HC Deb 21 July 1982 vol 28 cc408-10 4.13 pm
Mr. Dennis Canavan (West Stirlingshire)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to set up a Scottish Parliament; and for related purposes. It is three years since the Tory Government repealed the Scotland Act 1978, against the wishes of the majority of Scottish Members of Parliament and the majority of people who voted in the 1979 referendum. The need for a Scottish Parliament has become more urgent and apparent.

Because of the existence of a distinct legal system and body of Scots law, Scottish legislation affecting only the people of Scotland often requires different Bills and orders, but, because there is no distinct Scottish legislature, the Scottish Bills and orders must go through this place. We see the results in the difficulty in arranging the business of the House. For example, until 2.30 this morning the House was kept up debating a proposal by the Secretary of State for Scotland to reduce the rate support grant for Stirling district council by more than £l million.

I put it, even to hon. Members who are lukewarm about home rule for Scotland and to those who are absolutely opposed to it, that there may be some advantage in my Bill. If we had a Scottish Parliament dealing with Scottish business in Scotland, hon. Members on both sides of the House could get to their beds earlier instead of having to wait up until the wee small hours debating Scottish business that many of them do not understand.

More seriously, this morning's business was yet another example of the Tory Government using their Commons majority to push through decisions that are against the interests of the majority of Scottish people and against the wishes of most of their elected representatives both in Parliament and in local government. The Secretary of State for Scotland has taken dictatorial powers not only to reduce local authority budgets, but to push up rents and so force local authorities to sell council houses. In education, he has closed colleges, deprived children of their legal rights to school milk and meals and switched public money from local education authority schools to private, fee-paying schools. The United Kingdom Parliament also passed the iniquitous Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 1980 that gives the Scottish police draconian powers of arrest, search and detention.

We often hear hon. Members, especially Conservative Members, talk about a lack of democracy and, rightly sometimes, about the lack of democracy in some Eastern European States, but Scotland has less autonomy than many Soviet satellite States. The Secretary of State for Scotland has autocratic powers that any Stalinist dictator would envy. Scottish people have the democratic right to take decisions that affect them. Those decisions should be taken by their elected representatives.

The Bill is not an SNP invention. It is in line with the policy decisions taken at successive Labour Party conferences in Scotland. My Bill proposes that the functions for which the Secretary of State for Scotland is responsible should be devolved to a Scottish Parliament that could legislate on such matters. The Parliament would form its own Executive to administer those functions, which include housing, health, education, social work services, agriculture, fisheries, criminal justice, transport, the environment, the Manpower Services Commission as it operates in Scotland, and industrial intervention powers, including the Scottish Development Agency, so that the Assembly would have some powers to help the 348,000 unemployed in Scotland. The Assembly would also have revenue-raising powers that, combined with its legislative powers, would merit its being called a Parliament rather than an Assembly, unlike, for example, the Common Market Assembly, which is just a talking shop with no real legislative powers.

If in future the Scottish Parliament wishes more powers to be devolved to it, my Bill contains the necessary provision. If the concept of rolling devolution is acceptable to the Government for a gerrymandered Province such as Northern Ireland, it must be acceptable even to this Government for Scotland, because it is a country in its own right and the people of Scotland form a nation. They are entitled to as much self-determination as they wish. That is a principle that the Prime Minister seems ready to apply to the people of the Falkland Islands, but not to the people of Scotland.

Unlike the Scotland Act, my Bill would not be contingent on a rigged referendum. The previous referendum opened the way for the 40 per cent. wrecking amendment which was introduced by a Member of Parliament who has since defected to another party which is now trying to con the people of Scotland with phoney proposals for what it calls "decentralisation". I think that the people of Scotland will see through the phoney promises of a party which includes the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) and the right hon. Members for Crosby (Mrs. Williams) and Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Jenkins), who never showed any enthusiasm for devolution or home rule when they were Cabinet Ministers.

The people of Scotland have already seen through the phoney promises of certain Tories, such as Lord Home, who, in the referendum campaign, advised people to vote "No" because a future Tory Government would produce better alternative policies for devolution in Scotland. They have produced nothing. We have waited three years for alternative proposals from the Tory Government. We have waited in vain and that is why I am asking for leave to introduce the Bill.

All who are genuinely interested in a decentralised democracy ought to support me, because the Bill will be the beginning of a process of meaningful devolution of power, which will eventually be to the advantage of all the people of the United Kingdom.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Dennis Canavan, Mr. Allen Adams, Mr. George Foulkes, Mr. John Home Robertson, Mr. David Lambie, Mr. William McKelvey, Mr. R. McTaggart, Mr. David Marshall, Mr. John Maxton, Mr. Robert Party, Mr. John Morris and Mr. Gerard Fitt.