- 1. You have one vote, called a Single Transferable Vote, that allows you to put into order of preference the options listed on the ballot paper.
- 2. Put a '1' next to your first choice.
- 3. Put a '2' next to your second choice.
- 4. Continue to number the options listed until you have run out of choices or you have no further preference between the options.
§ WHICH OF THE FOLLOWING OPTIONS DO YOU PREFER:
§ TO LEAVE THE EXISTING SYSTEM OF GOVERNMENT UNALTERED [...]
§ TO ESTABLISH IN WALES A DOMESTIC PARLIAMENT WITH JURISDICTION OVER ALL INTERNAL AFFAIRS [...]
§ TO HAVE INDEPENDENCE FROM THE UNITED KINGDOM [...]
(jjjjjj), leave out lines 96 to 100 and insert—
'which of the following would you prefer:
It is not compulsory to mark all three preferences; you may indicate only "1" and "2" if you so wish, or just your first preference. This is done by marking "1" opposite your choice, and leaving the other boxes empty'.
§ Mr. Johnston
The relevance of Amendment (x) has been underlined by the most important statement made by the Lord President this afternoon—a statement welcomed by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Liberal Party and certainly by me.
The right hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish), when questioning the Lord President, said, with his ever-acute observation of political events, that there was a clear link between the Government's willingness to consult the parties and their declared intention to have a referendum.
I begin by making a direct quotation from the speech made by the former Liberal Member for Aberdeenshire, West, Mr. James Davidson, on 14th February 1969 in moving, on behalf of the Liberal Party, his Bill entitled Scotland and Wales (Referenda) Bill. It is on his proposals that Amendment (x) and the related Amendment (y) which refers to Wales, are directly based. For the record it is interesting to recall what Mr. Davidson said quite a long time ago, before the raw emotions that are now current were evident. He said:First, I want to clear up some misconceptions about the purpose of the Bill. It is explicit in the Long Title, which is not very long, and which I shall read. It is a Bill'To authorise referenda in Scotland and in Wales to enable the Scottish and Welsh peoples respectively to indicate their views in regard to the future government of their countries; and for purposes connected therewith.'The words 'to indicate their views' have been very carefully selected and they show that this is clearly not an attempt to by-pass Parliament or to resort to government by referenda.Had the Lord President paid rather more attention to that point we would not have had the constitutional wrangle that we had when we first began to consider the possibility of referendums in this debate. Mr. Davidson continued:This is not an attempt to take the initiative from the Government's hands. The results of the referenda would undoubtedly put the Government under a strong moral obligation to carry out the wishes of the people, but it would not remove the initiative from their hands. It was said in an article that appeared in The Times that this was a Liberal attempt to make a concession to the Nationalists.[An HON. MEMBER: "They are not in the House."] There is no one on the 1677 Scottish National Party Bench, although I can see one Scottish nationalist lingering on the outback. Mr. Davidson went on:I deny this categorically. It is nothing of the sort. Perhaps I should remind the House that Home Rule has been part of Liberal policy for over 60 years; that approximately 20 years ago my right hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond)"—who is sitting beside me now—made his maiden speech on self-government; that two years ago my hon. Friend the Member for Inverness (Mr. Russell Johnston) introduced a Bill for self-government, and that a year ago my right hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) introduced a Bill for federal government. To pretend that the Bill is some sort of concession to a very significant movement is quite wrong; it is a straightforward attempt to find out what form of government would be most acceptable to the majority of the peoples of Scotland and Wales—nothing more and nothing less."—[Official Report, 14th February 1969; Vol. 777, c. 1725.]These are rather prophetic words, when we consider the situation in which we find ourselves today. It is interesting to note, en passant, that among those who supported the Bill in the Lobbies were the hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mrs. Ewing), who at that time was the solitary nationalist in the House, and also the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor), who at that time was the solitary Member for Cathcart and is now the Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland. I trust that on this matter at least they have not changed their minds in the years that have passed. I hope that we shall see the hon. Member for Cathcart in the Lobby later.
The proposal in the 1969 (Scotland and Wales (Referenda)) Bill applies precisely to what we are trying to do in this amendment, namely, to act as a guide to legislation. My hon. Friends and I believe that such an approach is still possible as a means of breaking the log-jam that the Government have today recognised exists by clarifying what are the views of the people of Scotland and Wales so that they can be properly taken into account. All the evidence is that there are more than two views in Scotland, and more than two views in Wales, but Scotland takes what one could call a harder outlook.
The latest opinion poll to which I have access was in the Scotsman on 9th of 1678 this month. The poll set out devolution preferences. One of the unreasonable arguments that have been advanced from time to time, particularly by the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell), who today put forward his outline of a question which the Chair defined as a mockery—
§ The Chairman
Order. To elaborate on that point, I wish to make clear that the expression "a mockery" is used in "Erskine May" on page 523. It might help the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Johnston) to take note of this in connection with the selection or non-selection of amendments.
§ Mr. Johnston
I accept your ruling, Mr. Murton, and if mockery in "Erskine May" means mockery of a different kind I do not mind. The word is still appropriate.
It has been argued that it is unreasonable to ask certain questions in a referendum because they are too complicated. This has been argued particularly against putting questions of a federal or quasi-federal nature into a referendum because people would not understand them. The fact is that in repeated opinion polls over many years—and this has become an accepted and regular method of testing public opinion—questions of this sort have been asked. It is unreasonable for either Front Bench or anyone else to argue that the kind of questions which are generally accepted by the public as being reasonable and fair are not reasonable to be put in a referendum.
The breakdown in the opinion poll of 9th February was as follows: 24 per cent. wished to keep the present system; 11 per cent. wanted an indirectly-elected Scottish Assembly, which is rather similar to some of the Conservative Party's suggestions; 20 per cent. wanted a directly-elected Scottish Assembly which would handle some Scottish affairs and would be responsible to Parliament at Westminster—this was near to the Government's proposals but not entirely the same; 23 per cent. supported a Scottish Parliament which would handle most Scottish affairs, including economic matters, leaving the Westminster Parliament responsible for defence, foreign affairs and international economic policy—an approach broadly similar to the federal approach that the Liberals have made; and 17 per cent. 1679 supported an independent Scotland, which is a question we should like to put in the referendum, a desire that we share with the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan), who is now in the Chamber.
It is quite clear that there are very market divisions between people in Scotland as to the kind of solution that is desirable. Some lack of authenticity is often attached to opinion polls. It is popular for politicians to say that they do not believe in opinion polls, but we all read them and secretly worry that they may be right or, sometimes, that they may be wrong. Nevertheless, they do not have the authenticity that a referendum would undoubtedly have.
Our amendment is a genuine attempt to discover what people feel, so that we may fully take account of their views in the Bill. Otherwise there is little point in having a consultative referendum. After the procedural and constitutional wrangle that we had at the beginning, when the Lord President responded to pressure from both sides by introducing an amendment, under the cloak of which we are discussing this amendment, the Government naturally emphasised that the referendum would be consultative, not mandatory. But how consultative is a referendum which is based merely on one question, as the Government propose?
If people say "No" to the Government's question they may do so because they reject the whole idea, like the 24 per cent. of people whom I quoted, because they want something more, or because they want independence. They are all perfectly good reasons for saying "No" to the Government's question. If they say "Yes" to the Government's question it may be because they reject independence and think that this will prevent it, or that they accept independence and think that this will further it. They may even vote "Yes" because they feel that if they do not get what the Government propose they will not get anything. This was the strong argument that was relevant in the debate that we had the other night on the guillotine.
In those circumstances, why have this sort of referendum? If we see a referendum simply as a means of reinforcing the Government rather than as a democratic 1680 instrument, that is a clear and straightforward exercise. But the Government themselves, including the Lord President, have emphasised that they want a consultative referendum. They want it in order to establish the opinion of the Scottish people and, as far as possible, to establish that approval is given to whatever will be done.
The Government agreed this very after-non to inter-party discussion. I found it interesting to look back to a letter that I wrote on 25th November 1974 to the right hon. Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson), when he was Prime Minister. I said in that letter:I would therefore ask you to give most serious consideration to the possibility of calling a convention or conference in Scotland at the beginning of the new year—and doubtless something similar would be appropriate in Wales … in order to try and achieve a broad agreement about where the starting line should be drawn.
§ Mr. Johnston
I can give the reply, but my recollection of the colour of the paper is dim. That reply came in December, from the then Lord President, Mr. Ted Short. He said, in a polite and reasonable way:We are grateful for your suggestion, but after careful thought we have concluded that the constitutional and practical objections are such that we cannot accept it … we appreciate the helpful and constructive spirit of your letter and are sorry that we have had to decide against your proposal.Feelings and relations were good in those times. My right hon. and hon. Friends and I deeply regret that relations have become less good in the intervening period, and we hope that the initiative announced by the Government today will bring relations back to where they were before. It is, however, worth placing on record that this proposal did not suddenly leap into the excited intellect of the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) a fortnight ago; it had been canvassed directly with the Government some time ago and it was rejected by them.
They have now accepted a particular proposal, the details of which I shall not 1681 go into, and they have accepted the possibility that the Bill that they produce will be susceptible to change as a result of discussions outside this House rather than only within the context of debate within this Chamber. The Government have also accepted the referendum. In our amendments we ask that they should be willing to advance the referendum so that its findings can be taken into account before the legislative process is completed, thus, as the amendment say,enabling the people of Scotland to indicate which of the following courses they would prefer".It would obviously be a wasted exercise to do that after the Bill had been firmly decided.
§ Mr. Timothy Raison (Aylesbury)
I find it sometimes terribly difficult to follow all the amendments that are grouped together on the Bill. Is there any provision, in the type of referendum that the hon. Gentleman seeks, for expressing alternative choices? Obviously, some people will not go along with any one particular choice, and they may want the chance to record their vote for a subsequent choice if their first selection does not come into effect. Is the Liberal Party proposing a sort of proportional representation system to sort out this question?
§ Mr. Johnston
I understand the hon. Gentleman's difficulty with the lettering of the amendments. I find it a problem, as I am sure you do, Mr. Murton. Amendment (z) provides for the vote in both referendums to be by means of a transferable vote, so that the voter can indicate his or her order of preference on the ballot paper. But the reason I have not spent time in emphasising that aspect is that time is limited and I want to concentrate on the principal issue, which is that there should be a referendum with the four broad choices embedded in it.
The opinion pollsters and the public have repeatedly indicated that this is the proper way to find out what the people of of Scotland and Wales feel. We in the Liberal Party have argued for many years for a federal solution, but we recognise, and have said from the beginning, that we shall not get everything we want. The Minister of State looks surprised, but he should not be. So far as I am aware, he is not a man given much to surprise.
1682 We are prepared to compromise and talk and we are also prepared, on a constitutional issue of this sort—and we feel it is right—to take full account of the real established divisions of opinion in Scotland. We think that the Government should do the same. The Government have taken a very positive and constructive step today, and I hope that they will follow the logic of that step by enabling a proper testing of the spectrum of opinion in Scotland and Wales.
§ Mr. Robin F. Cook (Edinburgh, Central)
I wish to speak in support of the amendments in this group which stand in the names of myself and my hon. Friends the Members for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan) and West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan). The amendments commence with Amendment (a), but it might be helpful to draw to the attention of the Committee the principal amendments which are Amendments (c) and (aaa) to the new schedule. The effect of this group of amendments taken together is to provide for a second question on the issue of independence, and these two particular amendments, to which I shall be returning later in my speech, provide two alternative forms of the question which might be asked in that referendum.
In our deliberations this afternoon it is inevitable that the Committee must have regard to the the position we are placed in as a result of the decision on Tuesday night. I find that the most relevant consideration to arise from that decision is that many hon. Members who supported the concept of a referendum, including the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Johnston), nevertheless failed to support the procedural device which was essential if the Scottish and Welsh people were to decide anything, far less the four or five questions that he posed in his speech.
§ Mr. Russell Johnston
The hon. Member is not being fair. The plain fact is that had the Government not been defeated on the procedural motion we would not now be having inter-party discussions, and we would not be looking forward to a proper test of public opinion, which is what I hope we shall see.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Cook
My remark was correct. It is, of course, an unfortunate fact but 1683 facts often do appear unfair. However, it is correct. If we had had a procedural device we might have had some prospect of reaching the end of our considerations on New Clause 40, but it is probable that we shall not reach the end of New Clause 40 in the course of tonight or the coming two weeks. Without reaching the end of New Clause 40 there is no immediate prospect of a referendum. Most hon. Members are aware of this.
It has been suggested that our considerations on the clause now have an added point. Our deliberations this afternoon have added point because it may now be the case that the Government should consider taking the clause aside from the Bill and having a referendum now in order to assist the House in reaching a view about devolution. I agree with the hon. Member for Inverness that this might help get over the difficulty which we as a Committee are placed in about coming to a judgment on this matter.
However we must first know whether the Committee would then accept the view expressed in that referendum on the devolution proposals. After all, I am struck by the fact that many hon. Members who did not support the procedural device on Tuesday were the same hon. Members who, during the course of the Committee proceedings, insisted that the referendum should be consultative rather than mandatory.
Indeed, I spent a substantial part of the lunch hour today discussing this matter with one of my hon. Friends. It was a most amicable discussion. He advanced the thesis that the Government should take the clause as another Bill and hold a referendum in order to gather the views of the Scottish and Welsh people, but he then said "That would not change my own vote in any way."
If we were to ask the Scottish and Welsh people their opinions, which showed a substantial demand for devolution, and if we then failed to carry a devolution Bill through this House, I believe that we would strike a blow against the unity of this Kingdom which would be more grievous than anything else we could do, because there would be no other course for the people of Scotland but to seek independence. There would be no other course open to the political representatives of that nation.
§ Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)
My hon. Friend must be aware that people who, like myself, wanted a referendum before the Bill, also wanted it to be mandatory. It was always accepted that we would abide by whatever decision the people of Wales and Scotland came to. In my opinion that would have been the most sensible thing for the Government to have done. We should have sounded the people before we reached the stage of discussing the Bill. There may well be one or two hon. Members who would say that no matter what happened their opinion would not change. That would be flying in the face of reality, because the people would have had the opportunity of expressing their opinion. If we have a referendum then, in all honesty, we ought to be prepared to accept it. My hon. Friend should know that many of us who do not like the Bill or its proposals have consistently argued for a referendum on that basis.
§ Mr. Cook
It is encouraging to have the views of my hon. Friend now on record. I hope that other hon. Members who took the course that my hon. Friend did on Tuesday will also take this opportunity of making their views known. It may well be that my hon. Friend would have his views changed by the result of a referendum. What we must know is whether there is a sufficient number of hon. Members who took that course on Tuesday who would also change their minds.
I do not disagree with my hon. Friend that the Committee would find itself in a much easier position if we had a referendum before the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, West and I for two years have consistently requested a referendum, but we asked for a referendum not just on devolution, but also, and in particular on independence. That is the question to which I now wish to turn.
No hon. Member who has followed our debates closely can fail to be aware that the question whether Scotland should go independent has hung over our deliberations. It has provided the atmosphere in which these debates have taken place. It has also been a consideration which has motivated many hon. Members in their speeches. Some have spoken 1685 against devolution because they fear that devolution would lead to independence. Others, such as myself and my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, West, have spoken in favour of devolution because we fear that without it we shall end up with independence in Scotland. Of course, hon. Members on the National Benches have spoken in favour of devolution because they see it as leading towards independence.
Judgments may differ about whether devolution will or will not lead to independence, but the common factor among all hon. Members who have taken part in these debates is that their views have largely been motivated by the more fundamental question of their view on independence. If it is the case that this debate is primarily concerned not so much with devolution but with independence then surely it would be bizarre if we were to go to the Scottish people, and go through the enormous machinery and exercise of having a referendum, and ask for their opinion on devolution without asking for their opinion on independence which clearly weighs heavily with us.
§ Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
I am concerned about when the referendum should be held. That is the crucial question. Is the Bill now to be held up while a referendum on independence is held, or are we to wait till the Bill is completed, and then consult the people of Scotland about something which has not been discussed in the Bill at all?
§ Mr. Cook
I find it hard to forgive the right hon. Gentleman for that intervention because I discussed that precise point for about five minutes before he came into the Chamber. I do not propose to repeat my remarks and I invite the right hon. Gentleman to read them in Hansard when it is published tomorrow.
I do not shrink from putting this to the test by asking the Scottish people what their opinion on independence is. Nor do I shrink from abiding by the result when we have it. Moreover, this is not a new idea. As long ago as January 1975 my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, West and myself both proposed that we should have a referendum before we reached this stage. We have not had one.
1686 It is interesting to see what the consequence has been of not having a referendum on independence in Scotland. The consequence has been that every time there is a local by-election and a council seat changes hands, and every time the SNP scores a victory in a district council by-election, it is treated by the media, and the SNP, as if it had indeed been a referendum on independence. It is treated as being a judgment by the electors on the future government of Scotland.
To some extent the SNP is legitimate in doing that. It has made plain that it regards every victory as a steppingstone towards independence. The hon. Member for Argyll (Mr. MacCormick), in the course of our debate last week, said he regarded himself as a useful stepping stone towards independence.
We must pause at this stage and examine the problem. The problem that arises is that the electorate who return even the hon. Member for Argyll, or a local SNP councillor, are not consciously choosing a steppingstone to independence. The hon. Member for Inverness referred to polls. The poll to which he drew particular attention showed that only 43 per cent. of those voting SNP actually wish independence. To the embarrassment of that party, I would have thought, there is an obstinate residual 5 per cent. of SNP voters who say that they want no change at all in the Government of Scotland.
§ Mr. Cook
My hon. Friend corrects me. It is 7 per cent.
The trouble is that the reasons for voting nationalist are many and varied, as are the reasons for voting Conservative or Labour, but if we want a precise and accurate guide to the views of the electors on independence we have to put that question to them. Rather than the Scots be seduced into arriving at a state of independence stepping-stone by steppingstone across the broad backs of the hon. Members for Argyll and Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson), it would be more sensible if we asked them "Do you want to cross at all?"
The question that we shall ask cannot be "Do you want to cross?" Here, there is a difficulty. There are very clear problems in arriving at an acceptable wording 1687 of the question. In the amendments before the Committee, my hon. Friends and I have tabled two options. Amendment (aaa) poses the questionDo you wish Scotland to remain part of the United Kingdom?The problem with this question is that SNP Members may find it an unfair and unreasonable question.
I was surprised to see, only two or three days after we tabled the amendment, a letter which appeared in the Scotsman referring to our choice of words. It said:This seems an odd choice, as to my knowledge, no major party is in fact campaigning for this option, as these gentlemen well know.I should have thought that we might have been forgiven for imagining that the SNP was campaigning precisely on whether Scotland should be part of the United Kingdom, but apparently not. Apparently, the constitutional settlement which SNP Members wish to achieve is the one which obtained between 1603 and 1707, if I correctly interpret what the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. Crawford) said when he spoke on the subject last year. Those of us who have studied the history of Scotland find the idea that that blood-stained period of Scottish history represents a golden constitutional settlement a singularly odd notion. But, because that is their constitutional preference, SNP Members would claim that they wished to remain part of the United Kingdom and not to leave it.
§ Mr. Cook
My hon. Friend need not argue with me. I disagree about that being a fair interpretation of the question. I am arguing about the construction which would be placed upon it by the SNP.
We have to recognise that this is a real problem. Unless the SNP is prepared to recognise it as a fair question and to campaign on it, it will for ever afterwards claim that the result was not a fair one. I see from the broad Cheshire Cat grin on the face of the hon. Member for Dundee, East that he agrees with that interpretation of his party's motives and that that interpretation will be placed on the result afterwards.
§ Mr. Cormack
If I may reinforce what the hon. Gentleman said, it is a historic fact that the United Kingdom did not come into existence until 1707. If the SNP suggests that what existed between 1603 and 1707 was the United Kingdom, it is distorting history.
§ Mr. Cook
Well, perhaps I may be excused from arguing further about that. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, West will make his own speech. At whatever point it was introduced, it is clear that it was never used between 1603 and 1707. Therefore, that is an obvious distortion on the part of SNP Members.
But the problem remains that, unless SNP Members will accept it as a fair question, we shall be left with the difficulty that they will always refuse to accept the result.
It is for that reason that I prefer the alternative question proposed in Amendment (c). The alternative formulation that I suggest there is:Do you wish Scotland to become an independent state?I would prefer the phrase to be:Do you wish Scotland to be an independent and separate state?However, I understand that there is a curious nervousness among the nationalists about the word "separate". I respect their views on the question, and I hope that we shall hear them.
Although the Scottish nationalists are entitled to express a view on what formulation they will accept, they are not entitled to dictate what formulation we should put into the question, and I want now to refer to their Amendment (aaaaa). That has as its third question:An independent Scottish Parliament, within the Commonwealth and under the Crown, with full control over all Scottish affairs.That is the question which they would like to represent as the independence question.
1689 The difficulty with this question is to decide what is meant byfull control over all Scottish affairs.Having seen that this amendment had been tabled, I took the opportunity to intervene during the speech of the hon. Member for Argyll to ask him to elucidate. I put it to him:The amendment that the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends have tabled refers to an independent Scottish Parliament having control over Scottish affairs. Are we to understand the phrase 'Scottish affairs' to include such issues as defence, foreign affairs, overseas aid and external representation?The hon. Gentleman replied:For as long as I can remember the aim of the SNP has been to set up a self-governing State within the Commonwealth with exactly the same status as any other Dominion of Commonwealth status."—[Official Report, 15th February 1977; Vol. 926, c. 356.]There we have it. For the nationalists, "Scottish affairs" are the same as any Canadian or New Zealand affairs. The phrase includes defence, foreign affairs, overseas aid and external representation.
The difficulty that we face then is that, for the past two or three years in considering the devolution debate, in common parlance there have been two terms, "British affairs" and "Scottish affairs" British affairs, which included defence, foreign affairs, overseas and and external representation; and Scottish affairs, which were domestic affairs such as education and housing.
We may differ about where the distinction is made, but to the great majority of the public taking part in this debate outside this Chamber, a distinction has been made, but for the nationalists, no such distincition exists. Everything, right up to external representation in Outer Mongolia, is a Scottish affair. Therefore, there is no semantic quibble on their part. The difficulty is that not everyone voting in the referendum will be a paid up member of the SNP and not everyone voting will appreciate the construction of the term "Scottish affairs" which the SNP would take from a vote on that question. Therefore, we cannot accept that formulation of the question. The phrase "Scottish affairs" is a clear attempt to mislead those who will be taking part in the vote.
I have no objection to the rest of the formulation. I should be happy to amend my own question to say: 1690Do you wish Scotland to be an independent State under the Crown, within the Commonwealth?I would even accept a further amendment from the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sillars), who, I am surprised to see, is not with us today. In it he refers to the Common Market. I should be happy to amend my question to read:Do you wish Scotland to be an independent State under the Crown, within the Commonwealth and within the Common Market?I do not share the predilection of the nationalists for the monarchy nor the new found enthusiasm of the hon. Member for South Ayrshire for the Common Market. I should be happy to campaign against that question with redoubled vigour if it had those references included.
It is obligatory, of course, in all these debates to make a nod in the direction of my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell). He has said consistently and with great vigour that a referendum would be of little assistance because it would not provide us with a complete, final solution. Of course that is the case. If the Scottish National Party loses in the referendum, that will not turn its members into unionists overnight. Equally, if I lose that will not turn me into a nationalist overnight. It is, of course, in the nature of politics that any consultation with the electorate will not produce a final solution to an issue for all time. After all, even in a General Election no issue is settled for more than five years in advance, but that does not mean that we cease to have General Elections. We regard them as a useful guide to the opinion of the electorate on the issues that have been put in front of them.
The issue of independence has now been before the Scottish electorate for a decade. It is high time that we put that issue alone before the electorate and sought their judgment.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)
There is a peculiar atmosphere in the Committee this afternoon that I do not think that I am the only one to have sensed. It is not an agreeable atmosphere; it is an atmosphere of a certain embarrassment, or even suppressed tension. For a time I was striving to locate the parallel atmosphere of which I was being reminded. Then, suddenly, it occurred to me what it was.
1691 It is an atmosphere that will be familiar to nearly all hon. Members who have suffered a near and severe bereavement. We are in the circumstances of a household, between a decease and a funeral when the body is still in the house. There is the same sense of hesitation as we tiptoe past the room, knowing that if we open the door, we shall find the loved one with whom we have lived so long, still there and yet so strangely changed. There is the same kind of respect that comes over us, a respect before the awe and majesty of death itself; for indeed this is a dead Bill and everybody knows that it is dead. Our only problem is how to let a decent period elapse, and how to entertain ourselves during these few miserable days and hours that must elapse, before it is finally laid to rest. I do not think that we could overcome that unhappy and inherently insoluble problem better than by contemplating this amendment.
§ Mr. Powell
The will has not yet been read. I think that it will be an interesting document. In particular, I am hoping that the hon. Members who share with me the representation of Northern Ireland may not have been forgotten among the dispositions made by the deceased.
In this amendment it happens, as it does so often, that we find ourselves driven back on to the central matter of the Bill and forced to contemplate what it was that ailed the Bill, and, as it turns out, ailed it so fatally as to result in the decease that has been announced this afternoon. The causes are implicit in questions (ii) and (iii) of the four questions suggested in Amendment (x) moved by the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Johnston).
At first sight it may seem that these four questions set out a fair range of alternatives. They are reasonably clearly demarcated sections of the spectrum between the status quo and complete independence. But when we look more closely at questions (ii) and (iii), we find we are back again with those conundrums that have concerned us right from the first contemplation of the original White Paper.
1692 In question (ii) the electorate is to be asked whether it wants effect given to the provisions of this Act, so far as they relate to the Government of Scotland. In order to answer that question fairly, in order to be in a fair position to answer that question, the elector would have needed to be privy to the debates that we have had on the Bill in the House. It would not be sufficient for an elector—severe though the task might appear—to procure from Her Majesty's Stationery Office, presumably in Edinburgh, the text, printed by then on white paper, of the Bill as it had passed both Houses. The elector would then read Clause 1, asserting that the Union would remain intact notwithstanding anything else in the Bill. Yet those of us who have lived through the debates so far know already—before reaching Clause 4—that it is not possible to pass the Bill and also to assert that the future of the United Kingdom will be unaffected thereby. So question (ii) already contains a concealed essence which it does not reveal—and I make no complaint of that, for I hasten to say that it cannot, in the nature of things, reveal it—to the elector who is asked to make a choice between that alternative and the others.
The third question is much more explicit and bears more directly on what will be the concern of those whom the Government will be consulting in the next few days. That is the alternative ofestablishing in Scotland a domestic Parliament having jurisdiction over all internal affairs, while remaining part of the United Kingdom.Now, that is as fair a summary as one could make in two lines of the Irish Home Rule Bill of 1886 as it was first conceived by Mr. Gladstone. That was a Bill that would transfer to an elected assembly in Dublin, an Irish "domestic Parliament"—I believe that expression was actually used—jurisdiction over all the internal affairsof Ireland. At the same time, it was asserted by the Cabinet which proposed to put the Bill before Parliament that, nevertheless, they were not proposing to dissolve the union of Ireland with Great Britain.
A momentous Cabinet was held on, I think, 26th March 1886, at which Mr. Joseph Chamberlain posed to the Prime 1693 Minister across the Cabinet table four questions as to the intended contents of his Bill. The first of these questions—indeed, it is the only one that need concern us—was this:Will Ireland continue to be represented in the House of Commons?Mr. Gladstone said "No". Mr. Chamberlain then gathered up his papers and left the Cabinet Room, the Cabinet and the Liberal Party for ever.
It was not Mr. Gladstone's fault that he had given an unsatisfactory reply to the question. It was a question to which no satisfactory reply could, in the nature of things, be given. Mr. Gladstone was, in his time, to try all the other possible unsatisfactory answers. He was to suggest that Ireland should be partly represented in the Parliament of the United Kingdom, he was to suggest that it should be fully represented, but that Irish Members should only vote upon imperial matters. But the question that is posed—against the background of what is stated in question (iii) explicitly and in Question (ii) of the amendment implicitly—is an unanswerable one.
None of these answers is satisfactory. One can test them all on question (iii). If we give the answer "No" to Mr. Chamberlain's question in relation to alternative (iii) on the proposed ballot paper, we have the impossible situation that the people of Scotland will have to pay for, support and, if necessary, fight for a foreign policy, defence policy and external policy in which they have had no voice.
If we say that they would be fully represented in the Parliament of the United Kingdom, all the absurd consequences with which the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) has so often entertained the House, would follow. We should find that Scottish Members were, in fact, deciding for England matters for which they were not responsible in their own constituencies.
If we were to attempt something in between, we should still find that if our answer was impossible; if we halved Scottish representation, the Scots would be under-represented when deciding upon imperial matters and over- 1694 represented when deciding upon all other matters.
It is a question to which there is no answer. Perhaps there ought to have been a footnote to the proposed ballot paper, perhaps a star against question (iii), with a note reading "This alternative implies an unanswerable conundrum as to the representation of your country in the Parliament of the United Kingdom of which your country would still, under this option, remain part." I am not blaming the Liberal Party for failing to include that refinement, which reveals the absurd nature of putting these propositions to the Scottish people in the form of a referendum and supposing that one is presenting them with real alternatives between which they are to choose. It would be a near deception. It would be withholding from them the enlightenment which has, at varying speeds, though noticeably, dawned upon the House as it has studied the Bill.
The Government are now setting out on a different tack in an attempt to do the impossible. Having found it impossible on the Floor of the House to answer the question how Scotland, with a devolved Parliament, is to be represented in this House, they are taking the question into the corridors, the Lobbies and the closets in the hope that they may there discover tête à têle and bilaterally between themselves and representatives of other parties, that which has eluded not merely the House itself, after so many hours of debate, but all the wisest heads in the politics of this country over so many generations.
§ Mr. Powell
It is only fair that on this question, above all others, one should give way—indeed, defer—to the hon. Member for West Lothian and I do so gladly.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Supposing that we get that far, who will represent the Ulster Unionists in these talks?
§ Mr. Powell
I do not quite know why that question should be addressed to me, but I shall give the House the answer. There is nothing private about it. The Leader of the United Ulster Unionist Coalition, my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) will 1695 be our representative, as he properly should be. If he requires any assistance or support, I have offered to be available, as always, should more than one representative be called for.
What a wonderful contribution the hon. Member for West Lothian has made to these debates. One has a sort of shudder—what Nietzsche called a retrospective shudder, a horror of things as they might have been, but fortunately were not—over what our debates would have been without the hon. Gentleman. He brings me directly to my exchange earlier this afternoon with the Lord President in which he accused me of illogicality because I had exposed this fatal defect in any proposal for legislative devolution within the United Kingdom while representing a seat in a part of the United Kingdom in which there had been a devolved legislature for 50 years.
I cannot believe that, having been told it so many times, the Lord President, who is a person of very quick and subtle apprehension, was still unaware of the answer to his accusation; but it should be given again, because it is material to the question before the House. It is material to the resolving of any doubt but that here there is an insoluble contradiction and conundrum which even submission by referendum to the sovereign electorate—our masters—will not enable us to overcome.
The answer is simple. In the case of Northern Ireland, legislative devolution, though intended to lead to Home Rule, since it was a replica of the Home Rule Bill 1914 divided into two, happened to apply to a part of the population of the United Kingdom whose passionate and overwhelming determination was, come what might, not to be separated, nor to allow anything to happen which could separate it, from the rest of the United Kingdom.
As far as this House was concerned, it was a de minimis case. It resulted in the addition of only six or eight, usually six, to whatever might be the Conservative voting strength in the House. That distortion was minimal compared with the huge and disgraceful distortions that currently exist through the disparities between electorates in many constituencies—I am not talking about the shameful case of Northern Ireland, but about England and Scotland alone.
1696 This Northern Ireland distortion was small enough to be tolerated as the price for shuffling off that responsibility for Northern Ireland which Parliament had continued to profess, in a clause in almost the same words as Clause 1 of this Bill.
Thus, I have answered the Lord President's accusations of illogicality once again. Indeed, from the cases both of Ireland and of Northern Ireland, the House could have learned the impracticability of what is proposed in the Bill. So, even in this limbo period between decease and interment, as we return reluctantly and hesitantly to consider the Bill, we find staring us in the face and written across the first amendment the word "impossible".
§ Mr. Douglas Jay (Battersea, North)
I am perhaps the only remaining hon. Member who has so far made only one speech on this Bill. Despite that, I do not find the atmosphere quite as gloomy as, apparently, does the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell). Indeed, I think it may do no harm for us to carry on the debate in a comparatively dispassionate atmosphere. Whether or not the Bill is dead, the referendum certainly is not. We are, after all, discussing the referendum rather than Mr. Joseph Chamberlain or even Mr. Gladstone.
I am more than ever convinced as these discussions continue, especially after Tuesday's vote and today's statement, that the best way out of this impasse is by a referendum. Until Tuesday I was firmly convinced that the referendum should not take place until the Bill received Royal Assent so that the electorates in Scotland and Wales might at least know what they were voting for. I voted for the guillotine on those grounds. However, in the new circumstances I believe that there is a case for an earlier referendum than has hitherto been contemplated. Perhaps there is a case for a referendum after Third Reading if the Bill proceeds. I am not exactly sure when it should take place, but at any rate it should be at an earlier stage.
A very great deal depends on the form of the referendum. I wish briefly to support the Government's proposal to ask one question only. My purpose is exactly the same as that of my hon. Friends the Members for Renfrewshire, 1697 West (Mr. Buchan) and West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell)—namely, to retain the unity of the United Kingdom and to limit the economic damage that I believe the Bill may do to Scotland and Wales. Incidentally, I believe that my hon. Friends from the North of England who apparently fear that the Bill will harm the North rather than Scotland are mistaken. The real consequence of the Bill if it proceeds in this form is that industrial development schemes that might otherwise have gone to Scotland will go instead to the North-East Coast and Merseyside. However, that is not the main issue that we are discussing.
I agree with the Government—I think we all agree now—that the question should be put to the Scottish and Welsh electorates only and not to the English electorate. I believe that the question should be put on the same day. The preamble and the question as proposed by the Government in the clause to which the amendments relate are reasonably fair. I think that the Government were right to substitute "want" for "agree", although I should have slightly preferred "wish". That is a minor point.
In one respect, I do not think that the Government have made their position quite clear. I should be opposed to the Government campaigning in the referendum on one side or the other. Surely the object of the referendum is to determine what the Welsh and Scottish people think. I do not see why the Government should have to tell them what they should think in the course of a referendum.
§ Mr. Percy Grieve (Solihull)
Surely it is not unimportant for the Government to know what the people of England think.
Mr. Jay: The primary question is what the people of Scotland and Wales think. If we are ever to get a reasonably satisfactory answer to the problem, I do not believe that we should complicate it too much. As has already been said, the people of England are fairly heavily represented in the House of Commons.
What matters most is the number of questions that are asked. In this respect we are inclined at first sight to jump to 1698 conclusions. I give a great deal of weight to the view of those who think that more than one question should be asked, but I am unconvinced by their argument. The switch to a consultative rather than a mandatory referendum has, if anythting, strengthened the argument for one question if we are to avoid confusion in the result.
All I am asking the Committee to do tonight is to consider the consequences and the implications of asking one question, two questions, three questions or even, as the Liberals propose, four questions. First let us suppose that there is one simple question substantially on the lines of what the Government propose. We then ask the Scottish and Welsh electorates whether they wish the Government's proposals, whether or not they are embodied in a Bill at that moment, to be applied in their part of the country. If that is the one question, we at least get a simple result, "Yes" or 'No". Either devolution in some form is then put into effect in the relevant territory or it is not, as the public in that part of the country have freely voted. I can see no major difficulty if Scotland votes one way and Wales votes the other. That would be a perfectly workable situation.
Let us now consider what happens if we ask two questions, the first on devolution and the second on separation, if I might call it that for short. One problem immediately arises that I do not think the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Johnston) has really considered. Do we say to the electorate "Please put a tick against (a) devolution or (b) separation", or do we say "Please answer 'yes' or 'No' or both to devolution and to separation"? Perhaps the hon. Gentleman has the proposal in his amendment, but I do not think he made the point that we would not necessarily get the same result from those two forms.
There are two worse difficulties arising from the proposal to ask two questions. If we asked two questions when there are really three alternatives—namely, devolution, separation or the status quo—some not very decided voters who would prefer the status quo would tend to vote for one of the alternatives set out in black and white on the ballot paper. To accept neither proposition would appear to some to be simply returning a blank paper. 1699 I suggest that the alternative of putting two questions on the ballot paper would tend to exaggerate the vote both for devolution and for separation over and above the real opinion of the electorate. I cannot say how much it would exaggerate, but it is a factor that we should not wholly disregard.
The second difficulty resulting from two questions is also serious. Suppose that the result was, as it might well be—who knows?—34 per cent. voting for devolution, 33 per cent. for separation and 33 per cent. for neither or "don't know". What action would the Government then take? What would happen if there were a vote as close as that? Suppose that it were the other way round and 33 per cent. voted for devolution and 34 per cent. for separation. We must remember that only a proportion of the total electorate would be voting anyway. In that result there would be a great deal of controversy.
If we had a close vote of that sort, some would say that the vote was for devolution and some would say that it was for separation. Others would say that it was not since only a proportion of the electorate had voted and that the numbers voting for either alternative were a quite small proportion of the total electorate. In that situation there would be a great deal of controversy, acrimony and confusion. The result might conceivably be even worse than if we had not had the referendum.
§ Mr. Buchan
If there were a 30 per cent. to 40 per cent. vote for devolution, devolution would be lost. If there were a 30 per cent. to 40 per cent. vote for separation, separation would be lost. That is because in both instances there would be a 50 per cent. to 60 per cent. vote against. There is not really confusion except in a sort of crossword puzzle sense. In both events there would be defeat.
§ Mr. Buchan
If there were a small percentage lead—that is, over 50 per cent. for one or the other—we should then have either independence or devolution, 1700 but not if there were a minority vote. My right hon. Friend is making a complication where none exists.
§ Mr. Jay
I fear that that is not so. That is no doubt my hon. Friend's view. It is possible that the result might show such a wide margin that there would not be much difference of opinion. Some may say that they are confident of the result and that we are unlikely to get a 33, 33 and 34 per cent. result. I have a good deal of mistrust of those who think that they can foresee the result of either a General Election or a referendum.
§ Mr. Russell Johnston
Taking the extreme case of 34, 34 and 34 per cent.— Mr. Buchan: That is over 100 per cent.
§ Mr. Russell Johnston
I am sorry. I was referring to the referendum in Scotland rather than to the one in Wales. The answer to the right hon. Gentleman can be produced in one of two ways. One is by a preferential form of voting. Alternatively, with a straight vote, the Government would have to strike some kind of balance between devolution and independence which would, in effect, mean a stronger form of devolution because 60 per cent. would have voted for self-government in Scotland as against 33 per cent, for the status quo. I think that, in fairness, the Government would have to try to produce a stronger devolution Bill.
§ Mr. Jay
The hon. Gentleman's intervention proves my point. If that situation arose, there would be a good deal of confusion and difference of opinion. The hon. Gentleman expressed a different opinion from that of my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, West.
I ask the Committee to think out these possibilities before jumping to conclusions about whether we should have one question or two or three questions. I shall not go into all the permutations and combinations which might arise from three, still less so from four, questions. They are even more numerous—they are almost like the number of alternative moves in a game of chess at some stage—than if we had only one or two questions.
For those reasons without fully analysing the possibilities and giving great consideration to the views put forward by 1701 my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook), which I know have been carefully thought out and are sincerely held, I believe that we are likely to get a simple and intelligible conclusion, which will not be liable to a great deal of controversy, bitterness and misunderstanding, if we ask one question the answer to which is "Yes" or "No". The one question is bound to be whether the electorate concerned are in favour of or against the devolution proposals formulated by the Committee at some stage.
Therefore, though our opinions differ—that is the point I am making—I ask the Committee to consider dispassionately the alternatives before coming to a final conclusion on the number of questions to be asked.
§ Mr. Peter Emery (Honiton)
I agree with the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) that the atmosphere in the Committee today is strange and in many ways unreal. I want to take further his analogy of the dead body with all of us tiptoeing around not knowing quite what to do with it. The real problem is that no one knows how to bury the body. We do not know how to get rid of the Bill and what to do from then on.
§ Mr. Cormack
I suggest that we take the advice given by a gentleman whose mother-in-law died: embalm, cremate, bury, take no risks.
§ Mr. Emery
The structure set up by the Lord President is likely to see a rebirth which will achieve little more than the possibility of a consortium of agreement between the Front Benches. I am worried that we shall be presented with the views of the Front Benches only, not reflecting all the views which have been expressed by Back Benchers on many of the points which have arisen during our debates on the Bill.
§ Mr. Leon Brittan (Cleveland and Whitby)
I am sure my hon. Friend will have noted that my right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) made the specific point about the necessity of reflecting the differing views within as well as between the parties.
§ Mr. Emery
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. I heard that said, 1702 and I heard it said on another Bill dealing with the reform of the House of Lords. My judgment at that stage was that there was an attempt to get the Bill through by a consortium of support from the two Front Benches. I am underlining the fact that that must not happen in the negotiations which will take place on this Bill. I believe that it is worth continuing with the debate today because the type of referendum must have considerable weight in the negotiations which are to take place some time next week or the week after. I do not know how long the negotiations will go on.
During the debate on the original amendment for a referendum, I sat in my place from 6 o'clock until 2 o'clock and urged that we should not have the closure because many of us had not been successful in catching the eye of the Chair. I must repeat—I shall not make the speech which I would have made then, Sir Myer, so you need not look concerned—that, in my judgment, every referendum that we hold decreases the power of representative government and increases delegated government, thereby making Members of the House of Commons delegates rather than representatives. That point was not made in the 10 hours of debate. It is worthy of consideration.
Many people in my constituency will say "If you want to keep referring matters back to the people, why the devil should we want you or pay you? We shall not need Members of Parliament, or as many of them, to carry out the kind of activities which we elect them"—
§ Mr. Neil Kinnock (Bedwellty) rose—
§ Mrs. Winifred Ewing
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, considering the statistics relating to countries which have the referendum as a normal tool of government, there is no evidence that any of them have abused it by over-use? Is it not alarmist to talk about referendums in the way that we have heard when 1703 there is no evidence that countries which use that system abuse it?
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Kinnock
The hon. Gentleman's invitation to the hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mrs. Ewing) to go to the lavatory in his house is one of the most original opening lines I have ever heard in any conversation between man and woman. I and my constituents, as far as I can reasonably judge, share the reservations of the hon. Gentleman about both referendums, as The Guardian insists they be called, and the question of whether Members of Parliament should be delegates or representatives. I firmly agree with the view that they should be representatives. On this irreversible and monumental constitutional issue, however, I urge the hon. Gentleman to take the advice of Aneurin Bevan, who said that the function of a democratic representative was to be an authentic voice of those he represented. Since no party in the House has a direct mandate for devolution, nor can prove conclusively that it has, the only means of obtaining the visible authentic voice of the people is by referendum on the issue.
§ Mr. Emery
I do not believe that it is necessarily the position of the representative to follow. I believe that the representative all too often has to lead. Much reform in this country would never have taken place if we had waited in order to follow public opinion. I do not accept the totality of the hon. Gentleman's argument.
If we are to be forced to have a referendum on this matter, I am inclined to believe that it would serve the interests of everyone in the United Kingdom better if there were more than one question.
§ Mr. Emery
I believe that one of the aspects which worries so many British Members is that they see the Bill and the structure of devolution that the Government have laid before the House as an inevitable slide towards an independent Scotland. I have put down an amendment, (ee), which I believe shows the feeling of some hon. Members. We suggest that on the referendum paper, after the statement that the Act—if the Bill becomes so—will not bring about the destruction of the United Kingdom, there should be the wordsbut some people believe that this Act could be the first step to an independent Scotland.
§ Mr. Grieve
Would not my hon. Friend agree that the fears of many of us are that the Bill is not only the beginning of a slide to separation and independence but is the beginning of a slide towards deep and bitter divisions which could come about between an Assembly sitting in Edinburgh and this Parliament?
§ Mr. Emery
I accept that. A number of speeches have been made on both sides of the Committee reflecting that view. It is my judgment—and I have slight Scottish connections and certain business in Scotland—that the Scottish people do not wish to see the independence of Scotland or the break-up of the Act of Union.
§ Mr. Emery
The Scottish National Party shouts "Rubbish". The answer to the argument put by the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) is that the one way to ensure that it is not the wish of the Scottish people to break up the Act of Union is to have a question in the referendum which asks them whether they wish to be independent of the United Kingdom. We would achieve something of considerable use if that question could be asked—if we are to have a referendum. It is important that in the forthcoming discussions the Secretary of State for Scotland should realise the strength of that argument.
§ Mr. Emery
I do not think that that is quite correct. I have an impression, certain feelings, about the possibility of 1705 the answer. But if there is a strong view among the Scots that they want independence, the sooner it is registered and known the better for us all. I am not trying to be clever or to anticipate the answer. The right hon. Gentleman had feelings about the way the referendum on our membership of the EEC would go, but he was proved to have been incorrect. It is essential that the question of the independence of Scotland should be settled once and for all and thereby put out of the political argument for as long as possible. Therefore, if there is to be a referendum, I am in favour of such a a question. I am not certain that the wording proposed by the Liberals is right. The right hon. Member for Down, South has argued whether it could ever be right. Nevertheless, a question in such form should be posed.
There is another aspect of the amendment, however, which I, like the right hon. Member for Battersea, North, criticise—that is, the use of the single transferable vote if there are to be four questions. I understand the use of the single transferable vote. It is also spelt out in some of the other amendments that we are considering. In those other amendments, however, the concept is that the bottom votes of the last category should be transferred until one of the other categories has a majority, because it then becomes the willing view of the referendum.
That is not acceptable to me because it would not do what I hope the referendum would achieve. It would not show how little support there might be for the bottom question. If that bottom question were the question of independence, it is important that we should know how little support there was for it. If the Government are seriously considering the amendment, I suggest that the numbers of votes and preferences should be published—in other words, one does not simply transfer them, forget them and publish the winner. One publishes the matrix which is produced when the original voters are counted. One would therefore know the first, second, third and fourth choices. In that way one could discern the question which is least popular just as one could discern the question which is most popular. That would be a better way of proceeding than 1706 the method suggested by the Liberal Party as part of the amendment.
The Government are in a major dilemma over the referendum. If we are to have these discussions in the corridors, in the Ministries and in the tearooms and if an apparent consensus is arrived at, are we then to find that we must go through the whole charade and still stand a chance of the people of Wales and Scotland saying "No, we do not want the Bill at all"? It is nonsense that the House should spend another 30 or 40 days on this issue when there are so many other issues that we should be considering on the Floor of the House. It is nonsense that we should go through all this before we ask the questions in the referendum. That is why I disagree with the right hon. Member for Battersea, North. Even if there is agreement, one can ask the question only after the Bill is passed.
There is support from all sides for my suggestion that if we are to go through this exercise it should be done only after an advisory referendum—that is, supposing that the Government are set on having a referendum.
§ Mr. Emery
I do not wish to be absolutely precise, but the wording contained in the Liberal amendment is approximately acceptable. I could improve it. Wording can always be improved here and there. The type of questions in that amendment are those that should be asked. I am not trying to side-step the question put to me by the right hon. Member for Battersea, North. It is fair that he should argue that unless I am precise it is not good enough, but the four questions make some sense and can be understood.
§ Mr. Gow
How would my hon. Friend phrase the second question in the Liberal amendment? How can we possibly say that what is in the Bill will bear any relationship to the Act? For instance, on the subject of the referendum, when the Bill was published there was to be no referendum. In New Clause 40 there was to be a mandatory referendum, and yet the Minister of State said a few days ago that that mandatory referendum was 1707 to become a consultative referendum. We have not got to Report stage yet.
§ Mr. Emery
With the legal clarity for which he is well known in the House, my hon. Friend has stated the problem of precision. That is why I refused to be precise when answering the question put to me by the right hon. Member for Battersea, North. The only way in which I can answer my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) is to say that the question must be phrased approximately as it appears in the amendment. I see all manner of difficulties. That is why I still take the stance that I do not want a referendum. I am not in favour of government by referendum. The House of Commons should make decisions; they should not be made by referendums. The problem is brought about because the Government do not know how to govern.
If a referendum is forced upon me against my wishes, I want it to give as much information as is humanly possible to me and to the people of the United Kingdom as well as to the people of Scotland.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Contrary to expectations, the debate has not been a waste of time. There have been a number of interesting speeches from both sides of the House, not least the speech of the hon. Member for Honiton (Mr. Emery).
My first conscious act this morning was to vote in a by-election not far from here. I voted shortly after 7 o'clock and I found that there were 10 candidates' names on the paper. That would not be a great problem, although one can imagine at an early hour of the morning the difficulty involved in people making up their minds on complex questions in a devolution referendum.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Not surprisingly I put my cross against one name, that of the Labour Party candidate, Mr. Malcolm Noble.
§ Mr. Kinnock
If my hon. Friend had put a cross against the Gay Liberation candidate, it might have been misinterpreted.
§ Mr. Dalyell
The tenants of that area certainly received more than enough literature from the Gay Liberation candidate.
I return to the speech made by the hon. Member for Honiton. He said that independence should be put out of the current debate by a referendum. That is what the referendum might do. The trouble is that there is an institutionalised political party that honourably wants to go further.
I am glad that the hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mrs. Ewing) is in the Chamber. I do not want to provoke or taunt her but I must observe that whatever the result of the referendum short of independence she and her colleagues will not be satisfied.
Let us suppose that they get 20 per cent. or 25 per cent. in their favour. What will they do? The Scottish National Party will say that in 1970 it received few votes. In February 1974 it received a few more, and it received a few more still in the second election in 1974. Now it may consider that it has more than that. Next time, it could be more. A referendum will not solve the difficulty or deflect the Scottish National Party from its aims. There is a political party which is well institutionalised and which is now in the business of going further. That creates formidable difficulties for the referendum.
§ Mrs. Winifred Ewing
There is nothing to fear from democracy. My party has an aim which has been expressed clearly by the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell). We do not deny it. Our aim is to have an independent Scotland. We regard an elected Assembly as a step in that direction. If one fears my party, one fears democracy. I urge all hon. Members to wonder what it is they fear, because if the Scotttish people are happy to settle for an Assembly such as is proposed in the Bill, they will stop supporting us and my party will go on democratically and will not win any more. On the other hand, if the people change their minds or agree with my party, we are entitled to go on to the hustings and put our point of view. If the House of Commons cannot agree with that point, the House is not democratic.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I shall have to read that intervention carefully in Hansard tomorrow. All I can remark is that I think 1709 I agree with most of it. I simply say in reply to the hon. Member for Honiton, for heaven's sake let us not suppose that it is otherwise, because if those who want independence get the majority here or, indeed, a majority in a referendum with a clear independence question, I for one, as a democrat, will accept that result. I have to say that absolutely and straight away.
§ Mr. Dalyell
My argument is for once not with the hon. Member for Moray and Nairn but with the hon. Member for Honiton, because he cannot say, whatever else can be said about the referendum, that in any way it represents a finalised situation or finality. Because of the very circumstances in which we are placed, there is no finality about it. Therefore, let us not claim finality in a situation in which there is none.
I should like to comment briefly on the speech of the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), with that marvellous opening about the dead bodies and bereavement. I for one am not quite so certain as some others who have spoken that this is exactly a dead body and that rigor mortis has already set in, because I think that there are still problems for some of us, such as my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) and others. Certainly, I am not crowing or jumping to any conclusions about Tuesday night's vote. I just wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman has not anticipated what he wishes actually to have taken place. But even if he is right, I then say to him that we have problems, have we not, in exorcising the poltergeist that comes from this body?
There is a poltergeist problem. My hon. Friends have very often referred in one form or another to precisely the poltergeist problem. Even if those who have taken the view of many of my hon. Friends and myself are successful, let us not for one moment underrate the problems of exorcising or laying this particular poltergeist, because this, if a corpse it be, is a body with very considerable problems for every one of us in this Chamber.
§ The Minister of State, Privy Council Office (Mr. John Smith)
Especially for you.
§ Mr. Dalyell
And for my hon. Friend the Minister of State. There are all sorts of problems, with different aspects. We may see them differently, but we are united in recognising that there are great problems.
The difficulty, again, is that when we talk in terms of consultations and the whole issue of consultations, I really begin to wonder what it can be hoped that the consultations will achieve.
On Second Reading, the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) made a speech about this common core of agreement. Had there been a common core of agreement, perhaps the course of the Bill would have been very different. But I put it to the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) and to the others who will be taking part in the discussions that in the absence of a common core of agreement they will find, as my right hon. Friends will find, the discussions very difficult.
We come back to what could happen if they are not successful. There could be very considerable misunderstandings, and, as we all know, misunderstandings lead to acrimony. The comparison with Lords reform is very accurate, because even supposing—I think it is highly unlikely—that the two Front Benches reach some kind of agreement, what proof is there that my right hon. Friends can deliver the vote or the support from the Government side of the House of Commons? Equally, what proof or evidence is there that the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire and others taking part on behalf of the Opposition can deliver the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Gardiner), the right hon. Member for Renfrewshire, East (Miss Harvie Anderson) and a host of others who have taken part in the debate? That is one point.
The second problem is that the discussions which apparently are to start as bilateral discussions, could go a bit sour. I see that the right hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel) is present in the Chamber. He can speak for himself. However, at what stage does he enter the discussions? We all know that when one enters discussions as a third or fourth party to them after two parties have been discussing for some time, that can lead to difficulties. Therefore, I should like to ask whichever Minister is to reply at what particular 1711 stage will the third party, the Liberals be brought in? At what stage will the right hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) be brought in? Is my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sillars) to be brought into the discussions? What about the Ulster Unionists, aided, no doubt, by the right hon. Member for Down, South? Is he to be brought into the discussions at No. 6 just to make them even more cosy? If it is not indelicate, perhaps I may ask whether some others of us, such as my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty and others, are to be brought in at No. 7.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I have taken the view that possibly this Chamber, for all our shortcomings over the last 10 or 11 days, has been about as effective in discussing this matter as any Speaker's Conference, any constitutional conference or any other band of experts could be.
For all our shortcomings, I suspect that we have reached the point of the argument rather faster and often more clearly than any other band of experts outside the Chamber could. I am entirely united with my right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay), thinking that if we are all to be consulted in varying degrees it is much better to have open government, and open government means the Floor of the House of Commons. There is no substitute for the Floor of the House of Commons.
§ Mr. David Steel (Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles)
Does the hon. Gentleman recognise, despite the very witty intervention of the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay), that the point of inter-party discussions is surely to try to secure agreement among those who are in favour of devolution? I entirely accept the hon. Gentleman's argument that there is not much point in trying to secure agreement among those who have opposed devolution, and that it is quite impossible to expect to have the support of the hon. Gentleman, who is totally opposed to devolution, or of Conservative Members who are opposed to devolution. What is important is that those in favour of devolution agree on a broad package of proposals to put be- 1712 fore the House of Commons, otherwise we shall be wasting our time.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I see. We are getting to a very interesting point. We have tapped a very interesting oil well. We have now been told in that intervention that all the good men in favour of devolution—the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, the right hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles, the right hon. Member for Western Isles and others—are to go into cosy cahoots with the Lord President, but the baddies are to be excluded—my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty, some of my other hon. Friends, the right hon. Member for Down, South—and all others against Assemblies—and also, as he put up his hand, the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison), the hon. Member for Reigate and lots of other hon. Members.
What sort of position is the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire to be in? He is one of the goodies and his hon. Friends are baddies. Will they like that? There will be great scenes in the 1922 Committee in those circumstances.
§ Mr. Powell
In addition to all this, there is a perfectly legitimate sense of devolution in which the hon. Members whom the hon. Gentleman calls the baddies are also in favour of devolution.
§ Mr. Dalyell
If we were to have a conference of the goodies concurrent with a conference of the baddies, that would mean a conference of two Chambers, so perhaps we should go to the Lords Chamber.
Serious complications are emerging for the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire. If that is truly the basis on which he is going into the discussions, he has some earnest talking to do to a large number of his hon. Friends who have taken a very different attitude.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)
Would the hon. Gentleman agree that, when the so-called commitment was given by each of the three main political parties to a directly-elected Assembly, it was given without adequate consultation within the party itself? Certainly that is true of the Conservative Party. As a result, not until recently—in fact, not until we debated the Bill in the House—have the arguments been thoroughly 1713 canvassed or has publictity been given to the pros and cons. Therefore, not until now have the general public, the electorate, as well as the parliamentary parties, appreciated the consequences of what was undertaken some years ago on our behalf.
§ The Minister for Social Security (Mr. Stanley Orme)
My hon. Friend is a goody gone bad.
§ The First Deputy Chairman (Sir Myer Galpern)
Order. The last five minutes of the speech of the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) have been quite interesting, but I must ask him to shut off the tap of his oil well because what he is saying has nothing whatever to do with the subject we are discussing. We cannot debate something which is to happen in future and which has nothing to do with the subject of this debate. If the hon. Member can relate the two, I shall be quite happy to listen to him.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I do not know whether the Minister of State means that your intervention, Sir Myer, or my speech is boring.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I take it that the Minister of State meant that you were boring, Sir Myer, and not me.
§ Mr. Dalyell
The Minister for Social Security, my right hon. Friend the Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme), said that I was a goody gone bad. The Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Mr. Smith), is a baddy gone good. We all have a history in these matters. [An HON. MEMBER: "You have a bad history."] I am told that I have a bad history. I agreed, reluctantly and sourly, to certain things after the August 1974 special conference, but that came of not reading Transport House papers.
1714 On 5th September, the question of a legislative Assembly—I checked this yesterday with my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson)—was inserted by Mr. Geoff Bish of Transport House; on 17th September, the White Paper came out. Yes, I say to the Minister of State, a legislative Assembly was mentioned in that White Paper. On 18th September, my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton announced the election.
How many of us go through White Papers with a fine-tooth comb as soon as a General Election has been announced? Perhaps there are those more virtuous than I?
§ Mr. Robin F. Cook
I am sure that my hon. Friend will not wish to end his historical comparisons at that point. He will also wish to mention the fact that on 12th October he appeared before all the media and demanded that that election commitment be fulfilled in two years.
§ Mr. Dalyell
And on 12th October, to my misfortune, I still had not read the White Paper, sleeping the Election off.
§ Mr. Dalyell
As the Minister of State knows, we do not always read all the White Papers that we ought to read, at least until Government jobs demand that White Papers be read.
§ Mr. John Smith
To continue this a little further, what my hon. Friend did on 12th October was to issue a stirring call to the then Labour Government to speed up the devolution Bill. Was that not a slightly odd thing to do—to ask us to speed up something that he had not even read about?
§ Mr. Dalyell
I made the great mistake of thinking that hon. Members, particularly the hon. Member for South Ayrshire—let the truth come out—and my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling, Falkirk and Grangemouth (Mr. Ewing) and others who had made great speeches on devolution and Assemblies actually knew what they were talking about. I gave them the credit for that—
§ The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. John Morris)
And my hon. Friend knows what he is talking about?
§ Mr. Teddy Taylor (Glasgow, Cathcart)
I hope that the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) does not apologise too much: we must never do that. Perhaps he read some of the splendid articles which the Minister of State wrote for the Scotsman about proposals for a Scottish Assembly and what they should include.
§ Mr. Dalyell
All these things are on the file; I am simply saying that we all have skeletons in the closet, and I have never hidden mine.
Since you will cut me short if I am not careful. Sir Myer, I want to turn to what I consider to be a grave matter. Part of the difficulty that we are in is that, in the nature of the British system, constitutional change can be conducted on the basis of majority votes, even very narrow ones. What other country does that?
In the United States, the agreement of three-quarters of the States and two-thirds of the Senate is needed for such a change. In Germany and France, a huge majority is needed.
In this country—this is why I do not criticise my right hon. Friends too much for talking to the Opposition Front Bench—even given Governments with overall majorities, if constitutional change is to last and be stable, there must at any rate be some kind of modus vivendi, acquiesence or consensus among the parties. That may not be a prerequisite for the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill or some matter of party politics, however important, but for basic constitutional change there must be some understanding among the parties.
I do not know whether he wants my support, but I think that the Lord President is quite right to resist any temptation to have an early referendum. An early referendum would be far too nebulous. It would lead to further examples of the sloganising, slick headline-writing and over-simplification which have dogged this issue.
Still referring to the talks, which are crucial to the amendments. I predict—I hope that this will not lead to too much acrimony and wrangling—that they have very little chance of success. My right hon. Friends, no doubt in good faith, 1716 are going into them like the man who goes perpetually to the end of the rainbow seeking an elusive crock of gold. The truth is that there is no consensus.
I would not say that the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, who is a gallant man, has fled the Chamber—no doubt he had an appointment at 7 o'clock—but I cannot resist repeating, and I wish that he were here to hear it, that there will be great difficulty if he reaches any agreement. The Conservative Party is quite as fundamentally split on many of these things as are my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench. Therefore, how can the right hon. Gentleman deliver?
It is on this question of actually delivering any kind of agreement that there wlll be awful trouble. I should like to be a fly on the wall of the 1922 Committee when some of these arguments take place, because very interesting they will be. That is the same problem that the Government Front Bench have. I hope that they do not think they will deliver my right hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Prentice), my hon. Friends the Members for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Urwin), and for Bedwellty and a host of others. They even may have difficulty indeed in delivering my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan) because he is a man of independent spirit and on this kind of thing he puts forward many ideas of his own, to which he has given more thought than many of those who are Ministers.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I turn then to my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook). He raised the issue of consultative questions. He and I are united on that. I am very doubtful. I signed the motion which has been referred to on the basis of a mandatory referendum. I can see a respectable argument for that, but if referendums are to be consultative there are all sorts of questions which some inquiring hon. Members on both sides would like to start asking.
For instance, one of the first questions that I should like asked in a consultative referendum is "Do you feel that it is the job of Members of Parliament to make difficult decisions on subjects like devolution?" Many people say to me more and more "What on earth do we pay you for 1717 but to make difficult decisions?" Many serious people think that the difficult decisions should be made by those who have studied them. That is in fact what parliamentary democracy is all about—
§ Mr. Dalyell
I am not alone in not reading every White Paper, as the Minister of State very well knows. He was a busy man in a different Department—of Energy—and did not read White Papers on devolution—
§ Mr. Dalyell
—and, understandably, he did not read every White Paper issued by every other Department.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I assume that my hon. Friend was gesticulating in support.
Another question I should like asked—I do not want to put this too pompously or patronisingly, so I had better be careful how I phrase it—is along the following lines: "Do you feel that you fully understand what the devolution proposals mean?" I ask this because I cannot get over what happened when my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heller) wrote an article, as he often does, for the local Walton newspaper. The article was about the devolution proposals, but my hon. Friend's handwriting is not up to some of his other virtues and tributes, and when he opened the paper he found that the article was titled "The Revolution Proposals". Apparently the good people of Liverpool did not see much difference. I gather that his feedback was not what it might have been. Does devolution mean much to people?
I was once a candidate in the constituency of the Leader of the Liberal Party. If we ask "Do you accept the Government's package? Do you accept the devolution proposals?", I suspect that all the rugger players of Hawick Terries might give rather ribald answers.
1718 The truth is that devolution is the creature of the media and of politicians. If we think that people are greatly interested in this matter, I can only relate a personal experience. When I heard that the guillotine was to be announced, there was no party meeting on the Sunday so I rang round the members of the executive of my constituency Labour Party. I shall not go into the details of what was said. A great deal was said that was critical, but it was not on devolution. They wanted to leave that subject and get on to talk about British Leyland, the pay code, teacher training colleges and many other matters. Therefore, it is wrong to think that the British people have their interest concentrated on the matter, whatever the headlines in Scotland and Wales say about devolution day after day. I do not think that this issue concerns the electors of Cathcart.
My Amendment (zz) is not a question of mockery, though I obey the Chair, as always. Perhaps it is only justice that Amendment (zz) should be mine. The whole argument that the late Mr. Sydney Silverman used to have with the Chair was about what was mockery and what was not. I intended my amendment as no mockery, because I really would put the question: "At a time when the Prime Minister rightly gives top priority to the needs of manufacturing and productive industry, do you want as a matter of priority yet another expensive upset in the form of government?" That is not a mocking question. It is a real question, the answers to which would be given with a good deal of more determination than some of the answers we may get on the institution and form of government.
I am glad that the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) is here, I do not chide or taunt him, but there are a whole number of questions on which the SNP chairman, Mr. Billy Wolfe, and I would be on precisely the same platform. I do not think that that would be a good referendum to guide politicians, and neither would Mr. Wolfe.
§ Mr. Buchan
My hon. Friend is generous in saying that he does not want to taunt SNP Members, but does he not think it disgraceful that they have sat here during the discussion—at least one of them has—about among other things, the question of independence and have been 1719 silent? Does my hon. Friend think that the SNP wants independence by stealth?
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I am slightly embarrassed, because I have another thought on this. With certain honourable exceptions—such as my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Central, my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew-shire, West, who has distinguished and thought-out views of his own, and myself, who would not exactly be regarded as a classic Government supporter in this matter, we, too, are thin on the ground. Where have all the pro-devolutionists been? We are now on the eleventh day, and we have not seen them. I shall not taunt the SNP. There have been one or two listening to the debate, but I expected to see more. It would be a question of the pot and kettle, but one must ask where the pro-devolutionists are. They have been deafening by their silence. [HON. MEMBERS: "They are in Europe."] I did not find many of them in Europe. The heat of the battle has been borne by Ministers who are for devolution. My hon. Friends the Members for Renfrew-shire, West and for Edinburgh, Central have been here, but precious few others, not even the hon. Member for South Ayrshire, let alone the hon. Member for Paisley (Mr. Robertson). Where has he been in all this?
§ Mr. Gordon Wilson (Dundee, East)
Having been drawn into the debate, may I ask the hon. Gentleman whether he thinks that these proceedings are worth anything at all as the Bill is lost? If there is to be a referendum to get the Government out of the morass in which they find themselves, a special referendum Bill will have to be brought in, when these discussions will be relevant and necessary.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I shall not comment on my own speech, but I think that this has been a valuable day because everyone else who has spoken has had something to say. In general the debate, although it has gone on for 11 days, has been more valuable than most 11 days in the House, because the issues have percolated through. What is the House of Commons for? It is not simply to choose some kind of Cabinet and Shadow Cabinet and give them a fair wind. The House of Commons has a scrutiny rôle. We are now getting back to our old rôle of 1720 scrutiny, and it is a good thing that recent decisions have been less party decisions and more House of Commons ones. This is what the House of Commons exists for.
§ Mr. Robin F. Cook
Does my hon. Friend agree that the intervention of the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) was a most inadequate explanation of why the SNP amendments have not been spoken to? There has been no attempt from the SNP Bench to answer the sincere and genuine questions I raised.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I am the last man in the kingdom to defend the Scottish National Party. SNP Members will have to speak for themselves.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Finally, as I see that my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Queens Park (Mr. McElhone) is here, I cannot resist in the present circumstances talking to him about one issue that I would like to see in the referendum. At a time when we are short of finance for the very seed corn of the training colleges, do we want to take away jobs in teacher training and create yet another bureaucracy?
When the question of Craiglockhart College was discussed at a meeting in the Assembly Rooms in Edinburgh 2,800 people turned up. That number would not have turned up for a discussion on devolution. It will be the same on Saturday at a meeting about Callendar Park, and it will be the same at a meeting about Craigie and Dunfermline Physical Education College. At all these places there will be huge attendances, but we have not had huge attendances on devolution.
There is a contrast here because there is competition, whether one likes it or not, for resources. We should need 1,000 extra civil servants for an Assembly and many more to service the Assembly committees. The hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. Rhodes James) knows how expensive it is to run a legislature. We have to have Clerks of the House and all sorts of expert people to run Committees. All this is in an Assembly that is said to have a Cabinet, a Prime Minister, watchdog Members and Committees. All this is in competition for public expenditure with the problems that 1721 so worry my hon. Friend the Member for Queen's Park. Therefore, I shall pursue this very point with him on Tuesday, when I am lucky enough to have an Adjournment debate. We have already raised the matter in the Scottish Grand Committee.
§ The First Deputy Chairman
Order. The hon. Gentleman should not now deliver the speech that he will make on Tuesday.
§ Mr. Dalyell
At the first flicker of your annoyance, Sir Myer, I bring my speech to an end. Others want to speak, so I must not go on for too long.
§ Mr. Grieve
I join the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) in paying tribute to the enormous value of the debates in the House and in Committee on the Bill. They have brought to the notice of the whole population of these islands, as nothing else could have done, the problems inherent in any proposals for devolution and the demerits—the monstrous demerits in my view—of the Bill.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that many of our compatriots find themselves far more interested in what is happening to British Leyland, in the course of inflation, and in the number of unemployed than in the proposals before the Committee, but in the whole of my 12 years and more in the House no more important issue has come before hon. Members than these proposals for devolution. No proposals have more exercised and troubled the consciences of hon. Members. We saw the result on Tuesday evening, when conscience prevailed and the House arrived at a most important decision.
§ Mr. Buchan rose—
§ Mr. Grieve
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will allow me to conclude this part of my speech, and then I shall certainly give way.
The numbers present on the Conservative Benches in the course of these debates has not always been great, but in normal circumstances it would have been most surprising if there had not been present tonight, for the discussion of important amendments, far more Members than are present now. The reason is not far to seek. It is that we are debating in an 1722 atmosphere of complete unreality. I share the views of the hon. Member for West Lothian that we must not regard the Bill as wholly dead. Unlike the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), I do not take the view that the Bill is a corpse, laid out in the living room, with the villagers coming soon to inter it. For me, it conjures up rather a drunkard's dream:As I was going up the stairI met a man who wasn't there.He wasn't there again today.I wish, I wish he'd stay away.I now give way to the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan).
§ Mr. Buchan
It is a little past the point now, but the hon. and learned Gentleman spoke of conscience prevailing on Tuesday. He said that that was what had happened in the vote. As there are many known devolutionists in the Tory Party and the Tory Party voted en bloc on a party ticket, does that mean that their consciences did not prevail, or that the Tory Party has no conscience?
§ Mr. Grieve
Among my colleagues I do not know one hon. Member who approves of the Bill. Opinions may vary across the whole spectrum of the House—whether there should be a measure of devolution in Scotland, what that measure should be, whether there should be a Grand Committee sitting in Edinburgh, whether there should be an Assembly with devolved powers, and, if so, what those powers should be, and whether there should be separation. A whole spectrum of views exists, but I do not know one member of my party who approves of this disastrous, monstrous abortion of a Bill.
§ Mr. John Smith
Does the hon. and learned Gentleman know that five Conservative Members voted for the Second Reading, and 29 abstained? On Thursday his party voted not to allow time for the proceedings on the Bill to be allocated in the normal way. If it is such a disastrous Bill, why did five Conservatives vote for it on Second Reading and 29 refuse to vote against it?
§ Mr. Grieve
My hon. Friends who so voted have learnt a great deal about the Bill in the course of our lengthy debates. They have been listening to the debates and have seen what a bad Bill it is. I wish that the Minister would see that also. I believe that the Bill will be abandoned and that soon we shall no longer see it in this form, but I also agree with the hon. Member for West Lothian that there is little certainty in politics—none, Disraeli said—and, as a wholehearted opponent of the Bill, I want to make certain.
I now turn to the amendments, which, even in this atmosphere of unreality, and even with the image of the drunkard's dream, we are discussing tonight. I said that I was wholly opposed to the idea of devolution. In my speeches on this matter I have always come before my colleagues in the House with my own profound belief in the pride and principle of the United Kingdom. Living in England, I nevertheless have my roots north of the border. If, among the people living in Scotland, there is a genuine demand for a measure of devolution, I believe that in the end, and probably sooner rather than later, that should be accorded. What has troubled me throughout our debates and throughout the debates, talks and conversations that preceded the Bill, has always been the question whether there is such a demand, and how it is to be tested.
Although I share many of the hesitations of my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Mr. Emery) about referendums and their dangers in a parliamentary democracy such as ours, I was long ago forced to come to the conclusion that the only way in which the matter could really be tested was by means of a referendum—but a referendum at what stage? I believe that it should be after lengthy discussion but before the matter is enshrined in a Bill before Parliament. We have not had that. We have had foisted upon us a most complex and difficulty Bill, full of problems and dangers, which have been exposed in our lengthy debates on only three clauses and which, if the matter proceeds, will be exposed in day after day and night after night of debates to come.
The problem is this: if we are to have a referendum, how do we put before the electorate the real issues? How do we frame the questions? I believe that the 1724 Government made an important concession when they said that the referendum should be consultative. I do not approve of the framing of the question. I have a great deal of sympathy with the terms of the questions proposed by the Liberals.
Of course, the second question is now one that could hardly apply, because I do not believe that this Bill will become an Act. Therefore, it is not suitable or pertinent to ask people in Scotland whether they want the provisions of the Act to come into force as far as they relate to the government of Scotland. That is the unreality of tonight. We are piling hypothesis upon hypothesis. We are saying that if this Bill becomes law, in whatever form it becomes law it could be put to the people of Scotland.
I hope that we have a constitutional convention in which these matters can be thrashed out and public opinion can be further educated and enlightened as to the potentialities and possible results of any measure of devolution. Then and only then, and before any other Bill is brought before Parliament, should public opinion be consulted by means of a referendum.
That referendum, if it is to be consultative, obviously should consult not only people living in Scotland and Wales but those living in England as well. Although English views should not override an overwhelming majority in Scotland and Wales, they should, nevertheless, be considered.
Finally, in that eventuality and in no other, I would give my support to the amendment in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Farnham (Mr. Macmillan) which provides that no order shall be made under Section 114 unless a majority of those eligible to vote assent to the implementation of the Act, whatever the Act may be. Tonight we are in the realms of unreality—a real Alice-Through-the-Looking-Glass situation. We are discussing a Bill that may never become law and a clause that may never be in that Bill if it does become law. But if there is a Bill and if there is a clause, clearly we should look for a substantial majority of all those eligible to vote.
If a large percentage of the population does not vote at all, of what value is the consultation? If, of the large number consulted, only a tiny minority express 1725 a desire for radical change, should this Parliament consent to radical change? That illustrates the importance of making the referendum proposals consultative.
I am totally opposed to devolution. I wish that the matter had never raised its ugly head. I believe that our future in the world and our rôle in Europe, of which we shall be an integral part, is far greater and stronger as the United Kingdom. I see the greatest possible dangers in the proposals in the Bill, because I believe that they are the seeds of future conflict.
I believe that the British people are one people, even though some live in Scotland. some in Wales and some in England. We are inextricably mixed, even though we have different interests. But that applies just as much to those who live in Newcastle upon Tyne and those who live in Bodmin as it does to those who live in Aberdeen or Aberystwyth. I see the greatest possible dangers to the future of the Kingdom in this Bill, however much we may amend it during the course of long debates.
If we are to go forward with a consideration of any measure of devolution, ultimately, and before a new Bill is placed before the House of Commons. there must be consultation by means of a referendum.
§ Mr. Kinnock
I follow the argument of the hon. and learned Member for Solihull (Mr. Grieve) in one respect—I agree with him that our proceedings tonight have an air of unreality. We are as near limbo as any Parliament in the history of this House has ever been.
Some people dismiss Parliament as nothing but a talking shop, but all hon. Members and true democrats everywhere will dismiss this claim and talk about an active Parliament with a definitive voice, and a proud Parliament with real control over the Executive and over its affairs. However, if anyone described this House as a talking shop tonight he would be giving a very precise academic definition.
We are talking about a Bill that does not really exist. We are discussing amendments that are totally irrelevant, because of the absence, in substance, of the Bill. We are talking about a referendum that has been further postponed by the adoption by the Government of a 1726 peculiar constitutional innovation that leaves even me—as someone who is prepared to accept novelty in the development of our onstitution—gasping. However, tonight gives us an opportunity to rehearse all the arguments on the question of a referendum along the lines of the Liberal amendment. Since I suspect that the ghost of devolution will not be laid, this may give us a chance to save further time of the House at a later stage by rehearsing the arguments now.
Today the Government have chosen, out of the many options open to them, the least productive. What we now have is a proposal for a convention on devolution. This has been proposed as an alternative to further progress on the dissipation of the Bill, or the adoption of a referendum in the shortest possible time.
§ Mr. Brittan
I am sure that the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) wishes to be accurate. We have not got a convention. All we have is a tentative feeler for talks about talks.
§ Mr. Kinnock
The hon. Member for Cleveland and Whitby (Mr. Brittan) took the words right out of my mouth. What will be passed off as a substantial offer to the Opposition on the basis of their propositions is a most insubstantial proposition, and it deserves to be—and, indeed, I suspect will be—rebuffed by the Opposition, judging by the comments we heard this afternoon from the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym). Even if the proposition were accepted we would find that these talks were as inappropriate a way of resolving the issue as inviting Ian Smith to chair a discussion on the future of race relations in Rhodesia.
If the Conservatives tell the truth to themselves, they are not the least bit interested in devolution. They see it as a most important and irreversible way of undermining the Union, which is as much a part of their political ideology as public ownership is a part of mine. They will not accept devolution on that basis. As an alternative, they may seek to impose such an offsetting price to give consent to modest devolution proposals as to make the whole thing untenable to Labour Members.
We then have the federalists and nationalists, who have chosen to hitch a 1727 lift on this Bill towards separatist and federalist consultations. They can enter into these talks in the hope of securing any profit only if the Government make concessions to the views they put. For every concession that the Government make to the Conservatives, to the federalists in the Liberal Party, or to the separatists, the Government will lose two votes from the Labour Back Benches. I can firmly give that guarantee—and that may be a conservative assessment of the situation.
The talks about talks, which, for the sake of argument, have been described as a convention, can also be described as "con" talks. I hope that my colleagues in the Government do not think that today's exhibition has persuaded anybody. They have adopted a course that is incapable of providing them with profit or of breathing life back into the Bill. There is only one course that they can apply if, as they have told us with enthusiasm over past months, they wish to secure a devolutionary settlement for Scotland and Wales. They will have to secure the consent of the people of Scotland and Wales to the proposition "Do you want what the Government have proposed for devolution?"
Many technical reasons have been advanced—not least the turbidity of the questions asked in the referendum. It is said that because we now have only a shell of a Bill, it will be beyond the whit of Parliament to devise a form of question that would accurately reflect the opinion of the people of Scotland and Wales on this matter.
Let me invent a complete novelty in the business of parliamentary proceedings and Government relationships with the people—I refer to something called a White Paper. Nobody has ever heard of the idea of encapsulating the Government's proposals in a White Paper and of submitting them to the people and asking them to give a "Yes" or "No" verdict. At least, nobody had heard of that idea until 1975, when we had a referendum not on the Common Market but on a White Paper laying down the renegotiated terms obtained by my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson). We have had a referendum on a White Paper before; there is no reason why we should not do so again.
1728 Some hon. Members say that such a course is impossible because, if the people of Scotland and Wales give assent to White Paper proposals, those proposals will come before the House in the form of a Bill. It is also said that Bills become changed, and that the propositions on which people have voted may be entirely different from those that eventually go over to Buckingham Palace for Her Majesty to append her fair signature. That is absolute rubbish, because in the proceedings of this House, with its archaic inadequacies and its useless and limited system of scrutiny, no Bill ever gets changed—certainly not in a significant form—to make it any different from the time it comes into the House on Second Reading to the time that it receives Royal Assent. We may make marginal adjustments, but they are mainly on the basis of Government proposals. The whole structure of the legislative process, which is in dire need of reform, is designed to ensure that the Government, having achieved a Second Reading to a Bill, will get their way.
§ Mr. Brittan
Perhaps those occasions when Bills have been substantially amended were so painful to the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) that, by some process of amnesia, they have escaped him. He may have forgotten the Social Security (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill and the Dock Work Regulation Bill, both of which were enacted in a form radically different from that in which they originally came before the House. What would have happened if we had had a referendum on those Bills before they came to the House?
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Kinnock
I understand what the hon. Gentleman says, but he has plucked out of thousands of Bills two spectacular examples where Back Bench pressure caused changes to be made. The proposition that I have been putting is that having secured a popular mandate for a change it is highly unlikely that this House would consider itself to be superior in judgment and wisdom to the popular mandate and would make radical changes in the Bill. In the face of a majority vote for devolution, the Bill will be as consultative as a hydrogen bomb landing in a back garden.
1729 There is no such thing as a consultative referendum. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House may seek to dress up the referendum to make it more palatable to Parliament. He may seek to sweeten the bitter pill and may talk of consultation and pretend that Parliament will retain its ultimate authority and wisdom. What rubbish. What insensitivity would be required of Parliament to say, in face of a majority vote on any issue in a referendum, "No, you have reached a result that we do not like and we shall overturn it." There are enormous dangers in that course, and nobody who takes it and considers himself to be a representative rather than a delegate can be happy with it.
Why is a referendum necessary in these circumstances? It is necessary because no Member of Parliament in this House, in any party, can be satisfied that he has secured a real mandate or that his electorate truly comprehended the proposals for devolution made by the Government in 1974. I go further and say that not only did the electors not comprehend the proposals put forward by the Government; the Government themselves did not understand them. The proposals that we now have before us are as different from those put forward in 1974 as one can imagine.
Let me deal with the proposals for a referendum, if we are to have one. The Liberal proposals advance four questions, which are set out in Amendment (y). Let me deal with those questions one by one. Those questions relate to Wales.
§ Mr. Raison
Would it not be more valuable to have a referendum over what to do about the buildings in Cardiff and Edinburgh in preparation for the Assemblies?
§ Mr. Kinnock
I think that that would be a constructive exercise. I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman takes a close interest in these matters. This is the first Thursday in five when I have not asked my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to stop the building in Cardiff so that we may avoid wasting £3 million on building the Assembly. I should like to have the opportunity to put that question in the referendum. If the question were "Do you want expenditure of £3 million on building the 1730 Assembly in Cardiff and expenditure thereafter of £12 million a year? Answer 'Yes' or 'No'", that would be a marvellous way of arriving at a judgment on devolution. Perhaps we shall be able to introduce that consideration into the referendum debate, if we ever reach it.
Let me deal with the Liberal proposals in Amendment (y). The first question involves leaving the existing system of government unaltered. I do not want to leave the existing system unaltered. Although I was unable to join the debate instigated by the Liberals last night, I read that debate closely today, and I agree with much that was said by Liberal Members. I do not think that there are more than a handful of hon. Members who want to leave the system of government unaltered, but that is an inappropriate matter to answer in the proposals for devolution.
The second question asks people whether they would preferto have effect given to the provisions of this Act so far as they relate to the government of WalesMuch has been said about the inappropriateness of this question. It is not the fault of the Liberals that they put down this amendment long before the dramatic events of this week, so I shall forbear to comment on this question.
The third is the federal question—whether people would preferto establish in Wales a domestic Parliament having jurisdiction over all internal affairs, whilst remaining part of the United Kingdom.This is only the federalist answer to the essential proposal in Clause 1 that we should have constitutional diversity but retain the unity of the Kingdom. The Liberals are not seeking to sustain the Union; they are looking for a federal structure with a supreme parliamentary body as an umbrella over a fragmented, federalist structure of the United Kingdom, but since this answer to our constitutional difficulties has been rejected by everyone but the Liberals, they cannot expect us to give much weight to it.
The fourth question that the Liberals think should be asked, namely, whether people want independence from the United Kingdom, is one that I treat with some cordiality, because it is the second question that I should like to see in the referendum. We shall be able to sort out all the divisions of opinion on devolution, 1731 the status quo, and separatism, if we ask two questions. The question on the status quo is unnecessary, because if people answer "No" to the questions of devolution and separation it obviously implies that they do not want any change of that kind.
We obviously must have a question asking whether people want the Government's devolutionary proposals, and we obviously have to put down a question on independence. The reason is that it will strand the separatists on their nationalism. There are some Plaid Cymru and Scottish National Party Members in the House who have never made any bones about their view that the future of Wales and Scotland must lie in the direction of independence, but if they seriously put it to the House that their psychological importance, their rise to fame, and their capturing of seats was a consequence of their nationalist preaching and their separatist ideology they will be deluding themselves and deluding others. It is the populism of nationalism in modern-day Scotland and Wales that has secured support for their parties, and it would be wrong for the House to respond to that populism with constitutionally irreversible changes in Scotland and Wales by encouraging this creed through establishing Assemblies in Cardiff and Edinburgh.
We need to have an accurate assessment of the demand for separatism. We need a second question because we have been provoked into the whole question of devolution by the attempts of the Government to trump nationalism by providing a form of national self-determination for Scotland and Wales. It is necessary, therefore, to find out how much support there is for the independence proposition.
Another reason is concerned entirely with the referendum. If a referendum containing only one question produced a majority against devolution it could be argued—and I am sure that it would be argued—that the "No" was composed of those who supported the status quo and the separatists for whom devolution did not go far enough, and that these two groups, in an unholy alliance, had succeeded in conquering the people who wanted devolution. Equally, if a referendum with only one question produced a result in favour of devolution, those who 1732 were defeated would protest that it was a combination of the federalists and the separatists, who wanted to go further, who had conquered the opposition to devolution.
It may be that devolution does not deserve to succeed in any case if it is defeated in Scotland or Wales or, for various reasons, does not command the support of more than 50 per cent. of the population. But we need a much more precise definition of the actual scatter of opinion than could be provided by a one-question referendum, and we need a much better answer than we could have in a four-question referendum. It is unnecessary to ask the first question proposed by the Liberals, on whether the system of government should remain unaltered, or the third question, which is nothing more than a federalist proposition. I do not blame the Liberals for including this question, but it is irrelevant and unnecessary in a referendum on devolution.
I hope that my right hon. Friends will suspend the Bill immediately. We are all fed up with running in a horse race in which someone has removed the winning post. That is what the debate will be if it continues. After suspending the Bill the Government should bring forward a White Paper which accurately summarises the proposals that they have sought to put before the House in the Bill. By early spring—in, say, April—we should have a referendum in Scotland and Wales on the White Paper, and the nation could make its decision.
That is not such an extraordinary or unprecedented proposition as people may think. The Government often produce White Papers, then debates take place on the White Papers, as a result of which certain adjustments may be made, and then we have the Second Reading of a Bill that substantially and faithfully seeks to carry into legislation the proposals originaly put in the White Paper. The only difference is that instead of having a debate only among Members of Parliament, we have a debate that includes all the people. That is a test of Parliament's sensitivity.
Some people may say that to have pre-legislative referendums would be a constitutional impropriety, but I have been demanding pre-legislative referendums 1733 for a long time. In recent weeks the Government have been mass-producing constitutional improprieties as if they were extruding plastic pipes. The advantage of pre-legislative referendums would be that they would give people a real voice on their constitutional future. That would be understood and accepted by the people. The only reasons advanced for not having pre-legislative referendums are based on the time that they would take. Some people may say that we could not possibly delay the onset of devolution in Scotland and Wales, where people are dying for want of devolution, and that we could not take the time needed for a referendum Bill because of those demands.
Since 10 o'clock on Tuesday night, time is the one thing that the Government have not had. The Government have a choice. They can go through with the charade of a so-called convention and have no result at the end, they can plough on with the Bill and still have no result at the end, or, if they really want devolution of any kind, they can put the proposals to the people and at least have the possibility of substantial support and of getting legislation through the House on the basis of that support. Let us hope that the Government now treat thewhole question of a referendum on devolution not as an expedient, which they have done hitherto, but as the only means of securing a popular mandate and therefore as the only means of obtaining devolution for those parts of the United Kingdom which have shown by a majority vote that that is what they want.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Grimond
There was some force in the criticism by the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) of the amendment in the names of my hon. Friends. I shall return to that later. It must be apparent to anyone who has listened to the debate that the road to referendums is strewn with every sort of trap, hazard and obstacle. It is not made any easier when it is embarked upon in the Committee stage of a major Bill.
If feel that the Government must be sorry that they ever mentioned the word "referendum". But, of course, there is a precedent. We have had one referendum in this country, and we have accepted the principle of the referendum 1734 on this Bill. Whether we like it or not, it is likely that if this Bill ever reaches the statute book there will at some point have to be a referendum.
It is much more important to get the Bill right than to get it on to the statute book quickly. My fear is not that it will necessarily lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom but that it will saddle Scotland with an unworkable constitution and that in the course of time that will breed total disillusion among Scots with the democratic and parliamentary system. From that point might arise very nasty and undemocratic movements. I sympathise very much with those who feel that an additional 1,000 civil servants in Edinburgh with an extra tier of government might lead to very serious frustration in Scotland.
Had my hon. Friend's amendment referred to a mandatory referendum, I could not have supported it. The Government would be quite right in saying that a mandatory referendum would have to be simple and require a "Yes" or a "No." to a piece of legislation in its final form. I do not believe that under a mandatory referendum people could be asked to answer four questions of this sort.
There might, for example, be an almost equal number of votes in favour of each question. Where would we be then? There is a case for the referendum, and it is this. On major matters the parties are now divided. On some of these issues, those who take up a particular point of view cannot get support in any party. That was the case on the Common Market. The parliamentary system is such that it is not suitable for dealing with many of the matters now facing us. Had we reformed the party or parliamentary systems, referendums might be unnecessary. We have not done that, however, and we are committed to the principle of a referendum under the Bill.
The simplest form of referendum would be a mandatory referendum on the Bill in its final form. There are, however, objections to that. It could, for example, be used as a sort of populist measure to beat up support for the Government. That has happened under various dictatorships, and it is highly undesirable. It would not necessarily be so, however. 1735 There is, therefore, also a case for a consultative referendum, and that is the position that the Government have now adopted. It is very difficult to take up that position at this stage in the Bill. A consultative referendum should have been held last autumn, and that would have given us some idea of the various views held in Scotland. The Government could have taken the result into account in drafting the Bill.
A consultative referendum need not be anything like as precise as a mandatory referendum. In addition, it could contain more than one question. Therefore, it is reasonable, if we are to talk about a consulative referendum, to consider the sort of questions we want to ask. I agree with the hon. Member for Bedwellty that one important question is whether the Scots and the Welsh want to be independent. Even if the question is put down in that fairly blunt form, however, it is open to various constructions. The word "independence" is not exact. The SNP in my constituency has been heard to say that it does not want independence, but wants a partnership under the Crown. God knows what that is. A question on independence would give a good indication of whether there is any great support in Scotland and Wales for independence as it is generally known.
It is reasonable to ask whether people want the present system left unaltered. Clearly, the second question would have to be redrafted in view of what has happened since it was tabled. The hon. Member for Bedwellty objected to the third question, which, he said, was a crypto-federalist question. He said that no one wanted federalism and that it was not, so to speak, an issue. I suggest, however, that it is becoming an issue. There is more and more support for it. I would not support a completely federal system in Britain, but we could use elements of federalism. The most important element which the Bill lacks is a clear distinction between the powers of this United Kingdom Parliament and the powers of the Assemblies which would be set up in Edinburgh and Cardiff.
There is an overriding power for the United Kingdom Parliament to go over the heads of the Assemblies and deal with 1736 internal matters. There is real confusion and, therefore, it is reasonable to put down some question designed to bring out whether people want not a full federal system but clearly-defined federal powers for the various Parliaments or Assemblies which will be set up and a legal means of deciding disputes before a constitutional court.
There is, however, a difficulty with all these possible referendums. When are they to be held? They should have been introduced in a separate Bill and should have been cleared out of the way before this Bill appeared. If we are to have a consultative referendum, it is no good consulting after the Government have made up their mind and the Bill is finalised into legislation. It is, therefore, logical to have a referendum before the Bill reaches its advanced stages. I do not deny that that will be difficult to do, but I should be interested to hear the Government's views about it.
At the consultations or convention which have been described in the debate, will the referendum be fully discussed and will there be any question of seeking agreement about when it should be held and in what form? It is reasonable that the matter should be considered, and no doubt it will be. This is a matter which could be usefully discussed between the parties. There would be a wide measure of agreement that we would not want to set a precedent for referendums on all sorts of matters, and nor would we want to create a muddle over the advantages and disadvantages of a mandatory as opposed to consultative referendum.
§ Mr. Buchan
The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) referred to this evening as being something between a funeral and a wake. I have been at many wakes that were happier than the events which are taking place this evening. The truth is that the blood has drained from the whole debate as a result of the decision on Tuesday night. He would be a rare character in the House of Commons who would be prepared to say exactly what should now be done. Since I like to say what should be done, I find myself in certain difficulties.
We are rather like Marino Faliero at the end of the Byron play when he was 1737 led to the scaffold and said with no one there to hear:I speak to time and to eternity.That is about all we can speak to in the Chamber. Very few of us are listening, but one or two things should be put on the record. A lot of hindsight has been in evidence today. I do not speak from hindsight. What I have been saying has been proved true by the event. Over the last five years, I think I have got it right and that we have ended where I feared we would end.
Tuesday night's debate dealt the final blow to the Government's immediate attempts. I make only a brief point about that. The Second Reading of the Bill was carried. We then witnessed the situation on Tuesday night that, despite the fact that there were 60, 70, 80 or 100 devolutionists in the Tory Party, including the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath), when it came to a decision which most people regarded as the possible death knell of the Bill not one Member from that party was prepared to vote.
During the last two days I have noticed comments in the Press about the 20 Labour rebels. I am told that this was a great House of Commons occasion. If it was a great House of Commons occasion, it was because 20 Labour rebels, with whom I disagree entirely because I thought they were completely wrongheaded, nevertheless voted because they recognised the gravity of the issue. But not one pro-devolution Member from the Tory Party exercised a conscience of any kind.
§ Mr. Brittan
I cannot accept the hon. Gentleman's allegation about the lack of conscience of my hon. Friends. We respect the hon. Gentleman's conscience and I think he ought to respect that of my hon. Friends. They made it quite clear—I am talking about my hon. Friends who differed from me on Second Reading—that they did not approve of the Bill in this form, but they believed that the Second Reading vote would be interpreted as a vote on the principle of devolution. That was why they supported it. But it was clear that their future opinion of the Bill would depend on the arguments deployed and on the concessions that the Government made.
1738 Does not the hon. Gentleman recall that several Conservative speakers who were pro-devolutionists made it quite clear that they voted in the way they did because, in their judgment, the Government's reaction to the debate had been wholly inadequate to the criticisms which had been made? My hon. Friends may have been right or wrong, but there was not a lack of conscience.
§ The Temporary Chairman (Sir Stephen McAdden)
Order. I have had occasion to remind the Committee on previous occasions that all interruptions prolong speeches and that longer interruptions result in interminable speeches. This subject may be more interesting than the amendment we are supposed to be discussing, but I urge the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan) to address himself to the amendment and to leave these things for other hon. Members to talk about later.
§ Mr. Buchan
I would have been happy, Sir Stephen, had you allowed the hon. Gentleman to continue for a little longer, because the longer he spoke the bigger the mess he put himself and his party in. The truth is that we did not even get the kind of amendments that the Conservative Party was concerned with before voting on the guillotine. No amendments were discussed or rejected by us up to that time.
§ Mr. Buchan
No amendment was discussed or voted on at that time which concerned the objections of the Conservative Party. We saw no conscience expressed.
Tonight should have been one of the crunch debates. The situation we have been concerned with over the last two days has been twofold. The first part was whether the Government could get the Bill through with amendments to its final structure. That was decided against on Tuesday. Today we are debating the concept of a referendum and how it should be properly thrashed out and settled. That also has now been put into the freezer for the time being. But I must insist that we discuss this seriously.
1739 8.15 p.m.
The problem of putting only one question in the referendum is that it solves nothing. I speak only for Scotland, but if it is to be one question it should be an independence question. But that is not proposed. No matter which way that question goes, it will be seen as a victory for the separatist forces.
We can predict what those forces will campaign on. If there is a vote for this devolution measure, they will say that it is the first insulting concession. If it is defeated, they will say that it is because the Scottish people wanted more. Therefore, nothing will be settled.
The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) talked about the fear of having a badly constructed Assembly. There is an even bigger fear, and that is a badly constructed Assembly where the political will to operate is missing. The reason why a constitution works is either that there is a constitutional court, as in America, which will decide the working of the constitution, or the political will of the people which will allow it to work despite its anomalies. I do not like the first of these because a constitutional court inhibits progress in general. It can only define on the basis of the status quo, and the political will to allow it to operate will be missing if we do not first deal with the question of independence.
The real danger is not the creation of a badly constructed Assembly but the creation of an Assembly in which the political will to make it work is lacking and where it may be so wrecked that it may be destroyed. The great fear in this situation is not so much that the Scottish people may choose independence coolly and calculatedly. The fear and danger is that given that situation, and given the lack of political will to see the framework under which we wish to operate for the time being, the Assembly will be wrecked into separation and into acrimony, conflict and bitterness. That would be disastrous for the United Kingdom.
Those who are anxious about some kind of framework must recognise that they are facing an even greater danger. Those who voted against the Bill on Tuesday in the hope of preserving the unity of the United Kingdom have pre- 1740 cisely, and by definition, played into the hands of those who wish to wreck the United Kingdom. I say to hon. Members on all sides of the Committee that I wish they would listen to those of us who have been right, and have been proved so by events, because we come from the people of whom we are talking and for whom we are talking.
The roof may have begun to fall in—I do not know; but no one can yet properly judge the mood in Scotland. I maintain, however, that if we do not get back to the devolution Bill in one form or another, and if we do not face up to the question of independence, that wrecking will happen and that which we sought to avoid will happen.
It is important that the question on independence must be put. I notice that only one SNP Member is present tonight when independence is being raised. The rest, like the dog in Sherlock Holmes' story, are absent. The curious incident of the dog was that it did nothing in the night. When the question of independence is posed, the SNP has failed to be present and has not had the courage to bring forward its own proposals. It put down amendments but did not move them or speak to them. It has sat silent and left a solitary representative on the Bench. It is tawdry and disgraceful behaviour.
I should like to have seen some element of courage, because the truth is that the SNP seeks to achieve independence by stealth. Even the SNP's amendments which relate to independence refer to dealing with Scottish affairs. The independence question is a camouflage. The SNP has fought a semantic battle with the use of the word "separatist". The SNP says that it is not separatist. It says "We do not want to be separated, because we want to join hands with other people".
The word "separate" is accurate and precise. This is what the SNP wants to do. The old-fashioned Scottish term used elsewhere is "secession". SNP Members wish to secede from the United Kingdom, yet when we offer them a form of words in the question we suggest—should Scotland remain part of the United Kingdom—there, too, they avoid the direct question by indulging in historical and psychological semantics. They say "No. We wish to remain".
§ Mr. Robin F. Cook
Surely my hon. Friend is in error. Tonight, the nationalists have not indulged in any semantics. They have not said a word, despite our precise questions inviting response.
§ Mr. Buchan
My hon. Friend is right. It is even more curious psychological semantics when they say nothing.
Again, we wait to hear. Will they accept that question? Have they the courage to say whether they will accept that question being put to the Scottish people —"Do you wish to remain part of the United Kingdom?". I think it was Shakespeare who wrote "I pause for a reply". I get no reply. The nationalists have sought to achieve separation and independence by stealth.
What are the semantics and the historical nonsense in which they indulge? They say "We believe in the United Kingdom because we will retain the monarchy." I have news for them. The Queen is the Monarch of Australia, the Bahamas, Barbados, Canada, Fiji and Grenada. Are they parts of the United Kingdom? She is the Monarch of Mauritius, New Zealand, Papua, New Guinea and Trinidad and Tobago. Are they parts of the United Kingdom? What semantic nonsense this is, and what an insult to the great national movements it is if they cannot even defend this kind of semantic nonsense. They say "We wish to have the monarchy. Therefore, we will dodge the question about remaining part of the United Kingdom."
If the nationalists would accept that question and they campaigned on it, we would know where the Scottish people stood. But they do not wish to do that. They wish to achieve independence through stealth. That is why the question must be put.
We are even in the curious position of being afraid to put the question in case the nationalists dodge the question and say that they will not vote on it so that they can keep open the possibility of wrecking the Assembly through conflict, acrimony and populist issues. They indulge in history, quite apart from the aspect of the monarchy. Is this not pre-empting the right of the Scottish people whose independence they claim to speak for when they say that the monarchy is important? Are not the Scottish people entitled to say that they 1742 wish to retain the monarchy? The Scottish people have that right.
The nationalists are pre-empting that right. They are indulging in historical nonsense by saying that they wish to stand on the 1603 position, 370 years ago. But they are wrong there. Even their history is wrong. They say "We wish to go back, before the Union of Parliament Act 1707, to the Union of Crowns. We will have a common Monarch." But in 1603 the Monarch was the Executive—the Government. Do they want to go back to 1603, with a common Executive?
I have some more news for the SNP. In 1603 it was not the United Kingdom. It was the Kingdom of Great Britain, France and Ireland.
§ Mr. Buchan
We have words from a representative of the Scottish National Party, admittedly from a seated position.
§ Mr. Buchan
The document which I have is dated 1606. The Authorised Version is five years later. If the hon. Member for Galloway (Mr. Thompson) can read the Authorised Version of the Bible—the James VI and III version—why did we have all this nonsense from the nationalists saying that this meant the United Kingdom when it does not?
Are they bringing in France too? I have heard of Scotia Irridenta, but pulling in France is a bit much. What semantic nonsense this is, and what an insult to the national movements of history and even to the nationalists' heroes like Wallace and Bruce. How shameful can they get to claim to speak for the Scottish people?
I have further news for them. It was not even the United Kingdom in 1707.
§ Mr. Buchan
That is right. It was first used in The Gentleman's Magazine of 1737. So their history is nonsense.
§ Mr. Buchan
If it is not nonsense, and if the hon. Member for Galloway knows his history, there can be no reason for 1743 putting forward this argument that they will not accept the part of the question referring to remaining part of the United Kingdom.
I ask the hon. Member for Galloway: will the SNP engage in that question and call upon the Scottish people to remove themselves from being part of the United Kingdom? Will they now come out and campaign on that question? We need to know.
§ Mr. Robin F. Cook
My hon. Friend has succeeded in illiciting a response from the sole representative of the SNP who is present. Now that the hon. Member for Galloway (Mr. Thompson) has accepted that the term "United Kingdom" came into being only in 1707, will my hon. Friend try to invoke a similar response from the hon. Gentleman about whether, on that basis, he now will accept "Do you wish Scotland to remain part of the United Kingdom?" as a fair question to determine whether the Scottish people want independence?
§ Mr. Buchan
I shall try to elicit that from the hon. Member for Galloway, but I have never seen anyone glued so firmly to his seat. Will the SNP now accept that this is a fair question?
§ Mr. Buchan
Of course not. It is not a fair question. The SNP's question is an unfair one, and I shall tell the hon. Member for Galloway why. His party's third question asks whether the Scottish people wantAn independent Scottish Parliament, within the Commonwealth and under the Crown, with full control over all Scottish affairs.Again by stealth, this suggests, if anything, the federalist position. It is not just the Scottish affairs in the language that we have been using over the years. We have all talked about control over Scottish affairs meaning internal Scottish affairs. But the nationalists mean external affairs like defence and foreign affairs.
Will the SNP be honest and accept the fair question about remaining part of the United Kingdom?
§ Mr. Thompson
It is difficult to follow the convolutions of the hon. Gentleman's 1744 argument, but it has always seemed to me that, if Scotland or England removed itself from the United Kingdom, the United Kingdom would no longer subsist. That appears to be obvious. Our question says "over all Scottish affairs". In my election campaigns in Galloway, I have said whenever I have had the chance that that meant all Scottish affairs both at home and abroad.
§ Mr. Buchan
That is absolutely right. I am now asking the hon. Member for Galloway to say, since they accept that Scotland will no longer be part of the United Kingdom, whether the precise question to be put should be "Do you wish to be part of the United Kingdom?" By the SNP's own argument, that is a fair question.
§ Mr. Robin F. Cook
Earlier, I made a detailed statement about why we could not accept the SNP's question because it was an unfair one. What we are desperately anxious to have now is advice from the SNP Bench about why the nationalists put forward their words and reject ours. We have not had that advice yet.
§ The Temporary Chairman
It may help if I remind the Committee that all questions should be addressed to the Chair and not to individual hon. Members. We may get on faster if we stick to that rule.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Buchan
What is even more interesting is why the nationalists did not join us in formulating an even simpler question. The answer is that they are trying to conceal from the Scottish people the fact that the SNP would like Scotland to be an independent State. They are a party of hypocrites which has won an element of power by campaigning on all other issues except the direction in which it wishes to pull the Scottish people by accident. I wish that SNP Members would show the courage of their convictions and accept that. The hon. Member for Galloway has heard me say before that I thought him one of the most honest of all the Scottish National Party Members, yet we have seen him turning and twisting to avoid the second question and covering up on the question of Scottish affairs when he means all Scottish affairs.
§ Mr. Thompson
If the word "all" does not mean "all", I do not know what on earth it does mean. "All Scottish affairs" is bound to mean Scottish affairs at home and abroad. I have done a course in philosophy in the past, and I may be getting rusty, but to me the word "all" means "all". If the hon. Member cannot comprehend a simple English word of three letters, something has gone wrong in his mind or his attitude.
§ Mr. Buchan
In that case, if "all" means "all", why have the question referring to "all affairs" at all? Why not have the simple question on independence? The term "all Scottish affairs" in the hon. Gentleman's definition means for example, Scotland's relationships with Outer Mongolia.
I urge the Government, who are more responsive than the Scottish National Party, that although we have seen the difficulty that we will face from the nationalists who will not accept the question, the question is one that must be put. Because of the dangers of which I have spoken, we cannot embark on the project without that question being put.
My final point has already been raised by other hon. Members and, therefore, it cannot be totally out of order. There has been a suggestion that we should suspend the Bill for the time being and that we should then have three possible options. There could be a quick referendum—we have seen the difficulties in that—or there could be all-party consultations, or both.
My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook) and I argued two years ago for an earlier referendum than this, but we accepted that it would be a good thing to have the precision of the Bill before holding the referendum. Therefore, we are pointed inexorably towards all-party discussions. I accept this. We must reject any nonsense—with all respect to the Chair—about a Speaker's Conference because it would get bogged down. Bilateral discussions would be useful because, if nothing else, they would enable the Liberal Party—to which I have been kind tonight after the shoddy behavious of all but two Members from that party on Tuesday—to say what it means by the federalist position. The powers in the Bill are as powerful as 1746 those in many federal States. For example, the veto powers in Canada are tougher than the reserve powers in the Bill. Such talks might achieve some understanding between the Labour and Conservative Parties that could help us with regard to the Liberal Party.
§ Mr. Emlyn Hooson (Montgomery)
The advantage of the federal system is that the powers are precise. One knows exactly where each State is within the federal system. Each State is sovereign in its own sphere while the remainder of the power, in most federal systems, remains firmly in the centre.
§ Mr. Buchan
I understand, but the power of veto in other federal States is not as powerful as the powers in the Bill. I referred to Canada as an example. The difficulty of the federal position and the technical problems about introducing it into Britain is that one cannot have federal States on a one-to-one basis. Most federal systems have a dozen or more States—America has 51—so that there is a pull from the centre. But to have a system that would be one-to-one, to have a polarised situation, with one federal Government and with one nation that is 10 times bigger than the other, is not on. In such a system of government the Scots would be given 10 times as many votes as the English. As a technical constitutional expression, this is not on. Under the Bill, powers would be given out but the power of veto would be retained by the Government.
All-party discussions would enable us to unravel the enigma and mystery that is the Tory Party's present position on devolution. At least, if we had such talks we would know what it wanted to suggest. The Tory Party has been asking for talks for weeks. We haves said "Right, tell us what you want to talk about", but the Tory Party still has not disclosed that. I should like to open that Pandora's box and see what thoughts it contains.
Another advantage would be that we should know what the Tories really want. It would enable the hon. Members of whom I spoke earlier—the 60 to 90 devolutionists, including the three Front Bench spokesmen who resigned because they supported devolution—to join in what should be a cross-party alliance to 1747 vote as a House instead of as a party, as the Conservatives did on Tuesday, in order to save the United Kingdom in the most dangerous internal situation that we have faced since the formation of the United Kingdom in 1707.
§ Mr. Raison
I am reluctant to enter into a discussion of Scottish history, but the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan) mentioned in his interesting speech that the United Kingdom dates from 1707, although the name was tagged on a little later. A rubric alongside Article 1 of the Act of Union refers to "The kingdoms united" and the article refers to:That the two kingdoms of England and Scotland shall upon the first day of May which shall be in the year one thousand seven hundred and seven and for ever after be united into one kingdom by the name of Great Britain".
§ Mr. Raison
It certainly refers to two kingdoms united. I am sure that we could argue this point all night, but I shall come hack to the Act of Union later.
A strange chill seems to have descended upon the Chamber tonight. It is not just the chill of mortality mentioned by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell); it is a physical chill. I was reminded of the words:By and by the room grew chilly,They had not the heart to poke poor Billy.I use the name "Billy" as an affectionate word to cover the great and mighty Scotland and Wales Bill.
This afternoon's announcement about talks was significant. My right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) was right to enter into talks about talks, but he must enter them with his eyes very wide open. I am sure that he takes the point.
I have argued before and will argue again that there is a good case for some sort of broader discussion by hon. Members about what ought to happen now. We cannot simply forget the whole matter, but if such discussions are to take place, there should be no prior commitment to any particular answer. We should review what has come out of our interesting discussion in Committee and see what kind of approach makes sense among the many varieties spoken about so far.
1748 I suspect that the answer is that there is no devolution that will, on balance, help in the most important matters that face us. However, I am not against the idea that there should be a general discussion—as long as there is no commitment to any particular sort of solution and, certainly, as long as no backing is given to the notion of trying to improve this unimprovable piece of legislation.
The idea of a referendum is bad in principle. I am against the notion of a referendum, and the way in which it has been dragged into this episode. The Lord President was right, for once, in saying that the sort of decision that would be put in a referendum would be too hopelessly vague for it to make sense. I do not think that it is possible to go to the country, or even to part of the country, and say that we have a sort of an idea about devolution and ask the people whether they think it is good or bad. If we are to have a referendum, it must be on the basis of knowing what is in the Bill. That is the basis on which the country must decide although I want neither Bill nor referendum.
One of the ingredients in the Liberal amendment is what the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West habitually calls the second question, namely, the question whether it is right to include in any sort of referendum a question about independence, about whether there should be a separate Scotland. I said at the beginning of our debates that if, at the end of the day, it seemed to be the case, incontrovertibly and fully established, that the Scottish people wished to have a separate country, I did not think that ultimately one could deny them that. I think it would be a great tragedy. I do not think that it will happen, but it is something that perhaps should have been allowed to happen if the evidence was clear enough.
Since then, and more or less by chance, I have been considering one or two aspects of Scottish law. I shall raise a question that is of slightly more than academic interest, namely, whether it is possible for the Scottish people to choose to break the Act of Union.
One of the features of the Scottish National Party—it is something for which I respect it—is that all its members say consistently that they wish to operate through the proper democratic processes and especially through this Parliament. 1749 They have described how they want to come to Westminster in greater numbers to work the parliamentary system to achieve their objectives. Last night, in a television programme in which I took part, I heard a well-known SNP theoretician, Professor MacCormick, reiterating the commitment of the SNP to the parliamentary processes. If the hon. Member for Galloway (Mr. Thompson) who is now representing the SNP, were to break his vow of silence once more, I am sure that he would reiterate that he is entirely committed to working through the proper parliamentary processes.
It seems that there is a problem if the Scottish people choose to break the Act of Union. I disturb the Secretary of State for Scotland for a brief moment to describe the problem. I know that he is talking to the Deputy Chief Whip and that in these days Whips are people to whom one has to listen, although it is not always the case that Whips are as good at listening back as they might be. However, I put to the right hon. Gentleman a problem that he will not necessarily be able to answer off the cuff. If that is so, I request that he, or whichever Minister replies, writes to give me an authoritative answer. I suspect that it is something that the Lord Advocate will have to take in hand.
We in England have grown up with the idea that Parliament is not bound by its predecessors and that it can change any existing Act of Parliament. Therefore, I think that English Members would probably tend to say that if the House of Commons so decided it would be possible to change the major provisions in the Act of Union. But slightly by accident I have discovered that the Scots take a slightly different view. In a matter such as this we should pay considerable regard to the Scottish view. Apparently, under Scottish law it is very doubtful whether Parliament can override all the sections in the Act of Union—certainly the major sections. I have in mind especially Article III of the Act of Union, which statesThat the United Kingdom of Great Britain be represented by one Parliament and the same Parliament to be stiled the Parliament of Great Britain.
§ Mr. Raison
It says:the United Kingdom of Great Britain".Once again there is reinforcement of the point that I have already made—Article III is the crucial article in respect of my argument—about separation and everything else so concerned. My question is whether, under Scottish law, it is possible to breach Article III of the Act of Union.
I should like to refer to a case in the Scottish Court of Session in 1953. It is curiously appropriate in Jubilee Year, because it was concerned with the question whether the Queen should be allowed to be called Elizabeth II or something else. It was brought by two leaders of the Scottish National Party at that time—J. M. MacCormick and I. R. Hamilton. MacCormick, in particular, is one of the heroes of the Scottish national movement. He and Hamilton wanted to stop Her Majesty calling herself Queen Elizabeth II. In fact, they were overruled by the court, but I shall not go into details.
That court—the equivalent of the Court of Appeal—expressed some extremely interesting observations. I shall quote from a description in a book called "Scotland" by Professor T. B. Smith, who is a leading Scottish constitutional lawyer. I hope that the Committee will show forbearance while I read the passage:In 1953 in the case of MacCormick v. Lord Advocate—commonly called the E.II.R. Case—the First Division of the Court of Session examined and rejected the English theories that Parliament is an unlimited sovereign, and can lawfully vary any conditions of the Union by ordinary legislation.The Lord President, with the full concurrence of Lord Carmont and (on this point) Lord Russell, emphatically rejected Lord Guthrie's view in the court below—which was substantially an adoption of the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty as enunciated by Dicey in The Law of the Constitution. His Lordship observed that the theory of the 'unlimited sovereignty' of Parliament was distinctively English and had no counterpart in Scottish constitutional law. Since at the Union the Parliaments of England and Scotland were both extinguished and replaced by a new Parliament of Great Britain, it was difficult to see 'why it should have been supposed that the new Parliament of Great Britain must inherit all the peculiar characteristics of the English Parliament but none of the Scottish Parliament, as if all that happened in 1707 was that Scottish representatives were admitted to the Parliament of England. That is not what was done.'1751The opinion continues:Further, the Treaty and the associated legislation, by which the Parliament of Great Britain was brought into being as the successor of the separate Parliaments of Scotland and England, contain some clauses which expressly reserve to the Parliament of Great Britain powers of subsequent modification, and other clauses which either contain no such power or emphatically exclude subsequent alteration by declarations that the provisions shall be fundamental and unalterable in all time coming, or declarations of a like effect. I have never been able to understand how it is possible to reconcile with elementary canons of construction the adoption by the English constitutional theorists of the same attitude to these markedly different types of provisions.'The Lord Advocate himself in argument had conceded that the Parliament of Great Britain 'could not' repeal or alter the 'fundamental and essential' conditions of the Union, and the Lord President also concluded that there was nothing in the Union legislation which lays down that the Parliament of Great Britain should be 'absolutely sovereign' in the sense that Parliament is free to alter the fundamental constitution at will.I apologise for reading that lengthy quotation, but I thought it better to quote directly rather than attempt to summarise something in the delicate area of Scottish law. It seems to me that the opinion of the judges in the Scottish Court of Session—the equivalent of our Court of Appeal—
§ Mr. Raison
—the High Court—which has not been overridden by any other court, was that in the Scottish view this Parliament was not able to overrule these fundamental ingredients in the Act of Union.
As I said, the Scottish National Party, of all parties, is most dedicated to upholding the views of Scottish law. Indeed, in its October 1974 manifesto, it said that itaccepts as an uninterrupted foundation, the law of Scotland as it currently stands.The dilemma facing the Scottish National Party quite simply is that, in its view, although not in our view, Parliament is unable to amend the Act of Union and, in particular, to end the undivided Parliament of the two countries.
The point that I am making is that if it is impossible, under Scottish law, to break up the existing Parliament, it seems meaningless to pose in the referendum a question that contemplates that possibility.
§ Mr. Thompson
Surely the Scottish people, as such are the bearers of sovereignty in Scotland, and if they choose to reorganise or restructure the way they are governed they are surely bound to be free to do so.
§ Mr. Raison
I find that a difficult doctrine to absorb, particularly coming from a representative of a party that has not merely repeatedly expressed its commitment to the law of the land but has repeatedly said that it wishes to operate through Parliament. We have had many instances in which the commitment to work through Parliament has been stressed, very much to the credit of the SNP. But now, it seems, Scottish National Members, who spend much of their time arguing that they believe in Parliament, abandon their commitment to it when things become a little awkward.
§ Mr. Hooson
I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for this interesting but spurious argument. If he is arguing that because a Scottish Parliament that was not democratically elected two or three centuries ago enacted a treaty no one can undo it, it seems to me that he is talking nonsense.
§ Mr. Raison
I was saying that in the English view of the matter Parliament is unable to undo previous Acts of Parliament. I was pointing out that Scottish law, expressed recently—I am not talking about what the judges may have said in 1707, but what they have said recently—is that this House does not have the power to overthrow the fundamental ingredients in the Act of Union.
§ Mr. James Dempsey (Coatbridge and Airdrie)
Scots law has from time to time been described as an ass, and that is, perhaps, the best way that it can be described at times.
The hon. Gentleman is promoting a very interesting argument. It was appointed representatives of the so-called Scottish people who signed the treaty. Are we now being led to believe that the democratically elected representatives of the Scottish people cannot opt out of that treaty?
§ Mr. Raison
I can only repeat that whatever the history of the creation of the Act of Union, it has been accepted for a very long time since then—and 1753 stressed by the judges in the Scottish courts in a judgment with which no one seems to have quarrelled—that this House does not have the power to overthrow the fundamental ingredients in the Act of Union. As I have also pointed out, the SNP says that it is firmly committed to Scottish law. I do not know how its members can get out of the dilemma.
I hope that the Government will give us an authoritative view. It may seem, at this juncture in the great devolution saga, that it does not matter very much. On the other hand, it is apparent that the argument is going to go on. The Scottish nationalists will go on pressing the case for independence, and it seems reasonable to ask that the Secretary of State for Scotland or the Lord Advocate should give the Government's view on the question whether the proposition that I have put forward is correct, whether my interpretation of the judgment in the Court of Session is correct, what the implications are, and whether it is possible—perish the thought—for this Bill to undo Article III of the Act of Union.
If Ministers are not able to answer the question tonight, I shall understand; it is a complicated matter. But I hope that at some stage soon they will give an answer, either in a letter to me or by way of a statement in the House.
§ Mr. Jim Craigen (Glasgow, Maryhill)
What the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) has been saying is all very interesting, but if it is to be a fair test of the success of the inter-party talks to come, I am afraid that I am not very optimistic about the outcome of those talks. The nub of what he said was "We shall talk as long as you do not ask us to do anything." The best thing that we could have done this afternoon, both for ourselves as parliamentarians and perhaps for the nation, was to pull down the shutters, go home and reflect on the state of the nation.
At the last General Election all the parties were committed to an elected Assembly of one kind or another for Scotland. I shall not deal with Wales. We have now reached a situation in which it looks as if we do not have a Bill but that we might have a referendum. Some of the people who a short time ago argued that it should be a consultative 1754 referendum are now beginning to have second thoughts and think that it should be a mandatory referendum after all. Some of the people who argued that it should be a mandatory referendum are now beginning to think that we should have a consultative referendum.
Some Members always make great play of sovereignty residing here. Perhaps it did before the European Community came along. At any rate, some hon. Members maintain with vigour that Parliament is supreme in the United Kingdom. What situation will arise if hon. Members say that we shall have referendums—which I believe is the new "in" term—in Scotland and Wales? The people will be consulted and they can have their say, but it will still be up to us at Westminster to determine the shape of the Bill that sets up Assemblies for Scotland and Wales.
The peoples of Scotland and Wales could receive a slap in the face if they come up with a view that does not match the prevailing feelings in this House. It has been said that a Pandora's Box has been opened. I do not think that the Liberals will help to close that Pandora's Box by their proposals.
The status quo is an option for which some people in Scotland and Wales will wish to vote. If there is to be a referendum, that option should appear on the ballot paper. The Liberals make great play about the federation of the nations in the British Isles. The trouble is that England is not ready for federalism. It is not ready to accept two tiers of Parliament. It does not seem to be ready to accept a regional set-up of Parliaments either. That is a fact of life.
There may be variations of opinion about the option of devolution, but in Scotland there was a recognition that it was coming. Now it looks as if it is not. That leaves the fourth option. Unless the House is more sensitive to opinions north of Watford, that option may prove to be more formidable than is recognised today.
It was suggested that we should have a referendum. But there is now no Bill. In those circumstances, what referendum are we to have? Moreover, we have never faced the problem of having a referendum in different parts of the 1755 United Kingdom at a time when our media, both the Press and television, tend to be part of a United Kingdom network, and how, in effect, the balance between the various shades of opinion in Scotland and Wales would be given fair play. During the EEC referendum great efforts were made to ensure that there should at least be an opportunity for both points of view to be put to the voters. However, a four-pronged referendum would be an entirely different thing, in the sense that we should have a far greater communicative exercise to get across while at the same time ensuring that all shades of opinion were able to get their point of view across.
It seems that singular insensitivity has been shown in the House of Commons about what is actually going on in Scotland and Wales. I listened on Tuesday to the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Gardiner). I do not question his belief in the Union of the United Kingdom, but I thought that he made a most insensitive speech if he was trying to convince reasonable people north of the border. The insensitivity that exists in some people down here greatly worries me. They believe that we just need to go on as we have done previously.
The United Kingdom is not in that kind of situation at all. The hon. and learned Member for Solihull (Mr. Grieve) mentioned that he had Scottish roots. When he was speaking earlier, it seemed to me that he could have come from another planet from the way that he was talking about the situation in Scotland.
Things have changed a bit.
§ Mr. Craigen
They are changing, as the hon. Gentleman points out. He is certainly a master of change. The right hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Johnston) said earlier that the hon. Gentleman was one of those who voted for the Scotland and Wales (Referenda) Bill, in 1969—a Bill that was concerned with the separate government of Scotland and Wales.
The best thing that we could do at this stage would be to pack up for the night—
§ Mr. Craigen
—and to reflect upon the seriousness of the decision that was taken here on Tuesday evening.
§ Mr. Stanbrook
We have heard a venomous attack on the Scottish National Party by the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan). The SNP does not need me to defend it. However, perhaps the hon. Gentleman—I am sorry that he is not now present in the Chamber—threw a great deal of light on the actual reason for the Bill by what he said and the manner in which he said it in attacking the SNP.
The hon. Member's speech was far more revealing than all those that we heard from the Government Front Bench. He was clearly expressing the Labour Party's fear about the SNP, whose position, although it may not be shared by many other hon. Members, is a tenable one. SNP Members want independence under the Crown. While most of us may deplore that sort of approach to these problems, they are perfectly entitled to it.
The Labour Party, however, takes a view that is less tenable—that the Scottish people should have something less than independence. That should be a concession to nationalist sentiment, at the expense of the true unity of the United Kingdom and the strength and effectiveness of the United Kingdom Parliament.
§ Mr. Hooson
Is not the danger of this debate and of the whole issue that opinions may now polarise, between the United Kingdom remaining as it is and total separation? Is it not true that this House has shown extreme insensitivity in handling every major issue of people's relationships with the Crown? From the War of Independence with the United States to the India and Ireland affairs, this House has been singularly insensitive and in the end left those people with no choice but to leave.
§ Mr. Stanbrook
That is a tenable view. However, the tone in which the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West attacked the Scottish National Party showed the true motive of those who support the Bill. I do not want Scotland to obtain independence at the expense of the United Kingdom as a whole, but I admit that it is a proper stance to take in this House.
1757 However, the Labour Party's alternative as expounded in the Bill—although a commendable form of devolution might be found—is damaging to the United Kingdom as a whole and to its parliamentary system. The Bill is a less admirable solution of these difficulties than the clear-cut if less desired solution of independence.
I have always thought that referendums are to be deplored in a system like ours which depends on the principle of parliamentary supremacy—which should not be confused with sovereignty, since that is an attribute of the State. In terms of the supreme power within a State, the supremacy of Parliament is what we should have in mind. Unfortunately, the supremacy of this Parliament has been changed, I think for the worse, by the use of the referendum as a political instrument.
From the moment that the Labour Party adopted the idea in 1972, the principle of this Parliament's supremacy was bound to be altered by the fact that referendums could confirm or invalidate its decisions.
A referendum works quite fundamentally by destroying parliamentary supremacy in the old sense, although it may be used for political ends and in the interests of political expediency. That is why the Labour Government introduced it in 1975. One has to accept that it is likely to be used as a political instrument from now onwards whenever we encounter similar problems—not merely constitutional problems but ordinary political questions that ought to be decided by the House.
I see difficulties in applying the referendum instrument to this problem. The chief function of Parliament, as I understand it, is to control the Executive. It is not so well equipped to decide straightforward questions. The weapon that it uses in the control of the Executive is to consent to, and sometimes to modify, legislative proposals put to it by the Executive. Straightforward questions are not normally decided by the House.
The referendum as a principle is no better in this respect, where we find, as we do in this debate, that there is national disunity. Scotitsh nationalism is a factor. It will not go away. I have 1758 been depressed by the fact that so many speakers have referred to the possibility of a vote on independence, and have said confidently that it would be defeated, but have not gone on to say what would happen next. Suppose that independence is rejected in the referendum. Is nothing more done? Does it mean anything? What is the purpose of putting the question "Do you want independence?" if it receives less than 50 per cent. support?
§ Mr. Ioan Evans (Aberdare)
As I understand it, those who want a second question fear that if we were to put a proposal for devolution, or if we went ahead with the devolution proposals, the nationalists, who seek independence, and not devolution, as the end, would use the Assemblies in Cardiff and Edinburgh as platforms to seek independence. The purpose of putting the independence question is that if it is rejected the chances arc that the Members of the Assemblies would try to make them work, rather than seek to destroy them as soon as they were set up.
§ Mr. Stanbrook
I accept that, but it is a purely tactical consideration—a means of meeting the electoral difficulties caused by the Scottish and Welsh nationalists.
§ Mr. Buchan
I have spoken about this so often that I did not repeat it tonight.
The proposition is that we should not go into the Assembly without first dealing with this situation, at least for the time being, because in the first few crucial years of the Assembly, as we meet all the manifold problems of how to work together with Westminster and as we reach populist issue after populist issue, there will be a grave danger. It is that unless there is a framework of acceptance which includes rejecting independence for the time being the Assembly will not be able to prove itself, but will crack into separation. This is not a tactical question but a vital question if the Assembly is to be allowed to work.
§ 9.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Stanbrook
I do not see the matter as the hon. Gentleman does. I see Scottish nationalism as a fact for which independence is the logical end. Scottish discontent with central government is a quite different matter, and it is to resolve that problem that these devolution proposals have been introduced, not only 1759 to dish the nationalists but in some way to meet criticism of central government because of its ineffectiveness and lack of success in recent years. But discontent with central government is shared by other parts of the United Kingdom. I think that those Scotsmen who want the devolution expressed by the Bill do not know precisely what they want, and, in particular, are unaware of the perils that would be caused by support for that form of devolution.
As I see it, the independence issue can be tested in a referendum. It is a clear-cut question, just as the question of the status quo can be tested quite clearly. But anything in between, such as the Bill, Home Rule, or some sort of federal union, is fraught with difficulty. A question on it would be impossible to frame properly so that a clear-cut decision could be obtained from the electorate.
We should bear in mind our only previous experience of a national referendum—that in connection with the EEC. Before we joined the Common Market the question was not only whether we went in but on what terms. A great deal of the debate, before the decision to go in was made by the House, was about the terms rather than the principle of going in. At that stage it would have been impossible to frame a referendum question on the issue of the Common Market. The two aspects were so closely interwoven that it would have been impossible to put one question to which there could be a clear answer.
But after the European Communities Bill became an Act and we went in, I believe that it was perfectly possible, as happened, for the Government of the day to seek a decision on the question whether we stayed in or came out. Staying in was on the terms which had been negotiated, as modified by the subsequent negotiations, and coming out was a decisive act which I think the vast majority of the electorate could understand. There was therefore, a clear-cut question in 1975 and it may be said that it received a clear-cut answer.
On the same basis, a clear-cut answer to a referendum on this Bill is impossible, because we cannot mix the two issues of independence and the devolution expressed in the Bill. I do not believe that it is possible to put the issues in the way 1760 in which the Liberal amendment suggests, with a range of options. I appreciate that the Liberals are saying that it would be in the form of an alternative vote, rather like proportional representation in the election of Members of this House. There would probably be a mishmash of results, as with proportional representation generally. But, clearly, those who vote for option A will not want option B if they can get option A, and those supporting the status quo will not want option B if they can get the status quo. I think that anyone who wanted option B could not allow option A to succeed. In other words, there are permutations, all the greater for having four possible options, and the only clear result will be the registering of discontent.
The only merit of the Government's proposed question, simply on the Bill, is that voters will have to decide whether to go down the path of devolution at all. By "devolution" I mean legislative devolution from this House to legislative Assemblies in Scotland and Wales. That is something that the electorate can appreciate. It is reasonably clear-cut, in the sense that if they vote for it it means that there are those in Scotland who wish to go down the path of devolution and derogation from the supremacy of this House. Those who are against any form of internal self-government will be able to vote against the idea without being pressurised into voting for the Bill in order to reject anything worse.
The main difficulty that we have to overcome is that of making the Scottish people who favour some form of legislative devolution realise the consqeuences of the programme that they are supporting. It is said that the question has been debated in Scotland for the past 49 years, but that debate has not been in terms of the consequences for the United Kingdom. Since the commitment to directly elected Assemblies in Scotland and Wales was entered into by the political parties it has not been possible for the electorate to understand fully the consequences, until the recent series of debates.
None of the aims of devolution can be achieved, except at the expense of Britain. The nationhood of Scotland as expressed by the Scottish National Party, implies the destruction of the idea of British nationhood. If the Scots can be made 1761 to see the Bill's consequences clearly in that light, I am confident that they will reject it.
§ Mr. Dempsey
I have listened to most of the speeches that have been made this afternoon and this evening on the Liberal amendment. We have covered a wide range of matters involving the historical development of Scotland in the process. I speak only about Scotland tonight as I am a Scottish Member.
I welcome the Government's decision to have a referendum. I believe in referendums. I have never thought for one moment that we in the House of Commons have a monopoly of wisdom. There are other people who are equally or more intelligent outside this Chamber who will cast a vote and who have something to say about devolution.
I am reminded of the situation that France passed through recently when its constitutional instability worried not only French people but France's allies as well. Then we saw a certain individual—General de Gaulle—make a grand comeback. He introduced a new diktat called participation. I should like to see Scottish and Welsh people participating in this great debate by making the decision whether they agree with the Government's proposals.
It seems to me that in arriving at their decision people will, in the process, give consideration to all that is involved. That is why I am rather concerned about the referendum being consultative and not mandatory. That particular concession was made in good faith by my colleagues on the Front Bench, but the technique actually produced a backlash because the very hon. Members whose interest it was introduced to attract were the same ones as destroyed that policy on Tuesday night by voting with the Opposition.
If we are intent on consulting the people of Scotland, we are entitled to abide by that result. It is a contradiction in terms to organise a referendum—with all that it involves in terms of cost and the employment of officers, agents, counting staff and all the rest of it—and then to say "But this was only a consultative exercise, and it does not necessarily follow that we shall accept your findings. You must not conclude that we shall determine 1762 future policy as a result of your expression of opinion at the ballot box". That is an illogical view and is difficult to defend. If we consult the people, their view must be final.
I recognise that the ultimate legislative process is in the hands of the House of Commons and that Parliament should be the supreme authority in that respect, but at the same time we should be guided, and indeed instructed practically, by the democratic will of the expressed opinion of the people of Scotland in any referendum that takes place.
The problem arises as to the time at which a referendum should be held. Is it to be held before a Bill is enacted, or afterwards. Do we enact the legislation and then say to the public "Do you approve of this legislation or otherwise?" If the people reject that legislation, it will mean a great waste of parliamentary time. It will mean that much work will prove to have been worthless, and it will involve the spending of a great deal of money which at the end of the exercise will prove to have been meaningless.
This is a perplexing problem and I find it difficult to resolve. On the other hand, if we say—as the Government wish to say—"Do you want devolution in accordance with this Act of Parliament?", we must remember that there are 166 pages of the Bill, and heaven knows how many further pages to be added to it. Nobody with any sense of realism would expect every voter to labour through the whole of the Bill to discover what it is all about. I am sure that if people undertook that process they would not understand it, yet that is the kind of question that it is suggested should be asked in a referendum ballot paper. Therefore, we should carefully examine this whole business.
Let me come to the situation of the Liberal Party on this subject. I am surprised at some of the pessimism displayed on the federalist principle. I understand that there are much smaller countries in Europe than the United Kingdom which have successful Parliaments that are run on a federalist basis. If that is the case, we need to study the situation.
It is a well-known fact that Members of the European Parliament take the view that many countries should examine the 1763 possibility of establishing federal Parliaments throughout the EEC. That is indicative of the desire to bring government nearer to the people.
The two important Liberal proposals relate to devolution and independence. This is an issue which must be faced sooner or later. It is no use dodging it. It has been argued about in Scotland and, no doubt, well discussed in Wales, but what has surprised me has been the reference to the Scottish National Party in the debate. It is not terribly long ago that many Labour Members from Scotland—more Members than the Scottish National Party now has in the House—were elected to Parliament on a home rule mandate to support independence for Scotland.
I recently heard on the radio a well-known former Member of this House, who is now in the other place, saying that when he stood for Midlothian the main plank in his election address was independence for Scotland. At that time it was understandable. One reason why my colleagues do not understand the situation in Scotland, or why it is extremely difficult for them to do so, is because they do not live there. Therefore, they do not know the characteristics of Scottish people or the implications of Scottish attitudes, nor can they appreciate the longings of that section of the United Kingdom community. However, the situation in Scotland is entirely different today.
In days gone by, a male in Scotland had only two choices of job, either the pits or the steelworks. Females also had only two choices, either the shops or domestic drudgery.
§ Mr. Dempsey
That was the worst drudgery of all, if one became a wife. Today, as the nationalists should admit, the situation is completely different. There are diversified employment opportunities of a completely different nature, giving people a much wider choice and greater economic opportunities. It is for that reason that at present independence is a dead duck.
§ Mr. Hamish Watt (Banff)
If what the hon. Gentleman is saying were true, how is it that Scotland has an unemployment 1764 rate of more than 8 per cent., with some areas much worse than that, whereas many parts of England have less than 4 per cent. unemployed?
§ Mr. Dempsey
If the hon. Gentleman had been in public life as long as I have, he would realise that in the past Scotland had more than twice the national average of unemployment. Today Scotland has less than twice the national average. In my part of the country, at one time, 40 per cent. of the insurable population was unemployed, but today, in spite of the world economic recession, the unemployment rate is between 9 and 10 per cent. That is why these diversified employment opportunities are so attractive to the Scots that they could never dream of supporting a policy of independence. The hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Watt) may disagree, but that is my view. Let us put it to the people in a referendum and find out. Until we dispose of this question, we shall always have this argument and this sort of feeling—almost racialism—whipped up by certain elements in Scotland in connection with Scottish independence.
I do not pretend that I understand the attitude of the Scottish National Party towards the amendment that we are discussing. I accept that they want a sovereign Parliament. That means independence. I could never understand whether they wanted an elected president or a monarch. My hon. Friend the Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan) believes that they want a monarch. If that is so, do they want an English monarch, because they intend to be all Scottish? Or do they want to go back and trace a descendant of Bonnie Prince Charlie—the Stuarts? The name of King Donald the First immediately springs to mind. This is one aspect of SNP policy that I do not understand.
The amendments give people the opportunity to express a valid point of view. Let me say publicly that I shall accept that expression of opinion. If they want independence, I shall accept that. I was very glad to hear the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) say that we should all accept it. Therefore, I take the view that the Scottish people could never arrive at any such decision because we are too bound up not only in economic, commercial and financial terms with the people of the United Kingdom.
1765 I have the strong feeling, of which I hope my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench will take account, that there is a growing conviction in Scotland that if we are to go to the expense of organising a referendum we should ask the Scottish people whether they want independence. I cannot anticipate the result, but I think I have a good idea what it would be. I hope that the SNP will also accept the will of the Scottish people.
The amendments propose that the Scottish people should be asked whether they want devolution. In this respect we would have to say something to the Scottish people of what devolution implies. We would have to explain that it means domestic functions being transferred to Scotland. I do not see why they should not be. Having listened to our debates I can understand the attitude of the Opposition, but I confess that I am somewhat at a loss to understand the attitude of my own colleagues. Next week I believe that we shall be debating Scottish legislation, and I am sure that it will come on after 10 o'clock at night. I shall be looking around to see just how many of those who are against devolution are present at midnight, or at one or two in the morning, to show how keen and dedicated they are to participate in the affairs of Scotland.
Of course, we know what will happen. There will be a mass dispersal after the 10 o'clock vote, and my colleagues will pair with the Opposition and leave the building. It will be left to the few willing horses to work through into the early hours to dispose of Scottish business. It is hypocritical of hon. Members to refuse to allow the people of Scotland to settle their affairs in Scotland at a reasonable hour instead of having to do it in the House of Commons after midnight with only a handful of people in the building.
We had a serious debate last week on Scottish affairs which will cause considerable trouble in Scotland in the very near future. Scottish Members did not have enough time—were not given enough time—to debate the serious proposals submitted by the Secretary of State to the Scottish Grand Committee. We did not have time to do that, yet we are denying the time to the people of Scotland who could debate these matters, as well as other legislative proposals, 1766 more fully than we are able to do at present in the House. That is why, when we talk about the question of wanting devolution, we have to be fair and frank. Indeed, we have got to be very tolerant. I take the view—
§ Mr. Dempsey
There is no filibuster. This is the first time I have spoken in these debates. I have been present every day when we have debated devolution for Scotland and Wales. I have been present in the Chamber until 6 o'clock in the morning when we have debated it. It is extremely unfair of anyone to say that I am indulging in a filibuster.
There are people in this building who have an abnormal thirst for power. We see it is the elections to the European Assembly which will be debated. Some hon. Members want to hold on to those offices. They do not believe in sharing out responsibility and power. That is the reason for the opposition to devolution, yet those hon. Members know that it will in no way impinge on the unity of the United Kingdom, interfere with the supremacy of the United Kingdom Parliament or cause any particular anxiety to the monarchy of this kingdom.
Over and over again tonight we have heard arguments about the situation in 1603 when we had the Union of the Crowns. My hon. Friend the Member for West Stirlingshire is much more knowledgable on this subject than I can hope to be. We have heard of the Union of Parliaments in 1707, the Irish Association in 1801 and the development of the United Kingdom.
But what we are discussing is whether we agree in principle with the Liberal amendments. I honestly believe that two of those amendments are quite valid and should be given thorough consideration. I notice that in subsequent amendments some of my hon. Friends are raising exactly the same point. I believe that my right hon. Friend and his team on the Front Bench should seriously consider including in the referendum the question about whether the Scots people do or do not agree with independence.
Let us get that problem settled. Let us get it out of the way so that we can 1767 look forward to the progress of democracy throughout this land. At present we have reached a very delicate stage. What will happen to the Bill? Will it include these amendments. Frankly, we do not know.
Goodness knows how long the all-party convention talks will take. At the end of the day it is speculative as to whether there will be an acceptable arrangement. I feel that this matter should be dealt with as soon as possible. It was speedily dealt with when the Common Market arose. We could deal with this problem every bit as expeditiously. I suggest that my right hon. Friend should immediately consider having all-party talks about an early referendum for Scotland and, of course, for Wales. I believe that he should try to get agreement on the general principle. If the Scottish and Welsh people agree to devolution. If devolution is simply the transfer of domestic responsibilities and functions to Scotland and Wales, that can be augmented, as was done in the case of the Common Market, by an additional Government statement.
If we could adopt an approach along those lines, we could get some understanding. We could have a referendum and we could have a decision in principle about whether people wished to have devolution or, for that matter, independence. If the answer is in the negative, we need not waste any more time dealing with the subject. If the answer is positive, the Government can go ahead and introduce into Parliament a Bill which can be agreed. In that way we can proceed to get this constitutional problem out of the way and get down to dealing with the problems of the economy and related matters for the solution of which the country is crying out.
§ 9.45 p.m.
§ Mr. George Gardiner (Reigate)
Other hon. Members have remarked that we are debating a Bill that is a corpse. As one who has sat through most of the Committee stage debates, as one who has been opposing the Bill most strenuously, and as one who has sought to highlight its contradictions, I wish to make a short contribution to the funeral rites, and I shall be in order in doing so since we are debating a Liberal amendment that seeks to offer the Scottish people certain choices.
1768 Those of us who oppose the Bill have no desire to deny those choices to the Scottish people. All we ask is that they should be choices between realities and not between illusions.
In all this business, nothing has been more damaging than the illusion that fundamental changes can be made in the system of legislating for Scotland without at the same time making balancing changes in the system of legislating for the whole of the United Kingdom.
The hon. Member for Glasgow, Mary-hill (Mr. Craigen) said that he found some of my remarks a little insensitive. I am sorry about that. However, I did not come into this business with the introduction of this Bill. Before I became a Member of Parliament, I was a Lobby correspondent here for 13 years, 10 of which were spent serving an excellent newspaper in Scotland—the Press and Journal, in Aberdeen. So my history and interest goes back a very long way. Throughout that period of years, before the Bill was introduced, I was able to see how unreal the debate on devolution was becoming in Scotland.
When I put a question to the Lord President earlier today, following his statement, he alleged that I was one of the opponents of his Bill who were against devolution in any form, and he made a similar charge against others of my right hon. and hon. Friends. But this is not so. We have always made it clear that we could not accept the dirty and unclear form of devolution proposed in this Bill and that anything of this nature that was presented had to be presented and argued in a total United Kingdom context.
§ Mr. John Smith
Will the hon. Gentleman spell out a clean form of devolution for England and Wales of which he would be in favour?
§ Mr. Gardiner
Not on this amendment, but I can tell the Minister of State that I regard a clean form of devolution as one where there are not these overlapping powers, and where a devolved body has a clear responsibility so that we all know where we stand.
§ Mr. John Smith
Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that he is in favour of the directly elected legislative Assembly that the Conservative Party officially says that it wants for Scotland?
§ Mr. Gardiner
I will not confirm that I am in favour of that. I thought that I had made it clear in earlier contributions that I did not support the proposition put forward some years ago by the leadership of my party. All that slate is washed clean, as I hope is the Government's, by the progress of the Bill and its demise today.
These debates have been constructive and I hope that they will prove to have been constructive for Scotland as well. For example, I hope that the Scots will no longer be deluded, as they have been, into imagining that they can have some form of a legislative Assembly without some adjustment to their representation in the House at the same time.
We have all learned lessons in Committee. I have learned lessons, and I hope that Ministers have also. I am sure that the Scots have. I hope that the Committee has served to sweep away some of the illusions that have been peddled over recent years.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Whatever is done on the matter of adjustment of numbers, we would still be voting on matters for which we would not have responsibility.
§ Mr. Gardiner
I agree with the hon. Gentleman. That is one of the points that I have learned from the Committee discussions. The problems are greater than we imagined when we embarked on the discussions. The amendment is about choices, and the Scots certainly have choices before them now. I hope that our Scottish colleagues will weigh up, as we must, the realities of the situation. One of those realities is that one can gain nothing in this world without paying a certain price for it, and that whatever alternative is suggested from Scotland, it must in future be worked out in the total United Kingdom context. It should allow for not only the Scots and the Welsh, but for the English and the Northern Irish.
I hope that the lesson has been learned that not too much faith must be placed on securing commitments from particular party leaders. If there is to be devolution, we need propositions that will command confidence throughout the whole House.
We have achieved a great deal in these Committee discussions, but I hope that the greatest advantage is that all parts of the United Kingdom now have a far better 1770 understanding of the realities of partnership.
§ Mr. Ioan Evans
We are drawing towards the end of the debate, and perhaps it is as well that we should not reach a conclusion this evening because we are at an important stage in the Bill in deciding what the terms of the referendum should be and the questions that should be put to the electors. In view of the fact that earlier today, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House said—rightly, in view of Tuesday's events—that he was prepared to have talks with other parties, the best arrangement we could make would be to adjourn this discussion, to come back to it after the talks have taken place between the various parties and then see what can be done for the future.
The hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Gardiner) referred to the Bill as a corpse. I think that it is now in a state of suspended animation, but this is not the end of it. It should be understood what the argument is about. It is not about whether one is for or against devolution. That sort of question is like asking whether one is for or against education or the National Health Service. We ought to argue about the type of devolution that we are to have —if we are to have it.
As I said on Second Reading, the Government have unfortunately embarked on discussion of the referendum and the devolution debate without having a majority in the House. They must have realised at the outset that difficulties would arise.
One of the difficulties in the calculations that the Government were seeking to make was that they had to secure the support of the Scottish and Welsh National Parties, which are, of course, dedicated to the principle of the disunity of the peoples of this island. It is strange that we have a Bill in which we provide for a referendum and the main purpose of the Bill is to maintain the unity of the peoples of Britain—it says quite specifically that it does not affect that unity in any way—and yet we are having talks with the Scottish and Welsh National Parties.
I pay tribute to the way that Ministers have dealt with the Bill. The Leader of the House was attacked for not making 1771 the guillotine motion an issue of confidence. I am glad that the Government did not do that, because on such constitutional matters we should judge what is involved on its merits and do what we genuinely feel to be in the best interests of the people we represent instead of going into the appropriate Lobby on party lines as we do on some measures.
It has also been argued that Ministers have been inflexible. In fact, there has been a great deal of flexibility and Ministers have paid close attention to the discussions. It was originally proposed that the referendum should be mandatory, but after listening to our debates Ministers decided to make it consultative.
§ Mr. Hooson
Would not the hon. Gentleman agree that in practice it does not matter how we describe the referendum because it will become an election?
§ Mr. Evans
There is a difference between mandatory and consultative referendums. There might be a very low turn-out in a referendum, perhaps fewer than 50 per cent., and in Wales we might have 500,001 in favour of the Bill and 500,000 against. If the referendum were mandatory, we should be expected automatically to implement the proposals. If it were a consultative referendum, we could note how the people had voted and take account of the nature of the result. If there were a majority of one on a 50 per cent. turn-out, we should be justified in saying that there was no overwhelming demand for devolution and that, therefore, we need not go ahead with it.
There have been arguments about whether we should have a referendum. The original demands for it came from both sides of the House. I do not agree with referendums as a general principle, but I approve of them on constitutional issues when an irreversible change is proposed, as with the Common Market. The tragedy of the EEC referendum was that it should have been held before we joined the Common Market. If the question had been put to the people before we joined, we might have had a different result.
I believe that it was a gesture on behalf of the Government, because there was a commitment. We had a referendum, but we were already in the Common Market. There were all the fears about what would happen if we came out. Those fears were put to the people, and we had an 1772 unbalanced campaign. People tend to vote for the status quo, and we remained in the Common Market. Surely we should have held the referendum before Parliament made the decision to go into Europe. That is why I believe that the Government need to look at the situation that now confronts us.
Although there may well be misgivings on the part of those who are enthusiastic about the proposals contained in the Bill, I believe that the House of Commons has come into its own in the past few days. The decision that was made yesterday was to tell the Government "Look here, you must convince"—
§ It being Ten o'clock, The CHAIRMAN left the Chair to report Progress and ask leave to sit again.