§ The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Michael Foot)
With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement on devolution.
In the light of the debates in the House and other representations, the Government have decided that new proposals should be brought forward for devolution. I wish to inform the House of the main changes we now propose.
The Government will introduce two Bills next Session to provide, respectively, for devolution to Scotland and to Wales. The Government have always been fully and equally committed to the achievement of devolution for both countries and we shall present the two Bills to the House on that understanding and on the same basis. We believe that the House would welcome the separate consideration of what are dissimilar proposals.
For any question relating to the interpretation or application of the devolution statutes, we shall now propose that the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council should be the final court of reference, as well as undertaking the pre-Assent scrutiny of Scottish Assembly Bills. The Judicial Committee will thereby finally be the sole court determining questions on vires.
We believe that it is possible to dispense with certain of the detailed controls on the actions of the devolved administrations to provide more clear-cut arrangements. We shall propose that the Government's general reserve powers should be available only in cases where a matter is prejudiced for which there is no devolved responsibility. The powers will remain as an essential safeguard to protect matters which are not to be devolved—for example, defence, trade, the economy and industrial relations.
We shall omit the proposed statutory powers to limit rents and prescribe model rent and rebate schemes. We shall no longer provide for the Secretary of State's consent being necessary for changes in the pay and pensions of Scottish teachers and for the pensions arrangements of a number of public bodies in both Scotland and Wales.
As for the Assemblies themselves, we have concluded that they should be left 314 much freer to arrange and to conduct their business and we shall accordingly omit a number of the provisions in Part II of the Scotland and Wales Bill. On reconsideration, we believe that members of the Scottish Executive should have the title of Secretary and the head of the Executive the title of First Secretary. We shall also propose a power of premature dissolution for the Scottish Assembly dependent on a vote of at least two-thirds of its Members. We no longer propose the creation of Assembly Commissioners for the investigation of complaints against the new administration and their officials and we shall propose that the Scottish Assembly should be able to legislate on this matter.
We shall also propose the reservation of responsibility for the pay and pensions of teachers and of National Health Service employees in Wales.
Given the expressed concerns about the structure of local government in Wales, we shall propose that the Welsh Assembly should have a statutory duty to review the structure of local government.
The Government are continuing to develop these and other proposals for inclusion in new legislation for introduction next Session. The House will, of course, wish to consider them fully when they are expressed in legislative form and can provide the basis for debate. We have already made clear that in any future debate on proportional representation for the devolved Assemblies there will be a free vote on this side of the House.
In our review we have paid particular attention to the arrangements for financing the devolved services. A White Paper is being published this afternoon setting out our conclusions and the background to them. It sets out measures which we have in mind to improve the working of the block fund arrangements. First, we shall propose to the devolved administrations the possibility of setting up an independent advisory board with the task of improving the information base for financial discussions. Secondly, we shall propose a new approach for settling levels of devolved expenditure. The new system would relate the total of devolved expenditure to comparable expenditure elsewhere in the country and would establish a percentage formula which would be maintained for a number of years, as an alternative to negotiations every year 315 with the devolved administrations. The Government will wish to take account of the views of the devolved administrations on the acceptability and operation of this formula-based system.
The House will wish to know that we have not identified any satisfactory form of independent revenue-raising power for the devolved administrations. But if the new administrations wish to put forward proposals for a tax power to supplement the block fund within the conditions set out in the White Paper and the administrations were prepared to meet the costs, the Government will consider such proposals sympathetically.
Additionally, on the establishment of the new administrations, it is the Government's intention to seek their agreement to the establishment of Joint Councils for Scotland and for Wales, on which representatives of the Government and the new administrations could consult as necessary on matters of common concern. These would provide a valuable means of ensuring continuing co-operation and consultation.
In relation to England, consultations are continuing on the basis of our consultative document "Devolution: The English Dimension", which the Government published at the end of last year.
The Government believe that the changes now proposed will result in simpler and more clear-cut arrangements for devolution and firmly secure the interests of the people of the United Kingdom as a whole.
§ Mr. Pym
At least we have the acceptance, however belated and reluctant, of the case we put forward from these Benches for separate Bills. Will the Leader of the House undertake to publish these Bills in White Paper or some other form earlier than would normally be the case so that we may see the full impact of what he has outlined?
We on these Benches remain opposed to the Assembly for Wales because the people of Wales do not want it. Apart from dividing the original Bill into two, the new proposals are essentially tinkering with the ill-fated Scotland and Wales Bill. It is a case of a minor operation instead of major surgery.
On the rejection of revenue-raising powers, may we take it that the Lord 316 President has succeeded in persuading Liberal Members that their full and detailed proposals, which lately they regarded as essential, are simply unworkable and impracticable? Will the right hon. Gentleman explain why there is no mention of, let alone any solution to, the single most contentious problem to arise in our debates on the Bill; that is, the role and the number of Members of Parliament representing Scottish and Welsh constituences? Is the Leader of the House aware that a Speaker's Conference has now been established which would seem a most appropriate body to consider this basic matter? Why is it that, in spite of the Government's recognition of the profound implications upon England of their devolution proposals, they have failed after nearly a year of consideration to put before the House their conclusions in relation to England?
There will be great disappointment that one of the genuinely new proposals in the statement is for the establishment of joint councils and advisory boards, which appear to be yet another tier of governmental bureaucracy to be imposed upon the people of Wales and Scotland, who already have enough to bear. Does this not all point to the grievous error of not taking an all-party approach on a matter of such vital constitutional importance to the whole of the United Kingdom?
§ Mr. Foot
On the question of separate Bills, of course a separate approach to the question of devolution has been pressed by many others than Conservative Members. The Government believe that the proposals they are making meet that request. We have no intention of providing a White Paper on the matter. We believe that the next step should be for the House to vote upon these two Bills when they are presented to the House at the beginning of the next Session.
The right hon. Gentleman said that the most contentious question to arise in our earlier debates was that of representation in this House and the form that that representation should take. I am sure that by this time the right hon. Gentleman must have studied the Kilbrandon Report, which came to the same conclusion as we reached on the major in-and-out question which has sometimes been advocated. We have taken that conclusion into account.
317 The right hon. Gentleman has suggested that the whole matter should go back to pre-Kilbrandon days. If we had adopted his proposals for a Select Committee on the matter, so far from it being possible to have examined the matter afresh in the light of the decisions that the House had already reached, we should have had to abandon the proposals for devolution completely. No doubt that is what the right hon. Gentleman wanted. Many of his hon. Friends have come out quite clearly and said that that is what they want.
I see that the Chairman of the Conservative Party in Scotland said at the weekend that what he wanted from the Conservative Party in order to rescue a few votes there was some clear decision on these matters. Certainly we have not had that from the right hon. Gentleman. The Government are proposing a way in which we may proceed to carry out the will which the House expressed on this matter when there was a majority of over 40 for these general proposals on devolution.
§ Mr. Cledwyn Hughes
Will my right hon. Friend clarify the question of the order in which the two Bills will be taken? If, regretfully and inequitably, the Welsh Bill comes second, will he give an assurance that it is the Government's intention to get that Bill through all its stages in the next Session? Secondly, will he say whether the Government intend to hold referendums in the two countries after the Bills receive the Royal Assent?
§ Mr. Foot
As I have said, the Government regard their commitments to Scotland and to Wales as being on the same basis. It is on that basis that we shall present the legislation to the House. The exact order in which the Bills will be presented has not been decided, but it may be that the Scottish Bill will come first. If the Scottish Bill came first, the Welsh Bill would came very soon afterwards. We are equally committed to both Bills. The House of Commons voted for devolution for both Scotland and Wales when it had the opportunity of doing so. I have no doubt that it will do so again when the opportunity is freshly presented. Thereafter, as we have already made the commitment, there will be the opportunity, as we provided in our previous 318 legislation and as we shall provide in this legislation, for the people of Scotland and Wales to be able to vote upon the legislation when it is passed through this House.
§ Mr. Pym
Although he may not have intended it, the Leader of the House has misrepresented my words and my proposals, and I am not prepared to allow that. I have not suggested that we should go back to pre-Kilbrandon days. I have suggested a realistic, sensible and practical approach to tackle the real problems thrown up by devolution, and my proposals are that the matter should be looked at from an all-party point of view. I do not accept what the right hon. Gentleman said about me, and it is not right that the message should get out in a misrepresented form.
§ Mr. Foot
There is no question of misrepresentation. Anyone who considers the right hon. Gentleman's proposals for the terms of reference of a Select Committee will see that they raise all the major questions that were discussed by the Kilbrandon Committee. His proposals would reopen all the major questions, many of which had been voted upon when we were discussing these devolution matters before. The Government believe that they have made considerable progress since those times. I believe that the right hon. Gentleman should apply himself to the demand by the Chairman of the Scottish Conservative Party for something clear and decisive on this matter. We have had something clear and decisive from the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath), but we have not had that from the Leader of the Conservative Party or from the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym).
§ Mr. David Steel
Does the Lord President agree that an all-party approach on this subject, while no doubt desirable, would be realistic only if all parties were committed to the principle of devolution? Since that commitment is lacking from the Conservatives it is necessary to proceed with the legislation. For our part we accept the new package. For Wales, the statutory obligation to review local government is extremely important. For Scotland, the removal of many of the override powers is a great advance on the previous proposals, although we should like to go further and will press 319 the right hon. Gentleman further during the Committee stage.
Lastly, on taxation, does the right hon. Gentleman accept that it is likely that in the years ahead the Assembly may wish to pursue this with the Government of the day and is likely to raise the cry of "No representation without taxation"?
§ Mr. Foot
I think that when the country reads the White Paper that we are publishing on finance and taxation, it will see why the Government have reached the conclusions they have reached on this subject. We believe that the proposals we are making on these financial matters are of extreme importance for the maintenance of the unity of the United Kingdom. But we certainly agree, as I have said in my statement and as is indicated in the White Paper, that when the Assemblies are established, if they wish to raise further questions of this nature, we shall be prepared to discuss them within the terms that I have indicated.
As to the simplification of the Bill, I believe that it is greatly improved on that account and that it could be made more workable in that respect.
I fully accept what the right hon. Gentleman says about Wales, and the statement we have made concerning the statutory requirement for the Welsh Assembly to proceed and to produce proposals on local government is of great importance. All those who represent Wales will know how unpopular are the local government proposals which have been imposed there. All of them will know that no such proposals would ever have been imposed if a Welsh Assembly had been in existence at the time.
I believe that the only way in which we can proceed to deal with this matter satisfactorily for the United Kingdom is for those who are in favour of the principle of devolution—and that is a majority in this House—to proceed to carry that principle into practice. There are, of course, some who are opposed to it in principle. They can express their views, but they are a minority in this House, and, I am sure, a minority in Wales and a minority in Scotland.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that many of us will be no happier 320 at having two Bills which could lead to the break-up of Britain than we were with the one Bill that we had on the previous occasion?
Is my right hon. Friend also aware that we shall look carefully at this very very complicated matter? On the basis of what he has said, it seems to me to be even more complicated than it was before, but I am open to conviction on that.
May I ask my right hon. Friend why he did not refer the matter to a referendum, when particularly the Scottish Labour Party at its last conference asked that a referendum be held prior to the question of devolution being settled?
§ Mr. Foot
We shall have to see. 1 assure my hon. Friend that when he looks at the proposals and at the legislation he will see that we have very considerably simplified the way in which devolution is to proceed. I believe that that can be of benefit to the House not merely in the discussion of these matters but in the carrying through of devolution.
It is perfectly true, as my hon. Friend says, that the conference of the Scottish Labour Party passed a resolution in favour of a referendum to take place at an early date. That is what was passed. Some of us then put the case—I still think it right; I have put it many times in this House, and I put it again now—that a referendum taken in those circumstances would be on such imprecise issues that I do not believe that it could give good advice to the House, to the country or to anyone else. The proper way for a referendum to be taken is in the way that we have proposed, and that is when the Bill has passed through the House of Commons; otherwise no one would know what the referendum was about.
§ Mr. Reid
Why do not the Government accept that the Scottish nation, like any other nation, has a right to benefit fiscally from its own resources? At a time when Scotland is keeping the United Kingdom afloat, why should at least part 321 of our wealth not be used for the welfare of the Scottish people? Why have not the Government listened to their Liberal comrades, whose official view, at least north of the border, is that 50 per cent. of oil revenues should go to the Scottish Assembly?
Lastly, will the Government take note that there is no question of this Bench being seduced like: the Liberals or the Ulster Unionists and that our attitudes next Session will be determined by whether there is an early guillotine and whether that Guillotine is itself the subject of a vote of confidence?
§ Mr. Foot
I ask the hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Reid), like the rest of the House, and indeed the country, to study the paper that we are publishing on the financial aspects of the matter. All the questions that the hon. Gentleman poses are dealt with, and they are dealt with on the basis that we are determined to retain and sustain the unity of the United Kingdom. That is why we are not prepared to accept the proposals made on this matter by the Scottish National Party. It will have to make up its mind, when we come to the discussions in the House, whether to vote for the establishment of a directly elected Scottish Assembly. The Labour Party is the only party in the State which is putting forward proposals in a context which can hold the United Kingdom together, and that is what we shall be voting about.
§ Mr. William Ross
Does my right hon. Friend appreciate that to most Scottish Members of all parties his statement is welcome, and that the decision to proceed with devolution through separate Bills is eminently sensible and very welcome indeed in Scotland?
Bearing in mind that every political party in Scotland a t the last election—despite the retreat from Perth led by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor), who kidded the Leader of the Opposition as to Scottish feeling—was in favour of a directly elected Assembly, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the proposals are an improvement on the last Bill? We have got rid of the rather timid and grandmotherly bespattering of the Bill with reserve powers, and the simplification will be to the credit of the House.
§ Mr. Gwynfor Evans
Since the Government have yielded so much to the opponents of every and any measure of decentralisation of power to the people of Wales, including having two Bills—and thus giving a slap in the face not only to the Welsh Trades Union Congress but even to the Labour Party in Wales—will the Government now show their determination to carry the Welsh Bill through all its stages by insisting that the two Bills shall run concurrently? Secondly, will the right hon. Gentleman accept that there should be an early timetable motion? Thirdly, and above all, will he accept that the matter should be made one of confidence?
§ Mr. Foot
It is perfectly true that a considerable number of people in Wales, including representatives of the Labour Party in Wales, have not wished for two separate Bills and have urged that we should continue to present this matter to the House in one Bill. For the very reasons that the Government presented one Bill on the original occasion, I believe that they can put a strong case. But we have had to take into account—and quite rightly—the representations made from many quarters, including those made from many quarters during the debates in the House. There were certainly representations from the Liberal Party, but from many others as well.
I emphasise that, although we shall present two Bills, we are determined that both Bills shall go forward, and we regard ourselves as equally committed to the proposition of devolution for Wales as for Scotland.
Does my right hon. Friend appreciate that, despite the modifications which we understand will be included in the White Paper, his statement is viewed by certain Members of this House with something less than enthusiasm? Is he aware that the statement will be less warmly welcomed in the Northern Region? In view of the vital importance of the constitutional aspect, has my right hon. Friend completely closed his mind to conducting a referendum before the new Bill is presented?
§ Mr. Foot
I have said on many occasions that I think that a referendum before we proceed to the passage of the Bill through the House is an unlikely course. I believe that it would be an unwise course to pursue. That is my feeling, and I have not heard any argument to the contrary. I ask my hon. Friend, who has raised very important issues on behalf of the North-East, to consider what is set out in the White Paper on the financial aspects. If he does that, he will see that we have been seeking to protect unity and fairness in the United Kingdom. He will see that the principle of treating each part of the United Kingdom fairly is improved in our financial proposals. I believe that the more the proposals are studied, the more the House will advance the support that it gave to us at the time of the Second Reading of the measure earlier in the Session.
§ Mr. Peter Thomas
Do the Government intend that the Second Reading of the Welsh Bill will be held in the House or in the Welsh Grand Committee?
§ Mr. Sillars
Will the Leader of the House confirm that this is Westminster's last chance to reach a reasonable devolution settlement? Will he confirm that if the Bill falls next Session the only option then open to the Scottish people will be a vote for independence? Will he now answer the question that he inadvertently dodged when it was put to him by two Members from the Scottish National Party? Do the Government intend to make the timetable motion a vote of confidence, knowing that the Bill cannot pass without it?
§ Mr. Foot
In reply to my hon. Friend's second question, I say that we are determined to carry these measures through the House of Commons. The House will see the Government's determination when we meet in the new Session.
It has never been the custom for propositions of the nature of those in my hon. Friend's first question to be put to the House so many months in advance. It is certainly the intention of the Government to use all their power to get the measure through because it is of great importance 324 for the future of the United Kingdom. As to talking about the last chance, I would not use such language. If Westminster refuses and slams the door on any further proposals for devolution, it could be a great disaster for the United Kingdom as a whole.
§ Mr. Maurice Macmillan
Does the Leader of the House accept that his new proposals do nothing more for the people of Scotland and Wales but that they are more likely than those that were defeated in arguments in the House to lead to the division of the United Kingdom?
§ Mr. Foot
The right hon. Gentleman is quite mistaken about what happened in the House. Not only was the Second Reading carried by a substantial majority, but on all the issues of principle on which there were votes the Government gained strong support. I believe also that these proposals carry further and improve our previous proposals. The right hon. Gentleman does not like that because he has been opposed to devolution all along. This is what the Conservative Party is trying to hide from the country. We have a majority for these proposals and we have the right to carry them through.
§ Mr. Buchan
I do not wish to follow the apocalyptic language of the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sillars) about the frivolity of the SNP. Nevertheless, does my right hon. Friend agree that there is an element of danger in this situation? Does he agree that the proper way of ensuring a successful Scottish Assembly, if the House and the Scottish people desire it, is that it should be put to the fullness of decision through a referendum and that that cannot be left to "yea" or "nay" of an assembly? Does he agree that it must also involve a decision about whether we wish to go independent? That was the decision of the Scottish Labour Party and that must be remembered by my right hon. Friend.
§ Mr. Foot
I agree with my hon. Friend and many others who have over the years spoken about this subject. It is not new. There are great dangers involved. One of them is if Westminster and hon. Members who represent other parts of the United Kingdom neglect the seriousness of the situation. That would be tragic for the whole of the country.
325 I doubt whether the issue could be settled in the way in which my hon. Friend suggests. There would be dangers in trying to settle in that way. I certainly agree with my hon. Friend, and with what was agreed by the House, that there should be a referendum in Scotland that would put to the people the precise question whether they accept what is proposed and has been agreed by the House.
§ Several hon. Members rose—
§ Mr. Speaker
I propose to call three hon. Members from each side. Obviously I cannot call everyone who wishes to speak today. It has already been announced that there will be a debate on the Queen's Speech on this matter when we return.
§ Mr. Buchanan-Smith
It is difficult to judge so quickly the details of the proposals. Does the Leader of the House accept that to the majority in Scotland who want devolution, not only in the interests of Scotland but in the interests of the future integrity of the United Kingdom, his proposals are a considerable step forward on the original proposals? To that extent and particularly because of the clearer division of powers and the role of the Privy Council, they will be welcomed in Scotland.
To what extent is there to be a change in the distribution of power under the new proposals? Alternatively, is the change simply in the actual division of the power already proposed to be devolved?
§ Mr. Abse
Since the Leader of the House has abrogated to himself and other Cabinet Ministers the right of a free vote on the direct elections issue, is he aware that Back Benchers will take for themselves that right of a free vote on a Bill which is certainly as important to their constituent; and is of as much constitutional importance as direct elections? Since my right hon. Friend has had an open mind on the referendum issue and on separating the two Bills, will he now open his mind on another issue? Will he ensure that at the end of 326 a long debate the people of Wales get an opportunity to express their opinion on the Bill by means of a White Paper and detailed consideration of the measure so that we have a referendum that would save the time of the House?
§ Mr. Foot
I have answered the second part of the question about the timing of a referendum, not only today but on many previous occasions. I do not believe that that would be a satisfactory way of settling the matter. Indeed, I believe that it could give rise to more confusion.
There is a difference between the proposals for devolution for Wales and Scotland and the direct elections issue. Devolution was part of the manifesto on which my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) was elected and returned to the House. That makes a difference.
§ Mr. George Gardiner
Why is the Lord President still proposing to enact an injustice under which an over-representative number of Scottish Members in this House will exercise legislative influence over very important matters in the English regions while neither we nor they will have any comparable influence over identical matters within their own constituencies?
§ Mr. Foot
The reason is that if we are to have a properly devolved system it requires some such arrangement. An alternative method is to have the in-and-out arrangement under which some Members of Parliament have some powers and others have second-rate status. I have always argued in this House that I think that that is wrong. That solution was turned down by the Kilbrandon Commission, and rightly so. What the hon. Gentleman is saying, in effect, is that no form of devolution is possible. We reject that view entirely. We believe that if that view were accepted we should indeed be heading for the break-up of the United Kingdom. But we are not prepared to accept that. We believe that a scheme of properly organised devolution can be carried through effectively.
§ Mr. MacFarquhar
Does my right hon. Friend accept that there are many on the Government side of the House who support his proposals and the revised form in which they have now come but still see them as pandering to the nationalist party sentiments of Wales and Scotland 327 so long as comparable proposals for the English regions are not brought forward? Secondly, will my right hon. Friend reconsider the use of the rather unusual title of "First Secretary", albeit that it was held by my Labour predecessor in Belper, and perhaps consider the use of the title "Chief Minister"?
§ Mr. Foot
I must confess that I had not thought of the Belper precedent when the picked on this title. I hope that it will not be a deterrent in that sense and will not deter others from thinking that this is a perfectly appropriate and proper description for the title. As to my hon. Friend's general remarks, of course I understand that he thinks that we must look afresh at these matters. We have looked afresh at them very carefully. What we have proposed can be a great improvement on what we have offered previously, and the House should look at the proposals on that basis. I think that my hon. Friend will see that if he looks at them carefully.
§ Mr. Sproat
Is it not incredible that on the very day that it is announced that unemployment figures in Scotland have reached the appalling total of 194,000 the Government are proposing to spend £30 million a year on white elephants that will not create a single extra job except for bureaucrats?
§ Mr. Foot
We know that the hon. Gentleman has always been a bitter opponent of devolution. Our view is that if the House of Commons were to subscribe to that same view, that would be the worst possible danger for the United Kingdom as a whole. We believe that when these proposals are presented to the House in the autumn, they can be carried through by the kind of majority with which we carried the previous Second Reading.
§ Mr. Conlan
Is my right hon. Friend aware that this cosmetic treatment of the Bill that was so ignominiously destroyed in this Session will not stand a chance of getting through in the next Session unless there is some equal treatment for the English regions?
§ Mr. Foot
My hon. Friend asks about the English regions. I apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. MacFarquhar) for not having replied to 328 this point previously. As I said in my statement, we are still awaiting the general representations that may come from different areas of England about what they might wish themselves to have, in the form either of regional development or of changes in local government. However, we consider that it would be an absurdity, and, indeed, highly dangerous, too, to hold up any proposals or continuance with the proposals for Scotland and for Wales until these matters are resolved. I think that that is well understood throughout the country.
§ Mr. Bagier
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I hesitate to rise on this point, because I understand that you try to be fair on all matters. In matters concerning devolution, I know that you have done your best, but because of the content of the statement of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, laying stress, as he has done, on Scottish and Welsh affairs, I feel that as only two Members from the Northern Region have been called to ask supplementary questions about devolution that seems to place a problem in your hands. I also appreciate that there are other hon. Members who represent various English regions who feel equally aggrieved. May I suggest, Mr. Speaker, that on an important statement of this nature, when there is only a short time in which to call hon. Members for supplementary questions, perhaps an extension of time could be allowed so that those who represent the English regions could be called to ask questions?
§ Mr. Speaker
It is always difficult when so many right hon. and hon. Members wish to question a statement. We have given 40 minutes to it. There is an enormous amount of business before the House, including the business that is on everyone's mind, to which we are wanting to turn. We have had an indication that in the debate on the Queen's Speech, which usually lasts a few days, this matter is likely to emerge again. I shall bear in mind what the hon. Gentleman has said.