§ Miss Harvie Anderson (Renfrewshire, East)
I beg to move Amendment No. 14, in page 1, line 9, after first 'Kingdom', insert'without altering the government of Shetland and the Orkneys, over whom the Scottish Assembly and Executive have no jurisdiction'.This amendment purports to put forward an opportunity for the House of Commons to decide the future for the islands of Shetland and Orkney which is acceptable to them. I do not put this amendment forward as a sudden whim of anti-devolutionary enthusiasm although my fear that this Bill will assuredly lead to separatism is as real for Shetland and the Orkneys as for the rest of Scotland. My belief is that we should seek to give these islands what they want.
My interest stems from a three-year study of local government in Scotland as a member of the Royal Commission on Local Government in Scotland. The hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Johnston) and I wrote a note of reservation to that report concerning the islands' problems. Our conclusions were accepted by the Government of the day and have been implemented in local government in Shetland and Orkney to give these islands a degree of independence unique in the British Isles.
It is therefore right to look at the pattern of these islands and their history. Their sovereignty was pledged as dowry by the Scandinavian King Christian I on the marriage of his daughter Margaret to James III in 1468. The islanders have maintained a sturdy independence ever since. In the note of reservation we said:The Shetlands are the most northerly isles in Britain. Lerwick, their capital, is about 120 miles north-east of Kirkwall, the capital of the Orkneys, and the island group is approximately 210 miles north of Aberdeen which is their principal mainland port.352 We also said in the note that in the 1968 Registrar General Mid-Year Estimate of Population the population was rather more than 17,000 spread over 18 inhabited islands. The population had fallen steadily from a peak of 31,000 in 1861 until the most recent census which showed a population of just over 17,000.
Until very recently the population was also an ageing one. It is interesting to note that the rateable value per head of population was just over £8. I understand that it has now reached just over £9. The Government grant of total net expenditure on local government had varied very little and stands at around 90 per cent. It is also important to remember that during the last decade unemployment has run at approximately twice the level of any comparable part of the United Kingdom.
The note went on to point out that the Orkneys are situated off the coast of Caithness and while it is true that the distance from Stromness to Scabster is only 30 miles, it is equallly true to say that weather conditions in both these places make communications extremely difficult. The population of the Orkneys which has 25 inhabited islands, had dropped and stood at just over 18,000. The other remarks which I made about the Shetlands are broadly speaking equally applicable to the Orkneys.
It is important to recognise these differences in this part of the United Kingdom because they justify the conclusions we reached when we were considering local government and I submit them now in support of the considerations we are concerned with in relation to national government.
It is also true that much evidence comes from these islands. We had this evidence during our study of local government and we have it now in connection with this Bill. It is equally true to say that the evidence varies somewhat in accordance with who is submitting it. I do not think anyone could be offended if I were to say that evidence from these quarters tends to be subjective. We should not be super-critical of that when we remember the location of the islands and the history of the people.
What is important is that we should take note of the evidence which comes to us from the people involved, even though 353 it is sometimes variable. The life of these people is in many respects very different from the lives of most citizens in the United Kingdom. If we accept that we have to give special weight to local opinion, it is probably right for me to mention my experiences as a member of the Royal Commission when we paid a visit to the islands. The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) will no doubt be familiar with the experience I am about to relate.
The first salutary illustration of the problems with which we were dealing was that our aeroplane could not land. This is a familiar experience for those flying to Orkney or more particularly to Shetland. It was right and proper that weather conditions were such that little matters like Royal Commissions should be greeted in this way. I also remember that when, two days later, we landed at Lerwick, three things were happening. Again they were most significant.
The first people I saw in Lerwick that winter were Russian sailors who were taking on fresh water for their trawler. They greatly outnumbered the local population. The second thing I saw was the crew of the Norwegian lifeboat which was stationed in safer waters than it would have been had it remained in Bergen. The third and equally significant event was that the Lovat Scouts, which originated as the private regiment of the family of my right hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Fraser), were meeting on their drill night. My recollection at the time was that this House had abolished the Lovat Scouts three years previously. I give this as an illustration of the independence of the people whose part of the country we are now discussing.
Therefore, it is not surprising that, when concerned with local government, we on the Royal Commission reached the conclusions referred to, or that they were implemented. Nor is it surprising that, if one brings that view up to date, there was a definite, if muted, "No" from the Islands in the referendum to joining the Common Market.
§ Mr. Alexander Fletcher (Edinburgh, North)
When the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) was Secretary of State for Scotland, the Scottish Office 354 issued a circular to all Scottish education authorities saying that examination results should no longer be sent by air to Edinburgh but should be sent to the nearest railhead. As a result, the headmaster of the school at Lerwick dutifully despatched his to Bergen.
§ Miss Harvie Anderson
That very good point emphasises the picture that I have tried to draw. There is an independence in local government in Orkney and Shetland which I believe to be right. It is that same independence that I seek to perpetuate in national government. The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that the independence enjoyed now, as over the centuries, will remain possible for these remote islands.
I should not conclude my remarks without referring to the present position. The development of oil has transformed the traditional way of life for many people in those islands. The Committee should recall that two-thirds of the oil discovered in the British sector is located off the East Coast of Shetland. Shetland promoted its own Bill, and in April 1974 it received the Royal Assent. The significant point is that that Act authorised the council to acquire all the land needed for oil development and to take equity capital in ventures established in the designated areas. I am sure that many other parts of the country will be encouraged to believe that their councils would take or receive powers of this order to promote the predominant interests of their areas.
The Shetlands and Orkneys greatly prize their long history, and they are determined to maintain their independence in every way and in modern conditions. The reason for promoting the Bill was that the 6,000 people in Lerwick, who live closely united together, were anxious to defend their community from what they regarded as encroachments. They also wished to promote their own resources in their own interests.
We should recognise that this view is not, as is expressed from time to time by other Scots in Scotland and in the House of Commons, an expression of greed which we deplore and cannot understand. It is an expression of satisfaction that the long history of difficulty and of unemployment has been substantially transformed and that the benefits should accrue to their own people.
355 The people of Lerwick have not excluded development because, as the Committee knows, the development of Sullom Voe has been both farsighted and successful. It is right to put on record that this part of the island was already despoiled by previous use during the Second World War. It is likely to build up into a port which may challenge Rotterdam as the oil port. Therefore, this is not a small matter of local interest, but a major matter of interest to the whole oil world.
There is little that I can add without going into much detail, and that would take too long. We believe that these independent units should enjoy prosperity. It is no wonder that they want control over their own events. In my view, they do not want to concede authority to anyone, least of all to a new burdensome authority in remote Edinburgh.
What is often overlooked is that if one lives in Lerwick, Edinburgh is as remote as London is from Edinburgh. We also want to promote an opportunity for the islands to exercise their unique independence in national government with the same skill and interest as they have already done in the three years during which they have had the opportunity in local government.
§ Mr. Grimond
I start by apologising in advance to the Committee in case I have to leave before the end of the debate. I am an inmate of Westminster Hospital and am under orders to attend there. Therefore, I apologise to hon. Members whose speeches I may not hear.
I have explained my position on home rule in general and on this Bill in particular. I listened with care to what was said by the right hon. Member for Renfrewshire, East (Miss Harvie Anderson), who is looked to with gratitude in my constituency because, with my hon. Friend the Member for Inverness (Mr. Johnston), we consider that she was instrumental in getting Orkney and Shetland made into two separate authorities and not put under the Highland Region.
I should have welcomed more advice from the right hon. Lady on how she thinks that the future of Shetland or of Orkney should now be approached. Candidly, it is not enough to say that they should be left out of the Bill. If their positions are not to be altered, it 356 will be necessary to define how they should be dealt with.
I should make as clear as I can the present situation of the island councils of Shetland and Orkney. Members of the Shetland Islands Council have certainly expressed the view at one time or another that Shetland should be left out of the Bill. But I should make it clear that the only amendments which the council has asked to have put down affect later parts of the Bill. They are Amendments Nos. 345, 205, 346, 274 and New Clause 13. Those amendments and that new clause stand in my name. I put them down after consultation with the council. However, the council has not asked that an amendment excluding Shetland totally from the Bill should be tabled. The amendments for the Zetland Act for which it has asked are to safeguard certain rights that it already possesses in connection with oil and finance.
Everybody will pay great attention to the views of local authorities. But local authorities are elected to deal with local, not national, matters. Therefore, I take sole responsibility for these amendments. I have put them down at the request of the council, but they stand in my name and I am responsible for them.
Some members of the Orkney Islands Council have also expressed a wish for Orkney to be excluded from the Bill, but they have not suggested that I should put down any amendment excluding Orkney from the Bill. I take responsibility for having joined them with Shetland in the amendments which I mentioned earlier, and I have their support in doing so.
Neither of the local authorities can know what the outcome of the Bill may be. They cannot know how many amendments will be accepted, and the final view of my constituents may well depend upon the eventual shape of the Bill.
I raise the possibility of some special arrangement for Orkney and Shetland not mainly because the local authorities have raised the matter but because I have written to many local organisations and individuals and gained the impression that a clear majority do not see any purpose in the Bill. That is my honest impression from the answers I received. The views of my constituents should be 357 known to Parliament particularly on a constitutional matter as important as this. I do not claim that my poll of individuals, organisations, community councils, NFU branches and trade unions in any way represents a definitive view, but it is an indication of general opinion in Orkney and Shetland.
I understand that the outsider may think that there are certain puzzling aspects to the situation. I have represented Orkney and Shetland for nearly 27 years, and in every election address that I have made I made clear that I am in favour of Scottish home rule. The runner-up to me in the last General Election was a member of the Scottish National Party, and so far as I am aware neither the Labour nor the Tory candidates was against devolution. But a vote at the last election, particularly for the Scottish National Party, was not a vote for separation. No one in Orkney and Shetland wants to be part of an independent Scotland and few want total independence. Everyone is terrified of that. About 95 per cent. of the people are against separation. A vote for the SNP was a useful method of attacking government. By that I mean the nationalised services, the local authorities and so forth. I give the SNP credit for that because that is part of politics. But a great deal of its propaganda is directed not against London but against bodies nearer home. The enormous increase in government has frightened people. They are frightened by another tier of government in Edinburgh.
When the devolution Bill was produced my constituents saw the danger of being dominated by the central belt of Scotland. They saw that there would be no reduction in the size of either Westminster government or local government and that an Edinburgh government would be simply a new tier adding further to their burdens. The apparent contradiction in views between those held at the election and now is a result of the change in the political scene. The people have watched the immense growth in bureaucracy, they know that our economics nationally are in a serious muddle, and they doubt whether this is the time to embark upon constituential change.
I shall quote from a letter written by the Prime Minister on behalf of his col- 358 leagues, including the Secretary of State for Scotland, which he sent in reply to representations by the Shetland County Council. I have the Prime Minister's permission to quote from the letter. He says:The success of Shetland in securing flexibility in the handling of purely local matters while enjoying the continuing advantage of the wider Scottish and British connection has been due to the ability of the Shetland community, under the leadership of its Council, to persuade the Government of the day that theirs was a reasonable and efficient way of going about things in their special circumstances. I cannot believe that a new democratic Scottish administration in Edinburgh, itself born of acceptance of the need for local variation, will prove less reasonable or responsive.Rightly or wrongly, many of my constituents think it will. They think that a purely Scottish Government will be less reasonable and less amenable to their wishes.
We should once again look at the nature and history of Orkney and Shetland. The islands came to Shetland as a surety for the unpaid dowry of a Danish princess on marrying a king of Scotland. Had that dowry been paid, they would have been part of Denmark. Orkney was sold for 50,000 florins of the Rhine and Shetland for 8,000 Rhine florins. Shetland has never lived that down.
Up to that date we were an important part of the great Scandinavian empire. From Scapa Flow went many of the great expeditions to Dublin, the Mediterranean and the Crusades. The earls of Orkney were important figures in the Scandinavian world. The Orkneyinge Saga is one of the great cycle of sagas and the Cathedral of Kirkwall is an example of Norman architecture built by the genuine Norsemen, not by the French, although they had to kidnap masons from Durham to get the job done.
The Scots came in in the 15th and 16th centuries and were for long much hated —justifiably so, and I speak as one. Orkney and Shetland have played little or no part in strictly Scottish history. They have never worn the kilt, spoken Gaelic, or been interested in Mary Queen of Scots, or Bonnie Price Charlie. We hold Burns' suppers but also "Up Helly Aa"
It is not unreasonable, therefore, that we should have some special consideration. All islands experience problems 359 such as those involving transport. Special status is granted to the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. In relation to Denmark, Faroe has a special status. Faroe, Orkney and Shetland have a great deal in common. The populations have risen slightly since the right hon. Member for Renfrewshire, East was last there. The population of Shetland is about 20,000, that of Orkney about 18,000—which in total is not far short of the population of Faroe.
I want to stress that the people of Orkney and Shetland are interested in a special relationship with this country not because of jealousy or dislike. Hon. Members will know that we are not a jealous or ambitious people. Like other island groups we have special problems and we wish to discuss our own future in those terms. We have a different history and identity of our own but we do not want to be used as political pawns.
The situation does not arise simply because of oil. The present situation does not arise solely because oil has been discovered. Of course oil has had a great impact. It has brought troubles as well as benefits. Shetland has sacrificed a good deal because of the oil, as has Orkney to some extent. Landscapes have been spoiled and local industry disrupted because of the high wages paid by the construction companies. We do not want to rest our case entirely on oil, although it is an important factor which I shall argue more strongly in discussions on future amendments. However, I emphasise now the danger of disruption of industry.
I come to the amendment. I have never believed that if the Bill went through and there was devolution in Scotland, Orkney and Shetland could simply continue as before. Let us consider what that would mean. As far as I can see, the objection to the amendment is that we shall be left in the air. What would our position be? The law of Orkney and Shetland is Scottish law. What would happen on appeal from the sheriff court? Would that go to the High Court in London? Would we change our law, or what? These may not be insuperable difficulties, but clearly they are difficulties.
We are crofting counties. As far as I know, crofting counties do not exist in 360 England. That is a form of land tenure peculiar to Scotland.
Our education is Scottish, and any Orkney or Shetland boy or girl who wants to go on to university looks first to Scottish universities.
In their general services and trade, Orkney and Shetland are largely dependent on Aberdeen, and the health service is connected with hospitals in Aberdeen. Therefore, if we are to exclude Orkney and Shetland from the Bill, what will happen to them?
I take it that the islands would have no representation of their own at Edinburgh at all. Therefore, all the laws about crofting and so on, if still applied, will be passed through an Assembly in which they are not represented.
Critical as we are of all Governments, particularly the present Government, I am conscious of the fact that very often we do not get an utterly bad deal from the Government—I do not want to put any ideas into the Secretary of State's mind. However, we find that there are people in Edinburgh, civil servants and so on, who understand our situation. Presumably, we should be entirely cut off from them. We should have to explain the niceties of the Russian fleet at Lerwick, and so on, and the fact that Bergen to us is nearer than Aberdeen. All this would have to be explained in London. Therefore, there are difficulties.
I can hardly think that we would be treated simply as English counties. I suggest, therefore, that we must look at a more sophisticated method in this matter. Here again I quote from the letter written by the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister apparently thinks that the Shetland County Council wanted to remain under the Secretary of State for Scotland and expected him to deal with all the matters with which, indeed, the Scottish Assembly, if the Bill goes through, will have to deal. At the end of his letter the Prime Minister says,The Government could not justify the cost, complexity and confusion of creating new and unique relations between Lerwick and London.There is something in that. I do not wish to give away the game, but there is something in it.
What I would have suggested was that had the Government put down their 361 amendment to enable a referendum to be held—which they have again said they will do—we would then have seen whether the people of Orkney and Shetland liked the Bill. We would have known that. My impression is that they do not like it, but it would be foolish to jump the referendum. If there is to be a referendum, I presume that it will be on the lines of that held in relation to the Common Market and that there will be an Orkney result and a Shetland result —perhaps as embarrassing to me as the last one. However, having had that, we should have firm ground to go on.
I believe, then, that the only way to go about the matter would be to set up some sort of commission to see how much was to be done in Edinburgh and how much in London. We cannot be left in the air, attached by some non-existent umbilical cord to London.
I do not rule out the possibility of organising our constitution in accordance with what is already done in, for example, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands. It is very noticeable that the Isle of Man, with a total upper limit of direct taxation of 21¼ per cent. and no surtax, death duties or anything like that, has managed to maintain the full panoply of social services. Though the Isle of Man is a bigger and, at present richer island. If it became apparent at a referendum that we wanted the same thing, I would advocate a commission to discuss how the wishes of the people of Orkney and Shetland could be put into effect. We have learnt to deal with the problems of small communities which want independence.
§ Mr. Malcolm Rifkind (Edinburgh, Pentlands)
The right hon. Gentleman make a very interesting comparison with the Isle of Man. Has he considered the fact that the Isle of Man has no Member at Westminster?
§ Mr. Grimond
That is a very delicate subject. I asked a Member of the House of Keys to come to Orkney and Shetland during the Christmas vacation. At the end of a meeting, he was asked whether he considered it a very great handicap that the Isle of Man was not represented at Westminster. I am ashamed to say that he answered "No".
362 5.15 p.m.
I return to the point on which I began. I have now put down a new clause which I hope will give effect to a special relationship for the islands if the referendum shows that they want it. What also concerns me is that we have yet to consider the amendments that I have already tabled at the request of the islands. We have yet to consider other parts of the Bill. For instance, we have yet to consider the amendment that the islands should each have one member of the Assembly, to which they attach considerable importance.
Therefore, I hope that the Government will look at the amendments that are already on the Notice Paper with sympathy. I shall certainly be very much influenced in my future conduct in relation to the Bill by the Government's response to the needs of my constituents.
§ Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, Central)
The whole House is grateful to the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) for making an appearance, in view of the instructions that he has had from hospital. It is a measure of his devotion to his constituents and his great courage, if not foolhardiness. The whole House will wish him a very speedy recovery.
The speech that the right hon. Gentleman has just made is an indication of the closeness with which he associates himself with the interests of his constituents. His remarks about the amendment before us are very apposite. The amendment probably does not meet the wishes of the islanders. I doubt whether any amendment could do that. Judging from their voting record at the last General Election and previous General Elections, it is very difficult to know what they want.
No one knows where the Liberal Party has ever stood on anything, yet repeatedly over the last 27 years the islanders have returned the right hon. Gentleman. In that respect it is important for the House to have regard to the amendment on the question of a referendum for the islanders. That amendment, I gather, has not been selected. It seems to me, however, that a referendum is the only way to ascertain their views.
This pinpoints the fundamental philosophy behind the whole Bill. We are 363 seeking to devolve some decision-making from this place in London to further parts. It is the attempts to do that which are being called into question by the islanders. They are saying that the bureaucrats nearer to them in Edinburgh are a damned sight less acceptable than the bureaucrats 400 miles further away. Therefore, when we talk about the danger of remote government, we must not assume that government will be better because it is nearer. On the contrary, I think that the Shetlanders are justified in their suspicion that they will get much more of a raw deal from the Edinburgh Mafia than they would from the Whitehall mandarins. That is the great dilemma into which the Government have got themselves.
This is my first engagement on the Bill. It will not be my last. However, I doubt whether 20 Members in the whole House really want the Bill out of conviction, including the Front Bench. I leave it at that, except to say that we shall not satisfy large sections of the community in Scotland, still less the remoter parts of it, by seeking to bring government nearer to them. What they want is no government. Basically, those in the islands are anarchists. The remoter one is from the centre, the more anarchial one becomes, because the more suspicious one is. If we bring the thing that they fear most nearer to them, will they be more pleased? Of course not.
That is precisely what the Shetlanders and Orcadians are saying—"Do not bring Government nearer to us; we are doing very well, thank you very much, out of those remote people in Whitehall". No one knows that better than the right hon. Gentleman. He admitted as much. He did not go a little further and give a gracious compliment to the Government for giving his constituents more than 90 per cent. of all the expenditure in which they engage, in housing, roads and so on; but that is the case. I doubt very much whether they would get that from Edinburgh. They suspect that they would not get it.
The greatest demands would be made from the Strathclyde Region. Strathclyde would insist that the Shetlanders and Orcadians should not be treated so generously. The SNP says that the greatest area of social deprivation in Europe is in 364 Strathclyde. Of course that is right. It would be said "We shall not spend that sort of money on the Shetlands and Orkneys. We shall spend it all in Strathclyde." Moreover, that is where the votes are to be found. We know where the votes are, too, but my Government and Tory Governments have given this degree of aid to the peripheral areas, including Orkney and Shetland.
I believe that the right hon. Gentleman was right when he said that some of the islanders seem to prefer links with Whitehall and Westminster to links with Edinburgh. On the other hand, it is not certain that a majority feel that way. There is no suggestion—the right hon. Gentleman has not made it—that Shetland should declare a sort of UDI, should get out of the Bill, should get off the bandwagon that now seems to be rolling.
I do not know whether it is true but it is said that some Shetlanders feel that they should support control from Edinburgh as that is where it is already. Most of the activities that take place in Shetland are already devolved to Edinburgh. The decisions are taken not in London but by civil servants in Edinburgh. Shetland and Orkney have done extremely well from that arrangement.
The right hon. Gentleman played down the effect of oil, which has dramatically changed the situation. There was a small piece in The Times yesterday in which it was indicated that the oil revenues will come to between £50 million and £100 million—that is before the oil runs dry—for a total populace of 30,000.
I remember Ian Clark and others coming to this place not to see the SNP particularly but to meet my right hon. Friend who is now the Minister of State, Department of Energy, Dick Douglas and myself. For what purpose did they come here? They came to get a Private Bill through the House of Commons. Dick Douglas, my right hon. Friend the now Minister of State and I flew to Shetland and had lengthy discussions with Ian Clark and all the members of the council. I pay a genuine tribute to the great ability of that man and his determination to ensure that the community will not be taken for a ride by the oil companies.
Together we ensured that the House of Commons safeguarded his community's interests. Remote government paid great 365 dividends at that time. Let no one despise government because it is remote. That was a great example of how a relatively small population could send representatives to this place to argue and discuss matters with Members who had no obvious connection with the area but who knew when justice was being threatened. As a result, they received what is probably the most important Private Bill to have passed through the House of Commons for decades.
§ Mr. Grimond
I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman, but will he remember that there are other amendments that are designed to safeguard the important matter of oil, to which he has drawn attention?
§ Mr. Hamilton
I accept that and I shall support those amendments. I have made a resolution that I shall not support the Government throughout the Bill. "When in doubt, vote against the Government on this Bill" is my motto. I entirely accept what the right hon. Gentleman said. We must get a firm assurance from the Government that, whatever the outcome of these debates, the position of the Private Bill in relation to Orkney and Shetland will be safeguarded. However, that tears to shreds the idea that once we get an Assembly, we shall somehow go on the road to independence and that the revenues from oil will be Scottish revenues.
The Shetlanders have never made that claim although they have had a much greater claim to the oil than anyone from Edinburgh, Glasgow or anywhere else. They have always accepted that it is United Kingdom oil. All they have said is that there should be safeguards in the Private Bill to ensure that their interests are safeguarded after the oil has run dry so that there will not be a barren land. In fact, that is what they have achieved. The Private Bill was the proper way to go about the matter and they found the response from the House of Commons to be extremely sympathetic and generous.
I presume that the Government will not accept the amendment, but we must get assurances either now or subsequently that the interests of the Shetlands and Orkneys that are embodied in the Private Bill will be safeguarded come what may, 366 whether the Assembly comes about or not. I think that the Shetlanders and Orcadians would accept such an assurance if it were given now or at a later stage.
§ Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)
Is it not fundamentally impossible to give devolved decision-making to the Assembly and at the same time write in guarantees?
§ Mr. Hamilton
That is the dilemma that the Government face. They have put themselves into this mess—I did not put them into it—and they must get themselves out as best they can. My hon. Friend poses a genuine dilemma and it is for the Government to remove themselves from it.
I hope that they will give some sort of assurance to the islanders, but if they do that, there will be others in England as well as in Scotland and Wales who will say "Why give this special treatment to the islanders? We in the North-East"—it may be the North-West or any other remote part of the United Kingdom—" demand the same treatment." Once we seek to give special treatment to certain areas of the United Kingdom within the ambit of the Bill, other Members from other parts of the United Kingdom will demand similar treatment.
I see that my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mrs. Miller) is in the Chamber. She will rightly say that London is suffering from many problems. They may be different problems but they are certainly problems. She will say that London is suffering from social and economic problems and that it demands special treatment and special Bills—for example, Private Bills.
In that way we get ourselves into greater and greater messes as we seek to devolve all sorts of responsibilities to the different parts of the United Kingdom. That is why I very much regret that we are embarking—we are only at the preliminary stages—on an extremely complex and highly undesirable Bill.
§ Mr. T. G. D. Galbraith (Glasgow, Hillhead)
The Bill has been conceived, regrettably I believe, along nationalistic lines. I suppose one might say that it has been conceived along historic lines too. The proposal is to divide the country, like Gaul, into three parts—a Scottish part, a Welsh part and an English 367 part. But why stop there? Why, in the case of Scotland, only go back to the situation as it was in 1707? Why do that when in the case of Wales we go back —here I confess that my history is perhaps a little rusty but I believe this to be the case—a couple of hundred years earlier, to Tudor times when England and Wales were amalgamated?
I wonder what is so sacrosanct about having to deal with Scotland as it is now, or as it has become, with Wales as it has become, and with England as it has become. I must confess to being rather a fundamentalist. I should much rather keep things the way they are and have one United Kingdom. But if that is to go, and to the extent that there are to be separate Parliaments or Assemblies, which is what the Bill sets out, I prefer to go back much nearer to the beginning of things, to the earlier and more natural boundaries that existed a long time ago.
I do not know what that would mean in Wales but in England I imagine it could mean a heptarchy. [Interruption.] Hon. Members may laugh, but that is what we are doing. We are proposing to break up the United Kingdom. Therefore, why stop at Scotland, England and Wales as they are now? Why not go back a little further? I am entitled to make that suggestion because it is appropriate on this amendment.
I do not know what the situation in Wales would be, because I do not know the history of that country. I believe that in England it would amount to the restoration of the heptarchy, while in Scotland in about the year 1,000 there were four well-defined kingdoms, which might well be resurrected. There were the ancient Britons, from whom I am proud to say I descend, who were settled in Strathclyde, there were the Scots from Ireland settled in Dalriada, in the Highlands there were the Picts, and in the East a polyglot mixture with more in common with the people of the South in what is now England than with the rest of what is now Scotland.
It was in recognition of this fact that I thought my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) wanted to exclude the Grampian Region from the area to be subjected to the control of the Assembly. I thought that was a good 368 idea. My hon. Friend's amendment was not selected, but the same principle of going back to the beginning applies to these amendments—namely, that of excluding Orkney and Shetland from the scope of the Bill. That is a concept which I very much support.
When one is engaged, as the Committee now is, on a major constitutional change which will have the effect of partially disrupting the former unity of Britain—if not completely destroying it, as I fear—we are entitled to look not just at Scotland as it now is or even as it was in 1707, but at Scotland as it was long ago. We are also entitled to look at other parts of Britain to see how they have been dealt with in the meantime.
As is well known—and this matter was referred to in a persuasive speech by my right hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, East (Miss Harvie Anderson)—the Shetlands came to Scotland only comparatively recently. They were not part of the original Scotland created by the amalgamation of the four post-Roman States which I have described, nor were they even acquired during the period of baronial rivalries in the thirteenth century, which is now so curiously regarded as the period when a Scottish sense of nationalism was first created, although the fighting was not national but dynastic, the warlike AngloNormans quarrelling among themselves as usual. The Shetland islands came to Scotland as a dowry in the fifteenth century. They are closer to Bergen than they are to Edinburgh.
At a recent conference at Newcastle-upon-Tyne, the deputy convenor of the Shetland Council, as reported in The Times on 8th January this year, said:We see no advantage to Shetland in such devolution… It is worth noting that Orkney holds similar views".Those are views with which one can easily sympathise. To those distant islanders, the people on the mainland are a remote and alien race. Ethnically, they have less in common with the Scots than they have with England.
§ Mr. John Lee (Birmingham, Handsworth)
What the hon. Gentleman is saying about racial origins is interesting and may be true, but is it not the case that, irrespective of the sources from which the various people came, they have for 369 many years been under the same legal jurisdiction? Indeed, I recollect a master in the English law courts saying that in matters of the law Scotland was a foreign country.
§ Mr. Galbraith
That is why I do not like the Bill at all. If the hon. Gentleman had heard my speeches on this subject on earlier occasions, he would have had no doubt that I am against the Bill. I dislike it, I hate it, I have no love for it. But if one is to start to split up Britain, why stop at Scotland? Why not take the integral parts of which Scotland is composed and deal with them? That is what I am trying to say in supporting this amendment.
I repeat that ethnically the Shetlanders have much less in common with the Scots than they have with England, half of which was at one time subjected to Danelaw. Therefore, they are both Scandinavians. That is something they have in common. There is a great similarity in stock between the islanders and much of England. This probably explains the confidence of the Shetlanders in Parliament because of their Scandinavian background, and it also explains the apprehensions which they have voiced about an Assembly.
The islanders are well aware that what has created the voting strength for the SNP is the acquisitive desire of SNP Members to get their hands on what they call Scottish oil. The right hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) may laugh, but that is the situation. He knows that that is what created support for his party. It is only the oil that has made him leader of his party, and he would not be here otherwise.
The acquisitiveness displayed by the SNP, which its members unfortunately have managed to distribute throughout most of Scotland, naturally worries the islanders whose whole economy has been disrupted as the result of the exploitation of the oil. They do not have much faith in the impartiality of an Assembly that will be dominated by a single part of Scotland, in a way that no part of Britain can dominate Parliament or affect its impartiality and equal sense of responsibility for all parts of Britain. This is what Parliament is able to pro- 370 vide, and it is what the islanders fear will be missing in the Assembly.
To quote again the deputy convenor:It is reasonable to expect that the Assembly's chief care must be the alleviation of unemployment in the industrial belt.In those circumstances he askedWhat consideration is likely to be given to outlying areas?The answer, I am afraid, is very little consideration, indeed. If some parts of Britain feel remote from Parliament and neglected by it at present, that sense of remoteness and neglect will be strengthened a hundredfold in areas far from the Assembly's power base, such as Orkney and Shetland.
What should we do to meet what I believe are legitimate fears? We can hardly make such a radical change in the government of Britain as to set up two new territorial Parliaments without considering whether Scotland makes an effective territorial unit. If it does not, how should we deal with these parts of Britain which are near to Scotland but which feel a keener sense of kinship to Westminster than they do to Edinburgh?
Fortunately, Orkney and Shetland are not the only offshore islands which compose Great Britain. As well as these Scandinavian appendages dynastically attached to Scotland, we have at the other end of the kingdom the Channel Islands, Norman in origin and all that remains of the great territories which the Conqueror long ago amalgamated with the English Crown. The Channel Islands have their own Government, as does the Isle of Man.
It would be wrong when we have this precedent which has worked well for many years to force the islanders under the control of a Scottish Assembly when the islanders are not Scottish in origin and when through recent centuries, because of the common Scandinavian ancestry that they share with Britain as a whole, they have been content to be ruled from Parliament in Westminster.
That is the system which I believe should be allowed to continue. I very much hope that the Committee will support this amendment which seeks to continue the legislative status quo and not to subject the islanders to what they feel is an alien Assembly in which they have no faith and from which the only escape 371 might be an eventual declaration of UDI. That seems to be a needless risk to take. It is one which the acceptance of the amendment to retain the status quo will easily, simply and fairly avoid.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I declare a genuine interest in Shetland which I hope goes far beyond that of being simply an anti-Assembly pawn in the anti-Assembly argument.
Before I became a Member of Parliament I visited Lerwick many times as a director of studies on the ship school "Dunera". Indeed, I have the happiest memories of the Shetland pupils who used to come aboard. They were the only group of pupils in the British Isles who had no embarrassment and would suddenly lay on a concert in a foreign port with their fiddles and their own culture. Like other hon. Members, I have Shetland friends.
Within the past month I have been talking to Shetland councillors and in particular to James Jamieson who came to address the anti-devolution meeting on Tyneside to which the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith) has referred.
Other hon. Members have spoken about oil. I would only say that with regard to oil the Shetlanders are not being greedy for themselves. They think it is British oil.
They want some of the proceeds to overcome their problems but in my opinion it is emphatically not a matter of Shetland being greedy at all.
What James Jamieson said to us, to the English authorities at Tyneside and to people like Bill Sefton, Stan Yapp and Mick Campbell was simply "We are different".
He said, "We are Shetlanders. If the Scots want devolution and an Assembly in Edinburgh, they can have it. It is not our business. But we do not want to be part of it. "He emphasised:" As Shetlanders we simply want to remain part of Britain".
What they are against is a separate Scottish State. But they see devolution, and these proposals, as a halfway house towards precisely that separate State.
That is what makes them against devolution perhaps more than any other factor.
What struck me in my various conversations with Shetlanders is how they 372 have really thought about things. That may be the result of having to think about the Bill that they sponsored in this House. As the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) said they are a down-to-earth people.
What they clearly see above everything else is the unreal nature of my right hon. Friend's proposals.
I am glad the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland has returned to the Chamber. Although I shall not refer to him personally shall refer to the position that any Member of the British House of Commons representing the Orkney and Shetland constituency will find himself or herself in if we have an Assembly in Edinburgh.
Anyone in the right hon. Gentleman's position can vote for local government reform in London but not for local government reform in Lerwick.
He can vote for the bankruptcy laws in Birmingham but not the bankruptcy laws as they affect the island of Bressay.
He can vote for the development of tourism in Devon but not for the development of tourism on Dunrossness.
Anyone in the right hon. Gentleman's position in this House can vote on the flora and fauna in the Fylde area of Lancashire but not on Fair Isle.
He can vote for fire precautions affecting Fulham but not in Fetlar.
He can vote on freshwater fisheries in the Folestone area but not in Foula.
He can vote for hospital facilities anywhere other than in Shetland and Scotland.
He can vote for injury and disability in Ipswich but not in the Isbister area of Shetland.
He can vote no marine works in Margate but not on marine works in Muckle Flugga.
He can vote for the marriage laws in Manchester but not the marriage laws affecting the citizens of Shetland on the island of Mousa.
The MP for Shetland can vote on matters affecting the police in Penzance but not on the Shetland island of Papa Stour.
He can vote for public holidays in the constituency of Poole, Dorset, your own 373 constituency, Mr. Murton, but not in the Shetland area of the Pool of Virkie.
He can vote for roads affecting Renwick but on no account on roads affecting Rochdale.
He can vote for schools in Sheffield but not for schools in Scalloway.
He can vote on matters affecting social welfare in Salford but not on matters affecting Sullom Voe.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Rippon (Hexham)
Is not the logical conclusion of the hon. Gentleman's interesting catalogue that those people should not be allowed to vote on these matters in England at all? They should not be allowed to vote on any matters devolved to the Scottish Parliament and should vote only on Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Further into the morass we go. It is a little unkind of the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) to cut me short. However, I shall continue.
Anyone representing the Orkney and Shetland constituency can vote on the safety of reservoirs in Suffolk but not as they affect Sumburgh Head.
He can vote on water services in West Bromwich but not as they affect the Shetland island of West Burra.
He may concern himself with young offenders in the city of York, but on no account can he concern himself with young offenders on the Island of Yell.
That is the position in which the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland, or his successors, would find themselves.
My own position is exactly the same.
I can vote on policy and money for the Arts in Alnwick but not in Armadale, West Lothian.
I can vote on aerodromes at Heathrow and Gatwick but not Edinburgh, Turn house.
I can vote on buildings in Bath but not in Bathgate in my constituency.
I can vote on the burial laws in Blackpool but not in Blackridge.
I can vote on betting, bookies and gaming in my right hon. Friend's constituency of Blackburn, Lancashire but I cannot touch the bookies or the gaming laws in Blackburn, West Lothian.
374 I can vote on building control in Bolton but not in Broxburn, West Lothian.
I can vote on bridges maintenance regulations in Bradford but not in Bo'ness.
I can vote on land use in Leicester but not with regard to the new town part of which I represent—Livingston.
I can vote on the licensing laws in Liverpool but not in Linlithgow.
I can certainly vote on matters affecting the Severn Bridge across the Bristol Channel but in no respects can I vote on matters affecting the Forth Road Bridge at South Queensferry in my own constituency.
I can vote on shop hours in Stratford-on-Avon but I cannot vote on shop hours in the village of Stoneyburn in West Lothian.
I can vote on the water supply in Wolverhampton, but not in Whitburn, West Lothian.
I can vote on waterways in Winchester, but not in Winchburgh, West Lothian.
My hon. Friend the Minister of State, Privy Council Office, can vote on the health services in Huddersfield but on no account can he vote on the health services in Harthill in his constituency.
He can vote on matters relating to the sexual offence laws as they affect Surbiton but not as they affect Shotts in his constituency.
My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland can vote on the succession laws in Sunderland but not in Stirling.
Under the proposed set-up the Secretary of State has a right to vote on criminology and criminal laws affecting Carlisle but not as affecting his constituency in the Craighton Division of Glasgow.
My right hon. Friend the Lord President, who has shown me the courtesy of coming into the Chamber, can vote on matters affecting the environment in Easington—but not in Ebbw Vale. [Interruption.] Does my right hon. Friend wish to intervene?
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister can vote on the financing of cultural activities in Cambridge or Coventry but he cannot touch cultural activities in Cardiff.
As the Shetlanders have perceived, it is not possible to have a legislative 375 Assembly or indeed a Welsh Assembly in part—though only part—of a unitary State.
That is the rock on which Mr. Gladstone's first and second Home Rule Bills for Northern Ireland perished, and it is one of the rocks on which the Government's proposals will founder within the next two or three years.
Policy in England will not be determined by me or by my hon. and right hon. Friends on the Front Bench from 80 miles north of the border, still less by the representative of Shetland from 500 miles north of the border in matters in which neither we as Scottish Members of Parliament nor English Members of Parliament have any say in Scotland.
We are discussing a proposal that is as unreal in the long term as the proposition that two and two make five.
§ Mr. Donald Stewart (Western Isles)
I shall not follow the speech made by the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell), the greater part of whose remarks did not appear to deal with the amendment before us. There may be a case for maintaining the status quo in the argument about devolution. I totally disagree with that view, but it is perfectly respectable. There is, however, no justification for the amendment, which is nothing less than a mischievous piece of sabotage.
The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) spoke about the unique characteristics of the people of his constituency. Those people do not have Gaelic, whereas the people of the Western Isles have Gaelic. The people of Orkney and Shetland do not wear the kilt. I am sorry to say that that is also largely true of us. When one of my constituents passes anyone wearing a kilt, he says "That will be the English laird." The people of the Western Isles were under Norse domination for 400 years, but, for all that, we regard ourselves as part of the Scottish nation.
The hon. Member for Glasgow, Hill-head (Mr. Galbraith) went right back in history, but the simple answer he would have given to his teacher when he was asked what were the nations of the British Isles was "Scotland, England, Northern Ireland and Wales"—perhaps in a different order. He would not have referred to Scotland either with Shetland 376 or without Shetland, because Shetland is an integral part of Scotland, although its links with Westminster date only from 1832. The 144 years that have passed since then have to be placed against the 238 years during which Shetland was part of an independent Scotland, as assuredly it will be again.
§ Mr. Rifkind
If the right hon. Gentleman is arguing that Orkney and Shetland are in exactly the same position as his own constituency, why, when the SNP candidate for Orkney and Shetland as early as 1968 pledged that the SNP would support full autonomy and Faroe Island status for Shetland, did he, first as the SNP candidate and later as the Member for the Western Isles, never make a similar pledge for his own constituency?
§ Mr. Stewart
I did not need to because that has been part of SNP policy. There has never been any doubt about that.
During the Second Reading debate I called in question just how representative of the people is the Shetland Islands Council. We must take into account what the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland said about the views of his constituents. Many are of the working class or small businessmen, and so on, and cannot get to meetings. At the last election 75 per cent. of the voters on Shetland and Orkney voted for a form of devolution, either that proposed in the programme of the successful candidate, the right hon. Gentleman, or in that of the representative of my party. So 75 per cent. were for home rule for Scotland. There is no indication that the Shetlanders wanted to break away.
On 5th January the convenor of the Shetland Islands Council said:It's not that we are trying to preserve the links with Westminster, it's that we are trying to preserve the future of Shetland.On 12th January, the council agreed on safeguarding amendments, for accepting the islands into the Bill, and it was said that the council was seeking to preserve certain distinctive features of Shetland under a system of devolution. That is in order, acceptable and understandable. The Shetlanders do not want to be outside the devolved system, as has been suggested by certain hon. Members.
§ Mr. Norman Lamont (Kingston upon Thames)
Would the right hon. Gentleman tell us what is the attitude of the 377 SNP to the two safeguards that the Shetland Isles Council requested and that have been built into the amendment? The new clause in the name of the right hon. Member for Shetland and Orkney (Mr. Grimond) sets out two principles: first, that the Zetland County Council should remain untouched and, secondly, that the rate support grant administration should be unaffected by the existence of the reserve fund.
§ Mr. Stewart
I shall deal with both those questions as I come to them.
It is obviously more advantageous for Shetland and Orkney each to have a representative in an Assembly of 150 than it is for Orkney and Shetland to share one Member of Parliament at Westminster.
Have hon. Members who have spoken in support of the amendment considered the difficulties in which Shetland would be if it opted out of the Scottish Assembly? There would arise the problem of the connection with the hospital in Aberdeen. The people would come out of their rights under the Crofting Acts. They would no longer be in the area covered by the Highlands and Islands Development Board. Eighty per cent. of the trade is with the Scottish mainland.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Timothy Raison (Aylesbury)
Is the right hon. Member really saying that no Scottish person ever crosses the border to go to hospital in England?
§ Mr. Stewart
Certainly not. I am not saying that. Certainly that sort of thing will continue to some extent with urgent cases. An arrangement exists between Orkney and Shetland and hospitals in Aberdeen, and that arrangement might be seriously damaged if the Shetlands had this independent status envisaged in the amendment.
§ Mr. Ridley
Is the right hon. Member aware that the people of Berwickshire are used to going to hospital in Berwick, which is in England? How does he get over that one?
§ Mr. Stewart
Berwick is a long way from Shetland.
I confirm that we in the Scottish National Party accept that Orkney and 378 Shetland should have separate seats in the Scottish Assembly. We also accept that they should have special planning powers and arrangements and that their rights under the Zetland Bill should be preserved. My party has given a complete guarantee on that, and, in so far as we are able to do so, we stand by that guarantee.
We guarantee that the oil revenues and royalties will be preserved. The houses to which the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) referred were associated with a development which was needed in the extraction of oil, so the Government were only too interested to get those. They were not given as a free gift.
As a local authority, Shetland has a long tradition of being tough. In the 1960s the Westminster Government had great difficulties over demands from Shetland for control of its own water supplies. This tradition of toughness goes back a long way and hon. Members should not mistake it for a belief that these islands should go it alone.
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland(Mr. Bruce Millan)
If the right hon. Member is stating Scottish National Party policy on Shetland, perhaps he could answer this question which the Shetland Islands Council posed to the Prime Minister in a letter. It asked whether Shetland would be granted independence from Scotland, if Scotland received complete separation from the rest of the United Kingdom. Would it be part of the SNP's policy to allow Shetland to go its own way?
§ Mr. Stewart
If at the end of the day, in a popular vote, the people of Shetland indicated that was their wish, the SNP would not stand in their way. [HON. MEMBERS: "What about the oil?"] Scotland has other oil apart from that.
Amendment No. 14 is mischievous, and is subversive of the interests of the Scottish community. It is an attempt to use the Shetland people as a Trojan horse to defeat the aspirations of the Scottish people. It goes far beyond the demands of the Shetland people and their council—a council which I believe is not representative of the people of the islands. I hope the amendment will be decisively rejected.
§ Mr. Robert Hughes
I begin by taking up a couple of points made by the right hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Stewart). Perhaps it is in order on this occasion to extend to him congratulations on accepting an award from the London Government, but perhaps we should let that pass and not be too backhanded with our compliments.
I find the arguments about the Shetlands being an integral part of Scotland a bit strange coming from a nationalist. To argue, as he did at one stage, that the right to independence was abated or extinguished according to the length of time of the association with a larger unit is very odd coming from a nationalist.
In technical matters the right hon. Member was rather laying heavy stress on the links between Orkney and Shetland and Aberdeen in the National Health Service. That link was not always the same, as the present link, because the hospital board for the North-East of Scotland once took in Orkney and Shetland. With the reorganisation of the National Health Service, both Orkney and Shetland argued very strongly that it was necessary for them to have a separate area health board. They got this, but they found that it was not possible to carry out all the health board's services in the islands, and therefore they had to maintain links with Aberdeen in order to provide a proper health service.
If that can be done in the present situation, there is no practical reason why those links should not remain if Orkney and Shetland opt out of devolution and remain with the Parliament in Westminster. These practical arguments are not an answer to the case we must face.
The right hon. Member for the Western Isles can give no guarantee whatsoever about the behaviour of the Scottish Assembly. He can put his views and those of his party, but no hon. Member can possibly give any guarantee to Shetland, Orkney, or any part of Scotland that within the compass of the powers devolved to the Scottish Assembly a certain position will be preserved. That cannot be done. If one says it can be done, one cannot have devolution.
§ Mr. Hughes
Yes, of course this Parliament, if it decided, could repeal any piece of legislation which is on the statute book at present. But on the point being argued, I still maintain that the right hon. Gentleman cannot give guarantees as leader of his party that certain things will happen after the Assembly is set up. He can say that that is his policy at the moment, but there is no legal way in which that policy can be guaranteed, and it would be wrong for him to give that kind of assurance.
In relation to the question of whose oil is it—Shetland or Scottish—we must consider the kinds of feelings that people have in different parts of Scotland about devolution and the whole question of where we stand in constitutional matters. I shared a platform with the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland at a meeting in Aberdeen when we discussed the White Paper on devolution. In that audience there were a reasonable number of SNP supporters who indulged in a little bit of heckling. That is perfectly fair, and I make no objection to it.
I was doing my usual thing of pouring some scorn on the slogan "Scotland's oil". I was then confronted with the danger of using too much irony in a political speech. I said that the SNP was not adventurous enough in its slogan. All the oil was off the Shetlands and the East Coast, and therefore the slogan should be "East of Scotland's oil". I went on to ask why any money from the revenues should be given to Glasgow. I almost got a standing ovation —the SNP supporters almost took me seriously. I had to say "Hold on, it is just a joke."
Perhaps I could make my name by forming the Aberdeen National Party and declaring UDI. I could use the same kind of avaricious arguments, because the oil, geographically, is closer to Aberdeen than it is to the West of Scotland and therefore I could say that we should get all the benefit from it. However, I would never put forward that point of view because I do not take that narrow attitude about the oil revenues.
The amendment before us poses the first challenge to the whole purpose of devolution. If, in having brought forward the Bill and the White Paper, all that we have said in the discussions has 381 any real meaning, it is that the Bill is an attempt to bring decision-making nearer to the people.
We all know the discussions which have gone on for more than a decade about bringing government closer to the people. But simply to bring it closer does not guarantee better government, and if it is brought closer that does not mean that the people at the receiving end necessarily approve of what is being done just because it is nearer to them. An example of this is that although there have been changes in local government, allegedly to bring local government closer to the people, if anything local government is held in even greater contempt now by the people who suffer under its administration.
§ Mr. Galbraith
There is a difficulty in this expression "bringing government closer to the people". It is already close to the people in Scotland. Does that expression mean bringing the legislation closer to the people? Will the hon. Gentleman say whether it makes any difference whether the legislators are sitting in Edinburgh, in London, or in a sputnik orbiting the world? What difference does it make? Will he explain that, because I do not understand the phrase?
§ Mr. Hughes
The burden of my remarks so far has shown that I agree with the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith) that it makes no difference where the legislature sits. I would not argue that the Assembly would be any better for being situated in Aberdeen rather than Edinburgh. It would make no difference to the people of the Grampian area or of the city of Aberdeen. However, what is being said is that because of the vast bureaucratic machines which exist, the sort of legislation which is brought forward is not sufficiently sensitive to the needs of the people in the localities. That would be as true of people in Scotland as anywhere else in the United Kingdom.
We often feel that legislation which deals with the whole of Scotland does not reflect the peculiar problems of the North-East of Scotland, let alone the Shetlands. So, bringing the legislation closer to the people geographically means nothing. But if we are speaking about 382 the reflections, the aspirations of people, it is odd that we should be saying that we do not know whether they like the brew we have concocted, but they are going to have it.
If the people in the Shetlands do not want devolution, why should we in this House say that they must have it? In my view, that is contrary to the whole spirit of the devolution Bill and to the whole purpose behind it. People under stand that there are difficulties in splitting off the different regions, and we shall be debating later the question of the different regions or the mainland as opposed to the Shetlands. The feeling has been growing up that certain guarantees ought to be written in.
My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) and others have mentioned the Private Bill which the Shetlands promoted. They are asking for certain guarantees about that. I noticed that the British Medical Association is asking for certain guarantees about the Health Service. As I said on Second Reading, almost all areas of public policy in Scotland are saying that since devolution is to be introduced and since they may not be enthusiastic about it, they want certain guarantees written into the Bill.
I want to stress that there is no possibility of any kind of guarantee being given about powers which are devolved to the Scottish Assembly. It would be quite wrong to say that such a guarantee could be given. People, especially those who are enthusiastic about devolution, must tell the people of Scotland not to expect some kind of paradise with the Assembly, that somehow the whole machinery of government will change. They must be told that there will be warts and that they will have to take the warts along with the rest.
The problem for those among us who fully support devolution, who tend to be over-enthusiastic—especially the SNP Members who try to be all things to all men—is to decide what we should do about this dilemma. The objections listed in the very interesting document sent to us from the Shetland Islands concerning the worries there about devolution could be shared by every area of Scotland outside the west central belt, and even there the people will have some objections about what might happen.
383 6.15 p.m.
The people in Aberdeen say to me that they are worried that the reasonably favourable treatment that we have had in the North-East might be affected. Of course, no one will ever admit that his area has had favourable treatment in case that prejudices the area's case in talks with the Scottish Office or the Treasury about loans and grants. However, we in Aberdeen and the North-East have certainly done particularly well out of revenues from the central Exchequer. But we in Aberdeen feel that these might be taken away or reduced in some way because of the natural pressure—pressure that I would support, incidentally—to give more aid to the west central belt, which has the greatest of problems.
We have to try to find even more money so that whilst the share of the total made available to West Central Scotland is increased, and rightly, it is not done at the expense of other areas. We are, however, left with the difficulty of what to do about that. It would certainly be very curious if, having set out to provide a devolution Bill to remove certain powers from the House of Commons, we were to say that nevertheless we would impose our views on the Shetlands, the Orkneys, or any other part of Scotland which wished to have nothing to do with the Bill.
I am glad that the SNP has been converted from its new imperialism. At one stage it was claiming that the Shetlands were part of the United Kingdom, or part of Scotland, and that there was no question of independence for the Shetlands, although the SNP was prepared to allow maximum devolution. The right hon. Member for Western Isles has made an extremely important statement which I hope will be blazoned across the pages of the Press and Journal edition which goes to the Orkneys and Shetlands tomorrow morning. It was that the SNP is guaranteeing that if the Orkneys or the Shetlands, or any other part of Scotland, such as the North-East, decides by some definable means of determining popular support that it wants its independence, the SNP will not stand in the way.
We have to find a method of allowing areas in Scotland the right to choose. This dilemma places me in a difficulty which I shall not go into in detail today. The main debates on the referendum will come later. I dislike the idea of the 384 referendum for a whole number of reasons—the precedents it sets and the continual way in which referenda can be used to keep the whole argument about devolution going. I simply say here as a marker that I hope that the Assembly will not be given the power to hold referenda as and when it likes on questions of constitutional change vis-à-vis the Assembly and the United Kingdom Parliament. However, a referendum might be a way of determining precisely where we stand on these matters.
If one of the questions on the referendum is "Do you want independence?", and if the Western Isles were to vote in favour, I should say let them have it here and now, and we might then see a change of attitude.
§ Mr. Maurice Macmillan (Farnham)
The right hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) was good enough to admit that those of us who are opposed to a Scottish Assembly and devolution in the terms in which they are set out in the Bill have a strong case in principle and logic. I concede to him in his separatist point of view that he, too, has a good case. It is one I dislike intensely. It led him to refer to the amendment as being mischievous and as being designed almost as a wrecking amendment to prevent those who seek to confer more power on the Scottish Assembly from doing so.
It might seem that way simply because there is no detectable principle in the Bill. Therefore, when one is trying to draft amendments based on a real principle, the principle of maintaining the unity of the United Kingdom, the very consistency of what we are trying to do makes our efforts appear as though we are changing our ground. This arises simply because we are trying to deal consistently with the different facets of the Bill, which itself is remarkably inconsistent.
As the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) pointed out, the Bill contains all the inherent contradictions of Mr. Gladstone's Home Rule Bills, Nos. 1 and 2. The right hon. Gentleman and others spoke about the aspirations of the Scottish people, but that is a phrase that begs every question of principle as much as the Bill does.
As far as one can detect, any principles —other than electoral advantage or disadvantage—among those who support the 385 Bill, there appear to be three. The first is self-determination, the idea that the different parts of the United Kingdom have a right to determine their separate nationalities. Secondly, there is nationality, although that is confusing to some of us who are not clear to which of the nations of the British Isles we belong. Thirdly, there is the historical principle. Is every separate country, every separate nation or State entitled to exist separately? The absurdities of the lengths to which this could be taken in Scotland alone have already been pointed out.
I want to look at the three principles with regard to Orkney and Shetland. Most parts of the British Isles have one thing in common. They have all, at one stage or another, been conquered by Nordic peoples—whether Norse, Viking or, later, Norman. All parts of the British Isles have at some stage felt the heavy hand of the invader. Scotland suffered twice over with the Norse invading from the north and the Normans from the south. Some of the Normans later produced great Scottish leaders, such as Robert Bruce. But that is about all we have in common. Certainly, the use of history as an argument for Orkney and Shetland retaining their ties at a time when Scotland and England are breaking theirs is ludicrous. The ties between Scotland and Orkney and Shetland are not, historically, as strong as those between other parts of the British Isles.
Basically, the same point is true of any nationality argument and argument founded on racial origin. These ought not to come into the argument at all. One of the great strengths of the United Kingdom is that our people can claim, with justice, to be British and that they can be proud of that whether their origins are English, Welsh, Scots, Irish, or even Polish, Ukranian or from other parts of the world. Being British is the factor that we have in common, and many people have been proud to die for it. This argument is now being used to beg the question; for Orkney and Shetland have as much in common with other parts of Britain as they have with Scotland.
As to self-determination, that argument has been strongly advanced by the Minister. One of the reasons given for Scotland having a greater measure of self-government and, perhaps, complete 386 separation is that the Scottish people want it. But the people of Orkney and Shetland do not. So, on this basis, Orkney and Shetland should be allowed to be excluded from the demands made by the rest of Scotland. Self-determination is a dangerous principle. Claims for self-determination could be made by Cornwall or other parts of the British Isles on national, cultural, historical or any other basis. This is a method of fragmenting our nation that can do nothing but damage.
Orkney and Shetland have much to fear. It is perfectly clear that if the Bill is passed the whole system of local government in Orkney and Shetland—and they have one that is different from the rest of Scotland—would be dependent not only on a body that does not yet exist and for which we do not yet know the ground rules, but on an Assembly that, however it is constituted, will be numerically dominated by a relatively small area in the centre of Scotland. Fears have been expressed by the people concerned that, because of political pressures, they might lose much of what they have gained. It is feared that the Scottish Assembly would seek to draw what is available from the islands to help areas of need on the mainland.
Speaking as a friend, I am only moderately pleased to see the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) in his place today. For his own sake and that of his constituents, he ought to return to hospital. He should be the subject of admiration from all of us because he has set such an example by attending at all.
He asked what sort of alternative could be put forward. That is why I regret that circumstances so combined that we were unable to debate and vote upon Amendment No. 479 in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym). It would have made the inclusion of Orkney and Shetland in the Bill dependent upon a new clause to be moved later. I hope that we shall be able to discus that new clause in detail and that an appropriate amendment will be made on Report. As a result of neither of the amendments relating to the new clause having been selected for debate, we have only one amendment upon which to debate the issue and to express our views.
387 We support Amendment No. 479 which has not been called. I hope that the Committee will support Amendment No. 14 and recognise that it is a pointer for the future. Unless the Government make it plain that they are willing to meet us, we should show our intention to pursue this line by voting.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Norman Buchan (Renrewshire, West)
One of the difficulties in discussing this amendment is that we are discussing an exclusion amendment before reaching the safeguarding amendments. The safeguarding amendments would enable us to know how satisfactory the proposition might be to the people of Orkney and Shetland and exactly what we are voting for and what we are excluding. This is one of the difficulties to which I hope attention will be given so that, whatever the result of this and later amendments, we shall have the opportunity to make sense of the situation in accordance with the needs and wishes of the people of Orkney and Shetland.
I was astonished that the right hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. Macmillan) could find no principle in the Bill. He spelt out the three principles which he believed motivated the supporters of the Bill, and they were mainly those enunciated by the SNP. The right hon. Gentleman came close to agreeing with those principles.
The right hon. Member mentioned nationhood, the aspirations of the Scottish people and self-determination. One of the problems is that the SNP does not regard self-determination as meaning that people can determine not to be separate. For the SNP it must be a determination to be separate—and that is a great narrowing of people's rights. It rejects any view which is opposite to its own as somehow denying the right of people or of a nation.
§ Mr. Jim Craigen (Glasgow, Maryhill)
Does not this amendment in some respects thrust the SNP into the position of being a unionist party—almost a replacement for the old Unionist Party?
§ Mr. Buchan
My hon. Friend is right. The SNP is in an extremely embarrassing position. It is not only a unionist party in that sense, but a centralist party. That is the reason for its hatred of the existing local government structure in Scotland.
388 The right hon. Member for Farnham spoke about nationhood and used the extraordinary phrase about a nation for which people have been proud to die. Surely it is equally true that people have been prepared to die for Scotland. I have not forgotten the magnificent contribution made by the Scottish National Party to campaign to save the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. I objected to the crude opportunism and sheer hypocrisy of the SNP in that campaign. It jumped on the bandwagon. I also objected to the campaign because of the many Scottish names on war memorials throughout Scotland. I was not going to back any campaign to save the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, and that was the nadir of the morality of the SNP.
§ Mr. George Younger (Ayr)
I organised that campaign and was never aware of the slightest assistance from the SNP.
§ Mr. Buchan
Of course the SNP helped. The hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mrs. Ewing) was prominent in the campaign. Admittedly SNP members do not do much practical work, but they make a lot of noise. They were in the campaign, as I discovered at meeting after meeting.
I do not want Scottish people to die. I do not want a nation for which people can be proud to die. I want a nation for which people can be proud to live. The right hon. Member for Farnham was verging on the argument used by the SNP and put himself in a difficult position.
The hon. Member for Glasgow, Hill-head (Mr. Galbraith), in his historical account, suggested that for equivalency we should have to go back beyond 1707. I should have thought that we would need to go back beyond 1603 to the restoration of the Heptarchy. The hon. Gentleman was almost putting the cart before the Hengist and Horsa. Again, the hon. Gentleman gave the SNP its ludicrous argument.
Scottish nationhood did not derive from the battle of Bannockburn, and the Declaration of Arbroath had more to do with democracy than with nationhood. It should be remembered that the rejection of the overriding authority of the Pope in that declaration was more the beginnings of democratic expression than the birth of nationhood.
389 We are in grave danger of allowing ourselves to be affected by this argument. When the right hon. Member for Farnham said that he failed to see any principle in the Bill, he failed to see that, if it means anything, it is about an extension of democracy. That is the kernel of the matter.
Two propositions have been put before us by the Shetlanders. I know more about Orkney because I was brought up there, but the Shetlanders are putting these points more strongly. They want either a special relationship to guarantee some of their situations or total exclusion.
We shall be discussing the first proposition later, but the Shetlanders are saying that they want no part of an independent Scotland. That is where the difficulties arise with the SNP and its unionist position of regarding Orkney and Shetland as part of Scotland. The SNP members are the last people who can argue this, because at party conferences before oil was discovered they said that if Orkney and Shetland wanted autonomy they would grant it. When oil was discovered, the slogan became "It's Scotland's oil". It is interesting that the only SNP candidate who did not use that slogan but referred to the oil as North Sea oil was the candidate in Orkney and Shetland.
That is the dilemma of the SNP members; they defended their original position not on the basis of democracy or that people should have more freedoms, but on the ethnic argument. Margo MacDonald defended an autonomous Orkney and Shetland on ethnic grounds until I reminded her what that would mean in terms of oil. The SNP is in confusion over its policies, and the ethnic argument preceded the discovery of oil.
The SNP now adopts a crude unionist and imperialist position which is even cruder than British imperialism at its crudest. The SNP tells Orkney and Shetland that they can have their independence but that Scotland will keep the oil. I do not think that even the British Empire ever adopted that attitude.
The slogans of the SNP are not always related to its policies. Its criticisms and fears of a referendum are unrelated to its manifestos, which say that it is hoped to write into the constitution of an inde- 390 pendent Scotland provision for a referendum on any topic on which there is not a two-thirds majority.
There is also no relationship between the slogan "It's Scotland's oil" and the promise spelt out by the hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Reid) that Orkney and Shetland could have independence if they wished. In a speech he made at Avonbridge, according to the Falkirk Herald, the hon. Gentleman said thatthe issue of Orkney and Shetland declaring independence was a complete red herring ".That was a few years after the SNP had promised independence if the islanders wished it.Even if they did gain independence"—the reference now is simply to the possibility of their gaining independence; the tone is beginning to change—international law was such that it was debatable if they could lay claim to any oil. and certainly not the bulk of it.So the SNP is spelling out the crudities of its imperialist and centralising unionist attitudes by saying that, if the people of Orkney and Shetland expressed their will in that way, the SNP would take them to international law to prevent it.
That is a pretty crude position that the SNP has taken up towards a section of people who, the right hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) said, are an integral part of Scotland. If it sees them as an integral part of Scotland, it is towards a section of the State of Scotland itself that the SNP is directing these crudities.
There are good reasons why the Orcadians and Shetlanders should be anxious about the situation. The trouble is not just the question of distance, which people have got all wrong from the beginning. I have said many times that the girl who served at the counter in Joe Lyons' shop across the square, who saw Parliament every day, felt every bit as remote from government as someone in the Shetlands. Remoteness from government is not a geographical or horizontal expression; it is an expression of the relationship between those who govern and those who are governed.
The real devolution we want, of which the Bill is only a preliminary, is a devolution of power up there to the ordinary 391 people down here. That is more important than the devolution in the Bill, but I welcome the Bill because the two things go together. However, the devolution of power-making to the ordinary people is far more important. So the Orcadians and the Shetlanders base their case on the fact that that kind of devolution would mean that their having a say in their own position may not be given effect within an Edinburgh Assembly.
I want them to be a part of that Assembly. I know the Orcadian attitude to Scotland. When I was a child in Orkney, we used to look south over Scapa Flow to the northern coastline. We did not say "There is the mainland", as they would on Skye or Lewis. We said "There is Scotland." We saw ourselves as being separate; Scotland was in the distance. Our great phrase in Orkney was that Scotland brought us nothing but dear corn and greedy ministers. [Laughter.] I am talking about ministers of religion. I exonerate the Government Front Bench.
As the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) said, there is no great love in the island for Mary Queen of Scots. The notable figure who is still remembered there is Patrick Stewart. The Stuarts are not greatly loved there.
A lack of totality of feeling has superseded some political discussion in Scotland. There is a feeling not so much of remoteness as of some ability to stand aside and consider the Scottish situation This has emphasised to the islanders the importance of their democratic expression. It is a very good democratic expression. In contradistinction to the imperialist attitudes of the SNP towards them and the greedy attitudes of the SNP towards the other parts of the United Kingdom, they make it clear in their own document that the oil revenues should be entirely used in the interests of the United Kingdom as a whole. They go on to say that they see no advantages in the Scottish Assembly for them and they list many disadvantages.
Basically, they are saying that if they can get the guarantees for which they ask, they are prepared to be a part of Scotland, not on the basis of the stupid ethnic arguments of the SNP—in the twentieth century of all things—but be- 392 cause of the need to define and express their own freedoms. That I approve of. I am told that we cannot write such guarantees into the Bill because any Assembly could change them. But I hope that we shall none the less. The only guarantee against change in the long run is the will of the people.
Ail laws should perhaps be changed if the will of the people so determines, but we must write some guarantees into the Bill. I say that for one important reason. Ironically, the people who are trying to ensure that the people of Scotland share in the resources of Shetland oil are those of us who resist the independence demands of the SNP. It is the SNP which, if it carried out its policy decisions about freedom for Shetland and separation from the rest of the United Kingdom, would prejudice the possibility of using Shetland oil in the interests of the people of Scotland.
Therefore, those who are in favour of devolution are saving the faces of the SNP and permitting such a speech as we heard from the right hon. Member for the Western Isles.
§ Mr. Cordon Wilson (Dundee, East)
The hon. Gentleman said that the policies of the SNP in relation to Shetland would mean that the people of Scotland would not get a fair share of the oil. Has he any idea of the quantities of oil which lie off the Scottish mainland, particularly the quantities discovered in the past two years? Would he like to say here and now what percentage of the oil Scotland will get as part of the United Kingdom? It will be very little, if any.
§ Mr. Buchan
I think that the revenues from oil should be used throughout the United Kingdom according to the needs of the people of the United Kingdom. I was talking specifically about Shetland oil, in relation to the SNP policy, and not to Scottish oil. If there were a separate Scotland, the oil that Scotland had would lie not directly east of Scotland but to one side of a median line. The hon. Gentleman failed to tell the Scottish people that. Such a line would leave in English waters either four or three of the main oilfields discovered, with seven in Shetland waters and either five or four in Scottish waters, with one exception which has happened recently.
§ Dr. M. S. Miller (East Kilbride)
Does my hon. Friend also agree that the doubts expressed by the Shetlanders are similar to those expressed by the majority of people in Scotland about the possibility of complete separation?
§ Mr. Buchan
Yes, I do. One hears this time and again. But this is a matter that I am prepared to leave for a referendum to decide. I trust in the desire of the people of Scotland. [Laughter.] Hearing that laughter, I say in advance that if the Scottish people agree to independence in the referendum I will accept that decision on the spot. Would the SNP give us the same guarantee if the Scottish people said "No" to independence?
§ Mr. Gordon Wilson
Would the hon. Gentleman accept it this way—that he would have to accept the result of the referendum carried out at that time but that that result would not stop him, if his personal convictions took him further, pressing for the status of Britain which he wanted? The argument is that the referendum is binding as at that time but that it does not stop us—as it did not stop many people when it came to the Common Market—pressing for a review of that decision.
§ Mr. Buchan
I think that what that means is "No". It is interesting to get that answer. The nationalists have been treating Scotland with contempt. They have been expressing throughout Scotland a Western European version of the cargo cult—one day the cargo will arrive and solve all our problems. That will not wash any longer. Truth is beginning to work through, and it is truth with which I am concerned.
We must recognise the immediate problems facing the Orcadians and Shetlanders, no matter what the Committee decides on the amendment. Since I believe in devolution, and that Orkney and Shetland should be related to Scotland through devolution, it is important that the SNP should not destroy the security of the islands. By no means the least of the reasons for a referendum involving an independence question is to help to give that guarantee to the people of Orkney and Shetland, who have been generous in their attitudes.
I hope that the amendment will be rejected, but I hope also that that will 394 not mean that when we come to the safeguarding amendments we do not find a means to give expression to the views being put forward fairly by the Shetland Islands Council and, we believe, the people of Shetland.
§ Mr. Norman Lamont
I should like to take up some of the points raised by the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan), but first I must declare an interest as the bank for which I work has a special connection with the Shetland Islands Council. It causes me a little embarrassment to declare that interest, because I have a much more longstanding and powerful reason for participating in the debate, the one to which the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) kindly referred. That is that I was born in Shetland, lived there and went to school there for some years, so I have naturally taken an interest in its affairs for some time.
A few weeks ago I went to Shetland at the invitation of the Shetland Islands Council, with the knowledge and consent of the right hon. Member who represents Orkney and Shetland with such distinction. We have been reminded in this debate of some of the odd facts of Shetland's geographical situation. My right hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew-shire, East (Miss Harvie Anderson), who moved the amendment, spoke of the proximity of Shetland to Bergen. When I went there a few weeks ago I was quickly reminded of some of the oddities of life in Shetland. One gentleman I met, who explained the difficulties of living in central Shetland, in a place called Tingwall, said that if his house caught fire and he dialled 999 he would immediately be put through to the fire brigade in Inverness. This and many other small but irksome details give the people legitimate cause for complaint.
When I went back I noticed a number of changes. When I had lived there before I had not noticed many helicopters whizzing overhead. There were no such things as taxis. Most noticeable of all, there is now the gigantic oil terminal at Sullom Voe. All this presents a gigantic task to a local authority which has never before had to deal with dual-carriageway roads and which now handles oil investments of £300 million to £400 million at a time.
395 I should like to pay tribute to the Shetland Islands Council, which has done a tremendous job in meeting the challenge of oil, and I would also pay tribute to Mr. Ian Clark, who did a remarkable job for Shetland. In his farewell to the Shetland Islands Council, referring to his dealings with the oil companies, he quoted Mr. Khrushchev, who once said "If you are going to skin a customer, always leave enough skin so that it can grow and you can skin him again." It may not be a very Conservative sentiment, but no doubt it served the Shetlands well in dealing with the oil companies.
Oil has brought problems to Shetland. Local industries have been threatened by the construction boom, a boom which will inevitably last for only a short period. That is what this debate is all about. The Shetland Islands Council has made special arrangements for dealing with the problem.
The situation is not quite as Labour Members have described. It is not that Shetland is like anywhere else in the United Kingdom. Shetland has various special powers through the Zetland County Council Act. When the people of Shetland saw the oil invasion coming and decided to protect their own interests, they took action to make Shetland a ports and harbour authority. They took extra planning powers and powers to restrict oil development to certain areas. Those powers have worked very well. The people of Shetland are now saying that they would be grateful—and I would be grateful if I could have the attention of the Secretary of State, as this is a very important point—if they could preserve the powers that they have been given by the Zetland County Council Act.
My attitude to the amendment will be governed entirely by the reply from the Secretary of State. I do not want in any sense to play the card of Shetland in the devolution debate, and my attitude is in no way influenced by my overall attitude to devolution.
The Secretary of State ought to pay very careful attention to the very reasonable request of the Shetlanders that they should be given reasonable safeguards. Their position has to some extent been misrepresented. They do not want to declare UDI. They do not want to opt 396 out of the Bill completely. What they are saying is that they have no great enthusiasm for devolution and they doubt very much whether devolution will do anything for Scotland but that devolution is a decision for the House of Commons. They are saying that if devolution comes they will accept it, but only if they obtain safeguards, and that if they cannot get those safeguards they will opt out.
The first safeguard they want is to see the Zetland County Council Act preserved unaltered. I cannot see why that cannot be built into the Bill. Secondly, they want the reserve fund which they have negotiated for themselves to be left intact. That fund should not be taken into account when calculating the rate support grant for Orkney and Shetland. The rate support grant formula has never worked very well or very exactly in island areas, and it has been the practice of Whitehall and St. Andrew's House not to comply with the formula in precisely the same way as it would have been applied to the mainland areas of Scotland.
That is all they are asking. It seems that the Shetlanders have a very legitimate fear and that their request is reasonable. They are not making extreme demands for independence or UDI.
For many years in the nineteenth century and the early part of this century Shetland was an extremely poor area where it was extremely difficult for people to eke out even a modest living. My right hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, East referred to the declining population and the emigration statistics. The ruins of deserted crofts and streaks of green among the heather, where people have tried in vain to grow grass, are memorials to what has happened in the past. People have always felt that perhaps the Shetland way of life was destined to fade away, that perhaps Shetland was not a viable community, but things have changed. It is not just a question of manna from the North Sea. The people of Shetland have negotiated a good deal for themselves and have managed to secure with their own efforts a future for themselves. They want the Secretary of State to safeguard what they have achieved. I ask him to consider very carefully and sympathetically whether he can meet what seem to me to be their eminently reasonable demands.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Iain Sproat (Aberdeen, South)
I had originally meant to debate an amendment aimed at removing the Grampian Region from the jurisdiction of any Scottish Assembly, in exactly the same way as this amendment seeks to remove Orkney and Shetland. I am marginally less disappointed than I might normally be at the fact that my amendment was not selected, because the reasons which the Grampian Regional Council advances for wishing to have no truck with a Scottish Assembly—the reasons which make a Scottish Assembly abhorrent in Grampian—are largely the same as those put forward by Orkney and Shetland.
I listened with great interest to what my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Thames (Mr. Lamont) said about the Shetlanders' attitude. All the qualifications which must naturally be made if there is a Scottish Assembly, all the fall-back positions, will to some extent apply in the Grampian Region. It has to be remembered that about 25 per cent. of the United Kingdom's oil reserves lie off Grampian. We have roughly the same sort of arguments on oil as Shetland, except that it has about 66 per cent. of the reserves and we have about 25 per cent.
Like other hon. Members, I have received a letter from the Shetland Islands Council. I wish to quote something said in the accompanying document because it expresses exactly what we feel in Grampian. In my view it justifies this amendment. The document says:The Council believe that the majority of Shetlanders are satisfied with the present status quo and with what has been achieved for Shetland.That is exactly what I feel the people in Grampian will say. The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) said that we will never admit that we are totally satisfied in case that would prejudice future negotiations. Of course, it is the case that things could be better than they are. However, by and large we in the North-East reckon that we have had a fair crack of the whip from Westminster, just as Shetland does.
§ Mr. Douglas Henderson (Aberdeenshire, East) rose—398
§ Mr. Henderson
The hon. Member is the only Member of Parliament representing Grampian who is expressing those views.
§ Mr. Sproat
I was referring to the Grampian Council and was reading a letter from the Shetland Islands Council. It is interesting to note how the SNP has been massacred in elections in Grampian.
The Shetlanders advance a number of fears. The first is that the Bill will lead to an independent Scotland. I shall not go into all the ramifications of that. I believe that the Shetlanders are right. The Bill is the slippery slope and Grampian is rightly as fearful of that slippery slope as is Shetland. I find it extraordinary that the SNP is prepared to pay so little attention to the emotions felt by the Shetlanders while building everything on the emotions of what it says the rest of the people of Scotland feel.
No doubt during the course of this debate we shall hear some pretty crazy statements. We have already had home rule for the Hebrides promised to us this afternoon by the right hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) who leads the SNP. We have also had home rule for Shetland and Orkney promised. Why not home rule for Grampian or the Isle of Arran?
§ Mr. Sproat
I do not think that that would be within the power of the right hon. Member for Western Isles. No doubt he would grant home rule for the Isle of Thanet if he could. This shows up the ludicrous nature of the independence argument. This is the real fear.
Secondly, the people of Orkney and Shetland and of Grampian feel that in any Scottish Assembly they would be dominated by Strathclyde. It is no use hon. Members saying that this feeling is wrong and that people in the Orkneys and Shetlands or in Grampian do not feel dominated by a Westminster Parliament. Everyone knows that the position of Strathclyde in Scotland is unique. We believe that it would exercise its influence to the detriment of North-East Scotland and Orkney and Shetland.
§ Mr. Sproat
I shall not give way. The hon. Member spoke for a great deal of time and there will be other occasions for him to speak.
The third argument which the Shetlanders put forward is that after a Scottish Assembly comes into being, if it does, changes could be made in the local government organisation in Scotland which would disadvantage Orkney and Shetland. My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Thames and others have tabled amendments, which I shall support, which seek to safeguard the position of Orkney and Shetland with regard to any changes in local government administration in Scotland which might be proposed.
While I would support such amendments, I know perfectly well that if a Scottish Assembly came into being and proposed to alter the Scottish local government administration to the detriment of Shetland nothing that anyone ever said in the House of Commons would make a tuppenny-halfpenny-worth of difference. It does not matter whether the right hon. Member for the Western Isles grandly pledges that his party would never support changes to disadvantage Shetland. It does not lie within his power so to pledge. Nor does it lie within the power of anyone else.
I very much fear that a Strathclyde-dominated Assembly would seek to change the local government administration in Scotland. The hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh), who, I suppose, is a putative Member of the Scottish Assembly, told us that the Assembly would seek to change the local government administration. I am sorry that he is not here today to tell hon. Members who put their faith in such amendments that they count for nothing. The Shetlanders are right to fear that a Strathclyde-dominated Assembly would change things to the advantage of Strathclyde and the disadvantage of Shetland.
There are fears concerning control over oil. The point has been made that what Shetland has won by its initiative and negotiating skill, particularly the skill of Mr. Ian Clark, could be taken away. Again, no number of amendments in this Parliament would ever bind a Scottish 400 Assembly and prevent the removal of those controls which Shetland has won.
The same sort of point was made about the rate support grant. If the formula were to be changed by a Scottish Assembly, does anyone think that a Strathclyde-dominated Assembly would change it to the advantage of Shetland? There is not a hope of that. I would have some sympathy with this action. An Assembly must direct itself to the area of greatest deprivation, namely Glasgow. If there were any changes in the formula they would, of course, be to the advantage of the west central belt of Scotland and not to the advantage of Orkney and Shetland or Aberdeen and Grampian.
Another fear of the Shetlanders was that a Scottish Assembly would either be granted, or would take upon itself, the power to compel local authorities to levy further rates, which would be a form of taxation. These rates could be levied in Grampian or Orkney and Shetland. They would be used by a Scottish Assembly to alleviate the deprivation in the west central area of Scotland. Once again, we find these well-founded fears—held by almost everyone outside Strathclyde—that a Scottish Assembly would be used to help solve the problems of Strathclyde at the expense of the rest of Scotland. That is one of the prime reasons why Orkney and Shetland said in the document that I read that by and large it is satisfied with the status quo. What Orkney and Shetland said goes for Aberdeen and the North-East.
I commend the Shetlanders for saying exactly what I think when they say that they are British. That is the important thing, and that is why their generous vision does not regard the oil as Shetland oil. If anyone had a right to claim the oil as his own, it would be Shetland. It has never said that. It has never put forward the selfish and crude policy of the SNP—that it is Scotland's oil. It might have had some justification for saying so but it has not done so. It has said that the oil must be used for the benefit of the United Kingdom.
I quote again from the Shetland letter:It is right that this income"—that is, income from the oil—should be used in the interests of the United Kingdom as a whole.401 That is the right attitude. Shetland is basically satisfied with the way the broad administration of the Government works.
We all want to see reform within the present institutions, but the present institutions remain. The people of Orkney and Shetland do not want, as does the Scottish National Party, the oil to be used selfishly for the benefit of that small geographical area which is closest to where the oil is found. They say that they see no benefit whatsoever for Shetland in a Scottish Assembly. Equally, the Grampian Region sees no benefit whatsoever for it in a Scottish Assembly. It sees many disadvantages, some of which I have mentioned.
The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond), whose devotion to duty we all admire, said that the amendment does not put a positive case. It does not. One cannot put everything in a single amendment. But to make the Bill non-applicable to the Shetlands and, I hope, to the Grampian Region, would be a good start. We could make a constructive approach if we got rid of Orkney and Shetland from this detestable Bill.
§ Mr. Younger
I think that the whole Committee should be grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, East (Miss Harvie Anderson) for moving the amendment and enabling us to discuss the wishes of the people of Orkney and Shetland with regard the Bill.
I add my voice to those who have said how much we appreciate the particular effort made by the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond). I am sure that his constituents will be extremely proud of the way in which he performed his duty today.
The Government have said that they intend to be flexible in dealing with the details of the Bill. I think that the treatment of Orkney and Shetland is the first test of whether the Government are prepared to be flexible when good cases are made.
We start from the position that practically every hon. Member who has spoken has said that it has been made crystal clear that the people of Orkney and Shetland and their elected representatives are greatly concerned, to put it no higher, 402 about the effect of the Bill on them and their relationship with the central Government, wherever it may be.
Secondly, it has been made plain from both sides of the Committee that the members of the councils in Orkney and Shetland are clear on the question of separation as proposed by the Scottish National Party. They do not want anything to do with it. If the debate were not worth while for other reasons, it has certainly been worth while for the remarkable admission that we squeezed out of the right hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Stewart), who apparently committed his party to being prepared to grant complete independence to Orkney and Shetland from his independent Scotland together with all the oil within their areas. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will stick by that commitment.
Thirdly, with regard to the general principles of devolution enshrined in the Bill, it is clear from the representations that we have all had from people in Orkney and Shetland and their councils that, whatever the merits or otherwise of the Bill, they do not like its provisions as it stands. Surely, if we mean to do anything, we should try to meet their wishes if we can. That is the real purpose of the amendment. They have asked us to try to get the essential safeguards that they want written into the Bill. The amendment is the first vehicle to try to achieve that purpose.
In view of the selection of amendments —I make no complaint about it—we cannot discuss the full details of what we propose in place of the Bills provisions. However, it is worth mentioning in passing that the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland has put down a series of amendments and New Clause 13 which, he said, had the full approval of the councils concerned. My right hon. and hon. Friends and I have tabled New Clause 14, and we shall be tabling other amendments to make clear our suggestions on this matter.
The basic safeguards which we have been asked to put before the Government are simple and clear. Briefly I shall repeat them because they are easy to understand. The Orkney and Shetland Islands Councils and the people who elect them would like the 403 special arrangements which they negotiated with Parliament, now enshrined in the Zetland County Council Act 1974 and the Orkney County Council Act 1974, safeguarded for the future, subject only to any further decisions which may come from the House of Commons. I ask the Government to consider seriously whether they can write that or a similar provision into the Bill.
Secondly, because of the funds which the people of Orkney and Shetland will be able to build up as a result of the special arrangements which have been made, they ask for the assurance that a future Scottish Assembly will not, off its own bat, be able to decide to reduce the amount of rate support grant to which the Orkney and Shetland Islands Councils might be entitled by an amount equivalent or related to the moneys which they may be getting under the Acts to which I have referred. It seems eminently reasonable that responsible councils in their position should ask for those safeguards.
The amendment as it stands is not complete. The Secretary of State may shelter, as Ministers often do, behind the fact that the amendment as it stands is not complete, but it has been tabled with the intention of asking the Government to make a clear commitment today. We should like the Secretary of State to say that the requests made by these two councils are reasonable and that he will accept the amendments tabled by the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland or similar amendments tabled by us, or, if he cannot do that, at least that he accepts the spirit of the amendments and will try to meet these points as quickly as he can. That was the purpose of tabling the amendment. The Conservative Opposition stand four square behind the feelings of these councils in what they want to achieve by way of safeguards. We intend to give them our support.
We hope that the Secretary of State will at least accept the principle of what we want to do. If he does, that will be satisfactory to us. If he cannot give a clear undertaking of the kind for which we have asked, we shall feel bound to press the amendment to a Division as a token of our support for what the 404 people of Orkney and Shetland clearly want.
§ Mr. Millan
I am glad to be able to answer this debate while the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) is still present. I pay tribute to him for his devotion to his constituents' interests, which he has shown by coming here today with considerable discomfort and making a speech on their behalf.
The Government recognise the special problems and circumstances of Orkney and Shetland. Indeed, we need no greater tribute to them than the fact that both the councils concerned will be happy to continue dealing with the Westminster Government, including the Scottish Office. A number of hon. Members have talked about dealing with Westminster as distinct from Edinburgh and the islands being happy to deal with Whitehall and Westminster and not happy to deal with Edinburgh. But most of the islands' dealings with the Government are already with Edinburgh. Most of their transactions with the Government are with the Scottish Office, which is located in Edinburgh. Therefore, it would not be quite as major a change to have to deal with the Assembly as some hon. Gentlemen seem to believe.
§ Mr. Galbraith
It is true that administratively there will not be much change in the bureaucrats dealing with these matters, but the Assembly will control the Executive which orders the bureaucrats. That is very different from the House of Commons controlling the bureaucrats in Edinburgh. The point is that Westminster is impartial and that the Assembly will not be impartial. Will the right hon. Gentleman deal with that point?
§ Mr. Millan
I know the point which has been made. I was saying that most of the day-to-day dealings that the islands have with the Government at the moment on devolved matters are not with London but with the Scottish Office in Edinburgh. I was arguing that their special problems are recognised by the Government in a number of different ways.
There has been little dispute about exactly what the Shetland Islands Council wants from the Bill as we have it. I have the council's views in writing, but I do not have the same precision about the views of the Orkney Islands Council 405 although I understand that basically it takes the same attitude. It is not asking to be excluded from the Bill, as the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland said. It does not want that at this stage at least and, therefore, the present amendment is not in line with the views of the councils.
The councils are asking for safeguards. It is true that if the safeguards are not written into the Bill they may take a different view, but we are not at that point today. To write Orkney and Shetland out of the Bill at any time during its passage through the House would be undesirable and it would be at least premature to do so until we have had debates on the amendments which have been tabled by the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland which meet the expressed wishes of the councils in a way that the present amendment does not.
It is not possible for the Committee simply to write Orkney and Shetland out of the Bill because that would leave them in limbo. They would be neither part of of Scotland and subject to Scottish legislation nor a part of England. That would create a difficult situation. The present arrangements for the government of Orkney and Shetland are integrated with those of Scotland. Matters involving local government, education, housing, health and so forth are covered by legislation for which I am at present responsible but which will later be covered by legislation for which the Assembly will be responsible. It is not possible or practicable to cut off Orkney and Shetland from all that legislation by such an amendment. The passing of an amendment of that kind would petrify the legislation which applies to Orkney and Shetland and make them subject to another kind of legislation which has not been drawn up with their particular circumstances in mind.
On the grounds of sheer practicability, it is not possible to accept the amendment. If we wrote Orkney and Shetland out of the Bill, we would have to write a constitutional solution into the Bill.
One of the amendments in the name of the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland, which we will discuss later, makes the point that if, after the Bill is passed, the people of Orkney and Shet- 406 land decide in a referendum against the Bill, there should be a constitutional conference. That obviously strengthens my argument that one cannot write them out of the Bill without providing them with a special constitution. Therefore, on grounds of practicability alone I cannot recommend the House to accept the amendment.
§ Miss Harvie Anderson
The Secretary of State has conveniently missed the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger). This is the only peg on which we can hang our hat because of circumstances not entirely under our control. Therefore, unless the right hon. Gentleman can give the safeguards for which my hon. Friend asked, hon. Members will be put in the unfortunate position of having to support the amendment, which, I am the first to accept, has its deficiencies.
§ Mr. Millan
It is not accurate to say that the matters which concern Orkney and Shetland cannot be debated in the Committee. At the beginning of the debate the Chair ruled that the fact that some of the more specific amendments had not been linked with this one did not exclude them from debate and consideration later. It is not for me to decide or give a view on the selection of amendments, but I accept that later we shall come to some of the specific amendments which will enable me to deal at greater length with the matters raised by the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger).
Whoever is responsible for the difficulty, it is not of my making. I have to deal with the particular amendment which is before the Committee. Nevertheless, since the Chair said that we can make incidental references to later amendments without excluding them from greater consideration later, I shall be able to reassure the islands councils about their worries when we consider later amendments.
Hon. Members have not sufficiently appreciated that many of the matters that concern Orkney and Shetland are non-devolved matters. For example, the problems arising from oil development are non-devolved matters. I hope to deal with these issues in more detail later. Many of the fears over the Zetland County Council Act 1974 will be shown to be groundless because many 407 of the provisions in that Act will not be affected by the Bill. The impact of the Bill will be on devolved powers and will not affect that legislation.
§ Mr. Nicholas Fairbairn (Kinross and West Perthshire)
I ask the Secretary of State to reconsider his argument that to write Orkney and Shetland out of the Bill would create difficulty. He is obviously reading from a brief, and the definition of a civil servant is someone who can find a solution to a problem. The passing of the amendment would mean that part of the United Kingdom that happens to be Orkney and Shetland would still come under the control of this Parliament and the rest of Scotland by another Parliament. That does not represent a difficulty, because this Parliament will have to legislate for parts of Scotland. To write Orkney and Shetland out of the Bill would be a sensible and constitutional arrangement.
§ Mr. Millan
I am sorry that I gave way. If the hon. and learned Gentleman had listened to the debate, as other hon. Members have done, he would know that I have already dealt with that point at some length. I shall be able to give assurances about the specific issues which worry the councils not by writing special provisions into the Bill but by demonstrating later that many of the worries are groundless because the Bill does not affect those problems.
I cannot commit the Assembly to a particular formula for rate support grant, nor can I commit it to a particular way of organising local government in Scotland. Incidentally, I am amazed to see how anxious hon. Members are today to maintain the present system of local government in Scotland, because I am continually told that one of the first things that the Assembly ought to do is completely to rewrite local government in Scotland. If the Assembly is involved in that, I have no reason to believe that it would not be impressed by the same kind of case—all-purpose authorities for Orkney and Shetland—which impressed the House of Commons and the previous Conservative Government, though not, incidentally, the Wheatley Commission in its majority report.
The fact is that Governments are not as completely insensitive to local repre- 408 sentations as people outside often believe. The particular provisions for an all-purpose authority, which apply not only to Shetland and Orkney but also to the Western Isles, have very much to commend them. Again, I do not believe that that is something that will be seriously disturbed by the Scottish Assembly, but I cannot give absolute pledges.
I do not know why the hon. Member for Ayr is holding up his hands in horror. We have made it absolutely clear that when we devolve certain powers to the Scottish Assembly the powers will reside there. They will not be subject to day-to-day and bureaucratic interference by this Parliament, by a United Kingdom Government or by a Secretary of State for Scotland.
§ Mr. Millan
Perhaps I may complete the point.
Therefore, while there are certain matters on which I shall be able to reassure the island councils, I do not want to mislead the Committee into believing that when we reach the later clauses I shall necessarily be able to give an answer on every individual point that would be wholly satisfactory to the island councils.
I think that I have done—
§ Mr. Younger
Perhaps I may press the right hon. Gentleman on this matter. I am not asking him to accept any amendments. I am not asking him to accept any particular method of doing this. However, will he not accept that it would be extremely undesirable if the Shetland and Orkney Island Councils found that the moneys they have rightfully accumulated under present legislation could he deducted from their rate support grant, and that if that were so they would have a legitimate grievance? If the right hon. Gentleman accepts that that is a legitimate worry and says that he will try to find a way of putting the matter right, that will help a great deal. However, it is no use simply saying that the Assembly will have complete power to do what it likes.
§ Mr. Millan
I am reluctant to anticipate amendments that have not been selected for discussion. As I understand it, we shall come later to the amendments tabled by the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland, and I have no doubt that at least some of those will be selected.
We are at an early stage of the Bill. There will be a Report stage. It is not as though anything I say on this amendment is the last word that will be said on Orkney and Shetland during the whole passage of the Bill. That is by no means the situation.
All that I have done is what I understand from the original statement by the Chair to be in order. I have anticipated in general terms some of the later amendments and I have made incidental references to them. I have said that we shall discuss these matters in detail later. But I do not want to give undertakings this evening that would be misleading to hon. Members or to the islands councils as to what I might be able to say when we reach those later amendments.
§ Mr. Dalyell
While I can quite understand that my right hon. Friend cannot give any guarantee as to what an Assembly would or would not do, may I ask him this question? Is any foreseeable Assembly likely to be content not to get in its hands a grasp of at least a share of the oil revenues? Whatever Assembly there is, can it possibly be content not to have a go at getting a share of such revenues?
§ Mr. Millan
Again, that is a matter which will arise later. However, I can say now that there is nothing in the Bill, as far as I can see, which would enable the Scottish Assembly to take for itself the revenues which the Orkney and Shetland Islands Councils are obtaining under their local legislation.
§ Mr. Millan
No, because we shall be dealing with these matters in detail on specific amendments that deal with them. I am doing what I am asked to do, which is to make incidental references to them when speaking on this general amendment, which by any standard is not the kind of amendment that the Shetland and 410 Orkney Islands Councils want for this Bill.
§ Mr. Millan
No, I shall not.
I particularly wanted to conclude my speech while the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland was still able to be with us. I was about to finish my remarks by referring to the question of the referendum, because the right hon. Member mentioned it. There is a difficulty in all of this matter in deciding exactly what the people of Shetland want as compared with what the Shetland Islands Council wants.
As a parallel, from the references to the Strathclyde authority this afternoon one might have imagined that the Strathclyde regional councillors and the leadership were absolutely enthusiastic about the Bill. It happens that the leader of the Strathclyde Regional Council has all along been lukewarm to the whole question of the Assembly in Scotland, and, for that matter, there is a strong body of opinion in the COSLA generally that is, to say the least, lukewarm and in some cases positively hostile to the Bill. It is not simply a question of two particular local authorities in Scotland having reservations about the Bill. I say that to the Committee generally and particularly to those who are not Scottish Members. Some of the reservations about the Bill are shared by a large number of other local authorities in Scotland. No doubt these are matters that we shall be able to discuss later in relation to other amendments.
I was going on to say that through the referendum at the end of the proceedings we are providing an opportunity for the people of Scotland as a whole to take a decision about the question of an Assembly for Scotland. Therefore, at the end of all the debate on the Bill, when we have the Royal Assent, we shall provide an opportunity for the people who will be most directly affected by the Bill to make an ultimate decision on the Bill. It is certainly the Government's intention to put down the provisions about a referendum at a stage early enough to enable Parliament to see what is involved in the referendum and, perhaps, to judge on a number of other 411 matters, including the kind of amendment with which we are now dealing, in the context of the general referendum arrangements that will ultimately be written into the Bill.
However, on the basis of the amendment before us and on the basis that acceptance of the amendment would produce an absolute absurdity, putting
§ Shetland and Orkney into limbo, which I am sure no hon. Member wishes to do, I must ask the Committee not to accept the amendment.
§ Question put, That the amendment be made:—
§ The Committee divided: Ayes 170. Noes 189.413
|Division No. 38.]||AYES||[7.39 p.m.|
|Aitken, Jonathan||Gow, Ian (Eastbourne)||Neubert, Michael|
|Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne)||Gower, Sir Raymond (Barry)||Newton, Tony|
|Awdry, Daniel||Gray, Hamish||Oppenheim, Mrs Sally|
|Banks, Robert||Grist, Ian||Osborn, John|
|Bell, Ronald||Grylls, Michael||Ovenden, John|
|Bennett, Dr Reginald (Fareham)||Hall-Davis, A. G. F.||Page, John (Harrow West)|
|Berry, Hon Anthony||Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)||Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby)|
|Biffen, John||Hannam, John||Page, Richard (Workington)|
|Biggs-Davison, John||Harvie Anderson, Rt Hon Miss||Palmer, Arthur|
|Blaker, Peter||Hawkins, Paul||Parker, John|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Hayhoe, Barney||Percival, Ian|
|Braine, Sir Bernard||Heffer, Eric S.||Pink, R. Bonner|
|Brittan, Leon||Hicks, Robert||Powell, Rt Hon J. Enoch|
|Brocklebank-Fowler, C.||Hordern, Peter||Prior, Rt Hon James|
|Brotherton, Michael||Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)||Pym, Rt Hon Francis|
|Brown, Sir Edward (Bath)||Hunt, John (Bromley)||Raison, Timothy|
|Buchanan-Smith, Alick||Hurd, Douglas||Rees, Peter (Dover & Deal)|
|Buck, Antony||James, David||Renton, Rt Hon Sir D. (Hunts)|
|Budgen, Nick||Jopling, Michael||Renton, Tim (Mid-Sussex)|
|Bulmer, Esmond||Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine||Rhodes James, R.|
|Chalker, Mrs Lynda||Kershaw, Anthony||Ridley, Hon Nicholas|
|Channon, Paul||Kilroy-Silk, Robert||Rifkind, Malcolm|
|Clark, Alan (Plymouth, Sutton)||Kimball, Marcus||Roberts, Michael (Cardiff NW)|
|Clark, William (Croydon S)||King, Evelyn (South Dorset)||Roberts, Wyn (Conway)|
|Clegg, Walter||King, Tom (Bridgwater)||Rooker, J. W.|
|Colquhoun, Ms Maureen||Kinnock, Neil||Ross, William (Londonderry)|
|Cooke, Robert (Bristol W)||Lamont, Norman||Shelton, William (Streatham)|
|Cope, John||Latham, Arthur (Paddington)||Shersby, Michael|
|Corrie, John||Lawrence, Ivan||Silvester, Fred|
|Crouch, David||Lawson, Nigel||Sims, Roger|
|Cunningham, G. (Islington S)||Le Marchant, Spencer||Sinclair, Sir George|
|Dalyell, Tam||Lester, Jim (Beeston)||Skeet, T. H. H.|
|Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)||Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough)||Skinner, Dennis|
|Dean, Paul (N Somerset)||Lloyd, Ian||Spence, John|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James||Loveridge, John||Spicer, Michael (S Worcester)|
|Durant, Tony||Luce, Richard||Sproat, Iain|
|Dykes, Hugh||Macfarlane, Neil||Stainton, Keith|
|Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke)||Macmillan, Rt Hon M. (Farnham)||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun)||McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury)||Steen, Anthony (Wavertree)|
|Emery, Peter||Marshall, Michael (Arundel)||Stradling Thomas, J.|
|Evans, Ioan (Aberdare)||Marten, Neil||Taylor, Teddy (Cathcart)|
|Fairbairn, Nicholas||Maude, Angus||Tebbit, Norman|
|Falrgrieve, Russell||Mawby, Ray||Townsend, Cyril D.|
|Farr, John||Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin||Trotter, Neville|
|Fell, Anthony||Mayhew, Patrick||Vaughan, Dr Gerard|
|Fisher, Sir Nigel||Meyer, Sir Anthony||Viggers, Peter|
|Fletcher-Cooke, Charles||Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove)||Walder, David (Clitheroe)|
|Fookes, Miss Janet||Mills, Peter||Walker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir Derek|
|Forman, Nigel||Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)||Wall, Patrick|
|Fowler, Norman (Sutton C'f'd)||Moate, Roger||Warren, Kenneth|
|Fox, Marcus||Molyneaux, James||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Fraser, Rt Hon H. (Stafford & St)||Monro, Hector||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Fry, Peter||Moore, John (Croydon C)||Young, Sir G. (Ealing, Acton)|
|Galbraith, Hon T. G. D.||More, Jasper (Ludlow)||Younger, Hon George|
|Gardiner, George (Reigate)||Morgan-Giles, Rear-Admiral|
|Gardiner, Edward (S. Fylde)||Morrison, Charles (Devizes)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Goodhart, Philip||Mudd, David||Mr. Carol Mather and|
|Goodhew, Victor||Neave, Airey||Mr. Peter Morrison.|
|Archer, Peter||Bates, Alf||Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)|
|Armstrong, Ernest||Bean, R. E.||Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W)|
|Ashton, Joe||Beith, A. J.||Buchan, Norman|
|Atkins, Ronald (Preston N)||Bishop, E. S.||Buchanan, Richard|
|Atkinson, Norman||Boardman, H.||Callaghan, Rt Hon J. (Cardiff SE)|
|Bagier, Gordon A. T.||Booth, Rt Hon Albert||Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P)|
|Bain, Mrs Margaret||Boyden, James (Bish Auck)||Campbell, Ian|
|Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)||Bray, Dr Jeremy||Canavan, Dennis|
|Cant, R. B.||John, Brynmor||Rose, Paul B.|
|Carter, Ray||Johnson, James (Hull West)||Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)|
|Cartwright, John||Johnston, Russell (Inverness)||Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock)|
|Clemitson, Ivor||Jones, Alec (Rhondda)||Rowlands, Ted|
|Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol)||Jones, Barry (East Flint)||Silkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford)|
|Cohen, Stanley||Jones, Dan (Burnley)||Sillars, James|
|Coleman, Donald||Kaufman, Gerald||Silverman, Julius|
|Concannon, J. D.||Kerr, Russell||Small, William|
|Conlan, Bernard||Lambie, David||Smith, John (N Lanarkshire)|
|Cook, Robin F. (Edin C)||Lamborn, Harry||Snape, Peter|
|Craig, Rt Hon W. (Belfast E)||Lamond, James||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Craigen, Jim (Maryhill)||Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)||Stallard, A. W.|
|Crawford, Douglas||Lipton, Marcus||Steel, Rt Hon David|
|Crowther, Stan (Rotherham)||Litterick, Tom||Stewart, Rt Hon Donald|
|Cryer, Bob||Loyden, Eddie||Stewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham)|
|Davidson, Arthur||Luard, Evan||Stoddart, David|
|Davies, Bryan (Enfield N)||McCartney, Hugh||Stott, Roger|
|Deakins, Eric||MacCormick, Iain||Strang, Gavin|
|de Freitas, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey||McDonald, Dr Oonagh||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)|
|Dempsey, James||McElhone, Frank||Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)|
|Doig, Peter||MacFarquhar, Roderick||Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)|
|Dormand, J. D.||McGuire, Michael (Ince)||Thomas, Mike (Newcastle E)|
|Duffy, A. E. P.||Mackenzie, Gregor||Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)|
|Eadie, Alex||Maclennan, Robert||Thompson, George|
|Ellis, Tom (Wrexham)||McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C)||Thorne, Stan (Preston South)|
|English, Michael||McNamara, Kevin||Tierney, Sydney|
|Ewing, Harry (Stirling)||Madden, Max||Tinn, James|
|Ewing, Mrs Winifred (Moray)||Magee, Bryan||Tomlinson, John|
|Fernyhough, Rt Hon E.||Marks, Kenneth||Torney, Tom|
|Flannery, Martin||Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)||Tuck, Raphael|
|Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)||Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)||Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)|
|Foot, Rt Hon Michael||Maynard, Miss Joan||Wainwright, Richard (Colne V)|
|Fraser, John (Lambeth, N'w'd)||Millan, Rt Hon Bruce||Walker, Harold (Doncaster)|
|Gilbert, Dr John||Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)||Walker, Terry (Kingswood)|
|Golding, John||Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)||Ward, Michael|
|Gourlay, Harry||Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)||Watkins, David|
|Grant, George (Morpeth)||Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King||Watt, Hamish|
|Grocott, Bruce||Noble, Mike||Welsh, Andrew|
|Hamilton, James (Bothwell)||Oakes, Gordon||White, Frank R. (Bury)|
|Harper, Joseph||Ogden, Eric||White, James (Pollok)|
|Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)||O'Halloran, Michael||Willey, Rt Hon Frederick|
|Hart, Rt Hon Judith||Orbach, Maurice||Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)|
|Hatton, Frank||Orme, Rt Hon Stanley||Williams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch)|
|Henderson, Douglas||Owen, Rt Hon Dr David||Williams, Sir Thomas|
|Hooson, Emlyn||Pardoe, John||Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)|
|Horam, John||Park, George||Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)|
|Howells, Geraint (Cardigan)||Parry, Robert||Wilson, William (Coventry SE)|
|Hoyle, Doug (Nelson)||Penhaligon, David||Wise, Mrs Audrey|
|Huckfield, Les||Prescott, John||Woodall, Alec|
|Hughes, Rt Hon C. (Anglesey)||Reid, George||Woof, Robert|
|Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)||Richardson, Miss Jo||Wrigglesworth, Ian|
|Hughes, Roy (Newport)||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)||Young, David (Bolton E)|
|Hunter, Adam||Robertson, John (Paisley)|
|Irving, Rt Hon S. (Dartford)||Roderick, Caerwyn||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln)||Rodgers, Rt Hon William (Stockton)||Mr. Thomas Cox and|
|Janner, Greville||Roper, John||Mr. Ted Graham.|
|Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)|
§ Question accordingly negatived.
§ Mr. Brittan
I beg to move Amendment No. 16, in page 1, line 9, leave out 'They do not affect', and insert'Nothing in these provisions shall be construed as impairing or in any way affecting'.
No. 17, in page 1, line 9, leave out They do not affect' and insert
'Nothing in this Act shall be construed so as to affect adversely or shall detract from, harm or weaken'.
No. 20, in page 1, line 9, leave out from first 'Kingdom' to end of line 11 and insert—
'Nothing in this Act shall or shall be construed in any way to alter or diminish the territorial and constitutional identity of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, nor the sovereignty of the Monarch in Parliament in all parts of the United Kingdom, nor the supreme authority of Parliament to make laws for the United Kingdom or any part of it'.
§ No. 21, in page 1, line 9, leave out from first 'Kingdom' to end of line 11.
§ No. 22, in page 1, line 9, leave out 'do' and insert 'shall'.
§ No. 370, in page 1, line 9, leave out from 'not' to end of line and insert 'end the'.
§ No. 23, in page 1, line 9, leave out 'not'.415
No. 25, in page 1, line 9, after 'affect', insert
'adversely nor detract from, harm or weaken'.
No. 26, page 1, line 9, leave out
'the unity of the United Kingdom or'.
§ No. 27, in page 1, line 9, leave out 'or' and insert 'and'.
No. 311, in page 1, line 9, leave out from second 'Kingdom' to end and add
'but provide for the devolution of powers which shall not hereafter be subject to interference or erosion by the Government or Parliament of the United Kingdom, save with the consent of the Assemblies hereinafter mentioned'.
§ No. 435, in page 1, line 9, leave out from second 'Kingdom' to end of line 11.
§ No. 362, in page 1, line 10, leave out 'supreme'.
§ No. 29, in page 1, line 10 after 'authority', insert 'soveignty and competence'.
§ No. 363, in page 1, line 10, after 'Parliament', insert 'or European Community institutions'.
No. 30, in page 1, line 10, leave out
'to make laws for the United Kingdom or any part of it'.
No. 31, in page 1, line 10, leave out 'make laws for' and insert
'govern and legislate for and to enforce the law in'.
§ No. 32, in page 1, line 11, leave out 'or any part of it'.
No. 34, in page 1, line 11, at end add
'nor shall they alter the prerogatives, rights, duties, privileges and conventions of the Crown as the constitutional monarchy of the United Kingdom'.
No. 35, in page 1, line 11, at end insert
'and no provision, power or privilege granted in any section of the Act may be so used in a way which might in any manner affect the unity of the United Kingdom'.
No. 36, in page 1, line 11, at end insert
'or the obligations undertaken by treaty or Act of Parliament whereby the United Kingdom is bound to act or refrain from acting in certain ways'
No. 37, in page 1, line 11, at end add
'nor shall any provision of this Act be used to alter the process whereby laws are made for the United Kingdom'.
No. 481, in page 1, line 11, at end add
'nor shall they affect the government of the other constituent parts of the United Kingdom.'
§ Mr. Brittan
We are debating Amendment No. 16 and a number of related amendments. I hope that I shall be forgiven if I do not deal in detail with the other amendments, most of which seek to deal with the same problem which led us to table Amendment No. 16.
There is need for an amendment at this point in the Bill because the second sentence in the Bill contains a vital statement about the effect of the Bill, a statement which is blatantly untrue. To say that the provisions of the Billdo not affect the unity of the United Kingdom of the supreme authority of Parliamentcan only be described as a wilfully and dangerously misleading statement. It is a bland assurance that is not justified by the nature or the contents of the Bill. It is objectionable not only because it contains an untrue statement, but because it amounts to a political rather than a legislative statement. It is a pious aspiration placed in a Bill rather than put forward as a piece of law making.
In as delicate and as important an area as this, nothing could be more dangerous to include in an Act of Parliament, for purely political purposes, an expression of hope that the remainder of the Bill totally belies. The place for statements of a political kind such as that contained in lines 9 to 11 on page 1 of the Bill is the hustings, where such statements can be barracked, or in Parliament, where they can be refuted. But the place for them is not the statute book where they lie mute, misleading and dangerous for the future.
Faced with a situation where the Government have chosen to put in the Bill a statement that is untrue and of a character and nature that is wholly inappropriate in legislation, those of us who are concerned about the situation have two alternatives. What can one do? One can recognise the reality of the situation—namely, that these provisions, despite protestations to the contrary, affect the unity of the United Kingdom or the supreme authority of Parliament in a major way—and can seek to remove 417 any statement to the contrary. That is a course that has attracted some of my hon. Friends.
However, the second alternative is to attempt to amend the provision so as to assert, in a slightly more meaningful way, the unity of the United Kingdom or the supreme authority of Parliament. Having considered the matter with some anxiety and care, my right hon. Friends and I concluded that we would seek to recommend to the House to follow the second of the two courses and attempt to amend the Bill to rectify to a limited extent the statement to which we have taken objection rather than to delete it altogether from the Bill.
So far I have stressed the limited extent of the correction that is possible as a result of this amendment. I am sure that the Government will recognise that it is not possible by an amendment to a clause described as "Preliminary" to rectify the damage caused by later provisions. None the less, that does not mean that nothing is worth attempting. All along we have made clear that in our view this is a bad Bill, a Bill that we opposed on Second Reading, that we oppose in its entirety, but we seek to improve it and we think that that improvement would have a beneficial effect.
By including the wordsNothing in these provisions shall be construed as impairing or in any way affecting the unity of the United Kingdom or the supreme authority of Parliamentone would provide the courts with a canon of construction that would enable them in cases of ambiguity to interpret the clauses that appear to affect the unity of the United Kingdom or the supreme authority of Parliament in a contrary direction. Where clauses are unequivocal and make provisions which are expressed, a construction of this kind would not rectify the mischief.
But faced with a situation which we deplore, the best we can do is at least to insert in the Bill a limited provision that will enable the courts—whether the Judicial Committee or the ordinary courts considering the matter after the enactment of Scottish legislation—to make the assumption that anything that affectsthe unity of the United Kingdom or the supreme authority of Parliament418 is contrary to the wishes and intentions of the Bill unless there is an express statement that cannot be avoided. What I have said so far has been entirely based on the assertion that the Bill in its unreconstructed and unamended form affects the unity of the United Kingdom and the supreme authority of Parliament.
It is right that we should at least outline why we think it absolutely absurd to regard the Bill as not affecting the unity of the United Kingdom. I would add that the unity of the United Kingdom is not a constitutional or legal concept. It is a political one. Whether the Bill affects the unity of the United Kingdom must be a political judgment. It is not a question that can be answered by constitutional or legal niceties.
In considering whether the unity of the United Kingdom is affected we are faced by radically different proposals put forward by the Government for two of the constituent parts of the United Kingdom, Scotland and Wales. At the same time, there is a recognition in that desultory White Paper on the English regions, published in a fit of impertinence, that the changes proposed for Scotland and Wales have implications with regard to the government of England. In addition, there was a request from the Government asking us to write to say which course should be taken to deal with these implications, because the Government had not made up their minds.
Faced by a proposition of that kind, faced by proposals that are quite radical in dimension with regard to Scotland and Wales, and faced by a recognition of the consequences for England, how can anyone stand up with a straight face and say that these provisions do not affect the unity of the United Kingdom? The Government have thought fit not merely to say that the unity of the United Kingdom is essentially preserved, or not materially altered, but have actually gone so far as to say that the provisions do not affect the unity of the United Kingdom at all. That is a proposition that only has to be stated to be shown to be untrue.
Talking in a political sense, and not in any constitutional or narrow legal sense, when one looks at the powers of the Government to bring to this House Scottish Assembly legislation which they 419 regard as likely to affect the non devolved powers, surely we have a situation in which what the Government are creating is a recipe for conflict. This House will be invited to say that the Scottish Assembly must not be allowed to pass this, that, or the other piece of legislation because it impinges on the remaining powers of this House.
In view of the provisions of Clauses 45, 46 and 47 with regard to the revocation of subordinate instruments and matters of that kind, it is quite clear that one is deliberately creating an unstable situation in which Scotland will constantly be seeking to do that which this Parliament will refuse. In that situation how can one regard these provisions as not affecting the unity of the United Kingdom?
The economic aspect of the matter is one that I mentioned on Second Reading when talking about the block grant and the negotiations for it. Do Labour Members think what is proposed by this Parliament is a fair share for Scotland —whatever that may mean—and that it will not affect the unity of the United Kingdom?
The question is also raised in a starred amendment about the position and number of Scottish and Welsh representatives in this House. That is a matter on which the Bill is totally silent. Yet the Government cannot seriously pretend that it is not an important matter deriving directly from the Bill, or that it needs no consideration.
Whatever the Government might do, many hon. Members seriously believe it inconceivable that Members from Scotland and Wales should continue to come here in the same numbers and with the same power as before. The fact that voices are raised shows the disuniting effect of these provisions within the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Dalyell Will the hon. Gentleman take it from me that he is on a bad point? It is not a question of numbers. It will not make any basic difference whether there are 57 Scots, or 36, or 20, or any number one wishes. The point is that we shall come here to vote on issues for which we literally have no responsibility and for which English Members have no responsibility in Scotland. It 420 is a basic question of responsibility and not of numbers.
§ Mr. Brittan
The hon. Gentleman is quite right. His attention must have momentarily lapsed because I specifically mentioned the position and rôle of Members. I would agree that the rôle of Members is more important that the number. I am not disagreeing in any sense with what the hon. Gentleman has said. The truth is that whether one considers the question of conflict or the nature of the proposals or the composition and numbers of members, this Bill reduces the unity of the United Kingdom. To pretend the contrary is to blind oneself to the reality of the situation.
Clause 1 also refers tothe supreme authority of Parliament".No doubt hon. Gentlemen opposite will say thatthe supreme authority of Parliament to make laws for the United Kingdom or any part of itremains untouched.
No doubt the Minister would say that we could present Bills in this House, even after this Bill is passed, directly affecting the situation in Scotland and Wales and taking away these powers granted by this Bill, or powers in conflict with it, or powers to repeal this Bill, or do anything else one likes. In that sense the hon. Gentleman would no doubt say that Parliament remains sovereign. That is purely theoretical.
The reality is somewhat different. If a constitutional statement of this kind is needed it needs saying in somewhat stronger terms than this bald assertion. The reality is contained in Clause 18(2) which states:A Scottish Assembly Act may amend or repeal a provision made by or under an Act of Parliament".It is of course right that this provision applies only within the devolved areas. It is therefore correct to say that the Scottish Assembly Act can only amend or repeal a provision in those areas allotted to the Scottish Assembly.
Parliament may intervene and pass an Act which has effect notwithstanding the provisions of the Scottish Act. Parliament may override the Scottish Assembly in that sense. But then the Scottish Assembly for the second time of asking 421 can pass a Scottish Assembly Act, because it may amend or repeal a provision made by or under an Act of Parliament. That is the reality.
If the Government were intent on preserving the supreme authority of Parliament, at the very least they would have said that the Scottish Assembly could within the devolved areas pass legislation repealing Acts of Parliament passed before the Scotland and Wales Bill came into effect, but in respect of legislation purporting to govern Scotland and Wales after the passage of the Act, it must follow that that legislation is specifically designed to override the Scotland and Wales Bill, and it should not be possible for the Assembly to override that legislation.
The existence of Clause 18(2) without that qualification, technical as it may seem, illustrates clearly that it is just as untrue to say that the supreme authority of Parliament is not affected as it is to say that the unity of the United Kingdom is not affected. If the Bill goes through, it will be theoretically possible for Parliament to pass measures in the devolved areas affecting Scotland and Wales, but it will then be possible for the Scottish Assembly to pass an Act repealing that, and so on—round and round we go. The supreme authority of Parliament would indeed be affected in that way except in the very short term, and the unity of the United Kingdom would be affected in that respect as in others.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Is not that one reason why the members of the Scottish National Party are rubbing their hands with glee? That is the chemistry of conflict. The idea that a sovereign Parliament in Westminster on some sensitive subject—by definition it would be sensitive—could overrule the Scottish Assembly would be marvellous political propaganda, given the political atmosphere in Scotland.
§ Mr. Brittan
I agree entirely. The provisions of the Bill are redolent of conflict. They radically affect the unity of the United Kingdom politically, constitutionally, and legislatively. They affect the supreme authority of Parliament. To insert a provision to the contrary is legislative nonsense and a piece of humbug to which we should not be 422 a party. For those reasons I propose the amendment.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I shall not use the nasty word "humbug", as did the hon. Member for Cleveland and Whitby (Mr. Brittan), but I must ask Ministers why was it necessary to insert this provision in the first place. It is not only an untruth, it is a silly untruth, because it is palpably and obviously untrue.
I come back to the question of responsibility. The issue of numbers of Scottish M.P.s in Westminster can be confusing because the basic issue is responsibility, not numbers of M.P.s.
I have received no kind of an answer from the Secretary of State. When I am answered by Ministers I do not waste time. I am not wasting time, nor repetitious, but I wish to go back to the crucial issue of representation in the hope that I shall extract an answer from my hon. Friend the Minister of State.
As the Member of Parliament for West Lothian, under the Government's proposals I can vote on the arts in Alnwick in Northumberland but not in Armadale, West Lothian. I can vote on aerodromes at Gatwick and Heathrow but not on Edinburgh Airport. I can vote on buildings in Bath but not in Bathgate in my constituency. I can vote on the burial laws in Blackpool but not on the burial laws in Blackridge in my constituency. I can vote on the betting, bookmaking and gaming laws in Blackburn, Lancashire, but not in Blackburn, West Lothian.
I can vote under these proposals on building controls in Bolton but not in the town of Broxburn, West Lothian. I can vote on bridge maintenance regulations in Bradford but not in Bo'ness. I can vote on land use in Leicester but not in the new town of Livingston, West Lothian. I can vote on the licensing laws in Liverpool but not in Linlithgow.
§ The Temporary Chairman
Order. The hon. Gentleman is giving too many examples. It is tedious repetition.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I can of course vote on the water supply in Wigan, in your constituency, Mr. Fitch. I can vote on shop hours in Swindon in the constituency of the Whip on the Bench, my right hon. 423 Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. Stoddart) but not in the village of Stoneyburn in West Lothian.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)
If, Mr. Fitch, you are permitting the hon. Gentleman to continue, I would submit to you respectfully that if an hon. Member is repetitious purely for the purpose of wasting time in a tedious manner, that would be out of order. If the repetition is varied and covers all the possible areas of legislation, it is an essential part of the argument of an hon. Member to show by a large number of examples the validity of the case he is making.
With the greatest possible respect to you, Mr. Fitch, I seek to submit that it would not be fair to regard the argument and the manner in which the hon. Gentleman is placing it before the Committee as falling within the ambit of tedious repetition.
§ The Temporary Chairman
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for trying to guide me. I understand that this is not the first time that the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) has engaged in repetition, and it becomes tedious.
§ Sir Bernard Braine (Essex, South-East)
Far from being tedious, the hon. Gentleman was illustrating succinctly the errors perpetrated in the Bill. Far from finding what he said tedious repetition and therefore of no great value to the debate, I was finding illumination in what he said.
When English Members later seek to catch your eye, Mr. Fitch, to demonstrate that the Bill has an effect upon our legislative duties here and our responsibilities to our constituents, I hope that we shall not be accused of tedious repetition if we list one after the other the items of interest that concern us. I trust, therefore, that you will permit the hon. Gentleman to develop his argument.
§ Mr. Tom Ellis (Wrexham)
If my hon. Friend is giving a large number of examples, the issue arises—how large is "large"? If "large" includes everything, my hon. Friend could give every example he can think of, which would 424 keep the Committee sitting for the whole night.
§ Mr. Dalyell
The hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) has made many speeches in the House of Commons on issues connected with pollution and oil refineries in Essex. I, too, am concerned with pollution in the Firth of Forth and oil refinery problems, not in Canvey Island, but in Grangemouth on the Firth of Forth, where many of my constituents, living in Bo'ness, work. Under these proposals I can vote on many of the hon. Gentleman's problems in Essex, for instance, the fire service problems, he has raised over the years, but not on mine in West Lothian. I wonder for how long that is tolerable.
If you are worried about tedious repetition, Mr. Fitch, I am never repetitious when I get an answer from a Minister. The fact is that the Secretary of State for Scotland has made no attempt to reply. I do not blame him too much for that, he may not have thought it was time to do so. But until we get an answer to the question of representation, we shall go on and on repeating it, and it will become tedious. It is critical to the entire Bill.
At an early stage someone on the Front Bench must give an answer to the question of how 71 Scots, who are not responsible in Scotland for many delicate issues of politics, can influence, perhaps decisively, those very same issues in England.
It is not an answer to say that Northern Ireland has always done it because if the Welsh and Scots do it in far greater numbers, it becomes qualitatively different.
Besides, I have recollections. In 1964, 1965 and 1966 when my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson) was on the Front Bench, time and again he talked about the iniquities of Irish Members having an influence at a time when there was a waifer-thin majority of Labour Members. The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) remembers that just as well as I do.
§ Mr. Ioan Evans (Aberdare)
Does my hon. Friend recall that during those years 425 Northern Ireland questions could not be raised in the House? Northern Ireland Members were here, but we could not discuss Northern Ireland matters, so what right had they to come here and discuss matters relating to England, Wales and Scotland? It has not been stated clearly in the Bill, but that sort of situation might arise for Members from Scotland and Wales.
§ Mr. Dalyell
This is all very difficult. I am slightly fed up with the Minister of State's mutterings on the Front Bench. I would remind him that although there are skeletons in my cupboard, there are also skeletons in his. I quote from The Scotsman of 19th August 1974 which reported a powerful speech of his.Mr. John Smith, MP for North Lanark, claimed that members of the party who were pressing for devolution to a Scottish Government without the loss of the office of Secretary of State and a reduction in the number of Scottish MPs at Westminster were being dishonest."Dishonest" is the word he used—that is powerful stuff. The article goes on:A priority for the party was to retain the Secretary of State and the 71 MPs, but he expressed doubts about how this could be achieved if there was a Scottish Government. The work of the Secretary of State would be taken away from him and given to other Ministers.None of us has records entirely clean on this matter. We did not foresee in 1974 as many things as we perhaps should have foreseen.
The question of representation without responsibility has now arisen in 1977, and someone somewhere must face up to it. It will not do for the Prime Minister to come along and say, as he did on Second Reading, that this is all due to a steady development and some kind of natural, predetermined flow of history. It is nothing of the kind. Someone somewhere must tell us where the line is to be drawn and where the question of representation of 71 Scots, without responsibility, fits in.
How do the Government get around the question of the presence of 71 Scots influencing English issues for which, literally, we have no responsibility whatsoever, issues for which neither English nor Scottish Westminster MPs have responsibility in Scotland?
§ Mr. Timothy Raison (Aylesbury)
The hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) has made some extremely pertinent points, and I shall come back to them.
The first point I wish to put to the Minister is to ask for an explanation of the purport of Clause 1. What do these words mean? Are they descriptive, prescriptive or meaningless? It would help if we could have a definition from the Minister as to what exactly the clause is about.
Secondly, how does this provision affect the unity of the United Kingdom and the supreme authority of the Parliament of the United Kingdom to make laws for the whole country? My hon. Friend the Member for Cleveland and Whitby (Mr. Brittan) dealt with this very effectively. It has become more and more apparent that the Bill will have an effect on other parts of the United Kingdom outside Wales and Scotland. Furthermore, it has become more and more apparent that the effect often will be adverse, and where it is adverse it is likely to damage the unity of the United Kingdom.
Inescapably the unity of the United Kingdom depends on mutual trust and a fairness between the different parts of the country, and many people feel that this scheme for devolution will make fairness between the parts of the United Kingdom more difficult to achieve. The mere fact that the Bill does not alter the Act of Union does not mean that it does not affect that Union. It does. In particular, in affecting other parts of the United Kingdom besides Scotland and Wales, it has implications for the kind of tacit bargain on which, in the last resort, the United Kingdom rests.
It is crucial—and I regret that the Chair was not able to call an amendment put forward by one of the Scottish National Party Members—that we should consider the question of representation. It is absolutely clear that this scheme will have a major impact on the House of Commons. The point has been made repeatedly by hon. Members on both sides, and I believe that it is beginning to penetrate to the public outside. The fact is that Scottish Members will vote on and debate English, Welsh and Northern Ireland internal matters, but the opposite will not apply. While there is no change in the representation 427 or the powers of hon. Members, there is bound to be damage to the bonds on which confidence in the United Kingdom must rest.
The really shameful thing is the way in which Ministers keep quiet about this. The issue has been raised in a number of speeches in the past few weeks, and to the best of my knowledge no Minister has attempted to answer it. The reason for this is that the Labour Party likes to think that it will normally get a high proportion of the 71 Scottish Members, and it is not going to jeopardise that. This is a political truth. If the Minister fails to answer this point tonight, he will become a public disgrace. I hope that in this debate—the first opportunity we have had in Committee to look at this issue—he will take a lot of trouble to go into this matter.
The second way in which the Bill affects the totality of the Union has been referred to on a number of occasions—that is, the affect on the economic management of the United Kingdom as a whole. We have had quite a lot of discussion about the block grant and the unique opportunities that it presents for creating friction. As I said in an earlier debate, this is a question not only of the block grant but of the whole attempt to separate economic and social policy. The whole time it will lead to friction, and friction in turn will have a thoroughly adverse effect on the unity of the United Kingdom.
At the same time, the scheme will make it harder for the Government to manage the economy. My hon. Friend the Member for Cleveland and Whitby also made this point. The Government will lose control of the balance within the building programme. They will lose control of most of housing policy and of education policy. These are the instruments by which, for better or for worse, the Treasury has long sought to manage the nation's economy through the ups and downs that we have faced.
I come then to Clause 55, which deals with pay policy. This subject has not yet loomed very large in our debates, but it has a great bearing on our argument this evening. The clause states:In exercising their respective powers a member of the Scottish Executive and the Welsh Assembly shall have regard to such considerations of national pay policy as may 428 be specifically brought to his or its attention by a Minister of the Crown.In other words, this is an attempt to ensure that the central Government and the Treasury are able to keep some kind of control over pay policy as it applies to Scotland and Wales.
I hope that the Minister can tell us what is meant by "have regard to". What is the force of the phrase? I appreciate that it appears in a great many existing statutes, but I do not believe that it has any binding force. It is merely a request to the people who will run Scotland and Wales under the scheme to be decent enough to consider what the Government are trying to do in terms of pay policy.
Therefore, I ask the Minister for a categorical answer. Does that expression amount to anything more than a kind of request, or does it have compelling force? If the Minister cannot answer that, I would have liked him to send for the Attorney-General to give us an answer. However, I feel that the Attorney-General has other things on his plate at the moment, and, anyway, we might not listen very carefully to him. This point about an incomes policy is an extremely important illustration of the kind of problems we should be debating this evening.
Let me be more definite. Suppose that the Scottish Assembly or the Executive wished to pay local government workers in Scotland, or its own staff who man the Assembly, or even its own Members, more than the going rate under the incomes policy current at the time. What could the Secretary of State or the Chancellor of the Exchequer do about that? It appears to me that what they could do would be to ask the Executive whether it would mind having regard to the pay policy and to ask it to try to do in Scotland what Westminster was doing by statute, because the public sector had a statutory pay policy operating in the rest of the United Kingdom.
Therefore, what would happen? As far as I can see, the Executive would say "We will think about it and see whether we are prepared to do it." If I am wrong, the Minister will no doubt correct me. This is an important instance of the way in which the Bill will inescapably produce friction among the component elements of the United Kingdom.
429 What will happen if the Scottish Executive pays people more than the going rate? Scottish industry will follow suit because, if local government workers are getting paid more, naturally those who work in industry will want more as well. This will help to lead to the breakdown of the Government's economic policy. It will arouse great resentment in England if Scottish people are seen to be paid more than the English can be paid. I hope that the Minister will face up to this point and bear in mind the strains that this whole policy will impose.
Let me turn to a different point and refer to the speech by the hon. Member for West Lothian. He very effectively made the argument that he would be allowed to vote about education in my constituency but that I would not be allowed to vote about education in his. This is a fundamental matter which must be faced. Clause 1 says that the Bill shall not affect the supreme authority of Parliament to make laws for the United Kingdom or for any part of it. That is fine; I like that sentiment. To me it seems admirable. But what in reality would the Scots think about that. since the truth about the Bill is that legally this Parliament can continue to legislate for anything that happens in Scotland? The United Kingdom Government in London can continue, after the Bill passes into law, to operate health, housing and education services in Scotland.
There is nothing in the Bill that would take away from this Parliament the power to legislate for Scotland or take from the United Kingdom Government the power to operate in Scotland. If there is any such provision, I hope that the Minister will point it out to me. In this respect, if I may be pedantic about it, the hon. Member for West Lothian was wrong. He was right if the Government's intentions are to be put into effect. That would bring about the situation that he described so graphically. He was wrong, however, if he was referring to the law of the land as it will stand if the Bill is passed.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I have asked on several occasions that a Law Officer should be present. I see that the Lord Advocate has done us the courtesy of attending and perhaps he can clear up this point at a convenient moment.
§ Mr. Raison
I hope so. I do not claim to be a constitutionalist, but this scheme is not a sort of delegation. It does not say that certain powers will be handed over to the Assembly and the Executive and that they will operate those powers but that we can claw them back if we wish. It creates a concurrent power. It says that the Assembly and the Executive in Scotland may legislate and administer in Scotland. But at the same time the United Kingdom Parliament may continue to legislate also, if it were so minded, it could continue to administer in Scotland. There is nothing in the Bill that takes that power away from Parliament.
I hope that hon. Members who are Scottish or Welsh nationalists are aware that they are supporting a measure which leaves with this Parliament the power to legislate in Scotland and Wales. That is important.
Of course, the Government hope that there will be a convention that we will not legislate for Scotland in this Parliament. I accept that the Welsh case is different. I think that I made a slip there, because the House of Commons will continue to legislate for Wales although the Government hope that Parliament will not legislate for Scotland. I have no doubt that in dealing with this point the Government will refer to the convention that existed in Northern Ireland. I accept the point—the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) will correct me if I am wrong —that in the case of Stormont this Parliament retained the power to legislate about anything in Northern Ireland, but there was a convention that it did not do so. It may be that this would happen in Scotland, but there were special reasons why that convention could be applied in Northern Ireland. Stormont always felt that it had to keep in line with the wishes of Westminster and had to toe the line. It may be harsh, but it is true that Stormont felt that it was on a licence and had to behave. Therefore, opportunities for friction between the two were much less than they would undoubtedly be with a Scottish Assembly.
With Stormont there was also a principle of parity. I do not know the true basis of the parity principle, but I understand that it was a convention rather than a legislative requirement. Anything that 431 applied in the rest of the United Kingdom also applied in Northern Ireland and standards of provision were matched. This led to much Northern Ireland legislation being a repetition of the legislation that emanated from the United Kingdom Parliament. That will not apply in Scotland. The Scots will not want simply to reproduce what is done here and to regurgitate it in the same form. If they did, the whole thing would be a waste of time.
§ Mr. Ian Grist (Cardiff, North)
The real difference lies in the fact that Northern Ireland wished to remain part of the United Kingdom, whereas the motive force behind the Bill and the Scottish Assembly is the desire of many people for Scotland to break away.
§ Mr. Raison
There is a good deal in what my hon. Friend says, though there were certain people in Northern Ireland who were not all that keen on remaining in the United Kingdom. How can we be sure that this scheme will work in Scotland as the old Stormont scheme worked in Northern Ireland? How can we be sure that the convention will persist?
There are a number of reasons why the self-denying ordinance—or, rather, the non-ordinance since it is not expressed in any tangible form—should not apply. If the Government continue their shameless approach and get their way, there will be 71 Scottish Members in this place. No doubt many will be happy to sit and gossip in the Tea Room, but the assiduous Members will not be content to sit around and have no impact on matters affecting their country. They will consider that they have not been sent here to talk about whether there should be comprehensive education in Buckinghamshire. They will naturally want to debate matters such as education and health as they affect their constituencies.
I do not believe that 71 Members, some of whom have great energy and ability, would accept such a self-denying non-ordinance with any satisfaction. How are we to stop them from saying that they will legislate for Scotland? They will have been sent here to represent their constituents, and they will say that that is what they are going to do.
Scottish Members who win high places in the Ballots for Private Members' Bills. 432 will ask why they should not legislate for the good of the country which sent them here. There will be no legal bar to that. There may even be times when a Government will break the convention which the present Government are trying to create but which they do not have the guts to translate into a statutory form.
There are a number of circumstances in which that could happen. Sometimes governments will ask the Assembly, as they asked Stormont, whether it agrees that they should legislate on particular matters. That will present no problem. However, there may be circumstances in which the Government at Westminster will feel it appropriate to legislate for Scotland.
I wonder whether we can say that the self-denying ordinance was altogether beneficial for Northern Ireland. Many would think that one of the tragedies of Northern Ireland was that this Parliament paid too little attention to what went on there. Stormont was allowed to do things which most of us would regret because of the convention which then existed. I am not arguing that we shall see the Northern Ireland tragedy re-created in Scotland, but we have to be realistic and recognise that ugly things can sometimes happen in any part of our country. I do not believe that a convention which says that it is not the job of the central Government in Westminster to intervene when things are going wrong and sour if the matters concerned have been devolved is a convention which stands up to close scrutiny.
The Minister may say that I have been taking extreme examples to reinforce my case, but when we are making constitutional changes it is our duty to try to consider every eventuality rather than sit back complacently and say that everything will work out because everyone will show good faith.
I hope that the Minister will tell us how he thinks the convention will work and whether he believes that it is possible to operate under the sort of self-denying ordinance on which he relies. The Bill is riddled with anomalies and illogicalities and, above all, with the opportunity—indeed, something more serious than that—for friction between the countries of the United Kingdom. That situation would present a grave danger to our country.
433 8.45 p.m.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cleveland and Whitby was right in what he said about Clause 18, which provides that the Scottish Assembly may repeal or amend United Kingdom legislation. That is an extraordinary power, extending far into the future and not relating only to legislation in existence today. If we pass legislation in future on devolved matters—as I have argued, that will be possible—the Scottish Assembly can amend it.
Can anyone seriously argue that Clause 18 does not derogate from the sovereignty of this Parliament when it specifically says that an inferior body—I use the term pedantically—can change the legislation of a superior body without infringing the latter's sovereignty? That is arrant nonsense and I do not think that the Minister can prove otherwise.
This all adds up to a scheme which is pitifully flawed and full of potential dangers for the United Kingdom. It should be chucked out as soon as possible.
§ Mr. Tom Ellis
The Committee is in some confusion because of the two sorts of meaning which can be given to the words "unity" and "sovereignty". The hon. Member for Cleveland and Whitby (Mr. Brittan) talked specifically about the political and social meaning of the words. I am not a lawyer, but I should have thought that it was the legal meaning of words in a Bill that we should consider first. The word "unity", particularly since it precedes "of the United Kingdom", must have a legal meaning. Anyone who claims that the phrase is dishonest must give legal examples to substantiate his claim.
Similarly with "sovereignty"; I should have thought that this Parliament, so far as it is and has been sovereign outside the contents of the Bill, could reverse any law passed by an inferior body. Parliament might be reluctant to do so for fear of the result of the next General Election, but that is different from the absolute sovereignty in a legal sense.
§ Mr. Brittan
The hon. Gentleman has naturally assumed that because it appears in a Bill the phrase "unity of the United 434 Kingdom" must have a legal meaning. I, too, started with that assumption, but I should be grateful if he would tell me what the word "unity" means in law. I know of no meaning for it and that is one of the objections to it.
§ Mr. Ellis
I am not trying to amend the clause. It is incumbent on those who move amendments to justify them. I am not justifying the Government. I am merely responding, I hope, as an intelligent layman.
But I want to depart from the legal meaning. I should think that in a legal sense the sentence is true and if it is not meaningful, that is not unique in law. The real issue is the political meaning of "unity" and "sovereignty". Hon. Members who have spoken so far have not appreciated the extent to which legislation is now in a much weaker position than it was a hundred years ago. This is quite natural, as the Government intervene more and more in our daily lives. I could give numerous examples of the law attempting to establish a framework in which people should live and work, where the law is trying to do something which it is manifestly not competent to do.
I shall give a simple example from my experience of working in the coal industry. Legislation meticulously laid down specific rules for the support of roofs in mines, but by the mid-1960s the rules were so outmoded by technical changes that about 90 per cent. of the coal mined in this country came from mines operating under exemptions given by the local inspectors of mines, outside the law. That absurd position came about because the law was unable to cope with change.
The law is a static instrument. Hon. Members are mistaken because they regard unity in a static sense. The late Aneurin Bevan spoke of the unity of the graveyard—absolutely static. One of the most dangerous of Victorian concepts was that of permanence, a permanence based on immobility.
It is manifestly absurd to try to frame laws that attempt to put people in their place, saying "This is what you can and cannot do". That is the approach of the old authoritarianism from which the law derived its power but which is now outmoded. Increasingly we seek 435 to obtain commitment from people, and one of the first requirements for obtaining commitment is to get away from the concept of a central fount of wisdom and authority which decides the best way of governing people. Today people want to govern themselves. There are genuine technical legal problems.
The present set-up is outmoded. I could make many criticisms of the Bill, but the Government are trying to meet changing social and political conditions with a view to maintaining the unity of the Kingdom. When my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) complains that he cannot take this or that decision in his constituency, he is absolutely correct, but does he want to decide everything? Does he, for example, want to decide whether the cemetery in his village should be extended? There are all kinds of decisions which should not be taken by this House. The increasing amount of decision-making at the centre tends to be bad decision-making. To that extent I would welcome moving the decision-making machinery to lower levels.
Edinburgh may still be a long way away from the crofters in the Shetlands, but at least it is a step in the right direction. People who talk of the sovereignty of Parliament have not grasped the fact that the sovereignty of Parliament is nothing like what it was 50 years ago. Parliament is now obliged to take note of what the TUC says and does. It would be absurd if it did not. Clearly, to that extent Parliament is not sovereign in any absolute sense. It is trying to respond to political, social and economic pressures. The basic philosophical idea of what the law can and cannot do needs to be thought through by Conservative Members.
§ Mr. Ioan Evans
My hon. Friend is not following the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell), who said that in future Scottish and Welsh Members in this Parliament would be taking part in decisions that affected English Members, but not in matters relating to Wales and Scotland.
§ Mr. Ellis
I take that point. My hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian was at least reminded by the Chair that he was being tediously repetitive in draw- 436 ing attention to the things about which he was unable to make a decision. I accept what my hon. Friend the Member for Newport (Mr. Hughes) says: there is a problem, but I do not think that it is insuperable.
§ Mr. Ellis
I shall leave it to the Englishmen. I was asked by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) what the answer was. I have given an answer off the top of my head.
There are all kinds of examples of the type of establishment we are trying to set up, that are actually working. Possibly we could criticise the Government for trying to do two things in Scotland that are mutually incompatible. They are not giving a devolved structure within the framework of the traditional nation State and nor are they going to whole-hogging federalism. The two things will not work. To that extent it is possible that the Government are falling between two stools.
There is a federal structure in West Germany. It seems to be working. It does not mean that the Bonn Government does not have a certain amount of authority or that there is any lack of unity. While it is right to look at some of the legal niceties, I warn that we shall end up in a difficult position if we approach the Bill without understanding the social and political situation of the latter part of the century.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I agree that I do not run the cemeteries but under this Bill some of us are responsible for burials. That is a minor point. I had the pleasure of debating the issue of devolution with my hon. Friend at the Left Club at Luxembourg last week. We have also discussed the matter on many other occasions. He has a position that I understand, but it is different from that of the Government Front Bench, which he defends. He believes in a Europe of 50 or 60 regions of which Scotland will be one and Wales another. That is not the view, rightly or wrongly, of the Lord President or myself.
§ Lord James Douglas-Hamilton (Edinburgh West)
I should point out to the hon. Member for Wrexham (Mr. Ellis) that there is a great difference between federalism and the constitutional system put forward in the Bill. It seems that there is a definite risk that the Bill could lead to separation. I do not say that it will or that it is likely to do so. It is a distinct possibility. In the summer, when I asked the Lord President whether he would consider a referendum, he told the House that it was not the way to proceed. I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman is present tonight and that he has changed his mind. My only regret is that the referendum was not held before our proceedings here began.
One question which should be asked in a referendum is "Do you want a separate or independent Scotland?" It struck me that it would be only fair to ask the Prime Minister to place on record, for the benefit of the people of Scotland, what the consequences of independence might be so that the Scottish electorate might know exactly the nature of its choice. Accordingly, I wrote to the Prime Minister on 30th November asking a number of simple questions about the possible consequence of Scottish independence, to which I felt quite sure he would be able to give me a full and detailed answer.
I asked, for example, whether Scotland would need a separate currency, with customs posts at the border with England. I asked what would be the cost in Scotland of creating a separate army and maybe an air force and fulfilling Scotland's share of our NATO commitments and our commitments in Northern Ireland, what would be the cost in an independent Scotland of purchasing all defence installations there and what would be the cost for Scotland of providing embassies in each foreign country in the world and a legation in Brussels and at the United Nations. I also asked whether there would be increased unemployment in Scotland as a result of the loss of investment from British and international 438 companies. Would there be any guarantee that Scotland could join the EEC on its own terms, asking for representation of a greatly increased nature?
I asked whether there would be a lower standard of living in Scotland as a result of the loss of grants and subsidies from the United Kingdom Parliament. Would United Kingdom Government Departments and defence contracts go south? Would this cause further job losses? Would Scotland have to maintain its present social services through increased taxation? Would Scotland be responsible for Dounreay atomic power station? What would be the cost of its purchase? Would there be endless negotiations between Scotland and the other parts of the United Kingdom in respect of Scotland's share of the National Debt, and what would that share amount to today? Would there be endless negotiations between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom about the oil revenues which should go to Scotland?
My letter continued:Which oilfields would fall in the Scottish and English sectors of the North Sea respectively in the event of Scottish independence? Would there be endless negotiations with Orkneys and Shetlands about ceding to them the massive oilfields close to their shores, and would these islands receive independence? Would there be endless negotiations with the rest of the United Kingdom about compensation to be paid by Scotland to other British taxpayers for the millions of pounds spent in creating the British National Oil Coporation?I am sure the Committee will agree that those were 13 straightforward simple questions. I waited fascinated to see what reply the Prime Minister would give.
On 23rd December I learned that the Prime Minister has delegated this matter to the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, the hon. Member for Stirling, Falkirk and Grangemouth (Mr. Ewing), whose reply was the most unusual reply I have ever received from any Scottish Office Minister. The hon. Gentleman failed to answer 12 out of the 13 questions. Apart from saying that there was no question of Scotland joining the EEC on its own terms, he refused to say what the consequences of independence for Scotland might be. In short, he refused to say what any of those consequences might be in the event of separation.
439 The hon. Gentleman, giving a most interesting reason, said thatthere would be no merit in the Government making contingency plans… which is regards as neither likely nor desirable.Everyone in this Chamber knows that the Government have preserved the independent nuclear deterrent, even though they regard nuclear war as neither likely nor desirable. They do so as part of a contingency plan to deter aggression. We all know that the Government have decided to ensure that nuclear waste at Windscale should not be processed before there has been an inquiry, although they regard radioactive contamination as neither likely nor desirable. However, they have instituted the inquiry as part of a contingency plan to ensure safety.
In the same way the Minister regards Scottish independence as neither likely nor desirable, but he refuses to make any contingency plans or to state what the possible consequences of independence might be. He gives the interesting reason thatthose who advocate independence do not speak with one voice as to its form or implications. I think it is for them to say how your questions might be answered.That is doing precisely what the Unionists do not want. The Minister's refusal to state what the possible consequences of independence might be confers an aura of authority on the Scottish National Party. I suggest that the Bill might lead to independence and that that possibility is increased by the refusal of the Government to spell out to the electorate the possible consequences of independence. When the Government profess to believe in open government it is essential that these possibilities should be spelt out loudly and clearly to the Scottish people.
It is extraordinary that the Government should refuse to answer these questions when a referendum has been promised, unless they are planning to have no question on the issue of separation, about which many of us would feel extremely unhappy.
§ Mr. W. Benyon (Buckingham)
Does my hon. Friend accept that I could have written to the Prime Minister asking almost all those questions, substituting England for Scotland?
§ Lord James Douglas-Hamilton
Yes. Indeed, the percentage of those who want separation in England is virtually identical to the percentage of those who want separation in Scotland. In both cases it is very small. I hope that it will remain small.
If the Government refuse to state the possible consequences of independence, they might strengthen the possibility of the Bill leading to separation. I support the amendment as a necessary safeguard.
§ Mr. Buchan
I am in difficulty with the general gist of the amendments because, like the clause, they represent a pious expression of hope about the retention of the unity of the United Kingdom. No amendment, however strong, that insists that it is designed to maintain the unity of the United Kingdom will of itself maintain that unity. The only unity that will be maintained is that of the political world.
On the one hand, it is suggested that inconsistencies will develop and, on the other, that uncertainty is created by the alternatives of separatism and federalism. But the real difficulty is that the status quo option is no longer open. I have never regarded it as a desirable option. I have been in the House 12 years and its function is not comparable with the laws of the Medes and the Persians, or particularly efficient.
The status quo is not an option for another reason. The issue having been raised, it would be infinitely more dangerous now were the Bill not to proceed. That option is not on. The most dangerous possibility of all is if these proposals become bogged down in the House. That would finally prove the ineptitude of Westminster in the minds of large numbers of people in Scotland and Wales.
The pietistic expressions of unity embodied in the amendments neither meet the case in relation to the political world nor in relation to the particular situation that we face. We have reached a time when the option of the status quo is no longer open.
Much has been said in the past hour about the anomalies that will arise. My hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) and others have argued 441 with force about the ability of Scottish hon. Members to discuss policy for Buckinghamshire or Merseyside when they are not able effectively to discuss education in Scotland or West Lothian. I accept that there are anomalies, but if he examined the present workings of the British constitution no sane man would believe that this thing worked. But we all know that it does. Winston Churchill once said that ours was the worst possible form of government until one examined all the others.
If a group of people had tried to draw up changes at almost any point in our political history they would have said the same as us. The system works because the political will and tradition is there to make it work. That means not that the situation here is perfect but that it works with all the manifest anomalies and incongruities that exist. The basis of the argument is largely not people-centred or based on the requirements of the community, but MP-centred and based on the problems that we face.
§ Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)
My hon. Friend quoted Churchill saying that ours was the worst form of government but that it worked. Why does he, like the Government, want to change the form of government and create a worse situation than exists at present with no guarantee that it will work?
§ Mr. Buchan
I thought that the first five minutes of my speech was expressing exactly why I thought that this would have to be changed, when I said that the option of the status quo was not open.
§ Mr. Buchan
I said that it was not open and that that was my judgment. I do not speak with the voice of God, whatever my hon. Friend may do. I can give only my own judgment, and in my judgment that option is not open. I thought that I was extremely clear about it.
§ Mr. Raison
The hon. Gentleman has talked about acceptable anomalies. He said that there were anomalies but that they were acceptable. Will he say 442 honestly to the Committee what would be his view if it were the case that English Members of Parliament could vote about education, health, housing and so on in his constituency and he could not vote about ours? Would he actually regard that, honestly, as an acceptable anomaly?
§ Mr. Buchan
I did not say that that situation was acceptable. What I said was that anomalies would exist as anomalies have existed here. They have been overcome because the political will to make the place work has existed. I am not saying that that anomaly in the long run will be acceptable.
I give the hon. Gentleman his argument and say that I cannot see my way forward in this matter. I give him another argument! I cannot see my way forward on the argument developing about the number of Scottish Members, and possibly Welsh Members, in this Parliament. In the long run, we shall have to face up to those two questions. I accept that.
§ Mr. Dalyell
My hon. Friend is making a characteristically candid and interesting speech. However, let him take this anomaly on board. Is it right that he should be able to vote for licensing laws in Liverpool, Walton and in Crosby, but not in his own Linwood or in my Linlithgow?
§ Mr. Buchan
Again, I thought that I dealt with that in giving another example when I referred to education. Perhaps I may give another example. Let us have a real example. How much more anomalous is it that we have a democratic structure in this country and we elect Members of Parliament and they make decisions in the House of Commons, and then we leave it to the House of Lords to change those decisions for us? Who in planning a democratic structure would have devised that? It has, however, lasted a very long time, and it has worked—although I want to change it. I want to drop it, although it has certainly worked.
§ Mr. Ioan Evans
Surely if my hon. Friend wants to deal with the machinery of government, the way to do that is to deal with the machinery of this place and of the other place rather than to pass a Bill that has all the dangers of creating tremendous disunity in Britain.
§ Mr. Buchan
Until the last half of my hon. Friend's interjection I was in agreement with him. It is precisely because I accord a high priority to reforming this place, for which he asks, that I think that the Bill matters, because anything that spreads democracy outwards is useful.
I give the following argument. I do not think that this kind of horizontal devolution is the most important kind of devolution. We know a much more important kind. A vertical devolution of power from the big businesses and monopolies down to workers on the shop floor is a far more radical democratic development than the Bill. However, no one has yet presented me in the House of Commons with the opportunity of achieving that. I hope that the Front Bench will learn from this democratic expression of our constitutional mechanism and will try to introduce some democracy into capitalism, which dominates our political considerations. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) agrees with me on that matter even before he puts it to me. I have raised the question and given the answer.
I do not think that this form of devolution is the most important thing, but it matters. I should like to see devolution taking place downwards and giving more power to ordinary people, the decentralisation of administration as well as decision-making, and the democratic control of that decentralised administration being given to the people whom it directly affects.
There is another argument, although I hesitate to use it because undoubtedly it will be twisted and sullied by SNP Members. I believe that there is such a thing as national identity. My hon. Friend the Member for Walton feels it strongly. He is a good English nationalist, not a chauvinist like SNP Members. He is proud of his Englishness. There is a powerful sense of identity. I believe that the sense of national identity is the solvent that allows us to operate our democratic institutions. It is a sense of belonging that is there whether we like it or not. That is another reason for the option of doing nothing not being open to us.
§ Mr. Heffer
Just for the record, and in order to get matters absolutely straight, I am an Englishman and not an English nationalist. I abhor nationalism in any form. I believe that in the existing circumstances it can be extremely anti-progressive.
§ Mr. Buchan
As I applied the term to my hon. Friend, I was using a small "n". If my hon. Friend prefers the word "patriot", that is a word that I should prefer to use. As a qualification I said that my hon. Friend was not a chauvinistic nationalist.
The other option is federalism, which may be said to be the rational and same way of dealing with the situation. That may be said except for one thing that I believe to be insuperable. As Wales does not wish to go so far along the devolution road as Scotland, we should have, basically, a federal structure of two nations, a nation of 5 million people and a culmination of two nations of 50 million people. That would be a ratio of 10:1.
I do not believe in that sort of polarisation. I do not believe that we can have a federal structure that has a one to one system of centres of power, one in Scotland and one in England, and a population differential involving a ratio of 10:1. A federal structure can work when there are a dozen States, or 51 States, as in the United States. It might be possible, although I doubt it, in Czechoslovakia, where there are two basic nations. There is a dictator and there is someone a little further east to help to keep things together, but that is not a comparable situation. I do not believe that a population ratio of 10:1 could be solved by any juggling within a federal structure to produce equity between the two centres of power—for example, giving Scottish members 10 votes for every single vote of the English members.
We have to deal with these difficulties if, as I wish, we are to preserve the unity of the United Kingdom. There are many difficulties in introducing this sort of Bill. I accept that it is shot through with anomalies in the same way as most democratic institutions in the world are shot through with anomalies. However, they are made to work because there is the political will that that should happen. We must assist matters as far as we can by 445 reducing the anomalies, but I do not believe that it will be possible to achieve perfection. If we ever achieve perfection and I live in a Utopia, I shall be the first to rebel against it.
§ Mr. Russell Johnston (Inverness)
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way as I am aware that I have only just entered the Chamber. I was taking account of his argument about federalism and his defence of it. If he says that the Government's proposal is shot through with inequities—
§ Mr. Johnston
Very well, anomalies. We must accept that whatever proposal is produced will be liable to that risk. Why is it that the hon. Gentleman somehow expects a federal proposal, which at the end of the day is always basically a compromise between nationalist-separatist pressures and a desire to remain within a larger community, to be completely clear of anomalies? I do not understand that.
§ Mr. Buchan
The difference is that that basic concept cannot be balanced in any way whereas the devolution of power, despite a whole number of minor aspects, can be made to work. I believe that the whole concept of the other option, given the imbalance to which I have referred, cannot be made to work. That is the point that I am making.
§ Mr. Gwynfor Evans (Carmarthen)
The hon. Gentleman is dealing with a number of alternatives. Would he care to comment on the Yugoslavian model?
§ Sir Bernard Braine
The hon. Gentleman said that Yugoslavia was an interesting model. I hope that he will go on to say that it is hardly a satisfactory model for people of British mettle.
§ Mr. Buchan
It is nothing to do with our being British, but with something else. It is nothing to do with birth, and it is a nonsense to suggest that it is. There is a difficult situation in Yugoslavia because there are many tensions between the States in Yugoslavia. One has there six States and five nations—or perhaps it is six nations and five States. After all, 446 there are plenty of inadequacies in the democratic structure, but certainly there are large elements of authoritarianism in Yugoslavia. I prefer open democracy, with all its warts.
I want to deal with another interesting phenomenon contained in the list of amendments. Inevitably, it involves the SNP—but even more the ultra-nationalist party, the Scottish Labour Party.
I was interested to see that Amendment No. 311 relating to page 1, line 9, seeks to provide that devolution of powers should not be changed in future. It surprised me that that amendment did not seek to delete the earlier part of the provision. That seems to be accepting the retention of the government of Scotland and Wales as parts of the United Kingdom. I cannot understand why the dog did not bark on that phrase. Has the SNP given up the demand for separation? Of course not. It means that SNP Members wish to achieve separation by stealth.
I hope that they will not advance the old argument that they want to remain part of the United Kingdom because James VI became King of Scotland and England in 1603. That is an historical nonsense, because it was never called the United Kingdom in those days. It was called the Kingdom of Great Britain, France and Ireland. I hope that they are not trying to revert to that point. There are a lot of difficulties in that concept, even though de Gaulle is dead.
What is more interesting is the separatist position of the Scottish Labour Party which is related to Amendment No. 24.
§ The Temporary Chairman
The hon. Gentleman must not refer to Amendment No. 24, which is not selected.
§ Mr. Buchan
I apologise, Mr. Fitch. I was intending to make only passing reference to that amendment. Members of the Scottish Labour Party wish to insert the words "at present" to ensure that Scotland and Wales shall be part of the United Kingdom only at present. We now have set down clearly for the first time their intention to create an independent Scotland.
Another SLP amendment, No. 363, seeks to insert the concept of the authority of European Community institutions. 447 I remember the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sillars) campaigning vigorously against the EEC and the Common Market, but he and his colleagues now wish to write into the Bill the authority of the EEC institutions. That is an astonishing turnabout. Scottish Labour Party Members suggest that Scotland should not be separate from the United Kingdom because we shall be in the Common Market. Therefore, they are not taking up a nationalist point of view, but they want a separate Scottish presence in the EEC.
I would respectfully suggest that this is a dishonest group of amendments. One cannot have Scottish representation as a State without first applying for such membership and one cannot apply for such membership until Scotland first becomes an independent State. Therefore, these amendments—even more clearly than some of the curious speeches at its conference last weekend—makes it abundantly clear that the Scottish Labour Party is more "ultra" than the SNP in its separatist position.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Walton, I am a British patriot with regard to the EEC. I do not want to see it extended any more. The amendments are a nonsense and are dishonest in the sense of trying to achieve the argument for independence without first arguing the case for independence. They should therefore be rejected.
Similarly, I would plead with hon. Members opposite that they will not achieve the unity of the United Kingdom by pious expressions of hope. We can do so only by the political will of our people and the development of institutions—however imperfect—according to the will of the people of this country. That is all we can rest on for the future, as has been done in the past.
§ Mr. Benyon
I listened with certain dry amusement to the speech of the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan). For several months last Session I served on the same Committee as the hon. Gentleman listening to him telling us, the English Members, how we should reorganise the law on agricultural tenancies in England. If ever there was an example of power without responsibility, that was it. I was not surprised 448 to hear what the hon. Gentleman said at the beginning of his speech.
§ Mr. Buchan
The hon. Gentleman will remember that I was trying to achieve for England what I personally helped to achieve for Scotland eight years ago. I was trying to extend my benevolent despotism into England.
§ Mr. Benyon
It is clear from what the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) eloquently said in this debate, as well as the previous one, that when one gets people in this position one is operating in a situation of power without responsibility—to quote Earl Baldwin,The prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages ".We shall have a good example of political harlotry when the Bill goes through Parliament.
The last debate concerned Orkney and Shetland. I mean no disrespect to the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) when I say that he represents 26,000 constituents in this House. I represent nearly 100,000 constituents. That is the scandalous nature of the point we are discussing in these amendments.
I shall quote Clause 1 to the Minister and ask him a simple direct question. The clause states:The following provisions of this Act… do not affect the unity of the United Kingdom or the supreme authority of Parliament to make laws for the United Kingdom or any part of it.Let us take a specific case. One of the devolved subjects will be housing. Will the Minister tell me whether, if the Bill becomes an Act, this Parliament at Westminster will legislate for housing in Scotland? None of us believes that that could possibly be true. Therefore, what does the clause mean?
I and many of my constituents find it completely scandalous and unacceptable, as my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) has said, that Members for Scottish constituencies should be able to come here and vote in respect of our education, health and housing whereas we shall have no say at all concerning those subjects in Scotland.
We are fully aware of the political implications. Only once since the war 449 has there been a Socialist majority in England. We do not know what the future holds, but surely the Secretary of State can understand the fury and anger that would be aroused if, for the sake of argument, we had a Socialist or Scottish National Scotland and a Conservative England and English aspirations were thwarted by Scotland.
Hon. Members who took part in the previous debate will have heard the term "self-determination" used. It is redolent of the 1930s. I half expected the word to be followed by talk of plebiscites, not referenda. If it is right for Scotland to have self-determination, it is right for England to have it. If it is wrong for Scotland to have self-determination, it is equally wrong for England to have it. If it is right for Scotland to vote in a referendum, it is equally right for England to vote in a referendum on the future of the United Kingdom.
What will affect the unity of the United Kingdom is money, not matters of policy or ethnic questions. Money is always the stumbling block. The new Assembly will latch on to the financial provision. That is what will affect unity. People argue about policy and differ on it, but money is a different matter. The basic platform of all movements for separation, past and present, is economic and financial, not political.
As the hon. Member for West Lothian said, what has to be considered is representation. If Amendment No. 311, in the name of the Scottish National Party, were passed, the hon. Gentleman's position if he were re-elected under those arrangements would be worse than it is under the Bill. He would be here simply to deal with Imperial questions. That he and his colleagues would find that conducive to the sort of life they have been leading up to now is highly unlikely.
There is only one solution, which is to start again. There is still time for all the parties involved to sit down together to try to reach agreement on a policy that will meet the aspirations of Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England as a whole. I believe that that is possible. That is why I hope that the Bill will not pass into the light of day. Let us start the process again and reach a sensible solution.
§ Mr. William Hamilton
I am a simple fellow and I want to ask the Government a simple question which can be answered in one word. What difference would it make to the Bill if the clause were left out? May I have an answer? There must be a simple answer. Would it make any difference to the Bill if the clause were omitted?
§ Minister of State, Privy Council Office(Mr. John Smith)
Is my hon. Friend saying that if I answer his point now, he will not continue to speak?
§ Mr. Hamilton
I do not give guarantees like that. I have tried, as I have read this legislation, to get rid of some of the verbiage. In this clause we have no more than a declaration of intent. One would not mind that so much if it had some passing acquaintance with the truth. It does not even have that merit—it is blatantly untruthful.
My philosopher Friend the hon. Member for Wrexham (Mr. Ellis) philosophised about the unity of the United Kingdom, and he presumed that it was a legal concept, but did not explain what he meant by that. The Government must explain, yet I see that we have no legal representative on the Front Bench. However, judging by recent events we should not be much better off if we had.
What exactly do the Government mean in this regard? Is there any precedent for a declaration of intent in the Preamble of a Bill such as this? I cannot think that it would have the force of law—it is just what the Government hope will happen.
Whom are they trying to placate or deceive by putting in this clause? What do we mean in this House by the unity of the United Kingdom? I think we mean, in part, that this House is sovereign for legislation for what is generally recognised as the United Kingdom. All the different parts of the United Kingdom —the regions—come within the legislative authority of this House, and that is what I mean by unity.
§ Mr. Tom Ellis
Would not my hon. Friend agree that a suitable definition of "unity" is that citizens of the United Kingdom simply have a loyalty to the Crown?
§ Mr. Hamilton
My hon. Friend can count me out of that. Later I shall be 451 suggesting an additional power for the Scottish Assembly to declare Scotland a republic, and I shall be interested to see the response I get to that. If we are expanding democracy, downwards, upwards, outwards and inwards, and all over the place, it is possible that the Scots might have a different view of certain of our institutions.
They are not to have a second Chamber under this Bill. Why not? The Scots have not been consulted. This might be put as a question in the referendum. In fact, the referendum question could be posed in the terms of Clause 1 in an interrogatory form—"Do you think that the Government's proposals will affect the unity of the United Kingdom?" We shall see what the Scots have to say about that. I know that the Scottish National Party accepts that. The second question could be "Do you think these proposals will affect the supreme authority of Parliament?" The answer to each of these questions is undeniably "Yes"
Why do the Government insist in putting untruths on the statute book in this way? In my constituency party we have 452 been debating the implications of the implementation of these provisions.
In Fife, Central there will be not one but three Members of Parliament at least. I go to my monthly meeting regularly. In future the question will arise whether we should have a rota system for those meetings. Will one Member go one month, another the second, with the third attending the month after? Or will all three of us go each month?
Will each of us have different fields of responsibility? My position in relation to my constituency and my electorate as well as to this House will be different from what it is now. There will be friction between us and that will harm the unity of the United Kingdom [HON. MEMBERS: "No".] Of course it will.
Those two Members sitting in the Assembly in Scotland will be saying "We want more money from you at Westminster. What are you going to do about it when you get to Westminster, Willie Hamilton?" There will be friction where none has existed before, and for the Government to write into the Bill that there will be none is a nonsense.
§ Mr. Harry Ewing
I wonder whether Alan McClure has never asked my hon. Friend whether he will make representations to the Westminster Government for more money. My understanding is that this is a common practice of regional and district councils.
§ Mr. Hamilton
Of course he has, but under these proposals he will be asking not only me, but all members of the Assembly. He will be asking threefold and therefore the friction will be threefold. There can be no doubt that this friction is likely to develop because of these measures. Clause 1 makes an absolute nonsense and is an insult to the intelligence of hon. Members.
§ Mr. Emlyn Hooson (Montgomery)
The hon. Gentleman has not addressed his mind to the proper question here. He asked what he could do if representations were made to him. The answer is that the sovereignty still lies here because the next Parliament could reverse the whole package if it wanted to, and that is the real test of sovereignty.
§ Mr. Hamilton
I am saying only that we are putting in increased possibilities of friction. That is what most of this debate has been about. If there is another legislative Assembly, the area of conflict is bound to be extended. We saw the example of Stormont and the Northern Ireland Members here. That example has been cited many times. I can remember when there was a Bill before the Scottish Grand Committee on housing rents in Scotland. One or two Members from Northern Ireland were conscripted—I believe that that is the correct word to use—on to our Committee. They were voting on the subject of increased rents for Scottish housing.
§ Mr. Buchan
I think that I am correct in saying that any vote taken at the end of the Scottish Grand Committee is not an effective vote on the Bill. The effective vote on the Bill remains with this House.
§ Mr. Hamilton
Yes, and those Northern Ireland Members could still vote on it here. My point is that those Northern Ireland Members were looked upon with great hostility by the Labour Party. We found it indefensible that they should be 454 voting on that kind of thing while we could not ask even a Question here about housing policy in Northern Ireland. That situation will be repeated exactly with the Scottish Members here.
The more powers that are given to the Assemblies in Scotland and Wales, the less defensible will it become for 71 Scottish Members and 36 Welsh Members to sit here. They will be voting and talking on legislation and policies affecting England when the English Members will be unable to interfere in matters concerning Scotland and Wales.
I would find it impossible to defend the continued existence of 71 Scottish hon. Members in this Parliament if the powers in the Bill were granted to a Scottish Assembly. The Government envisage that the measures will not affect the unity of the United Kingdom. But it will inevitably upset the balance in the Westminster Parliament and create increased friction, not only between the Assemblies, but between representatives in the Assemblies and within parties.
The matter has been discussed with interest in my constituency and another possibility considered. What would happen if a General Election almost coincided with elections for the Assemblies and party manifestos had to be published? There would have to be a party manifesto for Scotland and another for England. In my constituency there would be two members in the Assembly and one Member in Westminster. The Labour Party at Transport House might take a different view about rents or housing subsidies in England from that in Scotland. I should have to keep off platforms in Scotland or say "You belong to a different party from me." Many people in the Labour Party find that depressing. Not only would divisions be created in the House, but the party would be divided, and that would be a sad day for politics.
The Tory Party would also be divided. I hear an hon. Member on this side say that we are divided now, but we have all contributed to that. We are creating difficult circumstances and making it hard for hon. Members to present a common front because policies could be so different. The problems in Scotland 455 are different from those in England. To divide working people because of a line on a map is completely indefensible. I suspect that the Leader of the House knows that, which is why he is a reluctant advocate of the Bill.
The hon. Member for Cleveland and Whitby (Mr. Brittan) mentioned Clause 18. Subsection (2) says:A Scottish Assembly Act may amend or repeal a provision made by or under an Act of Parliament.That appears to make the Scottish Assembly sovereign to Parliament. If Parliament saw that happening and did not want it to happen, Parliament could repeal the repeal. So there would be a vicious circle of friction created by battle on the legislative field between the elected Assembly and the sovereign Parliament here.
I cannot see any sense in that provision and unless the Government can give an assurance about what it means, it would be better left out altogether.
§ Mr. Powell
This is a remarkable clause to which the amendment has been moved. The hon. Member for Renfrew-shire, West (Mr. Buchan) described it generously as a pious expression of hope, but the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) was nearer the mark when he said that it was a statement of an untruth. It is a clause which has a considerable history. It is a sad history, but it is instructive and it is perhaps worth a few minutes of the time of the Committee to take a backward glance.
That history happens to be related to Ireland, but it is only in Ireland that this country has hitherto attempted the experiment of legislative devolution within the United Kingdom. It is little surprise, therefore, that the example should be taken thence and that there should already have been so many references in our debates to the experience of the House in attempting to legislate for a form of devolved government in Northern Ireland.
The Home Rule Act, which was passed in 1914 under the Parliament Act 1911, carried in its forefront a bold statement which was the vigorous forefather of the strange and puny infant which is Clause 1 of this Bill. The 1914 Act said: 456Notwithstanding the establishment of the Irish Parliament or anything contained in this Act, the supreme power and authority of the Parliament of the United Kingdom shall remain unaffected and undiminished over all persons, matters, and things in Ireland and every part thereof.What Imperial confidence breathed in those assured words, couched though they were in the future tense and not in the indicative tense of Clause 1. But it was not to be. Six years, one world war and a civil war—the less vicious part of a civil war—later, this House of Commons passed the Government of Ireland Act 1920, described asAn Act to provide for the better Government of Ireland.That Act almost repeated the same clause, but there were differences. Instead of being the first clause, it was Clause 75—the last clause.
There was another change, too. The reference to:the supreme power and authority of the Parliament of the United Kingdomhad had two words omitted and becamethe supreme authority of the Parliament of the United Kingdom".This House had discovered that, though it might assert its authority to legislate and tell itself that it had the power to pass laws and make assertions, it did not have the power necessarily to carry them out unless the will of those to whom the laws were to be applied was present.
The 1920 Act divided the Home Rule Act into two and set up two Parliaments, so that it was notwithstanding the setting up of two Parliaments, as well as a hypothetical Parliament for the whole of Ireland, that the assertion was repeated in the 1920 Act. The southern three-quarters never came into existence; not merely the power, but the authority of this House did not extend so far. Reluctantly for the people of Northern Ireland, the northern quarter did come into force, and Section 75 of the 1920 Act became part of what we called the Stormont constitution.
Through all its years it was true, as Parliament had asserted, that this House had supreme authorityunaffected and undiminished over all persons, matters, and things in Northern Ireland and every part thereof.457 But what happened in those 50 years? This House, glad to wash its hands of a troublous Province and also, no doubt, moved by the consideration that, having devolved authority, it should interfere as little as possible, established the convention that this House would not concern itself with administration, ask questions or raise debates, but rather abstained from the legislation which was undoubtedly within its competence upon a wide range of matters which had been placed within the power of the Northern Ireland Government.
Thus, for the best part of 50 years this House, which had the supreme authority and which, because it had the supreme authority, must therefore have had the supreme responsibility—for if one possesses authority, one must be responsible for what happens when one exerts one's authority and when one does not exert it—enjoyed—not quite the old slogan but—the assertion of authority without responsibility. Two generations of parliamentarians passed through this House ignorant, because they were not required to know, of the affairs of a Province for which this House was supremely responsible, until the time came when this House did exert its supreme authority by abolishing the 1920 Act and wiping out of existence the Stormont constitution.
There is a lesson here for this House in respect to this Bill. The lesson is that one cannot really have authority if one does not exercise it and exercise it continuously. The mere incursion of legislative authority once every 10, 15, 20 or 50 years into a certain situation is not the exercise of parliamentary responsibility: it is almost an act of tyranny, it is an arbitrary act.
The manner in which this House exercises its authority and responsibility for the United Kingdom is that it keeps continuous watch "over all persons, matters and things" within the same. It calls Ministers to account daily upon the different Departments of Government. In the Committees of this House it examines what is happening in all the spheres of life. So of course, when it comes to exercise its legislative power, it does so from that position of continuous contact and knowledge which alone creates the texture of responsibility.
458 There is—I am sure that this will go particularly to the heart of the Lord President—a mirror image in this country's situation in respect of European Economic Community. Her Majesty's Government, particularly the previous Government, rejoiced to assert that, since this House can always repeal the 1972 European Communities Act, therefore this House has not lost its sovereignty and everything remains as it was before.
But in fact we know that, day by day, every day that we do not repeal or amend the 1972 Act, matters are dealt with outside the control of this House—indeed, outside the knowledge of this House—so that the assertion of sovereignty becomes so empty that it could eventually be given effect only by what would in reality be a revolutionary act.
The Lord President more than any other right hon. or hon. Member knows perfectly well in that context the truth of my statement that there can be no parliamentary sovereignty without the intense, continuous and authoritative application of this House to the matters over which sovereignty is to be exercised. There is no such thing as occasional sovereignty exercised in practice only between long intervals of purely theoretical, unexercised sovereignty.
Now apply that to this Bill. What we can—
§ It being Ten o'clock, The CHAIRMAN left the Chair to report Progress and ask leave to sit again.
§ Committee report Progress.