§ Again considered in Committee.
§ Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.
§ Mr. Powell
Apply that principle to the Bill. If the Bill is passed, what will happen will be that this House will refrain from concerning itself with those matters that are devolved in their separate ways to Scotland and to Wales. They are not matters that it will permit itself 459 to debate. They are not matters about which we shall find we can ask Questions. We shall be told that responsibility for answering an hon. Member's Question lies elsewhere. And so, year after year, there will evolve legislation and administration in the case of Scotland, and administration in the case of Wales, which will gradually grow away—otherwise, what is the point of what we are doing?—from law and administration in the rest of the United Kingdom. In the end, the point will come when it is impracticable, and when everyone will see that it is impracticable, to exercise that undoubtedsupreme authority of Parliament to make laws…for any partof the United Kingdom. The reality of that authority will, of the necessity of what we are doing, have been so eroded from within that this will be a mere hollow statement of something that is contradictory to the very intentions and implications of the Bill.
In the debate last night, the Lord President referred to the 'exception which proves the rule', as my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) called it, of the Stormont Parliament. With somewhat the triumph of a successful conjurer who knows that there are some in the audience who know the trick, but, he hopes, not too many—with such a gesture, the Lord President declared that here was an example of what hon. Members were saying would be impossible under the Bill—namely, to have Members from Scotland and Wales coming to this House in undiminished strength after the Bill was passed, and yet devolved government and devolved legislation being carried on perfectly happily in those countries.
Of course, the right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly—but it had better be put on record again—what are the reasons why that is the exception that proves the rule, an exception which, once the anomaly—lived with more or less happily, more or less unhappily, for some 50 years—has been terminated, cannot be re-created deliberately in the face of its anomalous nature, any more than we, with our eyes open, can do the anomalous thing that we are being invited to do in the Bill.
The reasons are twofold. The first is that devolution was not, as the Prime Minister said was the case in this Bill, 460 devolution to a nation. It was devolution to a Province of the United Kingdom, the majority of whose inhabitants were determined on one thing more than anything else, in preference to anything else, namely, that they would remain part of the United Kingdom. In pursuance of that they would not, even in the smallest matters if they could avoid it, diverge from the law, the taxes and practices of the rest of the United Kingdom. This is a background not merely different from but at the opposite extreme to the reasons why devolution is taking place to the so-called or real—we shall see—nations of Wales and Scotland.
The other reason—in a sense the hon. Member for Fife, Central touched on it —is that the numbers were so small that until recently there was never a case when major matters, the life and death of the Government, were decided by the majority of Members returned from Northern Ireland. It was a net addition of merely six or eight to the size of the Conservative majority or minority in the House and, therefore, as Members of a House not concerning itself with the affairs of a Province of the United Kingdom, they were put up with for as long as that situation lasted. The right hon. Gentleman knows that he can draw no comfort or derive no sustenance for his Bill—very much the reverse—from the exception that proved the rule—Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Would it help the right hon. Gentleman's case if I told him that the Chairman of the Scottish National Party has made it clear in the past month on several different occasions that he and his colleagues will strive as hard as they can to alter the Scotland and Wales Act —if it becomes an Act—and if they are represented in an Assembly?
§ Mr. Powell
I would be surprised if it were not so, for that is in the nature of the logic—logic which I thought the Prime Minister accepted in the terminology in which he introduced the Second Reading of the Bill.
I return to the wording of this clause. When we do so after the historical examination of its antecedents, it seems even more remarkable than it appeared at first glance. First there is the present tense, the assertion of a fact. That is rather reminiscent of the man who tells 461 one that he is honest, from which one can be reasonably sure that it is necessary to keep a tight hold upon one's purse. Then there is the fact that the supreme authority of Parliament is limited in this clause. The hon. Member for Cleveland and Whitby (Mr. Leon Brittan) in opening the debate did not refer to this. It is remarkable that, whereas in the antecedent examples the reference had been to the authority of the Parliament of the United Kingdom over all "persons, matters, and things", the only sort of authority of Parliament which is unaffected in the Clause is the supreme authority of Parliament "to make laws".
Someone has been thinking. Someone has been thinking to himself "But Parliament will lose its supreme authority over 'persons, matters, and things' in Scotland and Wales except when it chooses to intervene with its legislative sledge-hammer." There is a conscious or unconscious recognition in the new terminology that the House of Commons will relinquish and lose that continuous surveillance over "persons, matters, and things" which is the indispensable basis of our legislative activity, our representation of our constituents and our control of Her Majesty's Government.
§ Mr. Cledwyn Hughes (Anglesey)
I am following what the right hon. Gentleman is saying with interest and a good deal of respect. What he has not made clear so far is whether he is in favour of the re-establishment of the Stormont Government. It would assist us in Wales and Scotland if he made his position clear.
§ Mr. Powell
I thought I made it clear that I believe it to be impracticable to create a legislative Assembly in part of the kingdom which is also to be represented in the House of Commons. I have made no secret of that fact at any time. If the conundrum can be solved for other parts of the United Kingdom, my hon. Friends and I will, as we do in all other respects, claim in this respect also to be treated on a par with the rest. But, as a Member of this Parliament and as a legislator, I must point out that there is an inherent contradiction in this legislation to which there is no solution except within the framework of a federal State.
462 That statement was openly and publicly made in the programme of the United Ulster Unionist coalition, as a Member of which I sit in the House of Commons. Therefore, it is no new idea to right hon. and hon. Members who are sent here from Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Powell
It is no use the right hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. Hughes) shaking his head. Even the shaking of his head will not succeed in bridging the unbridgeable gap between devolved legislative power and representation by legislators in the House of Commons.
I was about to refer to the third peculiarity in the clause—its reference tothe unity of the United Kingdom".I am at one with the hon. Member for Fife, Central that there is only one useful meaning for us ofthe unity of the United Kingdom".It is the unity which follows from the sovereignty of the Crown in Parliament. It is the unity of those "persons, matters, and things" which are contained within the authority of this Parliament. It is the authority of this Parliament which establishes the unity of the United Kingdom.
The clause is an admission of guilt. If the Government believed that the Bill did not affect the supreme authority of Parliament, they would have had no need to refer tothe unity of the United Kingdombeing unaffected by the Bill.
We need hardly go beyond Clause 1. There is a sense in which all subsequent debate is useless. The clause by its wording, by its assertion of something which those who drew it knew was contrary to the facts about the Bill, is the admission of the unworkability and inadmissibility of the whole proposed legislation.
§ Mr. Heffer
The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) referred to the situation in Ireland and the break-up of Ireland from the United Kingdom.
I should like to address myself again, as I do in these debates, to the discussions which took place in the Labour movement on this matter. The Labour movement showed a great deal of sympathy and support for Irish nationalism, 463 but it was not always thus. In fact, at the time of the 1916 rising there was a strong feeling, even among the Southern Irish, that James Connolly and the Transport and General Workers' Union had taken a wrong turn. There was another view. I wish that some of my hon. Friends knew a little more about the history of our movement.
§ Mr. Heffer
I agree that some do, but, unfortunately, too many do not. They would know that there was not universal agreement in the Labour movement in Ireland about supporting the nationalist struggle. Some people looked at the situation differently. I refer to this because last night my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House made a most amazing speech in which he said that Stormont had lasted for 50 years. I had the impression that he almost suggested that this was an example of the value of devolution. I do not believe that my right hon. Friend intended to convey that impression but that is how his speech came across.
I cannot remember the Labour movement being happy about Stormont at any time. We were never enthusiastic about it. Hon. Members on this side sighed with relief when Stormont was abolished, not by this Government but by a Conservative Government. There was a general sigh of relief that the situation was at last being ended, and hope that a new situation might arise and that new circumstances might lead to new developments.
§ The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Michael Foot)
I certainy did not intend to suggest that I commended what happened in Stormont. I said that it was impossible for those who knew what had happened to say that a devolved, subordinate operation could not continue when it had existed for 50 years. I am not defending what happened in Stormont. Conditions there were different. Nonetheless, I believe that my argument disposes of what is said by some hon. Members who declare that such an operation is impossible.
§ Mr. Heffer
My right hon. Friend knows as well as I that it was precisely because of the character of Stormont that we ultimately achieved the back-up. People in Northern Ireland felt that they were deprived, and they were deprived. There were two types of citizen. We do not want that situation to develop in any other part of the United Kingdom—or do we? I do not and I am sure that other hon. Members do not want that to develop.
When I went to the Scottish Labour Party Conference I talked to delegates who passed, without enthusiasm, a resolution in support of devolution. I recall what happened in the House on the night of the Second Reading. Who cheered and waved their Order Papers? Only hon. Members on one Bench did that—the Scottish and Welsh Nationals. Why did they cheer? Because the Scottish Nationals—and they have never made any secret of it—regard this Bill as a first step to separation, to the break-up of the United Kingdom and to independence. Hon. Members on those Benches are absolutely clear in what they want.
How can we suggest for one moment that the proposals will not affect the unity of the United Kingdom or the supreme authority of Parliament? One has only to put that question in the context of the enthusiasm among Scottish and Welsh nationalists to know that that is not true.
§ Mr. Buchan
My hon. Friend has got it wrong. The reason why Members of the SNP support the devolution Bill is that they can do no other. They cannot present themselves in Scotland if they do not support a devolution Bill. They want the easiest step towards separation, and they want the Bill to become bogged down in the House to prove the final ineptitude of Westminster. The Bill is an effort to stop that.
§ Mr. Heffer
I cannot speak for the SNP and say whether the SNP is supporting the Bill because it can do no other. However, I have the feeling that the reality is that that is what many of my hon. Friends are saying. They are saying —this is the worst possible reason for supporting a Bill of this kind—that if we do not pass the Bill, within 10 or 15 years' time the Scottish nationalists will take over and there will be independence. They are saying, in other words, that we 465 should do it because we see no alternative.
If I remember rightly, the former Leader of the Opposition also had something to do with this question.
§ Mr. Heffer
The hon. Gentleman will also be aware of the fact that if Labour had been in Opposition now and his party had been in Government with the same Leader, and possibly even with its present Leader, a similar Bill may well have come forward, unfortunately for the same reasons. It is possible that that would have happened, and I think that it is probable. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman should not try to make this a party issue, because it is not a party issue. This is a matter on which hon. Members feel deeply, irrespective of the party to which they belong. We cannot solve this problem on party lines.
§ Mr. Alexander Fletcher
I apologise for making a contribution from a sedentary position. However, the point to which the hon. Gentleman is coming, a very important point, is why the Bill has been presented in the first place. He has already answered that point by saying that it has been presented because of the threat feared by the Labour Party in Scotland from the nationalists. Surely that is the wrong reason of all wrong reasons for presenting the Bill in the first place.
§ Mr. Heffer
I said that there was no enthusiasm for the Bill in the Labour Party or in the House of Commons—apart from one group of people who clearly see it as a major step.
I am slowly coming to the conclusion that if we are to have genuine devolved government, the only real answer, as the Liberals and others have suggested, is a federal type of devolved government. That would make a certain amount of sense. I do not agree with it because I do not think that we need it. However, there would be some sense in that. There is no sense in reacting to situations all the time. I object to that. We react to situations.
466 To suggest that the Bill will not bring about disunity is nonsense. I gave a concrete example the other night. The natural region in my area is Deeside and Merseyside. Incidentally, there is an interchange of people there. Workers go from Deeside to Merseyside and from Merseyside to Deeside. They are Welshmen, Liverpudlians, and so on. But we might find that a totally artificial barrier is erected even as a first step under the Bill, and if the nationalists get their way there will be an ultimate step. The whole thing is an absurdity. If we want prosperity in Deeside and Merseyside and to deal with our problems there and our economic difficulties, we can achieve it only by giving assistance to both areas and by both areas working with each other.
§ Mr. Cledwyn Hughes
Can my hon. Friend point to anything in the Bill which would prevent the relationship he is describing between Merseyside and Deeside from continuing?
§ Mr. Heffer
Not at this stage. I have made that point. But to suggest that the relationship will continue as at present is, in my opinion, to live in cloud-cuckooland. It will not. There will be progression. The progression will be increasingly based upon the demands of the nationalists towards separation. It is ridiculous to argue that that will not have any effect on the unity of the United Kingdom.
We are so mixed up in our country. I say "our country" meaning the whole of the country. When, for example, the Liverpool City Council appointed its Chief Medical Officer he was not asked from what part of the country do you come?"—
§ Mr. Heffer
Exactly. He was asked for his qualifications, and, as is so often the case because of the medical school in Edinburgh, he qualified in Scotland. In fact, he is a Scot. But what will happen in future? I have a horrible feeling—I have heard the nationalists make statements about looking after the Scots—that sooner or later the people in England, for totally wrong reasons, will begin to use the same argument in reverse. 467 That means the splitting up and the destruction of the unity of our people.
I do not want to see that happen. I believe in national identity but that means respect for each other's culture. It does not mean destroying the unity that we have already achieved.
The issue of nationalism and internationalism has always been a difficult problem in the Labour movement. Anyone who has studied the movement will know, for example, of the great arguments that took place about the Austro-Hungarian Empire. People such as Victor Adler strongly opposed the breakup of the empire for perhaps the same reasons that I am arguing. He wanted a Socialist Austro-Hungarian Empire, or rather a Socialist unity. People such as Luxembourg, a Polish Jew in the German Social Democratic Party, opposed all forms of nationalism.
There has always been this argument in the movement. Both approaches are respectable arguments, but 1 have always come down on the side of the Luxembourgians because I believe in the unity of working people in their struggle to create an international Socialist society. I do not believe that the sort of proposals that the Government put forward can help my concept of Socialism, or even the unity of the United Kingdom as it now exists.
§ 10.30 p.m.
§ Sir Bernard Braine (Essex, South-East)
In their different ways the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) and the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) have laid bare the fraud that Clause 1 perpetuates. Indeed, the astonishing feature of the debate has been that no one has spoken from either side of the Chamber in a contrary sense. I shall not repeat their arguments because the night is getting on. There is a case for devolution, however, for a genuine transfer of power and responsibility to the constituent parts of the kingdom, provided—and only provided—that the people, all the people, have the opportunity of saying "Yes", and genuine referenda are held before we put on the statute book a botched-up and ill-thought-out measure of this nature.
Many people believe that we are grossly over-governed. Many think that we are 468 badly governed, and many would welcome an opportunity for a genuine devolution of power and responsibility so that they can exercise greater control over their own affairs. But that is not what this Bill is about. Moreover, I know of nobody who argues this case, nor do I see the necessity for it.
In the opening words of the Bill there is the assertion that nothing in it affectsthe unity of the United Kingdom or the supreme authority of Parliament to make laws for the United Kingdom or any part of it".It is tacitly assumed that the unity of our country is not affected in any way, and so the implications for England and Northern Ireland are totally ignored. But everybody in Parliament, except those who feel themselves on the Government Front Bench and a handful of Nationalists, knows that the unity of our country, and every part of it, will be adversely affected. We are not bent here on a genuine devolution, for which there is at least an academic case but are starting down a road which, if the SNP has its way, and if we are honest about it, must mean separation of an important part of the kingdom from the rest.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cleveland and Whitby (Mr. Brittan), who opened the debate with a remarkably clear and succinct speech, said that the unity of the United Kingdom is not a legalistic form of words but a political fact. With respect, it is something more than that. The unity of our country is a concept, an idea enshrined in the hearts of every man and woman.
I warrant that the dead in two world wars did not lay down their lives for Ross and Cromarty, or for Lancashire, or for the valleys of South Wales or even for Canvey Island. They did so for Great Britain—not in a narrow pseudo-patriotic sense, but for a Britain which sums up family and home, memories of the past and hopes for the future, for the localities from which they came and the schools in which they were taught.
If we were to go out into the streets and ask people whether they come from Scotland, Wales or the North or the South of England, basically one would find that they also consider themselves to be British and are proud to be so. It seems to me that this Parliament is increasingly becoming remote from the feelings, aspirations and anxieties of ordinary people, and this 469 debate has underlined that fact in a most remarkable way.
Even now I suggest that the full implications of what is being perpetrated here are not yet fully understood by the great mass of people outside this House. [HON. MEMBERS:" In this House, too."] I do not pretend to speak for other hon. Members, but I have not had a single letter on this issue from a constituent. When people speak to me about the matter, they are puzzled why Parliament, at a time of grave economic crisis, should be bothering with a measure which, so far as they can gather, will lead not to better government but to more government, not to greater unity but to disunity, not to our country playing a stronger rôle in the affairs of Europe but a weaker one. They sense, too, the possibility of the breakup of this kindgdom. They cannot understand the madness for which the Lord President and his friends are responsible.
It seems that we have put the cart before the horse with a vengeance. Why, even now, have the people of Britain not been asked for their views? Why has the case for this extraordinary measure not been put before the people in the form of a referendum?
The hon. Member for Fife, Central was right to ask what he described as a simple question: "What do the people of the constituent parts of the Kingdom want?"
It may be that in Scotland the vast majority of the people want something in the nature of what is proposed in the Bill. In that case they should have it. With the example of Ireland before us, I would not stand in their way. But no one knows. And what about the wishes of the people in Wales?
My hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Benyon) asked that the people of England should be able to express their views in a referendum. I agree. I would respectfully add that there are probably more Welshmen and Scotsmen living and working in England —not necessarily permanently—than there are in Wales or Scotland. Why should they not have the opportunity to express a view about the future of the kingdom of which they are part?
At least when the decisive step of joining the EEC was taken there had been 470 a decade-and-a-half of discussion on the advantages and disadvantages of our taking so momentous a step. For a decade after the first application to join the Community had been made by the Macmillan Government there were intensive discussions about the impact upon our Commonwealth relations and trade.
Some of us who had doubts about the wisdom of taking that step took part in those discussions over many years. Business and industry had time to adjust itself. Many firms were hedging their bets. While successive Governments were trying to make up their mind about whether to renew the application to join, firms were establishing branch offices and making marketing arrangements in the countries of the Community because they were not going to be left out of the growth of Europe should we not enter the Community at the end of the day.
Who among the people of this country today really know what this Bill is about? Who in England, Scotland or Wales have really thought about the likely consequences for our economy, trade and the defence and standing of our country in the world?
Since the majority of people are well aware—as successive by-elections prove —that our economy is badly managed and that the reorganisation of local government has left a great deal to be desired—
§ Sir Bernard Braine
Of course. Both Governments are responsible. I am not making a partisan speech. I am trying to speak for the ordinary people of England whether they vote Labour, Liberal, Conservative or Scottish National. [Laughter.] I venture to think that there are not many of the latter in England, and I venture to suggest that when the true facts are made known to the people of Scotland there will be fewer there, too.
What guarantee is there that the arrangements envisaged in the Bill—adding as they do new tiers of administration, a new tribe of politicians, a host of new bureaucrats—will add anything to the prosperity, security or freedom of the people of Scotland and Wales. If the proposed Assemblies are established, we shall have created a monstrously unjust 471 and unbalanced arrangement which will adversely affect England and Northern Ireland. The Bill provides not only for changes in the government of Scotland and Wales but for worse and less representative government in England and Northern Ireland.
If the Long Title is held to prevent English Members from discussing in detail the implications for England and Northern Ireland, implications that harm will be inflicted upon our constituents, then, to quote the words of someone who was well-known in this House, "up with that I will not put." It is like saying, if a man has been charged with criminal rape, that the matter ends with his conviction and punishment and the actual bodily harm that he has done to his victim. Nothing of the kind. There never can be any reparation for a crime of that kind. There is the harm done to the marriage and the children. Who can calculate that? Those of us who hold weekly surgeries know the immense amount of human suffering that results from a single criminal act. It cannot be calculated.
It is idiotic to pretend that because the Bill gives Assemblies to Wales and Scotland, which some people in those countries in their wisdom or lack of it desire, that will not affect England. It is palpably clear that the measure will affect England adversely. That is a state of affairs that English Members of Parliament and their constituents will not put up with. If the Bill is not changed we shall embark on a journey that can lead only to disaster for the whole of the United Kingdom.
Reference has been made to the disadvantages which our Scottish colleagues will face in the House of Commons. The speech of the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) fastened clearly on the disadvantages which Scottish Members would face in future. I do no want the number of Scottish and Welsh Members to be reduced, although inevitably that will happen if we proceed with the Bill. The Scots, the Welsh and the Irish, who in their different ways have contributed to the glory and greatness of our country, add to the wisdom and illumination of Parliament. I do not want them to be driven out, but that will happen.
472 I make a plea to the Government on behalf of my constituents to think again. There is time yet for second thoughts. The people of the whole country should be consulted to see whether they want the proposals set out in the Bill. I do not ask that the more populous England —with its many Welsh, Scottish, Northern Irish and Southern Irish people—should have a veto over what should happen in Scotland and Wales. All I ask is that the people in every part of the United Kingdom who live together and work together—whose fathers have striven and died together in two world wars—should have the opportunity of expressing a view upon the course that the Government seek to take before the Bill is put on the statute book. It is not too late. A wise Government would pause, reflect and consult the people.
§ 10.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Ioan Evans
I agree with the hon. Member for Essex, South-Eact (Sir B. Braine) that we should be thinking of ourselves as British, as well as English, Scots, Irish or Welsh. This debate seems to bring out nationalistic thinking. As my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) said, he is now beginning to think of himself as English, when he had never thought of it before.
In that sense the Bill, when it talks of not affecting the unity of the United Kingdom, is itself beginning to affect it. We were told that the intention of the devolution proposals was to strengthen the unity of the United Kingdom, and of all the people in these islands. Yet the Bill itself says that its proposals will not affect that unity. I believe that the Bill will affect the unity in a number of ways.
I agree with the hon. Member for Essex, South-East about the Government having got their priorities wrong. At a time when they should be maximising the unity of people in order to solve the critical economic problems, they are embarking on this major change of the machinery of government. One wonders whether this is a Machiavellian exercise to divert attention from the fundamental problems facing this country at present.
Some of us said originally that if we staged a debate on devolution it would be divisive, and one needs only to attend the debates here to find out just how divisive they are. They are not just 473 divisive in terms of different political parties. All the parties are divided among themselves. Even the nationalists are divided as to how they will go about it. [Interruption.] Yes, they are divided in their approach to the Bill. Certainly with the major parties this has proved a divisive issue.
The Government are not creating a situation of unity by suggesting that they should set up an Assembly costing £3.8 million and by creating a new tier of government with an annual running cost of £12.5 million at a time when they are calling upon local authorities to restrict their spending on essential services. Even if at some other time there is a case for embarking on the creation of such an Assembly, that time is certainly not now.
Wales has a population of fewer than 3 million people. London, where we meet, has a population of 9 million. London has the Greater London Council and the metropolitan authorities underneath. In Wales we have numerous community councils, 37 district councils, eight county councils, a Welsh Office—a Government Department—and a Secretary of State in the Cabinet. Now it is proposed that, in addition to all that, we should have a new spending authority—a Welsh Assembly—which will have no extra resources to spend, and no powers to raise revenue. Already there are rumblings in local government circles. The Government have said nothing, in creating this new Assembly, about what will happen to the district councils and the county councils. Already the disunity has begun in that regard. So I cannot see that these proposals as they stand will unify Wales with the rest of the country.
§ Mr. Caerwyn E. Roderick (Brecon and Radnor)
Is my hon. Friend against the reform of local government?
§ Mr. Evans
I do not believe that we should do that at present. But the Government should face the situation that their policy is to transfer resources from public administration and into manufacturing industry, and this is, therefore, the wrong time to introduce yet another tier of local government.
The proposals involve employing 1,300 civil servants to service the Assembly, 474 yet the Government have decided to stop payment of the regional employment premium on workers in the development areas. This was an incentive to get workers into manufacturing industry. If the Government stop it, that will not help the unity of these islands.
Local government reform should be carried out effectively and efficiently and should not be done in a hurry. My party criticised the Conservatives for the way in which they reorganised local government. We objected to the inclusion of both England and Wales in the same local government Bill. I do not see how we can criticise the Conservatives on that score when my Government are putting Scotland and Wales in the same devolution Bill.
Some hon. Members adopt a strange attitude in insisting that these two major measures should be embodied in one Bill.
§ Mr. Peter Thomas (Hendon, South)
Does the hon. Member agree that there was more reason for having one local government Bill dealing with England and Wales than there is for having one devolution Bill covering Scotland and Wales? England and Wales have the same law, while Scotland and Wales have different systems.
§ Mr. Evans
I disagreed with the proposals put forward by the Conservatives for local government reform, and I disagreed with their timing. It would have been better to leave local government reorganisation until the Kilbrandon Commission had reported. However, I accept the right hon. and learned Gentleman's point. Local government in England and Wales has followed a similar structure and there was in that sense more merit in having one Bill to cover the two nations than there is in having one devolution Bill to cover both Wales and Scotland.
The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) will remember our debates on the Parliament (No. 2) Bill, which attempted to reform the House of Lords. The right hon. Gentleman and my right hon. Friend, now the Leader of the House, worked together to defeat that Bill, even though it had all-party support. If a Bill which had all-party support was unable to get through the House I do not think that the Assemblies are as near as hon. Members think. 475 Their colleagues do not need to prepare themselves just yet to stand for the Assemblies.
The Bill has opened a Pandora's Box for the Government. Matters will be entering into the debate that were never contemplated. The Bill—if it becomes law—will leave more questions unanswered and will raise more questions and problems than were ever contemplated. It has been said that the aim of the Bill is to strengthen the unity of the United Kingdom. It is very strange that the Scottish and Welsh nationalists appear to be the main supporters of a Bill that is supposedly seeking to maintain unity.
These proposals seriously endanger the unity of Britain. For that reason I welcome the concession that the Government have made in holding referenda for both Scotland and Wales because, in the end, it will be the Scots and the Welsh people who will decide. The Government are to be applauded for that. I hope that we shall now be given details of the clause that will deal with the referenda. Why must we wait so long for the Government to consider these matters? I should have thought that the Government would now be ready to draft something. If hon. Members knew what the Government intend, they would be able to decide on their reactions to the Bill instead of just waiting.
There are other dangers in the Bill. I know that not all hon. Members will agree with me, but a system of proportional representation—if we introduce it—will not be advantageous to the country. There would be long argument about changing the electoral system and there would be one system for the Assembly, another for Parliament and another for Europe.
§ Mr. D. E. Thomas (Merioneth)
The hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. Ioan Evans) has told us that he is opposed to the proposals in the Bill, although his opposition has not yet been demonstrated in the Lobby. What measure does he advocate to maintain the unity of the United Kingdom?
§ Mr. Evans
We are united as we are. There should be devolution of certain powers from Westminster, but we must think about devolution to the whole of Britain. Let us have a system of regional 476 organisation and make responsible to an elected body some of the authorities that are now not elected and are not responsible to the people.
We must not make the mistake that we have made in recent years in carrying out reorganisation, such as that of the National Health Service. We did not choose the best way of doing it. Neither did we choose the best means of reorganising local government or the water industry. We must not produce any old form of devolution just because devolution is in the manifesto. We must have devolution that will unite people.
§ Mr. D. E. Thomas
My party certainly believes in the unity of the people of the United Kingdom as it is laid down in the Bill. We have always accepted that the position of the Queen should be maintained as the head of the federation of Britain.
§ Mr. D. E. Thomas
I would like the hon. Gentleman to cite where my party, in any of our manifestos, has argued for separatism. We have always argued for national status within an interdependent political system in Britain.
§ 11.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Evans
Now we are getting into semantics. I am interested to hear that the Scottish nationalists believe in independence and a separate Scotland. Despite all the talk at Plaid Cymru conferences about independence and separation, the Welsh nationalist Members do not believe in an independent Wales.
Not only are there the dangers involved in changing the electoral system; there is also the danger that the number of Welsh Members in this House may be reduced. It is no use saying that this will not happen; we cannot foresee the situation in Parliament five or 10 years hence.
In considering the establishment of the Assembly at Cardiff, we must take into account not just the financial cost but the political cost of fewer Welsh Members in this House. This Parliament will decide how much the Assembly may spend, and it would be better for Wales 477 to have more hon. Members here, rather than plenty of representatives in Cardiff deciding how to spend money allocated by this House.
If these powers are transferred, what will happen to the Welsh Office and the Secretary of State? One of the reasons for Wales and Scotland having maintained their national identities is that they have Secretaries of State in the Cabinet. Does anyone think that they will stay in the Cabinet if the Bill is passed?
We have already had arguments about the future rôle of Scottish and Welsh Members in this House. At present, hon. Members from Wales, Scotland and all other parts of the United Kingdom speak in equality and can ask Questions on a whole range of matters. We have Scottish and Welsh Grand Committees and separate Question Times for each country. How will they be affected if the Bill is passed?
The SNP is a passing phase. The hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mrs. Ewing) has been in and out of the House. She is in now, but she will soon be out again.
The hon. Members for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans), Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley) and Merioneth (Mr. Thomas) are in the House only because the anti-Labour vote went to them. Unlike the majority of hon. Members, they had minority support, and I do not think that they will return after the next General Election.
The Government claim that the Bill will unite us, but there are dangers that it will cause great disunity. There are a number of points on which we should spell out to the people of Wales and Scotland before the referenda not what is being given but what is being taken away from them. Without devolution proposals which are right and workable and what the people want, there is a danger that we shall play into the hands of the nationalists. That will be to the major disadvantage of the people of Wales and Scotland.
§ Mr. George Gardiner (Reigate)
This debate has surely stripped of any credibility and respectability at least the second sentence of Clause 1. We cannot argue with the first sentence, that this is a Billto make changes in the government of Scotland and Wales".
§ Mr. Charles Morrison (Devizes)
Surely my hon. Friend does not believe that. It would be much better to deal with the second part of that sentence. The Bill makes a change not only in the government of Scotland and Wales but, much more important, in the government of the whole of the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Gardiner
That is precisely the point that I was hoping to make. But the most amazing sentence in the clause is the second one, which says that the provisions of the clausedo 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.The hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) demonstrated the sheer falsity of that assertion.
I wonder how the Government drafted the Bill. Perhaps they began by looking back ruefully at their election commitments, at the White Paper which was rushed out just before the last election in the hope of safeguarding Labour seats in Scotland. Perhaps they said "This is what we are committed to, and we shall draft a Bill which appears to give effect to it." But then they considered the risks, drawbacks and disadvantages, and decided to cover themselves with a declamatory clause which said that they did not exist.
After hearing this debate so far, no one can doubt that the provisions of the Bill certainly affect the unity of the United Kingdom. Speaker after speaker has shown that we cannot approach this issue of devolution, whether we are for it or against it in principle, without at the same time dealing with the issue of representation. The two issues are bound up inextricably.
History gives ample proof. The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) has drawn attention to several pertinent aspects of the history of Ireland and this country's relations with it. We can look at the history of Ireland for instruction in many respects on this Bill. But that history shows that throughout the last century and into the early years of this century, when the government of Ireland was being considered, there was no doubt that the issue of devolution to Ireland in its different forms and the issue of Irish representation in this House were inextricably bound up together.
479 The first Home Rule Bill in 1886 proposed to abolish Irish representation here. The second proposal, in 1893, was to reduce the number of Irish Members at Westminster by half. The third proposal, in the 1912 Bill, was to retain all the Irish Members here. In 1921, when the Irish Parliaments for the North and the South were technically set up, the representation of both parts was reduced because it was proposed to set up other Parliaments.
Therefore, when we look at the history of Ireland we observe that the issues of devolution and representation were always seen as part of the same thing, and that one could not proceed with the one without doing something about the other. Yet, my most fundamental objection to the Bill is that it seeks to put these matters into watertight compartments and imagines that one can make fundamental changes to the distribution of legislative power in the United Kingdom and yet make no changes to the representation in this House of the different constituent parts.
Do the Government imagine that this situation can hold? The hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) demonstrated with great clarity some of the ridiculous anomalies that would arise for a Westminster Member from Scotland, looking at the matter in terms of the issues on which he would be invited to vote for England and Northern Ireland but on which he would be powerless to vote in respect of his own constituency and the whole of Scotland.
There is another side to that coin. What shall we English Members and our constituents think when 71 Scottish Members vote on English roads, housing, education and so on, while we have no say on similar matters in Scotland? That means creating two classes of Members and giving the English far less direct say in their own affairs than is given to another constituent part of the United Kingdom. Do hon. Members believe that that could hold for long? Do they think that there would be no upsurge of resentment in England when issues were decided in that way and it was demonstrable that the people of Scotland were deciding them for themselves without any influence being brought to bear on them from this House?
480 The term "the English backlash" is not one that I would ever use, because I do not wish to foment differences or animosity between the English and the Scots. In my early years here as a Press Gallery representative I represented a Scottish newspaper and acquired a close interest in Scottish affairs. But the term is used, and that is unfortunate. I do not think that anything has yet happened to justify it. The argument in England has been rather slower to start than it has been north of the border.
A backlash as such there has not been. I put it seriously to Ministers that if they carry through this piece of legislation, radically affecting the distribution of responsibilities for legislation in the United Kingdom and yet keep 71 Scottish Members of Parliament here, behaving as if nothing had ever happened and as if all was going on as before, there is a danger of an English backlash. There is a danger that resentments and animosities will build up, leading to the weakening, if not the destruction, of the unity of our United Kingdom.
How fatuous it is to claim that in this clause the Bill's provisions do not affect the unity of the United Kingdom. I have referred to Irish history. We have seen before how, in 1886, there was a nasty backlash in England against the Irish. I would not like to see that kind of thing happening here in relation to the Scots. I speak as an English Member. It is my duty to do that.
Let us not forget the other dimension, the Northern Irish aspect. Here we have a body of people who, in the main, show great loyalty to the United Kingdom and to our institutions. They are undoubtedly a people under strain, who have been under strain for six or seven years. What are they to make of a situation in which they are to continue to be underrepresented in the House of Commons because some time ago they were given a devolved Assembly or Parliament, while another constituent part of the United Kingdom is to remain over-represented here and at the same time have a devolved Assembly?
What will the citizens of Northern Ireland make of that? The only legitimate conclusion they can reach is that the Government are content to treat and 481 regard them as second-class citizens. There can be no other conclusion which they can reach. I am not saying that this will undermine the unity of the United Kingdom as such. But I do say that it is a shabby way to treat citizens of this country who have shown great loyalty to it and live under such strain.
§ Sir Bernard Braine
Is not the situation more savage than that? Is it not a fact that the people of Northern Ireland enjoyed and practised, with quite a degree of success, a parliamentary government of their own for 50 years—a government which we took away? We are now conferring Assemblies, limited Parliaments, upon the Welsh and the Scots without remedying the grievances of the people of Ulster. Is that the way to build national unity?
§ Mr. Gardiner
I take my hon. Friend's point. Not only is there an English dimension in this argument—which the Government cannot ignore—but there is an Ulster dimension. If the Government attempt to continue to sweep this under the carpet, pretending that it does not exist, they will build up a mountain of trouble for which we shall have to suffer.
There is another problem which worries me. I fear that there is a danger that the Scots are being over-sold on the Bill. The Bill will not live up to expectations, with the result that there will be grave dispute. I can intellectually accept quite a lot of the arguments for devolution. It should be devolution with clearly defined functions transferred, including some provision for raising finance. What is being proposed is devolution with a thousand strings, all tangled up. We do not know which ones will be pulled. It is a rather dirty form of devolution that is being proposed. I am sure that when the consequent friction and conflict which will arise from this measure—if it ever reaches the statute book—become apparent, the Scottish people will soon feel that they have been badly treated by this Parliament. That, too, would put an additional strain on the unity of the United Kingdom, because we should be creating resentment and bitterness which does not exist now. I submit that to claim that the Bill does not affect the unity of the United Kingdom is effrontery to the House of Commons.
482 The second point—that the Bill will not affect the supreme authority of Parliament—has been dealt with fully by others of my hon. Friends.
Attention has been drawn to the way that Clause 18 undoubtedly infringes the sovereignty of this Parliament.
Clause 44, to which attention has been drawn, but only by way of points of order, allows Her Majesty, by Order in Council, to makeamendments of the law of the United Kingdom or any part of it—that includes England and Northern Ireland—consequent upon measures passed by a Scottish Assembly. An Order in Council can be debated in the House of Commons, but for a limited time only. Therefore, there is the possibility of substantial changes in laws applying to England and to Northern Ireland, in consequence of legislation passed by a Scottish Assembly, being debated in the House for a limited time. That is the kind of monstrosity that is before us in the Bill.
It would have been better to begin the debate on the Bill in Committee without Clause 1. It is said that it does not affect anything or make any difference. The trouble is that it begins by spelling out blatant untruths. I urge hon. Members to vote for the amendment, because without some amendment of Clause 1 the whole Bill is built on a fraud, and that is an unsound basis for legislation.
§ Mr. Ted Leadbitter (Hartlepool)
We must address ourselves to the clause and hold our breath somewhat for the meat of the Bill which, from long experience in Committee, will entail many hours of debate. This is an hors d'oeuvre—a taster of what the Government will get. We are dealing only with the preliminaries. Therefore, for the moment we can be relatively brief. However, if I should become very interested, I do not know when I shall stop.
I am amazed that the Government should have placed themselves in difficulty at this stage by creating doubts in the minds of some hon. Members who might otherwise have been willing to consider somewhat more deeply the Government's reasons for producing the Bill in 483 this form and to go some way towards helping them with it.
All that Clause 1 does for me is to confirm that I was right to vote against the Second Reading of the Bill. I take for granted that the Opposition are opposed to the Bill, and I entirely welcome that fact.
§ Mr. Leadbitter
I do not welcome it for selfish instincts, nor for the reason given in that rude interjection from a sedentary position by my colleague the Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan), who has just entered the Chamber. I believe that certain of my hon. Friends who voted for the Second Reading of the Bill and had great convictions against it months before and until recently should consider the importance of Parliament taking the one opportunity that it has had in recent years of asserting to the Government "This is where the power lies." We should learn from the lessons of recent history and take the opportunity to call a halt to the decline in the power of the House of Commons. [Interruption.]
I must tell my colleagues and some who are more interested in taking part in a mothers' meeting than listening to the debate that I now intend to deal with a great untruth in the first clause. Whether my hon. Friends like it or not, while I am a Member of the House of Commons I shall not be party to a blatant untruth. Hon. Members are sometimes disciplined for using an untruth if they do not have the decency to withdraw it. That applies to Governments as well as individuals.
My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) said that the legislation is the result of reaction rather than a determination about what is right for the United Kingdom. He said that we were seeking to legislate not because of the will of the people but because, we are reacting on party political grounds. He said that that was the mistake being made by the Labour Party—a mistake similar to that which arose from the famous speech made in 1968 by the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) in Scotland.
484 Having asserted that both parties made the same mistake, it is unpleasant for any hon. Member to find a total untruth in the first paragraph of this Bill. I shall demonstrate that it is an untruth, and I shall challenge any hon. Member to dispute it. The Bill states that the measures: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.But if one stuck Clause 18 on the end of that passage, the paragraph would continue:A Scottish Assembly Act may amend or repeal a provision made by or under an Act of Parliament.Clause 1 is therefore untruthful, because the Bill allows interference with the lawmaking processes of the supreme political institution in the United Kingdom.
The other great untruth involves the omissions from the Bill. Those of us who are in public life know what that means especially if we approach a Government Department. What matters is not what is said but what is not said. What is not said here was underlined by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell). He said that if one has not got the will to make laws, if one does not have a continuous oversight of legislation over the United Kingdom as a whole, one dispenses with responsibility. Once one dispenses with responsibility and the will to make laws, what has happened elsewhere in the world will apply. That is, one gives to the Assembly the power that it really has and not what is written in the Bill. That is why one political party in the House of Commons is hoping that the Bill will go through. It is what is not in the Bill that its Members recognise exists in reality.
Not only will the Assembly have powers. It will seek more powers, because it will not be satisfied with merely disbursing the moneys that this Parliament allocates to it. It will demand more. It will become a lazy Assembly. It will not want the hard work of raising moneys itself. It will not look for that kind of power. It will want more money from the United Kingdom Parliament.
485 In addition to that kind of struggle, there are the arguments of my hon. Friends the Members for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) and Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton). There are to be two Members from each constituency in Scotland in the Assembly and one Member in this Parliament—thrown into the maelstrom of the arguments about raising money and about power and the exercise of that power in the form of legislation, and the conflict of that with the interests of this Parliament.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Representing a North Sea constituency as he does, can my hon. Friend imagine any Assembly that remained content without putting its hands on the oil revenues or part of them?
§ Mr. Leadbitter
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for mentioning that matter. It has come home recently in the awareness of the people living near the North Region. I shall come to it later when I talk about unity.
§ Mr. Leadbitter
My hon. Friend has always approached every kind of problem with his mouth open. He has been like that ever since he was born.
The interesting thing is that when the Government start their legislation in this way, how can they hope to convince hon. Members that they are sincere? Another question must be raised. Why did the Government feel that it was important to assure us that the effects on the United Kingdom and on our rights to pass laws would not be adverse? Why have they sought to convince us? What kind of doubts did they have? My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central, asked whether the removal of this clause would alter one iota of the Bill. We all know that the answer is that it would not affect the Bill at all. That is what is aggravating about the clause. It was not necessary. However, the Government found a need to put it in because they had doubts.
Not all members of the Government are behind the Bill, by any stretch of the imagination. The Bill has been vomited out of a state of panic. All hon. Members know that there is a totally cross-party interest here that neither the Government nor anyone else can control. The House of Commons is now asserting itself. 486 Hon. Members on both sides have decided to have their voices heard. They are saying "This is something that affects the United Kingdom as a whole, and unity, difficult though it may be to define, is something that we hold intrinsically high in our esteem as public servants in the House of Commons and we are here to defend it." That is the notion of individual Members. Once that position has developed, we have a right to say to the Government—and what state of wisdom have members of the Government that Back Bench Members do not have on a matter such as this?—"Who has attributed to the Government that they know better than we do?"
Over the past few years some hon. Members have said in their constituencies that they are against devolution. But some of them, because they are now in office and on the payroll, have had to change their mind and say that they are for it. It is their consciences that must be questioned, not those of hon. Members such as myself who made up their minds that the House of Commons would be asserting its authority on this matter.
Already in the United Kingdom we are seeing, unfortunately, the seedcorn of disunity bearing fruit. In certain regions of England there is already the strong feeling that England is being neglected in many respects for considerations that are not always understood and are defined in the general term "It is political". I must make it abundantly clear that in the argument that will continue for the next few months, it will be totally wrong for any hon. Member to talk about English people, Scottish people and Welsh people, being against each other. We must confine our argument about the divisions between parties.
In the House of Commons there is the official Opposition, the Government party, the Back Benchers on either side of the Chamber and other groups. We can make it clear that it is not the division between the peoples that is at issue but a reaction of minority groups. If we do that, we can defeat this legislation and get some sense back into the relationships between the people in the various regions.
Let this be a warning. I have never felt such bitterness as when I arrived at my constituency on Christmas Eve. There 487 had been a mistaken report on a certain course of action that had been decided by the Government. It concerned a matter that I was quite prepared to put right, but what is important is that there was an upsurge. Over Christmas and the New Year I had to attend meeting after meeting to get people who had normally been sensible and carefully determined to consider the matter that lay before them. However, I did not succeed in persuading them that there is not a bias being worked out in the House of Commons that appears to work against the interests of my people.
For what it is worth, no Government, by power or terms in office, can make the electorate accept this sort of legislation if the electors in England have doubts about their objectives. I have an oil interest in my area. My hon. Friend the Member for West Stirlingshire talked about cod-liver oil. In my constituency over 2,000 men produced the largest oil rigs in the world on time. That has never been done by any other yard in the world. My hon. Friend does not want to sit in his place smugly talking about my constituency. As was said from the Opposition Benches, "When it comes to defending my constituency, there is no one here who can challenge me." I resent it that my hon. Friend should talk in that sort of way about working people who produce the largest oil rigs in the world. What has happened to those workers? Every one of them has lost his job. Can the Committee imagine how they feel when they see more favoured treatment being meted out to Scotland.
§ Mr. Leadbitter
I will give way to my hon. Friend when I have finished this point. It will not hurt him to practise standing on his feet; he has been in a sedentary position for a long time.
The unity of the United Kingdom is not helped by this kind of divisive legislation. It will not be assisted by the spending of millions of pounds on creating more civil servants, more people to conduct talking shops. The way to create unity is for the United Kingdom Parliament to use the whole of its resources, —material, manpower and financial—on behalf of the people as a whole, and to distribute those resources so that we can 488 get the economy on its feet. We must stop this piecemeal way of dealing with these matters, a bit here for somebody and a bit there for somebody else, hoping that such action will bring political kudos.
The unity of the United Kingdom is not maintained by mere assurances that this measure will not affect the overall situation. Every speech I have heard in this debate has been against this Bill and the clause. I have not heard one speaker on either side of the Committee speak for the measure.
The Government appear to be out on a limb, certainly when we examine opinion in the country. I assure the Government that the people of the United Kingdom, particularly the silent majority, are now beginning to wake up. They are asking for a fair share of the resources of the United Kingdom for their own areas.
§ Mr. Canavan
I have a great deal of respect for my hon. Friend because he and I were on the Standing Committee which helped to set up the British National Oil Corporation. On the subject of oil development, will he admit that the real battle is not between the Scottish people and the English people but between the working people of Scotland, England and Wales and any other part of the United Kingdom against the multinational oil companies? That is the battle that we should be fighting, not just this silly Scotland versus England nationalistic battle, which seems to be the essence of my hon. Friend's speech.
§ Mr. Leadbitter
My hon. Friend obviously did not listen to what I said. I said that I did not want to be party to any measure that brought about a division between the people of England, Scotland and Wales. I also described the Bill as having been vomited in panic because of party considerations. Let me be blunt and say that the parties in the House of Commons have been too damned concerned about saving seats—that is the nub of it. I was not sent to this House with a remit to vote for legislation for the wrong reasons. Therefore, I shall not support this clause, as I did not vote for the Second Reading, and I shall not vote for the Third Reading of the Bill. Unless they stop it, the Government will have to accept that we have got the Bill for the wrong reasons. I have a sneaking suspicion that they 489 are hoping to God that a General Election will come along and stop it.
At the beginning of my speech I talked about the hors d'oeuvre. We have now come to the cognac. I am satisfied that if a General Election did come about at the right time we would not have this Bill.
If we want to talk about unity, and about protecting ourselves and the lawgiving powers that we have in this House of Commons, we have to accept that we shall not have that responsibility because in this Bill they are not there. We also have to accept that we shall not have the will, because that will not be there either.
Real unity lies in the resolve and will of this House to sweep this Bill aside and throw it out in order to get on with the business of the economy and of utilising our resources—material, manpower and financial—in order that the United Kingdom people as a whole can benefit from some wise legislation instead of this nonsense.
§ Mr. Gordon Wilson
Listening to this long debate, one would imagine that it had originated in a vacuum and that there was nothing happening in the wider world outside.
I would respectfully remind the Committee that the political pressures to which reference has been made—there is nothing wrong with democratic demands and political pressure in Scotland in particular—have insisted upon the Government introducing this legislation.
It is a fact of political life in Scotland that there is no going back on it. There is no question of remaining with the status quo, because public opinion in Scotland has marched on. What is not realised is that the Treaty of Union in 1707 was a partnership.
Reference was made earlier to the fact that there was an Act of Union. I think it was the Lord President who used that expression. There was no Act of Union. There were Acts of Union which followed a treaty between two sovereign countries.
It is within the bounds of domestic law, as well as international law, that a partnership can be revised if the individual units to that partnership indicate that 490 some revision is necessary. Indeed, the Treaty of Union itself was revised over a period of time.
From time to time there were many complaints in Scotland about the way in which that treaty was revised. One of the firt revisions was the foisting upon the Scottish legal system of an appeals procedure to the House of Lords despite the fact that within the Treaty of Union there was a clear prohibition of appeals on Scottish cases being taken in Westminster Hall.
§ Mr. Peter Rees (Dover and Deal)
Is the hon. Gentleman convinced, and is he prepared to tell the Committee, that we in the House of Commons are entitled to amend the fundamental provisions of the Act or Treaty of Union, however the hon. Gentleman chooses to describe it?
§ Mr. Wilson
If the hon. and learned Gentleman follows what I shall say, I shall perhaps explain. I was indicating that we had a situation where the individual countries came together in a voluntary partnership as a result of treaties negotiated.
Perhaps for one delicate moment I might be in agreement with the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan). Unity or national status is an organic matter. It is a matter of what people feel. It can be proved in fact as well as feeling. It cannot be contained simply in the terms of Clause 1. There will be unity only if the people of Scotland, Wales, England and Northern Ireland wish to remain in a close relationship. If through changes in public opinion or mood or through events it becomes apparent that change is necessary, change there must be. The Bill has been introduced on that basis.
I do not rush headlong to approve the contents of the Bill. The powers it gives to the Scottish Assembly are very restricted, and it could be improved by giving the Assembly more powers. We believe that in the course of time those powers will come. Hon. Members who oppose the Bill on the ground that it is unstable or likely to lead to friction do not argue that the status quo should remain. They argue for a step further, either towards a form of quasi-federalism or to federalism, recognising that if power is devolved the job of the Assembly 491 must be worth while, otherwise it will be frustrated and unable to carry out the job for which its Members are elected.
Sovereignty is a matter of political expression in general elections or elections to the Scottish Assembly. The clause is unnecessary because, while it is a question of fact that Parliament is sovereign, Parliament is sovereign whatever is done about it. On the other hand, if Scottish people, being sovereign, take the view that in exercise of their sovereignty the Assembly should be equipped with full powers, that will happen. It is irresistible if the Scottish people want it that way.
I regret that the Government have included in the Bill a clause which has no statutory effect. If the clause were eliminated the Bill would be no weaker, nor would it be stronger, because the fundamental position of the Wesminster Parliament would remain the same. If the clause is inserted as a declaration of intent or as a guideline—to whom or what I am not sure—balanced advice should be given. The clause states that the provisions of the Bill: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.At the outset there is a declaration that the House of Commons regardless of the individual powers which it reserves in the Bill, will exercise an overall sovereignty. That is bound to be offensive to the Scottish people. It would be helpful if the Government were to balance out the clause.
In a federation or quasi-federation power is devolved within certain limits, and there is a statutory or other understanding that the devolved authority will have the right to carry out its functions within the powers given to it without invasion from the centre. Without that sort of understanding, one is heading for friction. It would be desirable to write into Clause 1 a formula which would allow some balance to be observed, so that the House of Commons, in the exercise of future sovereignty, should be bound by guidelines suggesting when its powers should not he exercised.
I draw the attention of hon. Members to Amendment No. 311 in my name and the names of my hon. Friend the Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Stewart), 492 and others, including an English Member. The amendment willprovide 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".Of course that does not prevent the Scottish or Welsh Assemblies, for purposes of convenience, agreeing to give up certain powers if they so desire. The amendment would allow a working arrangement to be effected. It would also have the effect of preventing the House of Commons from trying to upset the work of the Scottish or Welsh Assemblies by questioning the actions of Members of those Assemblies through Ministers of this House. Ministers here have no authority in these matters in terms of this statute, unless they exercise their overriding authority. That would lead to duplication and confusion. We should establish a convention from the outset that the House of Commons should not unnecessarily or unduly interfere with the exercise of the Assemblies' powers of sovereignty.
The purpose of my hon. Friends and myself is to obtain a sovereign Scottish Parliament, but if we are to operate within the confines of this Bill as a temporary expedient, it would be desirable that the Bill should be made as capable of working as possible. I think that hon. Members here should show more faith and trust in the Scottish people. Unity is an organic matter, and hon. Members have to take the Scottish people with them in what they are doing. There may well be a reciprocal understanding in the Scottish Assembly if there is a proper exercise of power within the terms of the Bill.
I have said before that relationships between an independent Scotland and an independent England, or an independent Wales, would require plenty of friendly working contacts, and we in the Scottish National Party seek to achieve that.
I hope that, in view of the need for balance, our amendment will be selected for a vote at the end of these proceedings.
§ Sir Nigel Fisher
Because there are others who want to speak. I intervene 493 only because—[An HON. MEMBER: "Sit down."] That is a mean thing to say, because I sat through seven hours of the Second Reading before being called to speak, and I sat here for many hours last week but was unable to speak because the Government moved the closure. I do not require instructions on what I should do in the House of Commons from the hon. Member.
I intervene only because I was astonished to see the bland assertion in Clause 1 that the Bill's provisions do not affect the unity of the United Kingdom. Of course they do. That is why so many of my hon. Friends are opposed not only to the clause and to the Bill but to the whole principle and concept of devolution. We believe that it will lead inevitably to the break-up of the United Kingdom. I appreciate that that is not the view of the official Opposition. My right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) and other hon. Friends believe that if we give the Scottish nationalists nothing, that also will lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom. I acknowledge that it is arguable either way and I do not want to appear dogmatic about it.
I understand the views of my right hon. and hon. Friends who argue with conviction and sincerity that without some measure of devolution we shall simply encourage an upsurge of Scottish nationalism and bring about the very result that none of us except the Scottish nationalists wants. But in this case, as on other occasions in the past, I do not believe that appeasement pays. In support of that belief I ask the Committee to consider the position of the Scottish National Members. They are the best argument that a Unionist could have against the Bill. They want the Bill, not because it is all that they want, but because it is, in their view, an essential first step to what they really want, which is separatism.
They have said that openly and honestly. They all say it in different words. Some call it independence and some call it separatism. They all want it, and it is the only thing that unites them. I understand that some of them are Conservatives and some are Socialists. They are united on only one issue—separatism from England.
§ Mrs. Winifred Ewing (Moray and Nairn)
Will the hon. Gentleman define "separatism"? Will he also say in what way our aim, which is Commonwealth status loyal to the Crown, is in any way unacceptable to the House of Commons and contrary to the tradition of granting that status to very many countries?
§ Sir Nigel Fisher
I understand that the hon. Lady may prefer to call it independence. She wants to break the United Kingdom connection and be a member of the Commonwealth like any other colony. I do not think of Scotland as a colony, but as an integral part of the United Kingdom. I suggest that that is the view of the vast majority of the House of Commons. It is no use the hon. Lady indulging in semantics on this subject. We know where she stands on it, and her party is united on that point even if it is divided on others.
The Scottish nationalists regard the Bill as the Trojan horse for separatism. So do I, and that is why I am against it. An independent Scotland would weaken Britain as an influence for good in world affairs. It would be a reversal of two-and-a-half centuries of our history. Though I speak, as an Englishman with a certain diffidence, I should have thought that it would also be the worst possible thing for Scotland.
Do the Scots really want to lose all influence and opportunity in Britain? Is that what the hon. Lady's constituents want? Do they want to sever the ties which are of great value to them as well as to England, ties which have bound us together and have brought social, commercial, industrial and political benefits to all parts of the United Kingdom, and not least to Scotland?
I simply do not believe that that is what the majority of the Scottish people want. Yet that is where I believe this clause and this Bill will certainly lead. The Scottish nationalists will never be content with an Assembly that is just a debating chamber, or with the degree of devolution that they will gain from the Bill. They will always want and demand more and more. They acknowledge that. I see them nodding their heads now. They want more power to tax, to spend and to govern in Scotland. The Bill will create a continual conflict between the Assembly in Edinburgh and the House of 495 Commons in London. Is that what the Government really want? Is that what my Front Bench wants? Of course it is not. Yet I fear that that is the road upon which both Front Benches are now setting out.
The very least that we should do before setting out on this dangerous road is to find out what the Scottish people want. That is why I am in favour of a referendum in this case. I dislike referenda very much because they are a negation of parliamentary government, but in this case I must make an exception. I want to know what the majority of the Scottish people want. I hope that now that the Lord President has agreed to have a referendum he will arrange for it to be held soon. It would be absurd for the House of Commons to go on week after week, discussing the Bill for two days each week, and then find out at the end of it that the Scottish people do not want the Bill. I hope the referendum will be held soon and not after the passage of the Bill through the House.
§ Mr. Dalyell
What question or questions would the hon. Member for Surbiton (Sir N. Fisher) put in a referendum?
§ Sir Nigel Fisher
The first question I would put is, "Are you in favour of separatism?" I believe the answer to that would be an overwhelming "No", and that would dish the hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mrs. Ewing) and her hon. Friends. It would be a rejection of their claim to speak for the people of Scotland.
I must admit that if the second question was "Are you in favour of devolution as expressed in the Bill?" and the answer was, as it might be, a majority of "Yes", the weapon of a referendum would, to a certain extent be double edged. I and those of my colleagues who are wholly against the Bill would be somewhat disarmed.
I accept that one runs the risk of not getting the answer that one wants, but it would still be a gain if it was firmly established that the vast majority of Scottish people do not want separatism. I would risk the second question, to which I might not like the answer, in order to to get the answer that I know I would like from the first question. It might mitigate my opposition to the Bill.
§ Mr. Russell Johnston
Would the hon. Gentleman agree that it is perfectly possible that the referendum question could be phrased so that it would not be likely to produce the best results?
§ Sir Nigel Fisher
That is always possible, and that is one of the difficulties about a referendum: one must be careful about the question in order to get the answer that one wants.
§ Mr. Dalyell
If, as the hon. Member says, the question is drafted as "Do you accept the Government's devolution package?", or words to that effect, that would unite people such as the Scottish National Party with many hundreds of Labour councillors and people such as me who take an opposite view. There are great difficulties.
§ Sir Nigel Fisher
There are dangers. I hope that the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) will use his influence with the Treasury Bench to make sure that the question is suitably phrased. It is extremely important.
§ Mr. Tim Renton (Mid-Sussex)
It would be helpful if the Lord President tabled the terms of reference of the referendum, as the Prime Minister promised some weeks ago, so that we could have an opportunity—even if the referendum does not take place until the Bill has received Royal Assent—to discuss the terms of reference.
§ The Chairman(Mr. Oscar Murton)
The Committee is getting wide of the amendment by talking about details of the terms of reference for the referendum.
§ Sir Nigel Fisher
If that rebuke was intended to apply to me, I accept it. I will leave the whole question of the referendum because my allusion to it has caused many hon. Members from both sides to intervene with suggestions. But I welcome the suggestion made by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Renton) because it is a very sensible one.
§ Sir Bernard Braine
We are discussing the words of the Bill which touch on the unity of the whole United Kingdom. Why does my hon. Friend advocate a referendum for the people of Scotland only? As this is a matter affecting the unity of the whole kingdom, why should 497 not all the people, voting in each constituent part of the kingdom, be permitted to express their views? Is it not the whole future of our country and nation which is at stake?
§ Sir Nigel Fisher
Yes, but one must confine oneself to what is practicable and I have not advocated the course suggested by my hon. Friend because I do not think that it has any chance of being accepted by the Government. That may not be a good reason, but it is better to confine ourselves to what we consider to be practicable.
The most cynical aspects of the Government's proposals the intention to retain the existing Scottish representation in this House—where Scotland is already over-represented compared with England —and create, at the same time, double that number of seats in the Assembly.
Scots will be able to vote on English Bills, but English Members will not be able to vote on Scottish Bills. So far, I have not heard Ministers answer this point, and I believe that they cannot justify this situation except on the grounds of party necessity; they depend for their majority here on Scottish and Welsh seats. If there are any other arguments in favour of this action, I hope that the Minister will spell them out. If he does not refer to this rather delicate matter, the country will understand that the Government are guilty of gerrymandering the composition of Parliament for party political purposes.
In conclusion, if we pass this amendment, we shall at least have stated categorically that the provisions of the Bill shall not be interpreted as affecting the unity of the United Kingdom, which may go some way towards rejecting the aspirations of the Scottish nationalists—which is what I am mainly concerned to try to do.
If the Government are really against separatism, why do they not accept the amendment? It only spells out what they are as intent as I am on doing. For my colleagues and I, who are proud to call ourselves Unionists, there can be no doubt of our wholehearted support for the amendment and our wholehearted opposition to the Bill.
§ Mr. Tim Renton
On a point of order, Mr. Murton. I have been trying to catch your eye for some time in order to speak on Amendment No. 21, in the names of my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) and myself, which you have grouped with Amendment No. 16.
§ The Chairman
Order. That was a valiant attempt, but the hon. Member cannot question the Chair's decision. If a Minister rises and catches the Chair's eye, he is called.
§ Sir Bernard Braine
On a point of order, Mr. Murton. No one questions your authority, but may I ask whether the Minister's rising will terminate the debate?
§ The Chairman
That is an entirely hypothetical question which no one but the Minister himself can answer at the moment.
§ 12.15 a.m.
§ Mr. Peter Rees
Further to the point of order, Mr. Murton. The second amendment in this group is No. 17, in the names of my right hon. and hon. Friends and myself. I am not aware that anyone has yet been called to speak to that amendment, so it may have occurred to the Chair and the Minister that he will not know the arguments which will be deployed in its support.
§ Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)
Further to the point of order, Mr. Murton. We are discussing 23 amendments, and so far only one has been mentioned. I have sought for the last seven hours to catch your eye to speak to about 10 of them. Unless I am prevented from doing so, I intend to carry on trying after the Minister has spoken.
§ Mr. John Mendelson (Penistone)
On a point of order, Mr. Murton. It will be within your recollection that last night a number of hon. Members who had been in the Chamber for many hours were standing in an attempt to catch the eye of the occupant of the Chair when the Lord President rose to reply to the debate. The Chair permitted him to reply and did not subsequently call any of those other hon. Members, of whom I was one. Immediately after he had spoken, the Deputy Chief Whip moved the closure of the debate. It is therefore not merely a matter of wild guesswork; 499 hon. Members are forewarned and have every reason to suspect that the same will happen again—
§ The Chairman
Order. The hon. Member must not attempt to influence the Chair in any way in the decision that the Chair may be called upon to make. Mr. John Smith.
§ Mr. Mendelson
Further to the point of order, Mr. Murton. Hon. Members who have attended Committee debates, either in Standing Committee or here in the Chamber—many with more experience than I, and I have had some—know that it is right for hon. Members to appeal to the Chair to call every hon. Member who has indicated his wish to speak. We have every right to appeal to you to proceed in that manner.
§ Sir Nigel Fisher
Further to the point of order. I am not, of course, seeking to question your decision, Mr. Murton, but I suggest that it is permissible for hon. Members to seek not to defy but to persuade the Chair. Precisely the circumstances described by the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson) happened last night, when I was not in the Chamber, and also last week. On both occasions, the Deputy Government Chief Whip moved the closure, which was accepted, immediately the Minister had spoken, thus depriving a number of hon. Members of the opportunity of taking part in the debate.
This is, therefore, becoming a common practice on the Bill. I hope that I am not being unduly suspicious, but I suspect that that is the intention of the Deputy Chief Whip tonight. if it happens, that will be the third time running. The House of Commons, in Committeee on a Bill, is entitled to more consideration than that from the Government Front Bench.
§ The Chairman
Order. The Chair will make up its mind when the Chair has heard how the Minister has deployed his argument and what effect it has upon the Committee.
§ Mr. Peter Rees
On a point of order, Mr. Murton. May I ask your guidance? How can the Minister deploy any arguments about amendments to which hon. Members have not yet been permitted to speak?
§ Mr. Tim Renton
Without wishing to question your ruling, Mr. Murton, may I remind you that you said just now that you presumed that the Minister would have read the amendments? Amendment No. 21, to which I wish to speak, suggests only that the second sentence of the clause be omitted. The Minister cannot reasonably reply to that amendment unless he has heard our arguments for it.
§ Mr. Jeremy Thorpe (Devon, North)
On a point of order, Mr. Murton. To save you further points of order, and to give the Minister a fair hearing, would it not be simple for the Government Deputy Chief Whip to give an undertaking that he has no intention of moving the closure?
On a point of order, Mr. Murton. Is it not the case that where amendments are grouped—in this case there are 23—it is not the custom to call the Minister to reply until there has been an opportunity to discuss all the amendments? In exercising your discretion—
§ Sir Bernard Braine
Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. There was 501 some misunderstanding earlier when I and other hon. Members sought to raise a point of order. We were in no way questioning your right to call the Minister at that stage. It would have been improper for us to do so. But this is no ordinary Bill. It is a constitutional measure of great importance, with far-reaching implications, not merely for Scottish and Welsh Members but for English Members. You have grouped a large number of amendments, Mr. Murton. Only one has been discussed. Therefore, the Minister cannot hope to answer any of the points, because they have not been made. It is not unreasonable to suggest that you indicate that the Minister's being called now will not preclude you from calling hon. Members who have sat here for long hours. Unless an undertaking of this kind is given, this will not be understood in English constituencies.
§ Miss Harvie Anderson
On a point of order, Mr. Murton. It may have escaped your notice that among those on the Opposition Benches seeking to catch your eye was at least one Privy Councillor. I am sure that the Chair will observe the conventions of the House of Commons in this case. One of the small courtesies, sometimes resented by other hon. Members, is that a Privy Councillor is given a certain precedence. I hope that in due course the Chair will take that into account.
§ Mr. Pym
On a point of order. In any consideration that you may give, Mr. Murton, to the fear in hon. Members' minds about the possible early ending of the debate on this amendment, will you bear in mind that this is the first time the whole issue of the government of the United Kingdom as a whole, as well as the Bill's effect on Scotland and Wales, arises? That is why so many of my right hon. and hon. Friends are very keen to speak. May I ask you to give full weight to that fundamental aspect of this large group of amendments, some of which have not been spoken to?
§ Mr. John Smith
We have had, so far, a wide-ranging debate. I was interested in the comments of the hon. Member for Surbiton (Sir N. Fisher). He was right to stress the importance of the enormous economic, social, political and cultural value of the United Kingdom. As he rightly pointed out, the Government were committed to that proposition. Anyone who listened to the Second Reading debate would have heard clear affirmation of that commitment. It is profoundly important that we maintain the political and economic unity of the United Kingdom, and I have no doubt that the vast majority of Scots wish to remain full members of the United Kingdom.
Since I have been agreeing with the hon. Member for Surbiton so far, I say to him that there is a danger in paying too much attention to the Members of the Scottish National Party. Too much attention is paid to what they say and to what their motives are supposed to be. A number of hon. Members seem sometimes to place too much emphasis on what the SNP says. It represents a minority point of view in the United Kingdom.
§ Sir Nigel Fisher
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member so early in his speech, particularly since he has been so gracious to me, but I would put into his mind the area that the reason why some of us do over-emphasise the importance of our colleagues in the Scottish National Party is that they may, certainly under the present system of voting, at some time in the near or immediate future obtain a majority in the Assembly. That would be a dangerous situation. That is why we have to pay a considerable amount of attention to their aims and objectives, which are not the same as ours.
§ Mr. Smith
The hon. Member will understand that I do not want to be tempted into dealing now with a series of amendments which will be discussed later. Again, the hon. Member is displaying a lack of confidence in the wisdom of the Scottish electorate. I do not believe that the Scottish Assembly will be dominated by the SNP. The Scottish electorate will reach sensible conclusions about whom it wishes to see represent it in the Assembly.
503 Having listened with some care to the speeches today, it seems that the main burden of the criticism of this declaratory clause is that it does not accurately state the position, that it wrongly declares what the Bill says. I reject that criticism. There are two legs to this argument. First, it is said that it is wrong to say that the Bill does not affect the unity of the United Kingdom. As I understand that argument, it turns on the view which hon. Members have of the effect of the legislation. It is a mistake to think that the unity of the United Kingdom depends on having some unity in the policies operated throughout the United Kingdom.
The argument may not be stated in that way but I think that was the underlying view of a number of hon. Members. Some of my hon. Friends, including the hon. Members for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan) and Wrexham (Mr. Ellis), pointed out that the unity of the country depends upon a number of things, including the will of the people, social circumstances and the desire to remain united. I utterly reject any criticism that the Bill will affect the unity of the kingdom.
§ Mr. Raison
Surely the argument which has come through repeatedly is that this is a mechanism for creating friction. It is that which will damage the unity of the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Smith
I was about to come to just that point. The hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) said that the Bill was a recipe for conflict. In any system of government there is bound to be conflict. We are not unused to the situation in which there is conflict between two Houses in a bicameral legislature such as ours. What I maintain is that the provisions of the Bill deal with points of conflict between the Assemblies—to which substantial power is to be devolved—and the United Kingdom Parliament.
The provisions in the Bill are sensible and, given reasonable good will—
§ Mr. Neil Kinnock (Bedwellty)
My hon. Friend draws an analogy between the House of Commons and the House of Lords. I suggest that he could draw an analogy between the House of Commons and a local authority. The analogy would be fairly drawn about the point of conflict if it were not for the fact that the institutions to be established under these provisions are national Assemblies. They will not be prepared to accept the ultimate supremacy of the House of Commons as the House of Lords and local authorities must both by precedent and by law. Those bodies, because they ostensibly embody a national determination and will, if they have to succumb to the supremacy of Parliament, will do so with great resentment and with the purpose of further expanding their independence.
§ Mr. Smith
I was not drawing an analogy. I made a passing reference to another situation. I do not want to develop full-blown analogies for different situations. There are differences in the situations described by my hon. Friend.
I do not believe that the fears of conflict predicted by the hon. Member for Aylesbury and some of his hon. Friends will be realised. For example, the Welsh Assembly will not have legislative competence. Therefore, the legislative clash is removed.
§ Mr. Smith
I was good enough to give way to my hon. Friend early in my speech. If he will refrain from interrupting me from a sedentary position, we might make some progress.
The main constitutional provisions are those which affect this legislative provision. The fact is that legislative power is given to the Scottish Assembly. I hope that hon. Members will forgive me if I concentrate on that aspect. I think that was what they had in mind when they referred to recipes for conflict.
I do not want to look too far ahead to discussions on override or definition of what is within the legislative competence of the Scottish Assembly, matters of determination by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, and other aspects. 505 I felt that many critics were not fair. In particular, the hon. Member for Aylesbury was not wholly fair in his description of these provisions.
For example, one matter which might be said to be a recipe for conflict would be the Scottish Assembly seeking to extend its powers and clashing with this Parliament. That matter is proposed to be referred to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. The Committee will recall that that represented a change from what the Government first proposed in the November White Paper. Having listened to the debate on the White Paper—the Government received a great deal of advice from the House of Commons—they thought it wise to have a judicial mechanism for the determination of the legislative competency of Bills coming, from the Scottish Assembly. I regard that as an intelligent and reasonable way of dealing with possible conflict in any system of government where power is to be shared.
§ Mr. Charles Morrison
What the Minister said is likely to be correct with regard to the legal interpretation of a Bill. The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council may legally be able to settle the type of conflict to which the hon. Gentleman referred. But we are concerned about political pressure, not the legal position. Whatever the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council may decide will have no effect on the political conflict. Many of us believe that the political conflict will be the trouble in future.
§ Mr. Smith
The hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Morrison) should reflect on what he has said. He said that the legal position would have no effect on the political situation. That is an exaggeration, because if there is a situation in which the United Kingdom Government feel that the Assembly is exceeding its powers as defined in the Bill, they can refer the matter to the Judicial Committee. That would be that and the Assembly measure would not go forward for Royal Assent.
§ Mr. Graham Page
I gather that the Minister is referring to Clause 20. The Judicial Committee only decides when the exercise of power of the Scottish Assembly is within the powers in the Bill, but throughout the Bill there are dual powers. How can one have dual powers and unity?
§ Mr. Smith
That is the danger of going into detail. [Interruption.] I am not prepared to go into detail on the point. If the United Kingdom Government feel that they are exceeding their powers they will refer the matter. We will go into the details of particular cases.
Hon. Members have referred to other Clauses, and I welcome that they are looking so far ahead. But perhaps it is not helpful to go into detailed consideration of matters which will be considered later.
I must stress the point about the unity of the United Kingdom. We have different views as to the political effect of devolution. Many hon. Members have stated that devolution will lead to the dismemberment of the United Kingdom, but there exists an element of judgment about that. One must take into account the attitudes and aspirations of the Scottish and Welsh peoples and those of other parts of the United Kingdom.
My strong conviction is that the proposals allowing within the framework of the United Kingdom the possibility of different decisions and priorities in different parts of the United Kingdom will strengthen and underline our unity. Our unity does not have to depend on enforced conformity from the centre. It can rest on recognising the diversity within our system. Such diversity already exists in the administrative sense in that we have territorial Secretaries of State for Scotland and Wales. I know that political control remains at Westminster but Governments of different complexions have decided that we should maintain a system of territorial administration for Scotland and Wales. That marks them out as different from other parts. For example in Scotland we have a separate legal system. I am a Scots lawyer unable to practise in England. I do not grumble about that since English lawyers cannot practise in Scotland. We also have a different educational tradition and many other differences.
507 I see that the hon. Member for Aylesbury shakes his head. Throughout the debate I have felt that he has not understood the strong attitudes in Scotland. He will be unable to understand them unless he looks at them more carefully. To shake one's head about the value of national institutions and the respect in which they are held by people of all political opinions is to show a lack of sensitivity and imagination.
We must approach the re-fashioning of our constitution not only with a proper clinical dissection of its provisions but with some political imagination. The Conservative Party has committed itself to some form of legislative devolution for Scotland. Many of the hon. Members who have been attacking the Bill do not share the Conservative Party's view. The hon. Member for Surbiton was frank enough to spell out clearly, only a few inches from his own Front Bench, the differences between his view and that of the Conservative Party.
§ Sir David Renton (Huntingdonshire)
The hon. Gentleman has used the expression "legislative devolution". I think that he will agree, on reflection, that that is not the correct expression to use. The expression "legislative devolution" was used by the Kilbrandon Commission in the sense of complete executive devolution and full legislative powers for a devolved Assembly, whereas all that the Conservative Party has suggested is that a Scottish Assembly should have some legislative opportunity, delegated ad hoc by the House of Commons.
§ Mr. Smith
I do not want to be difficult about this matter. Perhaps the right hon. and learned Gentleman will understand that there is a little difficulty on the Government side of the Committee in knowing precisely what it is that is proposed. I take his description of that. It follows very closely views expressed by him when he was a member of the Royal Commission on the Constitution. Indeed, I think that his recommendations in the report have a close connection with what appears to be the official policy of the Conservative Party.
However, it must be faced that if one gives legislative power to a subordinate Assembly, there is the possibility of clash between that Assembly and Westminster. I make no secret of that. I think that 508 it would happen under Conservative proposals as well, because, as I understand the position, the Conservative proposals would mean that Bills could be initiated in the Assembly that they would create and then come to the House of Commons for it to decide whether they should be given a Third Reading. There is there, perhaps, a clash of a rather more unfortunate kind than that proposed in the Bill.
I do not mind arguing the toss with hon. Members who say that they are against devolution in principle and so we should not have it at all, and that that is the easiest way to get rid of problems of conflict, because if we do not have the scheme we shall have no conflict. I am a little more reluctant to take it from Conservative Front Bench Members, who advertise themselves in Scotland and Wales as members of a party that believes in devolution. Therefore, I take with more reluctance criticism directed at me from the Opposition Front Bench.
§ Mrs. Winifred Ewing
On the question of possible clashes in the future, does the Minister agree that we possibly have a parallel in the relationship of a member State to the EEC and the very many clashes between every member State and the EEC constitutionally? In every plenary session that I have attended there have been such clashes. Those on the Opposition side of the Committee—though not my Bench—were mostly in favour of entering the EEC and creating the very situation in which there have been such clashes, but they still seem to want to go on facing the clashes and seeing what comes out of it at the end.
§ Mr. Smith
With respect, that is quite a different situation, in which nation States in the EEC perhaps disagree with each other from time to time. We are talking about the provisions in the Bill and a proposal that this Parliament should devolve powers to subordinate Assemblies. It is important to stress that we do not devolve sovereignty; we devolve powers. That is at the core of the constitutional theory of devolution, and it distinguishes it from federalism.
§ Mr. Powell
Surely the hon. Gentleman overlooked the fact that in the 1972 Act the Conservative Party removed, for the purposes of the EEC, the supreme 509 legislative authority of the House of Commons. That is how the Conservative Party removed the potential clash.
§ Mr. Smith
In this Bill we are not attempting to remove the supremacy of Parliament. The hon. Lady will no doubt reflect on what the right hon. Gentleman has said.
I think that the reason why I can say with confidence that this declaration of principle is a correct statement of the position is that we are not devolving sovereignty. It would be untrue and inaccurate to put such a declaratory principle in the Bill if we were devolving sovereignty. But we are not doing that. The classic difference in the federal system is the devolution of sovereignty, with the province or States, or whatever they are called, having sovereignty and rights in relation to the central body, the federal unit. That is an important difference. That is why I suggest that the Government are correct in stating that the supremacy of Parliament will be retained.
I listened to what the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) said about how a Parliament has to be capable of exercising its powers to ensure that it successfully superintends the activities of the Executive. It is an ongoing job. I wonder whether we do it in the House of Commons as we should. Is the Executive fully scrutinised? Is it sometimes not the case because Parliament has too much to do?
One argument that strongly supports devolution is that the process will lessen the burden on Parliament. We recently discussed the Licensing (Scotland) Bill, which made changes in licensing laws. The Committee began its deliberations at 10 o'clock at night and continued until 6 o'clock in the morning. That was an absurd way for the House of Commons to deal with the matter.
Opposition Members may say that that arose because of the Government's crowded business. They may say that the Government should have dropped some other piece of legislation, but we know that every Government find themselves in similar positions. I was in Opposition from 1970 to 1974, and we ran into the same problems in that period when the Conservative Government had 510 an overcrowded calendar. This is because the whole business of government is now so complex.
It might be said that the Bill will make government more complex, but why should Parliament be seeking to retain powers that could easily be devolved elsewhere? We could be deciding Scottish licensing laws in the Scottish Assembly. I do not believe that it is a matter of great interest to Members representing English constituencies. I do not believe that they are interested in Scottish licensing provisions.
The hon. Member for Aylesbury referred to Clause 18(2). I take up the point because the hon. Gentleman has been criticising me and I have not had an opportunity of answering. The clause is qualified by Clause 19(1). The capacity of the Scottish Assembly to legislate and to change Acts of Parliament is limited to the area of devolution. I think that that is understood on all hands. That is the important point for the Committee to bear in mind.
The hon. Gentleman asked what would happen if the Scottish Assembly amended a measure enacted by the United Kingdom Parliament. He described that as a leap-frogging situation. If it so wished, the House of Commons could insert in a Bill the provision that the measure should not be amended by the Assembly. However, I think it is highly unlikely that that clash would take place. The House of Commons having devolved powers in respect of health, education and housing to the Scottish Assembly—especially to Scotland, where there will be the legislative capacity of the Assembly—it is highly unlikely that it would seek to legislate in those areas. Call it a convention of the constitution or whatever, but no Government would normally propose legislation to the House of Commons in those spheres.
§ Mr. Brittan
Is the hon. Gentleman not saying that the Bill permits all such conflict between the two assemblies but that it may yet be possible for Parliament in some future Bill to insert a provision that will prevent the conflict? If that is so, the objection to the Bill will remain.
§ Mr. Smith
I do not follow the hon. Gentleman's argument. I was addressing myself to what happens when the kissing 511 has to stop, as it were—when the Assembly passes one thing and it is amended by the United Kingdom Parliament. If it so wishes, the House of Commons can pass a piece of legislation that is not to be amended by the Assembly. It could put that provision into the Bill. That would mean that the Assembly would not be able to operate Clause 18(2).
§ Mr. Brittan
I intervene for a second time because the hon. Gentleman had difficulty in understanding the first intervention on this issue. I am saying that if that procedure were followed it would rectify a defect in the Bill to which we are pointing. Until that defect is rectified the possibility of conflict stands. The fact that it may be possible in some subsequent legislation to remove it is neither here nor there.
§ Mr. Smith
I do not think the hon. Gentleman understood what I said. We may be in a state of mutual incomprehension about the matter, but if he examines Hansard I am sure that he will find substance in what I said.
The clause has been criticised because it is said to be inaccurate. I believe that the clause not only will not diminish the unity of the United Kingdom but will enhance it. To some extent it is a matter for argument. It is also a matter for judgment, political perception and political imagination.
Probably we shall not easily be able to reach agreement on these matters in Committee, but that is the defence I put forward for their inclusion in the clause. I regard it as a respectable defence because it is based on individual judgment and goes to the heart of the Bill. I believe that the Government were justified in putting such a declaration in Clause 1.
It was also said that it was wrong for us to refer in the clause to the fact that the supremacy of Parliament remains. I do not follow that argument, because the supremacy of Parliament does remain.
The right hon. Member for Down, South said that one can have sovereignty but that one must continually exercise it. He spoke of the long period of time when the House of Commons chose not to interest itself in the affairs of Northern 512 Ireland. But there can be no question about the supremacy of the House of Commons, as was vividly demonstrated by the fact that this Parliament abolished the Stormont regime. The supremacy was real enough then, and nobody suggested that the House of Commons did not have the right to do that.
I hope that what will happen as a result of the new constitutional provisions is that we shall be able to handle conflicts sensibly. There necessarily will be conflicts in any lively political system.
People will say that our arrangements are either too strict or too lax. It is hard to say whether one has constitutional arrangements right because one has to try to anticipate people's political and social behaviour and to foresee political situations. Therefore, it would be wrong for the Government to claim that these arrangements were perfect. I am sure that the Committee will be able to suggest improvements as we go through. We shall have to weigh the balance of advantage and disadvantage. It is important to get a spirit of co-operation and ensure that our mechanisms work as well as people of good will can make them work.
This debate has emphasised that the supremacy of Parliament is a responsibility that cannot be challenged, and we are not misleading the Committee when we put it in the Bill as a declaration of principle.
§ Mr. George Gardiner
The Minister will be aware that a number of speakers have argued that the unity of the United Kingdom will be threatened not necessarily by devolution but by a substantial measure of devolution not accompanied by some change of representation in the House of Commons. Will he address his mind to that point?
§ Mr. Smith
I have listened carefully to what has been said. Although hon. Members have dwelt on that point, I am not clear what is being proposed. Some people say that there is a difficulty about representation and that we should not proceed with devolution at all. I am sure that the Committee is with me when I say that the House of Commons remains effectively the domestic legislature for England as well as the United Kingdom Parliament.
513 I am not clear what is being said by the critics about Wales. It is said that there should be an in-and-out provision for Wales. That could hardly apply because the House of Commons remains the legislative power.
Some people say that there should be a reduction in the representation from Scotland. I am not clear about the situation as it affects Wales because I am not sure whether it is said that there should be a reduction in the representation proposed there. There are obviously two camps, and I am not clear what is being put to the Government. Is it that we ought to have an in-and-out clause? There are obvious difficulties about that. Gladstone found that out in respect of the 1893 Irish Home Rule Bill. He proposed an in-and-out clause but was persuaded to drop it by the House of Commons.
I have been listening carefully to what hon. Gentlemen have said but I am not clear what is being proposed.
§ Mr. Raison
The problem is that the Minister will be allowed to vote about my constituents' activities but I shall not be allowed to vote about his. That is one of the fundamental objections to the whole scheme and is one of the reasons why it cannot work.
§ Mr. Smith
In that case the hon. Gentleman does not agree with those who argue for a reduced representation of Scottish Members at Westminster. But many of his colleagues do. Presumably, in a devolution situation he would propose that there should be an in-and-out clause that Scottish Members were not able to vote.
I am trying to find the difference between destructive criticism and people trying to find a constructive answer to the problem. It seems that the hon. Gentleman falls into the first category. No doubt we shall return to this subject later on.
Several hon. Members opposite made remarks about political gerrymandering. It is said that the Labour Party gains most of its strength from Scotland and Wales. I would remind the Committee that it is relatively recently that the Labour Party won that proportion of seats in Scotland. As hon. Gentlemen on the Conservative Front Bench are 514 aware, in 1951 we had 35 Conservative Members, 35 Labour Members and one Liberal. In 1955 the Conservatives had a majority of seats in Scotland—36 compared with 34 Labour and one Liberal.
The electoral success of the Scottish National Party has hit the Conservative Party in some of the rural areas so that now the Conservative Party is down to the smallest representation in Scotland it has ever had in the House of Commons. I cannot imagine that its ambition is to leave the matter like that. I am sure that it hopes to win more seats in future. That is probably why we do not hear a great deal about a reduction in representation from the Conservative Front Bench. I can understand why.
§ Mr. Henderson
That is one of the most crucial points in the consideration of the whole Bill. I tabled Amendment No. 474, which, for various reasons, was not selected by the Chair. I intend to table that amendment in another form later. Most Scottish Members would recognise that it is quite inequitable and intolerable that when Scotland is to have powers to deal with matters like housing, roads and education, Scottish Members in this House should arrogate to themselves the power to tell English Members how they should run their roads, houses and education. Can the Minister give an indication whether the Government will be responsive and sympathetic to this view so that we can have general agreement that this is the way in which we ought to proceed?
§ Mr. Smith
I regret having given way to the hon. Gentleman, not because of the content of what he said but because of the time he took to say it. He knows perfectly well that it is difficult for me to comment about an amendment that has not been selected or to consider an amendment that has not yet been put down for consideration. I have enough to do at the moment without casting my eye on those possibilities.
The intervention underlines the unholy alliance between nationalists and ultra-Unionists in the House of Commons. One feeds off the other. Whenever the ultra-Unionists are stuck, they point to the SNP and say "Listen to what they say". That leaves of lot of moderate men in the middle who want the Union to be 515 maintained but not on strict lines of conformity and uniformity. We want to allow divergences in Scotland and Wales while retaining the unity of the United Kingdom.
§ 1.0 a.m.
§ Mr. Brittan
Does the Minister of State agree that a proposal of the kind put forward raises the problem of representation of Scottish and Welsh Members in the House of Commons and the role they are allowed to play? If the Government are putting forward these carefully considered proposals, it is incumbent upon them to produce a solution to that problem. Does the Minister agree that they have not done so?
§ Mr. Smith
The Government have put forward proposals that have been criticised. We propose to retain the 71 Scottish Members because of the important matters that will be decided for their constituents, as for others, by the House of Commons—taxation, economic policy, employment policy, energy, foreign affairs, trade and defence. That proposal has come under criticism. I was pointing out to the critics that there were two strands of thought. One was the reduction in the number of Scottish Members, which is not a logical proposition in the sense of the logical proposition put forward by the hon. Member for Aylesbury. There are difficulties in carrying out his logical proposition. It has been discussed. It was discussed endlessly during the passage of the Irish Home Rule Bills, particularly the 1893 Bill, when the House of Commons knocked it out. There may be no neat and entirely tidy logical solution. We must try to find the best proposition we can.
§ Sir Bernard Braine
The Minister is consistently evading the point repeatedly made that there is already an inequity in the representation in the House of Commons. On average, English Members represent more electors than do Welsh or Scottish Members, and Northern Irish electors are under-represented. An already unsatisfactory state of affairs will be compounded by the proposals in the Bill. Will the Minister address himself to that objection?
§ Mr. Smith
That raises the question of representation at Westminster in the light of existing legislation. The hon. 516 Gentleman speaks of the supposed inequity of there being smaller constituencies. The hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) represents a small constituency, and no one objects to that. There are constituencies in Scotland with 90,000 electors and with a much higher number. The House of Commons has kept that difference since 1918. The hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) is not dealing with the question of Scottish Members voting on English matters. If the number of Scottish Members is reduced, those who are here will still vote on English matters.
Several amendments suggest that rules of construction should be imported into the declaratory principle. That is implied by Amendment No. 16 and several others. I ask the House not to accept the amendments on the basis that the clause is no more nor less than a declaration of principle. The nearest parallels are those to which the right hon. Member for Down, South referred in previous Northern Ireland legislation, and there is a similar declaratory principle in the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973. If we want to give a construction to the courts we should do so in the context of the clauses themselves, not at the beginning of the Bill. It would be unwise to import rules of construction at this stage.
§ Mr. Peter Rees
Is the Minister actually saying, from his own legal experience, that the courts are not to consider the subsequent provisions in the light of Clause 1, and that this clause is mere hot air, and just a declaration?
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)
The Chairman, in his wisdom, said that he was quite confident that the Minister would reply to all the points in the amendments selected. When one of my hon. Friends asked, on a point of order, how the Minister would do that when the arguments had not been put forward because the Minister was called before my hon. Friends, you, Mr. 517 Murton, said that you were confident that he would be able to reply because he had read the amendments.
I draw attention to the fact that an amendment in my name and those of others deals with a point of considerable importance—the sovereignty of the Monarch in Parliament. All of us, whether we are for or against the Bill, will agree that the position of the Monarch is of some importance. At no point in the Minister's speech did he in any way touch on the question of the sovereignty of the Monarch in Parliament.
Although, Mr. Murton, you foreshadowed the prospect of the Minister dealing with the amendments selected. even though he had not heard the arguments, the reality is that he has not touched on some of them at all.
§ The Chairman
Order. First of all, the Chair did not use the word "confident"—it used the word "presume". Secondly, I suggest that the Minister has not yet finished his speech.
§ The Chairman
I apologise. I thought the Minister had given way to the hon. Member. I shall now proceed to call other hon. Members.
§ Mr. Graham Page
The Minister need not have risen at all—he has not satisfied the House on any of the subjects raised, and he has only increased the fears and anxieties which hon. Members have expressed in their speeches on this group of amendments. There have been many powerful speeches covering the fundamentals of the Bill, and the political background.
This clause immediately throws up clearly the contradictions, the anomalies, and the constitutional stupidities of the whole Bill. I hope that I am not being pedantic if I recall that we are debating 23 amendments to the second sentence of the first clause of the Bill. The question is whether we can, by these amendments, make some sense of this sentence. The speeches we have heard have already shown abundantly clearly that the sentence succeeds in doing two things. It 518 makes an expression of a pious hope and at the same time a declaration of an untruth. It is immensely successful in doing those two things at once.
I want it to be a real hope and a real truth. I do not want this Bill to affect the unity of the United Kingdom. I am with the Government in that phrase. I do not want it to affect the supreme authority of Parliament. But how can it be said that the Bill does not affect that unity or that authority. The Bill sets up a dual competency in many fields, in both government and legislation, and there can no longer be any unity where this dual control exists.
It is foolish to talk about that in Clause 1 when it is contradicted throughout the Bill. It will, of course, affect the unity of the United Kingdom and the authority of Parliament to make laws for parts of the United Kingdom. Hon Members have not yet dealt with that aspect of the clause concerning the making of laws for any part of the United Kingdom. We are told that the Bill is not to affect that, but throughout the Bill powers to make laws for parts of the United Kingdom are taken away from the Parliament at Westminster. We have only to look at Clause 18(2) or Clause 21 (2) and (8). The Bill gives members of the Scottish Executive all the powers that a Minister of the Crown is given by any enactment, and those members of the Executive are not responsible to Parliament at Westminster.
How can we say that there is unity in the United Kingdom after that? Clause 44 has been referred to as well. I will not go into detail on that. But let us consider the effect of the second sentence in Clause 1. Is every action under the Bill when it becomes a statute to be decided by that sentence? If not, what is the aim of the sentence? It cannot be merely declaratory. If all action and conduct under the Bill when it becomes law is to be decided by this declaratory clause it is just a complete invitation to litigation. If it is intended that it should be declaratory, and if we are to test every action under the Bill by turning to this phrase, that must affect the unity of the United Kingdom or the supremacy of Parliament. This needs spelling out a lot more clearly than it has been by the few words in Clause 1.
519 This Parliament can continue to legislate for Scotland and Wales. We do not need Clause 1 to tell us that. If any action taken under the Bill must not affect the unity of the United Kingdom, let us try to spell it out a little better. That is what I have endeavoured to do in a number of amendments. The Minister did not have the courtesy to deal with them in answering the debate. I do not wonder. He rose to reply before hearing anything about the amendments.
Let us consider Amendment No. 22. It corrects the word in that phrase to provide that the provisions "shall not", as opposed to "do not", affect unity. If that phrase is to have any meaning and is not to be merely declaratory the tense must be changed. We then come to Amendment No. 25, which seeks to qualify the word "affect" by making the clause readaffect adversely nor detract from, harm or weaken the unity of the United Kingdom".I do not mind it if it affects the unity of the United Kingdom by improving our unity. That must be acceptable to the Minister. But what the Minister really meant when drafting the clause was that it should not affect the unity of the United Kingdom adversely. If that is so, the Government should accept Amendment No. 25.
The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) raised the point about the supreme authority of Parliament. In Amendment No. 29 we have endeavoured to expand that to the "supreme authority, sovereignty and competence" of Parliament. Is that not acceptable to the Government? Is that not a better explanation of what is intended by this phrase in the second sentence of Clause 1?
As to the competency of Parliament, I refer to Amendment No. 31, which asserts Parliament's right to:govern and legislate for and to enforce the law inany part of the United Kingdom. What is the good of saying that the Parliament at Westminster has the power to make laws if it does not have the power to enforce them? What will happen when the Westminster Government makes a new law for Scotland? Will it have the power to enforce that law? If it has, we 520 must say so in the clause and spell it out.
It is said that the Government can legislate for and enforce law in the United Kingdom or any part of it. There is some qualification of that phrase in Amendment No. 36, which says:nor shall they alter the prerogatives, rights, duties, privileges and conventions of the Crown as the constitutional monarchy of the United Kingdom".Surely the Government accepts that and would not object to it being spelt out in the clause if that is what is intended.
I go on to Amendment No. 36, which inserts: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".Are we not going to say that this Parliament is supreme in the matter of treaties with other countries?
I finally refer to Amendment No. 37:nor shall any provision of the Act be used to alter the process whereby laws are made for the United Kingdom.If this significant sentence in Clause 1 is to have any effect at all this must be spelt out clearly. In spelling it out I have convinced myself that the whole thing is purposeless.
If all the amendments are accepted, it is clear that we should add another amendment to the Bill to leave out everything from page 1, line 11 to page 166, line 8. That would remove the whole of the rest of the Bill. If one spells out the significant sentence of Clause 1, it makes the whole of the rest of the Bill nonsense. We should have to start all over again.
The Minister has not explained the real intentions of the clause to the Committee. He has tried to answer some of the points that were made in debate and that went far beyond the amendment. I do not mean that the Chair should have called us to order, but the Minister has not answered the real question. What is the aim of this sentence and what effect will it have on the rest of the Bill? If the sentence is spelt out fully the rest of the Bill is a complete contradiction.
§ Mr. John Mendelson
The hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mrs. Ewing) in her attempt to help the Bill along and to attack the Opposition—which I would normally regard as laudable—was 521 entering on dangerous territory in respect of the Lord President. She tried to draw an analogy between what is attempted in the Bill and what was done by the previous Tory Government about EEC legislation. If she were to succeed in establishing that analogy she would be bound to lose the Lord President's support for the legislation. As he is the chief supporter of the legislation in the Cabinet, that would be fatal. She ought to be more careful in future when picking her ground from which to advance attacks on the Opposition.
The Opposition are unreasonable to expect the Government to accept all these amendments. That cannot be expected of any Government, but I do not see why the Govrenment should not accept some of the chief amendments in the group. Judging by the intentions expressed on Second Reading and many subsequent occasions—and eloquently repeated by the Minister of State tonight —it should be possible for the Government to accept some amendments.
I hope that the Minister will change his mind so that we may vote on some amendments and reaffirm, with the support of all parties except the SNP and Plaid Cymru, our commitment to the unity of the United Kingdom. It would be politically useful to isolate the nationalists. They would have to propose the amendments because they are dedicated to the break-up of the United Kingdom and have said so frankly and honestly.
One of the reasons for my suspicion of the legislation is that it has been welcomed by the nationalist parties. When the result of the Second Reading Division was announced, the only hon. Members who cheered and waved Order Papers were those on the SNP Bench and one or two Plaid Cymru Members. They said in radio interviews on the following morning that they see the Bill as a stepping stone to a separate Scotland.
I did not agree with the speech of the Minister of State, but I do not join in the niggling criticisms and accusations that he did not answer every amendment—most of which have not been discussed. The Minister cannot be expected in winding up a four- or five-hour debate to refer to amendments which have not even 522 been pressed upon the Government. That criticism is unreaonable and unfair.
However, my hon. Friend did not deal with the key political argument. He said perfunctorily at the end of his speech that he invited the House not to accept the amendments, but he gave no political reasons for not accepting some of the chief amendments. That must be done in a further reply from the Government Front Bench when other hon. Members have spoken.
There is a danger to the unity of the United Kingdom if the Bill is passed, but not enough mention has been made—though this will be corrected in the coming months—of the economic unity of the United Kingdom which is bound to be a bone of contention as soon as the Assemblies get to work. This is strictly relevant to what we are discussing and to the merits of the amendments.
I am sure that the Minister of State will have heard the excellent BBC broadcast which gave extracts of the debate in which the unity of the United Kingdom was discussed. Not all those extracts were helpful to my case, but the key argument in those early days was the economic argument.
I fear that the people of Scotland may be misled into accepting policies in the new Assembly which will threaten the economic advantages they derive from unity. Ministers have been led into a false position by their own legislation. I understand how this can happen: a Cabinet which has committed most of a parliamentary Session to what it regards as a major reforming piece of legislation cannot be expected to make speeches every week warning people of the dangers of the legislation. But that is what should be done, because the dangers are real.
I do not take kindly to detailed discussion of particular paragraphs. I agree with the Government that the details of a political situation four or five years hence cannot be foreseen. A far more serious danger is that the economic demands urged on the Assembly will mislead many people into believing that it is the limitation of the Assembly's powers which is responsible for any shortcomings of the Scottish economy.
The Government keep saying that this is the only way to avoid the worst, that without the Bill there will be a wave of 523 nationalist sentiment. That is wrongheaded. If we become convinced that a certain political commitment is wrong we have a duty to tell the people the truth, whatever the political price.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Might not the situation be much worse? The slogan being put around is not "We want 150 Assemblymen" but "It's our oil". That makes my hon. Friend's case.
§ Mr. Mendelson
When it comes to the supremacy of Parliament and the representation of Scottish Members, it is not enough for the Minister of State, in an otherwise convincing speech, to pick on one hon. Member who shook his head as a pretext for blustering that other hon. Members knew less than he about the special advantages of different Scottish law and other differences. The Committee is full of hon. Members who have the greatest respect for these features which mean so much to the people of Scotland, but that is not the same as saying that we need this political development. Nor does it mean that a political Assembly is needed to control appointments to certain supervisory bodies in Wales, such as the Arts Council and the BBC. Such suggestions come from people who have been frustrated over the years because they do not like the appointments. Democratic machinery for change in that respect can be introduced without an entirely new political Assembly. Those are absurd reasons for the massive changes involved in the Bill. Far more powerful reasons are need for this historic change and the risks involved.
There remains the argument about the supremacy of Parliament. There is no analogy with the Common Market. Those who support the Common Market, as I do not, will not agree when I say that the Common Market dictates to this Parliament what we shall do in our domestic legislation. What we are discussing has dangers of its own, and we have seen some of them today. We are beginning a debate about breaking up the United Kingdom Parliament.
My hon. Friend the Minister of State and other members of the Government can reject them as often as they like, but we shall repeat again and again, not only here but throughout the country, our arguments about the alleged over- 524 representation of Scotland at Westminster. I welcome Scottish representation in Parliament. It enriches the life of Parliament. I have never objected to it, and I do not want it changed. My view has nothing to do with fear of changing party majorities in the House. But I am convinced that after two or three years, if the Bill is passed, the demand for a reduction of Scottish representation will become irresponsible, whether a Conservative or Labour Government are in power.
We are seeing some strange bedfellows. An SNP Member suggested that Scottish Members should have no right to talk about certain aspects of the business of the United Kingdom Parliament—a disastrous suggestion. My hon. Friend the Minister can say as often as he likes that he rejects it, but it is the kind of proposal we can expect from the SNP. The more it can be argued that Scottish Members should have no right to take a full part in United Kingdom legislation, the more they will argue that the House has no right to interfere in the legislation of the Scottish Assembly. Every proposal is designed to break up the United Kingdom and lead to its destruction.
There is no reason why the Government cannot reasonably say that they share some of the fears and accept some of the amendments.
§ Mr. Peter Rees
Since, although I start from a different premise I arrive at somewhat similar conclusions as the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson), I hope that he will forgive me if I do not devote any part of my intervention to what he has said. In view of the lateness of the hour I propose to speak to Amendment No. 17 standing in my name and that of my right hon. and hon. Friends.
Although it may come as a surprise to the Government Front Bench, I tabled this amendment in the hope that it might possibly assist the Government in their consideration of the Bill. I appreciate that the architect—dare I call him the "Poulson" of this Bill?—is the Lord President. We know that the Lord President is somewhat careless of the legal niceties of legislation, indeed of the customs, conventions and Standing Orders of the House of Commons. Nevertheless, he is supported by more exact right hon.
525 and hon. Friends, including the Lord Advocate, whom we saw sitting demurely on the Front Bench from time to time. Alas, his services have not been called on. I hope later to uncover a problem on which he might care to give advice to the Committee. There is also the Minister of State, who, in an unguarded moment—and I must confess to have been ignorant of his professional background —said that he was a lawyer.
§ Mr. Rees
Indeed. My right hon. Friend is right to correct me. Who am I to tread into the delicate sphere of Scots law, about which I know very little?
I approached this Bill on the basis that every line, clause, comma and word would have to be given force and effect by the courts which will be called upon to construe it. I considered that Clause 1 was of some importance it stated the general principles of the Bill, which should govern the courts when construing it. I know that the Lord President is inclined to attribute trigger-happy fingers to the judiciary. They do their best with difficult legislation, and the legislation introduced by this Government has been of particular complexity and badly thought out. We have been given little time to debate the profundities of its legislation, or lack of them. On this occasion I thought that the Lord President, with the good advice of those sitting beside him, had turned over a new legislative leaf and we were to have a carefully constructed Bill, that we were to start with Clause 1 which was to dominate the Bill and govern the construction of everything that followed.
But because—and I hope that the Committee will not think me arrogant—I detected certain imperfections in the drafting to Clause 1 I table an amendment which might have tidied up these imperfections. Now we are told by the Minister of State that, far from governing the rest of the Bill, the clause is no more than an exercise in political rhetoric.
§ Mr. Rees
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who, in inheriting a distinguished seat, has also inherited the facility with words which his distinguished predecessor possessed. It now turns out that this 526 clause is a preliminary puff—what I, perhaps more coarsely, would describe as legislative hot air. Worse than that, as others have demonstrated, it is in part a glimpse of the obvious when it states that:The following provisions of this Act make changes in the government of Scotland and Wales are parts of the United Kingdom.Perhaps in deference to the right hon. Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson), the clause might have talked about governance of Great Britain" rather than "government". Let us not cavil at small details at this hour. That is a glimpse of the obvious which I venture to suggest to the Lord President it was unnecessary to put into the Bill. The clause goes on to state what is palpably untrue:They do not affect the unity of the United Kingdom.The Minister of State now tells us that this is a flight of political imagination. With suitable modesty, he is not prepared to be dogmatic on this point. I say to the Minister that the balance of the argument has been all one way. There have been one or two paltry interventions from Members of the SNP, endeavouring to provide a little ballast for the rather insubstantial arguments of the Minister of State. But both from the Benches behind him and from those in front of him the argument has been incontestable.
§ Mr. Henderson
I am grateful to the hon. and learned Member for his reference to the SNP, although he might have found a facility with words to equal that of his hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen) and have spoken of us in a more kindly light. I deny that my intervention was in any way a means of providing ballast for the Minister of State's argument. So strong was my "ballast" that it shot the Minister down, forcing him to resume his seat prematurely.
§ Mr. Rees
I hope that there will be other occasions when I can refer to the hon. Gentleman and his right hon. and hon. Friends in more complimentary terms. If the Chair were to select the amendment to scale down Scottish representation in the House of Commons, I might find a measure of common ground with the hon. Gentleman. With profound respect, dare I suggest that I hope that there will be an opportunity to debate 527 more sensibly, and at greater length than the Minister of State seems to be prepared to concede, that important principle which is central to the issues in the Bill.
The final proposition in this preliminary puff is thatThey 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.There I detected a gleam of constitutional sense—a certain feeling for the constitutional history of this country. Therefore, I turned to the Act of Union.
It surprises me beyond measure that no Government spokesman so far has thought fit to refer to the constitutional foundations of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. On this occasion, because I have no solid antiquarian basis, I do not propose to refer to the Treaty of Rhuddlan—I do not see any representatives of Plaid Cymru—which incorported parts of the Principality into England. I doubt whether the Library of the House of Commons would be able to turn up that treaty, but it may be that in our debates we shall have to examine its articles.
In view of the lateness of the hour, I prefer to turn to the Act of Union, because there I find a solid legislative substratum for our debate.
The Lord President of the Council, acute parliamentarian though he is, nurtures the belief—I believe it to be unfounded—that the House of Commons is capable of overturning and amending all previous Acts. I believe that therein lies an error. On another occasion, with the benevolent connivance of the Chair, I should like to debate how far we are governed by the conventions of the constitution which up to now have been considered to be of binding effect on and of great advantage to this country.
I hope that the Lord President of the Council, who is so cavalier about these matters, may be coaxed to his feet more often in our debates, because we miss his honeyed tone, his acute perception and his all-sweeping glance at the judiciary and the legislative process. We wish to hear more of his views on how judges should construe these matters—whether they 528 should be trigger-happy or slow to anger. Indeed, there may be other opportunities to review the activities of the Attorney-General. But there I stray slightly out of order. In this instance I shall confine myself rigorously, under your baleful eye, Mr. Fitch, to the provisions of the Act of Union and the Bill before us.
Were the Act of Union a simple matter of domestic legislation enacted by the United Kingdom Parliament subsequent to 1707, I might be in difficulty in suggesting that we were disabled from enacting the provisions of this Bill. I am not being dogmatic in what I am putting to the Committee. I hope that we shall have the benefit of advice from the Lord Advocate and perhaps from that great legal luminary the Attorney-General, if he can shake himself free from the toils of the Court of Appeal.
It will not have escaped the attention of the Committee that the Act of Union was the ratificatory measure of articles negotiated by the commissioners of two independent sovereign States. That gives it a quality quite separate and distinct from any of the measures that this Parliament or even the Parliament of 1970, with respect to the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), ever had to debate or consider. This was the Act to ratify the fruit of negotiations between two commissioners of two sovereign States. I refer the Committee to two particular provisions, and no doubt other hon. Members with more acute eyes will have spotted provisions that raise constitutional matters of equal importance.
I refer first to Article III. It is to be observed that it is not described as a section or a clause. Article III statesThat the United Kingdom of Great Britain shall be represented by one and the same Parliament to be stiled the Parliament of Great Britain.I have no doubt that it was for that reason that the draftsmen of the present Bill chose to describe as Assemblies the legislative bodies with which the Government hope to endow Scotland and Wales. However, we must consider the substance of what we are asked to do for Wales and Scotland—to endow them with Parliaments. That is in plain contradiction of Article III.
529 The side note to Article XVIII describes it as concerned with "laws concerning public rights." But the article states:that no alteration be made in laws which concern private right except for the evident utility of the subjects within Scotland.That could be a matter for keen debate, analysis and construction. Schedule 6, Group 23, of the Bill is entitled "Private law". How can we be certain that, even with the benevolent assistance of the hon. Members of the nationalist parties, a Scottish Parliament or Assembly will enact measures concerning private law which will be for the evident benefit and utility of the subjects within Scotland? Are we entitled to abdicate our responsibility in the face of Article XVIII of the Act of Union? This is a matter of profound constitutional importance.
With his legal background, perhaps the Minister of State will be able to give us his advice. He shakes his head with becoming modesty. Even at this late hours, then, we should ask for the assistance of the Lord Advocate and perhaps the Attorney-General. I say the Attorney-General although I appreciate that he is carrying a great load of responsibility at present. It is not for me to speculate what he may face tomorrow morning but this is a matter which affects not only Scottish courts but the English courts.
I recognise that the Attorney-General is always responsible to the House of Commons. He is the principal legal adviser of the House on these matters. I do not wish to draw invidious comparisons between the status of the Attorney-General and the Lord Advocate on this matter, but our debate will be advantaged by their presence.
I hope that the Committee feels that I have uncovered a point of profound importance. Without presuming to criticise the Chair, I was a little surprised at the suggestion of a previous occupant that the Minister of State will be able to deal with all the amendments grouped together on the Notice Paper merely by glancing at them. Perceptive and imaginative though he is, the Minister cannot possibly have envisaged all the arguments that I have advanced, nor those that will be advanced by other right hon. and hon. Members.
As I have said, I do not claim to dogmatise on this point. I merely claim 530 the credit for perhaps having unearthed a point that deserves much closer consideration by the Committee than the Patronage Secretary's representative is capable of giving it, than the Lord President is disposed to give it or than the Minister of State is allowed to give it.
§ Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)
My hon. and learned Friend will have noted that Article VI says:That all parts of the United Kingdom for ever from and after the union shall have the same allowances encouragements and drawbacks.He is therefore very right in saying that there are many legal matters involved which must be answered in this debate and can be answered only by the Attorney-General or a Law Officer. Is it not, therefore, quite wrong that the debate should be concluded, perhaps, without their presence?
§ Mr. Rees
I am always glad of the deployment of the heavy artillery of my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton)—thundering behind me, in front of me and beside me. It gives me the fortitude to carry on.
I feel seriously, I hope without immodesty—I hope that I carry the Committee with me in this, even if hon. Members do not reach the same conclusions as I do on great political points—that here is a constitutional point of great importance which deserves much closer consideration than it has so far received.
§ Mr. Kinnock
I shall not follow the hon. and learned Member for Dover and Deal (Mr. Rees) down the path he pursued against some of my right hon. and hon. Friends—at least, not tonight. There may be future occasions on which I have to adopt the same general attitude to them as he has possibly done, undoubtedly for strategic reasons; but this will not be one of them because the hour is late.
As it afforded some amusement at the time, I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister of State will not mind me reminding him that when the Bill was published and when certain alarm was voiced about the prospect of disunity arising from it, he said to me and one or two of my hon. Friends, with complete assurance, "Do not worry about disunity. We have provided against it in the Bill." It is my hope that my 531 hon. Friend will be around next week, for instance, when we have a heavy frost, or in summer, when we might have a drought. He can always introduce a Bill against both eventualities with complete assurance, and neither will occur and the British people will not be inconvenienced, "droughted" or disunited.
Some of my hon. Friends and I have tabled amendments to the clause in which we wish to delete everything after "Kingdom", or at least, after "dom", in line 9. We have done that because the whole sentence,They 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 ",measured against any criteria, cannot be anything more than mere wishful thinking. What the rest of the Bill demonstrates—indeed, all the political campaigns, considerations, appeasements and debates that have gone into making up the Bill demonstrate this—is that the unity of the kingdom has already been affected. The unity of the Kingdom is mose directly threatened. That is the purpose of some of the most influential Members of Parliament—at least, the tail that appears to wag the devolutionary dog that comes from the Opposition Benches. Their purpose and intent is to disunify the United Kingdom.
On these bases and over a couple of years of giving considerable attention to these matters, I believe that it is impossible for us to pass a Bill involving such disunity. The whole question of the supreme authority of Parliament, about which I know my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House is completely reassured, is also very much in question, so much so that it is quite ridiculous to put such an assurance in Clause 1 or to believe that such self-confidence is to be permitted to delude the Government, the Committee or the people of Scotland and Wales.
But I do not worry about the disunity of the kingdom. I am not like the convinced and almost ideologically committed Members on the Opposition Benches. One of the canons of their general political belief is to accept and respond to the unity of the kingdom. The unity of Wales, England, Scotland and Northern Ireland is a convenient expedient. It tends to benefit the people of 532 Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England. That is not because it has always been there but because for a mixture of historical, economic, cultural and constitutional accidents it tends to benefit the people. The size of the United Kingdom, the relatively easy access to all parts of the United Kingdom, the intermingling and inter-marriage and the general social intercourse of all peoples of the United Kingdom make it convenient and expedient to accept unity. It is not a virtue in itself.
If the people of my constituency would be greater advantaged by devolution, I should be a devolutionist. If I could have it demonstrated to me that they would be greater advantaged by independence for Wales, I should be in favour of independence. If it could be demonstrated to me that the people of Bedwellty would be better off in orbit around the moon, I should probably form a space probe. However, even with their difficulties, their economic depression, their shortcomings and the great rents in their social fabric in my constituency, the relationship that they currently have not merely with the central Government but with centrally financed Government means that my constituents, who tragically and through no fault of their own are not able to pay the full cost of their social bills, are able to rely on the contributions from those in other parts of the United Kingdom who pay their bills for them.
That is the convenient expedient. That is the benefit of union for my constituents. That is why I consider that anything that threatens or afflicts the existing unity should be contested with all my strength, with all my parliamentary influence and with all my ability to disrupt, interrupt and overthrow. It is also the reason for the overwhelming majority of my constituents happening to share my great distaste for and opposition to the Bill. That is because they know on which side their bread is buttered.
That is not being over-materialistic, although I think it is one of the necessities of improverished life to have a fairly high regard for material necessity. It is a fact that my constituents recognise, together with that material connection, all of the social, political and cultural relationships. This touches the political, cultural and social relationships 533 which they have with people of their own class in other parts of the United Kingdom.
Treasured friends, comrades and brothers in the trade union movement are committed to devolution—and not just to this devolution but to considerably more devolution. It is the formal policy of the Welsh TUC to have a Welsh Assembly in Cardiff with substantial financial powers that go far beyond what the Government propose or will accept.
Despite the existence of Assemblies in Edinburgh and Cardiff, the unity of the working class in Britain cannot be fragmented by constitutional rearrangements aimed at bringing government nearer to the people. They will not infringe the solidarity and unity of the working class of Britain. They are not intended to do so. The last thing the Government want to do is to breach that solidarity, but in the reality of the allocation of major new nationalised industry sites, the allocation of new Civil Service jobs, the dispersal of central Government, the allocation of money for social or environmental projects, the contest we now have will be sharpened and embittered by the fact that it will be Wales, as represented through its national Assembly, and Scotland, as represented through its national Assembly, and Britain as discussed in this Parliament, that will be involved in the bitterest conflicts with one another.
Because of the preoccupation with the need for jobs, prosperity and security, especially in the disadvantaged parts of the United Kingdom, that must lead to breaches and conflicts between one area and another, and rifts inside the working class. We shall need all the unity we can get to overcome that situation.
I hope that with the solidarity that has been maintained by the three TUCs of Britain and in the unions Britain will thrive in future, with or without devolution. The Bill will impose an immense burden and strain, and there will be a temptation to put local interests first. The Bill promises disunity and disintegration.
Accusations of disintegration are pooh-poohed by the devolutionists, but if devolution does not seek to disintegrate, what does it seek to do? If it is not the purpose of devolution to withdraw 534 from the scrambled egg of the British constitution certain functions and powers and install them in new "devo-parliaments", what is the purpose of devolution?
The Government say that one can draw a line and set a high-tide mark. It is said that a specific perimeter can be set to the expansion of those powers and that disintegration will not take place. Where is that margin to be set? Is it to be set where the Government currently propose, or where the Welsh TUC, the Communist Party, or the Welsh National Party or the SNP propose that it should be set? But we have heard from both the nationalist parties that they are not separatist parties but are only after independence. Is that where the margin will be set?
By now everyone is familiar with the slippery slope argument. One could be accused of tedious repetition for using it again. The reason it crops up so often in debates, not just in this House but in pubs, clubs, chapels and party discussions in Wales, Scotland and England, is because the slippery slope argument happens to be true.
§ Mr. D. E. Thomas
I have followed the hon. Gentleman's argument about where devolution should stop. As one of the major advocates of a referendum, would the hon. Gentleman agree that where devolution stops is a matter for the people of Wales and Scotland and that they will decide how far they want to go?
§ Mr. Kinnock
If we had in front of us the questions to be put in the referendum I would be in a better position to answer the hon. Gentleman. I shall strike a bargain with him. If he will give me an undertaking to abide for the remainder of his political career with the outcome of the referendum, I will give him a similar undertaking that I will abide for the rest of my political career with the outcome of the referendum.
I was interested in securing the perimeter. The fact is that even if the people of Wales voted "Yes" to this Bill we cannot accept that that would set the seal on further drift, strain and disintegration.
I do not believe that the people of Wales will vote "Yes" or, even if they 535 do, that that in itself will set that seal. But one seal they will be able to set is the seal that the hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. Thomas) likes least of all. That is the seal for generations to come upon the whole lunacy of a separate Wales. That question must be put in the referendum, too. I hope the hon. Member for Merioneth will accept the authenticity of the votes of the people of Wales in the referendum in the same way as I intend to do.
In many respects we are really looking more at the dispersal of Civil Service jobs, or lack of finance, or aspirations that do not yet exist but must be aroused because of the existence of quasi-parliaments in Endinburgh and Cardiff than at the prophecy of disunity. That makes the phrase in Clause 1, that the Bill can legislate against disunity or against any diminution in the supremacy of Parliament absolute nonsense.
The borders that will be created in the minds of the people of Britain by the new constitutional status of Scotland and Wales, together with all the paraphernalia and pomp, will be more important than any borders that can be put upon maps. A factor of British politics that has hitherto been totally absent when considering the allocation of jobs, money or power has been that of where people live. That will now become a major consideration. Whatever undertakings the Government give, and however specific they intend to be in their guarantees against disunity, they cannot surmount the new thirsts of 1977 and the jealousies, resentments and meannesses that must arise as a consequence of devolution.
Whatever the consequence of the referendum in Scotland or Wales. these are pressures that we shall have to deal with. I said earlier that I was not worried about disunity because I accept unity as an experience. I reject the pressures on it because they will reduce the standards of the people I represent and the people of Scotland and Wales and will embitter social relationships. The worst thing that can happen in the immediate future is the imposition of strains and the fuelling of angers and resentments. That we can well do without.
For that reason we should not have any confidence that the Government can legislate against those developments in 536 1977. It cannot be repeated too often that the Government have delivered a springboard to the separatist cause. The people of each country will decide whether the separatists shall be victorious. They will ultimately safeguard the unity or ensure the dismemberment of the United Kingdom. There is reassurance in that. In feeding that aspiration and in giving credit to the belligerence of nationalism, the Government do a gross disservice to the supremacy of the House of Commons and the harmony and unity of the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Tim Renton
We shall need all the unity we can get. That is what the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) said. How much I agree with him. It is because I fear that the Bill will promote disunity that I oppose it totally and must vote against the adoption of Clause 1 later tonight.
Earlier this evening the Minister of State gave us another glimpse of his personal philosophy. He talked about unity not depending on uniformity. He earlier referred to the diversity of the United Kingdom and said that he wished to encourage it. It is a strange way of promoting unity to seek to encourage diversity at a time when the economic strains upon us are so great. He repeatedly stressed that in his personal judgment the Bill will promote unity. But there will never be a second chance to think about this.
If the Minister's personal judgment is wrong, if the Bill promotes disunity rather than unity, we shall not have another chance to look at it again. To think that once we have devolved powers to a Scottish or Welsh Assembly we shall be able to get them back again is to live in cloud-cuckoo-land. I should like the Minister's personal judgment to be right for his own sake and the sake of the United Kingdom. I wish he were right and that the Bill could promote unity. It is a matter of personal judgment, but I fear that he is wrong and that the consequences of that error on his part and on the part of the Lord President will be disastrous for the long-term unity of the United Kingdom.
The hon. Member for Bedwellty in his very good speech touched on many reasons why he thought the Bill would promote disunity. He did not mention 537 that, whereas there is one set of politicians now, under the Bill there will be three sets of politicians. We in the House of Commons kid ourselves and the people that we are in control of events. We are not. We have civil servants to help us in exercising the control that we believe we have but in fact do not have. As a result of this Bill, where there was one set of politicians before, now there will be three—and magnified sets in Edinburgh and Cardiff. That can only lead to further friction, and further disillusion with the political system. It will be a further source of disunity throughout the troubled United Kingdom.
I note and I respect the personal honesty of the Minister of State. I fear that the root of this Bill lies in the political gerrymandering of the Labour Party and its determination to maintain Labour seats in Scotland, but I think that, personally, the Minister really believes in his own argument that unity can be promoted by encouraging diversity. I put the point to him that it is harder to stick to that philosophy when the Scottish National Party is arguing time and time again that it will make use of this opportunity to get sovereign parliamentary independence for Scotland. Against that background of a now major party in Scotland which says that it is using the Bill as a fulcrum for its purposes, it is much harder to accept the naive and ingenuous view that unity will be promoted by the Bill.
Further disillusionment will result from the Bill. Although there is a pretence of devolution in the measure, if one reads it closely one can see that all along it is London which holds the grip and keeps the purse strings. It is London which says "we will let you take things so far, but at the end of the day it is we who will manage them". The Minister of State says that this is a source of strength, but it will be a source of disillusionment in years to come when the Scots, and to a lesser degree, the Welsh, who believe that they have been given an element of power over their affairs, suddenly find that in the end it is complacent, selfcentred London which, in the final analysis, will manage things. That can only be a source of disillusionment which will lead to disunity.
538 Earlier, the right hon. Member for Down South (Mr. Powell) touched on the fact that the sovereignty of this Parliament had passed to the EEC. He made the point that in 1972 the Conservative Government resisted that argument by saying that in the end Westminster would always have the right to remove us from the Treaty of Rome, and therefore, the ultimate sovereignty of this Parliament was not affected. This devolution Bill does not touch in any way on the fact that we have passed a great deal of our sovereignty to the EEC. We are only just beginning to learn to live with that, and with the way in which the Community affects the law—including Scottish law—the accountancy profession, and business life. It is only just dawning on us, and this is not touched on at all in the Bill.
In Clause 1 the Government say that this is the supreme Parliament in the end, and that we have the right to undo anything we do not like as it develops. But that is not true. Once power has been given to Edinburgh and Cardiff, we cannot get it back. This is another area in this Bill which is effectively a fraud. The reassertion in Clause 1 that nothing is changing, and nothing will change because no supremacy is being passed to Edinburgh or Cardiff is a fraud.
In Amendment No. 21, which was tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) and myself, we specifically suggested that the second sentence of Clause 1 should be omitted. The reason for that lies in the technicalities of the clause itself. In the first place, there is a contradiction in the sentence. It asserts at one and the same time the supremacy of this Parliament, yet it says that Parliament can pass any law it wishes. Now because our Parliament can pass any laws, it has the ability to pass away its own supremacy and sovereignty. This contradiction is inherent in the second sentence.
There is a further substantial technicality in that second sentence which my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dover and Deal (Mr. Rees) has already touched upon. It is that we should not pass anything in the Bill which does not chime with the Act of Union in 1706. One of the unfortunate aspects of speaking late at night is that one's hon. Friends 539 have already made one's best points, and they have probably developed them better than one would have been able to oneself.
Certainly in terms of reading this Bill together with the Act of 1706 my hon. and learned Friend developed the point extremely well with his usual beautiful lucidity. There is a further point that he could have developed, but which perhaps he left for me as a crumb from the rich man's table. It is that it is argued by Scottish lawyers that in the 1706 Act certain irreversible articles were inserted which could not be removed by the new federal Parliament of Great Britain which was created by that Act.
That Act saw the coming together of the two constituent members of the Parliaments of England and of Scotland. To that extent it was a federal Parliament which emerged. These irreversible constituent points such as the setting up and guaranteeing of the Presbyterian Church in Scotland could not be altered for all time without the consent of the two member bodies which originally agreed to the treaty under which the Act of 1706 was drawn up
So the logical follow-on to the argument developed by my hon. and learned Friend is that if there was concern that by this Bill we were touching any of these irreversible points, these constituent acts, we would have to recall the independent Parliaments of England and Scotland in order to get their permission to do so.
§ Mr. Henderson
I have been most interested by the lucid way in which the hon. Gentleman has developed his argument. Is he aware, however, that many of us in Scotland believe that there were certain entrenched clauses in the treaty between two sovereign and independent States, that this Parliament has never hesitated to break those clauses when it suited it, that they have been broken time and time again, and that since Scotland is the injured party we have the right to terminate the agreement?
§ Mr. Renton
That is an interesting point. There was the notable instance where the Act was altered subsequently by this House by waiving the clause dealing with the 16 representative peers and permitting all the Scottish peers to sit in the upper House. That was a 540 notable extension of the powers of the peerage in Scotland. There one sees an example of Westminster gently using its powers in a kindly way to extend the representative rights of those peers.
§ Sir Bernard Braine
My hon. Friend is arguing a somewhat legalistic and, if I may say so, academic point. If resentments grow, if there is bitterness and division, then conventions and treaties entered into years ago, say in 1707, are of no account. One is then in a revolutionary situation. Does my hon. Friend agree that if we start down the road by which extremist nationalists finally get control in one of the two Celtic countries, which results in discrimination against English people living and working in those countries, there might be a backlash in this country and a desire not to have a return? We would be set upon a path where the possibility of reunion would be totally out of the question.
§ Mr. Renton
That is quite correct. Once we have gone down the road we shall not be able to go back. My hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) is making the better part of my speech for me.
I would like to get back to the legalistic point. Of course, it is legalistic to argue that the English and Scottish parliaments must be re-established. I do not think that the Minister of State would enjoy trying to do that. Returning to the point made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dover and Deal, if there was any question of Parliament trying to do things in the Bill that, it could be argued, were ultra vires what a paradise there would be for lawyers in the years ahead. That is what I fear, that the road that we are now going down is one in which meat, potatoes and lovely rich meals will be available for lawyers particularly for Scottish lawyers, in future years.
There are so many areas of doubt in the Bill that there will be great opportunities for the lawyers to argue why this or that should not have been devolved. This is not something that Parliament should pass on for the future.
So we return to the point that has been made throughout the debate about the potential source of friction, disunity, and discontent that will arise from the Bill. The fundamental point is that the Bill 541 does affect the unity of the United Kingdom. If it were not so, I suspect that the Government would not have inserted this declaration of faith in Clause 1. Unless one is worried about something, one does not go around denying it. What I fear is that the Bill will go down in history as a monument of verbose irrelevance to the needs of our time, a monument to the Lord President. His Bill will lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom, and it is so massively irrelevant to what the United Kingdom needs today. That is why I hope that we shall be able to vote first for the elimination of the second part of the clause and later, on a "clause stand part" debate, for the elimination of the whole clause.
§ Mr. Robert Hughes
I listened with interest in the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock). I must confess that the beginning of it worried me considerably because he began by saying that if it could be demonstrated to him that the wealthier of his constituents would benefit from devolution he would be a pro-devolutionist. He said that if the Bill could be demonstrated in financial terms he would be almost in favour of a Bedwellty Nationalist Association. He redeemed himself to some extent by saying that he did not regard finance as the only question to be considered. I am glad of that.
It is precisely this kind of financial argument that is used in Scotland by nationalists who say that the great wealth off the shores of Scotland manifestly demonstrates the fact that the Scottish people would be better off through independence. We must be careful of the terms in which we speak about the United Kingdom as an expedient. I go this far with my hon. Friend: I do not regard the existence of the United Kingdom as totally sacrosanct. Of course it is bound to change. Of course it is open to change; it is not an immutable constitutional arrangement. But I do not want us put in the same position as the SNP and Plaid Cymru in their curious alliance.
I find it nauseating and slightly obscene when SNP delegates go to Plaid Cymru conferences with fraternal greet- 542 ings and swear eternal Celtic Brotherhood against the yoke of English imperialism, but then say "Watch it brothers! It is Scotland's oil. It is not to be shared with Wales or anyone else."
I believe in the unity of the working class in this country, and, far from devolution benefiting those people, I believe that, in the longer term, it will damage the advance of Socialism and the control of the commanding heights of the economy.
The amendments seek to strengthen the part of the clause which says that the Bill does not affect the supreme authority of Parliament to make laws for the United Kingdom or any part of it.
My hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) told us earlier about the difficulties which will face hon. Members from Scotland after devolution. He said that they will not be able to influence domestic Scottish legislation on devolved matters even though they could deal with similar subjects relating to England. I do not intend to repeat my hon. Friend's exercise in alliteration and his string of powerful political points.
If the clause means anything and is not just pious phraseology, it must be a paving clause for what follows. How does it affect Back Benchers?
Many hon. Members are more familiar than I am with the procedures for Private Members' Bills, but we all know that there is an annual lottery and that 24 Members are allowed to introduce Bills. We also know about the Ten Minutes Rule procedure in which hon. Members may seek leave to introduce Bills on topics of their choice. What would happen after devolution if I won a place in the ballot and chose to introduce a Bill affecting domestic legislation which had been devolved to the Scottish Assembly? Would I be able to bring in my Bill? I can see nothing in the clause to stop me.
May we have an assurance from the Government that there is nothing to prevent an hon. Member bringing in a Bill to deal with any subject which is germane to the domestic legislation of any part of the United Kingdom? We want a Government assurance that if such a Bill became law, it would be binding on the Assembly. If Clause 1 is a paving clause, I can see nothing in it which derogates from this ability of Back Benchers to bring in such Bills.
§ Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)
Clause 18(2) provides:A Scottish Assembly Act may amend or repeal a provision made by or under an Act of Parliament.So any such Act passed by this Parliament could be immediately repealed by the Assembly.
§ Mr. Hughes
One of the virtues of giving way is that one finds that points one intends to make later are anticipated. Perhaps there is telepathy in this House. It might save time if we did all our business by that means.
If I am right about Back Benchers, the same must be true of the Secretary of State for Scotland. His ability to bring forward legislation will be unimpaired. If it was felt that the Assembly was being dilatory the Government could bring forward legislation to speed un the legislative process. We often say that we have not enough time to deal with the legislation we get now, and the same will probably be said of the Assembly. Westminster could be a useful parliamentary adjunct to speed the legislative process. Legislation enacted here should supersede legislation existing in Scotland or passed by the Assembly. Then Parliament would be supreme.
But, astonishingly, nothing in the Bill prevents the Assembly from immediately repealing such legislation or lays down how it should exercise its executive function towards legislation enacted here. There are many checks and balances on how this Parliament shall behave towards the Assembly, but nothing about how the Assembly should treat Westminster legislation. Both are needed if Clause 1 is to be meaningful. We must spell out the executive functions of the Assembly.
What penalties will there be if members of the Assembly do not accept Parliament's supremacy? They will be bound in theory by the oath of allegiance they will have to take, but what are the sanctions? The Bill is totally silent on the matter.
If there is any virtue in the belief that too many reversals or changes of legislation are bad for the people we represent, the Assembly should not be able immediately to repeal legislation that we pass. Whether the time limit should be a year, two years or three years is a matter for debate. If the Assembly immediately 544 repealed some of our legislation, would there not be a temptation for the Government or a Private Member, if it had been introduced by a Private Member, to try to overturn the Assembly's decision? A Back Bencher might pilot through a measure about which he felt strongly, and see it immediately repealed. If we had a circle of repeated changes in legislation, those who would suffer would be the people whom the legislation was meant to help.
It is proper for the Government to say that such checks and balances are unnecessary, because the likelihood is that the Government of the day would not proceed in advance of public opinion or introduce measures if they thought that the Assembly was hostile. But although they argue that it is unlikely that the Secretary of State for Scotland would find it necessary to use the checks and balances in the Bill, they nevertheless find it necessary to include them. The Government cannot have it both ways.
If we are to have devolution, and the Government mean what they say in the clause, we must have guarantees that they will take these points on board and introduce amending legislation to make sure that there are mechanisms for the supremacy of Parliament in its legislative authority.
§ Mr. Hugh Fraser (Stafford and Stone)
It has become clearer to most hon. Members, except one or two on the Government Front Bench, during this long and interesting debate that the Bill is unworkable. The Minister of State made a gallant defence of untenable positions. I hope that the truth is being more and more impressed on members of my own Front Bench. To say that the Government hope one day to improve the Bill is nonsense. It is beyond improvement. That is the grim fact facing the Committee, as has been brought out more and more clearly during these six hours of very good, non-repetitious debate.
The clause is declaratory, but also far more than that. It is the Government's promise to the people that neither the unity of the kingdom nor the power and sovereignty of Parliament shall be destroyed by the Bill. But neither of those conditions can be fulfilled. The unity of the Kingdom depends, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South (Mr. 545 Powell) so clearly said, on the sovereignty of the Queen in Parliament. Clearly, the Bill will make an enormous difference to Parliament as it has been hitherto established. Of that there is no question. Even the shape of Parliament will change.
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) in an interesting discursion on the Labour Party, asked what would happen to the Labour Party in Scotland. It will have to fall into line with the local Labour Party's representation in Scotland. It will be a Scottish Labour Party, which may take totally different views from the Labour Party here in Westminster. Precisely the same thing will happen to the Conservative Party. Local elections will dominate its views here. There will have to be a joint manifesto for the local Conservative Party in Scotland and for Members elected to Westminster. In Northern Ireland it was clear for a long time that the representatives who mattered in Northern Ireland were not the representatives sent to this House but those running the Government in Northern Ireland.
The whole structure of Parliament will change. Once that happens the central sense of unity of the kingdom must inevitably decline and fall into desuetude. Not only that, but it will lead to endless friction between local parliaments, whether in Cardiff or Edinburgh, and the Westminster Parliament. This clause is a promise of what will happen but the only people who know what will happen if the Bill goes through, and the only people who remain fairly silent, except for an occasional crow, are the members of the nationalist parties. They know that, if the Bill goes through, in six years' time we shall be on the road to a fully independent Scotland. I do not know about Wales, but certainly that will be so in Scotland. We shall be on the road to the breakdown of the United Kingdom.
Every speech has been directed to this point. Every speech has forecast this. This long debate must tave impressed on the Government the essential and disastrous weakness of the Bill. How is it possible to believe in a referendum if, as the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Leadbitter) said, this Bill is based on a lie and a mistruth? I recommend that 546 the Bill be dropped and that our Front Bench ceases trying to improve it and aims instead to cut its filthy throat.
I suggest to the Government that if they want to cut down the process of our debate they adopt the precedent of the 1920 Act dealing with the two Irelands. Clause 1 should be removed if the Government want us to continue with the rigmarole and nonsense before us. Let them observe the example set in the 1920 Act and make Clause 1 Clause 116, by which time we shall all see what perfect nonsense the whole thing is.
§ Mr. Arthur Palmer (Bristol, North-East)
I attended the Second Reading debate but did not succeed in catching Mr. Speaker's eye. Having heard many of the speeches in this debate, which has gone very wide, I feel that the remarks I had intended to make then can be just as usefully made now.
I am doubtful and alarmed about the Bill's proposals. Here I join with the majority of Members in all parts of the Committee who have spoken today and yesterday. I do not say this because I think that the introduction of some new principle into the constitutional system is wrong. It is possible that the major reform of the parliamentary system as a whole is a proper thing to carry out. If these proposals were founded on a principle of uninversal validity for the kingdom, they could be taken in a different spirit. Certainly I should not be so unhappy about them.
I am doubtful and alarmed about these proposals not because they aim to control and change arrangements, but because they are a reaction to events, particularly in Scotland. In short I fear that these proposals—I regret to say this, because they are brought forward by my right hon. Friends with whom I have worked for many years and respect—are a matter of expediency, not of ideas. Unless I can be converted then to some new universal principle for the government of Great Britain and, I suppose, Northern Ireland, I must confess my belief in a centralised system of government such as we have now, though administration should be decentralised wherever possible. I make no apology for saying that.
There are three reasons for that belief in centralised government which seem 547 clear to me. The first is the historic reason that the establishment of the Union of these islands over the centuries was no mean achievement. Indeed, it was a considerable achievement, first, by the kings and later, largely by the Parliament at Westminster, developed further after the Act of Union with Scotland.
The second is the international or European reason. Now that we are part of the European Economic Community, of which I have always been in favour, we need a strong united British presence within it.
The third reason is that, for sound parliamentary government and well-defined party administration within it, we cannot give the people a choice of rulers and policies unless we have a strong centralised politicial instrument to make the choice effective.
If there were an overwhelming desire to throw all or the greater part of this unity of the kingdom away, it might be different. I am not convinced that there is that desire. The proposed referenda may help, but in the end it must be demonstrated to the satisfaction of the people, not only of Scotland or of Wales, but of the whole of the kingdom, that there is this desire.
I fear that in future in Scotland, as in Northern Ireland, we shall witness history reversing itself. We shall see sterile political disputes moving to the center of the stage and pushing aside the social, industrial and economic controversies which should be the focus of attention in a mature society. Every argument, particularly if the Scottish Assembly comes into being, will be about who does what and who is stopping whom. The situation will be used by the Scottish National Party to prove that half a loaf is worse than useless and that the whole loaf must be given.
If, in the Assembly at Edinburgh, the majority party's outlook and philosophy is different from that of the majority at Westminster, what will Scottish Members at Westminster do? Do they vote for their party or for their country north of the border?
In all seriousness I say to my Scots colleagues that Scotland was never an English colony. If anything, at times it has been the other way round. It was an independent nation with a king, a Par- 548 liament, and army and navy of its own. But Scotland was joined to the rest of the Kingdom first by the Crown and then by the Act of Union. As a result both nations prospered in influence and wealth even if that wealth was not evenly shared. If Scotland now wishes to go back on that Union and can prove that desire to the satisfaction of the rest of the United Kingdom I do not wish to stop it.
But I am doubtful about this premature attempt to set up an unstable halfway house called devolution that will please no one, will weaken the nation socially and economically and will probably put an end to any long-term hope of a true social democracy in Britain.
§ Mr. Gow
I speak in support of Amendment No. 21, which is the same as Amendment No. 435 moved by the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock). The amendment seeks to remove from the Bill the second sentence in Clause 1.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dover and Deal (Mr. Rees) did an unkindness to the Lord President when he sought to place on him the responsibility for drafting the Bill. I suspect that much of the responsibility for the drafting of the Bill rests with the newly ennobled Chairman of Cable and Wireless.
We are invited, if we assent to the inclusion of the second sentence of the clause, to embark upon a course that is certain to be fraught with immense difficulty which will result in a field-day for the lawyers. Who am I to complain about that? But it lies ill on the lips of hon. Members opposite, with their well known prejudice against the legal profession, to create a situation which will put a great deal of money into the pockets of lawyers.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dover and Deal said that a Law Officer should be on the Front Bench and now the Lord Advocate is in the Chamber. I shall not criticise him except in one respect, and he might agree with me. That is, that the knowledge of the Lord Advocate of English law is not as great as the knowledge of his right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General. It is not within the province of the Lord Advocate to advise the Committee tonight what would be the construction placed upon the second sentence of the clause, 549 because when that sentence comes to be interpreted by the courts it will not be interpreted by the Scottish courts. It will be interpreted by the courts of the United Kingdom here in London.
§ 3.0 a.m.
§ The Lord Advocate (Mr. Ronald King Murray)
The hon. Gentleman is making the rather unfortunate assumption that when we talk about interpreting British statutes we must necessarily assume that British statutes are interpreted by English courts. Of course, that is not true.
§ The Lord Advocate
If the matter arose in London, it would be interpreted by the English courts. If the matter arose in Scotland, it would be interpreted by the Scottish courts. The hon. Gentleman implied that in any circumstances the meaning of the clause would be interpreted only by the English courts.
§ Mr. John Smith
What the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) has said is stupid and ignorant. He is supposed to be a Scot, too.
§ Mr. Gow
No. I accept that it is more likely, for reasons that I shall develop, that the interpretation of the second sentence of the clause will be a matter to be decided by the High Court, the Court of Appeal and the House of Lords. That is why I say that upon the question of the interpretation of the second sentence we would welcome the advice of the Attorney-General.
When the Minister of State sought to deal with the effect of the second sentence, before he had listened to any of the queries raised by hon. Members and before hearing any of the arguments, he confessed himself as unable to give a 550 judicial interpretation as to the effect. That came as no surprise to the Committee because we have never had a sentence such as this in any statute that has been approved by Parliament. That is what is so extraordinary. The Lord President expressed incredulity a moment ago when the Committee's attention was drawn to the provisions of Clause 18(2).
§ Mr. Foot indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Gow
The Lord President will perhaps reply later. However, that subsection states—and this, at least, is in the plainest terms—A Scottish Assembly may amend or repeal a provision made by or under an Act of Parliament.How can that power given to an Assembly in Edinburgh be consistent with the declaration that appears in the second sentence of Clause 1—that the supreme authority of Parliament to make laws for the United Kingdom is not affected? As our constitution now rests, it is not possible for an Act of this United Kingdom Parliament to be repealed save by this Parliament. Now we have it stated in the plainest terms that the new Assembly may amend or repeal an Act made by this Parliament.
I wonder what on earth is meant by the phrase,They"——that is, the provisions of the Bill—do not affect the unity of the United Kingdom".The Committee should note that the phrase is not "shall not affect the unity of the United Kingdom" butdo not affect the unity of the United Kingdom".How will that be construed by the courts? If a court should find that one of the provisions in the Bill, or the Act as it would then be, affected the unity of the United Kingdom, would the section be void and unenforceable? These are real questions to which I hope the Minister will address himself when he replies.
I am glad that the Lord President is in his place. He will remember that one of his distinguished predecessors once referred to what was then claimed by the Conservative Party to be its unity. Aneurin Bevan said that it was the unity of the graveyard. Is that the sort of unity to which the Government are referring?
551 Government and legislation by declaration serve only to add to confusion. There is so much legislation today that is open to confusion and difficult to interpret, and for the Government to heap yet one further confusion on to a people who are already bemused by a surfeit of legislation is to create only a field-day for the lawyers and bewilderment for the people, thus bringing into further disrepute the legislative process of this place.
§ Mr. Wyn Roberts (Conway)
Although this is the first clause in the Bill, it is clear that it lies at the heart of the matter. It claims to make changes in the government of Scotland and Wales without affecting the unity of the United Kingdom. Earlier in the debate we heard the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) asking why the clause was in the Bill. Later we heard an answer from the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Leadbitter)—namely, that it has something to do with party political gain, as, indeed, he said the whole Bill has.
The comments of the hon. Member for Hartlepool reminded me of the point made by the Prime Minister on Second Reading. He said:The purpose of the Bill, therefore, is to give the Scottish and Welsh people a surer guarantee and a more relevant instrument of national identity than a protest vote thrown to an extreme theory.He went on to say:The essence of the nationalist parties is to believe that national identity and a United Kingdom are competitors and rivals. We think exactly the opposite. They are partners, each enriching the other. It is on that fundamental judgment that the Government's policy and this Bill are based."—[Official Report, 13th December 1976; Vol. 922, c. 976.]With those words, and in the context of the debate, I think that the Prime Minister was making it clear that the fundamental purpose of the Bill was party political, and that by taking over part of the nationalist platform he hoped to defuse the appeal of the nationalist parties to the electorate. I believe that the underlying theme of the Bill is the self-preservation of the Labour Party in power in Wales, Scotland and here at Westminster. That point has been made by others in the debate.
There is some debate in the Labour Party about whether the Government's concessionary approach to nationalism is 552 the best way to preserve the Labour Party's power. Those who have expressed concern on the Labour Benches on that score are, to my mind, very right to do so because the passage of the Bill and the establishment of the institutions which it involves may result in a tremendous fillip to the nationalist parties and a great surprise to the Labour Party. However, I shall not enter into that argument.
My quarrel is with the Prime Minister and his fundamental judgment, to which the Minister referred earlier this evening, that the provision of what the Prime Minister called instruments of national identity—the Assemblies and their ancillary bodies—are the best way to deal with the age-old problems of Scotland and of the Principality.
I go some way in agreeing with the analysis of the situation made by the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock). My view is that the Assemblies will become focal points of bitter protests and nests of separatism, and that the division of powers between central Government and Westminster on the one hand and the Scottish Executive and the Welsh Assembly on the other will lead to ever-increasing frustration and acrimony. They will become instruments of disunity and disharmony for a number of reasons. Some people would welcome such a development.
I shall confine the rest of my remarks largely to Wales. Some believe that the Welsh Assembly will be able to exercise greater pressure on the Government than we as Members of Parliament have been able to do. Personally, I doubt this very much. I believe that initially the Assembly will divert criticism from Westminster to itself and that there will then be attempts to re-channel that criticism to Westminster through Members of Parliament and in direct negotiations with the central Government.
There is an obvious parallel between the Assembly and the block grant system on the one hand and the local authorities and the rate support grant system on the other. We as Members are able to do little about the rate support grant. I have no reason to believe that we shall exert any more influence on the block grant system, if and when it is established. The central Government will control it firmly, and the amount will be settled with the Executive—probably 553 behind closed doors. I cannot see how the provision of this instrument of national identity will assist the people of Wales.
The Government argue that it will bring government closer to the people. Indeed, this was the second major benefit to which the Prime Minister referred on Second Reading. Again, I do not see the validity of that argument, except in the most superficial sense. The Government are interposing another tier of government between themselves and the people. As the Prime Minister said in that speech, the control of the purse strings remains here and with the Treasury. The powers devolved in this connection are spending powers only, although the Government have no objection in principle to devolving revenue-raising powers.
Nevertheless, the Prime Minister said:Once we discard a system where the main assessment of finance is made centrally, we also discard the notion of equality of treatment based on need throughout the United Kingdom."—[Official Report, 13th December 1976; Vol. 922, col. 990.]3.15 a.m.
I would have thought that abandonment would have amounted to an objection in principle but apparently not. It may only be a matter of time before revenue-raising powers are gladly devolved by the Government to silence the cries for an ever-increasing share of United Kingdom resources. It will be a sad day for Wales when that notion of equality of treatment based on need is abandoned and government is provided closer to the people by giving the Assembly taxation powers.
I go a great deal of the way with the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), who took the view that one cannot have a self-respecting Assembly with spending powers only and no powers of taxation, but if revenue-raising powers are granted, government in Wales will be a shade too close for most people's comfort. If further representation in the Assembly means further taxation I have no doubt whatever that the Welsh people will reject the Government proposals cut of hand.
The Prime Miniser was in no doubt about it. He said:We dropped the power to surcharge on the rates that we had originally proposed 554 because it was clear that Scotland and Wales did not want it."—[Official Report, 13th December 1976, Vol. 922, col. 989.]But the Prime Minister added that the Government's mind was not closed against a replacement for the surcharge. I doubt whether we shall hear of such a replacement before the referendum. But thereafter, if the people of Wales by some mischance appove of the Government's proposals, I do not think it will be long before an acceptable taxing power is devised for the Welsh Assembly. Where is the benefit to Wales in extra taxation? That is the question that should ring around the Principality.
The Government have made much of the fact that under the new system proposed in the Bill the Assemblies will be able to decide their own priorities in spending. Those priorities will, in practice, be decided by the predominent political party in the Assembly, and that is the party which dominates the industrial areas in Wales. What guarantees have we, who live in the rural areas of Wales, got that we shall figure in the Assembly's allocation of resources and that our needs will be fairly dealt with? Quite clearly, I believe that party political considerations will play a bigger part than ever in decision-making and the allocation of resources in Wales.
Some of us also fear that equality of treatment for individuals is threatened of now we have in the United Kingdom levels of government. The point that several hon. Members have already made is that life is party political enough in Wales already. It will become more so under the Assembly system.
§ Mr. D. E. Thomas
The hon. Gentleman has developed the argument that as of now we have in the United Kingdom the allocation of resources according to need. Can he tell the Committee precisely why such a system cannot operate within Wales itself?
§ Mr. Roberts
I think that I know Wales as well as the hon. Gentleman. In my experience the extension of party politics in Wales down into local government is tending to have an adverse effect on the whole principle of allocation in terms of individual need.
The Government have also gloried in the fact that under the Bill nominated bodies in Wales will be brought under 555 Assembly control. Successive Governments have created these bodies and have argued that in being responsible to the Secretary of State they are, through him, responsible to the House of Commons. If the Bill goes through, some of these bodies may continue much as they are, with nominations being made by the Assembly—in effect, by the Chief Executive. If he is a member of the Labour Party, he will simply be an aide to the Secretary of State for Wales. Other nominated bodies may be taken over by the Assembly under Clause 86. The most powerful of the bodies are strongly protected under the Bill.
The powers of the Assembly over these bodies are closely circumscribed. I am thinking in particular of the Welsh National Water Authority, but there are others. As the Association of District Councils pointed out, these are the bodies that have led to most criticism of lack of accountability. The nominated bodies face us with a new danger. With the division of powers over them between the Secretary of State and the Assembly, they will be less accountable than ever. The nominated bodies will be able to divide and rule.
Then there is the question of the relationship between the Assembly and local government. Here again, that is causing concern to the county and district council associations. The Secretary of State for Wales made clear that the local government system—demands an early root and branch examination"—by the Assembly. He expected the Assembly to—put forward considered proposals for the future local government structure in Wales."—[Official Report, 15th December 1976; Vol. 922, c. 1586.]That has generally been interpreted as an invitation to the Assembly to set up unitary authorities in place of the present county and district councils. Should that happen, it will mean the loss of one tier of local government which is closer to the people than will be the Assembly. Once again I say with confidence that the Bill is more likely to take government further from the people than bring it closer to them.
The restructuring of local government is the Government's answer to the criti- 556 cism that if the Bill goes through Wales will be over-governed. The restructuring of local government is a possible longterm answer to that criticism, but it is the wrong answer. Whatever criticism of local government reorganisation there may have been in Wales—not all of that has been justified—that criticism will be as nothing compared with the criticism there will be of the Welsh Assembly and its institutions once their full cost is known.
There will be an overlap between the Assembly's subject committees and local government committees. There will be delays in decision-making and a slowing down in the already slow process of government. These matters are already causing concern in Wales. It is surprising that in paragraph 83 of the White Paper "Devolution: The English Dimension", speaking of local government, the Government state:A further reorganisation so soon after the last one would be bound to create confusion in the mind of the average elector.The White Paper goes on to state that regional authorities would make for remoteness. What is wrong for England cannot he right for Wales. I am concerned that remoteness is what the Government want in Wales where they are threatened with the loss of power at local government level. They are hoping to withdraw power to their fastnesses in the industrial and populous South.
In putting forward the Bill, the Government have harnessed to their cause all the power-hungry elements in Wales, but they have not secured the loyalty of the people to their proposals. The people are suspicious of the Government's motives, and fearful of the consequences of the Bill. They, quite rightly, are looking for gains and benefits for themselves, and changes which will reduce, not increase, the conflicts in Wales. I regret to say this, but we are a deeply divided nation on linguistic and cultural grounds and our divisiveness is increasing. These proposals will not stop this trend, but will add fuel to the flames.
The proposals in the Bill have one solitary merit in that they provide a new political battleground, which may draw all potential contenders to the field, and prevent conflict outside. As to the benefits accruing to ordinary people, I see none to outweigh the additional burdens 557 which they will have to bear following the implementation of the Bill.
If the Bill built on existing institutions and contained an evolutionary approach to further democratisation, I would try to support it. But it is not so based, and feel that I cannot commend the Bill to the people of Wales as one which will provide them with better government. I believe sincerly that the opposite is the case.
It is clear from any consideration of the Bill that the Government believe that there are serious defects in the present system of government in Wales. There is a lack of responsibility to this House, and the way to remedy it is to establish a Select Committee which has the power to inquire into the various aspects of government in Wales. Maybe a national body is required to give Wales a political identity. But it is not right to set up institutions which rival this House of Commons and usurp its functions. That is a recipe for conflict and disaster. The contents of the Bill do affect the unity of the United Kingdom, and if a Division is called at the end of this debate, I shall vote against the provision in Clause 1.
§ Mr. Sproat
In earlier debates on this Bill—at Second Reading, and at the various Committee stage debates that we have had already—I have referred to many reasons why I object to the measure. I think it will mean more government, more civil servants, more public expenditure, and more taxation. But the one reason, above all others, why I shall vote against every clause in it, and against the Third Reading, is that it imperils and puts at risk the unity of the United Kingdom.
We have had an interesting piece of semantics from the Minister of State to the effect that when he said something it was a judgment, and when someone else said something it was an assertion. Whether I am making a judgment or an assertion, that is what I believe. Almost every speech on this group of amendments has made it clear that to a greater or less degree there is a fear that the Bill puts at risk—to put it least strongly—the unity of the United Kingdom, and it is that unity, above all, that I seek to preserve.
As many hon. Members have said in the past, and will continue to say as the 558 Bill progresses, there is nothing wrong with hammering home a point simply because it has been made before. We should convince the people of this country, and the repetition and hammering home of the basic points will achieve the realisation that extra costs and extra bureaucracy are involved and that the unity of the United Kingdom is being imperilled. This is a recipe for conflict and discontent.
The hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock), in an extremely interesting speech, seemed at one stage to show a sort of hesitation in advancing the argument about the slippery slope towards separatism. None of us should have any hesitation about using that argument on every occasion on which it comes within the relevance of the clause we are discussing, because it is absolutely true.
The factor of cost and the point about the Bill being the slippery slope are the two things which most worry ordinary men and women. It is our duty to hammer those points home in the House of Commons and to undermine the morale of the Government and of those who support them on the Bill. It is inconceivable that the Scottish National Party would be supporting the Bill if it did not intend to use it to promote the separatism of Scotland. That is what it has said, and that is what it will do.
The hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) earlier today admitted quite frankly that if there was a Scottish Assembly his party would use it to create an independent Scotland. I see the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. Henderson) nodding, agreeing that that is what the SNP intends to do. To say, therefore, that there is no risk of demonstrably false. We cannot say how great that risk is. That is subject to a difference of judgment or assertion.
The Bill creates many areas of conflict which imperil the unity of the country. Let me deal briefly with two general areas. It will create a conflict within Scotland. This afternoon in the previous debate we heard that Shetland was making it clear that it did not want anything to do with the rest of Scotland if devolution was introduced. The unity of the present set-up is already being put at risk. If there was a Scottish 559 Assembly everybody outside the West Central belt would fear for the domination of that Assembly by Strathclyde. This fear would be felt by Labour and Conservative councillors alike in Aberdeen. They would fear that the interests of Strathclyde would predominate over the interests of the other parts of Scotland. The Assembly would become the focal point for that sort of envy and niggling between Glasgow and Aberdeen, Inverness and Edinburgh, and so on.
I hate to see such disunity being created in Scotland, but what would be more dangerous would be the disunity between England and Scotland. I will not pursue this argument from a legalistic aspect. have listened to interesting legalistic arguments tonight which I am not competent to judge. But I have proved to my satisfaction that we are putting that unity at risk.
For example, at the moment Scotland gets approximately 19 per cent. more out of the Treasury on a per capita basis than does England. For every £100 spent in England, £119 is spent in Scotland. I am frankly amazed that English MPs, some of whose constituencies suffer deprivation certainly as great as that which exists in many parts of Scotland, do not make more of this. Perhaps we in Scotland should be grateful for their generosity in allowing Scotland to take out more than it puts in.
I suggest that if there was a Scottish Assembly bitterness would arise. People would be complaining that the Scots, who had their own Assembly, were getting more money in grants than the English. People would want to know why it was that for every £100 of grants to England £119 went to Scotland. There would be demands for the Scottish grants to be cut to parity with England. The Scots would get bitter with the English because Scotland would be having grant taken away.
§ Mr. Dalyell
The fact is that leaders of Labour-controlled authorities—people like Michael Campbell of Tyneside, Bill Sefton of Merseyside and Stan Yapp of the West Midlands—made it clear at the Tyne and Wear conference that they are alive to precisely that point.
§ Mr. Sproat
I am glad to have that confirmation. It is obvious that Scotland 560 is being given a good character now. But if there is an Assembly, hon. Members who represent English constituencies will start complaining, and if parity is introduced the Scots will become bitter.
An interesting point was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison), who asked why it was that if a Government White Paper said it was wrong to give block grants to regions of England it could be right to give block grants to Scotland. The Minister replied that if block grants were given for all the regions it would become difficult to control the economy. But that problem is escaped in Scotland and Wales and their economies are controlled. If I represented an English constituency and was told that Scotland would get a block grant while none would be given to a region such as Merseyside—where there is worse unemployment than in Strathclyde—I would want to know why. It is incredible that more hon. Members representing English constituencies have not complained on that point. They would complain if there was a Scottish Assembly, and bitterness would be engendered.
I am always amazed by the forbearance of English Members, even of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) who earlier today made a good speech. He has on a number of occasions made the point that unemployment in Liverpool is worse than in Glasgow, and that unemployment in Merseyside is worse than in West Central Scotland. Yet Scotland is still getting more money to alleviate depression than Merseyside.
I regard myself as a British MP, not as a Scottish Member, and I find it offensive that money should go to Scotland rather than be distributed on grounds of need. I say this openly in the House and I say it in Aberdeen. If deprivation is worse in Liverpool than in Aberdeen, it is the duty of a British MP to see that more money goes to Liverpool. The money should be distributed on the basis of need and not on a spurious, nationalistic basis. Yet so far hon. Members representing English constituencies have not raised these points. Humberside is another example of a place where deprivation is worse than in Scotland, and yet the area receives no more money than we do in Scotland.
§ Sir Bernard Braine
It should not be a matter for surprise that hon. Members with English constituencies have not raised this point. Such points do not occur to them for the reason that a nation is what it believes itself to be, and all people living in the United Kingdom are firstly British and part of a nation to which we are all proud to belong. That is why the matter had not occurred to them.
§ Mr. Sproat
I agree. I am a Scot but I regard myself as British first and a Scot second. I regard myself as a member of the British nation. I fear that the generous spirit that has not previously concentrated on such facts as block grants will do so as a result of the Bill. I fear that hon. Members will start to make that point. Envy, bitterness and greed will enter our national debates and will imperil the unity of the nation.
§ Mr. Sproat
My hon. Friend is right. The Government are to blame. For squalid reasons of political appeasement, they are putting the unity of the country at risk.
It is no use the Government taking refuge in the argument that if any difficulties arose, they could be decided by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. That was the pathetic answer of the Minister of State when he rashly got to his feet to reply to the debate three and three quarter hours ago.
Let me give the Minister a practical example. A decision will be taken every year on the block grant to be given to the Assembly. A graphic and telling picture was painted in an earlier debate of a Scottish Prime Minister—God help us—coming out of 10 Downing Street and saying that he had extracted every penny he wanted for Scotland from the British Prime Minister. That is inconceivable.
Every year when the grant is made, there will be whines that it is not enough, that Scotland is being done down and that the British Parliament is hammering the Scots. It is lunatic to think that the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council could resolve the conflicts or would mean a thing in the minds of those who believed that Scotland was being done down. Such 562 a view is naive beyond belief, and I cannot think that anyone in the Government really holds it.
The Government cannot believe that they would not be introducing conflict. After a few years of arguments on the block grant, a wedge would be driven between Scotland and England. The SNP would whip it up and pour petrol on the flames. [An Hon. Member: "North Sea oil."] The SNP would do all it could to make it appear that the British Parliament was somehow doing down the Scots.
The hon. Member who called out "North Sea oil" obviously did not hear the speech of the right hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Stewart), who said that the 66 per cent. of the oil which is off the Shetlands would not be claimed for Scotland. That was one of the more amazing things that we have heard; we were told that there would be home rule for the Shetlands, the Hebrides and the Isle of Arran if they wished it, but that the SNP would not claim the oil if the Shetlanders decided that they wanted nothing to do with an independent Scotland.
§ The Temporary Chairman (Mr. John Wells)
Order. This point was made in the previous debate when we were discussing the Shetland Isles. It is not in order in this debate.
§ The Temporary Chairman
Order, The hon. Gentleman cannot intervene on a point which the Chair has ruled to be out of order.
§ Mr. Sproat
The Minister of State gave one of the most inadequate answers that we have ever heard, and he was at his worst when it was pointed out to him that it was surely unacceptable to everyone that Scottish Members in Westminster could vote on matters affecting England but that English Members could not vote on Scottish matters. It was clear that the Minister had no answer.
I am not proposing a solution to this problem, which is inevitable with a constitutional monstrosity like this. But it shows that the bitterness engendered in England at the thought that Scottish 563 Members could tell Englishmen how to educate their children but that the reverse process would not be possible would grow and fester. It would lead to more cracks in the unity of the country. If the number of Scottish Members here were cut from 71 to, say, 56, the SNP would welcome that as the start of the disengagement of Scotland from the United Kingdom. Whatever is done in this lunatic Bill, we shall finish up worse off than we started.
§ Mr. Fairbairn
Is it not even more absurd? Not only would Scots Members here be able to discuss such things as the education of Englishmen; they could not discuss the education of Scotsmen. They could not discuss anything Scottish here.
§ Mr. Sproat
That is a strong point. At the next election, I shall have to tell my constituents that I shall not be able to discuss Aberdeen education at Westminster but that I shall be able to discuss education in Surrey, that I shall be able to do nothing about roads in Aberdeen but I shall be able to do a lot about the Dartford Tunnel.
§ Mr. Raison
I hesitate to take issue with so eminent a lawyer as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Mr. Fairbairn), but the Bill allows us to discuss and legislate about all these things. There are concurrent powers. This House will be able to pass any Bill—Government or Private Members'—about Scottish affairs that it does at the moment. But all these things can be done by the Assembly and the Executive as well. That shows the utter nonsense of the whole thing.
§ Mr. Sproat
No—my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury is right in theory; my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Mr. Fairbairn) is right in practice. We could legislate here about Scottish education but under Clause 18(2) the Assembly could wipe out what we do. Even if we passed legislation on a subject on which the Assembly was not also competent to legislate, it could within 24 hours repeal it.
564 The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) made a good point, that a private Member could spend months putting legislation through the House only to find the very next day that it went up in a puff of smoke.
§ Sir David Renton
Has it occurred to my hon. Friend that under Clause 18(2) the Assembly could repeal the Act of Union and that this House thereafter could repeal the Act passed by the Assembly?
§ Mr. Sproat
I bow to the knowledge of my right hon. and learned Friend, but I think that he will find that under Schedule 2, which relates to Clause 18, the Assembly could not repeal the Act of Union. But the mere fact that we can discuss these things shows the constitutional quagmire into which we are being compelled to descend. No one can say with certainty that the Bill will result in the break-up of the United Kingdom, but no one can deny that it will place the unity of the Kingdom at risk. We should therefore reject it.
§ Mr. Dalyell
There is another serious point. This argument on the legal issue arose in similar form about five hours ago. It is a matter of substance, not simply of debate. May we have some time next week a considered statement by one of the Law Officers?
§ Mr. Charles Morrison
My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat has brought home forcefully that the Bill will soon create unbelievable chaos if it becomes an Act.
I wanted to start this Committee stage by amending the Long Title. Owing to custom and precedent, that was not allowed, though we have a chance to amend it at the end of our consideration of the Bill, if ever the end is reached. Given the existence of the Long Title, the clause seems entirely superfluous, but if there had to be a preliminary clause I am amazed that it should be one that can cause such controversy. It has been suggested that the easy way out for the Government would be to drop the clause. That is what they should do, because there would be no adverse effects on the later parts of the Bill.
If it were not for for the determination of the Scottish nationalists to create 565 disunity, I suppose that it would be possible to legislate for devolution without disunity, but it would have to be in the context of constitutional change which would bring some benefit to all parts of the United Kingdom and all people. It would also have to be on the understanding that constitutional change specifically for one or more parts of the United Kingdom was bound to have implications for the rest. The Bill unamended lives up to neither requirement.
If I were legislating particularly for devolution to Scotland or Wales, I would not do it in the way the Bill proposes. I would set out to lay a foundation. We are moving into a totally unknown area. I would say that we intended to start slowly and progress, seeing how things developed.
If it were too late for such an approach, the only alternative would be to legislate to provide a structure which was comprehensive and had lasting value, one which would survive the test of time. The provisions of the Bill are the worst of all worlds. They are a bad compromise and are full of muddy waters. They are neither a foundation nor a complete structure. They will not satisfy the Scots or the Welsh, but they will upset the English.
The English will feel, if the Bill is enacted, that it is providing some benefit for Scotland and Wales which at present the English do not have. It is bound to cause disunity. I see no way of amending the Bill to alter that situation. In consequence, I, like virtually everyone else, will join those who will vote against the clause.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths
This is the first opportunity I have had to speak on the substance of the Bill. I am glad that the nature of Clause 1 gives me the chance to touch on a wide variety of points. I suppose that, essentially, what the Government are trying to do is to establish an entrenched clause which will stipulate that the unity of the kingdom is not to be affected.
I listened carefully to the speech of the Minister of State, who, I am sure, is sincere in his belief that the unity of the kingdom will not be affected and that in some way, as he said, diversity will lead to greater unity. That is his view. In his speech there was one phrase that 566 I have seldom heard before in this Chamber. I believe that he will come to regret uttering it. He said, when stumped by an intervention from one of my hon. Friends, that that only proved the dangers of going into clauses in detail. I am sure that I wrote down the words accurately.
I am sure, because I have some regard for the Minister of State, that he did not mean precisely what he said. Nevertheless, those words reveal the attitude that has been struck by the Government Front Bench in this debate. What they have sought to do is to fob off the Committee with an assertion, an expression of opinion on the part of the Government, that the Bill does not affect the unity of the United Kingdom. But when they have been interrogated on the detail as to whether it will have that result Ministers have immediately taken refuge in phrases like "It is very dangerous to go into clauses in detail."
It is precisely the application of this general principle in detail that is the measure of whether the unity of the kingdom will be fragmented. The hon. Gentleman has fallen into what can only be described as the mystique of the Dispatch Box. Some of us who have had the experience of talking from the Dispatch Box know how well one can fall into the trap of becoming convinced that words are deeds, plans are facts and assertions are reality. When one is provided with a beautifully typed brief with a little red ribbon in the corner things begin to take; on that hue. The statement in the clause that the Bill does not affect the unity of the United Kingdom is nothing more than an expression of opinion. None of us can be certain whether the Bill will affect that unity. We can only form a judgment.
What has been striking during the debate is that no one in the Committee has suggested that the unity of the United Kingdom will not be affected other than the Minister. This is a place where opinions are expressed and judgments formed, and the weight of opinion and the judgments that the Minister has heard must demonstrate that his expression of opinion is not that of the Committee.
Before coming to the specific amendments, I should like to comment on two 567 remarkable speeches. One was made by the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock), who spoke with great power and conviction. However, he made one point which I found rather disturbing. He said that he did not care one way or the other about the principle of United Kingdom unity. Indeed, he took the more expedient, pragmatic view that if it paid off for the people of Bedwellty in terms of support, subsidy and so on, he was for it, but if the unity of the United Kingdom did not pay off in those terms, he was not particularly interested in it.
I find that argument of expediency disturbing. If Bedwellty expects to get from the unity of the United Kingdom rather more than it puts into it—that is, if its loyalty to the United Kingdom is solely to derive from the fact that it gets out more than it puts in—the other side of that argument is that other constituencies must put in more than they take out. There must be some transfer of subsidy to the poorer areas of the country. If the argument is to rest solely upon expediency, why should the better off areas help the less well off areas of Britain? The answer is that we do not consider these matters purely in terms of expediency. We consider them as part of what I might call the community of the United Kingdom. There are matters beyond expediency which keep a nation together. There are matters such as shared experience, history, pride and discipline or what I call patriotism.
I was sorry that the hon. Member for Bedwellty, whose speech I much admired, regarded the unity of the United Kingdom as a matter solely of how much his constituency, or Wales, got out of it. Our pride in the nationhood of Britain and the identity of the British people as a whole is just as important as the identity of the Welsh or the Scots—God bless them—or the expediency of what we can take out. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman underestimated the feeling of community among the British people as a whole.
The other speech on which I want to comment was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat), who illustrated what he called the lunacy of Scottish Members being able to vote on matters which concerned 568 English seats but English Members not being able to vote on matters which concerned Scottish seats. I do not believe that he was technically correct. I think that we shall be able to debate and vote on matters which concern the whole of the United Kingdom.
The point that came through clearly was that there was confusion and that there was no clarity in the House of Commons on this matter. But throughout the imbroglios, the thickets, of debate that have gone on, the one thing that could not be argued was what the Prime Minister said—namely, that we were bringing government closer to the people. The kind of confusion which has been demonstrated here tonight manifestly proves one thing, if nothing else—that the Bill, far from bringing government closer to the people, will succeed only in confusing and, indeed, alienating them from the process of government itself.
§ Sir David Renton
I must apologise to the Committee for unwittingly adding to the confusion when I intervened in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) with regard to the Act of Union. I am sorry if I unwittingly misled the Committee. I had overlooked the terms of Schedule 2, which is linked to Clause 19.
§ Mr. Dalyell
As an hon. Member who often represents the views of the Police Federation, is the hon. Member aware that I, as a Scottish hon. Member, can vote on police matters affecting Bury St. Edmunds or the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Government Chief Whip but not on those matters affecting the police in my own constituency?
§ Mr. Griffiths
My impression is that it will be still possible for all hon. Members to vote on these matters but it will be manifestly absurd if we do so. These matters are concurrent and, therefore, the situation would be otiose. But it will certainly lead to conflict. The hon. Member is not correct to say that we shall be precluded from debate or vote.
I turn to Amendment No. 20 that stands in my name on the Notice Paper. It has three prongs. The first is to ensure that nothing in the Bill shall alter or 569 diminish the territorial or constitutional identity of the United Kingdom. I accept that there is no prospect—at least not yet—of any diminution in the territorial identity of the United Kingdom. But it is possible that some people are minded to think in terms of some territorial alterations. There is no real anxiety on that score, but it is impossible to imagine that the constitutional identity of the United Kingdom is untouched by the Bill. If it were not touched there would be no point in the Bill, for its purpose is somehow to give the Scots and the Welsh the feeling that the constitution is being altered in their favour. If that were not the purpose there would be no point in introducing the Bill. It must make changes but in what will it make changes? By definition, it must make changes in the constitution of the United Kingdom. Nothing can alter the fact that the Bill changes the constitutional identity of the United Kingdom. It should not do so but it does. On that ground alone it would be best for the amendment to be accepted.
The second prong of the amendment is that the Bill shall not affect the sovereignty of the Monarch in Parliament in all parts of the United Kingdom. I ask the Lord President a direct question. Was the Queen consulted? There can be no doubt that the Monarchy is one of the greatest assets of our country. It is an enormous international asset which attracts affection, esteem and pride and is an expression of the unity of our people.
The Government no doubt will tell us that the Bill does not affect the Monarchy. That is their opinion but the first person to be consulted should be the Monarch herself. The Lord President should tell the House whether the incumbent Monarch was consulted about this matter which could touch upon the prerogative and unitary character of the Monarchy. He has a duty to advise the House of the views that he obtained.
As many of my hon. Friends have said, the Bill is a recipe for conflict, and because of that it will affect the unity of the people. I should like to illustrate why I believe that is so.
The Bill sets up for the first time a Scottish Parliament and a Scottish Prime 570 Minister, and it endows them with very great powers. However, having given them great powers and great prestige, it then takes them away again by confining and devaluing their activities within a whole trellis-work of Westminster and Whitehall vetoes. That is the nature of the Bill. The powers are given with one hand but they get taken away with the other—that is the Minister's own argument—if the United Kingdom Parliament as a whole determines that that should be done.
Not only can the decisions of these prestigious new Scottish bodies be judged, presumably by some Sassenach, to be ultra vires. They can also be overruled by Ministers in London, who may certify under the Bill that the Scottish Assembly and the Scottish Executive are in conflict with United Kingdom policy. Ministers may certify that this prestigious Scottish Prime Minister is in conflict with Her Majesty's Government's international obligations on, for example, fishing, oil, EEC drivers' hours and many other things, and that the actions of the Scots are in conflict with them.
Then again, Ministers may certify that the actions of the Scots are incompatible with the economic and financial decisions of the Cabinet on, for example, taxation, interest rates or pay policy. They may certify that the actions of the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Executive are out of step with the Government's social priorities—trade unions, pensions or welfare.
Does the right hon. Gentleman really believe that in matters of this kind, where the Scottish Parliament, being elected democratically, and the Scottish Executive, bearing responsibility in public, reach decisions on matters that touch on, for example, drivers' hours, fishing policy or trade unions, and then the United Kingdom Minister issues a certificate saying that they are ultra vires or that they are contrary to policy, there will not immediately be a clash between the Scottish and the United Kingdom authority?
§ Mr. Peter Emery (Honiton)
I wonder whether my hon. Friend would take his point a stage further, because in that conflict between the Scottish Assembly and the British Parliament is exactly where the Scottish nationalists see themselves as being able to pursue their policy 571 of obtaining an independent Scotland. It is that which must be shown up very clearly.
§ Mr. Griffiths
I cannot imagine anything than is more helpful to the Scottish nationalists than a conflict of that kind. That is precisely why they are so enthusiasticaly supporting the Bill.
However, there is also the political point. Very frequently, the elected Members of a Scottish Assembly, faced with very great pressures from their electors on, for example, matters of education or transport, will be in a position in which they may be overruled on vital matters by a Parliament at Westminster dominated by their political opponents. We could well have a nationalist-dominated or a Labour-dominated Scottish Assembly, or indeed a Conservative-dominated Assembly, but the United Kingdom Parliament might well be ruled by another party.
What is to happen if a Labour majority in the Scottish Parliament arrives at one conclusion and is then overruled by a Conservative majority in the United Kingdom Parliament? What is to be the position of the Scottish Members of the House of Commons? What is to be the position of a Scottish Labour Member of the Westminster Parliament if a Labour majority in the Scottish Assembly, very often consisting of Labour Members from his own constituency, has arrived at one view, and then he is whipped through the Lobbies in this place to overrule its conclusion in matters affecting his own constituency. That is a completely impossible position for any politician to be put in and it is bound to result in the most severe conflict. Deliberately to build such conflicts into our constitution is far more likely to inflame than to damp down the passions of Scottish nationalism. The mere existence of seprarate foci of election power is bound to provide new opportunities for those who will stick at nothing to fragment the United Kingdom.
Another reason why the Bill affects the unity of the United Kingdom, regardless of any assertion that may be made by the Government, is that it is unfair to the English. It is hard enough that the Scots and the Welsh are to have virtual home rule in health, housing, planning, education and water while the English 572 are not, but what is worse is that the Scots and the Welsh are to continue sending to Westminster a disproportionately large number of Members who will be able, as they do at present from time to time, to foist laws upon England that the English do not want.
I am sorry to say it but there will be an English backlash. Many of us know and have much regretted that over the years there has occasionally been an anti-Irish feeling on building sites and on the shop floors of factories. We have all seen it in terms of a nasty prejudice that makes its way into the vernacular of working language, which has often produced friction on the job between one man and another. I regret to say it, but I believe that the English, perhaps in times of unemployment, perhaps when taxes are rising aaginst them, or when they find that Scottish Members come here and deal with English affairs while the reverse cannot be achieved, will effect a backlash that will result in prejudice and personal violence against the Scots. I very much hope that that will not happen, but I believe that the Government are opening the door to occurrences of violence which none of us wishes to foresee.
The Bill will disunite the kingdom because it is financial nonsense. The Scottish and Welsh Parliaments, as I think my right hon. Friend the Member for Farnham (Mr. Macmillan) said, are to have representation without taxation. Their's is the power and the glory to spend, but they will have no means of collecting any income except by haggling with Whitehall over the size of a block grant from someone else's budget. There can be no greater temptation to financial irresponsibility than a scheme that gives elected politicians control over what goes out but no responsibility over what is taken in. That is inviting financial irresponsibility.
I cannot believe that a Whitehall-financed Scottish Government will choose to augment its income by surcharging Scottish local authorities that are most likely of its own political colour rather than demanding a larger share of the Westminster cake and I suspect, the lion's share of the oil revenues.
In all these ways the Bill divides the kingdom. I hope very much that the Minister, whose personal commitment to 573 the Bill is self-evident and no doubt sincere, will take note of the fact that from every quarter of the Chamber there has come condemnation of Clause 1.
I hope that the Minister will not say that, regardless of the argument and the anxieties expressed by Members of all political complexions, the Government's opinion will prevail. If he does, he will be saying that his assertion—it can be no more than that—must prevail, no matter what else is said. I hope that he will not do that and that the cluase will fall.
§ Mr. Aitken
Many hours ago when my hon. Friend the Member for Cleveland and Whitby (Mr. Brittan) so ably moved the amendment, he asked certain questions and made a number of devastating criticisms of Clause 1. Those questions and criticisms have not been answered. It must be most demoralising for the occupants of the Treasury Bench to face those questions and then to hear such a barrage of criticism from their own supporters who have attacked the nonsense of this Bill.
Line 2 of Clause 2 is a blatant untruth that will make liars of us all if we vote for it tonight. It cannot be true to say that the provisions of the Bill do not affect the unity of the United Kingdom. The best one can say of the Minister of State, who tried to answer the debate with singular ineptitude, was that he sought to invent a new method of conjugating verbs. Instead of using the present indicative tense, he used the present optimistic tense. He "hoped" that various provisions of the Bill might not affect the unity of the kingdom. But the seeds of conflict exist and they have been referred to by speaker after speaker in all parts of the Committee.
Let me pick up one point which was put to the Minister by my hon. Friend the Member for Cleveland and Whitby but was not answered. It concerns the allocation of block grant. As the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) stressed, the first tussles, bitternesses and areas of conflict are likely to arise on the subject of money. Scotland and Wales already pay far less per head in taxation than do the people of England and they receive far more per head in terms of public expenditure. We cannot face the 574 inevitable prospect of seeing that gap widen still further without expecting further conflicts to occur.
The disunity has already begun. It is not a hypothetical theory put forward in this Committee. The fact that it is creating conflict is illustrated by what is happening in microcosm in respect of the English, Welsh and Scottish Tourist Boards over allocation of funds. I believe that that conflict will be repeated in the Assembly if ever it comes into existence.
I have recently seen a letter written to the Secretary of State for Trade by the Chairman of the Northumbrian Tourist Board, Councillor Colin Gray. He presides over tourism in the counties of Cleveland, Durham, Northumberland and Tyne and Wear, an area with a population slightly larger than the population of Wales. The letter refers to an overgenerous allowance of English taxpayers' money already allocated to the Scottish and Welsh Tourist Boards. Whereas the English Tourist Board receives from the Government a mere £72 per head, the Scottish Tourist Board receives £228 per head and the Welsh Tourist Board £281 per head.
Despite those figures, the Secretary of State for Trade, in accordance with the devolution proposals, had the effrontery to indicate in a letter dated 17th November 1976 that he proposed to increase those disparities still further and intended to diminish English representation on the central British Tourist Authority. The Secretary of State said he was doing this on the ground that there was a strongly held belief in some quarters that Scotland and Wales did not get a fair crack of the whip on tourist spending. That is an indication of the kind of trouble to come, and it could provoke an English backlash.
The Chairman of the Northumbrian Tourist Board wrote a robust letter to the Secretary of State, which ended:I only hope that in the detailed application of devolution we are not going to copy the United Nations and give Uganda the same voting rights as the USA in the General Assembly. Over 45 million people in England must surely have the right to greater representation than the 5.22 million people in Scotland and the 2.7 million people in Wales. Even at the level of emotional nationalisation, I do not recall Owen Glendower ever stating that one Welshman was the equal of 18 575 Englishmen, or Black Douglas claiming that one Scot was the equal of nine Englishmen.That is a letter of justified complaint. It is the type of letter that we shall hear and see more of if these Assemblies come into existence.
We have heard a great deal about bitterness and conflict. Who will ever forget the extraordinary clash last night between the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) and the hon. Member for Newport (Mr. Hughes)? Who will readily forget the acidic exchanges between the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan) and the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Leadbitter) this afternoon? Already friend is being set against friend. We shall see different region set against different region. I believe that this clause, and the whole Bill, will set the British people against each other.
The Bill has as it roots a misguided and craven policy of appeasement towards Members of the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru. Not since Neville Chamberlain came back from Munich waving that meaningless and mendacious piece of paper has there been a more ignominious example of appeasement than the clause and the Bill. I hope that we vote it down tonight.
§ Mr. John Smith
I intervened earlier but subsequently several right hon. and hon. Members have made points of detail on some of the amendments to which they spoke. I would like to refer briefly to some of them.
The right hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) referred in detail to some of the amendments that he moved and suggested some embellishments, additions and substitutions to Clause 1. One of the points the right hon. Gentleman raised concerned the tense used in the phraseology of Clause 1. We believe that the present tense is appropriate for a preliminary declaratory statement of the effect of the Bill.
Some of the right hon. Gentleman's other suggestions were in the form of embellishments. [Interruption.] I hope that hon. Members will allow me to develop just three sentences without strident interruptions.
Among the right hon. Gentleman's embellishments was the substitution of "sovereignty" and "competence" for "supreme authority". At the end of the 576 day we have made it clear that this is bound to be a declaration of principle. The words which are there are clear. I rebut entirely the charge that there was any inaccuracy or untruthfulness in them.
There is not a great deal of difference between the arguments for "do" or "shall".
§ Mr. Graham Page
The Minister has told the Committee firmly that this is a declaratory statement. How can he be certain that the courts will interpret it that way, even with the assistance of the Attorney-General? A statement of this sort at the beginning of a Bill is so extraordinary and unusual that the Minister cannot tell how the Courts will interpret it.
§ Mr. Smith
I do not see how it is possible for anyone to anticipate the judicial interpretation of any Act of Parliament. The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that there have been declaratory principles in other Bills.
The hon. and learned Member for Dover and Deal (Mr. Rees) made some points. After he complained about not having had a ministerial reply to them, I find that the hon. and learned Gentleman has not stayed to hear a reply. In any event, I do not think he developed a very precise argument.
Since the hon. and learned Gentleman is interested in the legal position, there is not one Act of Union but two. There are two Acts of Union and one treaty. The hon. and learned Gentleman developed some arguments that were not really relevant to the amendments that we are discussing.
My hon. Friend the Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson) put forward a beguiling argument to the effect that I should accept some amendments. Unfortunately, he left me in the dark about which amendments he favoured. He referred to the importance of asserting the unity of the United Kingdom. I respectfully say to him that passing the clause unamended would have much the same effect. I thank him for his kind remarks.
The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) wanted reference made to the Prerogative of the Monarchy. As I said during the Second Reading debate, Her Majesty's Prerogative is not 577 affected by the Bill any more than is Parliament's sovereignty. As that is so clearly understood, it is unnecessary to add that reference to the clause.
The hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) committed the gaffe of the evening by referring to United Kingdom courts in England and Scottish courts in Scotland. For someone who claims a close relationship with Scotland to make such a blunder as to confuse the courts of England with the courts of the United Kingdom shows such lack of knowledge and appreciation of the existence of institutions within the United Kingdom that it is no wonder that his other judgments on the Bill are misguided.
§ We have discussed the clause and the amendments at length and in detail. I answered the general arguments earlier, and I hope that these few remarks will help hon. Members who addressed themselves to particular amendments to feel that they have been considered. I ask the Committee to reject the amendment.
§ Mr. Walter Harrison (Treasurer of Her Majesty's Household)
rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.
§ Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.
§ Question put accordingly, That the amendment be made:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 128, Noes 151.579
|Division No. 39.]||AYES||[4.32 a.m.|
|Aitken, Jonathan||Hordern, Peter||Percival, Ian|
|Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne)||Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)||Pink, R. Bonner|
|Banks, Robert||Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)||Powell, Rt Hon J. Enoch|
|Berry, Hon Anthony||Hunt, John (Bromley)||Prior, Rt Hon James|
|Biffen, John||Hurd, Douglas||Pym, Rt Hon Francis|
|Biggs-Davison, John||Hutchison, Michael Clark||Raison, Timothy|
|Blaker, Peter||James, David||Rathbone, Tim|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine||Renton, Rt Hon Sir D. (Hunts)|
|Braine, Sir Bernard||Kershaw, Anthony||Renton, Tim (Mid-Sussex)|
|Brittan, Leon||King, Evelyn (South Dorset)||Rhodes James, R.|
|Brocklebank-Fowler, C.||Kinnock, Nell||Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon|
|Buck, Antony||Knox, David||Ridley, Hon Nicholas|
|Budgen, Nick||Lawrence, Ivan||Roberts, Michael (Cardiff NW)|
|Bulmer, Esmond||Le Marchant, Spencer||Roberts, Wyn (Conway)|
|Butler, Adam (Bosworth)||Lester, Jim (Beeston)||Ross, William (Londonderry)|
|Chalker, Mrs Lynda||Luce, Richard||Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)|
|Channon, Paul||Macfarlane, Neil||Sainsbury, Tim|
|Clark, William (Croydon S)||Macmillan, Rt Hon M. (Farnham)||Shelton, William (Streatham)|
|Clegg, Walter||McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury)||Shepherd, Colin|
|Cooke, Robert (Bristol W)||McNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest)||Shersby, Michael|
|Cope, John||Marshall, Michael (Arundel)||Silvester, Fred|
|Crouch, David||Marten, Neil||Sims, Roger|
|Dalyell, Tam||Mather, Carol||Sinclair, Sir George|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James||Mawby, Ray||Sproat, Iain|
|Durant, Tony||Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke)||Mayhew, Patrick||Steen, Anthony (Wavertree)|
|Emery, Peter||Mendelson, John||Stradling Thomas, J.|
|Fairbairn, Nicholas||Meyer, Sir Anthony||Taylor, Teddy (Cathcart)|
|Farr, John||Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove)||Tebbit, Norman|
|Fisher, Sir Nigel||Mills, Peter||Thomas, Rt Hon P. (Hendon S)|
|Fraser, Rt Hon H. (Stafford & St)||Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)||Townsend, Cyril D.|
|Gardiner, George (Reigate)||Moate, Roger||Urwin, T. W.|
|Goodhart, Philip||Molyneaux, James||Vaughan, Dr Gerard|
|Goodhew, Victor||Monro, Hector||Viggers, Peter|
|Gow, Ian (Eastbourne)||Moore, John (Croydon C)||Warren, Kenneth|
|Griffiths, Eldon||More, Jasper (Ludlow)||Weatherill, Bernard.|
|Grist, Ian||Morgan-Giles, Rear-Admiral||wiggin, Jerry|
|Grylls, Michael||Morrison, Charles (Devizes)||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Hall-Davis, A. G. F.||Neave, Airey||Young, Sir G. (Ealing, Acton)|
|Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)||Neubert, Michael||Younger, Hon George|
|Hannam, John||Newton, Tony|
|Harvie Anderson, Rt Hon Miss||Osborn, John||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Hawkins, Paul||Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby)||Mr. Nigel Lawson and|
|Hayhoe, Barney||Page, Richard (Workington)||Mr. Peter Morrison.|
|Archer, Peter||Bidwell, Sydney||Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P)|
|Armstrong, Ernest||Bishop, E. S.||Campbell, Ian|
|Ashton, Joe||Blenkinsop, Arthur||Canavan, Dennis|
|Atkinson, Norman||Boardman, H.||Cartwright, John|
|Bagier, Gordon A. T.||Booth, Rt Hon Albert||Clemitson, Ivor|
|Bain, Mrs Margaret||Bray, Dr Jeremy||Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol)|
|Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)||Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)||Cohen, Stanley|
|Bates, Alf||Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W)||Coleman, Donald|
|Bean, R. E.||Buchan, Norman||Concannon, J. D.|
|Conlan, Bernard||Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln)||Rooker, J. W.|
|Cook, Robin F.(Edin C)||Janner, Greville||Roper, John|
|Cox, Thomas (Tooting)||John, Brynmor||Ross, Rt Hon W.(Kilmarnock)|
|Craig, Rt Hon W. (Belfast E)||Johnson, James (Hull West)||Rowlands, Ted|
|Crawford, Douglas||Jones, Barry (East Flint)||Silkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford)|
|Cryer, Bob||Jones, Dan (Burnley)||Sillars, James|
|Cunningham, Dr J. (Whiteh)||Kaufman, Gerald||Silverman, Julius|
|Davidson, Arthur||Kerr, Russell||Skinner, Dennis|
|Davies, Bryan (Enfield N)||Lamborn, Harry||Small, William|
|Davies, Denzil (Llanelli)||Latham, Arthur (Paddington)||Smith, John (N Lanarkshire)|
|Deakins, Eric||Loyden, Eddie||Stallard, A. W.|
|Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)||Luard, Evan||Stewart, Rt Hon Donald|
|de Freitas, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey||McCartney, Hugh||Stoddart, David|
|Dell, Rt Hon Edmund||MacCormick, Iain||Strang, Gavin|
|Dempsey, James||McDonald, Dr Oonagh||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)|
|Doig, Peter||McElhone, Frank||Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)|
|Dormand, J. D.||MacFarquhar, Roderick||Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)|
|Eadie, Alex||McGuire, Michael (Ince)||Thompson, George|
|Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun)||MacKenzie, Gregor||Tinn, James|
|English, Michael||Maclennan, Robert||Tomlinson, John|
|Evans, Gwynfor (Carmarthen)||McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C)||Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.|
|Ewing, Harry (Stirling)||McNamara, Kevin||Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)|
|Ewing, Mrs Winifred (Moray)||Madden, Max||Walker, Harold (Doncaster)|
|Fernyhough, Rt Hon E.||Magee, Bryan||Ward, Michael|
|Flannery, Martin||Marks, Kenneth||Watkins, David|
|Foot, Rt Hon Michael||Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)||Watkinson, John|
|Fraser, John (Lambeth, N'w'd)||Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)||Watt, Hamish|
|Garrett, John (Norwich S)||Maynard, Miss Joan||Welsh, Andrew|
|Gilbert, Dr John||Millan, Rt Hon Bruce||White, Frank R.(Bury)|
|Golding, John||Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)||White, James (Pollok)|
|Grant, George (Morpeth)||Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)||Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)|
|Grant, John (Islington C)||Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)||Williams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch)|
|Grocott, Bruce||Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King||Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)|
|Hamilton, James (Bothwell)||Noble, Mike||Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)|
|Hardy, Peter||Oakes, Gordon||Wilson, William (Coventry SE)|
|Harper, Joseph||Orme, Rt Hon Stanley||Wise, Mrs Audrey|
|Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)||Ovenden, John||Woodall, Alec|
|Hatton, Frank||Owen, Rt Hon Dr David||Wrigglesworth, Ian|
|Henderson, Douglas||Penhaligon, David|
|Howell, Rt Hon Denis (B'ham, Sm H)||Prescott, John||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Huckfield, Les||Reid, George||Mr. Ted Graham and|
|Hunter, Adam||Richardson, Miss Jo||Mr. Peter Snape.|
|Irving, Rt Hon S. (Dartford)||Roderick, Caerwyn|
§ Question accordingly negatived.
Amendment proposed, in Clause I, 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."—[Mr. Gordon Wilson.]
§ Question put, That the amendment be made:—
§ The Committee divided: Ayes 14, Noes 146.581
|Division No. 40.]||AYES||[4.45 a.m.|
|Bain, Mrs Margaret||Reid, George||Welsh, Andrew|
|Craig, Rt Hon W. (Belfast E)||Sillars, James||Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)|
|Crawford, Douglas||Stewart, Rt Hon Donald|
|Evans, Gwynfor (Carmarthen)||Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|MacCormick, Iain||Thompson, George||Mrs. Winifred Ewing and|
|Penhaligon, David||Watt, Hamish||Mr. Douglas Henderson.|
|Archer, Peter||Cartwright, John||Dempsey, James|
|Armstrong, Ernest||Channon, Paul||Doig, Peter|
|Atkinson, Norman||Clemitson, Ivor||Dormand, J. D.|
|Bagier, Gordon A. T.||Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol)||Eadie, Alex|
|Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)||Cohen, Stanley||Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun)|
|Bates, Alf||Coleman, Donald||Emery, Peter|
|Bean, R. E.||Concannon, J. D.||English, Michael|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Conlan, Bernard||Ewing, Harry (Stirling)|
|Bishop, E. S.||Cook, Robin F.(Edin C)||Fernyhough, Rt Hon E.|
|Blenkinsop, Arthur||Cox, Thomas (Tooting)||Flannery, Martin|
|Boardman, H.||Cryer, Bob||Foot, Rt Hon Michael|
|Booth, Rt Hon Albert||Cunningham, Dr J. (Whiteh)||Fraser, John (Lambeth, N'w'd)|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||Dalyell, Tam||Garrett, John (Norwich S)|
|Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)||Davidson, Arthur||Gilbert, Dr John|
|Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W)||Davies, Bryan (Enfield N)||Golding, John|
|Buchan, Norman||Davies, Denzil (Llanelli)||Graham, Ted|
|Budgen, Nick||Deakins, Eric||Grant, George (Morpeth)|
|Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P)||Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)||Grant, John (Islington C)|
|Campbell, Ian||de Freitas, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey||Grocott, Bruce|
|Canavan, Dennis||Dell, Rt Hon Edmund||Hamilton, James (Bothwell)|
|Hardy, Peter||McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C)||Skinner, Dennis|
|Harper, Joseph||McNamara, Kevin||Small, William|
|Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)||Madden, Max||Smith, John (N Lanarkshire)|
|Hatton, Frank||Magee, Bryan||Sproat, Iain|
|Howell, Rt Hon Denis (B'ham, Sm H)||Marks, Kenneth||Stallard, A. W.|
|Huckfield, Les||Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)||Stoddart, David|
|Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)||Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)||Strang, Gavin|
|Hunter, Adam||Maynard, Miss Joan||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)|
|Irving, Rt Hon S. (Dartford)||Mendelson, John||Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)|
|Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln)||Millan, Rt Hon Bruce||Tinn, James|
|Janner, Greville||Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)||Tomlinson, John|
|John, Brynmor||Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)||Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.|
|Johnson, James (Hull West)||Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)||Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)|
|Jones, Barry (East Flint)||Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King||Walker, Harold (Doncaster)|
|Jones, Dan (Burnley)||Noble, Mike||Ward, Michael|
|Kaufman, Gerald||Oakes, Gordon||Watkins, David|
|Kerr, Russell||Orme, Rt Hon Stanley||Watkinson, John|
|Kershaw, Anthony||Ovenden, John||White, Frank R. (Bury)|
|Kinnock, Neil||Owen, Rt Hon Dr David||White, James (Pollok)|
|Lamborn, Harry||Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby)||Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)|
|Latham, Arthur (Paddington)||Prescott, John||Williams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch)|
|Loyden, Eddie||Renton, Tim (Mid-Sussex)||Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)|
|Luard, Evan||Richardson, Miss Jo||Wilson, William (Coventry SE)|
|McCartney, Hugh||Roderick, Caerwyn||Wise, Mrs Audrey|
|McDonald, Dr Oonagh||Rooker, J. W.||Woodall, Alec|
|McElhone, Frank||Roper, John||Wrigglesworth, Ian|
|MacFarquhar, Roderick||Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock)|
|McGuire, Michael (Ince)||Rowlands, Ted||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|MacKenzie, Gregor||Silkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford)||Mr. Peter Snape and|
|Maclennan, Robert||Silverman, Julius||Mr. Joseph Ashton.|
§ Question accordingly negatived.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
§ The Chairman(Mr. Murton)
Before I call any right hon. or hon. Member I would point out that in the course of our proceedings on amendments to Clause 1, I suggested to one or two hon. Members —specifically, the right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton)—that it would be appropriate to raise certain matters on Clause 1 stand part. On the other hand, although I do not wish to be unduly restrictive, I would point out that we have had a far-ranging debate on the amendments. I would therefore ask hon. Members in this debate not to repeat arguments which they have already advanced in debate on the amendments.
§ Sir David Renton
Speaking for myself, and I am sure for all hon. Members, Mr. Murton, I gladly welcome your ruling and will do my best not to repeat arguments which I have put before. The points that I wish to put are frankly drafting points, but important ones. This is an important clause and we should make an attempt even now to get it right. I have no intention of seeking to divide the Committee on the motion.
As the Minister of State said, this is a declaratory clause, and that is all that it is. The second sentence has been the subject of almost endless discussion and I do not propose now to deal with it. 582 But the first sentence has not been considered in detail. There are several points which we should try to adjust on Report.
The clause attempts to state the purpose of the Bill. That is a good thing to do, and something which has not been attempted often enough in the past. But if it is to be done, it is better that the purpose of the clause should be stated clearly and unambiguously. This first sentence does not achieve that purpose. Like the Long Title, it says of the Bill that its provisionsmake changes in the government of Scotland and Wales".But there is no Government of Scotland and Wales. There is no Government of Scotland; there is no Government of Wales. There is local government in both Scotland and Wales, but that is an entirely different concept. There is a Government of the United Kingdom, Her Majesty's Government, represented on the Front Bnch opposite. Therefore, to refer to the government of Scotland and Wales is a faux pas and should be recognised as such.
My next criticism is of the use of the word "government". As we all know, as every sixth-former knows, it has two different meanings in our language. I suggest that the first, the narrower one which I have just used, is the correct one —for example "Her Majesty's Government" to describe the country's Executive. 583 The other meaning is very wide and too vague. It is not the best word for us to use in this important context.
I can best illustrate the two different meanings or uses of the word by reminding the Committee that the constitution of any mature democracy consists of—apart from the Head of State—four different parts: the electorate; the legislature, part of which at any rate is democratically elected; the Government —that is, the Executive; and the judiciary. When we talk of parliamentary government, as we so often proudly do, we mean that the Government are answerable to Parliament. We do not, or should not, mean that Parliament carries on the government.
It is true that the Government, besides being answerable to Parliament, are dependent upon Parliament for voting the money and passing the laws without which the Executive Government of the country cannot be carried on. But to describe, as the Bill does, at any rate in relation to Scotland, the legislature and the Executive as the Government is confusing.
But now I must come clean with the Committee. I must concede that there are famous precedents for this confusing use of the word. The Government of Ireland Act and the Act dealing with the government of India are two examples, and there are others. However, we in Parliament are not bound by the mistakes of our predecessors. Indeed, we have a duty to put matters right, whatever solemnity they may have acquired, and especially when we are making changes of the great importance that we are making in the Bill.
There is a simple way of getting the matter right. I tabled an amendment which would have achieved it. All that we have to do is to omit from lines 7 and 8 on page 1 the wordschanges in the government ofand insert the simple words "constitutional changes affecting". Both defects that I have described would then be simply overcome.
I shall try again on Report. I shall table the amendment again, and I hope to have better luck. Meanwhile, I can but regret the serious defects which 584 remain in this important clause, which will no doubt be allowed to stand part.
§ Mr. Emery
I have sat through about seven-and-a-half hours of the nine hours of debate on the amendments. While much of what I have to say may be critical of the Government, I begin by paying tribute to the Lord President, who is in charge of the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman is often open to criticism but I feel that the way in which he has sat through the whole of the debate when he is obviously suffering from a severe cold is worthy of favourable comment. We thank him for doing so.
I had taken a slightly different point from that taken by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) not having consulted him about the wording of the Long Title and the first phrase in the clause. My suggestion was that instead of the words:Provide for changes in the government of Scotland and Wales.we should substitute:Provide for the partial government of Scotland and Wales.There is no Government, as such, of Scotland and Wales other than in this Parliament. I was not being quite as obtuse as my right hon. and learned Friend over the use of the word "government". It is important that we indicate, as early as possible in the Bill, that we are concerned only with partial government, if "government" is the right word.
Part of my case is that never before, under any declaratory clause or statement of intent in a measure, will there be such rapid proof that the declaration or intent is wrong. I do not doubt the intent of the Government. I believe that if the Bill is passed and operates for three or four years we shall find the unity of the United Kingdom being broken. During my political life I have fought for the greater unification of areas of government. I was the joint founder of the United Europe Club at Oxford in 1947. I worked for the unification of Central Africa in the old Federation. I have attempted to work for unification in parts of Asia Minor. It is a desperate position to be in to be a Member of Parliament and to see the balkanisation of the United Kingdom.
585 I realise that the Minister of State holds his views honestly but I cannot understand how any national assembly which will become a national parliament can be expected to carry on without demanding absolute powers. I do not understand how any historian or student of the Commonwealth, or any other part of the world where a central government has given a degree of independence, can fail to be aware that that independence has been continually stretched until absolute independence has been demanded and obtained. That happened with Stormont. The parliamentary structure has been taken away and Stormont has not progressed. Historically we have not seen what the Government suggest that they will be able to bring about with national Assemblies in Wales and in Scotland.
Will the Government not listen to the siren voices of the Scottish nationalists who make no pretence about this being the first step towards obtaining an independent Scotland? From what I know of my own party—the Conservative Party—and from what I have seen of the divisions within the Labour Party, it is clear that, with a party structure in the Scottish Assembly, the Members will very soon make the same kind of demands as are being made by the nationalists, because they will be frustrated from being able to carry out the duties which they would wish to carry out.
We see that trend in local government now, particularly in the greater extremities of this country. The hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe) has expressed views about a greater degree of delegation to such areas. If that is happening in local government, surely it will be accentuated when the Assemblies are created.
During the seven hours that I have spent in the Chamber, I have heard very little support for the Government. That must be a worrying factor for them.
I am concerned that the view may be taken by the Opposition—that the Bill can be corrected and made acceptable—is becoming less tenable. I believe that the Bill is a dismal failure and is doomed to become an instrument for what we do not wish to see brought about. Therefore, I feel that I must make my position absolutely clear at the start.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I echo the compliments paid by the hon. Member for Honiton (Mr. Emery) to my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council who has been present almost continuously from the beginning of the debate. However, I am reminded of the situation 10 years ago when very few of his Cabinet colleagues came into the Chamber to express solidarity with the late Dick Crossman on the Parliament (No. 2) Bill. I should have thought that there would be a few token appearances by other members of the Cabinet on a major Government Bill. That is by the by.
A great deal has been said about the representation of 71 Scottish Members of Parliament and their lack of responsibility for matters affecting England on which their votes may or may not be decisive. After 13¼ hours, I still have not heard any answer to that problem. Frankly, I do not expect to hear any answer, for the very good reason that there is no answer to that problem. It is the rock on which Mr. Gladstone's first and second Home Rule Bills perished. There is no answer.
§ Mr. Foot indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Dalyell
If I am mistaken, let that answer be forthcoming during the debate on the Question, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
§ 5.15 a.m.
§ Mr. Nicholas Winterton
I am pleased to be able to make a brief contribution to the debate at this hour in the morning. I have sat in the Chamber for six hours with only a break for the last two Divisions. I have listened to other contributions with care, and I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Mr. Emery) that not a word has been uttered in favour of the Bill except from the Treasury Bench. Every speaker from the Government side has been critical of the principle of the Bill and the way in which it is being introduced, although I admit that some flattering comments were made about the case that the Minister endeavoured to put to the Committee.
When dealing with important constitutional changes such as these, inevitably one looks back to treaties and the Act of Union. Article I of that Act states:That the two kingdoms of England and Scotland shall upon the first day of May 587 which shall be in the year one thousand seven hundred and seven and for ever after be united into one kingdom by the name of Great Britain.That is an important article and the Government are to change that situation dramatically in the Bill and in the principle of the Clause which we are asked to allow to stand part of the Bill.
Article III states:That the United Kingdom of Great Britain be represented by one and the same Parliament to be stiled the Parliament of Great Britain.Again a dramatic change is envisaged. The Government have not been as truthful as they should to the House and the nation.
An interesting letter appeared in the Yorkshire Post on 10th January. It was written by Donald Barraclough, a Yorkshireman who has lived in Scotland for 22 years and worked in local government in Scotland for about 15 years. He wrote:Since the demand for Devolution became the cry of the Scottish Nationalists I have often said 'Why not Home Rule for Yorkshire?' What has to be realised is that devolution is only a step on the way to complete separation, and that the costs of devolution will be met by Westminster, that is the British taxpayer.How right my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) was to say that the Bill is the first step on the way to separation and how it will totally destroy the concept of a united kingdom and destroy so much of what has been built up since 1707.
The letter in the Yorkshire Post also stated:Devolution must not be confused with decentralisation from which Scotland has already received some benefit, expects and has been promised more. She has 71 MPs at Westminster—a much higher representation than south of the border, so why the demand for a legislative assembly of 142 members plus a Civil Service staff of over 2,000? This unproductive expenditure will fall on Westminster at a time when Britain has an economic crisis which according to the Prime Minister will take ten years for industrial recovery.Those are valid and important points.
Having not spoken in the debate before and having not caught Mr. Speaker's eye on Second Reading, I am pleased to make this brief contribution tonight. As a Member elected to the House 270 years after the Act of Union, I have pledged myself publicly to uphold the Act of Union and 588 to vote against the Bill at every stage when a vote takes place.
Devolution, with all the over-government that it will create, is a sinister development which politicians of all parties should oppose wholeheartedly. My view is shared and has been expressed by many of my colleagues who have taken part in the debate. I was delighted when I heard the contribution of the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson), because he highlighted many of the dangers and sinister aspects of the Bill.
I repeat that devolution is threatening the unity of this country, which has been formed and formulated since 1707. In an age in which the process of government is already discredited and overburdened, it seems incredible that a Government of the United Kingdom should support the creation of yet another tier of bureaucracy. I say that as a totally unabashed Conservative. My party has traditionally been the party of the Union. I am proud to say that, and I shall repeat it during the next few months on many public platforms up and down the country. Long may the Conservative Party be the party of the Union. Not for nothing is it still affectionately called the Conservative and Unionist Party.
The Union is based upon two propositions. The first is that each section of the community of the whole United Kingdom is prepared to subordinate its will to the good of the whole United Kingdom. There is no doubt whatever that the establishment of a separate Parliament in Scotland will destroy that proposition and concept.
The second proposition is that the Union of the United Kingdom depends upon the supremacy of this Parliament. The establishment of whatever they like to be called in Edinburgh and in South Wales will certainly destroy the supremacy of the Westminster Parliament.
I say, therefore, that the Government have put forward a very bad Bill. It has been criticised roundly on all sides of the Committee. Unfortunately, the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) is not present in the Chamber. If he were present, he would probably support the opinion that I am about to express.
589 There are dangers and disadvantages in the party system because too often hon. Members' better instinct and better judgment are overruled by the Whips because of some overall philosophy or dogma that has been developed. There is no doubt that many Labour Members would be trooping through the Lobbies against the Bill if they had more courage or the courage of their convictions. I shall certainly be going through the appropriate Lobby to vote against the Bill on every possible occasion.
§ Mr. Michael Clark Hutchison (Edinburgh, South)
I have listened to the debates. I have heard not one speech in favour of the Bill. I am absolutely opposed to it. I am not prepared to legislate for a lot of nonsense, so I shall call a Division and vote against it.
§ Mr. Fairbairn
The question that we are asked is whether the clause should stand part of the Bill. The Committee ought to regard constitutional legislation with some responsibility. The clause is absolute legislative rubbish. The Minister of State was my learned junior on many occasions. Perhaps he may have learnt something from me. Legislation is a simple matter, and it is law and nothing else that we pass.
The clause consists of two sentences. The first sentence reads:The following provisions of this Act make changes in the government of Scotland and Wales as parts of the United Kingdom.Apart from the interpretation of government made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton), that is an inadequate and false statement of fact. It has nothing to do with legislation. We do not have to have the effect of an Act. The effect of an Act is interpreted by the courts. That is called the effect of an Act. The effect of the Act is to make changes in all parts of the United Kingdom, not merely in Scotland and Wales. The first sentence is a false statement of fact.
The second sentence reads:They do not affect"—I am not quite sure who "they" are—the unity of the United Kingdom or the supreme authority of Parliament to make laws for the United Kingdom or any part of it.That is a straight, fundamental and absolute falsehood. The whole purpose 590 of the Bill is to affect the supreme authority of Parliament. That is what it is all about. That is what the nationalists are all here for. Of course the Assemblies will be able to diminish the power and authority of Parliament. We start with a falsehood and end with a lie, and this is constitutional legislation.
My hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) read out the Act of Union. In fact, it got it right. It did not make a false statement as its proposition. If we left out Clause 1 it would make no difference whatever to the Bill. This is legislation. This is law. But this is not what should be in an Act of Parliament. It is false, it is wrong and it is unrealistic. I do not think that this is a good basis, whatever our views about how the government of this country should be reorganised, for starting on a constitutional charter.
Secondly, apart from Ireland, which has a special history, I think it is a historical fact that there is no country on earth and no people on earth who share the same land mass and speak the same language who have ever diminished or altered their method of government in this way. This is an important matter. There has been federalism and there have been situations arising the other way round, but I do not believe that on one land mass, apart from the lesson of Ireland, there has ever been such a diminution or alteration. That is a historical fact that should be considered when we are considering this constitutional change.
Thirdly—in this instance I merely take myself as an example—what I am presently empowered and entrusted to do in my constituency will be done by two other people in addition. The costs will be paid for not by my constituents but by the constituents of those who have not three representatives but one.
§ 5.30 a.m.
§ Mr. Fairbairn
I shall be redundant, and down in Westminster will be all the ghost Members. But up in West Lothian there will be two or three people stomping 591 around doing the work that one Member now does. It is all a farce and it will be paid for—not by the Scottish or Welsh. but by the English.
I wish to make one other important point. If it is said that these arrangements will make government closer, cheaper, quicker and all the rest of it, it must be said that this Bill will not achieve those aims. The reason that it will not do so is that it will enlarge the number of elections, representatives and Departments of State. It will increase the amount of money that will be expended and the number of civil servants.
The clause begins with two sentences which compared with the rest of the Bill are simple but, as legislation, are superflous, as well as being manifest, deliberate and uncorrectable falsehoods. For that reason alone the clause should not be allowed to stand part of the Bill.
§ Mr. Pym
It was inevitable that Part I of the Bill should attract substantial debate. Although it has the rather innocent heading of "Preliminary", it is a collection of a few assertions that have been challenged over a period of three or four days in Committee. They are assertions that go to the heart of the government of this country, and they have been represented during many hours of debate as being an inaccurate description of what is likely to happen. If anything like this measure becomes law, the clause must be criticised for its inaccuracy and for not representing the probability of what is to happen.
The debate on Amendment No. 16 was the first opportunity for the Committee to discuss the government of the United Kingdom as a whole and it indicated the anxiety of the House about the inherent dangers in the Bill. To be a British citizen and to belong to our country matters to every hon. Member, no matter for what constituency he may sit. There has been tension in the last 13 hours of debate, and that is a fair reflection of the anxiety that will grow in our country unless there are some dramatic changes in the Bill.
The way in which our country has developed over the centuries, particularly since the Act of Union and what has happened since, reminds us of the way in which we got over the separatism, if that is an accurate word, that existed 592 before and of how we developed and evolved into what was a Great Britain that was sympathetic to the feelings of the people of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. We know how each part of the United Kingdom has been able to retain its own identity and culture and yet has been able to be merged, in a thoroughly civilised way, into the United Kingdom as a whole. It can be said that we had a genius for bringing about this arrangement, which enabled Great Britain to act in a united way, while at the same time enabling the constituent parts of the kingdom to retain, develop and evolve their own particular cultures and ways of life.
§ Mr. Dalyell
The right hon. Gentleman talks about "certain dramatic changes". What are these dramatic changes that he has in mind?
§ Mr. Pym
Some are on the Order Paper and more will go down. It remains to be seen what changes are to be made. One change might have been made by the Government's acceptance of the last amendment. Although it was a comparatively minor matter, it was a change that would have indicated that the Government were prepared to make some concessions.
I was speaking of what I believe to be a genuine and real anxiety in respect of what people fear may result from this Bill. There is a difference of view about what the effect on the unity of the United Kingdom will be.
During today's debates the Minister of State said it would enhance unity, but virtually every other hon. Member said the opposite. One can say that this is a matter of opinion but it may be too late when we really find out what the result will be.
I do not think the Minister gave a very good explanation for the existence of this clause. He described it as "declaratory" and fairly pointed out that other Acts have begun with a declaratory clause. None of them, I suspect, has enjoyed anything like the criticism that this one has.
In so far as it is declaratory it may be said to have very little effect on the Bill as a whole. Whether it is in the Bill seems to make very little difference. I suppose that it is in the Bill because 593 of the Government's desire to reassure people that the words in this clause are quite true.
§ Mr. Fairbairn
If the Minister of State was right, it would be absolute nonsense, because if it enhances the unity of the United Kingdom, it would change the unity of the United Kingdom. But since the Bill says that it will not do so, it cannot possibly enhance it.
§ Mr. Pym
That is a fair point to make. I am not persuaded that Clause 1 is a wise clause. Its intention may be to reassure, but I think that it is misleading, as practically every hon. Member has indicated. It is an attempt to lull the public into believing that these assertions are true when they are demonstrably challengeable.
The clause has given rise to a major debate on Scotland and Wales. It has also raised the major question of the number and, more important, the role of Members in this House representing constituencies in Scotland and Wales. Although Amendment No. 474 was not called today, I have no doubt that there will be other occasions later when we can discuss this matter. It is very important.
In his first intervention the Minister said that the Conservative Party had a party political interest. My goodness me, that is true! But this Bill is actually inspired by party political considerations on the part of the Government, and that is absolutely reprehensible and wrong.
There was practically no support for this clause. Indeed, many hon. Members on both sides of the Committee regard it as irrelevant. Its drafting and structure fly in the face of practically every recommendation of the committee presided over by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton).
This is an immensely unsatisfactory opening clause. It is not true or correct. But it is not of such importance that we ought to seek to strike it out. Even if we did that, the rest of the Bill would go on as though Clause 1 did not exist.
§ Mr. Nicholas Winterton
My right hon. Friend referred to the number of Scottish Members in the House of Commons. Does not he agree that if the Government were acting in good faith 594 they would put forward a proposition for a reduction in the number? Although Scottish Members returned to the House of Commons would naturally participate in all our activities and debates, they would not have the undue influence they have on debates and legislation at present.
§ Mr. Pym
That might be a reasonable proposition in logic but it does not accord with what the Government judge to be to their political advantage. I do not think, therefore, that they will put forward proposals of that kind.
Anyone who has listened to the three days of debate on Part I of the Bill will be gravely concerned about the opinions expressed that the Bill represents a potential threat—some would go further—to the continuing unity of this kingdom. The House of Commons might have to fight much harder than it has fought during the last week or two for something so dear to its heart. I hope that the Government will bear that in mind and be as flexible as possible in making adjustments to the Bill to take away the danger that the House of Commons is not prepared to accept.
§ Mr. John Smith
I shall try to follow the example of my own Member of Parliament, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Hutchison) in making a brief contribution to the debate. I do not promise to be so brief as he has been tonight. He expressed his usual robust and well-known opposition to the Bill and its works, and I understand his position.
The right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) addressed himself to criticism of the word "government". The right hon. and learned Gentleman served on the Royal Commission on the Constitution and the Committee on the Preparation of Legislation, and I listened with particular care to what he said. I know that he is deeply interested in ensuring the accurate expression of Parliament's intention in the legislation it passes. It is refreshing to find a lawyer who is willing to challenge precedents in the way he did. He said that he would return to this matter on Report, and no doubt he will seek to put down an amendment on that occasion. We shall think about what he said between now and then, but I make no commitment.
595 The hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) publicly pledged himself to go through the "No" Lobby as often as possible. That is an interesting observation, bearing in mind that the Committee will spend a great deal of its time considering Opposition amendments.
We have had a very long and full debate. Conservative Members seem to be obsessed with the views of the Scottish National Party. I reject the criticism that the declaration is misleading. It is a useful preliminary to the Bill, and on that basis I ask the House to accept it.
§ Question accordingly agreed to.
§ Clause 1 ordered to stand part of the Bill.596
§ Mr. Dalyell
Before the Minister sits down, will he say when I am likely to get an answer on the issue of representation without responsibility?
§ Mr. Smith
My hon. Friend will recollect that I referred in an earlier part of the debate to his contribution. He may not be satisfied with the answer he received, but I suspect that on a great many matters it will be hard to satisfy my hon. Friend. I gave the answer then. I see no need to repeat it.
§ Question put, That the clause stand part of the Bill:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 132, Noes 5.595
|Division No. 41.]||AYES||[5.45 a.m.|
|Archer, Peter||Garrett, John (Norwich S)||Noble, Mike|
|Armstrong, Ernest||Gilbert, Dr John||Oakes, Gordon|
|Atkinson, Norman||Golding, John||Orme, Rt Hon Stanley|
|Bagier, Gordon A. T.||Grant, George (Morpeth)||Ovenden, John|
|Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)||Grant, John (Islington C)||Owen, Rt Hon Dr David|
|Bates, Alf||Grocott, Bruce||Penhaligon, David|
|Bean, R. E.||Hamilton, James (Bothwell)||Prescott, John|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Hardy, Peter||Richardson, Miss Jo|
|Bishop, E. S.||Harper, Joseph||Roderick, Caerwyn|
|Blenkinsop, Arthur||Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)||Rooker, J. W.|
|Boardman, H.||Hatton, Frank||Roper, John|
|Booth, Rt Hon Albert||Howell, Rt Hon Denis (B'ham, Sm H)||Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock)|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||Huckfield, Les||Rowlands, Ted|
|Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)||Hunter, Adam||Silkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford)|
|Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W)||Irving, Rt Hon S. (Dartford)||Sillars, James|
|Buchan, Norman||Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln)||Silverman, Julius|
|Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P)||John, Brynmor||Skinner, Dennis|
|Campbell, Ian||Johnson, James (Hull West)||Small, William|
|Canavan, Dennis||Jones, Barry (East Flint)||Smith, John (N Lanarkshire)|
|Clemitson, Ivor||Jones, Dan (Burnley)||Snape, Peter|
|Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol)||Kaufman, Gerald||Stallard, A. W.|
|Cohen, Stanley||Kerr, Russell||Stott, Roger|
|Coleman, Donald||Lamborn, Harry||Strang, Gavin|
|Concannon, J. D.||Latham, Arthur (Paddington)||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)|
|Conlan, Bernard||Loyden, Eddie||Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)|
|Cook Robin F. (Edin C)||Luard, Evan||Tinn, James|
|Cox, Thomas (Tooting)||McCartney, Hugh||Tomlinson, John|
|Cryer, Bob||McDonald, Dr Oonagh||Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.|
|Cunningham, Dr J. (Whiteh)||McElhone, Frank||Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)|
|Davidson, Arthur||MacFarquhar, Roderick||Walker, Harold (Doncaster)|
|Davies, Bryan (Enfield N)||McGuire, Michael (Ince)||Ward, Michael|
|Davies, Denzil (Llanelli)||MacKenzie, Gregor||Watkins, David|
|Deakins, Eric||Maclennan, Robert||White, Frank R. (Bury)|
|Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)||McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C)||White, James (Pollok)|
|de Freitas, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey||McNamara, Kevin||Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)|
|Dell, Rt Hon Edmund||Madden, Max||Williams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch)|
|Dempsey, James||Magee, Bryan||Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)|
|Doig, Peter||Marks, Kenneth||Wilson, William (Coventry SE)|
|Dormand, J. D.||Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)||Wise, Mrs Audrey|
|Eadie, Alex||Maynard, Miss Joan||Woodall, Alec|
|Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun)||Millan, Rt Hon Bruce||Wrigglesworth, Ian|
|Ewing, Harry (Stirling)||Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)|
|Fernyhough, Rt Hon E.||Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Flannery, Martin||Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)||Mr. Ted Graham and|
|Foot, Rt Hon Michael||Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King||Mr. David Stoddart.|
|Fraser, John (Lambeth, N'w'd)|
|Dalyell, Tam||Fraser, Rt Hon H. (Stafford & St)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Emery, Peter||Newton, Tony||Mr. Michael Clark Hutchison and|
|Fairbairn, Nicholas||Mr. Nicholas Winterton.|
§ To report Progress and ask leave to sit again.—[Mr. Harper.]
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again this day.