§ 6.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Richard Wainwright (Colne Valley)
I invite the House to turn its attention to another urgent and pressing matter; namely, the report of the Royal Commission on the Constitution. I am fortified by the knowledge that some other Members on the Liberal bench may catch the eye of the Chair this evening. I am speaking not in any official sense for the Liberal Party but for myself and in the interests of my constituents following a long study of the problem with other 1088 people. Those people have not all been Liberals. They have mostly lived south of the Tweed and north of the Trent.
As the House knows, the Royal Commission was appointed five years ago. The terms of reference were notably wide by British standards. Eleven of the 13 commissioners who were there at the finish interpreted the terms of reference rather restrictively. At the outset of the report they said that they intended:…to concentrate our work of detailed examination and our positive recommendations on those issues which were primarily geographical in character.The other two commissioners took a wider view of the terms of reference. I shall remind the House of the comments of Lord Crowther-Hunt and Professor Alan Peacock by quoting their interpretation. They said:We have interpreted our terms of reference as meaning that we should consider what changes might be necessary in our system of Government as a whole if it is to meet the needs and aspirations of the people.Further on in their interpretation they say:We believe that our colleagues have seriously underestimated the likely consequences of United Kingdom membership of the Common Market. We consider that over the years this will have a major impact on the working of our main institutions of government; we have, accordingly, sought to take account of this in our recommendations.Lord Crowther-Hunt and Professor Alan Peacock, despite, according to custom, having no Civil Service help in preparing a memorandum of dissent, embarked on the bolder and more commendable course.
Since the report, at least three new factors have emerged which should be considered. The first factor is the result of the poll on 28th February, which probably rescued these documents from being just a series of text books. The second factor which has emerged since the publication of the report is the prospect of a drop in our gross national product and a reduction in what materialists call the standard of living. We have little experience in this House of a country which in peace time faces a declining standard of living. Many authorities expect that in itself to place a considerable strain on our constitution.
The third factor is the reduced respect for certain aspects of the law. Whilst 1089 we remain fundamentally a law-abiding people, there is a good deal of evidence to suggest that respect for the law is diminishing pari passu with a lack of respect for the way in which the law is made. It behoves everyone considering changes in the constitution to take note of the sombre example of Stormont and avoid any scheme which could possibly introduce an element of that kind into the rest of the United Kingdom.
The 11 commissioners who signed the report did not forecast in a real sense those three important developments. I believe that they were foreseen to a substantial extent by Lord Crowther-Hunt and Professor Alan Peacock. Perhaps they took a wider view of the matter than their colleagues. I commend the fact that the memorandum of dissent urges that the further time which will obviously be necessary to produce detailed schemes should be used largely by hon. Members and other directly elected public representatives.
It is we in this House, and other elected persons, who should now take the lead and make most of the running in pursuing the various schemes which have been put forward. We must do so quickly. The result of the General Election indicated that in Scotland and Wales the combined polls of Liberals, Scottish Nationals and Plaid Cymru brought the matter to an urgent and pressing state. That will be dealt with faithfully by my colleagues on the Liberal bench if they are fortunate enough to catch the eye of the Chair.
In England there were few, if any, nationalist candidates in the General Election. The greater part of the 5,600,000 votes cast for Liberal candidates in England implied that degree of support for radical policies on devolution. I join with many hon. Members in doubting the validity of judgments as to why people cast their votes in certain ways. But it is true that no Liberal candidate would succeed in passing the various panels which the Liberal Party has for assessing candidates unless he had a considerable belief in the Liberal Party's policies on devolution. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Hon. Members present seem largely to have been denied the privilege of having a Liberal against them at the hustings.
§ Mr. Ian MacArthur (Perth and East Perthshire)
Did the hon. Gentleman refer to the Liberal Party's policy on devolution or the Liberal Party's policies on devolution?
§ Mr. Wainwright
I was referring, from my own knowledge, to the Liberal Party's policy expressed in that invaluable document called "Power to the Provinces", which I invite the hon. Gentleman to read.
The second background factor of the restriction in public consumption, which is going to be very severe, will mean that almost everyone will look far more closely than in the past, and perhaps rather jealously, at the distribution of resources throughout these islands. If we are to have a hard fight in future for every single bus shelter and every new public convenience, let alone schools and spending-money, it is of the utmost importance that everyone should know that they have equal political rights.
I concede at once that equal representation does not need to be on a precisely numerically equal basis. There are parts of the United Kingdom where area is as important as population. I am certainly not pleading for any numerical equality. But I believe that in their present mood and in the present difficult circumstances most people would not tolerate for long any system in which some of them had representation in two Parliaments and many of them had representation in only one. I believe that as soon as possible new constitutional arrangements should be established so that everyone has representation in two levels of Parliament within this Kingdom.
On the third question—the rapidly diminishing respect for certain aspects of the law—the most important factor in getting consent, which is now the only satisfactory basis for establishing the law, is that there should be one highly respected focus of law-making. I offer to the House the example of our people being probably the best taxpayers in the world, despite having to bear a pretty heavy burden.
I believe that the high standard of taxpaying by and large is partly due to the fact that taxation is announced every year in circumstances which compel the attention of most of the population to 1091 this House. I am not one of those who despite all the ceremonies of the Budget, because they serve to focus national attention on the taxation proposals and give people the feeling, corectly, that at least their tax burdens are going to be considered by their own representatives in this House.
It that focus of legislation were to be split up in a big way between various law-making Parliaments, there is, I think, a risk that the consequent respect for the law might be diminished, and, of course, in this respect the Common Market, to which Lord Crowther-Hunt and Professor Peacock devoted so much attention, is of great importance. We have had the benefit of the admirable advice on procedure in respect of Brussels directives and regulations and so on from the Select Committee under the chairmanship of Sir John Foster. But that committee did not tell us, nor was it able to tell us, where the parliamentary time and the parliamentary manpower could come from to tackle this vast new task.
Clearing the decks to deal with Brussels is a major priority for all sections of this House. We should be ill served if, at this moment, when we are about to receive a stream of legislation from Brussels, we embarked on a course of splitting the levels of law-making in these islands more than is absolutely necessary. These points are not met by the 11 commissioners who signed the majority report on the constitution.
I want to make an observation about the Kilbrandon Report itself. There is a danger of great confusion by applying the term "Kilbrandon" to any particular recommendation, even if it is only a minority recommendation, even if it is only one commissioner's recommendation, if it happens to appeal to one's personal taste or political self-interest.
§ Mr. Russell Johnston (Inverness)
My hon. Friend has said that when one uses the term "Kilbrandon" it does not necessarily mean one particular solution but perhaps a variety of solutions. There was a bit of applause from the Government benches at that point. Would he not agree that the one thing about which the Kilbrandon Report was unanimous was in recommending a change in the electoral system?
§ Mr. Wainwright
Yes. That was one of the most cheering features of the report. But on devolution it is clear that only one recommendation had the backing of a true majority of the 13 commissioners. This is referred to in paragraph 1123 of the report, which says:Eight of us favour a scheme of legislative devolution for Scotland.That is a majority of eight out of the 13. The paragraph goes on:Of these, all but two favour legislative devolution for Wales also. Those two favour for Wales an assembly with deliberative and advisory functions. One of us favours assemblies with deliberative and advisory functions for both Scotland and Wales, with the addition in the case of the Scottish assembly of some powers in relation to parliamentary legislation. Two of us, who support the principle of uniformity, favour schemes of executive devolution for both Scotland and Wales (and for the regions of England).That paragraph may be a good paraphrase or psalm, but is scarcely a good trumpet call for any particular scheme of devolution, except in the case of the recommendation on Scotland by eight of the commissioners.
In the circumstances, it seems to me quite legitimate to attach great importance to the memorandum of dissent, and particularly not to use the term "Kilbrandon" as a label for all kinds of different bottles. The word "Kilbrandon" rolls off the tongue in a satisfactory way, but it seems to me a basic error in marketing to launch a brand name for a product whose specification is uncertain, whose label is misleading and whose superficial appearance may raise expectations which cannot be fulfilled.
I turn now to England, where, as I have said, the document, "Power to the Provinces" is the basis on which Liberal Party candidates fought the General Election, with revisions due to the fact that local government changes were about to take place—I cannot bring myself to use the term "local government reform"—and the consequences of joining the EEC were beginning to be seen.
The memorandum of dissent effectively updates our own document "Power to the Provinces" in many respects. I mention only one in order to keep as brief as possible.
In the light of local government and other changes, Lord Crowther-Hunt and Professor Peacock have a scheme for 1093 dividing England into only five regions compared with the 12 which the Liberal Party had previously in mind. This change seems to me to fit the new facts of the situation, and I accept it. I believe that each of these five regions of England needs, and could well sustain, an elected assembly or parliament and that each must have one as soon as possible. They are the North-West with about 7½ million people; the North-East, with about 8½ million; the Midlands, with about 8½ million; the South-East—this is an arguable case—with 22 million; and the South-West with 3,600,000.
These regional assemblies or parliaments would have elected representatives, mostly, I assume, of a regional character, who would be taking part, and be seen to be taking part, in key policy-making with considerable financial responsibility. They would draw upon the deep-rooted loyalties that exist, perhaps not always conspicuously, in the great provinces of England.
§ Mr. James Prior (Lowestoft)
What deep-seated loyalty does the hon. Gentleman think that my constituents in Lowestoft would have to the Isle of Wight? I just do not think that it works.
§ Mr. Wainwright
It never occurred to me from Lord Crowther-Hunt's scheme that East Anglia would necessarily be involved in the South-East. I said that the South-Eastern region was arguable. There is a case for an East Anglian province if the demand for it can be shown.
Even to a thoroughbred Yorkshireman, the tales of Hereward the Wake, and Trelawny, and, told to me in sombre tones, the stories of the red rose, all brought home to me from early childhood that, although we belong to one nation, there are many different and distinct loyalties. To give a domestic example, I remember spending many happy holidays as a child at Llandudno on the sands. But my parents reached the point when they vouchsafed to me that we would never come again because the place had been "overrun by people from Lancashire"—and we never did.
I do not ask the House to take my word for it. The Royal Commission undertook a survey to test the felt need for devolution in various parts of the United Kingdom. In reply to detailed questions the 1094 percentage of those questioned who said they felt a need for devolution was 73 per cent. in Scotland, 69 per cent. in the North-West, 62 per cent. in Yorkshire and 59 per cent. in Wales. In any survey of that kind it is admitted that there must be a substantial margin of error, but, even applying a considerable margin of error, those are impressive figures.
To speak of Yorkshire, because I know that area best, the sort of question that prompts Yorkshiremen from all three Ridings to want devolution is, for example, the question of the Humber Bridge, which was debated in the House when I was here before. Yorkshire folk think it odd that the planning at great expense of a bridge that will have the largest single span in the world should be entrusted to a House of Commons few of whose Members, with respect, have any knowledge of the road system of that area. That is a classic example of the kind of issue that they believe should be debated thoroughly in a regional assembly of the North-East and Humberside.
Similarly, with the new Selby coalfield and the exciting discoveries that have been made there that compare in energy content with all the oil that has so far been discovered under the North Sea, when it comes to debating new methods of mining, which will be infinitely more humane than many of our present systems, many Yorkshire people believe that those debates should be initiated close to the new coalfield by people who will be intimately concerned.
I wish to stress that, so far as I am aware, there is no stupid anti-London element in this feeling. My fellow Yorkshiremen for the most part are proud of our capital city. They are glad to visit London but equally glad that they do not live there. Although they regard King's Cross as the best part of London, they have no feelings of antipathy towards the capital. Nor do they covet uniform powers with other provinces. For example, it would be foolish for Yorkshire to claim the same power for its main road system as might be appropriate for Cornwall, where all roads lead to the sea in a westerly direction. To interfere with the main road system in Yorkshire would be embarrassing and 1095 a hindrance to people travelling the length of the country.
The memorandum of dissent from Lord Crowther-Hunt and Professor Peacock refers to a great deal of work that is already waiting to be done. In particular, there is the work that is being handed over during the next few days to nominated boards, for health in all its aspects, for water in all its aspects, fair and foul, under the same administration—a paradox which is already creating embarrassment—all aspects of energy; tourism; sport; the arts; forestry; and many other matters of great national importance. To leave those matters in the hands of nominated boards the members of which never face the electorate is fundamentally undemocratic. Similarly, our growing system of what is called in language of moderation which I do not believe to be justified "widespread consultation" is undemocratic. The establishment list of bodies which Whitehall thinks fit to consult is a scandal to democracy. It means that many valuable people who are busily occupied in getting on with the job are never consulted, whereas they should be able to express their views by election to provincial bodies.
The other job that is waiting to be done and in which there is an enormous gap to be filled is the democratic control on the spot of the army of loyal and devoted civil servants who work outside London. In 1970—the latest date on which the Royal Commission had information—whereas there were 135,000 civil servants working at departmental headquarters and in London, there were 276,000 working in regional or local offices. It is of the greatest importance that the Departments symbolised by these 276,000 people should be under closer democratic control. In many respects provincial assemblies could take over this matter.
To give an example, from the proposed North-East region there would be almost universal agreement that a parliament for that region could start meeting at York, where 11 English parliaments have met during the years under three kings of England. That would bring an elected parliamentary assembly within reach of a day's visit by any of its constituents. They 1096 would be able to see their own parliament in operation and take note of the performance of its members.
I am thinking particularly of one extremely important group of citizens who would be glad of this opportunity—the Yorkshire mineworkers, who have a tremendously virile political tradition and against whom none of the usual charges of apathy could possibly be levelled. Although they come to Westminster on special occasions at considerable sacrifice, it would be much easier for a mineworker after several days on shift to take himself and his family to see parliament in action in Yorkshire than to come down here and wait for his place in our already overcrowded galleries. They have had a rough time under two different Governments and are anxious to take a greater part in our parliamentary processes.
I also want to see our regional parliaments having considerable powers in money and policy affairs. In my view, those two aspects are at least as important as law-making. I would have thought that the only claim of separate parliaments to law making arose where there was already a separate legal system in existence. In that case it is only natural that the law making should take place in the parliament to which that legal system belongs.
Having had the immense benefit of trying to study the memorandum of dissent I should like to see plans brought forward by the Government at an early date, after consultation with Members of this House, covering the whole of Great Britain, to bring power much nearer to the people and to give them responsibilities as well as rights. This could be carried out country by country, giving priority to those countries which have already demonstrated their demand for it but in such a way that in giving this priority, the rights and claims of the rest of Great Britain are in no way damaged. I hope that the Government will proceed in this way.
§ 6.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Iain MacCormick (Argyll)
It is a great privilege for me to be able to make my first speech in this House on a subject which I regard as being vitally important to Scotland. I do not wish to proceed further, however, without paying tribute to my predecessor, Mr. 1097 Michael Noble, a man for whom I have a high personal regard. I have a high regard too for the way in which he handled his constituents' problems, including my own, from time to time.
I will not fall into the trap, into which the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Wainwright) fell, of saying that there is no such thing as Kilbrandon. If we believe in the democratic process, we must believe that the majority report of Kilbrandon is the one which matters and the one which has the real ideas behind it. It is worth while remembering that the report came about as a result of the appointment of a Royal Commission by the previous Labour administration.
It is as well to remember too that that administration set the Royal Commission in being as a result of a certain by-election result in Scotland—the result of the Hamilton by-election in 1967. It is also true that it is because of the recent election, when a much larger number of Members representing the Scottish National Party, the Liberal Party and Plaid Cymru have been elected, that a mention of Kilbrandon was included in the Gracious Speech.
I was sorry to hear the Secretary of State for Scotland earlier today taking what I can only call a gloomy pleasure in saying "Oh, but the Scottish National Party achieved only a minority of Scottish votes." I suppose he was much happier at the 1970 General Election when our party polled only half the number of votes it polled on this occasion. He must have been positively ecstatic in 1966 when the SNP polled only half of what it achieved in 1970. I will not indulge in crystal-ball gazing but I suggest that there will be no element of delight in the right hon. Gentleman's gloom following the next General Election.
It is clear that a party such as the Scottish National Party has, in capturing over 600,000 votes in Scotland at this election, made a great stride forward in the move towards legislative devolution for Scotland. We in the Scottish National Party cannot take all the credit for that. Much of the credit—even though I am surrounded by people thinking roughly the same as myself I must say this—must go to the Labour and Conservative Parties for the obscurantist and evasive 1098 tactics which they consistently adopted whenever the subject of legislative devolution for Scotland or Wales was raised.
This brings me inevitably to the position of our party as regards the majority proposals of Kilbrandon. The SNP has for many years campaigned for a much wider degree of self-government than even the majority report envisages. Why, then, have we come to this Parliament prepared to support anyone willing to adopt these proposals? The answer is that we are a responsible party. We are prepared to debate this kind of issue without the emotionalism and sneering which seems to characterise the attitude of Members belonging to both major parties.
If there is any emotionalism left in the debate over legislative devolution, it comes from what I would call the Unionist Party on this side of the House and the Unionist Party on the benches opposite. Those are the people who have seen the economic case swept from under their feet and those are the people who now have nothing at all on which to rest their fate other than the simple customs and traditions of the past.
Emotionalists say "Only 600,000 people support the Scottish National Party. The Scots do not want its programme." I am prepared, and I am sure that every member of my party, or the Liberal Party or Plaid Cymru would be so prepared, to say "O.K. If it is a question of what the Scots people want, put it to them in a referendum." I will accept exactly that measure of legislative devolution that the Scots are shown to want. The people of Northern Ireland and of Gibraltar got their referenda. But the people of Scotland and Wales have not been given one because the Labour and Conservative Parties know very well what the result of such a referendum would be.
We were asked earlier what sort of line the SNP would take assuming that some kind of assembly or parliament were set up on the lines of Kilbrandon. I say quite definitely that our party would play a major part in the running of such an assembly, within its rules. That is because we are a responsible party. We will show that Scotland can produce people who are prepared, able and willing to take part in responsible government 1099 in Scotland or, for that matter, outside of Scotland in this House.
There are two reasons why I regard Kilbrandon as being vitally important. The first deals with details and I will leave those to others. For me that is not the most important reason. I consider it vital that as soon as possible some degree of decision making, answerable to the people of Scotland, must be transferred to our country.
The second reason why I am keen to see Kilbrandon adopted is much more important. It is because Kilbrandon will be the first step. Every legislative assembly in the world has needed a first step. It does not matter whether what Kilbrandon produces is called an assembly, a convention or a parliament. In effect it will be a parliament because it will be the first time for over 250 years that the Scots people have been able directly to elect a legislative assembly sitting in their own country. I can think of no other case in history when this has happened and when the powers that the people have demanded for the assembly have not become greater and greater. I am sure that that will happen.
I hope that no hon. Member will say that somehow that will clash with the sovereignty of this House. This House itself began long ago with a very restricted range of powers. If it had not been for the Pyms and Hampdens of the past demanding an increase in its sovereignty at the expense of the monarch, the powers of this House would be much more limited than they are today.
The Scottish National Party is saying "Let us begin with Kilbrandon." As long as we have that first stage, when the people of Scotland and the people of Wales see it working they will over the years naturally demand that the powers of their assemblies should be widened, and who knows at what stage they will say that that is enough? When the Scots people say that it is enough, it will be enough for me as well.
The hon. Member for Colne Valley made what I thought was an unfortunate comparison with the situation in Ireland when he talked about Stormont and the troubles in Ireland. I do not think it is possible to say that the troubles in Ireland 1100 are the result of the Stormont Parliament being in existence. In my view, the reverse is the case. The fact that Stormont was necessary was a sign of a troublesome Irish situation that had existed for much longer.
I draw this analogy with the Stormont Parliament. If either the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) or the present Prime Minister had had as much sense as Gladstone, he would have realised before now that he could do something in a sweeping way that Gladstone had no chance to do. We know that if Gladstone had had the chance to do it, there would not have been the Northern Irish Parliament that there is today.
I do not regard the Liberal Party, the Welsh National Party or the Scottish National Party as existing in isolation. All over Eurpoe there is a move away from the unitary, centralised type of State. There is a move towards giving minorities more say in the running of their own affairs. It would be in line with the great traditions of this House to see those principles adopted here as soon as possible.
§ 7.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Cledwyn Hughes (Anglesey)
First, I must congratulate the hon. Member for Argyll (Mr. MacCormick) on his maiden speech. His constituency is a very beautiful county which many of us have visited, and he is very fortunate to represent such a lovely part of Scotland. He spoke with great conviction and without apparent nervousness. Although he made a thoughtful contribution, he was not without being controversial from time to time, and we look forward to hearing him again.
I want also to take this opportunity to congratulate you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. As an old friend and colleague may say that it has come as a considerable pleasure to right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House, and especially those from Wales, to see you elevated to the Chair. We have been aware of your spiritual elevation over the years, and you have occupied the Vice-Chair of the Methodist Conference, the greatest honour that that great denomination can confer upon a layman. We are pleased to see you in the Chair in this House, and we hope you will be there for many years to come.
1101 Since I am in a congratulatory mood, perhaps I should continue by congratulating the members of the Royal Commission on their hard work in producing this massive document. We all tend to look at it subjectively and when I first saw it, I immediately read the chapters relating to Wales. Only then did I go on to study the remainder. A great deal depends on the part of these islands that we come from and to which of the political parties we belong.
The Government action which emerges from the report will affect the lives of the English, the Scots and the Welsh for generations, and it behoves this House and the Government to give it the most careful scrutiny and consideration.
There has been a tendency in some quarters to say "We accept Kilbrandon" or "We want to see the immediate implementation of Kilbrandon", in the manner of an evangelist referring to the Sermon on the Mount. Before the print was dry on the report in November, some right hon. and hon. Members and members of certain political parties were saying that they accepted it.
But what precisely are they accepting? I refer now more specifically to Wales. It is necessary to look at the report and at what it actually says and also at what it rejects, because anyone who says that he accepts Kilbrandon by implication accepts the arguments against separatism and federalism as well.
After sitting for four and a half years and sifting an enormous amount of evidence from all quarters, the commission came to certain conclusions on the two proposals of federalism and separatism. These have been the basic policies of the two nationalist parties and of the Liberal Party respectively.
On separation, the report says in paragraph 497:For separation to succeed it must command the general support of the people concerned. If it is not widely supported it is a complete non-starter; if it has that support then even the most serious economic obstacles will not be allowed to stand in its way. In our judgment the necessary political will for separation does not exist. The vast majority of people simply do not want it to happen. We believe that the national aspirations of the Scottish and Welsh peoples and their desire for better government are more likely to be satisfied within the United Kingdom than outside it.1102 That is the conclusion of the Royal Commission on the argument for separatism.
Now I come to the argument about federalism, which the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Wainwright) was rather shy to mention. The report says in paragraph 539:It would probably be regarded by the British people as a strange and artificial system not suited to their present state of constitutional development, and in the end would bring the provinces very little more independence than might be achieved within the unitary system. In short, the United Kingdom is not an appropriate place for federalism and now is not an appropriate time.When hon. Members says that they "accept Kilbrandon", they have to bear in mind what the commission said—
§ Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarvon)
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the Kilbrandon Commission also rejected the evidence of the Labour Party given on 26th and 27th January 1970 in which its representatives foresaw a system of local government on a two-tier basis with a Council for Wales within that context? Did not the Kilbrandon Report reject the idea of devolution, if devolution it be, in a local government context? Does the right hon. Gentleman also accept that before the Kilbrandon Report was published we had said that we would welcome any step forward which contained a legislative element, a financial element and an elected element? Are not all three in the Kilbrandon Report?
§ Mr. Hughes
I shall deal with the second part of the hon. Gentleman's intervention as I proceed with my speech. On the first part of his question about the evidence of the Labour Party, it will be clear to anyone who has read the report that the Labour Party's proposals match up to the broad pattern of recommendations made by the commission more than anything that the Liberal Party or either of the nationalist parties put forward in their evidence.
§ Mr. Russell Johnston
The whole burden of the first part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech was an attack on the Liberal and National Parties for accepting Kilbrandon. It must be made clear, certainly from the Liberal bench, that we did not accept Kilbrandon. My right hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and 1103 Shetland (Mr. Grimond), when introducing his Bill just before the dissolution of Parliament, made it clear that this did not represent Liberal policy, but that it was a possible start. It was on that basis that we adopted the major part of the Queen's Speech.
§ Mr. Hughes
I accept what the hon. Gentleman said about his right hon. Friend's Bill, but with respect. Liberal policies on this subject have varied enormously over the years. Looking back over the last century I could mention at least 10 Liberal policies on devolution. I was not, in fact, attacking either the Liberal or the nationalist parties. I was seeking to analyse their official policies in relation to the Royal Commission's report. I believe that I have done that reasonably objectively and fairly.
The hon. Member for Argyll referred to the possible results of a referendum in Scotland. He speaks with greater knowledge than I of Scotland. If, however, there was a referendum in Wales on federalism or separatism I have no doubt that it would be rejected totally by a large majority of the Welsh population. The position in Scotland may conceivably be different.
The nationalist argument, which, I accept, is genuinely held, sees the proposal for a legislative assembly as a staging post towards total independence. But that was not the view of the members of the commission who rejected independence. Nor, indeed, were they unanimous on the proposals that they made. There was not a majority view for any Welsh solution. It was the kind of minority situation to which we are becoming accustomed in the House.
Neither the Government nor the House are tied in detail to any of the proposals in the report, but certain conclusions in it are of great importance, and the House will ignore them at its peril. Some of them were mentioned by the hon. Member for Colne Valley.
We could have a profitable debate on those chapters in the report, Nos. 9, 10 and 27, dealing with the failure of communication between the Government and the people, and the general dissatisfaction that exists. The House should return to them in due course for a full day's debate. 1104 The evidence there shows that this is a central problem, and it is worth bearing in mind that the impending creation of much larger local government units may increase the discontent.
The theory is that centralisation makes for greater efficiency and a better use of resources. The fact is that our experience in this House—for example, with electricity boards, gas boards, and other public undertakings—does not bear this out. The remoteness of administration makes for endless frustration. As Members of Parliament we know this well, because the incorrect electricity accounts produced by the great infallible computer usually end on our desks. There are too many nominated bodies which are not answerable quickly and effectively to elected representatives.
It is important also to realise that the report does not stand on the status quo. Its total conclusion is in favour of devolution, and of devolution to democratically elected bodies. The commission summarised its general view in the short paragraph 1224:Devolution, therefore, is not a cure for all the faults of government. But we think it could do a great deal to cure the particular faults with which we have been mainly concerned, those which are essentially regional in character.Wales has a long history of attempting to secure various measures of devolution. I will not weary the House with a dissertation on these tonight. However, we have made more real progress in devolution since the war than in all the centuries since 1282. One of the most remarkable facts of history is the survival of the Welsh people and language after seven centuries in the shadow of a large and powerful neighbour. Our language has, unhappily, declined, but we are determined to preserve our identity as a people and to save our language.
It is in this context that I have been looking at the Kilbrandon Report. The question is: what form of devolution will help us to achieve that objective and will be the most beneficial and acceptable to the Welsh people as a whole? That is the question that my right hon. and learned Friend and the Government must consider and answer.
I have spoken of the progress that has been made since the war. The two Labour Governments have a splendid 1105 record. We have built up an effective Civil Service in Cardiff. We set up the Welsh Office with a senior Minister in the Cabinet. We created the Welsh Council—true it is a nominated council—and passed the Welsh Language Act 1967. We have helped to set up Welsh schools and have made grants towards the publication of Welsh books. We set up this very Commission on the Constitution that we are debating today. It was appointed by my right hon. Friend who is now the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. These measures are not to be shrugged off as of little moment. They are historic achievements.
We are now poised on the threshold of a new advance. The Labour Party is committed to setting up a directly elected assembly for Wales with substantial powers, and we look forward to reading the proposals of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Wales in due course. He has already been criticised for delay.
§ Mr. George Lawson (Motherwell and Wishaw)
My right hon. Friend has referred to a directly elected assembly with substantial powers. Does he mean that it will be a law-making assembly?
§ Mr. Hughes
I propose to deal with that point later.
My right hon. and learned Friend has been criticised for delay. What delay? He has been in office for a fortnight. Surely after seven centuries he is entitled to a few months to produce proposals It is monstrously unfair that anyone should charge my right hon. and learned Friend or, for that matter, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland with delay. My right hon. and learned Friend is right to enter into consultations with the various interests in Wales which will be affected.
I turn now to the question posed by my hon. Friend the Member for Mother-well and Wishaw (Mr. Lawson). The possible functions of the new elected assembly in Wales could be divided into three parts, like Caesar's Gaul.
The first part would consist of the important advisory functions of the Welsh Council which are now vested in a nominated body.
The second part would consist of the powers now vested in the ad hoc nomi- 1106 nated bodies to which I have referred and to which the hon. Member for Colne Valley referred. I will not go into them, in the interests of brevity, but they are dealt with in paragraph 873, and paragraph 872 states that there was strong feeling in Wales that they should be supervised by an elected body.
Lastly, I believe that the assembly should be given a range of executive powers. I am attracted to the recommendations of Lord Foot and Sir James Steel which are summarised in paragraph 1170. I speak with some measure of Liberal authority on this point.
§ Mr. Emlyn Hooson (Montgomery)
Does the right hon. Gentleman not accept that Lord Foot's views are based on the fact that there should be uniformity throughout the United Kingdom? Is the right hon. Gentleman saying that he recommends that the Government should adopt the same system for the regions of England as well as for Scotland and Wales?
§ Mr. Hughes
I am surprised to hear a Liberal recommending uniformity. That is no reason why we should proceed on a postage stamp basis. As the hon. and learned Gentleman knows, there are historic differences between Wales and Scotland. Scotland has its own system of law, and we have always recognised that that is a significant difference which must lead any Government to treat the two countries, to some extent differently. So much for the argument about uniformity.
The powers which Lord Foot and Sir James Steel recommend in the report are significant and important, and I am sure that hon. Members who have studied them—as the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) is now doing for the first time—will realise that if my right hon. and learned Friend does give these powers to an elected Welsh assembly it will have substantial and worthwhile work to perform.
Relevant White Papers could also be debated in such an assembly, and I see no reason why certain statutory instruments should not be scrutinised there. Again, certain relevant Bills could be given a First Reading in it. It is important that this House of Commons and the central Government should have the 1107 views of Scotland and Wales and also of the regions of England.
I now come to a crucial point. If money is raised and allocated on a United Kingdom basis, a Welsh Minister in the Cabinet seems to me to be essential. I prefer a Secretary of State for Wales and one for Scotland to another nominated Exchequer board such as is proposed by the Royal Commission.
I wish the Government and my right hon. and learned Friend well in their deliberations on this subject. I hope that before the end of this year we shall be discussing positive proposals which will lead to legislation and to the formation of democratically elected assemblies in Scotland and Wales.
§ 7.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Barry Henderson (Dunbartonshire, East)
I am conscious that this is a controversial topic and one which might not have lent itself to a maiden speech. On the other hand, I believe that whilst there is a great controversy it is not necessarily party controversy, and I believe, too, that it is not beyond the wit of man to find a great deal of common ground on many aspects of the subject.
Before I address myself directly to the subject under discussion, perhaps I may be permitted to express a few thoughts about my constituency and to start by mentioning the previous representative for the constituency who, curiously enough, remains with us in this House as the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, Central (Mr. McCartney). I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for what he has done for the constituency in the past, and perhaps I can say in a personal way that I am grateful to him for moving over to Central Dunbartonshire to smooth my way to this place. I am glad, too, to say that we have been able to co-operate on matters of mutual interest to our constituents.
East Dunbartonshire encapsulates most of the main facets of Scottish life within the constituency. We have the new town of Cumbernauld, which was once an exciting experiment and I think might now be described as a living monument to social and economic thinking. Kirkintilloch is an older and more settled community with more traditional industry. In between those two towns there 1108 is an area in which the inhabitants are concerned largely with mining and agriculture. Bearsden, which is separated geographically from the rest of the constituency, is mainly residential, but its inhabitants play a major rôle in the whole industrial and social fabric of the West of Scotland.
I said that East Dunbartonshire encapsulated many of the facets of life in Scotland. I should have chosen to say that it was "a microcosm of Scotland" had not my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Ancram) used that expression in his maiden speech the other day. It may be of encouragement, at least to some members of my party, that two of the new Scottish Conservative Members come from constituencies which are so representative of Scottish life. At any rate, because the constituency represents so much of the life of Scotland I feel that it gives one a starting point from which to play a part in this debate.
Although I am new to the House, I am not new to the study of its place in out constitution. Indeed, for much of the past decade I have been privileged to play a small and humble part in the development of Scottish Conservative policy on devolution. That work has taught me two things above all: first, that we need to balance emotion with the hard facts of real life. That is not in any way to decry the importance of emotion. Surely that is one of the things with which we are here to deal.
Nevertheless, when we come to talk about constitutions trying to meet the real feelings and wishes of people we must balance these with the knowledge that in any constitutional change we shall be making a fundamental change in the way in which we run our society and that that cannot be done lightly or ill-advisedly.
Secondly, slogans are no substitute for solid policy developments. In terms of solid work, we have the report of the Royal Commission on the Constitution. It is a solid work to work one's way through, but it seems to me that whilst it is very sound on analysis and, indeed, sound on what is not wanted—and up to that point may commend itself to a great majority of the Scots people at any rate, which is all that I can speak for—the great weakness of the report is in its 1109 positive proposals for what it might be doing. It is too diffuse, and in many cases it insufficiently explains how its proposals would be carried through.
An example of what I mean is the reference at one point to the possibility of Ministers being appointed to operate in the assemblies envisaged, and the Ministers, the report says, should be appointed by the Crown, but it omits to tell us who will advise the Crown in the matter. The answer to the question of who advises the Crown in the matter appears to be of fundamental importance in terms of defining the nature and characteristics of the assemblies put forward by the Royal Commission.
I welcomed the other day the commitment of the Leader of the House to retain the office of Secretary of State. I hope that that implies a commitment to maintain the full Scottish representation in this House. In view of the weaknesses of the Kilbrandon Report and the recognition by the Leader of the House of the importance of the rôle of the Secretary of State, the Government's own definitive proposals might better be based upon the work of the Scottish Constitutional Committee chaired by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Sir A. Douglas-Home) than on the Kilbrandon Report itself. They may find it easier to evolve definitive proposals on that report.
One thing that I have always found in relation to views about these matters is that there is confusion in the minds of many people as between the functions of a legislature and those of an executive. There is perhaps not enormous scope for a much more dramatic evolution of the executive functions of government because substantial devolution has already taken place, but in marked contrast to that, and perhaps because of that, there is a pressing need for a legislative devolution or a devolution of legislative-type functions to control the executive functions which have already been devolved. There also sometimes seems to be a confusion between devolution within a unitary State and separation of nations, but that is a theme that I will not develop at this moment.
I firmly believe that the whole of the United Kingdom is of far greater consequence than the sum of the nations which have together made it great. I 1110 also believe that in an increasingly complex society we must address ourselves to a much greater diffusion of power. When I use the word "diffusion" I am thinking of a pamphlet produced by the previous Lord Chancellor some years ago in which he built up this theme. That word is something of which we should take considerable notice in the weeks to come.
It would be immensely satisfactory to me as a new Member if a major step forward could be made in this direction in my first Parliament.
§ 7.32 p.m.
§ Mr. George Lawson (Motherwell and Wishaw)
I should like to compliment the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Henderson) on a calm and closely reasoned speech. As usual in a maiden speech, he referred to his constituency, but he went on to deal with the subject matter of the debate. Too often, perhaps, maiden speeches say nothing about the subject matter of the debate in which they are made. His was a very useful contribution.
I was struck by the hon. Member's statement that we should be making a fundamental change were we to act in accordance with the recommendations of either the minority or the majority report by the Royal Commission. We should certainly consider the pros and cons of the suggestions. What we normally speak of as Kilbrandon—not the minority dissenting report—is singularly lacking in arguments to justify its proposals. It is depressing to think that all those learned people spent so long and in effect came up with answers that some might say were already conclusions in their heads before they considered the evidence.
A Royal Commission of this kind does not greatly impress me and I should like to consider some of the questions with which it was concerned but which it did not answer. Lord Crowther-Hunt said in his speech in another place that although the majority report listed a number of questions with which people were said to be dissatisfied, nowhere did it say whether those grievances were valid and whether its suggestions would rectify them.
The hon. Member for Argyll (Mr. MacCormick) talked about Stormont. Stormont is to my mind the product of 1111 a divided society. To understand Irish relations one has to go back over the long history of struggles, humiliation and the plantation policy. Every Irishman is full of Irish history, which has been a long process of humiliation, or at least a feeling of humiliation, giving rise to extreme nationalism which has made government difficult. Stormont is an expression of that division.
§ Mr. James Kilfedder (Down, North)
Will the hon. Gentleman take it from me that, although there may be a divided society in Ireland, the Unionist Party does not accept class divisions? When I first came to England to practice at the Bar in London I was astounded to hear talk of the "upper class" and the "lower classes". I do not accept that: I condemn it. Yet it is practised, and I hear those expressions on both sides of this House.
§ Mr. Lawson
That type of division may exist here, but it is not the same as the division that one sees in Ireland. The hon. Gentleman may say that the Unionist Party thinks in a certain way, but Ireland is a terribly divided society and has been for many years. We are suffering now from that fact. Stormont is not a governmental product or the result of calm judgment of difficulties. It is the product of division and it has not rectified the division.
My hon. Friends in the Scottish National Party—perhaps I should not call them my friends, although they come from the same country—talk about self-government for Scotland, by which, I take it, they mean separation, sovereignty, complete home rule. If a barrier were erected across that part of Scotland we call the Borders, there would be two foreign countries. [Interruption.] If hon. Members want Scotland to be a sovereign country, completely controlling its own destiny, so far as any small country can do so, it would be a foreign country to England, although the language would be about the same.
That would mean that there would no longer be such a nationality as British. Many of my hon. Friends think of themselves as Scots. We might even know much more about Robert Burns than members of the National Party, if our 1112 power to render "Tam o' Shanter" or "The Twa Dogs" may be taken as a certain measure of Scottish culture. Many of us treasure our Scottish nationality and might even write "Scottish" in hotel registration books abroad—but we also treasure our British nationality. If there were a separate sovereign Scotland, there would be no such thing as British nationality.
§ Mr. Lawson
I am happy that the hon. Gentleman asks that. If my fellow countrymen want it that way, if they want there to be no such thing as British nationality, if they want there to be Scots and English and nothing but, all right. However, many people in Scotland would be deprived of something which they now treasure.
Why all this concern with Kilbrandon and what is called devolution? Seldom is there an examination of what is meant by "devolution". It seems to me little other than the setting up of some kind of elected assembly, whether legislative or executive. I am not sure what my right hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Mr. Hughes) stood for. I gained the impression that he did not mean a lawmaking executive; he meant an assembly having some control but not a legislative assembly, although apparently he was prepared to grant that to the Scots. These matters should be studied seriously, but even in the majority Kilbrandon Report they are not so studied. For this and other reasons, it is a very unfortunate report emanating from such eminent people.
The upsurge of Scottish nationalism was mentioned and it was said that out of the Hamilton result came the Royal Commission. I can tell my right hon. and hon. Friends and Opposition Members not to give way to panic of this sort. It is perhaps forgotten that in 1945 a certain gentleman won Motherwell for the Scottish Nationalists. He appeared at the Bar of the House but refused to have sponsors who were not Scots, and apparently no Scots here could properly sponsor him. Eventually sponsors came forward, but it took a long time. He was here for only a few months and went out at the General Election. It is usual for people of that type to go out at General 1113 Election. However, the gentleman who went out at the General Election in 1945 got a better vote in Motherwell in 1945 than the Scottish National candidate got in 1974.
The Scottish National Party is not a new party. We have had Scottish nationalism ever since we have had what might be called a Scottish nation, ever since the Union of Parliaments. Has Scotland suffered—does Scotland suffer—as a result, for example, of the Union of Parliaments? Is it suffering now because of the existing set-up?
§ Mr. Lawson
If I could be shown in what way Scotland was suffering as a result of our two peoples becoming one people, I might become an even more ardent Scottish nationalist than hon. Gentlemen opposite, even than the hon. Lady. It is difficult to find evidence that my part of Great Britain has suffered as a result of that.
§ Mr. Stewart
The report of the National Children's Panel showed that in the south-east of England one child in 47 is disadvantaged at birth. In Britain as a whole the ratio is one in 16. Scotland has the worst figure in the United Kingdom—one in 10 are doomed to failure, disadvantaged from the day they are born. Would the hon. Gentleman care to say something about that?
§ Mr. Lawson
That may be true, but it is not to say that it is the fault of England or of London. I will give some history. If ever there was a city which was the creation of the Union of Parliaments, it was Glasgow. At that time Glasgow was nothing. Because it had open to it the English colonies, Glasgow was able to pinch the tobacco trade, and subsequently many other things enabled Glasgow to become for a time the second city in the Empire. That Scotland has declined relative to other parts of Great Britain in the last few years has not come about because of any machinations by the people of London or of England. It is because Scotland's geographical position is not now so advantageous and because it has a heavy preponderance of nineteenth century industry. For years Scottish Labour MPs have been trying to persuade the Government in London to intervene to rectify that situation.
§ Mr. Gwynoro Jones (Carmarthen)
I hope my hon. Friend will avoid falling into the trap that other Scottish Members are baiting for him when they pretend that Scotland is worse off because it is part of the United Kingdom. I refer him to paragraph 590 of the Kilbrandon Report which deals with research paper 10, which I commend to hon. Members opposite, on the financial viability of Scotland and Wales if they were independent and which states:It will be seen from these figures that public expenditure per head in Scotland has risen sharply in recent years, and in 1969–70 stood at 31 per cent. above the corresponding figure for England…in material terms Scotland stands to gain most by retention of the present system.
§ Mr. Lawson
For years we have tried to keep hidden the fact that we have been getting so much more out of the public purse but now, because of the Scottish National Party, it is all brought out into the full light of day and I fear that we shall not be able to sustain this position for much longer.
Kilbrandon conducted a national survey in Scotland which found that half the people of Scotland did not even know that we had a Scottish Office and the other half had not the vaguest idea of what the Scottish Office did.
Hon. Members must know that for many years the Scots, whether they have made a good job of it or not, have virtually legislated for Scotland in separate legislation. Our Bills have been drafted at the Scottish Office. They have been handled by Scottish Ministers. They have gone to Scottish Committees. On the Floor of the House our Bills have been handled virtually exclusively by Scottish Members, and even the Welsh dared not intervene. It may be that we have not always made a good job of it, but the fault lies with ourselves. Scotland has suffered over the years as much if not more from the Scots than from anybody else.
In my constituency Ravenscraig is a plum in terms of industry. Without Ravenscraig and the steel mill Scotland would be in a much worse state. The decision to have a strip steel mill at Craigneuk was taken not by Colvilles the Scottish steelmakers, or by Sir Andrew McCance, the king of the steelmakers, who was dead against it. The decision was taken by the Government of Harold Macmillan in London. Similarly they had 1115 to twist the arm of the motor car manufacturers to go to Bathgate. None of this would have happened without pressure from the South, and some might say that the same applies to Linwood. These developments have taken place because of pressures from the South.
If the people in the Highlands knew what was good for them they would not want to have a Government based on Edinburgh or Glasgow. Edinburgh and Glasgow are far less romantic about the Highlands and the kilt than are the people in London. The Government in London have a romantic idea about the Hebrides. The hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) wants the Hebrides to be given motor roads on the same basis as the south-east of England.
§ Mr. Lawson
If the Government of Scotland were based on Edinburgh, the Highlands would be dealt with much more toughly than they have been dealt with.
Again, on the oil question, we would quickly find that if there were any suggestion that Scotland should get North Sea oil, the Shetlanders would be insisting that they were not Scots at all, and we would find that Scotland had its own internal differences.
It is impossible to find any proposals in this report which rectify the situation, and by and large I would put the majority of the proposals of the Kilbrandon Report into the waste-paper basket.
§ 7.53 p.m.
§ Mr. D. E. Thomas (Merioneth)
May I take this, my first opportunity, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to congratulate you on your elevation. May I, without in any sense seeking to impugn the impartiality of the Chair, hope that you will pay as much attention to my party in this Chamber as you have always done in Wales.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. George Thomas)
Order. The hon. Gentleman will learn what the rest of the House knows, that I am completely neutral.
§ Mr. Thomas
I thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for bringing me to order. I hope you will not have to do so too often in future.
1116 I will not follow the hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Mr. Lawson) on the question of Scotland, but, having made my maiden speech last week, I should like to congratulate the hon. Members for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Henderson) and for Argyll (Mr. MacCormick) on their maiden speeches. I particularly commend the speech of the hon. Member for Argyll which showed depth of conviction, which is a pleasing thing in this House. He said that the setting up of the Royal Commission on the Constitution took place in response to electoral pressure following a certain by-election in Scotland. But for the practice in this House not to intervene in maiden speeches, I would have intervened and reminded the hon. Member of certain by-elections which occurred in Wales in the same period.
The setting up of the Royal Commission was the direct result of the resurgence of the national movements in Wales and Scotland which took place in the late 1960s. I believe that the setting up of the commission was an important turning point in the constitutional development of the United Kingdom. In my view the United Kingdom is an example of a multinational State which has been run in the past century or so as a unitary nation-State, and much of the dissatisfaction in Scotland and Wales and in the English regions spring from an overcentralised structure of government. Any attempt to increase democratic participation in the United Kingdom must begin from a recognition of the historic fact of differing national groups being squeezed into the straitjacket of the unitary State.
The setting up of the Royal Commission was a recognition that a more flexible and more popularly answerable system of government was needed, and the continuing debate on this subject in the Chamber, particularly since the arrival of certain new Members from Wales and Scotland, has ensured that the reception which the report is having in this new Parliament is far more serious than the reception which it first received in this House on publication. I am glad of this because it is important that we have rational discussion on this issue, although I also believe it is important that we move to a speedy conclusion of these discussions and have 1117 a time scale for implementing the report of the commission.
The right hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. Hughes) criticised some of us on this side of the House for remarks we made to the Secretary of State for Wales. We did not criticise him for delay in implementing the report. We said that we were anxious to see a time scale of development, and this is something to which I shall return later. The recent appointment of Lord Crowther-Hunt and the statement in this House imply that the report of the commission will not be shelved and will not be—if my colleagues will pardon the expression—scotched, as seemed likely to happen under the previous administration.
I should like to outline the time scale for progress and the sort of model for development that I should like to see. I shall be referring mainly to the position in Wales, although I may make some references to Scotland. I also have my views on general devolution throughout Britain, including the English region.
Hon. Members this afternoon have repeatedly stressed that the commission rejects separatism. I should like to put on record that I wholeheartedly follow the commission in its rejection of separatism. The concept of separatism which the commission rejects is a concept based upon absolute sovereignty. Sovereignty in the 1970s may be defined as an absolute concept in terms of constitutional law. I detect a strong flavour of constitutional law certainly in the main report of the commission. As regards political realities, however, sovereignty is in my view a concept which is relative. What we must talk about when we are discussing the implementation of the Kilbrandon Report are the kinds of powers which are needed to act decisively over the spheres of life which intimately and materially affect the people whom we represent. If we reject any absolute concept of sovereignty, we can see that a new structure of government for the United Kingdom and for Wales is an ongoing process.
In my view, devolution is a process. It is no end in itself. It is a process which takes place in response to popular demand. I believe that there is empirical evidence, based on social and economic conditions in Wales, that devolution must 1118 now go further than the commission's proposals in the main report. But this is for the people of Wales to decide. There is clearly—this emerges from opinion surveys in the report and from other opinion surveys carried out in the last five years in Wales—a consensus of opinion in favour of a democratically-elected body to represent the people of Wales. We have had evidence of this tonight from hon. Members opposite, and I am glad of this. What we and the Secretary of State have to decide are the minimum functions which are required to make the new body effective immediately it is set up.
There is agreement, therefore, on the need for an elected body. I think there is also agreement on the need for that body to have both administrative and executive functions. Here I strongly agree with the right hon. Member for Anglesey in so tar as he was prepared to commit himself on this issue. I think he was asking for a semi-legislative body or a body which could absorb legislative powers going beyond merely administrative or executive devolution. The concentration of administration in Whitehall is a consequence, I believe, of running the United Kingdom as a unitary State, and the devolution of powers to Wales and Scotland and the regions of England is a necessary precondition of more effective decision making in the United Kingdom generally.
I think that the most appropriate model for executive devolution is the one proposed in the memorandum of dissent, a document which I find attractive partly because it is written in the language of political science rather than in the language of constitutional law. The concept in the memorandum of intermediate levels of government taking over the detailed day-to-day administration of policy on matters of the environment, employment, education and science, health and social security, trade and industry the Home Office and agriculture is one which I wholly support from the point of view of administrative and executive devolution. That is what real devolution is about.
If the people of Wales, Scotland and the regions of England had a similar model, they would have direct dealings with their nearest regional or national capital of government. On day-to-day issues their dealings would be with the intermediate level of government, which 1119 would therefore be nearer to them and more answerable to their needs and problems. Wider issues and thornier problems would be referred to the State capital and the central Government.
Objections from the upholders of the unitary State concept would be that there was nothing like as great a calibre of decision below central Government level. I do not agree. If I were complaining I would prefer to see my complaint in a relatively small "in" tray in Cardiff than in a massive "in" tray in Whitehall. However, having endorsed the need for devolution at an administrative and executive level, I believe that there should also be devolved legislative functions in certain selected, specified sectors. Here I take issue with the memorandum of dissent and support the view of the main recommendations of the commission.
The memorandum rejects legislative powers for Scotland and Wales because in it Lord Crowther-Hunt and Professor Peacock are seeking a pattern of devolution which would have a parallel in the English regions and the two nations. But if Wales and Scotland are considered as national communities rather than regions, there is a sociologically based argument for considering them separately from the English regions. The argument put forward by the main report in favour of legislative devolution is that it would counter remoteness of government and provide a focus for real political interest in Wales and Scotland, permitting a unified approach as between policy and its implementation.
That final argument is the most powerful. If administrative and executive policy can be devolved, so too can the monitoring of that policy and so too can its adaptation and change. There is the danger in distinguishing between the legislative function and the administrative and executive function of creating an unresponsive structure of government. There is a danger that it will create a structure of government which will be insensitive to the need for change, which will have an inbuilt tendency to retaining and executing existing policy rather than to reform. This is why the elected assembly must be established with legislative policy-making functions devolved to it. But this must work within and in harmony with 1120 both the British structure and the EEC structure.
Legislative functions should be transferred over the broad area of domestic policy in the longer term, but that could be done in the immediate future by the transfer of the specific matters outlined it the main report. The regional development responsibility of the Department of Trade should also be transferred in order to maximise local initiative in devising and carrying out industrial development strategy at local level and working and implementing a broader EEC and British regional policy strategy.
We have to take into account the context of the EEC. The memorandum of dissent argued that because power is now in the process of being transferred to Brussels—there has been reference to secondary legislation in the House only recently—it would be inappropriate now to transfer powers back down to this House and from Whitehall to Cardiff. I do not accept that for one moment. If we are looking for greater integration within Europe, as I certainly am, and if we are looking for a pattern of co-operation in Europe, there must be a special place for the smaller regions and for the national groupings in Europe which have tended to be assimilated within the large unitary nation-States.
The Europe we are looking for is one in which Wales and Scotland will have their own access to the institutions of the EEC so that we may have integrated co-operation in the European structure, a structure consisting of self-governing constituent parts able to take vital decisions at a lower tier about their future.
In the process of devolution the Secretary of State for Wales has a vital rôle to play. It would be partly consultative and also supervisory in cases where the functions of the United Kingdom Parliament and the new Welsh legislative assembly would impinge. There would be a transitional rôle while powers vested in the United Kingdom legislative Parliament were devolved down to the new legislative assembly in Cardiff. If important financial powers and matters of external relations, defence and so on were retained in Whitehall, the office of Secretary of State for Wales would be absolutely essential.
1121 I turn now to the time scale for this model. I should like to see a White Paper introduced within three months—I do not believe that is beyond the resources of the Government because they now have a full-time constitutional adviser, whom we are anxious to meet—followed by a debate before the Summer Recess. The legislation could be prepared during the recess and brought in during the autumn. Assuming that the various stages could be completed, we should then be in a position to set up a new assembly in Cardiff on 1st March 1976. That is the date we should be aiming for. That time scale is not unreasonable and I hope that hon. Members on the Labour benches—I hope I may regard them as hon. Friends—will agree that it is reasonable.
Debates about constitutions are seldom inspiring, and many may say that my contribution is scarcely an exception. We hope, through the debate and through implementation of the main recommendations of the Kilbrandon Report, to create a framework in which the people of Wales can take vital decisions about their future. Such decisions will be vastly different from the type of decisions which are far too often taken in this Chamber.
Wales is a radical, Socialist country. A Welsh Parliament would never have passed the Industrial Relations Act, the Housing Finance Act or other anti-working-class measures which were pushed through the House by the previous Government.
A Welsh assembly would be able to implement radical, social and economic policies. That is why I am passionately in favour of legislative devolution. Some of my friends in the Labour movement argue that my being in favour of legislative devolution and the setting up of a Welsh parliament means that I am breaking the traditional unity of the British working class, but I believe that I am strengthening it.
If we can have an effective radical Government in Wales to implement strategy in social and economic policy it can provide leadership for the politically active members of the Labour movement throughout Britain. I do not believe that maintenance of the monolithic unity of the British State is part of Socialism. Socialism must be community-based, and in our 1122 context that community is Wales. Within the context of a Kilbrandon-type legislative assembly we can achieve a greater measure of social and economic progress for the people of Wales.
§ 8.11 p.m.
§ Mr. James Kilfedder (Down, North)
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. Thomas). Despite what he said about his speech I found it inspiring. Indeed, I always find all Welsh speakers eloquent, including you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and it is a great honour to make my first speech in this Parliament while you are in the Chair.
I regret that when I asked the Prime Minister yesterday if he would implement the recommendation of the majority report of the Royal Commission to increase the number of Members from Northern Ireland from 12 to about 17 he could not give any such assurance. The Government seem unwilling to implement that recommendation. The Prime Minister had an opportunity yesterday to say that, for the sake of democracy, he would consider the recommendation so as to ensure that Northern Ireland was properly represented in the House.
This attitude by the Government is in stark contrast to the statement in the Gracious Speech that discussions are to begin on the Kilbrandon Report with a view to bringing forward proposals for devolution in Scotland and Wales. I do not believe that my hon. Friends from Wales and Scotland—I mean the Scottish and Welsh nationalists—have been deceived for one moment by the sudden conversion of the Labour Party from its consistent opposition to devolution.
The Labour Government offer discussions in the hope that they will undermine the standing of Scottish and Welsh nationalists and will, hence, enable Labour to win back a few seats at the next election. The Government's offer of discussions is also made in the knowledge that such talk will not even have reached a satisfactory conclusion, let alone be translated into legislation, before the next election. If the Labour Party wins a majority at the next election, all its new-found sympathy for devolution will evaporate, and the Scottish and Welsh nationalists in the House will find that they are as unpopular as the Ulster Unionists. Indeed, the Scottish and Welsh 1123 nationalists experienced such a status until the last election, which resulted in the present minority Government which cannot afford seriously to offend minorities in the House—a situation which will alter if the Labour Party secures a majority in the next election.
However, the Labour Party has looked unkindly on the recommendation for an increase in the number of Members of Parliament from Northern Ireland largely because it seeks support from the considerable number of Eire citizens living in England and partly because, until recent years, Unionist Members slavishly —I use the word deliberately—followed the Conservatives into the Division Lobby for the past five decades.
But this is no longer the position. All that has changed. Like the Liberals and the Scottish and Welsh nationalists, the Unionists will judge every piece of legislation—that relating not only to the region they represent but to the nation as a whole—on its merits.
A greater number of Members from Northern Ireland would mean that there would be a wider spectrum of political opinion represented in the House. It would make the people of Northern Ireland feel more secure if they were seen to be treated as British citizens elsewhere in the United Kingdom.
The Ulster people have often been told of the safeguards to protect their rights, but there is not much evidence of these. Increasing the number of Members from Northern Ireland from 12 to about 17, as recommended in the majority report of Kilbrandon, would be a way to demonstrate Westminster's good will. As far as I am aware the minority report does not demur from that recommendation. However I would argue for about 20 Members from Ulster.
It is regrettable that the previous Conservative Government did not wait until the publication of the Royal Commission's report before deciding that the Stormont Parliament should be suspended. The Royal Commission which examined devolution in Northern Ireland up until 1969, when the IRA violence engulfed the Province and caused, to date, 1,000 dead, thousands mutilated, and millions of pounds worth of property to be destroyed, came to the conclusion that devolution had worked admirably.
1124 The report makes no comment on the creation of a power-sharing Executive, or a compulsory coalition, of persons who are fundamentally opposed to each other on political grounds. That is not surprising, since it would not be contemplated for any other part of the United Kingdom; nor would it be received with anything but anger. Even this Government refused to be party to a Government of national unity, despite the grave national crisis. They refused to have anything to do with the Liberals or the Conservatives. They wanted to rule on their own.
Yet, so far as Northern Ireland is concerned, the Labour Party, with the Conservative Party, decided that people who are politically opposed to one another must serve in an Executive which, I understand, is guided by the concept of collective responsibility.
Although Northern Ireland has had a Parliamentary Commissioner and a Commissioner for Complaints, neither of these Ombudsmen, although they quite properly set out to find evidence of discrimination, was able to discover a single case of deliberate discrimination on political or religious grounds against a person or persons. They found some minor cases of poor administration, but such are not unusual in any region. In Wales, Scotland and even England there are many examples of poor administration. Administratively, the former Stormont Parliament and Government did better for the people of Ulster than the central Government here at Westminster have done for Great Britain.
Not surprisingly, the commissioners came to the conclusion that Northern Ireland was equitably and honestly governed. The first Parliamentary Commissioner, Sir Edmund Compton, said that in his experience the relations between the governed and the Civil Service were far better and closer in Northern Ireland than in Great Britain.
The allegation is often made that Northern Ireland is subsidised by the British taxpayer. I have heard it in this Chamber. There is nothing of which to be ashamed about being subsidised. It is the proper consequence of being part of the family. Many people who make the allegation forget that the Ulster people pay the same taxes as other citizens of the United Kingdom.
1125 The Royal Commission deals with the subsidy allegation in paragraph 1309 and the two succeeding paragraphs of the majority report. It says:Those who made the allegation"—that Northern Ireland was subsidised by the rest of the United Kingdom—were usually concerned either to discredit the Stormont regime—the implication being that the Northern Ireland Government was inefficient and could not manage on its allotted income—or to substantiate the argument that the people of Northern Ireland stayed in the United Kingdom only because of the subsidy they received from the United Kingdom Government.In the sense that the amount contributed by the people of Northern Ireland in taxation was not sufficient to pay for their share of imperial and domestic services, it was obviously true to say that they were 'subsidised' … But the same was and is true of several other regions of the United Kingdom. The practical difference is that in these other regions the figures have not regularly been made available.…In any event the 'subsidy' was nothing to be ashamed of. It was a proper consequence of common citizenship. In any state, some regions are bound to be poorer than others. In modern democratic states it is accepted that these poorer regions should share in the greater wealth produced by the more prosperous regions.That was the conclusion of those who compiled the majority report of the Kilbrandon Commission. It is an answer to those who have made the allegation.
Northern Ireland is poorer than other regions in England for a number of reasons. The same reasons can be applied to Scotland and Wales. The South-East, the Home Counties and London have acted as a magnet drawing the lifeblood from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The young people come here. Very little private money is invested on the periphery of the United Kingdom. That is why Northern Ireland suffers. Many Ulstermen, Irish people, Scots and Welsh are to be found in London. We suffer because London and the Home Counties, the areas of great affluence, draw those people and the wealth away from what were once prosperous regions.
§ Mr. Alick Buchanan-Smith (North Angus and Mearns)
The hon. Gentleman is rather unfair about what happens in some of the other regions of the United Kingdom. Is he aware that migration from Scotland last year was the lowest since the war, and that the num- 1126 ber of people going into Scotland is higher than for many years? The hon. Gentleman is exaggerating when he says that little investment and development are taking place in the areas of which he speaks. I suggest that he comes to Scotland to see what is happening.
§ Mr. Kilfedder
I am glad that the non. Gentleman made that observation, because I wish to refer briefly to an article by Professor Victor Morgan, Professor of Economics at the University of Manchester, in the Lloyds Bank Review for last October. In that article, on regional problems and common currencies, he deals with how regions become depressed, and talks about the position of certain parts of the United Kingdom. He refers to Scotland, Northern Ireland and South Wales as well as the North-East and the North-West of England. Professor Morgan certainly would not agree with the hon. Gentleman. He says:Before 1914 the present problem areas of the UK were among the most prosperous parts of the country.They include Scotland. He continuesThat prosperity returned very briefly in the post-war boom but vanished in the ensuing depression. Since then, they have followed the ups and downs of national economic activity, but always with an unemployment rate well above the national average.Professor Morgan goes on to talk about why those regions are now in a state of depression.
§ Mr. Buchanan-Smith
I apologise for interrupting the hon. Gentleman again, but if he refers to such articles I should like to refer to an article in last week's Listener by a member of the Hudson Institute, which described Scotland as one of the areas with the best prospects of development in the whole United Kingdom. The hon. Gentleman does a disservice not only to Scotland but to other regions of the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland, in decrying much of what has been achieved in recent years.
§ Mr. Kilfedder
I am prepared to give credit where it is due. Northern Ireland is an example of what can be achieved with a devolved Parliament. It is an argument in favour of having devolved assemblies for Scotland and Wales. I note what the hon. Gentleman has said, but I understand that unemployment in Scotland is about 4 per cent. I do not have the figures for migration from Scotland 1127 to the South-East of England, but I shall check on them, and perhaps I can deal with them when we have a further debate on the Kilbrandon Report.
§ Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston-upon-Hull, Central)
Is the hon. Gentleman speaking in favour of devolution or integration?
§ Mr. Kilfedder
I shall deal with that question in a few minutes.
Professor Morgan's conclusions are that the regions are depressed because there is a fall in demand for their products; because of the cost of obtaining goods and raw materials from outside those regions. He goes on to say that:A more subtle, and even less discussed, effect may arise from the centralisation of the capital market in London. In certain circumstances, this may cause a region to become virtually an enforced exporter of capital, and so it raises the kind of question posed by economic historians in relation to the operation of the early nineteenth-century banking system within the UK and the late nineteenth-century international capital market centred on London.Professor Morgan went on to deal with insurance premiums and pension contributions, nearly all of which are paid to funds administered outside the region. He adds that there will be a net capital export.
Given the choice of a devolved assembly or integration, I am in favour of integration with an assembly. But I support the demand for a Stormont Parliament. Though I accept the present Assembly as a third tier, I totally reject the enforced power-sharing Executive which has been forced on the people of Northern Ireland and the proposed Council of Ireland. The Council means that Northern Ireland is made different from the rest of the United Kingdom, and I want Ulster to be on the same footing as Great Britain.
The allegation that Ulster is living on United Kingdom subsidies is rubbish when it is remembered that the whole of the United Kingdom is being subsidised to a colossal extent from abroad. More money will be borrowed shortly by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I do not know how many thousands of millions of pounds he will borrow to subsidise the nation. No one need raise the allegation of subsidies for Northern Ireland. It 1128 must also be remembered that Northern Ireland produces 4 to 5 per cent. more from its workers than the rest of the United Kingdom: it produces more than it receives. That productivity has been achieved despite the present IRA campaign of violence and the destruction of parts of our industry in the Province. Despite all that, productivity has been higher than in the rest of the United Kingdom.
I am glad to say that the Stormont Parliament did not enact the Industrial Relations Act for Northern Ireland. That was a deliberate decision on the part of that parliament. I am proud of the attitude of the workers in Northern Ireland. Despite the present strife they make a large contribution to the prosperity of the Province. We must give them due praise. Their productivity has been achieved against the background of IRA violence.
§ Mr. Gwynoro Jones
The hon. Gentleman has referred to the virtue of the Stormont Parliament in not implementing the Industrial Relations Act in Northern Ireland. Will he tell us how he voted in the House on that issue?
§ Mr. Kilfedder
If lion. Members look at the Division record they will find that I abstained on most of those occasions. I did not vote against that measure. On reflection—and I will be candid and honest about the matter—perhaps I should have done so. Of course, times have changed.
The Industrial Relations Act highlights the weakness of the present unitary system of Government in the United Kingdom. There is a tendency for United Kingdom policy to be determined on the basis of what is good for the English Home Counties and not to consider the effects on Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, and certain parts of Northern England. That is indefensible. For decades we have witnessed the inability of the United Kingdom Government to produce any successful economic plan.
Only the Department of Economic Affairs, while it existed, made any headway. It did so while it was under the control of Lord George-Brown, as he now is. He inspired the Department to get down to the task of thinking constructively about regional development. However, even he with all his ability and charisma did not succeed, although he 1129 changed the thinking of the Westminster civil servants. He made them realise that the outer regions of the United Kingdom had a part to play in the economic recovery of the nation.
It was a pity that the Department of Economic Affairs was abolished, although when Lord George-Brown left it the policy of special regional aid gradually withered away. What he did was similar to what the Government of Northern Ireland had been doing since the end of the war, particularly in the Ministries of Commerce and Agriculture. In order that Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland should catch up with the wealthy regions of England and the affluence to be seen there, massive sums must be allocated to them.
I trust that the Labour Government will think again, that they will say that they believe in democracy for all the people of the United Kingdom, that they will provide for at least 17 Members of this House from Northern Ireland, and that they will provide for Scotland and Wales a system of regional government not dissimilar from the old Stormont Parliament or from the constitutional proposals put forward by my hon. Friends and myself.
§ 8.36 p.m.
§ Mr. David Steel (Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles)
I shall not follow the hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) into Northern Ireland affairs, except to say that the most dramatic feature of recent politics in Ulster, when one considers the Kilbrandon Report. was the introduction of proportional representation there and the success this has had in creating an effective Northern Ireland Assembly. I hope that the hon. Member will not take it amiss when I say that I wish we had seen the introduction of proportional representation for the election of Ulster's Westminster Members as well, because then we might have seen a more broadly-based representation than the rather solid mass of which he is a distinguished member.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Argyll (Mr. MacCormick) on his maiden speech, which was both cogent and powerful. I have particular reason for welcoming it because his father was my distinguished predecessor as Liberal candidate for Roxburgh. Selkirk and Peebles. He gave a lifetime of service to the 1130 Scottish people and the cause of home rule. His son's election to this House has brought a great deal of pleasure to my constituents, as I am sure it has to the people of Argyll.
The right hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. Hughes) accused the Liberal Party of having changed its policy during the last 100 years on this matter. I plead guilty to that charge on behalf of the Liberal Party. I do not think that anyone would accuse the Labour Party of a similar misdemeanour. The right hon. Gentleman's speech made the right hon. Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Sir A. Douglas-Home) look like a raging, adventurous radical in comparison. I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Anglesey is not here for my tribute. If his speech represents all we are to get out of the present Government in the discussions of the Kilbrandon Report, it is not very much.
I want to make a basic point. This matter is not new. It is not just a question of saying that the Kilbrandon Report was published only a few months ago and so we have not had time to do anything. It is at least six years since the right hon. Member for Kinross and West Perthshire started his constitutional committee. Then we had the setting up of the Kilbrandon Commission. The subject has been on the agenda of politics in Scotland, actively and in detail, for at least six years, and it is not good enough for Ministers to pretend that it is something wholly new which now needs a great deal of time for discussion.
What is needed is a political commitment to Scotland accepting the case for an elected legislative assembly over a wide range of issues. That is the recommendation of the majority of the commission. The right course for the Government is to accept the political commitment and then say that the discussions will be based on that. Without that political commitment we are simply recycling the discussions that have been going on for six years.
We are entitled to doubt the Government's sincerity and commitment on this question. I was astonished that in the immediate aftermath of the election a committee of the Scottish Labour Party which included on it the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State suddenly came out with the proposal that there should 1131 be some form of elected assembly for Scotland. That is the most dramatic and sudden conversion since the Chinese general, whose name I have temporarily forgotten, baptised his troops with a hose pipe, and it might prove to be equally unconvincing. We do not have yet a commitment from the Government, and I hope that we shall press them further in the debate.
During the whole period of the previous Government's administration we were told that discussions were going on and that a Green Paper would be produced. We have progressed from the promise of a Green Paper to the promise of a White Paper. That is progress after all these years. It does not matter much whether the paper is green, blue or white. What matters is a political commitment by the Government that they accept the basic proposition of the majority of the Kilbrandon Commission that there must be an elected assembly. Then, by all means, start discussions in Scotland with local authorities, political parties and others about how that should be implemented, but let us have the commitment first.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
I know that the hon. Gentleman is serious about this, but does he think that we in Scotland are in danger of becoming the most over-governed 5 million people in the world? We have community councils and district councils, and now we are to have regional councils and an assembly. We have a Secretary of State and there are 71 of us at Westminster. Does not the hon. Gentleman think that there is a real danger of over-government?
§ Mr. Steel
I concede that the hon. Gentleman makes a perfectly fair point. My view and my party's view was that the question of an assembly for Scotland should have been studied first before the local government changes were introduced. We have taken that consistent view. No commitment was made to an elected assembly and, therefore, the structure of government has already been changed underneath. I accept that there is a danger, but it does not invalidate the long-held view that Scottish legislation should be transferred back to Scotland.
1132 Quite apart from the interests of Scotland, there is a House of Commons case for taking legislation away from Westminster. The need for this is apparent when the House is dealing with the Report stages of Scottish Bills, particularly those that run late into the night, such as the Local Government (Scotland) Bill. If a census were taken among hon. Members of all parties and of all regions in the United Kingdom in the middle of the night during the Report stage of a Scottish Bill there would be universal acceptance of the need for Scottish devolution.
The House is becoming clogged. We are unable adequately to scrutinise legislation and unable as a Parliament to control the growing power of the executive, which, inevitably, continues to grow under all parties. Even with a Liberal Government the trend would be no different. Government has become too complex, and we have not changed the structure of our parliamentary democracy to counter it.
Leaving aside the case for Scotland, which is most powerful of all, there is a House of Commons case for saying that we should not put Scottish legislation, which is already separate, through the same overworked machine. If Scottish legislation were taken from here, we in Scotland, as well as hon. Members representing other parts of the United Kingdom, would have more effective control over the executive, and more democratic control in Scotland would bring power nearer to the people. I say "democratic" because the history of the development of the Scottish Office as a response to the request for more devolution of power has shown a growing addition of power to the Scottish Office. Almost every Government have added an Under-Secretary here or an extra department there. There has been recent discussion and debate whether the departments concerned with trade and industry in Scotland should come under the Scottish Office.
The danger is that when more Civil Service departments are piled on one Minister the more power is taken away from Ministers and given to civil servants, and fewer Ministers are answerable to Parliament. The only answer is to change 1133 the structure by having democratic devolution, an elected assembly, a clear division of powers over Scottish Office matters in Scotland and power to legislate in Scotland.
I shall be blunt about the Government's role in this matter. I agree here with one observation made by the hon. Member for Down, North. There is a danger that the discussions will go on. We may or may not have a White Paper. We have been given no time scale, and it will be helpful if we are told about it in the Government's reply tonight. When is the White Paper to be published? However, whether we have it or whether it is still waiting to be published when the next election comes—which will not be long, as we all know—I suspect that, just as there was during the whole of the last Parliament, there will be plenty of discussions and promised papers, but no actual proposals, and nothing done about the matter by the time that election comes.
If the Conservative Party happens to be returned at that election, it will be able to start the process again. If the Labour Party comse back with a larger majority, it will be able to start the process again, though with less urgency because the good will of the Liberals, the nationalists and the rest will not be quite so important.
That is why we are pressing the matter now. That is why we have initiated the debate so early in this Parliament, in order to seek a commitment from the Government.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Whereas I have always understood the extreme Scottish nationalist separatist case, which includes a Scottish Treasury, what I fail to understand is the Liberal attitude, leaving out the position of the Treasury, which, as the hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do, is crucial in any decision.
§ Mr. Steel
I was just coming to the difference of policy between the Liberals and the nationalists on the Kilbrandon Report. It is well known that we in the Liberal Party advocate a federal structure in which the economic divisions of the Treasury also would be included within Scotland. That is quite different 1134 from the Scottish nationalist policy of a sovereign State. It is quite different from what Kilbrandon recommended, for I concede at once that Kilbrandon rejected both separatism and federalism.
I recognise that difference, but I believe that the Kilbrandon Report gives us the first opportunity, on an authoritative document, to unite the people of Scotland behind what I regard as the minimum demand; that is, democratic control over those matters which are already separately administered and for which there is already separate legislation. That is something which can unite not just Liberals and nationalists, for I believe that the backing for Kilbrandon goes far wider then merely among those who voted Liberal or nationalist in Scotland. It is felt by Conservatives and Socialists as well.
That, as I say, is the minimum demand. We approached the last election, therefore, not having changed our own policy, but saying that the first priority in the new Parliament is to have a Scottish assembly as advocated by Kilbrandon. The reason is simple. I can illustrate it by referring to what one constitutional expert wrote in a book published, I think, about 10 years ago. He said that it was arguable that the State of Texas got more out of the federation of the United States than Scotland did out of the Act of Union, the reason being that Texas was left with a democratic voice through its State Assembly, and the Act of Union of 1707 left Scotland with nothing.
The re-creation of an assembly, with the powers set out by the Royal Commission, would make that assembly a focus for argument among Liberals, Socialists, Conservatives, the Scottish National Party—the lot. We could then have within Scotland the re-creation of real political argument, argument about what changes we should want, what further powers we should ask for, and the rest, and it would, in my view, give us back the political personality which Scotland has not had.
That is the overwhelming case for it. That is why the Government should give a clear commitment in favour and give us the time scale in which they will operate.
§ 8.49 p.m.
§ Mr. Alec Jones (Rhondda)
The debate is continuing for a long time, and I am sure that hon. Members are delighted to take part in it, but it seems to me that, in speaking as we are about the Kilbrandon Report and its sins of omission or commission, we are doing a lot more talking about it here than is being done outside.
I have visited many parts of the country in the past three or four weeks. Although I did not have the pleasure of going to Scotland, I went to various parts of England—one has to bear in mind that the Kilbrandon Report relates to England as well—and I found that no one even knew who Kilbrandon was.
In the parts of Wales I visited—Cardiganshire, Aberdare and Cardiff—I met few people who knew that a Kilbrandon Commission had made a report. Certainly the issue of devolution was not a crucial one during the election. It may have been in parts of Scotland but I do not believe that it was the burning issue. I believe that such matters as prices, wages, pensions and housing were the crucial issues, and it was on those issues that the people made their decision.
§ Mr. D. E. Thomas
In the election with which I was concerned the issues to which the hon. Gentleman has referred were related to the subject of the constitutional development of Wales. Questions of low wages, high prices and lack of industrial development are intimately related to the whole issue of having a decision-making power in Wales which can revive the economy.
Mr. loan Evans (Aberdare)
My hon. Friend had more people voting for him than did all the Plaid Cymru candidates put together. His majority of 30,000 is a substantial one. In this General Election, which was the time when the recommendations of Kilbrandon could have been put to the test, 26 out of 36 Plaid Cymru candidates lost their deposits. The vote for the nationalist candidates was 1136 about 10 per cent., which shows that 90 per cent. of the people in Wales did not consider this to be the burning issue.
§ Mr. Jones
My hon. Friend fails to appreciate how kind I was trying to be to my nationalist opponents. I would not like to mention my majority of 30,141. I will do so since I am forced into it. I make these points not because I am suggesting that we ought not to be discussing Kilbrandon or the general thesis of devolution but because it is important to realise that we have a professional commitment on this issue one way or the other.
It is no good trying to kid ourselves that our way is right unless we can bring the majority with us. It is a little unreasonable to expect the Government to produce a White Paper as rapidly as is requested when a fortnight ago that Government did not exist and when some Opposition Members sought to bring them down on Monday evening.
§ Mr. Wigley
Enough was known about the Kilbrandon Report by the Labour Party for it to include in its manifesto for Wales the commitment to enact an assembly for Wales.
§ Mr. Jones
I am glad the hon. Gentleman realises that we made a definite commitment.
There is talk about implementing Kilbrandon. When we talk this way, we must spell out what we as individuals mean. The different proposals contained in the Kilbrandon Report are all dovetailed to suit our previously held convictions or our prejudices and biases. Although I do not pretend to speak with any authority on the Scottish aspects of Kilbrandon, perhaps I might say a few words on the Welsh aspects.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Mr. Hughes) said, in respect of Wales Kilbrandon rejected completely the basic philosophy behind the Welsh National Party. It is all very well for Welsh nationalists to extol the virtues of Socialism, and I commend them for it, but I sat in this House when the leader of their party sat on the Opposition benches. On no occasion did he express any Socialist ideals.
The other possibility, of federalism, which is much beloved by the Liberals, 1137 is also rejected by the report. All that comes out of it for Wales is that the majority report opposes even legislative devolution. Everyone wants some sort of devolution in Wales, but there the agreement seems to end. Six commissioners advocated a legislative devolution, two an executive devolution, three some sort of advisory devolution and two signed the memorandum of dissent. They are not proposals which can be put en bloc to the people. For that reason I welcome this debate, because it enables each party to say where it stands.
It is no good hiding behind the slogan "Kilbrandon must be implemented". The Labour Party's basic views are on record. It is not true to suggest that its attitude to devolution depended on the election results in Carmarthen, in the old Rhondda, West constituency or in Caerphilly.
In 1965 the Welsh Council of Labour passed a resolution in favour of an elected Council for Wales. At its annual conference in 1966 it confirmed it. In 1968 the Labour Government set up the commission. In 1969 we prepared our evidence to the commission. In 1972, during the last Parliament, before we knew the result and before we knew there was to be an election, those of us who served on the Standing Committee considering the Local Government Bill considered an amendment that an elected council should be set up in Wales. The present Mr. Deputy Speaker, my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. George Thomas), said at the time that when the Labour Party returned to power it would take steps to introduce an elected Council for Wales. That was the commitment of the party prior to the election, and I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Wales intends to adhere to it.
We have heard it suggested that the Kilbrandon Report is being discussed tonight only because of the successes of candidates of the two national parties and of the Liberal Party in the last election. As secretary of the Welsh Group of Labour Members of Parliament, I can confirm that within days of the publication of the report we 1138 began our investigation and that we produced a draft document within a week in which we said that we as Welsh Labour Memberswelcomed the establishment of an All Wales Elected Assembly with real powers as the best means of exercising closer democratic control over those distinctive features of Welsh life … The Group endorsed the views of the majority of the commission that the essential legislative, financial and economic unity of the United Kingdom should be preserved as the best means of ensuring the future well-being of the people of Wales.I read that document to show that it was produced prior to the election and to refute the idea that we are suddenly objecting to the presence of members of the two national parties.
§ Mr. Tom Ellis (Wrexham)
Does my hon. Friend recall that as a Welsh group of Labour Members of Parliament we also said that, irrespective of what our English and Scottish colleagues did, come hell fire or high water we were absolutely committed to this issue?
§ Mr. Jones
Yes. We did not discuss this matter with our English or Scottish colleagues. We looked at it from our own point of view and said that this was good for the people of Wales. I am not sure that we would agree with our Scottish colleagues. We proceeded alone with this definite commitment.
Hon. Hembers chided my right hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey for not spelling out in greater detail where we stood on this matter. We submitted our evidence to Kilbrandon. Prior to the election we said that we were proposing an elected Welsh assembly with real powers to improve the economic and cultural life of our people. We said, first, that it should be directly elected, with no nomination or all the other codswallop; secondly, that it would have real executive powers of action; thirdly, that it would reflect the feelings and desires of all the people of Wales—in the Rhondda, Caernarvon, and Wrexham as well.
Fourthly, we said that it would be a developing instrument of government, its powers being shaped in the light of experience and democratic needs. That is right. No one in 1974 can say whether Parliament in 1984 might want to throw 1139 the whole lot through the window. I do not know.
Fifthly, we said that its financial resources would be so determined that Wales and its people did not lose by the arrangement, because we appreciated the great material help that we gained as part of the United Kingdom. Finally, we said that Wales would retain its full complement of Members at Westminster and its own Secretary of State in the Cabinet so that it would continue to obtain its full share of the work and wealth of the United Kingdom.
Opposition Members have said much the same this evening, but I must make the point to them and to some of my hon. Friends that it is not much good, as Welsh or even as Scottish Members, saying that we want specialist treatment and the same representation in this House. Our English colleagues could say "If you want a separatist type of Parliament, you cannot have the same representation here. You cannot have your cake and eat it." It is no use saying that what we want would be carried by a vast majority in this House. We must take into account the fact that some English Members would express a certain view on this matter.
Those, roughly, are the views of the Labour Party. It is not easy to understand the views of the Tory Party. I understand that the Tory Opposition do not want to talk about this subject yet. That is understandable. There are many matters that they do not want to talk about yet, so we will forgive them.
I am sorry that the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) is not present, because I want to ask him a question and to quote part of his election address, in which he said:Liberals believe in a domestic Parliament for Wales along the lines recommended in the majority report of the Kilbrandon Commission.Surely that must mean a complete rejection of federalism, because the majority report certainly rejected federalism. If the hon. and learned Gentleman attracted votes in his constituency by appealing to people to support the majority report of Kilbrandon, that must imply the rejection of federalism.
§ Mr. Steel rose——1140
§ Mr. Steel
I have already spoken for my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson), because I covered this point in my speech when I made it clear that we are not abandoning our policy on federalism. We suggest that the Scottish and Welsh people should unite in getting the minimum demand of Kilbrandon now, that we should let these assemblies go on from there and then get further changes if we wish.
§ Mr. Jones
I think it would have been more honest if the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery had indicated in his election address that he was asking people to vote for this assembly now and that they would get the remainder as soon as possible.
I now come to the second point on the hon. and learned Gentleman's election address. I assume that here he must have had some time in mind, but the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel) probably will not be able to give me an answer on that. The hon. and learned Gentleman's election address states:After proper debate, there should be a referendum on the subject.Are we to take it that that is official Liberal Party policy? If it is, I do not mind. Is it official Liberal Party policy that before accepting the idea of a Parliament or assembly for Wales based on the majority Kilbrandon report there should be a referendum? If that is the policy, it is fantastic to recall that the Liberal Party opposed a referendum on the Common Market. We shall have to await a meeting of the Welsh Grand Committee before we know what is to happen to the Liberal Party in Wales.
I was almost wooed by the speech of the hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. Thomas). It was a very good speech. In fact, I thought that he was sitting on the wrong side of the House. Be that as it may, I have to remember that when he speaks in this House I am not sure that he always speaks for the whole of his party, and it is the attitude of parties to Kilbrandon that is important.
In October 1968 the Leader of the Welsh National Party, who at the time 1141 was a Member of this House, was asked to explain what he meant by his views on separation. He said:It means financial separation; it means administrative separation; it means political separation, but it does not mean economic separation."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th October 1968 Vol. 770, c. 273.]At that stage HANSARD records "Laughter".
I have discussed this matter with some friends of mine who, for their sins, are economists. They tell me that to believe that there can be financial separation, administrative separation and political separation but not economic separation is a little airy-fairy. Has the Welsh National Party now abandoned its definition of separation as spelled out by its leader, or if we accept its view today about the implementation of Kilbrandon are we accepting a sheep in wolf's clothing?
§ Mr. D. E. Thomas
I made the position clear in my speech. I stated that I believe, and it is the view of my party, that there is sufficient evidence about the economic and social position of Wales to say that we need to go further than the main report of Kilbrandon. However, I also said specifically that our position was to support the main recommendations of Kilbrandon, and I outlined the ideal model which I should like to see immediately.
Devolution is a developing thing. We must move gradually towards further legislative powers being given to Wales as soon as we have an assembly, but this is a gradual process. It is a process of development.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Oscar Murton)
Order. The hon. Member has made one speech on this subject. I should be grateful if he would not make another.
§ Mr. Jones
I wish, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you would let the hon. Member for Merioneth continue, because I am sure he would help me considerably. I take it from what he said that the Welsh National Party has not abandoned its aim of separation as spelled out by Gwynfor Evans on 15th October 1968.
It seems that everyone believes that there is a need for considerable devolution. I do not believe that it is a ques- 1142 tion of creating a new tier of government. It has been suggested that some parts of Scotland might be over-governed. Some people in Wales think that we have too much government. When we talk about devolution, we must aim to democratise those institutions which exist and to ensure that new ones that are created are equally democratised. We must create organs of society which will allow people to influence events which affect their lives before final decisions are made.
I have heard all sorts of arguments in favour of devolution. One is that it will cure the feeling of remoteness. I do not believe that remoteness has anything to do with geography. Many people living in Glamorgan feel as remote from the Glamorgan County Council as from hon. Members here. It is the bureaucratic nature of many organisations —I am not attacking Glamorgan for this —particularly nationalised industries, which creates remoteness, and not their location.
It has also been said that government now is English government. I go with those who hold this view when they talk about Tory government. The question is not whether English government is good or bad but what sort of government we have. Therefore, what we need is not necessarily more government but better government, and my definition of better government is more Socialist government.
Nor do I believe that the question of where a decision is made is important. I recall Welsh civil servants in a Welsh city, Cardiff, deciding to close a hospital in the Rhondda. The fact that the decision was made in Cardiff by Welshmen about a Welsh issue made it no more acceptable. The wrong decision was made; it did not suit the people affected. So the fundamental argument is not where a decision is made but how far we can take into account the needs and aspirations of ordinary men and women.
Kilbrandon, like many other events of the past three and a half years, has pointed the lesson for working men and women of Wales, Scotland, Ireland and any English region. That lesson is that what we should be doing as working men and women is maximising our strength and unity so that we build a fairer and more just society and that we shall not 1143 do it by permanently arguing among ourselves.
§ 9.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Douglas Henderson (Aberdeenshire, East)
I am grateful to be able to make my maiden speech tonight and to do so as the representative of East Aberdeenshire. I should like first to mention my two predecessors in the constituency in the last 50 years—namely, Robert Boothby, who is well-known to hon. Members, and Patrick Wolrige-Gordon, who was the Member for the last 16 years. It is not an empty or formal collection of words when I say that I freely acknowledge and recognise the service that they gave to the constituency over that period.
I shall in future, I hope, be able to tell the House more about East Aberdeenshire, its industries, farming and fishing, and about its problems, but tonight I am delighted that the opportunity to make my maiden speech should be on the issue of the Kilbrandon Report and self-government for Scotland. My constituency is considerably affected by the oil developments—the Scottish oil developments—which are taking place in the North-East. We are already seeing the impact of them on our communities.
That subject leads me naturally to the subject of this debate, the need for change in Scotland's constitutional position. The United Kingdom has proved over the years one of the most centralised States in the industrial world. The results of the last election seemed to indicate that it is a multinational State and that some of the nations within it are very dissatisfied and discontented with the rôle which hitherto they have been expected to fulfil. The catalyst for this discussion is the Kilbrandon Report—or rather, reports, since there are more than one.
I have been sad tonight to learn that some hon. Members, apparently, are in some ignorance of the aims of the Scottish National Party. In some I gather that the ignorance is real. In others I suspect that it is somewhat more synthetic.
The Scottish National Party's position is quite clear. We wish independence for Scotland. We wish the same status for Scotland within the Commonwealth as any other Commonwealth country like Canada, Australia, New Zealand. But 1144 we recognise that arriving at that point is an evolutionary and not a revolutionary method, that we shall always have more in common with the other countries in these islands than we shall probably have with any other countries in the world, and that there will be no reason why as an independent country we should not reach arrangements with the other countries in these islands to ensure that they were defended adequately, to see that there was the minimum of red tape and fuss and bother in moving between one country and another. But we would be doing it as an equal and not as a subordinate part of the whole. We consider that the majority proposals of Kilbrandon represent a valuable first step towards self-government.
There is, again, I gather in this debate some confusion about what the Kilbrandon majority proposals are. But we in Scotland are fortunate to some extent in that we have preserved some of our institutions. We already have the judicial branch of government with our own legal system, our own professions. We have part of the executive branch of government. I think that we have an executive branch in our government in Scotland of very high quality civil servants. We have a very useful basis on which to build a new Scottish executive responsible to a Scottish legislature, because that is the missing link in the way in which Scotland is now governed.
We have an executive branch of government operating there which is not responsible to a Scottish Parliament. The Kilbrandon Report recommended that the existing Scottish Office functions would come within the control of a Scottish Parliament. It suggested that others such as railways. civil aviation and broadcasting could be added to this. I suggest, however, that the Achilles heel in this solution is the lack of economic spending power. Without doubt, many of the disappointments and frustrations that we in Scotland have suffered over the years—the consistently higher rate of unemployment than the rest of the United Kingdom; the consistently lower rate of wages than the rest of the United Kingdom; the consistently higher prices than the rest of the United Kingdom; the consistently higher emigration. whatever the figures may be that have been 1145 quoted today, than the rest of the United Kingdom—have been the result of unsympathetic economic policies applied from London, applied in good faith for the benefit of the United Kingdom as a whole but not for the benefit of the people of Scotland.
We therefore believe that the Kilbrandon proposals must comprehend economic powers for a Scottish Parliament. We should like to see the Scottish Parliament with powers of taxation.
I gather that there is some division of opinion among hon. Members opposite in this respect. Some Scottish Members would like to see the Scottish Parliament get Scottish oil revenues. Others have set their faces against the Scottish Parliament altogether. Clearly, the oil revenues—the revenues from what is Scottish oil—would be a useful funding for a Scottish Parliament in economic matters.
I comment now on how these proposals should be implemented. There was great disappointment within the Scottish National Party, and indeed, among many people in Scotland at the appointment of Lord Crowther-Hunt to the position of the Prime Minister's constitutional adviser. We have looked at what he has said on this subject. I quote two things he said in relation to this report. He talked of political patterns suggesting that Scotland and Wales would be single-party States. I think that this was an irresponsible statement, because the Kilbrandon Report advocated the use of proportional representation to end the absurd situation in Scotland whereby the Labour Party with 38 per cent. of the Scottish vote has over 53 per cent. of the Scottish seats and the Scottish National Party with 22 per cent. of the Scottish votes has only 10 per cent. of the Scottish seats.
Lord Crowther-Hunt also said, giving this as a reason why the majority report would not be accepted in England—I would hardly have felt that that was a compelling argument in Scottish ears—We would be able to abolish the grouse moors.Heavens, is not that what we want a Scottish Parliament for? I cannot understand whether that is an argument for or against it. If Lord Crowther-Hunt is now recanting his previous entrenched position and is prepared to accept that the majority report must form the basis 1146 on which progress is made, he can then play a constructive part.
The second comment that I would make is this. It seems clear to us that the position in England is different from the position in Scotland and Wales. There does not appear to have been deep argument or consideration in England about the regional proposals for improving the Government of England. The state of the art there does not appear to be far enough advanced. That should not hold back Scotland and Wales. The Government should be considering a two-tier approach, starting with the situation in Scotland and Wales as a first stage, and then going on to consider what changes they wish to make in England at a later date.
We have heard tonight some of the old arguments, which I thought were dead, against self-government. They stem to a certain extent from this dependent mentality that we have in Scotland, which has looked to London as the source from which all blessings flow and which has been grateful for even a crumb from London's table. One important thing about the oil discoveries in Scotland, apart from the economic and fiscal value, is the new spirit of confidence which they have bred in the people of Scotland that they have the assets and the ability to be as successful as any other country in the world. We should not be compared with other parts of England or anywhere else. We should be compared with the Nor-ways, the Swedens, the Denmarks and so on. I do not notice those countries having been held back in any way because they are not governed from London. It is no disadvantage whatsoever to them.
We have talked on this subject for a long time. We have heard all the arguments in Scotland. There is a new spirit and a new will in Scotland. I hope that a start will be made to have a Scottish Parliament before too long.
§ 9.21 p.m.
§ Mr. Frank McElhone (Glasgow, Queen's Park)
First, I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. Henderson) on his maiden speech. It was a very commendable effort. Although I shall not follow him in his proposals, I welcome him to the House, He follows Mr. Patrick Wolrige-Gordon, and I am sure that, like him, the hon. 1147 Member has the interests of Scotland at heart. He will, of course, accept that I do not share the views of his party, any more than I share the views of his predecessor. Nevertheless, I extend a very warm welcome to him.
I am glad to have this opportunity to speak on the Kilbrandon Report and devolution. Anything that I have to say tonight is not born out of panic, and that applies to others in the Labour Party representing Scottish constituencies who have been discussing Kilbrandon and devolution for some time. We have some knowledge of Scottish nationalist representation in my city of Glasgow. In my own constituency the Scottish nationalist came in a very poor third, even though he pursued an active campaign.
The views which I express tonight are my own; I do not claim that they represent the views of the Labour Party. I should like to put on record first that I totally reject separatism. The majority of the Scottish people, and certainly the vast majority of the people in my constituency, are totally against the separation advocated by the Scottish National Party. At the same time it would be foolish not to respond to the changing political desires of the people of Scotland. A party which refuses to accept change puts its head in the sand. As an hon. Friend of mine said, who knows?—in a decade's time we may be changing substantially from the position which we adopt a year from now.
I now put my own personal proposals. Because I wish to give time to other hon. Members, I shall be brief, but I hope my remarks will stimulate argument and discussion, and I hope to hear some alternative views. Our local government proposals in Scotland are a year behind those of England and Wales. Therefore, although there will be district and regional elections in May, the full powers will not be taken over until May 1975. Many of the small burghs have now been amalgamated into viable district units. I welcome that tier of local government. Where I differ from many of my hon. Friends is in suggesting to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland that he should now suspend or dissolve the idea of regional tier government. I say that because I accept the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian 1148 (Mr. Dalyell) that we could perhaps be over-governed if my right hon. Friend responded to many of the desires of the Scottish people.
In abolishing the regional tier we could create an elected assembly in Scotland. It could be done simply. There is no reason why a party should not select regional candidates and call them assemblymen when they are elected. It might be a psychological advantage if instead of meeting in an office rented in Glasgow they could meet in Edinburgh. The regional council will take over major functions such as planning, the social services and education. There is no reason, therefore, why the assembly could not also take on these major functions and responsibility for the Highlands and Islands Development Board, the water boards and the river purification and similar bodies.
Financing should be carried out through the Scottish Office in the way that local government is financed at present. There could be a block grant from the Treasury. In this way we end up with an elected assembly which meets the desires of many people: it would meet in Edinburgh; it would have power over most of the major functions in Scotland; and it would mean that Scotsmen in Scotland would be allocating money according to the priorities they decide on education, social work, the highways and so on. There may be a case for bringing housing, which is still a district function in Scotland, under the jurisdiction of the assembly.
§ Mr. George Lawson
Is my hon. Friend saying that instead of having a number of regional authorities we should have one?
§ Mr. McElhone
Instead of having a number of regional authorities, many of them too small—although I have never supported the Strathclyde Region—there would be a choice of assembly.
There is the prospect of two regional councillors per constituency, and there is no reason why there should not be 140 to 160 members in the assembly. However, that is negotiable, and I put forward points only for discussion. I am not suggesting that I have a panacea for the problems. I suggest a basis for discussion, but since the major parties have already chosen their regional candidates they should not have to go through the process 1149 of selection again with all the agony that that causes.
On payment, I consider the puny sum of £10 a day maximum totally wrong. I served as a councillor on Glasgow Corporation as vice-chairman of the highways committee dealing with, perhaps, £6 million of contracts a week. I was also chairman of the magistrates' committee. I did it all for nothing. Young people have changing aspirations and because of these we are not attracting them to local government service. We shall not attract them with a maximum payment of £10 a day.
We cannot have democracy on the cheap. We must realise this. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, in making representations to the Government, might consider a salary of at least £3,000 a year. That would be the absolute minimum to attract people to serve in local government and to be responsible for major functions like planning, education and the social services. We cannot expect people to give of their time, which they cannot easily afford, unless they get an adequate allowance. If there is not an adequate allowance the new type of government, be it regional or assembly government, will suffer.
§ Mr. George Reid (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)
Do I understand the hon. Gentleman to say that elections to his proposed assembly, which we welcome, would be by the single transferable vote, as mentioned in the Kilbrandon majority report?
§ Mr. McElhone
That is still open for discussion. I must be perfectly honest on the point, but I do not wish to go into it now because it causes argument. However, I accept that an election in which there was a vote for the district and the regional authority would be considered democratic and would be sufficient. It would certainly be accepted as sufficient by the people of Scotland.
However, I do not know whether there is any real demand for a change in the type of voting. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman is suggesting some form of proportional representation, which I hasten to add I would be against.
In its propaganda during the election, the Scottish National Party seemed to 1150 concentrate on the question of oil. Some people said that it was the only matter in its publicity material. Several thousand posters were put out by the SNP in my constituency concerning oil and nothing else. I challenged the SNP candidate at a joint candidates' meeting. I asked him whether he could tell me what other policy his party had, especially on major functions. It may be rather unkind to criticise people who are not present, but I have never found anyone in the Scottish National Party who could tell me about the party's policy on anything other than Scottish oil.
§ Mr. McElhone
I cannot give way, because I have an Adjournment debate later and I do not wish to take up too much time now.
Let us talk about oil. The matter was raised all the time during the election campaign, although it did not affect the voting in my constituency very much. We have said in our manifesto that revenue from oil will go in a substantial way to the regions, especially to Scotland to assist the economic situation there. I should like to see a substantial proportion of the revenue from oil go to a Scottish development authority which would be controlled by the Secretary of State. I still want to see the Secretary of State for Scotland in the Cabinet.
There should be three tiers of government—district government, an assembly and the United Kingdom Parliament. The assembly should have some form of legislative powers. In major and important Bills the assembly could deal with the early stages and the Committee stage, while First and Second Reading stages would be in this House. If, after a period, the assembly proved itself, there would be no reason why it should not carry out legislative functions of a major nature.
It is, perhaps, not an ideal solution acceptable to everyone. If, however, Parliament accepted the proposal, we should have an elected Scottish assembly, and I think that there is a strong majority 1151 in support of that in Scotland at present. There would be only three tiers of government in Scotland—the district, the assembly and the United Kingdom Parliament—so no one could accuse us of being over-governed. The regional candidates are in the main already selected, and therefore they could go forward for election as assemblymen or assemblywomen. For psychological reasons, they could meet in Edinburgh.
I suggest a minimum salary of £3,000 a year. Democracy cannot be obtained on the cheap. That sum must be paid to secure the right calibre of person to attend to the major functions he would be administering. We should have Scotsmen in Scotland administering these major functions and judging the priorities in spending. We should deal with such legislation and, in the early stages of the assembly at least. with the Committee stages of major Bills.
The Secretary of State for Scotland would still be Scotland's economic Minister and would administer the Scottish development authority, which I hope would contain people from the assembly, the Scottish TUC and the Scottish CBI.
The idea is not born out of panic. It was in the minds of many of us long before the General Election. The people of Scotland, while not advocating seperatism, are looking for a greater say in their own administration. I think that the plan I have advocated tonight goes a long way to meet that desire, but I totally reject the concept of separatism.
I apologise for not having time to listen to the speakers who are to follow me, because I have another engagement, but I shall read with great interest what is said. I hope that the debate will start a dialogue which will be more meaningful to the people of Scotland and at the same time bring greater democracy to Scotland as a nation.
§ 9.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Stephen Ross (Isle of Wight)
My first task is to apologise to the House. I gather that it is not the done thing to interrupt Front Bench spokesmen before one makes one's maiden speech. However, I trust that I may be forgiven. I think that the calamitous situation facing our horticulturists and stock farmers is too serious not to be men- 1152 tioned at every possible opportunity. I hope that before much longer we shall have from the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries the statement that all of us who represent rural constituencies are anxiously awaiting.
My next duty is to pay a tribute to my predecessor, Mr. Mark Woodnutt, who represented the Isle of Wight for about 15 years and missed few opportunities to press its claims. He will be remembered for his efforts during our fight to attract industry in the early 1960s and for the local Act of Parliament which he steered through the House giving powers to control overnight pop festivals in the open air. I might add that that subject did not come into my election campaign.
Mr. Woodnutt will also be remembered for his success in the battle to retain our independence. I am sure that in that he had the backing of the majority of our residents, though I suspect that he would agree that the county and two-district system which we now have is hardly the right solution or the one that our county council, of which I am a member, sought. For a population of 110,000 in a compact area, surely an all-purpose authority was the right choice. Possibly we shall end up with it, but it is a pity we could not have been allowed to get it right at the start. I suspect that that applies elsewhere. I feel that we have gone about the matter in the wrong way and that the debate should have precluded the reform of local government in England and Scotland.
The Isle of Wight is almost unique. I was going to say that it was unique until I heard the right hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. Hughes). I then realised that I could not claim uniqueness. It is a constituency which I am proud to represent. We are grateful to Royalty and to ex-Prime Ministers for their patronage: long may it continue. Prince Philip and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition have given a great boost to our boat builders and to the sailing world. I can assure the Prime Minister of an equally warm welcome. I gather that he is not disinterested in shrimping. The beaches of the island seem to be far safer than those of the Scillies. Incidentally, we have a number of golf courses. If the Prime Minister chooses to pay us a visit, he will find that we have a number of exciting industries, 1153 including a highly successful light aircraft concern which has produced and sold over 400 Islanders and Trilanders. The firm has a healthy order book.
The island is also the home of the hovercraft and of an experimental electric car. There is also the presence of a world renowned electronics firm as well as a number of smaller industries. Nevertheless we would welcome a few more, and the necessary sites are available. We also have an oil rig. When we talk about Scottish oil, I shall be able to say "What about Vectis oil?".
We now have a forward-looking tourist board with local government participation. Agriculture, not forgetting horticulture, is our third arm. There are now 30 acres of largely new glass which is heated by oil and has been erected at great expense in the past few years. Under that glass are grown tomatoes, cucumbers, roses and carnations. The grave concern of those engaged in that work will be appreciated.
As I have spent the past seven years in a local authority, I feel that I can claim to have some knowledge of our problems. It took a great many years to convert my fellow members to the idea that we should support the arts. I am pleased to say that we now make our proper contribution to the Southern Arts Association which is based at Winchester and the South and West Concerts Board which largely provides the finances for the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra.
I greatly welcomed in the Queen's Speech the Government's intention to remove museum charges. Recently we have seen the establishment of the regional health boards and the regional water authorities. However, we feel that we have no real influence over the policies of those bodies, although I agree that the area health authorities should be able to make their voice heard a little.
Our other dire necessity is to have the ability to raise certain finances for ourselves without always having to trim our sails to the diktats of Whitehall. For instance, for years we have been agreed on the need for an indoor heated swimming pool. At last we were on the point of signing the contract when the standstill and later the cut-back of last December were announced.
1154 For an island, the right to levy a small landing charge has many attractions. If the ability to raise finances other than through the rating system is to be denied to county and district councils, it should be accorded to a regional assembly, which would be in a position to assess the priorities throughout the area under its jurisdiction.
I support the scheme for democratic assemblies as set out in the memorandum of dissent prepared by Lord Crowther-Hunt and Professor Alan Peacock. But why do both reports ignore the exciting possibilities of a separate assembly to cover the Southern Counties? I agree with the right hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) in that the Isle of Wight has nothing in common with Lowestoft. Chapter 8 of the memorandum of dissent leaves the boundary issue open. It does not say that the five boundaries are necessarily the right answer. It is pointed out that we already have 14 regional health authorities and nine water authorities. I believe that a Wessex regional authority is worthy of serious consideration. I believe that there was a candidate in the recent election who stood on such a platform. I did not agree entirely with his election manifesto.
Hampshire has the largest number of Members and the biggest population. It appears to be unwieldy while the proud cities of Portsmouth and Southampton have been relegated to district status.
On the island, we have an ancient affinity with Dorset, but I think we would welcome the opportunity to send representatives to Winchester if it meant that, in return, we would have a much more meaningful say in the planning of the region and its transport problems, that recreation, at present dealt with by the Southern Sports Council, would be given real teeth, backed by finance, and that the various Departments of State, some of which are already based in that ancient city, would be more answerable to the electors.
To suggest that we should be lumped with London and its conurbation, absorbing a population of over 22 million people, seems to make no sense. None of the other suggested regions has more than 8½ million people. The present boundaries of the Southern Arts Association include Hampshire, Dorset, 1155 Wiltshire, West Sussex, the Isle of Wight and parts of Berkshire and Oxfordshire. A further London-based authority would do nothing to alleviate the present situation but would only add to the confusion and over-centralisation.
To attract younger people to take an interest in local government, which is highly desirable, there is need to provide prospects of advancement, a sort of career structure through the opportunity to move up the scale to become a regional representative. Certainly we must provide the necessary impetus for those with ambition. I hope that the Government will give as high a priority to the discussion and establishment of regional assemblies in England as I suspect they are likely to now for Scotland and Wales.
I have a Scottish name, and during the election campaign, incidentally, I encountered an English nationalist who said that he could not vote for a candidate with a name like mine. So it works both ways.
We have been talking too long already. We have just experienced a truly historic upheaval in local authority organisation which will take a long time to settle. But that is no excuse for not finishing the job. At a time when we are losing some of our powers of decision to Brussels, there is every need to bring nearer to the grass roots opportunities to make policy and take decisions on those everyday affairs which give rise to so much concern at the present time.
§ 9.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Iain Sproat (Aberdeen, South)
I am pleased to have the opportunity to congratulate the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) on his maiden speech. He spoke calmly, cogently and lucidly from long experience of local government, and I am sure that the House looks forward to hearing him with great interest in future if he keeps up that standard.
I am not sure that the Consolidated Fund Bill is the best subject on which to make full-scale speeches about a Scottish Parliament, but I want to make two basic points about the Scottish National Party and the possibility of a Scottish assembly or parliament. It has been said in the debate that because the SNP has made so many gains we should, for 1156 that reason alone, be urgently considering and pushing forward plans for a Scottish parliament.
I would not want to take credit away from the SNP for conducting what was, from its point of view, a very good campaign. To win seven seats in the House was a fine achievement for the SNP. But I hope that the Secretary of State for Scotland will not be bounced by the fact that the SNP has won what is not, after all, a great number of seats into making extreme constitutional changes which, in my view, are not wanted or warranted in Scotland.
I know from my own experiences in Aberdeen and in other constituencies in which I campaigned in the North-East of Scotland—Aberdeenshire, East, Moray and Nairn and Banff among others of the seven seats won by the SNP—that it is untrue to claim that the fuel of the SNP's campaign was any interest by the electorate in devolution. What the electorate was interested in and swayed by was oil.
Most people in the North-East were worried that Scotland would not get her fair share out of the oil that has been discovered under the North Sea. When it becomes clear that Scotland will get her fair share—as has already become clear in Aberdeen, which has benefited to a great extent from it—a great deal of the steam will go out of the Scottish National Party vote in that area. I hope that the Secretary of State will not take the SNP gains as proof that people are shouting for devolution. That is not so, certainly not in my experience in Aberdeen.
I say without pride and without shame that it is an economic fact that Scotland gets more money out of the United Kingdom than she puts in. Scotland per head of the population gets more out of the United Kingdom than does England. Scotland has 9.6 per cent. of the total United Kingdom population. She receives 12 per cent. of the public expenditure on roads, 13 per cent. on improvement grants, 16 per cent. on housing, and 11 per cent. on education.
§ Mr. Donald Stewart
The hon. Gentleman based his example on a population percentage of 9.6. Scotland has one-third of the land area of the United Kingdom. Therefore, should not Scotland have one-third of the expenditure on roads instead of 12 per cent.?
§ Mr. Sproat
I do not want to be unpleasant to an hon. Member for whom I have great respect, but there is no point in building roads if there is no population to build them for. The fact is that Scotland has 9.6 per cent. of the population of the United Kingdom and gets 12 per cent. of the public expenditure on roads, and no one can say that that is an unfair proportion for Scotland.
It has been said in the debate that wages in Scotland are the lowest in the United Kingdom. In no table produced by the Department of Employment does Scotland come lower than six out of ten. On the non-manual male employment table wages in Scotland are above the national average. Let us once and for all get rid of the idea that Scotland is at the bottom of every table. Scotland is at the bottom of no table, and never comes lower than six out of ten.
There is so much nonsense talked in Scotland about what is put into the economy and what is taken out that I should like to put on record the latest figures that I have obtained from the Library for each of the component countries of the United Kingdom. The total identifiable expenditure in 1970–71 for England per head of the population was £100, for Wales £106, for Ulster £114 and for Scotland £120. It was the same in 1971–72 when, again, Scotland had £120 for every £100 that England had in total identifiable expenditure of the United Kingdom Treasury. In 1972–73—the latest figures available—Scotland again had £120 out of the total identifiable public expenditure and only Ulster had crept ahead, obviously because of the present military situation.
Those figures should prove once and for all that Scotland does better out of the United Kingdom than does any other part. I see the hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) shaking his head. When England has £100 and Scotland has £120 per head, as the figures show, how can it be said that Scotland does not do better than England? I hope that all future arguments about what Scotland gets or does not get will be founded on that basic premise.
§ Mr. Douglas Henderson
The hon. Gentleman refers only to identifiable expenditure, which is only part of the 1158 total. Has he the breakdown for other Departments—for technology, for example?
§ Mr. Sproat
Yes, the figures include the Foreign Office, the Ministry of Defence and other Departments where the calculation is more difficult. The figures are in the Library. If the hon. Gentleman looks them up, he will find that the best possible Civil Service analysis produces those figures of identifiable public expenditure.
I believe that there is a case for further devolution. The European dimension has already been mentioned. The Kilbrandon Report itself mentions the growing gap in communication between Government and people. I listened with great interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Mr. Lawson), and I agree with him in not finding any identifiable misery or suffering in Scotland which has been caused by its union with England. How- ever, even though I do, with him, reject that idea, I think that there is a case to be made for further devolution. In that respect, Kilbandon is most useful, though I entirely disagree, as do most of my hon. Friends, with the idea that the Secretary of State for Scotland should be removed from the Cabinet, and with the idea that the number of Scottish Members of Parliament should be reduced.
We were told by the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel) that we should proceed with all possible speed. I regard that as a ridiculous request to put to the Government. After all, they have been in office for little more than two weeks, and it would be absurd to expect them now to give a commitment on a Scottish assembly or Scottish parliament. But, quite apart from that factor, I urge that we consider this matter calmly and carefully, without hysteria and emotionalism, without any attempt to cook the books of United Kingdom finances. This is far too important a constitutional question to be rushed as the spokesman for the Liberal Party would have us do. I advise the House to hasten slowly, carefully and steadily in this matter, for it is more important that we have a correct rather than a quick solution.
§ 9.57 p.m.
§ Mr. Dafyd Wigley (Caernarvon)
Hon. Members on both sides have made important points, and I shall try to answer them from the point of view of Plaid Cymru. As a nationalist party, Plaid Cymru believes in the existence of Wales as a nation. I appreciate that there may well be hon. Members on both sides outside Plaid Cymru, who take the sane stand in regard to Wales, and there may well be members of the Labour Party in Wales who do not.
Our fundamental approach is that Britain is a multination State. It consists of three nations, Scotland, Wales and England. Therefore, any policies developed in this House must be framed in the context of the need to serve three nations. At present, however, we have one State. which serves different interests in the different parts of Britain. A predecessor of mine as Member for Caernarvon, David Lloyd George, said that one legislature could not serve the interests of the Teuton and the Celt. If that was true in 1920, it is equally true today, and it has been the lack of policies and the sins of omission in this House which have led to our problems today.
A nation is an organic entity. It can grow or it can die. It can be killed, and it can hardly be brought to life again. save by exceptional measures. We want to create conditions in Wales which will foster the development of a full national life for the people of Wales, and we are looking for the system of government which can best do that. We have not yet reached it. As a party we take a devolutionist and an evolutionist stance in that we look for policies that can be developed to this end.
That is where I come to the Kilbrandon recommendations. As a party we have been challenged by those who say that the Kilbrandon recommendations do not accept what we have put forward. We recognise this. We would like to go considerably further than Kilbrandon. We would like to see full Welsh self-government. I do not think that the concept of sovereignty is meaningful these days. Having said that, we realise that it will not come overnight and we are willing to take the evolutionary road to it, to take reasonable steps forward such as are supported by the majority of the people in Wales at a point in time.
1160 The majority of Welsh people support the recommendations of the majority report of Kilbrandon for a legislative elected assembly for the people of Wales. It has been said that this issue may not have come up in certain constituencies during the election. That may be so, because the Labour Party in Wales said in its election propaganda that it supported an elected assembly in Wales, with substantial powers. It did not disagree with the National Party or the Liberal Party superficially. We can hardly expect a raging argument with that consensus of agreement.
When people say that we need more time to debate this, within the Chamber and outside, I say that if the Welsh Labour Party was able to advocate this in its manifesto for Wales it must have given enough time to it in the past to reach a conclusion. The point I want to underline is that there are essential differences between England and Wales. They are differences involving more than purely regional attitude. When people strike a comparison by saying "Home rule for Wessex", or for Yorkshire, we find such comparisons disparaging.
There are differences between England and Wales on many fronts. There are differences on the industrial front. I know this, having worked in industry in Wales and in England. There is a difference of temperament. It is possible to lead the Welsh worker through hell and high water but once the attempt is made to drive him there is trouble. This is a fundamental mistake which many industrialists have made when they have come to Wales. This is why so many Welsh people have become prominent trade union leaders.
There is not only a difference in temperament. There is a difference in the structure of industry, in the part played by heavy industries such as coal, steel and slate and the part played by the primary sector. There are lower activity rates in Wales, and European figures show that there are lower personal incomes per capita. Commercial life in Wales has not been so greatly developed and we do not have the institutions that have been known in England. certainly in the South-East.
In agriculture too there are fundamental differences springing from the 1161 difference in geography between the two countries. The cultural differences do not need underlining. They exist not only in terms of language but also in the non-Welsh speaking parts of Wales. There, the rich heritage of culture that has been converted to the English language is still something that can be identified with those parts of Wales and is part of the entirety of Welsh national culture.
The social aspiration of people in Wales have been well known throughout the centuries. There is a sympathy for the weak, the poor, the underdog. It is no coincidence that it has been Members from Wales such as Lloyd George, Aneurin Bevan and Jimmy Griffiths who have laid the foundations for the Welfare State in the United Kingdom. In the past two or three years we know of the unanimous feeling there has been against the Housing Finance Act in Wales. As a member of Merthyr County Borough Council I was one of the councillors within the countries of the United Kingdom who risked going to gaol because of my stance against it. The social aspirations of the people of Wales are identifiable and have been for centuries. These are things which need a system of government in which they can be reflected.
Most important of all, there are political differences between England and Wales. Never in more than 100 years has Wales had a majority of Conservative Members of Parliament and yet for most of that time we have been ruled by Conservative Governments from London. First of all there was a majority of Liberal Members and then of Labour Members. It has always been radical, always to the Left. Yet we do not always get from such Governments the radical and socialist policies we need. In other words, where these differences exist, what is required is a system of Government which can respond to them.
A farmer with a field of hill land and a field of marshy lowland does not treat the two in the same way. Where there are differing circumstances in two countries, once a common policy is applied one has the recipe for disaster. That is the kind of disaster which Welsh farmers face today, with a policy which works wonders in East Anglia leading many Welsh farmers to the verge of bankruptcy.
1162 These are reasons why we believe that we urgently need an elected legislative assembly in Wales. This is a matter of importance and we must have it now. The majority of people in Wales support it and want to see it happen, and by "we" I mean not only those of us who are members of Plaid Cymru but members of the Liberal Party and Labour Party as well. We want this not as part of local government reform but as a genuine decentralisation of power from London to Wales.
We will take it as it comes. We shall see it as part of the continuing spectrum of European politics and we hope that Wales can develop so as to play a meaningful part not only in Britain but with the countries of Europe. If we do this, we can build a future for the people of Wales. If this House refuses or delays implementation of the Kilbrandon majority report, we in Wales will face the continuing decay of our nation.
§ 10.6 p.m.
§ Mr. John Pardoe (Cornwall, North)
We have heard the voice of Scotland and the voice of Wales. I intervene as a representative of a third Celtic country, Cornwall.
To those members of the Scottish National Party who continually shout "Scottish oil" whenever North Sea oil is mentioned, I might say that we have done rather better. Partly to shelter it from the Irish we have called it Celtic oil, and therefore it belongs to Cornwall from the start.
The attitude survey which was carried out by the Kilbrandon Commission and which was mentioned at length in the minority dissenting report showed clearly that the attitudes to devolution were at least as strong in Cornwall as they were in Wales or in Scotland. From my own experience of representing perhaps the least nationalist of the five Cornish constituencies—it being nearest to England— I believe that that attitude survey was correct.
I share the views of those members of my own party who have spoken already on this subject. We are a distributivist party and we wish to distribute both power and wealth and also to bring power back to the people. The question arises, therefore, what the people want, because 1163 it is not a matter of what Whitehall wants to give them. It is very much a question of the power which they wish to grab for themselves.
It is not enough to say that Cornwall can have the powers or the rights that Whitehall or Westminster is prepared to hand out—the crumbs under the rich man's table, as it were. Whitehall and Westminster can only have the powers that the peoples of Cornwall, Scotland and Wales are prepared to let them have. In this connection, perhaps I might mention the original social contract of John Locke. We gave the central government powers, and we can take them back—and we shall.
Again it is not a question simply of drawing lines on a map and saying that an area is the South-West Region, the South-East Region, Wessex or whatever it might be called. Lines on maps have a way of going through people. Therefore, we cannot do it in that way. The areas must be those which are genuinely drawn in the hearts and minds of the people living in them.
I come, then, to the unanimous recommendations of the Kilbrandon Report and more specifically to what is perhaps the only unanimous recommendation. I refer to that which deals with proportional representation.
Discussing the present relative majority system of voting, paragraph 780 of the report says:The system, by tending to exaggerate the representation in Parliament of the major parties in relation to their voting strength in the country, and that of the party forming part of the government in relation to all other parties, helps to produce governments which have substantial majorities and are therefore in a strong position to ensure the implementation of their policies.Unfortunately the Kilbrandon Commission did not sit after the last General Election campaign. Had it done so, I suspect that it would have realised that the faults and errors of this "first past the post" system from which we suffer are more manifest than was said in the report.
It is incredible that we should have had no mention in the Queen's Speech of this gross and grotesque unfairness. It is incredible that the Government should sit there with a 37 per cent. share of the vote in blissful and arrogant ignorance of the 1164 fact that they have no mandate to govern the people of this country. Therefore, in our view the present system is unfair and must be changed.
What is wrong with the system? I should like to refer to the words of a wise and respected late Member of this House, a great independent, Sir Alan Herbert. He referred to Members who did not represent the majority of their constituents as non-Members. There are 406 non-Members in this House. For the first time in three elections I am not among them, because I squeezed 3.9 per cent. off the Labour vote and I now have an overall majority.
I recognise the difficulties facing Labour voters in Cornwall, North. The wasted vote argument applies to them in Cornwall, North as it does to Liberal, National and minority voters of all kinds in other constituencies. I recognise their problem. It is not a problem that ought to be borne by them any longer. In my view there is a perfectly adequate way out of this difficulty. It is a question not merely of individual constituency results but of overall results.
Every Government since 1945 has been a minority Government. The Labour Government is a minority Government in terms of both votes and seats. In 1972 Labour polled 11,654,726 votes, but the Opposition parties polled more than 19 million votes. It took 38,700 votes to elect a Labour Member, 40,400 votes to elect a Conservative Member, and 433,000 votes to elect a Liberal Member. The best and simplest way of evening out these figures is to count each Liberal Member as 400 votes, each Conservative Member as 40 votes and each Labour Member as 38 votes, and we could keep the same single-Member constituencies and results and continue on our way. No doubt the votes in the Lobbies would be very different from what they are. The Liberals gained 6 million votes—19.3 per cent.—but have only 14 Members of Parliament, which represents 2.2 per cent. That is not democracy. It is demockery; it is a charade.
We cannot hold up our heads as a Western democracy and face the dictatorships of the East or anywhere else in the world when we have a system that produces a legislature so manifestly unrepresentative of the people's wishes. 1165 A democracy is meant to represent the will of the people. This House does not represent the will of the people in any form. Therefore, not only is the national result distorted but regional distortions are even more ridiciulous.
I believe that the Kilbrandon Commission got it right when it said that it would be correct and proper to introduce the single transferable vote proportional representation system for the regional assemblies of Scotland and Wales. If it is right to introduce that system into those areas, it is even more right to introduce it into this Chamber and its electoral practices.
It is therefore essential that we should reform our electoral system. It is essential that we change the system in order to represent the views of the people. Some people say that the alternative voting system would be simpler. It certainly would be. For instance, it would mean that those few Labour voters in Cornwall, North would be able to put a first and second preference. Their votes would count. There would be no question of the wasted-vote argument being used as it is for Liberals in other constituencies.
Nevertheless, the alternative voting system would not produce a fair balance between seats and votes in this House, so we have to move to the single transferable vote system, a system which we have imposed at a stroke by a quick piece of legislation on the people of Northern Ireland. If we can do it for them, we can do it for the rest of this country.
We have imposed a single transferable vote system on large numbers of our ex-colonial people. We have done so to ensure that they are moderate, that they are united and that they are united nations, and we have produced results in those countries which are far more democratic than those in our own legislative assembly.
There is no halfway house. It may be that there are some constituencies—large rural areas in the North of Scotland and perhaps even in some parts of the South-West and Wales—where it would be right to have the alternative voting system, but in general the only right thing would be to have the single transferable vote all over the country.
1166 It is utter nonsense to suggest that the constituencies would be too large. Modern methods of communication mean that it is possible for Members of Parliament to keep in touch with their constituents. A total of 47 per cent. of the vote in Bradford for the election of all Labour Members for the city, or 45 per cent. of the vote at Croydon for the election of four Conservative Members, shows that our system is undemocratic.
During the debate on Monday I made a comparison with Guatemala. The Guatemalans have just come out of a general election. Admittedly all three presidential candidates were members of the Army, and there may not have been much to choose between them. But even though they were all members of the Army, the Government of Guatemala did not like the result so they changed it.
In this country we could have done the same thing, but nothing happened. The Government merely ignored the facts. They took all the black cars and the ministerial salaries. They sit there in glory on the Treasury Bench without a mandate to do so. It is a total fraud that 37 per cent. of the votes should be able to take the whole of the ministerial salaries, as has happened.
I do not accept all the various recommendations of the Kilbrandon Report. Nor do I accept all the recommendations of the minority report. However, it seems to me that the minority report in its critique of our governmental system is wise and far-seeing, particularly in the first stage where it talks on the second page of its report of the basic problems of our governmental system beingto provide equality of political rights for people in all parts of the United Kingdom; to reduce the present excessive burdens on Whitehall and Westminster; to provide full opportunities for democratic decision-making by people in all parts of the United Kingdom at all levels of government; to provide adequate machinery for the redress of individual grievances.Those are sound critiques of our system, and without, I hope, forecasting the future in any way, this document represents a splendid example of Lib-Lab coalition between Lord Crowther-Hunt and my good friend Professor Alan Peacock.
The major recommendation on which all members of the Kilbrandon Commission were united was on the problem of 1167 electoral reform. I find it incredible that the Government should parade themselves as a Government of national unity. The Foreign Secretary gave the opinion to the nation on television that we have a Government of national unity. I believe that a party which parades itself as such and which presumably believes in fairness should, if not commit itself to reform, at least set up a commission or committee to look into the inadequacies of our electoral system.
We are looking to the Government for some announcement of a commission of inquiry into the workings of this system. No honest, honourable member of the Labour Party would deny our right at least to an investigation. If it were learned by the people of the country that they could change our electoral system only by force of arms, that would be a grievous lesson to learn. Unfortunately it is a lesson which stems from Northern Ireland. It is not one that anyone in this country will adopt, but there are other lessons which may be learned. We have already heard mention of Hampden and Pym and the slogan of "No taxation without representation"—
§ Mr. Pardoe
If the hon. Member believes that there is no representation in the Common Market he may have a fine point to make, but the way to ensure that there is representation in the Common Market is not to come out but to go on to a genuinely democratic United States of Europe.
§ Mr. English
In view of the hon. Member's concern that the views of the electorate should be well represented by an electoral system, do I take it that he disagreed with his own party when it said that it was against the people of this country deciding whether they should be in or out of the Common Market?
§ Mr. Pardoe
We have always believed that the people of this country should be consulted on major constitutional matters of this sort. Unfortunately the hon. Gentleman has not discovered that his own Prime Minister has changed his mind so often on this subject that it is impossible to follow the meanderings of that mind. Even now we have no firm 1168 commitment from the Government that they will hold a referendum on this issue. Only three years ago the Prime Minister was saying that he was totally opposed to any form of referendum. He never said that he would put the terms which the last Labour Government would have negotiated to the people of this country either in a referendum or in an election. It is only in opposition, when driven to it, that he has said that.
The reason why we need some method of putting this issue to the people is that this Parliament does not adequately represent the views of the people or give them a chance to express those views properly. Until we ensure that this Parliament is elected democratically, that the people see it to be representative and that the Government represent at least 50.1 per cent. of the electorate—I do not ask for more than that—people will go on saying that they are not adequately represented here.
That is why dissenting voices are growing all over the country and why Wales and Scotland are simmering with rage at the way this Parliament is working and Cornwall is simmering with rage at the appalling new tax burden that this House intends to impose upon it.
I believe that, unless we can reform our electoral system, our democracy will die. Our democracy will not be a living thing until we ensure that people feel that they are represented in this House.
I am convinced, therefore, that until we reform the electoral system the great majority of Members of Parliament will have the uncomfortable feeling every time they see a group of their constituents that more than half of them voted against them. That is not a democratic mandate.
§ 10.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael English (Nottingham, West) rose—
§ Mr. Edward Heath (Sidcup)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I think that many of us understood that the Prime Minister was to make an important statement at 10.15 this evening. Can anybody on the Government Front Bench tell us whether it is to happen or whether it is not?
§ Mr. Walter Harrison (Treasurer of Her Majesty's Household)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. There could 1169 well be a statement in a very short time. I do not know whether my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will make that statement. However, I have communicated with my right hon. Friends and can state that in a short time there will be a statement.
§ Mr. Speaker
Just to get the procedural side of it right, it will, in fact, be an intervention in the debate on the Consolidated Fund Bill.
§ Mr. English
To fill in a very short gap, I trust, I wonder whether the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe) has a deep abiding hatred for people who change their views. I had always understood that the hon. Gentleman was not always a Liberal supporter and, indeed, had often supported the Labour Party in the past until he got fed up with it and, as is his right, changed his views, joined another party and got himself elected to the House of Commons. What on earth is his objection to other people doing the same?
I am slightly concerned when I hear this talk of democracy from the minority bench opposite.
§ Mr. English
We are a bigger minority.
I have never seen any objection to a legitimate system of proportional representation, provided that the consequences are understood. But the hon. Member for Cornwall, North, as I understand it, is committed in his own election manifesto not to a system of proportional representation, but to the single transferable vote—that magnificent system under which in the Republic of Ireland the Government increased their vote, acquired 51 per cent. of the votes and lost and are no longer the Government. Is there any difference between the single transferable vote and the British system of election which in 1951 and in 1974 produced a very similar result? Yet that is what that small minority party opposite advocates.
The single transferable vote in Ireland now has one magnificent achievement. It produces only three parties. It excludes all smaller minorities. Fianna Fail, Fine 1170 Gael and the Labour Party are the parties in Ireland. No other party is allowed in. Is not the argument that a minority should be represented applicable to other minorities, too? How can you sit there and argue that minorities should be represented or a system which would admit you and not any other minority? I am sorry, Mr. Speaker. I accept that you are elected by an overwhelming majority.
In the interval remaining, whatever it happens to be, it is of the utmost importance that we consider the possible results of a real system of proportional representation—not an STV system, which is not necessarily a system of proportional representation in itself. A real system would be a system like that in the Netherlands, where the whole country is one constituency and there is a list system. That is possible.
Incidentally, it is also possible that the Leader of the Opposition might have sat in Downing Street for another nine months, trying to get out of his predicament. That was exactly what happened to his opposite number in the Netherlands, who stayed on in office for another nine months, not because he particularly wished to do so, any more than the right hon. Gentleman wished to be left in a predicament, but simply because there was nobody else to form a government.
§ Mr. English
As I understand it, Mr. Speaker, the Kilbrandon Report recommended the single transferable vote in the regions of the United Kingdom. I recognise that the Kilbrandon Report was objected to by the Scottish nationalists on that particular—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Do hon. Gentlemen deny it? In their election manifesto—which, in view of what you have said, Mr. Speaker, I should say I have read—the Scottish nationalists said that they believed that a Member should be elected by an overall majority in his constituency.
§ Mr. Gordon Wilson
There are two types of proportional representation affecting the single transferable vote. We are in favour of one and Kilbrandon is in favour of the other.
§ Mr. English
There is only one type of proportional representation—that is, the system which happens to represent exactly in the legislature the number of people who vote. What the hon. Gentleman is really in favour of, as I understand the SNP manifesto—although the SNP does not use these terms in the manifesto—is the alternative vote in single-Member constituencies which is, in fact, a single transferable vote in a single-Member constituency, because the single transferable vote has no necessary relationship whatsoever to proportional representation. Proportional representation has a simple meaning: a proportional system is proportional exactly in proportion to the number of seats allowed to exist in a constituency. The more there are, the more proportionate it will be, because smaller fractions will be represented.
§ Mr. English
The report, as I understand it, recommended the single transferable vote, but the mixture which the hon. Gentleman is talking about is highly designed to be primarily Conservative and keep Labour in the minority.
§ Mr. John Gorst (Hendon, North)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You said a moment ago that a statement which might be made shortly would be made in the context of the debate which is taking place. May we have your guidance as to whether that means that it will not be possible for hon. Members to ask questions on the intervention?
§ Mr. Speaker
Hon. Members will have to put their questions in a particular form—"Before the right hon. Gentleman sits down, will he say…?"
§ Mr. Speaker
According to procedure I must call the Home Secretary as if to make a speech on the Bill. If he gives way, he can answer questions. Mr. Jenkins.