters? Does the Minister accept that there may be a strong case now, with these profound and fundamental proposals about to be presented to the House in final form, for the Minister in charge of the staff of the Unit to devote his full time to these matters and not to be distracted by other, albeit equally important, matters relating to his other responsibilities?
To what extent is the work of the Unit, and all these persons whose salaries we are discussing, reflected in Government policy? To what extent were the White Paper proposals the recommendations of the staff of the Unit, who are being paid large sums of public 1716 money to bring forward such proposals? If it can be shown that the Unit is recommending proposals which are being accepted by the Government, their salaries may be justified. We have seen that the Government's policy is of a particularly fluid nature and that the contents of the White Paper are subject to major revision. Is the Minister satisfied that the staff of the Unit, whose salaries we are increasing as a result of our deliberations, are making a major contribution to the details of devolution policy? Or is it simply doing a bit of background research, with its proposals as often rejected by its political masters as they are accepted?
§ Mr. Nicholas Winterton
Is my hon. Friend suggesting that he believes that the Constitution Unit justifies 35 personnel? It seems from the questions he is posing that he believes that. It appears to me that a devolution package could be produced by far fewer personnel than 35. Is he prepared to comment?
§ Mr. Rifkind
The total number of persons most properly employed by the Unit can be determined only by studying what they do.
§ Mr. Rifkind
That is for the Minister to tell the House. My point is that I would not want us to scrimp on the numbers simply to save a relatively small amount of cash. If there are to be devolution proposals, which may become the law of the land and bring about the most fundamental changes in the United Kingdom, it is proper that there should be a comprehensive study of the proposals so that we can decide whether the proposals are justified and worthy of our support.
§ Mr. Leadbitter
Since this is a matter that involves both parties most pertinently, will the hon. Gentleman answer the question? Does he think that the number of people employed is justified?
§ Mr. Rifkind
I would be only too delighted to answer the question if I had access to what is being done. It is impossible for any hon. Member—including the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Leadbitter)—other than the Minister, 1717 who is aware of the day-to-day workings of the Unit, to say whether there should be five people or 105 people in the Unit. We need to see the terms of reference, the remit, the kind of work the Unit is expected to do and whether it is concerned with Scotland and Wales alone or with proposals for the English regions. We need to know to time scale to which the Unit is working and the consultations it is expected to have. Unless we have full details we cannot answer any questions. This is why we hope that the Minister will give us the information.
§ Mr. Leadbitter
There have been months, even years, spent on this subject. There has been the Kilbrandon Report. What is there that is new? Is the number of staff justified in the light of the information we already have?
§ Mr. Rifkind
The hon. Member knows that the Kilbrandon Commission never sought to produce legislation. It simply produced general proposals, the framework within which, if the Government of the day accepted the proposals, they would consider further detail and fill in the gaps. We must assume that the prime responsibility of the Unit is the preparation of legislation. We must wait to hear what the Minister has to say. Only he can tell us whether the number of staff is justified. I am not saying that the number is justified. It may be grossly more than the number required. But I cannot commit myself on that without knowing why the number has been determined as it has been and whether the present work load is justified and requires that number.
§ Mr. Nicholas Winterton
If the Minister's reply is not satisfactory—and my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) has indicated that there is a great deal of money involved—what can this House do to deny the Government the money to carry out what is a useless exercise?
§ Mr. Rifkind
If the Minister fails to satisfy the House that the requirements of producing detailed, comprehensive proposals on devolution do not justify the number of persons employed in the Constitution Unit, the remedy for this House will be the same as the one applied to 1718 any other Government Department when the House is satisfied that there is an excessive number of persons employed.
§ Mr. Gow
Perhaps my hon. Friend will address himself to this crucial question. In the so-called Constitution Unit there are 34 members, 19 of whom are supportting 15. [Interruption.] I know that those figures are known to some hon. Members, but others may not be aware of them. Of those 34, 19 are supporting—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) is becoming guilty of repetition—not tedious repetition, but repetition.
§ Mr. Rifkind
My hon. Friend is right to stress that the criterion which must be, and will continue to be, applied is whether the country is getting value for money. As for the previous question asked by the hon. Member for Hartlepool, the only person able to answer it is the Minister, and the information must depend on the information that he is able to give us. If we are dissatisfied with that information, there are other means at our disposal of pressing him for the necessary information.
I make no apology for the belief that if there is to be a Unit it must be a unit with the resources to enable it to do this unprecedented task properly. It would be far better to scrap the Unit completely than to have the job only half done. There is no dispute about that between me and the Minister. But I share the concern of hon. Members on both sides of the House that we must be satisfied that the calibre of the individuals concerned is satisfactory, that there are not more individuals than are strictly required for the purpose for which they are employed, and that the work of the Unit is not merely a cosmetic exercise but a well-thought-out proposal to ensure that the proposals which ultimately come before the House are comprehensive, sensible, rational and in the public interest.
§ 12.8 a.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Harry Ewing)
This has been 1719 a fairly long and very interesting debate. At the outset, Mr. Speaker, I ought to point out that, because there has been more than one occupant of the Chair during the debate, the task of replying to it is somewhat difficult since your predecessor in the Chair took a rather different view—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman ought to know that occupants of the Chair always give the same rulings. That is what the House assumes. The hon. Gentleman will no doubt abide by the rulings which I have given.
§ Mr. Ewing
I was about to say that I would abide by the rulings which you had given, Mr. Speaker.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) for initiating this debate. It is true that he and I had what could best be described as an altercation about devolution some weeks ago, and that it would be foolish not to recognise that he and I are on opposite sides of the fence in respect of our views on devolution.
Much has been said about the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. Crawford), who has not been with us tonight. It will be difficult enough for me to deal with the points raised by hon. Members who have been in the Chamber without dealing with an hon. Member who has not been present. I shall therefore avoid any reference to him.
My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central referred to the cost of the Cabinet Office Constitution Unit. The cost mainly reflects inflation, and it would be wrong to attribute the total increase to an increase in the number of staff. There have been increases, and I was interested to hear the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) say that 19 of the staff were supporting the other 15. There are now 55 people employed on the preparation of legislation. The matter has moved on since the time when the answer to which the hon. Member referred was given. We are now at an advanced stage in the preparation of legislation, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House said this afternoon. Therefore, in addition to the individuals mentioned by the hon. Member for Eastbourne, draftsmen, parliamentary counsel and other staff are 1720 employed on the preparation of legislation, as they are on any legislation, whether it be on devolution, the shipbuilding and aircraft industry or any other Bill.
§ Mr. Gow
Is the Minister telling the House that since 1st March the staff of the Constitution Unit has increased from 34 to 55? If that is so, by how much has the annual expenditure of £279,000 increased and to what extent does the Consolidated Fund Bill require amendment?
§ Mr. Ewing
I am not saying that the number employed by the Cabinet Office Constitution Unit has increased. I am giving the House an honest appraisal of the present situation. In addition to the 34 staff, there are now others employed on devolution work. Draftsmen and others are preparing the legislation. They are working for the Constitution Unit in the same way as they work for the Department of Trade or the Department of Industry when preparing legislation. There must be parliamentary draftsmen to prepare a Bill. The Constitution Unit is not drafting the Bill. The draftsmen are drafting it. There are other people now employed on devolution work, but that is only part of their work.
§ Mr. Sproat
Is the Minister saying that 21 extra people are engaged in drafting the Bill and that they are all parliamentary draftsmen? If they are not, will the Minister break down the figure? What is the cost to the taxpayer if it is not included in the £279,000?
§ Mr. Ewing
I am not saying that there are 21 parliamentary draftsmen employed in drafting the Bill. I am saying that at this stage draftsmen, counsel and those who have to be consulted in the Departments involved in the devolved functions total about 55 people. That number will fluctuate as we go through the legislation. It would be wrong to say that the only people involved in devolution were those in the Cabinet Office Constitution Unit, and so give the impression that the 34 represented the total number employed on devolution. The additional figures I have given represent people partly employed on devolution and partly employed on other work.
§ Mr. Gow rose—1721
§ Mr. Ewing
I think that I have explained the matter fairly fully. It is difficult to see what further information I could give the hon. Gentleman.
The hon. Gentleman spoke about the number of support staff being bigger than the number of what could loosely be described as experts. In view of the hon. Gentleman's profession, I am sure that that is not a new phenomenon to him. The number of support staff in the legal profession outnumbered the experts by a much higher proportion than the 19 to 14 that I think he quoted.
§ Mr. Leadbitter
What happens in the legal profession is no justification. The House cannot be expected to emulate bad practices. I have to give many people reasons for being unable to obtain financial support for essential services. With so much extra money in the Supplementary Estimates, the House is surprised to hear at this late hour that 21 extra people are involved. Will my hon. Friend undertake that we shall be given an explanatory note, so that we know what we are voting for and why?
§ Mr. Ewing
I thought I had explained that clearly, but obviously my hon. Friend did not find my explanation very clear. I said that the additional people were employed partly on devolution work, because the Bill had to be drafted, and partly on other work. No doubt they will be drafting other Bills to come before the House in the not-too-distant future on other aspects of Government policy.
It is easy to say how hard it is to tell our constituents that they cannot have essential services when our own pet hates are going ahead. We all have our pet hates. But I know that my hon. Friend is most generous in his understanding of these matters.
My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central seemed to believe that my noble Friend Lord Hunt was head of the Cabinet Office Constitution Unit. That is not so. My right hon. Friend the Lord President is its head. It is worthy of reflection that my noble Friend replaced a Commons Minister in the Unit, and as there is no parliamentary element in my noble Friend's salary the Government could claim that they have slightly reduced the cost of the Unit. Nevertheless, I must say to the hon. Member for Eastbourne that he arrived for the debate 1722 only half an hour ago. I certainly do not intend continually to give way to him, because I got the impression during his speech that he treated the whole matter rather flippantly. It is a very serious matter indeed in Scotland, and if the hon. Member for Eastbourne is going to treat this matter in the flippant manner in which he treated it during his speech I would suggest that he goes to Scotland, even in the company of his hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat), and assesses the political situation for himself.
§ Mr. Ewing
I did not say that there was a reduction in salary. I thought that the hon. Member, on moving to the Box, would have heard better, but he can read tomorrow what I said.
Turning to the possible involvement of additional expenditure for a study of a referendum, I think my hon. Friend would accept that the Government's policy is that we are not in favour of a referendum on this issue. Beyond that I do not want to go. It would be wrong if I were to wander into arguments on the question of economic viability or non-viability arising from North Sea oil. Although these points were raised, I am sure, Mr. Speaker, that you would not want me to wander into those by-ways. However, I want to say that the Cabinet Office Constitution Unit has certainly not considered the possibility of separation. None of the money that the House is voting tonight will be devoted to a study of separation, and this is for the obvious reason that the Government and the country, including the vast majority of the people of Scotland, are bitterly opposed to separation. If there were to be a waste of public money, I think that waste would be involved in a study of separation. Therefore, I want to make it absolutely clear that there is no question of the additional money being voted tonight being devoted to the question of separation, purely and simply because this has been rejected.
The question of devolution to the other parts of the United Kingdom is indeed 1723 part of the work of the Cabinet Office Constitution Unit, and it is true to say that some of the additional revenue voted tonight will obviously be devoted to the work of studying the question of devolution to regions in England. It is well known that the Government intend to publish a Green Paper in the not-too-distant future discussing the question of devolution to the English regions.
I was asked various questions about whether the Cabinet Office Constitution Unit and, therefore, the Government, through this additional money being voted tonight, would be considering the representations made by the Confederation of British Industry in Scotland. It is right and proper to say we have had representations from a wide variety of organisations. A common thread which runs through the documents, with the exception of that from the Scottish National Party, is a desire to preserve the unity of the United Kingdom.
An early study of the documents received shows a wide divergence of view about how far we should go towards devolution. The CBI is only one organisation. The Aberdeen Chamber of Commerce has sent representations opposed to devolution and the chamber of commerce in my constituency has expressed the strongest reservations. The Scottish Trades Union Congress and the Scottish Executive of the Labour Party are equally important bodies—
§ Mr. Ewing
I agree with my hon. Friend. They believe, with minor qualifications, that the Government have got the matter about right. This explains the divergences of opinion we have received.
The hon. Member for Edinburgh, Pent-lands (Mr. Rifkind), who told me that he would be unable to stay for the end of the debate, asked whether we would get value for money from the £239,000. I consider it to be first-class value for money. The Unit is also employed on discussing devolution to the English regions and other constitutional matters.
The easiest way to save the money would be to get the devolution Bill through as soon as possible. Then we could consider the future of the Unit. If threats of filibustering are carried out, 1724 hon. Members will cost the taxpayers, even in Eastbourne, a large sum. Hon. Members will have to explain to their electors in Eastbourne, the Hartlepools and Aberdeen why they have kept the House up night after night, week after week, at tremendous expense, leading, this time next year, to an application for a further increase for the Unit. How they will explain that is beyond me. I hope that they will consider those matters before setting about the task they have set themselves.
§ Mr. Leadbitter
I am utterly appalled. I am not prepared to put up with this. Most of us, and certainly myself, have made a reasonable, careful and considered contribution only to hear my hon. Friend issue a threat. He must withdraw or we shall fight. I shall not put up with this nonsense, nor will my constituents. In a narrow debate such as this, my hon. Friend has no right to enter into a political diatribe. He is talking a lot of rubbish. Let him remember that I and other hon. Members have conceded to the rulings of the Chair.
§ Mr. Nicholas Winterton
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that some of my hon. Friends have merely indicated that they will use the procedures of the House to oppose legislation which they do not believe is in the interests of the United Kingdom?
§ Mr. Ewing
I was only explaining how money could be saved by passing legislation through the House as quickly as possible.
1725 I have been asked whether the Constitution Unit has considered representations from Shetland and about Shetland's attitude to devolution. I hope to visit Shetland within the next three weeks. I shall discuss with the Shetland Island Council the whole question of devolution. Perhaps we shall then have a better understanding of the attitude of the Shetland Island Council. It would be dishonest if I did not say that to some extent I understand the attitude of remote areas such as Shetland. I also understand the attitude of less remote areas such as Aberdeen. I can understand the attitude that is taken, but I must say that I believe it to be wrong.
My hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Lamond) asked that the Constitution Unit should consider the relative advantages which are being enjoyed in Scotland compared with the situation facing his constituents. All these policy aspects of devolution are considered. That is why my right hon. Friend the Paymaster-General brought out the point made by my hon. Friend in the four-day devolution debate. The material for his speech was provided by the Constitution Unit. There can be no doubt that the substance of my hon. Friend's point is valid.
§ Mr. Sproat
It is extremely interesting that the material used by the Paymaster-General was provided by the Constitution Unit. It was an extremely good speech. Does that mean that if we want more information about the Scottish balance of trade deficit or indentifiable public expenditure in Scotland which amounts to more than the sum that Scotland puts into the Treasury, for example, it will be possible for us to table Questions to the Lord President to obtain such information?
§ Mr. Ewing
Much of the economic material in that speech came from my right hon. Friend's own Department. All the devolution material—the need to preserve the unity of the United Kingdom and the damage that would be done by separation—came from the Cabinet Office Unit.
The hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. Monro) spoke about the need to get the policy right, and I was grateful for his 1726 indication of general support on devolution, though we may disagree on details, and on the work being done by the Unit.
The Royal High School has been mentioned, but it is not part of the Vote we are discussing and the Constitution Unit is not dealing with it. The matter is now in the hands of the Property Services Agency.
The hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Reid) asked to what extent the £386,000 additional revenue being voted to the Scottish Office was being used to examine the relationship between Scotland and the EEC. There seems to be a misunderstanding here. This amount is obviously for the Scottish Office. I am sure no one can think that it is only for the devolution unit. The relationship between Scottish Office Ministers and the EEC is a continuing subject for examination but is not part of the work of the Unit.
The question of devolved economic management is being considered extensively by the Constitution Unit, which has come to the same conclusion as that reached by the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire in his document last May—that the United Kingdom economy is so integrated that it cannot be broken up.
The hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire referred to the Law of the Sea Conference, which does not form part of the work of the Unit, but he also mentioned the Scottish Budget and I think that my right hon. Friend the Paymaster-General, in his speech in the devolution debate and in another speech in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) at the weekend, has given details of a substantial part of the Scottish Budget.
It is easy to talk about Scotland receiving 9.5 per cent. from the United Kingdom Treasury and contributing, on the hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire's reckoning, 10.2 per cent., but these figures cannot be justified by the economic facts revealed up to last weekend.
I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Leadbitter) 1727 has left the Chamber. I had the impression, rightly or wrongly, that I had somewhat offended his feelings. Therefore, it would be wrong in his absence to deal with the points that he raised.
The right hon. Lady the Member for Renfrewshire, East (Miss Harvie Anderson) suggested that the expenditure we are discussing tonight could be greatly reduced, or abolished altogether, by abolishing the Unit. I think the right hon. Lady would accept that this is not part of the Government's thinking. The Government are committed to an elected legislative Assembly in Scotland and to an elected Assembly in Wales. We are committed also to looking at the question of devolution in the English regions. It is not part of the Government's thinking to abolish the Cabinet Office Constitutional Unit. I am sure that the right hon. Lady would be astonished, although no doubt delighted, if I were to say that I accepted what she said. I could not accept what she said.
I understood the right hon. Lady to say that the Cabinet Office Constitution Unit was engaged in work that would increase expenditure through creating another tier of government. We are not creating another tier of government, certainly not in relation to Scotland. The proposals from the Cabinet Office Constitution Unit, as contained in the White Paper of November 1975, make it crystal clear that Scottish functions now decided here at Westminster will in future be decided in the Assembly in Edinburgh. Far from creating a further tier of government, we are replacing an existing tier by a tier in Edinburgh. There is no question of duplication.
§ Miss Harvie Anderson
I do not want to go into a matter of opinion, but on the Minister's argument he would have to agree, when he reflects on it tomorrow, that in that case we should be debating on the Vote before us a reduction of expenditure, because it would mean a transfer of moneys from the Unit which would have been doing the constitutional work. We are discussing an increase, and my point is that it is only the beginning of what will be a very big increase indeed.
§ Mr. Ewing
I take the point made by the right hon. Lady, and I have not changed my mind after hearing her intervention. 1728 The expenditure is going on at the moment in relation to the policies being followed in Scotland. The administration of the expenditure is being transferred to Edinburgh—it is as simple as that—and will not be legislated for in this House. Therefore in no sense can it be said that we are creating another tier of government. We are replacing one with the other.
I have dealt with the points made by the hon. Member for Eastbourne. I felt sorry for him in regard to the sacrifices he made to come to the House and when he said how much better paid he would have been if only he had been a member of the staff whose salaries we are discussing tonight. I cannot say that I look forward to the day when the hon. Member might be a member of that staff.
The hon. Member for Pentlands mentioned the matter of a Minister devoting all his time to the question of devolution. That is the position at the moment in the case of my noble Friend Lord Crowther-Hunt, who is Minister of State, Privy Council Office. He devotes his full time to the question of devolution.
It has been a very wide-ranging and interesting debate which has nevertheless kept within the rules of order. I am grateful for the opportunity that the House has given the Government tonight to air the subject and to justify the additional expenditure that we are asking the House to vote on this occasion.