§ The First Deputy Chairman
I call the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) to resume his speech.
§ Mr. Crouch
Thank you, Sir Myer. My hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans (Mr. Goodhew) had addressed a pertinent question to me—whether I would confine voting in the referendums to those resident in Scotland and Wales. He made the point that there were people in constituencies throughout the rest of the United Kingdom who felt that they, too, should be consulted about a matter which would affect them. I accept that that is an argument, but I believe that to consult the whole of the United Kingdom would not produce the answer we are trying to get. The answer that I believe we are to trying to get—
§ Mr. Crouch
I am trying to get a word in. The question I want answered is whether the people of Scotland and Wales want the measure of devolution which is proposed by the Government, namely a form of home rule and a directly-elected Assembly. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] That may be true, but many English Members and many English people will give the thumbs-down to it. Maybe the great majority of members of the Government will give it the thumbs-down because they feel that it would disadvantage the United Kingdom and, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) said, it would produce a disaster which would dismember the United Kingdom.
I do not hold to that view. As I said last night, I could no longer support the Bill because I felt that it had become a shambles. I do not hold the view that a measure of real home rule for Scotland 554 and Wales is a disaster for the United Kingdom. I do hold the view that it is a progressive move towards a wider democratic devolution which is what we should be aiming for. We should not be afraid of it. We should not be afraid of such moves. It seems that the country has become so entrenched in its history and heritage that it is afraid to look ahead and do some of the things that it was not afraid to do in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
§ Mrs. Jill Knight (Birmingham, Edgbaston)
Will my hon. Friend comment on two points? First, how would acceptance of the amendment invalidate getting a clear answer from Scotland and Wales? Second, surely it is not correct to accept a referendum in such a form as to get the answer that we want.
§ Mr. Crouch
My hon. Friend is quite correctly stating a point of view which is held strongly and sincerely. All the views that have been expressed in the debate have been expressed sincerely and with a certain amount of passion. As the Committee knows, I am not an exception. What I am saying is that I believe we should be moving towards some form of wider democratic solution of our system of government in this country and that there is nothing wrong in what is proposed. But I do not like the method. The Bill has become a hotch-potch of old and new and right and wrong. I should like to see the parties in the House of Commons getting together and proposing an all-party solution and removing the political elements which have crept into the Bill.
§ Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)
I have not followed my hon. Friend's argument about why the referendum should not be extended to the whole of the United Kingdom. Many Welsh and Scots people living and working outside Wales and Scotland will be returning to Wales and Scotland, yet those people will have no say in the future destiny of their particular parts of the United Kingdom. Is that fair?
§ Mr. Crouch
My hon. Friend must have missed the earlier part of my speech. I tried to cover that point, and it would be wrong to delay the Committee by going over it again. 555 This is a matter which should properly be decided by those who are now resident in those parts of the United Kingdom. To go wider could produce an answer which would be unjust and unfair to them. I am taking account of the fact that the rest of the United Kingdom—the English and the Northern Irish people—are affected. But I believe that the effect on England by the measures for devolution which we are proposing can be overstated.
It may be thought that this Parliament no longer has any power to redress the balance between what is achieved in Scotland and Wales after devolution and what might be achieved for example, in North-West and North-East England. I am talking about economic assistance and aid. It is quite wrong to assume that we in the House, and the Government here at Westminster, no longer have the power to produce this for the rest of England. That has been overstated. I leave my argument at that.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Sillars
I always find it strange to hear a politician argue that one should extract politics from a particular issue. I do not really draw any distinction, because at the end of the day the political system has to function on a party basis.
I shall not enter into the argument that we had at length yesterday about whether there should be a referendum. I am opposed to referendums in principle and I voted against a referendum last night. The number of issues raised this evening illustrate the sad fact that we have engaged in a negation of responsibility and are sinking further and further into a constitutional and political quagmire.
It can be argued that it is almost impossible to set a fair referendum whether it is on an industrial issue or on a constitutional issue. In terms of the Common Market referendum, it is clear that the Conservative Government of 1970–74 found that when they came to deal with the national executive of the NUR, which set a question in its own industrial referendum, it almost guaranteed the 61 majority vote in favour of the executive.
However, we now have to argue within the bounds of the decision made by the House last night. The hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Gardiner) appeared to pay 556 no regard whatever to the tact that in a country with an unwritten constitution it is perfectly permissible and, indeed, sensible to take the political process into account when one is talking about constitutional change.
There are those who have argued that there should not be a referendum covering the whole of the United Kingdom on a matter affecting the nations of Scotland and Wales. Here I immediately differ from the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery), who believes that there are no such things as a Scottish nation, a Welsh nation and an English nation. I believe that all three exist.
In pursuing his argument, the hon. Member for Reigate portrayed an ignorance of how the Union of the United Kingdom operates in political reality. That political reality was recognised in Ulster. I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion is not present, because he argued that there is no such thing as small nations, or component nations, inside the British nation. Therefore, if we are to accept the logic of the right hon. Gentleman's argument, we would have to accept that there is no such thing as the Ulster nation. Yet he was prepared to allow a component part of the United Kingdom to determine whether it separated itself from the rest of the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Powell
The hon. Gentleman is on an important point. As he says, it is a question of whether what we are dealing with are nations. In the case of Northern Ireland, however, the referendum was properly put to the Northern Ireland electorate as to whether they wished to be separated from the rest of the United Kingdom. That, by its nature, can only be put to and decided by people whose withdrawal is under question. But as regards the form of government in Northern Ireland, my hon. Friends and I—and the overwhelming majority of people in Ulster—have always been not merely content but insistent that it is in this House of Commons, since it is an integral part of the United Kingdom, that the government of Northern Ireland should be determined.
§ Mr. Sillars
I quite agree with the right hon. Gentleman that it should be determined in this House of Commons. But the right hon. Member for Brighton, 557 Pavilion was arguing in the context of a referendum. I do not think that what the right hon. Gentleman has just said contradicts my point of view. If we were faced with a poll about the restoration of Stormont, the right hon. Gentleman would agree that this was a matter for the Ulster electorate principally rather than for the United Kingdom electorate as a whole.
§ Mr. Powell
I should argue that it would be a matter in the first place for this House of Commons as a whole and for the whole of the electorate of the United Kingdom as represented in the House. I do not see how it can be argued that the form of government in Scotland should be decided by the majority of English Members in the House of Commons but not decided by those whom the majority of English Members in the House represent.
§ Mr. Sillars
The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) has a logical sequence to his argument. I accept that that is his view, but it was not the view put forward by the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion, who argued, on the one hand, no nationality and, on the other hand, that Ulster was a special case. My point was that the whole exercise in relation to Ulster was in the light of the political reality in that part of the United Kingdom. The political reality determined the nature of the Government's response at that time.
We should attend to the political reality rather than to the nice constitutional arguments between, say, Members from Kent and those from Inverness. The political reality is that it is not beneath the Conservative Party on occasion to stimulate Scottish national feeling when it suits its electoral purposes. The Conservative Party was the first of the United Kingdom parties ever to publish a separate election manifesto specifically for Scotland. It did that in 1970. In fact, it boasted about doing it in 1970. The Conservatives were hell-bent on getting as many Scottish votes as they could garner. After the declaration of Perth in 1968, it was not a bad thing to make obeisance to what was regarded as the special Scottish dimension in the British body politic. The Conservatives tested 558 Scottish opinion separately in June 1970 and were separately rejected.
When the Conservative Government came in, one of their first acts was to introduce fee-paying in Scottish local authority schools. They could not claim to have had a mandate for that proposal. The people covered by the English Conservative Party manifesto were not asked that question. It was posed only in the separate Scottish manifesto which the Scots rejected. Nevertheless, we did not have any English Back Benchers on Second Reading of that measure saying that that was a disgraceful undemocratic act on the part of their Government or demanding that that legislation should be put aside and planted in the next all-British Conservative Party election manifesto to see whether reasonable English Conservative voters wanted fee-paying in Scottish local authority schools.
§ Mr. Peter Rees
Does the logic of the hon. Gentleman's argument lead to the position that, if on a count of heads by regions in this Chamber it should be found that English Members, or those who must be assumed to have voted for them, did not accept a specific proposal in the Labour Party's manifesto, it should not be introduced into England by the Government which he used to support but perhaps no longer does?
§ Mr. Sillars
If the Labour Party published a Kent election manifesto distinctly different from the manifesto covering the rest of England, the Labour Government would not be entitled to impose upon Kent a decision which the Kent people had said they did not want.
The point is that the Conservative Party posed for the people north of the border a separate manifesto outlining the terms of reference for the democratic argument. I did not do that. It was the Conservative Party which did it, and the hon. and learned Member for Dover and Deal (Mr. Rees) was happy with that political reality at that time. The Conservative Party recognised that there was a Scottish dimension in the British political system.
The political reality is that the Scots tend to debate matters essentially in the Scottish forum. If the argument is about housing, it tends to be about the number of houses built in Scotland rather than the United Kingdom tally as a whole. 559 As regards unemployment, there is concern about the United Kingdom position, but, because of the position of the Scottish TUC and the Scottish element in the CBI, much of the argument is about the Scottish situation. It is always the Scottish point of view that is argued in that political forum. That is so with the Conservative Party as much as with the Labour Party.
If at the end of the day a referendum is held in the whole of the United Kingdom in which people in Scotland rather than the Scottish people, because the electorate consists of the people in Scotland, vote massively "Yes" in favour of the Government's proposition, as they will without question—it may be about 56 to 32, which would be landslide terms—and if the people of England vote "No" by whatever the majority, those who argue in favour of the amendment must accept that the logic of their argument is that the answer is "No" to the Scottish Assembly that the people of Scotland have declared they want. If anyone wants to blow the Union to pieces, that is the best way to set about doing it.
The United Kingdom is a multinational State, and the quicker that is understood and realised the better for the continuation of the Union. The United Kingdom is made up of small nations. I do not propose to argue whether Ulster is a nation on its own, but certainly it does not qualify by my personal definition. Many of us agree that there is a Welsh nation, a Scottish nation and an English nation—two small nations and a very large dominant nation. The test for the large dominant nation, if is wishes to retain the Union, is to be magnanimous enough to make the concession demanded by the minority.
There is no point in having a referendum which demonstrates that one Scottish vote can never equal 10 English votes. If anyone wants to give the Scottish National Party the best propaganda weapon that it has ever had, it would be to roam Scotland saying that one Scottish vote can never equal 10 English votes.
§ Mr. Stokes
Is the hon. Gentleman saying that, because he fears that the English vote may be a massive "No", English voters should not be allowed to 560 give a view on the subject? If they gave a massive "No" and the Scots gave a massive "Yes", I think that English Members of Parliament and the English nation would agree to the separation of Scotland, unlike the union in America which did not agree to the confederate nations separating. Why should not English people be asked for their view on this fundamental matter? That is what the hon. Gentleman has not answered.
§ Mr. Sillars
I do not think that the Government are proposing separation. Whatever else they are proposing, they are not proposing separation. There can be arguments about the consequences of their action, but that is not what the Government are proposing. If the proposition is separation, it is a matter of self-determination for the Scots and the Welsh, and in my view the English have no say as such. If the English wanted separation and self-determination, that would be a matter for the English.
I think that a number of hon. Members should recognise the political reality of the consequences of some of the statements made and attitudes adopted in this Chamber during the debates on the Bill. A great deal of frustration and anxiety is building up in Scotland which could manifest itself if the slogan were that one Scottish vote could never equal 10 English votes.
I am not in favour of the referendum. It is just another expedient to help us towards the necessary guillotine at the end of the day. However, we are stuck with the referendum. Therefore, we should try to pursue a referendum which does the least damage to the affections between the peoples of the United Kingdom. If the amendment were passed, it would do most damage to the peoples of the United Kingdom.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Adley
The hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sillars) may or may not have been reading my notes. I suspect not, but I agree with a great deal of what he has said. If I may amplify his point, there are in round terms 33 million people who cast their votes in England at the October 1974 General Election. At the same time, just over 3½ million cast their votes in Scotland and fractionally over 2 million did so in Wales. What the hon. Member says is 561 true. If we are to have a referendum throughout the United Kingdom on this question, and the votes are to be cast, counted and balanced on the basis of the United Kingdom as a whole, it will not take much imagination to realise that a small turn-out in England of perhaps 20 per cent. could easily overcome a large turn-out—say 80 per cent.—in Scotland.
What question does my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Gardiner) wish to put on the ballot paper in England? According to his amendment, English people will be asked whether they think that the Scotland and Wales Bill should be put into effect. But nobody as yet has thrown any bricks through my window demanding a say in the referendum. It is extremely unlikely, if these questions are posed in a referendum in England, that constituencies like mine, for example, will get more than a 20 per cent. turn-out. In that way, a small vote in England percentage wise could overcome a very large vote statistically in Scotland. My right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) inadvertently gave this away when, referring to the attitudes of people in England compared with those of people in Scotland and Wales, he said that the great majority of people in England took a different view. I suspect that the great majority of people in England take no view at all.
§ Mr. Peter Rees
Since my hon. Friend referred to my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Gardiner), who is out of the Chamber, perhaps I may put this question on his behalf. Surely the Committee is entitled to take account of the vote. If there was a low turn-out in England, we could take account of that. Ultimately the decision rests with us in the House of Commons and we would have to take account of a number of factors, including the respective turnouts in England and Scotland.
§ Mr. Adley
I take my hon. Friend's point. Possibly he agrees with me that this is a bad Bill which is trying to do something that should be done but is attempting to do it in a bad way. None of us knows exactly what the Scottish and Welsh people want. We should try to find out, and the referendum machinery is the best way of ascertaining what the 562 people want. If, however, the franchise is increased to include the whole of the United Kingdom, it will become apparent to the people of Scotland and Wales that their views are in danger of being submerged numerically by those of the people of England. That will drive more and more people into the arms of the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru.
The whole Bill is an exercise in shadow boxing. None of us really knows what the Scots and the Welsh people want. We all make assumptions of what we believe they want. As long as people in England continue to give the impression that we in England with our 50 million people can tell 5 million in Scotland and 2 million or 3 million in Wales—
§ Mr. Iain Sproat (Aberdeen, South)
I think that my hon. Friend is getting into deep water by talking about English people and Scottish people. We are all British. I stand as a British Member of Parliament, not as a Scotsman. Already English voters tell Scottish people what to do. During the last Conservative Administration the majority of Scottish people voted for certain Socialist policies, but because there was a Conservative majority throughout the United Kingdom the Scots had to lump it.
§ Sir Bernard Braine (Essex, South-East)
The argument could be carried further. One cannot think that all Scots live in Scotland and all English people live in England. There are more Scots living in England than in Scotland and there are certainly more Welsh living in England than in Wales. What voice do they have in the future of their country?
§ Mr. Adley
In the almost seven years that I have been a Member of the House of Commons, we have had to make a number of difficult decisions. One that 563 I regret most was being dragooned into the Lobby to vote for the creation of a monster called Strathclyde. It gives me no pain whatsoever to think that in future decisions of this sort will be taken by an elected Scottish Assembly rather than by this House of Commons.
We should try to defuse the atmosphere and look at the proposition. We are trying to bring about some form of devolved government through the various regions of the United Kingdom. We have made a start with Scotland and Wales, and, who knows, in future, despite opposition from the County Councils Association, we might discuss—as the Liberal Party would like—some form of devolution for England. I believe that the decision on the future of these Assemblies should be made by the Scottish and Welsh people. That is why I say in answering my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) that I have put down amendments which seek to give Scots-born and Welsh-born people living elsewhere in the United Kingdom an opportunity to vote in the referendum. I agree with my hon. Friend 100 per cent. I believe, however, that when we are dealing with this issue it inevitably raises the question of nationality irrespective of what my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) may say. We must find a way of broadening the franchise.
§ Sir Bernard Braine
I realise that my hon. Friend is trying to bring a little logic into a totally illogical situation. Where is the logic and common sense in giving a vote in the referendum to someone who is a Pakistani by birth but is living in Cardiff, or to an Englishman living in Glasgow, but denying it to Scots and Welsh people living in England? This is a monstrous measure and I urge my hon. Friend not to tinker with it because, the people of this country up with it will not put.
§ Mr. Adley
If my hon. Friend gets a transcript of the "Today" programme for one morning last week, he will see that I said that there was no reason why a Ugandan Asian from Kampala living in Glasgow should have the vote when a Welshman living in England does not get it. This is a perfectly legitimate point, and I hope that my hon. Friend will now agree with me. I agree that one 564 has to try to draw logical conclusions in an illogical situation.
If hon. Members will look at Amendment (ss)—
§ The First Deputy Chairman
Order. It is correct that the hon. Member has tabled the amendment. I can give the Committee the information that the hon. Member is referring to page 1743 of the Paper, where Amendment (ss) appears, but I do not think that we are going to discuss that amendment at this stage. I have, however, given the information.
§ Mr. Adley
In that case I shall not go into the question of my amendments, Sir Myer, but I am sure that my Front Bench will be able to thumb through this copious document and find them.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) that it could and should be possible to find a way of enabling people to vote. Many countries are broadening their franchise, and if we believe in democracy we must find ways of doing that to take account of individual circumstances. I agree very much with the point raised by the hon. Member for South Ayrshire, and that is that the sort of colonial attitude which one hears put forward so often on these questions will only help the SNP to achieve its aims.
I close by reminding my right hon. and hon. Friends that in 1968 Lord Home was invited by the then Leader of the Conservative Party to look into the question of devolution. Along with many others before and since, he was not all that dogmatic in believing that he had found the answer to the question. But he believed that, if we were concerned for the future unity of the United Kingdom, we were more likely to retain that unity by providing some form of administrative devolution for the people of Scotland and Wales.
§ Mr. Dalyell
It is all very well to quote Lord Home, but the relevant point is "believed" and not "believes", because Lord Home is among many people who are changing their minds rapidly and are asking for the withdrawal of the Bill.
§ Mr. Adley
I thought I had made clear that I regard this as a completely bad Bill. It is a bad way of achieving something which my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) described 565 as a reasonable advancement in the democratic development of our country. I know that Lord Home believes this to be a bad Bill. I have done my best to keep abreast of his views on the subject. I close by setting out what I believe to be Lord Home's position. If one is trying to retain the unity of the United Kingdom, it is a toss-up whether one is more likely or less likely to achieve that by providing some form of devolution or by denying it. Lord Home's view is that we are more likely to retain it by providing some form of devolved government for Scotland and Wales, and on that basis we in the Conservative Party would be unwise totally to forget that we went into the last General Election with a commitment to an elected Assembly.
§ Mr. Tom Ellis (Wrexham)
During our debates on the Bill a number of right hon. and hon. Members have said that sometimes, and perhaps often, we seem to be in some confusion. That is true. I was glad to hear the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) cut his way through some of the confusion. One of the reasons why occasionally there is confusion is that we seem to assume that in Westminster parliamentary terms Scotsmen, Welshmen and Englishmen are equal. In simple arithmetical terms, however, they are not equal. My hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sillars) pointed out the dangers of the slogan of one Scottish vote always being overcome by the 10 English votes. There is that danger. It is, therefore, crucial to begin to appreciate the whole question of the minority issue, and part of the point of the Bill is to deal with that issue.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ My hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) criticised the hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. Thomas) when he intervened in the speech of the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) challenging the right hon. Gentleman to repeat in Cardiff Arms Park the statement he had just made in the Committee that there was no such thing as a Welsh nation, a Scottish nation or even an English nation. My hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian was critical of the intervention on the grounds that somehow it was introducing a kind of 566 racial element and that politics should not differentiate between Scotsmen, Welshmen and Englishmen in Britain. This is absolute nonsense. There are in Wales issues of considerable importance there, but which have no real importance in the House of Commons and serve only to create considerable boredom.
§ I will mention only one aspect, although I could refer to many. It is the issue of the Welsh language. That is a controversial issue in Wales. I do not think I do anybody in this Committee an injustice if I say that ordinarily it generates a certain amount of boredom. It is of no fascinating concern to the average English, Irish, or Scottish Member, but in Wales it is of great importance. Over a period of years, because of English dominance—and I do not mean that in any nasty way, because it is a simple arithmetical fact, perhaps because of the English hegemony—there has not been for any period of time sufficient attention to certain important issues which concern Welshmen who in Britain represent the minority, but who in Welsh Wales are the majority.
§ In Wales over the last 10 years hundreds of young Welshmen have served jail sentences for breaching the criminal law because of the language issue. They may or may not be misguided, but they have been sufficiently steamed up to make the issue one of some importance. Because of the continuing outcry it has seemed very often, in the arguments in the courts in Wales, between the bench and the dock, that there has been a monopoly of wisdom on justice from the dock and a monopoly of wisdom on the law from the bench. However, there have been gradual changes. Because of this arithmetical imbalance, however, a disservice has been rendered over a long period of time to an important group of people who live in Wales, who speak Welsh, and who, in their area, represent a majority.
§ I do not pay a great deal of attention to this question of minority and majority as such. I have always believed the people who say that they are only a minority are using a silly argument. After all, there are more fleas than men in the world, but one would hardly put fleas above men because of that. The whole argument about minorities falls to the ground on that kind of logic. The 567 minorities have their rights, and that is the issue that we are discussing on the Bill.
§ If Scotland and Wales were to receive a measure of devolution it would affect Scotland and Wales incomparably more than it would affect England. To that extent, therefore, it seems to me that people in Scotland and Wales are much more entitled to express a view as to whether Wales and Scotland should receive a measure of devolution.
§ Mr. Powell
Has the hon. Member for Wrexham (Mr. Ellis) not realised that in this Committee, as in this Kingdom, we are all minorities? This Committee is a representation of a totality of a large number of minorities. The hon. Member has mentioned only some of them.
§ Mr. Ellis
I take the right hon. Gentleman's point absolutely. We are a representation of a vast number of minorities. I go much further and say that it is precisely because of the change in the social structure in the United Kingdom in recent years that the old nineteenth century system, which was sufficiently rigid and hierarchical to submerge all the minority interests so that they were neglected, has been changed so that minority interests are increasingly having to be heard and be given representation. We therefore reach the stage of trying to change from the nineteenth century type of structure, which is quite outmoded and useless, to what I would like to regard as a genuine, democratic United Kingdom. This is the basic argument for a measure of devolution.
Like many others, I am not an advocate of referendums—I do not believe in them—but we are to have a referendum so we have to make the best of it. To make the best of it, because the question affects England far less than Scotland and Wales, clearly it should be confined to the people of Scotland and Wales. There is an enormous amount of argument about who exactly are Scotsmen and who exactly are Welshmen. There are whole liberaries written on the question of nationhood and the definition of nationhood. I do not think that anyone could give a precise definition, but to deny the existence of such a thing as an English nation, a Scottish nation or a Welsh nation is absurd, and to proclaim the 568 recent creation of the British nation, as one hon. Member did, is equally absurd.
I hope, therefore, that the Committee will reject the amendment out of hand.
§ Mr. Dalyell
In the absence of my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse), for whom I feel myself to be a bit of a stand-in on this issue, may I put this to my hon. Friend, who has a distinguished record because, as we know, he achieved the release of a Breton prisoner through his work in the European Parliament? Could he not carry his argument a little further and say that his belief is far distant from the Government's Bill, and he believes in a Europe of the minority races, run centrally? This is what he has argued so eloquently in The New Europe, and it is totally different from the proposition before the Committee.
§ Mr. Ellis
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks. I accept that there is a great deal wrong with the Bill. Many hon. Members who are intending to support the Bill say that they also see a great deal wrong with it. I believe that it was brought forward in the first instance for the wrong reasons. I do not believe that it has been thought through, and I sometimes question the conviction with which it is being pushed through. But it is the only Bill that we have, and, therefore, I am bound to accept it.
I should have liked to have seen a simple Bill on similar lines to the proposals for Wales—no more than that—and a commitment to developments in the long term, to federalism or whatever it might be, in a natural and gradual way. To have such a precisely defined Bill as this is nonsense.
§ Sir David Renton (Huntingdonshire)
I am sure that it would help the Committee to know whether the hon. Member agrees with his hon. Friend the Member for Newport (Mr. Hughes) that it would have been better if the proposals for Scotland and Wales had been put before the House separately.
§ Mr. Ellis
No. I do not think that it would have been better. I am not sure what this has to do with the amendment, when we are discussing whether the referendum should take place in England or whether it should be limited to Scotland and Wales. I think that Scotland and 569 Wales should have been combined in one Bill, and I am glad that they have been. My criticisms are not connected with the fact that they have been combined together in one Bill.
I am sorry that I have taken a little longer than I had intended. I hope that the amendment will be defeated.
§ Mr. Richard Wainwright (Colne Valley)
The hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) made a highly relevant point this evening when he said that the Government do not yet seem to have fully realised all the implications of changing to a consultative referendum. For instance, if the referendum is to be consultative it would be proper and helpful to ask the people several questions rather than only one. Similarly, I hope that the Government will have had some new thoughts on this Amendment by the time the Minister replies to the debate on it. The change to a consultative referendum opens the doors to the validity of the amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Gardiner).
I confess that when I first saw the amendment, when we were talking of a mandatory referendum, I was impressed with it, but I had cold feet because of the question of the diplomatic problems which could arise in a mandatory binding referendum, in which there was a poor turn-out in England, if a majority of English voters outvoted the totality of votes for the Bill in Scotland or Wales. Since, however, the referendum is to be consultative, and since this amendment is therefore itself bound to be so amended—as the Chair announced this afternoon—it seems that it becomes irresistible. If a consultative referendum throughout the United Kingdom produced an apparently embarrassing result, with the English verdict different from the verdict in Scotland and Wales, I am confident that the House of Commons would be well capable of dealing with that result in a responsible and common-sense way.
Since it is this Bill which is to be subjected to a referendum, with so many features that the Government seem to have included deliberately to make it a United Kingdom issue—for we are discussing not some proposal for Scotland and Wales to be hived off in a loose or remote form of federation but a Bill 570 constructed on a United Kingdom basis—it would be peculiarly perverse if the Government persisted in taking a view that it had nothing to do with the people of England and Northern Ireland.
Several features of the Bill emphasise the importance of this measure to England and Northern Ireland, particularly the question of finance for Scotland. Since the Government have not provided for a separate basis of taxation, the Bill at once becomes a matter affecting the pockets of the people of England and Northern Ireland. I am not suggesting that those consulted in a referendum in England would be mean or ungenerous, but at least they would have a vote on something which affected their own money.
The question of representation in this House of Commons, a subject which has already been well debated this afternoon, is of the utmost consequence, and might eventually be of consequence to all English citizens if an issue arose in which the tangle of representation at Westminster itself became an important issue.
It is not only constitutional matters that will exercise a considerable number of English voters. Many people resident in England, for example, are afflicted by the same residual problems resulting from the Industrial Revolution which also transformed the industrial belt of Scotland. There are millions of these people who have suffered for generations, English, Scottish and Welsh alike—and Wales has suffered as much as any—and they feel that arguments on the totality of all these appalling industrial, housing and other problems can at present be brought to bear in this Chamber. But in many respects, if the Bill is passed, the problem will, unfortunately, be fragmented. This is a deep concern in my own area, which is among the oldest power-driven industrial areas in the world. They are able to impress Parliament by the totality of the United Kingdom problem. If the Bill is passed, however, the English constituencies will be left with only a fragment of the problem—an important fragment, but still only a part—and will, therefore, lose the impact that they would otherwise have in trying to persuade Westminster.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I recall that the hon. Member made a speech in which he referred to the "soggy" English. How long 571 will they take to wake up to what is happening?
§ Mr. Wainwright
If I have your tolerance, Sir Myer, it is my intention to refer to the soggy English eventually, before finally sitting down. There are these problems which are not simply the province of the constitutionalists but which are the real bread and butter problems, like housing, which exercise a great many minds in England and in Northern Ireland in relation to the Bill.
§ Mr. D. E. Thomas
The hon. Gentle man referred to housing. If it were true that the representation of the housing problems of all parts of the United Kingdom in the House of Commons were effective, would we not expect a similar level of housing improvement performance throughout the whole of the United Kingdom? How does the hon. Gentleman explain that the housing position in Wales and in the north-west of England is substantially worse than in any other region or country of the United Kingdom?
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Wainwright
That is not for me to explain, especially as I am speaking from this Liberal Bench which has not had much responsibility for these matters in my lifetime. I am not saying that bringing the totality of these problems to bear in this Chamber has achieved anything like the best results. However, many of my constituents feel that by bringing the whole weight of the problems here they have been more satisfactorily debated, considered and tackled by Governments than if only the English part and the Northern Irish part of the problems had been left as a residue to be dealt with in the House. Short of a referendum on separation, there can be no excuse for taking the opinions of some of the people rather than of all the people.
As for the soggy English, I grant that the Government might get away with it if they were able to get on very quickly with the Bill. I do not think that they are the sort of people to accept the temptation, but they might be able to trap the soggy English into accepting this monster of a partial referendum for the time 572 being. But I have no doubt that, if they persist in that unwise course, eventually it will catch up with some future Government and that, on some important constitutional issue, English opinion will turn sour and English people will say "We were not consulted, and we should have been".
§ Sir Bernard Braine
Will the hon. Gentleman pursue his argument about the soggy English? Is it not a fact that leaders in the regions in the north of England have already begun to ask who picks up the bill for this and are already speaking out, without any reference to party allegiances, because they realise just what this Bill will mean for their own people? What the North thinks today, the South will think tomorrow, and some of us will make it our business to see that it does.
§ Mr. Wainwright
I would never suggest that northern leaders were soggy. As a total Yorkshireman, with no other blood in my veins and with no missionaries having been consumed, I regret the slow political consciousness of Yorkshire people about matters other than their food and football. But this is only a matter of slowness. It is not a permanent fault. It is not fundamental. It is simply a slow reaction compared with the admirable volatility of the Welsh and the Scots. Therefore, I say to those in the Government that, if they cynically exploit the boredom or sogginess of the English and try to pull a fast one with this partial referendum involving only one in seven of the people in the United Kingdom, eventually a future British Government will come sorely to regret such a transparently wrong decision.
§ Mr. Norman Buchan (Renfrewshire, West)
I shall take up one or two of the arguments advanced by the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Wainwright) in a moment. First, however, I want to counsel him on his general line. Some of us in Scotland are trying to prevent the kind of international feeling that we see developing, and we are not helped in that by some of the speeches that we hear from the Opposition Benches and sometimes from a few Government supporters.
The proposals in the Bill are to give an already devolved Scottish Administration some other aspects of democratic control. It does not attempt to break 573 down the basic totality of the industrial life and resources of Britain. On the contrary, some of us are doing our best to preserve it, and sometimes it would be helpful to have speeches from Opposition Members—recognising that many of them fear the Bill—which were a little more careful.
I want to refer to some of the arguments which have been advanced about the right of Scots living in England and Wales to participate in the referendum. One argument which is put forward on their behalf is that we require this amendment providing for a referendum also to be held in the rest of the United Kingdom—and, since it is already to be held in Scotland and Wales, that means England—to enable them to vote on this question. That is an extraordinary proposition to advance. It is one thing to argue that Scots living in England should have this right. It is another thing to say that, because they are here, the whole of England should vote.
One of the letters read by my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) referred not just to a Scots person living in England but to a second-generation Scots person living in England. With respect, it seems to me that that argument would have come much more succinctly from the mouths of the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru, because it is part of a kind of "blood myth" argument.
The reason why we say that these referendums should be held in Scotland and in Wales is precisely that it is the people living there who will be affected by the forms of government that we establish there. They should be administered in terms of their health, education, law, social services, planning and economic planning by the forms of government established there. That is a democratic proposition. It is those governed by an Administration who should elect that Administration, and that Administration should be responsible to them.
Scots people who live in England, including my own son who lives and works in London, will fulfil neither of those two requirements. As long as they remain here, they will not be under the Administration set up in Scotland, and that Administration will not be responsible to them in. England. To argue otherwise is 574 like saying that Labour supporters from Colne Valley who now live elsewhere in England should, in the event of an election, be able to go back there and vote out the present Liberal Member.
That is the first element of nonsense in saying that the referendum should be extended to England because there are some Scots and Welsh living in England. But, more importantly, that argument itself is fundamentally unsound, instead of being a democratic argument. It is an argument against the disastrous intervention made earlier by the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) who, I notice, is busy nodding in agreement. He made the obnoxious remark that it was intolerable that a Scotsman who had left Scotland and come to live in England should not have a vote in the referendum but that a Ugandan who had gone to live in Scotland should get one. I do not find that intolerable at all. If a Ugandan or Pakistani, or even an Englishman—I treat them equally—has gone to live and work in Scotland, since he is to be administered by the form of government to be established there, he has a right to a say in its establishment.
I remind the Committee of what that good Englishman Colonel Rainborough said in the Putney debates:… every man that is to live under a government ought first by his own consent to put himself tinder that government.
§ Sir Bernard Braine
The hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan) has a great reputation for fairness and objectivity. However, he is beginning to depart from it. He knows that my theme is not that Scotsmen and Welshmen alone in England should have a voice. My theme is that everyone in the kingdom concerned with the future of the kingdom should have a voice, and I hope to have an opportunity to develop that argument before too long.
§ Mr. Buchan
My argument dealt not merely with the proposition about Scots and Welsh living in England but with that about the people of England, on the democratic parliamentary basis. I took that argument on board in my usual fair and partial way. If we look at the proposals in this way, we have another example of what will come from them. If the whole of the United Kingdom is to vote in the referendum, Scotland 575 will be voting on whether Wales should have a Welsh Assembly. The people of Scotland, very properly, will say that this is a matter for the Welsh to decide. The Welsh will be voting on whether Scotland should have an Assembly, and I am sure that they will say that that is a matter for the Scots. The only question bothering Scots about Wales is whether Phil Bennett will be picked.
The opposite argument becomes a political point. The political reality is that those hon. Members who say that the proposal is a means of preserving the unity of the United Kingdom will be seen by the Scots, no doubt incorrectly, to be saying "We shall give you the vote, but we shall make sure that the larger population of England will vote too, in order to negate your vote". That would be politically disastrous. Even if it did not happen, the suspicions would feed those forces to which hon. Members claim to be opposed.
If there is a danger of a for-and-against situation, of two contrary votes, what do we do? What do we do if hon. Members succeed in their argument and we fail to convince the English that we are not harming them but are bringing the Administration under more democratic control, so that there is a "No" vote to an Assembly for Scotland or Wales? The amendment proposes an Assembly not for England but for Scotland and for Wales. Do we agree with the people living in England—that is, with their "No" vote? If we do not, we deny them the right that we have apparently promised by holding a referendum, so our decision will be antagonistic to the people of England, too. If we agree, we say to others "You will not be allowed to choose this because of a vote elsewhere". It is an illogical nonsense and a political danger, and it should be dropped.
The fear has been expressed by many people, including the hon. Member for Colne Valley and the hon. Member for Essex, South-East, that there will be an immense economic advantage to Scotland and Wales. This can be dealt with not by a referendum but by the Bill. If we are discussing the amount of grants for all parts, we should try to lay down the necessary guidelines to ensure that there is not an excess grant for industry in South Wales compared to the perhaps 576 worse-off north-east of England. All United Kingdom Members will be participating and voting on the content of the Bill, and that is how fears can be allayed.
The other fear expressed has been of separation. The proper course of action is to submit the Bill to the will of the Scottish and Welsh people. They are facing not one problem but two—the Bill and the political situation. If the Bill is to be killed off in the House of Commons, or ground into the sands, the Scottish people will see this as a further example of the final ineptitude of a Westminster Government. That view may be unjustified. In their own interests and on the basis of their own argument, hon. Members should be in the forefront in getting the Bill through, supporting the necessary parliamentary measures to help it through, and stopping the illogical nonsense which we have heard from so many of them today.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Rees
The hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan) has analysed the proposals in a way which I find unacceptable. He starts from the premise that a referendum will be about an Administration in Scotland or Wales and that those who are currently resident in Scotland or Wales must be regarded as permanently resident there. I think that both propositions are false. [interruption.] Perhaps the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West will allow me to develop my argument.
My analysis of the referendum is different. The proposals in the Bill go far wider than the form, content and complexion of an Administration in Scotland or Wales. It is equally fallacious to assume that those who may happen to be registered in Scotland or Wales at the date of the referendum are necessarily permanently resident there, or are representative of Scottish or Welsh sentiment, I would approach the referendum in a slightly different spirit.
Even if the Lord President had shown scrupulous concern for constitutional proprieties and the delicate regard for party balance which he showed in the dog-days of 1968, I would still approach the referendum proposals with the deepest mistrust. This has been almost a common theme in all the speeches today. 577 There has been a frigidity towards and a repugnance for these proposals.
The unworthy suspicion has been left with me, as with the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sillars), that these referendum proposals are nothing more than a squalid manoeuvre designed to attract a little support for a waning Bill and to pave the way for a guillotine. We shall see whether they achieve the support they are designed to secure, and we shall see next week or thereafter whether the Government have the nerve to introduce a timetable motion.
Whatever one may feel about the principle of a referendum, constitutionally or otherwise, the closer one comes to the details of these proposals the less attractive they seem. I fervently support Amendment (O). I cannot see how the Government can justify on any grounds the exclusion of the majority of voters from expressing their views on a matter which must affect them, their children and their grandchildren.
I would not be so bold as my right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) to assert that there is no Scottish nation or no Welsh nation. At the end of the day, I suspect that the difference between my right hon. Friend and myself is not so much a question of blood—like him, I must confess myself to be a mongrel—but one of semantics.
How one defines a nation in this context may be a matter of delicate debate and dispute, but what I assert with considerable confidence is that if there is a Scottish nation it is certainly not confined to the area north of the border, and that if there is a Welsh nation it is not confined to the area west of Offa's Dyke. Anyone who has had the privilege of attending the functions of a Caledonian Society on St. Andrew's Day in Dover or Deal, or maybe in Calcutta, Brisbane or even Belfast or of attending a function of a Welsh Society on St. David's Day way outside the Principality will know my proposition to be true.
There has also been a reverse flow. It is one of the grotesque coincidences of politics that the two major members of the Government Front Bench who have lent their credit and support to the Bill have mixed backgrounds. One, the 578 Prime Minister, has, I dare say—but it is a matter of speculation—an ancestry which derives from County Cork. He owns broad acres in Sussex, and no doubt he will be entitled to vote in the referendum, if it is approved in its present form, in Cardiff. The Lord President is, I understand—although I have not questioned him on this—a man of Cornish descent and he now has the privilege to represent a seat in Monmouthshire. I regret, Sir Myer, that the Chair has not selected Amendment (b) in my name and the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (Mr. Stradling Thomas) which provides for a separate referendum in the county of Monmouthshire.
All this demonstrates that we are a mongrel race in these islands. The diaspora of the Scots and Welsh has taken them very far from their original borders. It is only the Celtic separatists who sit on this Bench for the moment, but perhaps not for long, who have attempted to play on these slightly spurious emotions They have tried to introduce into our debates the tribal sentiments which may be exhilarating at Cardiff Arms Park or Murrayfield but which are inappropriate in our debates here at Westminster on great constitutional issues.
If I turn briefly to face the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) I hope that I shall not be accused of disrespect to the Chair or of chastising the hon. Gentleman, as I was accused not so long ago of chastising my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch). I wish to tell the hon. Gentleman that transcending these nations' history, however real the sentiments that animate those who claim to belong to them, there is a British nation that has undoubtedly, existed for more than 250 years, a British nation of which many people who may be of Welsh descent, like me and perhaps the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), none the less are proud to claim themselves members.
After all, the British nation has a historical existence that far exceeds that of, for example, the German nation or the Italian nation. We belong to a nation which has been on the whole, until recent years, a success. Its history has been marked by triumphs and achievements of which I at least am proud to boast, as I hope other hon. Members are.
§ Mr. Powell
Perhaps I may support the case of the hon. and learned Gentleman for the existence of a British nation by saying that those who sent my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) and me here, and who are the majority of the inhabitants of Northern Ireland, are Unionists not because they belong to the English nation but because they belong to the British nation, the nation of the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Rees
It would be a travesty of the truth for me or anyone else, whatever his precise ancestry, to claim that the inhabitants of the ancient Province of Ulster are English. Of course they are not. They have never asserted it, and I would not assert it. They are component parts of the British nation—
§ Mr. Rees
—just as the Welsh, whether they are to be found in Aberystwyth or Deal, are part of the British nation; just as the Scots, whether they are to be found in Dundee or Westminster, are part of the British nation. Indeed, for the hon. Member for Dundee, East to pretend, as he sometimes affects, that he and his hon. Friends alone represent the Scottish nation is a travesty of the truth.
§ Sir Bernard Braine
Does my hon. and learned Friend also agree that what has bound together the constituent elements making up the kingdom is common achievement, shared experience and common sacrifice? When in two world wars we fought alongside one another we did not ask whether we were Welshmen, Scotsmen or Englishmen. We felt that we were British and that we were fighting for our country and in some cases laying down our lives for it.
§ Mr. Rees
I agree with my hon. Friend. I do not wish to be drawn too deeply into the question of what makes a nation. That great French patriot and statesman General Charles de Gaulle was very much of the view that what creates a nation is shared experience, shared history and shared sacrifice. It is our duty to speak for Britain and not only for the individual nations to which we may claim to belong, the individual areas from which we may hail, or the individual con- 580 stituencies which we may be privileged to represent.
§ Mr. Tom Ellis
While I am prepared to accept for the moment this concept of Britishness, does not the hon. and learned Gentleman agree that it should not subsume individual characteristics of Scottishness and Welshness?
§ Mr. Rees
How could I deny that proposition with my name, which the hon. Gentleman will no doubt recognise as one that comes from the Principality? I am proud to claim that ancestry. The enduring strength of this country and our political institutions is that we have in great measure recognised the individual idiosyncrasies of the various parts of the United Kingdom. I hope that we shall go on doing so. I shall come later to the damage that the Bill is likely to do to the enduring concept of British nationhood.
The touchstone, the basis on which we must judge the referendum, is how far the proposals in the Bill affect the British nation as a whole. One can approach this matter in various ways. I wish first to approach it in the very way that the Chairman of Ways and Means recently ruled. You will recall, Mrs. Butler, that on Wednesday 9th February he ruled that the main purpose of the Bill wasto create other authorities which will enjoy a concurrent competence"—[Official Report, 10th February 1977; Vol. 925, c. 1678.]He must have meant, of course, a concurrent competence with that currently enjoyed by this Parliament. Therefore, on the very ruling of the Chair, the proposals in the Bill must affect the sovereignty, the functions and the rôle of Westminster. I give this to the right hon. Member for Down, South, although he and I voted in different ways on the question of the Common Market. Tested by the ruling of the Chair, these measures—on which, on the Government's proposal, only those currently resident in Scotland and Wales are to be invited to express their view—are likely to affect the United Kingdom as a whole.
Digging a little deeper into the proposals of this unattractive Bill, I believe that they go beyond that and that they will affect perhaps fatally the delicate balance of power, the web of political and administrative relationships between Cardiff, Westminster and Whitehall, between 581 Edinburgh and Westminster and Whitehall. More profoundly and significantly than that, the Bill is designed to give a separate political identity to two parts of the United Kingdom. I do not believe that anyone speaking in favour of the Bill could deny that proposition.
If that is true, the very concept of British nationhood must be at risk. If that is true, the British nation as a whole should be able to take part in the referendum, wherever the individuals who make up that nation happen to be living. I say at once, although this is not enshrined in the amendment, that I believe this to be a case that those living and working temporarily in the Persian Gulf, India, Australia or Africa should also be entitled to a vote, because the matter goes to the very political framework of the country which they left and to which they perhaps hope to return to settle and die. If there should be a photo finish, if there should be a majority of 51 per cent. on a 30 per cent. turn-out in Scotland or Wales, surely there are other factors that the Government must take into account.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ The Government's case for limiting the referendum to Scotland and Wales has been fatally undermined by the concession that the Lord President made a few days ago. If the referendum is not to be mandatory but consultative, the crude argument that can be deployed against the case that I have made today—that it would be wrong for the views of Scotland and Wales to be overridden by English votes—falls to the ground.
§ According to the concession made by the Leader of the House—and I should have preferred to see it in a new clause or an amendment before we attempted to debate these provisions and amendments—the referendum will be consultative and the ultimate decision will be taken by the House of Commons. Surely, when the House makes the ultimate decision, as the Leader of the House has promised, it will be entitled to know the views not only of those electors who return Scottish and Welsh Members to the House but of the whole of the United Kingdom and of all the electors who return Members to the House.
§ Mr. Buchan
The hon. and learned Gentleman is completely wrong. Con- 582 trary to what he says, the concession made by the Leader of the House lessens the argument for a referendum in England. If it were a mandatory referendum and if the views expressed in Scotland and Wales were to be carried out, there would be no problem—although perhaps a problem could arise with one country voting "Yes" and the other "No". But if the referendum were consultative and the larger population living outside Scotland and Wales were involved, that would enormously enhance the suspicions that may be created about the Government's intentions. The real facts of the situation are the opposite of what the hon. and learned Gentlemen has suggested.
§ Mr. Rees
If there are any suspicions about the measures that may or may not be introduced as a consequence of the referendum—and I infer from the hon. Members' intervention that suspicions will be held by his constituents, for example—the hon. Member will be able to point out that, if the vote is taken county by county or constituency by constituency, due weight can be given to particular views. The amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Gardiner) and myself is purely designed to bring about a United Kingdom referendum. The question of how the count should be done can be discussed separately. Following the precedent of the Common Market referendum, the count should be carried out county by county. It may reassure the constituents of the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West, as it would be easy for us to determine how Renfrewshire voted on the issue.
§ Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South-West)
Surely that is essential knowledge if the referendum is to be a consultative one. If Parliament is to make a binding decision, Parliament must be able to take every factor into account. If all the English counties are to be left out, how can it do that?
§ Mr. Rees
Of course, I agree.
Among the factors that we shall wish to weigh will be how the various regions, counties and nations of the United Kingdom express their view during the referendum. If the Government are sincere in their anxiety to consult the people affected by their proposal—and there will be some who will unkindly doubt the 583 Government's sincerity, which will be tested soon—and I hope that the Minister who speaks tonight will accept my analysis that this is not just a mere regional problem or a question of equipping Scotland and Wales with no more than an enlarged county council. It is something that will go to the root of our constitutional being. If the Government are sincere in their anxiety, then in honour and in logic they are bound to accept the amendment.
§ Mr. Paul Channon (Southend, West)
I agree strongly with what was said by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dover and Deal (Mr. Rees). The Committee faces this problem whenever a referendum is proposed. Nearly every hon. Member who has spoken has been opposed to a referendum because there difficulties are inevitably bound to arise when it is decided to proceed by way of referendum rather than by allowing Parliament to decide such great issues in the way that has traditionally and rightly been the way of dealing with all such great issues except one—and I shall come to that one in a moment.
A point that flows from that and makes our discussion more difficult is that we have not yet been told by the Government what will be the form of the referendum. We were told yesterday that it would be consultative and that there would be some further process once the referendum was over, but the Government have, so far, been unable to put down amendments to tell us what that process will be. If the Minister could tell us that—if not tonight then at an early stage in our discussions on the referendum—he would be doing the Committee a service. Will there be an Order in Council or further legislation? What further parliamentary process do the Government propose? My hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South-West (Mr. Cormack) says that the Government do not know, and he may be right. If so, that is an example of the way the Bill slides from one difficulty to another and with none of the difficulties being properly thought out. My hon. Friend may well turn out to be right.
Since we are to have a referendum and since the Committee decided last night to give the new clause a Second Reading by a large majority, we must ask who will be affected by the measure and who 584 will be entitled to vote. I understand that some hon. Members, including some of my hon. Friends, argue that it is a matter for the Scots and the Welsh only. I disagree strongly. The Bill, if it passes into law, will have a fundamental effect on the whole government of the United Kingdom. It will have a fundamental effect upon the government of England and of Northern Ireland as well as that of Scotland and Wales.
Let us examine some of the issues that will inevitably arise as the years go by if the referendum takes place. We shall have to discuss the composition of the House of Commons and discuss how many Members should be sent from England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. That decision will be seriously affected by the powers given to the Assemblies and is strictly relevant to what is decided on the matter.
§ Mr. Nicholas Ridley (Cirencester and Tewkesbury)
Does my hon. Friend think that the English will be happy to have a Scottish or Welsh Prime Minister in the future?
§ Mr. Channon
That is indeed a thought. We may well be happy to do so—because we are a tolerant race—provided that the Prime Minister represents an English or Northern Irish constituency. It will be doubtful whether in future there will be many Scottish or Welsh Ministers because they will be put in a different position. I am sure that my hon. Friend is right. It will be the exception rather than the rule for that to be so as the years go by.
There will be other issues to be settled. If the composition of the House is to be unchanged, we shall have to discuss issues that have been talked about before—for example, by Mr. Gladstone with the Bill of 1893. If the Assemblies are set up we shall have to consider whether Scottish and Welsh Members should have different voting rights. That will have a profound effect on England. Would a Government of a particular party political persuasion, and with a bare overall majority, be entitled to remain in office with the support of Scottish Members who would have their own Assembly? It might be that the representation in the House of England and Northern Ireland would be of a different political persuasion.
585 These issues will have to be faced They will not go away. There are no ideal solutions. If the Bill passes into law there will be a continuing and long process over many years of changes in the government of the United Kingdom. The government of not only Scotland and Wales but of England and Northern Ireland will break down into its parts. If I am right in that contention—and I think that some hon. Members support me—then surely the English and the Northern Irish are as entitled to be consulted over the change as are the Scots and the Welsh. It is essential that the views of the people of England and Northern Ireland about the Bill should be obtained.
Some hon. Members have likened the Act of Union to a contract. That contract is being changed, and, whether we like the new one or not, both parties to it have a right to a say in what the future contract should be. The argument is all the more compelling because the referendum is no longer mandatory. The Committee cannot, therefore, escape from its responsibilities; nor should it.
It will be Parliament's responsibility to enact or fail to enact whatever parliamentary process the Government eventually bring forward on the conclusion of the referendum. If Parliament is to have that responsibility and we are to have that information given to us, why should we not have all the information? Why should we not have the views of the English, Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish people expressed on the basis of counties? I was against that in the Common Market referendum, and I was wrong. We benefited from knowing the division of opinion in various parts of the United Kingdom, and I believe that the same would be true in the devolution referendum.
§ Mr. Tim Rathbone (Lewes)
There is one point which has not yet been touched on. How could we shake out from the county reporting in England those people who are, in essence, of Scottish or Welsh breeding so that they can be added to the voting in Scotland and Wales to make up a total census of the people in those countries in favour or against the devolution Bill?
§ Mr. Channon
That problem is insoluble. Perhaps we can discuss on a later amendment whether it is a problem that should be solved, but I do not think that there is any solution. I imagine that there will be many people qualified to vote in at least two of the countries concerned, if not three or all four.
We are setting out on a long and difficult road of constitutional change which will have profound effects for this Parliament and the United Kingdom and for England and Ireland as much as for Scotland and Wales. I do not believe that the people of England and Northern Ireland can be denied the right to vote in the referendum.
The people of England and Northern Ireland may not have woken up to what is going on, but they are beginning to wake up jolly fast. The hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Wainwright) said that they were already beginning to wake up in his part of the world and we know that they are beginning to wake up in the North-East and in other parts of the country. Even the sleepy South-East will wake up one day and will not like what it sees. It is better that people should not wake up with a feeling of having been cheated, and that something they do not understand has been enacted.
It is a terrible pity that the Government have chosen the road of the referendum, but it is better that they should face from the start all the difficulties and problems and the possibility of England and Scotland reaching different views, rather than wait, and find that all these problems become far worse later.
§ Mr. W. Benyon (Buckingham)
I agree with a great deal of what my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon) has said. It is true that the people of the fair county of Buckinghamshire are not exactly demonstrating on the streets about the Bill, but they are learning fast and are beginning to realise what is going on. If it were not against the rules of the House of Commons, I should be tempted to send copies of today's Order Paper to all my constituents so that they could see amendments which are numbered with, for example, six Zs.
§ Mr. Benyon
It would certainly cost the country a great deal of money, although it would bring home the irrelevance of what we are discussing all these long days and nights.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ The amendment that we are discussing raises a matter of vital importance. I welcome the Government's rejection of the mandatory referendum. It would have been a constitutional disaster. I should rather that we had no referendum, but it is apparent from last night's vote that if the Bill goes through we shall have a referendum. As it is to be consultative, I must follow my hon. Friends who have spoken earlier and ask why the people of England should not have a vote. If it is to be consultative and if we are to take the final decision, why should we be denied information about how our constituents feel about the Bill? We shall know how the Scots and the Welsh feel. Why on earth should we be denied knowing how our own constituents feel?
§ I disagree with those who talk about the problem of expatriate Scots and Welsh people. It would be impossible to separate their votes and it is important to remember that if they vote in English constituencies, they will be taking part in the consultative process as British people.
§ When the Act of Union was entered into, it was a union of two independent and free parties. It is not a scrap of paper that can be torn up. It has been interwoven into the fabric of our society for more than 200 years. If the Government are saying that one party now desires home rule, the other party surely has the right to say how it feels about the proposals.
§ If I may be party political for a moment, I look forward to future hustings with great anticipation because, on top of all the other misdemeanours of the Government, it will be possible for me to appeal to the sense of injustice that my constituents will increasingly feel if they are not given the opportunity to make known their views on this matter.
§ That sense of injustice will arise from the fact that. Scots and Welsh Members will still come here and tell me and my constituents what must be done in England on various subjects which have been 588 devolved for Scotland and Wales. There will be a sense of injustice because my constituents will realise increasingly that the Scots and Welsh are grossly overrepresented in this House and there will be a sense of injustice because, strangely enough, many people are still proud to be British and regard themselves as part of one nation.
§ My hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Gardiner) said that a future Conservative Government will be under strong pressure to rectify the balance of representation of Scotland and Wales. The people who put their hands to this plough must realise where it will end up. If the Bill goes through my constituents and I will be pressing further. These arrangements belittle and demean the whole concept of Great Britain as a nation in fact. The result will be binding if the Scottish and Walsh nations vote by a very large majority.
§ Mr. Benyon
My hon. Friend is entitled to say that but, speaking for myself, I should find it difficult to deny the results of a massive vote. But, if the result is evenly balanced, that is another matter and one would take into account the views of the rest of the country. I shall find it difficult to ignore a massive vote and that does not diminish the importance of knowing what everyone else is thinking.
There is a strong and rising feeling in my part of the country, and I suspect in other parts as well, that the Bill is really a pandering to the nationalist minorities and that it will not solve the great issues of bad housing, inflation, unemployment and the whole problem of national prosperity. It is only a national policy covering the whole country which will put those things right. Therefore, we in England and Ulster—and that is the whole point of the amendment—have the right to vote on a proposal which would emasculate those national policies, set one part of the country against the other and weaken our voice in the world.
When the consequences are fully appreciated there will be great bitterness and scorn in England and in Ulster because these arrangements have been forced on the majority of the country. I beg the Government to draw back while there is still time and to let the kingdom 589 as a whole have a voice on these proposals.
§ Mr. William Small (Glasgow, Garscadden)
I shall make some comments on Amendment (o) which I regard as the alpha and omega of the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) said that there has been no filibustering but as I look at the Order Paper, which the hon. Member for Buchingham (Mr. Benyon) wishes to send to his constituents, I find that it is parliamentary erotica. It is all in the mind and the Order Paper represents a searching for expression in the minds of hon. Members.
Aristides was the first man to write six books on erotica, which were translated into the Latin. They were a great sell. In Plato, in a discussion between Socrates and Ion, there was a discussion on the mind and what made poets, which was repeated to Hypocrites by Phidias, the sculptor of the gods. They believed that one must go elsewhere for inspiration. These amendments have a similarity—one has to go elsewhere than the Order Paper for inspiration. It is so confusing that I think that we should throw it away. There is the story of an old woman who went for medical treatment which, like a referendum, is an intrusion. She swallowed a snake, and that snake went into the Bill.
§ The Temporary Chairman (Mrs. Joyce Butler)
I hope that the hon. Member will come down to the amendments under discussion.
§ Mr. Stokes
I relish the opportunity of speaking for the first time on this long Bill, having listened for many hours and many days to the voices of other Members. As many Members will know, I loathe the Bill and all that it stands for, but I have come to respect the speeches on the Bill. I respect the debates particularly because some of them have cut across party lines and because hon. Members have spoken exactly as they feel 590 I have never been bored and, except for one or two occasions, possibly because of Government Members, I have never heard any filibustering.
The more we discuss the Bill the more one must agree—and one can see it from the anxiety on the faces of Ministers—that we are getting into a quagmire. I have always opposed referendums, because they weaken Parliament and take away part of our responsibility. I do not believe that anyone felt until recently that referendums would become a common feature of British constitutional life. But the past was sold when it was decided by the then Labour Government to have a referendum on the Common Market. Now we have got on the referendum treadmill and we cannot get off it even if we want to. [Laughter.] Where will this process end?
§ Mr. Ridley
The laughter came because somebody suggested that it was lavender-coloured ballot paper.
§ Mr. Stokes
Throughout the course of the Bill I have wondered why the referendum should be confined to Scotland and Wales when the constitutional balance and future of the United Kingdom and of its peoples is at stake. Nothing that I have heard from the Benches opposite has caused me to change my view.
Apart from a brief intervention of mine, no one, for obvious reasons, has mentioned the American Civil War, fought over a century ago to preserve the union. Nobody suggests that anybody should fight anyone here. But are the English and Northern Irish people to say goodbye to Scotland and Wales if they wish to leave the United Kingdom? Are they not at least to be allowed to have a voice in this great matter?
As has been mentioned already, now that the referendum is to be consultative and not mandatory there is an even stronger reason for us all, particularly English Members, to know and sound the views of our own constituents. Why are the Government so opposed to that? It is because they fear that a referendum in England will result in an enormous vote against the Bill. That is the reason why they do not wish the English people to have a referendum.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ If Scotland and Wales really wish to become independent and so express that 591 view in a referendum, I very much doubt whether either English or Northern Irish people would wish to stop them. But let us suppose that the vote is much closer. Let us suppose that the vote is "No" in Wales and "Yes" in Scotland. I am so glad that at least we in the House of Commons will once again be able to exercise our general judgment on the whole subject and will take the referendum into account but will, in the end, vote according to our consciences.
§ I very much hope that there will be a second question on the referendum form—whether separation is really wanted. This, I believe, would bring people up with a jolt. The Government are playing with fire in starting these referendums and their cynicism in tinkering with the constitution for political ends may well in the end rebound to their disadvantage.
§ My hon. Friends the Members for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) and Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley) seem to feel that at least their constituents, in the South-East and the South, do not care a rap about the Bill or about the profound constitutional changes that are envisaged. I am very surprised about that. I have not found any other Member on my side or elsewhere in England whose constituents are not becoming daily more aware and more concerned about the dangers of the Bill.
§ I certainly feel that I can speak for not only my constituency of Halesowen and Stourbridge but the great mass of the people of the West Midlands, including the many thousands of Welsh people who came there in the depression and who made such a tremendous contribution to our life. I think that they are deeply worried and disturbed about the Bill. They will look to me and other Members in England to speak up about their doubts and fears. I warn the Government now that those of us who are closely in touch with our constituents at the grass roots know the swirling feeling that there is in England about the Bill. That feeling may become a tide in time which could overwhelm the Government and the Labour Party.
§ The whole notion of devolution as expressed in the Bill is a piece of nonsense. There is a case, of course, for a federal system, but not a case for the proposals in the Bill. People want less government and better government, 592 whether they are in Cornwall, Pembroke, Argyll or Worcestershire. Devolution is a smokescreen for preserving the Labour Party's supremacy in Scotland and Wales. Everybody knows that there would hardly ever be a Labour Government in the United Kingdom except for the seats that Labour holds in Scotland and Wales.
§ These debates, particularly if the Bill is passed, will have been a shameful period in the history of Parliament. I have been proud to hear, as English of the English, that we are all part of the British nation—at least, we have been for over two and a half centuries. Quite clearly, as we discuss this muddled, confusing and dishonest Bill, day after day and night after night, the one thing that strikes one is that it is in fact an attack upon the whole British nation. Instead of this Parliament, at this time of economic trouble and inflation, getting down to the real business of bringing this country back to its former greatness, we find ourselves fooling about with the fundamentals of our parliamentary system.
§ Foreigners stare at us in amazement. The British constitution was, and is, the envy of the world. Now that we are economically down and almost out, we are starting to knock the constitution about.
§ Apart from being wrong in principle, the referendum proposals are absurd in detail. We have heard a lot today about the rights of English, Scottish and Welsh people to vote. The only way that that can be satisfied is by there being a referendum throughout the whole of the United Kingdom. Unfortunately, we had from the Labour Government in the late 1960s the gerrymandering of the constituency boundaries. Now, I fear, we have a very much more serious gerrymandering of our whole constitution.
§ Mr. Raison
Like many other hon. Members, I can never quite make up my mind whether I dislike the Bill or the referendum more. However, I suppose that we must face the fact that if the Bill goes through we shall have what the Government call "referendums". In other words, "referendums" are now like what they would no doubt call "agendums".
I wish to make two points. First, when I came into the Chamber to listen to the debate, I was not quite sure how my 593 feelings would go. It seemed to me, however, that the argument was put by my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Gardiner) with very persuasive force, and it has been put by other hon. Members since then. It is quite simply that now that the referendum has become consultative rather than mandatory in its effect, in all logic this means that there is a very powerful case for finding out the views of constituents from all parts of the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Tom Ellis
Assuming that the referendum were held over the whole of the United Kingdom and assuming what might well be a likely result, that there was a substantial majority in England against any devolution proposals, and assuming the equally likely result that there was a substantial majority in Scotland for the devolution proposals, what judgment of Solomon, in its wisdom, would the hon. Gentleman advise the House of Commons to make?
§ Mr. Raison
I shall not advise the House of Commons now to make a judgment on that perfectly possible eventuality. If and when the time came, I should try to do my duty and try to vote as I believed proper. I believe that that is what hon. Members on both sides of the House of Commons would do. It is entirely in keeping with the traditions of Parliament.
One of the refrains in our debate today, as indeed in earlier times, has been the question of how far the proposals that are ostensibly for Scotland and Wales affect the United Kingdom as a whole. In other words, do the proposals for a Scottish Assembly and Scottish Executive and a Welsh Assembly have a significant impact on England and Northern Ireland?
This is a very important part, perhaps an essential part, of the argument. I shall not put at length the case for saying that these proposals have an important impact on the rest of the United Kingdom, because that case has been put very powerfully in several earlier debates. All that I shall do is quote the words of the Government themselves on this issue.
I hope that the Secretary of State for Scotland, who has now taken over on the Government Front Bench, will listen very 594 carefully to the words of his own Government on the question whether the proposals for Scotland and Wales have an important impact on the rest of the United Kingdom. I refer to the White Paper "Our Changing Democracy", which was produced by the Government, in which they set out their proposals and which still remains the main statement of the Government's views on the whole matter.
In paragraph 5, on page 2, it is said,The Government recognise however that these proposals concern the whole of the United Kingdom. Two issues are of particular importance—achieving a sound and stable distribution of responsibilities between Westminster and the devolved administrations; and ensuring that the proposals meet the reasonable needs of Scotland and Wales, while maintaining a fair balance between their interests and those of the rest of the United Kingdom. The Government now want to see full public and Parliamentary consideration of the proposals. The issues are extremely important for all the people of the United Kingdom; the arrangements proposed are novel; and in constitutional matters, where frequent change would be harmful, there is a need for the widest possible basis of agreement on the essential features before legislation is enacted which will inevitably be very complicated.It is not possible to find a stronger or more clearly expressed argument for the case that the proposals that the Government are putting forward for the government of Scotland and Wales have a very direct effect on the government of the rest of the United Kingdom. Those words are the Government's own words, I ask the Secretary of State to pass on to the Minister of State, Privy Council Office—I presume that he will be replying to the debate—the fact that I have quoted those words, and perhaps he will see whether he can provide any kind of logical answer to that statement.
I ask for one more message to be passed on. What was meant when the Minister of State made the audible interjection "Not yet" when it was being said that the Bill does not allow for separation? We should like to know what he meant.
§ Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, Central)
I understand, Mrs. Butler, that according to the provisional selection of amendments we are taking with Amendment (o) Amendments (e), (i), (kkk), (lll), (nnn), (ooo), (ppp), (qqq), (rrr) and (sss). I believe that that is right.
§ Mr. Hamilton
I thought so. The whole purpose of the amendment is to prevent the Government from getting into a bigger mess than they are in already. In more than a quarter of a century in this place I have never seen a bigger shambles. Nothing whatever can now salvage the dignity and integrity of the Government. They are now sitting back because tomorrow they will announce the guillotine—
§ Mr. Hamilton
They will. They are not quite sure of the arithmetic—in fact, they are still working on it. Whatever the result is, nothing can save the Government. They are almost universally condemned in the country for what they are trying to do.
Many of us had reservations about the introduction of the principle of a referendum at the beginning. I recall how it happened. 'The present Secretary of State for Energy sought to get our party off the hook and he introduced a Ten-Minute Bill on a referendum. I recall having a cup of tea with him in the Tea Room afterwards. My right hon. Friend said "It does not matter very much, but it will get us out of a difficulty." At that time there was hardly any support for the principle of a referendum in the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party but my right hon. Friend won it around. That was the origin of the referendum for Europe. It was to be a one-off exercise.
But now the Government have introduced the referendum as a rearguard action, not at the beginning of the Bill. It was not the Government's intention to have a referendum. That was quite proper. It was brought forward as a means of buying off some of the opposition that they were encountering in their own party among their own supporters.
We are to have a further retrograde step. We are to have a regional policy on referendums. We are to have first-class citizens and second-class citizens in the United Kingdom. Before they start the Government are conceding the principle of separatism, the principle that somehow Scotland and Wales should be given preferential treatment. They say that only they should be given the vote 596 on a Bill that manifestly affects the whole of the United Kingdom.
I am an Englishman representing a Scottish division and I shall not have a vote in the referendum. I shall be advising people in Scotland how to vote but I shall not have a vote. I shall make a judgment here when the result is known, because it is a consultative referendum, but I shall not be allowed to vote. However, I shall be allowed to take part in the campaign, as will every other English Member. I hope that they will do so in their hordes.
But who will foot the bill? Is the IMF to be consulted? Were the IMF people told that we were to engage in additional expenditure consequent on referendums in Scotland and Wales?
The Government are pursuing a course of monumental tragedy for themselves and the whole democratic process. How can they defend saying to Scotsmen who are resident in England, either permanently or temporarily, that they will not be able to vote? Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland will not have a vote. How can my right hon. Friend justify that? After all, my right hon. Friend is on the electoral rôle.
§ Mr. Harry Gourlay (Kirkcaldy)
My right hon. Friend is not complaining like other Scotsmen who live permanently in England.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ The Government are not producing the Bill for any matter of principle. We all know why it is being introduced. It is 99 per cent. of the trouble that they are not convinced of the merits of the Bill. They are merely going through the motions. We are being pressurised from Scotland to vote for the guillotine tomorrow, or whenever the damned thing comes, but we shall not yield to that pressure. We shall not yield to that sort of blandishment. I should be less than honourable if I pretended that I was going to yield to it.
§ I say to my right hon. Friend that if he wins his guillotine next week that will not be the end of the story. It will be only the beginning of the story. It may well be that the Bill will get through 597 this place but there is another place. I think that I shall be very much in favour of Second Chambers. I am changing my mind about them. It seems that they have their uses. I hope that the other place will use such powers as it has. Do not let the Government pretend that if the guillotine motion is accepted that that will be the end of the story. In any event I do not think that they will survive. I am sorry to say that. I do not think that the Government can possibly survive the farce in which we are now engaged.
§ Mrs. Jill Knight (Birmingham, Edgbaston)
I have listened carefully to everything that has been said so far in the debate and we have not had any suggestion and we have not been vouchsafed by any signpost as to what the Government intend to do in respect of the amendment. I suppose that there have been one or two hints as certain shades have come across the faces of the occupants of the Government Front Bench from time to time during the course of our deliberations.
But it is true to say that the argument against the amendment seems to be on three different grounds. It is said that the people in England and Northern Ireland do not really care whether devolution occurs. That was the "soggy English" argument advanced from the Liberal Benches earlier. As some have already said, that argument is already beginning to sound a little stupid. It is also said that England and Ulster have no right to be consulted. It is said that the matter has nothing to do with them. It is said that the Scots and the Welsh who have moved into another part of the United Kingdom have cut themselves off from the right to utter on the future of the part of Britain from which, perhaps, they are only temporarily exiled.
A third reason has cropped up once or twice during the debate—namely, that it would be difficult if a referendum were held and there was a low percentage turn—out in certain parts of England. It was also argued that if such a referendum were permitted and every citizen in the United Kingdom was entitled to vote, the answer would not be what people wanted to hear. I am bound to say that that is the weakest argument of all. Surely 598 we do not ask people to take part in a referendum only because we think that they will answer in the way we want.
I hear someone from the Government Benches say that we do. I think that that is a disgraceful suggestion. When we approach the citizens of this country with a suggestion to hold a referendum we must do it sincerely and honestly because we genuinely want to know what they think about the subject. I do not like referendums. I would not support them, and one saw the slippery slope on which we were embarking when we began this whole rigmarole, but if there is to be a referendum it cannot be right that it should be adopted for only certain parts of the United Kingdom.
Of course people care about this matter. They care because of the deep constitutional significance of the break-up of the United Kingdom. They care because, as has been said, people have fought and died for the concept of Britain. Patriotism still exists, and it is no bad thing. Only a couple of years ago there was a "Back Britain" campaign. It was not a case of backing Chipping Sodbury, or England, or Woking, or anywhere else. It was Britain in which we were interested, and people care greatly about the concept of the United Kingdom and of being British citizens.
There are others who feel that the Bill gives benefits to Scotland and Wales that will lead to an imbalance of power. That is why they care, and that is a perfectly fair point to make. I received a letter from a constituent who said that if the Bill goes through it will be intolerable that any Scottish Members in the House of Commons will vote on the education or housing problems in my area, and a real understanding is beginning to grow that if the Bill ever becomes law unfair powers will be given to Scotland and Wales.
Some people feel strongly that it is grossly unfair that the number of Scottish MPs will be undiminished if this measure becomes law. There are, of course, other arguments against the Bill, and I turn to one that is advanced by the energetic and hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell), who wote:On the basis of £100 of public expenditure throughout the United Kingdom, someone in Scotland could get £119, while someone on Humberside could get only £87. That would 599 not be tolerated by the English regions which face problems that are as great, if not greater, than those in Scotland.People do care about this matter. People are suspicious of the motives behind the Bill. They are right to feel suspicious. There are those in this House who not suspect, but are certain that there is one reason only for the Bill.
§ Mrs. Knight
Well, two then, for the reason that I was going to give was expediency. The Government's motives for presenting the Bill to the House are not worthy of them or of Parliament. People care about that, too, and they want to make their views known.
I maintain that England and Northern Ireland have a right to be consulted on this matter. It is a constitutional right. Reference has been made to the money that they will have to find. At the beginning of the debate this afternoon my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Gardiner) mentioned a figure of £39 million, but that is only the beginning.
§ Mrs. Knight
Yes, one year.
There are many other aspects of expense that are troubling people outside the House of Commons. I have here a letter which talks about the amount of money that the tourist authority will be obliged to spend from its funds to promote Wales and Scotland. That is another matter about which people have every right to be concerned, because there is no doubt that the Bill expects the rest of the United Kingdom to put its hands in its pockets, and the real point is that if there is to be no say, there should be no pay. The British people as a whole have a right to be consulted, especially when they are to be charged.
Was any warning ever given to Welsh or Scottish people that if they dared to leave their part of the United Kingdom and live somewhere else they would not be consulted about what is to happen in the land where they began and to which they may return? In many parts of England one finds societies. There are those who bite the leek, and there are those who spear the haggis. They do it with full hearts because they care very much about their country of origin. If the amendment were adopted they would 600 have a vote with everybody else, as they should have. All of us in this House care about this matter. We all believe that we have a right to hear what people in our constituencies think about what is proposed.
The hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sillars) said that people in Scotland talk about Scottish affairs and about housing as it affects Scotland. Does he think that no other part of the United Kingdom adopts that practice? People in Birmingham talk about Birmingham industry and about Birmingham housing, and I am sure that people in other constituencies speak about their areas. We speak about our constituencies, and the people in our areas speak about their areas but that is no reason to break up the United Kingdom. But, having decided to try to do just that, it is not right to say that only certain sections of our land shall be given the right to express views about what is proposed. The Government ought to want to know what everybody thinks.
Finally, I ask the Government two questions to which I hope they can provide good answers. Why is it that they do not want to know what other people think? Why are they deliberately so separatist in their policies? I warn them that when this subject comes up at future elections, as it will, I shall make full play of their intransigence if they do not hear the plea for justice and agree that there are those other than the Scots and Welsh living in Scotland and Wales who want to be consulted about the Bill.
§ Mr. Erie Ogden (Liverpool, West Derby)
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight) said that she was making a plea for justice. My father always told me never to claim justice—a kind of unreal thing—but to make sure that I claimed my rights. When we come to the right of someone to take part in a referendum, that is a right conferred by Parliament, and it is conferred in different ways. That is what we are debating tonight.
Like that of the hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes), this is my maiden speech on the Bill. It will not be a Second Reading speech, which I have complained about others making, but will be related strictly to the amendment.
601 The hon. Member for Edgbaston said that people care. I do not think she would suggest that the people on Merseyside are less caring than those in any part of the United Kingdom. The facts of geography place us on the north side of the boundary of Wales, make us the gateway to England from Ireland, and give us very strong Scottish connections. Therefore the people of Merseyside by race, as it were, by customs and by culture are a mixed group. They are proud of whence they came and of their links with other parts of the United Kingdom, and they are proud to be British. I am told that there are even some English people living in that part of the country equally with everyone else.
The people of Merseyside care as much about the United Kingdom as do the people of any other part of the country. I think that they care even more because they know very well that Merseyside is interdependent with every other part of the United Kingdom. We could be no more independent on Merseyside than pigs can fly or people can plait sawdust, and we do not try. Some of the people of Scotland and some of the people of Wales are claiming that they could be truly independent, and they might be constitutionally independent, but we doubt whether any part of these islands could be economically independent of the other parts, just as this country cannot be independent of Europe economically.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Our complaint about some members of the nationalist movement is that, whereas we believe that we have a responsibility for Scotland and Wales, all too often it seems that some Scottish Members, and perhaps even some Welsh Members, claim that they have no responsibility for any part of Merseyside. But this must be a two-way traffic—something that hon. Members in the Scottish National Party might bear in mind from time to time.
§ The question in the amendment is whether the people of Merseyside or any other part of England should have a say in the referendums. The hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge and the hon. Member for Edgbaston say that their constituents are concerned and angry that they are not to have a voice. I have to put on record the simple fact 602 that my information brings to me that, as far as I am aware, my constituents could not care less about the Bill.
§ Sir Bernard Braine
The hon. Genlteman should consult the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer).
§ Mr. Ogden
I remind the hon. Gentleman that when I went to Liverpool, West Derby, it was a Tory seat which had been held by a former Lord Chancellor and that it now has a 12,000 Labour majority. One does not get that kind of majority by being out of touch.
I have done my best to find out the situation from the normal information which comes to a Member, and as far as I am aware there is no interest on Merseyside in the contents of the Bill and no demand that the people there should have a voice in the referendums. I agree that there should be, and I have tried to stimulate it, but whilst I have had, like other hon. Members, a stream of letters about a Bill which is to come before the House on 25th February I have not received one letter about this issue from Merseyside since the presentation of the Bill. There have been no meetings about it, although, of course, we have discussed it in the Labour Party itself.
The hon. Member for Edgbaston suggested that the Bill was soggy and careless. I suggest, on the contrary, that it is generous. There is at least one little piece of poetry which might be appropriate—Let them goLet them tarryI should not, perhaps, go on to sayLet them sink or let them swim",but that is, in fact, the attitude that I have found not only on Merseyside but in other parts of Lancashire and also in the London area.
In other words, when I have tried to get discussion going about the Bill and its importance to the whole of the United Kingdom, people have said to me "If that is what the Scots and the Welsh want, let them get on with it". I have doubts about the wisdom of bringing this kind of question to the English, principally, in the first place, because I do not think that we have learned the lessons of 603 the referendum process. The referendum is a most important constitutional innovation, but I do not think that we have altogether understood as yet the power it gives or the changes that are brought about.
If the Bill included a decision that the degree of self-government proposed for Scotland and Wales was also to be judged in England, I would forecast—and it would be as likely to be wrong as any other forecast—that we would get a lower vote in England than we get in local government elections, and that the result could be interpreted in about 50 different ways. If, however, that English vote were to be the crucial factor in close decisions in Scotland and Wales, that would simply complicate the situation.
I am not opposed to the English people being asked whether they want to vote. At the moment, however, it is a fact that those whom I represent on Merseyside have said "That is your job to sort out. That is what we sent you to Parliament to do." That is an argument against a referendum, but that is what they are saying. It might be useful to my hon. Friends who claim that the English want a say if I tell them that from all parts of the United Kingdom I have had no indication that they want, would welcome or would take part in having a say.
§ Dr. Alan Glyn (Windsor and Maidenhead)
I agree with a great deal of what the hon. Gentleman has just said and in particular about the absolute interdependence of this country and Scotland. All hon. Members must be aware of the deep implications in any form of separation. We should be grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Gardiner) for introducing the amendment, because as well as giving us a chance of discussing this vital constitutional issue it also gives many Back Benchers an opportunity, which was denied to us last night, of discussing the referendum. We waited here until 1.30 a.m. without success and I am deeply grateful to my hon. Friend.
I am sure that the House appreciates that the measure we are passing, in spite of its title—
§ Dr. Glyn
I hope that my hon. Friend is right but I shall not prejudge the issue. No one can possibly deny that the measure affects this country, because its implications are extremely important to us. I am extremely glad that the Leader of the House, for reasons that I shall not go into, has changed the referendum from a mandatory to a consultative one.
§ Dr. Glyn
It is a political method of overcoming the difficulties which the right hon. Gentleman would have faced had he not done so. Nevertheless, whether it is a consultative or a mandatory referendum it is of considerable constitutional importance because it entirely alters the constitution of our country and gives rise to the possibility of having a referendum on almost any issue whatever. It is no good trying to compare it with the EEC referendum, because it is entirely different.
The whole question of representation in the House of Commons is another important matter. If the House is affected —as it undoubtedly must be—by the implications of the Bill, are we still to have the same number of Scottish representatives? This is a matter which the House of Commons must consider. It is within the ambit of the amendment. [SEVERAL HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Oh yes, it is, because we are now discussing a referendum on a Bill the contents of which we do not yet know.
The fact that we have moved from a mandatory to a consultative referendum brings into question my hon. Friend's amendment, because we are now saying that the House of Commons, at the end of the referendum, has got the right to reconsider the whole issue. If it is to reconsider the whole issue, all the facts should be available. We should have before us the result of the referendum in Scotland, the result of the referendum in Wales, and the result of the referendum in the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
I agree very much with what the hon. Gentleman has said. I was one of those who came into the Chamber with my mind somewhat unmade up. I am impressed by the fact that it is to be a 605 consultative referendum and that, even if the Bill is passed, Scotland will still be part of the United Kingdom.
I must confess that a powerful argument against an English referendum is that the English do not want it. That is indeed an argument against the proposition. I should be interested if the hon. Gentleman would say whether he thinks the English will vote in a referendum if they are offered it.
§ Dr. Glyn
I am aware that the right hon. Gentleman has been listening to the whole debate. The difference is that if the referendum had been mandatory, there would be little point in having a referendum in England. We do not yet know what the opinion of English people will be, but it would be of interest to Parliament. If in Orkney and Shetland, if it is to be done by constituencies, the people said "No, we do not want it" or "Yes, we do want it", and if throughout the whole of Scotland and Wales the margin of difference was very small and there was a low turnout, the House of Commons ought to know what the rest of the United Kingdom—Northern Ireland and England—wants. It is for us here in the end to balance the issue and ensure that every factor is taken into consideration. Therefore, we should know the feelings of our own countrymen.
Many people in different parts of the country have not cottoned on to how this measure will affect them. But feeling is growing and people are beginning to realise what is involved. Our debates are publicised daily. We shall no doubt go on debating this issue for a very long time. Therefore, people in many parts of England who have expressed little concern so far will probably begin to realise what is involved.
I must be frank. Like the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden), I have had a very low proportion of letters from constituents on this matter. But the letters that I have received have been very searching and have caused me a considerable amount of work.
§ Mr. George Gardiner
Speaking of interest or demand for a referendum, does my hon. Friend recall the argument that was put forward in the early stages of the call for a referendum on Common 606 Market membership? Many people argued that there was no great demand for a referendum, that there would be a low turnout, and so on. But what happened? The fact that there was to be a referendum concentrated people's minds on the issue and there was a high turnout.
§ Mr. Cormack
Another point which my hon. Friend will certainly want to consider is that people are extremely perplexed. But is there any wonder when the Government are changing the Bill daily?
§ Dr. Glyn
My hon. Friend is right. The Bill is being changed daily. But the point made by the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland is extremely important. When the Bill was published, people were unaware of what was involved. They just saw it as a Bill. This matter goes to the crux of the Bill.
§ Mr. Nick Budgen (Wolverhampton, South-West) rose—
§ Dr. Glyn
I have given way enough already. Gradually, as my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Benyon) said, people are beginning to appreciate that they may be affected by the issue. That is one reason why it is important to get the views of the whole of the United Kingdom. If, for example, there were an overwhelming majority in England against the Bill, an enormous turnout in Scotland in favour of the Bill and a very low poll in Northern Ireland, it would be for the House of Commons to determine and weigh up the facts.
I am happy that the House of Commons is to be the ultimate judge whether this legislation is implemented. I do not like it. At least the Leader of the House has recognised the sovereignty of Parliament by converting the referendum from a mandatory to a consultative one. We have had the ultimate power restored to Parliament. For that reason it is essential that, before passing the legislation, Parliament should be in possession of the views of the whole of the United Kingdom. Before Parliament is called upon to make any decision, it should take into consideration the views of the whole 607 country so that it can assess the value of the referendum in Scotland, Wales and England.
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Budgen
Would my hon. Friend deal with the point put to him by my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Gardiner) when he said that the referendum on the Common Market had enabled the country to concentrate its mind on that issue? There are many who would argue that the country did not concentrate its mind on the Common Market. Speaking as a broadly pro-Marketeer, I say that many people thought that the issue was affected by the attitude of the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn), for example, who had a crucial influence on the vote, or by the amount of money which the CBI poured into the pro-Market campaign. Would my hon. Friend give his views on this?
§ Dr. Glyn
My hon. Friend has raised an important point. Nobody thought that the Common Market referendum would have attracted such a high turnout. But that is an entirely different proposition. In that instance legislation was already in effect. This case is completely different, because we would have an entirely new situation, a complete change in the Act of Union and in the composition of the United Kingdom. Before the Bill is put into operation we shall see the results of the referendum, and this House will be called upon to judge from those results whether it is right to pass the legislation.
I am very grateful that the referendum is no longer mandatory but consultative, and that power remains with this Chamber. I believe that we should give very careful consideration to the proposition put forward by my hon. Friend the Member. I believe that we should give very last time that we shall rely on a referendum, and that this House will always remain the legislative body for the United Kingdom.
§ Dr. Phipps
I did not support the referendum on the Common Market and I did not support the new clause on the referendum that was passed in the early hours of this morning. I supported neither for the same reason. It seems to me that by introducing referendums into our constitution we are giving the Government 608 of the day the most powerful weapon they could have in their hands. We are allowing them to appeal to the country over the heads of Members of Parliament. We are enabling them to decide the questions they will put, the timing and the money they will spend on a referendum.
I was ashamed that a referendum was introduced into our constitutional process in order to get the Labour Party off the hook over the Common Market, and I am equally ashamed about this further attempt to get the Labour Party off another hook. Whenever we find ourselves faced with a problem as a Government we revert to a form of lottery instead of debating the issue in Parliament and being prepared to take a decision ourselves. We try to circumvent the issue in some way by saying that it was not our fault and that this was what the country really wanted.
Just as we refused to face the issue of the Common Market, we are now refusing to face the issue of devolution. To me, referendums are nothing more than sidetracking—a red herring and a further attempt by the Government to try to get Labour Members off a particularly nasty hook and off the horns of a particularly nasty dilemma.
The amendment and the whole series of further amendments in the names of right hon. Members opposite and of some of my right hon. and hon. Friends effectively illustrate the great difficulties that we as a House of Commons face when we take this route. All the arguments that we have been hearing today have concerned the question of who is to be asked to vote in the referendum.
When the EEC referendum was held. I and three or four of my hon. Friends put down an amendment to the effect that Britons living overseas should be given the right to vote in that referendum. We based our arguments on the fact that a temporary residence abroad did not affect the relevance of Great Britain entering the EEC to people who were due to return or whose children were below voting age and could have been living in Great Britain at that time.
I spent eight years living outside this country, mainly in South America. I knew that I should return to the United Kingdom, and I should have been horrified had I been deprived of the right and 609 ability to vote on a proposal that affected me absolutely and directly.
The same is true of what is happening today. One cannot possibly say that a Welshman and a Scotsman should not have the right to vote in the country of their origin, a country to which they might very likely return and to which they might owe an allegiance as deep as any in their lives.
In addition, the effect on Englishmen does not just depend on what might happen to future relationships between the English regions and Scotland and Wales We all of us have personal relationships that go across supposed national barriers. Although I was born in England, I was brought up in Wales. My wife is Welsh and my parents-in-law live in Swansea. My wife lives with me in England. My brother, who is English like me, lives in Glasgow. My sister lives in La Jolla, in the United States. We are a very British family and we are characteristic of the way in which British families are spread all around the United Kingdom. All my ancestors were Northern Irish, so I have a fine mixture of typical British blood.
I resent most of all that under the provisions of the Bill and the referendum I am to be told that I am a particular kind of Briton, that I am not allowed to be a Briton in the way that the Minister of State is a Briton. By the time this Bill is finished not only shall I be a different type of Britain but I shall have a different nationality from the Minister of State, and I shall be living in a different country with a different passport. I shall resent the loss of my hon. Friend the Minister of State from this House.
But surely the essence of the problem we face on this referendum and the difficulties about who to ask to vote come down to the very roots of the whole question. That is that we are a United Kingdom and that therefore there is bound to be great difficulty in asking separate parts of the United Kingdom for their views on that unity. Surely the Government must face the fact that the Bill is not welcomed on both sides of the House of Commons or by all kinds of opinion throughout the country.
Surely the Government should face the fact that the answer to this problem is to withdraw the Bill. If necessary, if 610 the Government must have a guillotine, let us have it on Tuesday, get it out of the way and defeat it. That will then give the Government a reason for taking the Bill back and they can solve this problem by reintroducing another Bill that considers devolution on a United Kingdom basis. Then we should have a Bill that might be able to please the whole House of Commons.
I do not believe that all the long hours of debate that we have had have been in any sense wasted. These are matters which it is well for hon. Members to discuss. The level of debate has been good. Matters have been raised which hon. Members should discuss, and the debate has been intelligent and sincere. The Minister of State and his colleagues will have gathered an enormous amount of information that will enable them to bring in a new Bill based upon United Kingdom devolution, taking into consideration the legitimate desires and rights of every part of the United Kingdom. That would solve all the problems raised by all the amendments at one stroke, right down to Amendment No. "ZZZ".
§ Sir Bernard Braine
I do not think that in all my years in the House I have ever heard a more devastating criticism of the Government than we heard from the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton). Every single word that he uttered was justified. As a parliamentarian, I salute his candour and his courage. I should also like to say how refreshing I found the speech of the hon. Member for Dudley, West (Dr. Phipps). The Minister of State must by now know how bad the Bill is, how unwelcome it is, and how unworkable it will be.
The sad fact is that there is a case for devolution, but it is not expressed in any meaningful way in the Bill. There is a case for giving greater expression to the various regions of the United Kingdom, especially those which have a distinctive character, such as Scotland, with its separate legal system and its long and rich history—and Wales, too—
§ Sir B. Braine
—and, for that matter, other parts of England such as Yorkshire, Lancashire and Cornwall, and the 611 Province of Northern Ireland. But there is no provision in the Bill for that.
I am not opposed to devolution, but it must be a genuine and not a sham devolution. It must be a devolution extended to all the people. I am attracted by what the hon. Member for Dudley, West said a minute ago, that the Government should take this wretched Bill away. They should cut its throat, and then introduce a new Bill that has some relation to the realities of our situation and the needs of our people. We have had a long and historic debate, without a single dull speech and never a dull moment. By now the Government should have learned what sort of legislation to bring before the House. If they take this Bill away, the Government will not be regarded as having failed. They will be regarded as having learned. Let them then take it away and bring in another.
I have a great deal of sympathy with the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan), who has battled nobly, with great eloquence and great force, throughout these debates, arguing that there should be greater devolution of responsibility for Scotland—and, no doubt, for Wales, too. But by the same token why should there not be greater devolution for England? That is the question that English Members must keep on asking. Where is the logic in restricting devolution to Scotland and Wales, and not to Northern Ireland, which had a Parliament for 50 years until we took it away? We are all in the same boat. We are all over-governed, and I do not think that we have ever been so badly governed. There is then a case for devolution of responsibility, for giving the people of this country greater control over their own affairs.
What the Government are doing in this Bill, however, derogates from the power and responsibility of Parliament. It is our duty not merely to represent our constituencies, as an hon. Member suggested earlier, but to remember that we are part of a deliberative assembly, the council of the nation, representing the United Kingdom as a whole.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ I do not ignore the existence of minorities with grievances. But these are not limited to Scotland and to Wales. There 612 are the English regions. I spent 12 years in the House of Commons with my constituents on Canvey Island asking what was the point of parliamentary government when their pleas to successive Governments to be heard about the progressive destruction of their environment were ignored. There were many people in Canvey Island who used to talk, perhaps jokingly, about a UDI. Here at any rate was one community which felt that Governments did not care. I do not doubt that there are plenty of people in Scotland who feel that government does not care and has become remote, and people in Wales who feel the same, and, for that matter, probably in Yorkshire, too.
§ Sir B. Braine
Yet it is my basic conviction that the strength and glory of our country lies in this rich variety of people. I thought that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dover and Deal (Mr. Rees) went right to the heart of the matter. As Renan said, a nation is what it feels itself to be. Until this wretched issue raised its head and until the Government weakly felt that they had to brush off the SNP challenge in Scotland by introducing this Bill, no one from one end of the kingdom to the other, outside a handful of Celtic fanatics, felt that we were not members of the British nation.
A nation is a web of community welded together by common experience and common sacrifice, and I say to you especially, Colonel Crawshaw, that those who flocked to the colours in two world wars, a high proportion of whom either did not come back at all or came back broken, did not do so for any narrow nationalism. They did so for Britain. I suggest that they would be horrified to learn about the little men who are now taking us down a path which inevitably will lead to disunity, which will pit one part of the kingdom against another, and will lead inevitably to the break-up of our country.
I have to apologise to the Committee. I have sat through a large part of the debate, but I was not here at the very beginning because I was in the Chair of the Select Committee on Overseas Development. Our work there is of great importance. But the Committee will understand that my feelings throughout the whole of our deliberations upstairs were not there but were down here in the 613 Chamber. I was impatient to get here, because of my conviction that what we are discussing goes to the heart of our very being as a people.
The future of our country and of our race is at stake. The Government may think light of it. But Ministers should look round at the Benches behind them. They should listen to the speeches which have come from their own supporters. If the Leader of the House had been here for the greater part of the debate, he would have heard speech after speech denouncing the Bill.
Even with the belated concession of consultative referendums, in my view the Bill is unconstitutional, illogical and politically inept. But let no one make any mistake about it. The Bill will change the constitution of our country. It will set in motion a train of events which could lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom. Although the vast majority of the British people may still be unaware of what is at stake and what is being done in their name, I believe that when they awaken to it the Government will not know what has happened to them.
I state my conviction, that it is surely wrong to have referendums, even consultative ones, to set up Scottish and Welsh Assemblies but to deny the right to vote to the people of Northern Ireland, who had a Parliament for 50 years until we took it away, and to the people of England. It is illogical to permit people of non-Scottish birth and non-Welsh birth to vote in a referendum in those two countries, but to deny the right to people of Scottish and Welsh birth to vote in referendum in England. It is equally illogical to prevent the English from expressing a view. All the people of our land have a right to be consulted, especially about so grave a matter.
Since time immemorial, the basis of parliamentary government has been the maximThat which touches all should be approved by all".It should not be necessary for me to remind the Leader of the House of that. Once upon a time he was a great parliamentarian, one of the great defenders of the rights of Parliament. Now let all the people speak. Let us ask Scotsmen and 614 Englishmen living in England and Northern Ireland their view of the matter.
§ Mr. Dalyell
One of the greatest speeches made by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House was on 2nd May 1972 against a guillotine motion.
§ Mr. Dalyell
The hon. Gentleman was saying that the Leader of the House was a great parliamentarian. He is still a great parliamentarian, as I went to some lengths to say last night, and he is a great writer and biographer. But I remind the hon. Gentleman that one of his greatest speeches was on 2nd May 1972 against a guillotine motion. Those of us who heard it cannot fail to remember its eloquence and power against the use of the guillotine on a constitutional issue.
§ Sir B. Braine
The Committee will be grateful to the hon. Gentleman for reminding us of that occasion. I see the Leader of the House leaving the Chamber. I hope that it is merely to refresh his memory, but it may be to hang his head in shame. There is nothing sadder than to see the great fall. They fall mightily and with a great noise. The right hon. Gentleman's reputation was already getting threadbare before the Bill, but it is now torn into shreds.
The idea of a referendum is wrong. It is a derogation from the authority of Parliament. The idea, previously alien to our constitution, was first mooted in the 1890s in relation to Gladstone's proposals to give Home Rule to Ireland. It is interesting to recall what Dicey, the great constitutional authority, said about a referendum at that time. He wrote:The referendum is the people's veto: the nation is sovereign and may wall decree that the constitution shall not be changed without the direct sanction of the nationThat is a straightforward pronouncement. The nation means the whole nation.
The Government have no right, no mandate—and they know it—to tamper with the constitution of this country and to deny to the English, the Northern Irish and Scots and Welshmen living in both countries, a right to express their views on a matter as grave as this. It is a great derogation from the Government's responsibility. They should be ashamed of it. Unless there is some sign 615 very soon that the Government are having second thoughts—
§ Mr. Cormack
I see that the Leader of the House has returned with a copy of the speech to which the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) referred.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I remind my right hon. Friend the Lord President that in that speech he said:There is a further reason why it is improper for this Government in particular to introduce a guillotine. There is a further limitation."—[Official Report, 2nd May 1972; Vol. 836, c. 234.]
§ The Temporary Chairman (Mr. Richard Crawshaw)
Order. We are not discussing guillotine motions. We are discussing whether the referendum should be extended to the whole of the United Kingdom. The hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) has roused my patriotic fervour. I hope that he will now return to the amendment.
§ Sir B. Braine
I bow to your ruling, Mr. Crawshaw, as always. I had no intention of straying from the paths of rectitude until I was reminded by the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) of that great and historic speech by the Leader of the House all those years ago.
When the right hon. Gentleman walked out of the Chamber at that point we wondered whether it was because he had a guilty conscience or because he had gone to refresh his memory. What is clear is that for him Parliament no longer matters. That is the gravamen of the argument.
In short, a referendum should not be used in the trivial way in which it would be used under the Bill. It should be used only on matters of the gravest kind affecting everyone in the kingdom and consulting everyone. I hope that as a result of this debate the word will go out to every constituency in the land as to what the Government are doing in the name of our people.
§ Mr. Gwilym Roberts (Cannock)
I am sure that the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) will forgive me if I do not follow him in Second Reading style. However, because we have followed each other in previous debates on the Bill, he will know that I have great sympathy with many of the points he has made.
616 You will be relieved to hear, Mr. Crawshaw, that I intend to confine myself to the amendment. I am not a great lover of the Bill in general, and I have great doubts about the proposal to extend the franchise in this way, or at least to extend it on the basis of the type of question which the Government have in mind. I know that they are talking about changing the question slightly and that they are stressing that it should be a consultative referendum, but we all know full well that it is very difficult for any Government to define the results of a referendum, whether or not it is consultative.
If there were unexpected results, whether the referendum was consultative or mandatory, there would be great pressures on the Government to follow those results. Assuming that the question is anything of the type now envisaged, I doubt whether there is a strong case for extending the franchise in this way.
Some hon. Members have suggested the enfranchising of first-generation Scotsmen and Welshmen. Although I have some claims in that direction, we would all accept the difficulty of identifying Welshmen in England or Scotland and of dealing with complex matters of that sort. The statistical basis does not exist, because the figures are mainly estimates. I am not saying that the exercise would be impossible, but it would be extremely difficult. Once we have agreed to include first-generation Scotsmen and Welsh people, others will be making claims. The desirability of such an enlargement of the franchise is debatable. The difficulty is that if, as has been suggested, one extends the franchise to the United Kingdom as a whole in a referendum posing such a question, one deprives Parliament of its sovereignty because, although the referendum will be consultative, we know that they would be a stupid Government who defied the result.
§ 9.15 p.m.
§ Therefore, if we are to have the kind of question that is now envisaged, I am not in favour of such an extension of the franchise. There would be an argument in favour of extending the franchise if different questions were to be posed in the referendum. I do not intend to stray 617 into discussing the next batch of amendments, but the size of the franchise cannot be considered without also considering the kind of questions that are to be asked, because they are highly relevant to the question of to which people they will be put.
§ If the whole basis of the referendum were to be changed, and if we were to have a more complex questionnaire asking people about their views on devolution in general, there would be an argument for asking not only the people of Scotland and Wales but the people of England for their views. If there were such questions and such an approach to the referendum, there would be an overwhelming case for an extension of the franchise. My hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) asked earlier how costly and complex the process would be, but all our experience in this direction shows that the additional processing of a three- or four-question questionnaire would involve minimal additional complexity and cost. At the end of the road we would at least know something.
§ From the sort of operation that is now being prepared, in which we shall be asking the people of Scotland and Wales whether they wanted the Government's proposals, we shall know nothing after carrying out the exercise. At least, if there were a more complex questionnaire of the sort that I am asking for we should have a basis for proceeding with realistic devolution proposals not only for Scotland and Wales but for England. That is the great advantage of the sort of questionnaire that I propose, and in those circumstances I should be in favour of extending the franchise to the United Kingdom.
§ Dr. Phipps
Does my hon. Friend accept that the Government are not interested in a referendum that would allow them to provide a better devolution Bill? They are concerned only with getting this Bill on to the statute book. They have the great advantage that Governments always have with referendums because they pose the questions. Hon. Members can propose other questions, but the chances of achieving sufficient agreement upon them—as we can see from all the amendments that we have today—and of getting them accepted is never as 618 strong as the Government's powers to get their question accepted. Therefore, we are faced willy-nilly with the Government's question.
§ Mr. Roberts
I accept that. The Government's approach to devolution is limited and seems to be associated with the contingencies in Scotland. This is not really a proposal for devolution for the United Kingdom as a whole.
If the Government were prepared to think again and to allow the United Kingdom as a whole to consider devolution and say what measure of devolution was wanted, we should be prepared to go along with a Bill that could be of use not only to Scotland and Wales but to the United Kingdom as a whole.
§ Mr. Nicholas Winterton
I have sat through many hours of our Committee proceedings and this is only my second contribution. I am happy to tell the Government that I shall not take long, but there are a number of points that I wish to register with them and I hope that they will listen sympathetically.
It is always a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) because, whatever one may think of him, he is a great parliamentarian. There is no doubting the conviction with which he spoke, and I hope that his points registered with the Leader of the House, who until recently also had an exceptional reputation as a defender of Parliament and all it stands for.
Having listened to the speeches of the hon. Members for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell), Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton), Penistone (Mr. Mendelson) and Dudley, West (Dr. Phipps) and my hon. Friends the Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) and Aylesbury (Mr. Raison), I have tremendous confidence in the future of parliamentary democracy in this country. I am put in one part of the Tory Party, but in no circumstances could my hon. Friends the Members for Worthing and Aylesbury be described as being on the reactionary right wing of the Tory Party. The hon. Members on the Government side to whom I have referred take the same view as my hon. Friends and myself about the Bill and the amendment.
I say to the Scottish and Welsh nationalists that I am proud to be British, not 619 just English. On so important an issue as the one we are discussing all the people of the United Kingdom should have the opportunity to give their opinions in a consultative referendum on what the Government are doing. We know that the Government will not be bound by the referendum and that the House of Commons will take the ultimate decision. Surely it would therefore be better for the Government to know what ail the people of the United Kingdom, rather than just the people of Scotland and Wales, think about what they are doing.
The hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden) said that he had received no letters about devolution from his constituents. I have received many hundreds of letters from my constituency, from individuals and companies who are deeply concerned about the implications of the Bill and the effect that separation would have on industry and commerce.
§ Dr. Phipps
Can the hon. Gentleman help us by speculating on how the referendums would develop in various parts of the United Kingdom as the campaign get going? If, as seems likely, the result was an overwhelming vote for the Union in Scotland and for separation in England, how might the Government handle that situation?
§ Mr. Winterton
I am tempted to follow the hon. Gentleman and to launch into a far longer speech than I originally intended, but I shall not follow speculation from hon. Members opposite. Their understanding of speculation is unacceptable to me, and my speculation along the lines suggested by the hon. Member would be unacceptable to the Committee.
In the EEC referendum the two polling areas in my constituency returned the biggest percentage vote in Cheshire. Perhaps I am in a rather different position from hon. Members from Merseyside. My constituents are interested in what is going on and will wish to have their say in a referendum on devolution.
Although mine is a large English constituency with about 84,000 electors I represent several hundreds of Scots and several hundreds and perhaps thousands of Welsh people. They feel strongly that although some of them may live permanently in my area there are many others who will ultimately return to Wales 620 and Scotland. They feel that they will be robbed—and one cannot choose a better word—of an opportunity of casting their vote and having an influence on a decision that could affect their future.
§ Mr. Buchan
Is the hon. Member's argument that there are people in England or in Wales who might return to Scotland and that there are people in Scotland and in England who might return to Wales and that therefore they should be entitled to vote? Does he think that all the hundreds of Labour voters who have lived in Macclesfield and gone to live elsewhere should be allowed to vote against him at the next election?
§ Mr. Winterton
Many people came to Macclesfield as Socialist supporters but have subsequently changed.
The case for England and Northern Ireland having a say is that the Bill—and this view is shared by many of my hon. Friends—fundamentally alters the structure set up by the Act of Union. In the discussions on Clause 1, when I made my first contribution to this debate, I said that I stood by the Act of Union and that I intended to do so throughout the passage of the Bill. Perhaps the Treasury Bench will argue that the Bill does not infringe the letter of that Act, but there is no doubt that it alters the structure set out in that Act. That is a serious matter.
The hard—pressed taxpayers of England will have to pay for the block grant while losing control of how that substantial sum of money will be spent. That can only be described as taxation without representation. There is no doubt that there will be a grave constitutional crisis every year when the block grant is negotiated.
I return to the question of participation. The Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Education have stated that they want the public to participate. They have said that they want involvement. I say to them that they have put forward a referendum. They have changed it from a mandatory referendum to a consultative referendum. Why do they not wish to listen to the views expressed by the people in the United Kingdom? Surely it is vital on a decision that will be binding. Whether the Government cast a smokescreen across the Committee by introducing a consultative 621 referendum rather than a mandatory referendum, it would be an unwise Government who did not implement whatever the majority view of the referendum turned out to be. It could well be that that majority will be thin. Not only will the Government be using all the power of the Government machine, but inevitably they will feel themselves obligated to follow and to implement the result of the referendums.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Gordon Wilson
The hon. Gentleman mentioned that it would be rash of any Government not to follow the majority decision in the referendum. Would he care to say what that majority would be? Would that be the majority of the United Kingdom as a whole, the majority in Scotland, or the majority in Wales, as the case may be? Or does the hon. Gentleman accept that the English people, being 10 times stronger in numbers than those in Scotland, have the right to overrule the Scottish people in terms of Scotland?
§ Mr. Winterton
I describe the people of our kingdom as the people of the United Kingdom. I believe—I say this with emphasis to the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson)—that the greatness of our country is based on all the talents and the abilities of the people who comprise the four countries that are the United Kingdom. As I said earlier—perhaps the hon. Gentleman was not present—not only am I proud to be English, but I am proud to be British. The success of our country has been based upon all the advantages, talents and abilities that comprise the four countries of the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Donald Stewart (Western Isles)
Whatever may be the views in the Committee on whether devolution or independence are sound or otherwise, surely the hon. Gentleman cannot think that a referendum that could include votes in England would have any validity whatever given the size of England's population as against the size of the population of Scotland. Does he not realise that that would be an example of the horse and rabbit pie syndrome, when the restaurateur said "It is fifty-fifty. One horse to one rabbit"?
§ Mr. Winterton
I have considerable respect for the right hon. Member. On many subjects he and I agree. [HON.MEMBERS: "Oh."]
§ Mr. Winterton
I shall give way shortly. The right hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) put a point to me and it is only right that I should answer him. Obviously, there would be a break-down of the poll in a referendum if it were effective throughout the United Kingdom. Perhaps I may say to the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) that there might be a break-down to show how the people of Orkney and Shetland felt about the Bill.
In the light of all the evidence and the results of the referendum, the Government could then make a proper and considered decision on whether to proceed with devolution. Surely that is the answer. The Government would know the views of all people in the United Kingdom, those of Scotland and Wales, of Orkney and Shetland, and of England.
§ Mr. Dalyell
How about a specific sample of the subjects on which the hon. Gentleman agrees with the right hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart).
§ Mr. Winterton
Although I am tempted to drift from my line of argument, it would not be in order for me to discuss matters outside the amendment.
It has been said in a number of speeches on this very important amendment that the interest in the United Kingdom as a whole in what is going on and the implications of the Bill is increasing. It is not for me, as a humble Back Bencher, to warn the Leader of the House about what he is doing. However he is gravely wrong if he feels that the current action of the Government is to the advantage of either the Labour Party or the country as a whole. People are gravely concerned about what is going on. If for party political reasons the Government are to progress and press the Bill through the House of Commons, with or without a guillotine, all I can say is that the Lord President and the Government are in for a rough ride.
I ask the right hon. Gentleman and the Minister of State seriously to consider 623 extending the referendum—the amendment is a very good one—to all the people of the United Kingdom. The smokescreen that has been drawn across the whole issue by declaring that the referendum will be consultative rather than mandatory surely leads the Government to realise that it is now absolutely right and proper that all people in this country should have a say on this vital issue. The Government need not heed what the various parts of the country say, but at least they will know what the country says, and at the moment they do not.
§ Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)
I see no point in extending the referendum to the whole of the United Kingdom, for two good reasons. First, I think that the bulk of the English electorate will not have a sufficient interest in the question to be posed. I find it hard enough to detect any real interest among my own electorate in Wales. Their concern is with rather more down-to-earth issues such as the cost of living, housing and jobs. Devolution is not something that concerns them, although one would think otherwise when reading the columns of the so-called national newspaper of Wales. The opinion leaders talk about almost nothing other than devolution, whereas the man in the street thinks of everything but devolution.
Given the difficulties of even trying to excite some interest in devolution among the electorate in Wales—I do not know about Scotland—I can see little chance of exciting interest in English constituencies save, perhaps, in areas contiguous to Wales—for example, Merseyside and Bristol.
§ Mr. Clement Freud (Isle of Ely)
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that, if he gets no response from his electorate in Wales and the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) gets over 100 letters about devolution from the people of Macclesfield, there must be every right for the people of England to have a referendum?
§ Mr. Anderson
I have every confidence in the statistics that have been given by the hon. Member for Macclesfield, yet I have my doubts. I say no more, judging from my own postbag on the issue. I have come to my decision because of possible disinterest and the 624 difficulty of achieving a sufficient turnout of the English electorate.
Although I concede that the Bill affects the whole of the United Kingdom, the opinion of the English electorate would be largely irrelevant in political terms to the points that are to be discussed, in the sense that if the people of Wales and the people of Scotland decided that they wanted to have Assemblies, it would be politically inconceivable, if England were to decide that it did not want Assemblies in Wales or Scotland, for Wales or Scotland to be denied those Assemblies.
Those two points—first, disinterest in England, and, secondly, the political irrelevance of the choice being given to the English electorate—cause me to oppose the amendment.
§ Mr. Cormack
This is really the first time that I have intervened in this long series of debates although I have sat through many of the long hours of debate.
As I have listened to the Lord President I have often thought,Foot! thou shouldst be living at this hour".We have seen a complete travesty of the man whom we knew as the great parliamentarian and the great champion of our liberties. I was delighted to see that he brought in the great speech to which the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) referred, the speech that the right hon. Gentleman made on the guillotine motion in 1972. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman has re—read it. I have been watching him and he seems to have re-read it with great interest. I hope that he has had a reconversion and that he will realise that what has been said during the debate, which has been one of the crucial debates, has been of vital significance to everyone in the Committee and throughout the country.
I think that the House of Commons has a great debt to my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Gardiner) for moving the amendment. My hon. Friend has put his finger on the nub of the whole question. We are in an absurd position. We have got ourselves into the most ridiculous posture through having had the Bill thrust upon us. I agreed so much with what was said by the hon. Member for Dudley, West (Dr. Phipps). It is an absurd Bill, and it seems to me that the most honourable suggestion that 625 has been put to us in recent weeks came from the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh), who had an amendment—it was not called—to the effect that we ought to have a separate Bill for the referendum, have the referendum, and, if devolution were approved, move on to a sensible devolution Bill.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I was referring specifically to the statement by my right hon. Friend that the guillotine is the last resort of a Government who know that they cannot get the full-hearted consent of Parliament but are determined to have their way.
§ The Temporary Chairman
Order. The hon. Member knows that we are not discussing the guillotine. I have already ruled on that.
§ Mr. Cormack
In view of your remarks, Mr. Crawshaw, I shall not be tempted to pursue that issue any further.
What we are seeing—and many hon. Members have touched upon this—is the destruction of our patrimony as a nation. If we do not have a United Kingdom referendum—having decided that we shall have one—we shall deny to the vast majority of our people the chance to pass their comments on the most fundamental constitutional changes that have been advanced in this nation for 250 years or more. To suggest that this is in any way invalidating the claims of the Scots or the Welsh is wrong. It can be a referendum that is taken—as the referendum on the Common Market was taken—by counties, and we shall then know what they think in Scotland and Wales.
I should like a two—question referendum that allows people in Scotland to say whether they want independence. I believe that that is a perfectly logical, defensible and entirely honourable point of view. If the majority of the Scottish people decide that they want independence, I for one shall not for a moment attempt to prevent them from having it, even though the referendum is a consultative one. But I do not believe that that is what they would say. I should argue forcefully in Scotland and elsewhere to try to persuade them not to say that they want independence. That is something that I am sure SNP Members would accept.
626 It is manifest nonsense to have a referendum merely in Scotland and Wales when the central issue is separation. Members of the SNP will never be satisfied until they have total separation, and that is an honourable point of view. Hon. Members who represent Plaid Cymru will never be satisfied until Wales has independence. They see devolution as merely a step along the road. They see the Assemblies as merely a step on the road towards independence. Therefore, let the people of Scotland and Wales say what they think on that issue, and let the people of the United Kingdom as a whole say what they think about the structure of this country.
§ Mr. Ogden
May I, as one English Member to another, ask the hon. Gentleman what would happen if both Scotland and Wales voted forcefully in favour of independence and the majority of people in England said "No"? If the British Government gave Assemblies to Scotland and Wales, what sort of relationship would there be between the British Government and the English people who would say "You asked us for our opinion. We told you, but you took no notice of us. Why bother asking us?".
§ 9.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Cormack
With respect, I think that the hon. Gentleman has missed the point. We are dealing with the future structure of the United Kingdom. As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dover and Deal (Mr. Rees) said in a poetic and moving speech, the United Kingdom is a nation. We are all British. We all ought to have the opportunity to express our views on the future of Britain.
If those who live in Scotland and Wales decided by a majority that they wished to have no further part in the United Kingdom, I would be deeply saddened. I do not think that would happen. I do not believe that is what they would opt for. I believe that we could salvage something out of what has become the most chaotic piece of legislation placed before us for many a long year. I believe that we could by a nationwide referendum help the nation to come together again, to make people think British and realise the great things that the nation has achieved, the things that are at stake, and the things that the nation could achieve in the future.
§ Mr. Gordon Wilson
Without necessarily wishing to advance the hon. Gentleman's notion that people should think British, I ask him whether he does not think that he would be laying a lot of mines around those who do wish to think of themselves as British. If there were a referendum on devolution and the question in England brought out a massive "No" but a "Yes" in Scotland, where then would hon. Members be? Either they would accept the Scottish situation and vote for devolution against the interests of the English, or vice versa. It is a question of no man being able to have two masters. One could cause tremendous ill-feeling either in Scotland or in England.
§ Mr. Cormack
We have been led into a morass. I believe that if we had a United Kingdom referendum the vast majority of the people would opt to remain in the United Kingdom and would wish the country to remain roughly as it is. I should like to see three, not two, questions on the referendum form—"Do you want independence?; Do you want a devolved power along the lines suggested in the Bill?; Do you want in effect the status quo?" I believe that the vast majority of the people would opt for the latter, but I do not know. I want to put it to the test.
The referendums are to be consultative, and the House of Commons makes the sovereign decision at the end of the day because only the House of Commons can do it. We can be grateful to the Government for the change they have made, although late in the day, in the status of the referendums. To have had mandatory referendums would have been wrong. But there is no logical reason for denying the English people and the people of Northern Ireland a chance to say what they think about the constitution and the structure of our country. Whether we live in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland or England, we are all British, and we all ought to have an opportunity to express our opinions on this great issue.
I hope that the Leader of the House will do what he boasted he had done yesterday when he was criticised for bringing forward amendments to the new clause so early. He said "Why criticise me, since I have listened to what the Committee has said?" The opinion of 628 the Committee in this long and major debate is that the Government ought to think again about the nature of the referendums, and I hope that the Government will now agree to make a United Kingdom referendum, giving everyone a chance, wherever they may live, to say what they think about the future of the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Leon Brittan (Cleveland and Whitby)
So often in our debates on the Bill, whatever the particular subject has been, the central dilemmas of the Bill have been pinpointed and ruthlessly exposed. That has happened again today. I suggest, therefore, that although the debate has been in many ways an unhappy one it has also been instructive.
The debate has been unhappy because it has provided a peculiarly vivid illustration of the impossible dilemmas presented by this form of Bill and the way in which it has been proceeded with by the Government. It has been an instructive debate precisely because it has provided so vivid an illustration of that problem and has once against given us the opportunity of seeing the heart of the illogicality that is put forward in the form of this legislative proposal.
I have put it in a rather mild fashion, but the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) was not prepared to be as generous as that in his analysis. Indeed he expressed it in words which were remarkable from a supporter of the Govment. The hon. Gentleman said that nothing could save the Government from almost universal contempt for what they were doing. That was the considered judgment of an experienced supporter of the Government with regard to the Bill. How right the hon. Gentleman was.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dover and Deal (Mr. Rees) felt that we in the House of Commons should speak for Britain. Our complaint is that the form of the Bill and the way it has been processed through the House are such as to make it very difficult for us to respond to a call of that kind. The problem of who should vote in the referendum is merely one illustration of the general difficulty. As the hon. Member for Newport (Mr. Hughes) said, this problem would have been one of many which might have been avoided had the proposal to have separate Bills and 629 separate referendums for Scotland and Wales been implemented.
In analysing the difficulty posed by the referendum and the question of whether there should be a United Kingdom vote or only a vote in Scotland and Wales, one cannot help observing the genesis of the whole referendum. The Bill itself consists of fierce controversies of principle and deep divisions of detail, and the referendum, which has been brought in as an attempt to resolve this matter, has been brought in in a narrow political sense—not necessarily in a party political sense, but as an attempt to cut the Gordian knot.
It is essentially a trivialisation of the concept of a referendum to try to introduce it in the middle of the Government's considerations on how to proceed and then to change the proposal as they go along. My hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) said that a referendum should not be used in a trivial way. That is why we find ourselves in this problem. We do not wish to defeat the Bill by means of the referendum. We want to defeat the Bill on the Floor of the House. It has already been defeated in argument on the Floor of the House. We should like to complete the job, but not by a referendum.
I therefore say that the argument that my hon. Friends have put forward is a logical one and is extremely difficult to refute. But the problem we face is that they are trying to apply logic to a proposition which has been put forward not on logical grounds but on the narrowest of political grounds. They are trying to make sense out of a proposal which cannot be made sense of in the way that it has been put forward.
The logic is quite clear. It is that the Bill undoubtedly affects the United Kingdom as a whole and not only Scotland and Wales. My hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) clearly indicated that the Government themselves have accepted that proposition in the White Paper—or the Green White Paper —on the English regions. My hon. Friend invited the Minister of State, who was momentarily out of the Chamber, to address himself to that point. My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon) also pointed out that the referendum was about a matter which, 630 directly or indirectly, intimately affected the whole balance of the government of the United Kingdom. We cannot make changes of this magnitude to the government of Scotland and Wales and then say that it is not a matter affecting England.
To do them credit, the Government in their White Paper did not pretend any such thing. Therefore, it is not satisfactory for the hon. Member for Renfrew-shire, West (Mr. Buchan) to say that the people of Scotland and Wales do not want to decide the affairs of other parts of the country and that the people of England should take a similar self-denying ordinance. Apart from that, as has been pointed out, the intimate connections of a personal kind between people living in England, Scotland and Wales are so great that it is totally artificial to attempt to divide the matter in that way.
At a later stage we shall be coming to a series of amendments dealing with the question of people of Scottish origin, birth or connection living in England and people from Wales in a similar position. My hon. Friends recognise the considerable administrative difficulties of dealing with problems of that kind.
This debate illustrates the fact that, whether one looks at the effect of the Bill on the constitution of the United Kingdom or considers the personal connections between people living in England, Scotland and Wales, the logic is undoubtedly clear—that the Bill affects the United Kingdom and that it is wholly logical and reasonable for the people of England and Northern Ireland to want the opportunity to express their views.
The problem that arises and the reason why this is a Back Bench and not an official Opposition amendment is explained by the fact that we are trying to apply a logical solution to a proposition which has been put forward on political grounds. It is a political device. The problem is that, if one uses the logic which has been so powerfully applied during the debate, the whole point of the political device is defeated.
I do not hold with the political device. I am unattracted by it. But we cannot square the circle. It is a political device to enable the Government to do one of two things. The purpose of the referendum at the lowest level is to secure votes 631 for the guillotine. That is so despicable purpose that I shall waste no further breath on it.
Putting it at a slightly more elevated political level, however, the purpose is in a sense to legitimise the decision of the House of Commons. If, the Bill having got through the House, it is then put to a referendum in Scotland and Wales and it is defeated, as a matter of practical politics it is inconceivable that it would not also be defeated in England and Northern Ireland. That must be so. I do not think that anyone would argue to the contrary.
If we had a United Kingdom-wide referendum and somehow or other the Bill, despite the powerful advocacy of reasonable men and women against it, scraped through in Scotland and Wales but was defeated in England and Northern Ireland, the whole point of this device would be defeated and we should face a political disaster because the Government would be in a dilemma.
What will happen if the Bill is dropped? The people of Scotland and Wales will say that their political future has been vetoed by the people of England and Northern Ireland. If, on the other hand, the Government were to go on with the Bill, despite the majority wishes of the people of England, they would be imposing on the people of Scotland and Wales and on the people of the United Kingdom as a whole a system of government which the majority of people in the United Kingdom had voted against. There is no answer to that problem. The Government would find themselves facing a political disaster. The moral that I draw is not that we can solve the problem by having a referendum in England as well, but that the whole proposition, put forward for political motives, cannot be solved in that kind of way at all.
Reference has been made to the fact that there is now a change because the referendum is to be consultative and not mandatory.
§ Mr. Budgen
Is not this an argument against the whole principle of referendums and not only against the amendment?
§ It being Ten o'clock, The CHAIRMAN left the Chair to report Progress and ask leave to sit again.
§ Committee report Progress.