HL Deb 04 May 1978 vol 391 cc449-524

House again in Committee.

[Amendment No. 168 not moved.]

Lord CAMPBELL of CROY moved Amendment No. 372:

After Clause 59, insert the following new clause:

Review of Local Government

(".—(1) The Secretary of State shall, not less than 28 days after the first order to be made under section 79 of this Act has been approved by each House of Parliament, arrange for a review of the structure of Local Government in Scotland to identify changes made necessary or desirable when the Assembly is established.

(2) If it appears to the Secretary of State, as a result of that review, that changes in the structure of Local Government are needed, he may, after consultation with the First Secretary, introduce the necessary legislation in Parliament.")

The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 372. It is covering the same subject as Amendment No. 168, so I do not think we have lost anything by restarting at this moment, and I am glad to see the noble Earl, Lord Perth, in his place. I put down Amendment No. 372 on the Marshalled List not because I disagree with the purpose in the Amendment in the names of the noble Earl, Lord Perth, and the noble Duke, the Duke of Atholl, but because I thought there was a different way in which this could be done. I think it is for the convenience of the Committee generally if, when a subject is somewhat complicated, one puts down one's alternative, because then everyone has the chance to study beforehand the different approach.

I agree with what is clear from both Amendments, that if and when an Assembly is set up there are likely to be changes in local government; this will become necessary. It is probable, and it has already been stated several times during the passage of the Bill, that because another tier of government will be coming in, local government in Scotland could be changed to a single purpose system, authorities with a single purpose, rather than the two-tier system which now exists. I would remind your Lordships that the Wheatley Commission, when it made its report in 1969—and its membership included representatives of the major Parties as well as other distinguished persons—unanimously recommended a two-tier system of local government. After it had come into effect, in 1975 or so, quite a number of changes were made to the Wheatley Commission's recommendations, and I was responsible for many of those changes. Nonetheless, at the time it made its report it was unanimously in favour of the two-tier system to replace the four kinds of authority which had existed in Scotland before that.

At the time there was general agreement with that. I met very few people who disagreed with the idea of a two-tier system at that time. Of course, we were all concentrating on whether the Shetland and Orkney Islands should have a separate kind of status; whether there should be a region for the Borders, and what should happen to Fife and so on. These were all matters which were considered at great length and changes were made. But at that time the two-tier system was accepted by a very large majority of people concerned and interested. Now there is some criticism of it, but there seems no doubt to me that if the Bill goes through in its present form, and if it is endorsed in a referendum, then it will be thought that local government in Scotland needs to be reviewed, with the possibility of a new system of single purpose authorities.

The difference between my Amendment, No. 372, and Amendment No. 168, is the way in which the review is to be carried out. I am suggesting that it should be started as soon as the first action is taken to set up the Assembly. I have worded the Amendment in my name, The Secretary of State shall, not less than 28 days after the first order to be made under…this Act…"; so that is when the pistol goes, when the whistle blows. After a referendum, if the Bill is accepted, the Secretary of State will start the review of local government.

There are two reasons for that. First, I think that the relations between the new Assembly and local government in Scotland will be very delicate, and particularly so at the beginning; and I think it is important that the relations between the Assembly and local government in Scotland should be good because the Assembly is going to be responsible for a great deal of what local government covers. The second reason is that I think that a review should not be held up. Amendment No. 168 simply allows the Assembly itself to carry out a review within a matter of four years. The changes which people will consider necessary in local government will be largely because of the expected existence of the Assembly, and no time should be lost in starting the review. That is why I think the Secretary of State should initiate the review, and that it should be Parliament at Westminter which takes whatever action results from it. That is the difference between my Amendment and Amendment No. 168, which suggests that the Assembly itself should in due course carry out the review.

The Assembly is going to be so busy getting itself set up and going through all the procedures we have discussed, choosing an executive and staff and taking over the functions which are to be devolved to it, that it will itself not be functioning properly for many months, maybe a year or two, and it will be in no position to start telling local government how it should be reorganised. I regard the operation of the review of local government as part of the establishment of this Assembly, and inasmuch as Parliament at Westminster, through this Bill, is considering the establishment of the Assembly, then Parliament at Westminster should also immediately be tackling the necessary adjustments in local government as part of the operation of setting up the Assembly. So I agree with the purpose of Amendment No. 168, but I am simply suggesting that it should be handled differently, and also that it should be handled more quickly.

I foresee a period, while the Assembly is being established, when there will be many complaints in Scotland that they are being over-governed, that there are too many tiers of government and that nothing is happening and no review being started. My Amendment would ensure that the review would start straight away. With it one should consider—I just draw attention to it—Amendment No. 374, which comes in Schedule 10, and there may be other consequential Amendments too, because that is simply there to indicate that the initial review of local government is not a devolved subject; that that would be carried out by the Secretary of State, if my Amendment were adopted; but that thereafter local government would be handed over to the Assembly, subject to the qualifications in Schedule 10.

I am not suggesting that my Amendment is one that we should press, and I think that the alternative Amendment, No. 168, should certainly be considered. But I think that a review of local government will be expected. I do not think it should be regarded as opening up war with the regions, although it has already been stated earlier today that the Regional Councils are likely to be the tier to suffer as a result of review.

The review must be carried out with an open mind. It will be necessary with this new system and a new Assembly coming into existence.

8.20 p.m.

The Earl of PERTH

I owe the House an apology for not being here to move my Amendment. However, no harm has been done because the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, and I are agreed that both Amendments are focused on the same point; namely, the need for the reform of local government. If I had moved my Amendment, my method would have been somewhat different from that employed in moving Amendment No. 372, which was moved by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy. We both started from exactly the same premise. We were unhappy about the present form of local government. We felt it was of great importance that the Assembly, in one way or another, should have an opportunity, very shortly, to look at the whole question.

The proposal before your Lordships is that the matter should be initiated by the Westminster Parliament and then go to the Assembly for consideration. Frankly, I do not mind whether it is that way or whether it starts with the Assembly and then goes back to Parliament. It is important that we should be sure that there will be a real look at the matter. I hope that will not be looked upon as a war. People should recognise that this is in the real interests of the Scottish people. Your Lordships and I know that they feel that this matter needs looking at. They are not happy with it.

If it is known that one of the results or sequels to the Assembly being set up is that there will be a look at local government, I think it will make the chances of its being accepted, particularly in the referendum, that much better, as "We shall have a chance to look at what is happening" will be a good slogan. I do not think it matters whether the initiative comes from the Assembly or the other way about. It is important that the matter should be examined. I fully support the Amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy.

The Duke of ATHOLL

I, too, should like to support this Amendment. We are all agreed that the Assembly, whatever else it does, will cost a certain amount of money. I see, from the section of the Bill dealing with its financial effects, that it comes to a total of about £13 million per annum, without counting the original capital costs. It would be unfair to count the original capital costs, as obviously the Royal High School would have needed some form of reconstruction, anyway. I do not regard this as a waste of money, even if the Assembly fails to materialise.

We want to save money. There is no better way of saving money than to have a reorganisation of local government in Scotland and making it more local. It suffers at the moment from one huge region, which covers 50 per cent. of the population of Scotland, and a series of other regions, which, although much smaller, are still considered by the people of Scotland to be rather large and very far remote from them. The other snag is that the regions and the districts at the moment appear simply to loathe each other. Ours, which nominally have the same political complexion at both levels, spend their time battling against each other. If one writes a letter to one authority one must send copies to the others. If not, the other bodies feel hard done by. That makes it expensive both for the administration and for the people who have to communicate with the region or district, as everything must be duplicated, including postal charges. Therefore, the sooner there is a review of local government in Scotland, the better. I thoroughly support my noble friend's Amendment, or the Amendment proposed by the noble Earl, Lord Perth, which unfortunately was not moved.

8.27 p.m.

The Earl of MINTO

I wonder whether I might declare an interest as a regional councillor in Scotland and speak one or two words to the Amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy. Unlike the noble Earl, Lord Perth, should have been very unhappy about his Amendment. There will be a fairly long period of time taken by the Assembly, if it comes into being, before it settles down. To have saddled it with the extra burden of looking at local government reform would have been almost too much to expect of it. I am not sure that one necessarily wants to have people looking at local government who might, in a sense, have to declare an interest in their particular side of the business of the government of Scotland.

Had it been a straight question of support for Amendment No. 168, which was not moved, I should have felt that I must have spoken against it. However, as we are considering Amendment No. 372, there is one point that I should like to make before the Minister answers. It is fair to say that the few months that the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, thinks it will take the Assembly to settle down is an underestimate. The noble Lord extended it to perhaps a year or two when he spoke. It will take considerably longer.

If I may, from my personal experience, I should like to say that we have just this very month finished the first four years of the reorganised local government in Scotland, although admittedly only three of them were spent in an executive capacity. The first year was, if you like, a running-in period with the authorities who were in control previously. It would not be untrue to say that the past four years have been a period throughout which we have been consistently learning. We are still learning now, after four years. We are aware that we are not perfect. I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Perth, that we are conscious of this. We are conscious that the people of Scotland are not too happy with the way that things are going.

Having said that, it must be appreciated by your Lordships' Committee that the reform of local government will be a far more complex business than simply doing away with the regions, which is what one so frequently hears about. It is not a question of doing away with the regions at all. It may well be aiming towards a single-tier structure. I should personally prefer to see that. But even that will not be a simple problem when the particular powers that are devolved to local government at present are as complex as they are. Therefore, I should not like to see this matter rushed. I am marginally concerned—I simply put it that way—by the condition that is in Amendment No. 372, that the period of time should be not less than 28 days after the first order. Whoever looks at local government may also wish to look at the Assembly once it has got itself a little bit under way.

I should not like to think that we started to look at local government too soon in case the full benefit of that particular review was lost in the purpose, as I see it, of cooling the Scottish people against the possibility of a very great increase in cost of another tier of Government. Therefore, if we could possibly have an assurance from the Minister that this would not necessarily be rushed, I personally as a regional councillor would be very happy indeed to know that local government was to be looked at in Scotland once again.


I hope that my noble friend on the Front Bench and the Government will consider this matter, if not for the very constructive reasons put forward which seem to me to be sound, for the reason that the Government are very keen for the referendum to go in favour of the Assembly. It is quite possible that the insertion of this new clause might be the turning factor in the minds of that slim number of people whose votes might decide whether the referendum will go forward in favour or perhaps against the Assembly. There are many people, especially in the Strathclyde Region, the fringes of Argyll as well as the Islands and elsewhere, who are fed up with present local government in the form of the enormous Strathclyde Region. I hope that the Government will seriously consider the new clause.


I should like to support the Amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy. In my view it is extremely important. I agree with all that the noble Earl, Lord Minto, has said. He and I exchanged places when local government was reorganised—I went out of it and he came into it in the same area. Therefore, he has had experience, which I did not have, of the working of the reorganisation of local government.

However, I gave evidence to the Wheatley Commission, although at that time we had no idea that there was to be any suggestion of an Assembly. Therefore, we were thinking in terms of how to improve local government and how to make it more effective. Also, in some areas the units were very small and it seemed wise to make them larger. Certainly I had no idea in those days that we were to be faced with so many tiers of government with so many people involved. That is one of the reasons why I would urge the Government to accept the Amendment and to try to do something about the situation.

On the 6th December last year I tabled a Question for answer by the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill, about how many people were to be involved in the Government of Scotland if the Assembly and reorganisation took place. I have the figures with me. I remind your Lordships that a most extraordinary number of people are involved for a country which contains about 5- million people. On the district councils there are to be 1,117 people; on the regional councils there are to be 432, plus 75 on the Island councils, making a total of 1,624. If we include the community councils this has not happened all over but it could happen all over—which, of course, are tiny unpaid units, 14,656 people will be involved. We shall have in the Assembly somewhere between 140 and 150 people but the number has not yet been finally decided. There will be 71 Members of Parliament for the United Kingdom Parliament. There will be eight Scottish Members for the European Assembly.

Surely there is something very strange in a reorganisation of local government which involves 16,506 people, if we include the community councils. If ever there was a reason for reviewing the situation, especially in the light of an Assembly, then surely it lies in the colossal number of people involved. Quite frankly, my view is that it would mean everybody being the governors and very few people being the governed. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill, and his friends will accept the Amendment with the provisos that have been mentioned by my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy and the noble Earl, Lord Minto. I support the Amendment.

8.35 p.m.


Before I make what I hope will be one or two pertinent remarks, I must say to the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot of Harwood, that although I accept entirely the figures that she has just read to the Committee, it is fair to say that, apart from the new community council provision, the other figures show a reduction in the number of councillors involved in the public life of Scotland post, as opposed to pre, reorganisation. I think that I am absolutely correct in saying that, and perhaps she will give some thought to that as being a balancing factor.


I shall certainly check that point, but I have quoted the figures which the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill, gave me on 6th December 1977.


Yes, they are the figures which are current at present. All I am saying is that before reorganisation the numbers were rather greater. I think that the noble Earl, Lord Perth, is agreeable that we talk to the Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy. I recognise that it was unfortunate that his own Amendment was not moved at the appropriate time. I understood that the main point made by the noble Earl was his concern about initiative. The key point for me to emphasise to the noble Earl is that the Assembly will have the initiative. The Assembly has the necessary legislative competence and I direct his thoughts in that direction.

The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, in moving his Amendment has expressed a mild dissatisfaction with the present state of local government in Scotland. I think that he would find support for his views in some quarters, but not in others. Many would take the view, as I do, that it would be a mistake to review at this time a whole new structure of local government introduced as recently as four years ago. The noble Lord himself made reference to the fact that it was under his leadership that the then Administration brought in the reformed system. I accept that the reformed system carried considerable public assent in that period.

My own view is that the system today—and here I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Minto—has really just reached a true formation. I totally agree with his point that during the first year there was a period of interregnum between the phasing out of the old system and the bringing in of the new, and that really it has been in operation for only three years. That is the point that Members of your Lordships' Committee must keep well to the forefront of their minds when considering this issue.

Within the legislative competence of this Bill we are considering the devolution of extensive powers to a raw Scottish Administration. My noble friend Lord Brown said that the Government should give very serious consideration to the Amendment placed before the Committee tonight. I would reply to my noble friend in this way: What could be more appropriate for such an Administration than the oversight of local government in Scotland? That is what the Scotland Bill does at present. The phrase: Constitution, area and general powers and duties of local authorities and similar bodies in Group 5 in Schedule 10 devolves an ability to legislate about the structure of local government and, in any structure consisting of more than one tier of local authorities, the distribution of local government functions within that structure. The Government consider that it is entirely appropriate for Parliament to leave it to the Assembly to decide whether reform of local government is needed and, if so, what form it should take and when it should be undertaken.

In the Government's view, these matters can best be considered by those directly involved—that is, the Scottish Administration—as it has direct contact with the daily problems of administering local services which guide the forming of opinions about the best type of local government structure. When Parliament devolves responsibilities, it must, in the Government's view, leave the devolved administration to deal with them in accordance with its own wisdom. In any case, the fact that the Secretary of State and Parliament are no longer directly concerned with the main areas of local government administration will mean that they are ill-placed to decide how local government is best organised.

Secondly, how is the Assembly to exercise its functions in relation to local government and local authority services while the reorganisation imposed by the Government is taking place? I put this question: is this likely to help relations between the different levels of Government? For myself, I would doubt it. Thirdly, once any legislation produced by the Government has been passed, the powers in the new clause are exhausted. I ask the Committee: What is to stop the Assembly legislating the old system back in again if it so wishes? These problems serve to illustrate the difficulties of trying to reinsert the Secretary of State into the middle of a complex of interrelated devolved matters and then taking him out again.

The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, touched upon the argument—and to be fair he made no great point of this—that, as local government is presently constituted in Scotland, we shall, once we get an Assembly there, have an additional tier of government. That is certainly a point that is sometimes made in public comment in Scotland today. However, the Government do not accept the extra tier argument. The powers to be exercised by the Scottish Administration are, for the initial period at least, those hitherto exercised by Ministers. Of course, the Assembly may extend those powers by its own legislation, but they will remain essentially of the character of central Government powers and not local government powers.

It seems likely that the Scottish Administration and the Assembly, given their responsibilities not only for general local government matters but also for many of the main matters with which local authorities deal—for example, education, housing, town and country planning, et cetera—will in due course turn their minds to consideration of the structure of local government. I think that that should be freely acknowledged. But, in my view, any case that exists for change cannot exist independently of the Scottish Assembly's considerations.

The noble Duke, the Duke of Atholl, and, indeed, the noble Earl, Lord Minto, have referred to the difficulty that sometimes exists—and in some places consistently exists—between the two tiers of local authority structure. This is certainly the principal criticism which can and is being made of the present system. However, I must say to your Lordships that the conversion of a system devised for two tiers into a system consisting of one tier would require—and I think that the noble Earl, Lord Minto, accepted this—a very comprehensive review. It certainly cannot be sensibly achieved by the abolition of one tier only. That is not an answer; it creates a further difficulty and I think most who know about local government in Scotland will accept that. Therefore, I felt that I should make that point to your Lordships.

I do not think that I should say any more. I believe that I have made the Government's position clear. For the reasons that I have attempted to set before your Lordships, I would be unable to accept the Amendment standing in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy.


I should like to put something clearly on the record. My noble friend has been discussing this as though this new clause committed the Government to reorganise local government. Of course, it does not do anything of the sort; it commits the Government to look at it. We could not possibly envisage very much happening in that direction within the next three to four years, subject to the agreement of the Assembly. The point I want to put on the record is this. Few would doubt that the referendum will be, in the words of the Duke of Wellington: A very close run thing", and that this Amendment might conceivably win that small additional number of votes which would cause the referendum to come down in favour of the Assembly rather than against it.

This is not a very big commitment; it is merely a commitment to look at the subject at an early stage. I do not know whether this sort of argument will commend itself to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, and his friends on the Opposition Benches—perhaps it will not. However, I wanted to put that firmly on the record, because I still hope that the Secretary of State will look very carefully at this.


My noble friend certainly has it very firmly on the record. My riposte is clear: the Government are firmly of the opinion that the matter of the possibility of a re-reform of local government in Scotland must be left to the determination of the Scottish Assembly, when constituted.

The Earl of MINTO

I should like to raise one further point. During the Committee stage we have heard a great deal about the frictions that there will be between the Assembly and the other place, the Assembly and your Lordships' House and the Assembly and the other place and your Lordships' House. From these Cross-Benches, I am now trying to act in the best interests of Scotland. I am desperately anxious that the fourth quarter of the total frictional factor should not be allowed to exist if it can possibly he avoided. That quarter is the friction that will inevitably take place between the Assembly and local government, because if the Assembly is the body which is to review or reform local government, unless the Assemblymen have actually worked in local government during the last four years, by its very nature the Assembly will virtually be ignorant of local government as it exists today. There will be the most appalling friction. I can see them marching from Strathclyde to St. Andrew's House in vast numbers.


I apologise for intervening, but surely that is the very point. If they march upon St. Andrew's House from the various parts of Scotland, then the Assemblymen will be more careful in their re-thinking of the reform of local government.

The Earl of MINTO

With respect, it is a very much longer walk from Strathclyde to London. I simply do not like this inbuilt friction which exists, while the Assembly, as we understand it in the Bill—so long as we understand the Bill—is to have authority over local government. That being the case, I am warning your Lordships in the Committee stage that if matters are allowed to remain as they are in the Bill, it will not be in the best interests of Scotland, and it will make an already extremely bad Bill very much worse.

8.48 p.m.


I am glad that the noble Earl, Lord Minto, has taken part in this brief debate. He is, as he said, a regional councillor and is familiar with the introduction of the new system following the reform of local government in Scotland. He has just emphasised one of the points I made in moving this Amendment, which was my anxiety about the relations between the new Assembly and local government—because they will be very delicate. There is likely to be friction if local government thinks that one of the first things the Assembly, before it has even got itself organised, will do is to try to slash local government, knowing very little about it. That is certainly putting starkly one of the reasons I gave for moving this Amendment.

The noble Duke, the Duke of Atholl, whose name was attached to the alternative Amendment, was somewhat critical of the present system, as some people in Scotland are, because the districts and the regions appear to battle with each other. He said that in his area the District Council and the Regional Council were battling with each other. I would only tell him that this seems to have happened before. Before the reform in local government, there was one area in Scotland where I can tell him that the battles were far worse than anything he has described. In the most populated part of Scotland, the Glasgow conurbation, the county councils—Renfrewshire, Lanarkshire, Dumbartonshire and even Ayrshire—and the Glasgow Corporation were equals but they fought each other. Anyone who was a betting man—and I am not—could guarantee that if one of those county councils adopted one policy then the one next door would adopt the opposite one simply out of spite. There was that kind of bad relationship. We must in criticising the present system, remember that it was worse before in certain important areas of Scotland.

I have made it clear that if it were not for this Bill and the prospect of a new Assembly I should not be recommending a review of local government at this time. I understand the Government's view when they say that they think it is too soon for a review. I should have said the same if it were not for this Bill. But it is because this Bill will be inserting a new additional tier of government—and there is no doubt about that—that it will be necessary to carry out a review. But, as the noble Lord, Lord Brown, pointed out the review does not necessarily need to come up with recommendations for change; it could recommend little change, or no change. The important point is that there will be great dissatisfaction in Scotland if a review has not been started.

The noble Earl, Lord Minto, rightly pointed out that my Amendment would start the review almost immediately after this Bill had been endorsed by referendum, and when the Motions were starting to set up an Assembly. He said that he thought it would take several years for the Assembly really to get into action. My Amendment does not say when the review should finish. I have no intention of suggesting that it should be carried out within a certain time, but a lot of people in Scotland will be very dissatisfied and worried, and will consider themselves really over-governed if there is no review taking place or being started. That is why I put in a starting date, but I had no intention that it should be carried out quickly. I think that discretion must be left there.

The noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill, speaking for the Government, seemed to think that my Amendment would mean that central Government at Westminster would go ahead with whatever recommendations the review produced without the Assembly having a say. But I specially put into my Amendment the words, after consultation with the First Secretary". I made it permissive that the Secretary of State may introduce the necessary legislation in Parliament. I am certain that he would have to consult the First Secretary, and thereby get the views of the Assembly. But I am pretty sure that the Assembly would be likely to agree that changes recommended by a review of this kind were necessary in general. My worry is the other way round; it is that the Assembly, before it has organised itself, will be trying to abolish most of local government in Scotland. It is much more likely that it will not object to recommendations for a review. The danger is that the Assembly will try to slash local government in the first year or two before it has really set itself up, or is in a position to make a judgment—or that is what people will think. That is where the frictions will arise to which the noble Earl referred.

This Amendment is the result of some amateur drafting by me after a talk with the noble Earl, Lord Perth. Even if I put down one consequential Amendment, I would not regard it as a piece of perfect drafting and I shall not press it. I had hoped that the Government would have accepted the purpose behind it, and I am most disappointed that they appear to think that nothing should be done until the Assembly is in a position to institute a review and carry out recommendations. I disagree with that, but I would not wish to press this Amendment, and at this stage I shall beg leave to withdraw it. Before I do so, however, I give way to the noble Earl, Lord Perth.

8.55 p.m.

The Earl of PERTH

Before the noble Lord withdraws his Amendment I should like to make this point: the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill, has said that the reform of local government is within the legislative competence of the Assembly, and that was if my Amendment had come forward fully recognised. I believe that this is a fact that should be widely known. I believe it should be widely known from the start. Therefore, I think it is important, if we can somehow or other, to indicate this fact at the Report stage.

It is equally clear that one does not want to order the Assembly to undertake such a review and actually bring about a reform. Indeed, in the Amendment which I had had in mind to move, it was specifically laid down that it should merely consider whether any action should be taken to reform the existing system. I hope that in spite of the withdrawal of the Amendment which I know that the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, has in mind, the Government will all the same consider whether, at the Report stage, for the reasons I have given and for the reasons that the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, and many others have advanced, they themselves could somehow indicate that the Assembly not only has the power but should usefully use it at least to look at things before too long.


The noble Lord, Lord Campbell, mentioned the friction between the districts and the county councils. Before the regional reorganisation, the friction was surely only in the Labour-controlled areas: now it is universal. If we have an Assembly, there will be friction not only between the Regions and the districts, but between the Regions and the Assembly as well.

The Earl of MINTO

I cannot be present in your Lordships' Chamber and allow that comment to go by without refuting it so far as the Region in which I live is concerned. The relationship in my Region between the districts and the Region are absolutely first-class, and I should not like Lord Burton's comment to be reported as having been supported by me.


Before the noble Lord replies, I hate to play the rôle of spectre at the feast, and in this context I defer to the knowledge and experience of the noble Lords, Lord Campbell and Lord Brown, and the noble Earl, Lord Minto. However, I have listened with great interest to the debate on this Amendment. I noted that the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, said that if there had been no Bill he would not have been in favour of a review of local government. But he said that the Bill made such a review necessary. The question I should like to ask the Government arising out of this, if the noble Lord the Minister cares to reply to it, is, do the Government think that a constant state of flux in the context of our constitutional arrangements is a good recipe for success?

8.59 p.m.


Your Lordships will see that I am in splendid isolation on these Benches. My noble friends from Scotland have asked me to hold the fort here tonight, if that is not too Anglo-Saxon an expression to use in an Assembly that is dealing with Celtic matters. I really must express surprise that so many of the Conservative speakers tonight have so little confidence in this Assembly. I think that all their arguments about the difficulties associated with local government in Scotland and in Wales should lead them to say, "Let us leave this to the Assembly", particularly as in Group 5 of Schedule 10 the powers which have been devolved are indicated. I therefore express great surprise that so many distinguished noble Lords from Scotland should, at this stage, have so little confidence in that Assembly, which will be an elected Assembly in Scotland and which will do a great deal of good for that country, without any reference to the Secretary of State at any stage.


I agreed with the remarks of the lone Liberal spokesman, the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran, who leapt into the defensive breach of a substantial character caused by the absence of the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie. In reply to the noble Earl, Lord Perth, I could not see the Government accepting on report an Amendment of the kind he tabled, nor an Amendment of the type such as the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, has tabled tonight, for the reasons I have been explaining. Those reasons were enunciated by Lord Lloyd, I thought with considerable succinctness. To answer the specific question posed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilson of Langside, of course I agree with him that no Government could possibly enjoy the prospect of a constant state of public flux in any part of the Kingdom, On the other hand, I think it is clear that in Scotland today there is a real desire to have within Scotland an Assembly, and the Government are committed to bringing that about.


I am glad that resuming my seat when I did enabled the noble Earl, Lord Perth, to intervene as well as enabling a Liberal voice to be heard in the absence of the Scottish Peers who had been occupying those Benches, and I welcomed the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran. Whether his intervention represented loyalty to the Lib-Lab pact I do not know, but I can tell him that my Amendment and what I said was no reflection on the new Assembly. That new Assembly will find it difficult enough coping with the many tasks which will occupy it fully in its early months and years.

I have regarded any review of local government, starting when the Assembly is about to be set up, as something which is a counterpart of setting up the Assembly and not as a job to be carried out by the Assembly itself; it is part of changing the constitutional arrangements in Scotland. That is why leaving it to the Assembly would mean putting it off for a long time. I would inform Lord Lloyd that there is a feeling, which one hears every weekend in Scotland, that if an Assembly is established then some changes must be made in the structure of local government, otherwise there will be too much government. That is the reason why there will be complaints when the new Assembly is being established if it appears that absolutely nothing is being done, that nobody is even looking at it, and that is where I fully agree with the noble Lord, Lord Brown, though at this stage I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 10 [Matters within legislation competence of Assembly, and within powers of Scottish Executive]:

The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN of COMMITTEES (Lord Amherst of Hackney)

I have to inform the Committee that, if Amendment No. 373 is agreed to, I shall not be able to call Amendment No. 169.

[Amendment No. 373 not moved.]

9.3 p.m.

Lord CAMPBELL of CROY moved Amendment No. 169: Page 47, line 31, after ("below") insert ("and subject to the reservation of functions listed in Schedule 15 to this Act").

The noble Lord said: I can deal with this very quickly. I tabled this Amendment, and informed the Government accordingly, simply to get clarification of the purpose of Schedule 15 and to draw attention to it. Schedule 15 gives a list of reserved functions by certain public bodies and local authorities, but it refers only to the clause which contains the definitions. If one looks up Schedule 15, one sees against it that its companion clause is the definitions clause, and when one turns to that one finds "Reserved functions".

When one comes across the words, "reserved functions" in the Bill, one presumes that they mean functions reserved to Westminster and not simply a term of art, a special term,forthereserved functions of certain public bodies listed here; and in fact there are only two or three places in the Bill where I have found the words, "reserved functions" used. I therefore hope the Minister can tell us in a few words where Schedule 15 fits into the Bill, as at the moment it is associated only with the definition of "reserved functions".


I thank the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, for tabling this Amendment, because by so doing he has done a service in that it has enabled us to look critically at Schedule 15 before we actually reach it. That has been of value, in that I do not like it; we intend to look at it again and I think that, rather than go into what I hope will become an historical account as to why it appeared in that form, I should say I am not very happy with the term, "reserved functions", because it suggests that the purpose of Schedule 15 is to secure reservation, when it is not. The term "reserved functions" is used in Schedule 15 in a rather technical sense, but because of the use of the word "reserved" it looks as if it means non-devolved, whereas in fact on one view of some of the functions listed there, it might be seen that they contain matters which are devolved. We shall therefore look at it again and I hope that Lord Campbell, who tabled the Amendment to probe, will be satisfied that his probe has drawn blood. We shall go away and hope to come back at the time of Schedule 15 and give a better explanation.


Surely it turns up in Clause 63(2), and that is the only place in the Bill where it occurs.


No, that is not the only place in the Bill where it occurs; it occurs from time to time in the Schedules. Within the clauses it appears in Clause 63(2), as the noble Viscount points out. I think he will follow what I have been saying; namely, that the definition which appears in Clause 77, and therefore in Schedule 15, is a technical one. We could have called them, "designated functions" or, "blue functions", if you like—it is a purely technical matter—but I am not altogether happy about the word "reserved". I have started the investigation of this matter again, and I hope that when we reach Schedule 15 I will be able to say that we have simplified the matter.


I am glad the noble and learned Lord, Lord McCluskey, has been so frank. I would repeat that there are two points here. First, why is this Schedule attached to Clause 77 and therefore simply relates to the definition? We hope at a later stage that that will be explained. The second point is that of confusion, that the use of the words, "reserved functions" could cause ambiguity when one meets the phrase in various parts of the Bill.


Before the noble Lord sits down, I wish to say that I should have given a particular reference for the benefit of the noble Viscount. I should like to refer him to page 45 and to the last entry in Schedule 4. We have been through Schedule 4 before. That is one example where the words in question are used. It refers to the consent requirement, which we looked at some time ago. The entry there refers to, Land held by excepted statutory undertakers or held for the purpose of reserved functions by a local authority or any body formed by local authorities". That is just another example of this matter.


I do not want to prolong this investigation of the Bill. It is clear that this question needs investigation, and the Government have said that they will look into it. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

9.9 p.m.

Lord PONSONBY of SHULBREDE moved Amendment No. 170:

Page 48, line 1, at beginning insert— ("GROUP 1 (Scottish public service) All matters regulating the Scottish public service.").

The noble Lord said: This Amendment to Schedule 10 should be read in conjunction with my substantive Amendment No. 204 (on page 10 of the Marshalled List) which seeks to establish a separate Scottish public service. The proposal in the Bill is that service as an officer or servant of a Scottish Secretary, or the Scottish Comptroller and Auditor General, shall be service in the Home Civil Service. As we know only too well, certain functions are being devolved, and it seems logical to me that, if we are doing that, we should at the same time transfer responsibility for the Civil Service; otherwise, individual civil servants will find themselves faced with an undesirable conflict of loyalties between Edinburgh and Whitehall.

It seems to me that the unity of the United Kingdom is not in any way imperilled by the creation of a new public service. As has been mentioned by many noble Lords in a number of debates during the Committee stage of the Bill in recent weeks, about 1,000 extra civil servants will have to be recruited as a result of devolution. I have listened to a considerable number of the debates, and in my recollection no comment has been made as to where these additional civil servants are to be recruited from. Undoubtedly some will be recruited from the existing Civil Service, but I hope that a considerable number will be recruited from local government, too.

The efficient functioning of devolved government in Scotland may well depend to a large degree on finding the correct balance between central and local government expertise to run the devolved functions. With this in mind, it is essential to ensure that the experience and skills which the local government officer could contribute to the successful operation of devolved government should not be overlooked. The officers of the great metropolitan authorities of England belong to a separate service. I can see no valid reason why the same situation should not appertain in Scotland. This was recognised—though this is not an absolutely strict parallel—in the Government of Ireland Act 1920, which provided that existing civil servants concerned with the administration of public services in Northern Ireland should become officers of the Northern Ireland Government, so creating an independent service in Northern Ireland. The Eighth Schedule of that Act provides for compensation arrangements for existing officers.

If the Amendment was to find favour this evening, it would of course be necessary to put down additional Amendments to cover these particular subjects. But it seems to me that to create a separate service in Scotland, to go along with the other powers that we are proposing to devolve, makes sense, and could lead to much less friction than I believe will result from the present proposals in the Bill. I beg to move.


Amendment No. 170, which would insert a new group into Schedule 10, and the associated Amendment to Clause 62, provide, as my noble friend has pointed out, for the establishment of a separate Scottish public service, which would be under the control of the Assembly, and independent from the United Kingdom Civil Service. The Government reject this suggestion because they see great benefits in retaining a unified Civil Service. Let me explain the Government's view. First, we believe that a unified service is likely to be both more economical and more efficient. Separate services would need more staff and greater expenditure on recruitment, training and the like.

A single service would provide the devolved administration with a wider range of talent and expertise and provide a more flexible and attractive career structure. This would be especially true for those specialists, who would necessarily be employed in small numbers, who would otherwise have limited chances of varied job experience and a low ceiling to their promotion prospects. Secondly, a unified service will provide an established and experienced means of sorting out matters of common concern to Westminster and Edinburgh. There are bound to be at least teething problems when the Assembly is first established and a unified service will do much to assist in the solution of these problems.

In the course of these debates many noble Lords have made reference to the possibilities of conflict, and I believe that a unified Civil Service, with the kind of contacts that will be made within that unity, will help to ease out these unnecessary conflicts. Thirdly—and I lay great importance on this—the staff themselves in the Civil Service have left the Government in no doubt whatsoever that they wish to remain part of a unified service. We cannot assume that they would necessarily wish to transfer to a different service from that to which they were recruited. It is clearly necessary to weigh very carefully their expressed wishes. Indeed, one would have to have very good reasons for departing from the clearly expressed wishes of the staff. This matter came up in another place at the end of last year in a Committee debate on this same Bill, on 6th December 1977, and following upon that the Government again sought, and again received, the views of the Civil Service and they are very strongly to the effect that the Civil Service should remain united.

There is another argument and it is this. There would be insufficient time to divide the Civil Service before the Assembly comes into operation. To set up a separate Civil Service would be a considerable legal and administrative operation, would directly involve the rights of a very large number of individuals, and in the immediate aftermath of devolution we consider that the time and energy would be better spent in ensuring that the new machine runs smoothly.

I should deal with the particular point raised by my noble friend Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede. He suggested, I think, that after devolution there might be problems of divided loyalty for those civil servants who will be serving the Scottish Secretaries. This is a view which the Government reject and they have been supported in that view by the staff side of the National Whitley Council. Civil servants of the Assembly will not serve two masters. They will serve a Scottish Secretary and there is nothing in the history of the Civil Service to suggest that its members provide anything less than complete loyalty to those who are there to command it. Such fears have been expressed from time to time on the creation of new institutions to which Parliament has granted a measure of independence from Government—the Manpower Services Commission and the Advisory Conciliation and Arbitration Service are examples—but such fears have proved groundless.

I should say something about the longer term. The Government are confident that the new Administration in Scotland will see these advantages in maintaining a single service, but the Government do not have a closed mind on the matter so far as the longer term is concerned. We have made it clear that we are prepared to consider any views which the Administration might wish to put forward once they have had a chance to judge the effectiveness of the existing system. Of course we would also at the same time have regard to the views of the civil servants themselves. I cannot over-emphasise the importance of taking them with us in any change that to be made.


May I thank my noble friend Lord McCluskey for his reply. I am not entirely convinced by what he has said. I do not entirely feel that in fact the proposed structure would be more flexible and more attractive to those involved. I feel that people could be continually looking and regarding their service in the Scottish part of the Home Civil Service as promotion to higher things elsewhere and that therefore this will not necessarily be a good thing with regard to their career structure. However, I was pleased to hear that the Government have no closed mind on this matter in the long term, and I shall study with interest the full text of the noble and learned Lord's reply and maybe return to this at a later stage. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

9.20 p.m.

Lord CAMPBELL of CROY moved Amendment No. 171: Page 48, line 3, leave out ("Family planning.").

The noble Lord said: This is a matter in respect of which we feel that legislation North and South of the Border ought not to differ significantly. First, in order not to repeat myself for this and the following Amendment, I should like to give a very brief background. There is a wide and general apprehension in the medical professions in Scotland that the proposals for devolving certain health functions to the Assembly and its Executive will unnecessarily upset the present satisfactory arrangements. I would remind your Lordships that there is, and has been for many years, a completely separate health administration in Scotland. When the reform was carded out in the 1970s, it was carried out in Scotland by legislation a year before it was in England and Wales; and we in Scotland have a single-tier system of health boards instead of the two-tier system in England and Wales. The systems are different, but because the Ministers concerned are both in the same Cabinet and in the same Government, co-ordination ensures that they exist together without difficulties for the medical professions. The Home and Health Department of the Scottish Office, which has existed for many years and deals with all the health matters now devolved to the Secretary of State for Scotland, has a very good relationship with, for example, the British Medical Association's Scottish office in Edinburgh, and they are in close co-operation almost daily on health subjects.

Provided the system can continue on the same basis, then the medical professions, I understand, are not worried; but they are concerned about the way in which the functions are to be split by the Bill. Some functions are to be retained by the Secretary of State. They are also worried about the allocation of finance that may be made by the Assembly when it is set up. This is a natural worry. They think that the Assembly, because it has the discretion, might decide to give more priority to roads or education, for example, than has been given in the past, and that health would then be one of the subjects which would suffer. I give this background because I think it is right that the Government should be aware, if they are not already, of this general anxiety among the medical professions, particularly in Scotland.

The Bill proposes that certain matters in the health field should remain with the Secretary of State. For example, medical schools are not to be devolved, nor is the registration of doctors and nor are the disciplinary procedures of the medical profession through the General Medical Council. Another matter not devolved is the control of drugs, which the noble and learned Lord, Lord McCluskey, referred to earlier today. That is for the obvious reason of a need for uniformity. The control of drugs throughout the United Kingdom is clearly something which ought to be centrally arranged. In addition to those subjects, the British Medical Association is concerned that family planning, too, should be organised on the basis of a uniform system throughout the country, and they feel especially about the next Amendment, on abortion.

In dealing with this Amendment on family planning the representatives of the medical profession have made it clear that they think that the law and practice should be the same throughout the United Kingdom, and that this Bill should not produce a situation where it could be changed on one side of the Border, and then be different. I must make it clear that we are not discussing the merits or de-merits of these subjects, whether or not one is opposed to family planning in principle or on religious grounds and is dissatisfied with the present state of the law. I am not suggesting that those matters should be debated this evening, and I hope they will not be. The question I am putting is whether, whatever the state of the law is at any particular time, it should be uniform throughout the United Kingdom. Where family planning is concerned it has now become so.

In the 1972 Scottish Health Act, provisions were included which resulted in the same system as that operating South of the Border. This, from the health point of view, is important. It means that the doctors and surgeons know that the same law and regulations apply in each country. They also know what methods prevail and what can be prescribed under the systems both North and South of the Border, because they have been brought into line. Particularly on questions of medical advice being needed, and for example, the question of women seeking medical advice before taking the pill, these are matters where it could be inappropriate and dangerous in some cases if medical advice is not sought and if it is not absolutely clear that it is the same throughout the country. I would only draw attention to the information which came out in the last three or four months: it has been discovered that women over the age of about 35 are more at risk in taking the pill than people had thought at first and, therefore, are in need, no doubt, of medical advice. These are matters which need to be uniform throughout the country.

The medical professions have made it clear that they would regard it as retrograde if the present situation were changed in such a way that it could lead to different legislation and practices being adopted on one side of the Border from the other, when we have now reached a situation where it is accepted that they are the same whether or not one happens to agree with the legislation. I hope the Government will sympathetically consider this Amendment.


I should like to say just two or three words in favour of this Amendment. If I may take the second Amendment, it will save me making two speeches. I think that it would be unfortunate, to say the least, if people knew that they would get a different kind of consideration or treatment on the two sides of the Border, as Lord Campbell has just said. You could imagine people going backwards and forwards crossing the Border because they wanted a certain type of treatment or because they thought that the rules in one country were more favourable to their particular case (whatever it was) than the rules of the other country. I hope that the Government will support this Amendment. It seems to me to be a quite harmless one in the sense that I do not think that the future of the devolution of Scotland is going to depend on these two Amendments. From that point of view, I should have thought it was fairly non-political and I hope the Government will accept it.


Let me say, first of all, that the Government are not insensitive to the views of the medical profession as conveyed to your Lordships' Committee this evening but the Government do see the position in a rather different light. As this is the first of a number of Amendments relating to the devolution of health matters, it might be of assistance to the Committee if I outline the concepts underlying these devolved matters in general and the devolution of health matters in particular. I shall do so as briefly as I can.

The Government's view is that as much responsibility as possible—as we keep saying—should bedevolved totheAssembly in areas where decisions primarily affect the people living in Scotland; in line with this view, the Government have decided that health matters are eminently suitable for devolution. This carries with it responsibility for the whole of the NHS in Scotland. Lord Campbell pointed out that the only reservations from the broad field of matters related to health are the control of drugs, medicinal products and biological substances. The reason for this reservation, as he has properly pointed out, is that these matters are subject to comprehensive clinical control, both nationally and internationally. It is obviously sensible that these should stand reserved. In the Government's view, this consideration does not apply to the provision of any of those services, including family planning and abortion, given within the ambit of the National Health Service, or of private medicine, in Scotland.

It cannot be a proper consideration for reservation that a matter is particularly sensitive, is concerned with life and death or has moral or social implications. If that were so, it would be appropriate to reserve many other matters, some also in the health field, such as genetic counselling, screening for congenital abnormalities and the provision of life-support systems for patients with terminal illness. It is the Government's view that family planning and, indeed, abortion are aspects of health care and provision and should be devolved to the Scottish Assembly with all other aspects of the subject.

Family planning is specifically mentioned in the description of the health group, because there might otherwise be doubt whether it was in fact included in the group, since it is not necessarily part of the prevention, treatment or alleviation of disease or illness. The Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, might—might it not ?—have the curious effect that the Scottish Executive could continue to provide a family planning service as part of its health services but only to those in ill health.

Apart from the general considerations I have outlined, there are strong practical reasons why family planning should be devolved. Family planning services, again as the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, has pointed out, were brought within the National Health Service under Section 8 of the National Health Service (Scotland) Act 1972. As the noble Lord well knows—we would agree about this at least—it has greatly helped the development of our comprehensive approach to obstetric, gynaecological and maternity services generally.

In the Government's view, it would be a complete negation of the aim of comprehensive planning for health services if the duty to provide family planning services was to be separated out from other duties in relation to primary health care and specialist hospitals services. I will give your Lordships an example. A Scottish Secretary would, for example, find himself constrained in the advice he could give on the development of services in the maternity field generally; and a Committee of the Assembly, looking at " preventive " health in the context of maternity services, would be handicapped when it came to consider the contribution of family planning services.

There are also likely to be practical difficulties if the family planning service is separated out from the rest of the Health Service, particularly in the field of financial control. The essence of the problem is that, if the Secretary of State has statutory responsibilities, then Parliament and not the Scottish Assembly would have to provide funds, although the amount to be paid could only be assessed in terms of the cost of individual items of service. Sterilisation, for example, which is included in family planning, is sometimes provided in the course of an operation for other purposes. This illustrates, in the Government's view, the sort of difficulty that could occur in separating out costs.

The main objections, however, are not the practical ones. They are, as I said earlier, that family planning is a matter which affects people in Scotland in a way that is closely hound up with other health matters which are to be devolved. For that reason, and for the other reasons I have mentioned, the Government would be unable to accept this Amendment.

9.33 p.m.


It really does seem to be rather surprising that the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill, should mention fairly obscure medical maladies earlier in his speech as examples of the sort of things, which, thank God£ apply to relatively few people in this country. However, there are a great many women. Perhaps I might suggest to him that it is most important not to create a situation—I am sure this Amendment is designed to avoid it—in which we have girls rushing over the Border in one direction or the other in order to get special services that are available on one side yet not on the other. It is very important that such a situation is not created, and it seems to me that a lot of the arguments put forward by the noble Lord were specially contrived to justify a situation which is really unjustifiable.

Many of your Lordships may not have had the privilege that I have had, of being in Malta many times in the 1950s and 1940s—time does drift by—where we had great difficulties, because the family planning arrangements in Malta, as your Lordships may imagine, were vastly different from those in the United Kingdom. Your Lordships will not expect me to go into any detail. I do not suppose that the same difference would occur between Scotland and England, but one cannot be sure.

I suggest that in this kind of area we do not want to look to the obscure diseases. We want to look to the practical effects which the noble Lord mentioned. I strongly suggest that this is one area in which the kind of Amendment which my noble friend is proposing is wholly sensible. So far as I can see, he has not taken his proposals further and put the items concerned into Part II of the Schedule, which would make a bit of a difference. It seems to me that the way in which he has done it is entirely sensible. The common approach to these two very vital problems, which affect just about half the population of both countries, strikes the right balance, which is not so with the way in which the Bill at present puts it.


Before the noble Lord replies, I would support my noble friend very strongly in this matter. One has to look at it from the point of view of a population which is not involved in technical details of health and illness. One looks back on the change in the abortion law, when there was a flood of people coming from Europe. Are we to see the same situation if we leave abortion and family planning in the Bill ? My noble friend is proposing here that we take out something which is of national and not local interest, and it must not be confused with technical details of medical science.


On the question of family planning, I do not quite take the drift of the argument about the cross-Border traffic. I am not really quite with your Lordships on that point. Perhaps some elucidation will help me.


I wish to talk to the next Amendment, which is specifically dealing with abortion on which I feel very strongly, and I feel less strongly on the matter of family planning as a devolved matter. But what is happening is that noble Lords are trying to talk to both Amendments, and it would certainly make me happier if we talked about one at a time.


I wonder whether I might say, as the question of abortion has been raised, that that is the subject of the next Amendment, on which the medical professions feel very strongly. So that unless any other Members of your Lordships' Committee want to speak on family planning, I propose to—


May I just make one point in answer to what the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill, said about sterilisation? If the Scots—those robust characters—abolished it, then you would have all the men chasing South of the Border to take advantage of the position here.


The question of sterilisation is surely a medical, clinical judgment on the part of a specialist.

The Marquess of LINLITHGOW

May I suggest that we have probably been through this before? Although your Lordships were probably not old enough to remember, we had a whole lot of trouble in the old days with Gretna Green.


May I just say all that I really want to say, in order to complete my brief remarks? The Government have many times reiterated that they believe the Scottish Assembly will be made up of mature citizens, publicly elected, who will be fully entitled to assume the full burden of health responsibilities within the devolved field.


Has it been considered by the Government that the Assembly might, indeed, be rather glad to be relieved of having to make decisions on this contentious point, and that relieving the Assembly of having to debate it will enable it to get on with other matters? There is one point which I should like to make on what the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill, has said. So far as disease is involved in family planning—and that would include genetic disease—it would be covered quite satisfactorily by the earlier part of that paragraph: "Prevention, treatment and alleviation of disease". Although, therefore, the treatment of disease might result in a form of family planning, it would not be excluded from the health matters which would be dealt with by the Assembly and one could still leave family planning outside the scope of the Assembly.


My point was that it is not necessarily part of the treatment and prevention of illness or disease.


I hope that we shall not go into the subject itself, otherwise we shall have a long debate. The medical profession, not only in Scotland but also in the country as a whole, are worried about this. That is the point which we must register. Under the present legislation, people in Scotland, England and Wales can come to doctors working in the National Health Service for advice and methods. It is important that doctors should know exactly where they stand and what they can do. The health administration needs to know what is free and what has to be prescribed. From the medical profession's point of view it is important that there should be uniformity throughout the country.

I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill, has produced objections. I did not attempt to suggest that in itself this Amendment was complete. However, if the principle were to be accepted, I am sure that necessary Amendments could be made to other parts of the Bill. However, it is the medical side of the subject which could be separated if the noble Lord and the Government accept the principle, in the same way as other medical subjects have been separated and are to be retained by central Government and the Secretary of State instead of devolved.

The purpose of moving the Amendment has been to emphasise to the Government the strong feeling of the medical profession, and the importance, if the Bill is not changed, of keeping this matter under review and making sure that central Government step in, if necessary, if it looks as though the administration of this subject medically on one side of the Border is starting to differ greatly from the other. I am grateful to my noble friends who have joined me in supporting this Amendment, which I do not intend to press. However, may I give notice that unless there is a satisfactory answer from the Government on my next Amendment, I intend to press it. I beg leave to withdraw Amendment No. 171.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

9.44 p.m.

Lord CAMPBELL of CROY moved Amendment No. 172: Page 48, line 3, leave out ("Abortion.").

The noble Lord said: This is the subject about which the British Medical Association feel very strongly. They believe that it should be a reserved subject. They feel that it is important that the law should be the same throughout the United Kingdom. Again, whatever views one may hold on the present state of the law on abortion, or whether one's view is that there should be no abortion at all, from a religious or other point of view, most people agree that the law should be the same and that one should try to ensure that it is the same throughout the United Kingdom. It is on this Amendment that there could be the kind of movement from one country to another which has happened in recent years when there have been relaxations in the law on abortion in different areas of the world.

If the law were to be different on one side of the Border from the other, it would provoke difficulties. The medical profession are very much aware of this fact. If it should become easier, or appear to be easier, to obtain abortions in Scotland, there is no doubt that there would be a definite movement in terms of visits to Scotland for the sole purpose of getting abortions. Recent history has shown that this can happen. There would then be pressure on the related medical services on that side of the Border compared with the other. Of course the situation could be reversed if the change were in the other direction. This would be most unsatisfactory for the medical profession, who will expect to be able to work in any part of the United Kingdom at different times. Gynaecologists working in Northumberland or Dumfriesshire would find anomalies on their doorsteps.

In this Amendment we are not discussing whether abortion should or should not be carried out at all, or the present state of the law; we are discussing the important point that the law should be the same, and if any changes are made in the future they should be made for the whole of the United Kingdom and therefore this should be a reserved subject. I advocate this very strongly, having made it clear that I have received many representations from the medical profession about it, and I hope the Government will agree. I beg to move.

9.47 p.m.


In speaking to this Amendment I have no intention either—and I think it would be quite wrong here—of touching on the case for or against abortion. It is enough to say that it is a sensitive issue, on which people have strongly held views and one which is even often used for political ends, as we have seen quite recently. I simply want to look at the situation in which we could find ourselves if abortion were to be devolved to the Scottish Assembly—or even, eventually, to an English or a Welsh Assembly, if that is the course upon which we are embarked—and, as could easily happen, that group of representatives were to make a decision that put legislation, as the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, and other noble Lords have said, in one country out of step with that in another.

There may at present be differences in practice across the country but the law on abortion applies uniformly to the whole of the United Kingdom. The law says, basically, that abortion is a criminal offence except in certain exempted circumstances. The point is that the law affecting abortion is criminal law and if abortion becomes a devolved matter there is the real danger that we shall have the position that what is a criminal offence in one part of the United Kingdom will not be an offence in another. And we shall no longer be able to alter that position in the interests of the United Kingdom as a whole. Make no mistake, the Scottish Assembly may well change the law on abortion, if it is able to do so. Similarly, as a result of continuing attempts to get a consensus on the subject, there will be an attempt to change it in England.

Where will that leave us'? Well, since there will be no restrictions on the movement of people from one health board area to another, as has been made quite clear, the Bill will create conditions for just the sort of cross-Border traffic in abortions that we once had when women were being dumped into Heathrow from overseas to take advantage of our more liberal laws on abortion. In that situation, how would the Scottish Assembly or the United Kingdom Parliament feel about applying its own law?

Let us suppose that stiffer legislation were to be introduced into Scotland. Would, say, Newcastle become the abortion centre of the United Kingdom as Scottish women crossed the Border to obtain an abortion? Would Newcastle become a sort of post-coital version of Gretna Green ? And if it did, how would the English hospital react, faced with the possibility of being prosecuted if it were to carry out an abortion on a woman from North of the Border? It may be that it would have to introduce identification tests to make sure that, in spite of her accent, she was a bona fideEnglish woman. That is not so outlandish as it may seem.

Then, what are the implications so far as public expenditure is concerned ? Will the English and Welsh taxpayers be expected to bear the cost of Scottish abortions, or vice versa? It is by no means an impossibility that the matter of abortion will be raised in the Scottish Assembly. It has always been an issue of considerable concern in Scotland. After all, it was a Scottish Member of the other place, Mr. David Steel, who introduced a Private Member's Bill to create a uniform law on abortion for the United Kingdom as a whole. As was pointed out by my right honourable friend the Member for The Wrekin in another place, no one fears that in Scotland and in England there will be separate legislation on the possibility of obtaining an appendectomy or a tonsillectomy, but abortion is a very different matter.

Given what the Bill proposes, consider that the Members of the Scottish Assembly do decide to change the law on abortion and what the result will be. Since the issue of abortion, though still one that attracts comment, discussion and open controversy, is the subject of law that applies to the United Kingdom as a whole, I fail to understand—and so, I believe the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, has confirmed, do the doctors—why this situation is to be changed by opening the door to the possibility of there being created separate abortion laws North and South of the Border. I cannot see that the ability of either the Scots or the English and Welsh to change their law on abortion unilaterally can lead to anything but potential difficulty and unnecessary and serious problems, in the other countries as well as in the country making the change.

What of the exchange of ideas and the close co-operation that exists over this field at the moment? They will be lost, to the disadvantage of all the countries concerned. Noble Lords will be aware of the fact that this matter was discussed at some length in Committee in another place, and considerable disquiet was expressed by many honourable Members, both those in favour of and those against abortion. In the outcome the Amendment excluding abortion as a devolved matter was defeated by 162 votes to 179. I believe the result might have been different had the issue, which was actually described by one of the Ministers involved as essentially a moral issue, been left to a free vote.

I believe that we should not treat abortion as though it were an issue not very different from other matters specified in Schedule 10. I cannot with the best will in the world agree with my noble friend Lord Kirkhill on this matter. The point is that it is different. We are on very delicate ground here; to de-stabilise the present legal situation on an issue so sensitive and serious as this, and to create the possibility of there being different laws on abortion applying in Scotland and in England and Wales, is extremely dangerous and could have disastrous consequences.

I would ask my noble friend Lord Kirk-hill if he would refer this matter back to his right honourable friend the Secretary of State, and remove abortion as a devolved matter from the Bill in view of these considerations, if I believed this would have the effect I desire. My record in your Lordships' House is not one of disloyalty to the Government, but I have to say that if the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, decides to divide the Committee on this Amendment I shall go with him into the Division Lobby, and I hope other noble Lords, irrespective of their views on abortion as such, will perceive the dangers in making it a devolved matter and will join us there.


I should like to support this Amendment very strongly. I agree with everything that has been said both by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, and by the noble Lord, Lord Lovell-Davis. I can also speak for my noble friend Lord Selkirk. He has put down an Amendment on the subject, No. 255. Unfortunately, he had to go to Scotland tonight, but he asked me if I would move his Amendment if No. 172 was not spoken to. Amendment No. 172 has been spoken to most effectively by both the noble Lords, and I would say that I hope very much that it will be pressed to a Division and that we vote on this.

It is nothing to do with morals but relates to the reasons given by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, and the noble Lord, Lord Lovell-Davis. My noble friend Lord Selkirk was very anxious that abortion should be taken out of this particular group because he says it is not health; what is involved in abortion is criminal law. It is quite wrong to put it in a group headed " health ", in which criminal matters are not involved. As the noble Lord, Lord Lovell-Davis, said, criminal matters are involved in this subject. I hope that we may ask the Government to accept the Amendment. If they do not accept it, we shall vote.

9.56 p.m.


I have listened attentively to the remarks made so far in this brief debate. I do not think that I do noble Lords an injustice if I suggest that the fears expressed thus far by those who have spoken, and who seek that this matter stand reserved, boil down, first, to the undesirability of having different legal provisions on either side of the Border, and, secondly, to the prospect of an undesirable cross-Border traffic of those seeking easier abortions. On the question of having different laws, I make two points. I direct my noble friend Lord Lovell-Davis, at least, to the remarks that I am about to make. In the Government's view, this is what legislative devolution is all about. It would surely be a nonsense to exclude from devolution a field of law just because it raises a number of difficult issues.

It would, in my view, be insulting to suggest that the elected representatives of Scotland would not be responsible enough to deal with these issues and that they would fail to give proper weight to the feelings of the people of Scotland—which on this matter might, as I think the Committee should accept, be different from those of the people of England. Indeed, consultations last year on the William Benyon Abortion Amendment Bill revealed a perceptible difference of attitude in Scotland to abortion law reform. I give that as an example. Scottish opinion was less in favour than English opinion of making abortion more readily available where the grounds are predominantly social. It could be argued that, in the light of those views, any future Great Britain Act should contain within it special provisions relating to Scotland to meet special needs and views which have been expressed clearly. That is exactly why the Government propose a Scottish Assembly with legislative powers.


No doctor is compelled to perform an abortion or take any part in it if he has moral objections to doing so. There are big differences in England between one town and another. Those differences are quite conspicuous. But that does not affect the fact that we should have the same law—not necessarily the same judgment by individuals—for all parts of the country.


I take that point. I acknowledge that there are differences between the cities in Scotland. These differences are known and remarked upon. However, I intended to speak on a somewhat different nuance of law. As many noble Lords will know, outside the framework of the Abortion Act 1967 the legal position in Scotland is governed by Scots common law. Criminal provisions related to the subject in Scotland form a part of the criminal law, which is a devolved subject.

If I could turn now to the question of cross-Border traffic, which was specifically mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, and my noble friend Lord Lovell-Davies, the fears that have been expressed are without considerable foundation. There is cross-Border traffic even now, because, in practical terms, the ability to obtain an abortion within the National Health Service—the noble Lord, Lord Platt touched on the point—rests to a great extent on the judgment and attitudes of individual clinicians. One thousand women from Scotland seek abortions in the private sector in England annually because of difficulty in obtaining an abortion under the National Health Service in certain parts of Scotland.

If, after devolution, the criteria for abortion changed to the extent of encouraging cross-Border traffic, this would, of course, be confined to the private sector. There is no question, now or after devolution, of National Health Service patients themselves determining, without reference to the usual medical channels, where they will be treated. It will not, therefore, be possible to cross the Border at will to take advantage of a National Health Service specialist hospital service.

If abortion were reserved, new Westminster legislation on abortion might contain far-reaching provisions governing the private sector. However, it might be quite unnecessary to implement these provisions in Scotland because the private sector in abortion is negligible and has not led to abuse so far as can be judged. Therefore, in the Government's view it is better to leave these matters to the Scottish Assembly, which will be in the best position to judge the needs of Scotland, rather than ourselves determining those issues here at Westminster level.

Quite apart from these considerations, I should like briefly to touch on the fact that there are a number of practical effects of any decision to reserve abortion. To these I should draw your Lordships' attention. To reserve abortion would mean that the subject would remain within the Secretary of State's purview and that he would retain the powers in the Abortion Act 1967 as well as any new powers that Westminster legislation might at some time confer upon him. He would, therefore, be left with this one very small area of responsibility within the wide field of health. Of course, I made a similar point when we were talking about family planning.

The Government's view is that if abortion stands reserved, it would lead to a significant fragmentation of the present abortion service because abortions are normally carried out in National Health Service hospitals, in gynaecological wards and as part of a wider health provision. The Government lay great stress on the maintenance of that integrated health provision which has certainly been much in evidence since the implementation of the 1972 Act.

I do not think that I should say more. I have explained the Government's view, as clearly as I can. The Government will not be in a position to accept the Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy. I understand from a previous remark which he made in the earlier debate on family planning that his view on this particular Amendment is of most serious weight. I therefore await his further action.


Having listened to the debate and been very interested because it happens to be one of the subjects in which I am ordinarily interested, is it not up to a devolved Scottish Assembly to bring into its legislation the more liberal attitudes of the English Parliament ? Does it not come down to that ? I was very sympathetic with what my noble friend Lord Lovell-Davis said but, having thought again, I realise that it is not just a question of people coming across the Border—it rests on the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, has given the impression that the Scots are not so advanced and not so liberal as we are about family planning.


As I have just been referred to I should like to intervene. I think that I saw the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, come into the Chamber some minutes ago, but it sounds as if she has not understood anything I have been saying. I referred to family planning as regards the last Amendment. I have not said a word about family planning in relation to this Amendment. What I was saying was the exact opposite of what she has just said. I said that at present the law on abortion is the same in Scotland as it is in England and Wales and that that was a situation which the medical professions wished to preserve. I was not saying that one side of the Border was more liberal, or whatever the noble Baroness would say, than the other. In fact, I have done everything possible to avoid discussing the actual merits or demerits of the subject.


The noble Lord has not said it, but he has implied it. There is no doubt that that is what he implied.


I am sorry to take up another 30 seconds, but if that implication has been understood by the noble Baroness I must immediately say that no such implication was intended.

10.5 p.m.


I think that what the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill, said has really reinforced many of our doubts and anxieties about the Bill. He has really said that there are different views in England and different views in Scotland, and the Scottish Assembly has the right to interpret those views and make such laws as it thinks fit. That may be a justifiable argument on matters such as roads or education, but on matters like abortion we shall get into a state of Box and Cox if different laws apply in England from those that apply in Scotland on what is, by all reasoning, a very sensitive issue.

The noble Lord said that legislative devolution is about legislative differences between the two countries. With the greatest of respect, that is no argument at all on a subject such as this. From what he said, I should have thought that the only inference which can be bound to be drawn is that in time—and not necessarily immediately—we shall get different laws in Scotland appertaining to abortion from those in England. It cannot be said that that could be in any way desirable. Therefore, we are bound to get a cross-flow of traffic. If the noble Lord will not reconsider this and is adamant that this is the Government's view and that it is right that we should have these differences of view between the two countries, I would certainly support my noble friend.


As he always does, the noble Earl has made a substantial point, but I think I should remind him that I said at least two things which are germane to the point he has just made. I said, as he would know, that there are already differences between the laws of Scotland and England, and that there is already a difference as that applies to abortion. I made those two points and I think that it is pertinent to emphasise them now.


I always believe that in matters of human rights it is probably best to remove human rights as far from a local situation as possible, which is one of the reasons why we subscribe to the European Convention on Human Rights. However, in most cases of human rights there is a consensus as to what the rights are. Abortion is a highly complex subject, and because it is a highly complex subject it is a very proper matter for a devolved Assembly to decide. It is not a subject where we can all get up and swear that all civilised opinion is on our side, whichever view we take. There are very different views on it.

I think that the Government are being a little disingenuous. I think that they are playing down the anomalies that will arise. I believe that there will be more anomalies than they say there will be. However, that is one of the prices that we have to pay and it is something which an Assembly should decide for itself.


I believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, implied that in Scotland we were more retarded in cur views on abortion than is the case in England. The noble Baroness must have heard the abortion debates in this House, but perhaps I could remind her that what really sparked off the Abortion Bill of Mr. Steel was the work done by Professor Baird in Aberdeen. Professor Baird, who was Professor of Gynaecology, was very upset—as were others in the profession—by the number of kitchen-table abortions that were taking place. Therefore, against the law and committing, as the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot of Harwood, would describe, a criminal act, he went ahead with the abortions and challenged the law on the point.

As the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill, has said the common law of Scotland is in many ways substantially different from that of England. In Scotland—I say this with diffidence in the presence of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilson of Langside, and the Solicitor-General—all prosecutions of a criminal nature are instigated by the Crown and can only be put into effect if the Crown decides to prosecute. As I said, I am no expert in the law and stand to be corrected by the two experts here, but I believe that the law of Scotland is to the effect that the procurator fiscal, or the Lord Advocate's office, do not prosecute unless it is in the public interest that a prosecution should take place, so that our basic approach to the breaking of the abortion laws is substantially different from that in England.

It is true that in Scotland we have had considerable differences. While one might say that Aberdeen, in the North-East of Scotland, has gone pro-abortion, the experts in Glasgow are very anti-abortion. I think it would not be a bad idea that this battle of the medical experts should be fought out in Scotland and not decided by Westminster. There is every possibility that the abortion law might be changed. There is a strong campaign for that. If it was to result in a change in Westminster which was against the wishes of Scotland, there would be considerable trouble. Therefore, I must say, however reluctantly, that I strongly support the Government in this matter.


The effect of the law North and South of the Border at present is the same, and the medical profession are satisfied with the uniformity that it provides. What the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill, said in reply to this Amendment was not reassuring, because he indicated that a recent poll had shown some slight difference in views towards this subject, and that for that reason the Assembly ought to be enabled to change the law, if necessary.

I was hoping to get an assurance of the other kind; that is, that if it was devolved there would still be some check, with the Secretary of State perhaps using his override powers, or some other way, to try to make sure that the law was none the less kept basically the same. The noble Lord, Lord Platt, who took part in the debate—himself a very eminent member of the medical profession—pointed out that under the present laws no doctor need carry out an abortion

against his conscience. But even that might be altered North or South of the Border if the abortion laws were put into a situation where they could be changed in Scotland, or changed in England and Wales, and then become different.

The noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill, talking about the private facilities for abortion, said that these were smaller in Scotland at the moment. The whole point is that if the laws were to change, these situations would change, and I do not regard a situation that exists at the moment as necessarily a reason for excusing the Government's case.


Perhaps the noble Lord misunderstood the point I made or perhaps I put it badly, so I will re-phrase it yet again. The recourse to private sector abortion in Scotland is minimal. That is the point I was making.


The noble Lord has put it in different words. I am saying that, whatever the present situation is, it does not mean that it will not be quite different in five or 10 years if there were a change of law, meaning then a demand North of the Border. That situation could change quickly and several noble Lords have referred to the influx of people to an area when the abortion laws have been relaxed in that area, so we know from experience that it can happen. I do not want to get on to the subject-matter, and we have debated the question of the uniformity of the law which is the point we are making in the Amendment. I ask noble Lords in all parts of the Committee to agree with me to press the Amendment.

10.16 p.m.

On Question Whether the said Amendment (No. 172) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents 51; Not-Contents 47.

Mansfield, E. Northchurch, B. Stamp, L.
Minto, E. Platt, L. Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.
Monk Bretton, L. Polwarth, L. Swinfen, L.
Monson, L. Robbins, L. Teviot, L.
Morris, L. Rochdale, V. Trenchard, V.
Mottistone, L. Sandford, L. Vaizey, L.
Mowbray and Stourton, L. [Teller.] Sandys, L. Vickers, B.
Skelmersdale, L. Ward of North Tyneside, B.
Wilson of Langside, L.
Ardwick, L. Hughes, L. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
Balerno, L. Jacobson, L. Ritchie-Calder, L.
Beaumont of Whitley, L. Janner, L. Sainsbury, L.
Birk, B. Kagan, L. Segal, L.
Boston of Faversham, L. Kirkhill, L. Shepherd, L.
Brown, L. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B. [Teller.] Snow, L.
Byers, L. Stedman, B.
Champion, L. Lloyd of Kilgerran, L. Stone, L.
Collison, L. McCluskey, L. Strabolgi, L. [Teller.]
Cudlipp, L. McGregor of Durris, L. Tanlaw, L.
Davies of Leek, L. Morris of Kenwood, L. Torphichen, L.
Fisher of Camden, L. Noel-Baker, L. Vernon, L.
Gaitskell, B. Northfield, L. Wallace of Coslany, L.
Glenamara, L. Oram, L. Wells-Pestell, L.
Greenwood of Rossendale, L. Peart, L. (L. Privy Seal.) Winterbottom, L.
Harris of Greenwich, L. Perth, E. Wynne-Jones, L.

Resolved in the affirmative and Amendment agreed to accordingly.

10.24 p.m.

[Amendment No. 255 not moved.]

The Duke of ATHOLL moved Amendment No. 302: Page 48, line 8, after (" Education ") insert (" except for the Scottish Colleges of Agriculture").

The noble Duke said: We now turn to the somewhat calmer waters of Scottish agricultural colleges. This is a very big jump from the previous subject we were discussing, but that is the way the Bill is arranged, and I am afraid that we just have to face it. Perhaps I should explain that agricultural education in Scotland is provided at three levels. First, there are the universities which are not to be devolved to the Scottish Executive, and which will remain a United Kingdom function administered by the University Grants Committee.

Secondly, there are diploma courses provided by the East, North and West Colleges of Agriculture and these are the subject of this Amendment. Thirdly, agricultural education provided by the regional authorities at the City and Guilds or certificate level. This form of agricultural education is at present mainly funded and administered by the Scottish Education Department, the functions of which will be transferred virtually in tototo the Scottish Assembly. As the Bill stands at the moment two of the possible forms of agricultural education will be devolved and one will not.

There are three Scottish Colleges of Agriculture. They are in Aberdeen, Auchincruive (Ayrshire), and Edinburgh, and they are responsible for formal further education courses mainly at the diploma level, advisory work among farmers and growers, including EEC applications, and a research and development programme to provide the needs of agriculture and horticulture. All these activities are financed by direct grants from the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland, and the research and development programme is approved under the Rothschild principle of customers and contractor arrangements. The colleges are directed by independent boards of governors comprising representatives of many sectors of the farming industry, the universities, regional councils and the Department of Agriculture for Scotland. Their work is co-ordinated by the Council of the Scottish Agricultural Colleges which formulate common policies to ensure the most effective use of resources. I think there is a universal feeling that the colleges do an excellent job of work and that there will be great disappointment among the farming community in Scotland if their functions are in any way altered.

A comprehensive range of disciplines has to be covered by the staff at the colleges—soil, biological and chemical scientists, veterinary surgeons, architects, engineers, husbandry specialists, general agricultural and horticultural advisers and economists. The system operates by applying the right combination of expertise to work over the whole spectrum of the colleges' responsibilities in the most economical way. The present facilities and resources, including the full range of professionally qualified staff, have been built up since the beginning of the present century around the education work for which the collegeswere initiallyestablished. This work stimulates, and is itself stimulated by, the research and development functions and the specialist and general advisory work.

The point I am trying to make is that the colleges are concerned not only with agriculture but also with general advice to the farming community. Each college has special and intimate links with a university and contributes to the university undergraduate and post-graduate work, while from each university the whole range of its staff expertise can be tapped to serve the needs of agriculture and horticulture. This system, known throughout the world as the Scottish system, is unique within the United Kingdom, although it is akin to the arrangements found in North America where advisory services are also provided from the teaching centres of the agricultural colleges and universities.

This system has stood the test of time and is eminently suited to the structure, needs and geographical scatter of the agricultural industry in Scotland. As indicated above, the responsibility for funding the advisory service and the research and development programme lies with the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland. In view of the close integration of formal education with these activities, the DAFS is also responsible for financing the diploma level courses. The colleges take the realistic view that agricultural education cannot be split from the main stream of education and that this function of the colleges will de jurebe devolved to the Scottish Assembly, whereas the functions of agricultural extension and research and development will remain the funding responsibility of the Secretary of State.

On the assumption, therefore, that this dichotomy will prevail following the enactment of the Scotland Bill the colleges are anxious to explore possible ways of ensuring that the totality and integration of their manifold activities will not be jeopardised and that a mechanism can be devised which will cause the minimum of administrative disruption. The colleges of course appreciate that most of the problems inherent in the situation can be negotiated and, hopefully, satisfactorily resolved only between the Executive of the Scottish Assembly and the colleges, but they would appreciate a statement from the Government on how they see their functions and financing after devolution. They and the agricultural community in Scotland hope they will not suffer from a tug-o'-war between the Assembly, with its educational functions, and the Secretary of State, to whom agriculture will to a large extent be left, and also research and development.

I am somewhat disappointed that this debate has come on so late in the evening, because I had very much hoped, in order to allay the fears of much of the farming community in Scotland, that the Government statement might be reported in the agricultural Press. There is fear in Scotland among farmers that the work of the colleges may be affected. What they have done and what they do is greatly appreciated, and I think anyone who has had experience of them would agree that it would be a great pity if their functions, powers or finances were jeopardised by this Bill. I beg to move.


I wonder if I could ask the noble Duke a question on a point of information. I thought I heard him say that he would make no distinction between education and the work carried on by an agricultural college. If he did say that, perhaps he would confirm it, because I make a very great distinction. Agriculture is a technical subject, and a technical skill is not to be confused with what I would refer to as conventional education. If the noble Duke is trying to create a link between agricultural colleges and what is the normal, conventional type of education, I would strongly disagree with him; but perhaps he could confirm that.

The Duke of ATHOLL

I am very pleased that the noble Lord would dis- agree. All I hope I said was that the trustees of the colleges take the realistic view that agricultural education cannot be split from the main stream of education. Therefore, in moving this Amendment I wanted to make it clear that I had no intention of pushing it to a Division. All I want is a statement from the Government on how they view the future functions and financing of the Scottish agricultural colleges.


I should like very briefly to support this. I have had quite a lot of help from the Edinburgh College, and I know the other two colleges quite well. There are also subsidiary colleges: one is in St. Boswells and one is in Ayr, which are part of the West of Scotland and the East of Scotland Colleges of Agriculture. One of the things they are charged with at the moment is vetting the schemes put forward by farmers who are joining what is called the farm horticultural development service of the EEC. The EEC, as I think many people know, are providing grants on quite a generous scale for those farmers who are included in the FHD service. That is one of the jobs that the agricultural colleges are taking on.

I say this because it shows that there is an international aspect of this which I think is very important indeed, and I think it would be a very great pity if there were any restrictions put on the influence, the work and the skills of these colleges, not only for the people who are pupils but for those of us who are no longer, alas!, pupils but are ancient farmers who, however, get great help and assistance from these colleges. I hope that the Government will be able to give us an assurance that under this devolution scheme these colleges will be as well off as they are today; indeed, I should like to see them better off. My general feeling is that I do not think it is a good idea to divide education.

I am very keen that the universities which are not going to be devolved should not be devolved, and I think there is everything to be said for the colleges of agriculture not being devolved, either; but, as the noble Duke said, that is not something he is going to press. I should like to know what the Government feel about this, because these colleges give an extremely important and very good service to agriculture.

10.35 p.m.


I want to support strongly the Amendment of my noble friend. For the benefit of those English Lords who are in the Committee today, I would draw attention to the fact that agriculture is a reserved subject. I think I would be right in presuming that, when the Bill goes through, the present Scottish Department of Agriculture will continue more or less as it is, under the Secretary of State for Scotland. It is not a devolved subject. Therefore, things pertaining to agriculture should not be devolved. It is a very good thing that agriculture is not devolved, because so much of the higher policy of agriculture must be the same for England, Scotland and Wales. To make it different when we are dealing with the Common Market problems—and they are very acute in agriculture—would be quite absurd. It is right that agriculture should not be devolved but should be reserved.

Why should we have a division in agricultural education? This seems to me to be completely and absolutely absurd. Again, for the benefit of noble Lords who are not acquainted with the set-up in Scotland, we rather think that the agricultural education, in so far as it has had a great deal of freedom from State interference, is rather better than the set-up existing in England; although I would admit that in the last 20 years the English standards have improved.

But the colleges of agriculture and the university departments of agriculture are invariably under the same roof or the same groupings of roofs. The professor of agriculture, who is the traditional head of the Department —and we used to have only one professor of agriculture at each of the three universities which dealt in agriculture—was normally also the principal of the college of agriculture. In my day—and, I think, still—for economy of staff a certain number of the classes taught are attended by graduate students and students working for their diplomas in agriculture; that is, students from the colleges. To attempt to separate them, as the Bill does, is going to load to a very considerable administrative muddle. The colleges and the university departments of agriculture are working so closely with each other that, if we were to try to pull them apart (as this Bill is bound to do in the end, putting the one under the Secretary of State, virtually, and the other under the Chief Secretary of the Assembly), there is bound to be friction. It will be quite unavoidable. Therefore, I most strongly support my noble friend and hope your Lordships will forgive me for not voting with the Government this time.


Farming in both Scotland and in England, I should like to agree with all that has been said just now about the colleges. They are extremely fine bodies and most useful, and I think it quite wrong that they should have their administration altered when an alteration may, in any way, jeopardise their efficiency. When you have an efficient body running well, I cannot understand why, for political reasons—and only political reasons, so far as I can see—you should want to change it. I am very disappointed that my noble friend the Duke of Atholl said he only wants a statement. I was hoping he would press this Amendment.


The noble Lord, Lord Balerno, says that agriculture is to be reserved, so why have a division between agriculture and agricultural colleges? But education is to be devolved and an agricultural college is concerned with education; so there is to be a division—


But surely education in agriculture is devolved —up to university.


If I get to my second sentence, I shall be saying that. There has to be a division somewhere and I would urge upon the Committee the view which the noble Duke has put forward; that is, that agricultural colleges cannot be split from the mainstream of the educational system. The noble Duke has explained—and I hope I shall be forgiven for reiterating very briefly—that the three Scottish agricultural colleges have three broad functional areas. First, they provide facilities for research and development work in agriculture. Secondly, they provide advisory services on agriculture; and, thirdly, they provide higher education in agriculture up to diploma level. From what has been said already, your Lordships will appreciate that economic and research aspects of agriculture are not to be devolved, because agriculture is itself reserved, as the noble Lord, Lord Balerno, has said; and because the colleges' development and advisory functions are directly related to those aspects, the Government take the view that these functions should not be devolved.

The Bill achieves that, as the noble Lord, Lord Balerno, has recognised, by silence: silence means that they are reserved. As the noble Duke has recognised and made plain, his Amendment would affect only the education functions of the colleges and the effect of the Amendment would be to reserve responsibility for these functions. But responsibility is devolved to the Assembly for all education matters, as the noble Baroness said, up to but not including university level. That is under Group 3 of Part 1 of Schedule 10. The Government see no reason why agricultural education should not also be devolved up to that level. That would enable the Scottish Administration to provide for a coherent system of agricultural education from the technical level right through to higher diploma level. I gather from what the noble Baroness said that she was regarding the agricultural colleges as akin to universities; but it may be that there is a closer analogy with other colleges—for example, those of further education—which are to be wholly devolved. Again, as I think the noble Duke recognised, some agricultural education is at present provided by local authorities and the Amendment would not prevent responsibility for this from being devolved. In these circumstances, it would surely be anomalous for the education functions of the colleges to be reserved.

In the Government's view, it is quite inconceivable that the Scottish Administration will not recognise, as have noble Lords already, the merits of the present system. There is nothing to suggest that the present arrangements will not continue after devolution. There is certainly nothing in the provisions of the Scotland Bill to prevent or inhibit this in any way.

The noble Duke hoped to hear something from the Government about financing, and it is right that I should respond to that. It may be thought by some that the fact that the funds for the colleges will come from both the central Government and the devolved Administration is no bar to the continuation of the present integrated arrangements. The North and East Scottish colleges of agriculture are closely associated with the Agriculture Departments of the Universities of Aberdeen and Edinburgh respectively. At the present time, the colleges and universities receive funds from different sources—the Research Councils, the University Grants Committee and the Secretary of State for Scotland. It has been found perfectly possible to accommodate funding from three sources within the present administrative and financial arrangements of the colleges. After devolution, there will be four sources; the Secretary of State will continue to contribute funds for the development and advisory functions as he does at present and the Scottish Secretary will fund agricultural education.

I am sure the noble Duke is not suggesting that this one additional source of finance will present any sudden or insuperable problems, and it certainly does not justify reserving agricultural education in the colleges and separating it from the mainstream of the educational system, to which he has referred. It may be that, after devolution, certain adjustments to the colleges' articles of association will have to be considered, so that, for instance, the appointment of the boards of governors can reflect the respective responsibilities of the Scottish Executive and the Government, but I do not envisage that this will create any problems.

For these reasons, the Government believe it to be right that the educational functions of the agricultural colleges should be devolved. The splitting of responsibility for the colleges between different Administrations does not mean that the present integrated arrangements should not continue after devolution. Indeed, as I have suggested, there will be strong pressures that they should continue. The Scotland Bill does nothing to prevent this. The fact that funds will come from one additional source should not, as I have indicated, in practice prove any great difficulty. In the light of this explanation of the Government's thinking, I hope that the noble Duke will feel satisfied that that is the statement that he wanted and will withdraw his Amendment.

10.46 p.m.


I am sure that what the noble and learned Lord has said will go some way to comfort those who have agricultural interests, and I declare such an interest myself. So far as the educational side of the colleges of agriculture is concerned, I think that everybody will be satisfied that they will continue in their present role, which is a supremely important one in Scottish agriculture, because the very high level of expertise which we enjoy in Scotland is, in large part, due to the colleges of agriculture and to what they have achieved over a considerable number of years.

Where the disquiet arises is in regard to the other roles which the colleges assume; that is, the advisory work among farmers and the farming community, and the research and development programme. All those who have any interest in agriculture will know of the superb service which is provided by the colleges of agriculture, particularly so far as advisory work is concerned, and this embraces a very wide spectrum, from matters of what I might call a purely scientific nature, right up to questions which are pure economics. All these and mixed questions can be taken on board by the colleges of agriculture—and are, indeed, taken on board—and comprehensive and well worked-out answers are provided to some extremely difficult and far-reaching questions.

The company with which I am concerned, which has, for social and agricultural purposes, deliberately bought a property in the West of Scotland in a difficult agricultural area, has to my certain knowledge received a great deal of excellent advice from the West of Scotland College of Agriculture. What some noble Lords, and I myself, are concerned about is that there should be no upheaval if this Bill becomes an Act. If parts of the financing of the work of the colleges are removed, so to speak, and put under the umbrella of the Scottish Executive, which must happen, one hopes very much that channels will be worked out, so that not only is there no upheaval but there may even be some improvements.

So, to that extent, while I am sure that my noble kinsman is right not to press this Amendment—it is not the kind of Amendment which one presses in this House—I had hoped that the noble and learned Lord might have gone a little further in his statement about what I might call this economic transitional period between the end of the responsibility of the Government at Westminster, and the taking on of the responsibility by the Scottish Executive and, no doubt, the Scottish Assembly.

The Duke of ATHOLL

I feel guilty that I did not declare an interest at the start of my speech, in that not only do I farm in Scotland, but I also make use of the quite excellent services provided by the East of Scotland College of Agriculture. They have very successfully done the whole of my application for an EEC farm and horticultural scheme grant, for which I should like to thank them very much.

This debate must be unique for one reason: that my noble friend Lord Burton praised a Government-financed organisation, which I can never remember happening before! It shows how good the Scottish Colleges of Agriculture are and how important it is that they should continue to operate satisfactorily during the time that devolution takes place, if it does, and afterwards. The noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, felt that agricultural colleges were not really educative in the normal sense of the word.


May I correct a point? I may have misled the noble Duke into mixing up mainstreameducation with what I would call higher education. In my remarks I was, of course, referring to higher education.

The Duke of ATHOLL

May I thank the noble Lord for the useful distinction which he has drawn, although I am not sure that I entirely agree with him. A great deal of the work of the agricultural colleges is educative and is much to be commended. The universities will not be devolved. Since colleges of agriculture are very closely allied to universities, it seems to be a pity that they should be devolved.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord McCluskey, has explained that in future the colleges of agriculture will have four sources of funds. Their present three sources of funds cause difficulties at times. Therefore, I feel that there may be a temptation for the Scottish Assembly, which is not going to have unlimited funds because it will receive a block grant from Westminster, to decide that one of the areas in which economies could be made would be its share of the costs of the Scottish Colleges of Agriculture. I had very much hoped that we should hear something from the noble and learned Lord about how the split between their educational facilities and their advisory and research and development facilities is to be made. Unlike my noble kinsman, I am not at all worried about the two latter facilities, because I see little reason why Westminster should alter its attitude towards the Scottish Colleges of Agriculture. So far as I know, although they have not had unlimited money, they have had quite sufficient to enable them satisfactorily to pursue their programmes and to continue with their advisory and research and development services.

I wish that the noble and learned Lord would say a little more about how the Government visualise the splitting of the functions. It seems to me that this will raise difficulties. Since there is probably nothing further that the noble and learned Lord can say at the moment, I am wondering whether he might agree that I should put down the same Amendment at Report stage—not because I wish to divide the House, but in order to allow him to make a further statement on the subject and also to say why he is so confident that the Scottish Assembly will continue to give sufficient funds to agricultural colleges to enable them to continue their educational work in the way they do at the moment.


I shall write to the noble Duke.

The Duke of ATHOLL

I thank the noble and learned Lord for that statement and beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord POLWARTH moved Amendment No. 325: Page 48, line 8, leave out ("the arts").

The noble Lord said: This is an extremely late hour to start to discuss a completely different subject—one which I believe is of crucial importance with regard to the future of the arts in Scotland. Nevertheless, a number of noble Lords with considerable experience in this field have come long distances or have put off other important engagements in order to be here to speak to it. I assume, therefore, that noble Lords will wish to debate this Amendment, even though it may result in some further delay in the hour of our rising.

I am encouraged to speak by the support given to my Amendment by my noble friend Lord Gibson, who is a very distinguished former Chairman of the Arts Council of Great Britain. Whatever other differences there may be on the subject-matter of this Amendment, namely, to delete the arts from the devolved subjects in Schedule 10, on one thing I think there will be general agreement, namely, the high standard of excellence in the arts in general in Scotland at present. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill, is no longer on the Front Bench opposite as he has done a great deal, both officially and personally, to support and encourage the arts in Scotland.

This state of affairs owes a great deal to the positive and enlightened policy of the Arts Council of Great Britain and of the Scottish Arts Council, both in encouragement and in financial support. I should point out to your Lordships that the Scottish Arts Council, while being a committee of the Arts Council of Great Britain, with its members appointed by that Arts Council, of course after close consultation with Scottish Office Ministers, has almost complete autonomy as to how it allots its available funds to the different arts institutions in Scotland. What is more, the Chairman of the Scottish Arts Council is invariably a member of the main Arts Council of Great Britain, and I am delighted that the present incumbent of that office, the Chairman of the Scottish Arts Council, my noble kinsman Lord Balfour of Burleigh, is able to be with us here tonight.

These arrangements ensure a very close working relationship between the countries in the field of the arts. I believe it is also a mutually advantageous arrangement. Scotland certainly benefits in many ways, not least in the fact that over the last two or three years we have received something like 12 per cent. of the total funds available to the Arts Council of Great Britain, which is certainly more than our Goschen formula share. I venture to believe that the Arts Council of Great Britain benefits from the Scottish input to it.

I believe that the criterion for the devolved subjects in the Schedule is broadly those which affect people, and only those people, resident in Scotland, with certain exceptions where there are needs of common policy. I accept that there is a certain field of the arts that is purely local, and that is as it should be, and is healthy. Nevertheless, I suggest that in contrast to these activities, when it comes to the major artistic organisations—and I think particularly of the major musical and dramatic institutions, where I must declare an interest as Chairman of the Scottish National Orchestra while equally saying that anything I say tonight is an expression of personal opinion more than anything else—I do not think they should be classified as being of purely local concern. Art knows no bounds, whether of frontier, of nationality or of race.

Indeed, it builds bridges across those frontiers and all of our major musical and dramatic companies fall into that category: the Scottish National Orchestra, Scottish opera, Scottish ballet, the Scottish Chamber Group—all these give concerts in England and make tours abroad (I was this morning giving a Press conference about a tour we are to make to Eastern Europe this autumn) and they draw players, soloists and conductors from all over the world. They are of national and indeed of international calibre and I would venture, if I may say so in the presence of my noble friend Lord Robbins, that in many respects the field of the major arts in Scotland closely resembles the field of the universities which, with I think very good reason, have been excluded from the devolved subjects in the Schedule. Apart from transcending these boundaries, these bodies need a common standard, a coherent pattern over the United Kingdom, and their influence is not related solely to those who live and work in Scotland. When we go abroad with these bodies we are as much ambassadors for British as we are for Scottish culture, if not more so.

What I am particularly concerned about is this—and this is where we seek enlightenment tonight: What will happen if the arts remain in the devolved category? Presumably they become the responsibility, financially and otherwise, of the Assembly. What, then, will be the role of the Scottish Arts Council? Presumably, as a committee of the Arts Council of Great Britain and under its sponsorship, and ultimately under the Department of Education and Science, it will simply cease to exist, because its function will have been transferred elsewhere. Then I suppose it will be for the Assembly to decide how it wants to deal with the arts and support for them. It could, although it need not, set up a new independent Scottish Arts Council, which might or night not in due course seek a Royal Charter, such as the Arts Council of Great Britain has at present. Presumably, the First Secretary would have power to appoint the members of such a body, and of course the Assembly would have to provide the funds out of its block grant. That is something that could happen; but of course it would be open, I assume, to the Assembly to make any arrangements it liked.

I believe it is absolutely vital that there should be some independent body as a buffer between the State and the arts, as there is at present for the whole country, a body with freedom to allocate the available resources completely independently. I believe the members of such a body should be as independently appointed as possible, on the basis of the broadest general experience in the arts field and not just as representatives of particular interests or bodies. In this respect it interests me to see in one of the Schedules that in the case of two other bodies of, I would submit, comparable importance and general activity, there is provision that while their functions are devolved one function is not; namely, the power to recommend appointment, in the case of the National Library of Scotland, of the trustees, and, in the case of one of the Mental Health Acts, of commissioners under that Act. Power to recommend appointments to Her Majesty under those two Acts is reserved and is not devolved, and I submit there could be a very good case for doing similarly with appointments to any body handling the arts in Scotland.

There is then the question of the amount of resources to be made available. What guarantee is there that an Assembly would feel inclined to maintain the present, I think, very generous level of support coming from the Arts Council? I am not for a moment suggesting that the majority of Members of an Assembly would be philistines; I sincerely hope not. But my experience of the support for the national arts organisations by local authorities in Scotland in recent years is hardly encouraging. Up until six years ago the Scottish National Orchestra used to receive about one-third of its income from the local authorities in Scotland, the other two-thirds coming from the Arts Council and from our own takings at the box office and otherwise. Over that six years the local authority proportion has fallen, in this coming year, to around 17 per cent., leaving the other two partners to meet the rest. This they have done to date, but the matter is reaching somewhere near a crisis point.

I feel that this attitude on the part of local authorities does not augur well for the possible attitude of an Assembly faced with a whole lot of demands to meet, demands which I think will be quite insatiable, from the block funds available to it. I have doubts as to the priority an Assembly will place on the arts in this situation. As a result, all the major bodies in the arts in Scotland are walking a tightrope financially, and one step wrong could bring any one of them down. Any sudden change in the method of support could indeed trigger this off, even a delay of a few months in deciding where the support is to come from after the present Arts Council support has ceased.

All in all, I believe it will be in the interest of the major arts in Scotland, at any rate, that they should continue under the aegis of the present Arts Council set-up. It would not inhibit the local authorities from doing their share, as, hopefully, they will increasingly do, but it would give an assurance of standards of independence, and, above all, of continuity and a reasonably assured source of finance. It would insure against yet more uncertainty and cause for anxiety about their future for those many very dedicated performers in these bodies, for whom today life is uncertain enough in any case.

That is why we put down this Amendment. I realise that it is not necessarily perfect. It may be too all-embracing to achieve the purpose that we seek. However, we very much look forward to hearing the Government's thinking on how the arts will fare and be dealt with under an Assembly. If necessary, we may feel inclined to come back with another Amendment if this one is not suitable. I beg to move.

11.6 p.m.


I put my name to this Amendment because I sincerely believe that the changes proposed in the administration of the arts—the public subsidising of the arts on a United Kingdom basis—would seriously damage the arts, especially in Scotland.

Let me say straight away that if I had not been Chairman of the Arts Council of Great Britain for five years I think that I should have taken a different view. I am sure that I should have said to myself: "If we are to have devolution, whatever its merits, the case for devolution must rest on national identity. National identity is based largely on culture. If ever there was a subject to be devolved it would be the cultural life of the nation ". However, practical experience over five years has convinced me that in working practice it would be a mistake. Let me quickly say that I am no longer Chairman of the Arts Council. Therefore I speak in a purely private capacity.

I am convinced by experience that the Scots already have devolution of the arts. They have more. They have the best of both worlds. They have not near, but complete, autonomy in the spending of their slice of the United Kingdom arts cake. They also have full and active participation in the development of the United Kingdom arts policy. They make a fine contribution. They have three seats on the Arts Council of Great Britain. They are immensely valuable members of that body.

It is true one could argue that if we have separate arts councils in Scotland, Wales and England—what I said about Scotland applies equally to Wales—we could have a formal association between the three bodies. United Kingdom arts matters could be discussed there. But what a bore that would be. It would involve another tier of administration, when the present set-up, which is simpler, works so well.

The fact is that it is not possible to distinguish in advance between those matters that have purely Scottish, purely Welsh and purely English relevance, and those matters that have a United Kingdom relevance. Many is the time that I have sat at the Arts Council when the noble Lord, Lord Balfour, has put up his hand and said "Stop. What you say has a relevance for Scotland. This is Scotland's point of view about this". We had not thought of it before. We developed a policy which took their interests into account.

The same has happened constantly with the Welsh Arts Council. Both bodies are committees, as the noble Lord, Lord Polwarth, said, under the constitution of the Arts Council of Great Britain. In practice, they work independently but are a part of our deliberations in London. The present system works to the advantage of us all. It recognises that when these matters are indivisible we need to be together.

So the only reason for making a change is to give the Scottish Assembly a role and to make it responsible for funding the arts in Scotland. Will its funding of the arts in Scotland improve matters for the arts in Scotland? Let us suppose that we take aside not only the noble Lord, Lord Polwarth, who has already given his opinion, but almost any of the people in charge of arts organisations in Scotland and ask them whether they think that they will get more or less money from an Assembly than they get from Westminster, through the Arts Council of Great Britain and whether they think that they will get more or less political interference. I suspect that most of them, if not all of them, will say that they feel safer on both counts with Westminster, where the Arts Council of Great Britain has been for nearly 30 years a buffer between Government and politicians and the arts, and the convention and habit has grown up of the arts being protected from continual interference, but with accountability to Parliament.

Nowhere in the world where the arts receive public funds on the scale which they do here are they administered with so little political interference coupled with accountability. This system is admired and envied by artists throughout the world.

As regards pure finance, the Scottish Arts Council, like the Arts Council of Great Britain, benefits from the fact that the United Kingdom arts budget is a minute proportion of the United Kingdom total expenditure and yet it is accorded great importance and has a Minister to plead its cause. Ministers of both Governments have been by no means unsuccessful. Both Conservative and Labour Governments, although neither has done as much as many of us who are involved in the arts would like to have been done, have recognised at least that the small amounts which can be saved by cutting the arts do damage out of all proportion to their size.

The same is not true—as the noble Lord, Lord Polwarth, was saying as regards Scotland—of the local authorities up and down the country. Compared with the national Governments, the local authorities have inevitably done badly. I think that that is understandable and I do not altogether blame them. A grant to the arts from a hard-pressed local authority all too easily is seen as meaning a cut in something else—some other cherished project. I think that it is very likely that the Assembly will, in this respect—and in this respect only—resemble a local authority more than the national Government.

A Scottish Arts Council receiving a grant from an Assembly trying to allocate its expenditure is much more likely to resemble a local authority assisted arts organisation than a national Government assisted one, not necessarily because of any deficiency in the Scottish Assembly, but because of its financial limitations. Therefore, for those reasons, while recognising the desire to devolve a cultural responsibility, I believe that if the arts are devolved, damage will be done. Moreover, it is foolish to break up a system which gives the arts in Scotland the best of both worlds and which devolution of the arts would fail to maintain.


I am tempted to make a brief interposition in this debate in view of my admiration for the Government's decision not to devolve the administration—in so far as it arises from governmental sources—of the universities. The universities are to remain under the control of the University Grants' Committee. I understand that that arrangement is one which commends itself to a very substantial proportion of the people engaged in university teaching in Scotland. I sometimes wonder whether we appreciate how lucky we have been, or perhaps how clever we have been, to have evolved the method of administration which is typified by the University Grants' Committee. There can be no doubt at all that it is the envy of academics all over the world. In an extraordinarily sensitive area of cultural life it has insulated university teaching from the vagaries of politics.

The question which naturally arises in my mind is: What is the difference between the culture inculcated by university teaching and the culture which is fostered by the present arrangements with regard t o the arts? What is the difference constitutionally between the position of the University Grants' Committee and the position of the Arts Council? I have no interest in this matter; I have simply been a suppliant from the Arts Council, but I have never sat on any of its committees. We do not know how lucky we are in having evolved this way of fostering the finest manifestations of culture. Why should there be a difference, therefore, in the mode of administration chosen for the Government fostering of the arts in the United Kingdom and the Government fostering of the universities?

11.16 p.m.


I believe that it is my first duty in taking part in this debate to declare my interest as chairman of the Scottish Arts Council and a member of the Arts Council of Great Britain, a body incorporated under Royal Charter. During the last week or two I have asked several people who have made an undoubted personal contribution to the field of the arts in Scotland what they think about this Amendment which we are presently discussing. In almost every case they have said something like the following: "But surely you must realise that the urge for devolution in Scotland is in essence a cultural one. To withdraw the arts from the devolution Bill is to destroy the very spirit of this whole measure. It is quite unthinkable".

"Good", I have said, "That is fine. Now, in what way do you think the Assembly will choose to support the arts? Will it be by a body at arm's length, such as the Scottish Arts Council and the Arts Council of Great Britain, which are presently set up, or do you think they may prefer to appoint their own elected members to a committee to take charge of the distribution of the money that they decide to spend on the arts? Further, do you think that the arts will rank high or low in their priorities?" "Oh", they said, "Well, that is difficult. That could be very difficult indeed. We are bound to admit that the Assembly might find that the arts might have to occupy a peripheral place ". I mention that because I believe that it is evidence of the contradiction of heart and mind that bothers many people concerned with the arts in Scotland today.

I should have liked to say a little about the appreciation that all of us concerned with the arts feel for the actions of Parliament in the last 30 or 35 years, since the formation of the Arts Council of Great Britain, in making available funds to provide in Scotland such a vast new variety and quality of artistic fare which is now available. I think that at this time I should not expand on that. I should like to go straight on to the question of the existing degree of devolution, which has been referred to. I would confirm that from my own experience it is a fact that, despite a perusal of the Charter of the Arts Council of Great Britain, indicating the belief that provision for the arts is not yet devolved, your Lordships should be quite clear that for many years all decisions on revenue support for the arts have been, de facto, wholly devolved to Scotland, with of course the acceptance of the Arts Council of Great Britain of this state of affairs. So much for the present.

I should like to suggest two key considerations which I believe should underline any scheme of provision for the arts in future. In order of ultimate importance they are, first, freedom of expression; secondly, stable and adequate financial support. I suggested earlier that there might be two possible arrangements for support of the arts which an Assembly might contemplate. The first being direct control by appointing a committee either wholly composed of elected Assembly Members or perhaps partly of elected Members and partly complemented by lay or expert members.

The practice of co-opting lay members to democratically elected bodies, whether those bodies are advisory or executive, does not meet with much favour at either district or regional local authority level, for understandable reasons. It seems quite possible that this view could prevail in the Assembly with the result that there could be the dangers of a directly political arts policy, and of the enormous and hitherto unprecedented fundamental changes of personnel and policy after each election. I believe that that arrangement would be quite contrary to the interests of the arts, the artists, and the consuming public in Scotland.

The second alternative would appear to be for the Assembly to contemplate appointing a separate body at arm's length from itself, perhaps under Royal Charter as at present. The advantage of this arrangement is that it enables the Minister of the day responsible for the arts to consider support of the arts on a longterm basis, and to represent these needs to Parliament on this basis, leaving responsibility for individual day-to-day support decisions and priorities to the Arts Council. Ministers are not required to give instant reactions on questions of Arts Council grants. This has enabled individual writers, artists, directors of performing companies, to act and to plan their programmes without regular major changes in policy affecting their long-term thinking. It allows a period of time within which the development of the arts in this country, and consequently the policy of the Arts Council, can be digested and considered at leisure by Parliament.

The annual grant-in-aid decisions by Government, usually endorsed by Parliament, to the Arts Council of Great Britain are made after such reflection. It seems to me absolutely vital that this separation of responsibility for the day-to-day decisions on the one hand by the Arts Council, and of long-term funding on the other by the Government, must continue. The Council itself has a similar understanding with its principal clients. It grant aids on a momentum of performance and audience support. The Arts Council does not cut off grants, or presume to criticise on the basis of a single failure. I suggest that this devolution of responsibility on a basis of accumulated experience is in accordance with the best modern precepts of participation and devolved decision making.

I must briefly refer to a criticism, or a cliché, which is frequently offered to me as a certainty; that is, that the Arts Council is not accountable. I must say that of course the Arts Council is accountable directly to Parliament. It produces three annual reports for Scotland, England, and Wales. The Chairman of the Arts Council of Great Britain, and his chief accounting officer, have appeared before now in front of the Public Accounts Committee to answer questions on its stewardship, and it may be, although it is not exactly for me to say, that the standard of stewardship compares respectfully with that of any other organisations funded with taxpayers' money.

The second key factor I referred to was adequacy of cash provision. I think this has been dealt with by the two noble Lords who spoke previously, and I think I should pass over that except to say that the key question is what priority the Assembly, in the event of the devolution of the arts taking place, will give to the arts. What we should like to see is an adequate priority, and of course a recognition of the realities of the funding of the arts. A major performing company must plan and engage artists three years ahead. They have now to do that on their own responsibility because the Arts Council is not allowed to make any commitment further than the existing financial year. This is not sensible, and let us hope that in any further provision the triennial planning arrangement, incorporated for a very short time and since dropped, will be introduced.

Finally, I would emphasise the imperative need for a British body. It can hardly be emphasised too strongly that a British body, and in a stronger form than that of a consultative committee, is necessary. Almost all the performing companies in Scotland are wholly Scottish, in domicile and for the most part in membership, but they are British, and frequently international in performance and reputation. The arts are not of a narrow parochial importance. The arts are international and the Scottish Arts Council does what it can do to ensure that the fresh air of international discussion and exchange enliven the arts in Scotland.

Much of this is foreseen and planned, either within the Arts Council of Great Britain or in consultation with them. A forum in which members and officers of the Scottish Arts Council and their English and Welsh opposite numbers can frequently meet and argue out problems is vital, however much they may decide in the future, as they have frequently done in the past, to pursue separate policies in respect of individual domestic needs in their respective countries.

11.27 p.m.

Baroness STEDMAN

At the risk of being repetitive, though making no apologies, I have to start again by saying that the Government's policy throughout the Bill is to devolve as much as possible in respect of matters which are primarily the concern of the people living in Scotland. Many of the arts form an important part of Scotland's heritage and history and the arts are therefore a leading example of a field of activities that is appropriate for devolution. The arts do not exist in isolation and cannot easily be separated from other cultural and recreative activities, or indeed from education itself. I believe that to single out the arts for reservation from all the other matters in Group 3 would have a harmful effect on the development of a coherent policy in these important fields.

The arts are devolved by virtue of the entry in Group 3 of Part I of Schedule 10. This means that the existing administrative and statutory functions exercised by the Secretary of State for Education and Science in relation to the arts in Scotland will he transferred to the Scottish Secretary, and the devolved Administration will be free to develop its own policy in the field. It will be open to the Scottish Administration to develop its own policy for financial support for the arts; to determine how much of the block fund should be devoted to the arts; and to decide whether to dispense financial support directly itself or whether to operate through the existing Arts Council of Great Britain and its subsidiary, the Scottish Arts Council, or to devise some new machinery for that purpose.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Polwarth, for having a chat with me this afternoon and talking about some of the points he was proposing to raise. I do not share his fears that the Scottish Assembly, representing the Scottish people, will be any less proud of Scotland's famous cultural institutions, its national orchestra, its ballet and its chamber music than we are at Westminster. I am sure the Members of the Scottish Assembly will be just as keen as they are today, or even more so, to cherish those products of Scottish imagination and initiative when they are working side by side with Westminster.

The noble Lord, Lord Robbins, asked about devolving the universities and implied satisfaction that the universities were not being devolved. The case for not devolving the universities is based on very different criteria because the 45 universities of Great Britain operate as part of a coherent whole and economies of scale and the need to get value for money point to the need for the allocation of resources on a Great Britain basis, and we do not think that there is quite the same case so far as the Arts Council is concerned.

The noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, also gave me prior notice of the general line he intended to take tonight. It may be worth emphasising that there is no reason at all why after devolution the Scottish Arts Council should not continue to function in Scotland, especially since we are all so proud of the excellent job that the Scottish Arts Council does in Scotland at the moment. Would it not be invidious to pick out the Scottish Arts Council for special treatment when there are similar special cases in other fields? It would not make for a coherent Administration if all such bodies, or fields of activities, were selected as perhaps being too important or too sensitive to be left to the Scots. Surely we have sufficient faith in the Scottish Assembly that is being elected, that it will have good sense, and that it will show the discrimination that we are used to having from the Scottish people.

A point was also made by a noble Lord on the appointments. The appointments made by the Crown are reserved because there is no direct access to the Crown by the Scottish Administration, and the Arts Council appointments are not Crown appointments. I think that towards the end of his speech the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, was slightly mistaken when he said that there has been some devolvement to the Scottish Arts Council now. In fact, the financial support for the arts has been decentralised from Great Britain through the Scottish Arts Council, but it is not devolved, because it is still accountable to Westminster through the Arts Council of Great Britain.

We know that there are some problems. The Arts Council of Great Britain is a Royal Charter body. If the Scottish Administration decide to continue to operate through the existing machinery, then the Arts Council of Great Britain can consider, in consultation with them, what adjustments should be made to its Charter in order to meet the Administration's wishes. It is envisaged that on the Westminster pattern the Arts Council of Great Britain would then apply to the Privy Council for any amendments necessary to its constitution. Although under the terms of the Bill the Scottish Assembly can legislate to amend the Charter itself, it can only do it after it has obtained Crown consent first through its Secretary of State.

I know that there is concern among noble Lords who have spoken tonight that they may not get as generous treatment as they think they ought to have, and perhaps as many of us think they ought to have, from their local authorities. However, I know local authorities in other parts of Great Britain who are nothing like as generous to the arts in their areas as many of us would wish them to be. The Scottish local authorities are not alone in this. They are not all good at it, and we could wish that those who are not so good might get better. Perhaps when we have a Scottish Assembly and a Scottish Administration, with a real Scottish pride in the arts of their country, they may do even better than they do now. I hope that the Committee will reject the Amendment.

11.34 p.m.


One thing puzzles me here. There is one Department which has a "full" Minister representing it in this Chamber. I refer to the Minister for the Arts. I wonder why he is not present. I wonder why the Minister for the Arts, who should know more about this issue from the ministerial point of view, is not here to give his testimony.

I am not suggesting that the noble Baroness is not other than excellent, as she always is, and there is no suggestion that she has not properly prepared and delivered the Government brief. But it could he that the Minister for the Arts, with his special knowledge of all that is behind this matter, would not recommend this. Is his absence a sign that he does not altogether agree with this? Is it that, in his experience as the Minister for the Arts over the past 12 months, together with the experience of his predecessors, he feels that it would be better for the Scottish arts if they were left out of the Bill? The arguments have been very strongly made that what is proposed will injure the present set-up.

I imagine that there is no suggestion from any quarter that the Scots are not capable, through their Assembly or any other body, of looking after these matters with the same sympathy and understanding that exists now. This arrangement has worked for a number of years. Why disband it or risk weakening it? I was waiting for the noble Baroness possibly to explain why the Minister for the Arts is not here. There is very likely a very good reason. But I should have thought that, on a matter as important as this, concerned with the cultural aspects of the Bill, one Minister to commend it to the Committee, if his experience would so allow, would be the Minister for the Arts. We do not have many "full" Ministers here, and I find it rather puzzling that the Minister is not here to give his testimony.

Baroness STEDMAN

Will the noble Lord accept that the Ministers responsible for all the services that are being devolved have been in discussions about these matters at all levels? There has been complete consultation. We cannot array all the Ministers. We are concerned in this Bill with every subject the Government deals with, and we cannot have here all the Ministers to answer for their own particular piece. We hope that the team who are dealing with the Scotland Bill are doing so adequately so far as your Lordships are concerned. It is no reflection on the Scottish Arts Council, or on the attitude of the Minister for the Arts that he is not here tonight. He is only one of many Ministers, and we have not got the others here. There have been no complaints that the other Ministers have not been here.


Certainly in another place it would be deemed to be very remiss if a Minister with departmental responsibility was not present. It is clear from the Marshalled List that the arts are going to be discussed at some length. Noble Lords who are submitting these Amendments are very authoritative, and I would think, on the sheer grounds of Parliamentary procedure as it should be operated, on those very few occasions when we have a Minister from your Lordships' House that he would have been here to deal with it. But there it is. We have had an explanation. I do not think it is a very good one, but at least it is an explanation.


May I point out that there are 80 Ministers in another place and a handful here. Perhaps the noble Lord has forgotten that.


Might I make it clear—


The question of Parliamentary procedure was referred to. The procedure in this House is perfectly understood. We have a team of Ministers who answer on this Bill and, if I may say so, I think it is rather disparaging of the noble Lord not to accept the explanation which my noble friend Lady Stedman has given. We are all perfectly content with the way she dealt with it in all parts of the Committee, and I think it is rather a pity that this kind of disparaging remark should have been made. I think it would be very much better if we left it now and had an answer as to whether or not this Amendment is to be moved.


The noble Baroness chastises me. That is her privilege and I shall take it, because it is from an authoritative source that the chastisement comes. But in terms of Parliamentary procedure I repeat that we have very few recognised Departmental Ministers in this House. The Minister for the Arts over the last 12 months happens to be one of them. I feel, whatever the convention has been in the past and whether or not I get the support of my noble friends on the Front Bench—I am not being disparaging to the noble Baroness; I am one of her great fans—that there are very few Departmental Ministers and when an issue concerning their Department is raised, I should have thought, if it was not good manners, at least it would be good sense to put in an appearance.

The Marquess of LINLITHGOW

I agree that Scotland has its own culture, but in one very short sentence—and my knowledge of Scottish history is not enormous, but I know it quite well—I would have said it was worth bearing in mind particularly in relation to this Amendment that what one might call the astonishing cultural explosion in Scotland of all the arts and all learning which took place in Scotland, took place after the Union.

The Earl of PERTH

I go along with many other noble Lords in feeling that one cannot separate the arts in Scotland from the Assembly. There is one question of fact which I should like to ask, and it is this: if it is decided by the Government and by others that the arts should be a part of the devolved issue, is it possible for the Scottish Arts Council to receive a Royal Charter so that it can operate on its own and then make arrangements with the Arts Council of—as I suppose it still is—Great Britain?

Baroness STEDMAN

It is a matter for consultation between the Scottish Arts Council and the Arts Council of Great Britain and it is for them to negotiate and make the necessary arrangements.


There is very little that I can say except first to thank noble Lords who have mostly spoken in support of my theme here and to congratulate the noble Baroness for so ably and charmingly assuming the combined role of a Scottish Office Minister and a Minister for Education. I thought she discharged it admirably within the limitations imposed on any Member of the Government Front Bench in telling us anything about what will happen in relation to any of the devolved subjects after this Bill is passed. Because, of course, they cannot tell us anything about what will happen: they can only express pious hopes and leave it to the supposed good sense of the Assembly. This is the difficulty we are up against.

I must confess I am somewhat disappointed that the points have not been taken more seriously, particularly with regard to the dangers with which I think we may be faced in the changeover, especially in regard to the arts. If this goes ahead, I think this question of changeover is vitally important; there must be no hiatus, particularly in the financial support, or there will be dire trouble. I sincerely hope that the Government may be able to find some way to follow up the suggestion of my noble friend Lord Perth regarding some continuing arrangement with the present Arts Council set-up, rather than a complete break and the institution of something completely new. With that, I would not wish to press my Amendment on your Lordships tonight, though at a later stage some of us may seek perhaps a slightly different or modified formula to look after some of our remaining fears. I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


I beg to move that the House do now resume.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.