HC Deb 16 February 1977 vol 926 cc525-51

4.46 p.m.

The Chairman

Before I call Amendment (o) in the name of the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Gardiner), I wish to point out that the hon. Gentleman has let me know that he wishes to move the amendment with the omission of the last two lines of the text. The amendment appears on page 1730 of the Amendment Paper. The last two lines read: and each question shall be decided by a majority of valid votes cast in the referendum before any order is made under section 114 of this Act". Their omission will be in order.

With Amendment (o) we shall take the following amendments:

(e) leave out lines 2 to 5 and insert: 'referendums in all parts of the United Kingdom to determine whether effect is to be given to the provisions of this Act'.

(1) in line 3, after 'and' insert: '(2) Whether Scotland should remain part of the United Kingdom'.

We are also to discuss the following amendments to the new schedule—Referendums in Scotland and Wales

Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking)

On a point of order, Mr. Murton. I think that when you referred to Amendment (1) you meant Amendment (i).

The Chairman

I apologise to the Committee. My eyesight is at fault. My copy of the provisional selection list is not very clearly typed. We shall take Amendment (i) in line 4, after second 'and', insert 'the English referendum' with the other amendments, not Amendment (1).

Mr. Onslow

On a point of order, Mr. Murton. That point of order was not the one I had originally wished to raise. May I now raise the other one, which concerns your selection? You have been good enough to select my amendment (1) to the new schedule. Unless my eyes deceive me, a number of others are grouped with it. We have to read a preposterous number of letters of the alphabet before we get the matter right. With Amendment (1) is selected Amendment (mmmmmm), among others, and since that raises a different issue in substance from that which is raised in Amendment (1), although it is no doubt convenient to debate them together, should not Amendment (mmmmmm) be taken to a vote separately?

The Chairman

Perhaps I may reply in general terms. The list of selections is provisional. Should any hon. Member have points about its details to raise, I shall be happy to discuss them with him in the period, which may or may not be prolonged, before the amendments are called. Perhaps that will give some comfort to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. George Cunningham (Islington, South and Finsbury)

We cannot go on for weeks and weeks, Mr. Murton, with amendments with letters such as (m m m m m m).

The Chairman

An alternative arrangement is being considered for use at an appropriate time which will make it easier for everyone and possibly prevent me from making a mistake as I did just now, even though that was only a single-letter amendment.

Mr. George Cunningham

I simply suggest, Mr. Murton, that as some amendments have to be debated with the main one, we use the continental device of numbering them "1.16", "1.1000" and so on.

The Chairman

That will be borne in mind.

Mr. George Gardiner (Reigate)

I beg to move Amendment (o), in line 1, leave out subsection (1) and insert— '(1) There shall be held a referendum in all parts of the United Kingdom on the questions—

  1. (a) whether effect is to be given to the provisions of this Act establishing an elected Assembly and Executive in Scotland, and
  2. (b) whether effect is to be given to the provisions of this Act establishing an elected Assembly in Wales;'.
The reason for the omission of the last two lines of the amendment as it appeared on the Order Paper is that it was drafted as an amendment to the original New Clause 40, since when the Government have made a concession to the effect that they will subsequently make the referendum consultative, not mandatory. In those circumstances, if we had retained the last two lines they would obviously have taken on a significance that was totally unintended when we drew up the amendment.

The purpose of the amendment is to hold a referendum on the provisions of the Bill not only in Scotland and Wales but throughout the United Kingdom—in England and in Northern Ireland, too.

I must start by recording the strongest objection to the cavalier way in which Englishmen and Ulstermen have been treated ever since the Bill was introduced. From the very start there has been the pretence that other parts of the United Kingdom are not affected. Each day's debate, particularly the debate on representation in this House, has demonstrated most clearly that they are. Now this sin is being compounded by the attempt to shut six out of every seven United Kingdom citizens out of a consultative referendum on a major piece of constitutional legisation that may be passed by this House. If this is allowed to happen it will be a travesty of democracy, for which Parliament, the Government and the new Assemblies—if they ever come into being—will pay a bitter price. The Lord President must stop treating England and Northern Ireland in the way that Lord North treated the American colonies.

I refer here specifically to the United Kingdom. I am aware that the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) tabled other amendments seeking to extend the referendum to England alone. I am sorry that for other reasons you did not select one of his amendments for debate, Mr. Murton. I have taken United Kingdom citizenship as the test because I do not believe that we can logically argue that the referendum proposed for Scotland and Wales should be extended to England and still draw a line between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. If there is to be consultation by referendum, all United Kingdom citizens should be consulted, because this is a United Kingdom matter. Constitutionally, this is most certainly so.

In our previous discussions it became very clear that the issue of devolution is inextricably bound up with that of representation in this House. Those on the Government Front Bench may pretend that they can keep those issues separate, but none of us is under any illusion that they can be kept separate for very long. As the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) has pointed out before, with great clarity, the English are being asked to accept a situation in which their Members of Parliament are to have no say over matters devolved to a Scottish Assembly, and yet a band of Members from an over-represented Scotland will continue to decide on equivalent issues for England.

In those circumstances, how can it be suggested that this does not affect the relative influence that the English have over the government of their country, or, for that matter, that the Northern Irish have? This problem is widely recognised. I think that it can be said without much contradiction that if the Bill reaches the statute book in anything like its present form a future Conservative Government will be under immense pressure and will have the strongest grounds to set about the reduction of Scottish and Welsh representation in this House, as was recommended, in the case of Scotland anyway, by the Kilbrandon Commission.

There are already provisions in the Bill for changing United Kingdom legislation. We have referred before in our debates to Clause 18, whereby Scottish Assembly Acts may amend or repeal provisions of Acts of this Parliament, Acts which cover England and Northern Ireland. Then there is the infamous Clause 44, which we have yet to reach, giving the Government power to amend United Kingdom laws by Order in Council as a consequence of Acts passed by a Scottish Assembly. Further on, when we come to the small print in schedules and so on, we find innumerable United Kingdom institutions that are affected by the proposals in the Bill, the latest evidence to land on our desks coming from the various English tourist boards.

To anyone who disputes this I would put the test of involvement, by asking what would be the situation if all this were the other way round. What kind of argument would we confront from the Scots and the Welsh if it were proposed, instead of a Scottish or Welsh Assembly, to set up only an English Assembly, but still to bring the full number of English Members to this House or even to increase their number proportionately, to continue to vote on Scottish and Welsh matters, which, in the case of England, had already been devolved to an English Assembly? We know very well that there would be uproar in Scotland and Wales. The people there would legitimately see such a proposal as profoundly affecting their constitutional position and changing the very nature of the contract that binds us all together. We know that in those circumstances the Scottish Isolationist Party and the Welsh Isolationist Party would be leading the outcry.

Mr. Gordon Wilson (Dundee, East)

In view of what the hon. Gentleman has said, do we understand that he represents the English Isolationist Party?

Mr. Gardiner

Most certainly not. All the arguments presented by my hon. Friends earlier in these long debates prove that we see ourselves as defending the United Kingdom, obviously in marked contrast to the hon. Gentleman.

Constitutionally, there can be no doubt that this is a United Kingdom matter upon which we are legislating. Therefore, it is a matter upon which United Kingdom citizens as a whole should be consulted.

Mr. James Sillars (South Ayrshire)

Does this point that constitutional matters are United Kingdom matters mean that, in the view of the hon. Gentleman, the next time that there is a border poll in Ulster on the question of Ulster's future the Welsh, English and Scots should also have a vote in it?

5.0 p.m.

Mr. Gardiner

The poll in Ulster was held on the issue of separation. It was not about changing the constitutional arrangements of the United Kingdom. That is the real difference.

Constitutionally, the case is proved. Economically, it is certainly a United Kingdom matter. Under the Bill, money will be voted each year for devolved services and for payments into loan funds. That money will come from the whole of the United Kingdom and not just from Scotland or Wales. There is also the question of the cost of the Assemblies. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) has extracted the information that it will cost about £39 million to establish the Assemblies and to run them in the first year and also to conduct a referendum on the lines proposed. The Scots will be paying something towards this 39 million and the Welsh will be paying towards it, too, but the English and the Northern Irish will be reaching into their pockets to pay as well. How dare the Government hold a consultative referendum and yet not consult everybody on these matters?

In the English regions there are no illusions that they will not be affected by the measure. All hon. Members have been circulated—this has been referred to before in our debates—with the views of the Tyne and Wear County Council, which has said: It is the Council's belief that if the Scotland and Wales Bill is enacted it will bring about an economic imbalance favourable to Scotland at the expense of the North East and other English regions and will inevitably lead to the break-up of the fundamental unity of the United Kingdom. That view has been put forcibly by hon. Members representing North-East constituencies, including the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Leadbitter). North-east England knows full well that it will be affected by the measure, and yet in the consultative referendum the North-East will be gagged. The same feelings are held on Merseyside, as we know full well from what has been said by the hon. Member for Walton, yet they are also to be gagged on this issue. Again, I ask how dare the Government hold a consultative referendum and yet not consult the regions?

There is a further element to the argument. I am aware that it is touched upon in subsequent amendments that have been proposed for the new schedule and selected for debate. An important part of the argument for a United Kingdom referendum concerns expatriate voters. I and many other hon. Members have received a volume of correspondence, not only from constituents but from other Scottish and Welsh-born people now living in England. From this bundle I have selected just a few letters, because the sentiments expressed in them convey the arguments more clearly than I can. The first one reads: I will have no vote on the Scottish devolution issue whereas thousands, without any Scottish background or historical interest will vote purely on the grounds of their currently living in Scotland. … If you fail, you will be incurring increasing resentment from Scots everywhere who, like myself are temporarily away from their homeland. Another letter reads: One of Scotland's claims to greatness is the fact that her brains and industry have spread far beyond her own boundaries. Are these people, bound by affection and loyalty to their homeland and passionately interested in her future, to be allowed no voice in the deliberations on devolution? Another letter says: I find it strange in the extreme that some parts of the United Kingdom should be prevented from speaking with our votes on the future of our country, and wholly unacceptable that Scots should be unable to vote on the future of Scotland. A letter from a Scot in my own constituency reads: Scotland is our native land and we should, I think, have as much of a say in what is proposed for its future as sassenachs who happen now to be in Scotland and who will have a vote in the referendum. Yet another letter says: It … passes belief that a vote of this kind, on a matter so close to the hearts of so many Scotsmen who have never questioned their status within the United Kingdom, should be closed to them simply on the grounds that they have moved … by force of circumstance or of their own choice, across a frontier which has had no serious significance since 1603".

Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)

Has the hon. Member by any chance received a letter from the Secretary of State for Scotland complaining that he would not have a vote in the referendum or a letter from my hon. Friend the Member for Lanark (Mrs. Hart)?

Mr. Gardiner

No, but I greatly look forward to receiving such representations from them.

There should be no doubt on the Government Front Bench about the strong feelings that exist on this matter. The letters from which I have quoted have all come from Scots, but I know that Welsh people living in this country nurse similarly deep feelings.

Of course, there are difficulties. I know that the Minister of State, when he turned his mind to this question on, I think, Thursday of last week, said that he thought that a special register—a point that is covered in subsequent amendments—was untenable in both principle and practice. My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind) expanded on that during the debate last night. The Minister of State also said, last Thursday: Precisely because ours is a United Kingdom we have no legal concept of Scottish or Welsh nationality,"—[Official Report, 10th February 1977; Vol. 925, c. 1805.] I accept that there would be difficulties in having a special register for expatriate voters, but so many innovations are introduced in the Bill that I cannot understand why we could not have one more. If Ministers do hold strong views that such a register would be impractical and untenable in both principle and practice, the obvious way out would be to hold a total United Kingdom referendum. The expatriate voters would then automatically be enfranchised and able to deliver their view. The view would be given on the measure as it affects the whole of the United Kingdom as well as on how it affects Scots and the Welsh.

The argument has been put forward that to have one referendum throughout the United Kingdom, with separate declarations in Scotland, Wales, England and Northern Ireland, could mean different verdicts between one part of the United Kingdom and another, and that that would impose a tremendous strain upon our constitution. That argument has been seriously advanced as an objection to having the referendum on a United Kingdom basis.

Not long ago, when the referendum on the EEC was under debate, the same difficulty was raised—that is, what would happen if the Scots voted "No" and the English voted "Yes"—but in the event. as we know, all the component parts of the United Kingdom voted "Yes". The Government did not think that there was a sufficiently great danger of different verdicts being given by different parts of the United Kingdom for them not to proceed with a United Kingdom referendum on that issue. Those who put forward the argument that our constitution would be brought under still greater strain if different verdicts were returned should turn their minds to that point. I ask them to reflect upon it and also upon the consequences of deliberately excluding six out of every seven United Kingdom citizens from a consultative referendum on such a constitutional issue.

Now that it is to be a consultative rather than a mandatory referendum, the argument for taking into it all parts of the United Kingdom is vastly stronger. The Government argument now is that the Scots and Welsh people should decide finally on the fate of the Bill and that before Parliament finally decides it should know what those people think. But in reaching its final decision, should Parliament deny to itself the evidence of what the citizens of England and Northern Ireland think of this measure? Those who object to this course and raise the great danger that is inherent in conflicting verdicts should consider that they are saying that if there is an objection from England or Northern Ireland to such a constitutional change it is far better to stifle it, to pretend that it is not there, and to carry on regardless, rather than to allow it open and proper expression. That is the most dangerous argument of all.

If that feeling is there, it must be allowed expression, if only to protect whatever Assemblies may eventually come into being. If the Bill is passed in its present form, we all have grave fears of a bitter backlash of resentment in many parts of the United Kingdom. I have already referred to the overwhelming pressure that will build up for an adjustment of the Scottish and Welsh representation in the House. That groundswell from the people of England or Northern Ireland will be all the more angry if they know that they were deliberately denied a voice in the consultative referendum.

In these circumstances, all defences against an English backlash would be removed, because the Government could not tell those people that the issue had been put to them in a consultative referendum and that they had accepted it.

The Government are proclaiming that their purpose in the Bill is to maintain the integrity of the United Kingdom. I can think of no better way of destroying that integrity than by gagging the people of England and Northern Ireland in what is now to be a consultative referendum on a proposal that directly affects them. I appeal to the Minister to think again.

Mr. Roy Hughes (Newport)

The hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Gardiner) seeks to extend the referendum to the whole of the United Kingdom. I oppose that idea and I think that the referendum should be curtailed. When I voted in the early hours of this morning in favour of a referendum for Wales it was a reluctant vote.

I admire the contributions of the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) and I particularly admired his stand on the Common Market. His speech yesterday—and particularly his exchanges with the Leader of the House—illustrated the bogus nature of the call for a referendum.

On 5th February, The Times in its second leader dealt with the pros and cons of the referendum and made one point which was particularly appealing to me. It said: no referendum should be held until there is a valid constitutional reason for doing so". There is a vast difference between the proposals for Scotland and those for Wales and, with the benefit of hindsight, I think that it would have been better if they had been dealt with separately.

The proposals for Scotland are far more fundamental and I have been guided in considering them by the majority of my Scottish colleagues and the voice of the whole Scottish Labour movement. We know that the unity of the United Kingdom is at stake there and the argument for a referendum justifies the criteria set out in The Times editorial.

I am all for the unity of the United Kingdom, both economically and politically. Separatism for Wales is not on the agenda at all. There is no constitutional reason for a referendum in Wales. All the hysteria which has been artifically whipped up has been unnecessary and unjustified.

Let me justify my view by reminding the House of the proposals for Wales. The Welsh Assembly would be the top tier of local government in Wales. As a spokesman for the Law Society in Wales said on BBC radio on Monday morning, the Welsh proposals are for a county council. The idea would be to have one tier of local government under the Assembly and I think that it was the dreadful reorganisation of local government by the last Conservative Government that gave the impetus to a Welsh Assembly as a top tier of local government in Wales.

5.15 p.m.

Sir Raymond Gower (Barry)

Will the hon. Gentleman agree that there is nothing in the Bill to justify what he has said?

Mr. Hughes

It is a matter of opinion. I suggest that the Assembly will be the top tier of local government in Wales. The Secretary of State for Wales has said on many occasions that the first task of the Assembly will be to draw up proposals for the simplification of the structure of the local government in Wales.

On 3rd February representatives of the three old county boroughs of Wales—Cardiff, Swansea and Newport—commented on the relationship of local government to the proposed Assembly. Cardiff City Council's chief executive, Mr. Henry Mansfield, said: In order to make a concerted attack on a city's inter-related problems you need a unitary authority—to restore, in effect, the old county borough system. Of course in Wales the prospect of reorganisation is linked with the setting up of a Welsh Assembly. The secretary of the council of our second city, Swansea, Mr. Brian Meller, said: We hope that unitary authorities are brought about as a result of devolution. A third comment came from the representative of the local authority in my constituency, Mr. Tony Clifford, the deputy chief executive. He said: Most people would agree that reorganisation as far as Newport was concerned was little more than a disaster". Those are the kinds of ideas that are floating about in Wales on the creation of a Welsh Assembly. Hon. Members might think that I am being parochial, but it is a parochial issue in Wales.

Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch and Lymington)

On a point of order, Mr. Murton. Will you ascertain whether the hon. Member is speaking to New Clause 40 or the amendments that we are discussing?

The Chairman

The hon. Member for Newport (Mr. Hughes) is developing his argument on the amendments that are now under discussion, but I hope that he will closely relate his argument to the substance of the amendments.

Mr. Hughes

I have tried to point out that the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Gardiner) is seeking to extend the principle of a referendum. There is no need for a referendum in Wales.

An Assembly would result in the democratisation of many of our nominated bodies. There is also the question of the Welsh Office itself. So many of its functions and so much of its decision-making is now done by the Civil Service. Those functions should be democratised and those decisions should be made by elected representatives. Any reasonable person would agree that the simple and basic proposals for Wales do not justify a referendum. Every month Parliament passes legislation of far greater consequence.

An Assembly for Wales was a clear and specific promise at the last General Election. That promise was made after a unanimous request by Welsh Labour hon. Members. We had two years of meetings about it and eventually on 6th November 1973 we came to a unanimous decision. A total of 26 Welsh Labour hon. Members were present at that meeting. At the time we boasted that we were ahead of the Scots because we had made a clear decision. Some Opposition English Members seemed not to notice what we were doing, but that was not our responsibility. Welsh hon. Members at least are irrecoverably committeed to the proposals and had that commitment been honoured there would be no need for a debate about a referendum in Wales.

Mr. Julian Amery (Brighton, Pavilion)

I sometimes wonder whether we are in wonderland or looking in the looking glass. We have reached a stage which is close to absurdity. Originally the Bill was put before the House as something on which the House of Commons had to make up its mind. Then, in response to pressure, the Government accepted the idea of a mandatory referendum. Having considered the implications of that for the sovereignty of Parliament, they then agreed that the referendum should be consultative. I can think of no way in which one could undermine the sovereignty of Parliament more effectively than by a consultative referendum. It could well put Parliament and people at loggerheads.

To get round that, the Government decided to limit the referendum to two sections of the United Kingdom—Scotland and Wales. That might overcome a clash between Parliament and the United Kingdom people but it remains an illogical device. Nevertheless, subject to what may come on Report or through amendments in another place, Parliament has now decided that that is the way in which we should go forward.

My hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Gardiner) has made the logical proposal that if we are to have a consultative referendum—and I think that that is folly—it had better be United Kingdom-wide. No one can deny that the Bill has implications for the whole of the United Kingdom, for its Parliament and for its people, both economically and sentimentally, and for the people of Scottish and Welsh descent who live in England or overseas.

It is optimistic to say that the Bill is designed purely to give more efficient government to Scotland and Wales. Yet, even so, there would be far-reaching implications for the United Kingdom in economic and perhaps in social terms.

But there are widespread apprehensions that the Bill may be the beginning of the slippery slope to separatism. No one can deny that that is possible because that is what Scottish National Party Members and to some extent what Welsh Members have said about it. One cannot get away from the fact that this has enormous implications for the United Kingdom as a whole.

We are not dealing with a problem of local option. It is not a question of whether the pubs in Carlisle should be municipally or privately owned. We are dealing with something that affects us all and that involves a fundamental change in the government of the United Kingdom.

Hon. Members on the Liberal Benches would like to see a federal constitution. I am not in favour of that but I can see the administrative logic in it. But this Bill is not concerned with administration. It represents a clear concession to the nationalist feeling in Scotland and Wales. We are therefore making a fundamental change in the unitary constitution of the United Kingdom as it has existed for the best part of two and a half centuries.

I do not know whether people have thought through the implications of a consultative referendum. Let us suppose that the result in Scotland is 51 per cent. in favour and 49 per cent. against. From opinion polls taken in England we see that the great majority of English people would think differently. Is the future Who would be that 1 per cent.? I under-of Scotland to turn on that 1 per cent.? stand that there are more than half a million people of Irish descent living in Scotland. There are also not a few people who have their origins in Pakistan, Bangladesh, West Africa and West India. Is the decision to turn on their vote rather than on the vote of millions who live in this country and who are of Scottish origin? It really seems very peculiar.

5.30 p.m.

The question of the Ulster referendum has been raised. There was a referendum in Ulster on the question of separatism. The result was clear to me. I think that if we had another referendum there we should find that the people of Ulster would be in favour of the revival of something like Stormont, yet this House of Commons is not prepared to concede that because it does not wish to see a majority possibly oppressing a minority.

Are we to say that a majority of 1 per cent. or 2 per cent. will allow the Scottish nationalists to dominate those in Scotland who still wish to see the unity of the United Kingdom maintained in its present form?

The Minister of State, Privy Council Office (Mr. John Smith)

Will the right hon. Gentleman explain a little more clearly his reference to people of Irish descent and people of Bangladeshi or Pakistani origins living in Scotland? Is he suggesting that in some way the votes of people of Irish descent, perhaps three generations old, or the votes of the people who have come more recently from the Indian subcontinent, are qualitatively of less value than those of people of Scottish descent?

Mr. Amery

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has intervened, because he has played into my hands. As I stand here, I deny that there is such a thing as a Scottish nation, or a Welsh nation, or an English nation. The fact that one happens to live north of the border or west of Offa's Dyke does not constitute nationality. There is a Scottish tradition, a Welsh tradition, an English tradition and an Irish tradition, of which we can all be proud—and a Bangladeshi tradition, a Pakistani tradition, a West Indian tradition and a West African tradition, of which we can all be proud. However, the fact that one happens to live in a particular area of the country does not make one a Scotsman and does not entitle one to talk about or to advocate the separation of a particular geographical area from the rest of Britain.

There is a British dimension. That is what we want to hold on to. If the people of Kent were tomorrow to ask for separation, would the hon. Gentleman come to the House of Commons and recommend to us that we should let Kent split off? Or Cornwall? Of course not. There are economic and security considerations.

I am not saying for one moment that because of a man's Irish origin or his more exotic origin, his vote is worth any less than that of another man. What I am saying is that he is not a Scotsman who can in any way be identified, except by place of residence, and he has less right to determine the future of Scotland than Scotsmen living in England, perhaps millions of them. From looking at the telephone directory, I get the impression that there are more Scotsmen in England than there are north of the border.

Mr. D. E. Thomas (Merioneth)

The right hon. Gentleman has said that there is no such community as the Welsh nation. I invite him to come to the National Institute in Cardiff on 5th March and repeat that statement.

Mr. Amery

I am myself at least one-quarter Welsh in blood. I am very proud of the Welsh tradition. The whole of England is filled with people from the Welsh country. I believe that the family of my right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) came to the Midlands from Wales originally. We can all be proud of the Welsh tradition. The right hon. Gentleman sits for an Irish seat, is of Welsh origin and his family moved into England. We are all mixed up.

Mr. Sydney Bidwell (Ealing, Southall)

You are.

Mr. Amery

However, no one is as mixed up as the Minister of State.

This is the central point, and it is why my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate was right to move the amendment.

The idea that a photo-finish consultative referendum in Scotland should be accepted by the House of Commons as the basis for taking a decision on a proposal that affects the entire future of the United Kingdom seems totally absurd. The Lord President has led the House sadly astray and has brought about the degradation of Parliament by making this concession. Of course, he has been driven from pillar to post in his search for a majority for his long-sought guillotine. However, we ought to have the courage to make up our own minds.

If we have a referendum—as I say, I think that it is wrong—let us make it a United Kingdom referendum and let everyone in this country have the chance to express his views, particularly those who are proud of their Scottish or Welsh descent, in so far as they have that.

I have English, Irish and Welsh blood in my veins. My wife is of Scottish descent. I have sat in Governments in which Scotsmen were practically a majority of the members. Once in Fiji I was asked whether I had Scottish blood. I said that I did not think so. The big Fijian chief who was talking to me said that he had Scottish blood. I said "How come?", and he said "My grandfather ate two Scottish missionaries." We cannot all claim that degree of consanguinity. However, we have the right to stress the importance of the British dimension.

After all, the Act of Union was a contract drawn up between Edinburgh and London. This contract cannot be broken, in my judgment, except by agreement between Edinburgh and London. It could be broken by decision of the House of Commons. What I think none of us can admit is that is could be broken by a decision of the House of Commons supported, if it were to be supported, by a referendum in Scotland and Wales, without a similar referendum— consultative or mandatory; although we are now discussing consultative referendums— being taken of the people of England, who are parties to the contract as well.

Since the Act of Union, the population of this country has grown from about 5 million to about 55 million. It has grown as a result of an enormous movement of population. Scots and Welsh have come to England. Englishmen have gone to Scotland. There has been an immense degree of intermarriage, and a very important Irish element has come too.

The British dimension is the point to which I return, because, after all, it is not English, Scottish, Welsh or Irish alone who have been responsible for Britain's achievement, an achievement that has blossomed to its greatest heights since the Act of Union. The creation of the United States of America, Canada, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand has been the work of the British collectively, not of any one element of them.

In my judgment it is a blasphemy to try to cut up the living organism of the British nation. In each one of us such a mixture of blood flows in our veins. The Government are trying to cut up the nation on artificial geographical boundaries, not for the better government of the country but to appease minority nationalist movements, and that with only one purpose— to maintain their own ephemeral majority in Westminster at present.

Mr. Dalyell

I was only reflecting that the Committee can be just a little thankful that when the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) men- tioned that a Fijian had eaten two Scottish fishermen—

Hon. Members


The Minister of State, Department of Energy (Dr. J. Dickson Mabon)

Common Market fishermen?

Mr. John Smith

Meat, not fish.

Mr. Dalyell

I was about to remark that it was a matter of some relief that the hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mrs. Ewing) was not present in the Committee. Ribaldry is a formidable weapon. However, I was about to register a disagreement of a rather profound nature with the right hon. Member for Pavilion on one issue. Some of us should make it clear that whatever differences we may have with the Government Front Bench we are basically united with my right hon. and hon. Friends in supposing that anyone who is on the electoral roll, be he the latest arrived resident in Scotland from Bangladesh, Pakistan or anywhere else, should be entitled to vote. Surely that cannot be a matter of dispute. I think that on reflection the right hon. Gentleman will agree to that.

Mr. Amery

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman does not want to misrepresent me. I am not saying that such people should not be entitled to vote. I was trying to say that it seems curious and inappropriate that they should have a voice in deciding the future of Scotland when people of Scottish descent living south of the border are not to have one. I was making an argument in support of a United Kingdom referendum. I was not saying that those to whom the hon. Gentleman has referred should be excluded but that all of us in the United Kingdom should be included.

Mr. Dalyell

In a sense that reveals the dangers that we are getting into when we become involved in these ethnic arguments. Indeed, that is one of the very deepest reservations that I have about the whole subject of devolution.

The hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. Thomas) made a revealing intervention when he invited the right hon. Member for Pavilion to the rugby match at Cardiff Arms Park on 5th March. If we are to continue to confuse the sort of fervour that we all feel either at Hampden or Murrayfield, according to the shape of the ball that we follow, with political decision-making, it seems that we shall be in terrible trouble.

I have no doubt that much of the background reason that we are discussing the Bill is that the sort of fervour and the sort of reasoning that is entirely extraneous to politics but which is aroused at Hampden or Murrayfield is being applied to political matters.

It cannot be repeated too often that the interruption that the hon. Gentleman made reveals that the problem for Plaid Cymru and the Scottish National Party in respect of electoral success cannot be solved by having 150 Assemblymen in Edinburgh or 80 in Cardiff. A totally different set of reasons apply. One of which is to disentangle sporting patriotism from politics.

Having registered a disagreement with the right hon. Member for Pavilion, I register an agreement. In many of the amendments that have been moved the issue is the dismemberment of the nation. The issue is the mismantling of the United Kingdom and the end of Britain as we have known it. Therefore, there is prima facie an overwhelming argument that all citizens of the United Kingdom should be involved.

Having said that, and before my hon. Friend the Minister of State anticipates me, I realise that it is almost impossible to disentangle those who can claim to have a particular connection with Scotland. The process would never end. It would be a rolling programme. New people would come on the roll and others would pass away. It would be an impossible task. What we must discuss is whether all people in the United Kingdom should take part, not only those who in some way can claim a Scottish connection, be it near or far.

5.45 p.m.

I must ask my right hon. Friend about a factual matter that should be established. I shall not blame the Government Front Bench if it has not made the calculations but I wish to ask about costs.

First, what is the cost of a one-question mandatory referendum in Scotland? Secondly, is there any difference in cost between a one-question referendum and a two-question referendum? I suspect that the difference is marginal but it is a question worth asking. I am quite willing to be told that there is no difference.

Thirdly, if there is to be a referendum arising out of new clauses upon which I shall not trespass now, some of us would like to ask many other questions. For example, at a moment when the Prime Minister is urging, rightly, that priority should be given to manufacturing and productive industry, some of us would like to ask whether as a priority we really need an expensive shake-up in our form of government.

Supposing that the referendum is to be consultative and not mandatory, how much more costly is it to insert 10 questions or even 15? If we are to have a consultative referendum, there are many things that some of us would like to ask rather than a "Yes" or "No" question. If there is to be consultation, it should be in some depth.

Part of the trouble with this entire argument is that it has hitherto been conducted too much in terms of slogans and slick headlines. At any rate, that was the position before it came to the House of Commons. In adopting that slick approach we have not dealt with the realities. Now, as a result of debate, the same issues are dawning in the country.

I take some issue with my hon. Friend the Member for Newport (Mr. Hughes), who temporarily has left the Chamber. My hon. Friend made the assertion that the whole of the Labour movement in Scotland is behind the proposal for Assemblies. First, that was never true. Secondly, as the weeks go by it is becoming less and less true.

I strongly repudiate the suggestion that there has been any indication of filibustering during the nine days that the House of Commons has been considering this matter. I accept that there have been long speeches. There have been two or three long speeches but they may reflect more on the loquacity of those who made them rather than any attempt to hold up the House of Commons. Filibustering is engaged in with the intention to hold up the House of Commons for a particular reason. There are some of us who have made long speeches—I may be long-winded from time to time—but those speeches have not been made with an intent to filibuster. I hope that that will be accepted. The rumour has been put around that the House of Commons is filibustering this measure. That is not the fact.

I return to the change of opinion. The truth is that as people know more and more about what is going on they begin to change their minds. Surely that is natural. If we had been asked some months ago "Do you want more say in general terms in your own affairs?", most of us would have answered "Yes". If that question had been asked in Huntingdonshire, the answer might have been "Yes". The same comment could be made about Aylesbury, or even Wrexham. But if the question became "Do you want more say in your own affairs?" in the full knowledge that that could lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom, in the full knowledge that we should have to dip into our own pockets and to pay a good deal of money for it, there may well be a very different answer.

The fact of life is that opinion has begun to change right across the political spectrum. That has happened as the issue has reached the top of the in-tray and as people have had to apply their minds precisely to what the House of Commons is now discussing. The litmus paper has begun to change colour.

I make no apology for saying in the presence of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Small), who is one of the sponsored AUEW Members, that a resolution has been passed unanimously by the Edinburgh Divisional Committee of the AUEW, incorporating the Edinburgh, the Borders, Fife, Dundee and Falkirk area, which states: That this union, recognising the great dangers to working class unity inherent in the proposals to create Scottish and Welsh Assemblies, instructs the Executive Council to urge the Government to withdraw the devolution Bill currently before Parliament.

I have a vague suspicion that when the national executive of the AUEW meets in May there will be a change of mind. It will have before it that resolution from the second biggest Edinburgh division of the AUEW, reinforced by the views of AUEW members on Tyneside as a result of the Tyne and Wear County Council meeting. In addition, it is clear, as my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) knows from the preparations for the meeting on 4th May, that many AUEW members on Merseyside share the doubts that he so eloquently voiced. I repeat that when the AUEW meets in May it may change its policy, and if that happens other unions might follow suit.

The Chairman

Order. I am sorry, but I must interrupt the hon. Member. He is straying rather wide of the general question. I have been fairly indulgent both with him and with previous speakers. We are dealing with an amendment about a referendum in all parts of the United Kingdom. I think that the hon. Member was referring to the Bill as a whole, and I must ask him to come back to the amendment.

Mr. Dalyell

I have many shortcomings, Mr. Murton, but I am instantly obedient to the Chair.

Believing, as I do, that primary sources are the most telling, I propose to read some of the comments made in letters to me. I shall quote from only three letters out of more than 50 that I have received spontaneously—without any prompting—on this topic. The first letter is from Hertfordshire, and the writer says: Dear Mr. Dalyell, I wonder if Scots living south of the border will be considered if there is to be a referendum —which there should be—on devolution. Although I am living in Hertfordshire I hope to retire up to Skye where I have a croft house, so I am naturally concerned myself and feel very strongly that it should not all be rushed through without proper thought. The next letter comes from Isleworth, and the writer says: My father was born in Scotland—my mother although born in England also spent a lot of her childhood in Scotland—and I, as a second generation Scot—and proud of my northern blood"— she says—

Mr. Timothy Raison (Aylesbury)

The interesting thing about the writer of the letter is that she is eligible to vote in the referendum because she own a croft in Scotland. That will be the great triumph of the wicked absentee landlords about whom we used to hear so much.

Mr. Dalyell

She hopes to own a croft in Skye. She does not yet do so.

Dr. J. Dickson Mabon

This Bill will be an incentive.

Mr. Dalyell

I note the appearance on the Front Bench of my right hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Mabon). I must beware, because he is a man of instant wit.

The writer of the third letter says: My family … has been Scottish for generations and I understand that because I now live in England, I will have no vote on the Scottish devolution issue, whereas thousands without any Scottish background or historical interest will vote purely on the grounds of their currently living in Scotland. One could go on and on. If, in an interruption, I appeared to be snide about the Secretary of State for Scotland, for living in England, I did not mean to be.

There are many people who have every right to take part in this kind of referendum but who, because of their work, for understandable reasons, will be unable to do so. This will give rise to a sense of injustice that could be pent up and become dangerous. Although the counting may be done separately, serious consideration should be given to holding a referendum throughout the United Kingdom.

Mr. David Crouch (Canterbury)

I have listened, as I have so often, to another speech from the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell). He has argued the case cogently, strongly, with a great deal of sincerity, and with a lot of evidence to support his argument that, as was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Gardiner), it is unjust, unfair and wrong that if referendums are to be held, they should be held only in those parts of the United Kingdom—Scotland and Wales—where the result of the decision of Parliament and the referendums will have the greatest effect.

I accept the argument that the rest of the United Kingdom—England and Northern Ireland—is very much affected by what is intended by the Bill, but, as the House knows, we voted last night to have a referendum. We passed a new clause to have a consultative referendum. The House did not accept my advice. I opposed the idea, both with my observations and by my vote, and the more I listened this afternoon to the arguments put forward sincerely and well by all those who have spoken so far on why we should widen the franchise for these referendums, the more I became convinced that they were wrong.

If we are to have referendums, we can have them only in the way proposed in the Bill. I am against a referendum. The more I hear about the use of referendums in connection with the Bill, the more I realise the complexity and difficulty of the problem.

I hear the argument advanced that Scots and Welsh people who will be temporarily absent from Scotland and Wales will write to Members of Parliament and protest that they will be denied a vote affecting their country, or their part of the United Kingdom if it is better to put it that way, and what might happen to that part of the United Kingdom. I can understand that protest, but where does one draw the line between those who are absent from Scotland and Wales and living in another part of the United Kingdom for a short period and those who have removed altogether and have become resident in England or Northern Ireland and have little or no intention of ever taking a croft in the Outer Isles or anywhere in Scotland or Wales? Why should someone who has emigrated from Glasgow to London and has no intention of moving from Watford or Hendon have a special say in what takes place in Glasgow and what should happen in Scotland?

My hon. Friend is not proposing to extend the franchise in that way. He has proposed something much wider, and I shall come to that in a moment. If one considers the possibility of extending the franchise to all those Scots and Welshmen who have left Scotland or Wales, either temporarily or for ever, I contend that no electoral officer will be able to determine how that can be done.

We have to be practical. The hon. Member for West Lothian said that nobody had been filibustering. I agree with him, but the more one considers the Bill in all its complexity and, I say, in some way in its idiosyncracies, the more one realises that it presents so many problems that in the end it is like an engineering operation: the design has to be frozen and the structure has to be built.

We could go on talking not for weeks but for years. This could be the greatest "chat-in" that Parliament has ever known. I have listened to nearly nine days of debate. I have, of course, been absent sometimes, because we all have other things to do.

Mr. John Stokes (Halesowen and Stourbridge)

The debate has been of a high standard.

Mr. Crouch

I agree. It has probably not been Parliament at its best, but it has been Parliament showing its proper concern.

Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)

It was at its best when I spoke.

Mr. Crouch

I did not quite hear what the hon. Gentleman said, but I think he was confessing that he was not at his best. He was deliberately trying to throw me, but I shall deliberately not be thrown.

The more we consider the complexity of how we might improve this device of having referendums and how we might widen the franchise, the more we run into trouble.

6.0 p.m.

I believe that there is only one solution if we are to have the referendums—that is to place the responsibility on those who are on the electoral register at the time it is decided to hold the referendums in Scotland and Wales. I have already tried to persuade the Committee that it would be ridiculous to extend the voting to Scots or Welsh living temporarily, either for short or long periods, outside Scotland or Wales in other parts of the United Kingdom, perhaps even outside the United Kingdom altogether, since all the pragmatic difficulties are too difficult to contemplate.

Mr. Peter Rees (Dover and Deal)

Since my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) represents a constituency near mine, he will know that the local St. Andrew's Society and the Welsh Society meet regularly, and I see no practical difficulty in their producing registers of their members so that they could take part in the voting.

The First Deputy Chairman (Sir Myer Galpern)

Order. I thought that the hon. and learned Member for Dover and Deal (Mr. Rees) was chastising the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch).

Mr. Rees

I am asking his views, Sir Myer.

The First Deputy Chairman

Order. The hon. and learned Gentleman turned his back completely on the Chair. He addressed the hon. Member for Canterbury without any regard for the Chair. That is why I said that it looked as if he was chastising the hon. Member for Canterbury.

Mr. Crouch

If my hon. and learned Friend was chastising me, Sir Myer, I shall seek an interview with him, because I am a constituent of his.

He has suggested that it might be possible to allow such votes, but I do not think it would be practicable, and certainly I do not think that, when examined by the Home Office and the electoral returning officers, it would be found to be practical and fair to consider that all those who had a claim to some blood connection with Scotland or Wales could properly and fairly be deemed to be voters in this very important matter.

Mr. Onslow

There is a subsequent amendment touching on this point, and I look forward to hearing my hon. Friend then about the exact difficulties he foresees. But surely it is up to any citizen who wishes to vote to be assisted and not opposed by the Home Office. I am sorry that my hon. Friend appears to think that because there would be difficulties people should not be allowed to vote.

Mr. Crouch

I will not be drawn into a future debate now, but I have already expressed my views on the subject. When it is argued that the franchise should be extended to the whole of the United Kingdom, I ask how that will solve the problem of whether Scotland and Wales are to get what it appears they want—a form of devolution and a form of home rule. That is what we are considering. That is why the Government have produced the Bill.

Mr. Fred Evans (Caerphilly)

I should not like the hon. Gentleman to be on record as giving a mistaken impression. He said that this is what the Scottish and Welsh people want, but that is not so. Many of us are convinced that it is the last thing that the Welsh people in particular want. But it is what the Government want and are determined to foist on the Welsh people.

Mr. Crouch

I think that the hon. Gentleman misheard me. I thought that I said that the Scots and the Welsh appeared to want devolution and that that was why the Government had brought forward the Bill. I think that it would be wrong to extend the decision to the whole of the United Kingdom, but I do not see why it should be wrong to ask only those in Scotland and Wales to decide the matter. The hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Evans) knows Wales better than any English Members do. A referendum is to be held there, and the Welsh people can surely speak for themselves and say whether they want such a measure. I believe that it is right that the referendums should be confined to the Welsh and Scots to decide for themselves.

Mr. Victor Goodhew (St. Albans)

Since these are to be consultative referendums, as English and Northern Ireland Members will be required to vote on the matter at the end of the day, why should their constituents not have a say? Why should not the people of St. Albans have the same right as I have to have a say in this matter?

Mr. Crouch

My hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans (Mr. Goodhew) has listened to my argument—