§ 3.36 p.m.
§ Debate continued.
§ Lord ELTON
My Lords, if it were not for an attack of influenza that has laid him low, my noble friend Lord Aberdare would be opening the proceedings this afternoon from these Benches. I should like to start with an apology on his behalf for his absence, and also for any disappointment your Lordships may feel as a result. My noble friend Lord Aberdare is, of course, a Welshman, and it had been his intention to concentrate the bulk of what he had to say chiefly upon the Welsh aspects of the White Paper on devolution. Your Lordships, I hope, will agree that I can best serve the interests both of this House and of the Welsh people if I follow that plan. It may also serve this House if I adopt a brevity which will be appreciated more acutely as the evening progresses.
My Lords, I know that it is customary to consider the Welsh problem as analogous to the Scots', and by concentrating on the latter to expect to solve, without great additional effort, all the complexities of the former. But I think that that analogy is false, and I should like to particularise at the outset my reasons for so assuming. The Scots have a population of 5½ million; the Welsh have a population of only 2½ million. The ancestors of that population in Scotland were united in a common realm with the people of England and Wales only in 1707. Although that was nearly 270 years ago, the ancestors of the smaller Welsh population had, even then, already been formally united with the English for 171 years, and have now been part and parcel of the Union for only 60 years less than half a millennium—which may give them a certain resilience at Twickenham and other places.
The Scots have their own judiciary; the Welsh do not. In almost every statistical work published the Scots have a table to themselves; the Welsh do not. In almost every Bill that your Lordships may pass through this House special provision has to be made for Scotland, as a result of the different body of Statute Lay, upon which the new Act has to be 936 grafted where it applies North of the Border. That is not the case with Welsh legislation. If I may paraphrase what was said yesterday by the noble Lord, Lord Heycock, in a most effective and, if I may say so, illuminating address, the Scots' approach to devolution is a philosophic nationalism; the Welsh motive is primarily, although not entirely, linguistic and not nationalistic. Electorally, the Scottish National Party has taken 11 seats in the Westminster Parliament and the polls predict, regrettably, that it may take more.Plaid Cymru has taken a bare three seats, polled a mere 11 per cent. of votes cast, and 27 of its 36 candidates lost their deposits in the General Election.
My Lords, for all these reasons I believe that to pursue the analogy between the Scottish case and the Welsh is an illusory pursuit, because the analogy does not exist. The case of each resembles that of the other about as closely as does the music of their respective musical instruments—the bagpipes and the harp. While I do not dissent from the view of my noble and learned friend Lord Hail-sham of Saint Marylebone that differences of history, geography and environment do not prevent the co-operation of devolved parts in a constitutional whole, I do question the premise that the arguments that hold good for Scotland hold equally good for Wales. And, of course, my noble and learned friend demonstrated admirably that these arguments of the White Paper do not, in their present form, hold good for Scotland and that to bind a devolved Scotland to the United Kingdom in the manner described therein is simply to tie us together with a burning fuse. Common elements, of course, there are between the Welsh and Scottish situations. There is a degree of discontent in Wales, to which the noble and learned Lord has eloquently alluded, with the feeling of remoteness surrounding government.
But it is felt in England, too, as well as in Scotland. It is a malaise of the Kingdom, not of the nations of which the Kingdom is composed. It rests upon the growing suspicion that, although we have achieved universal suffrage and equality of electoral power—among all who do not have the misfortune to be lunatics or paupers or the fortune to be Peers—although we have attained these 937 democratic achievements, they are not delivering the goods. We are not living in a more peaceable but in a more violent society day by day. We do not repose more but less confidence in the economy day by day. We are not more certain but less certain of employment day by day.
Whenever the product of the governmental system lacks appeal, as it now does—whether for reason of bad government or simply circumstances beyond human control; and I make no distinction between Parties here—some of that disenchantment rubs off on the system itself. And more is being generated by the justifiable feeling that individual people are, in the age of the multinational company, the computerised data bank, of mass media, mass markets and consumerism, counting less and less as people and more and more as cyphers as day follows day. The principal cry of the people of this country and of Wales is, therefore, for better government, for more personal government and for less government. We have to ask ourselves whether the devolution of powers to an elective Welsh Assembly will satisfy that cry.
It can, of course, be argued—independently of that line of reasoning—that, if Parliament decides to devolve generous or considerable powers on an elective chamber in Scotland, the Welsh might covet similar arrangements for themselves. After all, my noble friend said yesterday that there is a spirit of envy abroad, and it was a notable phase. All I can say at this stage is that there is no sign, I think, that they would, though I was impressed by the list of supportive opinions which the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor adduced as having been presented to him in the summer of 1974. But I will return to that. The Association of County Councils is wholly opposed to the scheme, reluctant as the Prime Minister was to accept the evidence presented to his ears, and I believe subsequently to his eyes, in another place on 13th January. The best evidence of Welsh opinion held nationally at present seems to be that most Welshmen do not want an elected Assembly. The performance of Plaid Cymru may not indicate a view of an Assembly so much as a view of separatism, but we cannot here ignore their electoral performance, to which I earlier referred.
938 The conclusion of the policy statement by the Policy Committee of the Association of Local Authorities says in part:The Assocation reject the proposed devolution scheme "—and it refers here specifically to the scheme for Wales—on the grounds of its unnecessary introduction of an additional level of government, with its inevitable complications and delay in administrative processes; of its immediate and projected interference with the recently reorganised existing local government; and of its cost in both manpower and materials at a time of need for the utmost economy. In their view the needs of Wales should be met by practical arrangements of a different nature.This is not a comment on Scotland or on devolution; it is a comment on devolution in Wales.
The problems and preconceptions of the Welsh and Scots nations are so different that they seem to me to warrant the very serious consideration of the proposal—in which I was anticipated yesterday by the noble Lord. Lord Heycock—that they should be solved, if they are to be solved, by two separate Acts of Parliament. The argument against this, of course, is quite simply that each part of the United Kingdom should consider itself and be treated, as long as it remains united, equally. And the answer quite simply is that, so far as the White Paper goes, England, which is an integral part of the United Kingdom, is not to be treated at all.
I noted the promises of the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, that the Government would very soon turn their attention to the problems of England, but I wonder whether we have yet sufficiently taken on board what the corollaries of the proposals contained in the White Paper are for England and Wales. Large areas of executive responsibility and of secondary legislation are to be devolved to elected national Assemblies, West and North of the respective Borders. Since the purpose of this exercise is to bring effective government more nearly within the grasp of the private citizen, and since it is conducted in response to that citizen's supposedly well-informed and irresistible desires, we must assume that the functions chosen for devolution are those most precious to the voter. Upon these no Scot is to be ruled by an Englishman or a Welshman, and no Welshman is to be ruled by an Englishman or a Scot. But 939 what about the English? If the Scots find it insupportable to be ruled by the English, do they, or Her Majesty's Government, suppose that the English clamour to be ruled by the Scots?
Here we are brought, willy-nilly, face to face with contemporary political considerations, whether or not we wish it. Are we not aware that it is only, in the view of many, the voice that the present Government derive from their Scottish seats, and those seats to become ancillary though not joined to it, that enables them to dictate to a reluctant majority in England the policies it shall accept in education and in health, areas specifically given under the White Paper to the Scots and Welsh to attend to for themselves so far as concerns their homelands? Under these proposals, the very Members of Parliament for Scotland and Wales themselves will be precluded from speaking on devolved subjects in their own Kingdom and Principality, but they will have a voice in this Parliament on what happens in the same areas in the Kingdom of England. To that extent the White Paper, which goes too far in many directions, does not go far enough for me. If Her Majesty's Government are going to water the soil of nationalism, they must expect the rose to bloom as well as the thistle and the daffodil.
Despite the impressive support which the noble and learned Lord recited earlier, my impression is that the Welsh are not enthusiastic nationalistically for devolution, and that they are right not to be. They will be better served by less government, not more. I believe that at this time to lay the foundations of a Civil Service of up to 1,600 people at a projected cost of £12 million is wrong-headed. Certainly we do want more jobs, but we want more productive jobs. The Civil Service, for all its outstanding merits, probity and renown, has increased, is increasing, and ought to be diminished, as should unproductive expenditure in all fields at a time of national stringency.
It matters perhaps not much what we say today. There is no prospect, we are told, in speech after speech and in the White Paper, of immediate action or irrevocable decision. We are, I suppose, in the position of someone sitting in front of a steaming plate of food—some might say a dog's dinner—pushing 940 it about and waiting for it to get cool enough to eat. For my part, I am unconvinced that those British subjects who live in Wales want any part of what is suggested in this White Paper. It would multiply the expense of government, it would delay its processes and render it more remote. The new body would even, under paragraph 229, be empowered to make a surcharge on the rates, an emotive subject which has been touched on already for Scotland. We have already seen in Wales the intense resentment stirred up by the water authority precept on the rates. Any elected Assembly that followed that example would be doomed to opposition from the outset, but that is not a bad thing where taxation is concerned.
Numerically the population is such that the Assembly and the Welsh nation would be dominated by the South-East, by the counties of Gwent, South, Mid and West Glamorgan. This is viewed by many in North, Central and West Wales with even less enthusiasm than government from Cardiff, and working to a Secretary of State and the Welsh Office in some ways has the advantage of simplicity and familiarity over working to an elected Assembly subject to regional pressures.
The noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal made a point yesterday, echoed from the White Paper, that was endorsed today by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor who made it his opening theme; that is, that the intention was to bring power closer to the people. The noble and learned Lord said that this was to be a practical effect. All I can say is that at present the local authorities can apply their rate support grants within limits as they please, and all that money will go in the block grants, under the new arrangements, to the Assembly, and they will have no say in that until the money has been devolved in the second stage to them. This is very germane to what the noble Viscount, Lord St. Davids, said yesterday; that is, that the Welsh eventually got, as a result of sweat, tears, and I think a little blood, to London, to Westminster, where the Exchequer is. It is the purse-strings as well as the ballot box that give power in this democratic age.
I revert to my question, my principal doubt which lies at the basis of everything I have said. I am not convinced 941 as the noble and learned Lord had to be convinced if he was to say what he did say earlier this afternoon, that the people of Wales want what is here offered to them. It may have a redeeming feature in a closer control of nominated bodies, and that needs closer examination, but beyond that I find it a rather bad curate's egg. But I may be wrong. We have the example of a referendum on a fundamental constitutional issue already behind us. Some of us were reluctant that it should be accepted as a precedent, but if it was a precedent I can think of no better occasion upon which it should be followed. Let us establish the truth of the matter.
Let us recall before we set out upon this that this year is what I believe is termed the sesqui-millennium—or, I would prefer to say, the 1,500th anniversary—of the withdrawal of the unifying legions of Rome from the British Isles, and let us beware. I would rather see a practical re-review of the subject approached on the lines of a body drawn from elected county councils to concert their strategy, quite possibly in an ad hoc fashion at the outset, and that semper ad hoc might indeed be the motto of a good deal of government. This body, by correlating a common view where there was a common view between local authorities which are elected, might make a common strategy where that was appropriate.
I cannot believe that such an authoritative body, so close to what is infelicitously called "the grass roots of politics ", would be ignored by Westminster. If it was to put a view on legislation when legislation was being considered, if it required a Statutory Instrument, if it wanted to mould public opinion, could such a body once it was established and enduring and effective, be swept aside? I think not. And I think that is the way that constitutions usually grow, because constitutions do grow and they are not always made. I think that such a body, carefully constructed, would have as much effect as the proposals in the White Paper, and it would do so at infinitely less cost, in infinitely less time and with much greater satisfaction to the Welsh people than the suggestions that we are today debating.
§ 3.53 p.m.
§ Lord LLOYD of KILGERRAN
My Lords, many millions of words and many hectares of paper have been covered by the discussion on this question of devolving powers in domestic affairs to Scotland and Wales. But in the light of the decades of political discussions which have preceded this White Paper, I must say at once that the White Paper is fundamentally disappointing. Indeed, so far as Wales is concerned, I will say that the proposals are likely to be politically dangerous and disruptive of government at both national and local level. If I may paraphrase the charming quotation made by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor about trying to cross a chasm, the trouble with these proposals is that an attempt is being made by the Government to cross a chasm with not two leaps but with too short a leap, and disaster can only follow. My somewhat severe expressions of disappointment about the proposals may be more readily acceptable at this stage to your Lordships, at any rate when I say that I do not propose to follow the wonderful oratory of the previous two speakers, but I am proposing to deal briefly and succinctly with three or four main points of vital importance to the future government of Wales in its domestic affairs, in the unity of Wales, and in the unity of the United Kingdom.
I fully realise that the Government may not be able at the end of this debate today to give a firm reply to some of the points which I propose to raise. But I hope what will happen—and I am encouraged by the statements made by the noble Lord the Leader of the House in the earlier part of his speech yesterday—is that the Government will be good enough to consider the proposals and arguments which I propose to adduce, so that they can be adequately covered in the legislation which is to be introduced later in so far as Wales is concerned. At this stage may I, with your Lordships' leave, take the opportunity of congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, on his new appointment. He will be speaking later in this debate. He is an eminent constitutional authority and he has achieved, as your Lordships will agree with me, great political distinction both inside and outside this House.
943 I am strongly of the view that while the democratic institutions of this country, of the United Kingdom, are sound, they need at this stage to be revitalised, and this revitalisation can only come from an adoption of a Parliamentary system of devolution without any breakdown of the essential unity of the United Kingdom. But in my view the proposal for the system of devolution in the White Paper is a sham devolution. Having regard to the needs of Wales, it does not devolve adequate powers to that Assembly.
I now turn specifically to deal quite briefly with important points in relation to the proposals in the White Paper on the domestic affairs of Wales. Of course I recognise that the Government's present proposals give for the first time to Wales an elected Assembly. This is obviously a very great step forward. But my first serious objection is that the White Paper does not grant this Assembly, either now or in the future, adequate legislative powers to deal with Welsh domestic affairs. In effect—and I am supported by what the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor indicated in his attractive speech this afternoon—what the proposals of the Government embodied in the White Paper will do is to shed some of the responsibilities of the Secretary of State for Wales to the Assembly, thus creating a further tier of government, and this is what I call sham devolution. No real powers will be devolved to the Welsh Assembly from the Parliament at Westminster which, for example, will enable the Assembly to have control over the Welsh economy or anything touching economic matters in Wales.
If the Assembly is to have a proper status in order for it to be effective in Wales, it should have legislative powers in relation to Welsh domestic affairs. The states in the United States of America, Lander Parliaments in Germany, the Parliament in Northern Ireland, all have legislative powers: Wales is not to have legislative powers. I ask the Government, why should this be? The proposals in the White Paper, as I have said before, provide a sham devolution which can only breed uncertainty and conflict for the future.
My first recommendation to the Government, if I may put it that way, is 944 therefore this: precise legislative powers should be devolved from this Parliament of Westminster to the Welsh Assembly, with, of course, residual powers in the Parliament of Westminster; and safeguards should be included in the Act which sets up the Assembly to ensure that the system of operation is a Parliamentary system and not the Committee system, which the proposals in this White Paper envisage and certainly will produce in practice. Those of us who have been concerned with politics at local and national level in Wales will understand the references made both in the other place and in this House to the Government in Glamorgan.
My second recommendation is that fair and democratic representation in the Welsh Assembly can be achieved only by some form of proportional representation. The Kilbrandon Commission was unanimous that the present system of voting was most unfair and that a form of proportional representation was essential. I was somewhat surprised that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor made no reference to this aspect of the proposals of the Kilbrandon Commission; but I do not propose this afternoon to emphasise further this point of the desirability of having proportional representation in view not only of the recommendations of the Kilbrandon Report but of the powerful speech made yesterday by the noble Lord, Lord Kilbrandon, himself.
My third point is that it is necessary to charge the Welsh Assembly specifically with powers to review the organisation of local government in Wales. The Welsh Assembly, as conceived in the White Paper, in my view adds another tier of government. I do not want to raise Party political controversy at this stage, but the Tory Government rushed headlong into the reform of local government before the publication of the Kilbrandon Report and thereby in my view largely prejudiced the case for devolution. As a result of measures for the so-called reform of local government, I accept that the then Tory Government made the position more difficult for the present Government.
The whole question of Welsh local government must be looked at with a view to devolving more power from the large county councils to the district 945 councils. Indeed, it may be reasonable that most of the present functions of the Welsh county councils could be dealt with by the district councils. However that may be, the Welsh Assembly should be specifically charged with reviewing local government with the object of having a single tier of, if possible, all-purpose local authorities. In this way there would be a reduction in the amount of government. In this way the cost of devolution as at present envisaged in the White Paper would be greatly reduced. This matter of local government is not one which should be left entirely to the Welsh Assembly. I can see conflicts arising between existing local councils and the proposed Welsh Assembly. These problems must be dealt with by the Westminster Parliament, with specific safeguards in the measure, and should not be left, as at present, to the Welsh Assembly.
I also fully realise that in the climate of present political thinking there is a great deal to be said for bringing in a Welsh Assembly, as it were, on trial for four years; that would be for the whole of one sitting of the Assembly. Thus, there could be a constitutional conference in the third year with Members of the Assemblies of Scotland and Wales and of this Parliament, to consider the best means of setting up a much more permanent structure within the United Kingdom. However, in saying this I do not qualify in any way my previous argument that there should be legislative powers given to the Welsh Assembly, and that it should have given to it by the Parliament of Westminster specific powers for dealing with local government.
I address your Lordships as a Welsh-speaking Welshman. I regret that the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, is unable through illness to be present today. I do not think I could go along, at least this afternoon, with the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Elton, a Welsh Tory. It is not unfair for me to say that most Englishmen know more about other countries, like Spain and France, than they do about Wales. I have not gone into the details this afternoon. We Welshmen are asking for more powers to control our domestic affairs in the context of a United Kingdom remaining united. I have presumed to direct the attention of your Lordships to only some of the main 946 points in which the White Paper is deficient in regard to Welsh matters in a United Kingdom, and I hope the Government will think again about their proposals for Wales.
§ 4.6 p.m.
§ Baroness WHITE
My Lords, in view of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Elton, perhaps I should open my remarks by nailing my flag firmly to the mast and saying that I am strongly in favour of an elected Welsh Assembly. I feel that it should have considerable supervisory powers, that it should have some executive powers. I do not believe—and here I differ from the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran—that it should have any primary legislative powers and I have become more doubtful than I was some time back about the desirability of its having secondary legislative powers; a point to which I shall come shortly.
After Parliamentary experience extending over more than 25 years in the other place and in this House, I know that it is futile and unreasonable to expect adequate examination of particular aspects or functions of Welsh public administration to take place here at Westminster. As the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said, debates in the Welsh Grand Committee or on the Floor of the House in another place are, of necessity, perfunctory. There is little specific Welsh legislation and even if more time could be given to the Welsh Grand Committee or more separate Bills devised for Wales, there would not be enough Welsh Members to undertake the work that would be required for this more thorough examination of Welsh administration if they were also to play a proper part in the wider issues confronting Parliament. We are, in fact, slightly over-represented in the House of Commons, with 36 Welsh Members, because of our thinly populated rural constituencies.
Thus, the answer cannot be more Welsh Members; and with a Labour Government, a handsome proportion of Welsh Members will be engaged in Ministerial office, leaving only a small number of Back-Benchers from Welsh constituencies to man Welsh committees or take an effective part in Welsh debates. Long ago I came to the conclusion, therefore, that the better administration of Wales could not come from Westminster. I am also experienced as a former Minister 947 of State at the Welsh Office. The functions already devolved on the Secretary of State for Wales are such a conglomeration of diverse duties that adequate Ministerial surveillance is exceedingly difficult. It is not made easier by the fact that the Welsh like to see their Ministers and make very heavy demands on their time and energy. Civil servants in the Welsh Office, as I know very well, have to lean heavily on the specialist knowledge and expertise of Whitehall. Except for priority subjects, they are apt to find it difficult to provide their Ministers with enough ammunition when they are engaged in the customary internecine Departmental warfare of Whitehall or at Cabinet policy committees.
Quite rightly, in the circumstances, the Welsh Office civil servants concentrate on areas of major importance to Wales, such as industrial development, the derelict land programme and the like, where they have scored some outstanding successes. But in my view the Welsh Office is already over extended and piling more functions upon it would not help. It is for these reasons that I welcome proposals for a Welsh Assembly to take over some of those burdens, provided we are clear about what it is intended to do.
Having, as I hope, firmly established my position on the main issue of the Assembly, I must explain why I am worried, as are many people on both sides of the Border, and why a number of people and of leading local authorities in Wales have been asking for a referendum on this matter. I do not necessarily go along with that idea, but I understand the reasons underlying the anxieties which have led to that demand from some very reputable quarters. One reason for that anxiety was touched on last night by my noble friend Lord Heycock, and other noble Lords have mentioned it today. It is that the Local Government Act 1972 has left local government in the Principality in such an unsatisfactory condition that to superimpose an elected Assembly upon a two-tier system of local government without reform of the latter will cause considerable difficulty. My noble friend Lord Heycock was in error in suggesting yesterday that we had not thought of the relationship of an Assembly to the proposed reorganisation of local government 948 in 1972. I myself am certainly on record in Hansardas pointing out with some vigour to the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare —whose absence today we very much deplore—that the Government which he was at that time defending from the Front Bench were gravely in error in proceeding with the reorganisation of local government without having waited for the Kilbrandon Report and without having made up their mind what they proposed to do in its totality. We needed a synoptic view at that time but we did not get one and we are now reaping the consequences.
In putting forward the White Paper which we are debating, I believe that the Government have not faced that problem fairly and squarely. We have three tiers of local government in Wales because we have the statutory Community Councils as well as the districts and counties. I also feel that the Government have not squarely faced the "English dimension ". We should have had an English White Paper included in the present White Paper which we are debating today. Furthermore. I do not believe that any of us have adequately taken on hoard the "European dimension", though reference has been made to it. I am speaking now in Parliamentary terms, not of the wider matters of the Community. I am concerned that, unless we think through the problems of local government, of the English dimension and of the European Parliamentary dimension, and see just where we are going, we may find ourselves inexorably led to a federal system in the United Kingdom, whether we want it or not.
If I may, I should like to say a further word about what I call the "English dimension ". Of course, the English are always a little slow in the uptake and I believe that they have only recently begun to realise that this is not just a private fight of the Welsh and the Scots but that they, too, are involved. The few rumblings which we have so far heard, particularly those from the North-West and the North-East, could grow into a roar. The noble Lord, Lord Elton, used a more elegant floral analogy. I was in Cardiff last weekend where our Labour Party Annual Local Government Conference was held. There were representatives from all parts of England and Wales and there is no doubt whatsoever that there is a growing feeling in the North-East and the North-West that, if certain 949 powers and, as they consider them, privileges, are to be devolved on Scotland and Wales, they will want to know the reason why. I do not believe that we can ignore that. I feel that it would be a great pity if, through lack of foresight, we proceeded in a way which might arguably be satisfactory for Scotland or Wales but which could create considerable problems in the future when we come round to considering the English situation.
I was much interested in the thesis which was put forward at the weekend by Derek Senior, who held a minority view on the Kilbrandon Commission and who suggested that some at least of the political heat might have been taken out of the Scottish and Welsh devolution proposals had they been placed in a setting of regional government for England. That would not have ruled out additional provision for Scotland and Wales, but it would have kept the discussion of what functions are suitable for regional devolution on a much more rational and less inward-looking basis.
I should like also briefly to refer to the "European dimension". It appears to me that we need to discuss that if we are to reach a sensible conclusion on our proposals for domestic devolution. As yet, we have not debated in this House the proposition—though we shall be doing so before very long—that we should have directly elected Members to a European Parliament. It is true that, at present, the European Parliament does not exercise power but is primarily a consultative and advisory body, but if its numbers are to be increased and the members are to be directly elected, it seems to me to be inevitable that sooner or later the European Parliament will demand further powers. It is proposed to elect 67 United Kingdom Members, not one of whom need have any connection with the Westminster Parliament under the present suggestions. This means that, in the Principality, the bewildered elector will be involved in voting for six representatives for different areas, different constituencies and different functions. I believe that the elector will find it very difficult to distinguish and disentangle who does what and why. It is hard enough now to keep up with what the European Parliament is doing. I believe that few citizens realise that legislation is beginning to come pouring out of 950 Brussels to regulate all aspects of our lives, from the programme of nuclear power to how we are to mix our mayonnaise.
§ Baroness WHITE
Yes, my Lords. I am much obliged to my noble friend. At present, this legislation emanates from the Commission and is determined by the Ministers, but I am sure that the Parliament will assume a larger role in the future. As a Parliamentarian, I am concerned to know what we shall have left at Westminster when our duties are dispersed between Strasbourg on the one hand and Edinburgh and Cardiff as well as Westminster on the other. One cannot enlarge on this theme today, but I believe that it is germane to the kind of devolution which we are about to embark upon.
Against that background, and with all these unanswered questions, how do the White Paper proposals for Wales stand up to examination? If time had permitted I should have liked to go into some questions of finance because I feel that that is central to the propositions which have been put forward, but I shall content myself with saying that I hope that, whatever arrangements we reach, it will at least be possible for the Welsh Assembly, should it wish to do so, to obtain special finance for such worthy objects as providing an adequate opera house for our Welsh National Opera Company and providing the National Eisteddfod with an adequate pavilion which will not be in chronic danger of collapse.
I should like to discuss briefly the question of delegated legislation going to the Assembly. At one time I thought that this would be the solution for Wales, on the inevitable assumption that if one were to have devolution at all Scotland would demand a primary legislative function for itself. I should much prefer that all legislation should be kept here at Westminster, simply on the grounds that I think it an absolute waste of time, of skilled manpower and of general effort to legislate four times with such differences as I think would be marginal in primary legislation between the four parts of the United Kingdom. But I repeat that I recognise that there is a 951 Scottish situation which one has to accept. This is where we must think very carefully about the possible English dimension, because I am sure that it would be entirely unacceptable to have devolution of secondary legislation to the regions of England. If that were done —as well as to Wales—then one could only boggle at the confusion which could arise.
It is all very well to say—I thought rather cavalierly—in the White Paper, that of course the Parliament of Westminster could legislate on a "framework "basis to be filled in by the Welsh Assembly. If that were done, then the English regions, if they are to be formed in the future, would undoubtedly press for perhaps a little at the beginning, and then for more and more devolved legislation to be handed to them with, I think, a state of hopeless confusion. I am not necessarily against secondary legislation going to the Welsh Assembly, but I ask that we think very carefully about what we are doing and how far it should go.
I now wish to turn briefly to some of the other proposed powers of the Assembly. Here there is a very important point of principle which seems to me to be causing confusion of thought in the Principality. This is the distinction between supervisory and executive powers. The local authorities are broadly executive in function. As a rule they do not have the role—which I think would be one of the most important roles for the Assembly—of supervising an activity or function carried out by another body. This seems to many local Government representatives to be unreal; it is not a function to which they are accustomed. I do not think that they fully understand what I believe is the intention of the White Paper; and it is extremely important that the Government should make clear what they have in mind, so that we do not have confused expectations, and consequent possible disappointment, through misunderstanding on this, to my mind, very clear distinction.
I have recently become the chairman of a nominated body in Wales to which it would be improper for me to refer in any detail in your Lordships' House. But I think that the attitude which we are taking would be shared by members 952 of a number of other comparable bodies. My colleagues and I are perfectly content with the proposition that we, or our successors, should be appointed by the Welsh Assembly; that our finances should flow from the Assembly; that our accounts should be scrutinised or questioned by the Assembly; that our annual report should be addressed to the Assembly, and that we should receive policy directives from the Assembly.
But we are not convinced that the particular job that we have been asked to do could be carried out as effectively by a committee of elected members as by a body, with its own staff, concentrating on a special area of activity for which it had been appointed.Mutatis mutandis, I believe that this argument applies to many bodies in Wales and, I suppose, also in Scotland, which should come under close Assembly supervision, but which should otherwise be allowed to get on with the job. The White Paper is far from clear on this point, and I hope that this can be clarified and more fully discussed before any legislation is brought forward.
There are other areas of dubiety, as my noble friend Lord Heycock made plain yesterday, as to the relationship between the Assembly and the local authorities. These can be worked out, but I can fully understand the apprehensions of the county councils in Wales, for example, when they are told that the priorities in such matters as education will be decided by the Assembly. They are worried about this and would like to know exactly what it means.
There are many other matters which I should like to touch upon, but time does not permit, and so I shall confine myself to three brief, though not by any means small, points. The first concerns the position of the Secretary of State for Wales. It is essential that nothing should be done to diminish his role in Wales to such a point that he would not have a really powerful voice in the Cabinet of the United Kingdom. On the whole, in my view the division of proposed functions between the Secretary of State and the Assembly provides for the Secretary of State to have an adequate base from which to work as a member of the United Kingdom Cabinet, but it is essential that that base should not in any way be further diminished.
953 I feel that it is unwise of the Government—it is politically naïve—for them to reiterate (as my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor did today, as the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill, did yesterday, and as did other speakers, among them, I believe, the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd) that we are not inserting a further tier of government. Of course it is entirely true that the proposed powers, at this stage at least, are devolved from central Government. But what is the good of telling the ordinary citizen that if he is to go into an election and vote for candidates for an Assembly he is not voting for something different from what he has at the moment? I hope that this entirely unconvincing argument is at least somehow rephrased, or re-presented, because as it stands at the moment it carries no conviction whatsoever.
Finally, I wish to say a little on the relationship between the Members of all these bodies—the European Parliament, the Westminster Parliament and the Assembly. I am concerned that if we are all to be part of a Parliamentary process there should be the maximum communication between us. We shall be discussing this at the European level in a few weeks' time. As I said 18 months ago, in a lecture which I gave on this subject of devolution to the Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion, it is so often on the small things that communications depend. I should like within the United Kingdom—I am not suggesting free trips to Europe all the time—that a Member elected in a United Kingdom constituency for the European Parliament, for the Westminster Parliament, or for the Scottish or Welsh Assembly, should have, as it were, a passport to the other bodies within the United Kingdom. I do not mean that he should have this "passport"in order to speak, but rather to be made welcome there, and to be able to confer with his colleagues. We shall have three people—a European Parliamentarian, a Westminster Parliamentarian, and an Assembly Parliamentarian —for each area of the Principality. There ought to be adequate opportunities for them to get together and to know what each other is doing. Life being what it is, free travel for them between London and Cardiff or Edinburgh, as the case may be, might lubricate the process to some degree.
954 I must not take any more of your time, my Lords. While I welcome the White Paper as issued by the Government, I feel that the English White Paper should have accompanied it, and I hope very much that we shall have considerable opportunities for further consultation before legislation is brought forward.
§ 4.30 p.m.
The Earl of SELKIRK
My Lords, after listening to four distinguished speeches from Wales, whether or not from natives, I very much hope there will be two Acts of Parliament dealing with this subject. However, I must say that there are points in what the noble Baroness, Lady White, said on which I have very strong feelings, too. She mentioned this question of five tiers of government. What we are doing, or are likely to be doing, is that within the space of six years we shall insert three new tiers of government. That is so in Scotland, and I gather that it will be substantially so in Wales, too. It is all very well to say that it will not be a tier, but why is it costing £10 million? Is there any possible explanation of why a tier which is not a tier will cost £10 million? This is something which will need a little explanation before we can readily accept it.
My Lords, I am very glad that a lot of English speakers, or more, are taking part today because, as the noble Lord the Leader of the House said to us, this is really a problem for the United Kingdom, and yesterday there were too few English speakers. The Government came through the debate yesterday extremely well. Of the 37 speakers, 33 were broadly in agreement with the framework of that which the Government suggest. There was a certain amount of talk about the Act of Union and, if I may, I should like to add a word to that. The noble Lord, Lord Belhaven and Stenton, said that he did not want to take it away or break it for the moment, but that he would do so in due course. I am bound to say that I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Kilbrandon, was perhaps a trifle equivocal about the Act of Union. He said it had no a priori claim to immortality. I thought that was exactly what it had; it is written in the document itself that it is an indissoluble Union. Let us think about this for one moment. It undertakes the 955 maintenance of the Church of England and the Church of Scotland. That is what the English do to Scotland, and that is what Scotland does to England. It took 200 years from the time when negotiations started to the time when it became a success. There were five attempts in the century before 1707; that followed 300 years of almost unbroken warfare. It is said that, of course, this is impossible today. A Statement was made about Iceland this afternoon, and one cannot make too ready an assumption of what might well happen today.
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Home said that, if there was any question of the Act of Union being brought into doubt, the answer was a referendum. I would add only this to what he said; I think it should be one held in all parts of the United Kingdom, because this is a union—what Dicey calls "a true contract "—between two Parliaments which have ceased to exist. England ceased at that time to be a separate country; Scotland ceased to be a separated country. I have doubts whether it is proper to regard an Act of that sort in the same way as one would, say, an Act for the better protection of badgers. I am fully in agreement with that law, but I think it is in a different category; there is authority in the courts in Scotland, possibly obiter, which indicated that this Act of Union has a stronger or more fundamental base than other laws in the country.
My Lords, I have spoken a good deal in this House about the devolution of power, and, if I may, I should like to say quite frankly what I think I have been trying to go for. There are two problems in Scotland which have gone on for years: unemployment and dislike of London control. These have been going on for a very longtime. In Scotland, we have normally had twice the level of unemployment, in percentage terms, of England, perhaps three times of the South-West. Today, unemployment has risen a good deal in England and it is very nearly the same as the percentage in Scotland. Moreover, Scots people believe that they are not getting their share of the good things which are going in London. Indeed, before the war this was perfectly true. During a four or five year period just before the war four- 956 fifths of the new factories were built in the Greater London area. London as an area never felt the hardness of life which was known, I would say, North of the Trent and, certainly, as in Scotland, in the North-East, in South Wales and in Westmorland.
That period was followed by the Royal Commission on the Distribution of Industry, which said this:The social, economic and strategic problem of London is a problem which demands immediate action ".I shall not say that some action has not been taken; it has. On the other hand, there has been an increased concentration of power in London. The whole process of nationalisation has brought much more power, much more control, into this area. We may ask ourselves: Why should the coal mines be run from Victoria? Is that an inevitable way of running coal mines? Perhaps it is necessary for coal mines. Virtually all nationalised industries are run from the same place. Is that really necessary? Is that an integral part of Socialism, or are there other Socialist solutions which could quite reasonably have been put forward?
It is always curious to me why the Scottish Office has never caught the imagination. I believe it is a very efficient and extremely conscientious Office. Secretaries of State have dedicated themselves to their task. I do not know why it has never caught the imagination. It may be that in England the Secretary of State is regarded as a pseudo Scottish Nationalist, while in Scotland he is regarded as a London collaborator. I do not know if this is a fair description, but somehow it has never caught the imagination of people in Scotland, and this is very sad. The Report of the noble Lord, Lord Kilbrandon, in a most extraordinary passage found out that 50 per cent. of the people in Scotland did not know the Scottish Office existed. This is almost incredible, and it is quite beyond the sphere of just a public relations operation. It is a much more profound and difficult matter to explain.
My Lords, what I have always felt was wanted—and I have always regarded an Assembly as secondary to this—is this: I want opportunity in Scotland for men of high skill and ability, ranging from research to great managerial ability. 957 It is only when that is achieved that the problem of unemployment will be resolved. I remember that the late Lord Reith said to me, "I should like to have a job in Scotland". Frankly, there was no job for him to do. He had been chairman of three or four nationalised industries. There was no job of sufficient significance which he could really fulfil. He was High Commissioner, but that was not a job in the full sense of the word. The Government are now going to bring Yarrows, the shipbuilders on the Clyde, under control in London. They were in London until about 1890. They went up to Scotland and had a magnificent record of the highest possible skill there. But now they are coming down to London. Why go on with it? If this is the way it is going on, it quite inevitably will make people want to get the control in their own hands. I am not going to say that an Assembly will solve this; of course it will not. But what is important is that sensible people of ability should go into that Assembly.
We had a good deal of talk yesterday about proportional representation. The noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, strongly recommended it at paragraph 249 in the minority report. I must utter a word of caution here. It may be because I was a student in Germany during the Weimar Republic and studied a little the way things worked out. The single transferable vote will not work North of the Highland line. The areas would be far too vast. You could have the alternative vote—I think that is a possibility. In regard to the urban areas, it is perfectly possible to have the single transferable vote, but I think one must picture what happens. Say there is a minimum of three seats for each constituency and there are four Parties, making 12 candidates, with possibly one or two Independents, making 12, 13 or 14. You are expecting someone to go into a polling booth and remember the order in which those should be written. I must confess to your Lordships that in a local government election I have been into a booth with three names on a piece of paper which I probably would not have remembered had I not written them down. This means that the contact between the voter and the elected member is not so personal and not quite so acute. The matter has certainly not got to be approached without a 958 good deal of caution. I am not saying more than that at the present time. What I think is essential is the need for first-class men; it must be a job worth doing. Without being discourteous, they do not want to be Mr. Ross's poodles. People will not go into an organisation if, even remotely, they feel that that is the sort of position they are in.
This takes me, just for a moment, to a rather wider point made by the noble Lord, Lord Rhodes, in a very strong speech yesterday. The problems of Scotland are, of course, only symptomatic of a very much wider problem in this country, that in many ways people really have not got the confidence that they once had in our ways of government. I do not think that many people really believe today that the vox populi is vox die. What they need to have is confidence that their affairs are properly dealt with. If you undermine that confidence, whether Government is good or bad, you are undermining something which is quite fundamental. I do not want to go into that matter, but I think that a great many people have not the faintest idea of what Parliament is doing. The mass of stuff emerging is neither understood nor known about; and it is only learnt with utter astonishment by members of the general public.
I am always ifluenced by the sweet reasonableness of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. He always makes such a charming case that one hesitates to criticise it; but he emphasised that the matter should be clarified. If he really meant that, what is suggested in the White Paper for Scotland needs a great deal of clarification. He talked about democracy. Democracy has two sides. There is the side of electing a representative and the side of saying, "Who is responsible?", to know who to go to to get a decision one way or another. Stephen Runciman in one of his books on South-East Asia puts it this way: "Democracy in the East, means going to the top man." It is much the same here. You want to know who can make a decision. This system, may be a marvellous mechanism but the division of responsibility is hopelessly muddled.
There was a mass of questions raised yesterday. The point was made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wheatley 959 on the position of the courts. We heard something about vires which is still a matter for discussion; and I cannot honestly say that many people would accept even what the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said. There was the conflict about housing raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hughes; there was the question of agriculture, and there are masses of other questions. There was a statement on the meaning of "acceptable on policy grounds ". I can only say that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor gave an explanation which was wholly different from that in paragraph 58. I do not know now what is intended.
How do the Government propose to resolve these questions? What are they going to do about all this? They know very well what they ought to do about it. The noble Lord who was a Professor of Political Science is very conscious of what we have done all over the world and of the immense pains and trouble that we have gone to—not always with success—in working out constitutions. We want a constitutional conference with the Speaker in the chair. We did this in territories all over Africa, in Borneo, and elsewhere in South-East Asia. This is being done constantly. Why should we not take the same course?
If we do not get an acceptable Asesmbly, this whole plan will fail. If it fails the consequences may be very serious indeed. I think that if the noble Lord refuses to do as I suggest, certain suggestions will be made. I should like to call to your Lordships' memories some words said yesterday by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilson. He said them gracefully and gently, but his meaning was perfectly clear. He quoted the late Lord Attlee when he said, "There is always a danger of a political Party concentrating exclusively on winning votes." The Government will be open precisely to that accusation if they do not call a proper conference to discuss these issues.
My Lords, I would only add this. Last night I found the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill, very depressing in what he said. He said that if Scotland is too successful, we will have to stop it. I thought that was going just a little too far. He went on to say that the Government proposals 960 had been very well thought out and that we must not think that anything in the White Paper has not been lengthily, and carefully examined. If it really has been as carefully examined as all that over a long time, why were we not told when we were talking about the Scottish Development Agency this summer, that it has now got to be divided into two, partly run by the Assembly and partly by the Secretary of State? We could have been told that last summer. Would I be wrong in saying that these proposals were really concocted in about three weeks last October? Would that be wrong? It looks a hurried and ill-digested document There are three motives for what we are discussing now. They are: political expediency, a desire for separatism or a desire for good government. I say that unless we go for the third we shall stand condemned at the bar of history.
§ 4.46 p.m.
§ Lord RAGLAN
My Lords, I should like to echo what the noble Earl said at the end of his speech and also at the beginning of it, because anyone attending the debate yesterday might be forgiven for thinking that he had dropped in on a meeting of the Scottish Assembly with a pair of guest speakers on the Front Benches. There is a sprinkling of English speakers today, but this exclusivity, and lack of English interest in what are taken to be purely Scottish or Welsh affairs is an indication of the compounding effect which these proposals by themselves are having on the unity of the United Kingdom: that of making Scotland and Wales seem even more distant and separate than they appeared before. I think that as was indicated by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, it could also be a warning that the English would not continue to take kindly to being prevented from participation in Scottish and Welsh affairs while Scottish and Welsh Members of Parliament continue to come to the Parliament at Westminster to tell the English how to run theirs. I suggest to those of your Lordships who have sensed this, and therefore have espoused the idea of a Britain of federated regions, that it would be unwise, and to my mind improper, to try to impose on the English (who have little sense of region but a strong sense of locality) a government of large regions for the purpose of justiying or giving the appearance of legitimacy to Scottish 961 and Welsh Assemblies which would in fact be national and not regional Governments.
Regions or provinces which are small enough to identify with and which take realistic account of community of interest would be something worth studying in our continuing quest for ways and means of devolving power from the centre. At the moment that is a different subject from this and having spoken already in our debate on Scottish devolution just over a year ago I want to concentrate today on the background of why these proposals have come to us for discussion, for I feel that has been largely overlooked.
My Lords, while considering what to say about them, from the back of my mind came the phrase, "Heaping Pelion on Ossa" It must be a legacy of my classical education or perhaps from Shakespeare, and it sounded rather indecent, and so I looked it up to discover that they were two mountains in ancient Greece and that "Heaping Pelion on Ossa"appears to be a flowery way of saying that it makes things worse. In explaining why I am certain that if these proposals were put into effect it would make things worse, I must start by saying that I do not agree that the cause of Welsh and Scottish nationalism, which these proposals are intended to placate, is economic. Poor economic performance in the country as a whole can exacerbate it since protest votes go to the nationalists. The possibility of oil revenues has recently made Scottish separation appear economically practicable, so that it can now appeal to pockets, and successfully does so. Yet the Crowther Commission was set up before oil was discovered. There is small sign as yet of nationalism in many parts of England which were ancient kingdoms—although I read that there have been stirrings in Wessex—but the discovery of oil in or off the coast of. say, East Anglia is not likely to spark off a movement for East Anglian independence any more than economic depression there has done.
The Welsh and Scottish nationalism which we are talking about here, is a phenomenon which, historically speaking, has not been with us very long. At least one remarkable aspect of it is that on the whole people appear to be shy of talking about it and its causes. When the Crowther—later the Kilbrandon 962 —Commission reported, there was a debate in this House, rather thinly attended, called by the Liberals and not by the Government. They have been shy of debating it in the House of Commons at all. It seemed that a lot of people hoped that if they kept quiet the problem would go away. It is only now, when it threatens a constitutional upheaval, that the matter is being properly debated and scrutinised in depth. To most people, the Welsh, Scots, and especially the English, the problem is new; but I have thought about it for many years, and as my contribution this afternoon I do not want to comment on the inevitably uneasy and contrived details of these proposals, but to invite your Lordships to step out from among the tangled trees so as to have a look from another angle at the wood and keep some other things in view as well.
If one asks the question: Why do you think Scotland and Wales, despite appearances, are so different from other parts of the United Kingdom?, one will get the answer, "Because they have a different history ", and then, "Because they are a different people ", and then, "Because they have a different culture ". Inquiring about the history first, one is immediately transported back through the ages as if on a time machine, stopping at selected places. Bonnie Prince Charlie? Well, no, he was a Unionist; James I was another one. We get right back to Robert Bruce and William Wallace, who fought the English and enabled Scotland to stay independent. With Wales, likewise we are taken back to the 19th, 18th and 17th centuries, flinching at the 16th century and the Tudors, until we get to the early 15th century and Owain Glyndwr, or to the late 13th century and Llewelyn the Last. These were defeated by the English (often called the Anglo-Saxons) who, so the story goes, prevented Wales from developing into a nation in its own right.
If one reads the nationalist literature, it becomes clear that they are acting from what they see as historical precedents, which are as real to them as if they had happened yesterday, and that these precedents are of a selective and warlike kind. Yet it must be observed that this is not how either individuals or nations behave in real life. So far as I am aware, noble Lords do not pick quarrels with other noble Lords because their respective 963 ancestors fought each other in the time of Henry VI; though I suppose they might strike up a friendship because two other of their ancestors jointly speculated in a profitable venture in the American colonies. As for nations, after fighting three historic wars in the space of 70 years, two of them within the lifetime of many people alive today, France and Germany are now partners in the EEC thinking and talking about political union. Why is it that behaviour, which would be considered idiosyncratic to say the least in individuals and in which in real life nations do not indulge, is considered natural, understandable and even laudable when it comes to discussing Wales, Scotland and England?
Leaving that question for the moment, let us question how different are the people. Racialism is rooted deep in the nationalist mythology. For some reason that is supposed to be O.K. and all right if we subscribe to that in this country, though not if we apply it to coloured people or in the rest of the world. But really the English are a mixture of Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Danes, Norse, French, Friesians and I do not know what, with many who would be descended from the Celtic speaking people who were here when the others came. The Scots and the Welsh are supposed to be Celts, but it is now known that the Celts are not and never have been a race but are a linguistic group. In other words, the only Celts are those who speak a Celtic language as their mother tongue. There are some thousands in the outer areas of Scotland and there are said to be upwards of half a million in Wales, though these are concentrated mainly in the North and West. Scotland and Wales themselves have been settled from many directions. It is well-known, for instance, that the Scottish lowlands were populated heavily from Northern England in the 14th and 15th centuries and that at least half of the ancestors of the population of South Wales moved there after the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. The races in these Islands are all mixed up; the differences are only such as would interest a technical anthropologist, and such differences as there may be do not in any way coincide with the Scottish and Welsh borders. There is no factual basis for racism.
964 Cultures do not follow the borders, either. They change locally or sub-regionally, merging into each other all across the country, conforming with geology or topography and patterns of settlement which occurred irrespective of the borders or of their modern political significance. The Scottish border marks the result of a feudal conflict, the Welsh border the abolition of the Marcher Lordships in the time of King Henry VIII. As the land became more peaceful, so these boundaries lost their meaning, and for the purposes of everyday life they still have virtually none.
But something happened in the late 18th century which changed the course of events: the Mediaeval and Celtic revivals. The Celtic revivalists thought that the Celts were another race and that the Scots and Welsh borders were where they had been driven to by the Anglo-Saxons. That was their name for the English. They loved dressing up and had a grand time inventing customs and costumes, being druids and so forth. What a friend described to me as the whimsical Compton Mackenzie-type Scottish nationalism of Scotch whisky and sporrans, appears at least in part to stern from the Celtic revival. It never did any harm; it is utterly lovable. It is the racialism which has done the harm.
The mediaeval revival profoundly affected thinkers as early as Sir Walter Scott and as late as William Morris. The lure of the life of those times was great, and each addict picked out what suited his ideas the best. It even inspired a whole new and important style of architecture of which this Palace is a splendid example. The incipient Welsh and Scottish nationalists who were fired by their Celtic theories were attracted to the feudal condition of mediaeval Britain, and they wanted—as they still want—to recreate the Wales and Scotland of yesteryear before, as they saw it, the English came along and prevented their separate development as nations.
That may sound absurd, but there are people who really believe in it. Mr. Gwyn for Evans, the President of Plaid Cymru, said recently that Wales is in servitude. He thinks this because Anglo-Norman Kings defeated Welsh princes 700 years ago. In reality of course he is in servitude to his imagination. But 965 there are many people who may not actually belong to Plaid Cymru, who think upon the same lines as Mr. Evans. You can tell a Welsh Nationalist because he talks about the "dignity"of Wales for the same reason as Mr. Evans talks about servitude. This is a sentiment which goes very deep. There are thousands of Welsh people who feel it terribly, because they have been brought up to believe in this stupid and vicious myth that Welsh people are a defeated race and have lost status.
These people are very easy to insult, I can assure your Lordships. It is as if they look for insults. It is a tragedy and doubly hateful for the foundation of their beliefs being entirely bogus. A Scottish nationalist talks about recreating the greatness of Scotland especially with an Assembly. But I wonder. For one thing, the United Kingdom having been so closely integrated for so long, the capablepeople—with the notable exception of the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, whom I would be very sorry not to see again—would continue to tend to drift South like big fish drawn to bigger pools. That was a respectable argument against our joining the Common Market. I guess there would not be enough challenge or interest in just being a Scot in Scotland. Nye Bevan used to say that it was the duty of every Welshman to go out and govern England. The Scots do it as well, but they will not be able to do it from Scotland.
This historic revivalism is a big problem not only in Scotland and Wales but also in Belgium; and in France, where some people want to resuscitate the Kingdoms of Burgundy and Aquitaine and have got very worked up about it. General de Gaulle, himself an historical romantic, deliberately stirred it up when he visited Quebec, and they are still shaking from it there. A notable recent revivalist was General Grivas, who dreamed about the time when Cyprus would be Greek again. I suppose that what he did could be, and indeed has been, represented as noble, but Cyprus did not deserve what he did to it. Everywhere this phenomenon, this cult, appears politically, it causes trouble because its adherents want to impose upon the modern scene some kind of status quo antewhich has taken their imagination from the pages of history. Perhaps the nearest some of your Lord- 966 have been to flavouring the passion which can grip participants in an historical argument is in reading letters published in the Press between the Richard III Society and the Bosworth Society. To that add racialism, the aggressive spirit of nationalism and a fervent belief that everyone within the chosen boundary is, or must become, of the same culture and you have a powerful, disruptive political force.
By talking about it, discussing it, studying it and bringing it out into the open, we could blow the myths away and with them the cult. But we are hampered in that successive Governments have gone along with these beliefs, with tacit approval from among all Parties; and now we have reached the point where similarities with Ireland have been drawn. I see some similarities with Ireland, but they are not those which have been voiced by the Leader of the Liberal Party, Mr. Jeremy Thorpe. In Ireland there were and are fierce religious differences; there were the famous absentee landlords, the appalling treatment of the local population and the Great Famine. None of these has parallels here. Scotland and Wales, by special pleading, actually do better economically than the North-West and North-East of England. All of them are represented equally in Parliament, and Wales and Scotland are represented more than equally. This is not repression or the denial of rights. However, I see two similarities with Ireland. These, are, first, the intoning of selected distant historical dates which is used to keep up the friction and, secondly, the fact that Ireland had a Lieutenant Governor whose position imparted a sense of distance and separation and gave, or reinforced, the appearance of Ireland's being a colony.
This, I believe, has been the effect of the creation of the posts of Secretary of State in both Scotland and Wales. I have been unable to learn, from reading the relevant Parliamentary debates, why a Secretary for Scotland was appointed in 1885, after a lapse of 170 years. The theories of the new Scottish independence movement evidently fell on sympathetic ears. Perhaps Queen Victoria herself had something to do with it, and in any case there had been an historical precedent. Soon after this appointment was made—a selective Governmental differentiation as between one part of the 967 United Kingdom and another—came the founding of the Scottish Home Rule Association in 1886. Things built up again, and in 1926 the Government "pom-posed" the Secretary's title, called him "Secretary of State "and gave him more functions. "Should not the Scots feel pleased," they seemed to say, "to have an important-sounding Secretary of State looking after them?" Especially pleased at their new distinction were the Nationalists, who founded the SNP only two years later in 1928.
More functions were transferred to the Scottish Office in 1939 and in 1945 the first Nationalist MP was elected. The Secretary has acquired the appearance of a Colonial Governor. as has the Welsh Secretary, whose post was created in 1964. This was followed by the election of the first Nationalist in 1966: now there are three. When my right honourable friend Mr. Short says that unless these proposals are put into effect the United Kingdom will break up, it must be emphasised that the evidence points the opposite way. The reason is that the more differently you treat people the more different they feel themselves to be. What in effect has happened is that in the Welsh and Scottish Offices two foreign bodies have been created which the British Constitution can no longer digest. In my view, the proposed Assemblies would not last because no number of ingenious draftsmen can write a Constitution which would last against nationalist pressure.
It has been suggested that there should be a referendum on the question of the setting up of the Assemblies. I believe that in due course of time this must be done and that it should be confined to the electors of Scotland and Wales, because these are the areas in which the inhabitants are said to be so different that they need a different kind of Government. The question that I think ought to be asked is not: "Do you wish to be separate? "—because they have been separated already, in greater or lesser degree. The question should be: "Do you wish to be in a union with England? "If the answer is "No", I would set each country up with its independent Assembly. If the answer is "Yes", then the electors would have voted on the understanding that the post of Secretary of State in either country 968 would be done away with and that the borders would cease to have—as have all other borders in this country—political relevance. In other words, it would be a real union, which is the only kind of association that can remain politically stable. Then we can start looking at methods for devolution. In any other arrangement, the Nationalists will go on with their bitter feudal battles, their propaganda and their unreal and unassuageable grievances.
I have the honour to be a member of one of your Lordships' Sub-Committees which scrutinises legislation emanating from the EEC. This Sub-Committee, like the others, works carefully and painstakingly, and we give much time to its work. The process in which we are involved is called—and it is a good word—" harmonisation ". The nations comprising the EEC are trying to see how many points they can agree upon to form a common policy for the common good. If they do not agree at first they try again, because the idealism, the good sense and the reality of the common interest gradually overcome the differences. What is happening in the Community contrasts with what has been happening in the last 90 years or so between Wales, Scotland and England. Differences, separation and disharmony have been encouraged where none existed or need exist. This has been done mostly unintentionally, often through expediency and always, it seems to me, through a lack of knowledge or understanding of the motivation behind the respective Nationalist movements. I hope, my Lords, that I have managed this afternoon to convey an outline of the situation and to suggest a practical solution to the problems it has raised.
§ 4.49 p.m.
§ Lord FOOT
My Lords, I am rather sorry to find myself so high up on the list of speakers this afternoon. I do not say this out of my native modesty, although modesty and diffidence are the badge of all my tribe, but rather because this debate, as was foreseen, has turned itself largely into a discussion of the Welsh situation and the few remarks that I want to address to the House will be of a more general nature which might perhaps more appropriately and conveniently have been given later in the proceedings. However, I have to select 969 the order of battle which has been set for me.
My only qualification for intervening in this debate and speaking upon this subject is that I had the privilege for four and a half years or so of being a member—a very obscure, minor member, let it be said—of the Commission on the Constitution. I cannot pretend that that long experience was altogether an unalloyed delight, but there were some things which were entirely agreeable. One of them was the privilege of sitting as a member of that Commission successively under the chairmanship of Geoffrey Crowther and then, although he seemed to be irreplaceable, under the chairmanship of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Kilbrandon. The quality of that chairmanship was demonstrated to this House in that remarkable speech which we heard from Lord Kilbrandon yesterday.
Another of my recollections in which I wholly rejoice is my association, which was sometimes close, with the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, on that Commission. We were sometimes in contention; I think that our relationship was always harmonious and I learned, as did all the other members of the Commission, of the originality, the ingenuity and inventiveness of the noble Lord's mind. I hope he will not misunderstand me if I say that he will be in need of all those talents when he comes to defending the White Paper.
I should also say that, as a result of my experience in sitting on the Commission, the conclusions to which I have come differ in some respects from the conclusions of my Liberal colleagues—I do not think in any matter of great principle, but nevertheless they do differ. Therefore, what few remarks I have to make to the House this afternoon will be delivered in a purely personal capacity, and my colleagues who surround me are in no way involved or implicated. But it would have been odd if anybody in his senses had gone through the experience of sitting on a Royal Commission for more than four years, and had emerged from that experience with his prejudices intact and his predelictions unsullied. It would be rather as if when Darwin came back from his voyage on the "Beagle", which I believe also took about four years, he had then proceeded to write a tract arguing for the historical accuracy 970 of the first chapter of Genesis. Therefore, what I have to say this afternoon is of a general character and, indeed, will be the views of no one else but myself.
One of my prevailing recollections, looking back over those years on the Commission, is the enormous complexity of the task which we were given, and if I have one main criticism of this White Paper it is that it fails to recognise how complicated and difficult this problem of devolution within the boundaries of the United Kingdom is. We are asked in this Motion to take note of the White Paper. One of my complaints about the authors is that they have failed to take sufficient note: of the complexities and difficulties to which our Commission very clearly pointed, and which are indeed implicit in the whole problem of devolution.
I should be perfectly happy if the few remarks that I make could be regarded as an addendum—I shall refrain from using the word "footnote "—to the truly majestic speech which was made yesterday by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham. I am sorry that he is not here to hear me say it, but I have already conveyed my view of that speech to him personally and therefore nothing is lost. The splendour of that speech was primarily that he directed our attention to the fact that we are engaged here in this debate, and will be engaged in the course of the years, in a transaction of the first magnitude.
He reminded us that we are now engaged upon re-examining the whole conception of the sovereignty of Parliament—those basic things which have become almost part of the fibre of our life. He reminded us that we shall be engaged in the task of dismantling this highly centralised, unitary structure of government which we have in this country, without falling into the error of dismantling the Union itself. He pointed the way to the fact that inexorably, as I believe, we are on the road to a written Constitution for the United Kingdom—a completely new conception in our English affairs. In total, the noble and learned Lord succeeded in bringing it home to me, at any rate, that we are indeed discussing the very future of this Realm.
What I find disappointing about the White Paper is that it does not measure up to the magnitude of the problem with 971 which we are confronted. I cannot find in the White Paper anything that might be called a Grand Design. I believe that this results partially, at any rate, from the fact that the authors of this document and the authors of this scheme have not asked themselves the right questions. The questions which ought to have been asked are: is this right? Will this be fair and just? Will this contribute to the good government of the United Kingdom under the Crown? Is this for the benefit of the common weal? I fear that the questions which were asked were not at all of that character.
I fear that the questions which were asked were: how can we appease these awkward and clamant demands for self-government coming particularly from Scotland and Wales? How much must we give in order to assuage these demands? What is the least that we can get away with? On that account, this White Paper does not represent the drawings for any enduring edifice. I fear that what it really represents is the clobbering together of two conceptions. One is the idea of legislative devolution for Scotland, in much the same form as was advocated by, not the majority of the Kilbrandon Commission but the largest number of the Commission who were of one mind, and the other is the recommendations for Wales of which the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, was the author. On the matter of England there is a gaping, yawning void.
Indeed, if your Lordships look at page 2 of the White Paper—so far as I know this is the only direct reference in the whole of this document to the problem of England—the last sentence of paragraph 7 on page 2 reads:England is different again,"—that means different from Scotland and Wales—and the Government will publish separately a document to provide a basis for discussion of possible future arrangements in England".That is all that the White Paper has to say regarding what the Government have in mind for England. It seems to me that the implication is perfectly clear. It is that you can seriously, happily and safely discuss the problems of devolution to Scotland and Wales without coming to any conclusion whatever about what 972 you are going to do about England. The implication is clear, is it not, that you can consider devolution to Scotland and Wales not only in isolation but as if England did not exist. That seems to me to be an almost breathtaking misapprehension.
On this occasion, we are making the same mistake, although a graver mistake in its possibilities and dangers, as we made when we reorganised local government before making any decision upon the problem of devolution to the regions of this country. The result is that we have all got ourselves on to a hook. I do not intend to quote it because I do not wish to take up the time of the House, but it is clearly acknowledged in paragraph 119 on page 24 of the White Paper that because we undertook the reorganisation of local government before we had dealt with the matter of devolution to the regions we are now pre-empted from considering another reform of local government. Therefore, the limits of the argument about devolution are more closely drawn than they need to be because it is said, and sensibly said, that you cannot reorganise local government all over again within a span of five years. It was due to the original error of time-tabling. I believe it is generally accepted in all parts that it was a vast mistake to have proceeded with the reorganisation of local government before dealing with the question of devolution, but far from having learned that lesson we are now about to repeat the error.
If I were to take one sentence as the text—I am now reverting to my Methodist childhood in talking about texts—which I would seek to underline and emphasise to this House it would be from the speech yesterday of the noble Lord, Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone. At column 747, he said:We have to live together in a single country, and I must say I agreed with Mr. Heath that the terms on which we live together in different parts of the United Kingdom, although not necessarily identical in every respect, must in the end be roughly comparable".I believe not only that that is right, and overwhelmingly right, but that it clearly follows that when we come to the problem of devolution for England—as inevitably we shall—then, because we shall have granted these extensive powers by 973 that time, particularly legislative devolution to Scotland, we will have to invest the regions of England, or England itself, with comparable powers. That inevitably follows.
The argument against giving legislative devolution to Scotland of the kind which is proposed in the White Paper and giving nothing to England was most cogently developed—and, indeed, developed in a way which I could not possibly imitate—by no less an authority than the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, in his memorandum of dissent to the Kilbrandon Commission. It appears at page viii of the Preface and I should like to read to the House what the noble Lord there says. He wrote the memorandum of dissent in conjunction with Professor Alan Peacock, but it is acknowledged that these are his words. This is what the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, who later this evening will be commending to us the proposals for legislative devolution to Scotland had to say. It appears right at the beginning of his memorandum as a summary of the reasons why he wrote it. He said at paragraph 2 (g) on page viii:We cannot accept the scheme of legislative devolution for Scotland and Wales "—in the rest of this quotation I shall leave out the reference to Wales because it is not proposed to have legislative devolution for Wales, so I will confine myself to Scotland—recommended in the majority report. This scheme (akin to the old Stormont system of government) would devolve to Scottish and Welsh Parliaments and Governments ' sovereign ' or ' autonomous' powers in a wide range of subjects—with the Westminster Parliament normally precluded from legislating for Scotland and Wales in these matters. We oppose this because:—(i) we believe it makes no sense today to seek to move ' sovereignty ' downwards when in more and more subjects it is actually moving upwards—to Brussels; ".May I say in parenthesis that that is the only part with which I do not agree. With all the rest I am in entire sympathy and agreement. It reads:(ii) it would be giving to the people of Scotland and Wales significant additional political rights which would be denied to the people in the different regions of England (all of which have larger populations than Scotland and Wales and a range of problems no less special to themselves). This would be the more unacceptable in that some of the English regions would be providing, perhaps 974 for Scotland,… substantial economic and financial support while being denied the same degree of self-government;(iii) we cannot believe it is right or acceptable that the Westminster Parliament should he precluded from legislating for Scotland…in a wide range of subjects (including education, housing and health) while at the same time, about 100 Scottish and Welsh M.Ps at Westminster would have a full share in legislating in these same matters for England alone;".Lastly—and this is almost ironic in view of what the Government have been saying about increasing the scale of government—it reads:(iv) the scheme at best would not result in any significant reduction in the burdens on Whitehall and Westminster; and, indeed, it is all too likely in our view to increase those burdens still further".Those are the words which the noble Lord used advisedly and wrote after years of contemplation and consideration, and it will be interesting—and exciting—later in the evening to listen to the noble Lord explaining why it was all so wrong. However, there is a very serious issue, for what is the logical end of that argument?
Surely the inevitable logical end of the argument is that when we come to work out some devolutionary provision for the regions of England we shall be constrained, first, in fairness to the English people and, secondly, we shall be constrained in pure logic and common sense, to follow the Scottish model, whatever model of evolutionary government we may by that time have set up for Scotland, and possibly Wales.
If that is right, then the next question which arises—it is this question with which I shall close, but it is in my view the most momentous question which confronts us in the whole of this debate in general terms—is whether you can in the end set up 10 or a dozen separate regional Parliaments within the boundaries of the United Kingdom, each of them clothed with the massive powers (these are the Government's words) which it is proposed should now be conferred upon Scotland. Can you do that and can you at the same time maintain the political and economic unity of the United Kingdom?
I am not going to answer that question. My colleagues here who are federalists 975 would say, "Yes, you can", and it may be that in the course of time I shall come round to the view—the noble Baroness, Lady White, was saying much the same thing earlier on—that we shall be pushed into federalism as the only logical end of the road upon which we are now embarking. Whether or not that be so I shall not answer the question. But I would draw the attention of this House solemnly to the fact that the question of whether you could have 10 or a dozen independent Parliaments within the boundaries of the United Kingdom, clothed with such powers, and still maintain the unity of this country— when it was put to the Kilbrandon Commission—was answered unanimously in the negative, not only by the majority but by the minority; by the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, and by all of us. Rightly or wrongly we all came to the conclusion that, if we went as far as that, we were indeed embarking upon a course which would lead to the inevitable dissolution of the Union of the United Kingdom. I think this House ought to bear in mind that conclusion of the Kilbrandon Commission.
§ 5.33 p.m.
§ Lord ALPORT
My Lords, as I listened earlier this afternoon to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor whose eloquence I always envy and admire, I had an increasing conviction that the White Paper as it stands is a formula for the political disruption of this island. As I listened to the arguments of the noble Lord, Lord Foot, that conviction was strengthened. I will go further, and say that I believe the way in which the Government are handling this issue is likely to hasten that event.
The other impression I have is that the political confusion which surrounds the issue we are debating bears a startling similarity to the confusion of counsel which preceded the Treaty of Union of 1707. Then, as now, those who took part in the debates in Parliament in Edinburgh and at Westminster were inspired by a variety of different emotions and objectives. Listening to the speeches yesterday of a long series of Scottish Peers I had the impression that there were some ancestral voices speaking; some echoing of the Earl of Seafield's view that the Treaty was a lasting settlement betwixt 976 the two nations, and others—those of Lockhart of Carnworth, who wrote:From this day may we date the commencement of Scotland's ruin ".My Lords, in offering my views to you this evening, I think I should explain that I am by blood more Scots than English. I have always been conscious of the fascination of Scottish history and the powerful attractions of Scottish nationalism. I have tried to recognise this in practice when an opportunity came my way. Years ago, inspired by a particularly exhilarating Burns' dinner, I conceived the idea of giving Scotland its own postage stamps. I am still awaiting recognition in Scotland for this small offering at the altar of Scottish national consciousness. I merely mention this to show that I am no less sensitive to Scottish aspirations than anyone else in your Lordships' House.
However, it is my purpose today to do as other speakers in this debate have done; that is, to draw attention to the English interest in the maintenance of the Union, and in doing so I hope I shall not be accused of any Anglo-Saxon chauvinism. As the noble Lord, Lord Kilbrandon, reminded us yesterday, the reason for the Treaty of 1707 was in part at any rate to prevent a new conflict between England and Scotland in terms, in fact, of war. I would remind your Lordships—it is a subject which has not been mentioned very frequently, if at all, during these debates—that the vital matter of importance to the whole of Great Britain is its security and that if, by a disruption of the Union, it was seen that the security of this island was endangered, it might become necessary to resist that process by force.
The second point I want to make is that the form of the constitutional links between the various parts of this island is not something which can be decided simply in terms of the political aspirations of a particular region or section. The views of minorities must be regarded, but they cannot prevail against the just and essential interests of the majority. We are "one island, one nation" Nor, my Lords, can a decision on a constitutional change of the magnitude which the White Paper envisages, and which was referred to yesterday by the noble and learned 977 Lord, Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, and which the Government apparently intend should be shortly translated into legislation, be carried out by an Administration whose supporters are deeply divided and which represents fewer than a third of the electorate in terms of the votes at a General Election. Historians in the future will spend a good deal of time and use a great deal of paper in analysing why, at this moment, when the separate nations of Europe should be sinking, or endeavouring to sink, their centuries-old antagonisms and should be contemplating the possibility of political unity, the British Parliament should be engaged in a process which could end in encompassing the destruction of the political unity of this island.
My Lords, I very much doubt whether those historians will conclude that the reason was that the Government of the English majority in London inflicted such hardships on the Scots and the Welsh that they were driven to seek separation and, perhaps, independence. I think they may find an explanation in the decline of national willpower and in our failure to adapt our political institutions to the revolutionary changes which have taken place during the last 50 years. They may even attribute it to the enervating effects of decades of prosperity and success combined with the debilitation of two world wars. The threat to the political unity of Great Britain—and I distinguish Great Britain from the United Kingdom —which the nationalist movements represent, in my view can only really be met by a revival of a sense of confidence in our institutions and in our system of government, which will enable us to enter whole-heartedly into the wider movement aimed at uniting the nations of Europe to achieve security and prosperity in a world threatened by Russian expansion and Communist power.
As I have said, the first and ultimate criterion so far as the majority of the people of this country are concerned is security. In English terms, it is just the same today as it was 300 years ago, when Scotland was the back door for our ancient enemy, and for their ancient ally. But this does not mean that the system of government evolved to enable imperial Britain within the social matrix of that era to reach a pinnacle of power and prosperity, must remain unaltered. As a 978 lifelong member of what is known as the Conservative Party, I have long been a critic of the ultra-conservatism of the English. It is an instinct which has sustained our national cohesion and strength in the past. It does not, and will not, however, ensure that the Britain of 1976 can face successfully the challenge of the disruptive times in which we live. Continuity is important, but only if institutions which time and history have created for the representation and control of our political life can be brought into effectivej relationship with the spirit of our own times.
My Lords, it is not the rise of Scottish or Welsh nationalism which is significant of itself. It means that our present methods of exercising government—that is, our political institutions—no longer represent the aspirations of this century, or are able to reflect the wishes and retain the confidence of the people. As has been said earlier in this debate, this goes for the people of Yorkshire or East Anglia just as much as for the Scots or the Welsh. The answer does not lie simply in regionalism, nationalism, in devolution or in any tailor-made expedients of the constitutional experts. but in radical reform of our national and political institutions, the realignment of our Party affiliations, and in the introduction of a new electoral system which will produce a more fair and more realistic system of democratic representation. It is not enough to leave the initiative in proposing these changes in the hands of a single Minister, or in those of some narrowly-based Party committee or, least of all, in the hands of an expert commission of civil servants and lawyers.
We need a constitutional convention, politically representative of all Parties in Parliament and each region of Great Britain, working on a timescale unfettered by the lifespan of a Parliament or a Parliamentary Session, and elected by a system of proportional representation. The objections advanced towards proportional representation by my noble friend Lord Selkirk may or may not apply to the Parliament here in London or, for all I know, to a Parliament in Edinburgh or Cardiff, but those objections certainly would not apply to the election of a constitutional convention. What is more, they would give to that convention the exact representational 979 quality which it requires. It would differentiate from the normal political representation which we would find in Parliament.
A delimitation commission presided over, if necessary, by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor or by the Speaker of the House of Commons, if that were the right arrangement, could very quickly provide the delimitation of the constituencies for such an election, and existing electoral rolls would be available for the purpose of that election. In this, all Parties in all parts of Great Britain would be seen to be fairly represented. The issue would be withdrawn from the Party clash in the House of Commons which enables a small minority to play off one major Party against another by a system of sheer electoral blackmail. The whole problem would be tackled—as in my view it must be—as a national issue and not as simply one affecting the Welsh or the Scots alone or, indeed, affecting the electoral prospects at the next election of any of the Parties.
What is more, a constitutional convention would enable us to review the working of our existing Parliamentary form of constitution, and to evolve the changes which will be necessary if, for example, the Government White Paper gets translated into legislation. There will be a change here at Westminster in any case. Let it be considered in the right context, not simply on a piecemeal basis as otherwise would be the case. This constitutional convention would have the great advantage of avoiding any interference with the proper preoccupation of the present Parliament with the grave problems of economic survival and national security. I suggest to your Lordships that it would be consistent with the spirit of our democratic system and our success over the centuries in evolving constitutional expedients to meet the changing needs of the times. As my noble friend Lord Selkirk said, there are many, many precedents for this in the recent political history of the Commonwealth.
My Lords, I would expect that the conclusions of such a constitutional convention would lead us towards some form of federation. It would comprehend and seek to fulfil the desire of the Scots and Welsh for some sort of devolution. I 980 hope it would breathe a new spirit of confidence into our political life and a new vigour into our Parliamentary institutions, at the same time preserving our national unity. If it were to find a new role for a second chamber, perhaps at the apex of a federal system, in my view so much the better. I ask the Government to consider this proposal seriously, for I fear that otherwise the road along which we are being driven will, in the end, see the disruption of the political life of this island; it will weaken this country tragically in the face of dangers which lie ahead for us, and it may even lead to civil strife and bloodshed, which in this country we have not seen for the last two centuries.
§ 5.48 p.m.
The Earl of CAITHNESS
My Lords, the Government White Paper, Our Changing Democracy, is the most challenging and important issue in pure political terms which has faced the Scots in a British Parliament since the Act of Union of 1707. I must confine myself to Scotland as I believe the case for devolution to Wales is very different, and therefore must be argued by those concerned. There have been four days of debate in another place, and the net result is confusion without any signs of an acceptable formula emerging from the debate on the White Paper. The debate in this House has shown a marked degree of accord; and for that I am thankful. The problem facing us is too acute for us to enter a period of massive inactivity and hope, that because no agreement has been reached—yet the case discussed at length —Scotland will be placated and the problem will disappear. If we do not come forward with some workable proposal soon, I am much exercised as to the future of the Union. Too many of the English Members in another place are unaware of the feelings North of the Border, and I hope that they do not stand in the way of an ever-increasing demand in Scotland for a certain amount of self-government.
In order to put forward a solution to the problem we must look at the reasons why such support is now given to the desire for an Assembly in Edinburgh. There is not the time for me to discuss all of them, but I feel that the following arc some of the most important. First, 981 every Scot is at heart a nationalist. This feeling has been coupled with, and accentuated by, the impression, real or imaginary, that successive Governments have failed to take account of the Scottish viewpoint and have failed in their duty to Scotland.
Secondly, it is not mere chance that there is a correlation between the increase in nationalism and the rise in taxes in the United Kingdom to an intolerably high level. Thirdly, the extension of interference by the State in our daily lives has helped to breed separatism. My Lords, these three points have been talked about for a long time in Scotland, but the arguments put forward have not been heeded because those who put forward the discussions did not have a trump card. Oil has now been found in British territorial waters, Scottish waters. It is for this reason that the arguments on self-government no longer fall on deaf ears.
The transference of some real powers from Whitehall to Edinburgh is essential, but very great care must be taken not to create a further tier of bureaucratic government. It appears that the White Paper will create such a tier, which, furthermore, will be ruled, with the threat of its decisions being vetoed, by the Secretary of State in Whitehall. This can only add fuel to the fire of those who demand a completely separate Scotland. Edinburgh must, and must be seen to, make the decisions. It is not the remoteness of Government that is the real dispute, as a decision made in Edinburgh is as remote to Caithnessians as one made in London. The problem is the proper restructuring of government without further encroachment by the State. It is a pity that local government reorganisation in Scotland has recently taken place. It would have been better to set up an Assembly first and then to have altered local government structure more effectively to take account of the wishes of the people. However, an Assembly in Edinburgh which will not intrude in the daily lives of the Scots will be a tremendous step forward.
If the Scottish Assembly is to have any real power it must control to some extent the economy of the country. This must not be limited to the discretion to impose a surcharge on rates and taxes levied by 982 Whitehall. This is totally unacceptable and will only lead to increased resentment of the proposed system. The Scottish people will not tolerate such surcharges, and therefore the Assembly must have real influence over part of the economy. With an effective Assembly based in Edinburgh the loss of identity which Scotland feels will to a large extent be eradicated. Scotland is not the only country in the world that has lost its identity; all three countries in this Island have. It is our duty to restore that loss, and if we do I believe this Island will become more united and our future more secure. Those who favour devolution as set out in the White Paper, or even a lesser form, must be aware of the resentment that will still be harboured. This can only lead to a greater division between the peoples of this country and a greater demand for complete separatism for Scotland.
On the question of complete independence, I feel this is something we must guard against. The United Kingdom is too small and there are too many interlocking interests to have a separate Scotland. If it were to happen, then a Scottish Parliament would be dominated and directed by those South of the Highland Line. As a Highlander, I do not view that situation with any degree of alacrity.
The oil would belong to Scotland, but that, too, raises problems. Will there be the defence force necessary to protect the rigs? Items as valuable as these will have to be defended against internal and external aggressors, and this will be even more necessary in the future. Furthermore, by far the majority of the oilfields discovered lie in waters that could be claimed by Shetland. What Scotland can do to the United Kingdom so can that county do to Scotland. After all, historically those islands, together with Orkney and Caithness, have looked towards Scandinavia rather than to the rest of Scotland. This country is a success because it trades as a United Kingdom. I believe that given separatism the sum of the overseas trade of the three countries in this Island would not be as great as the figure we now achieve as one body. Our fishing grounds, which are so important, also need to be protected. Could an independent Scotland act decisively if a country with a larger merchant and naval fleet deliberately flaunted international agreements 983 and by over-fishing ruined those grounds? The future defence of this Island cannot, if it is to be maintained to any standard be the responsibility of three countries defending their portions of the coast. However, I take note of the views of my noble kinsman Lord Thurso on this matter with regard to Europe and NATO.
My Lords, this House has many experts in a wide variety of fields and those noble Lords have spoken on their particular issues. However, I believe I am the only Member to speak who was not alive during the last war, and I am grateful for what my generation has been given. If, but for no other reason, I cannot support a move towards a totally independent and separate Scotland, it is because for me the most important issue of all is the defence of this Realm. This is a matter for the Union, and I can be no party to any cause that would jeopardise what the United Kingdom fought for in the last war. If I really believed that devolution would destroy that, then I would not support it.
If there is to be constructive devolution, the present representation of Scottish Members of Parliament will probably need to be changed. Such items as are the responsibility of the Scottish Assembly could, in England, be purely under the control of an English Assembly in Westminster. However, on United Kingdom policies that will affect everyone in these Isles there should be a much more balanced representation than at the moment. This is how many companies, based in Westminster but having regional offices and partnerships, work. I believe that Scotland would be a healthier and better country by playing amore positive part in matters concerning a revitalised United Kingdom, while at the same time having an effective Assembly of its own in Edinburgh.
There are noble Lords in this House who fear that an Assembly is the beginning of the end of the United Kingdom. I ask them to consider that the overwhelming consensus of speakers do not wish to see this happen, and indeed the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, has said that if this Assembly has real authority then he will stand as a candidate. I am convinced that there will be further noble Lords willing to join him, and on 984 yesterday's debate they will fight separatism.
The White Paper is a partially satisfactory document on Scotland's future, but cannot be accepted as it stands. The emphasis lies on many of the wrong points and can only serve to increase division within the country. It is sad that in a matter as important as this there was not a separate Paper for Scotland and Wales. I hope that the Government will see fit to introduce individual Bills for these two Kingdoms. More details must be given as to how the system will operate and its functions will be carried out, for it is only then that a satisfactory discussion and conclusion will be forthcoming. There must be no grey areas where disputes may arise, and the division of power must be clearly spelt out. My Lords, it is evident that the Government should have invited much more comment before publishing the White Paper. There was no need for the secrecy which shrouded it, for we are all losers as are sult of that action. The people of Scotland want an Assembly of their own. Let us not keep them waiting, but let us create an Assembly to be proud of and one that works. For that reason, I take note of this White Paper, but cannot support it.
§ 5.58 p.m.
§ Lord MAELOR
My Lords, I need not remind your Lordships that I come from Wales and that I am proud to be a Welshman. My pride in this Parliament has been enhanced because I would remind noble Lords that the Lord Chancellor and the Deputy Leader of this House both come from Wales, and the Deputy Speaker in the other place also is a Welshman. Indeed, I would say that the greatest Parliamentarian of all time came from Wales. I refer to David Lloyd George. Some of your Lordships might argue that the greatest was Oliver Cromwell. Even so, Oliver Cromwell came from Wales. His name was not Cromwell; his real name was Williams, and in Wales he would affectionately be referred to as "Williams bach" or "Williams Boyo". Even Gladstone had his home in Wales and had no desire to leave there.
Before we can claim any measure of devolution we have to prove first that we are a separate nation. I claim that we have all the attributes and pecularities of a nation. In the first place we have 985 our own country. Wherever I have been on the Continent I have found that they believe that Wales is a part of England, except in Southern Ireland, and now I shall repeat a story which I think will bear repetition. I was in Southern Ireland a few years ago when I was approached by a native. He asked me what part of England I came from. I said, "I don't come from England. I come from Wales." He said, "I am sorry for you in Wales." I asked "Why are you sorry for us in Wales? "He said, "Well, you are nearer to the buggers than we are ".
Yes, we have our own country, and Offa's Dyke still forms a solid boundary to it. It is only 200 yards from my home, and I can see England from my bedroom. That is why I do not go for a holiday. I can always look at a foreign country even from my own bed. Then we have our own language; a language that is spoken in only two places—in Wales and in heaven. I remember some years ago sitting on the shore of the Dead Sea in Palestine when an Arab came up to me and pointed to Mount Nebo across the water. "It was from the top of that mountain ", he said, "that Moses went to heaven ". I thereupon sprang to me feet and sang a Welsh hymn referring to Mount Nebo. "What language is that?" asked the Arab. "Oh," I said, "that is the language that Moses learnt after he got to heaven ". It is a beautiful language, a poetical language, and a cultural language. My late friend, Dai Grenfell, M.P., used to say that it is the oldest language in the world. If that is so, then it must be the language of the Garden of Eden. Indeed, perhaps that is why Adam fell. The temptation was probably to speak English. I have never spoken a word of English to the Lord Chancellor, nor to the Deputy Leader of this House; we always converse in Welsh. It is very useful, especially when the "Pagans" are around.
In religion we are a nonconformist nation. We have no Established Church. Even the sister of the Church of England —that is, the Church in Wales—is Nonconformist. So also are the Roman Catholics and all the other denominations. But we are Protestants in Wales, and in contrast to Northern Ireland we live in a perfect harmony. There is no Ian Paisley in Wales, thank God! We 986 are also the only truly Socialist country in Western Europe. Over the years, out of 36 Members of Parliament we have been returning 26 Socialists. In sport, I would only remind your Lordships of what took place at Twickenham a week last Saturday. In the light of all that I have said, I think that I can claim that we in Wales are a separatenation, and can justly request a measure of devolution. I do not ask for Home Rule, for that would mean separation, and the people of Wales do not ask to be separated from the rest of the United Kingdom. That was clearly indicated at the last General Election when every seat in Wales was contested by the Welsh Nationalists and when, with the exception of three seats, they lost their deposit in every constituency.
I am sorry that my friends, the Plaid Cymru Members in the other place, attacked the White Paper and will have nothing to do with it. Their demand is for self-government. Well, if we even regard that as a legitimate aim, would it not be better to approach it one step at a time? My own position is expressed in the famous words of Newman:I do not ask to see the distant scene, One step enough for me.The "one step"suggested in the Government's White Paper is an elected Assembly for Wales to deal with matters exclusively concerning Wales. It must be an elected Assembly. We do not want a selected Assembly. We have 50 selected assemblies in Wales today. The Members of the Assembly must be elected Members and be answerable to the electorate.
What will be its duties? I do not see that it need take over some of the duties now performed by the county councils. It need not do that. It may, however, make it one of its first duties to consider the reorganisation of local government in Wales. The present county councils are far too large and unwieldy. Think of Gwynedd constituting three counties, none of which has some things in common. Then we have Powis, which stretches from the North of Montgomery down to the South of Breckonshire. That does not make sense. Neither does it make sense to have Glamorganshire divided into three county councils. My noble friend Lord Heycock showed us the fallacy of such a division last night. The county councils as at present constituted must be changed, and the Assembly would 987 know best how to deal with this problem and make recommendations to Parliament and to the Central Government here in London.
As I said previously, the Assembly will not, and should not, possess legislative power. However, it will have the time and ability to consider any Welsh problem and then make recommendations to the Parliament at Westminster. The recommendations should then be implemented by the Government. It should be made clear, however, that each recommendation will be automatically implemented after the Government have decided on the best manner to do so. If the recommendations are dallied with or rejected we shall be back in square one and the Assembly will have wasted its time. The Assembly's main duty, therefore, should be to recommend, but to recommend in the knowledge that it will be brought into effect on every occasion. Many Members of Parliament in the other place suggested that the will of the people of Wales in this matter of devolution should be ascertained by a referendum. As I have already stated, I believe that the will of the people was expressly stated in the last General Election, but a referendum would no doubt settle the question once and for all.
I stress that what belongs to Wales should be owned by the people of Wales. There are many treasures of which we are robbed. I am sickened by that silly old jingle:Taffy was a Welshman,Taffy was a thief.Taffy came to our houseAnd stole a lump of beef.I remind noble Lords that in Wales today there is no need to steal a lump of beef. The farmers on the hilltops of Wales have been so impoverished in recent years that they have been glad to give away their animals free of charge.
§ Lord MAELOR
Yes, my Lords. They have given them away because they cannot afford to keep them. Twelve months last September I saw a calf being sold for £50 although it was worth well over £100. Indeed, a similar calf was sold last September for £250. However, we are acquainted with thieves; for 988 example, we have had our water stolen from us by Liverpool and Birmingham. They have taken our water without paying a penny for it, and they do not pay us anything for it now. On the other hand, we in Wales must pay dearly for our water. A year ago my water rate went up by 80 per cent. and last week I was told that it is to go up again, this time by 23 per cent. In other words, my water rate has gone up by 103 per cent. in 12 months. Similar water goes to England for nothing. This does not make sense. It shows where the thieves are. This is another matter which the Assembly could consider.
The noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran, was critical of the White Paper because it does not warrant legislative power for the Assembly. I contend, however, that it could enforce legislation on behalf of Wales and that this will be its function. In other words, as I said previously, if it is done, as I am sure it will be done, in the way I suggested, with its every recommendation having been considered seriously by it, those recommendations will be carried out by the Government in the manner in which the Government see fit. Today we are asked simply to take note of the White Paper. I am sure the House will be very pleased to do so.
§ 6.12 p.m.
§ Viscount AMORY
My Lords, if I were a Welshman I would venture to debate with the noble Lord, Lord Maelor, in spite of his reputation as a tremendous debater. His references to Cromwell rather stung me up as a Roundhead. Cromwell Williams! Is there any limit to Welsh aspirations? But as I am not a Welshman, to do so would be an act on my part of irresponsible impertinence.
As the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, said, this is the biggest constitutional issue with which we have been faced since the Act of Union. If wrong decisions are reached, the unity of Britain will be in jeopardy. I cannot remember an issue of anything like comparable importance having been brought forward with less real enthusiasm on the part of the majority of any of the Parties or their leaders. It seems a pity that at a time when we are beset with so many national problems we should now be faced with this additional one. The reason clearly 989 is because the pace has been forced by events in Scotland. It would be a tragedy indeed if short-term political reasons, or any other short-term reasons, were to result in long-term damage being done to the strength and survival capacity of the United Kingdom.
In his splendid speech yesterday, my noble friend Lord Home of the Hirsel wisely reminded us that even the oil is likely to be a short-term benefit. The noble Lord the Leader of the House gave an excellent lead-in to the debate yesterday and I thought that my noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone made a magnificent contribution, the sort of thoughtful, restrained and statesmanlike speech of which he is an acknowledged master. I agreed with his deduction, if I understood it correctly, that we might be destined to move somewhat in the direction of a written constitution. I do not say that with any enthusiasm but, quite apart from devolution, two other pressures are likely to lead us in that direction; one, our membership of the EEC, with its appeals to its court, and the other, the growing dangers to the freedom of the individual from the possible excess of power exercised by sectarian minorities and by the bureaucratic actions of executive Governments and even of Parliament itself. If devolution were to lead us to adopt some of the features of a federal state, I hope very much that before we committed ourselves we would study carefully the real day-to-day problems of those nations which have a federal structure. It is not something to take on light-heartedly. Most but not all of those countries are geographically far more extensive than, we, in these small islands, are.
I do not propose to talk about Scotland. I have only 12½ per cent. Scottish blood in my veins and for that reason and also because I do not feel that I understand fully the pressures that have developed in Scotland in recent years in this field, I will stay off the subject. All of us recognise the love and loyalty that Scotsmen feel for their homeland, however far removed they may be from it, as illustrated by the story of the Scottish soldier who was in the First World War in Mesopotamia. When asked where he was wounded there, he replied, "It was about 20 miles on the Auchterlocherty side of Baghdad." That made a deep 990 impression on me at the time. Whatever financial or fiscal autonomy is given to Scotland, it must be such as to leave the overall control of the national economy firmly in the hands of Parliament in Westminster. That, of course, would not exclude a local Scottish sales or other tax.
I intend to offer only a few, perhaps obvious, comments on the implications for Wales and the rest of the United Kingdom. The White Paper is, in my view, not a wholly satisfactory document. It offers a number of generalisations. Perhaps that was inevitable. Some of them fail quite to carry conviction and the White Paper shies away from many difficult, practical problems. The kind of devolution which would seem to make the best sense would be some further, carefully worked out devolution from the centre to exising local government authorities.
As one reads the White Paper, one cannot avoid the fear that some of the powers foreshadowed for the new Assemblies may be transferred not downwards from the Central Government but from the existing powers of local authorities upwards. If that were to be the result it would be a retrograde step and would go far to destroy the new local authorities which have been set up under the recent reorganisation. It would make nonsense of the firm assurances, given to the new local authorities on repeated occasions by the Government, that they intend them to exercise real local discretion and decision within the powers given them under the reorganisation Act. They have already lost their direct health and water powers and any further serverance or subordination would take the heart out of them and severely discourage good people from coming forward for election. If the powers given to the regional authorities are really to be true delegation downwards from Central Government, well and good. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor gave us some firm assurances to that effect in his speech. But, from past experience, one is bound still to have some lurking fears that it may not work out in quite that way. Secretaries of State have never yet shown themselves ready relaxers of their Departmental grip.
The other dreadful fear is that the regional authorities will form yet another 991 tier in local government at a time when, with our present three tiers, we are already in danger of being over-governed. If a further tier is to be superimposed we shall, without question, be and be seen to be the most ludicrously over-governed country in the world. We shall also be a most expensively governed country. I agreed with the anxieties expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady White, on that head. When one looks at the outline proposals for Wales, those fears remain and are even strengthened. What will be the final views of the people of Wales I do not know, but their first reactions to the present proposals do not seem to be wholly favourable, to put it mildly. Many people in Wales believe that a referendum held on these proposals would be unlikely to approve them. It looks at first sight as if the proposals would be in real danger of weakening local government in Wales and would absorb a good deal of additional administrative manpower to boot. The reference in the White Paper to the Assembly's responsibilities for Social Services, education, libraries, housing, planning, environment and health carry at least a risk of duplication of responsibility. The power proposed to be given to the Assembly to make a surcharge on local authority taxation also looks like a deliberate restriction on the powers at present possessed by local authorities to raise finance on a scale which is already somewhat limited. In the financial field generally, after Parliament has decided upon a block grant for Wales, it will apparently be the role of the Assembly to decide how and where the money shall be expended. That would mean a risk that local authorities would no longer be likely to know in advance how much they were to get. Nor would they have much discretion on how it should be spent. If that were so, it would, again, surely be a retrograde step.
What would be the relationship between the local authorities and the Secretary of State for Wales? That is not clear at present. Also, what would be the relationship between the local authorities and the Assembly and its committees? Will circulars emanate from the Secretary of State or from the Assembly or from both? If the Welsh Assembly is to operate a committee system like that 992 used by local authorities, one wonders where the elected Members will come from and, indeed, for that matter the official manpower. The noble Lord, Lord Heycock, in an eloquent speech last night and speaking with unrivalled knowledge, outlined some of the anxieties which he felt regarding the White Paper proposals as they stand. What the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said about the substitution in some cases of elected Members for non-elected Members on certain bodies is very much to be welcomed. Also, I strongly agreed with the able and eloquent speech of my noble friend Lord Elton, though he surprised me by his reference to the daffodil. I thought it was the leek, but I stand to be corrected by the noble Lord from Leek when he comes to speak.
The Association of County Councils, including its Welsh representatives, is deeply anxious about the proposals as they stand. If this is to be the pattern for Wales, there are risks that the scheme will, in effect, amount to an additional intermediate tier, as the noble Baroness, Lady White, suggested. I feel that that would be bound to have alarming implications for the rest of the United Kingdom, that is, for what the noble Baroness aptly called the English dimension. There is little doubt that the political Parties have committed themselves to some form of devolution, but, in deciding what form it shall take, let us remember that, first and foremost, it must not weaken the United Kingdom nor add to the already top-heavy cost of government. This is an issue on which the traditional good sense and moderation of the British people will be quite severely tested. As several noble Lords have said, at the time when our nation needs above all unity and an outward-looking confidence, it would be a tragedy if we were to take a wrong decision on an issue which will affect the lives and livelihoods of many generations to come and which will in one way or another affect the lasting strength, performance and future survival of our country.
§ 6.27 p.m.
§ Lord TAYLOR of GRYFE
My Lords, my first word today is one of apology. I put down my name to speak yesterday and I may not be able to be here at the end of the debate. We have 993 had an excellent debate in this House and we had four days' debate in the other place. With all due respect to the noble Lord, Lord Belhaven and Stenton, who, I gather, is the only Member of the SNP in this House, if there was one thing missing from our debate it was the absence of the SNP's case presented as vigorously as was done in the other place. I feel it important that, however inadequate its representation in this House, we should look at the case for the SNP because, according to the opinion polls, it can now command a greater number of votes than any other single Party in Scotland. I have tried, in thinking about the SNP case and about the general expectancy which has been built up in the debates in this House and the other place, to ask myself how relevant are our expectations and the claims of the Scottish National Party to the economic situation in which this country finds itself at present.
On the day of the opening of the debate in the other place, the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced that he had presented a letter to the IMF indicating that the public sector borrowing requirement of this country had now reached £12 billion. On the final day of the debate in the other place, the Minister for Employment announced that there were 1,400,000 people unemployed in this country. Today, as we reach the conclusion of our debate, I read in the Scottish Press that the British Steel Corporation are shortly to lay off 7,600 workers in Scotland, that Chrysler has already drawn up a redundancy list of around 3,000 and that in relation to the shipbuilding industry—which is important to the whole economy of West Scotland—17 per cent. of all shipping orders placed by British shipping interests last year went to other than British yards. I imagine that the situation on Clyde-side in the shipbuilding industry will be worse than Chrysler in the year ahead.
I mention these facts because I believe that our inadequate economic performance and the economic difficulties of the neglected areas of Scotland have been a breeding ground for nationalism. I do not suggest that this is the only reason why nationalism flourishes in Scotland. It is all tied up with emotional nationalism, which has been so well diagnosed by my noble friend Lord Raglan 994 in an excellent speech this afternoon. The growth of nationalism is also linked with a decline in respect of Parliamentary and democratic government in itself. The current mood of Scottish nationalism is a dangerous mood. It is a mood that breeds on the unemployment situation. It wraps it all up in the emotional nationalism; and the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, said that in Scotland we arc all nationalists. But I hope that this is not true. I hope that we are all patriots, but not necessarily nationalists. There is a growing contempt for the democratic processes and this also is a part of the nationalist upsurge.
Consider their propaganda, my Lords. In the current difficult economic situation they cover the country with posters declaring:Will you be a rich Scot or a poor Briton?The balance of payments is an English problem.England wants your oil without paying for it.All these slogans are extracts from the current propaganda material and posters which are appearing throughout Scotland. Perhaps the most objectionable of all was the one referred to by the Secretary of State in the debate in the other place. A large poster appeared on the hoardings depicting a rather pathetic old lady under the heading: "It's her oil "; and announcing that last year in Scotland 5,000 old persons died from hypothermia, linking the relationship of ownership of oil to that startling statistic, when in fact nine people died in Scotland from hypothermia last year. Here we have some indication of the distortion on which Scottish nationalism now bases its propaganda.
In the discussion in this House, I am afraid that as we have sought to sell the Assembly idea we are perhaps claiming too much for the Assembly by suggesting that it will make some substantial contribution towards solving the economic problems that I have just outlined. We must be perfectly truthful about this. The state of the economy in Scotland will always be closely linked to the general condition of the United Kingdom economy, and there is no escaping that. The Scottish Development Agency, with its resources, imagination and good management will not escape from that. Neither can we escape from that fact by 995 any type of economic separation such as is suggested by the Scottish Nationalists.
Far from the balance of payments being an English problem, between 1961 and 1971 the adverse balance of payments situation in Scotland was around 10 per cent. per annum. At its very highest the adverse balance of payments figure in England in 1964 was 2.6 per cent. It is commonly argued that if only we were separated from England all kinds of exciting economic developments would take place. England, and our association with England, is not a drag on Scotland. From 1974 to 1975 the identifiable public expenditure from the National Exchequer, excluding nationalised industries, in Scotland was £636 per head; in Wales it was £578 per head; and in England it was £545 per head.
Thus the association with England is one which benefits the Scottish people by subsidy and Treasury assistance. The Scottish Nationalists argue that if only we had our own oil we would slow down the depletion rate and therefore spread the life of this finite resource. To slow down the development of North Sea oil would make much of the North Sea oil investment totally uneconomic. The people who have invested millions in the North Sea would expect a reasonable return on that investment, and it would make many of the marginal fields in the North Sea totally uneconomic to spread he investment over so long a period as is suggested. Far from encouraging and benefiting from North Sea development, the Scottish Nationalists' economic plan would seriously frustrate North Sea development.
I am reasonably familiar with the nationalised industries. I sit on the board of one of the nationalised industries, and let me tell your Lordships that it would cause no heartache in 222 Marylebone Road if a Scottish devolved organisation, Assembly or Government, were to remove the Scottish railways from the BRB network. Let me tell your Lordships that it would cause no heartache to the National Coal Board if the uneconomic Scottish pits were removed from the National Coal Board's central finances. It could also be said, in relation to steel which is essentially a large and integrated industry. It would make economic nonsense to split 996 a Scottish Steel Corporation from the national network.
Therefore in looking at these problems we must denounce this propaganda and its influence in Scottish politics. I am worried that, having created an Assembly on the assumption that it is to solve some of these problems, which it cannot, there will be considerable disillusionment and despair which could lead to two things: a further decline in respect for democratic government and a greater demand for separation. So we should be warned at this stage not to claim too much. The whole debate may divert us from the problems we should be facing in this country if we are to survive. It may intrude considerably on Parliamentary time and it may not strengthen the national will for survival which is so essential in the present situation. So the main Parties have a major responsibility to face that situation calmly and courageously.
Perhaps we can derive some comfort from the fact that when a group of responsible politicians in Scotland and in the United Kingdom got together during the European referendum against the marshalled forces of the Scottish Nationalists, the Nationalists were routed in Scotland. It may be that there is a lesson in this for us. If we get together as reasonable people and present the problems in a real sense, without the emotion, excitement and distortions of nationalism, perhaps we can plan a reasonable Assembly in Scotland.
Much has been said about the weaknesses of the White Paper by many speakers more experienced than I. I must confess that I am attracted to the idea of proportional representation for the new Assembly, for a variety of reasons. Like the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, I lived in Germany during the Weimar Republic and I do not think the destruction of the Republic was entirely due to the fact that they applied a system of proportional representation. There were a whole lot of other more fundamental reasons for that situation.
I am delighted to see that the White Paper provides for the Executive being strengthened if "strengthened" is the word (it is not the word in the White Paper) by outside members of the Executive who are not necessarily elected to the Executive. I think this may be a 997 very useful innovation in government. I am interested in the block grant arrangements, because at the moment you build up your claim for a block grant and the Treasury pays on certain demands for agriculture, housing and what have you, and the block grant is made. I wonder on what basis the block grant will be calculated to give freedom to the Assembly, once they get the block grant, to establish priorities after that. I am interested in the procedure by which the block grant will be made.
I accept that if we are to have so much devolution as is promised, there is a doubtful case for retaining the same number of Members of Parliament down at Westminster. I would look again at the problems of the fact that agriculture is a non-devolved business and is the responsibility of the Secretary of State, although it appears that forestry, with which I am somewhat familiar, is substantially devolved. I think there are areas there which ought to be clarified. The question of ultra vireshas been discussed at great length. It is not only a question of the Central Government questioning whether the laws passed by the Assembly are in order but also whether the private citizen will be able to take action in the courts regarding such legislation as to whether it is in fact ultra vires.
I want finally to say that we must be very careful in our enthusiasm for the Assembly and in talking about giving it teeth, running the economy and so on. I should imagine that the relationship between the SDA and the National Enterprise Board will probably he more important than its relationship with the Assembly, because the Scottish economy is part of the entire United Kingdom economy, and to decentralise it in this kind of way may not be to our advantage. We have benefited greatly from being -Dart of the United Kingdom economy; we have benefited greatly from the regional policies which have been built up on the highly moral principle of:From each according to their ability, to each according to their need,and I should have thought that that kind of moral principle might be more acceptable than some of the narrow and selfish propaganda of current nationalism.
I hope that, through the debates which have taken place, we in this House will 998 develop some sense of the responsibilities which we carry in working out this new development in constitutional government. I hope that we will do it wisely, and I hope that we will do it with a sense of consensus among all parties, determined to see that whatever instrument we create is efficient, democratic, and will enhance the respect for democratic government.
§ 6.44 p.m.
§ The Earl of CROMARTIE
My Lords, on 18th December 1974, I had the honour to move a Motion in your Lordships' House on Scottish devolution, and I think we had a very constructive debate. Since then much has happened, a lot of it of a very negative nature. A White Paper has been produced which, in my view, does not in its present form meet the needs and aspirations of the Scottish people. A Scottish Parliament, properly elected and with fair representation, should be set up in Scotland within the framework of the United Kingdom. It should have the power to levy its own taxation and decide where and how this should be spent.
We have been inundated by some Members of Parliament with observations of a kind which can be described only as scaremongering; for example, the consistently repeated phrase about being on the slippery slope to separatism; about Customs posts at Gretna, and rubbish of a similar kind. Not least—I am sorry to have to say this because I have not come across this oil question in the North, about which the last speaker, an old friend of mine, spoke so well—very few Scots people that I know (and there are a lot of them) would dream of saying that they should have 100 per cent. of the North Sea oil supplies. It is a political gimmick. Scotland should certainly have a fair share; and, in order to ensure this allocation, it should not be left entirely in the hands of Westminster. In my view, such remarks have no useful purpose; the one thing which would ensure eventual separation would be the inability of either of the major Parties to keep their word. I realise that the public do not place too much reliance on political promises, but in this case I think that to go back on what has been definitely promised—that is, an elected body with full powers—would be disastrous. This has been 999 brought before the public by the admirable and honest speech of the recent Leader of the Conservative Party in another place.
Of course, it is not appreciated by the majority of people South of the Border that there were two Parliaments under the Crown from 1603 to 1707, sadly be devilled by religious bigotry, which was the basic cause of the difficulties of this period. The Act of 1707 united the Parliaments. My ancestor at the time played some part in this. The perpetuation of the Office of the Secretary of State is surely absurd given a proper Scottish Parliament. To keep this Office means yet another increase in the hordes of civil servants who now burden the country, and is completely unnecessary, provided a Scottish Parliament has its own civil servants. I dislike the word "Assembly", which normally applies to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, so why not call it a Parliament and, at the same time, do away with the unattractive idea of referring to its Leader as the Chief Executive? There is no shadow of doubt that unless there is a separate Scottish Civil Service there will be a continual tug-of-war between Edinburgh and Westminster, because no man can serve two masters.
As the White Paper stands, those who are against devolution have a viable argument—namely, that Scotland will be grossly over-governed and, therefore, overtaxed—but this supposes that we are going to retain the ridiculous set-up we have created, much too soon, by the reorganisation of our local government. The regional councils as now set up should be abolished and a single tier established to replace them, possibly based on the existing districts; but this is not to say that the areas of these districts could not be expanded. I would make an exception here of the Western Isles Islands Council, which is in an entirely different position, and it seems reasonable that it should retain its organisation. I think the public would be only too grateful to see a change in this direction. Nowhere do I find any support for this regional set-up, except, of course, among those who have discovered a bonanza and those who have managed to build up an even greater bureaucracy than existed before. The regions are apt to be remote, 1000 services to the public have deteriorated and the costs have increased astronomically, although I quite appreciate that part of this increase is due to inflation.
My Lords, the question of defence would be a mutual affair, perhaps with an agreed grant from the Scottish Authority to Westminster. One feels that the block grant system could be used as political blackmail, and for this reason Scotland should have its own Treasury. The Scottish universities should be controlled by the Scottish Parliament, and it might also be of benefit if all the responsibilties of the Scottish courts should be devolved on the Scottish authority. It must be remembered that under the Act of Union, Scottish law was to be kept separate; and in many respects it still is. The question of appeal to the House of Lords could also be considered as it might be preferable to put this also into the hands of a Scottish Parliament, but with a right of final appeal to the Crown. In my view, it is of paramount importance that a nationalised industry should come within the jurisdiction of the Scottish authority. In the White Paper, the Assembly is not given any responsibility for consultative councils which means that if Scotland is not given control, the Scottish Parliament has no power to criticise any nationalised industry. Also, I think one of the bad apsects of the White Paper is that one of our principal industries, agriculture, is not mentioned.
My Lords, I return to another criticism of devolution; namely, that the Highlands as well as other great areas out with the central industrial belt of Scotland would be dominated owing to the numbers in these areas. It was for this reason that in my own Motion a year ago and in the Conservative Party discussions on the matter some form of proportional representation was recommended. There could be and possibly should be, other safeguards for these areas whose ways of life and people are in some cases very different. Perhaps sometimes too much is made of this difference. I believe that Scotland is perfectly capable of governing itself without endangering friendly co-operation with those South of the Border. Again, I would say that more damage is done on this score by those who slam any idea of real devolution. It might be salutary if the Government were to look at the 1001 1926 Government of Scotland Bill which in many ways reflects the views of those of us who want devolution but not separatism.
My Lords, I think the statement is questionable that the White Paper covers very wide fields of government. The White Paper refers to the need for a constant and coherent pattern of government. In the last 30 years under the two-Party system, with each change of Government, half the effective time and money has been spent on undoing what the previous Government have done. To maintain unity the same exchange rate should exist within the United Kingdom but, as I have said, there should be separate Treasuries. This would involve a change in taxation rate or a change in public expenditure or a differential in the investment grant. This is an exercise conducted in a most satisfactory manner both in Germany and in Canada without any talk of separation. Finally, I would appeal to all politicians to try to avoid emotive catch-phrases which do nothing to help forward a devolution policy that has been part of the Manifesto of all political Parties.
§ 6.53 p.m.
§ Lord SHINWELL
My Lords, it is significant that in the course of this debate—and to use the language of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, in his remarkable speech yesterday, it is a debate; not altogether controversial but nevertheless associated with a measure of contention—that there has been hardly a murmur of Party strife. That is all to the good and, moreover, despite the contradictions and disagreements—we have had a typical example in the two speeches by the noble Lords who preceded me—there remains a consensus of opinion that whatever happens, whether the acceptance of the White Paper or a modified form of White Paper embodied in a future piece of legislation, the integrity (by which I mean the unity) of the United Kingdommust remain. That, in my judgment, is essential and any attempt to disrupt it must be resisted with all the strength, power and influence at our command. To do otherwise would be to place the future of our children and grandchildren and the future of our society in jeopardy.
Not a single problem that confronts Scotland or Wales—and many have been 1002 mentioned in the course of our debate—is incapable of solution; and this without recourse to the proposals in the White Paper. To take an example, a few minutes ago we had a speech from a Welsh representative, the noble Lord, Lord Maelor. He made two complaints in the course of his speech. One concerned the impoverishment of the hill farmers; the other the interference with the water supply in Wales by some parts of English territory. Neither of those problems need remain unresolved. It requires a measure of co-operation, co-ordination and understanding; but there is no need for a Welsh Assembly in order to find a solution.
The same applies to the situation in Scotland. Perhaps here I might introduce a personal note. In the year 1918 at the Election I stood as a candidate for Parliament. In my Election address was contained the proposal for Scottish Home Rule. There was an additional item: prohibition. Now it may be thought that prohibition was an irrelevance. But it was subsequently discovered in the Election of 1922, particularly in the Election at Dundee, that a prohibitionist was able to secure a majority of votes against one of the outstanding statesmen of the time, Winston Churchill.
We can dismiss the subject of prohibition and concentrate on Scottish Home Rule. What was the purpose of Scottish Home Rule at the time? It began in the 'eighties of the last century, inspired by a Liberal M.P., Robert Cunningham Graham, a descendant of Scottish kings, the Laird of Gartmore, supported by William Morris, by Keir Hardie and later by Ramsay MacDonald, who became the first Secretary of the Scottish Home Rule Association. What was its purpose? A Scottish Assembly? —there was never a mention of it. The proposals embodied in the White Paper never occurred to them. Its purpose was more employment, less unemployment, the registration of unemployed and the provision of benefits in the form of a doleor some other method, and the removal of squalor-connected slumdom which was characteristic not only of the urban centres in Scotland but right throughout Scotland, particularly in the Highlands, at that time. The purpose of Scottish Home Rule was criticism of 1003 the Government of the day. That criticism of Governments on one side of the political fence or the other has remained ever since.
What was the purpose, the cause, of this debate? What is the purpose of the White Paper? What is the answer to that? It is this: the belief in certain political circles that the SNP in Scotland, having managed to secure 11 seats at the last Election, may obtain a larger number of seats and thus threaten the supremacy of the political Parties. That is what it is all about. If there had been no fear of the ascendancy of the SNP there would have been no need for the White Paper; it would never have been mentioned. Of course, the question of Scottish autonomy would remain; it has been with us all the time. Indeed, as we heard from the notable speech by the noble Lord, Lord Home of the Hirsel, yesterday—a speech of high distinction—first of all there was the creation of a Scottish Secretary of State—that was a concession to Scottish sentiment—and later there was the creation of the Scottish Grand Committee.
The only mistake made by the Government at that time was to inject into the Scottish Grand Committee a number of English MPs. If that Scottish Grand Committee had consisted exclusively of Scottish Members, and if those Scottish Members on two or three days of the week were properly paired, according to the procedure of another place, and had repaired to Edinburgh, to St. Andrew's House or whatever habitation was available before the creation of St. Andrew's House, to discuss Scottish questions and deal with Scottish Bills, it would have destroyed, if not completely, much of the sentiment that developed in connection with Scottish Home Rule.
How are we to deal with the problem now? What are the problems in Scotland? Unemployment, impoverishment, the lack of investment, the need for further industrial development, the development of agriculture, the condition of those in the Highlands who are unable to find gainful employment in industry. These are some of the problems. None of these problems could be solved by the creation of an exclusive Scottish Assembly. The problems would still remain because they are problems 1004 associated not only with Scotland but with England and Wales and, indeed, as we see at the present time, with almost every industrial country in the world. They are symptomatic of a world crisis.
I am going to make a suggestion about how we can deal with problems which face our country at present and assist our Scottish friends to gain much of what they want. First of all, I believe their criticism is directed solely against the Government. They are disillusioned; the Government are incapable of solving their problems. Before this White Paper and its proposals are embodied in legislation there may be another Election, as a result of which we may have another type of Government. That Government will still have to deal with the problems to which I have just referred which exist in Scotland and other parts of England, and of course in Wales. They will have to counter the opposition of the trade unions; there will be very little time left to deal with the problem of devolution, and even if they sought to deal with it, and succeeded in resolving some of the problems of government in Scotland. England and Wales, there would be plenty of trouble left untouched.
Some suggestions have been made about the type of Government that will exist if a Scottish Assembly is created; for example, that there should be proportional representation. It has been suggested and rejected before that what this country needs for several years ahead in order to create confidence in the country is not Party Government but a Coalition Government derived from a change in the electoral system—proportional representation of one form or another, the single transferable vote, or the alternative vote, or a list provided from which the electors can pick and choose according to their political opinions—in order to create what is essential at the present time above all else, a measure of confidence. Let us be frank, truthful and objective about it, whatever our political inclinations may be, there is a lack of confidence; there is no conviction in the country at all, even in the initimate circles of the political Parties, that any single Party is capable of solving our problems in the foreseeable future.
It may be thought that what I have just suggested derives from proposals made by the Liberal Party or that had 1005 been suggested in the course of our discussions yesterday and today. But in point of fact when I ventured to nave a book published in November 1973 there was an epilogue which I provided, not as a final word but for the purposes of debate. I suggested proportional representation and an eventual coalition as a possible means of approach—no more than that—to a solution of our problems.
In 1970 in this Chamber, while I did not go so far as to suggest a coalition, I offered the opinion that if Mr. Heath, who was then Prime Minister, would approach Mr. Wilson, the Leader of the Opposition, and Mr. Thorpe, the Leader of the Liberal Opposition, for the purposes of co-operation, together with a coalition with the CBI and the TUC and perhaps some representatives from the finance houses in the City of London and elsewhere, as might have been found necessary, it would have created a confidence that has been missing ever since. When Mr. Wilson came to power with a Labour Government in 1974, I made a similar suggestion in this Assembly; namely, that Mr. Wilson should approach Mr. Heath, who was then still the Leader of the Opposition, Mr. Thorpe and the other bodies I have mentioned for the purposes of achieving co-operation, even if it did not represent a coalition.
I have now come to the definite conclusion that a coalition is the only possible way out for the foreseeable future. I believe this is more essential than the proposals embodied in the White Paper or, as some noble Lords have suggested, a constitutional conference with the right honourable Speaker of another place in the chair—in other words, a repetition of previous conferences of a similar kind. These are irrelevancies. What is wanted in this country is a Government representing all the political Parties, not excluding minorities, which will give to the electors in England, and not only in Scotland and Wales, some conception of what is passing through the minds of millions of our people in the country, namely, that single political Parties do not represent the way out. It requires a co-ordinated and co-operative representation of political opinions of every possible kind.
I suggest we should have that in place of the White Paper. Indeed, I follow the line that was taken by the noble and 1006 learned Lord the Lord Chancellor and my noble friend the Leader of the House, who both declared in the course of their speeches that the White Paper was not the final word. I want that to be emphasised. I want the final word to be: "Forget all about it! "It is an irrelevance It will not solve the problems of the Welsh or the Scottish people or those of the people of the County of Durham, who have as much right to self-government as the people of Scotland or Wales. They have similar problems. I should like to recount them: vast unemployment, still far too much poverty and not enough investment, too much squalor and too many slums—precisely the same problems as are to be found in others of our urban centres. I do not want them to be excluded from any possibility of social and industrial improvements.
Therefore, I have not ventured to speak very much about devolution, except to say that I see no reason why we should embark on that particular adventure at the present time but rather that we should concentrate on something which is essential. Before I sit down, may I put the question in this way: What is it the country wants? Is it the sentiment, emotion, outbursts, the hysteria, the euphoria that are now exemplified by what is now going on in Scotland, as was mentioned by my noble friend Lord Taylor in his speech a few moments ago? It is just complete nonsense, a load of rubbish. What is it the people want? I understand what they want. Consider the workers in Glasgow or in other parts of Scotland where steelworks have been closed or are about to be closed down, and where there is to much unemployment already. If you ask them what they want as you go along a Glasgow street or visit public houses, they will say, "We want jobs; we want good wages; we want security." This is what they want. You ask them: "Do you really want what is contained in the White Paper? "Their answer is "No".
But there is a section in Scotland which wants something else. What is it that those people want? I will tell your Lordships. They want more authority, they want power and they want prestige. That is what nationalism means. That is what it has always meant. Often it has led to revolutions and massacres. More often than not, it has led eventually 1007 to chaos. I reject it, and so I want your Lordships to concentrate on the essentials and the indispensables. We must make clear to the country as a whole that what we, the Peers who can speak and argue and contend objectively, want is a Government who are fully and wholly representative of the opinions of people throughout the country, whoever they are and whatever they are; in other words, dismiss the White Paper! In my opinion, if there is just one thing contained in it which is worth while it is the simple statement that Peers would be entitled to stand for election to the Assembly. That was the only item in the White Paper that I found attractive; there was nothing apart from that. As for the rest—no matter what the Labour Party will say about me because that does not concern me a bit—it is just a load of rubbish and the sooner we forget about it, the better it will be.
§ 7.17 p.m.
§ Lord LYELL
My Lords, after such a momentous contribution from my noble friend (if I may so call him) Lord Shin-well, I must adopt a more humble tone. I must begin by apologising for my absence yesterday during a large part of the debate. However, I have listened today to the deliberations of your Lordships and I shall continue listening to them on into the night.
We have been privileged to hear many excellent and probing speeches in the two days during which this debate has been under way. It is fitting that I should intervene very briefly because I should like to ask the Government what steps they are proposing to take through this White Paper, when they say that they are seeking to provide better Government for the citizens of the United Kingdom, with any decisions which affect Scotland or Wales taken, as far as possible, in those two countries, while at the same time retaining the United Kingdom in its present form. I think it is inconceivable to at least 80 per cent. of the Scottish people and, I would suggest, to the entirety of the rest of the United Kingdom that any citizens of that United Kingdom should at any time, whether now or in the future, require passports or be made subject to Customs regulations when travelling across our frontiers.
1008 Last week and in the week before I heard in another place proposals such as these put forward as possible statements of fact for the future. I understand that they might become necessary. This I believe to be totally impossible. I believe that it is not wanted by the population of the United Kingdom, and it is certainly not wanted by Scots. Yet unless this House and another place can effect a reasonable form of devolution, I believe that we shall find ourselves in that situation. Customs barriers and frontiers are admitted by the Scottish National Party as possibly being necessary. Their policies and Manifesto are geared to what they say is a gradual approach, yet we here are pressed to find the form of devolution which will satisfy the biggest majority in Scotland, as well as in the rest of the United Kingdom.
Almost every speaker in this debate has referred to the position of the Secretary of State for Scotland in the Cabinet of the United Kingdom Parliament, and I would ask the Government whether they regard as workable their scheme as set out in the White Paper, because I believe, as do many of my fellow Scots, that any Assembly and any chief executive, or for want of a better name, premier or any other person who heads such an Assembly, is bound to clash with the Secretary of State at Westminster.
Any Assembly which is set up to provide the proper and due consideration of legislation which is unique to Scotland must be effective. Two examples of what can be termed the legislative log-jam which is at present endemic, and two measures which have not received due consideration here at Westminster, are, first, the law of divorce in Scotland; and, secondly, the licensing law. The entire law in Scotland has a unique flavour, but I do not believe it is inimical to the legal framework of the United Kingdom, and there is every reason why Scots should he able to settle internal affairs when they are subject to closer and more exacting scrutiny than is permitted by the sheer weight of United Kingdom legislation and the time available here.
Earlier this month it was suggested during the debate in another place that the desire for better government, which is felt all over the United Kingdom—and let us not forget that, my Lords; it is felt in Scotland and Wales, but it is also 1009 felt in the regions of England, as well as in Northern Ireland—emanates from the huge amount of legislation which threatens to overwhelm all of us here and in another place. I think noble Lords will tend to agree with me on this score, particularly when we cast our minds back 12 or 13 weeks and to earlier than that, when we had to come back for what was known as the "overspill week". That is just one small example of the terrifying weight of legislation which has grown here at Westminster.
The White Paper provides a start—I would not go further than that—in our search for better government; not for more costly government, not necessarily for more powerful government, but for a system in Scotland where the log-jam of legislation can at least begin to be cleared. It may take two or three years or even longer, but I hope that some form of devolved power can be given to Scotland and, if necessary, to Wales—but that is something for Welshmen to decide and I do not think I should cross those frontiers—because I believe that devolution is at least a start.
In his magnificent speech yesterday, my noble friend Lord Home said, "Nothing ventured, nothing gained ". I think that for Scotland an Assembly is a major risk. First, more often than not, it is likely to find itself in opposition to the Government and the Secretary of State here at Westminster. Secondly, sooner rather than later, it is likely to feel that it wants to spread its wings and wants greater powers than could rightly be granted by a United Kingdom Parliament. Can we expect honourable Members of another place, representing English and Welsh constituencies, to allow their Scottish colleagues to devolve responsibility on many issues to an Assembly over which the United Kingdom Parliament has what I believe will be decreasing control? Thirdly, we hope and expect that when the Assembly is set up it will attract men and women of the highest calibre. Such a wish was expressed by the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, earlier today. I hope that such people will feel that they can do a worth while job and give a worth while amount of service to their respective communities.
Yet I feel that the more effective is this Assembly, the stronger will become the case for more autonomy; and not necessarily 1010 concerning merely the devolved subjects set out in the White Paper, and in earlier reports and discussion papers. I do not necessarily believe that an Assembly will be satisfied with a mere sub-ordinate role in the United Kingdom Parliament here at Westminster. It seems to me that the more effective the Assembly becomes, and the higher the quality of its members, the faster will grow the feeling that Scotland can run her own affairs.
This is a view which is already held by the Scottish National Party who are on record as saying in their Manifesto in October 1974 that they are in favour of breaking up the United Kingdom and reassembling the nations, as they call them, "in an imaginative scheme for an association of British states ". They say that they wish to obtain Commonwealth status for Scotland. Do they wish to go further and obtain the status, which is not Commonwealth but something unique, of Eire? I just wonder. This is a terrible danger.
We hear a great deal about the slippery slope towards separatism, and it is that danger which haunts me and which, I believe, sits in front of us here when we are discussing the problem of devolving powers to the outlying areas, and indeed to the other nations of the United Kingdom. I do not believe that this proposed Commonwealth status proposed by the Scottish National Party, or the status of Eire, is what 80 per cent. or more of the Scottish people want, but it may happen. I believe that it may happen if the concept of the unitary State continues. It may happen if an Assembly is successful.
We are assured that a strong and meaningful Assembly will prevent the break-up of the United Kingdom as we know it, and this proposition is put forward by the proponents of devolution. The opponents of devolution, and the supporters of the unitary State as it is at the moment, tell us that the whole argument is not necessarily about devolving power—the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, put this very succinctly—but is about economics, jobs, the education of people's children, housing and, in many places, law and order. I consider that this latter argument is entirely valid. Yet the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, earlier today, and the noble Earl, Lord Perth, yesterday, pointed out that economic and political centralisation has done much to bring about the 1011 feeling of remoteness which many Scots feel when they consider their whole way of life.
But it seems to me very probable that centralisation will occur even with a Scottish Assembly. Can anyone who proposes a powerful and strong Assembly honestly say that the headquarters of the British National Oil Corporation, or of a Scottish National Oil Corporation, should not be situated in what I regard as the oil capital of Europe—Aberdeen? But, no, my Lords, we find that it is to be situated in Glasgow, and I submit that it is most likely to be there under a Scottish Assembly, purely for electoral reasons. That is one example to show that, in one respect, we shall be no better off with an Assembly. We heard other examples from the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, who pointed out that there might be great delight among various nationalised industries in devolving their problems, possibly in unprofitable Scottish pits or unprofitable Scottish railway lines, into the lap of an Assembly and some other authority way beyond their frontiers. I believe that this could be absolutely disastrous.
Further, I should like to support the noble Earl, Lord Perth, in his expression of misgiving about the responsibility of the Secretary of State for the Scottish Development Agency. I believe that noble Lords will agree that such a body is a natural focusing point, together with the Scottish Council for Development and Industry, for any industrial reorganisation which I believe has to take place within Scotland. It is both logical and right that such bodies should put their viewpoints and be answerable to an Assembly in Scotland.
It may not be possible to maintain that only the Scots are capable of curing the ills within Scotland, but the assistance needed for the reorganisation of Scottish industry and, indeed, the Scottish economy will be forthcoming both from the block grant and from a share of the oil revenues that accrue to the United Kingdom Treasury. The noble Lord, Lord Home of the Hirsel, yesterday provided the fascinating suggestion—at least, it was imaginative—that the Assembly should be allowed to raise its own tax and he proposed a sales tax; yet the 1012 White Paper stresses that the United Kingdom Parliament should be responsible for taxation.
I agree that there can be no obstacle to Scotsmen taxing themselves more than the rest of the United Kingdom, but I believe that the people of Scotland will neither thank nor bless politicians, particularly Scottish politicians, who offer them better government at a greater cost to them than to their fellow citizens in the rest of the United Kingdom, just as part of a devolved Assembly. This will be a burden for all Scottish politicians and we shall have to look at it. I do not believe that there is a great deal of latitude in terms of the financial considerations for the Assembly.
Centralised governmental expenditure is already far too heavy and a matter of Party debate. The White Paper merely suggests a surcharge on local authority taxation in Scotland known as "the rates", and there is no more emotive word to mention to any businessman or house owner in Scotland. It is the financial aspect of the Assembly's power which causes me the most apprehension, since I cannot imagine that the Assembly will be satisfied for very long with financial and other powers so restricted as those in the White Paper. Nevertheless, it is fitting that the Assembly should have control over the emphasis of public expenditure in Scotland and the priorities accorded to, let us say, housing or education.
Yesterday, the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, pointed out that the pattern of Scottish house ownership is entirely out of balance with the pattern in the rest of the United Kingdom. Certainly this problem cannot be laid at the door of Union with England. It is unrealistic to expect the United Kingdom Parliament to grant to Scotland enormous subsidies to cure this ill. Such subsidies, over and above the block grant, together with Scotland's share of oil revenues, would be totally unrealistic. This is one major problem that the Assembly will have to face. This aspect of housing is only one example of the problems which will be thrown at the Assembly under the heading of "Devolved Powers "; there will be others—and major ones.
It is right that I should be brief because already I have taken up more of 1013 your Lordships' time than anybody could have wished. The White Paper is a vehicle for discussion and I believe that this Parliament has been charged with improving the system of government everywhere within the United Kingdom. All Parties here are united in their desire to provide better government, but I repeat that disenchantment with national government can be claimed as being the result of the inability of the United Kingdom Parliament to restrain the Executive from treating it as a machine for processing measures which arc at once both remote and suffocating. I believe that the economic problems endemic to Scotland can and should be solved in Scotland by Scots. The United Kingdom wants to help and is waiting to hear from us what it can do to help Scotland. Sadly, the Scottish people believe that we politicians have failed to speak up adequately for their interests, and it is incumbent upon us to give that lead. Let this White Paper be the basis for an efficient form of discussion.
In conclusion, I may surprise your Lordships when I say that at least twice a year, and sometimes more, my emotions run high. I feel a terrible envy, anger, rage and fury at anybody and anything which comes from England. I hate those three lions. When I see just one lion on a yellow background, that is good and everything else is bad, in particular anything to do with England. I am far more of a Nationalist than anybody down the corridor—and more so than quite a few of the politicians in Scotland. This happens only, I hope, at Wembley, or Twickenham, or at the other sports grounds. But sadly there are unscrupulous men and women who use these easily aroused emotions in all of us for political purposes, and I believe that we in this United Kingdom Parliament have to banish such emotions when we take note and, I trust, improve this White Paper.
§ 7.35 p.m.
§ Lord TANLAW
My Lords, I am about the fiftieth speaker in this debate and I hope that I shall be forgiven if I am showing signs of shell-shock or a similar disability. In this state of mind I have asked myself one question: how is it that in this sovereign Parliament of ours, which I believe has given new Parliaments, 1014 new constitutions and new Administrations to more than one-third of the world's population, should have been trying for the last two days to deal with 5 million disconsolate Scots? I should dearly like to follow the example of the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, and say that the whole of the White Paper is rubbish; let us do away with it. But unfortunately it is here.
I was most relieved that in opening our debate today the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor was able to reassure me about one matter which caused me concern at the end of the debate last night; namely, the view expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill, that the White Paper we are debating is of fairly rigid character and we can do very little about it. However, the noble and learned Lord has reassured all of us that there are many things which can be done and, indeed, should be done about this White Paper. I agree not only with the view of the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, regarding proportional representation but with his view that this debate has been brought about by far more deep and worrying problems than those which come under the headings in the White Paper. I, like many others, feel that all is not well with the present administration of Scotland and Wales and that all has not been well for some time. The difficulty—it occurred in the Kilbrandon Report—is to identify these areas of discontent.
The debate in another place as well as yesterday's debate in this House covered a very wide range of differing opinions, but all speakers felt that something must be done, and not just be seen to be done, to prevent a separatist State emerging in Scotland. The speakers included the noble Earl, Lord Minto, who, in a forceful and accomplished maiden speech, expressed his fear that further regionalisation of power would mean over government. The view was echoed by a number of noble Lords and, indeed, by speakers in another place. But one question which has not been asked is whether this view is reflected in the Civil Service. Regrettably, we are unable to hear their views in this Chamber.
I know very little about the workings of the Civil Service and can only turn to a document entitled Civil Servants and 1015 Change, which on page 23, under the heading "The Task Ahead ", says:Resources—both of manpower and of finance—are centrally controlled both within Departments and for the Service as a whole; this can hold back an immediate and flexible approach to problems as they arise, and resource allocations from the centre will not always fit the local sense of priorities.This pamphlet was written by themselves about themselves. I am afraid it is this factor that not only can hold back an immediate and flexible approach to local problems but has mainly created the conditions which have brought about this debate.
Put another way, my Lords, and to borrow a phrase from computer terminology, the local terminal points of the central Administration have had, and continue to have, a voracious appetite for forms, information, facts, figures and, above all, money from the public, but the output from the same points in terms of assistance, entitlement, grants and services in general is not proportionate to the input. What I am really saying is that the public in Scotland, England and Wales appear to feel that they are not getting their money's worth. This is an area of administration which needs immediate attention, regardless of the outcome of this debate, and I believe to some extent it can be rectified within the Civil Service themselves, providing they will continue to recognise the need for a more flexible approach to those who live on the periphery of their administration.
I should like now to move on to matters of perhaps great principle which are at stake in this White Paper, and indeed will be at stake in the setting up of a devolved Assembly. Many speakers have touched on them already therefore it is with some hesitation that I do so myself. But a debate in this House took place some 200 years ago in which similar principles were discussed to those we are discussing this evening. In that case they were trying to arrive at a decision on how to apply the American Stamp Act and I feel that it might be worth while, just for a moment at least, to hear what was said by two of those speakers. First, the noble Earl, Lord Camden, said at that time:Taxation and representation are inseparably united. God hath joined them, no British Parliament can put them asunder. To endeavour to do so is to stop our very vitals.1016 I agree with that statement in the context of the White Paper.
Later in that interesting debate the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, made an intervention which provided us with a genetic link at least to the noble and learned holder of that title who spoke last night in our debate, although I do not think he is with us today. In 1776 his distinguished ancestor said:A distinction has been taken between the power of laying taxes and making laws. I must declare, that after the most diligent searches on this head, I cannot find any distinction or difference whatever.I also agree with that.
In my opinion the White Paper is far from clear on these matters of what I have described as "deep principle ". Let us take taxation first. The powers of a directly elected Assembly man will turn out, if I understand aright, to be less than those of the most lowly borough councillor, who at least has the power to alter the rates. Furthermore, if the devolved Administration has no power to create a budget or budgetary forecast of expenditure, how will it be possible or practicable for the total sum of the annual block grant to match the next year's anticipated expenditure? The Government seem to imagine, if I am correct, that the extra power of the surcharge on the rates will only be necessary on rare occasions when the block grant proves to be inadequate. So far as I can see, the books are bound to be out of balance every year and, what is more worrying, the percentage surcharge would therefore be open to very wide variations, depending upon how wide that gap turned out to be.
Clearly, some power must be vested in the devolved Assembly other than the surcharge on rates as suggested, if it is to be fair and not open to intolerable fluctuations. Furthermore, the function and control of the SDA, which has been mentioned by other noble Lords, proper powers over Scottish housing, which again have been mentioned by other noble Lords, and agriculture must also be correctly placed in the power of our new Assembly. I mention agriculture because, if I understand him correctly, the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, seemed to indicate that the forestry element under the powers of the Assembly was quite enough for his particular interest but what I think may have escaped the 1017 authors of the White Paper is that many hill and upland farms are having to look towards integration—that is farm and forest integration—in order to protect themselves for the future, for a whole number of other technical reasons of survival, if no more; and I feel that the whole process of integration must be pursued with great speed if the hill and upland land and those who farm it are to have a proper, and indeed a surer, future than they have at the moment. I see this division of agriculture and forestry, as it will be bound to occur as these responsibilities are divided, as not assisting such policies of farm/forest integration which I believe to be so essential. I hope that the Government will reconsider this point in the light of the knowledge of those of us who try to practice this rather difficult occupation.
A number of other points on which I intended to speak have already been made by other noble Lords, so there is no point in making them yet again. I should like now to turn to the matter of legislation. As I see from paragraph 51, it is intended that the Assembly will be:free to amend or repeal existing law and to pass new laws of its own".This is a great step forward and it may relieve some of the areas of discontent that have arisen over the handling of some Scottish matters in another place, like the divorce law for Scotland and the provision for homosexuals in Scotland. Unfortunately, successive Governments have deferred proper discussion and debate on these very human problems, apparently through lack of time or by the use of procedural devices. I give these two examples simply because they are non-political in content and have, rightly or wrongly, left the impression North of the Border that the sovereign Parliament is not over-concerned with these matters. The unfortunate results of these delays merely add fuel to the more extreme voices of nationalism, which I think is unnecessary and I hope this will be looked at shortly.
To return to paragraph 51, it may be appropriate to mention at this stage that if a Scottish Parliament amends or repeals existing law and by so doing incurs the displeasure of the Government of the day at Westminster, no Minister of the Crown can threaten that Assembly as this House was threatened in the terms which were used last night in 1018 another place by the right honourable Minister concerned. The representatives of a Scottish Parliament will not take their seats by genetic accident or by the hand of patronage, as we do; they will be directly elected by the Scottish people, hopefully through the recommended system of proportional representation, and, what is more, they will be proud and jealous of their duties in the service of their country, as they have every right to be. I think that by the creation of an Assembly with the proper powers and with the undertaking and good will of the central Government, this will create a time of stability for Scotland.
On a further small point, it may be wise, while looking at the change in the voting system for the election of this Parliament, that the dates of election for the new Assembly in Scotland should coincide with local election dates, and preferably with General Election dates. Not only would this be a saving and economy, but a lot of the general public do not care for elections and I think it would be a great help to have them all on the same day. Indeed, they should possibly go for an extended period without interruption, because I believe it is one of the matters which can be easily rectified without any great political significance or disruption. But to business men alone, it would at least give some degree of confidence that there will not be any change of ideology and at least they can put down a five-year plan for Scotland or for Wales, or indeed for England, without the worry that another Party with views completely contrary to the Party that is in power will undermine their entire five-year plan because it was done on a wrong premise.
My Lords, I see no point in delaying your Lordships further. To conclude, the matters of principle I am trying to establish in this debate are very simple. The Government must indicate that if they accept that there can be no taxation without representation, they must surely accept that with a Scottish Assembly there can be no representation without taxation. By the same token, the Government must also accept that if the Scottish Assembly is empowered to pass new laws of its own, it must thereby possess the powers of laying taxes. Earlier I quoted the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield; like him, I can find no 1019 distinction or difference whatever between these separate powers.
§ 7.51 p.m.
§ Viscount MASSEREENE and FERRARD
My Lords, I cannot agree with the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, that the plight of hill farmers in Scotland is bad. I hill-farm in Scotland, and have tenants who also hill-farm. This last year the prices of lamb and of beef on the hoof were very good in the store markets; we receive good subsidies, so I cannot agree with the noble Lord on that. I should like to take up the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, when saying, "no taxation without representation ".
§ Viscount MASSEREENE and FERRARD
My Lords, no representation without taxation. We have taxation, but here in this House we have no representation. However, to get on with my speech, I am really a British "mongrel "—Scottish, Irish and English, and I am equally proud of all my bloods. So this is rather a sad day, and I hope very much that we are not witnessing an avalanche. I hope that an avalanche has not started, and that we will not devolve into fragmentation of the United Kingdom. We have handed away an Empire, most of it to anarchy, I am afraid for no better reason than Party politics. I would say that Party politics were chiefly responsible. I only hope to God that we are not now presiding over the dissolution of the mother country.
Where is all this going to end? One of the excuses of the Scottish Nationalists is that government is over-centralised in Whitehall; there is too much government. But let us consider: if we are to have a Government in Scotland, there will be district councils, regional councils, county councils. We are also to have elections to the European Parliament in 1978; we have Elections to Westminster. The whole thing will become top-heavy and very costly. For Wales and Scotland, if the proposals go through, the cost will be £150 million. I cannot talk about Wales at all because I know nothing about Wales. I am told it is a very beautiful country, but the only times I have been through Wales have been during the night 1020 when I was a boy, travelling on the Holy-head boat train. As I was always violently seasick on the crossing to Dublin, my memories of Wales are not very happy ones.
But Scotland is another matter. I can understand the frustration of the Scots. I can understand their frustration at the proceedings in the Scottish Grand Committee down here, because those proceedings are either never, or scarcely ever, reported. So, as I say, I can understand the frustration of the Scots. I think the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, made a good point when he suggested that instead of going into this vast expense, why cannot the Scottish Grand Committee go to Edinburgh, say for three days a week? Of course, the members of that Committee would have to work out a system of pairing, and I suppose there ought only to be Scotsmen sitting on that Committee. But I think that course would save much of the expense which would be incurred in setting up an Assembly.
My Lords, if one is going to set up an Assembly—and I am not very enthusiastic about that; in fact I am not at all enthusiastic about the White Paper —one must consider the powers given to that Assembly. If they do not like what the Assembly does, I do not think the Government in Westminster can say to the Assembly, "Oh no, you can't do that. That is not allowed. We will over-rule that." If you are devolving powers, they must be altered only by the courts. This must be a judicial matter. One must have a written constitution and, of course, in any argument over powers, there must always be present the question of the courts. I know the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said that there will be no question of the Westminster Government over-ruling the powers of the Assembly on Party political grounds. I am sure the noble and learned Lord and the Government that he represents would not do that. But Governments come and go, and there might be occasions when the decisions of the Assembly were over-ruled for political reasons.
Scotland has played a glorious part in the United Kingdom. She has a record of achievement out of all proportion to her population. I am amazed that so many Scots appear to want to weaken the links, while apparently quite a number of others want to completely sever those 1021 links. I was rather surprised to hear the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Cromartie. I cannot agree with him in a great deal of what he said. After all, Scotland only became united under the British Crown, and sometimes half in number of our Cabinet Members have been Scottish and Welsh. The power that Scotland receives through being a member of the United Kingdom is far greater in the councils of the world than if she were independent. They are greater than she could ever get if she were outside the United Kingdom. With her population of 5 million, if Scotland were independent she would have no voice at all in the councils of the world.
I must not speak for too long, but I should like to make a few more points. I repeat that Scottish people remember that they have only been united in their history a comparatively short time under the British Crown. Before that happened there was a lot of strife in Scotland. The Highlanders were not keen on the Lowlanders—they may have had good reason to feel that way. But the point is that if there were to be an Assembly as proposed in the White Paper, Scotland will be ruled by the Strathclyde Region and East Fife, and the Highlanders will not like that. Even now, the people in the Western Highlands are very upset about being in the Strathclyde area. Not all the Western Highlanders are upset, but those in the part in which I have a house feel that way. They are not happy about it. If, in the end, the White Paper becomes a reality, the situation will remain the same, but the Assembly will presumably have a lot more power.
My Lords, I will skip some of what I had intended to say because it has been said before. I was very interested to hear the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe. I only wish that what he said would be widely published in the Press, but as this House gets such very poor Press coverage it probably will not be. He was very much on the ball; the noble Lord always is, I am sure. He pointed out the great advantages that Scotland had had from England economically, and, of course, it is a fact. We have to remember that the Industrial Revolution came quite a long time after Union, and the two economies of Scotland and England are so integrated that 1022 you cannot tear them apart; I think it would be impossible.
As I have said, I do not like what is suggested in this White Paper. The noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, said that Scotland is disconsolate. I have not personally met many disconsolate Scots. I have met a lot of very young people who are quite excited by the idea of complete Scottish independence; it appeals to their emotions. I have also met other people who see in independence the chance of good jobs and advance in their personal ambitions. But on the whole I do not think that certainly the more wise of the Scots people want anything approaching independence. I agree that they might want some greater control over their affairs in Scotland. But why could it not be done through the local authorities? We have just set up this new organisation of local authorities. Could not the local authorities appoint members from all local government over Scotland to be members of a council and advise the British Government on what Scotland wants? The British Government would then be morally bound to put the recommendations into effect. Of course, it would be apart from such matters as defence and foreign affairs; I can think of no greater national matter than defence. It would save a great deal of expense and I think it would be more effective.
My Lords, I should like to sum up. This is a momentous question; it is an appalling decision to have to make. We have got to be terribly careful. I should have liked to see a great constitutional conference before any White Paper was produced. This may have been mentioned before, but if so, I have not heard it. I was away most of yesterday; I had permission, because I had something else to do which I could not avoid. Such a constitutional conference would have enabled every shade of opinion to be put; everybody who had anything to say of importance could really thresh it out. For this White Paper to have only been produced by the Government is not really good enough.
I shall end by saying that Scotland and the Scots are too important, too great a nation, to leave anything to chance. We must not be influenced at all by political expediency. I quite agree that votes in Party politics are important, but when 1023 the Constitution of a country is being decided, political expediency must be left out of it. Speaking of the Constitution, it would have to be a written Constitution, and personally I do not think it would be a bad idea if we had a written Constitution in the United Kingdom today. The unwritten Constitution has served this country well in the past, but you never know who will one day be in power in this country. If you have an unwritten Constitution, your freedom can go overnight. I must not go on with that; I have spoken too long anyway. I end by saying that I would ask Her Majesty's Government to scrap their White Paper and call an all-Party conference to discuss this matter.
§ 8.5 p.m.
§ Lord FERRIER
My Lords, I, for one, welcome the White Paper, no matter its shortcomings, especially as it was introduced yesterday with such a tolerant and constructive speech by the noble Lord the Leader of the House. The second paragraph in column 735 of yesterday's report will cover my point there. I agree with my noble friend Lord Polwarth, who spoke at 10.35 last night, and complained that the powers-that-be had allowed too little time for so vitally important a debate on a subject which the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, described as a major constitutional issue.
I listened to most of the speeches yesterday and have read those which I did not hear. But Hansard, of course, goes to bed at 10 o'clock. It went to bed after the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Wilson; eight speeches are not yet in your Lordships' hands and will not be until tomorrow morning, and they were important speeches. I followed them assiduously, though I admit I began to flag about midnight. As I said, the White Paper has certainly given us something to bite on, and that is why I welcome it, despite its somewhat confused reception along the corridor. But, of course, the real crunch will come when the relative legislation is laid before Parliament. It seems to me that one lesson that we have learned in this debate is that there had better be two Bills. I am not the first to say that. I think that seems to be one lesson; that is, one Bill for Scotland and one for Wales. Taking the two rather disparate problems to- 1024 gether, as we have done in this debate, has led to a somewhat disjointed discussion.
However, throughout the discussion there has been virtual unanimity that whatever happens the Union must not be broken. I say "virtually" because last night, in response to a specific challenge from my noble friend Lord Mansfield, the noble Lord, Lord Belhaven and Stenton, said categorically that the S.N.P. stands for ultimate separation, although he qualified it by saying "if only gradually ". This only confirmed what my noble friend Lord Balerno said in his forceful speech earlier on. This aspect is desperately serious. The state of opinion in Scotland is in some doubt, to my mind. Lord Kilbrandon in his excellent speech referred back to 1707, and stated that, if there had, four or five years later, been a plebiscite on the continuation of the Union, if it had been possible to take one, on both sides of the Border the reply would have been a resounding, "No ".
Be that as it may, I have recently been reading some papers about the reactions of a prominent Ayrshire family to the Rebellion of 1745. By that time, only some 30 years later, things had changed. Scotland, as a whole, did not support the Jacobites. Moderate men shied away from them. Militia units were formed on both sides of the Border to fight them. It was a British Army that won the battle of Culloden, not a purely English one. The trouble was that the severity of Cumberland's measures produced an array of martyrs. He so far disregarded Scottish moderates' pleas for leniency that he began to distrust everybody in Scotland and to treat all of them almost as rebellious. That is what led to the romanticising of the Jacobites by Carlyle, Scott and Stevenson. Some of this romantic element has rubbed off on the SNP, as was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe. It is this emotional aspect which is so dangerous, although conditions today are of course quite different from what they were 200 years ago.
Despite all the claims of the SNP, with their rather extravagant posturing, I feel confident that the great majority of sensible Scots folk really do not welcome the idea of separation. As the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, said, a lot of them do 1025 not even think about it; they are concerned with much more personal matters. The noble Lord, Lord Home of the Hirsel, said that to a referendum on the straight question, "Do you wish to be separated from England "—assuming the existence of an Assembly—the answer would be, "No".
But I say to myself: can we contemplate a plebiscite of any sort? I think not. In a letter from Mr. Adam Fergusson, published in The Times of 13th January, I think he demolished such a reference based on the Scottish electoral roll. I shall not go on with his details, in order to save time, but he pointed out the heterogeneous nature of the Scottish electorate. I go further and ask, "What about the opinion of Scots out with Scotland? Scots in England? Scots in Europe? Scots all over the world? "They are intensely concerned. I know something about them having spent more than thirty years abroad. Their views cannot be polled, though I think I know how they would vote. They are in a measure entitled to be consulted, being proud of their Scottish nationhood. Therefore, it seems to me that a referendum in any form cannot be a contribution to this problem.
This matter is one which Parliament must decide. Mr. Heath, in his important speech in the other place, said that we have to decide whether we are dealing with what he called a "passing whim ". Whatever we are dealing with, we must go very carefully. My noble friend Lord Kinnaird made this point in a notable and brief speech last night. Of course, it was a point not entirely in line with my noble friend Lord Balerno's feeling that we should be more urgent. I am reminded of the story of the stalker who got his rifle up to a stag which was browsing slowly towards the march, and he said, in a whisper, "Shoot, and take your time, but be quick about it!" I think that that ought to be our motto. However, it is well to remember, as we can see, that this matter of Scottish nationalism is a sensitive thing. I, for one, am proud of my British passport: "Place of birth, Edinburgh ". A sensible Englishman said to me the other day, "Until the Scottish Nationalists started their antics, I never thought of myself as an Englishman. I was just a Briton."
1026 I am not going to mention oil, because there are other people more competent than I to do that, and it has been referred to to a great extent. But I ask myself the question, "What happens if OPEC drop the world price? Where goes the bonanza? "In talking of that, I think again of the powerful speech just made by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, and to which the noble Viscount who spoke before me referred. He said, "We are all Socialists "; and I must say that we are not. I might as well say to him that we are all Unionists, because if anybody was a Unionist in his speech it was the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe.
It may be, as Mr. Heath said—and it has been said over and over again in this House in the last two days—that it is too late to reject the idea of an Assembly, though, of course, when the crunch comes it may be that such a scheme cannot be devised. Several noble Lords have said, "We don't want it ". Some of them, including the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, have said it in very firm terms. My noble friend Lady Elliot of Harwood, like myself, does not recommend the use of the word "Assembly". I think I am right in saying that my noble friend Lord Cromartie said the same thing. I should like it to be called a "Convention "which is more traditional in terms of Scotland.
But as well as the challenge of my noble friend Lord Mansfield to the noble Lord, Lord Belhaven and Stenton, another important point was raised late last night by the noble Earl, Lord Kintore, who talked about the position of your Lordships' House and suggested that all devolved legislation for a Scottish Assembly, or Convention, call it what you will, should be referred to the House of Lords as a Second Chamber. My recollection of what my noble friend Lord Mansfield said about that was that that is a matter which is of interest because the position of the House of Lords in regard to devolved legislation is not mentioned in the White Paper at all. As to the White Paper itself there is only one paragraph about which I am mystified, and that is paragraph 33. I should like that elaborated, which, of course, it will be when the Bill is drafted.
1027 I cannot conclude without a reference to the importance of the reporting of Parliament to Scotland by the media. Indeed, some of your Lordships—at least, one has already spoken to me about it—would be surprised if I did not refer to that. I am emboldened by the speech made by my noble friend Lord Selkirk earlier to go on about it. He said, "So many people are ignorant. Why are they ignorant? Why don't they know? "The ignorance of the ordinary people in Scotland on the workings of Parliament is abysmal. There is no question about it. The noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, admitted this, but there are many guid-going people who have no means of knowing about our proceedings. The Press does not provide them with reports of Parliament and the ordinary reports of the proceedings at Westminster should, I have maintained for years, be aligned to the far distant areas because they are possibly more important than the metropolitan ones.
I do not think that the people can be altogether blamed, because all sorts of silly things happen. For example, the other day I switched on the car radio to listen to a broadcast to schools. It was on Radio Scotland, and it was an excellent story about the history of the sheriffdom, but it was about the sheriff in England and had absolutely no application to Scotland. It was a wonderful talk, but if only it had begun or ended with a comment such as, "Listeners will have to realise that this does not refer to the sheriff in Scotland, who is a very different person", it would have been superb. In a programme on Friday, broadcast by Radio Scotland, called "Voice of the People "we had 55 minutes of fascinating exchanges in respect of the relationship between barristers and solicitors, but there was not a word about advocates; not a word about the fact that the system to which it referred did not apply to Scotland, where the legal system is different.
It is a pity that there is not a little more wisdom in matters such as this. If there were, it would all build up to provide information for people who are in search of it. I am tempted to tell the story of a very thrifty, guid-going, hardworking, skilful forester who was always after me to join the SNP. One day I 1028 said to him, "Jim, we have other things to worry about down in London. One of these days there may be a tremendous tide come up the river and flood the Houses of Parliament and flow into the Underground." He replied, "The whole ruddy lot can drown for all I care "—and who can blame him and others when they know so very little about what is going on here; that man had hardly ever been out of the country. We are dealing with people like this and that is why I have taken your Lordships' time to tell these stories.
On the subject of information, the noble Lord, Lord Balerno, and, in a measure, the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, referred to a lack of scruple in the conduct of the SNP. I must admit that I am embarrassed at Murrayfield over the fact that when God Save the Queen is played there are catcalls and whistles from a certain area, no matter how small, which is bad manners and can do the SNP no good. I have spoken to the noble Lord, Lord Belhaven and Stenton, about it and he said, "You can say that I absolutely dissociate myself from it ", and he thinks that most members of the SNP would also dissociate themselves from conduct of that nature. Of course, the remedy lies in our own hands; if only the band would play loud enough and properly—they always seem to be out of time with the stand—or perhaps if we sang it more loudly ourselves; or perhaps they could play it twice and we could bring in the verse about, "Confound their politics, frustrate their knavish tricks", we might be able to do something. Joking apart, this is a desperately serious matter and I feel that this debate has established that if a Convention which precludes any possibility whatever of secession cannot be established, then better have no Assembly at all. As I have said, the crunch will come with the Bills. Let us pray, and strive, to see that the issue will be approached with the utmost tolerance on all sides under the Crown.
§ 8.25 p.m.
§ Lord DAVIES of LEEK
My Lords, having listened to about 90 per cent. of the debate both yesterday and today, bearing in mind the succinct speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, and bearing in mind the remarks of the noble Viscount, Lord Massereene and Ferrard, 1029 who said he was proud of the triple flow of blood in his veins, I can only feel that when Parliament is grizzling, Parliament has itself to blame, at least somewhat, for the position in which we find ourselves. I refer to the way in which Parliament is denigrated in British life today. Those who expected that the world would speak to the world by way of television have been disappointed by what has occurred in the last 30 years. I recall, in the early 1920s, listening to broadcasts on the radio. I remember listening to the details of the General Strike. Later I thrilled at the sight of images appearing on the television screen. It has all not had the effect we expected. Nobody seems to be able to suffer a political discussion in depth.
If noble Lords will take a walk down the corridor they will find in the Library copies of The Timesdating back further than the Battle of Trafalgar. I was looking at a copy from a little earlier than the middle of the 19th century which told of how a fanatic outside Buckingham Palace slapped Queen Victoria in the face with a cane. Telling of that story, the headline was simple. Imagine the headlines that would appear these days in the Sunday newspapers; they would be bigger than that for the Second Coming. I mention this to illustrate how everything is thrown out of perspective and, with it, Parliament is losing out. Today we are concerned with big sport, which I love, having played rugby myself. But it is all out of place; everything seems to be out of proportion.
I listened with avidity and absolute interest to the speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, just as I frequently listen —I do not know whether other noble Lords do so, too—to his little chats on philosophy on BBC3. I do not want to sound pompous or condescending, but I enjoyed the talk on philosophy which the noble and learned Lord gave yesterday. I may not always enjoy listening to his politics, but I enjoy those little chats. I also enjoyed the opening speech yesterday by my noble friend the Leader of the House. Whatever we may say about the material world in which we live—I use Marghanita Lasky's famous phrase which she adopted in a series of three broadcasts she gave on the radio —unless we can trigger off some ecstacy 1030 which will enable us to adopt a spiritual and basic approach to our problems in this material world, there will not be much hope for economic and industrial man to have a kind of life that is much higher than that of the beasts. I do not want to make a treacly contribution to the debate. While I am not a good and devout Christian in the sense in which I am speaking, I am convinced that we are forgetting that to live a rich and full life, human beings must be able to trigger off this ecstacy in their political and other institutions.
I will try in the few minutes at my disposal to explain how we in Wales try to do that. I had intended to make a lengthy speech, but in view of the hour I will discard much of what I had intended to say. In speaking about the SNP, I do not want to trespass on Scottish affairs too much, but I have been around a bit and I am able to speak generally on the subject, just as other noble Lords have. When I pick up my Sunday newspapers I find that a by-election is about to take place in Strathclyde; the result will be known this week. Apparently George Leslie, a very able veterinary surgeon, is fighting it for the SNP, and it seems that all that the Tory candidate can say is that he hopes to make Labour third. What a wonderful aspiration with which to enter an election! This shows that the entire purpose of political Parties is confused. I took the trouble to make a note of what the Sunday Express said about the fight. This is what it reported about the SNP candidate:He is intelligent, cultured and articulate. He is a 39-year-old vet who is charming and is anything but a fanatic. He pays tribute when talking, with affection, of the English virtue of tolerance and decency.Mr. George Leslie is nevertheless asking for separation, not devolution. This is absolute political atavism. He says seriously that the day will inevitably come when Scotland will have its own army, its own currency and a seat at the United Nations.
I feel that, if there is to be an appeal by the SNP, the Scots people should know that that is the direction in which they wish to go. Or do they? Should there be a referendum on this? I do not want to be dogmatic, but I feel that we should try to find out because this is absolute nonsense. I agree with my noble friend 1031 Lord Shinwell that it is nonsense for them to talk like that. Take the oil, for instance. It is time for the world to know that a drop of oil is worth a drop of blood. The oil would be worth nothing if all they had to defend it was a little Scots army. I suppose they would then want to claim the nuclear bomb as well. When one looks into this in depth, it is pure nonsense and it is time that the British democratic system—and I say this as a Welshman—shouted about some of the gifts it has given to the world, for all its sins and errors.
I want the Scots and the Welsh and the Common Market—which I voted against, but that is another matter and I do not wish to become involved with that—to know that, had it not been for the tenacity of the British when they were all alone for 12 months with no Russians and no Americans and with nothing but the speeches of one Britisher whom they called Churchill, and had the frightened but courageous British people—Scots, English and Welsh—not held out while the beaches were there to be invaded, the entire history of Scotland would have been different as would have been the entire history of Wales, and we might have had a Hitlerite system of government or something like it in what we call our British democratic process. I want to know from the SNP whether Mr. George Leslie—bless him!—articulate, charming and a man who praises the virtues of tolerance and decency (I do not always do that), is speaking for the SNP. If so, the Government should know exactly what to expect from the White Paper.
I should like now to go back to the subject of Wales. Not many people have spoken about it and I have four or five points which I wish to deal with. One is the incubus of bureaucracy; another is the tiers of regionalism which are choking us. Then I wish to make some special references to paragraphs in the White Paper and to draw attention to something which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, and my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor pointed out. We in Wales have no legislative system. There is a difference between us and Scotland. We do not want it because ultimately we can get the English to do what we want with our own words, 1032 and there is therefore a completely different approach from the Scottish one.
My noble friend Lord Maelor, who is also a Welsh speaker, talked about our water being taken from us. But God does not recognise geographical factors. Ethnology is dominated by geography and by geology. The ethnological build of men living in the mountains is a barrel chest and thick thews, and this is so anywhere in the world from Greece to Switzerland to the Celts, wherever Celts may be. When one is talking about water, water depends on watersheds that cross man-made, linguistic, geographical and political frontiers. We must face that in Wales without grumbling and Scotland had better face the fact that, to them, water is much more important than oil. "There is no wealth but life ", said Ruskin in his famous essay Unto This Last. The sooner we learn that the first axiom of economics is not that all wealth comes from the land but that there is no wealth but life, the better. Water is much more important than oil in the sustaining of life. Scotland should realise that. When I was a kid, we had a great bonanza—and that is a word that I do not like because it spoils the rhythm of the beautiful English language—andwe had seas of coal in trucks outside Cardiff. One and a quarter million colliers, Scots, Welsh and East coast, cut coal and England lived on it as she lived on cotton. But that passed, just as the oil will pass. For any political Party to build itself up on any transitory economic asset at one point in its history shows a completely myopic outlook on history.
I believe that we should carry out some propaganda on the other side. We in Wales axe called mean. I thought Taffy was a Welshman, Taffy was a thief, but it is sheer greed to think that one nation can have the approach to oil, just as it would be to say that no ships can sail on the seas. I should like to point out that the biggest coastline in the world is that of Russia and that the Russians too have a right to have ships in the seas. Therefore, we, in a democratic Parliament, should be trying to get at the core of matters.
Taking the abundance of problems which we have today, a question has been 1033 raised whether many of the responsibilities which are currently the business of national government should remain so. We are now faced with regional tiers of government which already exist in England and which lack coherence. We have 50 different nominated agencies, nine regional water authorities and the water rates are going up. For those of us who live in country areas, transport in Wales is worse than it was in the 1840s. Yet the local government rates for country areas are higher than they have ever been in the history of the country. This is true of Scotland. Unless we get down to this problem, we shall generate Welsh and Scottish nationalism of the worst kind. We should be looking into this problem. As Kipling said, "Transport is civilisation."
The boundaries of our economic regions really grew out of the problems of the war, though I shall not go into that now because I do not wish to take up too much of your Lordships' precious time. I shall now turn to the White Paper on Wales. The county councils have criticisms, many of which I agree with. It is misleading to say that central Government is responsible for social services, as the White Paper says in paragraph 239. Paragraphs 242, 245 and 246 deal with education and cultural matters, libraries, physical planning and environment, and there is no clarity about the responsibility. All these are at present shared responsibilities of central and local government, but the White Paper seems to indicate that they will be the responsibility of the new Assembly. Like the noble Lord who has just spoken, I do not like the word "Assembly". There is no strength in the diction. There is sibilance in it. A stronger word would be "Congress ". Language is important. Consider the beauty of language, the beauty of the words used. They have a dynamic, electrical effect upon people. Everyone in this august Chamber, everyone who has spent his life in politics or has had experience of speaking in public, knows about the marvellous electricity of language. We should find the phraseology which fits the dynamism of the subject with which we are dealing, and not deal with it as though we are in a baker's shop kneading dough.
I turn now to the question of cost. The cost can be only an estimate, and we 1034 shall be as far out with this as we were with the cost of Concorde. Think of the manpower involved, and the money, the materials, and the lay about who are looking for odd jobs. Consider, too, the creating of empires under Parkinson's Law. This is the tendency, and if we are not careful we shall increase the bureaucracy in Wales. The precise roles and functions of the Assembly are not clear. My noble friend Lady White and others made a succinct and deliberately constructive criticism of this matter. Clarification is needed without citing what has already been cited. Clarification we shall get. The relationship of the Secretary of State for Wales and the Welsh Office will be made clear. They have done a job of work. Am I right? I think it was in 1951 that this was first set up and I think that the job was worth while.
My Lords, I wanted to say much more, but it would be unfair to do so because noble Lords have been so assiduous in attending this debate and I do not want to bore your Lordships. But I have one thing to say before I sit down. I am concerned about this strange paragraph—paragraph 188—which gives power to the Assembly to issue circulars. The power to issue circulars! What about the right to be televised? What do we do about that? Shall we take the television cameras into these smaller Assemblies and get the people trained to deal not merely with trivialities? A vital issue might be under consideration and some beautiful looking wench—I will not name her—shoves a "mike "under somebody in the street. Half the time the person interviewed is a "yobbo" and he is asked to give an instantaneous comment on a life and death problem. It lasts only about half a minute. I have sat in audiences like Alf Garnett's, and I have seen them nodding their heads and saying: "Aye, she's right." I have not heard that in well-informed areas. Television is to blame for pandering to this kind of political triviality. I hope that when these bodies are set up television coverage will be introduced and that in local areas local material and issues will be dealt with. If this is done it will help stabilise a democratic system which it has taken the United Kingdom 1,000 or more years to build up.
There are many other things I should like to say but I have spoken for 18 1035 minutes, which is far too long. All I want to say as a Welshman is that I want to keep alive our music, the joy of our poetry, and the triggering ecstasy of having won a match at Twickenham and sometimes carrying the Wallabies off when they have licked us, in the way we carried the All-Blacks off in New Zealand. That is a marvellous, balanced national feeling, which is a joy and a strength which the gods have given to us. We are ready to make fellows like that the Prince of Wales. But that is completely different from the vicious undermining that could lead to guerrilla warfare and to internal strife that would be a blotch on the escutcheon of British unity; and as a Briton and a Welshman I want that unity to last.
§ 8.44 p.m.
My Lords, it can never be easy to follow the eloquent noble Lord who has just resumed his seat. It is with temerity that I enter into a debate of such stature and import; all the more so because of the very few occasions that I now have opportunities to transport myself the 400 miles to your Lordships' House. My pride in being Scots, my pride in my lineage and in Scotland, is no way diminished by my allegiance to the sovereignty of the Union nor by my pride in the immense achievements of our United Kingdoms in partnership. It is easy to be critical, but without wishing to make any Party political point I must say that surely the debate in this Chamber, to which I have listened today and yesterday, and the debate in another place—or at least as much of it as I have managed to read—indicate, or confirm, that the White Paper, brave attempt though it may be, represents a compromise between opposing views within one political Party. Surely we need wider consultation.
One cannot blame the nationalists for feeling that they have perhaps reached the floodtide in their affairs and for pressing so aggressively. But if the long debate on devolution has brought us to the cross-roads of the Union, surely we should—as my noble friend Lord Selkirk suggested this afternoon—call a constitutional conference and not look upon this, delay that it might be, as other than proper. Surely we owe it not only to ourselves, to our respective fellow- 1036 countrymen, to our Union partners, to history and to posterity, to do our utmost to preserve what we value and what is valuable, and I trust that we ourselves may yet discover a formula that will remove for the most part the disaffection of the present with our evolved style of governing without dissolving the system and perhaps losing the good in attempting to exorcise the bad.
Much mention has been made during our two days of debate—and instances given in definition—of over-government. I shall not dwell on this, but surely we return to the theme which so often has cropped up in debates on constitutional matters, on questions of individual liberties in your Lordships' House: the modern relationship between the Executive and Parliament. if we ourselves at times feel frustrated by the Executive, surely we in turn transmit this feeling to the governed. This disaffection to which I have referred is surely reflected in part in the support for the Scottish National Party. Surely it is ironic in this day of technologically rapid facilities for communication—and this is similar to a point just made by the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek—that Governments seem so unable to establish rapport with the electorate, while minority groups take such successful advantage of the media. Let us first therefore take a look at our present Parliamentary institutions.
The Scottish National Party is a minority Party. It does not represent the average Scot, who in any case does not exist any more than the average Englishman or the statistical man-in-the-street. It culls protest support from the disaffected, romantic support from the romantics, and in my experience from the very young for its anti-establishment image and because the coming generation do not perhaps have the feel for the Union and the great achievements of our twin Kingdoms in the 19th century and through the years that have seen two great World Wars. In my experience the Scottish National Party does not have a large following for separation among its adherents—a pursuit of separation which should surely make them the one Party with a guaranteed built-in obsolescence.
My Lords, if the White Paper proposals, diluted in some respects, reinforced in others, come to form the basis of legislation, I would wish to see the 1037 policy veto written out, as well as the overlordship of the Secretary of State. The policy veto in the White Paper will surely, in real life, be a political veto. Despite what the noble and learned Lord upon the Woolsack said this afternoon on this matter, there is surely a gulf between theory or intent and practice, and no guarantee that a convention pursued by one Whitehall Government will be followed by their successors.
On the question of relationship with local government, the cart certainly seems to have got in front of the horse, and I quake to think what the judgment of posterity will be when they contemplate how we have so drastically restructured our local government before attempting what we now appear to wish to attempt, especially at a time of such great economic difficulty. As one who lives in "the monster Strathclyde ", I speak with considerable feeling when I say that I feel the regions must go if the Assembly comes, remembering that I was put into Strathclyde against the wishes of your Lordships' House. Other noble Lords have referred to the question of taxation by a Scottish Assembly, and I think I would be fair in saying that there has been a general abhorrence for the idea of a surcharge on rates. I wonder whether, in time, direct development aid to a Scottish Assembly would be available from the EEC to offset any deficiencies of a block grant. Such an observation perhaps comes oddly from such a diehard opponent to our Common Market entry as myself, but we are in.
My Lords, I have, perhaps, spoken overlong for so late in the day, so I shall say no more except that if we are to embark on a major constitutional upheaval, pray God it becomes not a holocaust. My Lords, I remain a true Scot and a true Unionist, and I pray God we do wisely and do well in the interests of all our people and posterity.
§ 8.53 p.m.
§ Lord SWANSEA
My Lords, the time is getting on and I shall try not to detain your Lordships too long. I was very glad to see from the list of speakers that there were more Welsh speakers down for today's debate than there were yesterday. I particularly regret the absence of my noble friend Lord Aberdare. I am very sorry that he was 1038 unable to address us himself this evening; but his mantle seems to have fallen very effectively on the shoulders of my noble friend Lord Elton, who bore the Red Dragon with great style. One might almost say he achieved the hwyl which his noble Front Bench colleague would undoubtedly have brought to this debate. If it were in my power to award the title of Honorary Citizenship of Wales to the noble Lord, I would gladly do so.
My Lords, I was born in Wales and I have lived there all my life. My family have been intimately associated with it for over 150 years. I am not of Welsh descent; I think I have only about one-eighth Welsh blood in my veins, but the rest is almost entirely Celtic from various other parts of the British Isles. So, although I would never call myself a Welsh Nationalist in any sense of the word, I hope I can call myself a Welsh patriot, because I have a great love and affection for the land of my birth and I would hate to see anything happen to it which would detract from its present status as a part of the United Kingdom.
My Lords, I have great misgivings about the desirability or the practicability of this proposed Welsh Assembly. It will mean an additional tier of government one remove further from the central Government, and I am very much afraid that central Government will become more and more remote and will tend to lose touch more and more with the problems of Wales. The proposed Assembly, lacking any legislative powers, will be little more than a glorified county council. In recent years we have seen how the new Welsh super-counties have worked. Quite frankly, my Lords, I think it has been a change for the worse. I think we were far better off with our old counties than we are with the present ones. This proposed Assembly, I think, will be little more than a talking shop, with very little in the way of real powers. There is also a grave danger that it will be dominated by the membership from the urban and industrial areas. It will be like one of those children's toys which have a lump of lead in the bottom and which, however often you knock them over, will stand upright. It will be over-weighted by the great majority of its members being drawn from the South Wales industrial belt, to the detriment of I the interests of the rural areas.
1039 The White Paper skates rather lightly over the estimated cost of running this Assembly. In paragraph 286 it says:The long-term cost of devolution in manpower and money cannot be calculated exactly.In paragraph 290 it says, again, that the requirements in Wales are difficult to estimate closely, but:…the extra staff might be around 600 initially, rising thereafter to about 1,600 when the Assembly gets into its stride. At the earlier level the extra running costs would be around £5 million, rising at the later stage to around £12 million ".Is this a realistic way to talk in the light of present economic circumstances—to talk blithely of extra costs such as these falling on the population of Wales alone? What will it mean in the way of a precept on the rates? Has that really been brought home to the Welsh people? I very much doubt it, my Lords.
In paragraph 291 the White Paper expresses the sanguine hope that the extra costs incurred in running the Welsh Assembly might be offset by corresponding economies in Departments of central Government. We have heard stories like this before, and they can all be lumped together under the general heading of Parkinson's Law. I beg leave to doubt whether these extra costs will be offset at all by any corresponding economies.
I get the feeling that these proposals are nothing more nor less than a sop to the nationalist minority, and from what we have heard of the nationalist element I am quite sure they are not going to be satisfied with any of these proposals. They are going to ask for the whole cake and nothing less than the whole cake in the way of full separation, full independence, for Wales. The setting up of this Assembly will only encourage them to step up their demands in that direction. I see a danger of the Welsh Assembly being dominated by nationalist elements because the moderate majority of the electorate may not feel sufficiently moved to see to it that a proper balance of opinions is maintained in the Assembly. I see a great danger of the Assembly being dominated by nationalist elements.
My Lords, that raises another point, that of the Welsh language, One of the objects of the Assembly will be to foster the development of the Welsh language. 1040 I have every admiration for the Welsh language. It is a very ancient language with a fund of wonderful literature. Unfortunately it is not spoken very much, or hardly at all, in the part of Wales where I live so I have not learned to speak it myself which I have always regretted. I should like to learn it but I would resist very strongly any attempt to shove that language down my throat. I can see it giving rise to endless difficulties and problems in the Welsh Assembly because I have no doubt that some members of the Assembly would wish to speak in the Welsh language. Therefore you would need translators and all the paraphernalia of simultaneous translation. That may seem a minor problem. Perhaps it is; but there is a greater problem and that is in the staffing of the Welsh Assembly. I hope that it will not be a compulsory requirement for any member of the staff of the Assembly to be able to speak the Welsh language. That would, in effect, set up a Welsh-speaking elitistclass which I think would be very much to be deplored.
I would back up what was said yesterday by the noble Lord, Lord Heycock, that the requirements of Scotland and Wales in these proposals are so vastly different as to require that there should be separate Bills affecting Scotland and Wales to set up these Assemblies. The present Government and previous Governments of the same Party, have shown a regrettable tendency to introduce what might be called omnibus legislation, perhaps in the belief that if you put a whole lot of varying proposals into one Bill, that one Bill is likely to go through Parliament rather more quickly than two or three separate Bills. I take leave to doubt that because if you get an enormously complex Bill, it is going to take just as long to go through Parliament as would two or three Bills each dealing with a separate aspect of the omnibus Bill.
I am not convinced that the Welsh people as a whole really want to have a Welsh Assembly. I should like to see them given the opportunity to express their own views. We had a precedent not long ago when we had a referendum on whether or not the United Kingdom should stay in the EEC. The noble Lord, Lord Home of the Hirsel, said yesterday that here we are faced with a proposal 1041 for constitutional change bigger than anything that has taken place since 1707. That was underlined today in the speech by the noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack. This change with which we are now faced will affect the lives of the people of Scotland and Wales and the whole of the United Kingdom to at least as great an extent as our entry into the Common Market. It is an issue on which they should be given an opportunity to express their own views.
Then there is the problem of what to do about the large number of Welsh people who are living, perhaps temporarily, outside Wales or somewhere else in the United Kingdom and, likewise, the probably equally large number of Englishmen and Scotsmen living and working inside Wales. How are the views of these people going to be considered? It is a very complex problem. Indeed, I only hope that some answer can be found to it. I am afraid that in these proposals we sec what may be the first step towards the separation of Wales from the rest of the United Kingdom because, as I have said, the Nationalists, given this encouragement, will not stop here. They will hold out for more. As the noble Lord the Leader of the House said so rightly yesterday, it would be an utter disaster if either Wales or Scotland were separated from the United Kingdom.
My Lords, under the present Constitution, Wales is in a position to play her full part as a partner in the United Kingdom and I, for one, do not wish to see it become a poor relation in a looser federation, or whatever else you may choose to call it. I hope that Her Majesty's Government will take note of what was said yesterday and today in this debate, because this is fundamental to the whole set-up of our country. It was Englishmen, Scotsmen, Irishmen and Welshmen who in the last few hundred years made Great Britain truly great. They probably did not think of themselves as being Englishmen, Welshmen, Scots or Irishmen; they thought of themselves as being British, as working for the eventual benefit of Britain. That is what made Britain great, and I should hate to see any step taken which would lessen the status of Great Britain or any of its constituent countries in the eyes of the rest of the world.
§ 9.8 p.m.
§ Lord STRATHCLYDE
My Lords, we have already been told by my noble friend Lord Cromartie that just over a year ago he opened a debate on the necessity for some form of devolution of the government of Scotland. I opened my remarks on that occasion by stating that I did not believe there was any such necessity, but there might well be a case for adjustments in our existing arrangements. Your Lordships will be pleased to know that I have no intention of repeating that speech tonight, other than to remind you that, having looked at various proposals in the White Paper, I have concluded that they would in no way benefit the Scottish people and that in the existing circumstances they were nonsense and, so far as the Assembly was concerned, dangerous nonsense as well.
After the great spate of words spoken and written in the intervening months, that is still my considered opinion based on the experience of seven years in local government, 15 years in another place and seven years in St. Andrew's House. In recent months we have heard much of the great desire of the Scottish people for greater participation in the process of decision-making by bringing it nearer to the place where the people live. For some of our people that is obviously true, but for the Scottish people as a whole I do not think it is true. In that connection, I understand that the Kilbrandon Committee ascertained that only 42 per cent. of the people knew that the seat of Scottish administration was in St. Andrew's House, Edinburgh, and had been there since 1939; but not many of them had any idea of what went on there. Possibly they neither knew that it was from St. Andrew's House that the Scottish policy and legislation emerged nor that Scottish Members of Parliament scrutinised and otherwise dealt with legislation when it came before Parliament.
We are told that the need for change is due to the maladministration and misgovernment of Scottish affairs and of the present régime. But what examples, I wonder, if any, have been given by those who make these charges? They point, however, to the consistently greater rate of unemployment, particularly in the Clyde area; but that surely is not all 1043 the fault of Government but rather to our inability in recent years to meet delivery dates or match our prices with those offered by our competitors elsewhere. On the other hand, things might have been very much worse had Government or other agencies not persuaded Leyland to come to Bathgate, Rootes to Linwood, Rolls-Royce to East Kilbride, and many others to move into Scotland. Could the influence of a Scottish Assembly have achieved more or indeed as much?
We have been learning more in recent days about the great desire of the Scottish people for more devolution and for a Scottish Assembly. Indeed, eminent politicians have made statements to the effect that if an Assembly with vast powers is not set up we may anticipate a state of affairs—indeed an uprising—not far removed from civil war. Where on earth these people get such views, I simply cannot conceive. I have spent the whole of my life, except for 22 years in the Navy, in my own country of Scotland. For the most part, I move freely among ordinary working people and, to a lesser extent, professional people and businessmen.
With the exception of those active in politics, I have never had even mentioned to me devolution, the Assembly or splitting from the United Kingdom or a desire for any change. When I am asked to explain what it is all about, I am also asked: "How will this affect us? Will it not mean more laws, more interference by officials and higher taxes, as has happened in the reorganisation of local government? "Our rates have been approximately doubled, and we hear of the salaries of officials in the regions and in the district councils being increased out of all reason while the great majority of them do the same job as they were doing before, though perhaps for a different authority and in a different place. I am often reminded that the success of the Scottish National Party in the last two Elections shows that the people of Scotland demand change.
What is proposed with the setting up of this Assembly? Surely in brief it is the transfer of all that has been devolved on the Secretary of State for a considerable number of years to an Assembly and an Executive which are to be em- 1044 powered to legislate and to impose taxation. Not only will the people be called upon to pay taxes raised by Parliament, as today, but also those raised by the Assembly, which it is estimated will cost £22 million a year. Meanwhile, legislation passed by the Assembly will not receive the Royal Assent unless approved by the United Kingdom Parliament. I really cannot think of a better way of creating resentment in Scotland than legislation passed by the Scottish Assembly being vetoed by the United Kingdom Parliament.
Before the Union, I gather from my history books that Scotland in 1707 was indeed a very poor country, subject to constant internal quarrels and bickerings among its people. Working in unity during the last 270 years with our partners in the United Kingdom, we have prospered progressively and exceedingly and gained in stature, while Scotsmen have been enabled to play a great part in taking civilisation, with law and order, to many lands—a role which has won for our country wide respect throughout the world and one which we could not have fulfilled to anything like the same extent but for our partnership with the United Kingdom.
And now we are contemplating the setting up of what will be in fact a Scottish Parliament, with all the risks involved and no gain that I can see for our people. May I remind your Lordships that the great concentration of population in the industrial belt of our country will ensure that its representatives will have a majority in any Assembly elected in the manner to which we have been accustomed and that they are likely to continue in that majority for as long ahead as we can possibly see.
In spite of the many brilliant and persuasive speeches to which I have been privileged to listen during the course of this debate, I remain convinced that the setting up of this Scottish Assembly will be against the real and true interests of our country and also those of the United Kingdom and may well pave the way to the dissolution of a partnership under which our country has prospered exceedingly over some 300 years and in which our affairs, political, financial, industrial and trading, are so enmeshed as to make it almost impossible to separate them without risk of grave damage to us all. I 1045 still believe that the proposed change is unnecessary and will bring with it no real benefit to our people. Accordingly, so far as I am concerned, it is a nonsense, and a vicious nonsense at that.
§ 9.18 p.m.
§ Lord O'HAGAN
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, like so many of your Lordships who have spoken in this debate, has given a special air of authority to what he has said by speaking from a deep knowledge and love of the particular region of the United Kingdom from which he comes. Others of your Lordships, from long experience in local or national Government, have looked at the proposals we are discussing today from that angle. But nearly every speaker—and if I had heard every speech I would have said. "every speaker "—has concentrated on what the noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack called "the golden thread "that runs through all our discussions on these subjects; that is, the need to preserve the integrity of the United Kingdom, whatever we may decide to do about proposals for devolution now.
Like the noble Baroness, Lady White, whose penetrating speech I enjoyed so much, I am bewildered by the effect that so many new para-Parliamentary assemblies may have on the way we govern ourselves. There are those from beneath which we are discussing today. There is the European Parliament in Strasbourg which will soon be directly elected. The noble Baroness, Lady White, said that when it is directly elected it will probably ask for more powers. As soon as it is directly elected, it will use its existing powers in such a way that it will not need any more powers for a very long time to come. So that with the immediate prospect of a powerful European Parliament and some thrusting and acquisitive regional assemblies in the United Kingdom, the role of the Parliament at Westminster, and of your Lordships' House in particular, will be changed, if nothing else.
This debate has illustrated what to Mr. Crossman in 1968, and to many of your Lordships now, must surely still be one of the most important functions that this House provides for the nation as a whole. In the White Paper on Lords Reform in 1968, the Government put first as the function of the House of Lords: 1046The provision of a forum for a full and free debate on matters of public interest for the nation as a whole.What I wish to discuss this evening is the political scientists' dream or nightmare, if your Lordships like to call it that, of how the continuing evolution of your Lordships' House might play a proper part in keeping the Parliament at Westminster useful, with the threats from above and the threats from below and the continuing and persistent threat presented by the lack of respect shown by all for democratic and Parliamentary forms of government.
It was the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, who commented particularly on the proposal in the White Paper that some of the members of the Executive in Scotland might not be members who had been elected to the Assembly in that country. They might be Members of your Lordships' House, but that would be a matter of chance. If we are thinking about how we preserve the integrity of the United Kingdom, surely there must be a platform in the Assemblies in Scotland and Wales—and perhaps in Northern Ireland, and maybe sooner in the new County of Avon from which I come, as well as in the other regions of the United Kingdom—to make their collective voice heard at the centre of government, because however much they can do in their own regions they will still need to be heard in Whitehall, and they will need to be heard publicly as well as in the corridors of power.
So what I should like to ask your Lordships and the Government to think about is the mechanism by which it is hoped to bind the Assemblies and the Westminster Parliament together. How are the Government to do it? How are they to provide the Assemblies with a public voice at the centre? If they are to do it—and I feel that they must—surely one of the best ways of doing it is to ensure, by putting it into the Bill that creates the Assemblies, that there is an automatic provision whereby some Members of those Assemblies become Members of your Lordships' House.
Stranger things have happened. We have Lords who are not Peers—Bishops. In the past, we have had Lords electing themselves to active membership of your Lordships' House. The Scottish Peers did it very well for many years. We have had all kinds of systems for selecting the 1047 Members of your Lordships' House, and there is no reason why we should not continue to add to the variety of systems whereby people arrive here. I am sure that piecemeal reform of this House will stand a much better chance of success than any other attempt at wholesale reform, which seems to be an invitation to mortality at a date very soon after the proposals have been put forward.
In his remarkable and constructive speech, the noble Lord, Lord Foot, teased his former colleague on the Kilbrandon Commission, the noble Lord. Lord Crowther-Hunt, by quoting some of the noble Lord's views in his previous incarnation. I do not propose to tease the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, in his present incarnation. I am delighted that the latest stage is so near karma which is. I believe, the ultimate destination. That is where he should be now.
§ Lord O'HAGAN
Is karma destruction? My Lords, never mind. In his Minority Report the noble Lord said, and I hope he believes this still, that if a proportion of those directly elected members of the Scottish, Welsh and English regional governments were also Members of the House of Lords, this would enable them to participate in the United Kingdom legislative process and to contribute directly their expert knowledge of their own Assemblies' problems to policy-making at the United Kingdom level. Moreover, they would also be seen to be so contributing. This, then, is an additional possible way of helping to ensure that central Government take their decisions with full appreciation of the problems of the intermediate level governments.
The noble Lord went on to list some of the advantages that such an extension of the traditional role of your Lordships' House would bring. With his colleague, he said that such a scheme would have four main advantages: first, it will give effect to the interlocking principle and enable intermediate Governments to participate directly in central policymaking; secondly, it will introduce a still further check on the centralising tendencies of any Government; thirdly, it will provide a national platform for the representa- 1048 tives of the intermediate level governments; fourthly, it will add prestige and incentive to membership of the intermediate level Assemblies when some of their members are also Members of the House of Lords. I am sure that those who have been worried about the turn-out at these new elections will bear that in mind.
If we get right all the principles of these proposals for devolution, still we shall have achieved nothing unless we have made the mechanism equally as good as the principles. All the discussion in your Lordships' House has rightly centred on the principles, but I very much hope that the Government are as receptive to comments from this House on the mechanism for putting into effect those principles as they appear to be to the principles themselves. I very much hope that the ingenuity shown by the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, some time ago will continue to fertilise the mind of the Government as a whole when they bring forward their Bill to enable real devolution to take place without splitting the Assemblies from Westminster and so snapping the "golden thread of unity "which the noble and learned Lord stressed we must seek to preserve above everything else.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ The Earl of ONSLOW
My Lords, yesterday the list of speakers in the debate read like the casualties at Flodden: perhaps not so numerous but in proportion—24 Scots and 10 English. Today 50 per cent. of the speakers are Welsh or Scottish. In my humble opinion the devolution debate tended to ignore the 84 per cent. of the English until my noble friend Lord Elton and the noble Lord, Lord Foot, included them today. The case for unionism as it exists has also gone by default. The noble Lords, Lord Raglan and Lord Shinwell, perhaps made me re-write some of my notes on that. One of the reasons for this is that we are still haunted by, and want to forget, Ireland: the memory of the Home Rule debates in the 19th century; Sinn Fein and the troubles of the 1920s and the present quasi-rebellion going on there. If I may be so bold as to say so, this was underlined by the noble and learned Lord the Lard Chancellor when he said that the present proposals (referring to the White Paper) were the 1049 most important constitutional event since 1707. Has he forgotten the treaty of 1922 and the separation of the Free State?
What we are really discussing is the devolution of Scotland only. Wales, it appears, has been added as a sort of balancing act. Several noble Lords have pointed out that there is very little demand for devolution in Wales or any great support for Plaid Cymru, except in isolated pockets. As the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, said yesterday, 23 years ago the Coronation Stone was stolen from Westminster Abbey by some self-confessed Scots Nationalists. All of Scotland was embarrassed and shocked. We now know that they tried to palm it off on half the Peerage of Scotland. That was the strength of Nationalist feeling in 1953. In 1967 Mr. Wilson's Government were going through a period of intense unpopularity—one may be tempted to say, not an untoward occurrence. When the Hamilton by-election occurred Clyde-siders could not bring themselves to vote Tory or Liberal, so, to express their distaste for the Labour Government of the time, they voted nationalist. The Tory Party and the Labour Party then, if I may be so bold as to say so, panicked. This is what the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, was implying in his speech. The proposals of my noble friend Lord Home of the Hirsel were produced, to be carefully fudged in the 1970 Conservative Manifesto, and then conveniently forgotten. Then the Labour Party, after much heart-searching and public wrangling, produced devolution proposals in which I am sure it really did not believe.
Meanwhile, oil had been discovered in the North Sea off Scotland, and the Scottish Nationalists, in what must be one of the most dishonest—and I underline the word "dishonest "—campaigns of recent years, screamed at the Scottish people: "Scots' oil is for the Scots. It will bring uncounted riches to you and the English should not have any of it ". That was the main cause of the blossoming of Scottish Nationalism. What they totally failed to tell the Scots people, and to a certain extent the Government of the United Kingdom have also failed to say, is that had it not been for the action of the OPEC cartel in 1973 British oil would be far too expensive to extract. They confused turnover with profit.
1050 The net cost of crude from Saudi Arabia landed at Fawley but—and I heavily underline the word "but "—excluding the royalties and taxes, is 1 dollar 25 cents a barrel. That shows a profit to the oil companies and the tanker owners. The cost of British crude landed is much nearer 9 dollars a barrel. The noble Lord, Lord Rhodes, touched on this yesterday, but I think it is so important that it needs heavy underlining. Cartels have a habit of breaking up. It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that the interests of the high reserve, low population countries of the Arabian Peninsula will clash with the interests of low reserve, high population countries such as Iraq and Iran, leading to the breakup of OPEC. If that happens, the cost of oil to the industrialised world will go down very sharply indeed. There have already been signs in the accusations made against Kuwait for giving a bigger discount for sulphur content than the rules of OPEC allow. Nobody believed before October 1973 that the Arabs could successfully quadruple the price of oil. They tried in 1967, and failed. I have digressed on oil because it seems to me the skeleton upon which the flesh of discontent, caused, I believe, by bad and over-centralised Government, has been added.
What is wrong with the present constitutional arrangements? The Scots and the Welsh are over-represented compared to the English. They have had more than their arithemetical share of central Government funds, and far more than their share of Prime Ministers. The Scots have been integrated into the United Kingdom far more than the Irish ever were, and to the immense benefit of Great British—England, Scotland and Wales. The barbarities of the Highland clearances were carried out by Scots to other Scots, not by Anglo-Irish ascendency to an alien peasantry, as in Ireland. In the 19th century Scotland enjoyed great prosperity, as did the North of England. There was patriotism yes; nationalism, no. Cumberland's treatment of the Highlanders was no better than Cromwell's treatment of Drogheda, but then, the Scots do not have that distorted Irish memory! In other words, the fear of the analogy with Ireland is unfounded, even though it is unmentioned.
1051 My Lords, I think the cause of the unrest is the lack of confidence in our-selves as individuals, and the lack of confidence in Government since the war. In 1945 we were tired; we had bankrupted ourselves twice, and we had saved civilisation. The rest of Europe had done rather badly. Russia and America were like we were in 1815 and we said, "Thank God that's over. Well done us! "But the rest of the world had to pull itself together and live down its past. We have never ever recovered from that psychological and very damaging blow.
Consequently, we now demand of the State more than it can provide. Consequently, we have got more government of a not particularly high quality, and less wealth creation, thus producing more unease and dissatisfaction. If the present proposals along the lines of the White Paper are enacted they will lead to rows between London, Edinburgh and Cardiff and if, in the case of Scotland, the price of oil drops and some form of allocation of oil revenue to the Scots has been agreed, the Scots will not only have a row with the Westminster Government but also have to ask the English for more money. The English worm, if there is such a beast, may turn, and they could say to the Scots: "When you thought that you were rich you wanted none of us, but now that you are not as rich as you thought you were, you come back to the English for money." I think it is clear that the present constitutional arrangements have, as I have said, few adherents because we all panicked; but it is a good arrangement. We should heed Burke's warning, the English Constitution is delicate machinery which should be interfered with at our peril. If, however, we must interfere with it, which I doubt, we should go for a much greater degree of independence for Scotland and Wales, leaving perhaps the coinage, defence and foreign affairs to the central Parliament. Under those circumstances the buck will have to stop at Edinburgh and Cardiff, and cannot be volleyed back and forth over Hadrian's Wall or Offa's Dyke like a Mephistolian tripartite tennis final at Wimbledon.
An opinion poll recently taken in Scotland put jobs and rates, housing and education ahead of devolution. The two Scottish Members of another place who 1052 are most implacably against devolution have fended off the Scottish National Party pressure better than others. So let us put this devolution business behind us and encourage a programme of much less government for all constituent parts of the United Kingdom, regain faith in ourselves, keep the Union as it is, and remember the advice to Brutus:The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in our stars but in ourselves, that we arc underlings".
§ 9.42 p.m.
§ Lord HANKEY
My Lords, we have heard about 60 speeches already on this subject, and I do not propose to add to them at any length, but what I do say will be entirely to follow the noble Earl and to speak on behalf of the United Kingdom as a Union, because I believe it is vital to our history and to our future. I am sure we must preserve the unity of the United Kingdom. But how can we be sure to do this if we give any serious measure of devolution to Scotland and Wales? I am really not persuaded, after some of the speeches we have heard, that any measure of devolution which is not extremely serious will satisfy the Scottish National Party in the least. I think this really is a nettle we shall have to seize.
I should like to say that we must remember that England is very much larger than either Scotland or Wales, and I think we should be extremely sensitive in dealing with both of them. They have a very fascinating culture in each country, and in each country they have fascinating languages which not many of us know. But I have a friend in the Home Office who learned Welsh in order to do business in Wales, and I am a governor of the Atlantic College in South Wales; I am proud to say that Welsh is one of the 12 languages we teach there. I think that a diversity of culture such as we have in the United Kingdom adds enormously to the interest and to the inspiration which one can derive from living in the country.
It does not follow from that that you want to go further and give measures of political devolution. I am astonished really that we have not heard more in these debates about the examples of other countries. The Scots have done pretty well out of the Union. Your Lordships know the story of the Scot who went to London on business for the first time 1053 in the War. When he got back his friend said, "Well, Mac, how did you find the English? "He said," I do not know; I only spoke to the directors ". I went to Canada some time ago, and when I got back a friend said to me, "What on earth is all this about separatism in Quebec? "I said," I am completely foxed ". The Minister of External Affairs, whom I have known in Paris, was extremely kind and invited me to a magnificent lunch at the House of Commons. I discovered to my surprise that Mr. Paul Martin was really M. Paul Martin. He is a remarkable person, and he is now Canadian High Commissioner in this country. Then I called on the head of the trade unions. I discovered it was M. Paul Jodoin. I wrote my name in the Governor-General's book; it was General Vannier.
I went to choose a Canadian to serve on the Board of the International Baccalaureate who was a real educational expert. I found that Professor Leopold Lamontagne was the most suitable person. Now, of course, M. Trudeau is Prime Minister. So what is it in Quebec? Why is it the Quebecoise tend to think that these people who rendered such enormous services to Canada have in some way betrayed their national culture and their Province? I do not think it is very reasonable. I do not think it is very reasonable for the Scots to forget what a tremendous number of Ministers, and indeed Prime Ministers, as somebody remarked, and distinguished people in every sphere all over the Commonwealth have come from Scotland.
There are many examples from which we can learn a great deal. Look at Ireland, for instance. We gave Ireland a good deal of self-government, and then it got stretched more and more. It was always understood, or at any rate assumed—I do not know quite which to say—that in the event of war Britain would enjoy the use of our naval bases in Eire. When it came to the point, we did not do so. I remember sitting next to a pretty Irish nurse in Teheran at a party thrown for some hospital nurses by the Military Attaché, and she kept saying how proud she was that more Irish people had come to fight for the British than if they were still Hart of Britain. After listening to this for some time, I said: "It seems a pity that you have the Italian and German Ambassadors sending home 1054 intelligence all the time, so that the Germans can torpedo the boats in which your boys are coming out here". She said: "Och, and aren't we independent? "The Scots are not so illogical as many Irish people, but this is the sort of thing we are liable to have, and we have to be careful.
How important is the Clyde to the security of the United Kingdom? I believe that it is essential. For the security of the Clyde, how important is the coast of Northern Ireland? I believe that that is essential, too, but nobody ever says so. What about Milford Haven? Is that not essential? I think that Ireland is a clear warning., and it would be disastrous if Scotland moved that way also.
Look at Northern Ireland. The problem of Northern Ireland is extremely interesting, because we gave a measure of devolution there and Stormont insisted on ruling the country in a way which this country could not approve. There was a state of religious discrimination with which we could not go along. This ended in our having to suppress Stormont, and look at the trouble we have got into. T think that perhaps we were unreasonable in not recognising that there was a territorial claim, but the fact remains that we have a situation there with urban guerrillas which we have not been able to suppress, and I think that we have been very weak in dealing with them.
The other day I was talking to a man from Uruguay, where my colleague Sir Geoffrey Jackson was kidnapped by the Tupamaros. At a certain moment in Uruguay, the Government changed, the army was let loose, and the Tupamaros were suppressed in two months. On the radio the other day, somebody said that the British Army in Northern Ireland was never allowed to take the initiative. I mention this because once devolution starts it is extremely difficult to stop, and once it gets out of hand, if you push the Army in, absolutely everything goes wrong. These are dangers to which I think the United Kingdom has to be wise. It is not as if we have not had this trouble in our own country, and I thought the Clay Cross business was extraordinarily significant. We insisted on the rule of law but we had great hesitation in doing so. I was Shocked at the hesitation shown by the Government in insisting on 1055 the rules laid down by Parliament being carried out by the local authority. But say the local authority had had the Scottish Nationalists behind them; that would have been a different kettle of fish and a difficult one with which to deal.
Thus, we have to think very seriously about this and my conclusion is the same as that reached by some noble Lords, including the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, that if we have a serious form of devolution we must have a written Constitution. We should also have a Supreme Court which will be able to decide cases of a clash of interests and questions whether or not the written Constitution has been infringed. We cannot expect that to be an English court because I do not think it would enjoy the necessary prestige in outlying parts of the United Kingdom. It would have to be a special court and it would have to be much more ably backed up than the way in which we backed up Sir John Donaldson and the National Industrial Relations Court which, in my opinion, was very much let down. In other words, it would have to be seriously supported.
The rise of the national movement in Scotland has been due largely to the weakness of Government in the United Kingdom. I entirely agree with what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, about this. The two Parties give the impression to a great many people—I say this with some hesitation but it is true—that they are more interested in black-guarding each other than in attending to our common interests. I am sure that that is not the case but it is what a lot of people, many quite intelligent people, and the man in the street, think. Each Party when it comes to power undoes what the other has done and the result is to throw doubt on leadership, and this is ably played up by the media in such a way that it is hard to lead the United Kingdom. I do not think that either Party can do it very effectively nowadays.
I feel, therefore, that if we are to make a success of Government in the United Kingdom, which is essential not only to get us out of our present difficulties but to carry conviction in the further parts of the United Kingdom, we really should eventually (and I do not know how it is 1056 to be done) achieve some sort of a consensus Government, a Coalition or a Government by common consent and agreement; in other words, some sort of power sharing. We are always advocating it for the Northern Irish; let us advocate it for ourselves for a change. We are told that Coalitions are weak and invariably unsuccessful, and that that is hardly the sort of effective leadership I am advocating. Nevertheless, our present Government are a bit of a coalition between Social Democrats and the extreme Left, and that is one of the things from which we are suffering. I believe there would be a great deal to be said for a Government of the centre at some point. I am afraid, in fact, that we will not get it unless we have some absolutely major economic calamity, though I believe that it is what the country will ask our politicians to provide.
I was impressed with what my noble friend Lord O'Hagan said. He offered, I thought, some very fertile suggestions, and a number of others have been made in this debate. I have an idea to throw into the common pool. I wonder whether there could not be a system of Parliamentary committees such as exist in the United States or Sweden where questions under discussion in the Legislature are the subject of more or less public hearings. In our country, the TUC, the Scottish TUC and various local authorities could come to Westminster, or the committee might on occasion go to Wales or Scotland and hear the locals on the spot when their own interests were particularly engaged. In this way, Parliament would be seen to be occupying itself with the affairs not only of Scotland and Wales but also of England; that is necessary because there is a feeling in many parts of England outside the Home Counties that Parliament is too remote and not sufficiently sensitive to their views. I believe that that feeling is one of the things which lie behind the desire for devolution. I know that it is dangerous to put forward new ideas, but I feel that a small Parliamentary change might produce a quite considerable psychological change over the years.
To conclude, the essential point is that we should preserve the United Kingdom as such. It was not the Scots who discovered the oil; it was the British. It does not lie inside Scottish territorial 1057 waters; it is miles from Scotland. If ever the Scots made it their own and the English had a motive for getting cheap oil, I cannot think of a more disastrous situation for Scotland, so let us at all costs preserve the Union.
§ 9.57 p.m.
§ Viscount MUIRSHIEL
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Hankey, has given grave warnings, as have other noble Lords, of the possible consequences of the creation of Assemblies of the kind which have been discussed during this debate and in another place. May I assure him that those of us who live in Scotland all the time and who have had to think about this for many years are equally aware of the dangers. What we have to face is that there is without any doubt a strange mood throughout Scotland. Indeed, it is not confined to Scotland but exists here in England and Wales in a different form and in many other countries around the world. We must find a solution in the circumstances which exist. Allow me to be quite frank. I should dearly love to drop this whole argument about devolution and to get on with what really matters, but I do not believe that we can. I may be wrong, but that is my belief.
I had intended to avoid producing any preamble to my remarks because of the hour and because of my intention of speaking very briefly, but I should simply like to say that I profoundly hope that the reports of yesterday's proceedings and of today's debate, with the exception of my own speech, will be carefully studied by those responsible for producing a policy for devolution with its resulting legislation. The present White Paper may well be a good point of departure, but I do not believe that anything that comes out of that White Paper, unless it be very substantially altered, can possibly produce a wise and lasting solution to our problems. I only wish that these debates might have a much wider readership than they are likely to achieve in normal circumstances. The reason is—and I may be optimistic —that here it has at last seemed that a pattern of thought may be emerging which could achieve a reasonably substantial measure of agreement except, of course, with those whose ultimate aim is separation. I refer in particular, if that is not an impertinence, to the speeches 1058 of my noble friends Lord Hailsham and Lord Home of the Hirsel. Those speeches, along with others from both sides of the House, have indicated at least a rather different approach to a solution from many of those so far formulated by the major Parties. The speech of Mr. Heath in another place was also highly relevant and I strongly recommend those who have not read it to do so.
No one who has been a Minister in the Scottish Office for any length of time can fail to go on contemplating at intervals over the rest of his life the perennial question of whether and how the system within which he operated could be improved in the interests of Scotland and the United Kingdom. The true interests of both—constitutional and economic—are absolutely inseparable, and will continue indefinitely to be so.
After five and a half years in the Scottish Office, I have had 13 years in which to contemplate, but my speech will not be of comparable length. One conclusion I reached a number of years ago is that under various Governments we had evolved a remarkably effective system of executive decentralisation. I use that word deliberately, because outside this House devolution is a word that has come to mean almost anything that any speaker wishes it to mean for the purposes of any emotive speech he happens to be making to any particular audience. Ask almost anyone in Scotland today whether they are in favour of devolution and the answer will be, Yes. Ask them what they mean by it, and the answers will vary profoundly, if one gets any answer at all.
For many years, legislation relating to Scotland has been passed at Westminster. My noble friend Lord Strathclyde has spoken on this point already, and my noble friend Lord Selkirk made some very good remarks about it in an admirable speech. But very few people realise that Executive action covering a very high proportion of the decisions which affect the daily lives of every single person in Scotland stem from the powers of the Secretary of State, backed up by a very effective Department, which certainly in my time was highly sensitive to the needs of people throughout Scotland, and I believe still is.
Very few people seem to realise that in those days the Secretary of State had 1059 —and there may even be more now—virtually all the functions of four Ministers in England, plus some of the functions of another five. What is more—and here I risk attack from some people, although not, I think in this House—I do not remember, racking my brains in the effort, any case in which the valid needs of Scotland, once established and understood, were ignored or frustrated by the wicked English. Of course, there was argument, which was both necessary and very healthy. Finance inevitably provided the major subject of argument and of dissatisfaction. But just as we have ensured in song that there will always be an England, so there will always be a Treasury, or its equivalent, whether it be sited in Whitehall, in Edinburgh, in Fort William, or for that matter in Lerwick; and whether or not there be oil revenues. Here I wish to say in parenthesis that we ought to have a careful look at what happened in Shetland. Some remarkably clever operations were carried out by the county clerk of that area, and the results in terms of oil in Shetland have so far been very good indeed, and have been unmatched anywhere else.
Spending Departments—and this will apply to any form of Scottish Assembly there ever is. with whatever degree of automony—will always want more money than they can get out of the national pot. If all spending Departments—and I do not know which Departments do not ultimately spend—got what they, and their customers, would like to have, then no nation could survive beyond a very short time. I emphasise this point because I do not think that it has begun to be realised by those who place enormous value on a new Assembly of any kind in Scotland. As my noble friend Lord Selkirk pointed out very effectively —and I say this with great respect to those of my colleagues, almost a trades union of former Secretaries of State who are in this Chamber—my predecessors, myself and my successors, and our Information Office, have failed despite valiant efforts to get through to the general public just how much Executive powers already rest in Scotland, how much devolution (in a very important interpretation of that word) already exists. Why we failed it is extremely difficult to know. Every effort was made, and my own very 1060 arbitrary conclusion is that the people we were trying to explain all this to simply were not interested at that time. We tried the media. They would publish something once—one-fiftieth of what one had said, but one could hardly blame them for that, perhaps—but, after that, silence.
But we failed in this, and the conclusion that we had failed led me—this was over a good many years—to think very carefully about the need for some form of convention or Assembly, initially, perhaps, along the lines of the Council of Europe or the Assembly of Western European Union, in both of which I have been very heavily involved in the past and both of which certainly fulfilled, and I think still fulfil today, very useful purposes indeed. The functions of such an Assembly could have been developed. Another realisation was that during my 5½ years as Secretary of State there was no occasion, other than formal lunches or dinners, or on the occasion of some deputation on a specific matter, on which I could meet collectively the elected members of local government. Contact between officials was close and very effective, but the Secretary of State remained, and I think still remains, remote from a very desirable contact.
These two considerations, taken together, really pointed to an indirect or even nominated form of Assembly, with membership based on the local authorities, meeting in public so many times a year for so many days, and attended not only by Scottish Office Ministers but also —there is no reason against it—by other United Kingdom Ministers whose functions were relevant to the whole Scottish scene. An Assembly of this kind would have given to the Secretary of State the opportunity to explain to the Assembly what he was up to and why, what the Government were up to and why, and would certainly have meant that he was never in doubt as to what a very important sector of Scottish life, very close to the heather roots throughout Scotland, thought about his actions and about him. I must confess that the Opposition in the House of Commons, in my time, were fairly skilled at dealing with the latter. I remember emerging from one debate, with two different Members' contributions to my character, as "a spineless jellyfish with all the instincts of a dictator ". It took me quite a long time to puzzle that 1061 one out, and I came to the conclusion that I must have been just about right.
Another result would undoubtedly have been a very much wider understanding in Scotland of what government in Scotland is all about. The media could not have failed to report properly such an Assembly; and the deliberations, too, of such an Assembly could hardly have failed to influence the development of policy in all matters, legislation included, affecting Scotland. No narrow nationalist, no member of the Scottish National Party as it now exists, would have been remotely satisfied with any such Assembly. It is now quite clear, if it was ever in doubt, which I do not think it was, that no nationalist will ever be satisfied by anything short of total separation; and it is folly for anyone to try to evolve a policy thinking it will keep the nationalists quiet. It will not.
My Lords, I must be honest and say that I wish with all my heart that some solution such as I have been describing might still be found in the interests both of Scotland and of the United Kingdom. I agree that there are grave dangers in whatever policy we pursue other than just possibly what I have been trying to describe. But I believe, too, that such a solution would even now meet the wishes of a very substantial number of people in Scotland who undoubtedly want devolution, who have very little idea of what is meant by it and have no idea whatsoever of how much already exists —an increasing number of whom over very recent weeks have begun to appreciate some of what I believe to be the virtually insoluble problems which are 1062 bound to emerge if the approach of the White Paper which we are considering at this time is not altered very substantially indeed in the weeks and months to come.
I have taken up your Lordships' time with what I am afraid is a recital of one individual's ideas of what might have been. I still have this faintest of hopes that it might even be thought of again. But the relevance of what I have said to the situation today is that if, as may be the case—I have to concede that—the time for such a solution has gone, certainly, my own thinking has taken a large jump indeed to the conclusion that any halfway house, or quarter-way house, must fail and that any directly-elected Assembly which may be created in Scotland must have limited and absolutely clearly defined functions and powers of its own, subject only to appeal not to politicians but to the courts on all questions of vires. At this time of night I am not going into any detail on that.
Others have very competently made suggestions in this debate. I leave it at that, but I feel it strongly that I do not consider it possible for two separately-elected Assemblies to take part in any way in the same bit of legislation without leading almost immediately to deadlock and conflict. I hope profoundly that time and effort will now be concentrated on an approach which has some chance of working and which could be acceptable to people of good will. I feel that there must be many changes in the White Paper we have been discussing over these two days.
§ 10.12 p.m.
§ Lord BANKS
My Lords, my first reaction to the debate in the House over the last two days and to the debate in the other place, and to the debate outside in the country, is one of surprise at the way in which the subject is regarded as being a new one and the way in which the word "devolution"is regarded as a new word in our political vocabulary. When I first became a supporter of the Liberal Party at the age of 16 when still in the sixth-form at school—this was in 1935—I was handed a copy of a document called The Liberal Way which was then the official statement of policy. It contained this declaration:There should be a large measure of devolution. Subordinate Parliaments should be established for Scotland and Wales and also for large areas of England with powers similar to those enjoyed by the Parliament of Northern Ireland.That particular point of view the Liberal Party has continued to press in the intervening 40 years. The attitude goes back in Liberal circles much earlier than that. One can trace it back to Mr. Gladstone, who in 1897 said:I will consent to give Ireland, in principle, nothing that is not on equal terms offered to Scotland and to the different parts of the United Kingdom.It is probably because I am conditioned by this background that I cannot help feeling that some of the fears expressed for the future of the United Kingdom are somewhat exaggerated.
It has been made clear by speaker after speaker that your Lordships do not wish to see the break-up of the United Kingdom. My noble friend Lord Mackie of Benshie made it very clear yesterday that we on these Benches subscribe wholeheartedly to that view. But if the people of Scotland and Wales wanted separation, if there was an overwhelming desire for separation, then, with great regret, I would agree that they should have it. It would, of course, pose serious problems. But I do not believe it would be the end of everything. They could certainly exist on their own; and England, as a nation of 48 million people, would survive. We should all remain closely linked in the European Economic Community and I hope we would remain allies in NATO.
However, all the evidence of course is that the people of Scotland and Wales 1064 do not want separation. I support the holding of a referendum, which I am convinced would make that abundantly clear. What they want is to exercise more power themselves, and the problem is to find the best method of carrying this out. The danger is that we may be so anxious to preserve the unity of the United Kingdom—understandably so —that we do not act boldly enough to meet the wishes and the needs of Scotland, Wales and, indeed, England, so that unity will not be preserved. Anxiety about the need to preserve the unity of the United Kingdom pervades almost every sentence in the White Paper. It is in a way an obsession with the authors, and this attitude is inevitably inhibiting.
During our two days of debate, and particularly yesterday, the limitations on the degree of devolution proposed in the White Paper have been much criticised—the reserve powers; the possibility of conflict between Parliament and the Assemblies; the role of the Secretary of State in this; the possible conflict where the Secretary of State, the Government and Parliament decide that a certain piece of legislation being pursued by the Assembly is not acceptable on policy grounds; the revenue raising powers of the Assemblies; the degree of control which they can exercise over the economy in each case: the absence of an legislative power over the Welsh Assembly referred to by my noble friend, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran. All these criticisms of the limitations of the powers have been made and there has been a feeling that the White Paper has not gone far enough; that something more is required.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, described it as true devolution, and he agreed this was close to federalism and might indeed be federalism depending on what overriding authority was retained at Westminster. The noble Baroness, Lady Tweedsmuir of Belhelvie, also said that her position was close to federalism, and she was not concerned and worried about that. A considerable agreement has emerged in the debate among those who feel the White Paper has not gone far enough. Those who feel it has gone too far have been vocal today; but among those who feel it has not gone far enough there has been a considerable degree 1065 of agreement that there must be a separation of powers, and conflicts of power should be resolved by the courts.
My noble friend Lord Foot, in a powerful speech, argued that either we must have something much less than what is in the White Paper or we must have federalism. He argued that if we are prepared to give legislative devolution to Scotland, we must be prepared to give it to Wales and to the regions of England as well. He said it must be either that or something less, and he went on to say that the Kilbrandon Commission had not been prepared to say that federalism of that kind with 8, 9, 10 or possibly 12 Assemblies in the United Kingdom could work. I see no reason why it should not work. I see no reason why Western Germany should be able to run a federal system and that we cannot possibly contemplate it in this country. It is a question of what are the areas that are to be given as the areas of authority to the lesser Parliament.
That is the question: what is the division of power between them? I see no reason why a satisfactory division of power should not be arrived at, and it is surely quite clear that nothing less than what is proposed in the White Paper—indeed, probably a great deal more—is required in order to give any kind of satisfaction to majority opinion in Scotland. I am not talking about Scottish Nationalists now, but about majority opinion in Scotland. If this be so, and if my argument so far is sound, then we come to the conclusion that the most satisfactory way of solving this problem of the conflict of powers and of giving some measure of devolution and some measure of passing down power to different parts of the country is in fact through a federal system.
Speaking for myself on this particular point, I do not see why it should be necessary for all the elements in the federation to have precisely the same powers. It may be argued that this is normally the case in a federation, but we do not necessarily have to be orthodox or follow any accepted or recognised pattern. It seems to me that it would be possible to say to Scotland and to Wales that they could be given greater powers than are given to the regions in England, because I think the regions in England 1066 would in fact be happy with that situation. I would stick to my Gladstonian dictum that the regions of England should be offered the same powers, but I believe they would accept lesser powers than those given to Scotland and Wales. In those circumstances, where the United Kingdom Parliament was acting for England as a whole—which in these circumstances it would have to do—if it was merely the English Members who did so and not the Scottish, Irish and Welsh Members who would not sit with the English members, for these purposes it would become the English Parliament.
I think it is important, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, said yesterday, that when we are considering these questions we should consider the whole field of constitutional reform and not attempt to arrive at conclusions piecemeal. This would involve, as he hinted, tying in this question of national and regional assemblies with a reformed Second Chamber in which they could be represented. It would also involve dealing with the question of the electoral system, about which a great deal has been said in these last two days. I am glad to say that there has been a great deal of support for the idea of using a system of proportional representation for the election of the Assemblies. The single transferable vote system has also been supported, as has the German system.
The noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, made two comments upon proportional representation. He spoke about the difficulty of dealing with a long list of names, but this has not been found to be an obstacle in Eire or Northern Ireland, where the system is in operation. The noble Earl also spoke about the breaking of personal links between the Member and the constituency because of having multi-Member constituencies with the single transferable vote system. However, there would be this additional advantage, that the individual elector would be much more likely than he is now to have somebody to whom he could point and say that his vote had helped to elect that person—perhaps 80 per cent. of the electorate would be in that position, as against something between 40 per cent. and 50 per cent. at the present time. This would mean a greater link between the elector and that particular person. Then 1067 it is quite possible to say that after election has taken place in a multi-Member constituency the individual Members—five, six, or whatever it is—might be responsible for particular sections of their constituency, thus restoring if it was felt to be desirable, a direct link between one Member and a territorial area.
There are one or two essential points that I would mention very quickly in passing. One is revenue raising which is dealt with in the Memorandum of Dissent in the Royal Commission's Report, where various examples are put forward of how revenue raising powers might be given. I know that in the White Paper two are shot down I think the other one is not mentioned. But I should hope that other and more exciting methods —if any method of taxation can ever be described as exciting—can be found than the surcharge on the rates which is suggested.
Finally, thinking about our constitutional reform, a Bill of Rights and a written Constitution are essential parts of this overall reform. Also, we have to bear in mind that we are seeking this constitutional development in the framework of another development, the development of the European Community, and that that itself may one day become a federation. There are divided views in this House about that but it may become so, and if it does we shall have a divided Britain on the line of argument which I am pursuing within a federal Europe.
The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, said yesterday at the beginning of this debate that all that was said would be given very careful attention. I believe that if careful attention and consideration are given, and if that results in the exercise of some influence over the Government, then, when the legislation appears, particularly if one thinks of the comments which were made during yesterday's debate, it will be much closer than is the White Paper to the orthodox federal arrangement which I have just described.
§ 10.27 p.m.
Lord CAMPBELL of CROY
My Lords, I should like to start by adding my congratulations to the noble Earl, Lord Minto, on his outstanding maiden 1068 speech yesterday. He told us that he was nervous at the time, but in fact we can all tell him that he spoke with great confidence and clarity. As he reminded us with some modesty, his forebears centuries ago helped to guard the border against raiders from the South. We look forward to hearing him speak again in this House on many future occasions.
My Lords, I have listened to nearly every word in two long days of debate. Your Lordships can bring a wealth of knowledge, experience and wisdom to bear on this difficult subject, and that has happened. Speeches have come from all sides, I believe, and from all Benches which have analysed the situation and contributed valuable comments and suggestions. I hope that the Government will consider them. I myself will try to avoid repetition in these remarks towards the end of the debate.
The large majority of those who have spoken have insisted that the United Kingdom should remain a single country. Noble Lords have discussed various possible forms of partnership in government and constitutional change. Parts of the Government's White Paper have come under fire. The noble Lord the Leader of the House and the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor have expressed the Government's attitude and the reasons for their proposals. We are grateful for the way in which they have given these clear explanations, though we are not all persuaded to accept every proposal in the White Paper. Then the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill, yesterday evening helpfully spelled out the financial proposals of the Government.
My noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham eloquently and convincingly recalled in his speech yesterday the achievements of the United Kingdom as a community and its influence in the world. He also introduced suggestions for a Bill of Rights and a written Constitution, as improvements and safeguards when changes of the kind in the White Paper are being made. This added another dimension of special interest to our debate. My noble friend Lord Home of the Hirsel told us that thoughtful Scots now want a more direct voice in government and more decisions on the spot, but not independence. I am sure that he is right. The House should give 1069 great weight to what the noble Lord has said, to his conclusions in the light of his own intense interest in this subject over recent years and his great experience. The noble Lord raised the question of a referendum, as did my noble friend Lady Tweedsmuir of Belhelvie. Clearly there would be difficulties over arranging a referendum, but it might well help to settle the main issue whether there should be a system of devolution for Scotland which could be put into effect without mixing it up with independence and without sliding involuntarily into independence, thus splitting up the United Kingdom into separate countries.
The debate has concentrated largely upon Scotland. There does not seem to be much enthusiasm for an Assembly in Wales, as my noble friend Lord Elton told us today. That devolution proposals should be principally relevant to Scotland is not, however, surprising. For many years Scottish Ministers and Scottish Departments have been administering separately a wide range of subjects, and my noble friend Lord Muirshiel dwelt on this fact just now. There has also been the Scottish Grand Committee and Standing Committee system since early in this century. This system evolved as an ingenious way by which the same group of elected representatives for Scotland could debate Scottish affairs in the morning and Imperial and United Kingdom affairs in the afternoon and evening, all in one place at Westminster. This, of course, was before the aeroplane had become a normal means of travel.
At the same time the Government's majority in the House of Commons as a whole is sustained under the present procedure, despite different proportions in Party strengths within that Scottish group of Members of Parliament. Thus, conflict, if it occurs, between Scottish Committees and the Chamber is contained within Westminster. But that system I no longer think is suitable. Parliament is now bearing much heavier burdens than it did when that system was growing and coming into effect. So much more is being undertaken both by the other place and by your Lordships' House. Moreover, the Scottish Committee system is concealed and remote. There is a Public Gallery but it is usually empty. I should add that this is not a reflection upon the quality of the debate that takes place 1070 there but because very few people are aware that debates are taking place. And, indeed, the Public Gallery is difficult to find. The machinery is creaking. People in Scotland cannot see what is being done, and little is reported in the Press. Your Lordships will understand why I shall concentrate on Scotland. I myself am in no doubt that change is needed and that it should include a body with devolved powers sitting in Scotland.
Before considering what form such devolution might take in the light of this debate, I must draw attention to the principal issue which arises and identify the contenders. The issue is devolution or independence. Two or three noble Lords have said that they do not know what the SNP's constitutional objective is and others were unaware of it. We were not enlightened by the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Belhaven and Stenton. He spoke amiably about Scots supporting the SNP and told us that many agreeable people in Scotland are doing so. I am sorry he is not here now, because I agree with him; that is correct and he is one of them. He is one of the agreeable people supporting that Party. But most of this support is coming because the SNP appear to be a pressure group for Scotland, causing authorities in London to take more notice of Scotland and to act more quickly. Many of them do not know what the objective of the SNP is and would not support it if they did. But it is no secret. It is contained in manifestoes and statements, though they are not easy to obtain and the writing is usually in small print.
Devolution within Britain, and Scotland becoming an independent country, are two entirely different and incompatible situations. There are a great many people in Scotland who favour the first—some form of devolution. The second, Scotland as a separate country, is the aim of the SNP. As their Manifesto of August 1974 stated, the SNP's aim—and I quote from page 3—is:the restoration of Scottish national sovereignty within the Commonwealth ".This has for years been repeated as the purpose of the SNP's official activists. It is confirmed by their proposals for separate Embassies and Armed Forces. That means breaking up Britain into more than 1071 one country. It is the opposite of devolution, which is delegating functions and decisions within one country.
Let there be no mistake about this. Speaking in the debate in the Commons on 13th January, the Parliamentary leader of the SNP said that they did not intend to break up the United Kingdom. But that was simply to play upon the word "Kingdom ", confirmed by his explanation that the SNP's aim was that Scotland should be part of the Commonwealth, recognising the Queen. Scotland's position would be like that of New Zealand. Whether recognising the monarchy or not, the policy of the SNP is to divide Britain into more than one country. Many of those who have been supporting the SNP for other reasons do not yet realise what their aim is, or they believe that they can withdraw their support short of that destination. It is important that they should now see that the SNP do not want devolution as a settled system for Britain; they are only interested in it as a steppingstone to breaking up Britain. This was clear at the SNP's annual conference in 1974, on one of the rare occasions when they openly discussed the different options of independence and devolution. The SNP Whip was reported in the Press the next day as speaking for all the Party's MPs in declaring—and I am quoting from the Press, which itself contained a quote:I do not believe in devolution. I believe in independence. We stand for full self-government for Scotland and nothing else.The matter was left there and a vote was avoided. But the words were, "I do not believe in devolution ". It is important that that policy be widely known and not blurred.
I will give an illustration of how this works out. A Nationalist MP circulated a letter to Service families in October 1974, which began:I am often asked what happens to the RAF when Scotland becomes independent.In reply to this question, the MP stated in the letter that it would continue as the Scottish RAF and that a Serviceman who was not Scottish would have to opt for Scottish citizenship or apply to continue to serve as if he were from Canada or Australia, depending upon agreements to be reached with England and Wales. The same letter stated that non-Scottish Servicemen would be allowed to own houses 1072 in an independent Scotland and would be entitled to let their houses while on tours of duty abroad. How kind and generous of the SNP to state beforehand that Servicemen would be specially allowed to own and let houses in the Britain which they have loyally been serving!
I have so far simply been stating the SNP's declared policy from published documents, without comment, but I will now allow myself a criticism, and observe that this written statement on the RAF is not only a clear indication of the aim of the SNP, it also brings out the utter nonsense and muddle which their policy would produce in such matters as citizenship and defence. That is not devolution; that is demolition—demolition of the systems, services and institutions which have been built up over many years for the mutual advantage of everyone in the British Isles. Indeed, your Lordships will note that the rights of the individual, for example in citizenship and of holding a British passport, would be in jeopardy.
Devolution within one country is another matter. What is now needed, I believe, is a workable form of Parliamentary devolution for Scotland to match the substantial administrative devolution which already exists, and to which my noble friend Lord Muirshiel referred. The Secretary of State and the Scottish Office now cover virtually all domestic subjects except finance, trade and industry. I concede immediately that it is not easy to find the kind of Scottish Assembly which will meet this aspiration. I accept that the Government have an exceedingly difficult task. But the Government have stumbled into several pitfalls in their White Paper. Their scheme has obviously been prepared piecemeal, subject by subject. It will produce great confusion and dangerous conflicts. The Government must make major changes in it before preparing their Bill, and there must be a separate Bill for Scotland, since the situation is very different from that in Wales.
My Lords, before I leave the principal issue to be borne in mind, devolution or independence, I must point out that there is a danger—a danger of confusion and misunderstanding. There is a serious possibility at the end of the day of Balkanising our country against the wishes or the intentions of the majority of 1073 people in each of Scotland, England and Wales. The SNP stand for independence, while support is coming to them from people who do not want it. In England and abroad this could none the less be interpreted as voting for independence when, in fact, it is not; and the reaction could well be in England, "Let them go ". That is a situation, a break-up, which nearly every speaker in this debate has opposed. It also makes the process of devolving powers very difficult. If stones in the edifice are dislodged, there is a risk that the rest of the building will start to slide and crumble.
Moreover, those who want independence for Scotland will have little interest in devolution or in an Assembly or Convention, whatever it be called, working smoothly. The more friction and obstruction there is, the easier it will be to agitate for a breakaway. I agree with my noble friend Lord Polwarth, when he said last night that Scottish industry and commerce should make their views clear. The Scottish chambers of commerce only a few days ago issued a statement that they were against Scotland becoming a separate country: it is contrary to Scottish commercial interests. I wish such statements would get more publicity. Certainly Scottish industrialists and businessmen appear unanimous so far as their firms and the Scottish economy are concerned. Almost all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate have expressed the same view.
Last summer, the Scotland in Europe campaign had a resounding success against SNP opposition. It is now necessary to promote a Scotland in Britain campaign. I am sure that more than 80 per cent. of people living in Scotland would support that campaign, especially if sensible changes could now be made to reduce centralisation.
The proposals of the Government were criticised by my noble friend Lord Mansfield last night. I will refer briefly to the main points. First, we are critical of the division of functions between the Secretary of State and the Assembly. It seems strange that the Assembly should not be able to consider agriculture, or even the police—subjects which have been devolved administratively to Scotland for many years.
1074 There is the anomalous position of the Scottish Development Agency, which is to be considered by both. And then there is electricity, which has not been mentioned; electricity is not to go to the Assembly, although the Secretary of State and a Scottish Department have been responsible for it for many years. And even when the Department of Energy was formed in January 1974, with the idea of bringing together all the energy Departments, none the less the function of electricity remained devolved in Scotland. I cannot see why all the subjects which the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Scottish Office deal with cannot be within the scope of the new Assembly. Those subjects have over the years been very carefully examined and have been found to be subjects which can be devolved.
I recognise that there are difficulties over devolving financial and economic control and that these must stay with the central Government. We have had an integrated economy for 270 years. Moreover, attempting to apply different financial measures North and South of the Border would cause immense difficulties to many companies. For them to have to distinguish and separate their activities and interests between Scotland and England would be a huge task—many are closely interwoven—and a quite unnecessary and expensive one.
Lastly, if I may make my last main criticism—many others have been made during the debate by others—the Government should certainly look again at their proposal for a surcharge on the rates.
Paragraphs 58 to 64 are likely to provoke conflict. May I ask the Minister when he replies whether it is really necessary to have two Executives. This in itself will provoke conflict and ambiguity. In any case, even if a second Executive appears to be essential, there should be a different approach. There is much disquiet that the present proposals, whereby the Secretary of State for Scotland can appoint and replace the Chief Executive and others, will not work and will simply provoke difficulties. Some of these people need not even be members of the Assembly.
Then there are the two vetoes which have been proposed. Others have spoken 1075 about these. I will simply draw attention to the fact that the ultra vires veto is one which most speakers, and certainly I myself, consider should be dealt with in the courts and should not be a matter left to Government Ministers. And it should be distinguished from the question of policy, which is dealt with in the same paragraph in the White Paper.
Where functions are restricted, as is proposed in this White Paper, many of us think that there should be a judicial system; functions should be laid down by law and matters tested in the courts. The rights of the individual are involved in this. I note that Mr. Short in the debate in the other place acknowledged that there were differing views within the Government on the question of judicial review, and paragraph 65 invites discussion before a final decision is taken. Well, the Government have had very clear indications during this debate.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Kilbrandon, in his penetrating analysis of the problems, suggested that there should be a reserve power which would very seldom, if ever, be used, and he referred to Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act. It had not been used for 50 years and it was only used in a crisis bordering on civil war. That also should be considered as part of a system when the Government are rethinking their plan. Many fertile minds have addressed themselves to these matters. The Committee under my noble friend Lord Home put forward their proposals in March 1970, and no less than four members of that Committee have taken part in this debate. But by then the Royal Commission on the Constitution had been sitting for several months; the announcement of its establishment took place between the setting up of the Home Committee and its Report. The Royal Commission then took 4½ years and did not report until four months before the change of Government early in 1974.
It is no reflection, I quickly say, on that Royal Commission that it took that time. It had a very wide remit, including the Channel Islands and even Northern Ireland. The effect was that, while the Royal Commission was sitting, the whole subject was on ice where the Government of the day were concerned. In Scotland we knew the problem existed, and we 1076 knew that action was needed, and some of us were waiting a little impatiently in 1972 and 1973 for the Royal Commission to report. An enormous amount of work and study, for and by the Royal Commission, is now available. We have had the benefit of that, although the recommendations of the Commission were not unanimous.
I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, has been appointed to this new position. He was a member of that Commission and has devoted a great deal of time and energy to this subject. He is also very much aware of the options on the different points that have been raised during this debate. I hope that he will be flexible in his approach, and I wish him well. I shall myself be more than ready to give him any help that I possibly can from my own experience in Scottish affairs. He will also be able to look at it from the point of view of England, and I do not, even in what has to be a brief speech at this hour, overlook the interests of England. The views of both parties to an agreement should be considered when changes to that agreement are afoot.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Kilbrandon, and his Commission suggested that the number of Scottish seats in the other place should be reduced; that is an understandable recommendation along with the others which were made. Then there is the question of what happens when Scottish Members of Parliament are able to vote on subjects like health and education at Westminster affecting England and Wales, but are not involved in health and education in Scotland because that is being dealt with by a different group of representatives in Edinburgh. There is not an insuperable problem here. May I suggest that, in the same way that Scottish Bills are certified by Speaker's Certificates, one possibility as part of a scheme would be for Bills affecting England and Wales to be similarly certified, and for an arrangement to exist whereby Scottish Members in Westminster did not vote on those. All these matters must be considered when the final shape of a devolution plan has been adopted, because so much will depend on the functions that are devolved.
The noble Lord, Lord Raglan, referred to the question of oil, as indeed have other speakers. The point I wish 1077 to make here is that this subject has entered the situation in Scotland in this way; it has been seized on by those who want complete independence for Scotland, because they say that it would turn Scotland into a kind of Sheikdom, and there would no longer be any shortage of money. But the oil will be there only for a certain time, and the constitutional changes which we are considering must be for a much longer time than that. It is also a risky business, as several noble Lords have pointed out, and could be affected by changes in world prices. Lastly, if the fragmentation of Britain were to take place, most of the oil that has been discovered so far would be in the Continental Shelf belonging to the Shetland Islands, and the Shetland Islands have made it perfectly clear that in such circumstances they would wish to go their separate way.
I agree with most of the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe. He drew our attention to SNP posters and propaganda. I would sum up that the picture is presented from these of an independent Scotland using income from oilfields, apparently on the scale of Midas, to maintain for years to come every obsolete open-hearth furnace in the steel industry North of the Border. That would not last very long and would be a path to disaster. The noble Earl, Lord Perth—perhaps I may be allowed at this point to draw on my experience as a former Secretary of State—gave some grounds for Scottish grievances, real orimagined. I was delighted that the three subjects which he mentioned, the A9 road, Edinburgh Airport and the deep water port at Hunterston, happen to be three on which I took the decisions, between 1970 and 1973, which he welcomed. His point was that they should have been taken several years earlier.
Anybody who flies over the area to and from Inverness, as I do twice a week normally, can see below much of the 140 miles of reconstruction which is taking place, some of it several miles from the present road with bridge crossings of two firths reducing the distance by 15 miles. That is the new A9. But life is not as simple as the noble Earl suggested because, in all three cases, there were objections in Scotland, and on the second and third there were serious objections. In respect of Edinburgh Air- 1078 port and the deep-water port at Hunters-ton there were national television and radio programmes opposing my decisions and almost wholly devoted to the cases of the objectors. At Hunterston I was burnt in effigy on the beach; a Secretary of State needs a thick skin but he also needs a heat-resistant one.
Like the noble Earl, Lord Perth, I was certain that the large majority of the interested Scots approved of those decisions—he took it for granted—because they were good for Scotland as a whole. That majority, however, was distinguished by its silence at the time. It would have helped me—this is an additional point about our proposals—as Secretary of State or as chief Minister in a new system, and it would have helped to inform public opinion in Scotland, if there had been some form of visible Assembly considering those matters in Scotland. The majority would have been there clearly and visibly supporting my decisions because I did get support from both sides in the other place; but it was submerged and hidden and not seen by the Scottish Press or the public. In other words, the present processes at Westminster on such matters are invisible.
My message tonight is, as noble Lords will realise, a warning. My noble friend Lord Selkirk, in a most perceptive speech, also spoke vividly of this danger. A devolution scheme has to be worked out very carefully. It must be workable and lasting and it must meet the reasonable aspirations of the people North of the Border while also being acceptable in the South. If it does not fulfil these requirements, we run the serious risk not only of confusion but, worse, of the splitting-up of Britain to the detriment of every part of it.
§ Lord MACKIE of BENSHIE
My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord a question before he resumes his seat? I have listened with a good deal of impatience, waiting for some indication of a lack of foresight on the part of the Conservative Party in assessing the aspirations of the people of Scotland. His whole speech appeared to be an indication of foresight which evidently must have been lacking. Does the noble Lord agree or does he not agree that, while the SNP has made certain claims—with some of which we agree and with many others of which we wholly disagree—about the 1079 Parties in Scotland having failed to put the message over, the Tories, having failed to grasp it, failed in their assessment of the situation?
Lord CAMPBELL of CROY
My Lords, in order to answer the noble Lord's question, perhaps I may extend my speech slightly. I thought I had made it clear—I did not want to go over all the ground again—that between 1968, when we announced in principle that we thought some form of Assembly was necessary in Scotland (that is nearly eight years ago), and 1970, my noble friend Lord Home of the Hirsel and his Committee were considering that matter. When their report came out, the whole subject was in baulk because a Royal Commission was appointed.
My understanding was that, if we had produced a White Paper or started a scheme, the Royal Commission would have resigned on the spot. Unfortunately, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Kilbrandon, is not here to confirm whether that is so, but certainly it would not have been the right way to go about it. Personally, I hoped that the Royal Commission would have reported in less than four and a half years, but, considering the amount of ground which it had to cover, one cannot criticise the Commission for not being quicker.
§ 11.1 p.m.
§ The MINISTER of STATE, PRIVY COUNCIL OFFICE (Lord Crowther-Hunt)
My Lords, this has been a long and most useful debate because it has shown how admirably this House can recognise the realities and needs of the present political and constitutional situation. I say this as a now convinced devolutionist—but, like many of your Lordships, I was a late convert to the cause. Indeed, when as a member of the Commission on the Constitution we started our work way back in 1969 I did not think that the solution to the difficult constitutional problems we faced would lead us down the devolutionary road. I believed then—and I had already studied these problems for many years as a Fellow of an Oxford College—that the way to make the United Kingdom Government more responsive to the needs of the different nations and regions of the United Kingdom was to alter our 1080 policy-making and administrative processes in Whitehall and Westminster and to alter local government as well. I believed that we should do all that rather than spawn assemblies all round the place —in Scotland, Wales and the English regions.
However, as our work went on, first under the noble Lord, Lord Crowther, and then under the noble and learned Lord, Lord Kilbrandon—I should like to emphasise yet again in your Lordships' House how much the country owes to the heavy burdens they bore during those four years of hard work by the Commission on the Constitution and to say again too how much I personally appreciated all their kindnesses to me and particularly the sympathetic understanding of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Kilbrandon, of my own position when I felt I had to produce my Minority Report—I gradually became convinced of the need for devolution. I became convinced of it for two main reasons. First, it seemed to me that the enormous growth this century in the functions and responsibilities of central Government was placing too big a burden on Ministers, the Civil Service and Parliament. As a consequence of this it was becoming more and more difficult for Ministers to have the time to take well-thought-out major policy decisions and to exercise adequate policy control over the vastly expanded Civil Service. Secondly, all this had also contributed to the decline of Parliamentary control over our vastly expanded Executive.
So, my Lords, I became convinced of the need for devolution to reduce the burdens on the centre, to enable Parliament to have a more powerful role in central Government and policy-making and administration and, just as important, to bring decision-making nearer to the people mostly affected by it. And if that line of thought bears a certain resemblance to the diagnosis presented yesterday by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, in his brilliant speech—well, there is no point in speculating who converted whom. In fairness here I ought to say that I think I first heard the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, express ideas along these lines at a discussion in my own Oxford College—Exeter College—in the 1960s. I remember challenging him then, though very diffidently. 1081 But if he was first in the field I think I probably worked out the ideas more fully and with more detailed documentation and analysis at the beginning of my Minority Report.
Now all that was by the way of saying that, as a now convinced devolutionist, I find myself especially pleased about the way this debate has gone. And I say this with particular reference to the point made by my noble friend Lord Shepherd when he said in his speech:We do not intend to legislate in haste or on the basis of rigid preconceptions, or without seeking the widest possible consensus ".—[Official Report, 27/1/76; col. 735.]This links with the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Home of the Hirsel, when he said that his object wastrying to find ingredients for consensus so that we may from this House propose something practical on which the Government can work ";and when he emphasised that the debate hadbeen conspicuous for the fact that nobody has given any thought at all to any Party gaining votes from this issue. It would be fatal if either House of Parliament looked upon this matter from that point of view ".—[Official Report, 27/1/76; cols. 774–775.]Now it is in this general context that it is so heartening to note that the gap between the political Parties—in this House, at any rate—is clearly narrowing and indeed, is narrow, certainly so far as Scotland is concerned. Let me just illustrate this by reference to what various noble Lords have said. First of all, of course, it is clear that virtually everyone in this House agrees that separation is out. It would not be in the interests of either Scotland or Wales, or of the United Kingdom as a whole; and there is, and will be, no substantial demand for this anywhere in the United Kingdom if we get our devolution proposals right and on to the Statute Book as soon as possible. Secondly, it was evident from the speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, that though he believes our scheme has got "square wheels", as he put it, he was more concerned to make the wheels round rather than fundamentally to alter the load they are designed to carry. I cannot help observing, in this context, that a scheme of devolution with square wheels might actually have certain advantages. If some people are worried that the scheme proposed in the White 1082 Paper might lead us down the slippery slope towards independence, then square wheels would obviously be an advantage.
But I was much encouraged by the noble and learned Lord's emphasis on what he called "true devolution ". He said that this means a separation of powers between the central and regional Governments. This, my Lords, is what we are trying to achieve. When he went on to say that, if there is to be true devolution to Scotland and Wales, the powers to be transferred must be defined as precisely as possible, again, we are in basic agreement. When he further said that that division should be "policed" through the courts of law, well, as my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor has indicated in what he said both about vires and the policy over-ride, or policy veto, the difference between us may well be much narrower than had previously been thought. I should like to return to this point in slightly more detail in a rather different context a little later, because now I wish to take up the points that the noble Lord, Lord Home of the Hirsel, specifically addressed to me yesterday.
I listened with special attention, as I believe all Members of this House did, to the words of the noble Lord. I welcome very specially what he said about the importance of finding consensus over fundamental constitutional issues of this kind; the Government will weigh his words in that spirit. I noted in particular that he felt that the proposals he made some years ago, after a most careful study of all the issues involved, would no longer meet the case; and he sketched out a most interesting development of them.
The scheme that the noble Lord sketched out would distinguish clearly between Bills which affected Scotland alone, and those which touch Scotland simply as part of their effect on the United Kingdom as a whole; he would give the Assembly full responsibility for the former. They would start in the Scottish Assembly, go through all their processes in the Scottish Assembly, and not come at all to Westminster. This line of thinking has a very evident affinity with the basic criterion underlying the Government's proposals on which matters should be devolved and which should not —the criterion presented in paragraph 15 of the White Paper. I think the dividing 1083 line between devolved and reserved probably cannot be precisely the same as the dividing line, under our current system, between Bills which are formally Scottish and Bills which are United Kingdom but with a Scottish application; but I want to think more carefully about this than I have so far had the opportunity to do. But I find myself in close sympathy with what I take to be the noble Lord's basic approach.
However, I wonder—though I am not pressing the noble Lord for clarification now—just where the logic of that approach carries the noble Lord in respect of executive powers. It seems to me hard to conceive realistically of a situation in which the Scottish Assembly passes its own distinctive laws and yet does not have its own distinctive Executive. Let me consider one example here. Suppose the Scottish Assembly, chosen, in the wisdom of the Scottish people, mainly from candidates on the Left, wishes to pass a law for phasing out all private schools. Suppose, also, that by some temporary mishap there was a Conservative Secretary of State for Scotland. Who, in those circumstances, would prepare the Bill? Could such a Bill really be prepared by a Conservative Secretary of State? Will it really be credible to the Assembly, or tolerable to the Conservative Secretary of State and to his majority support in Parliament, that he should be charged with the responsibility of administering such a law in Scotland? I find it hard to imagine that. I believe that the logic of the noble Lord's concept leads inescapably to matching devolved legislative power by devolved executive power.
This I would say also to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, when he was asking me, "Is it necessary to have two Executives?" The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, was going a good deal further than the noble Lord, Lord Home, because he was saying that a Scottish Assembly should assume legislative power in all matters for which the Scottish Office now has administrative responsibility. It seems to me, my Lords, that the logic of this approach and this concept leads inescapably to matching devolved legislative power by devolved executive power. If by any chance thinking could converge broadly in that general 1084 direction—I am choosing my words very carefully, my Lords—I would see a very real possibility of a central nucleus of consensus upon which all the Parties which stand for the Union might build progressively and constructively.
§ The Earl of ONSLOW
My Lords, would the noble Lord not agree that if you have a Labour Government, let us say, in power in England and based on a majority of Scottish seats, with Scottish education devolved to Scotland but with those Labour Scottish seats making the English have no private education when there is a majority of Conservative English seats, then that is equally unjust?
§ Lord CROWTHER-HUNT
My Lords, I do not want to comment on the justice or injustice of these matters. What I was simply trying to illustrate was the very difficult constitutional problems that we have to face. I do not want to make debating or Party points at this stage because debating and Party points have not been made, for the main part, in the debate which has taken place. I simply wanted to illustrate some of the difficulties that could arise, and would arise, and that we have all got to face, with as much consultation as we can, along the roads that noble Lords have indicated.
My Lords, I should like next to refer to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, because that was also most encouraging, I thought. After very usefully reminding your Lordships of the sentiments which underly Scottish feeling, he went on to welcome the White Paper as a great advance. I must not overstate his approval of our plans. He does not think they will do enough to harness the imagination and energy of his countrymen; he hopes to see alterations. Quite naturally, in accordance with the views long held by his Party, he is perhaps interested ultimately in a federal system, as the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran, was emphasising.
It is unlikely that the Government will be able to meet those who hold Lord Mackie's views all along the line. He said a number of things—about a specific allocation of oil revenues to Scotland, for example—which apparently conflicted with our declared policy of maintaining the political and economic unity of the United Kingdom; but there seemed to be enough common ground to suggest that a 1085 consensus might be possible. I will come later to today's speech by the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran, because I should like to refer next to the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Tweedsmuir. She too was most encouraging in the context of consensus. The noble Baroness also recognised that the proposals of Lord Home's Committees, on which she served, could not now be put forward as a suitable solution as they stand. She aligned herself with what I might call the "advanced devolution" position of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham.
The noble Baroness, of course, suggested changes in the Government proposals—no veto powers, for example, and again another look at the tax proposals—but, listening to her, I felt that the Government's own general position was not all that far away from her own area of thinking. As she rightly said, it is now time that we got on with the job. This is where I would disagree with the suggestion of the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, and other noble Lords who suggested a constitutional conference; to get the scheme right, as they generally put it. The Commission on the Constitution laboured for 4½ years on these immensely difficult problems. The Conservative and Labour Governments both considered their recommendations and, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Kilbrandon, pointed out, the White Paper eventually came out broadly taking the majority scheme for Scotland and my minority scheme for Wales. We are having, have had and will have, wider and wider discussions on all this; but it is now time, as the noble Baroness emphasised, to get on with the job, with the development of a real consensus, if that is possible, on the lines I have indicated. Besides, we have already an admirable Constitutional conference—it is called Parliament. The debates we have been having over the last two days admirably illustrate how useful that has been.
My Lords, I should like to say a word or two about vires and the judicial review. My noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor has already dealt with checking the vires of Scottish Assembly Bills before Assent and also with the question whether Bills should be subject to judicial review after Assent. Others have 1086 referred to these questions, also, and I do not think it is necessary for me to traverse this ground again. I would only say that the Government have made it quite clear that these issues are open for discussion. Our minds are not closed on them. Such important matters cannot be conceded now in a piece-meal fashion. They have to be looked at together. But we are prepared to retest our thinking to see whether it stands up in the light of your Lordships' comments.
So far as the question of veto or overriding on policy grounds is concerned, this is another problem which we are prepared to look at again in the light of the views expressed in another place and in this House. In this context, it is important to stress that there is nothing that we can do, or would want to do, which can take away the sovereignty of this Parliament. It is a question of how rigid or flexible the ultimate power of intervention should be. In considering this, however, I hope that the continuing debate will recognise the character of the problem. Interactions between devolved and retained responsibility can arise in a host of ways.
Real-life issues do not come in neat pigeon-holes conveniently labelled "devolved" or "non-devolved ". They have many facets. For example, legislation by a Scottish Assembly within the area of its proper devolved competence might affect or inhibit, or even prevent, the exercise in Scotland by the United Kingdom Government of a power which had not been devolved. One illustration of such a situation would be if a decision of the Scottish Assembly about land use planning or a piece of legislation from the Scottish Assembly in a Housing Act—all matters which would have been devolved under the scheme to the Scottish Assembly—seriously affected the location or operation of a United Kingdom defence installation. Clearly, we have to find a way in which the actions of a devolved authority do not prevent the exercise in Scotland by the United Kingdom Government of their powers which have not been devolved. That is the main problem that we have to solve here. Our proposals on reserved powers are therefore,addressed to this real practical difficulty; they have nothing to do with interference for interference's sake. As I said, we are having another look at 1087 this whole problem in the light of the debates.
I now come to proportional representation, because I would rightly be accused of ducking a significant issue which has been mentioned by so many noble Lords if I did not refer to it. I have been gently reminded in this very good-natured debate that the White Paper does not propose the adoption of proportional representation for elections to the Scottish and Welsh Assemblies, whereas in my Minority Report I said I favoured it. Well, you cannot win on everything!
The fact is of course that the issue of proportional representation for the Assemblies is inevitably in many people's minds associated with the question of proportional representation for Westminster Elections. It can hardly be denied that many of those who are busy arguing for the former are really after the latter.
The Government's view is that any possibility of fundamental change from the present voting system would have to be considered for all levels of government together, and not for the Scottish and Welsh Assemblies alone.
§ The Earl of DUNDEE
My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether it was not perfectly satisfactory at Ulster?
§ Lord CROWTHER-HUNT
My Lords, there were of course special situations in Ulster. I would not deny that proportional representation there had certain merits. Indeed, as I was going to say, the arguments in the case of Assembly elections are not quite the same as those for Westminster elections. Particular factors in the case of the Assemblies are the stronger possibility for long-term one Party government if you do not have proportional representation, or alternatively the risk that a Party committed to breaking up the Union might gain an Assembly majority on a minority of the people's vote. But it must be recognised that the adoption of proportional representation for the Assemblies would inevitably be taken out of context and used to prejudice discussions about having proportional representation in Westminster Elections or in local elections too. There is a further point. Here I have to disagree with what the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, said yesterday when he argued that proportional 1088 representation would make the elected representatives more responsible to and accountable to those who had elected them. But this is very often not what happens. Where proportional representation leads to Coalition Government, the Party leaders, to form the Coalition, have to discard certain promises they have made to the electors. The electors have no say over which promises are then discarded or broken. In this sense, proportional representation enables politicians to escape too easily from the promises they have made to their electors; whereas the "first-past-the-post "system, where it does not produce a Coalition Government, at least enables the electorate to hold one Party and one Government clearly responsible for any promises they may not have carried out.
§ Lord MACKIE of BENSHIE
My Lords, could I also ask the noble Lord to illustrate which of the two major Parties has not broken their promises with astonishing frequency?
§ Lord CROWTHER-HUNT
My Lords, the second intervention concerns a slightly different question. I must answer the noble Lord, Lord Foot, by saying that I am a Member of Her Majesty's Government. Turning now to another point, which has been raised by a number of your Lordships—the question of two Bills or one, both in this House and in another place it has been suggested that there should be not one but two devolution Bills, one for Scotland and one for Wales. For example, the noble Lord, Lord Heycock, argued that this would be in the interest of Wales, particularly. He suggested that there is a difference between the Welsh and Scottish approaches and that the Welsh people should be able to decide their own destiny within the framework of a Welsh Bill. As your Lordships will know, the Government have so far envisaged one Bill to cover both Scotland and Wales. The adoption of two Bills instead of one might not be wholly advantageous. It could possibly add to the length of the devolution time-table; and it would probably introduce some new technical complexities as well 1089 as avoiding others. Nevertheless, as my right honourable friend the Lord President has said, although our present intention is one Bill, we shall now consider carefully the possibility of two Bills.
§ Lord ELTON
My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether he has taken on board the fact that almost everybody who has spoken, as it were, for Wales has had grave reservations as to whether Wales wants it at all? Could he do something to establish whether that is the fact?
§ Lord CROWTHER-HUNT
With respect, my Lords, I was just coming on to that because I was about to deal with the question of a referendum. This is another problem which I have no intention of ducking this evening, even if it means going on for rather longer than perhaps I should. There has been a good deal of talk and a good deal of demand, both in this House and in another place, about holding a referendum—especially in relation to Wales. The Government have no plans for a referendum. In the case of separatism it is quite clear that the great majority of people do not want it. I take the point made by the noble Lord. Lord Campbell of Croy, that if we had a referendum on that issue it might settle the question once and for all—though nothing ever really settles a question once and for all.
It is quite clear to us that the great majority of people do not want separatism. In the case of devolution there has already been a long period of debate and consultation, and it seems clear in principle that devolution would be widely welcomed in Scotland and Wales; the task now is to work out the details. This will involve further public debate and consultations. Nearly 400 bodies have already been invited to comment on the White Paper, and a similar invitation has been issued to the general public. The comments received and the advice offered in Parliamentary debates will be taken into account, and our intention is to prepare a draft Bill for publication in the spring. There will be further consultations and debate on that draft Bill before a fresh Bill is introduced in Parliament at the beginning of the next Session. When all these stages have been gone through, the final result must be closely in line with the wishes of the electorate, particularly if we can develop the con- 1090 sensus approach; and that, after all, is the object of a referendum.
Those who speak in favour of a referendum tend not to face up to the difficulties which it would involve. For example, what would the question be? How would the results be interpreted? Most awkward of all, who would be asked—Scotland and Wales only, or all the United Kingdom? Because all are concerned with devolution and devolution is developing a new relationship between the different parts of a unitary State, and all parts of a unitary State would have a right to express a view on a proposed new relationship. If the referendum were to be mainly concentrated in Wales as the place where it is alleged that, unlike Scotland, no consensus for an Assembly exists, it seems hard to imagine the Welsh people rejecting an Assembly for Wales when they knew that an Assembly was proposed and was to be instituted for Scotland.
May I now deal with the question of local government and another tier? Much has been said both here—
§ Lord SWANSEA
My Lords, will the noble Lord allow me to interrupt before he leaves the referendum point? He said a minute ago that the majority of people in Wales do not want separatism. I should like to ask him how he arrives at that assumption, and how he also arrives at the assumption that they want an Assembly.
§ Lord CROWTHER-HUNT
My Lords, I will do my best to answer both of those questions. The fact of the matter is that there has already been widespread consultation in Wales on the Government's discussion document which was published in June 1974, and I accompanied the Secretary of State for Wales in discussions in Wales with a large number of representative organisations of different aspects of opinion in Wales. What was remarkable about those consultations was the virtually unanimous agreement that there should be an elected Assembly for Wales. There was also virtually unanimous agreement that the kind of Assembly that the people of Wales wanted was not an Assembly with legislative power, but an Assembly with the kind of executive power that the Government have now proposed in the White Paper.
1091 May I now quickly say something about local government and the question of another tier, because much has been said both here and in another place about the position and role of local authorities, and in particular about the alleged insertion of another tier of government between them and central Government. Let me seek to be as clear as I possibly can about this. What we are proposing is not adding a new tier of government either in Scotland or in Wales. In effect, what we are doing is taking away from United Kingdom Government Departments, like the Scottish and Welsh Offices which are now in Edinburgh and Cardiff, certain functions and responsibilities which they now exercise in Scotland and Wales, and putting those functions and responsibilities under the control of Scottish and Welsh Assemblies. So that, instead of those functions being carried out, as they are now, by the Scottish and Welsh Secretaries of State and their civil servants, they will in future be carried out by members of the Scottish and Welsh Assemblies and the civil servants who will come under their control.
So this is not creating a new tier. In effect, it is subjecting the operations of an existing tier to the direct control of Scottish and Welsh Assemblies; that is, the kind of democratic control which the noble Baroness, Lady White, recognised Westminster is not now adequately exercising. In this context, it is important to stress that the White Paper makes it clear that it is not the Government's intention to take away any of the existing powers and functions of local government. So much for the situation which will exist when the Scottish and Welsh Assemblies have been created.
After that, a situation may arise in Scotland which is different from that in Wales. The Scottish Assembly will have legislative power. Accordingly, it will be able, if it wishes, to reorganise the whole structure of local government in Scotland and produce a different distribution of powers and responsibilities between itself and the Scottish local authorities. The Welsh Assembly will not have the power of primary legislation, and it will not be able to alter the structure of local government in Wales or the present statutory distribution of existing powers 1092 and functions between the existing local authorities in Wales, on the one hand, and the Welsh Assembly on the other. The Westminster Parliament will itself have to legislate to produce any such change.
I intended to say something about the block grant and rate support and about the Welsh joint education committee, but the hour is getting late and I have taken a great deal of time, so may I be permitted to skip over those topics? However, the Government's line on those is eminently justifiable, and if I had time to talk about them I could perhaps clear up some confusion.
I should like to comment on the eloquent speech that was made by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, at the beginning of today's debate. I hope I have dealt satisfactorily with his point about the additional tier of government which he thought we were creating. I cannot resist the temptation to say that we are not creating an additionaltier of government. When the noble Lord, Lord Elton, said that there ought to be a newly created body in Wales, representing and growing out of the local authorities, it seemed to me that it was the noble Lord, Lord Elton, himself who was setting up an additional level of government in Wales, whereas we are not.
At this point may I reply to a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran, that the Welsh Assembly should have legislative powers. I have explained already that so far all of our discussions in Wales have shown that the majority of organisations there with which we had such wide-ranging discussions did not themselves want legislative powers for their Assembly. They wanted it to be a different kind of Assembly.
The noble Baroness, Lady White, made the point that we as a Government have failed to take into account the European dimension. This is not true. The Government have considered very carefully the European dimension. If I may say so, in my Minority Report there is a chapter which deals with the European dimension and which is headed "The Common Market Dimension ". It makes the case that, given the fact that we have joined the Common Market, this will add still further burdens to central Government and increase the need for a move of functions downwards, although 1093 it would limit the kind of functions that could be devolved. But the Common Market and the European dimension have been fully taken into account by the Government.
I come now to the points which were made by the noble Lord, Lord Foot, with whom I was privileged to serve on the Constitution Commission. He was right to remind me of the words I used in the Minority Report to condemn the scheme of legislative devolution recommended in the Majority Report which the Government have broadly adopted so far as Scotland is concerned. Those words of mine which the noble Lord, Lord Foot, quoted were very powerful and I was delighted to be reminded of them, but we have to remember that when I wrote those words I was in my academic ivory tower. Here we must remember that politics is the art of the possible and that what looks right from the "dreaming spires of Oxford "may not always be possible in the real, harsh world of practical politics. If, as I believe, devolution is crucial in the interests of democratic government, then I have no doubt whatsoever that what we as a Government are doing is very much in the right direction and the best in all the circumstances that can be achieved now. If temporarily I have left my ivory tower in the cause of promoting devolution, then I am very glad that the noble Lord, Lord Foot, has taken over my academic conscience. The noble Lord, Lord Foot, also said that we have made no reference to England in our grand design, but in my view the proposals now under consideration for Scotland and Wales will not pre-empt or limit in any way any of the devolution alternatives for England which are both practicable and possible.
At this stage I am not going to say anything about finance or industrial powers. I was going to speak about them but my noble friend Lord Kirkhill said a great deal about these subjects yesterday.
Before I sit down, may I say that I was grateful to the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, for his reference to the way in which in paragraphs 298 to 307 of my Minority Report I had linked my scheme of devolution to a proposal that certain members of the Scottish and Welsh 1094 Assemblies should also be Members of your Lordships' House. Such a proposal would, I believed at the time, have all the advantages which the noble Lord. Lord O'Hagan quoted; and indeed one of the reasons why I had to write a Minority Report was because I could not sell this idea to the rest of my colleagues. I still believe that it is a good idea. Indeed I believe it is an excellentidea, and I believe that it will come in time. But I am now sufficient of a realist to believe that if we tied this idea for a modest addition to a reform of your Lordships' House to our schemes for devolution for Scotland and Wales it would not prosper at this moment those particular schemes of devolution which must be our overriding priority.
My Lords, the hour is late. I do not pretend that I have answered all the points raised by noble Lords, but I have taken note of all of them and in the further consideration we are giving to all these problems I can assure your Lordships that they will be fully taken into account. But as a Government we believe that schemes of devolution along the lines outlined in the White Paper are not only vital if we are to bring decision-making nearer to the peoples of Scotland and Wales and to give them a greater say in the running of their affairs, but they are crucial too if we are to maintain the political and economic unity of the United Kingdom, which we are so determined to preserve.
§ Lord BALLANTRAE
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down I should like to ask a final question, because the opportunity may not recur. In view of the fact that the noble Lord the Leader of the House and the noble Lord himself both promised us that the Government would look at everything that was raised, can we take it that the door has not been slammed against the point of looking at proportional representation in the election of the Scottish Assembly? I have the feeling that the door has been slightly shut.
§ Lord CROWTHER-HUNT
My Lords, I do not propose to go any further. I dealt with the whole question of proportional representation very fully and carefully, and I do not think it would be right to go further at this late hour.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.