HC Deb 24 March 1976 vol 908 cc375-82
2. Mr. Crawford

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what further representations have been made to him by the Scottish Council (Development and Industry) on the subject of the Scottish Assembly.

The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Harry Ewing)

I have now received the Council's formal submission recording its views on the White Paper of November 1975.

Mr. Crawford

Does not the Minister agree with the Scottish Council that the White Paper totally refuses to recognise that the economic unity of the United Kingdom is not inviolable? Does he not agree with the Scottish Council that the refusal to recognise that the Scottish economy is not necessarily the same as the English economy means that Scotland's prospects of economic rebirth are not very bright?

Mr. Ewing

It is strange that the hon. Member should call in aid the Scottish Council document. If the hon. Member cares to read it and not quote it out of context, he will see that the Scottish Council repeatedly rejects any proposal which will lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom—[Interruption.] There is no point in the hon. Member disagreeing. I challenge him to read that document. It specifically mentions the question of separation and the hon. Gentleman's policy of withdrawing 71 Scottish MPs from the House of Commons. In the penultimate paragraph the Council makes the point that it is totally in favour of the retention of the Secretary of State in the United Kingdom Cabinet and the presence of Scottish MPs in the House of Commons. The hon. Member should therefore not be so hypocritical as to call in aid the Scottish Council's evidence. It has produced a very good document with much of which I agree.

Dr. M. S. Miller

Has my hon. Friend had a chance to study the document produced by his colleagues in the Scottish Parliamentary Labour Group, which clearly indicates that, taking the White Paper as a basis for discussion, a series of proposals has been produced making devolution for Scotland a meaningful consideration, far short of the separation which the Scottish National Party wishes, but in accord with what the majority of the people of Scotland want?

Mr. Ewing

Yes, I have had an opportunity to study the document produced by my colleagues in the Scottish Parliamentary Labour Group. The document proves to me that the Scottish Trades Union Congress, the Scottish Council of the Labour Party and the Scottish Parliamentary Labour Group are united in their views about the kind of devolution they want for Scotland. As my hon. Friend rightly said, there is a world of difference between the proposals contained in the three documents to which I have referred and the proposals put forward by the SNP, which would be a disaster for Scotland.

Mr. Sproat

Interesting as the views of the Scottish Council are, does the hon. Gentleman accept that the biggest change in Scotland since the debate in January has been that important bodies such as the Scottish CBI, chambers of commerce, universities, doctors, secondary school teachers and accountants have made it clear that, on consideration, they are now against a Scottish Assembly? Will he also use this opportunity to clarify the numbers in the Scottish devolution unit?

Mr. Ewing

Yes. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me the opportunity to clarify an answer which I gave in the debate on the Consolidated Fund Bill. I have written to the hon. Gentleman. I apologise both to him and to his hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow). I confirm that the figure of 55 which I gave includes the staff in the Scottish Office and is not the total figure in the Cabinet Office Constitution Unit.

I accept, as do all hon. Members, that there are differences of opinion about devolution. The CBI and the chambers of commerce represent one section with one opinion and the organisations to which I have referred represent another section with a different opinion. It is for the Government and the House to decide who may be right or wrong.

Mr. Rifkind

If the hon. Gentleman shares the view of the Scottish Council about the desirability of retaining the office of Secretary of State for Scotland in the Cabinet, does he realise that it would not be tenable to put forward such a proposal if the Secretary of State were to be stripped not merely of the suggested powers but of the economic and manpower powers which the Government in the White Paper propose should be left with him?

Mr. Ewing

The Scottish Council (Development and Industry) in its document does not suggest that the powers contained in Section 7 of the Industry Act should be taken from the Secretary of State for Scotland. The Scottish Council welcomes the fact that the Secretary of State has Section 7 powers and is to have the Manpower Services Training Agency and all the other manpower functions which are to be devolved. The Scottish Council supports the view that the Secretary of State ought to have these functions. As a Government we take that view. It will mean that it is important to have the Secretary of State in the Cabinet.

Mr. Donald Stewart

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that there must be a world of difference between the latest Labour Party proposals for devolution and the Government's White Paper, since the package which the Secretary of State said was just about right has now been subjected to some very hurried cobbling and patching?

Mr. Ewing

Political differences and differences in policy emerge from time to time in all parties. My mind goes back to the 1966 election manifesto of the Scottish National Party. [Interruption.] Some hon. Gentlemen were not even in the SNP in 1966. The SNP at that time was saying that 36 seats would give it the right to set up a provisional Scottish Government. That is a direct quote. Now the SNP is saying that 36 seats would give it the right only to negotiate, obviously in the hope that negotiations would fail. I notice that SNP Members are becoming very Westminsterised.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. If we are to have long questions and answers, we shall not go beyond Question No. 8 today.

4. Mr. Tim Renton

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he is making any attempt to sound out the views of Scots currently resident in England and Wales on devolution.

Mr. Harry Ewing

The White Paper on Devolution contains a general invitation to express views to the Government on the devolution proposals. A similar invitation was contained in the shortened version of the White Paper.

Mr. Renton

That answer has about as much savour as porridge without salt. Are there not more Scots resident in England and Wales than in Scotland? Should not the Government make a specific effort to try to take their views into account before going forward with their half-baked measures?

Mr. Ewing

I advise the hon. Gentleman that porridge is certainly good with salt, but it is even better with a spoonful of treacle in it in the morning. [HON. MEMBERS: "Shame."] We do not have the information which the hon. Gentleman suggests should be available about Scots living in England and whether they outnumber those living in Scotland. We recognise the importance of Scots where-ever they live throughout the world. The Scots are always willing to share their expertise with all other nations, including England.

Mr. Russell Johnston

It is a pity that the hon. Gentleman's use of treacle does not spill over into the form of his answer. Since a form of obtaining the views of Scottish people on devolution would be a referendum, which has been talked about, are the Government thinking of it seriously? If so, are they giving consideration to what would be done about Scots living outside Scotland?

Mr. Ewing

It is not part of the Government's policy to hold a referendum on devolution.

Mr. Alexander Wilson

Will my hon. Friend reject the treacly porridge political attempts of the SNP in this matter? Will he also sound out English people residing in Scotland and the national and multinational companies which are responsible for employment in Scotland on their views regarding devolution or separatism?

Mr. Ewing

I think that my hon. Friend will accept that there is no demand in Scotland for separation. Indeed, the Scottish Council (Development and Industry) document makes the valid point that 80 per cent. of industry in Scotland is either United Kingdom or international in origin.

Mr. Peter Morrison

Will the hon. Gentleman tell us why the Government will not take seriously the idea of a referendum on devolution?

Mr. Ewing

I did not say that we did not take it seriously. I said that it was not part of the Government's policy to have a referendum on devolution. That is different from saying that we disregard it altogether as not being a serious matter. It is a very serious matter.

Mrs. Bain

Does the Minister feel that the idea propounded by the hon. Member for mid-Sussex (Mr. Renton) is worth while when a conference on devolution, planned to be held in Harrogate on 11th March, had to be abandoned for lack of interest? If we are to have a referendum, will the hon. Gentleman ensure that the word "independence", not "separatism", appears on the referendum sheet?

Mr. Alexander Wilson

It is separatism the SNP talks about.

Mr. Ewing

The hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. Crawford) could easily have sent a copy of one of his many speeches to Harrogate. That would have served the purpose. The hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Renton) has a serious point. Scots living in England will be desperately anxious to ensure that Scotland does not separate, because a separate Scotland would have to tell Scots who wanted to come home that they could not do so, because a Scottish independent Government simply could not allow it.

Mr. Heffer

Is my hon. Friend aware that many of us will be delighted to hear that the Government take the suggestion of a referendum seriously and that the possibility is not ruled out? Therefore, will he convey to his right hon. Friends in the Cabinet the fact that the demand for a referendum is growing in all parts of the country and that we should be grateful if they would further consider it?

Mr. Ewing

I am well aware of my hon. Friend's views, which I respect. No doubt Cabinet Ministers will read his remarks. We take the issue of referenda seriously. I am only saying that they are not part of the Government's policy on devolution.

Mr. Fairgrieve

Returning to the Question on the Paper, would it not be more sensible to get the views on this issue of Englishmen living and working in Scotland rather than of Scotsmen living and working in England?

Mr. Ewing

That, too, is a relevant consideration. In my constituency there are many Englishmen, Welshmen, Irishmen and people of other nationalities—and some Scotsmen. I find no warmth for the idea of separation among those people. They certainly make their views clear about the policies of the SNP.

8. Mr. Reid

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he is satisfied with progress being made towards the establishment of the Scottish Assembly.

Mr. Harry Ewing

Yes, Sir.

Mr. Reid

Is it not high time that the Minister stopped deceiving himself on this subject? If he looks at the balance of power in this House and considers the opposition to a meaningful Assembly Bill from Tynesiders, Merseysiders and centralisers of both the Tribunite Party and the Tory Party, he will have to concede that there are only two options open to the people of Scotland, because there is no chance of an Assembly Bill going through: those two options are independence and the status quo.

Mr. Ewing

The balance of power in the House shifts almost from day to day, depending upon the attendance record of SNP Members. It is the hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Reid) who should stop trying to deceive the people of Scotland into believing that the Bill will not pass through the House. I notice from his constant Press and television comments that he does not believe that such a Bill will pass through the House. I therefore assume that the hon. Gentleman will vote against the Bill. However, I take the hon. Gentleman's last point. I forecast that if the eventual choice for Scotland is to be between separation and any other form of government, whether based on total unity or devolution, the vast majority will be against separation.

Mr. Alexander Wilson

Will my hon. Friend accept that we on the Government side of the House, in spite of recent television appearances and statements by an ex-member of the Labour Party, are not against devolution or any meaningful devolution? Will my hon. Friend now confirm that the SNP is the most dishonest party that has ever been represented in the House and that it wants not devolution or a Scottish Assembly but the complete disintegration of the United Kingdom?

Mr. Ewing

I think that I can agree fully with my hon. Friend's last point. However, I am sure that you, Mr. Speaker, would forbid me taking the two hours that it would take even to attempt to define what the SNP does or does not want.

Mr. Grimond

On what date does the Minister expect the first meeting of the Scottish Assembly to take place?

Mr. Ewing

I shall inform the right hon. Gentleman as soon as possible.

12. Mr. James Lamond

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he has now given consideration to all the representations he has received on the quesion of devolution.

Mr. Harry Ewing

Consideration is being given to those representations so far received; comments are still awaited from several of the bodies specifically invited to state their views.

Mr. Lamond

In view of my hon. Friend's confidence in the good sense of the Scottish people, would it not be wise for the Government to obtain the full-hearted consent of the Scottish people to the devolution proposals by holding a referendum on the matter? Does he believe that the appointment of a new Prime Minister might bring about some change in Government policy in this respect?

Mr. Ewing

Perhaps I should make clear to my hon. Friend, who represents Oldham, East, that I have confidence in the good sense of all the Scottish people from wherever they come, including my hon. Friend. I have already made the Government's position clear on the question of a referendum and I have nothing further to add. As for what a new Prime Minister will do, sadly that is something upon which I cannot comment.

Mr. David Steel

Will the Minister, with all his authority, give an assurance that the new Prime Minister—and, presumably, the new Secretary of State for Scotland—will in no way slow down the galloping speed at which the Government are proceeding with this matter?

Mr. Ewing

There was a time in the middle of last week when it looked as though new leaders were the order of the day. We were wondering patiently what the new leader of the Liberal Party might say not only about devolution but about other areas of policy. So far as I have been able to ascertain and read in the Press, each of the candidates for the premiership is committed to devolution and has said that the policy and programme will proceed.

Mr. Sproat

But has the Minister noticed that, perhaps for the first time since I have been in this House, we have seen two Scottish Labour Members who represent English seats tabling Questions during Scottish Questions, which indicates the degree of opposition to the proposal for a Scottish Assembly? Will he accept that the only true thing that the hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Reid) has said on this subject is that his party seeks either total union or total separation, and that we should all stand behind one Britain and one Parliament?

Mr. Ewing

I do not accept that what the hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Reid) says is a correct interpretation of the feelings of the people of Scotland. Nor do I accept that because hon. Members representing English constituencies are tabling Questions on Scottish affairs they are opposed to devolution. I prefer to draw the conclusion that they are now interested in devolution. That is a very welcome sign indeed.