§ 2.53 p.m.
§ The LORD CHANCELLOR (Lord Elwyn-Jones)
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen to acquaint your Lordships that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Bill, has consented to place her prerogative and interest, so far as they are affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.
We have debated the subject of devolution in this House on a number of occasions, and the long list of speakers who are to take part in this debate—which I see includes the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scarman, whose maiden speech we shall all be looking forward to—reflects the major constitutional importance of the Scotland Bill and its companion, the Wales Bill, which is now on its way in another place.
Parliament is not famed for its readiness to accept the need for constitutional change and reform. The Government have nevertheless persisted with their devolution proposals because they are convinced, as was the Kilbrandon Royal Commission which studied the subject for four years, that devolution would reduce discontent with the present system of government, counter over-centralisation and strengthen democracy. We believe 1179 that devolution is a means of bringing decision-making closer to the people most affected by those decisions.
The Bill will provide for the Scottish people the means of securing a greater accountability over those matters that most directly concern them. What the Bill proposes is, I submit, the next logical step along the road of administrative decentralisation on which we have been travelling for many years; indeed, many milestones have already been passed in the transfer of executive responsibility to the Scottish Office and to the Secretary of State for Scotland. Governments of both Parties—indeed, of all Parties—have long recognised that there is a special history and tradition in Scotland. This finds expression, for example, in Scotland's separate legal and educational systems, and helps to make up the agreeable diversity which has always existed within the United Kingdom. But administrative decentralisation has been carried as far as it reasonably can and there has been growing feeling that the time has come for the devolution of political accountability.
Underlying the Government's approach to devolution is the principle that it should not involve any loss of political or economic unity in the United Kingdom. Those who inhabit its component parts have an immense bond of friendship, of a shared history and, indeed, of shared common sacrifices. Working in union over the years, they have achieved far more than they could have done separately. We believe devolution will strengthen, and not weaken, the United Kingdom. This is because it recognises the desire of the people of Scotland for a greater democratic influence in their own domestic affairs and will enlarge the basis of consent on which Government must rest if it is to operate efficiently and with acceptance.
In considering the constitutional relationships to be established and the actual content of devolved government, we have been guided by two complementary objectives. The first has been to devolve responsibility as fully and freely as possible for all matters which primarily affect people living in Scotland, and not people living elsewhere. The second has been to ensure that the Government 1180 retain responsibility for all matters affecting the United Kingdom as a whole and the powers needed to ensure that in all such matters the wider interests of the United Kingdom as a whole can prevail in the event of any conflict or dispute. We have been concerned to produce arrangements for the good government of Scotland, but just as much with the good government of the United Kingdom as a whole.
We believe that the proposals which are now before your Lordships' House succeed in meeting these twin objectives, and that they do so in a way which represents continuity with the arrangements for the government of Scotland, as these have developed over the years. I hope that as your Lordships come to consider the Bill in detail—and I am afraid that in sonic areas the realisation of our objectives does inevitably involve considerable detail—you will recognise how the twin objectives I have mentioned are constantly before us, whether in the framing of the constitutional relationships, in the financial arrangements or in the distribution of functions.
Continuity with the past and present arrangements for the government of Scotland has been an important guiding principle. Similarly, continuity is important in the proposals for Wales which will be coming before your Lordships in due course. However, the Government have also kept the United Kingdom dimension constantly before them. The United Kingdom already embraces great diversity and the Government are confident of its being able to accommodate the changes now planned, and, indeed, any further changes for which a consensus may develop in time in Northern Ireland, and even in England. In my view, it is more important to maintain consistency and continuity in the arrangements in each part of the United Kingdom, than to seek to impose some standard pattern which may do violence, in greater or lesser degree, to the traditions and aspirations of one part or the other.
Our proposals are the outcome of very considerable discussion and consultation. Following the report in 1973 of the Royal Commission, latterly headed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Kilbrandon, the Government issued a series of White 1181 Papers about devolution. The consultative document, which was published in June 1974, was followed by a White Paper in the following September outlining our proposed scheme for devolution. The November 1975 White Paper then filled out the details of the scheme, and, when your Lordships debated it in January 1976, I think it is true to say that there was considerable support for the basic concept of devolution, although there were of course differences of view about the detailed proposals.
In the light of these debates and other consultations, we made certain adjustments to our proposals which were set out in a White Paper issued in August 1976. In the last Parliamentary Session, the Scotland and Wales Bill was considered in another place, and a number of constructive suggestions were made during the debates in Parliament and elsewhere on that Bill. Many of these have been incorporated in the present Bill, and I announced the principal changes that we have now made in a Statement to your Lordships last July. No major Bill introduced in recent years has, I believe, been given so much thought and consideration and opportunity for examination as has this Bill. The Government have been flexible and very ready to listen to constructive comments. Now, a decision has to be made.
I turn now to the Bill itself. In view of the very large number of noble Lords who have indicated a wish to speak in the debate, I certainly will not attempt to describe its provisions in detail, and indeed I will bear the list of speakers in mind in regard to the length of my own speech. But I should like to draw attention to some of the major provisions in the Bill. If there are any matters of importance that I may be thought to have left out, my noble and learned friend Lord McCluskey will deal with them at the end of the debate—a fact which gives me very great comfort.
Like its predecessor, the Scotland and Wales Bill, the Scotland Bill provides for the establishment of a directly-elected Assembly with powers of primary and subordinate legislation. Arrangements for elections to the Assembly and qualification for membership are set out in the Bill. In order to take account of views expressed on the earlier Bill, we have made provision for premature dissolution of 1182 the Assembly in order to provide for what we think will be exceptional situations.
A Scottish Executive is also to be established. This will consist of a First Secretary, nominated by the Assembly. In appointing Scottish Secretaries, the Secretary of State for Scotland will act on the advice of the First Secretary. Scottish Secretaries will exercise the prerogative and other executive powers of the Crown, and of Ministers, within a wide, but carefully defined, field of devolved matters concerning Scotland. The matters to be devolved are those of primary concern to the Scottish people, such as most aspects of health, social welfare, education, local government and the physical environment.
The principle we have applied has been to devolve those functions which are domestic to Scotland, and on which decisions can be taken by the Scottish Administration without detriment, damage, or disturbance to the United Kingdom as a whole. It is important that real effective responsibility, and a worthwhile range of powers should be given to the Assembly. This the Bill provides.
It is equally important, however, that the essential unity of the United Kingdom should be maintained to the benefit of all parts of the United Kingdom. Parliament will therefore remain sovereign, with power to legislate for all, or any part, of the United Kingdom on any matter. This is what distinguishes our devolution proposals from federalism. It is also necessary to strike a balance between the responsibility to be exercised in Edinburgh and at Westminster. Our proposals therefore include the essential reservation of those functions where there is an overriding United Kingdom interest. Parliament will accordingly retain direct control over such matters as the conduct of international relations (including of course our developing partnership in the European Community); policies -for national security and the management of the economy; energy and our system of social security. We are legislating for a considerable increase in decision-making in Scotland, but in respect of those matters which are essentially domestic to Scotand. The proposals in the Bill will therefore, in my view, not act to the detriment of the political and economic unity of the United Kingdom.
1183 The partnership that will be struck between Westminster and the Scottish Administration must undoubtedly be based on consultation and co-operation if it is to work satisfactorily. However carefully the lines are drawn between devolved and non-devolved matters, there could nevertheless, I believe, exceptionally, be circumstances in which the legally proper exercise of devolved powers could have unacceptable repercussions on matters which remain the responsibility of the United Kingdom Government. In such cases the Government must retain the power to intervene in the interests of the United Kingdom as a whole. But the power to intervene will be available only where the activities of the devolved administration would adversely affect reserved matters; that is, those matters, such as management of the economy, for which the Government maintain direct responsibility throughout the United Kingdom.
Whereas the Scotland and Wales Bill proposed a power of intervention where actions of the Scottish Administration on devolved matters, such as education or health, were considered by the Government to have detrimental effects on these matters in England, this Bill, as foreshadowed in my Statement, no longer provides for intervention in those circumstances, but only where what I might describe as a fully reserved matter is, or would be, affected. The Government have looked carefully at the provisions for overriding Assembly and executive action, and have concluded that they strike the right balance by providing an essential safeguard to protect matters which are not to be devolved (such as defence and trade, and the other matters I have mentioned) while at the same time minimising the possibility of intervention over the way in which the Assembly exercises its powers in relation to devolved matters.
I wish next to refer to the question of vires. This is, no doubt, one of the subjects which your Lordships will wish to consider in some detail. The Bill provides that the Secretary of State shall consider every Assembly Bill, and if he is of the opinion that it is not within the Assembly's legislative competence, he is to refer the question of competence to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council 1184 for judicial review. Where the United Kingdom's international obligations are concerned, the Secretary of State can himself decide not to submit the Bill for Assent.
In addition, the Bill sets out machinery for the conduct of legal proceedings involving devolution issues arising after Royal Assent to an Assembly Bill. These issues are defined as any question whether a provision in Assembly legislation is within the Assembly's legislative competence, or whether a power exercised or to be exercised is in fact in respect of a devolved matter. Although these issues can be considered and determined in any court, they may be referred to higher courts, and it is now provided in the Bill that the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council will act as the final court of reference. However, where a devolution issue arises in judicial proceedings in this House, the Bill provides that it shall be referred to the Judicial Committee unless the Appellate Committee decides that it would be better in the particular circumstances of the given case to determine the issue for itself.
In the Scotland and Wales Bill, the implementation of Community and other international obligations was reserved to the Government, subject to a power to delegate. On reconsideration, this seemed unnecessarily restrictive. The Bill now devolves responsibility for implementation of international obligations in so far as they relate to devolved matters, but at the same time the Bill retains concurrent powers for the United Kingdom Government themselves to implement any agreement if this appears desirable or necessary. In other words, while the ultimate responsibility for ensuring that our international obligations are discharged is retained, as are the powers necessary to ensure implementation, the Scottish Assembly and the devolved administration can themselves act to secure implementation in the matters for which they are responsible.
I have emphasised our twin objectives of devolving responsibility in domestic Scottish matters but retaining United Kingdom jurisdiction in matters affecting the maintenance of political and economic unity. The working out of these objectives is illustrated yet again in the financial arrangements. Briefly, the 1185 approach we have adopted is that the Government, after consultation with the devolved administration and with the approval of the House of Commons, should decide what aggregate financial resources should be made available for the devolved services collectively, but the Scottish Administration and the Assembly decide how that total should be divided up between the different devolved services. We believe that only the Government and the House of Commons can properly decide how the resources of the United Kingdom as a whole should be shared between the different parts of the United Kingdom, and that this must be done on the basis of relative needs, which again only the central administration is in a position to assess.
To use the terms employed by the Kilbrandon Commission, we have chosen to adopt an expenditure-based system of financing devolved services, and not a revenue-based system, under which the resources accruing to each part of the United Kingdom would depend on its own revenue-raising capacity. A revenue-based system would, we believe, inevitably tend to lead to wider and wider variations in the standard of public services in different parts of the country. The poorer Parts of the country would suffer the most; the greater benefits would go to the richer. The outcome would be bound to be divisive in effect, manifestly unfair, and could endanger political stability. On the other hand, an expenditure-based system, as we propose, can ensure that the needs of all parts of the country are more equitably met. Through continuing consultation on the needs of the devolved services as these change and as time goes on, it will ensure a fair distribution of resources between these services and those that remain the responsibility of the Government.
This does not mean that the Government are opposed in principle to granting the Scottish administration independent powers to raise supplementary revenue to meet particular spending objectives which may not be catered for by the block grant. We made our position clear in the White Paper published last year, in which we reviewed various possibilities and declared our readiness to discuss them further with the Scottish Administration once it was elected and, of course, if it wished. At the same time we made clear our 1186 readiness to discuss with the Scottish Administration the possibility of setting up an independent advisory body which would help us and them by the provision of information about the relative needs for, and standards of, publicly provided services in the different parts of the United Kingdom. Thirdly, we offered to consider with them the possibility of settling the relationship between devolved public expenditure and corresponding expenditure elsewhere in the country by means of a percentage formula for some years at a time, so as to reduce the scope for detailed argument about finance.
Finally, I wish to say a few words about the proposed referendum. The evidence of our extensive consultations demonstrates that a sizeable majority of the Scottish people want a greater voice in the management of their own affairs. They want their own democratically-elected Assembly. They want to decide for themselves about those matters involving distinctive Scottish interests and circumstances. But it is, I believe, equally clear that they reject independence and separation. They want to remain part of the United Kingdom—the Kingdom which, since the union of 1707, they, together with the English, the Welsh and the Irish, through the richness and diversity of their individual national characteristics and institutions, have done so much to influence, to mould and to develop.
However, the Government fully accept that before we embark upon a constitutional change of such magnitude it is important and right that these beliefs should be tested. In order, therefore, to be sure that our proposals do command popular support, and in the light of representations made to us both in this Chamber and elsewhere, we have determined that a referendum of the Scottish people shall be held after the Bill has been enacted but before its provisions are put into effect. We think that this is the right sequence, so that the Scottish people are asked to vote on a precise set of carefully considered proposals and not on some uncertain and ill-defined notion of devolution. We believe that it is right to let the people of Scotland express their views on the proposals. It must be evident that there is no question of the Assembly being imposed against the wishes of the Scottish people.
1187 As your Lordships will no doubt be aware, the other place decided to write into the Bill a provision that the Secretary of State should be required to lay a order for repeal of the Act (as it then would be) unless 40 per cent. of those entitled to vote in the referendum indicated their support for the Government's proposals. This provision was not welcome to the Government, and, as your Lordships will know, has been much criticised in Scotland and elsewhere. The Government, however, accept the decision of the other place and do not propose to place before your Lordships any proposals to remove the provision, little though they like it. I also emphasise that the 40 per cent. threshold, as it is called, is not, of course, the sole criterion by which it will be decided whether or not devolution is to go ahead. The referendum, in law, remains consultative and advisory to Parliament, and it is Parliament which, after the referendum has been held, will take the final decision in the light of all the relevant circumstances.
I have outlined what I think are the major provisions of the Bill and indicated the more significant changes from the Government's earlier proposals. It is the Government's view that our proposals represent a satisfactory and workable system for political devolution to Scotland within the continuing political and economic unity of the United Kingdom.
As I have endeavoured to make clear in the course of my speech, the people of Scotland want greater participation in their own affairs. They want more accountability. But they do not want separation. However, if we deny these legitimate and reasonable demands we run the grave risk of fuelling a campaign which, on a false prospectus, has the declared aim of breaking up the United Kingdom.
Over many years successive Administrations have steadily increased the amount of executive power decentralised to the Scottish Office and to the Secretary of State. We have now reached the point where any further movement in this direction is impractical. In our view, the most sensible way to meet the legitimate needs of Scotland is to set up a legislative Assembly, firmly rooted within the structure of the United Kingdom.
1188 We believe that our proposals offer the Scottish people greater democratic control over those matters that directly concern them and greater participation in government within the continuing framework of the United Kingdom. The important constitutional reform that the Bill proposes will, by allowing more scope for the expression of national diversity, strengthen the Union, not weaken it.
We cannot, my Lords, afford to delay longer. The devolution debate has gone on long enough. The Scottish people have the right to expect Parliament now to come to a firm conclusion on devolution and allow the people of Scotland to express their views in the referendum. The next step towards that conclusion should be to give the Bill a Second Reading. My Lords, I beg to move.
§ (Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Lord Chancellor.)
§ 3.24 p.m.
§ Lord WILSON of LANGSIDE rose to move, as an Amendment to the Motion ("that the Bill be now read a second time"), to leave out all the words after ("that") and insert ("having regard to (1) the unacceptable threat its enactment would present to the unity of the United Kingdom and sovereignty of Parliament and (2) the adverse effect its enactment would have on the effectiveness and efficiency of Government in Scotland, this House declines to give the Bill a Second Reading".)
§ The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the Amendment which stands in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I am conscious that the path which lies ahead of me is beset with a number of hurdles and it may be even worse. The first of the hurdles, it occurs to me, is the persuasive and altogether reasonable eloquence of the noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack. It occurred to me as he addressed your Lordships, if I may, with respect, as a much lesser advocate, say this, that he must often have charmed stubborn English judges out of entrenched legal positions—if, in England as distinct from Scotland, there are such things as stubborn judges. But your Lordships will appreciate that I shall not attempt to meet the case which the noble and learned Lord has made and I shall address myself rather to my Amendment.1189
§ From time to time in another place offensive things have been said about your Lordships' House—and, it may be, not only in another place but outside in the real world as well, where, of course, there are many unelected, self-appointed tribunals of the people. I, for my part, both before and since I became a Member of this House, have always admired the stoic fortitude with which your Lordships met these attacks. But it has sometimes occurred to me that perhaps things have never been quite the same since a certain Welsh Chancellor of the Exchequer called this House "Mr. Balfour's poodle": albeit, as all well-informed people know, that the poodle, unlike mankind, is a creature of the utmost sagacity. I mention this incident because this Scotland Bill has surely presented us with a quite perfect opportunity to make good that old claim of ours, which was also denied by the "Welsh wizard", to be the watchdog of the Constitution. It will be one of these, to me, sad ironies of history if it transpires, as the newspapers assure us it will transpire, that, presented with this opportunity, we are afraid to take it.
§ This is a bad Bill. It is bad in principle because it is based on no sound principle. Its foundation is the Government's belief that there is electoral capital to be made in Scotland out of it. Everyone who has closely followed the debate so far—and this would not occur to one listening to the eminently reasonable case put forward by the noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack—knows this to be true. Indeed, the Government's obsession with electoral considerations perhaps explains much. But let me not be misunderstood. I do not deny the right of any Government to have due regard to electoral considerations; but the emphasis must be on "due regard". It is when it becomes an obsession, as unhappily electoral considerations have become an obsession with all political Parties today, that the Parties and Parliament lose the respect of the people and we get bad government.
§ I have said that the Government's obsession with electoral considerations explains much—the obvious shortcomings of the Bill when first presented, for one thing. No one, not even its most vociferous supporter, has suggested that it is a model of what a Constitution should be. Then there was the ruthless 1190 determination to restrict discussion so that the Bill comes to us ill-digested from another place, much of it not even chewed over, and that part including the all-important financial clauses. I hope that the noble and learned Lord, Lord McCluskey, in reply, will tell us whether there is any precedent for a Bill of such importance being brought from the other place with so many significant clauses, and particularly the financial clauses, undiscussed. But, surely, now everything conceivable has been said and written about this measure, and not only the commentators but the participants have confessed to boredom, understandably enough. But in presenting the White Papers of September 1974 and November 1975 the Government called, if my recollection is aright, for a great debate.
§ Let me, if I can, as shortly as may be, focus on those matters which have emerged from that debate so far as practically beyond argument, if not, indeed, as common ground between the parties concerned. The following six items are perhaps significant. First, the Bill is the most important constitutional measure introduced in the British Parliament affecting the Government of Scotland and regulating the political relationship between the two countries since 1707. That is trite. It has been said thousands of times. But the important implication of it is this. If the Government have got it wrong, as an increasing number of people in Scotland, and it may be else where, are coming to believe, the consequences for Scotland and the United Kingdom could be anything from seriously divisive to disastrous and calamitous—according to whether you agree with Professor Peacock or Mr. Tam Dalyell.
§ That implication is beginning to be more widely appreciated and reflected upon outside of Parliament. Perhaps for the record I should remind your Lordships that Professor Peacock was the joint author, along with the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, of the minutes of dissent to the Royal Commission's report which I have always thought was the best thing that came out of the Royal Commission. I am sure that Mr. Tam Dalyell requires no introduction to your Lordships.
The second point is this: The Bill does affect the unity of the United Kingdom and the supreme authority of Parliament.
I need not argue this point because, of course, the other place voted out of the Bill the original Clause 1 which declared the contrary, and they did so expressly on the grounds that that declaration was not true—which, on the face of the other provisions of the Bill, it clearly was not. In doing so, another place showed acute wisdom. The Bill has many serious defects. How many and how serious is arguable, but defective it undoubtedly is. Putting aside the Nationalists and the Government Front Bench, who after all are a special case, no significant voice has welcomed it wholeheartedly or sung its praises in unqualified terms. Even Mr. David Steel expressed qualifications and misgivings about the terms of the original Bill. The Scotsman newspaper—quite the most partisan of the Press—said on one occasion:
The Bill is far from satisfactory but we shall campaign wholeheartedly in its favour"—
which is as near to vintage Lewis Carroll as you can get without actually stepping through the looking glass or following that wretched rabbit down the burrow. Last week The Scotsman went even further, and said:
Getting an Assembly is an overriding priority. Any constitution2I mess it leaves behind will just have to be cleared up as well as possible".
My Lords, I shall not weary the House with a recital of all the Bill's defects, but I shall touch on two. First, there is the anomalous position of Scots MPs which has caused so much concern—the notorious West Lothian question to which the Government have no answer that I have yet heard. Slowly but surely as the great debate which the Government asked for goes on, it is coming to be recognised that the West Lothian anomaly is not just an oddity but has created an impossible situation which cannot be remedied. That is the first point on the defects of the Bill.
§ The second, what is devolved to the Assembly as I understand it—but I shall be corrected if I am wrong—on a very rough guess is some three-quarters of the business of government in Scotland presently devolved administratively to the office of the Secretary of State, to do that proportion of the work shared effectively at present by the Secretary of State and some five (or is it six?) junior Ministers. 1192 To do that work we are to have an Assembly of 100 to 115 members and all the panoply of Government: a First Secretary, who will probably become known as the Prime Minister; an unspecified number of Secretaries, who will be Ministers in all but name; an unspecified number of Assistant Secretaries, who will be Under-Secretaries in all but name; backed by at least 750 additional civil servants.
§ If my recollections as a humble infantry officer are correct, this gives us over a company of politicians and a battalion of bureaucrats. The areas of government for which they are to be responsible are spelt out in quite extraordinarily minute detail in Schedule 10. It is not a matter of the familiar formula of reserving certain areas and devolving the rest. Some of those areas appear to be split, part to the Assembly and part to remain with the Secretary of State—the whole thing as I see it, but I may be wrong and I may be corrected, a splendid recipe for confusion, for uncertainty and for administrative chaos of a high order.
§ Why was it necessary to lay down the devolved matters in this elaborate and complicated way—20 pages and more of scheduled facts? Frankly, it baffles me; but perhaps I am getting old and the noble and learned Lord, Lord McCluskey, who is distinguished for his legal acumen and much else, will no doubt explain why it was thought necessary to do it in this way. But even if it was necessary to do it this way, I challenge the Government to spell out what contribution to the better government of Scotland these provisions will make, particularly in those areas which are the real concern in Scotland, in those areas the concern about which, incidentally, contributed significantly to the protest vote which, particularly since 1966, has gone to the Nationalists—as indeed it has tended to do over these last 25 or 30 years, whenever the British Government are below par, as periodically they have been.
§ I have touched on two of what I regard as the major defects of the Bill. There are many others, and it is for your Lordships to decide how many and how serious they are. But let me return for a moment to the matters beyond argument. Numbers (4) and (5) I can pass over quickly: (4) the Bill would never have been given a Second Reading on a free vote in the other place, and (5) the Bill would never have 1193 got through without a guillotine, with the result that many clauses, including the financial clauses, have not been discussed at all in Committee. These, of course, are matters essentially for the other place rather than for us. As to (6), the hostility which the Bill has excited in the country has ranged wide. In the political sphere it has ranged from that of Mr. Enoch Powell to that of Mr. Eric Heller. Indeed, Mr. Heifer is on record as having said that he would almost forgive us if we threw the Bill out. The Bill has created considerable alarm and despondency in industrial and commercial circles, and its reception, particularly among those who have studied it in any depth, suggests that it lacks those elements providing that stability so essential if a constitutional reform is to be successful. Last, there is a suggestion that it contains many of those elements which make for conflict, confusion and division.
§ If I am right so far, or substantially so, is not the nub of the matter this: Should the widely acknowledged defects in the Bill be regarded as fatal or are they curable? Will the Bill, if enacted as it stands or in any conceivable amended form, improve government in Scotland and strengthen, rather than diminish, the unity of the Kingdom, or would it undermine the sovereignty of Parliament and reduce the effectiveness and efficiency of government in Scotland? If that happened, would the Scots, ex hypothesi, having lost faith in Westminster, have none in the new Assembly, and would not the political beneficiaries of that situation be the Nationalists, and the probable consequence the break-up of the Union?
§ These are the questions on which we must reach a judgment. I have reached mine. I believe the partnership that we established in 1707 has been, on balance, a fruitful one. I believe that for the present it should be continued. If a majority of my fellow countrymen here and now were to say that they thought it should end, and demonstrated this on a free vote, that is something which we might have to accept. But that is not what I fear. What I fear is that we drift into separatism by default, not because there is a majority opinion now that that is the best road for the Scots and Scotland, but simply because of the confusion made worse confounded by this bad Bill. That is why I oppose it.1194
§ My Lords, in conclusion, let me say just this. I have been advised by a number of your Lordships of vastly greater experience in the ways of this House, and indeed in the world outside, than I, that although they share my views, as do the majority of this House—that the Bill is utterly without merit—they regard the course proposed in the Amendment as quite inappropriate and, indeed, rather worse than that. They suggest, as I understand it, a somewhat different tactic by those, the majority in this House, who abhor this Bill. I have reflected anxiously on what they have advised but I have found it impossible to agree.
§ Simply because I have talked outside this House to a very large number of people in Scotland about this Bill—and I find them singularly unimpressed by the tactical manoeuvring of the Parliamentary battle which arouses so much excitement in Westminster—I find, on the contrary, that most of them want their legislators to reach a judgment on the merits of this measure. Will it be good for Scotland or not? Will it take the steam out of the Nationalist advance—and the real separatists in Scotland of course are a small minority—or will it, by arousing expectations of better government which will inevitably be dashed, stoke the fires of nationalism?
§ I think that the people of Scotland want and are entitled to have from their legislators clear answers to such questions, answers given frankly without regard to the Party Whip and the Parties' ritual dances. This matter is too important for Scotland to be determined on the crack of any whip. It would be wrong of me, of course, and against the conventions of your Lordships' House, to criticise another place, but I do not think that the people of Scotland have had such an answer yet, and the question will be: Are your Lordships prepared to give it to them? I beg to move.
§ Moved, as an Amendment to the Motion ("that the Bill be now read a second time") to leave out all the words after ("that") and insert ("having regard to (1) the unacceptable threat its enactment would present to the unity of the United Kingdom and sovereignty of Parliament and (2) the adverse effect its enactment would have on the effectiveness and efficiency of Government in Scotland, this House 1195 declines to give the Bill a Second Reading".)—(Lord Wilson of Langside.)
§ 3.45 p.m.
My Lords, we have witnessed the happy but not unusual spectacle of two eminent noble and learned Lords disagreeing with each other. If the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilson of Langside, thought that the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack was persuasive, so was he, if I may say so. I shall spare your Lordships the privilege of having a third noble and learned Lord.
The Bill which is before us today is going to affect for better or for worse many aspects of our lives, the Constitution of our land, our approach to attitudes, problems and peoples, in whatever the part of the United Kingdom in which one lives, and whether one is English, Scottish, Welsh or Northern Irish. Once passed, this Bill cannot have anything other than a profound effect on all parts of the United Kingdom. Despite the controversy which surrounds this Bill, the one common area of agreement—and here I agree with the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor—is that most but not all people in the United Kingdom value and wish to retain and nurture the unity of the United Kingdom. Within that broad band of agreement, however, some say that this unity is best obtained by preserving the status quo: others say that it is best obtained by giving the Scots an Assembly and if this Bill does that then it is a good thing, and others say that while an Assembly is desirable the way by which it is being achieved in the Bill is undesirable.
Whatever our personal views may be, we should recognise that these divisions of sentiment and of thought within the United Kingdom, and within the peoples who make up the United Kingdom, reflect a range of fundamental emotions, and these sentiments are real, are deep and could be explosive. All this is caused by the natural and recognised desire by many in Scotland to have more control over the matters which affect them. And who could say that that is wrong?
But, my Lords, you do not have to be in Scotland to sense this desire for what one might call self-interest. Look around 1196 the world. Look at Cyprus; look at Quebec; look at Israel; look at Brittany; look at Belgium and the compulsory duality of French and Flemish languages in all Government Departments. Look at Spain and the demand for autonomy of Catalonia and the Basques. Wherever one looks in a world of sameness and mediocrity people are striving to find their identity and to mark it. People are wanting to find their roots and to latch on to them. People want to be proud of themselves, of their heritage, of their individuality and of their national composition. Yet, in an era of mass communication, mass production and mass consumption, the individual finds himself immersed in the middle of masses, and he does not like it. In an era of so-called understanding, we find ourselves not understood.
I think that this simple but elementary fact lies behind much of our social, industrial and political disillusionment today. It is to the alleviation of that basic problem that politicians should address their minds; yet, the pathetic part is that the more we wrestle with the problem, the less we mitigate it but the more we compound it.
These strong, emotive forces we underrate at our peril. They are peculiar to our times but they are not peculiar to Scotland. They are nevertheless prevalent in Scotland; and, depending on the way in which they are harnessed or directed, they can be forces for good or ill. They can be unifying or divisive; they can be avaricious or constructive. Those who lead the Parliaments of the world have the task of trying to contain the extremes of satisfying the desires and at the same time being conscious of the effects of both these on others. Add to that the frustrations of an over-governed society, and it is not surprising that the roller-coaster gathers momentum as people say, "Let's get back to basics and look after ourselves". That is an emotion that one can neither deride nor decry.
So it is, my Lords, that the purport of the Bill is to satisfy in an equitable way the desire of the Scots to have more control over their own affairs. But there appear to be—and here I speak as an Englishman, with caution and, I hope, with humility—three different factors at play. There are those who have always 1197 regarded Scotland as a separate nation and who wish to see that thought become fact. While one may not share that view one can certainly at least respect it. Then there is the "the oil is Scotland's" momentum, which is encouraged by those who see the advent of oil off the shores of Scotland as proffering the opportunity for substantial economic advancement for Scotland. The third group are those who have become disillusioned with the remoteness and impersonality of 20th century bureaucracy and who feel that decisions affecting their lives are taken by faceless people who are separated, both in distance and in thought, from the vortex of reality.
These groups of people, other than the first, have seen the Scottish National Party as offering the opportunity to register their protest against the present system and against the major political Parties who are identified, if not with creating the problem, at least with doing nothing to resolve it. They are not among the main advocates of independence for Scotland, to which the Scottish National Party is nevertheless indelibly and openly committed.
So, while it is fair to say there is no demand for a change from the status quo in England, it is equally true to say that there is some demand for a change in Scotland; but a change in the system for the one is inevitably a change in the system for the other. The problem of trying to retain and strengthen the unity of the United Kingdom, on the one hand, and of granting a measure of control over their own affairs to the Scots, on the other hand, while preventing this shift of control to the Scots having an adverse effect on the English as regards the administration of their affairs, is one of supreme delicacy which must, in all fairness and common sense, transcend Party politics.
This Bill is deeper and far more complex than a simple means of providing an Assembly for Scotland. It drives like a ramrod right through this delicate web of conflicting considerations. It is fair to say, at least to date, that this Bill has been remarkable, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilson, said, for its absence of active supporters; and the more it has been scrutinised, the more opinions have hardened against it, even among those who 1198 wish to have an Assembly. But the brutal fact is that, even if this Bill were to founder, for whatever reason, the problem which fathered it would not go away but might even be exacerbated. That, to me, is the nature of the sensitivity of this Bill. It does not mean to say that that is an argument in favour of the Bill, but it is a fact about the Bill, and I have no doubt that we shall acknowledge and accede to that sensitivity in our discussions on it.
If the United Kingdom is to remain just that—a united kingdom, a kingdom of unity—it stands to reason that there must be comparability between the regions. That does not mean that the regions and the way in which they administer themselves must necessarily be the same, but they should at least be similar. To set up an Assembly in Edinburgh, whereby we devolve to the Scots the total right of control over their own home affairs such as health, education and social services, and yet retain the right of the Scottish Members of Parliament to involve themselves in the equivalent English domestic affairs seems to be so manifestly inequitable that it can only cause constant and continuing friction, which will get worse over the years.
§ Several noble Lords: Hear, hear!
Indeed, my Lords, when the English realise that legislation concerning them and on a subject upon which, were it to refer to Scotland, English Members of Parliament would have no say, has been passed simply because of the involvement of Scottish Members of Parliament, then the flames of English nationalism—something which is virtually unheard of at present—will be fanned. Antagonism will follow and these two great peoples will gradually muster themselves and their opinions against each other.
There are those who say that the remedy can be found in one of two ways. The first is to deny to Scottish MPs the right to interfere with English domestic legislation in the same way as the English are to be denied the right to interfere with Scottish legislation. But then there would be two classes of Member of Parliament: some would be entitled to vote on some matters but not on others, while others could vote on all matters. 1199 Who would decide who should vote on what? Perhaps it would be the Speaker—but, my Lords, what a fireball to put into his hands! In any event, that runs counter to the cardinal principle of our existing system, which is that the unity of the United Kingdom is expressed by a United Kingdom Parliament in which all Members have equal rights and equal votes on all matters.
The second remedy lies in reducing the number of Members of Parliament sent from Scotland to Westminster once they have an Assembly of their own. That is a possibility, but, at best, it would only mitigate the problem: it would not solve it. Yet the Bill makes no provision for either remedy, or for any other. It constructs a gross inequity and thereby implants within it the seeds of discord.
In a similar way, it would be difficult to devise a system which was more calculated to generate bitterness and acrimony between the Assembly and the United Kingdom than to give power to the Assembly to spend money but not to raise it. Once every four years, we are told, there is to be a form of negotiation between the Assembly and Westminster to determine the amount of money which the Scots may have to spend upon themselves. Can anyone really believe that any Scottish Assembly will ever be satisfied with the amount of money which it will be given? And if it were, would it ever be politic to admit it? Of course not. The Assembly's job will be to use every shot in the locker to extract as much money as possible out of the United Kingdom Government, and the fact that its demands will never be fully met will be good cause for vilifying the United Kingdom Parliament. As the years go by and as understanding gives way to intolerance, so the two countries, their ideals and objectives, will gradually move apart.
And what if the United Kingdom Government disapproves of the way in which the Assembly is conducting itself? There is nothing in the Bill to require the United Kingdom Parliament to give the Assembly a penny. The Secretary of State can, if he so wishes, just turn off the taps. Admittedly, that may be unlikely, but the way in which the Bill is constructed is not calculated to cause 1200 harmony but, rather, wrangling and conflict between the two legislative Chambers.
One may ask: how will business react to all this? Already the confidence which is so essential for investment is waning and apprehension over the future prospects of Scotland is growing—not because Scotland is not a good place in which to invest but simply because the effect of this Bill will inevitably lead Scotland in the ultimate further away from England, not closer to it. In the end, we have to ask ourselves: is this Bill going to bring better government, cheaper government and simpler government? I think not, on all three counts. It will superimpose yet another layer of government upon those which already exist and it will subtract nothing. To the 71 Scottish Members of Parliament who are already sent to Westminster will be added 150 Assembly men and all the bureaucratic paraphernalia with which they will be supported, including an extra 750 civil servants. Therefore, 221 people will in future be doing the job which 71 did before. That might be justifiable if a layer of government were to be removed. But, like the strata of a rock face, the layers of government remain solid and immutable, save only to permit of their addition.
Already the Scots are governed by the United Kingdom Parliament, the European Parliament, regional councils, district councils and community councils, and to this is now to be added the panoply of an Assembly. Will it make for a happier people and a more contented people on both sides of the Border? I think not, because it will accentuate the differences between peoples, instead of cultivating the harmonies. Will it make for a more cohesive United Kingdom and a stronger United Kingdom? The noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack thinks that it will. I do not, because implanted in this Bill are the seeds of destruction of the United Kingdom. Some may say that that is an extravagance, but the seeds are there and time alone will tell whether or not they grow. But they are there. That is why this is not just a Scottish Bill, but a United Kingdom Bill.
It is the acknowledged pressure of the Scottish National Party which has been responsible for the introduction of this 1201 Bill, and built into the philosophy of the Scottish Nationalists is their ultimate desire for total independence. The leader of the Scottish National Party said only the other day that, for his Party, there is no stage between the status quo and independence where it will say, "Thus far and no farther". The Scottish Nationalists have again made their commitment to total independence, and all that that involves, crystal clear and, in so far as this Bill panders to them, this Bill panders to that.
The creation of an Assembly, in the way in which this Bill suggests, will not quench the desires and demands of those whom it seeks to satisfy. Rather will it feed the appetite and, as the appetite is fed, so will demands increase, so will opinions harden, so will views polarise, so will the ratchet effect of nationalism on both sides be given an extra twist, and the mirage of separatism will gradually transform itself into a reality. In time, but not necessarily immediately, a growing wave of frustration, despair, unrealised expectations and unexpected realisations will lead even moderate men, and men of goodwill, to recognise that independence will be seen as the only and the inevitable way out. I would say this to the Government, in all humility and sincerity: There is no virtue, although there may be a passing political expediency, in passing a constitutional measure the common denominator of which is apprehension, fear and lack of enthusiasm.
There is a way out, which I would ask the Government to consider. It will need courage and it is simply this—the determination to get it right. Everyone acknowledges that here is a huge problem, a difficult one and a dangerous one. Everyone genuinely wants to find a solution which, although it may not satisfy everyone, will nevertheless contain an underlying measure of substantial support. The one thing which shone like a beacon about this Bill as it went through another place was that, although the votes of Members of Parliament said one thing, their hearts said another.
It is still not too late for the Government to seek the advice of men of goodwill of all Parties and of none, in the determination to try to find an acceptable solution with three objectives in mind: to enable the Scottish people to identify themselves 1202 more with the administration of their own affairs; to have less government and not more, and to retain and strengthen bonds of the Union of the United Kingdom. If the Government were to do that, they would emerge not with shame or humiliation, but with honour and respect as acknowledging that a constitutional change of this magnitude, if it is to be made, must be as near right as we can possibly get it; and I sincerely hope that the Government will consider this. If there are those who say that such a move could, as I indicated earlier, exacerbate the present problem, I would reply that the choice lies between which, in the long-term, is likely to be more acceptable—initial expediency or a prepared but happy solution.
I come to the Amendment which has been tabled by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilson of Langside. He has explained, in the clear and careful way which one would expect of him, why he is opposed to the Bill. I have much sympathy with a great deal of what he has said. But whatever our personal views may be, we have to recognise that another place, despite its obvious and open unhappiness with the Bill, nevertheless gave it a Third Reading and passed it. It was in the Labour Party's Manifesto and therefore, by convention, the Government are deemed to have a mandate for it. It is therefore not our duty to prevent its consideration.
Furthermore, there is the provision in the Bill for a referendum in which not, as the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said, the Scottish people have a chance of giving their view, but the inhabitants of Scotland have a chance of giving their view—and that is not the same thing—as to just how their future should be determined. It would be justly taken as an intolerable affront to the people of Scotland if your Lordships' House was seen to deny them that right, and that without even discussion.
In my view, it would be unthinkable and constitutionally disastrous if your Lordships declined to give this Bill a Second Reading. It would, furthermore, be damaging and unhelpful to seek at this stage to separate by vote the opinion of your Lordships. On the other hand, much as it is appropriate for your Lordships to give the Bill a Second 1203 Reading, it would really be too much, for any of your Lordships who hold deep reservations about the Bill, to be expected to vote against the Amendment and so, by implication, to be appearing to give your Lordships' approval of the Bill.
I assure the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilson, that, if he were to press his Amendment tomorrow, he would fragment opinion in a way which would be as unwelcome as it would be false. I hope that wiser counsels will prevail and that the noble and learned Lord will realise that, having made his point by tabling the Amendment, he will nevertheless not seek to press it and thereby deny the Bill a Second Reading. That is not our role. Our role is that of a revising Chamber and it is not, and it will not be, part of our intention as an Opposition, as we progress through the Committee and Report stages of the Bill, deliberately to frustrate the Government's timetable. We have, though, a duty to perform—to scrutinise, to inquire, to illuminate and, if possible, to improve. That duty we must do.
Although another place spent no less than 18 days considering this measure, they still left untouched 60 of the 83 clauses and 13 of the 17 Schedules. So your Lordships can hardly be expected to skip like spring lambs through this Bill. Major parts of the Bill have not yet been discussed at all in Parliament. None of the financial clauses has been discussed, the block grant clauses were not touched and the remuneration of the Assemblymen has not been discussed. They can pitch their salary where they like, and get the United Kingdom to pay for it. The actual matters to be devolved were never considered at all, other than, oddly enough, family planning and abortion, which seems a curious set of priorities.
Then there is the anomaly that private forestry is to be devolved, but State forestry is not to be devolved, and yet both are administered by the Forestry Commission—hardly an obvious recipe for success. Then there is the right to alter an existing Act of the United Kingdom by a mere Resolution of both Houses of Parliament—a pretty sweeping power. Then, a major constitutional innovation, in that should your Lordships, for whatever reason, decline to approve any order made under the Bill, another 1204 place may pass a further order 10 days later which will have the effect of overriding your Lordships' objections. This may be desirable, although I am bound to say that I do not think that it is. However, the fact is that it is a major constitutional change and a major precedent, with all the innuendo of single-Chamber Government, and it has never been discussed in another place at all. With a Bill of this nature and in the state in which it has left another place, who can say that there is no need for a second Chamber?
May I make this plea to the Government. Views over this Bill differ widely both within and between Parties. I doubt whether there will be—and I certainly hope that there will not be—much in the way of Party politics during our consideration of the Bill. This major constitutional Bill will be considered on its merits. However, should your Lordships see fit to pass Amendments, I hope that neither the Government nor anybody else will accuse your Lordships of wrecking the Bill. Rather we shall be saying to another place, "After due consideration, the reasoned opinion of the House of Lords is that the House of Commons ought to consider these matters".
I further hope that the Government will resist the temptation to impose a guillotine on your Lordships' Amendments. If the Government impose a guillotine on a constitutional measure such as this, it will make a total mockery of Parliamentary democracy. Members of another place will be denied the opportunity to discuss that which in many cases they have never discussed before but which your Lordships will have discussed and, having discussed it, think the House of Commons also ought to discuss. If by guillotining your Lordships' Amendments the Government are to deny that opportunity to the House of Commons on a major constitutional measure, then both Commons and Lords might just as well all go home and let the civil servants rewrite the Constitution.
This is a big, important and far-reaching measure with an unhappy and unenthusiastic history. If we can help to make it better we shall have achieved something. But we cannot cure its major defect which is inherent in its very structure: that it endangers the unity of the United Kingdom. It is for that reason that I hope not 1205 that your Lordships will support the Amendment moved so persuasively by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilson of Langside, this afternoon but that the Government will even now think again.
§ 4.14 p.m.
§ Lord MACKIE of BENSHIE
My Lords, I rise to welcome this Bill. I do do so not because it is perfect, but because it goes a long way towards achieving a reasonable objective. I have been in politics in both Scotland and Great Britain for 30 years. I have canvassed from Wick and Thurso right down to Galloway, Glasgow, Edinburgh and the Borders. I dare to say that I know Scotland and the Scottish political electorate as well as most people and better than a great many. Having listened to the eloquent speech of the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, and the measured legal tones of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilson of Langside, I must confess that I do not recognise the Scotland of the Scotsmen about whom they are speaking.
The noble Earl urges a counsel of perfection. He wants everything to be settled between all Parties before the Bill becomes law. I do not believe that the noble Earl can point to a single piece of legislation which has ever been settled in that way. He spoke of anomalies in the House of Commons after the Bill is passed. But there are anomalies now. The position of Scottish Members is anomalous. They vote on such matters of English law as education, while the English vote on matters which relate to Scotland. Already there are many anomalies which do not result in great bitterness.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilson of Langside, may agree that the present mood is the result of the fact that for many years past many areas of Scotland have not been prosperous or happy. One can point in particular, perhaps, to the urban desolation of Glasgow, the deserted glens of Scotland, the high degree of alcoholism and the large amount of emigration from Scotland. Many of these matters are felt very deeply by the Scottish people and they have given rise to a desire for control over their own affairs.
I have been speaking about a Scottish Parliament and studying and wanting one 1206 for 30 years. The Liberal Party has been speaking about a Scottish Parliament for 60 years, and time and again it has brought forward measures which have attracted no support. When I listened to some of the speeches which were made during the bountiful discussions on this matter which have been held all over the country, they reminded me of some of the speeches which were made at the time when the future of Ireland was being discussed.
This Bill is a compromise. I believe it to be perfectly logical to make a bargain and, although one may not be satisfied that it is the best bargain, nevertheless to say that one will back it to the hilt. It is perfectly reasonable for people forming a partnership to do that. I do not find anything connected with Lewis Carroll or Alice in Wonderland about it. The Bill will provide a focus for the people of Scotland. It will put the responsibility upon them, and if they make a mess of it they will have only themselves to blame. The Scots are reasonable people and will blame themselves. I do not believe that they will come running to Papa for money all the time. They might even try to save money being spent on some of the extravagant purposes or methods of government. I believe that this is considered to be a Scottish characteristic.
This Bill is a great improvement upon the Scotland and Wales Bill. To have separate Bills for Scotland and Wales represents a great advance. However, the Scotland Bill has not been altogether improved during its passage through the House of Commons. According to all the evidence that I have, I am sure that the people of Scotland will turn out to vote and that there will be a 40 per cent. vote in favour of the Bill. However, it was a disgraceful Amendment to have been made to the Bill, especially by a Member of Parliament who sits in the House of Commons on a 34 per cent. poll of the electorate in his constituency.
The logicality of any form of devolution requires a federal system. I am perfectly certain that sooner or later a federal system will come into being, but along that road there is little doubt that British compromise will allow illogicalities to work reasonably well. There are many examples—I have already quoted some—which lead me to say that this will be so. In one of the few parts of his speech 1207 where I agreed with him, the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, said that all over Europe there is a desire for self-expression by communities—from the Basques to the Walloons, and certainly in the case of the Welsh and the Scots. It is logical that where one is moving towards the creation of enormous groups like the European Community there should be a local focus within those enormous groups where one can state one's point of view. The bigger they are, the more you need this. It is somewhat of a paradox but a very true one, and one which I am convinced will come to be sufficiently recognised in the whole EEC.
I come now to the rôle of the Scottish National Party. I can tell English Peers that the Scottish National Party has matured enormously in the last 10 years. There is a terrific difference between the attitudes and the people at the head of affairs now and the people and attitutdes which I knew 10 or 15 years ago. Far from becoming more extreme, they are beginning to recognise that, of course, Britain must be a united country, and to recognise the plain economic facts; if you are 5 million people sitting next to a large and powerful nation of 50 million people, then economic facts and economic integration must be part of your policy.
Therefore, I am certain that the Labour Government are perfectly right to be influenced, not by the forethought and the great good sense and high intelligence of the Liberal Party, who came to this conclusion long ago, but, rather, by the fact that they see and recognise a mood in Scotland which will not be denied, a mood which they, rightly and properly as democratic Parliamentarians, must recognise. This is a very different thing from calling it political expediency.
§ Lord WILSON of LANGSIDE
My Lords, if the noble Lord will allow me, if he was referring to my description of it, I said, electoral expediency, which is quite a different thing.
§ Lord MACKIE of BENSHIE
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord. I was not referring to his description. I welcome in the Labour Party a move away from their normal centralist views. I think it is very much exemplified by the fact that the Minister of State who is in 1208 charge of this Bill has been, to a large extent, very reasonable; he has certainly produced many improvements to the Bill which I think will make it work. I do not think it is perfect. It is far from perfect; I have a lot of objections, but I am prepared to accept it because I know that the Scots people, when they get the responsibility for government, will proceed by argument and logical progress to put many of these things right. I am perfectly certain that the English Parliament, once they get over their fears, will agree. They have already said that they will look at taxation.
Scottish industry—I am talking about large industry—is 60 per cent. owned outside Scotland, and this must be a cause for tremendous concern. I think it is illogical that industry should be very tightly controlled by guidelines; however, I accept it for the present. I think that the SDA, for example, could well, on a total budget, make their own decisions, make good decisions, and do a great deal of good for Scotland. But I accept the fact that the Labour Party are badly hampered by the fact that many of their MPs, in the North-East and elsewhere, suffer fron an enormous attack of jealousy of Scotland, and fear of the unknown; they are in fact conservative.
With regard to agriculture and forestry, I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, that there are illogicalities. It is certainly quite stupid that Scotland, which has a far larger area of hill land than has England and Wales—certainly larger than England—should not integrate forestry and agriculture. I do not think you can have a policy without integrating the two. I do not see why the Scottish Secretary for Agriculture should not assist the Minister of Agriculture in his negotiations in Scotland instead of the nominee of the Secretary of State. I think there are great snags in fishing. It appears that the Irish, who are regarded as a region, have had much benefit from the control of fishing which they exert as an independent country.
I hope your Lordships will improve the electoral system in this Bill. I know there is great support in many quarters of this House. I know your Lordships know these figures, but I would bring them to your minds; they are the figures for the last five Elections. In 1964 Conservatives, 1209 Liberals and SNP had 1,333,000 votes; the Labour Party had 1,283,000 votes; the Labour Party got 43 Members of Parliament, the Conservatives got 24, the Liberals got four—of whom one was an excellent man, myself—and the SNP at that time had none.
In 1966 the Conservatives got 960,000 votes, the Liberals 172,000, SNP 128,000 making 1,261,000 as against Labour's 1,273,000. That is the only time Labour have had a majority in Scotland. By 1970 the Conservative-Liberal-SNP votes were up to 1,475,000, and Labour were down to 1,200,000. It goes on in that way until October 1974 when the SNP had 839,000, the Liberals 228,000, the Conservatives 681,000 and Labour were down to 1 million. This is a tremendous rise in the SNP vote, and it is a significant fall in the Labour vote and in the Conservative vote. It shows a shift in allegiance in Scotland, and it shows the dangers of our present electoral system. Why the other place refused the PR Amendment I cannot say. I hope that your Lordships will consider the arguments, and when that Amendment is put in this House you will give Scotland a logical electoral system.
I think that much of the opposition to this Bill arises from fear. I think that many people—certainly, many of my Conservative friends in Scotland—fear the dominance of Strathclyde and the Labour mobs, as so many of them regard them, which will rule Scotland directly. I do not regard them as mobs. But I must say that only now is this fear departing. I have canvassed in many of the Labour areas of central Scotland. I have knocked on doors and said I was canvassing for the Liberal candidate. After the chap had spat and shut the door with a bang in my face, I put him down as doubtful. Nevertheless, one went to these doors and one got a total blank wall of support for the Labour Party—completely illogical; they were supporting a Party which had changed completely, in my view, from the Party which had earned this blind faith.
If there is one thing for which we have to be grateful to the SNP, it is that they have broken this stranglehold of illogical Labour voting in central Scotland, which not even the greatest supporter of the Labour Party could say has led to good local government. I think that we see it 1210 even in the universities; they are terrified in case they are governed by a lot of "yobbos" from Glasgow, and the Highlands and elsewhere, and even from Aberdeenshire, and therefore they want to remain under the University Grants Committee. I think that they should have a little more faith and they will have once we have tried a Scottish Assembly, however imperfect.
I should like to ask those who are opposing the Bill with such eloquence what they would do if we throw out the Bill or delay it so that it does not become law. Do they think that the present system will satisfy the Scottish people? Do they think that an all-Party conference will lead to a better solution? The answer must be, No——it must evolve from an Assembly now. I am certain in my mind that that will lead to the continued unity of the United Kingdom and not to its break-up.
I regard the present Bill as helpful. I do not regard it as perfect, and we ought, in this House, to improve it. We do not want to discuss every comma, but we certainly want to look hard at those matters which have not been discussed and, indeed, at some of those which have been discussed. I hope that we shall return the Bill to the Commons and that it will become law before the end of this Session because, if we do, in my view we are taking a step forward; but, if we do not, then it will be highly dangerous.
§ 4.32 p.m.
§ Lord HUGHES
My Lords, we have listened to four opening speeches as opposed to the usual opening three, the fourth one being that of the mover of the Amendment, my noble and learned friend Lord Wilson of Langside. Opening speeches by their very nature must, inevitably, be longer than the speeches which follow. I do not criticise the length of the speeches and neither do I marvel that so much about this long and complicated Bill was put into the words of the opening speakers. It is not for nothing that two of them were Queen's Counsel and the other two might well have qualified if they had sought to move in that particular direction.
If I fall as regards the quality of the speech which I intend to make it will be my own fault. If I speak for less time 1211 it will be my intention, because I have worked out that if the average length of the first four speeches was attained by all 43 speakers, my noble friend Lord Strabolgi would have to make an announcement about breakfast as we would not finish until eight o'clock tomorrow morning. I believe that it will be the intention of everyone here that we should at least finish this debate for today on the day on which we started it. For that reason I have taken the precaution of not bringing the Bill with me so that I am not tempted to turn from one page to another to refer to the matters of which I approve—and there are some—and to the matters of which I disapprove because there are some of them also, but rather to speak to the principle.
I hope that this Bill, in perhaps an amended form, will reach the Statute Book before Parliament rises for the Summer Recess. I believe that if that does not happen the consequences of that failure will be infinitely greater than the consequences which my noble and learned friend Lord Wilson of Langside has stated if the Bill goes through.
Like a number of your Lordships I speak from the background of experience as a Minister at the Scottish Office. Reference has been made to the fact that there are considerable decision-making powers affecting Scotland which rest at present in the Scottish Office. No one with ministerial experience could deny that for a moment. Moreover, the years that have gone by have shown an increasing measure of movement from Ministers this side of the Border to Ministers in St. Andrew's House.
However, I must point out that very often the decisions which Ministers have made in Scotland were not always the decisions which Ministers would like to have made. I shall give just one example, which could be repeated many times, taken from the area where the traditions of Parliament require certain subjects to be dealt with first in an English Bill or in a Bill relating to England and Wales, and secondly in a similar but separate Bill for Scotland. Your Lordships will know on how many occasions, for instance, those of your Lordships from South of the Border have been wearied by hearing the discussion of a Scottish Housing Bill 1212 following hard on the heels of the English Bill which was debated perhaps some weeks or months earlier. The difficulty that Scottish Ministers have always had in this area is that a Scottish Bill on a housing subject—and we can say the same about education, health or social affairs—must differ from the English Bill only in detail. There cannot be a difference in principle.
If I give an example from my own experience I hope that I shall not be taken to task for giving away something that happened in St. Andrew's House while I was there, because I have spoken about it in whispers elsewhere but now I am talking about it in a more public way. When I had responsibility for housing in Scotland I regarded it as one of my tasks to try to increase the proportion of houses in owner occupation in Scotland. When I took over that responsibility the proportion of owner-occupiers was less than 25 per cent., at a time when in England it was already over 50 per cent. No matter how generous we were in making subsidies available for the building of council houses—and, as was mentioned yesterday, the figures soared considerably and I had what I then regarded as the honour (I am not so sure about it now) of presiding over the two highest figures of house building ever achieved in Scotland—I had little success in raising the number of houses built for owner occupation. I believe that it is still under 30 per cent. in Scotland.
I reached the conclusion that something totally different was needed in Scotland. We needed to give a cash incentive to people to build houses in Scotland and I tried to get that into legislation. Noble Lords may ask why I did not get it into legislation. The answer was that no such incentive was necessary in England and if we attempted to put this in a Scottish Bill there would be an inevitable demand for it to be done South of the Border, and as it was not necessary South of the Border it could not be done for Scotland. That situation can be remedied by an Assembly. The Assembly can legislate on a subject which will differ in principle and not just differ in detail.
I draw your Lordships' attention to the fact that, while there may be another layer of Government in setting up an Assembly, there is not necessarily an increase in the Parliamentary sense 1213 because every Bill which is debated and decided in Edinburgh is one Bill fewer on the Floor of the House of Commons and the House of Lords. Therefore, it will make for the more efficient operation of this Parliament if Scottish domestic legislation is taken away.
I do not regard it as my function to say much about what my noble and learned friend Lord Wilson of Langside said, but it would be wrong if I did not make some reference to some of his remarks. The West Lothian question has been referred to also by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers. The West Lothian question for those who are not so familiar with Tam Dalyell's shorthand, is that he can vote on matters relating to an English constituency, but he is deprived of voting on the same matter relating to a Scottish constituency. In other words, he can influence English educational legislation, but he cannot influence individual Scottish legislation. That, of course, is indicating an intention of Mr. Dalyell's part to be in the House of Commons rather than in the Assembly. He has not yet announced his intentions on this matter.
My noble and learned friend referred to what I think is the nub of my remarks: what contribution will such an Assembly make to the better government of Scotland? I believe that it will make a contribution to the better government of Scotland in that it will enable Scottish matters to be considered solely in a Scottish context, if, to some extent, within the confines of the finance laid down from Westminster. I cannot think that this would be other than an improvement of the situation.
I am well aware of the difficulties which any Bill of this kind will bring forward. When, as a Minister, I had responsibility in this House, I was once accused of running a Scottish coalition because, by agreed procedure about Amendments which might be accepted and about those which might be withdrawn, very often I managed to send a Bill back to the House of Commons in a form which was not totally unacceptable to them. In this matter of the Scotland Bill I find my position unchanged, because I cannot say that I did not find something with which I agree in all the four speeches that have so far been made, even that made by my noble and learned friend Lord Wilson of Langside.
1214 It is not the function of this House to reject legislation which has been passed by another place, particularly, as was said by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, when there is the convention that having got such a Bill into their Election Manifesto, the Government have the mandate to carry it out. As he has said, the function of this House is a revising one and, given the operation of the guillotine in another place, we have been presented with an admirable opportunity for revising the Bill. I hope that we shall confine our efforts, not to rehashing things which another place has considered, but to giving our attention in the Committee and Report stages to those matters which another place has not discussed. If we can do that, I think that we can send back to the House of Commons a Bill which will undoubtedly lead to the better government of Scotland.
May I conclude by saying that, having given wholehearted support to a measure of devolution, I do not diminish my belief in a United Kingdom—I state it as fully as any other Member of this House. I believe that in your Lordships' House there is only one of our number—a Scottish Nationalist Peer—who stands for the independence of Scotland or, as I prefer to put it, the "separation" of Scotland from the rest of the United Kingdom. Do not let us shy away from the word "separatism" because it is separatism. I do not think that the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, was right in saying that they were showing a greater sense of responsibility.
How do the Scottish Nationalists define the difference between "independence" and "separation"? They say that they want to be an independent country under the Crown in exactly the same way as Canada, Australia and New Zealand. If that is not independence, if that is not separation, I do not know how to define it. Yesterday we had an interesting exchange between my noble friends Lord Wigg and Lord Goronwy-Roberts on the merits of "non-alignment" and "non-commitment". I suggest that if those are very similar, then "separation" and "independence" are just as similar words in Scotland.
Scotland does not want separation. The Scots have not demonstrated in the streets, because we know perfectly well 1215 that the Scots do not demonstrate for the things they want; they demonstrate against the things they do not want. The fact that my noble and learned friend Lord Wilson of Langside and his colleagues do not have hordes out in the street demonstrating against this devolution Bill is the best indication that the Scots want it. For that reason, I hope that the advice of the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, is taken, and that there is not a Division tomorrow night. However, if there is, I hope that your Lordships will frustrate the Amendment.
§ 4.45 p.m.
Lord HOME of the HIRSEL
My Lords, it is always a genuine pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, for so many of us can testify to the services he has given to Scotland over many years and to his real sympathy with and understanding of the needs of the Scottish people. I agreed with a great deal of his speech.
I should like to begin by picking up one of the reflections made by my noble friend Lord Ferrers. It is one of the paradoxes of the modern world that even though communications bring us closer together and compel us to live closer to each other, even the smallest unit wishes to assert its personality and individuality. I agree with my noble friend that it is something to do with over-bearing size. But do not let us make any mistake; this is a gut reaction. It is not altogether rational and logical. But it would be a mistake to conclude that this gut reaction does not exist in Scotland; it does. I think that Parliament is bound to recognise it and is bound to conclude that if the Bill is thrown out—and I do not say it will not be—and if no Bill is substituted, the call for devolution will not go away; on the whole, it will get louder and more insistent.
But alongside that, of course, one must consider the particular legislation which is brought before Parliament and the repercussions, many of which were named by my noble friend. Therefore, I do not think that we ought to conclude that decentralisation and devolution are beyond the art of politics. I am sure that my noble friend is right and that we should try to find a method of devolution which is acceptable and which more and more 1216 people will consider to be right. I would go so far with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilson of Langside, as to say that it must be a long time since a Bill arrived in this House about which Members of Parliament were so confused and so undecided. Those misgivings and hesitations are shared by many outside, both in Scotland and in England. That is not a propitious start for constitutional reform.
To lay blame is usually sterile, but it must be done so that the people of Scotland may know, when the referendum comes—if it does come later on—why Parliament finds itself in the cruel dilemma that it does. The reason that the business of devolution is bedevilled by uncertainty and divided counsels is because the leaders of the Scottish Nationalist Party have declared that any step towards devolution is merely a stage on the road towards the independence of Scotland from England. The emotions and fears aroused by such a declaration have made it virtually impossible for the last six months or so to discuss devolution on its merits. That has put us all in Parliament in a very real difficulty, and it is a new and inflammable factor which makes even a devolutionist like myself hesitate. Therefore, I wish that even now the Government could find a way to take this matter back for consultation among the leaders of the Parties, not on the principle of devolution but on the method by which it could best be applied.
Long before this Bill was drafted I suggested to the Government that they should hold a referendum among the Scots and among Scotsmen in the rest of the United Kingdom, with the single question: Do you want independence or not? The advantage of that would have been that the Government would then have been in possession of the true feelings of the Scottish people on devolution and could have drafted their Bill accordingly.
The Government did not accept that suggestion, but I would venture to interpret the feeling of the majority of Scotsmen in this way: they want more control over purely Scottish affairs. What is important is that they want no less, but equally important is that they want no more. That, I believe, is the attitude of the average Scotsman and woman. This 1217 Bill could have been more tightly drawn, for the people of Scotland, unless I am very wrong, do not want to have anything to do with proposals which could be divisive as between Scotland and England, or as between an Assembly in Edinburgh and the Westminster Parliament.
Although a referendum on the single question of independence has now lost much of its point, I should nevertheless like to see provision made for that question to be asked even now in addition to the question which will be put, which I take it will be something of this kind, "Do you want devolution according to the terms of this Act?" I think that the two questions would be valuable. First, Parliament would be able to see what is the real opinion in Scotland about separation. Secondly, any Scottish Nationalists elected to the Assembly would be given notice that they should not abuse the terms of whatever devolution Bill is passed into law.
Now, as of today, one of the functions of this House must be to seek to reduce the areas of possible friction between Edinburgh and Westminster to the minimum. I have always been a decentraliser, and a devolutionist. First, because Westminster is overloaded. Believe it or not, I once went through 200 Scottish Bills taken in the Scottish Standing Committee. Only three of those need have gone near Westminster at all. As the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, said, there are a lot of Bills that could be dealt with in a Scottish Assembly and never see Westminster. Scotland could settle the principle and the detail of the matter.
The second reason why I have been a decentraliser and devolver is because regular instalments of devolved administration over the years, as represented by St. Andrew's House, have been a success. There can be no doubt of that. But I favour, too, the devolution of a legislative function to an elected body sitting in Scotland—again for some of the reasons given by the noble Lord, Lord Hughes—with this proviso: the legislation taken by such an Assembly should be certified as purely Scottish Bills before they arrive on the Floor for debate. That seems to me to be essential.
I was not quite clear on some things that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said, and I should be grateful 1218 if the noble and learned Lord, Lord McCluskey, could possibly clarify the matter. When does he anticipate that, if a Bill is outside the competence of the Assembly, it will be said to be so, and by whom? By the Secretary of State, I take it, perhaps advised by the Privy Council, but I may be wrong. It seems to me, from reading the debates in another place, that it is possible that the Bill can be taken through various stages in the Assembly before it is declared to be ultra Tires by the Secretary of State. If that is so, it seems to me a recipe for friction.
Therefore, are there not attractive reasons for leaving no doubt from the beginning as to the scope of a Bill? What I have in mind is apparent to your Lordships. It is the kind of machinery now used by Mr. Speaker in designating a Bill a purely Scottish Bill. Once that is done, any Amendments outside that Bill automatically fall, and everybody knows exactly where they are. So far as I know, there has been the minimum of friction on purely Scottish Bills in relation to the English Members of Parliament and to the rest of Parliament.
I am bound to say that, instead of the machinery that is proposed, I should like to see something more professional, if I may put it that way. I should like to see representatives of Mr. Speaker, the Secretary of State and the first Secretary of the Assembly, meeting before a Bill to draw the precise lines of such a Bill, as is now done in the Scottish Standing Committee. If that were done it would eliminate a great deal of the trouble that I anticipate will otherwise arise between an Assembly in Edinburgh and Parliament in Westminster. It would do much to ensure that legislation which comes forward is complementary to, and not a rival of, that passed by the Westminster Parliament.
Briefly, because I know other noble Lords are going to touch on this, my second area of anxiety is finance. It is certainly an advance if the Assembly can establish its priorities in spending. I have always thought that more could be done in that way. If the Scots want to spend more on education and less on roads, let them do so. A lot of clarification will be needed in relation to the support grants. I shall leave that for today. But I am quite certain that an Assembly must be given some ability to raise revenue, 1219 otherwise we shall be asking for trouble. It need not be a great deal. The cry for the right to tax is very popular before the taxes have to be applied. If I had had my way, and had it not conflicted with regulations in Europe—I am not sure whether it still does—I would have applied a sales tax. It would have been immensely unpopular, and no Assembly would have wielded it except in the most moderate way.
There is only one other consideration that I have to raise. I should like to see, as a method of election to the Assembly, a form of proportional representation—probably the added member system—as the method of election. It seems to me that Scotland is likely to have three Parties fairly evenly supported for as far ahead as anybody can see. I do not want to reproduce in Scotland what my noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham has called the "elective dictatorship". There is a horrible tendency in Parliaments now to use even the smallest majority to force a mandate on the people. I cannot support the Amendment of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilson of Langside, partly because I suspect that he would use the same arguments against any devolution Bill at all, and any devolution Bill at any time. Therefore, I propose to take the advice of my noble friend Lord Ferrers and try, as he put it, to get this Bill, or, if not this Bill, some other Bill right.
§ 4.58 p.m.
§ The Earl of PERTH
My Lords, I am both honoured and happy to follow my noble friend Lord Home in this debate, partly because I find myself so much in agreement with much of what he says, and partly because I recall some four years ago he and I signed a joint letter to The Times in which we called on all Parties to get together and have a Select Committee of Parliament to try to help solve the problems of Scotland. At that time—and I would ask the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, to note this—the Conservative Party were not in favour.
We heard the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor lead off, and he talked about the Bill as the next step in administrative decentralisation. If I may say so with all deference and humility, I think that that was rather a pawky 1220 approach to the Bill. I feel that it is something much more important than that. Then we come to the noble Lord, Lord Wilson of Langside, who said that the Bill was utterly without merit—a bad Bill in principle. I would only say to him that the Bill gives the inhabitants of Scotland what they want—an Assembly. That is in the Bill, and that is what we want.
For me, this is a great occasion; a Second Reading debate on a Bill which, in Part I, Clause 1, says quite simply:There shall be a Scottish Assembly.It has been a long struggle. For its coming, a lot of credit must be due to the Scottish Nationalist Party. Indeed, if only independence were not their ultimate aim, I might even seek to join them; but it is, and I will not.
Many people think it is only because of the North Sea oil discoveries that we have demanded to run our own show. Of course that lends strength to the demand, but I might point out that under this Bill we do not get a single drop. The belief that without the oil the Scots would not be so keen to run their own affairs is, I believe, a misreading of the Scottish people and of Scottish history. The Act of Union was passed not, as it would be today, by the votes of all the people of Scotland but, rather, by a massive use of patronage to the then rulers of Scotland and its leading citizens.
But 270 years have passed and we are generally told that the Union has been to Scotland's great advantage. That may or may not be so and I would make only one point, that of population; at the time of the Union we in Scotland had about 1 million inhabitants and England had about 5 million. Today, Scotland's population has grown by some 4 million while that of England by about 40 million. I am not sure whether that argues that Scotland has prospered as England has. The world overseas has prospered because of the number of young and enterprisjng Scots who were driven to emigrate. Look at Canada or America, Australia or New Zealand. Look even at the Coco Islands and—dare I say it?—look at England. Many of their descendants—I would say almost all their descendants—are still proud of their Scottish ancestry and count themselves part of the Scottish nation.
1221 During the last months I fear I have detected some feeling of resentment among some of my English friends at our seeking an Assembly. I assure them that our demand is not due to any hostility or antagonism towards the English people. We have faced too many dangers, we have fought too many wars together for that to be true. Rather, it is due to Whitehall and the Westminster Parliament deciding matters that we believe should have been for us to decide, matters that were our responsibility. Further, they have been decided often without understanding and sometimes unfairly; I will give a few examples.
Look at the question of the reform of local government. We did not want it, and to carry it out before the Kilbrandon Report seemed to us the height of unwisdom. But we got it and the Clydeside region with it. As a result, we are today saddled with more bureaucracy and widespread discontent in Scotland at its workings. I hope that one of the first tasks of the Assembly will be the reform of this local government; it would keep it occupied and would certainly be very popular.
Next, look how long and hard we had to fight for an international airport in the capital of Scotland. For 50 years virtually the only way that people could get to Scotland by air was through London. Consider Britain's roads system. At present there are over 1,200 miles of M roads in England with a further 94 miles being built. In Scotland there are only 114 miles of M roads and none being built. Consider, next, in these examples of unfairness or lack of understanding of the Scottish economy in terms of the Scottish nation running its own show, what happened when the Scottish Development Council, from time to time, made special recommendations to try to solve Scotland's economic problems. I have particularly in mind the Toothill Report with its emphasis on support for the growth points; there was a debate and it was pigeonholed. I could go on giving examples, but I will not; but I hope that soon all these grievances will be history.
Turning to the Bill, in my opinion it has three main weaknesses, the fatal one being that the Assembly has no fiscal powers. Its subordinates, the local authorities, are allowed these, but it has none; an absurd 1222 situation. If the Government had been wise and shown true statesmanship, they would have given us fiscal powers now, and then the demand later would have been less. The Government have said that in principle they are not against some fiscal powers, but the London-based Treasury has never wanted to lose its absolute control over the power of the purse, and that is that. It would be possible even now, I suggest, to allow the Scottish Development Agency, which under the Bill must follow the guidelines laid down by the Treasury, to have a small percentage of the oil revenues with the specific charge that they are to be used to further Scottish industry, bearing in mind that in time to come the plant and refineries which have been built in Scotland will be idle and empty. Now is the time to build up our infrastructure. Let the Scottish Development Agency have special funds for this purpose, and if we prosper the United Kingdom prospers, too.
The second major defect of the Bill is the way in which the Assembly is to be chosen. I agree very much with what other noble Lords have said on this point, and I will not go into it further now because in Committee we will surely have a full chance to discuss the matter. The third weakness of the Bill comes at the very end, when we come to the question of the form of words to be put on the ballot paper. It reads,Do you want the provisions of the Scotland Act 1978 to be put into effect?How many people will know what that means? I am afraid—perhaps I have an unfairly suspicious mind—that that question was drafted partly to lull and confuse. Would it not be simpler to ask quite straightforwardly, "Do you want a Scottish Assembly according to the provisions of the Scotland Act 1978?" People would then know what it was all about and could vote accordingly.
I would be less than honest if I said that I fear that the Bill as now drafted is more than a beginning. I know that in saying this I confirm the fears of those who say that we are going to drift into independence. But I can only say that if various defects in the Bill, which I have pointed out, had been corrected, and if the Bill had been more forthcoming in the earlier stages, we would not find the demand for more later. I agree very much with my 1223 noble friend Lord Home of the Hirsel and, I think, Lord Mackie of Benshie, who urged a federal solution. Sooner or later, it will come.
I have one last point, my Lords, which concerns the final manoeuvre of those who oppose the Bill asking for a 40 per cent. proviso in the referendum. On the face of it, this is a plausible Amendment, but I believe that it aimed to be a wrecking one. I can only say that I believe that the inhabitants of Scotland will see it for what it is, and will rise to the challenge; and those who want an Assembly, particularly the young, will campaign, and despite every difficulty, will win through, and I will be with them.
§ 5.10 p.m.
§ Lord GLENKINGLAS
My Lords, there have, I suppose, been thousands of pages written and millions of words spoken on this subject, and already today we have had a number of extremely good and able speeches. I had the good fortune to make my maiden speech to your Lordships' House from the Front Bench on this subject, and therefore there is very little that I need say, particularly following people like my noble friend Lord Home of the Hirsel, with whom on this, as on many other matters, I have always been able to agree very comfortably. But I think that it is important, at a time when so many of your Lordships are being urged to look at the disadvantages which are inherent in the Bill—and, indeed, there are certainly some—to bear in mind the disadvantages of the situation as it is at present.
I had the misfortune to be the Scottish Whip for about three years. My noble friend Lord Home told your Lordships that he had gone through about 200 Scottish Bills. He meant, I think, that he had looked at them to decide whether or not they concerned Scotland. If he had had to go through them in the Scottish Grand Committee, it would have taken him probably 70 years, because that was approximately the pace at which that Committee worked, for no reason whatever, except on the same principle as the London Fire Brigade during the war: if you put out a fire, there was certainly another one to go to, and therefore why hurry? That is not a satisfactory position, 1224 certainly in the House of Commons, and I am certain that your Lordships manage matters better here.
In due course I became Secretary of State, and so I must take my fair share of the blame, and I already hear some of it coming from beside me. Undoubtedly over the past 20 or 30 years we have given a vast amount of devolution of functions to the Scottish Office. One of the problems which emerges from that is perhaps typified in the advice which my predecessor, the noble Viscount, Lord Muirshiel, gave me the day that I was appointed. He said:Michael, you have got to remember one thing: that the only people over whom you can win a victory are the English, and if you do, you have got to keep very quiet about it, or you won't win another.This is the fact of the case, and I see how easily one has fallen into that type of error, because I heard my noble friend Lord Perth referring to the Toothill Committee, saying that it was pigeonholed. The interesting point on that was that, on the day I had to make my first speech in the House of Commons, the Toothill Committee was a matter which I recommended to the House. I then had endless and very fruitful meetings with the noble Lord, Lord Polwarth, and with Mr. Toothill, and we did in fact do a very great deal of what Mr. Toothill had suggested we should do, in comparatively short time. This is a typical example of how, when things have been done people say that a matter has been pigeon-holed, and they do not honestly realise the amount of work which the Secretary of State at the time is achieving for them.
I promise to try to keep my speech to under five minutes, which is difficult to do, and I now want to revert to the present situation. I find it an extremely uncomfortable political situation in Scotland today. It is true that most of the devolution, and certainly most of the investment, has come to Scotland during periods of Conservative rule. It is also true that the Labour Party, has in its own, sometimes rather devious ways, tried to get a lot of money for Scotland, and has a strong centralist approach which has undoubtedly helped the SNP very considerably. The Liberal Party has had some successes in producing different policies for different constituencies, and even for different parts of constituencies, and that party was doing 1225 quite well until it was totally outplayed in the dishonesty stakes by the SNP which was able to produce different policies for every single different person.
When one looks at that combination of things it does not give any clear vision of where people in Scotland want to go, by whom they want to be led, or what is in fact likely to happen. I find this disturbing and worrying at a time when not only Scotland, but most of Britain, seems to have lost its way and is unable to get down to serious thinking and serious work.
I believe that an Assembly will not solve all the problems any more than the Strathclyde region, or for that matter our going into Europe, solved many problems, if any. That was thought to be, perhaps, a great boost which would bring people together, working hard; it has not. But undoubtedly the people in Scotland, from end to end, want a change. They may not want this particular type of Assembly, but they want an Assembly; they want something of the sort into which they can put their faith, and where they can hear their own representatives talking about Scotland.
Therefore, I believe that we must give the Bill a Second Reading, that we must do everything we can to improve it. After all, if one wants a convention of the leaders of thought and opinion in the country to improve a proposal, we have nearly all of them here. This seems to me to be an admirable occasion upon which the House of Lords really can improve a Bill, and in the process, give Scotland something which it will really want, and which will enable it to release the tremendous resources of manpower and skill, and other things, which in Scotland we have, but which we have failed to develop as we should have done.
§ 5.18 p.m.
§ Lord SCARMAN
My Lords, I rise to offer your Lordships' House a short respite from political controversy while I make my way for a few brief moments through my maiden speech. It has been impressed upon me by noble and learned Lords of great experience in your Lordships' House that on this occasion I must be brief and non-controversial. Your Lordships will recognise at once why I 1226 chose the Second Reading of the Scotland Bill during which to address your Lordships for the first time. I hope that you will see in that a recognition, which I am sure everyone in your Lordships' House has, that qualities of brevity and non-controversiality are the hallmark of the great profession to which I have the honour to belong.
Unlike some noble Lords who have preceded me, I propose to direct my few observations to one part of this Bill which I unreservedly welcome. I refer to those provisions dealing with judicial review of the legislation of the Scottish Assembly. This is a matter which, like other matters in the Bill, is of high constitutional importance, and I sincerely hope that the clauses dealing with judicial review will receive the most careful attention of your Lordships' House in Committee. I propose now to say only a few words about the principle of the matter as it emerges from the clauses as they presently stand in the Bill. As the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said in opening this debate, there is provision for review ultimately by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council of Scottish Assembly legislation; and, if your Lordships will bear with me, I can explain in a very few words how it works, without going into any detail.
This judicial review is to be divided into two parts: pre-enactment—the matter to which the noble Lord, Lord Home of the Hirsel, briefly referred—and post-enactment. Pre-enactment review of legislation is not something that is new in the constitutional history of the Kingdom. Your Lordships will find that it was incorporated in the Government of Ireland Act 1920. It operates, as I understand the Bill, in this way. First of all—and this is an answer to the noble Lord, Lord Home—a Bill has to be passed by the Scottish Assembly. When passed, the Secretary of State, if he is of opinion that it is outside the legislative competence of the Assembly, will refer it to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. The Judicial Committee will consider it and give its decision in public. Its decision will basically be an advisory opinion. It will be no more and no less than the Privy Council carrying out its traditional function in our constitution. In fact, it will be the voice of the Crown in 1227 council—a most appropriate body, one could say, to advise the Crown at a legislative stage before a Bill has become law.
If the Privy Council says it is not within the legislative competence of the Scottish Assembly, then the Secretary of State may not submit the Bill to Her Majesty in Council for approval. It is quite clear what will happen, therefore, if the Judicial Committee renders an opinion adverse to the Bill. What is not so clear, and what I think will have to be investigated in Committee, is what exactly will happen if the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council decides that the Bill is within the competence of the Scottish Assembly. This Bill is silent about that. As I understand it—and I speak, I confess, without having looked up the point—in the Government of Ireland Act, a pre-enactment verdict in favour of a piece of Irish legislation would have been binding. There is no such indication in the Scotland Bill as drafted.
I retain an open mind, as I hope I shall until I have heard all the arguments for and against this and other questions in the Bill, but I would leave the thought with your Lordships that it might be as well to indicate perfectly plainly that an advisory opinion of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in favour of the validity of a Scottish Assembly measure should not be binding upon citizens who, at a later date, in either civil or criminal litigation in which they are involved, wish to challenge or test it. It is a matter, I think, close to the proper vindication of the rights of individuals. At the moment the Bill is silent, and I interpret its silence in the way I have suggested I should like it interpreted, but the matter is by no means clear.
Nevertheless, let me say this, and then I shall have done with pre-enactment review. At this moment (not, of course, having heard the full arguments that will be deployed) I am in favour of the way in which the Bill appears to go about it, and I think that, at this stage, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council is historically and practically the right body to render an advisory opinion to the Crown. Of course, I wholly approve of the fact that, when that opinion is against the Bill, the Secretary of State is obliged to follow 1228 it; but I do not think citizens who wish to challenge legislation later should be under the same obligation.
I pass now to consider very briefly the provisions for judicial review after enactment; that is to say, when a Bill has been passed by the Scottish Assembly, has not been challenged (or, if it has been challenged, has succeeded in surviving the challenge) and is the law. Clause 18 of this Bill provides perfectly plainly, and I think rightly, that Scottish Assembly measures shall be law only to the extent that they are within the legislative competence of the Assembly. It is this provision of principle which gives the citizen the right, after enactment, to challenge in the ordinary courts of the land—Scotland, Northern Ireland, England and Wales—the constitutionality of the measure.
I can take it very shortly indeed. This challenge can be raised by the citizen in any litigation, civil or criminal. There is provision, of course, for notice of the challenge to be given to the Attorney-General or the Lord Advocate, as appropriate, and there is provision, which I welcome, which enables the Attorney-General or the Lord Advocate to institute proceedings himself against the Scottish Secretary in order to test it. But all that is by the way. It is admirable; I am glad it is there; but it is only part and parcel of the scene, the central actor of which is the ordinary citizen who can, in litigation which affects him directly, challenge the constitutionality of the legislation. This to my mind is an immensely important principle and, let me say at once, one which endears the Bill to me.
The way it is done is this. When a devolution issue, if that is what it is called, is raised, then the court in which it is raised—and I will take England as my model for I do not wish to weary your Lordships—may refer it to the Court of Appeal. It does not have to do so. This, again, may seem to some of your Lordships a small matter, but it is fundamental and of great importance. The court can deal with it; it does not have to refer it. If the court decides to deal with it—and in criminal cases I should have thought that this often would be so; because one really cannot delay the criminal process by the rather elaborate system of reference to which I will refer 1229 in a moment—then the issue is dealt with by the court as best it can and then the ordinary courses of appeal will be followed, perhaps all the way to the House of Lords. And if and when the issue reaches the House of Lords, then one comes to the first provision in the Bill about which I am going to express some doubts.
The House of Lords shall refer it to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council unless—and I am talking of the House of Lords in its judicial capacity—they consider it more appropriate to deal with the matter themselves. It was appropriate—and I speak historically for a moment; for, like every Briton, I am historically-minded—for the Privy Council to be advising the Crown, rendering advisory opinions so that the Crown in council could consider what to do before the Scottish Assembly measure became an Act, when it was merely a Bill; because one was considering how to conduct Government in a constitutional way.
But when it is passed, when it is an Act and when its validity is challenged by the citizen in ordinary litigation, ought not the citizen to have the right which has been ultimately his for centuries on both sides of the Border, with the exception of criminal jurisdiction, to have recourse outwardly to the Crown in Parliament? That is what an appeal to the Judicial Committee of the House of Lords is. It is a citizen claiming the exercise of judicial functions by the Crown in Parliament. I know of no reason why the House of Lords in its judicial capacity should at this stage be considered inappropriate—except possibly the rogue elephant in our constitutional picture, the rogue elephant which Scotsmen, I think, treat as a pet elephant; namely, that there is no right of appeal in criminal matters from the Court of Justiciary to the House of Lords. That raises a problem which may have to be considered and about which I shall say no more at this stage.
That is what happens if the court in which the devolution issue is raised chooses not to refer it when it is raised; but, of course, the preferred system of dealing with devolution issues in this Bill is the system of reference. If a court does refer a devolution issue to the Court of Appeal, then the Court of Appeal makes a 1230 decision and an appeal lies with leave to the Privy Council. So, there again, one sees the Privy Council being the preferred constitutional court.
My Lords, I have gone on for longer than I should in a maiden speech. Let me therefore just cut myself short with a few final and general observations. I welcome the introduction into the British constitutional pattern of a judicial review of legislation in certain defined circumstances, those circumstances being most carefully defined and specified by Parliament itself. There is no doubt at all about the specification. As one noble Lord has said, Schedule 10, which deals with devolved matters, covers some 20 pages. It covers groups and groups of Statutes and is almost unintelligible except to any very experienced Member of the judicial side of the House of Lords; and I am not such a Member. But I see in these provisions the beginning of a phase of constitutional change in the United Kingdom. If noble Lords are right, as some have predicted in this debate, that we are here just at the beginning of federation—and I would not say anything about that one way or the other—then these provisions provide a useful jumping-off or starting point in which we now can begin to develop new safeguards, Parliamentary, judicial and Governmental, for the protection of the individual against the abuse of power illegally used. I thank noble Lords for their attention.
§ 5.36 p.m.
§ The EARL of DUNDEE
My Lords, when I. came into the House three or four hours ago I was not expecting to find my name so high as it is on the list of speakers. I should like to acknowledge this compliment by speaking very briefly indeed. In fact, the only subject on which I do not want to be exceedingly short is in asking your Lordships to join with me in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Scarman, on the exceptionally fine maiden speech to which we have just listened. We have heard three speeches from legal luminaries this evening: the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilson of Langside, and now the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scarman. I think that his delightfully interesting speech has really excelled most of the maiden speeches that we are accustomed to hear. It has been of very great interest 1231 and was delivered with very great modesty: like the noble Lord's learned predecessor, the judge in Gilbert and Sullivan's Iolanthe who said, or, rather, sang:In other professions in which men engage,Says Ito myself, says I:The Army, the Navy, the Church and the stage,Professional licence if carried too far,Your chance of promotion is likely to mar,And I fancy that rule might apply to the Bar,Says I to myself, says I.We hope that we shall have the privilege of hearing the noble Lord speak often again.
My Lords, the only other point which I want to mention now is this. I have always thought that by far the best proposals which have been made for Scottish devolution were contained in the report issued by the committee set up for that purpose by Ted Heath seven or eight years ago when he came into office, and whose chairman was my noble friend Lord Home. It was a very strong and talented committee; it included the late Lord Bruce, the ex-Prime Minister of Australia and also, as many of your Lordships will remember, the late Lady Tweedsmuir, to whose memory so many of your Lordships paid tribute yesterday. It also included very many distinguished ex-civil servants with great experience of the Scottish Office.
I wished very much that, when the report was published, it could be quickly accepted and acted on which of course it was not. I still wish that it had been. Another thing which I always wished, although it is perhaps a little more extravagant is that the proposals from the committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Home, for Scottish devolution should have come first before the local government Bill. I think it would have been very much simpler if that could have been done but of course the local government Bill was thought of far too soon for that to happen. The noble Lord, Lord Hughes, has made some observations about it this afternoon with which I very much agree. I think we might have had a better Bill if we had had proposals for devolution from Lord Home's committee applied first.
The noble Lord, Lord Hughes, will remember that when the local government Bill was before your Lordships he succeeded 1232 in carrying against the Government of that time some very useful or hopeful Amendments in which I had the honour of supporting him. One of them was accepted by the Government in another place; but the more important one which would have dissolved the top-heavy and swollen area of the Strathclyde was not accepted. The noble Lord, Lord Hughes, may remember that he said with great wisdom when the House of Commons refused to agree with it:The House of Lords has the right to be right once, but only once.This may perhaps have had its reflections in the Bill which is now before us.
§ Lord HUGHES
My Lords, if the noble Lord will allow me, it was primarily resolved by the other place in an address on the West Lothian questions by English votes. The Scots were voted down on Strathclyde.
§ The Earl of DUNDEE
My Lords, that I think is a very interesting and relevant remark and I am very glad to be reminded of it. I was also very glad to hear the speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilson of Langside, the ex-Lord Advocate, but it would be utterly wrong in my submission if your Lordships were to accept his Amendment. It would be wrong in every sense; it would do no good either for the moment or for the future. We must accept the Second Reading of this Bill and then many of us must be prepared to sacrifice a great deal more of our time than we are generally asked to do in seeking to consider and, if necessary amend, something like 70 per cent, or 80 per cent, of the Bill which has not been considered at all by another place. That is the main task which is before us now for the summer and we must not shirk it.
§ 5.44 p.m.
§ Lord VAIZEY
My Lords, it is customary to apologise for adding to the list of speakers on a Bill when the list of speakers is so long. I do not propose to follow that custom because this Bill is an important one and raises issues which are fundamental to the survival of our country. Therefore I think we have a duty to speak if we have something to say. However, initially may I congratulate the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scarman, 1233 on his maiden speech and say how proud we all are to be a Member of the same House that he is.
I am going to speak from the point of view of a professor of economics—perhaps not the most popular point of view from which to speak. When I was invited to join your Lordships' House I expressed a fear that an academic might perhaps be tempted to lecture your Lordships, and my friend Tony Crosland said to me then, "It might do them no harm to listen to the occasional lecture", so here goes! By the way, I hope that your Lordships will pass the Bill, and unamended so that it can be presented to the Scottish people this autumn, because I shall be particularly interested to see whether or not the Scottish people accept it.
The reason for my speaking on this Second Reading debate is that it so happens that in my academic career I have taught two of the most distinguished writers on the Scottish economy. One, Dr. Gavin McCrone, is now a senior official in the Scottish Office, and the other, Dr. Gavin Kennedy, is a frequent writer from the point of view of the Scottish National Party. Needless to say, they are not responsible for what I have to say and, if I may say so, that reservation especially applies to Dr. McCrone who is an eminent public official; but my debt to their work is considerable. Furthermore, I myself was the editor of a book of proceedings of a conference on the economics of the five separate countries that make up the British Isles. The conference was sponsored by the Royal Economic Society, to whom I may say the royalties on the book go. The book is called Economic Sovereignty and Regional Policy and makes very good reading, and I hope that the Library might one day buy it.
I suggest that the present Bill is before us for a variety of reasons, of which the two principal ones are obviously, first, nationalism—the curse of our age—and, secondly, because of the failure of the British economy. It has been most marked in its failure for the past decade and a half and I think many Scots have been lead to believe that they would be far better off on their own. It is that case which I want to examine. You may say, why should I examine that case at all? 1234 —virtually all economic powers are excluded from the Bill and reserved to the United Kingdom Treasury. I shall argue that that shows a fatal instability in the structure so elaborately set out in the Bill. As I understand them, the Scots arguments are for the most part directed to the character of the economy. I shall put a proposition to your Lordships. It is that an Assembly which has few economic powers will be a perennial source of grievance in Scotland, and it seems to me virtually inescapable that if it is created, economic powers will be given to it in a relatively brief time. In other words, in passing this Bill—as I assume it will—Parliament is taking the first step along a long road to Scottish automony. Whether or not I am right in my prognostications, it would surely be unwise not to examine that possible outcome.
It so happens that the British Isles is now, and has been for nearly three centuries, a single unified economy. At present in England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, we have five different ways of government trying to steer and intervene in that single economy. The different ways vary from the English case, where there are no autonomous English powers vested in an English Government or English Assembly, to the Southern Irish case where the Irish Government is totally autonomous—as autonomous as Belgium or Holland.
In the book reporting the proceedings of the Royal Economic Society to which I referred, there is a brilliant essay by two distinguished young Cambridge economists, Rhodes and Moore, which shows that in certain conditions regional policies can allow the poorer regions to advance faster than the economy as a whole, and indeed since the early 1960s, both in Scotland and in parts of Northern England, there is evidence that regional policy has led to faster economic growth in those areas than would have been the case if there had not been a regional policy of that kind. But this is the case only under very special conditions.
Briefly, it is the equivalent of applying Keynesian economic principles to particular parts of the whole economy rather than to the economy as a whole—a policy, I may say, favoured by Governments in the mid-1960s but regarded as dreadful 1235 heresy in these monetarist days. Interestingly enough, the Irish Republic, which has total economic autonomy, has for the most part not used that autonomy very much. For example, it has never varied its rate of exchange independently of the pound sterling. Only in the 1930s, purely for political reasons, did Mr. DeValera use the power to levy tariffs against British goods, and, of course, the effects were unfortunate on both sides of the water.
In fact, I would say to my Scots friends that, in my own judgment, after very careful consideration of these expert opinions, the British Isles economy is like a convoy, and that the smaller economies, including those of Scotland and of the two parts of Ireland, tend to go at the same pace, give or take a few percentage points over a decade, as the English economy—as it were, the mother ship in the centre of this small fleet.
There is a good reason for this: namely, the economies are so intertwined that there is little that can be done at the periphery that is independent of the measures which are applied at the centre. That, by the way, is why analogies drawn from countries like Norway are false. Norway has relatively few foreign trade links with the other Scandinavian countries and therefore is free to determine its own economic policy in a way that constituent parts of the British Isles are not. I am not alone in believing that Britain's economic performance has been relatively poor for many years. Nor am I alone in thinking that it will probably continue to be relatively poor despite some recent improvements.
The Scots, I would guess, will therefore continue to be dissatisfied, as we all are, with our economic position. They are bound therefore in my view to press for economic powers to be given to the Assembly. My dismal view, I am afraid, is that if they press hard enough they will get them. Having got them, however, I see no real reason why the economic performance of Scotland should in that case notably improve. In other words, I think that the Scottish National Party in seeking autonomy in order to raise the Scottish standard of living is almost certainly chasing a Will o' the wisp. The only conditions under which Scotland could do measurably better than England 1236 are, first, if a Scottish Administration is neutralist and cuts defence expenditure to the bone, as the Government of the Irish Republic have done—and that would be wholly unacceptable to the Scots, as it is to us—and, secondly, if all the oil revenue goes to the Scottish Government.
We know from the position of the Shetland Isles—where most of the oil belongs, as I understand it—that this will be as unacceptable to the Shetlanders as it is to the rest of the United Kingdom. It is only in those two extreme conditions—neutralist Scotland and all the oil revenue going to the Scottish Government—that the Scottish standard of living could rise relative to that of the rest of the United Kingdom and, indeed, the British Isles as a whole. If that is so—and I admit it is a long chain of dubious reasoning—we have to decide whether to support the Second Reading of the Bill. As I have said, I support it.
The Government have been bold in trying to grasp this Nationalist nettle. However, this Bill will be the start of a series of measures of which nobody can see the end. Take the financial arrangements to which reference has already been made. Parliament—the House of Commons—will give a block grant to the Assembly on no known principles spelt out in the Bill. The Assembly will have no revenue-raising powers. As Baldwin once said, this is power without responsibility, with a vengeance. Every new hospital or road that is built will redound to Edinburgh's credit; every school that is not built will be blamed on Westminster. The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack said that he is not opposed to revenue-raising powers for the Assembly. I am glad that he said that. I am perfectly sure that if he remains on the Woolsack—as I hope he will—he will in the near future be introducing a Bill which will give those powers to the Assembly.
I cannot believe that this Bill will be the end of the matter. I noted that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scarman, also thought that. The House of Commons, for example, cannot continue as at present if nearly 100 Members represent parts of the Kingdom over which in major respects Parliament has no authority. That seems self-evident. If the Commons is changed so will the House of Lords 1237 change. Perhaps that is no bad thing, but it is at the moment not on the active agenda of politics. However, it is an inevitable consequence of passing this Bill. That is not the end of the matter. If, as the noble Lord on the Liberal Benches argued, we get a federal Britain what will survive unchanged? We are taking a major step on a road which will be steep. Also, our descent along that road will be very rapid indeed.
In conclusion, I have studied and, indeed I have written upon—although it is not the same thing—Irish history. It is received doctrine in well-meaning circles that, had Mr. Gladstone's first hold initiative been accepted by your Lordships a century ago, the terrible events of Irish history from 1910 to the present would have been avoided. I wonder. Would limited home rule have stopped the move towards independence which arose from the Irish Nationalist movement of a generation later? Was not Wyndham more realistic—and may he not have been right—in believing that the Irish wanted good government and not self-government? Is Ireland so much better off as a separate State than would have been as part of a powerful United Kingdom?
I reiterate that I shall support the Bill if the noble Lord on the Cross-Benches divides the House. I do so with admiration for Mr. Foot's courage in continually presenting it, or something like it, but fear that the Bill either goes too far or not far enough. I do not believe that the arrangements in the Bill will last for more than three or four years in their present form. I for one wish that the need to introduce it had never arisen. I am proud to be British as well as English, and I deeply regret that, as a nation, we are today becoming a house divided against itself.
§ 5.56 p.m.
§ Lord HARMAR-NICHOLLS
My Lords, I am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, spoke before me because I can now call him as my witness on some of the points that I want to make. The warnings implicit in his contribution are ones which we must keep very much in mind. The Bill to which we are asked to give a Second Reading has the modest title of the "Scotland Bill". I do not think that is 1238 what it is. If, my Lords, you look at its possible consequences, this is the United Kingdom dynamite Bill. If it is left as it is, or anything like it, it could shatter the United Kingdom as a sovereign entity, and that is what the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, was saying with all his special knowledge as an economist.
I have been worried even to differ marginally with some of my noble friends for whom I have such an admiration. I do not find this pleasant. Several of my noble friends have said that our duty today is to look on this and ourselves as a revising Chamber to revise the Bill. That is not our function. We are part of Parliament and this is a Second Reading debate. In using the Parliamentary procedure, a Second Reading debate means one has to examine the overall consequences of the Bill. If one gets over that hurdle then the details, criticism of marginal parts of the Bill, come later. I cannot help feeling worried that many of my noble friends, noble Lords on the Cross-Benches and opposite have given their contribution by way of what I consider would be Committee points.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilson of Langside, may well he on ground which it is our duty to support. Why has the Bill progressed so far if it is the dynamite Bill? The noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilson of Langside, made this point. It is not being partisan. The noble and learned Lord was quite right when he said that the immediate reason we have it in front of us today is that the Party in power have become blinded for the time being of the constitutional perils involved—and we have just been reminded about this—because they do not want to lose the Party lobby fodder which comes from Scotland. There is nothing wrong about that, providing you recognise it and see whether or not that is a point important enough to justify not treating this Bill in a Second Reading manner.
I do not think that there is much doubt about it, the Scottish Nationalists want complete separation. It is clearly on the record that they will not accept this Bill as it stands as a final judgment. To them it is a resting point on the way to complete separation. That is what the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, said. If I may compliment the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scarman, 1239 on his excellent maiden speech, I was delighted because I believe he put his finger on the point that must run alongside this Bill if in fact it is eventually passed and only marginally amended.
In order to preserve the freedoms of the individual referred to by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scarman, in order to preserve the Parliamentary system that we have built up over the centuries and have found, despite many weaknesses, to be the best that has been constructed so far, if this Bill goes through, it can only be safe if at the same time or very soon afterwards we have in this country a written Constitution with a judicial Supreme Court which is capable of preventing a slide to complete disaster. Those things must run together if this Bill is passed in anything like its present form because, whatever excuses may be offered by those who recommend the Bill as it stands, it is a step towards separation and towards the disintegration of one of the most important sovereign units in the world—the United Kingdom as it stands today.
There are those who oppose the whole concept of devolution: we know that. There are some who oppose the kind of devolution which is envisaged in this Bill; and as regards the Scottish National Party, what they have in mind is complete independence. They have that on the record, and I am not using scarifying language. The chairman of the Scottish National Party has said that this is such a had Bill—as the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, himself put on record—that it will inevitably lead, because of its badness, to the essential separation—and I quote him:that we want and intend to get".However we judge its details, I do not think there can be any doubt that this Bill will, to a larger or lesser extent, affect the future unity of the United Kingdom as a sovereign entity.
In another place on Second Reading, several honourable Members said they were opposed to the Bill: the same thing has been said by noble Lords today. They said: "We are opposed to the Bill, but we will vote for it so that when the referendum is taken the final decision can be given by the people of Scotland themselves". I can understand their saying 1240 that in another place, because I was there for a long time. They are essentially politicians, in a way that we here need not be. I can understand them saying there that they are against the Bill but that they will vote for it and let it go through because the referendum is a safeguard. That is how politicians try to resolve a conflict of opposite loyalties—loyalty to the Party to get what the Government want and loyalty to what they truly believe. They hope that the thing will sort itself out a little later on.
But if we give this Bill a Second Reading and do not do something magic about it in Committee, then I am afraid that the wrong loyalty will have won; because in saying that you will leave it to the referendum, what you mean is that you will say to the Assembly, if it is formed: "Here is the legislation. We have not had enough time to work out exactly how it will operate in detail. It has hardly been discussed at all: we have not had enough time to work out exactly how it will operate, and there are parts of it we do not like, but we have passed this measure because we want to pass the buck to you, the people of Scotland." I may say that it is being passed to them in a way which is so difficult to understand that I do not think a referendum can, on the question to be posed, lead to the expression of an honest view of the people of Scotland.
That way of doing things cannot be right. Parliament has a duty to make a decision on these things. I remember vividly that when I was opposing, against the wishes of my own Party in those days, joining the European Community, I was often told: "If you have a referendum at the end of the day you can take note of it, but it is Parliament which has to make the decision; it is Parliament which has the time and should have the aptitude to understand what it is all about." This Bill should not be fobbed off on people who have to make a decision which is not clearly understood by them. Unless drastic alterations are made the ordinary people of Scotland will react against this—and that is why I used the word "dynamite"—because the matter has not been properly and fairly spelt out. Parliament has a duty to ensure that the option which is put before the people of Scotland, if it comes to a referendum, is workable. 1241 That, Parliament has not so far done and, if the Bill remains anything like it is now, it will not be done.
There are three questions that the people are entitled to have looked at. First, does this Bill meet the demands for the reform of the government of Scotland? The second question is: does it meet the emotional expectations that have been built up in Scotland? Thirdly, will the Bill work? As regards the demands that people have who are thinking about this matter, the Bill envisages the creation of another tier of government, another Cabinet and another Parliament in Edinburgh. There are no new ideas for better control of the Executive—that was a point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scarman—but just an extra Executive to be added. There are no new ideas to improve the quality of legislation—just more legislation. It is an Assembly with the appearance of power and importance, but the Bill cannot be said to meet the essential constructional need for better investigation and control of Government activity. It is miles away from the real demand that is coming from Scotland; and when that is recognised in Scotland I think it could well result in justifying my word "dynamite".
Does it meet the emotional call that is coming from Scotland? Many people think it is necessary for Scotland to have an Assembly. That may well be, but I support my noble friend on the Front Bench when I say that more thought and examination and all-Party consideration ought to be given before we ask them to accept the Assembly, if that is eventually decided upon. Some may go further, and say that they believe that the granting of executive legislative powers is some sort of test of its effectiveness. What is the expectation that lies behind all that? They expect this Assembly to be able to act as a Government and to be able to deal with the economy, with prices and with all the things which concern the real government of a country. That, again, is a point which was made by the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey. They think that the Assembly will improve Scotland's economic performance, but this Bill, as has been pointed out, can do nothing about jobs, the economy or prices. I believe that when these flaws are discovered in Scotland after the Election—as assuredly they will be—there will be grave and bitter disappointment.
1242 Expectations have been raised by the sort of speeches that have been made in support of the Bill. People have been misled, and I maintain that there will be a reaction to that. People will feel let down; there will be pressure for more power, and if and when that is granted we shall see the beginning of the break-up of the unity of the United Kingdom. I call that possibility "United Kingdom dynamite". It will have that effect, and I am convinced that is what can flow from it.
However, the decisive question is the third one: will the Bill actually work or will it cause more problems than it solves? To my mind, it is quite incredible that even at this late stage the Government have still not answered some of the telling questions they themselves posed in their own White Paper. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor referred to the White Paper in presenting his explanation of how he thought this Bill would work. What did the 1974 White Paper say? This is one of the questions it asked:What difficulties are foreseen when the Scottish and Welsh Governments are of a different political complexion from the United Kingdom Government?Why do they not anticipate the sort of thing that will happen if you get one political Party in charge of the Assembly in Scotland which is quite different from the political complexion of the Party in power at Westminster, when both are intent on going forward with their own ideologies? They have not answered their own questions, because they know that the answer is, to use my word again, dynamite.
In paragraph 56(e) of the same White Paper, they ask this question:Is it acceptable to the people of England that, while the Westminster Parliament would, in general, not be able to legislate for Scotland and Wales in matters of health, education and local government, some 90 Scottish and Welsh MPs at Westminster would participate in legislation for England on these matters?Why do they not answer that one? It is because the answer is dynamite. They have made no attempt to provide an answer, in the hope that it will give them the votes to establish their majority in another place. The dynamite question would dissolve.
1243 This is what they ask in paragraph 56(g) of the White Paper:Is it acceptable to the people of Scotland and Wales that their Secretaries of State would disappear in their present form?The truth about the Bill is that it will reduce the effectiveness of Scotland's voice in the Cabinet, on the important economic and financial matters which exist. We all know, even if we have had only a modicum of experience in government, that Ministers without a powerful Department behind them are far less well placed in the Cabinet to do what they think ought to be done. Does Scotland really want to exchange her place at the Cabinet table for what may be an ineffective Assembly in Edinburgh?
Also, there are the over-riding powers. Here the Assembly may be over-ruled by two simple votes on a Resolution in this House. If that veto is used—and, if it is in the Bill, it is anticipated that there will be occasions when it is used—it will give the appearance of a partisan veto exercised by the United Kingdom Government, and we have seen what happens in Ireland when that kind of feeling gets abroad. That is why I call this Bill dynamite in its present form.
But at every point we have to return to the one central defect, which is simply this: What will be the role of Scottish Members of Parliament after the Assembly is established? Scottish Members will be able to vote on certain matters as they affect England, but neither they nor anybody else at Westminster will be able to vote on vital social matters that affect Scotland. It is one thing for English Members to vote on purely Scottish affairs, and for Scottish Members to vote on purely English affairs, when that can happen both ways. But it is quite a different matter when Scottish Members can vote on English affairs, but English Members cannot vote on the same affairs affecting Scotland.
I pompously make this awful prediction. The day on which the votes of Scottish Members determine art issue for England, in a way with which English Members do not agree, will be the day when the system breaks down and that will be the way in which the dynamite will explode. That cannot be ruled out in regard to 1244 any of the important matters which affect this nation, particularly vis-à-vis the European Economic Community. The frightening fact is that the Government do not even recognise that their scheme might create these or any other difficulties for the new role of Scottish Members. I know why the Government refuse to recognise the difficulties. It is because they realise that the only result could be the disappearance of their Parliamentary majority, which is based upon the votes of Scottish MPs, and, from their point of view, that would destroy the whole object of the Bill, which is to keep their majority intact. Even if there were no other reasons to criticise the Bill—and, as has already been pointed out, there are plenty of reasons—this vital unresolved matter is surely, by itself, sufficient.
I am very much inclined to support the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilson of Langside, if, at the end of the day, he decides not to withdraw his Amendment, although I know that he will take into account the very powerful points that were put to him by my noble friend. But if he does not withdraw it, I think that he will have me in his Lobby, because I would drop the Bill now and would go all out to achieve what my noble friend wants; that is, an all-Party Conference where this matter can be presented in a way which answers the principles that we have been discussing here today. We cannot stop the march of time—this matter has gone so far that this Bill, or something like it, will have to come—and if this Bill were voted down tomorrow I would face up to that fact, and would use the time available to prepare a written Constitution which would give sensible, constitutional progress the added protection of an objective, impartial Supreme Court examination. With these two things together, we should perhaps be minimising the possible dangers much better than by the proportional representation, which the noble Lord on the Liberal Benches recommended. That would be the best way of preventing a minority Parliamentary dictatorship from dynamiting a thousand years of ordered Parliamentary progress.
§ 6.16 p.m.
My Lords, I shall not detain your Lordships for more than about three minutes, because the two 1245 noble Lords who have preceded me have expressed my dislike of this Bill very much better than I myself could have done. I should, however, like to make one point about it. I am an expatriate Scot. In fact, I call myself a very expatriate Scot, because I have the honour to have inherited a title the place name for which, although supposedly in the County of Fife, I believe does not exist at all. Has anyone heard of Blairsanquhar? However, even an expatriate Scot has very strong feelings about the land of his ancestors; the land from which his family came. I believe that family ties have a stronger hold on Scots than is perhaps the case South of the Border, and that hold extends to those who find themselves outside Scotland at this moment. I think that the noble Earl, Lord Perth, mentioned that fact with some emphasis.
My point is that I am precluded from taking part in the referendum. Even if I had moved back to Scotland on the day when this Bill was given its First Reading, it would have been too late to get on to a local register to take part in a referendum this year or early next year. I believe that that is something which hurts us expatriates very much indeed. I shall not deal with other points on the Bill, because I dislike it so intensely. In conclusion, I want to say to the noble and learned Lord, Lord McCluskey, that I have no disrespect and bear no malevolent wishes towards him, but I should like to quote, in parody, the final verse of an ancient Scottish ballad:Half owre, half owre to Edinburgh,'Tis fifty fathoms deep.And there lies gude the Lord McC,With the Scots Bill at his feet".
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ Baroness ELLIOT of HARWOOD
My Lords, I hope that your Lordships will bear with me if I use this occasion briefly, but with great and deep feeling, to say what I believe is the situation in Scotland from my own experience there.
My first principle is to preserve the unity of the United Kingdom. I am totally opposed to Scottish nationalism, as expressed by the official Party. In that view I believe that I have the support of the Government. I am not in favour of federation in either Scotland or Wales. I believe that Scottish men and women 1246 have always made a great contribution to the government of Great Britain. Scottish Members of Parliament have provided the United Kingdom with many Prime Ministers and with many leading members of different Cabinets, from Arthur Balfour and Lord Rosebery down to the present day. I do not want that influence to be ended by divisions in public life which would curtail the influence of Scotsmen and, for that matter, Welshmen. For have we not today a Lord Chancellor and a Speaker of the House of Commons, both of whom are very distinguished Welshmen?
Furthermore, I do not believe in the theory that legislation for Scotland is held up by the United Kingdom Parliament. Today, all local government is handled by St. Andrew's House in Edinburgh. If anything goes wrong or is held up by administrative difficulties, it is St. Andrew's House which is to blame. I know this from my own experience of local government in Scotland. I have as much experience of that kind as anybody.
The Assembly that I should favour would be combined with the co-ordination and working together of all local government interests. I should scrap one tier of the present reorganisation of local government. I should cut out, say, the regions and instead would provide units which would enable counties like Argyll, Lanarkshire, Ayrshire, Dumbartonshire and Glasgow to be separate areas. I, too, took part in the work on this subject by Lord Hughes. We discussed this matter during the last Parliament and, although it was the decision of my own Government, I bitterly regret the fact that they did not take our advice about not creating the enormous Strathclyde area.
Next, may I turn to the question of Shetland and the Shetlanders, who are determined not to have anything to do with a Parliament in Edinburgh. Are we to ignore that fact? Are we to allow the Shetlanders to have a separate organisation? This will be an extremely difficult matter to resolve and it is one of the many reasons why I do not believe the present proposals to be good.
May I deal now with the question of the administrative machinery involved in the new set-up. It is a nightmare. On Tuesday, 6th December, the noble Lord, 1247 Lord Kirkhill, gave me a Written Answer to a Question on Scottish legislative representation. May I quote from Hansard of that date. I asked the noble Lord how many people in Scotland were members of community councils, district councils and regional councils; how many people were expected to be members of the Scottish Assembly; how many Scottish Members of Parliament there were in the House of Commons; and how many Scottish representatives were expected to be elected to the European Parliament. The answer was:The numbers of members of district, regional and islands councils in Scotland are respectively 1,117, 432 and 75, a total of 1,624".In the community councils, when they are all established, there will be 14,656 people. There will be 147 members of the Scottish Parliament. In the Westminster Parliament, there will be 71 Members, and in the European Assembly there will be eight members.
That is a total of 16,560 people who will all have to be elected. Imagine the chaos and difficulty of election dates. Imagine the expense of all these different elections. The reluctance of people to go to the polls in ordinary local government elections has always been very great. Half of these people will not know what they are voting for. The present Parliamentary and local government elections provide sufficient difficulties, and in most local government elections the low poll is very disappointing. I believe that some of this machinery must be scrapped.
Next, may I turn to a question which was raised and in which I have always been very interested. Nobody has yet come up with a solution to the problem of the 71 Members of Parliament sitting at Westminster who are unable to vote on any Scottish affairs but who are able to vote on all English matters. It was Mr. Dalyell who raised the problem, and so far nobody has come up with a proposal to remedy it.
Furthermore, the Minister whom I believe to be absolutely vital to Scottish Government—namely, the Secretary of State for Scotland—will have many of his powers taken away. I gather that he will not be a member of the Cabinet. This will 1248 be a tremendous loss to Scotland. We must ensure that the voice of Scotland is heard in the United Kingdom Cabinet, even though we may have an Assembly in Edinburgh. Everybody knows that the way to influence an Administration lies in the Cabinet. Not to have a Secretary of State for Scotland in the Cabinet will weaken the influence which we in Scotland can have in the United Kingdom and in the world. I am absolutely opposed to this proposal.
Schedule 10 to the Bill lists all of the subjects which are and are not to be devolved. I understand that only one of those subjects was discussed in the House of Commons. Obviously, therefore, one of the most important of our functions will be to discuss those subjects. One or two of them seem to me to be quite extraordinary. Forestry is to be devolved. Will forestry be split up? Shall we have two Forestry Commissions? How can we divide the Forestry Commission? In the Border country where I live, which is the largest forestry area in the country, there are forests stretching for miles on both sides of the Border—from Otterburn to Wauchope Forest and from Kielder to Ettrick. Surely it is madness to divide the Forestry Commission; there should be only one.
Turning to transport and roads, these appear in Schedule 10 as devolved. Transport matters in Part II of the Bill are not to be devolved. Agriculture is to be devolved. However, taking the various grants, schemes and subsidies in paragraph 11 of Part II, which are not to be devolved, how can one separate agriculture from grant aid? It is all one industry. Also, how can one separate the grant aid side of agriculture from the industry? I know that we shall discuss all these matters in Committee, but these questions strike one immediately. It seems to me that the complication which will hamper administration is that there is to be no power over finance, yet what industry and agriculture in Scotland require is finance. If one separates the two, one adds greatly to the complications.
The noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, mentioned that the Parliamentary majority of the Scottish Assembly may be different from the Parliamentary majority in the United Kingdom Parliament. This will lead to endless problems when it comes to 1249 dealing with grants and subsidies and all other financial matters, especially if the Scottish Assembly has a Socialist majority while the United Kingdom Parliament has a Conservative majority. I do not believe that one should devolve matters when control is held elsewhere, and when the money to carry out work has to be voted by the United Kingdom Parliament.
Only a few days ago, I read in the newspapers that work is to begin on the high school which is to be used for the Scottish Assembly. I read that £1.25 million is to be spent on the high school, while £1 million is to be spent on St. Andrew's House, a total of £2.25 million. Consideration of the Bill is not yet completed and the referendum has still to be held. I am opposed to spending £2.25 million until we know whether the Bill is accepted, and that is far from certain.
I think one of your Lordships said that there was considerable enthusiasm for devolution in Scotland. I have found no enthusiasm for this Bill in the part of Scotland where I live. We are linked to those who live on the other side of the Border by agriculture, by forestry, by industry and in every other way. We do not want this expensive and complicated set-up, and, before great sums of money are paid out, let us be sure it is worth while.
I have in my hand a copy of Hansard for 2nd November 1932—quite a long time ago. I want to end with a quotation from it. I shall not tell your Lordships who I am quoting until I have read it:I hope it will never be said of a Scotsman that he helped to break up the British Union or that he made its powers for good less in a sadly harrassed world.That was the peroration of a speech by Lord Dunglass, the present Lord Home of the Hirsel, who is sitting just in front of me.
I believe that what we are discussing today and shall discuss in Committee is of vital importance and, like many noble Lords, I feel very unhappy about much of this Bill. I would not vote against the Second Reading, because I think it is important that we should amend the Bill and go through all the details, which the House of Commons never did. But I am not happy about it, and I think there is still a lot of work that we must do on it.
§ 6.32 p.m.
§ Lord GLENAMARA
My Lords, as the original author of this Bill, I should like to welcome it to this House. Lord Mackie said that in bringing forward these proposals we were following the policy of the Liberal Party. I cannot refrain from pointing out to him that if the then Leader of the Liberal Party had not rejected the proposals in the White Paper of 1975, on which this Bill is based, it would have reached this House a year earlier. I also cannot refrain from pointing out the entirely negative attitude of the Conservative Party in both Houses on this extremely important constitutional matter. They have got a commitment to devolution, but they have said nothing positive throughout the whole of the three-year debate on devolution, I think that is a tragedy.
I left the Government in April 1976, and I left behind a completed Bill on devolution for Scotland and Wales. The Government took some further months to study it, and they made an abortive attempt to get the Bill through Parliament in the last Session. But, after all that, they brought to us again in this Session essentially the Bill I left behind. There have been one or two peripheral changes, some of which are good and some of which are not so good, and of course they have split the Bill into two; but essentially it is the Bill I left behind in April 1976.
I should like to do an unusual thing. I should like to pay tribute to the small group of civil servants who worked so hard for two years preparing these proposals. Unlike most major Bills, this Bill was not prepared in a large Government Department. There are noble Lords here who have been Lord President and they will know that the Lord President's staff in the Privy Council Office can be counted on two hands. So I assembled a group of 24 civil servants under Sir John Garlick and they undertook the massive tasks of, in effect, writing a Constitution for Scotland and one for Wales. Every point that was put to them was researched exhaustively and faithfully, and all the options placed before Ministers. As an indication of the work they did, they prepared over 100 Cabinet papers and Cabinet Committee papers. I should also like to pay tribute to the assistance of the Solicitor-General for Scotland, who 1251 is now in this House though at that time he was not; he gave tremendous help.
This is a measure which has aroused boredom among some people, but also very great passion among others, both for and against. But to say, as the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, said, that it is ill-thought-out, is a travesty of what has happened. May I remind him of what did take place. First, there was a very distinguished Royal Commission, on which the proposals were based. Secondly, the two Secretaries of State carried out widespread discussions in Scotland and Wales in the summer of 1974. Thirdly, a White Paper was prepared setting out the basic proposals in September 1974. It was placed before the electorate in the Election the following month. I myself spoke throughout Scotland on it, and, like Lord Mackie, I canvassed all over Scotland, I think in every shopping centre in Scotland, about the proposals.
Incidentally, Lord Wilson of Langside may be interested to know that I spoke in Mr. Tam Dalyell's constituency with him and we both warmly commended the proposals to the electorate. His conversion to the anti-devolution camp came in a blinding flash once he had been elected. Fourthly, the definitive White Paper was published the following year in the autumn of 1975. One of the longest debates I can remember in my quarter of a century in the other place, took place on that White Paper. We took into account every point made in that debate. And then of course the Bill was published. So I do not see how anybody as fairminded as Lord Harmar-Nicholls normally is can possibly say it is ill-thought-out and ill-considered. That simply is a travesty of the facts.
Why do the Government press on with their major piece of legislation in this Session? It is certainly not for the kind of narrow electoral considerations that Lord Wilson of Langside talked about, though I see nothing wrong whatever—indeed, I think it is entirely laudable—that a Government should respond to what is obviously a broad-based demand among the electorate. It is not a matter of political expediency; it would be almost criminal to carry out a radical change in our constitution if it were. It is very much deeper than that. Here I agree very 1252 much with what the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, said. I think his diagnosis was absolutely correct but his prescription, I am sorry to say, was absolutely wrong.
The pressure for devolution has been growing for two decades. As the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, said, it is not confined to the United Kingdom. France, Belgium, Italy, Spain, all have exactly the same kind of pressures as we have in Scotland and Wales. I believe that it is a reaction against the fear of loss of regional identity as Europe integrates. But I think it is wider and deeper than that. It is a reaction against the increasing loss of identity in our society. We all have the same kind of underclothes from Marks and Spencer, the same accent from the BBC, the same package holidays, the same city centres everywhere, the same multistorey shops in every town, the same entertainment on television from Land's End to John O'Groats. Personal identities, local identities, regional identities are being planed out of our existence.
Yet the preservation of identity I believe, is one of the basic and most important human needs. "Who am I?" is the oldest question asked by man. His whole life is a quest to answer that question, to know and preserve his identity, his differentness. The reaction against sameness is seen in many ways in our society. The pressure for devolution in Scotland and Wales is one of these, but the "punk rockers" are another manifestation of this attempt to find an identity, to answer the question, "Who am I?"
Here in this Parliament, in the other place, the unwillingness of Back-Benchers any longer to be franking machines for the Executive is part of the same thing. In industry, the unwillingness of workers simply to be a computerised number in a personnel file is part of the same thing. People are searching for their identities. The pressure for devolution, for preserving the Scottishness of Scotland and the Welshness of Wales, in all their cultural, economic and social aspects, is, I think, entirely praiseworthy; it is an entirely praiseworthy attempt to combat these forces which are making for uniformity. I think that the Government are absolutely right to take account of that.
1253 The over-centralised Governments of Western Europe cannot provide for this pressure except by drastic constitutional change. Anybody who has served in local Government—as so many noble Lords have and do—will know exactly what I mean. I am sure that the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot of Harwood, who has just spoken will know, because she has had a distinguished career in local government. What I mean by over-centralisation is the ludicrous extent to which London tries to control what should be local decisions taken by local communities. I am always surprised that, in the main, the opponents of devolution are those who object most strongly to the theory that Whitehall knows best, and I would count the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, among those.
Of course, the demand for devolution is all the stronger because the outlying regions of Britain have been grossly neglected for so many years. In my maiden speech in this House a year ago on unemployment I spoke about two towns in the North of England—a large town in the North-East of England and a small town in the North-West of England—and pointed out that their unemployment levels were approaching, and in some areas more than, the levels of the 1930s. I received no reply—none at all—to those points from my good friend the Minister who replied. However, I suggest that, had we allocated our national resources between the regions of Britain more equitably in the last half century, or even since the War, the present disenchantment with control from London felt in Scotland, Wales, the North-East and the North-West, would not have been so great. Anybody who travels from Euston to Glasgow can almost plot a graph of deprivation from one end of Britain to the other. Anybody who lives in the regions will know how neglected the outlying parts of Britain have been, and that again adds to the pressure for the devolution of the decision-making and the domestic issues from London to those regions.
Of course, the issue is greatly complicated by the discovery of North Sea oil. Everyone knows that if Scotland were an independent country most of the oil discovered so far would be in Scottish territorial waters and that gives a kind of 1254 credibility—in my view a spurious credibility, if that is not a contradiction in terms—to the concept of Scottish independence. Therefore, as I see it, these three factors—the deep overriding factor which the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, mentioned of the attempt to preserve identity; the decades of neglect by London of the outlying regions of Britain; and the discovery of North Sea oil off Scotland—have revived ancient memories of separate nationhood. But, more important, together they have generated a head of steam which, if these sensible proposals are rejected, will, I believe, destroy the United Kingdom.
Therefore, the question is: can we preserve the essential unity of the United Kingdom? By the essential unity of the United Kingdom, I mean the ability of the United Kingdom to speak with one voice to other countries and in international bodies; I mean the ability of this United Kingdom Parliament to manage the economy and to deal with such matters as currency, exchange rates, fiscal policy and the organisation of some industries and services throughout the Kingdom.
It is common ground among us, my Lords—except with the Nationalists—that we want to preserve the Union. The real issue before us is: will these proposals which the Government have brought prevent the disintegration of the United Kingdom or, indeed, cause its disintegration. I do not think that anyone can answer that question—I certainly would not attempt to answer it. Some will say that these proposals, if implemented, will expedite the disintegration of the Union. Others will say that they will prevent it. However, anyone—like the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, and others—who has studied the indicators of public opinion in Scotland and Wales over the past 10 years is forced inevitably to the conclusion that the people who now want sensible devolution of decision-making on domestic issues would be driven into the separatist camp, which is now a minority, if these proposals were rejected. I am quite sure about that.
The noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, made a prediction. I, too, shall make a prediction. I predict that if Parliament rejects or greatly delays this Bill, an independent Scotland will follow within a decade. It would be the surest way to 1255 destroy the United Kingdom. To pass the Bill may preserve the United Kingdom or it may not. Do not imagine that, if there were a majority demand for an independent Scotland, Westminster could long deny it in a world with so many international forums to which to appeal. If we tried to deny that demand, with perhaps Parliament having a large Scottish Nationalist element and with a majority in Scotland wanting independence, we should be equated before the world with the repressive régimes of Eastern Europe and that would be quite untenable for a country which prides itself on the contribution it makes to the moral leadership of the world. The choice before us is, of course, very difficult because it involves changing the constitutional pattern in which we have lived for 270 years. It is quite natural that, in a world where change increases almost at a geometrical progression rate, we should want to preserve such a basic vehicle for our society as our Constitution.
Nevertheless, there comes a time when even Constitutions must change. I believe that we have reached that point now in the United Kingdom. I believe that the proposals in the Bill are eminently sensible both individually and as a package. No measure, in my experience, has been prepared more competently or with greater care. It is well thought-out; it devolves only domestic matters and it does not and cannot devolve sovereignty. As I have said, it is based upon the findings of an eminent Royal Commission. It was put before the electors in October 1974 in a White Paper which was published the previous month. That White Paper set out the salient features of the proposals, in particular, that Scotland should have a legislative Assembly and Wales an executive Assembly. If your Lordships recognise electoral mandates, there is certainly one here. There was a huge majority for the Labour Party in Scotland. It won two-and-a-half times as many seats in Scotland as the Conservatives—44 to 16—and nationally the Labour Party won 43 more seats than the Conservatives and almost exactly a million more votes. If that is not a mandate to carry out the matters set out in our manifesto, I really do not know what is.
1256 I only mention these facts to make the point that the Government, in my view, have a clear electoral mandate for these proposals. It is a mandate which I trust your Lordships will recognise and respect and, in so doing, your Lordships may well be saving the Union which has meant so much to the British people in the past two centuries.
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I ask one question, only because I agree so much with almost everything that he said. But I think that he criticised the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, for saying that the Bill was ill-thought-out, and attempted to refute that by pointing out that it had been thought out at great length and with great sincerity. Will he not agree—whether or not that is true of this Bill—that it is possible to think something out at great length and with great sincerity and for it still to remain ill-thought-out?
§ Lord GLENAMARA
My Lords, the only point I was making was that in my 25 years in Parliament I have never known a measure where so much trouble has been taken to discover the views of others—the electorate, the Opposition and Parliament—and to embody them in the final Bill.
§ 6.51 p.m.
§ Lord DRUMALBYN
My Lords, I think that anyone who looks at the Bill is bound to conclude that a very great deal of trouble has been expended in its preparation. To that extent I wholeheartedly agree with the noble Lord, Lord Glenamara, that those civil servants who have been engaged in preparing the Bill are warmly to be congratulated. But what about the Government? The noble Lord, Lord Glenamara, says—not unreasonably—that the Government have this in their Manifesto and that they won power, though I thought they might have acknowledged the relatively small minority with which they obtained power. If the noble Lord listened to the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, he will have appreciated that Lord Mackie gave the relative figures for the various Parties in Scotland which, on any fair method of election, would certainly not have warranted the kind of huge majority that the Labour Party had in Scotland.
1257 To some extent I can agree with the noble Lord, Lord Glenamara, that here we are talking about a measure which, as he described, was intended to prevent separatism. It is a curiously negative reason for introducing a measure of this kind. I believe that the noble Lord has taken great trouble to find out the opinions of the public. Unfortunately, the public's opinions change from day to day. I prefer the approach of my noble friend Lord Home of the Hirsel, who said that the Scot's attitude is a gut reaction. I believe that that is true. It is no use saying that it is only in the last 20 years—I believe the noble Lord referred to "two decades"— that the urge for a national Assembly has developed. I have here a House of Commons Hansard dated Friday, 15th May, 1914. In it a Bill was introduced by my uncle, fan Macpherson—Liberal Member for Ross and Cromarty for 25 years. The Bill was backed by the Government of the day, although it was a Private Member's Bill. It was talked out in the House of Commons on a Friday.
However, it is worth while noting the arguments on both sides. I can summarise them very quickly. My uncle made it clear—and, of course, I paraphrase—that all else would be left to what was then the Imperial Parliament, except for the interests that were then, and still are, regulated by Scottish law administered by Scottish officials and provided for by Scottish Estimates, plus old age pensions, National Insurance and labour exchanges, which at that time had only recently been introduced. Arthur Balfour led the Opposition. He warned against confusion between administration and nationalism. He argued, in effect, that political devolution based on nationalism would, inevitably lead to separatism and separation. So far as Ireland was concerned—and Ireland was the larger question of the two at the time—certainly Arthur Balfour proved to be right.
So it is true that we must look at the Bill in the context of whether it is likely to lead to separation. A very great deal depends on one's estimate of the real strength of the demand for separation. I think that it is just worth quoting one or two figures. The Scottish National Party claims in its programme to be in favour of independence, but all the indications are that that 1258 Party is a coalition of those who want independence and those who are in favour of some kind of devolution.
If we take the number of SNP candidates in the last six General Elections and the votes per constituency contested, we get this result. In 1959 there were five candidates and votes per constituency contested, in round figures, came to 4,350: in 1964 there were 15 candidates with votes per constituency contested totalling 4,260. Perhaps I can give the rest seriatim: in 1966, 20 and 6,250; in 1970, 65 and 4,720; in 1974, 70 and 9,030; in the second General Election in 1974, 71 and 11,825.
What would be reasonable to deduce from that? I would say that the feeling was there all the time. What was needed was organisation. It was the organisation of the Scottish National Party that pushed up these figures in this way. Of course, it all started in 1967 with the Hamilton by-election, when the Scottish Nationalists won with 46 per cent. of the votes cast. That immediately showed that seats were winnable for the Scottish National Party, and they went ahead very diligently and organised in that way. But I very much doubt whether, if in the referendum the Scots were to vote "No", that would mean that, in any case from that time on, the moderates and the extremists in the Scottish National Party would join together and that there would be a trend towards separatism. I believe there is a peaking out of support for it.
What is the effect as regards the Bill? With a Bill such as this I think it is true to say that it will work, it can work, if there is the will and determination to make it work and if there is goodwill. That is something that no one can guarantee, and it is idle to speculate about the future. As noble Lords have said, it will depend on how often there is a First Secretary of one Party and a Secretary of State of a different Party. Some may say, "Oh, but this has been happening for years in Northern Ireland at Stormont"; but the circumstances are totally different there. The last thing that Stormont wanted—perhaps I should say the last but one thing—was independence, whereas in Scotland the tendency would be essentially centrifugal. If difficulties arose, they would be greatly aggravated; and difficulties could arise. But if there is legislation and it 1259 does not work, surely it is for Parliament to do something about it. I believe that one can exaggerate the dangers very greatly indeed. I do not want to pass over the difficulties.
I believe it was the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, who said that there was more pressure for economic independence than there was for legislative independence on domestic issues in Scotland. This may well be true, but at the same time the vast majority of people in Scotland are against separatism. The only way you can avoid separatism is to have central control of finance and economic affairs, as well as international affairs, and defence. This is a matter we shall have to go into carefully at Committee stage because, under the provisions of the Bill, there is a not very clear grey area, and it will be important for the formation of opinion in Scotland.
Apart from that, what the Bill does, in effect, is to transfer the legislative functions from being done by Scotsmen at Westminster—I am talking of the matters that will be devolved—to being done by Scotsmen in Edinburgh. The advantages of that will be that more time will be left for the transaction of business in Parliament here, and it should be possible, as the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, said, to get on more quickly with legislation that Scotland needs. There are undoubtedly advantages there.
The question always is: Is the risk of a trend towards separation so great that this Bill should be resisted at all costs? If it is accepted that it is great and that nothing could be done about it, then I would be against the Bill. If, on the other hand, it can work well, then I am inclined to say, "Let us leave this to the expression of the wishes of the people in Scotland". Let us, in the meantime, do our best to see that the Bill is made as sound as possible, and is improved as far as we can improve it.
I agree entirely that just as it is our duty to look closely at the Bill and to improve it, so it will be the duty of another place—and I do not mind putting it quite categorically—to examine what changes the House of Lords may make. Then it goes for the opinion of the Scottish electorate in a referendum. I do not see how we can deal with this matter 1260 in any other way. In these terms I would not support the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilson, in the Lobby, because it is our duty to improve the Bill as much as possible and then seek the opinion of the Scottish people.
§ 7.2 p.m.
§ Lord MONSON
My Lords, I should like to join other noble Lords in congratulating the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scarman, on his maiden speech. The noble and learned Lord is well known for his zeal in upholding the liberties of the individual, and this principle formed the main theme of his admirable speech, even though superficially this may not have been wholly apparent.
I speak as an Englishman. It seems to me that the English dimension of this Bill has not been adequately discussed by the public, the Press, or Parliament. So far as the English Establishment is concerned, this probably has quite a lot to do with the notorious all-pervading guilt conscience that seems to afflict the educated Englishman, so that even to discuss the desirability of standing up for English interests is considered to be in bad taste. Happily, such neuroses are not shared by the Englishman in the street. His seeming unconcern stems solely from a quite understandable ignorance of what this Bill will actually mean to him. When he comes to realise its full implications, and if the Bill remains unamended, I suggest that there will be hell to pay. In this connection, I was most interested in the forceful and—if I may say so—highly impressive speech of the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, in which he suggested that when the English realise what the Bill entails, the flames of English nationalism will be fanned, to the detriment of the entire United Kingdom. The noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, stressed the same point.
Let us look for a moment at the ethical case for self-government. If a substantial majority of Scots were to vote for outright independence—and by "substantial majority", I mean at the very least an overall majority of those on the Scottish electoral roll, and not merely a majority of those who bother to turn up to vote—then, however sad one would undoubtedly be, and however apprehensive one might be about the possible consequences, 1261 especially for the defence of these Islands against external aggression, I think that anyone who believes in the principle of self-determination—and I am sure that most of your Lordships do so—would have to accept the clearly expressed wishes of the Scottish people.
It cannot be denied that there is a certain romantic nobility about the aspiration for total independence involving, as it does, dangers and sacrifices as well as benefits. Alternatively, there is the more limited and qualified form of self-government that this Bill proposes which, although it is both more materialistic and less idealistic than total independence, cannot in broad principle be faulted on moral grounds. As the noble Lord, Lord Glenamara, maintained, there is a lot to be said for less over-centralisation and more diversity.
What there is no moral justification for, however, is for the Scots to be allowed, purely as a result of cynical electoral calculation, to have their cake and to eat it. As the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, said, if I may quote him a second time, this is manifestly inequitable—although, to be fair to the Scots, I do not think that they ever specifically demanded such excessive privileges. What I mean by having their cake and eating it is the Scots being permitted to run both their own internal affairs and those of the English as well, by virtue of gross over-representation in the House of Commons: all the while, incidentally, continuing to be subsidised on balance by the English, because it seems clear that on a year-in year-out basis and even allowing for the 10 to 12 years during which North Sea oil will continue to flow, England does on balance subsidise Scotland.
Now the usual bland reply to criticism of gross Scottish over-representation in the Commons is that this is purely a matter for the Speaker's Conference. I do not accept for a moment, when such a drastic constitutional change as this is proposed, that Scottish representation is a matter for a cosy Commons cabal. It is a matter for the entire British people. If the Bill goes through without this over-representation being altered, or without, as a possible alternative, Scottish MPs being specifically debarred from voting on purely internal English matters, I suggest that the English people will be under no moral obligation—there will be a 1262 technical, legal obligation of course, but that is something else—to abide by any new legislation on English internal matters which has been rejected by the majority of English MPs but nevertheless passed solely with the aid of the Scottish votes.
This Bill, as it stands, is a slap in the face for the English majority in these Islands. If it receives a Second Reading, but is not substantially altered in Committee so as to make it fairer to that majority, then I submit that it should be thrown out lock, stock and barrel on Third Reading.
§ 7.8 p.m.
§ Lord BURTON
My Lords, how could one open but by adding one's congratulations to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scarman? It was interesting to watch how, throughout his speech, he kept the riveted attention of your Lordships. It was a fascinating speech. As he said, it was brief and non-controversial. I am glad that I am not making my maiden speech as, though I intend to be reasonably brief, I cannot see how I can fail to be controversial on this subject.
It may be asked how a Peer with an English title has a right to be controversial on a Scottish Bill, but two of my ancestors were Kings of Scotland. One—I believe a very bad king—was crowned on the site of Berwick station according to a plaque erected by British Rail. My family have lived for 400 years in the Inverness area, and before that in the South of Scotland, so I hope that that makes me a Scot. The title was captured by a dynastic marriage.
I understand that the noble Lord, Lord Glenamara, comes from Newcastle. I wondered where this terrible dose of medicine could have come from, but now we know. More trouble for Scotland from across the Border in Northumberland. But, my Lords, who is a Scot? People talk of the Scottish language. Some of the people from the Buchan coast are almost incomprehensible to anyone else. When the HLI, mostly recruited from the South-West of Scotland, were in Fort George, one needed an interpreter to get through to the Fort. I believe that the people from these two areas have great difficulty understanding one another. 1263 The best English, we were told, was spoken in Inverness. Not so now, I regret, for there have been too many incomers. Then we have the West Coaster and Islanders with their lovely soft Gaelic accent. Which of these is the Scottish tongue?
Then again, different areas have totally different temperaments. There are different characteristics and influences, partly introduced by Viking invasions, shipwrecked Spaniards from the Armada, a considerable exodus of Highlanders to all parts of the globe and, more recently, an influx of Englishmen, particularly retired people often known locally as "the white settlers". Scotland's population is as diverse as the Cornishman and the Geordie, or even the Yorkshiremen who like to say they are not Englishmen but Yorkshiremen. Those in the Western Isles felt remote from Inverness and Dingwall, Inverness felt remote from Edinburgh and Edinburgh remote from London. Nevertheless, it is quicker and easier to get to London from Inverness than it is to get to Edinburgh from Inverness. Edinburgh may be only an hour's drive from the Southern Borders, but Edinburgh is many hours' travelling from Caithness.
I feel, therefore, that there has often been too much sentiment, too much misguided nationalism, whipped up in our schools. There is a great danger that any devolved power will fall into the hands of these fanatics and, personally, I am very worried about this. Only last night, I attended a public meeting in Inverness to meet the Northfield Committee on Land Ownership. Immediately behind me sat a Scottish National candidate; if his views are to prevail in Scotland there will be no hope for good land use in Scotland. After 400 years in the Highlands, my family may well have to move out.
I may be said to be unpatriotic about it, but I now feel like a white farmer in Rhodesia or South Africa, with a grave economic threat hanging over me. Is it economic sense for an individual to wait for economic ruin? Should one not move one's assets out as soon as possible? I wonder how many people are already doing so. Possibly not many yet, as it still seems incredible that our politicians can shirk their duty in an attempt to buy 1264 votes and that this Parliament can hide behind a referendum. What a gamble, however. One hopes for the good sound sense of the Scottish people, but, oh dear! the electorate are influenced by the media.
Until I started to do my homework for this debate I had no conception of what a horrible Bill this was. I try to keep myself up to date with current affairs and, if I did not understand how terrible it was, I cannot see how the remainder of the population can be expected to know. Many will say that things are bad with 200,000 unemployed, and that we are overtaxed and so on, and they may say when it comes to the referendum, "How can matters get worse? Let us try our own Parliament". The Scottish Nationalists made a great deal of noise a few years ago, and I would remind the House that an empty oil drum makes a lot of noise. Now the oil drum is beginning to fill up and, particularly as much of it is going to Shetland, there is less noise. I am quite convinced that this nationalistic feeling has passed its peak.
Perhaps the argument with the biggest impact is to compare an Assembly with regional councils. The setting up of regions to govern us is a disaster understood by all in Scotland; the extra officials, the extra cost, the remoteness and the difficulties of getting anything done are well understood. The financial problems, particularly in Strathclyde, are certainly well understood. How can anyone seek to impose an even worse colossus upon us?
Let us get a little nearer to ourselves here. We recently had an excellent, though regrettably truncated, debate on forestry in this House. Many of the speakers in that debate were from Scotland, but, should this Bill become law, there will be no object in speaking about private forestry in Scotland, as the forestry policy will be dictated by a lot of urban dwellers from the industrial belt of Scotland who know little or nothing about forestry. They will be legislating on this and other subjects about which they know little and there will be no second Chamber of any sort to impose a brake on them.
It will be evident from what I have said that I am in full sympathy with the views expressed in the Amendment standing in the name of the noble and learned Lord, 1265 Lord Wilson of Langside, but I must add my voice to those who have urged him not to divide the House at this stage. He would be defeating what both he and many of us desire. I could not possibly vote not to give the Bill a Second Reading; I would then be left with the problem of whether to vote for a Bill that I intensely disliked or whether to abstain. This is by far the most horrific Bill to come before your Lordships during the time I have been here, which is 13 years; I hope it is not an unlucky number.
My noble friend Lord Harmar-Nicholls was totally correct, as indeed was the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot of Harwood: the Bill will most certainly not pre-empt nationalism. It will only encourage it. If this Bill becomes law, we shall be well on the way to another Northern Ireland situation. Please, please think again and ignore some of those in another place who threaten us with execution if we do our duty.
§ 7.16 p.m.
§ Lord PONSONBY of SHULBREDE
My Lords, many noble Lords must have hesitated today before putting their names down to speak in this debate and I certainly should not have done so were there not some matters I particularly wished to draw to the attention of the House. I have no intention at this stage of entering into a general survey of the Bill or commenting on its merits, other than saying that I favour devolution and that I favour government being taken as near to the people as possible. Indeed, I shall, like the noble Lord, Lord Scarman, whose maiden speech I much admired, concentrate on points of detail.
The first point I wish to raise is the question of the tourist industry. The Bill provides for the British Tourist Authority to be reconstituted so that in future it will have only one independent member as opposed to five members at the present time. This in itself may not seem to the outside observer to be a substantial change, but it is one which has much concerned the British Tourist Authority because the effect of this amendment to the Development of Tourism Act 1969 will be that the British Tourist Authority, instead of being an independent professional body serving Britain in the way its professionalism tells it is best, will become an 1266 organisation controlled by the national tourist boards.
I should explain that the Development of Tourism Act 1969 provides for all the chairmen of the national boards—that is, the English, Scottish and Wales tourist boards—to be members of the British Tourist Authority, in addition to the five members appointed by the Secretary of State. The effect of the amendments proposed in the Bill will be that the national board chairmen will be in a majority and will be able to control the direction of the overseas activities of the British Tourist Authority.
As I have said, this is a development which the British Tourist Authority views with some concern. On the other hand, it is a development which the national boards have welcomed as it will give them a greater say in how the overseas promotions of the British Tourist Authority are carried out. I should add that the chairmen of the 12 regional tourist boards in England have also expressed concern about the proposals in the Bill, but their concern has been directed towards a different aspect of this reconstitution; they have been concerned that the proposed new membership of the British Tourist Authority would work to the detriment of England, as Scotland and Wales together would enjoy a parity with the one English member and the one independent member of the board. This could mean that the balance of monies spent on promotion were weighted more heavily in favour of Scotland and Wales and against the interests of England, which, after all, accounts for some 83 per cent. of tourist spending. For this reason, the chairmen of the regional boards have pressed that the number of representatives the English tourist board has on the reformed British Tourist Authority should be increased from one to two.
One is bound to ask why these particular amendments to the Development of Tourism Act have been phrased in the way they have, why the proposals about handling tourism in Scotland have taken the form proposed and why, indeed, the Scotland Bill is being used at all to reform the British Tourist Authority.
Under the Bill, there will be two ways in which tourism in Scotland can be promoted overseas. The first will be 1267 through the Scottish membership of the British Tourist Authority and the promotions carried out by that authority, and the second will be by direct promotions carried out by the Scottish Tourist Board with such monies as the Scottish Assembly may decide to devote from their overall grant to tourist purposes. It has already been suggested that the Scottish Tourist Board could decide that it wishes to open overseas offices, which it will be allowed to do under the Bill, and so duplicate some of the work of the British Tourist Authority. Indeed, I have heard it suggested that the Scottish Tourist Board would open six overseas offices in North America. One may well question the wisdom of this divided responsibility for tourism in Scotland. This is obviously a compromise.
The Bill could have been drafted either way; it could have taken one of two extreme positions. The first position it could have taken would have been to continue the present arrangements, allowing only the British Tourist Authority to market overseas and forbidding the Scottish Tourist Board to carry out overseas promotions. That situation would, I believe, have met with a very strong resistance in Scotland. The opposite extreme would have been to allow the Scottish Tourist Board complete independence, to have adjusted the grant made to the British Tourist Authority to take account of this, and to have increased the amount of the block grant made to Scotland.
I am reminded of the arrangements which have existed elsewhere, and indeed parallels have been drawn in other fields this evening. The parallel which I wish to draw is that which existed for the Northern Ireland Tourist Board prior to direct rule. The monies for tourism in Northern Ireland were raised locally, and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board was able to, and did, promote its overseas marketing through the British Tourist Authority, but the decision to do that was the decision of the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, and not the decision of the British Government or the British Tourist Authority. It seems to me that there may be some merit in considering whether it would be preferable for such an arrangement to exist for Scotland in preference to the arrangements proposed in the Bill.
1268 The British Tourist Authority already has joint working arrangements with the Channel Isles Tourist Boards and the Isle of Man Tourist Board, in addition to the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, which is of course now directly funded. Looking further ahead, one wonders what will happen in the course of time if the proposals as enumerated in the Bill become law. One can well evisage a situation in which the Scottish Tourist Board becomes unhappy with the proposed arrangements as it did not have complete control over overseas marketing and asks the United Kingdom Government to pay direct to it its share of the moneys due to the British Tourist Authority. If that kind of development was likely, there could well be merit in anticipating that in advance.
I believe that the problem which I have highlighted, and which is causing great concern, parallels some of the other causes of concern raised by noble Lords this evening. But this is one which I feel needs to be discussed in detail at a later stage, and one on which we must try to find the right solution.
The other matter which I wish to draw to your Lordships' attention is the proposed status of employees of the Scottish Comptroller and Auditor General. The proposal is that they should form part of the Home Civil Service. However, it is open to question as to whether this is the right proposal. There are strong arguments to be made for an independent public service for the Scottish Executive, which would enable it to form closer links with local government in Scotland than is likely to be the case if the service is a part of the Home Civil Service. In particular, it would mean that recruitment to the service would be more likely to be through local government than from within the Home Civil Service as a whole. This could have a desirable effect on the relationship between local government and the Executive, and it would help to avoid, as my noble friend Lord Vaizey said earlier, the Scots blaming the English for everything that goes wrong. I have raised these two matters this evening because I feel that they involve points which we should look at later.
§ 7.25 p.m.
§ Lord POLWARTH
My Lords, being descended on my father's side from the 1269 first Lord Polwarth, who as Earl of Marchmont was one of the protagonists for the Union in 1707, and on my mother's side from a Member of the Scots Parliament who was one of the signatories of the Articles of Union, which you can see in your Lordships' Library, it will not surprise you that I am a confirmed unionist. Nevertheless, in the past I have supported the idea of some kind of elected Assembly for Scottish affairs. Thirty years ago, at an age of comparative innocence, I appeared on the platform of the self-styled Scottish Convention held in Glasgow, in the very good company, if I remember aright, of my noble friend Lord Selkirk. I was a member of Lord Home's Committee, of which you have heard so much today, and which I believe did an extraordinarily fine job on the foundations of this project. Even two years ago, in your Lordships' debate on the Government White Paper, I said that we should give an Assembly a fair trial.
Having studied the Bill and its ill-fated predecessor, the political circumstances of its birth, and the practical implications of it, and having thought about it, having discussed it, and having probed it deeply, I have come to the firm conclusion that the proposals before us raise more problems than they solve; that they will tend to division and strife, and that they may endanger the continuance of the Union. So I have undergone a conversion. I am unrepentant about it. It was, at least, a more gradual one than that of the Party opposite when, almost overnight, it changed course and decided to go for an Assembly.
One of the troubles is that we talk loosely of this thing called devolution. No one stops to think of the enormous amount of devolution that already exists in Scottish affairs, a process that has gone on under successive Governments of all colours. There is no better example than the creation of the Scottish Development Agency by the present Government. In that sense there is no greater devolutionist than myself. So let us talk more accurately about what we are considering, which is an elected Assembly.
We are told repeatedly that the Scottish people want an Assembly, that they demand an Assembly, that nothing must stand in the way of an Assembly. Even the noble and learned Lord the Lord 1270 Chancellor today repeated this statement in the course of an erudite exposition of the Bill. But when we look closer, who actually are the people and the institutions so insistent in their demands. Almost entirely the clamour comes from the politicians and the Press, from the talkers, rather than the doers, from those who live with theory rather than with hard facts. I am not surprised, and I do not blame them, because, after all, words are their bread and butter and their business. But the constant repetition of an assertion tends to lead to its acceptance, and I believe that the assertion of the Scottish people demanding an Assembly should be closely scrutinised.
When we turn to industry and commerce, a field in which I have the most experience—the creators of the wealth on which, after all, the rest of us depend—we find an almost universal dislike and fear of what is proposed. The CBI in Scotland and every major Scottish chamber of commerce have expressed their opposition. Some of the Scottish Press are conducting a rather sneering campaign against what they label as a rich capitalists' lobby. I can assure your Lordships that it is not just employers who are worried. There has been notably little public support for the Bill from the trade unions, and a number of their leaders in Scotland have privately said how opposed they are to it, and indeed they would say so publicly but for their political loyalty to the Party sponsoring them.
My Lords, why this opposition? I will quote first from the opening paragraph of the Home Committee Report:Reform of Government may be desirable and important, but it is on Scotland's economic structure and Scottish industry's ability to compete that Scotland's stature, prosperity and happiness depend.I think that was a good starting point, and it is just because business people see these things threatened that they are opposed to the concept of an Assembly as put forward in this Bill. First of all, they see another layer of government and bureaucracy being added to those they already have to deal with, and for which, along with all of us in Scotland, they will have to pay. The figure varies, but it is not unfair to suggest that, all included, there will be around 1,000 more nonproductive workers at a cost originally 1271 estimated at £10 million. At the end of the day the cost is bound to be more.
Then, industry must have reasonable certainty and stability in the long term if it is going to invest and prosper. An Assembly, even without direct powers over economic affairs, is bound to seek such powers, and meanwhile to exert pressures for more frequent changes in Government policy. Finally, down at the end of the road they see lurking the wild beast of separation. I need not regale your Lordships with the horrors that I believe that would hold for the economy of Scotland and of the United Kingdom as a whole. The men who run Scotland's industries, and those who work in them, have, I believe, good reason to fear for Scotland's economic structure and ability to compete, and I say that in all humility, with my experience over the last 30 years.
The protagonists of the Bill say that it will stave off the separation threat. I believe it will do exactly the opposite. Why? Primarily because of the fundamental weakness of the Assembly; namely, its lack of finance-raising power. This is something to which no one, Governments included, have been able to find a solution. Its ability to raise additional local taxes must be limited. Think of the outcry at being taxed more highly than England! The Assembly must go to Westminster for its allotment of revenue, and then all it can do is spread that allotment around among the services for which it is responsible. It can shift it from, say, hospitals to roads, but it cannot increase the lump sum. So whenever any Party in the Assembly wants something more and there is not enough money to pay for it, the blame will inevitably fall on wicked Westminster for not providing more, and there will be an inbuilt source, as other noble Lords have said, of frustration and irritation. I fear that this, more than anything else, will play into the hands of those who seek total separation from the United Kingdom; and if anyone doubts that, just let him ponder why the Scottish National Party has shown so much enthusiasm for the Bill and given it so much support. The noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, gave us a very clear warning in his admirably perceptive and cautionary speech.
1272 My Lords, from all my talks and contacts I am clear that the majority of people in Scotland are vastly disinterested in and bored by the whole idea of an Assembly. Those subjects which affect them most closely in their immediate surroundings—homes, health, transport, the land—are already being handled with dedication and skill by St. Andrew's House (and I say that having worked there) and by the Ministers who direct it. Of course there will always be room for improvement, but why should we assume that the creation of an Assembly will bring that about? What concerns people most of all? What worries them most today? It is jobs, prices, taxation, the state of the economy. These are their greatest concern, yet all these will be totally outside the direct competence of the Assembly. In the words of the Minister of State responsible for the heavy task of handling this Bill through another place, in a broadcast on New Year's Day:I am very anxious that we do not over-sell what the Assembly is going to do. It is not going to make changes in the economy of Scotland.I do not think further comment is needed.
My Lords, this Bill is also being held out as a response to the supposed dissatisfaction in Scotland with government as it is. The symptoms are there, indeed, in the dissatisfaction, but the diagnosis, I submit, is wrong. It is not a local condition confined to Scotland, as my noble friend Lord Ferrers said in his excellent introductory speech: it is a general one common to the whole country. Above all, it is discontent at Government's growing involvement in so many aspects of our lives. That is the condition which needs treatment. We like to think our ailments are peculiar to ourselves. So often they are not; and our grievances will not disappear simply because we in Scotland are given rather a second-rate mini-Westminster without even the safeguard of a second Chamber. It is almost a platitude now to say that what we need is less government; but here we are, about to become probably the most over-governed nation in the world, with elections for no less than six different tiers of representation, from community councils at the bottom to the European Community at the top.
The stock answer to this of the proponents of the Bill is to say that the 1273 Assembly will streamline local government, probably doing away with one of the two present layers. Some of them even take fiendish relish in the bloody dismemberment of a creature which, however unloved by some, is still but an infant and in whose birth, I may say, I played a somewhat reluctant part as the Minister responsible in your Lordships' House. I am far from being an enthusiast for this thing we have created, and I am sure it will have to be refined; but the idea of a further major upheaval following so soon upon the last frankly appals me. Think of the human implications alone for those who work in local government.
I should like to make a suggestion. It will probably horrify some of my noble friends, but it is this. The local government system is beginning to shake down and work, and I am convinced that a regional system is necessary, even if some changes in functions and boundaries are necessary. Why not, then, try to evolve rather than to devolve the functions of government? Why not try to devise a means by which these democratically-elected bodies already in existence can bring their influence to bear more broadly, more effectively, on those fields of affairs which are of domestic concern to us in Scotland? I only point a way which, by building on existing institutions, would, I believe, he infinitely preferable to setting up new ones and tearing existing ones apart. I believe it is a way we could pursue with profit.
My Lords, I fear for Scotland's influence in the Government of the United Kingdom; not just the standing of her Members of Parliament, but the inevitably reduced status and rôle of the Secretary of State. At present, Scotland's strongest card in the government game has been a good Secretary of State and his ability to get Scotland's fair share, and more, at the Cabinet table. I cannot believe that, in his diminished rôle, he will, as the Americans say, "carry so much clout". How long, indeed, will he remain in the Cabinet at all? From what we have heard this afternoon I am clearly not the only Member of your Lordships' House who is doubtful about this Bill. Nor is concern limited to Scotland alone. My duties take me about the world quite a lot, and everywhere I find intense interest in what they wonderingly refer to as "this devolution business", coupled with anxiety 1274 at the way we are threatening our own stability—the stability which has been such an example from us to the rest of the world.
Most often I have heard this argument expressed in the United States and Canada, both held out as examples of the success of another two-tier system, the federal system. Perhaps the gravest and saddest warning conies from the Province of Quebec, where I go frequently and where I was three weeks ago. There, the exploitation of supposed grievances of cultural and ethnic identity is driving established industry away from the Province, is stopping new industry from coming in and is sapping the Province's economic base and, indeed, threatening the whole substance of federation. We here are not so far along that road. Thank goodness, we do not have a language issue to contend with! That we will leave to our friends from Wales when their turn comes; but it is a warning to be heeded all the same.
I admire the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilson of Langside, for his courage in putting down and speaking to this Amendment. I should be sorely tempted to support him but for one thing and that is the provision in the Bill for a referendum before it comes into effect. If we were to reject it now, we could and would be accused of frustrating the expression of their will by the people of Scotland. We must make the best of a bad job and do what we can to improve it. We must ensure that the people of Scotland understand what this Bill really is about. I believe that, regardless of Party, it is our duty to do everything we can, ahead of the referendum, to tell them what this Bill can and will do for them if it comes about. We must somehow find a way of doing this because, at present, their main source of information—the Scottish Press—is largely committed to campaigning in favour of the Bill.
For my part, I would simply want to ask people to put these questions to themselves. Will it benefit all our people, wherever they live—in town or country, in the central belt, in the Borders, in the Highlands or the Islands? What will it mean for our industry and agriculture, for the creators of jobs and the producers of wealth? How will it affect their markets, their readiness to invest and the jobs they create? Do we want another 1275 layer of government? Are we prepared to foot the bill? Can we steer clear of such risk and dissensions as bedevil Quebec today? Finally, how will it affect our influence on our neighbours South of the Border, on the Continent of Europe and beyond; and how will it affect the confidence and admiration which Scotland commands world wide? If people ponder these questions and others like them, honestly and for themselves, they will know without doubt how to vote in the referendum.
§ 7.43 p.m.
§ Lord MONTAGU of BEAULIEU
My Lords, we need hardly be reminded at this stage that this is a complex Bill. As an average person, I thought it would possibly deal solely with the devolution of legislative powers for matters in which Scotland has a particular interest. In principle, there must be considerable sympathy with this view; but it comes as rather a shock when one studies the Bill that there are so many clauses which fundamentally affect the United Kingdom as a whole not only internally but also externally.
I should like to make a few remarks in support of my noble friend Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede on the question of tourism. Although it is not suggested that Scotland should have diplomatic offices overseas or a seat in the United Nations or even that the British council should be split up, I believe that the clauses relating to tourism are a cause of great concern. I need hardly remind noble Lords of the importance of tourism to the United Kingdom as a whole, and the success of attracting tourists in such number— 12 millions a year—is greatly to the credit of the British Tourist Authority. The BTA was established by a Labour Government in the Development of Tourism Act 1969 which, at the same time, established national boards for Scotland, Wales and England. At present the board of the BTA is made up of a chairman, the chairmen of the national boards for England, Scotland and Wales, and five independent members. This was something which was believed in by the Labour Government because, in 1969, speaking for the Government on the Second Reading the then-President of the Board of Trade, 1276 referring to the independent members of the boards, said that they:are not intended to be strictly representative of sectional geographical interests. We will draw their membership from people of experience and ability in tourism, industry, commerce, economics and administration".Thus, from the outset, the Board of the BTA was established as a professional marketing organisation and eschewed political matters to the fullest extent possible for a body established by the State. The BTA has a commercial task as an agent of Government to secure national trade benefits and its effectiveness is the key to its success. In its international trade task, the BTA has not been hampered by internal political considerations. Although after the original establishment of four "co-equal" boards in Britain responsible for tourism, inevitably it opened the opportunity for conflict and duplication between them; it is now working well.
Over the past eight years, the BTA Board has become recognised as the meeting place where the separate interests can come together to run effectively the truly British co-operative task overseas and at home. When sitting as members of the Board of the BTA, the three national board chairmen must be ready to take a wider or different view from that of their national boards with their narrower responsibilities.
The industry and the key tourist interests have recognised BTA's leading rôle in helping the many trades concerned to achieve success, particularly as the BTA's highly technical task of international marketing of Britain as opposed to marketing the separate component parts of Britain has to be professionally undertaken in a fiercely competitive world.
It could be said that, prior to this Scotland Bill, the 1969 Act effectively worked out a system of devolution in tourism through the Scottish, Wales and English tourists boards and their regional organisations. This division of duties recognised the importance of tourism as a trade, both national and international, being carried out with technical efficiency. That was a commercial job and not a political one.
The Bill now before us leaves the BTA's powers unaltered except that it drastically 1277 alters the composition and balance of the board. In effect, it reduces the number of independent members on the board from five to one. It leaves the chairman with the one independent member and the three board chairmen who could easily gang up on the other two. I am sure that the business of, "If you scratch my back I will scratch yours", will operate. I believe that the presence on the board of sufficient independent members can ensure that the BTA does not become a political football and frees if from the danger of being subjected to political pressures from England, Scotland or Wales. I believe that, ideally, the board should be composed of the wide interests which the late President of the Board of Trade originally intended. After devolution there is a danger that chairmen of the national boards might be appointed not for their professional experience but for geographical or political reasons.
Furthermore, if the BTA were to become merely a creature of the national boards, it would be difficult to find people of calibre and authority prepared to serve either as chairman or the one independent member of it. I do not believe that our important tourist trade can best be served by turning the BTA into the inevitable political arena where the national board chairmen will manoeuvre to get more of the national cake spent in their areas, regardless of commercial or common sense. The board chairman must have an important say but not control. To consider greater overseas representation within the ETA framework might be a good idea but not to squander money on overseas offices which could be better spent in improving the choice of facilities at home.
I say that I believe that it would be great folly to put in jeopardy our continued success in this field which is so vital to the British economy. Nothing should be done to threaten the independence of the BTA by reducing its expertise or experience. Therefore, I give notice that I shall be putting down an Amendment at an appropriate stage and inviting noble Lords to support me.
§ 7.49 p.m.
§ Lord STRATHCLYDE
My Lords, I have never hitherto thought it would be possible for this House to receive from another place a Bill containing provisions 1278 which could be used to break up the Parliament of the United Kingdom, and ultimately, to destroy the United Kingdom itself. Should this Bill be passed and an Assembly be set up in Edinburgh, that Assembly would sooner or later come to be regarded by the Scottish people as the Scottish Parliament and the intrusion of Westminster into Scottish affairs or affairs concerning Scotland would tend to become increasingly strongly resented. Further than that, I believe that nothing would be more likely to create ill-feeling in Scotland than for Westminster to fail to approve a measure which had been passed by the Scottish Assembly. Another matter which will follow on the establishment of an Assembly is that the regard and prestige which at present attaches to Members of Parliament at Westminster will pass to the Members of the Assembly to whom constituents, being closer to them, will naturally turn for help and advice on matters of their personal concern and for matters of political guidance.
It has been stated previously and has been again today on behalf of the Scottish National Party, that its object is an independent Scotland. In that connection I would wish that those who adhere to that Party would turn to the history of Scotland and make themselves familiar with the conditions in Scotland prior to the union of Parliaments in 1707, and with the improvements in the prosperity of the country and the standard of living of its people which followed, and which indeed had begun with the union of the Crowns in 1603 when the customs barrier between the two countries was removed and trade allowed to move freely between them. Even though the following 150 years—that is up to 1745—were particularly turbulent with Charles I troubles, then Cromwell who invaded Scotland, two wars of religion followed by four rebellions in the Stuart cause, the wars with the Dutch, the French and with Spain, the British wars in which Scotland played her part, conditions in Scotland progressively improved, due in large measure to the English fleet which became the British fleet after Queen Anne had been crowned Queen of Britain, I believe the first monarch to receive that title.
It was that fleet which opened to Scotland trade to the American colonies, which enabled General Wolfe to defeat the French army in battle on the Heights 1279 of Abraham as a prelude to the conquest of Canada, which drove the French from India and which brought Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania and many other lands under the British flag. Scotland owes a very great deal to the British fleet for opening up these lands and others for the land-hungry Scot to produce for himself a home and also the opportunity of a standard of living for himself and for his children far above that which Scotland could possibly provide for them. More than that, there were the great opportunities which followed for trade in a worldwide context. I hope that the Scottish Nationalists will consider those matters and will realise that an independent Scotland could never by herself have gained so much or attained such a position as she has in the trading, technical ane commercial world of today in partnerships with England, Wales and Northern Ireland, as British.
What does this Bill offer to Scotland, and, if anything, at what cost? There is a very great deal of what I find to be nonsensical talk of bringing the people closer to where the decisions are taken, of people having more interest in politics for that reason, and also of being able to see the Assembly in action. I have used the word "nonsensical", for in the light of my 45 years' experience in local and national government that suggestion simply is not true. We are told that the people want the decisions taken in Scotland and not in London. Again, if I may refer to my seven years at the Scottish Office, I never knew of a decision taken by a Secretary of State in St. Andrew's House, Edinburgh, being turned down by the Government in London.
Of course I was not the Secretary of State. But one of the two Secretaries of State whom I had the privilege, and indeed the honour, of serving held very strongly indeed the view that if the Secretary of State for Scotland could not get from the Cabinet what he wanted, he had no right to be Secretary of State. The other Secretary of State whom I had the honour to serve "won" so many prizes for Scotland—I think he did more to introduce new industries than any other—that I am sure he had the full support of his colleagues.
Of course there are some people who would be satisfied and feel proud at merely 1280 being able to point out the building in which the Assembly sits—I just wonder at what cost. I do not know what the final figure for the transformation of the Royal High School into a house for the Assembly is going to be. It has been stated during the course of this debate to be some £2 million. I thought it was much more. I hope that when the Minister comes to wind up this part of the debate tonight he will give us the latest figures, and also the number and cost of the additional civil servants required, the number and cost of the extra officials required to serve the Assembly, and the number and cost of those required to keep the building and its equipment in order, including, of course, the cleaning of it. I think we need to know what is going to be the entire cost of this Assembly.
For many years now the Secretary of State has been responsible for Scottish home affairs, for agriculture, for fisheries, for education, for the health services, for housing, for the efficiency of the electricity supply industry and the generating industry, for the wellbeing of the Highlands and Islands and for the well-being of the crofters. As many of your Lordships know, he is also responsible for law and order and for the police. He has the oversight of local government. I wonder what else there is to devolve to him, apart perhaps from taxation and finance. What more that is of any importance whatsoever can be transferred?
There are people who talk of further devolution being the cure for maladministration, for bad government. I never heard of either of them during my time at the Scottish Office, and though for a number of years I was responsible to the Secretary of State, for the Department of Health, which of course included housing, certainly no representation came to me. Later on, as Minister of State, I was the Secretary of State's deputy with particular responsibility for the Highlands and Islands. The truth is that this Bill is not wanted by many of the most responsible bodies in Scotland, among whom I might mention the chambers of commerce, the County Councils Association, the Institute of Chartered Accountants, the lawyers. All of them are known to have stated in no uncertain terms that this Bill should be taken away; they consider that it is of no good to any of them.
1281 It is claimed by the Government that it will add to the wellbeing of the people of Scotland, will perhaps help them to attain a higher standard of living or confer some other benefits upon them. To my mind it does nothing of the kind. Perhaps I may refer to how the whole matter arose. It arose out of Mrs. Ewing's victory in the Hamilton by-election of 1967, which resulted in the two main Parties taking fright—though why they should have taken fright I cannot imagine, because on previous occasions when a Scottish National Party candidate has won a seat at a by-election he has been chucked out at the next General Election, some within a matter of weeks. Mrs. Ewing herself suffered that fate very promptly. No, my Lords, the idea was to check the Scottish Nationalists' gain in popularity for their own Party and secure more Scottish seats for them.
The Conservative Party was first in the field when it put forward the idea of a Scottish Assembly sitting in Edinburgh. The Labour Party immediately followed suit. Of course they could each claim that the result they hoped for would be to Scotland's advantage; but, that apart, what is there in this Bill to Scotland's advantage? There is still less for Britain. On the other hand, as I have said earlier, much of incalculable value to Scotland, including her partnership in Britain, might well be jeopardised. The one thing we have to be careful of is not to jeopardise that benefit. From the debates in another place it appears that there are those like me who are also unhappy with this Bill, and there are many who have declared their unhappiness during the debate today. Accordingly, it might not have come here but for the fact that to record one's vote against the Whip might, among other things, have led to the loss of one's seat and to the end of one's Parliamentary career—a very severe penalty indeed.
In these circumstances, and as I look back to the two World Wars and think of the tens of thousands of young men of my generation who gave their lives for Britain, and those of my children's generation who also made the supreme sacrifice in the same cause, to ensure the survival of Great Britain, I cannot but feel that neither those of us who have survived nor those who now live here and enjoy all that Britain has to offer, have 1282 a moral right to jeopardise in any manner whatsoever the great inheritance which earlier generations have created and preserved for them, and which they in turn should hand on unimpaired to their children.
§ 8.3 p.m.
Lord BELHAVEN and STENTON
My Lords, as your Lordships know, and as the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, pointed out, I am at present the only Member of the Scottish National Party in your Lordships' House. This places a rather special responsibility on me, and especially so in relation to this Bill which has had very qualified support from my Party in the other place. However, I have thought very carefully about this Bill and about the duty and privilege of being a Member of your Lordships' House, which is to speak for ourselves and upon our honour. I am bound to say to your Lordships that I cannot give my support to this Bill. Indeed, I might say that I sympathise with the Amendment, though I agree with other noble Lords who have spoken that, in view of the situation of your Lordships' House, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Wilson of Langside, will not press it.
My first objection to this Bill is financial. It has been said that the establishment of the Assembly will be the first step to the re-establishment of Scottish independence; but, in my view, it is far more likely to be the first step towards Scottish bankruptcy. It is not so long since Parliament implemented the Wheatley Report and burdened Scotland with a system of local government which in my view is becoming increasingly more expensive and intolerable. At the time this was done, warning voices were raised about what would happen if Scotland were also given an Assembly, and, so far as I remember, they went unheeded at the time by all major Parties. As it is now, if we are to have this apology for a Parliament which is known as the Assembly, we shall be burdened with six tiers of Government. In my view, the result in terms of politicians' and civil servants' salaries and inevitable bureaucratic empire building—because it will be more and not less expensive than has already been forecast—is that Scotland will become financially crippled and possibly eventually ungovernable. Then the opponents of 1283 Scottish self-government will say: "We gave you your Parliament, look what a mess you have made of it!"
With this Bill, Scottish self-government is not being given even a working chance to start with. I suggest that the Government should take the Bill back and, as has been suggested by other noble Lords, convene a conference of all the parties interested in this matter because it should not be beyond the wit of man to come up with something viable. As I have said before, in my view the main stumbling block to a devolved Scottish Assembly is the regions and our present system of local government. These are widely unpopular and, particularly in the case of Strathclyde, a mockery of what local government is supposed to be. I will refresh your Lordships' memories by explaining that the region of Strathclyde embraces more than half the population of the whole of Scotland. I live in this supposedly local government area.
So, as I see it, we need another reform of local government before the present situation goes much further. Though I gather that reform of local government is within the competence of the Assembly, it will take some time for the Assembly to settle down. I think that the British Parliament owes the Scottish people something better than this rather "botched-up job" of a Bill. If Scottish Government could be reformed, perhaps we could have our Assembly, given goodwill. I cannot see—at least, in the way that this Bill has come from another place—that there is very much goodwill around. I am referring to the 40 per cent. referendum.
Perhaps the noble Lord who is to answer for the Government will tell me whether it is the case that those who do not vote, provided they are on the electoral roll, will be counted as voting, No, even though they happen to be dead? This is one view I have seen. It is not merely dead drunk or too stupid or too idle to vote, but actually dead. If we are going to give the Scottish people a referendum, then it should be a referendum on the same basis as any other one. It would be perfectly reasonable to say that 60 per cent. of those who vote must vote in favour, but to say that 40 per cent. of the total people on the electoral roll must support it seems preposterous.
1284 I come now to the matter of nomenclature. If this Parliament is going to give the Scottish people a Parliament why do they not call it a Parliament? That is what we had before the Union. We are not some territory inhabited by native savages who have just come down from the trees. We are one of the most ancient nations in Europe, and whatever any one of your Lordships' views may be about whether or not Scotland should separate from England, Scotland is entitled to be treated with more dignity and respect than it has been treated in this Bill.
For instance, what are all these secretaries doing? We already have a Secretary of State for Scotland; now we are to have a First Secretary and horde of Scottish Secretaries. Everybody is going to get so muddled, why can they not call him a Prime Minister? They have done this in Northern Ireland. This did not separate Northern Ireland from Great Britain. I do not see what reason there is for calling the man a Chief Secretary or something of that sort. I thought a Secretary was somebody who was somewhat subordinate, who sat and worked for the big man. No, I think it would be much more sensible to call a spade a spade in this Bill.
I turn now to the groups of devolved powers. I do not understand why, if those powers, are devolved, Scottish MPs are to continue to vote here at Westminster on matters which concern England only. So far as I can see, it is no wonder that this Bill has encountered opposition in England, and I sympathise with the annoyance and bewilderment of the English people on the subject. Surely it would be possible to disqualify the Scottish MPs from voting on matters which concern England alone, and perhaps your Lordships may consider an Amendment to the Bill to that effect.
Another matter—a small one—which is dealt with in the preamble, on the first page, puzzles me. Here I quote:Following a premature dissolution the newly elected Assembly will serve only the unexpired period of the original four year term.What if it is only two weeks? This does not seem to me to make any sense at all. How many elections are we going to have? If people go to the polls to vote for an Assembly which is only going to last for 1285 three months or six months, I think they are going to start feeling a bit fed up. Three years age we had two General Elections in one year and people got rather fed up with that.
I know that the majority of the members of the Scottish National Party accept this Bill on the principle that,Half a loaf is better than none.But, in my opinion, this Bill represents half a poisoned loaf. Perhaps your Lordships during the Committee stage will be able to extract some of the poison, and to that extent, I hope, the Bill will be improved.
§ Lord TORPHICHEN
My Lords, since the noble Lord has referred to the SNP, could I ask him this: at what stage on the road to independence will he consider that he ought to give up his seat in this House?
Lord BELHAVEN and STENTON
My Lords, could the noble Lord repeat that? I am afraid I did not quite hear what he said.
§ Lord TORPHICHEN
My Lords, since the noble Lord, Lord Belhaven, has referred to the Scottish National Party, could I ask at what stage on the road to independence he feels he should give up his seat in this House?
§ 8.12 p.m.
§ Viscount MASSEREENE and FERRARD
My Lords, the noble Lord who has just sat down has really surprised me. I had my pen poised to write down everything he said in favour of the Bill, and I have had nothing to write down. It seems that the noble Lord, like myself, disagrees with the Bill and so I am saved from an irksome duty, or at least from attempting it—I like the noble Lord very much and I should not have liked to try to shoot him down, even though I might not have succeeded.
Wild horses could not have kept me from speaking on this Bill, interested as I am in the British Constitution and in view of the fact that I have a home in Scotland and, through the marriages of my father 1286 and grandfather, am perhaps two-thirds Scottish. My noble friend behind me—he is not here at the moment—Lord Harmar-Nicholls, said this Bill ought not to be called the "Scotland Bill" but ought to be called the "United Kingdom Dynamite Bill". I agree with him on that Personally, I would call it—not that I am being flippant—the "Scotch on the Rocks Bill", because it has not had a very impressive passage through another place, especially as we have heard that 60 clauses have not been discussed at all.
I find it very sad—I do not understand the reason—that the Bill appears to have made very little impression on the British public. It is of vast constitutial importance and yet has made very little impression at all. That is really a sad commentary on the political consciousness of the British public. No doubt, if we had a Bill on pornography or some distasteful subject like that, vastly greater interest would have been aroused; but I think that that is sad because this matter is of tremendous constitutional importance.
When we review the historic benefits of the Union—the most perfect alliance of all time—it is a Union, after all, that has spawned the most successful political communities the world has ever seen. It has spread our laws, language, customs and religions, half-way round the globe. In addition, the Union saw the beginning of the most glorious chapter of Britain—that is, a chapter in which Scotland played a most glorious part, and indeed a greater part than her small population warranted.
I really cannot understand the SNP. Are they very ignorant, are they mad, or are their leaders just anxious to achieve political power? If this Bill became law, I am quite sure that the United Kingdom and the nation would disintegrate over the years, and over not so many years either. As we have heard in this House already, it would disintegrate through acrimony and constitutional wrangling, because this Bill is really made for acrimony. I do not want to be repetitive—actually it is rather difficult not to be when you speak as late as I do tonight—but giving this Assembly wide legislative powers but no money apart from what comes from Westminster will surely lead to ceaseless bickering and wrangling, to deadlock and eventually to constitutional chaos.
1287 Another point is that there is no Supreme Court, as in a federal constitution, to arbitrate. I foresee ceaseless arguments leading to bad blood and playing into the hands of the Scottish extremists. Several noble Lords have mentioned federation. Federation might perhaps work, but it can only work if its constituents are comparable. The imbalance of populations as between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, would not meet that criterion. After all, England has live times as many people as Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. If you are going to have federtion, among other things, it would require a major reorganisation in England. I do not really think it practical in a unitary State, as we are, to devolve wide legislative powers to another elective Parliament in the same State. That is very risky: there is a great risk of disintegration. We have Northern Ireland, of course, but as we have heard from an earlier speaker, that is a completely different matter. The majority in Northern Ireland did not want to leave the United Kingdom: they wanted to be as close to it as possible.
So you cannot take Northern Ireland as an example, because it is quite different. But as other noble Lords have said, it seems crazy that Scottish MPs will be able to vote on English home affairs, while English MPs will not be able to vote on Scottish home affairs. That will lead to a lot of umbrage. Also, of course, we hear the cry "No taxation without representation", but what will English taxpayers think if they have to subsidise a Scottish Parliament, over which they have no control and in which they have no say?
Several other noble Lords have mentioned the fact that with community councils, district councils, regional councils, county councils, the Scottish Assembly, the Westminster Parliament and the European Parliament, we shall be the most over-governed nation in the world. One aspect that worries me, and also worries the noble Lord, Lord Polwarth, in whose speech I was extremely interested, although it does not worry the SNP, is that it is extremely difficult to find a business man in Scotland who agrees with the SNP. The economies of England and Scotland have been integrated for so long that you 1288 cannot easily tear them apart. The Scottish Chamber of Commerce have even made announcements to this effect.
Occasionally, I meet one or two foreigners with businesses in Scotland, or who are thinking of investing in Scotland, and they are very worried about the dangers of SNP policies leading to separation. The oil companies are particularly worried. I am a director of a small television company, the Sunset and Vine Company, which makes films for oil companies. The oil companies are not very keen on the British National Oil Corporation, but my God!, the idea of having to deal with the SNP terrifies the guts out of them. They feel very anxious about it.
And whose oil is it? The SNP have not been truthful about this, and some of their propaganda has been downright untruthful. I could say a lot about that, but I will not weary your Lordships. The oil belongs to the people who have invested in it, and this Government have to pay vast sums of money from the oil revenues to people from whom they have borrowed. Of course, the Shetlands and Orkneys will claim a lot of the oil wells, and I believe that under international law the angle of one's boundary on the land extends over the sea, and therefore Scotland will probably find herself isolated with only one or, at the most, two oil wells.
This is a great constitutional matter and this Bill ought to be scrapped. The question of a Scottish Assembly should go to a Council of State not based on Party lines but drawn from as wide a sphere as possible. If this Bill is enacted as we have received it in this House, it would be very unfair to put the matter to the Scottish people in a referendum—not that I am very enamoured of referendums anyway. It is all right having a referendum on something like capital punishment, which is fairly simple, but to have a referendum on a Bill like this, which is a very complicated matter and is far from perfect, would be dishonest. It would be passing the buck from Parliament on to the people, many of whom would be ruled by emotion and might not understand every aspect of it.
I admired very much the speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilson of Langside, in moving his Amendment, and 1289 I agreed with a great deal of what he said. But I cannot agree that the House ought to divide on this Bill. We have heard many reasons for not dividing, but there is another reason. Some of your Lordships may not think that it is particularly relevant and, of course, it is not at all relevant, constitutionally. But we in this House are chiefly English Peers, and if we threw out this Bill on Second Reading a lot of Scottish people in the highways and byways would say "Those something-something English Lords. Look at what they have done to us". So that it would be untactful from that point of view. I just hope that we can improve the Bill in Committee and that, when we send back Amendments to another place, they will see fit to accept the most important of them.
§ 8.27 p.m.
§ The Earl of ONSLOW
My Lords, I am not going to ponder on the fact that 30 or so of the noble Lords who have spoken today, or who are to speak later, are Scots. I am not going to comment on why Mr. Heath, Sir Harold Wilson and Mr. Callaghan pandered to Scots prejudice to try to keep, or obtain, power in England. I leave aside the question of the right of over-represented Scotland to interfere in English and Welsh matters, although if those matters concerned Lanark or Renfrew, English and Welsh MPs could not interfere. I will also not comment on the fact that, when the EEC referendum was introduced, it was supposed to be a unique experience, because referenda undermine the independence and integrity of Members of Parliament as representatives. I shall not even develop the theme, so ably put forward by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilson of Langside, of the propriety of this House doing its constitutional duty. I should just like to discuss one aspect of a very mundane, but important, question; that is Scottish housing.
Scottish housing differs from English housing in that only 31 per cent. of it is owner-occupied, whereas 53 per cent. in the rest of the United Kingdom is owner-occupied. Scots could thus be perfectly legitimately described as deprived. Why has this happened? I suggest three reasons. Two reasons, and they are the most important, have been totally within the power of local authorities in Scotland. 1290 These are, first, that local authority rents in Scotland have been kept artificially low for a very long time, so that encouragement to buy one's own house has been withdrawn. Secondly—and this, again, is totally within the control of Scottish local authorities—the planning laws have been applied in such a way, by politically motivated councils, that the building of new private housing estates has been actively discouraged. These are totally Scottish decisions.
The third reason is that there was no—for want of a better word—"by-pass" type housebuilding in Scotland between the wars, or very little. In England, this frequently acts as a first rung on the home ownership ladder. This anomaly has arisen with unitary Government. The anomaly is that the difference is narrowing. Will this welcome trend be changed, either for the better or the worse, by devolution? Will the successes and mistakes of Scottish local government be made any better or any worse by the advent of an Assembly? I see no evidence at all for that.
The noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, described this Bill as dynamite. Those who say, "I will vote for the Bill, although I don't like it" should remember a speech which was made by Abraham Lincoln who believed totally in unity and who fought for it for the benefit of us all. He said:I am exceedingly anxious that this Union, the constitution and the liberties of the people, should be perpetuated".I see this Bill as advancing the enemies of the Union, the enemies of the Constitution and the enemies of the liberties of the people. Finally, Lincoln voted the way that he thought, not the opposite way.
§ Lord MACKIE of BENSHIE
My Lords, before the noble Earl sits down, would he not admit that Lincoln was the President of a federated State?
§ 8.32 p.m.
§ The Earl of CROMARTIE
My Lords, before I begin my speech I have an apology to make. During the weekend 1291 there was a death in my family, and tonight I have to go to Edinburgh. Therefore, I shall not be here tomorrow, which I regret very much indeed.
I had the honour of opening the debate on devolution in your Lordships' House on 18th December 1974. My message remains the same: that unless Scotland is granted a large measure of devolution—larger than that envisaged in the current Bill—separation will be inevitable. I, for one, do not consider this to be desirable under present conditions, especially as the economy and defence are matters of mutual concern.
Much damage has been done by the near hysterics of certain anti-devolution Members of Parliament in another place, with their utterly baseless talk of customs posts, passports, not to mention the flight of all business capital, et cetera, from Scotland. I cannot believe that those to whom I refer are so ignorant as to be unaware of how devolution and, indeed, in some cases separation works in Scandinavia and civilised areas of Europe. One is forced to the conclusion that, like certain civil servants, not least the Treasury, the driving force is for the good neither of Scotland nor of Britain as a whole but is a wish to cling to power or seats in the Westminster Parliament.
Let us briefly examine some of the arguments which at face value carry some weight. The argument about over-government applies now, as the country has become a vast bureaucracy with ever-increasing hordes of civil servants, agencies, et cetera—surely a negation of the so-called democracy to which Parliament pays lip service.
Let us examine this argument, and its possible cure for a moment. Many of your Lordships, as I did, sat for many hours listening to the advocates of a completely unnecessary reform of local government and how this was going to bring it nearer to the "grass roots", cut expense, et cetera, none of which is true. Reforms were necessary, all of which could have been brought about under the existing single tier of local government, but political pressures and self-interest swamped the objections of people like myself who had spent a great many years in local government. Petronius Arbiter in 210 B.C. spoke of meeting, 1292any new situation by reorganising, thus creating an illusion of progress while producing confusion, inefficiency and demoralisation".There is no need to pursue this argument, other than to say that the present set-up should return to single-tier local government. Where the unit has proved very satisfactory, as in the Outer Isles all-purpose council, it should be left alone. Units which are too small could be joined with neighbouring counties or districts for administrative purposes, though otherwise retaining their identity, Burghs should be re-established with their old traditions, although in the case of the small burghs it would be desirable that their finances should be dealt with by the county or district, whichever name is chosen. This should release many senior civil servants who would then be available for the Assembly. The negation of "local" government, as exemplified in that monstrous set-up called the Strathclyde region, could be returned to real local government, and those many areas which deeply resented being forced into this region could then return to a local authority not connected with Strathclyde, whose way of life is quite different from their own.
We now turn to the Scottish Office, whose numbers have increased so significantly since this so-called reform. We could do with fewer. It may be of interest to your Lordships that this one Government department exceeds in numbers the efficient and devoted Civil Service that so successfully ran the sub-continent of India which, in the days of the Raj, included Pakistan.
There is one amendment which, in my view, is essential. That is the introduction of proportional representation, preferably by the additional vote system. This would help to avoid the swamping of a huge area of Scotland by the overwhelming numbers who dwell in Glasgow and Strathclyde. Generally, as I have already said, the way of life is different. The sometimes blatant left-wing politics would in general be unacceptable. But perhaps more important, the rest of Scotland does not want the spread of religious bigotry, from whichever end of Ireland it originates, which at times is only too evident in this area.
Oil has produced some differences of opinion. While admitting that "It's 1293 Scotland's oil" was, in all probability, not the wisest battle cry, I think it is doubtful whether Scotland has had its fair share. So much could have been done to aid employment and, to return to Glasgow, to remedy the ghastly housing conditions. Many housing schemes, far worse than the much-publicised Lilly Bank, all lacking in fundamental amenities, have become the breeding ground of murder, violence and juvenile crime. The kindly and warm-hearted citizens of a great city deserve better than this.
May I have just one final dig at the anti-devolutionists? There is no doubt that, had the population of Scotland suddenly turned black, another place would have been falling over themselves to grant independence. There would have been no question of a 40 per cent. "Yes" vote.
§ 8.39 p.m.
§ Lord ELLENBOROUGH
My Lords, first of all, may I say that if the Scottish people really want devolution I should not object to it, provided that it is genuine devolution and provided that it is fair to all of the people in the United Kingdom. However, I am fairly sure that as the dangers and disadvantages of devolution become more apparent, the result of any referendum will be a much more closely run affair than might be the case if one were held tomorrow.
I object to the Bill because I feel that it reeks of political expediency and because it is unfair to the great majority of the people in the United Kingdom who will have no vote in any referendum, including many Scotsmen who may live in the United Kingdom but who are not living in Scotland. It does not strengthen the unity of the country. Indeed, it puts the future of the United Kingdom at grave risk. A sad effect of the Bill is that people will tend to speak as Englishmen or Scotsmen rather than as British. It does not make for better government. The implications of the Bill, as its contents become more widely known and realised, will not be acceptable to most people in the United Kingdom.
As to its acceptability, it is not merely that there should be no taxation without representation but rather that no burden should be put on any part of the people without fair representation. The central 1294 defect of this Bill is the blatant refusal of the Government to recognise that this Bill does a grave injustice to the vast majority of the people of the United Kingdom, by which I mean the 33 million electors in England, comprising not less than 82 per cent. of the electorate. There could be disastrous consequences if Her Majesty's Government are not prepared to ensure that before an Assembly in Edinburgh is set up there will be a general realingnment in representation in Westminster in another place.
There really can be no justification—there is little enough even now—for Scotland and Wales continuing to have proportionately more MPs than the rest of the United Kingdom, and in the case of Scotland considerably more, if they are going to be the only parts with Assemblies of their own. Even now, before devolution, if the seats at Westminster in another place were in relation to population England would have 528 or 529 seats instead of 516, Scotland would have 58 instead of 71—and I think this was the number advocated by the Kilbrandon Commission—Wales would have 32 and not 36, and Northern Ireland 16 or 17 instead of 12. Of course, in the case of Northern Ireland the Speaker's Conference has now put this right. Over-representation of Scotland may be acceptable now, but not after devolution. Fair and equal representation, Yes, but over-representation, No. This is becoming increasingly realised. As was argued in a Times leader only a few days ago, it will be essential to give all parts of the United Kingdom equal representation in another place on the basis of population once devolution goes through.
The difficulty, of course, is what has become known as the West Lothian anomaly, about which Lord Wilson of Langside and other noble Lords have spoken with much greater authority than I can. It is called the West Lothian anomaly, I think, as a kind of tribute to the Member for West Lothian in another place, who has played a very great part in the debates there. I read an article in The Scotsman recently which compared this problem with the old Schleswig Holstein question. This was apparently understood by only three people, one of whom was dead, another of whom was mad and a third who had forgotten the answer. The trouble with the West 1295 Lothian problem, as it has come to be called, is that the Government are not prepared to find an answer, as any effective answer would mean the disappearance of their majority based on Scottish votes, and that would destroy the whole object of the Bill from their point of view, which is to keep that majority intact.
As is being slowly realised by people outside Westminster—this cannot be rubbed in enough—after devolution Scottish MPs will be able to vote on internal English matters such as education and housing while English MPs will not be able to vote on internal Scottish matters; nor for that matter will Scottish MPs at Westminster be able to vote on Home Scottish affairs. It really is a dog's breakfast of a Bill.
The main point is that, after devolution, Scotland will be able to determine its education and housing policies by electing the Party it wants in Edinburgh, but in England the electors will have to elect the Party they want with a sufficient majority to overcome any adverse or contrary majority of the other Party deriving from Scotland and Wales. As the Opposition spokesman in another place, Mr. Pym, has pointed out—and I think this was also mentioned this afternoon by the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls—The day on which the votes of Scottish Members determine an issue for England in a way with which English Members do not agree will be the day the system will break down. We shall not need to wait for it to know that it will happen. Parliament will then be faced with the stark reality of what it has done".—[Official Report; Commons, 22/2/78; col. 1474.]As I understand it, Her Majesty's Government simply say that the English will have to grin and bear it and accept this impossible situation as a price which has to be paid. I suggest it will be far from acceptable. Unfair representation, if one may adopt a phrase of Sir Winston Churchill, is something "up with which the English will not put"! This will be said loud and clear, and I repeat the English people represent 83 per cent. of the electorate.
In this disastrous Bill the Government are setting the various parts of the United Kingdom against one another for their 1296 own narrow partisan reasons. Let them not underestimate the anger of the English. It is only aroused very slowly but aroused eventually it will be when the Government's game is exposed for all to see. To be fair, there are very many supporters of Her Majesty's Government in this House and in another place who realise that only too well. I would point out that in three out of six General Elections the Labour Party have won since the War, they were only won as a result of the Labour preponderance in Wales and Scotland. Yet, I repeat, 83 per cent. of the electorate is in England. Even now in another place there is a clear Conservative overall majority representing English constituencies. I have checked the figures; I think I am right. They are as follows: 260 Conservative, 248 Labour and 8 Liberal. I just mention this, as it speaks for itself.
A year ago in reply to a Question of mine on the representation in Parliament, in another place, of the different countries in the United Kingdom, and in answer to a supplementary, the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, who was answering on behalf of the Government said:So far as the Scottish and Welsh Bills are concerned, I understand a review of representation in another place undoubtedly would be necessary.Why then are Her Majesty's Government back-tracking now on this vital matter? Since then, belatedly, the Speaker's Conference has advocated an increase in Northern Ireland representation at Westminster from 12 Members to 16 or 17 Members on the basis of population, and taking into account that there is no devolved Government in Northern Ireland.
Why, therefore, cannot the Speaker's Conference be set up to consider the whole question of representation of the United Kingdom on the assumption that Scottish and Welsh Assemblies are to be established? Or, if a Speaker's Conference is not the right way to deal with it, then a political decision must be taken. A federal decision is out. England and Wales do not want it and they will not have it. The proposal that Scottish MPs in another place should not vote on English matters apparently bristles with technical difficulties, and would have the result that Scottish members would be second-class legislators.
1297 My Lords, no one wishes—I certainly do not—just for the sake of it to see a reduction in the number of Scottish MPs taken in isolation from the rest of the United Kingdom. Quite naturally, Scotland is entitled to a full and fair quota in proportion to the population. It goes without saying this is absolutely right and proper, indeed essential, if Scotland is to have adequate representation in such vital matters as defence and foreign affairs—to name just two. The only answer to the West Lothian conundrum ——and, as someone said, I am afraid like Banquo's ghost it will not go away—or at least a long way to an acceptable solution, is that the four parts of the United Kingdom should have fair and equal representation in another place on the basis of population. I cannot see what can be wrong with that and I should like to know what Her Majesty's Government have to say on this vital matter.
It seems to me that failure to proceed along those lines, if and when the devolution Bill becomes law and an Assembly is to be set up, will mean an English backlash is inevitable. Moreover, the existence of a Scottish Assembly will lead to a campaign, not just from North of the Border but also from South of the Border, to go on to independence. The Government would stand condemned and the country would conclude—which many of us already suspect—that they are prepared to jeopardise the very unity of this Kingdom in order to salvage a handful of pocket burghs in Glasgow from the Scottish National Party at the next General Election.
§ 8.51 p.m.
§ Lord RAGLAN
My Lords, I deeply apologise to the House that I was not in my place when it was my turn to speak. Unfortunately, I was held up longer than I had intended. Also the previous speakers ran through much more quickly than I had expected, but I cannot guarantee that I, in turn, will be as short as they were. I thank the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, for allowing me to speak just before him.
This has been an interesting debate for me and throughout I have been noting down point after point which I shall have to restrain myself from referring to, 1298 because I should like to stick to the original theme which I mapped out. First, I should like to say to my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor that although he said that we have given a lot of discussion to devolution, we must remember that the other place never discussed the Kilbrandon Report and it was not until the Scotland and Wales Bill was brought forward that it started to discuss the subject at all.
I believe that we had two debates. I have read the report of all the debates which took place in the other place last year, the year before, and this year, and I have watched attitudes change in the House of Commons as understanding of the problems has increased. One can contrast the debate that we are holding today with others that we have held, and point to the greater interest which is being shown in the matter than had been shown earlier. We certainly all know much more about devolution than we did three years ago and that must be a good thing. Whether we know enough to make such a major constitutional change is another question.
I cannot help noting that the Ministers in charge of both Bills are advocates by profession, yet all their practised eloquence has not yet given me an explanation of of how they expect greater political separation to create greater political unity. I find that proposition very odd. I oppose the Bill. I very much favour increased devolution, but not at all of this kind.
We have heard today—indeed, we have heard it many times—that there is a feeling that the Bill is wanted in Scotland, that there is a gut feeling demanding it. The proponents of this Bill believe that feeding the gut feeling will satisfy the beast. I believe that the appetite will grow with feeding. I think that there is no disagreement that this gut feeling—this motive force—which the Bill is meant to satisfy, is a nationalistic one. The Bill would not have been brought forward but for the nationalists. I also think that even if the electorate rejects this Bill, as I hope it will, Scottish nationalism will be with us as a political force for a long time. I believe that we can contain it, but we can do so only if we can come to some deeper understanding of what it is all 1299 about than I feel has yet been displayed. So, my contribution this evening is an attempt, inevitably inadequate for such a large subject, to give a general background or perspective to the theory of nationalism with particular reference to Scotland.
I have some sympathy with those who think that it is a boring subject, because on the face of it the idea of nationalism contains so singularly little that bears upon the real problems of everyday life and, in that, it betrays its origins. Nevertheless, it has done more to change the recent political map of Europe, and therefore of the world, than any other force has done. When it is said by some, probably with justice, that the philosopher Hegel, who was an early exponent of nationalist and racialist theories, had more to do with starting the Second World War than Hitler, the theory of nationalism appears to be a question well worth exploring.
I have actually subjected myself to the tedious and mildly astonishing experience of reading a very long book about Hegel. He was not a had man at all and, indeed, like the Government's, his intentions were of the very best, although in his case he wished to create a perfect world order and he did not see why he could not do it from a Chair at a university.
However, the theory does not start with him. I think I am broadly right in saying that it appears to begin to gel around the middle of the 18th century, although it had appeared earlier—we had our revolution earlier than other places in Europe. Elements of it had a strong influence in causing the French Revolution, although not, I think, the American Revolution. It takes full theoretical shape at the beginning of the 19th century in the writings of a whole clutch of German philosophers, principally Herder, but also Fichte and Hegel and many other including Goethe and Schiller.
We must remind ourselves that, at the beginning of the 18th century, the predominant belief was that the political State—the nation-State—was the personal property of its sovereign, and its extent was still customarily altered by, say, marriage as well as by conquest. By the end of the century, that belief had changed, and changed forever as far as we can see, 1300 and the nation was considered to be the property of the people in it. So far so good, and I think that we all agree with that idea.
However, what engaged the attention of these philosophers was that postulating this theory of the territory belonging to the people begged a question and finding the answer to that question has eluded and bedevilled us ever since, and more than once has nearly been the end of us. The question is which territory belongs to which people. Therefore, the theorists got to work and tried to define the people's nation for the purposes of defining a political unit. It was decided that culture should be the criterion of nationality, and that was an immensely powerful idea. It led to the unification of Germany and Italy, and it finally broke up the Austrian Empire. They thought that one only had to sort us into cultural slots by language or some other definition of race; apportion us a territory; equip each unit with a flag, an anthem, and an emblem; design us a national uniform called a folk costume; think up a sentimental history and allot us racial characteristics, and we should all live happily ever afterwards.
I suppose the apogee of the attempted application of this doctrine was the Paris Peace Conference of 1919. President Wilson did not fail because men like Clemenceau, Masaryk and Paderewski inevitably influenced him most. He found that his ideals, which were abstract ones, could not match the practical realities. It is unnerving to the purist to find that the long-established nation of France, for instance, has Catalans and Basques to the south astride what appears to be the natural frontier; that there are Alsatians claimed by two sides in the north; and that in the east there is a very stable nation with three distinct cultures and a subculture to every canton. What does one do with large communities of Polish-speakers where one wants to put Germany and large communities of Germans where one wants to put Poland? I think that one should give up. In practice that is what President Wilson did.
However often it has been tried, the theoretical cultural nation and the actual political nation have rarely, if ever, coincided in Europe. What gets in the 1301 way is partly tradition, but mainly I think it is human nature in all its variety which is not suited to being labelled and parcelled up to fit the tidy constructs of political theorists.
There is one more idea which has to enter any discussion of modern nationalism—that is, the theory of self-determination. This is a good liberal principle from the 18th century, or around that time, to the effect that you belong to nobody and that, within reason, you should be allowed to do what you like with your own life. We hold that idea very dear in this country, but it has had a chequered career in other parts of the world. The theorists of cultural nationalism could not ignore this principle so they tried to incorporate it, which they found very difficult, because if one has to conform to a pattern—their pattern—where then is the individual's freedom of choice? They solved that ingeniously, I think, by postulating that a nation was an organism which had one character, one mind and one voice. This produced the theory of national self-determination which sounds fine until one realises that, when attachment to the idea of the nation gets the upper hand, as only too frequently it has, the liberty of the individual is lost in the corporate concept of the nation—it possesses you, or is deemed to possess you, rather than you possessing it.
Thus, the liberal idea of self-determination becomes, through being corrupted by the theory of nationalism, national determinism, which vitiates freedom of choice. How strange that is, but how simply it happens. In Germany and Italy—two recently constructed cultural nations—it took only one small step onwards from there to totalitarianism.
I have spent some time on this but I wanted to show, if I could—and I hope that I have succeeded—that this idea of the cultural nation is comparatively new, is explosive and is illiberal. We know that it is aggressive and I believe that it is high time we tried something more peaceful. We can do that if we can persuade ourselves to stop thinking that nationalism—that is, the cult of nation—is something inherently good. It has some good points, but these are not exclusive to nationalism. There is much more in it which is inherently bad. Although from time to time in the 1302 past nationalism has been associated with democratic movements, more often it has not been so associated simply because it is not in reality a democratic philosophy.
I want to say a little more about this culture which is said to identify a nation. Nowadays we know that Britain is a land of many cultures and, therefore, using the word in its uncorrupted sense, it is a land of many "nations", each of course with a history of its own. To the early 19th century, culture meant language, race, romanticised history and things like dressing up in supposedly folk costume. They invented dozens of costumes and hundreds of customs. As an example, the ancient Anglo-Saxon custom of dancing round the maypole dates from about 1830.
Scotland is an old political nation recreated in the 19th century as a cultural nation. It not only retained—and still retains—a legal system different from that of the rest of the country, but it had a documented history of separation more recent than anywhere else. Therefore, it was an open target for the historical revivalists who were then active all over Europe. Most of what we call Scottish regalia was invented at that time and Sir Walter Scott obliged with a suitable kind of history.
§ The Earl of LAUDERDALE
My Lords, if the noble Lord will allow me to intervene, will he accept the correction that the honours of Scotland certainly dated from the 16th, if not the 15th century, were rediscovered by Sir Walter Scott, and, happily, have been kept safe through some years of Scottish tumult?
§ Lord RAGLAN
My Lords, the what of Scotland? I said most of the Scottish regalia". I did qualify that.
§ The SOLICITOR-GENERAL for SCOTLAND (Lord McCluskey)
My Lords, I wonder whether my noble friend will accept that there is nothing in the Bill about the Scottish regalia?
§ Lord RAGLAN
My Lords, many people get a great deal of pleasure from these things and we should be poorer without them. But I think it helpful to remind ourselves that most of them are a recent tradition and also that these things are not necessary to a sense of nation, which should mean a feeling of belonging to where one was born, although the age-old tradition in the West is that one can feel free to adopt a nation of one's choice.
However, the question which is before us, and very clearly too, is whether this sense of nationality, of feeling at home among people of your own kind, needs an institutionalised political expression. I suggest that experience shows that it does not. I make so bold as to suggest that if at some time we erased the boundary between Scotland and England, declaring that it no longer had any particular relevance, would, I wonder, a Scot feel any less a Scot among Scots? He might, but I should doubt it. I think that people would go about their daily lives as usual, preoccupied with their children, their jobs and their shopping.
I think that English law could take the opportunity to improve itself greatly by incorporating certain points of Scottish law. I know that this viewpoint does not fit the mood of the moment, but I believe we should make the effort to turn ourselves in that direction for two reasons. 1304 First, I think that the future for Scotland on the road paved by this Bill is the road to independence, with the accompanying acrimony, bitterness and alienation. The other reason is that I am of the opinion that we should anyway attempt to adopt a far more pluralistic approach to government than we do at the moment. I mean real devolution. It is a virtue of English local government that that is the way it seems to have been inclining for quite a long time, and we would benefit enormously by more of that attitude.
I cannot help being struck by how often Scotland is referred to as if it were one place, one locality. The Nationalists try to reinforce that view, and the London media tend to take it up. But, like anywhere else, Scotland is made up of many different localities which people identify with. It is less homogenous even than England. The Shetlanders have pointed out the desirability of this approach in no uncertain way. They do not fancy government from Edinburgh, especially with an inevitably nationalist-minded Government there. They prefer their central Government to be more distant, and I think they are right: there is more freedom of action for a local authority under a distant Government than under one which is breathing down your neck. I think Scots should beware this Bill, which would weaken local democracy; and Shetlanders should beware the Scottish Nationalists, for they are not interested in the self-determination of anyone on what they claim as their patch.
If the Bill gets a Second Reading it will go to the Scottish electorate for its opinion. I apologise in advance to my noble and learned friend Lord Wilson, with whose view I strongly sympathise, but I think to the Scottish electorate is where the Bill should go. Although, as I have tried to show, nationalism is a recent invention and, to me, a most dislikeable one, it is said to spring from the hearts of the people, and it is right that we should try to discover what they really think. Those who oppose the Bill have some leeway to make up. But they have a good cause, I think a right cause, and in that knowledge they should be able to get their message over. I think it would be greatly to the benefit of us all if they succeed.
§ 9.12 p.m.
§ The Earl of LAUDERDALE
My Lords, those noble Lords who are of English extraction will appreciate that the Celtic fringe has its own problems and its own visions both of history and of geographical fact. But at any rate, on a largely Scottish occasion like this, it is always of great interest to listen to the English. I think it was Philip Gudella who said, "An Englishman is a man who lives on an island in the North Sea governed by Scotsmen". For that reason I was particularly happy—and I am sure your Lordships were—to hear Lord Scarman's erudition and perception, which, in view of his wide reputation, will have come as no surprise to your Lordships. Still less do they come as any surprise to me because we were educated on the same staircase, in the same college, at the same time at Oxford. I well remember my futile envy of his Firsts in Mods and Law.
The debate about this enchanted quagmire has shown a cross-Party consensus that this House has a duty both to serve the Kingdom as a Council of State and to conserve the Union. It also has a duty—I think this is fairly common ground—to meet a psychological situation which could be summed up in this fashion: you cannot answer a song with a balance sheet. To kill the Bill now—and it surely cannot hope to survive in anything like its present form anyway—would be to deprive this House of a classic opportunity to perform its accepted modern function. On Second Reading we are, in effect, firing a shot or two across the bows of the Government, and we always have left to us the remedy of a defeat of the Government on Third Reading if the replies, the responses, in Committee are unsatisfactory.
That is the context in which I express my apprehensions. This Bill creates a nuisance power without responsibility. It promises a needless and destructive clash with the regions. It so confirms the preponderant voice by vote of Strathclyde that this in turn could beget divisions within Scotland as bitter as any in Ireland. The anachronistic philosophy of self-determination is economic nonsense and the facts of today show it to be so. The Bill flouts at least one of our living traditions in Scotland by such a term as 1306 "Assembly", when the nation's voice has for four centuries and more been uttered by the General Assembly meeting in the presence of the Sovereign year after year. It finally adds a new dimension to the anomalies of Westminster itself.
Power without responsibility: this Legislature would live on funds raised by others. Here is the classic formula for a running quarrel. Unless Scottish representatives are seen to rest their reputations on policies they fund by taxes raised by themselves, this will be a debating society of little power but pregnant with mischief.
There is a needless clash with the regions. First of all, the only financial powers within reach of the Assembly—if it is to be so called; I shall come back to that—are those now exercised by the regions, and apparently the Assembly would have power to dismantle them. More's the pity that the regions were not dismantled simultaneously with the passage of this Bill in concurrent legislation. But the regions are established. They have power bases and they are indeed an establishment of their own of great power and strength—never mind how unpopular they are—and they will fight to retain their power. They will send representatives to the Assembly to defend themselves and to prevent their dismantlement. So here we have before us, within a very short time, a battle of the Titans—devisive, bloody and discreditable.
"Strathclyde" is the term I use not only for the present region of that name but to describe that area of urban concentration which, united with the rest of the urban belt of Central Scotland, must, as things are proposed, have the preponderant weight in whatever body is set up. That is bound, of course, to work against the smaller electoral weight of the rural areas of the Borders and the Highlands, which in the past have looked with success to Westminster for protection and assistance. Such domination can only stimulate internal Scottish tensions, and tensions that may well exaggerate the already unworthy overtones that we associate with Rangers v. Celtic or Hearts v. Hibs; the cry can be imagined, can almost now, or not very far away, be heard the length and breadth of Scotland outside the central area: "Down with 1307 the Glasgow Irish", who will in effect tend to dominate the Assembly that is set up.
As for the self-determination case, in logic it spells endless fragmentation, and in politics it is meaningless without economic independence. Such limited plausibility as the SNP case has for a space enjoyed in the wake of the North Sea oil discoveries is surely now discredited. The oil will not last very long. Two-thirds of it is to be landed in Shetland, anyway. The Shetlands will have no part of the business. Above all, official figures show that approximately 9 per cent. of the United Kingdom population has for many years enjoyed 12 per cent. of the public expenditure. From that there is a very simple conclusion: to maintain the same level of public expenditure in a separate Scotland would mean raising taxes by 25 per cent.
There are fundamental divisions of Scotland, by which we have been harried throughout our history, and which stem from many diverse factors, including divergencies of race. The Norse language is still to be heard in parts of the North; Gaelic we know about; Lallans is spoken in the Borders. There is a great diversity of race between those North-West of the Highland line, who are Gaelic, those South-East who are Anglo-Norman, those in the South-West who are Irish of both kinds, and those in the far North who are Norse. Amid these diversities it is indeed the case that throughout the last four centuries there has been one voice, and one voice only, speaking for the peoples of Scotland; and that is the General Assembly of the Kirk. That has met year by year in solemn dignity, in the presence of the Sovereign, or the Sovereign's representative.
Although I am not myself a member of the Kirk, I believe that I share the common love which Scots have for that Assembly. We feel that we know it, we love it, we revere it. It is surely not the mark of the best British statesmanship to propose that the body now to be set up should in some way usurp the dignity, the status, and the prestige of that very great name, particularly when there is a perfectly good name to be had out of Scottish history, which is a "convention".
1308 This is a matter to which we shall be returning, certainly at Clause 1, during the Committee stage, so I will not take up your Lordships' time further with it now. But if I were asked my own private view, as it were, in the abstract, then frankly I would aim at a federal system and a written Constitution. But what is quite certain to me is that for Scotland to lower, let alone lose, her voice in the forum where power will long reside—and that is here—is madness. It is self-destructive, it is short-sighted, it is begotten of the same kind of delusions of Nordic neutrality, which are common to a certain class of pseudo-intellectual, a stance in keeping with neither our character nor our interests.
As a unionist I deplore this Bill. I do not say that I would deplore a serious all-party federal solution. I want the Scottish voice to be audible. I want it to be articulate. Above all, I want it voiced responsibly. My purpose in the Committee stage will be to try to limit the damage to be done, should the Bill become an Act, and should the people of Scotland not reject it out of hand.
§ 9.23 p.m.
§ Lord BALERNO
My Lords, I should like to congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale. I am almost 100 per cent. in agreement with what he said, especially in his remarks about the Church of Scotland and the General Assembly, and the misuse of that venerable name, of that venerable institution. Certainly we should not apply the word "Assembly" to this representative body. For a person born, brought up, educated, and having spent his life in Scotland, this business of devolution is nothing new. It has been very well discussed and debated and, whatever one's views on the subject, this is something one has grown up with since being a boy. The problem has been with us for over a hundred years. It is in part a spill-over from the Irish home rule debates of a hundred years ago. By the turn of the century, thanks largely to Keir Hardie's advocacy amongst the Scottish Radicals, the concept of home rule for Scotland was gaining ground. The present attitude of the Labour Party goes right back to its very roots in Scotland, and with all respect to the noble Lord, Lord Wilson of Langside, it is not fair to say that this is a matter of electoral expedience.
1309 It was in the late 40s' that the Scottish National Party was formed by the fusion of several groups. Their first Member of Parliament was elected, I think, somewhere about 1944; and I myself remember a Conservative Party Conference in about 1950 when the Young Conservatives put forward and carried a motion for Home Rule for Scotland. This was reported to the Leader of the Party, who was to address the conference that evening. He growled, "Enemy fleets in the Firth of Forth!" With the increasing bureaucracy of the Westminster Government, and with the inept pronouncements of visiting Ministers from England and, I would say, occasionally, of English and perhaps Welsh Peers, there has been an increasing sense of the national spirit. I should like to point out to those who do not know it that the Election of October 1974 resulted in the SNP returning to Westminster 11 Members pledged to independence. That pledge was a significant step, and put rather a new dimension on the issue.
The present strength of opinion in Scotland for devolution or for independence can be assessed from the pattern for voting during the passage through another place of the Bill which we are now discussing. For the Second Reading, only 11 Members for Scottish constituencies voted against the Bill, while 53 voted in its favour. On the Motion for the guillotine, 53 were for it and only 15 against. In the Committee stage, an Amendment proposed by an English Labour Member was carried. That is the one which required the referendum to implement the Act to be carried by a vote of 40 per cent. of the electorate—not 40 per cent. of the voters, but 40 per cent. of the electorate; an iniquitous conception introduced into the established system of democracy. It was, quite frankly, a wrecking Amendment, and that is how it has been taken in Scotland—as a wrecking Amendment by an English Member. When this matter was reviewed at Report stage, 18 of the Scottish MPs voted to keep it in and 44 wanted it out. If Parliamentary democracy means anything, it is fair to draw the conclusion that a very substantial majority of the people of Scotland are in favour of some form of devolution.
This is very like the situation which Gladstone faced in 1885. What principally 1310 decided Gladstone to introduce his first home rule Bill was his conviction as to the impossibility of governing Ireland without the support of the Irish representatives. While Gladstone, ever since his youth, had pondered deeply on the subject of Ireland, the home rule Bill came as rather a shock to the majority of the English Members of Parliament, both to the Conservatives and to the Liberals. As a result, the Bill was defeated, Gladstone resigned and went to the country. We in Scotland must recognise that the situation today is very like that which existed in 1885.
Till a couple of years ago, there had been comparatively little discussion of this matter in England; and I think we Scots must recognise and allow it to the English that they have not had the time to turn this matter over in their minds, to get accustomed to it and to think out the true implications of it. Brought up as (can I say?) you English have been, in the concept of the unitary State, and, if I may say so, rather complacent about it, you have not yet realised how the rest of the world is governed and that 200 years have gone by since the great concept of federalism was established in North America. I submit that federalism is the only practical long-term solution of this problem. The only other ones are coercion or independence. There are no others.
My Lords, the present Bill is neither fowl, fish, flesh nor good red herring; it is therefore unstable and is going to engender friction. But it is an evolutionary step in the right direction, and I entirely endorse every word that the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, said on this point. Despite the views of the noble Lord, Lord Raglan, the revolt against a rigid unitary State is presently going on in Spain, France and Italy. There is no need for it in Germany; they have it; they have what they want. But it is going on in Europe and it is the inevitable consequence of the complexities of the modern State, the multiplicity of legislation which creates in the people a strong desire for more power in their own local affairs.
In Scotland, that current is running strongly. For the Mother of Parliaments, confident in her entrenched matriarchy, to ignore these facts of life is to store up 1311 trouble for the future. At the present time four-fifths of the Scottish people are committed to maintaining the United Kingdom. It would be rash to say where Scotland will be in the year 2000; just as in 1900 you could not have predicted how Ireland would be in the year 1921. I beseech your Lordships not to allow yourselves to be frightened by the bogey of independence. Some 60 years ago the "Clydeside Reds", the wild men, presaged the advent of bolshevism. Where are they now? The benign and venerable Lord Shinwell is their everlasting monument in this House.
My Lords, the mass of the peoples of Scotland are not extremist. We hate extremists in either direction, be they Tory or be they Communist; and we in Scotland know how to deal with our own extremists when they pop up. With all respect, I would agree with my noble friend Lord Cromartie, and say to the English that a grudging devolution for Scotland will only fan the flame of independence; but a generous recognition of the Scottish nation as such will foster that sense of loyalty to the United Kingdom, for loyalty is a basic in the Scottish character, be he Highlander or Lowlander.
§ 9.34 p.m.
§ The Earl of MINTO
My Lords, I rise to speak tonight rather as a freak because I am an elected regional councillor within local government in Scotland and whenever we discuss matters such as this in this House the regional councillors are either called by some noble Lords "immensely powerful" or, by the majority, "highly undesirable". I am never really certain that one does not come into both of those brackets. When I go and see the noble Lord the Minister of State in the Scottish Office he certainly does not make me feel very powerful. At times he makes one feel very undesirable.
I presume to speak tonight because I feel very intensely that, despite what some noble Lords have said, if this Bill as it stands is enacted it will lead eventually to separation. I am a convinced Unionist myself and therefore feel very strongly that one should stand up and be counted at this time. What is more, the experience 1312 of local government in Scotland at the present time gives one an insight into some of the problems about which your Lordships might be interested, and even at that level I foresee the possibility of various splits within our country itself. I freely admit that the first part of what I have to say will be a criticism of the Bill. However, I should like to place clearly on the record that in criticising the Bill I am not in any way attacking devolution. I hold the firm conviction that a continuance of devolution from Westminster to Scotland, and from central Government to local government, is absolutely necessary. However on this particular Bill my doubts are reserved.
I have assiduously read everything that has been said in the other place as this Bill has progressed—if the word "progressed" is the right word to use. I have also read as much as has come my way on the matter of this Bill in the newspapers, in articles and from the platform. While I have been in the Chamber today I have listened as carefully as I could, and I have to admit that at no time have I been convinced that a case has been made for this Bill. I spoke earlier of likely divisions in Scotland. I should like to speak specifically on one of the most divisive issues of all—that is the representation within the proposed Assembly. If the Assembly is to be elected as at present proposed, it would produce a Chamber almost totally unrepresentative of Scotland as a whole. At the moment there is only one elected body in the United Kingdom that sits to deliberate upon Scottish affairs without outside influences being brought to bear upon it, whether from the English, the Welsh or the Irish, and that is within the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities.
Committees of the Convention, which meet regularly, are comprised entirely of elected members of Scottish local government and every committee has upon it representatives from every region in Scotland. It is therefore not uninteresting to see how these committees work. As the chairman of a regional service committee I myself happen to serve on the Convention. While it would not be true to say that the regional numerical representation exactly reflects what would be the case in an Assembly founded on the 1313 principle of first-past-the-post, it is nevertheless close enough to bear comparison and scrutiny.
Strathclyde, quite obviously, has the major representation, followed some distance back by the Lothians region, and thereafter the other seven regions and the Islands are represented by one or two members apiece. When the Committees of the Convention are asked by the Central Government for their views on matters of a non-political content, those views are more often than not representative of the views of Scotland. However, when the issues are of a political nature, the views formerly expressed to central Government are the views inevitably of Strathclyde supported by one or two members from other parts of the central belt.
The sad thing about it is that the people who represent Strathclyde on the Convention nearly all come from the centre of their region, which means from the centre of Glasgow, and who are not very good at talking about areas such as Isla and the old counties. So sadly a result is building up where, as year succeeds year, the natural democratic instincts of the regions to the North and to the South of the central belt are becoming polarised in opposition to our fellow-Scots in West-Central Scotland. I do not blame the councillors for this. It happens to be the way they work. They are working within the structure that they have been given to work in; but that is the way—as our American friends would say—that the cookie is presently crumbling. That an open division has so far been avoided is, to those of us who watch, irrelevant; for each of us knows in our own hearts that if this is to go on for very much longer local government is going to split Scotland into two.
If that is true for local government—and I firmly believe it is true—then it really does not need a particularly great imagination to foresee the future of an Assembly based upon the representation as proposed. I would have thought there never has been a more clear cut case for proportional representation than at this time of our discussion on this particular Bill. It fills me with the deepest gloom that this found no final favour in the other place.
Still keeping closely to my experience of reorganised local government, I would 1314 express an equally deep concern for the fact that the Assembly has no powers of taxation. Many noble Lords have already discussed this and I do not wish to belabour it. But again I would assume that, given the responsibility for devolved areas that are defined within Schedule 10, Members of an Assembly, if the Assembly is to take place, would wish to set policies. As a simple elected person, I do not see how one can be elected unless one puts forward policies. But if one has no money nor any powers to raise money how can one put forward policies? In the world I live in the measure or judgment, the yardstick, for the electorate is policies coupled with finance and a management ability to carry out those policies.
It seems to me that the Assembly man or the Assembly woman is going to be in an impossible position. On this point, I would think that the Bill as it stands is a recipe for conflict between the Assembly and local government and between the Assembly and the Secretary of State. Indeed, I would think that the position of the Secretary of State would take no time at all to become untenable. I would suggest that this Bill would become a glorious forum for continual argument. What is more, it would become a five-course meal for various people whose first interest would be to inflame every situation that might lead to a separate Scotland outwith the United Kingdom.
I have dealt with just one or two points because many noble Lords who are more able than I have dealt with many others which cause me equal concern. Some points have not been raised at all, but it is getting late and I am quite sure they will be raised by other speakers either late tonight or tomorrow. However, there is one matter I should like to bring to the attention of your Lordships. Much has been made—and I think very properly—of the fact that you cannot form an Assembly without spending money. The noble Baroness, Lady Elliot, mentioned the money being spent on the Royal High School in Edinburgh before this Bill can even receive Assent. We are told—although my figures do not entirely agree with this—that we would have a battalion of civil servants and one company of officers to pay. It seemed to me that there were to be two companies of officers, but that is only a small point.
1315 So one wonders where the money is going to come from. In my regiment we used to have a quartermaster who asked: "Wha's tae pay?" The same question stands here in front of us tonight. Who is to pay? Are the Government making sure that the necessary savings are being made in preparation for any move they are thinking of? In other words, are the present powers devolved since 1975 cost-effective? I should like to put to you, my Lords, that there is something to be learned here from the lessons that have come our way in local government since 1975.
You will be aware that the accounts of every local authority in Scotland are subject to the scrutiny of an external auditor, and that the external auditor reports to the Accounts Commission. He does not only report upon the propriety of the accounts but he also reports as to whether or not money has been wisely spent. In Scotland it is commonly called the "value for money report". If the Commissioners consider that the auditor is correct in saying that a local authority has in fact improperly spent money, then the local authority can be drawn up and publicly rebuked. In my opinion, there is nothing wrong with that and I think that on the whole it is a good safeguard which the people of Scotland like. But it does not work both ways. "Value for money" works only as far as the local authority goes. At the time the powers were devolved from the Scottish Office to local authorities, many technical service areas became the responsibility of regional and district councils.
In order to undertake these duties, technical officers with highly professional expertise, in fields such as engineering, water, drainage, roads and bridges, as well as architects and many others, were employed. Since these technicians were employed to undertake duties devolved from central Government, it would have seemed reasonable to assume that savings in staff levels would be made at the Scottish Office, but that is not the case. Where final approval from the Secretary of State is still required—and this applies to a multitude of powers which are entirely devolved to local authorities—all the technical plans and details, so painstakingly prepared from start to finish by 1316 local authority staffs, are sent to St. Andrew's House where, instead of receiving the signature of the Secretary of State, technical officers with equally professional expertise go through every procedure all over again.
This is bureaucratic nonsense, it is expensive nonsense and it is time-wasting nonsense. It infuriates the Scottish people, who wonder, if that is what happens when a region has powers devolved to it, what on earth will happen when an Assembly has powers devolved to it. Either a power is devolved or it is not, and I think that our own Government must appreciate that fact. If it is devolved for all purposes other than the signature of the Secretary of State, that should result in major savings in technical officers within central Government and consequently, massive savings in salaries, administration, office space and overall costs. In other words, the people of Scotland are looking for value for money, and they find it not uninteresting that a notion, originated by central Government, finds favour with central Government when applied to others, but does not appear to find favour with central Government when applied to itself. The cost of the Assembly will be astronomical, so it is essential to have an assurance that powers will be truly devolved, and that savings to offset costs will be made in central areas. To date, there is no sign of it and one hopes that there will be in the future.
I have to make an apology for the fact that I cannot be here late tomorrow night, because I have to be back for my regional duties in Scotland. I shall, therefore, not be here if there is a Division, but in case there is one I should make my position clear now. I was deeply impressed by what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilson, said to us earlier today, but I was more impressed by what the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, said. I believe that we must act as we shall be expected to act, and we must do what we can to see this Bill amended and sent back to the other place, As the noble Earl said, we must also see that those Amendments are studied properly without any question of a guillotine. I will leave to the ballot box in a referendum the most important decision that I shall ever have been asked to make. I suppose that in being critical of this Bill and, at the same time, trying 1317 to offer suggestions where improvements could be made, I cannot expect to be called constructive. Some will say that one has been destructive. I should prefer to be called destructive at this point, however wrongly I am called that, rather than be a party to the destruction of my country.
§ 9.55 p.m.
§ Lord KINNAIRD
My Lords, it is always sad to hear of the threatened break up of any good thing, whether it is a ship driven by storm on to rocks or a great house falling into disrepair through lack of funds. But I think that the saddest of all is the possible break up of a family.
In this debate I am speaking not only as a Scottish Peer but as a United Kingdom Peer, and as I regard the United Kingdom as a family I want, very briefly, to sketch in a small picture. We all know of families where parents and children have spent many happy years together and then, somehow, seem always to be bickering. In reality, however, they are all deeply dependent one upon the other. The parents have brought up a number of children, many of whom have gone out into all parts of the world to seek their fortunes and who rarely can come home. Circumstances change. Those children adopt and are adopted by other families for mutual care and protection.
In due course, in order to show a united front to the world, they start a business. Initially, as with all new ventures, there are problems. Matters are not made easier when some of the partners go into a huddle of discontent. Some want to have a freer hand in the running of their own departments. That is understandable and is probably quite right. Others merely want a larger slice of the family cake, and that is not unheard of. But a few—one can call them the separatists—want to push the boat out altogether and go sailing down the Clyde on their own yacht. Who would pay for that trip and where would the money come from? It has to come from somewhere.
In too many ways this is a shallow and slovenly Bill and needs a thorough knocking into shape. May I therefore say to those who are anxious for further devolution that we should wait until a 1318 Bill is introduced which is more worthy of the serious consideration of the Scottish people, or confusion may become worse confounded. The people of Scotland, with their long record, deserve better than that.
I listened with much interest to what the noble Earl, Lord Perth, had to say and I was very impressed by the brilliant speech of my noble friend Lord Ferrers. If necessary, I shall, although unwillingly, give the Bill my support. For Scotland, for our country and for our children there is so much at stake.
§ 9.59 p.m.
§ The Earl of GLASGOW
My Lords, the hour is late and much has already been said. I shall be brief. I speak tonight first as a Scot and secondly as a descendant of one of the architects of the Act of Union of 1707. Despite the criticism which we now hear in certain quarters, the union of the two Parliaments brought enduing advantages to Scotland. In the short term, it saved the country from bankruptcy after the disastrous Darien expedition, and in the long term it enabled England and Scotland to go as equal partners into the building of the British Empire. For the next 250 years, the Scots produced Prime Ministers, statesmen, administrators, businessmen, admirals and generals of great distinction. There was little pressure throughout that considerable period for devolution, let alone for independence. Since the loss of Empire, there has been a tendency in the United Kingdom to become more and more introverted and inward-looking, and nowhere more so than in Scotland, spurred on by the discovery of oil off our coasts.
I am totally opposed to any constitutional change which might eventually endanger the Act of Union. Scotsmen, who for two centuries were accustomed to conduct their affairs in Calcutta, Hong Kong, Cape Town, Buenos Aires, now find government from Westminster too remote. They have a case, but I think few Scots realise how much devolution they already have under the Secretary of State. We have retained since the Act of Union our own established Church, our own law, our own educational system and many other purely Scottish institutions. We even have our own national football team. 1319 The Secretary of State has under him two Ministers of State, three Parliamentary Under-Secretaries, all Scotsmen dealing entirely with Scottish affairs. He has his own civil service installed in St. Andrew's House, and a very generous financial provision from the Treasury. He is a very powerful person indeed. Admittedly, there is no elected element in this set-up, and the fact that all Scottish legislation has to go through the Westminster Parliament does not always produce the right answer for Scotland. Nevertheless, if further devolution is really wanted, and I think it is, could it not be provided by a reform of the existing structure under the Secretary of State rather than introducing something new and something separate.
My Lords, I will not speak about the Bill. I have wrestled with it, and I think it is a bad Bill. My main objection is the form of devolution it proposes to introduce. The relationship between the 1320 Secretary of State and the proposed Executive is ill-defined. Scotland, which is already over-governed, is having yet another tier of government heaped upon it. If the Assembly comes into being, there will be a justifiable outcry for a large reduction in the number of Scottish Members at Westminster. I would deplore this. Would a Scottish Assembly, once established, not insist on powers to raise its own finance, and quite rightly so? I am no politician, my Lords, and I am not opposed to some measure of devolution for Scotland. What I fear is that the present proposals are the thin end of the wedge, that there will be increasing friction between the two Parliaments and between the two countries. The first foundation of the road to independence will have been laid. My last word is this. If it comes to a referendum, it must be made quite clear to all Scotsmen that they are not voting for or against devolution in principle; they are voting for or against this, to my mind, very dangerous Bill.
§ 10.4 p.m.
§ The Marquess of LINLITHGOW
My Lords, I feel rather like I used to feel as a young man, when, as a bowler, I used to be put in rather late to bat, and I always had the same orders, "Make as many runs as you can and get out in 10 minutes; we want tea". While listening so carefully to this debate—and I must say how very much I have enjoyed the innings of so many able batsmen—it has struck me very clearly that the House is dividing fairly accurately along the same lines as the Bill itself is divided. On the one hand, we have the devolutionists—if I may call them that—who can, indeed, make an extremely reasonable case; but, of course, their case remains only basically reasonable provided they ignore the constitutional issues. On the other hand, we have the constitutionalists—and here I must refer immediately to the speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilson of Langside, which I admired so much—who are having great difficulty in finding how Scotland can achieve some form of devolution without seriously endangering the Constitution itself.
I am one of those who is in fact extremely worried, and who has become more worried as the debate has progressed, about the danger to the Constitution. I shall try to make my remarks as brief as possible. It has always struck me how easy it is to forget that the Act of Union did three things: it dissolved a Scottish Parliament; it dissolved an English Parliament; and it created an entirely new Parliament, the Parliament of Great Britain, or the United Kingdom Parliament, as we now call it. In doing that, of course, it created an entirely new form of citizenship, citizenship of the United Kingdom, which immediately took precedence over all other regional and area loyalties. I think that we must try to bear that in mind.
The new Parliament inherited all the honourable traditions of the ancient Parliament of England and, up to a point, of Scotland as well, whose honourable history consisted particularly of the struggle against absolute rule in the first instance, because of the association of absolute rule with the arbitrary use of power and discriminatory actions. For those principles much was struggled for and much was suffered.
1322 Not going too far back into history, a king was deposed and beheaded; a future Government—the Commonwealth Parliament—was dissolved for overstepping its bounds; the monarchy was restored; a later king was deposed, there was the 1688 revolution, and so on. All that was done in the interests of those great principles. Then there was the gradual extension of the franchise and the challenge of powers outside Parliament—business, the great landlords and so on. All challenged in their time and all were disciplined. But I do not believe that Parliament can ever win the final battle in these struggles. The only final battle will be the one which Parliament will lose. I believe that no truer words were ever said than that the price of liberty is eternal vigilance.
Out of those struggles evolved our present form of Parliament and the concept of Parliamentary sovereignty. The fountainhead of the Constitution and of all constitutional power is the Queen or the King in Parliament. It is not the Government, or any Government, which can be the sovereign power—it is Parliament. However, in the relationship between Parliament, Government, the independent Judiciary and the citizens themselves, lies the sole protection of the liberties of the British people.
Suddenly into this delicate but vital machinery the Government now throw a legislative time bomb—this Bill. It is a demand to Parliament, which Parliament cannot refuse, to surrender a part of its sovereignty to a Government which will then proceed, with deliberate discrimination, to hand over to a small section of the United Kingdom community—I was going to say in return for political favours, but perhaps that is too harsh as I have heard the other views. I will substitute perhaps, in response to the siren silence of their Scots supporters. To me that is what the Bill is about. If I may so call it, it is the black heart of the Bill. As I say, Parliament can do little.
On the one hand, Parliament is pledged to accept the will of the majority of the House of Commons in an unwritten compact. On the other hand, the Government—or any Government—on their part 1323 agree to act with restraint and with the constitutional good manners necessary to the preservation of the Constitution itself. With this Bill I must say plainly that I believe the Government have dishonoured themselves in breaking that contract.
Moreover, I believe that Parliament is being commanded—in fact, I am sure of this—to do what it cannot do. Parliament cannot divest itself of a portion of its sovereignty and retain a rump. Sovereignty is not divisible. One can parcel out executive authority—one can share it—but by its very nature sovereignty is unshareable. I turn to a point with which I think many noble Lords will agree. The only method by which Parliamentary sovereignty can be limited or altered within our constitutional disciplines is by Parliament being dissolved and reformed within a federal system—of that I have no doubt. Then its sovereignty can regroup around the subjects which are reserved to the federal Parliament. Any other method—particularly a method such as is suggested in the Bill—is bound to create such strains upon the relationship between the centre and the perimeter that the system will essentially collapse.
It is that point which is in the minds of those who say, "Devolution at no price". I do not know whether any noble Lords take that view; I suspect they do. What I think they mean is "Devolution without federation, not at any price". I am one of those. I am open to correction here—and the matter of Ireland has been raised—but I believe it is these very strains and stresses, which were caused by the fact that there was never a proper federal system or a unitary system in the relationship with Northern Ireland, from which many of the troubles in Northern Ireland now stem. I believe that it reflects enormous credit upon the sagacity and clear-headedness of the founders of the Union that they avoided these rocks, faced the problems and solved them with the Act of Union, which so many noble Lords now appear to wish to dismantle in one way or another.
I shall not take very much longer. This Bill is, not surprisingly, riddled with anomalies, but it is also so easy to see in the Bill itself the potential stresses and 1324 strains, which I have already mentioned, between the centre and the perimeter. Of course they are in embryonic form, but the seeds of conflict are there. They are in the clauses inserted, one must presume, to underwrite the already compromised sovereignty of Parliament and the unity of the Kingdom. They are the three main sets of clauses dealing with this matter. First of all, the presence of Scottish MPs in Parliament at Westminster. After what your Lordships have heard—and I am sure after what your Lordships have read and perhaps thought—that particular problem is already under strain, and undoubtedly things cannot remain as they are.
Next, of course, the reserved subjects, particularly the financial provisions leading to the block grant system. There is a recipe for real trouble, because once the Assembly is established it is an absolute certainty that if the ills and disappointments of Scotland—and they are bound to have them; sooner or later, we all do in some measure or other—are quantifiable in terms of cash, and many of them will be, the blame will be laid firmly at the door of Westminster and at the parsimony of the English Parliament.
Finally, the most deadly clauses of all I believe to be the veto reserved to the Secretary of State for Scotland, not so much concerning the rare occasion on which the Assembly might well overstep the powers conferred on it in the Bill, but concerning the Bills passed within its powers by the Assembly. As your Lordships know, the Secretary of State can exercise his veto by recommending to Parliament that the Bill should not receive the Royal Assent.
What is more, these powers are total, catch-all, and indeed totally discretionary. I do not think I shall bother to read them out now because it is late, but the clauses concern whether, in the opinion of the Secretary of State, the legislation passed by the Assembly might now, or at a future date, endanger the reserved subjects. Quite clearly, a separate part of it is, I think, contained in Clause 35(1)(b), if in the opinion of the Secretary of State the Bill is against the public interest. I should have thought that that was bound to cause strain and real conflict. In 1325 other words, what Scotland gets under this Bill is that it loses a Secretary of State and gains, if that is the word, a Governor-General. He will be the first Governor-General, to my knowledge, that Scotland has ever had.
I believe that he will be very inclined never to use that veto on Assembly legislation. He will be continually tempted to back off in order to avoid further conflict. My last point, and it is open to question, is that I do not believe that the Secretary of State for Scotland would like to use a form of veto which might easily bring the Throne into the controversy. One can anticipate the sort of strident voices and propaganda clichés, "Why does Scotland need a Royal Assent?" But, more likely, "Why does Scotland need a Governor-General to present Scotland's Bills to Scotland's Queen?"
This is childish stuff, though it will work, and I regard it as deadly. I therefore cannot accept the assurances of those who say that, for all we know, things will be well because the Scots are sensible fellows and, what is more, we do not know what members will be voted into the Assembly. But the extremists are there; the Scottish Nationalists are there and they are dedicated to the independence of Scotland. They have said so time and again. It does not matter whether they are inside or outside the Assembly—and in my view they are even more dangerous outside—that is their view.
I will not trouble your Lordships further. I had some comments to make on the franchise, but I can pursue that in Committee. I think, however, that I should make my position clear. I should not like to see the Bill refused a Second Reading because I believe it needs time—we really all need time—and it needs discussion. If noble Lords will excuse a feeble joke at this hour, like the striptease artiste, it needs time for exposure. I would only add on resuming my seat that I would not oppose the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ 10.22 p.m.
§ Lord FERRIER
My Lords, I do not propose to deal in detail with the speech of the noble Marquess, Lord Linlithgow, 1326 though it is clear that his speech deserves the closest study. I would, however, differ from him in one matter and that was when he said that most noble Lords appeared to be in favour of dismantling the Union. That has not been my impression today.
§ The Marquess of LINLITHGOW
I do not think I said that, my Lords. Dismantling the Union? No, not at all.
§ Lord FERRIER
I must have misheard the noble Marquess, my Lords, and we can refer to the matter in Hansard. Obviously he agrees with me that it is not the feeling of most noble Lords here today that the Union should be dismantled. Very much the reverse is the case.
Some 60 years ago, an uncle of mine was secretary to the Leith Docks Commission and I well remember his lamentations when he had to go to London to get permission from Whitehall to move a crane from one site to another in the Leith docks. Since that day I have been in favour of devolution, as I am today. After some 30 years I returned from a life abroad to find St. Andrew's House a going concern and my noble friend Lord Home of the Hirsel as Minister of State. I will not go into the details of what has happened to the Leith docks, the Harbours Act of 1964 and so on, but I think I am right in saying that, by 1960, Leith docks could spend up to £1 million without reference to anybody else.
The point I am emphasising is that devolution has continued steadily over the years and is continuing today and, concerning many of the points that have been raised in the debate—I am thinking particularly of the powerful speech of the noble Earl, Lord Minto—it is clear that devolution has really taken shape.
Being the thirty-fifth speaker in a debate like this, it is difficult not to touch on points that have already been made, though I shall endeavour not to do so. With respect to the noble Lord, Lord Glenamara, I must make a point that many of us feel, and that includes my old friend Councillor Alleyn Nicholson, who the other day stated this in a letter to 1327 The Scotsman—which must have hated publishing it:In the first place, the Bill was introduced not because the people of Scotland wanted it, but as an expedient which the Labour Party hoped would help them to ditch the Scottish National Party and save some of the Labour seats in Scotland".Much as some noble Lords may dislike it, that is very strongly held opinion among some people in Scotland. The letter also stated:Secondly, the majority of MPs did not really approve of the Bill, and it was railroaded through by a rigorous Whip which forced many Labour Members to vote against their better judgment".I always listen with care to what my noble friend Lord Balerno says, but here I am open to correction. He said that it was an English Member who promoted the 40 per cent. Amendment, but am I not right in saying that it was a Scotsman representing an English constituency?
§ Lord FERRIER
Devolution obviously has taken shape. I raised the point incidentally because, as someone who has spent many years overseas, who has been chairman of Caledonian societies and who has had contacts with the Church of Scotland and the like around the world, I think it is as well to remember that those who criticise the referendum—and I am one—join with the noble Lord, Lord Spens, who pointed out that to make a decision of this nature dependent upon the votes of the voters in Scotland is very odd. It does not make sense to my mind at all, because there are far more Scotsmen outwith Scotland who are concerned than there are within Scotland, particularly when of the population of which we are speaking there are included a number of immigrants and English and Irish residents.
§ Lord RAGLAN
My Lords, I believe that if the referendum clause had not been inserted in the other place, it is highly possible that the other place would have voted the Bill out. But they let it through because of the referendum clause, and I feel that had they not let it through the English could have stood to have been criticised by the people in 1328 Scotland to the effect that they had destroyed a Scottish Bill.
§ Lord FERRIER
Yes, it is all a very complex situation. This is leading to my final point; that is, that the matter is so complicated and that there have been so many views held, and so many people hold different views, that really we are going a little dotty. I put it like that because, quite frankly, here we are embarking upon a plan for this House to settle down to weeks of labour and expense in working away at a Bill which really is not very popular in either House. We are considering at this moment the Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Wilson of Langside, that the Bill should not even be given a Second Reading.
I believe that the great bulk of the people of Scotland are simply not interested in the proposals in the Bill. I recall the speech by the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, some months, if not a year or two, ago, in which he said that most Scots are much more concerned about their jobs, and their house, and the football, than they are with anything to do with devolution. Indeed "devolution" is the wrong word. I think that my noble friend Lord Home of the Hirsel used the word in conjunction with the word "decentralisation", which is much more like it. My noble friend Lord Lauderdale made the point, with which I agree, that it should not be called an Assembly at all; it should be called a Convention.
That brings me to a story told by a caddie who works in my garden. He is 70 years old and has a handicap of six. He said to me that he asked a fellow caddie what he thought devolution meant, and he said: "I dinna weel ken, but I think its got something to dae with drainage". One must remember, my Lords, that, moving among people who are in Parliament and in local government, such as the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot, the noble Earl, Lord Minto, and so on, we are soaked in it; but the ordinary people really do not seem to care very much.
Talking of contacts, I do not know but it seems to me that noble Lords very often have a better contact with the ordinary people than a great many Members of 1329 Parliament. The other day I said to one guid-goin' man, a driver for a car-hire firm for whom I have the greatest respect, when he was taking me to the airport, "What do you think of this devolution?" He said, "It just canna be done". I said, "Why do you put it that way?", and he said, "The first I heard of it I thought it was a good idea, but now I see it just canna be done". I must say that I thought to myself, "That is rather like my own feelings"; and this is a general spirit about the country, I think. I do not know much about the Western Central belt of Strathclyde. Of course, we are going to get a lot of guidance from the Garscadden By-election in a few days; but the problem we are addressing ourselves to here with such care is one which does not appeal to, and does not seem to move, the great mass of people in Scotland.
It therefore leads me to draw your Lordships' attention to what so many noble Lords have said, including the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilson, and the noble Lord, Lord Home; that is, should we not think it over again? Should we not take it back again? The noble Marquess has just said it. Should not the whole matter be reconsidered? Should there not be another approach to the whole thing so that it is taken up in a way in which agreement can be reached among all Parties? Because there is no question about it: there is broad agreement among all of us that Scotland is entitled to more decentralisation in dealing with its own affairs. For that reason, I myself feel that the problem before us is a very difficult one. We never want to go back to the 17th century—never! That is why I mentioned the question of dismantling the Union. Surely history is perfectly plain in showing that it has been since the Union that Scotland has really gone ahead; and I think my noble friend Lord Strathclyde brought out the importance of the part played by the British Navy in working for the expansion of Scotland's interests all over the world.
There is one point to which I want to return. I say "return" because I have mentioned it over and over again. I mention it yet again because nobody pays the slightest attention to what I say. It is this—and I firmly believe it: that there must be some criticism of the broadcasting authorities for the absence of the 1330 proper transmission of news about Parliament, about politics and the like to the people of Scotland. We know perfectly well that "Today in Parliament" and "Yesterday in Parliament" come along at half past eleven at night and at a quarter to nine in the morning, which are times when the ordinary people cannot listen to them. We know, too, they are very metropolitan; they cannot be anything else, really, at those particular times of the day. There are also numerous other occasions—I will not weary your Lordships with the details—on which their broadcasts are quite misleading in the way they talk of politics and political problems. One particular school problem I heard the other day was an awful mistake. It referred to the sheriffdom in England, and made no reference to the fact that the sheriff in Scotland is quite a different creature altogether.
This problem of the Press, the media, information to the people, connects with what I have been saying about the fact that ordinary people do not seem to know anything—and care less—about devolution. It is pathetic and tragic that only the "heavies" as they call them, The Times, Daily Telegraph and Guardian really carry any material about Parliament. The so-called popular Press do not communicate with the people at all. I am sure that the time is coming when Government—and I know that people criticise this sort of suggestion—must be firm with the broadcasting media and say that it is their bounden duty to report the proceedings of Parliament in a manner which is acceptable to the broad bulk of the people.
As I have said, things are so uncertain about this Bill that it is almost funny. It would be funny if it were not so tragic—by which I mean that the disillusionment that is spreading, owing to the fact that nobody seems to agree about anything over this devolution, is really rather stupid and wasteful, just like the days before the Union. It is so tragic that it is hard to raise a smile even at this time of night. I recall the other day, when I was inveighing against everything and everybody in connection with this Bill, that my wife said to me: "I say, old man, from the way you talk, 'Cloud Cuckoo-land' must be very overcrowded". From the way I was speaking, I think she was 1331 probably right, but I do mean, with the greatest strength at my command, that I will not vote for the noble and learned Lord's Amendment and I will not vote for the Second Reading of the Bill. I will not vote for the Amendment because of the very strong case made by my noble friend Lord Ferrers and, as far as voting for a Bill which gives Scotland an Assembly—well, if it were a Convention, I might think differently; but I do not want my name to be associated with anything of the sort.
§ 10.38 p.m.
§ Lord TORPHICHEN
My Lords, a neighbour of mine in West Lothian spoke in another place on some of the specific dangers in this Bill. The honourable Member for Down South put the general case of the dangers of this Bill. To me, their arguments are unanswerable. Even so, if it could be shown that this was a Bill which was designed for the people of Scotland, there would be no reason for this House to oppose it.
On the evening that I sat in the Gallery of the other place and listened to the honourable Members for West Lothian and Down South, I returned home and for a good ten days or so after that virtually heard no more of devolution and Scottish independence or anything of the sort, for the simple reason that the Scotsman was having some sort of strike and was not pouring out its constant propaganda for this Bill. Its chief scribe, Neil Acheson, was, for ten glorious days, quiet.
From that, I think you can gather my opinion of this Bill. My opinion is that of just one person; there are a good 5 million others in Scotland. Various noble Lords have attempted to quantify the number of people in Scotland who support this Bill by referring to votes cast for the Scottish National Party, and sometimes by extrapolating from votes actually cast or which might be cast, which I think is wrong. Even so they have come to the conclusion that although there is not widespread support there is certainly reason to take notice. There is not really sufficient backing for this Bill, though with a margin of error it might make the referendum a suitable final test.
If there is only limited support for this Bill—and it is an extremely dangerous Bill, 1332 both for Scotland and for the United Kingdom as a whole—the question is what this House should do about it. The argument of my noble friend Lord Ferrers and others was that the Bill may be draft base metal, but with a bit of luck we can transmute it into gold. The noble Lord, Lord Glenamara, claims that it is gold in the first place. Of course he is biased; it is his Bill—I think a slightly unwise claim. I do not think you can turn base metals into gold, and I also do not think that sufficient of the Amendments proposed by this House will find favour in the other place, take the danger out of it and make it a reasonably fit Bill to become an Act of Parliament.
For that reason I think this House ought perhaps to take a very unusual step—either by voting for the Amendment proposed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilson of Langside, or perhaps even voting against the Second Reading. Not that I see any advantage in throwing it out. I am sure there is no advantage in that, because by November or December of this year it can be re-introduced, bypass this House, and become law anyway. But to do so could signify to the other place that this is a most unusual and a very bad Bill.
After a very dry debate may I refer with a little levity to my noble friend Lord Harmar-Nicholls, who used striking words to describe this Bill. The noble Lords who would not vote for the Amendment proposed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilson of Langside, are sheltering behind something which I am told is the "Salisbury" doctrine—that we just do not vote against any Government Bill on Second Reading; we give it time to be discussed. But it could be argued in that case that no matter how bad the legislation that comes from another place, this House will always entertain it; in other words, like Delaney's donkey, this House will swallow anything. I do not think that is right. The last thing Delaney's donkey swallowed was dynamite.
§ 10.43 p.m.
The Marquess of TWEEDDALE
My Lords, having listened to my noble and learned friend Lord Wilson of Langside, I must say that if it comes to a vote I will abstain. I consider this Bill to be a bad one, and also a sad one—a bad one 1333 because it has been pushed through by the Government for their own expediency, and it has been grabbed up by power-seeking people in Scotland on the National Party side; and a sad one because during the bad days of 1939 to November 1942, when the War started to go our way, we all fought under the flag of the Union. If this Bill goes through, that flag will no longer exist. I think that is tragic. If the Assembly is formed, I am quite certain that within four years, possibly eight, Scotland will break away from England. I think that it is inevitable. The only thing that can stop it is the referendum.
In this referendum there are two things that can be used by the Scottish Nationalists, and they are using them already as propaganda. One is this myth of superfluous oil; and the other is that they say that Scotland is completely self-supporting. So far as the oil is concerned, one does not know whether it legally belongs to Scotland; anyhow, the majority of it is round Shetland, and Shetland now wishes to join up with England, so that rather puts paid to that one. As for Scotland being self-supporting, it might well be self-supporting in beef, mutton, lamb, barley, oats, and some types of wheat—but not all—but from where will Scotland get tea, sugar and coffee? Sugar can be grown in Scotland, but sugar beet is dependent on the sun and sugar percentage is ruled by the sun. When it comes to be refined, limestone is required. In Scotland there is virtually no limestone that is of a low silica and high calcium content. That has to be imported from Yorkshire or Derbyshire.
These two points have been brought up time after time: Scotland will be all right on its own with its oil, and it is self-supporting and totally reliable. It is the duty of all of us before the referendum to nail those two myths as hard as we can when we get North of the Border.
§ 10.47 p.m.
My Lords, I promise not to detain you long at this time of night. So many noble Lords have spoken today about this Bill that it would be time-consuming for me to rehearse the arguments—which I support—again. Suffice it to say, however, that I do not share the view of many of your Lordships who have spoken that the Scottish people 1334 want any form of devolution whatsoever. I take the view that, following the traditions of this House, the Bill should be given a Second Reading, and that at the Committee stage we should do our best to improve the Bill and discuss those clauses which have not hitherto been discussed.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Scarman, in his interesting and, as one would expect, able and informative speech, spoke about provisions in the Bill relating to what he described as pre-enactment and post-enactment reviews. The Law Society of Scotland—of which I have the honour to be a member—would subscribe to what the noble and learned Lord had to say on this subject. But, like him, they are concerned that the Bill is silent as to what happens in the event of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in a post-enactment review overturning part or the whole of an Assembly Act. This silence would leave those practitioners who have to advise their clients about Assembly Acts in a state of uncertainty until the outcome of a challenge to the Act had been established. This perhaps is something which can be clarified at the Committee stage, and I shall therefore not labour the point now.
§ 10.50 p.m.
§ Lord MIDDLETON
My Lords, when the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor introduced this Bill, he stated certain guiding principles upon which it was based. I think this is the sense of what he said—that it was based upon respect for the diversity and distinctive position of Scotland. That respect I have, and I believe I share it with the overwhelming majority of those who were, like myself, born South of the Border.
Another principle was that of fairness to the whole of the United Kingdom; in other words, the provisions of the Bill have to be fair not only to the Scots but to the English as well. It is because that particular aspect of the Bill has not received much attention during the debate tonight that I ask your Lordships to bear with me: at this very late hour I shall be brief.
It is the view of many Englishmen that life is not so very bad for the Scots as things are. They have their own system 1335 of laws and their own system of education—and a very good one, too. Just over 5 million Scotsmen, which is a population of about the same size as that of Yorkshire, have their own Secretary of State, two Ministers of State and three Under-Secretaries; and of course, as has been said, this is a reflection of the executive powers already devolved to Scotland. The Scots are represented in Parliament by a larger number of MPs per head of population than is the case for England. If the statistics of personal income per head are an indication of prosperity, the Scots are only marginally worse off than the English. So far as wages are concerned, the latest figures published by the CSO show that the average weekly earnings for full-time manual workers were higher than those of English workers. The Scots receive per head of the population about 25 per cent. more identifiable public expenditure than the English.
I fully recognise that there is a grave unemployment problem in Scotland. The February 1978 figures showed that 8.9 per cent. were unemployed, compared with about 5 per cent. for England. They have other disadvantages, too, that together with unemployment may well justify a higher level of public expenditure. It is far too late in the day to weary your Lordships with the figures and statistics that I have with me. Nevertheless, Scotland does receive—and I do not object to a differential system of public expenditure—a disproportionately large share of assistance, in the form of grants, loans, aid and other subsidies for industrial development.
There is considerable disparity too, in the allocation of funds for assistance in the social and environmental fields. While not begrudging the Scots their extra aid for industry, people in my own region and in the other Northern regions are conscious that they have to put up with comparatively lower standards of living in the important fields of health, education and the general environment, while contributing heavily towards the massive subsidies provided to Scotland, where in many areas the standards of living are higher. So, without taking into account any proposal for devolution as contained in this Bill, Englishmen—at any rate those in the North with whom I have discussed the matter—have no doubt in 1336 their minds that Scotland is being treated very fairly indeed. In the North-West region, which contains Liverpool—and the unemployment figures for Liverpool are very much worse than they are for Glasgow—there are those who believe that the Scots are already at the receiving end of an over-generous share of total public expenditure.
If, already, Scotland is in receipt of a share of the national cake that is, perhaps quite rightly, disproportionate, what will be the situation on devolution as proposed in this Bill? Parliament is, from time to time—and I am not sure that I know what that means—to provide sums of money demanded by the Secretary of State. These block grants are to make available finance for the services to be provided by the Scottish Assembly, which will not have the power itself to raise revenue. In addition, money may be provided by Parliament for capital expenditure, for such bodies as the Scottish Development Agency. Parliament will, apparently, be told what relation this regional expenditure for Scotland bears to total equivalent expenditure in England. But it is difficult to envisage how Parliament will be able to judge whether or not this is fair to the English regions.
The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor referred to the idea that the Government would consult the Assembly about arrangements for setting up an independent advisory body, or bodies, to measure the needs of the various parts of the United Kingdom. But this is, at present, just a hope and there is no provision in the Bill for ensuring that the necessary information becomes available to Parliament. Parliament will not, therefore, under any arrangement that exists at present, or that will exist under the Bill, be able to see what equivalent sums are to be allocated in England.
Whatever goes to Scotland in the form of block grants or loans, let us not be under any illusion that the Scottish Assembly would ever be content with its allocation—and here I am in full agreement with my noble friend Lord Ferrers. It would be seen as a matter of duty, by the members of that body, to strive to the utmost to get more and more out of Parliament, and noble Lords can be assured that more money for Scotland means less money for Merseyside, Tyneside and Humberside. 1337 The setting up of independent boards as envisaged by the Government, if it takes place, will make little difference in securing that Scotland does not get more than her fair share. It is the vote in Parliament that will count and the Scottish MPs—already, under the Bill, in a privileged position compared with English Members—will be in a strong position to exert pressure.
One can envisage a variety of situations in the House of Commons where, for political reasons, excessive demands for money for Scotland might well be voted through. If that is what will happen after devolution on the lines provided for in this Bill, then it will not be surprising if the English regions begin to regard the new system of devolved Government with less than wholehearted rapture. I do not believe that, at the present time, there are any marked feelings of injustice as between the English regions and Scotland. But if this Bill is passed in its present form, feelings then will change.
The English regions will be aware of the immense pressures, within any spending elected body, to expand and expand and spend more. They will be aware, too, that the Scottish Assembly, as so many noble Lords have reminded us today, would be in the splendid position of being able to disburse public money without the discipline of having to raise a penny of it. They will be aware of the political pressure from Scotland that will be exerted in Parliament—make no mistake about it, my Lords. They will be aware that the Scottish MPs—and we have heard this more than once today—will be able to vote on matters wholly appertaining to English regions, while their own regional MPs will be barred from consideration of a wide range of equivalent matters appertaining to Scotland. Is it not, therefore, all too likely that the English regions will feel permanently disadvantaged?
For these reasons, if for no others, this Bill is divisive. The unity of the United Kingdom must be in some danger from a system such as is provided for in the Bill. It contains elements of instability and injustice. Noble Lords have today given many reasons why this is a bad Bill. Some of those reasons weigh more heavily with me, at any rate, than do the matters upon which I have concentrated. I have 1338 argued from a somewhat narrow viewpoint. So many noble Lords from Scotland have told us of the genuine desire of Scots to feel less remote from the centre of our unitary State. If devolution can be achieved only at the expense of the great industrial regions of the North of England and if the effects would be so divisive as I fear, then I wonder whether noble Lords should allow the Bill to pass.
I believe that the Bill pleases nobody except the Scottish Nationalists who, as so many noble Lords have reminded us, regard it as merely a stepping stone towards separation from England. If we are to satisfy the great moderate majority in Scotland and at the same time to be manifestly fair to all parts of the United Kingdom, it is difficult to see how it can be done by this Bill. Nevertheless, I believe that we should do what has not yet been done. We should examine the Bill clause by clause and Schedule by Schedule in order to find out whether it is possible to amend a measure that contains all of the faults to which so many noble Lords have today referred. For that reason, therefore, although greatly impressed by his speech and although very much tempted to do so, I shall not vote for the noble and learned Lord's Amendment.
§ 11.3 p.m.
§ Viscount MOUNTGARRET
My Lords, as befits a rather indifferent batsman, I have been put very low indeed in the batting order. I have not even made the third eleven, and am well down the batting order of the fourth eleven. Therefore, it is hardly surprising if I feel before I start that I have been bowled for a duck.
At the start of the debate I was strongly in support of the Amendment moved by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilson of Langside. I think that I still am. However, so many noble Lords have spoken to the effect that we should not support the Amendment that I am beginning to feel some confusion. No doubt I shall reach a decision.
I do not wish to be misunderstood and to be taken as an opponent of devolution for Scotland or, for that matter, for anywhere else, provided that devolution 1339 is what the people of Scotland wish and provided that it is carried out in the way that they wish. In addition, devolution must be seen to be of benefit to the United Kingdom as a whole. My view is that neither of these two fundamental essentials can possibly be met by the Bill as it stands. So much drastic revision and amendment would have to take place in order to achieve those two essentials that it would be far better to scrap this Bill and to start again with a fresh one.
The Bill has come before your Lordships' House after not even having been thoroughly and fully considered in another place. Insufficient time either was not available or was not made available for it. It does not seem to me to be desirable that measures of such major constitutional importance should be steamrollered through Parliament without the most detailed and careful scrutiny that Parliament can give to them. I appreciate, of course, that any Bill of this nature is bound to offend some people and to please others, but in the case of this Bill there is such widespread disagreement between the pro- and the anti-devolutionists, the middle-of-the-road devolutionists, the Labour Party, the Conservative Party and the Scottish National Party that if the Bill is passed as it stands, nobody—least of all the people for whose benefit it is supposed to be—will be happy with it.
As I have already said, I have no personal axe to grind over the principle of devolution. It is a highly complicated subject and, I quite frankly admit, is way above my head. However, I am very far from satisfied and have seen very little evidence that the people of Scotland as a whole wish to have devolution thrust upon them.
Of course, devolution is the one goal which the Scottish National Party would like to achieve. I fully accept that they have a very large following in Scotland, but at the moment they do not have a sufficient following to warrant the Bill. Only if and when the Scottish National Party were to represent the majority of voters in Scotland could I believe that the majority of people in Scotland wish to have devolution. At present, though, that is not the case, let alone in this form. We have already heard it said that, if 1340 devolution came, the Shetland Islands would, in the words of the late Sam Goldwyn, say Include me out". I know of others who have said. If there is an Assembly in Edinburgh, why should the Highlands be administered from Edinburgh any more than from Westminster? We would want to have a separate Assembly in Inverness". I quite understand that argument.
It might be argued that it would take an unpalatably long time for the Scottish Nationalists to command a majority of the votes in Scotland, and, therefore, as a compromise, would it not be far better to obtain, by the medium of a referendum, the wishes of the people of Scotland before bringing in such a Bill? If a referendum showed that that was the wish of the people, then it would be far easier for Parliament to make this major change in our Constitution without looking over its shoulder all the time, wondering if it is doing the right thing. I do not believe that there are very many people in the Government, in the Opposition Parties or in your Lordships' House, who feel today that we are doing the right thing for the United Kingdom or for Scotland.
I quite realise that the Government feel, understandably, and rightly, that they have a mandate for bringing in a devolution Bill for Scotland, and that they must do what they can to get it through in the lifetime of this present Parliament. But I should like to make a suggestion, though I do not think for a moment that anyone will agree with me. There is a way in which this might be done. If we are not happy with the Bill as it stands, and if the Government could feel that they could tear up this Bill and start again and have a referendum to find out if people really do want devolution, what would happen if the Government said to the Opposition Parties, "We have a major constitutional change coming up. Would you be agreeable in this instance if we extended, or asked permission to extend, the life of this Government for one year?"
§ Viscount MOUNTGARRET
Yes, good heavens! I quite agree. I shall be quite plain about this; I should be perfectly happy to consider such a 1341 suggestion. It is far more important for the United Kingdom to have a devolution Bill which is agreeable and acceptable to the people of this country than that it should suffer—if I may say so in a jovial sense—a Labour Government for another year. I am sorry if I may offend some people. It is a thought; I throw it out and no doubt it will be thrown back at me.
We ought to think about it carefully, for let us consider a similar situation that occurred in Ireland, that Emerald Isle across the sea. It is a similar situation, because, if the Scottish Nationalists get their devolution in even a small way, it will not stop there; they are not going to be content with just looking after their own home affairs. They will want more. It will be the thin end of the wedge. They will, effectively, want home rule—and what has home rule done for Ireland? It has brought about an unhappy, divided country; it has not brought the Utopian paradise that was dreamt of by Sinn Fein.
Had a way been found of keeping Ireland within the United Kingdom and yet meeting the main desires of the majority of the Irish, I am quite sure that Ireland's prosperity, and ours too, for that matter, would have been greatly enhanced. But it was not to be, and thus we have strife, bitterness, hatred and inefficiency, caused not by incompetence but by fragmentation which prohibits the maximum output that would otherwise be achieved by unification and by a common cause. So, who can tell now, at this stage, whether a similar tragedy could conceivably occur in Scotland? What monster is about to be released by this Frankenstein of devolution? Shall we have Highlander against Lowlander; the Isles against the mainland; Presbyterianism against the Church of Scotland? I hope that it will not happen, but one cannot be blind to previous experience. United we stand and divided we fall.
I find myself at some odds with my noble friend Lord Ferrers when he emphasised so strongly that it is not our role to interfere with the Government's mandate. We are a revising Chamber, but how can we possibly revise something which has not even been considered in another place? This is not an ordinary Party political Bill at all: it is a very major constitutional Bill which will have far-reaching repercussions on everyone, both 1342 in Scotland and, with equal importance, in England as well. Therefore, it could be argued that we should be entirely within our rights to turn down this Bill if we want to enable the Government, first, to ascertain the wishes of the Scottish people and, secondly, to produce a Bill which will be acceptable to those people.
My noble friend Lord Home of the Hirsel has said that, if we turn this down, the cry and the feeling for devolution will be even stronger. I think that that is probably just what we want. If we turn it down, let the cry for devolution become stronger. At any rate, we shall know that we are doing the right thing. At the moment I do not think that we know whether we are doing the right thing or the wrong thing. Therefore, I do not think that that argument is necessarily correct. I do not believe that the Scottish people want this even in principle, let alone as it is proposed.
Another place has had insufficient time or has allowed insufficient time to consider the Bill thoroughly clause by clause and line by line, as must surely be needed in such a major constitutional piece of legislation. Even if your Lordships' House were to consider in detail everything that another place had not so done, I very much doubt whether the other place would have time to consider our suggestions or Amendments.
It has been said that England expects every man to do his duty. I think that that goes for Scotland as well. We might well be failing in our duty if we permitted this Bill to go forward without further clear evidence that this is what is really wanted by everyone. If I could have some feeling of assurance that the Government will think again and have a referendum before any new Bill is drafted, then I would feel much more inclined to refrain from voting, if necessary, in favour of this Amendment.
§ 11.13 p.m.
§ Lord TANLAW
My Lords, I have listened to nearly 41 speeches so far in this debate and it may interest noble Lords to know that, according to my notes, it appears that there have been about 19 speakers who have spoken for the Bill and 19 who have spoken against 1343 it. There were a few speakers whom I found difficult to interpret as to whether they were for or against the Bill. Those speakers who were for or against the Bill did, in fact, make speeches which did not say much about the Bill, but which said a great deal about devolution—its definition and so on. However, I wonder whether they have looked at the main guts of the Bill which concern decentralisation. Is not the real argument that we should be debating tonight whether we are for further centralisation of the Executive or for decentralisation of the Executive?
Before we look at the great constitutional and administrative changes contained in the Bill, it is right that we should try to capture first, its spirit which, I believe, originated with those 2 million Scotsmen who signed the covenant in 1949. In spite of what has been said here today, I believe that this spirit is still alive and well. Even before 1949 some of my noble friends and colleagues were making speeches on devolution. I know for a fact that I made my first speech on this subject more than 20 years ago.
It may be worth while just considering for a moment how these signatories to the covenant and the more recent supporters of devolution would judge the Bill as it stands before us today—an imperfect and perhaps confusing document. Perhaps the position could be expressed in a passage I came across written by James Hogg, the Etterick Shepherd, when he was having some difficulty in interpreting some of the great poets of the time. He wrote—and I quote in English for the benefit of the large number of English noble Lords who are present this evening—I found myself in much the same predicament with the man of Eskdalemuir, who had borrowed Bailey's Dictionary from his neighbour. On returning it, the lender asked him what he thought of it. 'I don't know', he replied; 'I have read it all through, but can't say that I understand it; it is the most confused book that I ever saw in all my life'.Like the words in Bailey's Dictionary, this Bill will have no meaning unless the spirit of the covenant which gave it birth is read into all its clauses through the Committee stage and up to the Bill's subsequent enactment.
1344 I should like to turn to what I believe is the main fabric of the Bill and hope that perhaps the speakers who will follow me tomorrow will concentrate more on this side than on the more general and definitive descriptions of devolution that we have had so far. It would be wrong to judge the Bill, as some noble Lords have done, as merely a device to give semi-autonomy to the Scottish people or to pander to pure or raw nationalism, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilson of Langside, seems to imply—plus the fact, as he says, that it is being put through for electoral expediency. In my view it is essential that this view is seen in the context of the whole structure of government in the United Kingdom, bearing in mind that our government is the most centralised of all democracies in the Western World.
The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, in a remarkable and eloquent speech, emphasised the loss of national and regional identity. One could sum up the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Glenamara, by saying that people no longer want to be looked upon as ciphers but as individuals. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Scarman, in his maiden speech, again emphasised the necessity to maintain the citizen's rights in this Bill.
It is because of this that the Minister of State in the Privy Council Office in another place described the main objective of the Bill as:… to decentralise decision-making and to increase democratic accountability in this country".The noble Lord, Lord Home of the Hirsel, went to on say that decentralisation and devolution are not beyond the art of politics. Shortly after he spoke, the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, was able to show quite clearly that it was indeed possible that Scottish Bills could be taken away from an English Parliament and dealt with perfectly adequately and efficiently in Edinburgh, thus leaving us more time—possibly not in this House but in another place, where there are constant complaints about the lack of proper time to discuss the essential issues.
Despite its imperfections as they stand today, I think that this Bill should be looked at as a golden opportunity to decentralise and reorganise the administration of government in the United 1345 Kingdom. I shall try to allay some of I the fears that were mentioned by my noble friend Lord Mackie of Benshie—the fears of those who anticipate the break-up of the United Kingdom. A number of noble Lords—I shall not mention them—expressed these fears quite clearly and succinctly during the debate. I shall answer them simply by saying that, if there is no dispersal of power by decentralisation of the Executive, then another possibility exists—not of break-up but of breakdown of the Administration due to over-centralisation.
I think we have the case in point of the Local Government (Scotland) Bill. This was a Bill imposed on Scotland by this Parliament. It is a grossly over-centralised Bill in my view, and I said so at the time; and I also said that this Bill made no allowances for even the remote possibility, so far as I could see, that devolution would ever take place. So we have what has been noted by other noble Lords in this debate: the wrong structure of local government to be absorbed into a devolved Assembly.
I want to make one other general point which has perhaps not been made so far in this debate: the division, as I see it, of those Peers for or against the Bill. Those against have to decide whether or not they are for a centralised administration, an Executive for this government for the years ahead, and those who are for this Bill have to decide that they are for a decentralised administration. This gives us a second chance to improve the complaints that have been made about the Executive; the complaints of the lack of accountability; the complaints of size of the Departments; the complaints of lack of control of the Departments, which grow each year. It does not have much to do with devolution, but this is what really interests me. I should like to think during the speeches tomorrow that this aspect will be taken up by other noble Lords in the context of the Bill that is before us.
It is worth adding one final point. In terms of doctrine, if you really want to impose Clause 4 Socialism on this country you can only do it by having a large, centralised bureaucracy. If you want to have a Right-Wing authoritarian régime in this country, you can only implement this through having a large, centralised 1346 bureaucracy. The speakers who have spoken against devolution, I like to think, are moderates, and those who speak against large, centralised bureaucracies are also moderates, regardless of from which side of the House they speak or to which Party they belong. I hope that this will not be lost sight of, because although it is a general point, and of general philosophy rather than of devolution, it is one which, if we fail to implement it through this Bill, contains the worrying possibilities of breakdown of the central administration for this country and all the problems that that would bring.
I should like to conclude, in view of the lateness of the hour, by saying that there are problems with this Bill. There are problems of forestry and agriculture separation; there are problems of electoral reform, about which we should like to take the opportunity, as the Bill goes through this House, of again pressing our points of view. I am encouraged, and I know that my noble friends are, that it is no longer a voice crying in the wilderness; we are getting support for a change in the electoral system from other noble Lords regardless of their Party, as they begin to see the rationality of it, certainly in terms of devolution, and maybe eventually in terms of the United Kingdom.
Finally, whatever defects this Bill has when it is passed—and I ant sure that it will be passed—I look upon this as a first step towards federalism. Federalism may be a long way off, but it will come. I should like to express my welcome for this Bill in an added form by saying that, if it is a first step towards federalism, then we have done something very important for which future generations may look upon this debate with gratitude.
§ Lord RAGLAN
Before the noble Lord resumes his seat, my Lords, may I ask him to answer this question: if Scotland had an Assembly and if, as the noble Lord seemed to wish, the regions were dissolved and some of their powers, anyway, were inevitably given to the Assembly, how would that be devolution?
§ Lord TANLAW
My Lords, I think the noble Lord misunderstood me. I was complaining about the structure of regional government—in that it was not designed to be incorporated into a 1347 devolved Scotland—and my main complaint was about the monstrous size of the Strathclyde Region. That was the only point I was making, and I did not say I wished the regional structure of government to be dismantled.
§ 11.26 p.m.
§ The Earl of MANSFIELD
My Lords, when I left my train at Euston exactly 16½ hours ago, at 6.55, I was quite looking forward to this debate in your Lordships' House, and indeed it has been enjoyable and interesting, and I feel sure that all noble Lords will join me in that feeling about it. I was more than surprised to hear the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, say in effect that there seemed to be a number of noble Lords who welcomed the Bill and an equal number who did not. My impression and a rapid look through my notes suggest that, while almost every noble Lord who has spoken was prepared to welcome some form of devolution, very few actually welcomed the Bill.
The noble Lord, Lord Glenamara, did, but, if I may say so, it is his misbegotten child. But the rest of us have greeted it for the most part, from the various political spectrums in which we believe, with everything from the ecstasy of the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, and the noble Earl, Lord Perth, on the one side—I sometimes wonder how the three of us live at opposite ends of a triangle of the most important raspberry-growing area of Scotland—coming down to the modified rapture, if I may so call it, of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilson of Langside, on the other.
What we have been considering this afternoon has been, to some degree, altered by the noble and learned Lord's Amendment, because I dare say that if it had not been for his Amendment we would not, according to our usual convention, have been deciding whether we would give the Bill a Second Reading or how we would vote, if it comes to a vote; we would, in fact, be discussing the Bill and the philosophy behind the Bill and what we were going to do with it.
I say at once that in my view the noble and learned Lord's action has been courageous in this matter because it has given us an opportunity, which we do not 1348 always have, for saying what we really think about the background to the Bill. He argued his case reasonably and persuasively, as one would expect from an ex-member of the Scottish Bar. I hope that when he considers the matter, as he will do—one hopes, for his sake, rather earlier tomorrow night than the hour we have reached tonight—he will not go so far as to divide the House. I do not think that I need waste more words on that. I know from the way in which he delivered his speech that he will have got the feeling of the House, and of your Lordships within it, and it needs no further words of mine to urge him what to do.
As I have said, the rapture, or the lack of it, the welcome, or the lack of it, which noble Lords have given to the Bill turns 180 degrees. But the matters which are pertinent, when we come to discuss the Bill, are three-fold: first, what are the forces behind it; secondly, what will the Bill achieve if it is enacted; and, thirdly, what, if any, are the eventual effects which the setting up of the Scottish Assembly will have on the Constitution and the status of the United Kingdom as a whole?
Several noble Lords have analysed the emotions and motives behind the Bill. Ever since I was a boy there has always been a more or less amiable, if lunatic, fringe in Scotland which espoused the battle for home rule for Scotland. They always seem to me to present a somewhat undernourished appearance, and they commanded, at least when I was a boy, very little support. When that support came in the middle 'sixties it was no coincidence, I believe, that it sprang from that part of Scotland which contains the areas which have had in the past, and now continue to have, the worst social problems of an economic and industrial nature.
At the same time we must realise that Scottish public opinion has been fed a steady diet of material, which, even if it is not calculated to have, at least has had the effect of raising envy. We are told of the remoteness of Westminster government, and several noble Lords have touched on that tonight. We are told of the economic neglect of our people, which I for one, from my researches, do not altogether accept. We are told of the decades of indifference of this Parliament to the needs of Scotland, and so on.
1349 We have been given endless statistics calculated to show that during the period in office of successive Governments Scotland has in fact had its share, and more, of capital resources, and at least one noble Lord tonight has brought out those figures. But we have to confess—speaking as a Scot myself—that we are a touchy race. We are quick to take offence. Noble Lords may remember the outcry, which was caused when the Forth and Tay road bridges were completed, with the tolls which were extracted and have been extracted ever since; and there is the resentment which is caused to the citizens of Scotland when they think of those in England bowling along the motorways, free to all who care to use them. My noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy will well remember the outrage which greeted the announcement that the A9 was not to be a total dual carriageway, for reasons which no doubt appeared excellent to the Government at the time. But that was greeted as one more insult to the people of Scotland. These grievances, real and imaginary, have been subsequently exploited by those who, in fact, wish for the independence of Scotland.
But it was the discovery of oil in the North Sea that has given the Scottish National Party credibility, and the argument that it needed, to persuade comparatively large numbers of voters that a new, fuller, and richer life was there for the taking. I have a reasonably recent Manifesto of the Scottish National Party, with which I will not weary your Lordships at this hour. But some of your Lordships will have seen a television Party political programme, put out a week or so ago, which was a naked invitation to the people of Scotland to seize, by virtue of the ballot box, what oil revenues they could, and to enrich themselves on the proceeds.
I have spent several minutes on what I regard as the background to the Bill, because it was in response to this pressure that the Government have espoused the Bill. I do not particularly blame the Government for trying to protect their position in Scotland. However, we are entitled to question the wisdom of obstinately adhering to a course of action when it must be apparent that that course of action is at the least causing risk to the cohesion of the Kingdom, in the end. It is the unity of the Kingdom 1350 with which I am concerned. If this Bill becomes law then at the very least there will be a period of uncertainty and upheaval, and at the worst that period of uncertainty and upheaval will lead to the separation of Scotland, which most, if not all, of us would deplore.
The question therefore arises as to whether it is likely or indeed possible, if this Bill is brought into effect, for a Scottish Assembly and Executive, filling their devolved role, to work harmoniously together and in a spirit of co-operation with the Westminster Government. In my view it is not possible, and in my judgment the risks are such that I do not believe they should be taken. I believe that the Assembly as proposed in this Bill is a constitutional impossibility, and I say that for this reason: I do not believe it is possible to establish what amounts to a subordinate legislative Assembly in a unitary Parliamentary State. Why do I say that? It is because either one will have to go the whole hog and have a form of federal system, which is what the Liberal Party want—and it is a perfectly honest belief and a perfectly honest desire to attain—or else Scotland will inevitably, I believe, take its place as an independent nation. Or there is the third possibility, that we should scout about to try to find another form of devolution which will not put such strains on our body politic.
The Assembly as is proposed could work only under circumstances of the maximum co-operation by all who take part in its affairs, and with a spirit of co-operation to and from Westminster. We know very well that there are those who would not wish that harmony to take place and who would not wish the role of the Assembly to remain static. I was waiting for the noble Lord, Lord Belhaven, taking after the Moses of another place, to bring the tablets before us, as to what his Party actually want. But apparently what he does not want is this Bill, which of course he is entitled, and quite right, to say. However, we have in fact heard from his colleagues in another place, both from reading the Official Report and from their speeches, that what they want, in effect, is what they believe would be a prosperous, independent little country funded by the proceeds of oil from the North Sea.
1351 So as far as the Assembly is concerned, money will be at the root of all its problems. No revenue-raising powers, as we have heard, will be given. The politicians' excuses for failure will be there all the way—and that has been said before. There will be continuous blame of the Westminster Parliament for failing to be generous enough to vote the money which the Assemblymen, or Assembly-persons, will feel they are entitled to spend. One can see that, when a constituent in Scotland writes to his MP and says, "What about my house?", the NIP will say, "Go to your Assemblyman", because it will be devolved. Then, when he goes to his Assemblyman, the latter will say, "Go back to your MP; they will not give me enough money", and the situation will be one of irritation, at the least.
I agreed so much with the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, when he said that the matter really could not remain static; that changes would be inevitable following this Bill. In the legislative field, the Assembly will be able to make drastic changes in the laws as they affect individuals and corporations, and their criminal responsibility. This has not really been touched upon during our debate this evening, and I do not wish to make Committee points, but noble Lords will have observed that the Scottish Assembly will be perfectly entitled, for instance, either to have 24-hour licensing, if it is so wished, or none; and as we are a Calvinist country, sometimes, one thinks it might be that.
§ A noble Lord: I do not believe that.
§ The Earl of MANSFIELD
Except, my Lords, in the West. We could have abortion for all or abortion for none; we could re-impose capital punishment; we could re-impose corporal punishment. I do not think that we could re-impose transportation because there would be nowhere to send them to—
§ A noble Lord: St. Kilda!
§ A noble Lord: Rockall!
§ The Earl of MANSFIELD
But, my Lords, may I make a serious point. If a 1352 democratically established Assembly comes about, it is only right and proper that the Assembly should make such laws as appear proper to it; but in a country where one can fly from London to Edinburgh, or vice versa, in 50 minutes, is it really right to embark on a form of devolution which could quite easily make the laws of these two not very big countries completely divergent. Let us just take the case of publishing! Scotland could have its own indecency laws, and probably would, which would be totally different from those in England. Maybe they would be better; maybe they would be worse; but they are not going to make for a happy and successful commercial life within the Kingdom.
The ultimate test, I think, would be this. What would be the result of these proposals of the Government in, say, 5 or 10 years' time? I think the fear must be that, because of the inherent stress of the situation, separation will have to come about in one form or another. I hope, therefore, that this House looks at this Bill long and hard in Committee. For instance, I was extremely taken—if that is the word—by my noble friend Lord Home's suggestion that some of the strain could be taken off the review of Bills if there could be a form of certification that the Bill was within the province of the Assembly before it came to be debated. If the noble and learned Lord, Lord McCluskey, would address his mind to this point, it would be interesting and constructive to know whether the Government have reviewed this idea and, if they have, to what conclusion they came.
I know that it will be the wish of this House to give this Bill a Second Reading tomorrow. I hope that your Lordships will try to improve the Bill in Committee; but, above all, I hope that we get a lot of publicity for this Bill in Committee because I believe—and this has not been touched on by everybody—that if we do get a lot of publicity, the people of Scotland will then realise what a nasty piece of work the Bill is. At the end of the day, I think that the best hope for those of us who believe in devolution, but who do not believe in this Bill, is that the people of Scotland should give it a resounding, "No". If they do that, I think we will have achieved as much as we can expect to achieve.
§ Lord MOWBRAY and STOURTON
My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy, I beg to move that the debate be adjourned until tomorrow.
§ Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.