§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Pavitt.]
§ Mr. Speaker
It may be for the assistance of the House if I clear up one matter which has been put to me. I have given careful thought to the practice of the House which prohibits any reference in an Adjournment debate to matters requiring legislative remedy. Standing Order No. 16 gives me discretion to disregard this practice to some extent if I feel that its enforcement would unduly restrict discussion.
My predecessors and I have always been somewhat reluctant to use this discretion in respect of the half-hour Adjournment debates at the end of business, since the main usefulness of those debates is to call Ministers to account on matters of administration for which they have actual responsibility. However, in a full-length debate such as we are to have today and tomorrow, the canvas is exceedingly broad and it would be a manifest impossibility to exclude from discussion the fact that legislation would ultimately be necessary to implement some of the proposals which have been or which may be advanced.
I should deprecate in an Adjournment debate detailed discussion of the actual provisions of a Bill, but I feel that this is a different situation. The Chair should intervene only if an hon. Member were to involve himself in the details of a proposed Bill, and in general I think that the matter must be treated as I have indicated, with the Chair exercising the wide discretion which it is given.
§ 4.11 p.m.
§ The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Edward Short)
This two-day debate provides the House with its first full opportunity for a debate on devolution since the publication of the White Paper in September last year. The White Paper decisions provide the context for the debate. They were the decisions on the major issues. Since publication of the White Paper and the Government's return to office, a great deal of time has been devoted to the subject both by Ministers and by officials. As a result, we have 957 identified and appreciated most of the problems which arise within the context of the White Paper decisions.
Many Scottish and Welsh Members, I know, are especially interested in the Government's timetable for introducing the devolution legislation. I said last week, in reply to the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans), that it was too soon to give a firm indication of the timetable, apart from repeating my hope that the Bill will be ready by the end of this year. The issue is extremely complex, particularly for a country such as ours which has never had a written constitution. It has considerable and far-reaching constitutional implications. While I assure hon. Members that we shall continue to press ahead as fast as possible, I cannot succumb to pressures for speed at the cost of hasty and ill-judged decisions.
I have already promised to try to keep the House informed. I have mentioned the possibility of publishing a White Paper towards the middle of this year, but I should not do that if I felt that the preparation of a White Paper would impede the preparation of the Bill.
This debate will, no doubt, concentrate on Scotland and Wales, but I hope that hon. Members from England and Northern Ireland will take part, for, while we are giving priority to the establishment of the Welsh and Scottish Assemblies, we must consider the question of devolution also in the United Kingdom context. I hope that, later this year, we may begin consultations in the English regions such as we had in both Scotland and Wales in the summer of last year.
We are committed to preserving the unity of the United Kingdom. We are looking forward to the development of a new relationship between Scotland, Wales, the English regions and the central Government. We are not looking back to the 17th century, to the position before the Act of Union of 1707. The two-and-a-half centuries since that date have inevitably moulded us into one nation—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—yes, of course—although we retain with pride and cherish many of the cultural variations between Scotland, Wales and England. Our economies, our societies, and our aspirations are all closely intertwined, and I believe that the vast majority of people in all parts of the United King- 958 dom recognise this unity, welcome it, and wish to preserve it.
On the other hand, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has acknowledged thestrong feeling not only in Scotland and Wales but in many parts of England of a greater desire for participation in the process of decision making, moving it nearer, whenever this is possible, to the places where people live".This is really the heart of the matter. A "down south" Government does not meet the aspirations of people in all parts of the United Kingdom—in my own North-East, as well as in Scotland and Wales—for greater participation involving their skills, their energies and their judgments in decisions which affect their daily lives closer to home, closer to their own problems and to their own priorities.
In my view, and in the Government's view, it would be dangerous for us to ignore these aspirations in the regions of the United Kingdom.
As we work out our detailed proposals, all our decisions will be guided by the following major objectives. First, the Assemblies must meet the aspirations of the people of Scotland and Wales for a closer involvement in the running of their own affairs but must not threaten the unity of the United Kingdom. Second, while we must devolve really significant functions, we must retain to the United Kingdom Government and to Parliament the functions essential to the sovereignty of Parliament and to the overall management of the United Kingdom economy.
Third, the Assemblies must be able to work quickly, efficiently and constructively in their area of decision making and in co-operation with central Government. Finally, we must devise systems which are sufficiently robust to withstand, without fundamental alteration, changes in political circumstances as well as the economic and social pressures which may confront us in the future.
These principles are fundamental to our thinking, as we made clear in our September White Paper. In that White Paper we announced some very important broad decisions, to which we are now fully committed. It may help hon. Members if I briefly remind the House what they were.
959 We decided, first, that there will be directly elected Assemblies in Scotland and Wales; second, that the Scottish Assemblyshould have a legislative role and legislative powers within fields in which separate Scottish legislation already exists;".and third, thatthe Welsh assembly should parallel the Scottish counterpart in assuming certain powers of the Secretary of State in respect of delegated legislation. The Welsh assembly would also be given responsibility for many of the executive functions at present carried out by nominated bodies within Wales, and by the Secretary of State himself".We decided also that the two Secretaries of State and the full existing representation here at Westminster for both Scotland and Wales should be retained.
Finally, the White Paper stressed the equal importance that we attach to accountability in England, as well as in Scotland and Wales, and we decided that we were not at that time in a position to make firm proposals for the English regions.
Many hon. Members will wish to debate these proposals. I greatly welcome this, and I shall listen with great interest to their views, but, if I may say so, I hope that the House will devote more of the time now available to us to discussing the more specific and very complex matters on which the Government, and eventually the House, must take decisions. I turn now to these problems.
§ Mr. Russell Johnston (Inverness)
The right hon. Gentleman referred to the matters about which the Government have made up their mind, and he referred to there being a directly elected Scottish Assembly, as was said in the White Paper, but, unlike the White Paper, he did not exclude proportional representation. Does that mean that his mind is still open to the need for electoral reform? I remind the right hon. Gentleman—I hope that he is seized of this fact—that in Scotland at present the Labour Government has 36 per cent. of the votes but 57 per cent. of the seats. How does he justify that as an example of democratic participation?
§ Mr. Jeremy Thorpe (Devon, North)
Is the right hon. Gentleman suggesting that proportional representation is a form of indirect election? Does he say that all the Members of the Eire Parliament are indirectly elected? Surely, direct election means that people cast their vote, regardless of the system which is followed. Is the right hon. Gentleman's mind completely closed to other systems?
§ Mr. Short
My mind is not shut at all. I was using the term simply in the sense in which it is normally understood and in which the right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) understands it.
Perhaps I may begin with the Assemblies. We believe that the two Assemblies should meet in Edinburgh and Cardiff, at least at the outset. The Scottish and Welsh Offices, in consultation with the Property Services Agency, will undertake local consultations with a view to identifying one or more public buildings that might be suitable for the purpose.
We said in the White Paper that members of the Scottish and Welsh Assemblies would be elected on the same basis as Members of Parliament. I should very much welcome the views of the House on how many members each Assembly should have and on what basis of what constituencies they should be elected.
If we use parliamentary constituencies, we shall probably have to work, at least at first, on the basis of multiples of the existing numbers of Members of Parliament in Scotland and in Wales. It might very well be difficult to draw new boundaries within a reasonable time, because that would involve the setting up of an independent body to advise us on the new constituencies.
Then there is the question of qualifications or disqualifications for membership. Should a Member of this House, for example, be able also to sit in the Scottish or Welsh Assembly? There is also the timing of elections to consider. Should they coincide with elections to this House, or with local authority elections, or with neither?
961 Even more important, should the Assembly be elected for a fixed term, or should there be a power of dissolution. If there is such a power, who should exercise it? This question of the power of dissolution is very closely related to the next issue that I want to discuss, perhaps the most vital of all—the form of the Executive.
§ Dr. J. Dickson Mabon (Greenock and Port Glasgow)
My right hon. Friend suggested that there could be multiples of members based on the existing system. That implies by definition that the existing parliamentary constituencies should be divided. If we are to retain the present system, is it not right that we should divide them rather than have some kind of variation of assessment, such as we have not had before, except way back in 1945?
§ Mr. Short
That is exactly the kind of issue on which we should like the views of Members. If we decide to have a two-member parliamentary constituency, should the constituencies be divided? If we did that, we should need to have an independent advisory body, and that would delay the process; or should it simply be the first to pass the post?
Let me turn to the form of the Executive, and perhaps I may take Scotland first, if the right hon. Member for Devon, North will allow me to continue. I am asking for his views among others, but perhaps he will give us his views standing up rather than sitting down, as now. The Scottish Assembly will have substantial legislative power in devolved subjects and executive powers as well in these and probably in other fields. Where is the executive power to promote legislation, to instruct civil servants and to implement policy, to lie? This is the first time that we shall have a written constitution for any part of the United Kingdom—with the exception of Northern Ireland—and all this must be made crystal clear in the written constitution.
Broadly speaking, there are two alternatives. One is for these powers to be vested in an Executive, as is the case here at Westminster. The other is to vest them not in an Executive but in the Assembly itself. The Assembly might then operate on committee lines, each committee consisting of a cross-section 962 of party members and specialising in a particular aspect of government. Of course, some variations are possible. For example, if power is vested in an Executive, there might nevertheless be scope for the committees of the Assembly to have a consultative role in relation to policy and to oversee the activities of particular Departments.
A committee system of this kind, with executive powers vested in it, has the great advantage of involving the minority parties in decision making and it would encourage much more open government. On the other hand, an executive system seems likely to be less cumbersome for the legislative function to be devolved to Scotland. Indeed, there are some doubts whether a committee system could effectively initiate legislation, and I should like the views of hon. Members on that.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)
I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman would reconsider the observation that he made a few moments ago? It was not unimportant. He said that there was no written constitution for this country in the sense and context in which he was speaking. I submit to him that that observation is correct only in respect of this House and the exercise of total and supreme sovereignty within this realm, but that all other exercise of authority and all devolved exercise of authority are and always have been statutorily controlled, so that in that sense there is no necessary innovation.
§ Mr. Short
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely correct. I talked about it in respect of Parliament and the exercise of the supreme sovereign authority of Parliament.
In the case of Wales there is perhaps a stronger case for arguing that a committee system would be the more appropriate. The White Paper envisaged that the Welsh Assembly would have powers of subordinate legislation and the execution of policy, but not of primary legislation. The main requirement is to go for the system that best meets the needs and the wishes of the Welsh and Scottish people and also makes for effective co-operation and co-ordination between Cardiff, Edinburgh and London. I shall be very much interested in and influenced by the views that hon. Members express in this debate.
963 Perhaps I may now say a word about co-operation. If devolution is to work, there will have to be continuous consultation and co-operation so that in practice problems arising between the different levels of government may be settled amicably by mutual agreement before they come to a head. This calls for more than good will. It calls also for efficient administrative marchinery to make this co-operation work It is a matter for consideration whether machinery of this kind can or should be provided for in the devolution Bill itself. There could be advantages in doing so, although to some extent the arrangements will need to be worked out in the light of practical experience.
But it would no doubt be too optimistic to think that there will never be causes for confrontation between the Scottish, Welsh and United Kingdom authorities. This raises one of the most difficult questions—whether there should be some formal means of dealing with the situation that would arise when powers devolved were exercised in such a way as to conflict seriously with the vital interests of the United Kingdom as a whole.
Let me say straight away that I certainly would not favour giving powers with one hand and taking them away with the other. If any formal power of the kind I have suggested is taken, its use would have to be confined to the most exceptional circumstances. We cannot expect the three authorities always to see eye to eye on policy. There would be little point in devolution if they did. The right way in which to resolve differences of this kind is by discussion and in the last resort, through the ballot box.
However, one can imagine circumstances in which the Scottish or Welsh Assembly, acting quite properly within its devolved powers, might propose some action that made it impossible for the United Kingdom Government to carry out vital functions that remained their own responsibility, for example, defence. One could also imagine circumstances in which the Assembly, either by accident or perhaps even by design, acted ultra vires and claimed to exercise some power that had not been devolved to it.
It could be argued that, as this Parliament will remain sovereign in all matters, it will be sufficiently to rely on its 964 sovereign power to pass legislation to deal with such a situation and that no simpler or more specific powers are therefore required. On the other hand, there could be a case for special provision to cover such situations without having to fall back on the general principle of overriding sovereignty and full-scale Westminster legislation.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
Can my right hon. Friend say what he means when he says that if this had to be resolved it would in the last resort be through the ballot box? What does he mean by that?
§ Mr. Short
I mean in an election, of course. If such a provision were made, many would argue that it should be exercised only with the special approval of both Houses of Parliament. I stress again that I cannot imagine its use except in the most exceptional circumstances. This is an extremely difficult problem and I shall very much welcome the views of the House. To some extent the view we take on it could interact with the way in which we devolve powers to Cardiff and Edinburgh.
Let me explain. If such a reserve power were available, it is arguable that the powers devolved might be specified in somewhat less detail than would otherwise be the case. I do not say that that would be so but that it is a possible situation.
Let me now turn—
§ Miss Harvie Anderson (Renfrewshire, East)
Have I understood the right hon. Gentleman aright in that the ballot box to which he refers is the ballot box for the Assembly? Or is it the ballot box for this Parliament? One can visualise rather different results depending upon which ballot box is used. It would help if we knew.
§ Mr. Norman Buchan (Renfrewshire, West)
My right hon. Friend has not so far mentioned the question of the English Parliament. Is he envisaging a situation when either Wales or Scotland would be in conflict on a matter of vital interest 965 affecting the United Kingdom as a whole and when, for example, 71 Scottish Members here would be sitting in judgment upon the decision of their nation north of the border? Would that be tolerable to English Members over a period?
§ Mr. Short
My hon. Friend can deploy his argument if he is fortunate enough to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker. All I am saying is that while I very much hope that there will not be such a confrontation, in drawing up a scheme of this kind we have to cater for the fact that such a confrontation could occur. All I am asking is whether there should be some simpler form of machinery than legislation here to deal with it.
§ Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South-West)
In view of the far-reaching significance of what the hon. Gentleman is talking about, and bearing in mind that there are many here who hold the integrity of the United Kingdom very dear, may I ask whether, since the Government have decided to hold a referendum on the issue of the Common Market, they will hold a referendum in each of the constituent countries before embarking on this dangerous course?
§ Mr. Short
No, Sir. Membership of the EEC is something quite different. It affects our permanent relationship with countries outside the United Kingdom. This is a domestic matter within our own boundaries.
This brings me to the powers to be devolved. Some very difficult problems are thrown up by the task of determining exactly what functions, what subjects, the Assemblies should be responsible for. It is easy enough to have a general idea of what we would like them to do. In referring to the Scottish Assembly, the White Paper gave as examples "housing, health and education". But to bring about effective devolution, such general subjects as these have to be defined in a way which has not been necessary in the past, when they have been the sole concern of one sovereign government.
Of course various precedents are provided—by federal countries, for example, and by arrangements for Northern Ireland. But federalism is not what we are proposing, and the circumstances of Northern Ireland are not those of Scotland and Wales. Indeed, as the White Paper makes 966 clear, there are differences between the requirements of Scotland and Wales.
A final decision on the precise selection and definition of the devolved functions—obviously a vital element in the devolution Bill—can be made only after an exhaustive review of a wide range of departmental activities. Inevitably this is a difficult and time-consuming task. The Kilbrandon Commission did not pretend to have completed that task. It took some useful evidence and made general recommendations, but it very properly pointed out that it was unable to reach any precise conclusions, since firm decisions could be taken only after more detailed inquiry and consultation with the various interests concerned than it would have been appropriate for it to undertake. It is that more detailed inquiry on which we are now engaged.
In considering devolution, one especially difficult area of government is trade, industry and employment. On the one hand, as Kilbrandon pointed out, the scope for devolution here appears to be limited by a number of powerful factors—such as international obligations, the requirements of central economic management, practical considerations relating to the organisation of industry on a United Kingdom basis, and so on. So much so that the Kilbrandon majority virtually came down against devolution in these areas. With some exceptions in agriculture and fisheries, neither industry nor employment is in the list of functions suggested by the Commission for legislative Assemblies—the most advanced form of devolution which Kilbrandon considered.
On the other hand, there is no doubt that for the Scottish and Welsh people, trade, industry and employment are especially key areas. They want a chance to exercise decisive influence in these matters, which are so important to them in their daily lives. We recognised this in the September White Paper. The question is: how should we satisfy the desire for more decision taking in Scotland and Wales in these areas, without disrupting the economic unity of the United Kingdom as a whole and, equally important, without prejudicing the interests of English regions with similar economic problems?
Obviously we cannot so arrange matters that Scotland and Wales will continually 967 get more and more—by way of industrial assistance, for example—while the English regions get correspondingly less and less. That is not the object of devolution. A fair balance must be maintained. But there is a great deal to be said for enabling a wide range of executive decisions in the industrial sphere to be taken in Scotland and Wales, not in London. We should devolve as much in this area as we can consistent with the overall management of the economy. The Secretary of State will have an important continuing rôle to play in this field. There are no easy solutions in this field, but we are reviewing all the options in an effort to find a way through this difficulty.
I turn now to the crucial question of finance. This question presents the dual problem of being not only difficult in itself but also incapable of a final solution until the other components of devolution have been decided. We have already said in the White Paper that the Scottish and Welsh Assemblies will each receive a block grant voted by the United Kingdom Parliament. Within the total grant, it will be for the Assemblies to judge among competing priorities—as between, for example, hospitals and roads or schools and houses. This freedom to choose between programmes is in itself very important.
This raises the question of differing standards which many find worrying. If the Assemblies are free to choose between programmes, differing standards will result. There is nothing wrong with that provided that they do not become too depressed in any one direction. It is an inevitable consequence of devolution—
§ Mrs. Margaret Bain (Dunbartonshire, East)
Does the right hon. Gentleman not accept that this idea of a grant from Westminster means that we would have to rob Peter to pay Paul? Does he realise that this is not the solution for Scotland and that any Scottish Assembly must have the right to raise its own funds directly, for its own purposes?
§ Mr. Short
I am coming to that. We have decided that the bulk of this finance will come from a block grant. The disparities I have been talking about ought not to be carried to the extent that they inhibit the overall management of the economy or perhaps arouse so much 968 resentment that the cohesion of the United Kingdom is affected.
Against that background, we have to decide exactly how the grant is to be arrived at. We have also to consider the possibility of some limited taxation powers. They must be limited, because a sweeping devolution of independent tax powers would not make sense in a small compact country such as ours where the Government's powers to manage the economy could be impaired.
§ Mr. Gordon Wilson
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his courtesy in giving way. I wish to intervene because this is such an important matter. Have the Government decided whether any proportion of petroleum revenue tax, or the corporation tax exigible from oil-related activities in the North Sea, will go to Scotland or will remain in Whitehall?
§ Mr. Short
We are discussing problems in this debate and asking for hon. Members' views. I do not think that the people of Wales and Scotland would welcome a system which gave them the privilege of paying very much higher taxes than their fellow United Kingdom citizens. Too much devolution in taxation would make only for disunity and instability. But there may well be a case for giving Scotland and Wales some flexibility—and, after all, every district council has some taxation powers. I am saying that I believe that the Scottish Assembly should have some powers. For example, if it wanted to embark on some special project which could not be financed out of its normal grant, it might achieve its purpose by levying a small amount of taxation on Scotland.
But to do that it would have to be authorised to use some specific tax or taxes. The question is: which taxes, and to what extent, and would the arrangements for Wales need to be the same as those for Scotland? Decisions on these questions will have to fit in with the requirements of central economic management, and hon. Members who have studied the possibility of replacing the rating system by a system of local taxation will 969 realise how difficult it is to find some form of local taxation. Some formidable administrative problems will also have to be taken into account. As with other problems of government, the financial aspect is one of the most difficult.
Those, then, are the major problems facing us in writing a constitution for Wales and Scotland—two important parts of the United Kingdom—for the first time. The basic decisions were announced in the White Paper. We are therefore well past the stage of broad general ideas. What is needed in this debate as well as in the Government's work on devolution is a concentration on the detailed possibilities and on the question how they will work out in practice.
Given that concentration, I believe that this debate can make a valuable contribution to the planning of viable constitutional arrangements which will, I hope, check and reverse the growing feeling of alienation in areas of the United Kingdom which are more remote from London and, in so doing, strengthen rather than weaken the union. The gains in national unity which could flow from devolution if we were to plan wisely, as well as the fragmentation of the United Kingdom which could be the consequence of an unwise, ill-planned scheme, demand that we consider every possibility and its consequences exhaustively. This will, of course, take time, but the scheme which emerges will, I believe and hope, endure.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Mr. William Whitelaw (Penrith and the Border)
The Lord President of the Council may find that because, properly and understandably, he has been so immersed in considering some of the considerable details involved in devolution he has perhaps left the House behind him. Before we can make a decision on the details—and I accept that the views of right hon. and hon. Members in this debate are very important—we must consider some of the deep and fundamental issues involved in the question of devolution.
I am sure that the Government are right to give plenty of time for this debate. I hope, as the right hon. Gentleman does, that it will not be confined to Members from Scotland, Wales or, indeed, Northern Ireland. After all, the decisions which we shall take in this Parliament will not simply affect the people of Scotland, 970 Wales, or, depending on other discussions, Northern Ireland. They are of vital importance to the people of England and to the whole of the United Kingdom. I hope therefore that English Members will not feel the same inhibitions as have all too often been felt concerning Scottish affairs.
I vividly remember as a new Member nearly 20 years ago being repeatedly put on the Scottish Grand Committee. I do not think that the reason for it was the normal disciplinary one. If so, it was a poor start for a future Chief Whip. I think that the reason was that I was a Scotsman, even though I represented an English constituency. I was the first English Member to serve on the First Scottish Standing Committee, but I did so on the strict understanding that in no circumstances would I open my mouth, nor did I—to vote, yes, but not to speak.
Now English Members must speak out because we are engaged on making fundamental changes in the constitution of the whole of the United Kingdom. None of us should underrate the importance of that. I thought that the Lord President took much of this for granted and rather bypassed the important considerations set out in the Kilbrandon Report, in which my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) played an important part. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman the Lord President will not take that amiss, but the House has not had an opportunity to consider many of the fundamental issues.
I was, however, glad to hear the Lord President make clear that the Government do not regard this as some minor parliamentary exercise or manœuvre designed simply to placate Scottish and Welsh feelings with little or no basic change in our present parliamentary system. If there are still those who hope to get away with it on those lines, some of the difficulties and repercussions of particular decisions outlined by the right hon. Gentleman surely should awaken them to reality.
I hope, therefore, that we can all start from the basis that we shall possibly embark on legislation in this Parliament which will mean the most far-reaching reform of the United Kingdom constitution since the Act of Union in 1707. We should be very unwise to minimise the 971 grave responsibility which we are taking on. Perhaps because I realise this only too well I have to admit to considerable anxiety. I want to see genuine consideration of and a frank approach adopted to these difficult problems by the Government and, above all, plenty of time given to this matter.
The hon. Members for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) and Carmarthen (Mr. Evans) and their hon. Friends are always pressing for strict timetables. While I understand their pressures, I hope that they will reflect that they above everyone else must be anxious to ensure that what comes out of our deliberations is in the best interests of the people of Scotland and Wales. They must not expect the House to come quickly to decisions which they and we might bitterly regret later on.
§ Mr. Gwynfor Evans (Carmarthen)
Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that this is not the beginning of a discussion on self-government for Wales and Scotland? In 1895 the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom came to Cardiff to declare himself in favour of a parliament for Wales. That marked the end of a long campaign at that time. This is no new idea, and in those circumstances the right hon. Gentleman cannot plead for time.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
I certainly consider it right to plead for time in considering the details of the legislation which is to be put before us and in the planning of that legislation in which we are engaged. It is one thing to say that the matter has been discussed, but many things have happened since the days to which the hon. Member for Carmarthen referred. The United Kingdom has survived, and it has done so on the basis of the United Kingdom as one country.
Like the right hon. Gentleman, I do not today intend to discuss the problems of Northern Ireland, although I have at least a passing interest in what he described as a "Down, South", or "South Down" form of Government. Nor do I intend at this stage to become involved in the English regions. I stress that the repercussions of what is decided for Scotland and Wales are bound to be felt in the other areas. For example, although Northern Ireland's constitutional future depends on the outcome of the Conven 972 tion which—rightly, in my judgment—the Secretary of State is shortly to set up, whatever is settled for Scotland and Wales must inevitably have a bearing, one way or the other, on the future size of Northern Ireland representation in the House of Commons. Equally, the North of England, which the right hon. Gentleman and I know so well, will be watching carefully to see whether what my constituents regard as the preferential treatment now accorded to Scotland is to be extended still further.
Although we must have these thoughts in mind, I am sure that it is right to concentrate in this debate on Scotland and Wales. Later, like the right hon. Gentleman, I shall seek to deal with Scotland and Wales separately because, as he does, I recognise that the background and the problems involved are not the same in Scotland and Wales.
First, I wish to refer as a background to the form of devolution and the general objectives which I believe we must have in mind. We on the Conservative benches stand unequivocally for the unity of the United Kingdom under a sovereign Parliament here at Westminster. The union has enabled us in Great Britain and Northern Ireland to stand firm against all our enemies and, for all our failings, to build a great, free and, judged by any standard, prosperous nation. After years of endeavour together it would surely be a complete tragedy for all our people if we were now to seek each to go our separate ways.
We Conservatives are also completely convinced that all of us throughout the United Kingdom would be the poorer for it in many ways, not all of them purely material. Personally, I feel that all the more strongly because, although I now live just in England and represent a constituency which, being named Penrith and the Border, proclaims its proximity to Scotland, I remain proud to be a Scotsman. I was born in Scotland. My forebears—apart from one Cumbrian grandmother—were all Scottish, and so were my wife's. I served in a Scottish regiment and I tried twice, alas unsuccessfully, to represent a Scottish constituency in the House.
§ Mr. Iain MacCormick (Argyll)
The right hon. Gentleman said that he twice tried to represent a Scottish constituency. 973 Would it not be difficult for a Scottish Conservative to do so in these days, and might that not reflect the Scottish view of the Scottish Conservative Party?
§ Mr. Whitelaw
I do not agree. I was standing in very different times. The hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mrs. Bain) represents the constituency for which I fought. Not many hon. and right hon. Members would imagine that it would be particularly easy to beat the late Lord Kirkwood on Clydeside. The hon. Member for Argyll (Mr. MacCormick) completely misses that point.
If Scotland were to become a separate nation, I and many other Scots men and women who live in other parts of the United Kingdom would have to decide whether to retain Scottish nationality and lose our rights in England or to become naturalised English citizens. That is, if England would have us. That would apply the other way round for the many English people who live in Scotland. One cannot brush that aside; it is very important. Many of the people concerned would feel it deeply. It would surely be absurd, after all these years, for United Kingdom citizenship, which we all take for granted, to be abandoned. Many people who accept it as something they expect today would find that they were proud of it at heart when there was a possibility of their losing it.
The economic case against separation has been extensively and powerfully argued in the Kilbrandon Report. If one agrees with that report, as I do, it is pointless again to go over the same ground. But that is not true of those who wish to refute the arguments. I do not know whether the hon. Members for Western Isles and Carmarthen and their hon. Friends wish to do so because I have observed a certain coyness or even ambivalence in their views. If they do, I must ask them to answer some of the arguments put forward in the Kilbrandon Report. I will put one or two of them as they affect Scotland, because the position in Wales is even more difficult.
Presumably, those who advocate a separate Scotland must want to exercise independent management of a purely Scottish economy. Personally, I believe that it would be difficult to do so in any circumstances, but it would be impossible 974 without border controls, presumably with the object of putting tariff restrictions, for example, on whisky. Surely, border controls would not be sensible, nor would they be in anyone's interest except perhaps that of some of my constituents who would again set up smuggling on the Solway. The truth is that the economies of England, Scotland and Wales are inexorably bound up together. If that is disputed, let us hear how the economy could be run otherwise.
§ Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarvon)
Does not the right hon. Gentleman appreciate the fallacy in his argument? He and his party argue in favour of the European Economic Community, with free movement of goods and the abolition of customs controls, and are also in favour of the sovereignty of Westminster. Surely that answers the question as it affects Scotland and Wales?
§ Mr. Whitelaw
No, I cannot conceivably accept that. Very different problems are involved. If those who advocate a separate Scotland answer that one, which I do not accept they do, let us consider the next.
Presumably, given independence, the people of Scotland would lose their automatic rights to United Kingdom standards of social benefits. Would an independent Scotland be able to ensure health services, pensions and other benefits for her people on the United Kingdom scale? Most economists think that at best Scotland would have great difficulty in doing so. I cannot believe that many people in Scotland would want complete independence if it meant lower standards in health services, pensions and other social benefits. What do those who advocate independence say about that? These questions need to be answered or the powerful economic case against separation must stand.
But some may say "Forget the economics and the logic. It is all a question of mood and inspiration. That is what matters." They must then answer what the Kilbrandon Report said in paragraph 497:The paramount reason for demanding or rejecting independence must always be political. 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 975 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 itThat is a case that has to be answered.
§ Mr. MacCormick
Would the right hon. Gentleman agree that his own party has always said that it would never accept any referendum or expression of opinion about Scotland except through an election? Taking the October election as the yardstick, would he not agree that far more people in Scotland want the policies of the Scottish National Party than those of the Scottish Conservative Party in this matter?
§ Mr. Whitelaw
I note what happened in the election and accept it, naturally, as one must always accept the verdicts of elections. But I question whether many people who supported the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends knew exactly what they were supporting. I would very much question whether they actually thought that they were voting for a totally separate and independent Scotland.
§ Mr. MacCormick
On the contrary, I would say that there is absolutely no doubt at all. Would the right hon. Gentleman agree that there is also no doubt that the people of Scotland knew exactly what his party stood for?
§ Mr. Whitelaw
I have no doubt they did, but I have grave doubts whether they knew what the hon. Gentleman's party stood for; I do not think they did.
I have many contacts in Scotland, to whom I naturally listen, and they tell me that the idea of a completely separate Scotland does not commend itself to the vast majority of the Scottish people—and I do not believe that it does. Anyway, it is up to those who take the opposite view to refute what the Kilbrandon Report said. If they cannot, the case against complete separatism is very strong.
The next solution proposed is federalism, which has very few friends—and I am not surprised. The case to answer here, as Kilbrandon put it, is that 976 federalism is an awkward system to operate and is inflexible, which in the modern world is a great disadvantage. Indeed, experience both in Australia and in Canada would seem to reinforce that view. I do not think that either country is particularly happy about the federal system as it is working at present.
§ Mr. Russell Johnston
Would the right hon. Gentleman extend that remark to the Federal Republic of Germany and say that it regards its form of government as clumsy and inappropriate to modern conditions?
§ Mr. Whitelaw
No, but my arguments about the federal system which were outlined in Kilbrandon still stand, as do the arguments about Canada and Australia. I should have thought that, before we embarked on that course, we should at least be sure of our ground and our ability to answer the forceful case in Kilbrandon.
It has to be faced that if we are seeking to devolve power under a sovereign Parliament, as we now propose, we run some of the same risks as we would under a federal system. The line between the two conceptions is dangerously narrow. While certainly not accepting it, I would say that one has at least to consider throughout our discussions what The Times said in a leading article today:It is the pious objective of the Government to grant a further substantial measure of devolution, such as would give the people of Scotland and Wales 'a decisive voice in the running of their own domestic affairs,' while doing nothing to abridge the 'vital and fundamental principle [of] the economic and political unity of the United Kingdom'. It would be very nice to bring off that double, and we may be sure that much ingenuity will be expended in seeing how it might be done. But it would be as well early in the debate to consider the possibility that those two lines of policy—response to demands for self-government in Scotland and maintenance of the unitary character of the state—are ultimately compatible only in the realm of rhetoric.I do not agree with that, but we should think about it very carefully in considering these matters.
We are all committed to giving the people of Scotland and Wales a genuine opportunity to have more control over their own affairs. We shall succeed in producing final arrangements which are satisfactory and which, indeed, reassure those who doubt the wisdom of the 977 whole idea only if the plans are workable and clear and can be seen as likely to lead to more effective administration. Only if they are so will they give any satisfaction to nationalist feelings or have a chance of lasting.
Any fudging of responsibility or ambiguity in an effort to satisfy competing claims will in the long run be disastrous. If that course is adopted, only disillusionment will follow. Expectation of real power will be raised only to be proved unfounded in practice. It would merely drive people towards separatism when they saw that the changes made were illusory and failed to provide sensible administration. Therefore, the best safeguard is a clear understanding from the start that in a United Kingdom this Parliament is sovereign, has the powers to be sovereign and will be prepared to use them.
None of us should expect answers to all our questions in this debate. It is designed, as the right hon. Gentleman made clear, for the Government's consideration in the months ahead. I hope that we shall be able to consider this matter again later on and that a White Paper will be produced as a result of this debate. Noting what the right hon. Gentleman said, I would not press him further at this stage. I hope that he will be able to do what he said, but in any event the House should have a further debate before the legislation is produced.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Thomas), who had experience as Secretary of State for Wales and himself introduced measures for further executive devolution, will deal in detail with the Welsh situation tomorrow. I would say now only that I question the wisdom of setting up some form of Executive in Wales responsible to a non-legislative Assembly. Since Wales does not have a separate legal system, as Scotland does, a strong argument can be mounted against an Assembly with legislative powers, but I am not clear why a non-legislative Assembly is better than or even much different from an elected council.
Still more does it seem extraordinary to split responsibility for administration in Wales between a Secretary of State responsible to this House and another 978 Executive of some sort in Wales responsible to such a limited Assembly. Would it not be better, as we have proposed, to give more power, particularly financial power, to the Secretary of State and to reconstitute and strengthen a Welsh Council? I fear that the Government's proposals may fall into the dangerous and ambiguous sort of compromise which I mentioned before. I therefore hope that they will think again.
I now turn to Scotland. Here again I leave much of the detail to my hon. Friend the Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) and Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind).
I think we all accept that the Scottish position is different from that of Wales. First, in Scotland there is a completely different legal system. As we know, separate Scottish legislation takes up a considerable amount of time in the House. Secondly, there is definitely a strong demand in Scotland for a legislative body and for more administrative responsibility in Scotland. I suspect that the exact method of exercising that administrative responsibility is probably a more open question.
Some time ago the Conservatives recognised the need for change. In 1968 my right hon. Friend the present Leader of the Opposition set up the Scottish Constitutional Conference, which is now guided by Lord Home. In 1970 it recommended a directly elected Scottish Assembly with legislative responsibility and powers of debate and supervision. I suggest that that report is still relevant today and that its ideas should not be lightly disregarded. Since then, we have had the Kilbrandon Report and the Government's October White Paper.
It was widely felt that the White Paper was somewhat thin in content and avoided most of the difficult questions. However, in fairness to the right hon. Gentleman, he has addressed himself to those questions today, and we are grateful to him for that. For me at any rate, and, I suspect, for many hon. Members, he underlined the basic dilemma—how does one reconcile the need for real legislative responsibility in any Scottish body with the overall requirement of keeping sovereign power in this House? I trust there will be no pretence here. A 979 sovereign Parliament must have overriding powers. There must be no fudging about never using them.
I am not clear what the right hon. Gentleman meant in his somewhat Delphic remarks about a ballot box, but I suggest that that may come dangerously into the fudging area. We naturally hope that these powers will seldom have to be used, but everyone should be clear from the start that the powers are there to be used and that sometimes they will be used. Only in that way can we hope to avoid accusations of bad faith and minmise inevitable resentment.
There have been cases where powers have been available in this House which it was said would never be used. When those powers were used—and I have had personal experience of that—the resentment caused was all the greater. It is very important to remember that on this occasion.
Much more thought needs to be given to the problems of administration and the form of any Executive if one is to be set up. However, here again the relationship between any proposed Executive responsible to a Scottish body and the Secretary of State responsible to this House will have to be similarly defined and made abuntantly clear. That will be all the more difficult because the more that is devolved the less there will be for the Secretary of State to do. So, if as it appears, the Government have decided on an Executive, I hope they will not conduct their discussions, as often happens with Governments, on the principle of keeping Willie happy. [HON. MEMBERS: "Which one?"] I need hardly add on this occasion, not this Willie.
Finance and industrial development are the difficult areas. However, a natural desire of any Scottish administration to have responsibility for jobs must be balanced against the need for the United Kingdom to manage the United Kingdom economy, with its responsibility derived from a sovereign Parliament.
On finance, I think we would welcome the right hon. Gentleman's proposal for a block grant, particularly as the Conservative Party manifesto in the recent election put forward a plan on those lines.
980 I hope that consideration will also be given to another of our proposals, which is a Scottish development fund to provide substantial help with the problems created by oil and Scotland's old deprived areas.
On industrial development, I suppose we must reckon with a wild Wedgwood Benn dimension, but this is not the debate in which to discuss that. However, I hope that the Secretary of State will remember that if an Executive is set up and has no responsibility in this area, much time will be spent in any Scottish body complaining about the failures of the United Kingdom Government, and iresponsible grumbling can easily become a very infectious disease.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves the subject, will a future Conservative Government not be tempted, in the circumstances of a Scottish Assembly with executive and ministerial powers, to reduce the 71 Scottish Members of Parliament now in the House?
§ Mr. Whitelaw
That is slightly different from the question of industrial development.
I made it clear at the start that there were for the House of Commons widespread repercussions of anything we decided regarding devolution for Scotland and Wales, which would affect Parliament and the House of Commons very deeply. I mentioned the case of Northern Ireland representation in the House of Commons. That question arises, and is bound to, whatever we decide. These are repercussions from which the House cannot escape.
In the White Paper the Government have said categorically that the situation would remain as it now stood. That will inevitably be questioned by English Members of Parliament, politics apart, on both sides of the House, and they are bound to question the basic assumption if power is devolved to a Scottish body. I do not see how it could be otherwise.
There are other detailed problems of procedure of a Scottish body, such as the nomenclature and the place of meeting. No one needs to tell me, of all people, that all these problems arouse considerable emotion. It is understandably so. I think they are very important.
981 I wish to confine myself to making two pleas. If there is to be a division of administrative responsibility, I trust that it will be clear from the start that the Secretary of State, with the same size of staff as now at St. Andrew's House, after he has devolved considerable power, and the Scottish Executive, with then an additional and comparable staff of its own, will be totally unacceptable. An unnecessary new tier of bureaucracy would be established and good administration would suffer. I hope that that will be clear from the start. It is very easy to agree on that in the House. Perhaps we all know of cases where, despite what we all hope, this tends to happen. If that happens there, it will be a disaster, and we must make sure that it does not happen.
I hope there will be no question of setting up a separate Scottish or Welsh Civil Service in any circumstances. Although I must hasten to recognise how much I owed personally to the loyal and dedicated Northern Ireland Civil Service during a very difficult time, I believe that any separation detracts from the position of the unity of the United Kingdom and a sovereign United Kingdom Government and Parliament. No doubt the circumstances in Northern Ireland were very different, and I would not consider that a precedent. I am certain that separation into two Civil Services would inevitably lead to unnecessary overlapping and overmanning.
§ Mr. John P. Mackintosh (Berwick and East Lothian)
I do not follow the right hon. Gentleman. I do not see how a Civil Service can operate under the control of the Scottish elected Ministers and a Scottish Parliamentary Assembly and at the same time be part of a Civil Service controlled by the Treasury and Civil Service Department. It seems to me that we must choose on this matter.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
I do not believe that in a United Kingdom, with a sovereign Parliament and a sovereign Government at Westminster, it is necessary to make that choice. It was made in Northern Ireland, and I have no reason to quarrel with it, because the people concerned were most loyal and have created a remarkable achievement in a difficult time. I am very grateful to them, but I question whether it is 982 a precedent which should be followed and whether it is necessary.
The more we look into all these problems—and many more will be raised in this debate—the more daunting becomes the prospect of successful legislation. Therefore, again I ask the Government to have as much consultation as possible with this House and to be frank about the difficulties and about the options.
We as a Parliament have taken it upon ourselves to consider the reform of a constitution which has grown up over centuries and has served the United Kingdom well. We are deciding whether we should make fundamental changes in a parliamentary and democratic system which has survived all kinds of trouble against a background of a difficult world scene and some emotional stresses in our own country.
We have to realise that the penalty of failure will be great. If we fail, there will be further disillusionment and increased demands for further separation, leading almost inevitably to the eventual break-tip of the United Kingdom as we know it.
I can only hope that posterity will be able to record that we maintained the unity of the United Kingdom and strengthened it through our reforms. But much will depend on how we conduct our debates in this House and on the way in which the Government react to them.
§ 5.21 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
I intend to deal with Scotland. I am well aware that if we are to maintain the unity of the United Kingdom under some federal or semi-federal system, as Liberals hope to do, clearly we have to take account of the views of the English, the Welsh and the Irish. But obviously, in a debate of this kind, there is not time to cover the whole ground.
It is worth stating the fundamental reasons why Liberals want self-Government for Scotland. Our proposals stem from our basic reasons. It is because Scotland has certain qualities and attributes of her own. She has certain needs. She has a distinctive personality. She has a very distinctive contribution to make to the world at large. It is also because there is much wrong with the system of government in the United 983 Kingdom. It is too centralised. It is too rigid. It is too bureaucratic. Above all, it is too remote from individuals and from the communities in which they live.
From Scotland's point of view not only does centralisation stifle and distort her development. It draws off most of her most enterprising sons and daughters to London, where decision making lies, or at least across the border. The right hon. Member for Penrith and the Border (Mr. Whitelaw) rightly said that he had been seduced across the border. Until quite recently there used to be wandering about Scotland a magnificent huffing and wholly reliable steam engine called "The William Whitelaw"—a very appropriate mobile monument to a family who served Scotland so well. Now it has gone to pastures new, and we regret it.
In Scotland we do not need more government, nor do we need an extension of government on the exact Westminster-Whitehall model. Scottish self-government cannot be discussed simply in terms of the nineteenth century, especially as regards sovereignty. To meet its true aims, it must be a new form of government which, as I have said, springs from the essential characteristic of Scotland and its traditional institutions. Ultimately, we must relate what we want to the existing situation. But let us start by building from below—from the communities in Scotland and from the hopes of ordinary people.
I do not like the word "devolution". It presupposes something handed down from above, and it illustrates too often a false attitude to where political power should lie.
Scotland has great geographical differences. She has three traditions—the Lowland tradition, the Gaelic tradition and the Norse tradition. All have their own needs. They also have their own contributions to make.
I want self-government for Scotland because I want to see Scotland as a whole and all the traditions in it contribute more to Britain, to Europe and to the world, as well as being able to run her own affairs better for herself. I accept that a totally separate, independent Scotland would be as economically viable as, say, Luxembourg, Denmark and many other small countries. But I believe that 984 that would be to turn our backs on the opportunities that we have as a result of having evolved not a perfect form but at any rate a form of association with our neighbouring countries which has in many respects served all our countries well.
What makes me believe that the links between Scotland, England, Wales and Ireland should not be severed is an opposition to certain ingrowing and narrow tendencies which are to be seen throughout the world today. Even after we have brought in Scottish self-government, I trust that there will still be many Scotsmen concerned with affairs outside their country and that there will still be some who seek careers outside that country. I also hope that Scotland will be able to build up a fruitful relationship with other countries of a similar nature, such as Denmark, Ireland and the Farces.
If all the traditions and different communities of Scotland are to flourish, she must not be dominated by one region, one outlook or one political party. It is for that reason that I believe that we should accept the Kilbrandon Committee's recommendation for electoral reform. The present situation by which some 36 per cent. of votes results in a vast majority of seats for one party in Scotland is indefensible.
We were asked to give our recommendations about the size of a Scottish Assembly. I suggest three members from each of the existing constituencies. I take the point that, unless we have a very big change, we have to start by working on the existing constituencies.
We were asked to give our views about whether there should be a right of dissolution or whether the Assembly should sit for a fixed term. There is something to be said for giving the Scottish Prime Minister, or whatever he is to be called, the right of dissolution, but only if he suffers a vote of no confidence, perhaps with a certain majority against him.
I believe that we shall have to look again at the ill-timed reform of local government. It was a great mistake on the part of the Conservative Party to have brought about this change in Scottish local government before we had a chance to consider Scottish home rule. It may be that to avoid the dangers of gross over-government something will have to be cut 985 out from the middle tier of government in Scotland. Certainly we shall need to look again at the Strathclyde Region.
I believe that devolution should be accompanied by more power at local level, including enhanced powers to raise finance. We may have to reverse the tendency to do away with the lowest sphere of government. We may have to give more power to communities and to community councils.
In all three Scottish traditions to which I have referred, there is a strong belief in grass-roots democracy. The Norse and Gaelic way of life was never feudal. The Presbyterian Church encouraged participation by all its members. It developed a fruitful partnership between the layman and the minister. Mr. Davie's book, "The Democratic Intellect", stresses the distinctive democracy of Scottish education.
We should not accept the growing strength of self-perpetuating executive bureaucracy which has often flourished in England. The traditional rôle of the House of Commons essentially as a critical chamber suits the English well and is of great value. But a Scottish Parliament should be more intimately concerned with Executive decisions. It is not enough for it simply to register or even to amend legislation after it has been produced by the Executive. It should be more of a true legislature, initiating important legislation itself. It could do this by extending the system of specialist committees. By this means, we should improve decision making and enable a Scottish Assembly to be more open and more amenable to the general wishes of the electorate.
It is certainly useful to start from the majority recommendations of Kilbrandon, but to my mind they are not enough. I listed what I believe should be the minimal powers for a Scottish Assembly in the Bill that I introduced earlier this year with the support, for which I am grateful, of the Scottish National Party. They were meant to be a general outline of what I thought would then be acceptable to a wide spectrum of opinion in Scotland bearing in mind the majority recommendation of Kilbrandon.
Briefly, they were local government, town and country planning, new towns, housing, building controls and the services which go with them; roads and road passenger transport, harbours and other 986 transport matters; education, youth services, arts; social services and health; agriculture, fisheries, food and forestry; railways and rail freight; civil aviation; regional development and assistance to industry—I think that is very important—the procurement of coal and electricity. I would now include broadcasting and certain aspects of the development of oil. There is the Gaelic language; Highlands and Islands development, including crofting, which may be of increasing importance in the Highlands; police and fire services; legal administration in all aspects; sea transport and control over the Scottish political boundaries. I think that those are the main, though not the only, subjects which should be within the power of a Scottish Assembly.
I turn now to a very important matter. As has been constantly stated, we are embarking on a new constitutional development, the like of which has not been seen for at least 270 years or thereabouts. It would be presumptuous to suppose that we could draw up a perfect solution even after a year's discussion. Therefore, an explicit right of review should be written into the new constitution specifying that within five, seven or 10 years the situation should be reexamined. At that point—again, after consultation with the other countries concerned—the Scottish and the Welsh and, no doubt, the English and the Irish people should have the right to express their views on whether they wanted more or less independence and what further changes they would like to make. After all, it is only reasonable to give the Scottish and the Welsh people some experience of the effect of a Scottish or Welsh Assembly.
I come now to the vexed question of Scottish representation in the United Kingdom and the future of the Secretaryship for Scotland.
Representation in this Parliament is bedevilled by party considerations. It would be folly for practising politicians to pretend that these considerations do not exist. If the Conservative Party had been as guileful as it might have been, it would welcome Scottish and Welsh self-government or, indeed, total separation because it would be freed of an almost permanent Labour majority in those countries. If the number of Scottish MPs were reduced, it would be a 987 great loss to the Labour Party. However, the national interests of Scotland, Wales, England and Ireland should prevail, not the struggle for office by the existing parties. It may be that those parties will have to change when constitutional reform takes place.
In this respect, as with taxation, it may be wise to continue the existing arrangements for a time. But in the long run the ordinary Scottish man or woman will not gain from having too much government. That is an acute danger. Scotland will have district and regional councils, a Parliament in Edinburgh, in London a House of Commons and a House of Lords, and possibly the European Parliament as well.
Turning to the vexed question of taxation, I believe that, for convenience more than anything else, we should, as the Leader of the House rather indicated, accept that in the preliminary stage—the first five years or so—taxation should be collected largely on a United Kingdom basis. There is a good section in the Kilbrandon Report dealing with the difficulties of at once changing to separate taxation for Scotland and England, let alone for Wales and Ireland, but I believe that a Scottish Assembly must have some powers of revenue raising. I think that the Leader of the House also agreed about that.
Scotland has suffered in the past from two features of centralised taxation. She has had to endure deflationary taxation when her economy was under-employed and she has also been unable to vary taxation and social service contributions. Had Scotland been able to do the latter, it would have been a most valuable way of assisting some regions, such as the Highlands and Islands. Therefore, I suggest that Scotland should be given power, within limits, to raise her share of the revenue and that this might come partly from oil. I should also like to protect the rights of local authorities to benefit from some of the oil revenue.
The Secretaryship of State for Scotland is a controversial matter. What has been too little discussed in the general debate about self-government is the position now. For instance, how is Scotland represented in Cabinet committees? I make an urgent request to the Government to tell 988 us more about the present arrangements and how they work. On how many such committees does the Secretary of State for Scotland sit? On how many committees below the top level do other Ministers sit? On how many committees is the Secretary of State for Scotland represented by civil servants? On how many committees in all is the Scottish Office represented in one way or another? I have not seen this information clearly set out in any documents. I think that the people of Scotland and of Wales and of the other nations are entitled to know so that can come to their own conclusions about the future representations of Scotland in a United Kingdom Parliament and Government.
I have been much struck by the fact that the Dublin Government and the Bank of Ireland have to follow the Treasury here and the Bank of England on all major matters concerning the economy and finance. This is so even though Eire is nominally a totally independent country. To my mind, this would go on even if Scotland became a totally independent country. Of course, to some extent now every country has to take account of international institutions on a wider basis. Yet Eire has no means of influencing decisions taken in the City of London or in Whitehall. We must admit that this is a drawback. Indeed, the Irish themselves admit it to be so.
The crux of the matter will be whether, when we see the concrete proposals, there is real change in the basis of power. If power it moved to Edinburgh over a large area of government—even if, as I hope, defence, foreign affairs and major matters of planning and economic decisions which must be in a wider frame remain in London—it will be a sign that there has been a shift. In those circumstances it will not be possible to maintain that there should be a Secretary of State for Scotland in the United Kingdom Government.
The right hon. Member for Penrith and the Border rightly said that the English would no doubt ultimately prick up their ears if Scottish representation here was too powerful. On the other hand, it would be essential that the Scottish Prime Minister, or whatever he may be called, should have access to the United Kingdom Government, and the representation of Scotland on matters which would 989 remain within the purview of the United Kingdom would have to be protected.
Though I would press for Scotland to be given real power over the development of her industries and planning procedures, there are many other matters, including environmental matters, which must be dealt with on a wider basis. Therefore, if Scotland were given powers over fishing, industry, agriculture and certain other matters, there would still remain wider decisions to be taken, and there would be an important area for deciding the representation of Scotland in, or her relations with, the United Kingdom Government.
I make an urgent plea that planning must start now on the question of the Civil Service. I dissent from the views of the right hon. Member for Penrith and the Border. I cannot believe that it is possible to have one Civil Service if there is a real transfer of power to Edinburgh. It will be a crucial test of the Conservatives' attitude if they maintain that there must be a unitary Civil Service run from England. We know the power of the Civil Service. It would be a sign that the Conservatives are not prepared to give any substantial degree of devolution to Scotland if no change were made in the present set-up.
We have been told that work is going on in Edinburgh to find a suitable building. I should like to know whether any attempt is being made to find the necessary high-level staff. There is a shortage of people capable of taking on some of the Government jobs that are being set up, and I wonder whether these people have yet been discovered in Scotland.
Further, there must be a rundown of the Civil Service in London. This will be fiercely resisted. I should like to know what planning is being done now to run down the whole machine in London. I do not wish to throw this into the ring now, but there will be a case for looking again at the House of Lords. There will be so many assemblies in this country that it will be beyond a joke. The Civil Service in London will need to be run down very considerably and the whole parliamentary machine in London examined and reduced.
I imagine that primary and secondary education will be the responsibility of the Scottish Assembly, but what about 990 the universities? I see the argument that Scottish universities have a great international reputation, and I hope they will keep it, but I cannot believe that if there is real power in the Scottish Assembly it will not want to exercise authority over its universities.
§ Mr. Buchan
The House may be interested to know that the Senate at Glasgow University discussed this problem on Thursday and wished by 86 votes to 6 to leave the UGC on its present United Kingdom basis.
§ Mr. Grimond
I know that this is not a matter in which people can be dogmatic. My view is that if there is real power in a Scottish Assembly it will be difficult to say that universities must be run on a United Kingdom base from London, but I do not rule that out.
Self-government for Scotland must go much further than the creation of a Scottish Assembly. That is only the first step. It will meet the essential need for a forum in which to discuss our own affairs before our own countrymen and decide things for ourselves, whether we want to go forward or possibly come back into a tighter relationship with our neighbours, but it will lead to a more satisfactory form of government only if we bear in mind that we must also be free to develop our own form of local government and to run our own industries. It is vital that further nationalisation should not be carried through until the Scottish people can decide for themselves whether they want any, and in what form. I trust that we shall have an opportunity to spread ownership much more widely in Scotland and introduce some democracy into the running of our industries.
The setting up of a government structure in Scotland has great potentiality. It can give a new life and purpose to the whole population of Scotland. It also has great dangers. If it is treated merely as a bureaucratic exercise, carried through by people who do not really believe in it, it will fail. It should be treated not as a bureaucratic exercise but as a great democratic adventure.
In Scotland, as in Britain, the whole Western world of democracy is on trial. If it fails to deal with the great gap between the Government and the 991 governed, between expectation and achievement, the failure will be very serious, and we would be better not to have touched the matter at all.
§ 5.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Donald Stewart (Western Isles)
I begin by correcting a misapprehension on the part of the Lord President of the Council. In answer to a point made by the right hon. Member for Penrith and the Border (Mr. Whitelaw) the right hon. Gentleman said that we had been together for so long that we were one nation and the set-up could not be unscrambled. I have two comments to make on that. First, the time involved has nothing whatever to do with the issue here. Norway and Sweden were one country for 600 years. They separated only at the turn of the century, and they have lived as separate, prosperous nations ever since.
Secondly, the right hon. Gentleman is under a misapprehension, despite the co-operation that there has been within the United Kingdom, if he thinks that England, Scotland and Wales are one nation. I must tell him that the people of Scotland do not take that view. Scotland is different from England in tendency, tone, texture and traditions of its national life, and that is a fact.
The right hon. Member for Penrith and the Border spoke about the difficulties of an independent Scottish economy. We see no difficulty in that. We see every reason to believe that it will be a balanced economy, and a prosperous one.
The right hon. Gentleman spoke about Customs posts at the border. I hope that in the event of an independent Scotland both Governments will, in their own interests, come to some agreement about a Customs union, in the way that Norway and Sweden have done, but if they do not there will be Customs posts. Nobody thinks that France is not entitled to a separate identity because one has to go through Customs to get there. Why should there be any difference with Scotland?
The right hon. Gentleman asked whether Scotland would be able to keep up the payment of social security benefits. These are not donations. People in Scotland pay for their stamp in the same way as people in England and 992 Wales do. One found this argument in the statistics that were trotted out in the phoney Scottish budget a few years ago. The argument is that Scotland receives more per head in unemployment benefit than England. That is true, but that is part of what we are fighting against. Our argument is that unemployment is always higher in Scotland than anywhere else, and everyone knows that to be the case.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
I accept that the people of Scotland pay the same contribution as those in other parts of the United Kingdom, but the hon. Gentleman must accept that a considerable amount of money is provided by the United Kingdom Exchequer towards many of the services to which I referred. That is the point which the hon. Gentleman and his Friends must consider.
§ Mr. Stewart
We have considered these matters carefully. I do not want to prolong the debate by going into great detail. I merely point to the fact that Scotland exports more per head of population than England, and it therefore has a viable economy.
The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) referred in passing to Eire. We accept that no country can be isolated completely, and we do not want to be in that position. We want to rejoin the world. Even the United States of America is affected by what other countries do, and no doubt Eire is affected in much the same way. Nevertheless, no party and no politician on a platform in Eire speaks of cobbling again the union with the United Kingdom, and that answers that argument.
Although the scale is a minor one, today's debate is another step forward on the road to the return to an ancient nation of its birthright to make its own decisions for its own people. Ever since the Treaty of Union, there have existed in Scotland men and women who have never accepted the colonial status which the loss of sovereignty has involved. For the rest, for a long time participation in the building of the British Empire masked the loss of the nation's independence. It is also true that then, as now, there were sectional interests whose personal fortunes and advancement committed them to the disappearance of all that Scotland stands for.
993 They shut their eyes and ears to the degradation of their country, the obliteration of its identity, the weakening of its culture, the blood-letting of emigration, the lack of opportunity, the appalling figures of unemployment, bad housing conditions, and so on—in short its decline into a neglected, depopulated province of England.
I am glad to see that in some parts of the House there is some recognition of the desire of the Scottish people to resume control of their own affairs. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Scotland has claimed that the Labour Party set up the Kilbrandon Commission. The fact is clear, but the motive is less clear. The commission was a device to gain time. A few years would elapse before the report would be published, and it was hoped that when that time arrived the problem would have disappeared. The problem will go, but in only one way—when a Scottish Government sit in Scotland with the dignity and rights of the Government of a free nation.
But what of the Tories, the self-styled Unionists? They also claim to be the begetters of devolution. They base that claim on Lord Home's commission and on the Leader of the Opposition's speech in Perth in 1968, grandly named the Declaration of Perth. The right hon. Gentleman took it so seriously that he forgot all about it between 1970 and 1974.
The approach to devolution owes nothing to these parties. They have been dragged to these very modest proposals kicking and screaming, and they are still biting and trying to sabotage them. The advance to Scottish freedom is the work and success of the Scottish National Party and other nationalists in Scotland who have never accepted any final rôle for Scotland but that of a free and independent nation.
Some of my hon. Friends, if they are fortunate enough to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, will develop in detail the minimum proposals we would accept as making the concept meaningful. An empty facade or a minor upstaging of the Scottish Grand Committee would be a waste of everyone's time. Firstly, I assume that there is general agreement all round that the functions of the Secretary of State will be transferred as a 994 matter of course to the Assembly. Then we shall expect to control trade and industry, employment and energy and Scottish oil. We shall expect to control the finance of the Scottish Development Agency, and other Scottish boards will be set up to run nationalised industries in Scotland. These are elementary steps if devolution is to meet the criterion of "meaningful".
I now quote a passage from the report of the church and nation committee of the Church of Scotland, which on page 5 states:The House of Commons Select Committee on Scottish Affairs, which investigated economic planning in Scotland between February 1969 and June 1970, was told by the Board of Trade (now part of the Department of Trade and Industry) that it did not consult on a day-to-day basis with the Scottish Office over the location of industry. It did not attempt to encourage industry to go to the Scottish Offices 'growth areas', nor even to Scotland in particular. Neither was the Department of Economic Affairs concerned about these. The Minister of Technology thought in terms of industries rather than in terms of the needs of particular locations. The Shipbuilding Industry Board was not governed by regional policies. The evidence given to the Select Committee clearly showed that the major British Departments were still very much London-bound, and did not shape their policies to fit the needs of the Scottish economy as a whole.On page 6 the report goes on to say:It can therefore only be reiterated, even more firmly than before, that any scheme for legislative and executive devolution, if it is to be meaningful and worthwhile, both to the people of Scotland, whose interest and participation are essential, and to the members of the legislature, must provide for real substantive powers in the economic field.Perhaps I may now turn to the mechanics of devolved government.
§ Mr. Robin F. Cook (Edinburgh, Central)
The hon. Member said at the beginning that he was setting out what his party would accept. Will he clarify what he means by "accept"? Does he mean that if it were given a meaningful degree of devolution the SNP would accept it as meeting the demands of the Scottish people? Does he mean it would then say that this is as far as it would be necessary to go, or would his party merely use it as a stalking horse, as a step towards a form of free government which his party hopes to see later?
§ Mr. Stewart
I shall deal with the hon. Member's point later.
995 I was about to deal with the mechanics of devolved Government. There must be a reappraisal of the voting system in elections. We cannot continue with the gross distortion of the electorate's wishes that we have seen in recent elections. My party calls for a fixed term of four years for the Assembly, to end the practice of election dates being chosen on the whim of one man concerned principally with the chances of his own party. We demand, too, that with the Assembly should go a proper Executive with a Premier or First Minister, and other Ministers with departmental portfolios who will be responsible for their functions and answerable to the Assembly and the Scottish people.
In spite of separate historical developments, I and my party support the right of the ancient Welsh nation to devolution and, as in the Scottish context, a degree of self-government which would be the will of the Welsh people. In the last analysis the degree of self-government is a decision for the Scottish people. It is of no consequence that Westminster parties regard the idea with horror. The aim of my party is clear and unambiguous, but, given genuine devolution, we will participate in the Assembly.
The bounds of Scottish freedom and Scottish nationhood will not be set in this House. Let right hon. and hon. Members accept that, and we nations can live side by side in co-operation and friendship.
§ 5.56 p.m.
§ Mr. William Craig (Belfast, East)
Many of us will have listened to the hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) with some sadness, certainly those of us from Ulster who are concerned to look at the problems of the Kingdom with a view to maintaining the essential unity of the United Kingdom. All of us will agree that a lot of people have changed their minds very quickly over the last year as to the forms of government which should be examined. We seem to be escalating pretty rapidly into a decision for some form of devolution. The thing which perturbs me, however, is that while spokesmen for the major parties indicate their desire to maintain the unity of the United Kingdom their approach to devolution has been piecemeal, and that is fundamentally a very great mistake.
996 The unity of the United Kingdom will depend a great deal on having uniformity in institutions of government and in standards of democracy. These are not things which can be bent or disorted to meet the needs of political expediency. Certainly we in Ulster recognise the need to meet the just and rightful aspirations of our fellow citizens in Scotland and Wales. We believe, however, that it is just as important to meet the aspirations of the United Kingdom as a whole.
However, the final decisions must be taken on the basis of what is right and proper for the United Kingdom, what gives the most effective form of Government for the United Kingdom. Not even the greatest fan of this honourable House can say that we have enjoyed effective and efficient management of the nation's affairs in recent years. On a national basis there is a very good case for constitutional change, a change that will bring the process of decision taking closer to the people. My thinking is very close to that of the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond). I believe that the eventual form of the United Kingdom constitution will be very close to the federal form, and I do not envisage in any way a weakening of the bonds that unite us. I fear that if this is not the approach those bonds will be weakened.
It seems a pity that in this piecemeal approach we are not able to look at the whole governmental problem of the nation. It is an even greater pity that we do not know whether this is to continue to be a sovereign Parliament. It is a very relevant consideration to what we may decide for the future. I would like to feel that the Parliament of the United Kingdom will continue to be a very important decision-making body. I would like to think that it is part of a chain of communication with the people, that there would be power sharing in the truest sense of the word.
All of us know perfectly well that the task of this Parliament is often beyond the capacity of the House. Right hon. Members who sit on the respective Front Benches may disagree, but hon. Members who sit on the back benches know perfectly well that in most instances they have no power as Members of Parliament. We rejoice in the traditions of the House, 997 but we recognise that time has overtaken many of its established procedures.
I for one no longer find any great satisfaction in the great parliamentary institution known as Question Time. To me, it is now little more than a party game, with probing in a party political way. It is certainly not a means of fact finding or of really getting at what the Government of the day are up to. We all know the limitation of one supplementary question.
In so many ways, as the elected representatives of the people, we cannot give the sort of government that our people need today. We would be very effective as a national Parliament if we were to shed the load and share power with other institutions throughout the whole of the Kingdom. There are so many things that a national Parliament must concern itself with—problems, for example, of defence, international relations and a modern economy. These are things which could fully concern and occupy the whole activity of a national Parliament.
But, of course, in most cases the things that touch upon the daily lives of our people are the things that could be better done by regional Parliaments or regional parliamentary institutions, with representatives who are closer in touch with the daily needs of our people. I am sure that the team work that would grow out of a federal system of government would bring back a new respect for parliamentary democracy. It certainly would help to destroy the feeling of remoteness which exists in so many places now.
If we are to approach this problem simply on the basis of what should be done in Scotland, what should be done in Northern Ireland, and what should be done in Wales, are we likely to get the right answer? I cannot follow the distinction that is being drawn between Wales and Scotland. I know that they have different heritages and different historical backgrounds, but the problems of government are essentially the same.
In Northern Ireland we feel that if we are going to be in the United Kingdom we want to be fully in it and have the same sort of institutions of government as our fellow citizens in other parts of the Kingdom. If that were not so, we would soon cease to feel that we belonged, and we would be creating opportunities that those who want to 998 sever the link could exploit. That is worth pondering.
I think that many hon. Members are afraid to share power with the people because they think that some might exploit it to destroy the essential unity of the Union. But it is not just a question of sharing out the load of government. It is a matter of how it is done. We have had some experience of devolution in the Parliament of Northern Ireland. It was, on the whole, a remarkably successful venture, but it had some very serious weaknesses—weaknesses that arose out of its relationship with this Parliament and the Government here, a relationship which was not helped by being, as it were, a one-off situation.
But the one thing that we were very quick to discover was that, while we were answerable to the electorate of the Parliament of Northern Ireland, we had not in fact the power or the authority to discharge our duty to the electorate in Northern Ireland. In theory, we were responsible for education, for social services, for housing. In practice, what we could do was limited by decisions taken here in Whitehall. There was very little room for real local initiative.
Whatever form of devolution is eventually decided upon, it is important that the relationship, particularly the financial relationship, should be realistic. Nothing will do democracy more harm than to set up a spurious institution. I know that we have often been challenged in Northern Ireland that our housing record was poor, but we were always limited in the number of houses we could build in any one financial year by a Treasury decision.
If one had that sort of relationship in Scotland, for example, I have no doubt that one would hasten the day when Scotland might break the link with the United Kingdom. If Scotland is to have a Parliament and a Government, they must be a Parliament and a Government which can meet effectively the needs of the people of Scotland.
We have been asked a number of detailed technical questions. We are asked, for instance, whether there should be a power of dissolution. If one is to have a parliamentary institution—and I think that that is the right sort of institution—of course there must be power of 999 dissolution, because the whole essence of parliamentary government is its answerability to the electorate. If the Government lose the confidence of Parliament, they must go to the people and not wait for any arbitrary period of years. I cannot see the parliamentary system working otherwise.
But perhaps the fact that we have been asked these questions is an indication that those who ask them are not really thinking of parliamentary institutions or of parliamentary democracy. If that be the case, we would do better to say that we are simply talking about extending the authority of local government in the municipal sense. I do not believe that that is what the people in many parts of the country want. I can perfectly well understand why hon. Members suggest a need for electoral reform. There could well be a very good case for a substantial change in our electoral systems. Whatever the best system is, it should be used throughout the whole of the United Kingdom. There is no justification for having one system for the national Parliament, another system for the regional Parliaments, and perhaps another system for local government itself.
The White Paper, summarising the Kilbrandon recommendations in scheme A, mentions the single transferable vote as a possible alternative. Again, we in Northern Ireland have some experience of that. It is certainly not a system that I can recommend. There are a number of things wrong with it. Perhaps its worst feature is the multi-Member constituency. Hon. Members who are accustomed to the single-Member constituency would be appalled at the situation that can arise in a multi-Member constituency.
We all know the temptation in politics to play one off against the other, but in a multi-Member constituency the temptations to drag political representation into the gutter are great. One exposes oneself to that risk with, on the other side, no great change in the fairness of the electoral system, because, whatever may be said for the STV, the one thing which cannot be said is that it is a proper system of proportional representation. The present system of the United Kingdom is hard to beat, particularly when it is knitted into a system of devolution.
§ Mr. James Dempsey (Coatbridge and Airdrie)
I am interested in the case the right hon. Member is making. Time after time he has emphasised the need to maintain the United Kingdom. However, in relation to Northern Ireland I have seen the right hon. Member reported as advocating the establishment of an Independent Ulster. Has he abandoned the concept of an independent Ulster?
§ Mr. Craig
That gives me an opportunity which I have wanted for a long time. I can never understand how anyone has been able to report me as advocating an independent Ulster. What I have said very firmly is that if this Parliament, or anyone else outside, put us outside the United Kingdom it will be putting us not into an all-Ireland republic but into an independent Ulster which will maintain its British traditions. I deeply believe that the essential unity of the United Kingdom must be maintained. Let there be no misunderstanding about that.
On the question of the franchise, I am prepared to concede that it is worth experimenting to find a system that gives a fairer result. For instance, I recognise that the present Government do not command an effective majority in the country in terms of votes. I recognise the dominant position of Labour in Scotland. It has been speculated this afternoon that if England were left on its own there would be a permanent Conservative majority. I know from what hon. Members have said about the situation in Northern Ireland that they do not like that at all. I am sure that their remarks were not confined simply to Northern Ireland.
I believe that the system that is operated in the Federal Republic of Germany goes a long way to meet the needs of this country. It maintains the practice of single-Member constituencies but allows a portion of the Parliament to be elected on the proportion of votes cast throughout the country in a General Election. This is a system that works effectively in a country that is federal in nature or which has a devolved system. It could be usefully explored in any future constitutional change in this country.
I end as I began. Whatever we do, we should endeavour as far as circumstances permit to maintain the same 1001 standards of democracy throughout the whole of the United Kingdom and to maintain the same type of institutions of government. This is certainly the way to cement our feeling of belonging to the one country. We need more than one monarch to unite us. We need to have the same basic elements of constitutional government.
§ 6.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Gwynfor Evans (Carmarthen)
This is an historic debate. For two days the House is considering in the main the future of Scotland and of Wales. One wonders when this has happened before. Has it happened this century? Has it happened at all? This shows an extraordinary position. This Parliament is the only Parliament the people of Wales and Scotland have. Yet when the Welsh and the Scots have a two-day debate in this Parliament to discuss their future it can be described as an historic occasion.
It must be emphasised that Scotland and Wales are nations. English Members continually talk of "the nation" as if there were only one nation on this island. Indeed, this afternoon the Leader of the House stressed that there was here one nation, in which proposition he was supported by the right hon. Member for Penrith and the Border (Mr. Whitelaw).
It must be established that there are more nations than one on this island, that Wales and Scotland are nations. Britain or the United Kingdom is not a nation. It is a State. There is continual confusion in the House and elsewhere between nation and State. The nation, which is an historic community, and the State, which is the political order which should clothe that community, are continually confused. Welsh and Scottish nationalists are not in any danger of compounding that confusion, because Wales and Scotland are nations but nations without a Government and without a State.
§ Mr. Buchan
I accept completely that Scotland is a nation, but one wants to follow that through and see what conclusion the hon. Gentleman draws from that. Does he think that is conterminous with the need to have a State? Secondly, he is again beginning to reject Scottish nationhood—I resent this—because, as he has said in the House often enough, he bases nationhood upon one thing; namely, language? If that is so, he is rejecting 1002 my right and that of every Scottish Member on the bench on which he sits to Scottish nationhood.
§ Dr. M. S. Miller (East Kilbride)
I cannot answer for Wales, but will the hon. Gentleman tell us categorically that Scotland is only one nation? Is it not possible that there is more than one nation even in Scotland?
§ Mr. Evans
Does the hon. Gentleman deny that Scotland is a nation? If so, the Scots will note the fact.
The point I wanted to emphasise was that just as the only Parliament for us as a Welsh nation is an English Parliament, so our only State is the British State. The British State has not served, succoured or strengthened the Welsh nation. The English Parliament sees Wales in an English perspective. In Wales the rôle of the State has not been the subordinate one of a servant but the dominant one of a master, although the State should, if true to its nature, exist for Wales in our case. In fact Wales has existed for the State. The urgent need of Wales today is for a State to serve her and not to exploit her—that is, for a Welsh State.
Although the debate has the historic character of which I have spoken, there have been debates in the House before on Welsh and Scottish affairs. I remember a debate on a very important Welsh matter long before I came to the House. It was to decide whether the Liverpool Corporation should evict members of a cultured, Welsh-speaking community from their farms in the Tryweryn Valley. The Welsh Members spoke with their usual eloquence and passion against that measure. The English Members voted in big numbers in its favour, to give the people of Merseyside, their own people, the powers for which they had asked. A Welsh community was destroyed, as so many in our land have been, and its natural resources were taken—quite legally, of course. After all, this Parliament is the English Parliament.
§ Mr. MacCormick
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that as this Parliament decreed its 700th anniversary not many years ago it must be an English Parliament?
§ Mr. Evans
And when Wales was incorporated in England in 1536 there was then only an English Parliament, of course.
The House is debating the future of Wales. The Government plan to allow the people of Wales a little measure of control over their lives, for the first time in centuries. The amount of control outlined in the White Paper, from which the Leader of the House did not depart an inch, is very slight. The reins are to be kept tightly in Whitehall hands. I say advisedly "Whitehall hands" and not "Westminster hands". I heard the late and lamented R. H. S. Crossman speak, shortly before his death, of "Whitehall, where the Ministers wander in and out like pale shadows among the most powerful Civil Service in the world". Mr. Crossman's splendid diaries will be compulsory reading for all Welsh nationalists.
§ Mr. Evans
Yes. I hope that we shall be able to issue at any rate some parts in translation.
Whitehall has long been the seat of real power. I remember the days when 33 per cent. of the registered workers of Wales were unemployed, and hundreds of thousands of Welshmen had to leave their country and trek to England to find work, for that is how the Welsh have been governed from London in my time. Ernest Bevin said that the fault was not that of the politicians but what he called "the gentlemen sitting in Whitehall".
§ Mr. Kinnock
Will the hon. Gentleman resolve the essence of the dispute between him and me and tell me whether he considers that the unemployed in the 1930s and 1920s, and before and since, who included all the male members of my family, were unemployed because they were Welsh or because they were workers?
§ Mr. Evans
They were unemployed because of the total misgovernment of their country by the Government here.
The most powerful opponents of a national future for Wales are not the politicians, who for the most part only flatter themselves when they think that they have great power, but the civil servants. They have been British centralists and imperialists almost to a man. They have always known better than the Welsh people what is good for Wales. They have never wavered in their belief that it was best for Wales to be a British peripheral region or province, contributing her human and material wealth to make Britain great, doing so as part of one nation in a neo-colonialist order.
It is little wonder the right hon. Member for Penrith and the Border is so anxious to prevent the establishment of a Welsh and Scottish Civil Service. Civil Service thought has dominated discussion not only of parliamentary government for Scotland and Wales but of the reorganisation of local government, the reorganisation plan concocted by the Labour Government. I well remember their White Paper on the matter. The Conservatives did not depart from that White Paper in its application to Wales, except that they divided Glamorgan into three instead of two. That Labour plan for reorganisation was in essence a Civil Service plan, which the civil servants had been trying for decades to put into operation. To go through another traumatic experience of the kind we have just been through, as has been suggested, must be akin to madness.
The civil servants proceed by counting heads, as though they have never heard of the concept of human beings living in community. The concept of community, which should be basic to all government, local and national, is something they do not seem to comprehend. But what they and the politicians think they know is that England cannot afford Scottish and Welsh self-government, that it cannot afford the reduction in world status that it would involve and that it cannot afford to relinquish the power to exploit the rich human and material resources of our countries.
That belief must be rationalised as being the best thing for Wales. In the past the Welsh tended to take the civil 1005 servants at their word, but now they begin to see—the presence of my two hon. Friends and myself in the House is some evidence of this—that, so far from doing well for Wales, the Government here do not even do well for their own country of England.
I have recently been reading the Hudson Report, which says:The standard of life in Britain today is only marginally better than that of countries which the British people are accustomed to think of as the 'poor' States of the Mediterranean and the Balkans. The majority of Spaniards and Greeks will, on present trends, be better off than the average Britain within not many more years.That shows how England is governed from here.
The day of the huge, dinosauric, centralist State is gone. Those of us in Wales who give our first political loyalty to our own nation are finding mounting support for our demand that Wales be given national freedom.
§ Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)
Would the hon. Gentleman be prepared to test that so-called mounting support directly by way of a referendum?
§ Mr. Evans
Yes, Sir. Every time there has been a poll on the subject in Wales—and we have had a number in the past decade—it has shown that at least 60 per cent. of the country favours a Parliament for Wales. That is a big majority.
Wales must be free, because Wales is a nation, and the nation is a community whose value can hardly be exaggerated. We are an old nation. The centuries of greatest creative activity in our history were the fifth and sixth centuries. The Welsh nation has a long Christian, intellectual tradition, which gives those nurtured in it the best education they ever get. Sometimes the European civilisation has been enriched by this Welsh tradition, which it is the duty of Welshmen to transmit to the future. The main vehicle of this tradition is the Welsh language—and I come now to the point raised a few minutes ago by the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan).
The Welsh language was for 1,000 years and more the language of law and government in Wales. It was so in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, when the language of law and government in England was largely French. The Statute 1006 of Wales of 1536, which incorporated Wales in England, sought to destroy the Welsh national tradition in order to make Welshmen Englishmen. The Welsh language was excluded from all official and legal life in our country, and later, of course, from our schools too.
That was State policy. It was of great importance to us not because the language is the only basis of nationhood but because the language is our greatest national tradition and is the main vehicle of our civilisation. That is the importance of language to us. I recognise that in Scotland the language does not have the same sort of place, but that is its place in our country.
§ Mr. Gwynfor Evans
No, I have given way to the hon. Gentleman once and time is running on.
I was emphasising the treatment of our language as a matter of State policy. It was modified only after it had done enormous injury to the Welsh national tradition, and even yet the British State has not actively sought to create the conditions for full national development in Wales. Nor will it do so in the future. The British State has never seen Wales as more than a province of that State and part of what it regards as one nation.
Plaid Cymru is in business to create harmony in society on the basis of community, community both national and local. To us nothing could be more obvious than that the people of Wales should have the chance of a much fuller life and a richer community life in a self-governing country. With their greater resources of natural wealth—they certainly have these—per head of population, they would be better off economically. Politically too they would be far better off in a self-governing Wales, as the democracy of their country would be revitalised.
I am sure that in a self-governing Wales we should not see the sort of unemployment which we have seen and see to this day. We have far greater unemployment proportionately in Wales than England has. We have more depopulation and more migration. All these evils are greater in our country, and we have at the same time lower levels of wages and salaries and so on.
1007 Wales has a very bad government record. If we had our own Government, we could put things to rights. Expression could be given, too, to the Welsh passion for social justice, which could bring great benefits to our people, and cultural enrichment would follow the infusion of new vitality into our national tradition.
It is significant that one hears little now of the old tired reasons which used to be advanced against Welsh self-government. It was said that Wales was too small. There are 35 nations in the United Nations smaller than we are. They are not regarded as too small. It was said that we are too poor. It is now known that we are richer in natural resources per head than England is.
Nevertheless, far from agreeing to Welsh self-government the Government say that Wales is to have no legislative control. The White Paper speaks of an executive Assembly for Wales. We have quite a lot of executive assemblies in Wales already. Every local authority is an elected executive assembly. Our local authorities execute the policies which are decided elsewhere. That is what "executive" means, of course. We want to make those policies ourselves.
Government spokesmen have argued that the distinction between "executive" and "legislative" is so thin that there is virtually no difference. If that be so, why not allow Wales a legislative Assembly? The argument is not convincing. In fact, there is a big difference between formulating policy and implementing policy which one forms for oneself and implementing policies made elsewhere. It is the power to decide policies for herself that Wales needs.
Some such power, very little and inadequate, is proposed for Scotland. The Scottish Assembly is to have a little legislative power. We have heard today that there are reasons why the Scots are to have a little legislative power and we are not. The Leader of the House referred to some of them, and he instanced in particular the fact that Scotland has a separate legal system.
There are 25 cantons in Switzerland, each having far more powers than are proposed for Scotland in this case, and there is no separate legal system for each cannot. The legal system is common 1008 to all the cantons of Switzerland. This argument, too, is irrelevant to the business of formulating and deciding policy. The reasons advanced for making the distinction lack all conviction, and I do not believe that only committed nationalists in Wales will take a dim view of the distinction which is to be made.
The people of Wales generally, and trade unionists in particular, will take the same view. At the beginning of last year the trade unionists of Wales met in conference and decided unanimously in favour of a Parliament for Wales which would have powers over trade and industry. What will they think of the difference to be made between Wales and Scotland? As I say, the people of Wales generally will take a pretty dim view of it.
The Government have now decided to create some kind of instrument of government in Wales. Having made that decision, they ought now to create an effective instrument of government. That is what we need. But the scheme outlined in the White Paper, it seems to me, will not create an effective Welsh senedd. Its responsibilities will be too restricted to present a bracing challenge to the people of Wales to release their energies in rebuilding their nation.
Although I welcome the Government's plan, announced on Saturday, to set up a Welsh Development Agency and to transfer it to the Welsh Office, I wonder whether that agency will then be put under the control of the Welsh Assembly. I hope that we shall have a statement about that before the end of the debate. A very good article by Mr. Rhodri Morgan in this morning's Western Mail gave reasons why one should not be too enthusiastic in one's welcome for this development. We ought to be able to look forward to seeing the agency gather under its wing, with the Welsh Assembly, our nationalised industries and services in Wales—steel, coal, communications, gas, water and electricity—and the Welsh Assembly should be able to question the people and Ministers representing those industries and services—questioning them not on day-to-day management but on general policy matters and questions of expansion and contraction. That is essential.
It should be a major function of the Welsh Development Agency to prepare 1009 a plan of development, of balanced development, for Wales and to be able to implement that plan through the Welsh Assembly. But how can one implement a plan effectively unless one has some control of the infrastructure, which means control over major roads, railways and air traffic? It involves housing, ports and higher education, as well as planning and land strategy.
These matters should be within the purview of the Welsh Assembly, to make it an effective Assembly. One cannot hope even to develop industrial parks without that kind of power. I take the example of a central major highway for Wales, something we have been demanding for years, to develop Wales and to unify our country. The Government have always taken the line that there are no industries and no factories in central Wales and there is, therefore, no need for such a road. But in Italy the opposite view is taken. When the great Autostrada del Sole was built, the argument was that there were no industries there so the road must be built. I contend that that is the attitude which the Welsh Assembly would take to a project of that kind. But now the people of Wales can do nothing about it. They cannot decide even to build a road for themselves. I wonder whether their power will be any greater when they have their elected Assembly.
In our view, if they want to create a really effective Assembly in Wales, the Government should not list the powers which the Assembly ought to have. One can easily do that and get bogged down. Far easier, and certainly far better, would be to decide to reserve certain powers to this Government and Parliament and then that the Welsh people—and the Scottish people for their part—shall have all the other powers transferred to them through their Assemblies.
Even if that were done, the Welsh Assembly would have no more powers than each Swiss canton has today, and what separation is there in Switzerland? In that event there would be a wide enough range of powers to ensure that there was an efficient Government in Wales. But if the Government do not advance from their White Paper—and this afternoon they have shown no sign of doing so—what we shall have will be neither fish nor fowl nor good red herring.
1010 My regrets about this are somewhat tempered by the thought that this kind of ineffective arrangement will prove very temporary indeed, because it will precipitate Welsh disillusion with the English political parties, and that will be to the advantage of Plaid Cymru. The people of Wales are already waking up, and the Government's obvious unwillingness to allow them to make their own decisions will hasten the process. The weaker the Assembly, the stronger we shall grow; the smaller the concesssion, the more temporary the structure.
Because the Government see this kind of proposal in the light of a concession to the growth of nationalism, the question from which they begin is not what is best for Wales but how little can be coneceded. In Scotland a little more is conceded than in Wales because the SNP got more support at the polls than did Plaid Cymru. It is the strength of organised nationalist opinion in Wales and Scotland that alone drives the Government to action.
This historic debate today is a tribute to our growing strength as nationalists. Those of us in Scotland and in Wales who are engaged in nation building will continue to grow strongly. Nationalism has its own dynamic, and when its full power is harnessed we shall achieve our aim, and our aim is one of partnership. We want to see a partnership in these islands, but a partnership of free and equal nations in no way subordinate one to the other in any aspect of their domestic or external affairs but freely associating in what could be called the Britannic confederation.
In Wales we have rich natural resources and a magnificent national tradition. We have a concern for social justice that has been manifested time and again in our history. The Welsh people have great talent and ability. As an autonomous community taking its due place in the life of the world, the possibilities of our country are extraordinarily rich, and her possibilities are the most exciting thing about Wales. Thwart it as the Government may, the nationalist movement, with the intelligent youth of Wales on its side, has the resolution and the moral force to win through. Let the Welsh people free and their little nation will be a tremendous asset to humanity.
§ 6.43 p.m.
§ Dr. M. S. Miller (East Kilbride)
How tempting it is to accept the challenge of the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans) and the hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) and debate with them the subject of nationalism within the context of the United Kingdom, having Wales and Scotland in mind in this connection. Let me say in deference to the hon. Member for Carmarthen that I have a great respect for the people of Wales, their culture and their institutions, as I have for the people of Scotland, but these matters have nothing to do with what we are discussing today. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I shall not say that it has nothing to do with it, but it is not what we are meant to be discussing today and tomorrow, and I shall resist the temptation to get myself involved in that argument.
Those of us who have been actively involved in the process of devolution warmly welcome the substantial progress that has been made since the White Paper was published last September. I am gratified that the fermentation process has proceeded and that the Bill will be presented in November. I cannot accept the limitations imposed upon us by the right hon. Member for Penrith and the Border (Mr. Whitelaw), because this is not an issue that has been sprung upon us de novo. This discussion has been going on for some time. I am glad that the Bill will be presented soon. If its ingredients are right and have been added in the correct quantities, the products will be worthy of vintage appellations.
There is no need to dwell on the obvious and growing desire of the Scottish people to have more say in their own affairs. The developing and maintaining of prosperity in Scotland has always been an arduous and often up-and-down process. My right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council alluded to these things.
It is gratifying to note that the Government have this problem in mind, because the loss of industry from Scotland and the necessity to attract new industries have been part of a process that has gone on since the Industrial Revolution. In recent years, for example, the contraction of the coal industry and 1012 the virtual elimination of the shipbuilding industry have been cases in point and at the moment in Scotland there is great concern about steel. As with jobs, so with houses: the Scottish people feel that more should have been done and more should be done about both.
So I say that devolution is the recognition of the aspirations of Scotland. However, it is a fact of life that legislation of this kind germinates very slowly and it is not a bad thing—I pay some respect to it—that we have had the catalyst of nationalism in recent years. I am convinced, however, that the overwhelming majority of Scottish people completely reject separatism, and that is the rock on which nationalism will perish.
I listened with much sorrow to the hon. Member for Western Isles for whom I have high regard, because he exhibited an inferiority complex about the people of Scotland unworthy of them. He did an injustice to them by attempting to show that they carried on their shoulders chips as big as granite boulders from Aberdeen.
§ Mr. Donald Stewart
If the people of Scotland do not resent statistics and facts of the kind I have mentioned, they must have a slavish mentality.
§ Dr. Miller
I am referring to the way in which the hon. Member groaned and moaned and whined about Scotland as though the situation there were the fault of someone else—the English—and that sentiment was largely echoed by the hon. Member for Carmarthen.
§ Dr. Miller
Exactly. I think that the hon. Member does a great injustice to the people of Scotland. We shall face problems with a Scottish Assembly, but they are as nothing compared with the problems that we should have to face if we were to attempt to dismantle the structure that has been built up and intricately woven into the United Kingdom fabric for more than 250 years. To try to extricate Scotland from this is at best a process involving tremendous hazard. At the worst it could be disastrous for the Scottish people.
1013 I hope that the brew will contain all these ingredients. It is significant that I choose these terms because this is about the only industry which people can currently talk of in Scotland as being of consequence. At the moment we know of two things for sure. First, Scotland will have a devolved elected Assembly, and secondly it will meet in Edinburgh. Everything else has to be decided—the number of members, its finance-raising powers, how the Assembly will complement the new regional set-up, how it will fit in with United Kingdom legislation, whether it will have a fixed term or a power of dissolution and so on.
I want to touch on two subsidiary points before making my main submission. The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) made a point with which I wholeheartedly agree. Whatever happens, the Scottish universities must remain an integral part of the university set-up in the United Kingdom. I could think of nothing worse than to have any restrictions placed upon students mixing between universities in England and Scotland. This kind of mixture is the lifeblood of the universities.
§ Mr. D. E. Thomas (Merioneth)
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. Although I am appalled by the anti-egalitarian attitude displayed by the hon. Gentleman when he talked about excluding the universities from the powers devolved to the Scottish and Welsh Assemblies, may I ask him whether he would not agree that the devolution of the whole of higher education to Wales and Scotland is vital to bringing about a correction of the imbalance in various sectors with, for example, more spending per capita on further education? Will not this be impossible unless universities are taken within full public control in England, Wales and Scotland?
§ Dr. Miller
That is an entirely different point. I concede that what the hon. Gentleman has mentioned is worthy of consideration. I do not quarrel with it. But that is not the same as dividing the universities up and hiving off Scottish universities.
§ Mr. Donald Stewart
I agree that there ought to be this interchange between universities in different countries. Would not the hon. Gentleman agree, however, that it is wrong for the figures for students 1014 coming from outside Scotland to Scottish universities to be so high when properly qualified Scottish students cannot find a place?
§ Dr. Miller
I do not accept that that is the situation. Glasgow University could do with a few more students from England. There are far too many indigenous students there. It would be much better if there was a mix.
Secondly, if devolution is to be meaningful there must be the power to raise finance. Some hon. Members have voiced doubts about this while others have advocated it. I appreciate the Government's promise and am glad that they are looking along the lines of allowing some limited progress here.
I have an open mind about the number of members in the Assembly. It has been suggested that there might be 71 members, one per constituency, or 142, two per constituency. I have a preference for the smaller number. What I am concerned about is the form the Assembly should take. In direct opposition to everyone else who has spoken so far, I do not believe that we should adopt the Cabinet system of government. This system reposes far too much power in the hands of too few people. It puts frightening power in the hands of its top executive, who has to resist the temptation to protect his almost absolute authority by surrounding himself with loyalty instead of ability. [Interruption.] I said that there was the temptation. The top executive has to resist it.
The Cabinet system tends to place a premium on sycophancy. Government by the Cabinet system is government by the few with virtually no say by the rest. In its potential it bears an uncomfortable resemblance to the imperialism of the Godfather. This system is frustrating for the majority of Members. Day in and day out they enact a charade of mock authority and power, while they are impotent in the face of the executive machine. The executive plays its cards close to its chest, jealous of its power, conceding to the rest no right of contribution towards decision making.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I trust that what my hon. Friend is saying bears no relation to the fact that the Lord President is followed on the Labour side by his PPS.
§ Dr. Miller
I shall let that flea stick to the wall. The executive is often contemptuous of attempts to democratise the process and often too is smugly confident of its ability to frustrate attempts to challenge decisions once they have been made. In such a system as I have mildly described, I submit that the backbench Member of Parliament has about as much power in politics as the constitutional monarch about whom my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) has campaigned for some years. Even the handful of characters who are thrown up are really actors playing to a section of the public which has to be fed on sensation, accusations, distortions, half-truths and vindictiveness.
So much for that system. I am therefore an advocate of the committee system. It avoids most of the pitfalls inherent and evident in the Cabinet system. Its main advantages—my right hon. Friend outlined some of them—are that every member has a say in decision making, even those in minority parties. Second, the governing party is in control and the chairmen of committees are democratically elected, not appointed. In the committee system no one has absolute power. If prima donnas arise, they do not last for long and there is more open government because there is less secrecy. Those of my colleagues who have experience of local government, as I had for 14 years, know how well the committee system can work. I ask the Government to consider this carefully.
Many of us are disturbed by persistent rumours of a slow-down in the timetable. I hope that by the time this debate is concluded our minds will have been put at rest in this respect. We must go full steam ahead, steering a course between the Scylla of the English backlash implied, indeed threatened, by the right hon. Member for Penrith and the Border and the Charybdis of the threats and demands of the hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) on behalf of the Scottish National Party. I know that I am speaking for those Members who are keen to proceed with the process of devolution in Scotland when I say that the Government should keep a steady hand on the wheel and let us get on with the job.
§ 7.1 p.m.
§ Mr. T. G. D. Galbraith (Glasgow, Hillhead)
I was a little disappointed by the speech of the Lord President of the Council because he seemed to me rather casual in his approach. I agreed with my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and the Border (Mr. Whitelaw) that the right hon. Gentleman seemed to assume that everything was more or less cut and dried except for a few details.
However, this is a debate on the whole principle of devolution and we must therefore inquire what devolution means. Devolution seems to be a convenient word which means whatever one chooses to make it mean. At one end of the scale, devolution is no more than a harmless improvement in the machinery of government to make it run a little more smoothly. At the other end it is a positive incitement to racism—and we have had examples of that in the nationalist speeches.
Although at one time I did not think that devolution was dangerous, I now greatly fear that, as at presently manifested, it threatens the very foundations of the State. There was little or no demand for devolution only 100 years ago or so. Our Scottish ancestors were so unaware of the bogus sense of narrow nationalism which romantic writers had tried to foist on them that not merely were their hotels and railways known as the "NB" but even on their writing paper their address was similarly unselfconsciously signified as being in NB. Today, however, the very suggestion of one living in NB is anathema. It is enough to make the hackles of the least nationalistic of us rise in protest.
§ Mr. George Thompson (Galloway)
Can the hon. Gentleman say whether the English ever write "SB" on their addresses?
§ Mr. Galbraith
I do not know, but it was very common, even as recently as just before the war, to put "NB" on one's address.
That there should have been this tremendous change in attitude is precisely the result of having had 100 years of devolution, because devolution has made people nationalistic-conscious in a rather stupid way. For example, the citizens of Glasgow are assumed to have more 1017 in common with Inverness than with Liverpool when a moment's contemplation will show that the reverse is true and that the citizens of Glasgow have much more in common with Liverpool than with Inverness.
§ Mr. MacCormick
Does the hon. Gentleman think that the citizens of London have more in common with Paris than with Glasgow?
§ Mr. Galbraith
That is a different question. We are dealing with one country—Britain. The citizens of Glasgow—the hon. Gentleman must know this—have much more in common with Liverpool than with the citizens of Dunoon or Inverness.
We can plot the steps which have led to this extraordinary and unnatural nationalistic sensitiveness. First there was the creation of the office of the Secretary of State for Scotland. Then around him there was the growth of numerous ad hoc bodies responsible for various functions in Scotland. Finally there was the opening of St. Andrew's House in Edinburgh.
As a result of those changes, nine-tenths of everything which happens in Scotland is already devolved administratively so that decisions affecting Scotsmen are taken by Scotsmen in Scotland. In fact, the very thing which is always being asked for exists. "Moving government near where the people live", to employ the words of the Lord President of the Council, has already taken place. Even the legislative machine which controls the administrative organisation similarly is operated for Scotsmen by Scotsmen, as anyone who has served on the Scottish Grand Committee or Scottish Standing Committee knows.
Is there any satisfaction as a result of the tremendous devolutionary changes which have occurred in the last century? Far from it. The demand is for still more devolutionAs if",to use Shakespeare's words,increase of appetite had grownBy what it fed on".It is not more administrative devolution which is now called for and for which it might be argued there was some case in an age of increasing bureaucracy. It is legislative devolution which is being 1018 demanded, and it is a legislative Assembly which the Government propose to establish to meet these demands. But do the Government really believe for one moment, if there is to be an Assembly, that it can possibly work within the limits they have set? By "the limits they have set" I mean the continued existence of Britain as a United Kingdom. Does not the creation of an Assembly place the continuance of that unity very much at risk?
What more will an Assembly as envisaged provide in knowledge and in care that is not provided by this Parliament? Will not the members of such an Assembly, subject to a block grant, have much less influence on policy—which, in the final analysis, depends on cash—than Members of the present Parliament? Does the Secretary of State for Scotland, who I understand will speak tomorrow, believe that such a state of affairs will for long appear to be tolerable to members of that Assembly'? Will there not inevitably be pressure from the Assembly upon Parliament to hand over more and more of the reserved powers until the whole lot are gone?
It will not be easy to resist such pressure because an Assembly will have the same moral authority as Parliament has—the authority of the voice of the people. If the voice in Edinburgh cries "Yea", can one expect the voice at Westminster ever to deny it? It is all very fine for the Government to say in their White Paper thatthe political and economic unity of the United Kingdom will be preserved",but how can they possibly guarantee that unity once there is an Assembly? It will depend on that Assembly as much as on Parliament. They are being as foolish in seeking to resist this as were Canute's courtiers in saying that he could resist the rising tide. It is living in cloud-cuckoo land to believe that an Assembly, once set up, will not inevitably seek to extend its powers and so come into conflict with Parliament. This conflict will, I am afraid, not be argued about rationally. It will take on an emotional, nationalistic fervour which will make any conflict espacially hard to resolve.
A comparison with the course of events in Northern Ireland—I am sorry that Northern Irish Members are not here, but I hope I shall get it right—is instructive. 1019 The Parliament there worked for 50 years without generating the sort of conflict I have envisaged, so, it may be argued, why should not a Scottish Assembly work equally well? The answer is that in Northern Ireland there was no demand for separatism. The pressure was all the other way to maintain, indeed to strengthen the union with the rest of Britain because the majority in the North feared that if they were left on their own they might be swallowed up by the South.
In Scotland there are no similar fears of a foreign take-over, and so the moderating course which that fear exerted on any separatist tendencies in Ireland will be entirely lacking in Scotland.
It is not as if the driving force which impelled the Government to propose setting up an Assembly is their conviction that legislative devolution is good for Britain or even good for Scotland. What has impelled them to make this proposal is a hasty and ill-thought-out attempt to appease the separatist demands of the nationalists. Why should appeasement work any better in moderating the demand of the nationalists now than it did in moderating the demands of Hitler before the war? [Laughter.] Hon. Members may laugh if they like, but that is what happens. Appeasement only encourages the aggressors. The nationalists are the aggressors seeking to break the unity of the United Kingdom.
I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the House will note what I say. Appeasement only encourages an aggressor to make fresh demands. Surely it is obvious that each time something goes wrong in Scotland—and things are bound to go wrong from time to time; nothing can be right all the time—
§ Mr. Galbraith
No, I will not give way, the hon. Gentleman comes from the wrong nationalist party. I must remember that other hon. Members wish to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and not go on for too long. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] It is no good hon. Gentlemen shouting. I am determined to finish my speech.
Inevitably from time to time—no one is perfect—things are bound to go wrong. 1020 The nationalists will then pick upon the admitted failure and say "What did we tell you? We knew that the Assembly would not work. We tried our best to make it work but its powers are far too limited." They will continue "Are the Scots not capable of running their own affairs? Are they to be trusted only with safe subjects like health, education, housing and local government, while taxation and trade matters which are vital for the welfare of Scotland are to continue to be controlled from London?" Is not that what the nationalists will say?
§ Mr. Galbraith
Always the "English connection" will be brought up, and always that "English connection" will be blamed for whatever has gone wrong. In these circumstances, what way out will there be for Parliament except a further step along the slippery road to separatism, because once that process has started there is no logical or emotional point at which it can be stopped? Therefore an Assembly, instead of being the instrument of peace as the right hon. Gentleman suggests, will turn out to be a blueprint for strife and disaster.
I admit, however, that I have some sympathy for the Government in their dilemma, because the first fateful step along the road which has brought us to where we are today was taken by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition in his so-called "Declaration of Perth," as the House will recollect.
§ Mr. Galbraith
That was followed by the setting up of the Douglas-Home Committee to which the then Socialist Government responded, unwisely if understandably, by setting up their own Crowther-Kilbrandon Commission. So, in spite of both main parties in the House being unionist in sympathy, they have each foolishly taken action to escalate and make respectable the forces that are seeking to disrupt the union in which both parties believe. It is because the bulk of us in the House believe in the union that I ask whether, even at this eleventh hour we cannot admit our earlier errors, admit that we were perhaps a bit short-sighted, and admit that we have not realised the true nature of the genie we 1021 helped to call into existence? Can we not set about showing in a positive way the real advantages to Scotland of union instead of supinely acquiescing in its dissolution? Can we not seek ways of meeting the economic evils which alone have put popular support behind the nationalists?
The man in the street in Scotland is simply not interested in constitutional matters. For generations the nationalists have been a voice crying in the wilderness. Only now, with the advent of oil, have the nationalists managed, very skilfully I admit, to harness public concern over the economy to their own desire for constitutional change, though no one but they really wants it. The man in the street is interested only in his standard of living. He does not care about the process of legislation whereby that is achieved.
Can we not follow the good advice of the Scottish Council, whose recent report confirms what I have always believed, that constitutional change of a devolutionary nature will achieve precisely nothing and that Scotland's real need is for the decentralisation of decision making so that Government Departments and nationalised industries—and private industry would soon follow—are spread evenly throughout the whole country instead of being concentrated in the South-East? Such a decentralisation might cause some inconvenience for the executives of those companies and nationalised industries, but no more than we here already take in our stride every day, and such inconvenience would be a small price to pay for the continued health of the Union as a virile and friendly partnership.
I have not argued the case in favour of the Union. It is unnecessary to do that here because all parties in the House with the exception of the nationalists believe in the Union. It is precisely because the main parties believe in the Union that I plead with the Government to hesitate before rushing like the Gadarene swine down the slope to constitutional ruin and destruction, for there is a fatal contradiction between the Government's words in favour of unity—with which I agree—and the action they propose which will make the continuance of that unity impossible.
I have explained to the House my fears. No guarantee can be given that my fears are not justified, because the only guaran- 1022 tee that can be given will be a guarantee in words, and words do not command events. I remember Lord Colyton when he was a Minister in this House categorically stating that Cyprus would never be free, but within a very short time that event, which seemed so unlikely then, had come to pass.
I pray hon. Members not to rely on words which may let them down but to have the courage to refrain from the action which, however attractive and well meaning it may seem now, contains within it a time-bomb that will fragment, splitting to smithereens the Britain we love and destroy the "blest isle" of "Rule Britannia", whose patriotic author—strange as it may seem in the light of this debate—was actually a Scotsman born and bred.
§ 7.21 p.m.
§ Mr. J. M. Craigen (Glasgow, Maryhill)
This is a much overdue debate on devolution. The impression I have of the various contributions made so far indicates that we have no clear idea of where we are going along the devolutionary path. Perhaps it is a reflection on the parliamentary system that it has taken us so long to have a two-day debate on this most important subject, yet it is no reflection on the amount of Scottish business that is dealt with at Westminster.
Recently one has almost had the impression that we have two Parliaments. Looking round the benches today, with one or two notable exceptions, and seeing the absence of so many English Members, one realises that we do indeed have two Parliaments. We have a Parliament which represents the bulk of the English Members and a Parliament which is representing the other half of the United Kingdom.
None the less, when history is written, the singular success of the Scottish National Party may not be in the creation of a Scottish Assembly. That is something that a Labour Government will do. It will be in the creation of English nationalism. There are already stirring feet here, and I have no doubt that before long we shall find that there is a desire on the part of English Members for an Assembly of their own.
The river has been crossed as far as the devolution issue is concerned. The commitment has been made, the pledge is 1023 there, but we are now on the other side of the embankment and we are seeing that it is not just a constitutional model-making exercise in which we are involved: we are attempting a constitutional transplant within the United Kingdom. But this is not simply a matter of transplanting parts of the Westminster legislature to Cardiff, Edinburgh or Belfast. It is a fundamental question of decentralising the United Kingdom in industrial and economic terms. This has been the real reason behind much of the upsurge towards devolution in the United Kingdom in recent years.
But devolution presents harsh choices because, if there are to be two or more legislatures within the United Kingdom, then the chances are that there will be two or more different sets of results in those legislatures and differences in the way things will be done. We already have these differences over housing and education in Scotland, but we shall have to accept the full implications of that in a different system of legislation.
We are not simply talking about devolving government. We are talking about attitudes to Government and the relationships between the Government, Parliament and the public. One implication in this debate strikes me as an ominous note for the future. It seems that nationalism represents a trend "agin the Government", whichever Government are in power, even if it were an SNP Government. This is interesting. All this talk about devolution is taking place at a time when parliamentary democracy is in retreat as a result of pressure from different groups representing different interests.
People are demanding more and more from the Governments they put into office but, I regret to say, our experience in the post-war years has shown Governments are able to fulfil less and less of their optimism, hopes and wishes. This is not an act of dishonesty; it is simply a fact that they are sometimes unable to fulfil all they would like to do.
On the other hand, in recent years we have had talk about more participation. I am all for participation, and more of it if we can have it. But what does it mean? I regret that it usually means participation in the decision making, and 1024 not always participation in the implementation or acceptance of those decisions. It seems that what we are looking for is a responsive participatory democracy. We are looking for ways of actually involving people in undertaking the tasks they would have the Government undertake.
If we are not searching for this, then assuredly, whether we have a Scottish, Welsh or any other kind of Assembly, we will have a "them-and-us" attitude pervading our democratic system. We shall squeeze out politicians who actually want to do something constructive. At all levels of administration we will squeeze out people of quality who want to do something for the benefit of the society in which they live. We shall be faced with people whose main preoccupation is grumbling about decisions that are taken.
I was born and brought up on Clyde-side. We are renowned for our shipbuilding capacity. I regret to say that it is not as great now as it once was, but I do not think we ever launched a ship which sank at its launching. In this process of moving towards devolution we should not get the jitters about the timetable. We should be prepared to do a workmanlike job because, just as when one launches a ship, there will be trials. There will be tribulations after we have launched these Assemblies.
The Leader of the House asked for our indivdual comment on a number of areas and I should like to concentrate on three main areas of government. First, the Scottish Assembly must be a legislative authority. It should be elected for a four-year period, with the right to dissolve itself subject to certain conditions. I do not believe in a Pooh-Bah local authority. If we had this we would have only a buck-passing Assembly in Scotland.
The Scottish Assembly will be very fortunate because it will be able to oversee the work of some very well-developed departments at St. Andrew's House. In Edinburgh we already have a microcosm of Whitehall. I hope that the Scottish Assembly will also have powers over industrial development and employment. In the years ahead, employment will be a key area in our society. I hope that our Scottish Assembly will have powers over things such as employment exchanges, training and conciliation.
1025 There will be no shortage of legislators in Scotland. Our district councils, our regional councils, our Assembly and the Westminster Parliament will provide them aplenty. However, we may have considerable difficulty in finding plumbers, painters, bricklayers, school teachers, transport workers and housing department officials to get on with the job of work which the legislators decide should be done. This will be a vital area.
One of the problems we shall experience, once North Sea oil development gets under way, is the possibility of an influx of foreign workers in Scotland to perform many of the tasks which well-educated Scotsmen and women will not be prepared to do. In these days of the Scandinavian squint, when everyone looks to Norway, Sweden and Denmark to see how to do things, we should not forget that there are half a million immigrant workers in Sweden performing tasks which the well-educated Swedes feel are beneath them.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Oscar Murton)
Order, If the hon. Member does not wish to give way, he must not be pressed.
§ Mr. Craigen
The second main area is the executive arm. I think we must accept the idea of a cabinet system because, having served on a local authority, despite all that is said about participation in the committee system, I must say that the convener is left carrying the can. One of the interesting things about local government is that the chairman of a committee has responsibility without statutory power.
There must be a chief Minister and departmental Ministers under the new set-up.
§ Mr. Dalyell
My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mr. Craigen) has expressed strong views on the key issues of employment. Since my hon. Friend is Parliamentary Secretary to one of the Ministers in the Scottish Office, and is the second PPS to be called to speak, may I ask whether he in any way expresses the views of the Scottish Office?
§ Mr. Craigen
No, I do not. I am quite capable of expressing my own independent opinion. In any case this is a United Kingdom debate, not a Scottish Office debate.
§ Mr. Craigen
Tomorrow, not today.
The third area is that of financial responsibilities. I emphasise those words. It is a pity that so few Members who were in the last Conservative Government are present. They did us a great disservice by passing an Act to reorganise local government, forgetting that finance was the corner-stone of local government. The result is that the incoming Labour Government had to set up the Layfield Committee to examine the financing of local government. Local authorities are on puppet strings from the central Government, and it will only add to the enormous discontent between a Scottish Assembly, a Welsh Assembly and the central Government if they do not possess revenue-raising powers. There would none the less be an equalisation problem, because there would have to be some topping-up arrangements.
I cannot see England resting content without its own Assembly, given the launching of the Scottish and Welsh Assemblies. Whatever the immediate future holds, I cannot see that it is realistic to think that Scotland will have 71 Members of Parliament at Westminster. There may well be fewer English Members of Parliament if there is an English Assembly.
Thirdly, I cannot see Scotland's chief Minister, in Scotland, not being responsible to the Scottish Assembly. The 1027 office of the Secretary of State for Scotland is already a hot seat. However, to suggest that a Secretary of State or a chief Minister should be responsible both to a Scottish Assembly and to a Westminster Parliament would be like putting a man in the electric chair. From my point of view, if devolution means anything, it means a strengthening of the United Kingdom and of the Scottish contribution within the United Kingdom.
The failing of the Scottish people is that we are guilty of drawing a tartan curtain around ourselves and of not looking often enough at what is going on in England. Even with a Scottish Assembly we shall still have to be aware of problems such as Maplin. There is a need for the Scots to look beyond the Tweed, the North Sea or the Atlantic to see what is going on around their own boundaries.
We have reached this point in the devolution debate because over the years there has been a reluctance in the United Kingdom to decentralise. We have built up forces as a result of the over-concentration of economic, industrial and governmental decision making in the southeast of England which has pushed us far along the road towards devolution.
Although the Lord President cast aside the federal approach, and although the Kilbrandon Report dismissed it, I think that we may well be driven to a federal approach. I want to see Scotland as a place to be in and worth being in. My wish for the future generation in Scotland is that they do not look to the past but grapple with the present and make the most of the future, so that our younger generation will have a sense of confidence and responsibility and so that the Scots will not emerge as a nation with a chip on its shoulder. That will be no mean task.
§ 7.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Clark Hutchison (Edinburgh, South)
If we are to speak by labels, I must declare myself an antidevolutionist—on two main grounds, one historical and one practical.
The United Kingdom has been one of the most successful partnerships in history. When showing our national pride in Scotland, the names we conjure with are those of Sir Walter Scott, Robert Burns. Alan 1028 Ramsay, James Watt and Adam Smith. All those, and many others, made their contributions to literature, science, the arts and engineering. In the decades after the Union, Scotland emerged from beyond the Cheviots. Would we do better to retreat beyond the Cheviots today? I think not. We should remember the benefits of co-operation with the English in industry, trade, commerce and the professions. We should recall the vast numbers of our people, English and Scottish, who have intermarried, and our common defence and common loyalty to the Crown.
I share one view with the SNP—the separate nation party—which believes that an Assembly is not an end in itself but a stepping stone to a separate Scotland. So do I.
The discussion about an Assembly is nothing more than a sop to Cerberus. The larger parties felt obliged, wrongly, to pay homage to the idea of political devolution because the nationalists have been vociferous. But even if there were to be an Assembly, Cerberus would still bark on the odd occasion.
I ask right hon. and hon. Members whether they really think that an additional tier of government is desirable or is likely to lead to efficiency. We have just had a vast local government reorganisation in Scotland. No one knows how it will work, but we all know that it will be expensive. In my view, an Assembly will also be expensive. More civil servants and other staff will be required. There will be constant friction between such an Assembly and Westminster and between the Assembly and the regions and the district councils.
In any event, what is that Assembly to do? We cannot devolve industry on to it because industry and commerce in England, Scotland and Wales is intermingled completely. Nor can we devolve agriculture, because to some extent agriculture depends for its prosperity on arrangements with other countries. Nor can we devolve fishing, because here, too, international agreements come into the picture. Transport is not a starter, because transport for the whole of Great Britain must be interconnected. The Assembly cannot handle trade unions and industrial relations matters because the unions are organised on a Great 1029 Britain basis, and if we had one set of laws north of the Tweed and another set south of the Tweed on union matters there would be complete chaos. Education is a possibility, but the universities seem to prefer the present system where they are all under the aegis of the University Grants Committee. What, then, is the Assembly to do? We have had no answers.
Two further questions come to mind immediately. First, what revenue-raising powers is the Assembly to have? I can see every possibility of additional taxation and further burdens on a long-suffering public. Secondly, would not we be over-governed and badly governed? Imagine elections for the district councils, for the regions, for the Assembly, for Westminster and possibly for the European Parliament—though I hope not. Imagine all those. The voters would be driven frantic.
I am a Conservative. I wish to preserve our traditions and our way of life. I believe that in constitutional matters we should accept change only with the utmost caution and circumspection. I see no good, no profit and no benefit in this Assembly idea, and I shall vote against any Bill which attempts to bring it into operation.
§ 7.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Neil Kinnock (Bedwellty)
In view of the limited time at our disposal, I hope that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Hutchison) will forgive me if I do not make extensive reference to what he said.
In opening the debate, my right hon. Friend the Lord President asked the House to consider the detailed questions which arose as a consequence of the proposition for directly-elected Assemblies in Scotland and in Wales. I regret that my contribution will not provide any of those details, for the simple reason that not only is this the first chance that we have had to discuss at any length the White Papers which have been produced but this is the first chance of any kind that we have had to give a lengthy or reasoned consideration as a House of Commons to the subject of devolution, and the first time in this House, though not the first time in the country, that we have been able to give our attention to the question of principle posed by the 1030 prospect of devolution in Scotland and Wales.
Implicit in all that my right hon. Friend said and in many of the speeches so far today is that, for the present generation at least, it will be limited to Scotland and Wales. At this stage, no one is seriously considering the implications for Britain. We have had certain "nod and wink" concessions to the idea of federalism, but even the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) spent only a very small part of his speech talking about what is, after all, supposedly the central plank of Liberal constitutional policy towards devolution, which is the idea of a federal Britain.
Dealing with the question of principle, perhaps I might approach my right hon. Friend's proposition on devolution in this fashion. The heat generated so far in this debate and, I suspect, during the remainder of it—not just in these two days but as we go on to discuss matters of legislation—has been between the two sets of nationalist parties in this House. By that I do not mean between the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru. At this stage, they appear to be at one. That is probably the reasons of expediency and of their nationalist associations, until such time as the Scots take over what they call "Scottish" oil and deny the Welsh people, just as they would deny the English and Northern Irish people, the right to share in the immense wealth lying under the North Sea. However, there is no friction between them at this stage.
The friction is between them and the other nationalist party which has been represented here a great deal longer than either of the relatively newly-arrived self-confessed nationalist parties. It is between the Conservative and Unionist Party and the nationalist parties.
The reason for the friction is that here we have a conflict between two kinds of nationalism. The first is the kind which says that we in Britain owe our strength, our greatness, our dignity and our status to the fact that we have been a Union. Those who hold to that view attribute to the existence of our national identity mainly the fortunes and only rarely the misfortunes encountered by the whole country—by all the countries of Britain. By the same 1031 token, the nationalists—the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru—attribute the misfortunes of their nations uniquely to the fact that they are Welsh and that they are Scottish.
Both make an elementary mistake. If I had to use a label of any kind, I should have to call myself a "unionist". However, I am a unionist entirely for reasons of expediency. I believe that the emancipation of the class which I came to this House to represent, unapologetically, can best be achieved in a single nation and in a single economic unit, by which I mean a unit where we can have a brotherhood of all nations and have the combined strength of working-class people throughout the whole of the United Kingdom brought to bear against any bully, any executive, any foreign Power, any bureaucratic arrangement, be it in Brussels or in Washington, and any would-be coloniser, either an industrial coloniser or a political coloniser.
I believe that the organised strength of working-class people has brought the only benefits to have been secured by those whom I came here to represent. Their misfortunes are not the result of being British, Welsh or Scottish. They have come about because their fate has been, in the system of economic organisation or disorganisation that we have had hitherto, to be workers—people who have no source of wealth or economic independence other than their work from day to day.
The idea that we can achieve or retain superiority simply by maintaining the Union or that we can achieve a new kind of emancipation by splitting up that Union is nonsense and a distraction from the main theme and from the political economic struggle in 1975 and for many years to come.
It is not dishonourable or dishonest to wish to sustain the Union which is the root of the political power that members of the Conservative and Unionist Party have enjoyed. That is their tradition. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith) honestly confessed to accepting entirely that unionism was part of his political philosophy. But the fact remains that the force that he represents is now most directly opposed by those 1032 who seek for nationalist reasons to divide the nation. That is a distraction from the main theme. It makes an unfortunate breach in the solidarity of working people just when we are beginning to recognise that the source of our strength is unity, solidarity and brotherhood that stretches over the borders of nations and over the borders drawn by multinational companies.
§ Mr. Wigley
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that it is not a geographical argument that he is putting forward but a class argument and that, to that extent, it is equally valid to take in the nations of Europe within or without the EEC? To that extent are there not levels of government for all communities? Is it not conceivable to accept Scotland and Wales as such communities?
§ Mr. Kinnock
I accept that at all levels, international as well as the closest and most intimate domestic levels, what I have said holds true if one uses a class analysis. The fact remains that the proposition of the Welsh National Party and the Scottish National Party is not to secure Socialism or a new achievement for working people because they are working people but to achieve the separation of nations, and I think that can be equated with the fragmentation of working-class solidarity. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will understand my phraseology. I am sure that one of his hon. Friends will.
In the ranks of those who support large-scale legislative devolution and, indeed, separation in the Communist Party both in Wales and in Scotland and, as far as I know, even within the Scottish National Party and the Welsh National Party, there are those who think that we can best promote the interests of working people by becoming separate and different nations. If their proposition is that a Welsh Parliament could stand more resolutely on behalf of the working people of Wales against the multinational company, the Brussels bureaucracy or the whole structure of militarism or capitalism in the Western world more successfully—I am not talking about absolute success—than a single united parliament that asserts the feeling of a nation 50 times larger with all that that means, they are deluding themselves completely. I do not mind them fooling 1033 themselves, but what is much worse is that they are seeking to fool the people of Wales as well, and for that they will not be forgiven.
§ Mrs. Bain
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that what is needed to stand up to the various things that he has outlined is a strong domestic Government with a strong economy and that by having self-government the people of Scotland and Wales will have the opportunity to build the kind of economy and Government which will safeguard their interests against the various institutions about which he spoke?
§ Mr. Kinnock
Except that if the price of that self-determination, so-called, were catering for, accommodating and being sycophantic to powerful international interests, that would not be freedom; that would be tutelage. In that situation the last thing that the Scottish or Welsh people could talk about would be freedom.
§ Mr. Tom Ellis (Wrexham)
Is my hon. Friend aware that the argument that he has been advancing is identical with that advanced by that well-known Left-wing commentator, Mr. Tom Nairn, in his book "The Left against Europe", in which he decries the attitude of sections of the Labour Party in deserting their class basis and adopting a kind of nationalistic jingoism based on the national sovereignty of Westminster?
§ Mr. Kinnock
There is no part in my philosophy regarding membership of the Common Market—my hon. Friend should know me better—or in my attitude to Welsh or Scottish nationalism or on devolution for nationalism, jingoism, chauvinism or xenophobia on a large or small scale. Whatever Mr. Nairn's interpretation of the stance of the Labour Party, he may be sure that a large number of people in the Labour Party and in the trade union movement consider their elementary job in any given situation to be to secure the best for the working people they represent. If Mr. Nairn does not agree with the way that they go about it, he has made a contribution to the debate, but that contribution is as naught compared with the overwhelming feeling on that issue by the Labour Party and the trade union movement at this time. However, he might 1034 eventually succeed in changing a few minds.
§ Mr. Gwynfor Evans
I am following the hon. Gentleman's remarks with great interest and not without sympathy. Rightly he wants to see a just society. I think that we all do. Does he agree that Wales has the great advantage of being able to create just such a society? We have the advantage of a sense of community. We are a community. We have the advantage of great natural resources and a great tradition of social justice. In a community the size of Wales, would it not be easier, with the views of our people, to create the kind of just society that the hon. Gentleman wants than in this much larger community? Would not that be of great assistance to England and to other countries as well?
§ Mr. Kinnock
If the hon. Gentleman is saying that the Welsh are very nice people, I could not agree more. I will not give him my reasons for saying that. I spent half my time during the General Election talking about the items to which the hon. Gentleman referred. I have not time to explore them all now. I want to shorten my remarks as much as possible. If the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that the Welsh people's facility or desire for or competence in social justice is any greater or smaller than any other nation, he is making an immense miscalculation of both the niceness and the nastiness of the Welsh people. I do not think that we are any more or less in love with social justice or practise it better or worse than any other nation. I am sure that we shall have time in future to give more exhaustive thought to the points that he has mentioned both in this House and outside.
My right hon. Friend asked us to consider the ways in which we could bring about participation in decision making and so check and reverse the growing feeling of alienation. I share those aspirations. I want to democratise our society. I want to give people more confidence in their elected representatives and form of government. The best way to give them that confidence is to make them feel that they are an implicit part of that system of government. I want to prevent completely the feeling of alienation, because the opting out of political interest tends to give more fertile ground for the development of the philosophies of 1035 the Right. The disaffection, alienation and frustration that we see with democratic government in our society now will not serve the purposes of democracy, social justice or even economic prosperity.
My right hon. Friend spelt out those aspirations. I must tell him and others who share his feelings that devolution is not necessarily the best or even an important way to contribute to resolving the problems of alienation and frustration. These problems do not derive from distance as such. If it were the case that proximity to Parliament spawned confidence and affection for Parliament, the people of Ealing, Watford and Wimbledon would feel differently about Parliament than would those who live in Cardiff, Edinburgh or anywhere else, but they do not. The alienation is common regardless of the proximity to Parliament. Therefore, the splitting up and relocation of mini-Parliaments, with or without legislative powers, is no answer to the scale of alienation which is the product more of the kind of society in which we live than the form of government under which we operate. Proximity is not the answer either in that respect or in another.
If proximity were the answer, if addresses were the answer, to this alienation, people would go to their local councillors and not to their Member of Parliament. Councillors would be the lions of liberty in the fight against bureaucracy and stupidity in the ordinary, everyday lives of citizens. To whom does the ordinary citizen go when he is in trouble, whether it is a matter of domestic sewerage or his attitude to whether China should be a member of the United Nations? He goes to his Member of Parliament, because there is not the alienation between himself and his Westminster representative that there is between himself and the local authority. We shall have to deliberate on the reasons for that state of affairs. It is a problem for local government and for the Westminster Parliament. The fact remains that devolution does not resolve the crisis in confidence in government at local level.
These questions have not appeared in White Papers, or even in the £300,000-worth of analysis by the Crowther-Kilbrandon Commission. It is this 1036 analysis that takes place at every party ward meeting, at every Saturday morning "surgery", on every occasion when we bump into someone in a pub, in a club, on the street or in a shop. He looks up and says "Politicians!"—I hope I shall be excused for saying this—"They are all the bloody same".
That is the crisis that we have to resolve. It will not be resolved, with or without legislative powers, with or without executive powers, with or without the single transferable vote, with or without new Parliaments, with or without changes of address, merely by the introduction of a constitutional Bill. It requires a different will and a different attitude to government, and not merely a change of address for Parliament.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I appreciate the importance of the subject, and I realise that this is a two-day debate, but a large number of right hon. and hon. Members hope to catch the eye of the Chair both today and tomorrow. If hon. Members would be as brief as they can, that would be helpful in the interests of the House as a whole.
§ Mr. Dalyell
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In view of what you have said, may consideration be given to extending the debate until 11 o'clock? May an approach be made on those lines to the appropriate authorities?
§ 8.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Ian Grist (Cardiff, North)
I admit that I was momentarily swept along by the speech of the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock). However, I recollected myself in time, because I regarded the earlier part of his speech with contempt and found it quite despicable in seeking to divide the people of this country rather than to unite them.
It is ironic that whilst Britain is to be asked to decide her future in a European context through a public referendum, she is simultaneously on the verge of producing her first written constitution, of fragmenting her unity, and possibly on the verge of breaking up entirely as a result of decisions taken in this place, decisions which are based largely on ignorance of 1037 the issues involved, on a lack of interest by many hon. Members—one has only to look around the Chamber to see how many Members are present from England—and on purely short-term party considerations.
This debate is about devolution. How many Members even 10 years ago knew the meaning of that word, let alone took the slightest interest in the subject? The story really began in 1966 when the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans) first won his constituency for his party a few weeks after the election of that year. That in turn was followed by the SNP winning Hamilton. At that point the Labour Government lost their nerve.
The London Press was rife at the time with articles about the upsurge of nationalism in Scotland and Wales and at one time it even seemed likely, in a series of extremely hectic by-elections, that the nationalists would seize Labour strongholds in the valleys of South Wales. But we know that in the 1970 General Election very little came of that threat and both Carmarthen and Hamilton returned to the Labour fold.
But meanwhile, in the panic that had been created, the Crowther, later the Kilbrandon, Commission had been established to inquire into the constitution of this country. I believe—I am sure most hon. Members will agree—that it had been arranged basically as a means of diverting the energies of nationalist forces and hopefully of causing interest in devolution to die the death of boredom, and it very nearly succeeded.
§ Mr. Cledwyn Hughes (Anglesey)
How does the hon. Gentleman reconcile that charge against the Labour Government with the fact that the Conservative Party set up the Home Inquiry into the situation in Scotland before the Crowther Commission was established?
§ Mr. Grist
The right hon. Gentleman does me an injustice. I accused my party of having lost its nerve temporarily at the same time.
To most of us in Welsh politics the question of devolution has become boring and repetitive, but it remains and looms even larger now as one of extreme importance. I think I had better say that I want to stick to the Welsh scene. I have no desire to get stuck north of the 1038 English border and get trapped into arguments about which I do not know very much.
For many years in Wales there has been the nightmare that we were going to be dragged along behind the skirts—or kilts I think I hear someone say—of Scottish constitutional advance. It was argued that what was good for or conceded to Scotland ought to be good for or conceded to Wales. If one concedes that Wales is different from England and that Scotland is different from England, I cannot see the logical argument for saying that Wales and Scotland are the same. The arguments for the constitution and government of the two are different, and at last the present Government, and my own party, seem to have woken up to the error of their ways in that regard.
The major error that persists is the belief that there is in Wales an overwhelming interest in and demand for devolution. There is not. Indeed, in many quarters there is not just apathy but downright hostility to and suspicion about further devolution. If an outsider were to come to Wales and watch television or read some of the newspapers, he would believe that this was the burning issue of the day. The fact is that it is a distinctive issue. This is what the desperate broadcasters and writers of the newspapers look for. It is a distinctive Welsh issue, and so the subject is played up time and again and around and around, but it does not involve and it does not interest the majority of people in Wales.
I am not alone among Welsh Members in having had few questions on this subject put to me during the General Election campaign. Indeed many candidates had no questions or points put to them on this subject from start to finish, either in February or in October. I had the issue put to me three times, once from a disillusioned Liberal who was bitterly hostile to the idea, once from a group of Thompson House-trained journalists who must have felt duty bound to ask questions and once on a regional television programme where this subject is de rigeur.
If it is objected that there are three Plaid Cymru Members of Parliament and that this in some way demonstrates a new mood in Wales, let me point out 1039 that the seats that Plaid Cymru holds are all from Welsh-speaking parts of Wales and, therefore, represent a minority of the Welsh people, and they form part of a revolt against the Labour Party in rural Wales. In the counties of Gwynedd and Dyfed there are eight parliamentary seats. In 1966 the Labour Party held all eight. It now holds two. Plaid Cymru holds three, the Liberal Party one and the Conservatives two. This is part of an overall revolt against the Labour Party in those areas, and the hon. Member for Carmarthen would be the last to deny that his presence here is largely due to tactical voting in his constituency designed to remove the Labour Member.
Ever since 1970 the Plaid Cymru vote has fallen steadily and the support enjoyed by that party has consequently fallen throughout Wales. It is particularly interesting that in about the summer of 1970, which in a way was the high noon of the Welsh National Party, the Kilbrandon Commission held what it called an "attitude survey"—a grand name for an in-depth opinion poll into people's attitudes towards nationalised industries, central government, regional government and devolution. The results of the survey are revealing. Many hon. Members were totally unaware of this paper and have certainly never read it. I recommend that they do so before making up their minds on devolution.
Table 32 showed that the people of Wales identified with Wales to a greater extent than the people of any other region of Britain or Scotland identify with their region or country. Table 36 showed that the people of Wales identified more with and were prouder of their culture and traditions than any other part of the United Kingdom was proud of its culture and traditions. Yet the commission's report said in paragraph 356:The attitude survey indicates that in matters of government and the provision of public services the spirit of independence in Wales may be less strong than in some regions of England".In Table 57, those who were investigated were presented with a list of things which might be run in their own region. Of the 12 regions in the United Kingdom, Wales came first in wanting its own postage stamps and its own international sports teams, and came second only to 1040 Scotland in wanting its own radio and television. In other words, those who were questioned wanted of that list only the manifest trappings of nationality, but in all the other possibilities they figured either moderately or very low.
§ Mr. Buchan
Surely the hon. Member is wrong to suggest that the people wanted only the trappings. On the contrary, that was surely a deep expression of nationhood. The people understand the rejection of statehood, unlike Plaid Cymru, and know that a nation is not to be confused with a State. This is the grave error that Plaid Cymru makes.
§ Mr. Grist
The hon. Member's semantics defeat me, but if he means that the people have a pride in their nation, which is greater than the need for constitutional recognition of that fact, I agree. That is an important point.
Table 53 led to the comment that in Wales 39 per cent. of the people considered the needs of their region to be less well understood than the needs of the richer regions. The people who held this view felt no more strongly than people in other regions that devolution was an attractive solution.
Table 45 is, I believe, the most interesting. It sought to find out the strength of desire for or against devolution. Five questions were posed ranging from whether things should be left as they were to whether the region should be allowed to take over complete responsibility for running its own affairs. Only one region in the United Kingdom found this last possibility less attractive than did Wales. Of the 12 regions, Wales came eleventh in wanting to take over complete responsibility for its own affairs. On the three possibilities calling for further devolution of any kind, only the south-west of England found that of further devolution less attractive than did Wales.
The truth about devolution in Wales was printed in the Kilbrandon Report in spite of the muddled, fragmented and, I would have thought, foolish report which was finally produced. Paragraph 449 says:it seems likely that the overwhelming majority of people in Scotland and Wales are concerned more with the success of government than where it comes from".That is the truth of devolution as it applies to Wales.
1041 However, the warning implicit in this blinding glimpse of the obvious is that just as Welsh nationalism flourished during the difficulties and failures of the last Labour Government, they may flourish equally well during the failures and difficulties of the present Labour Government. The other danger is that if and when whatever form of devolution proposed by the Government is actually, if ever, put into operation, the whole structure of our present situation will be imperilled.
Here I agree strongly with the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith) that even if we have an executive council in Wales there will be very powerful elements calling out that it is not enough and that they want more. The problems of rising prices, housing, unemployment, agriculture, labour relations and the rest will persist and their cry will gain a certain credibility. As Plaid Cymru of all parties in Wales is very well aware, constitutional change is irreversible. There is no chance of saying "We have made a mistake. Let us scrap it and start again". The people will demand that we go on, and that will be the only possible direction in which we can go. Any mistake made at this stage will put this country in a position of very great danger.
Once an Assembly or council, executive or a legislative, is conceded, the appetite of the lions will be whetted and it certainly will not be satisfied. Any elected council or Assembly will be bound to weaken the part and influence of local government. One has only to call to mind the present suspicion and hostility of Welsh local authorities to the Welsh Land Agency. We now hear rumours in Wales that our local government may be reformed yet again to a unitary form. I hope that the Minister of State can knock that on the head. The idea of yet another reform of local government in Wales to make way for an Assembly makes the mind boggle.
Moreover, any elected council or Assembly is bound to weaken, or indeed lead to the complete demise of, the Secretary of State for Wales. This fact was pointed out by the present Under-Secretary of State for Wales, the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil (Mr. Rowlands), in a lecture he gave whilst briefly absent from the House in about 1971. I should like 1042 to know his views on whether he thinks that the Secretary of State could continue despite the election of a council or an Assembly.
Again, we should take pause to consider the standards of councillors or members elected to a Welsh Assembly. Where are those with time for all this to come from? Are they to come from existing councils? If so, presumably that will weaken existing councils.
If we have a legislative devolution, we shall have a federal Britain. There are those who support that concept for honourable reasons, but others, like the Communist Party, support it for other reasons entirely. If we have an Assembly with real powers, will English Members continue to allow as many Scottish or Welsh Members to sit in this House? I cannot believe it. If we could vote on the reserve powers for England, why should they not vote on the reserve powers for Scotland and Wales?
The Secretary of State for Wales, in helping to launch the Government's White Paper on devolution last year—what a host of unanswered questions it raised—posed four main principles by which devolution proposals should be judged. The first was that the taking of powers for any central agency should meet a genuine need. The second was that any proposals should be based on widespread public support. The third was that any changes should be a clear and definite improvement. The fourth was that they must provide a stable constitutional framework for the future.
I find it hard to think of any four principles more likely to sink any particular elected Executive or elected Assembly. First, no genuine need has been demonstrated. There will clearly be no widespread public support for any proposals. There will be some support, much hostility and an overwhelming mass of apathy. That is the truth about that situation.
It is beyond my belief, and, I believe, that of anyone else, that any devolution from a party wedded to State centralisation could be a clear and definite improvement. In any case, the onus of proof that it will be a clear and definite improvement is on those who propose the change. Let them prove it first. As for any change 1043 providing a stable constitutional framework for the future, does anyone believe that anything that can be offered by the Labour Party or by the Conservative Party would hold off the demands of the nationalists, the Liberals and other wild men? Of course not. There will be no stable constitutional framework as we can see it.
The fact is that the Labour Party is as officially opposed to separatism as is the Conservative Party, but it is selling the pasts for fear of losing votes to nationalism. It is a threat which is made real only through the consistent failure of Labour Governments to produce the material goods which they promised both in opposition and at election times. I very much doubt whether, if left to their own devices, Labour Members representing Welsh constituencies would vote for more than a very minor degree of devolution in Wales. I believe that if free to do so they would overwhelmingly endorse and adopt the proposals put by the Conservative Party for constitutional change at the last election. It is still not too late for them to assert themselves and follow that course, and I appeal to them to do so in the interests of Wales, in the interests of the United Kingdom and, I believe, in the interests of democracy in this country as well.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. May I appeal again for shorter speeches by hon. Members if that is at all possible?
§ 8.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
After the speech of the hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Grist) and the profound contribution by my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinonck), how can the Government possibly deny the need for a White Paper? What is meant by the phrase, used by my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling, Falkirk and Grange-mouth (Mr. Ewing) in his interview in the Glasgow Herald and repeated today by the Lord President of the Council, that a White Paper will be produced only if it can be done without impeding work on the Bill?
After what has been said in this debate, we cannot go straight into a Bill without going through the White Paper stage. 1044 Therefore, I ask my hon. Friend the Minister of State to give us an assurance that in June or July there will be a White Paper, because, if there is not, only one of two conclusions will be drawn—either that there is such muddle that the Government are afraid, to produce a White Paper, or, alternatively, that there is something to hide. I say to the Government, with all the friendliness that I can muster, that we must have a White Paper.
I cannot conceal that I view the speech of my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council with sad dismay, because it seems to have been based on a fallacy. He says that he hopes that between these two organisations—an Assembly and the Parliament at Westminster—there will be no confrontation. But there is conflict in the situation by its very nature. This is a confrontary situation.
Whatever else is said, however much we may disagree, the Government must realise that they are really living in cloud-cuckoo-land not to recognise that in the kind of proposals being put forward there is an element of confrontation, and that if we try to hide it we are simply deluding ourselves.
I want to be clear with the Government. This talk by Ministers—indeed, the whole tone of the Lord President's speech—was not the policy on which the Labour Party was elected in October. I do not recollect my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland telling the electors of Ayrshire, or Kilmarnock, or of Scotland as a whole, that when Labour got back it would establish a Scottish Prime Minister. If he had said that, I think some of us would have heard about it. It would go fundamentally further than the White Paper in September, and it bears no relation to the idea of an Assembly, for which trade union leaders so light-heartedly voted in the Co-operative Hall in Glasgow last August.
§ The Minister of State, Privy Council Office (Mr. Gerry Fowler)
If my hon. Friend consults Hansard tomorrow, he will discover that my right hon. Friend did not say today that we will have a Scottish Prime Minister.
§ Mr. Dalyell
This is the whole point. I listened carefully to the speech of the Parliamentary Private Secretary at the 1045 Scottish Office. He was adamant enough about it. I certainly got the impression that the Government were seriously considering a ministerial set-up. If that is not so, I will willingly give way. Would the Minister of State like to deny it, because it will save a lot of time?
§ Mr. Gerry Fowler
I will certainly say that my right hon. Friend indicated today that all possible systems were being examined very closely. He gave no indication that our thinking was moving in one direction rather than in another, and he certainly did not say that we would have a Prime Minister for Scotland.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Harry Ewing)
Twice during the debate my hon. Friend has referred to the Parliamentary Private Secretary at the Scottish Office. It should be made clear that the hon. Member concerned, whether he is or is not the Parliamentary Private Secretary at the Scottish Office, was speaking as a constituency Member, and that has nothing whatsoever to do with the Scottish Office.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Of course I accept that my hon. Friend was speaking as a constituency Member.
In the policy on which we were elected it was made clear that industry and employment were carefully excluded. It is one thing to give economic powers to the Secretary of State for Scotland anchored in the British Cabinet. It is quite another to say that these powers, transferred to the Secretary of State for Scotland—rightly, perhaps—from the Department of Industry, should then be put into the hands of the Assembly. Were that to happen, there is no reason why an English Government should fulfil any obligation to the Scottish economy, and we should indeed be on our own.
§ Mr. James Sillars (South Ayrshire)
My hon. Friend says that we made no reference to questions of trade and industry in the election campaign in Scotland. Is he aware that my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) and I were invited to deliver the last Scottish party political broadcast and that both of us made it perfectly clear that in our opinion there should be trade and industry powers? Is my hon. Friend aware further that we 1046 never received, a single rebuke or word of contradiction from any official organ of the Labour Party in Scotland, including my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell)?
§ Mr. Dalyell
My hon. Friend cannot include me. I was on the doorsteps, and did not see his programme. I recognise with admiration the skill and determination with which the Labour Party tail—my hon. Friend is a very distinguished tail—has wagged the whole of the party dog. This, as a political exercise, has invoked my admiration, passionately though I disagree with what my hon. Friend has been doing.
It is true that this party went to the electors in October offering an Assembly, in the light of our Scottish Labour Party conference and because of the Government's White Paper in September. If the House will excuse me for being personal, I was one of those who went along with the policy which was decided—though not, frankly, because I thought that the policy of an Assembly would get me one extra vote in West Lothian. I thought that it would not, and it did not. On the contrary, it lost me a good many votes. However, I went along with the policy because no one likes the odium being heaped upon him of being disloyal to agreed party policy within days of going to the hustings.
In the General Election, and indeed until Christmas, I hoped for the best—albeit against my better judgment—that some reasonably sensible and worthwhile form of Assembly could be concocted. It was only in the first week of January that the scales fell from my eyes and the pictures of what some Ministers are up to became clear in all its enormity.
If anyone taunts me with reneging on party policy I am entitled to ask: how many of the delegates in the Co-op Hall on that Saturday in August thought that they were voting for a system, possibly—it now looks probable; the Secretary of State has entered; he can deny it if he wishes—with a Scottish Prime Minister, a Scottish Cabinet and a full ministerial system?
What most of us were contemplating then and what we are now asked to consider are as different as chalk from cheese.
1047 This party also said something else at the General Election. The Secretary of State said it. I said it. Many others said it. We said that we have gone as far as we can, stopping short at the break-up of the United Kingdom. If we put industry and employment matters under a Scottish Assembly on a ministerial basis, I warn my Front Bench that we go much further than we then said that we could go. If we were right then not to go further, to say that it would be the smashup of the United Kingdom, how is it that the same is not true today?
§ Mr. Dalyell
There may be nothing wrong with it, but let us face the issue for what it is. The issue is the break-up of the United Kingdom. My hon. Friend may ask "What is wrong with that?" That is a fair question.
My right hon. Friend the Lord President has the idea that it all depends on continual co-operation and good will. That is not a state of harmony that could conceivably exist between a Secretary of State such as my right hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) and even a Labour Prime Minister, but certainly not a Scottish National Party Prime Minister—whether Mr. William Wolfe, the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) or the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. Henderson). That is the kind of situation we must contemplate. It is a confrontation situation. Therefore, whatever the rights and wrongs, my right hon. Friend the Lord President must not say that of course there will be co-operation and good will.
How many of the members of those trade union leaders who in August were so careful to ensure that trade, industry and employment remained a United Kingdom function now want to see those functions devolved to a Scottish Assembly, a Scottish Assembly divorced from England, and, if many of my hon. Friends had their way, out of the Common Market too, rightly or wrongly? In those circumstances, we Scots should be a very lonely people.
Last week my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Mr. Walden) touched on a raw spot when he said on television that the motor industry at Bath- 1048 gate might return to Birmingham. No British Government was currently allow such a transfer of work, but if Westminster had no responsibility for employment in Scotland, and if the writ of the Transport and General Workers' Union at Transport House and of the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers at Peckham Road did not run in Scotland, could one see much resistance in an economic blizzard to management and trade unions in the Birmingham area looking after No. 1?
§ Mr. John Robertson (Paisley)
The other week, at the same time as my hon. Friend was speaking about, about 250 toolroom jobs were transferred from Linwood to Paris, and nobody lifted a finger to stop that happening.
§ Mr. Dalyell
That is a case about which one must be concerned.
I draw the conclusion that, whatever one says about him, my hon. Friend the Member for Ladywood is the tip of the iceberg of the English backlash. We Scots had better face the fact that if we go on talking about our oil and a Parliament of our own other parts of Britain will look to themselves in a way that would not have occurred to them even three years ago.
I see my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of Employment on the Front Bench. He has problems in Barrow, and he has been very brave about them, for reasons that he and I know about. What could he say to the citizens of Barrow if there were a separate Government in Scotland? Work would go to Barrow and not to Scotland, would it not? That would be natural enough.
Whatever else the proposed scheme is, it is not basically Socialism as I understand it. I must say to the electors of West Lothian—it is the only constituency point I shall make—that I would rather be a defeated Socialist candidate than a victorious nationalist candidate. Besides, six months is a long time in politics.
In August, inoculated against bad news as we tend to be, the extent of the economic blizzard was not fully realised. I believe that many of those who lightheartedly voted SNP in October now instinctively and understandably want to huddle together with the English in the economic storm covering the Western 1049 world. No Chrysler worker in his right mind on a two- or three-day week would want separation from England at this moment.
In that the SNP polled well in October—and it is possible to exaggerate its success—it was not really on account of a Scottish Assembly or an argument about a form of government. It owed its success to more mundane matters—labour councils which had not done housing repairs, Tory leaders who were not telegenic, all sorts of reasons, but, above all, the oil revenues. The hon. Member for Cardiff, North mentioned the by-election at Hamilton. The Hamilton victory for the SNP was not because a majority of the citizens of Hamilton were concerned about an Assembly. It was for other reasons that I will not go into because of shortage of time.
In recent weeks, on the Assembly issue, I have been cast in the Scottish Press as something of a reactionary villain, along with the benighted members of the executive of the Scottish Labour Party. The reason why that executive is taking its present attitude is, bluntly, that no group of serious people has given the subject so much informed thought as has the executive of the Scottish Labour Party. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] That is the truth of the matter. I may add that, in spite of the bad Press which I have had, not one of the 85 constituents who came to see me at my "surgeries" on Saturday in any way rebuked me on this matter. In fact, the only time the Assembly was mentioned came when five or six of those who visited me said, after they had discussed their business, "By the way, Mr. Dalyell, who will pay for all these folk?"
That is the real consideration—bringing in an Assembly at this time, and paying its members, according to the Scottish National Party—doubtless, it is right—not less than Westminster salaries. This is highly inflationary, not because of the total cost itself but because no one, no ambulance man, no teacher, no nurse, no mine worker or anyone else, will refrain from saying that if money can be found for that sort of thing it can be found also to increase his or her wages. Therefore, as I say, it is a highly inflationary course to take.
Last August, with the apparent certainty that Sheikh Yamani would keep up world oil prices, it looked as though 1050 the North Sea would provide money for Scotland to have better housing in Glasgow than on Merseyside, better paid teachers in Edinburgh than in Newcastle, and better pensions in Bathgate than in Birmingham. You name it—North Sea oil would pay for it. The picture is somewhat tarnished six months later, as first the smaller companies and then the giant Burmah company have demonstrated that the winning of North Sea oil out of those inhospitable waters will not pay for every conceivable benefit.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I shall give way in a moment. As a Scottish Member of Parliament, I can say something which, perhaps, our English colleagues of any party might suppose to be premature or indelicate. If the Scots, after 268 years, choose this moment to try to get the lion's share of such oil revenues as become available, the English will ask some questions. They will say "If you are going to be uncivilsed, if you intend to be difficult about it, you had better face the facts." A question of power comes into it.
I put this question to my colleagues. In that situation, do they imagine that an English Government would meekly doff the cap and say "Yes, you take all the oil in the North Sea. We shall forget about the money we have put into it, and we shall forget about the past 250 years of history"? Would an English Government do that? For Heaven's sake, let us face reality. If the Scottish National Party and its representatives here have their way, nothing will be all co-operation and light. Matters will be very difficult. Divorce is a messy proceeding. I give way now.
§ Mr. Gordon Wilson
And not before time, if I may say so. My original question was this. What relevance does the Burmah collapse have to activities in the North Sea? I have always understood that it was far more connected with its tanker operations and its take-over of the Signal Oil Company in the United States. I should like the hon. Gentleman's views on that. The second part of my question—
§ Mr. Dalyell
I shall deal with the first part first. Of course, Signal had something to do with it, but one of the major factors was the cost of developing the 1051 Ninian field. What Burmah has to do with it is this. Since the Burmah collapse, a lot of people who believed the attractive propaganda of the hon. Gentleman's party about how North Sea oil revenues would pay for this, that and the other, for anything we wanted, have realised that the winning of oil from the North Sea is not exactly the treasure of Croesus, the dripping roast that it was made out to be as a means of paying for all the desirable plans of the Scottish National Party.
§ Mr. Gordon Wilson
Now, my second question. One leg of the hon. Gentleman's argument is directed to whether Scotland should be prepared to give up its oil revenues or the benefit of the resources which it has within its boundaries or offshore, in terms of international law. Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that the Scottish Labour Party and Scottish Labour Members of Parliament would be prepared to see those resources taken from Scotland's hands, without any protest on their part?
§ Mr. Dalyell
We can protest as much as we like, but the English come into it. This is what is so silly about the whole argument. Many of the Scots are pretending as though we were some kind of child in the playroom and all that mattered was what we did. But there are other "kids" around and one has to take into account that we are operating not in a vacuum but in the context of English reactions, and we should be fools and ignorant fools not to take that into account.
I think that there are three options. First, we can say "We are all nationalists now and we shall all be loyal." We can tell the hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) that we shall have our full Parliament with full powers, a Scottish £ and a seat at the United Nations and no longer expect English-based firms to employ Scots and no longer expect mobility between our universities and be content that the universities of Scotland should have sunk into the third league, rather like Trinity College, Dublin, which in 1910 was one of the great universities of Europe. We can say that we will take the English to the International Courts at the Hague so that we can get the biggest share of North Sea oil. We could become like Eire, less like Eire or Norway for, if we were cut off from the Common 1052 Market, too, we could become something of a Northern European Albania. Divorced from the English we shall be a very lonely people. Secondly, we can have a half-way house.
The truth is that once there is a ministerial Assembly, every ill, real or imagined, will be ascribed to the fact that the Assembly does not have control over its own revenue. We shall then drift into the separatism that few want, but we shall be edged gradually into that position, the position of Stormont. Within 10 years we shall be forced into independence or become, like Northern Ireland—perhaps bar the fighting—an inbred society.
I listened with interest to the right hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Craig). I want to ask him one question. He gave us that homily on power sharing, but is it conceivable that by its very nature Stormont created the conditions for some of the troubles in his country? One of the models now being produced by the Front Bench has an uncanny resemblance to Stormont. We want to ask ourselves whether that is what we want.
There is a third possibility. We can say quite bluntly that we acted in good faith in August, September and October last year and that we have studied the matter, and we can tell the electorate "If you think that we have deceived you in vital matters, you must kick us out at the next polls and elect the SNP. But the choice is either to make the United Kingdom work and make the regions work and give a lot of power to the regions, including Strathclyde, or go it alone." It may well be that some of the Members sitting on the third bench below the Gangway opposite, the nationalists, are right in this respect and there is no half-way house. My fear is that, although my right hon. Friends are trying to get the best of all possible worlds, they will end by getting the worst of all possible worlds.
One might ask what can be done. Are we impotent? The House of Commons is far from impotent. Were the policy along the lines agreed at conference in August, I should feel an obligation to gulp and lump it. But if it goes further in the crucial subjects of industry and employment, not only goes further, but fundamentaly alters the very nature of Labour's contract with the electors, some of us, I warn the Front Bench, will fight 1053 paragraph by paragraph, clause by clause, line by line, and, if necessary, comma by comma, and, by comparison with us, the Secretary of State for Scotland when in opposition will be the very model of terse brevity.
In the last century Parnell and his friends showed what could be done in constitutional matters in this House. More recently I take as my mentors my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment and my hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon) the Minister of State, Treasury. I saw as a PPS—PPS's seem to be in fashion today—my right hon. Friend and my hon. Friend kill off House of Lords reform. I say to my right hon. and hon. Friends that the ingredients are present in this House for the House of Commons to have the final say and not for the Government to have the final decision.
If the Government go further than was suggested in August, September and October and hand over responsibility for Scottish economic affairs, they will understand that some of us, thinking that it is the road to separatism, will struggle night after night and day after day on the Floor of the House to inform our colleagues from Wales, England and Northern Ireland of the issues, to safeguard what we see as the true well-being of the people of Scotland and to maintain the basic unity of the United Kingdom.
§ 8.52 p.m.
§ Mr. John Biffen (Oswestry)
As the first English Member to be called from the back benches in this debate, I hasten to assure the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) that I do not seek to represent the English backlash to which he referred and in which rôle he cast the somewhat improbable figure of his hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Mr. Walden).
The hon. Member for West Lothian is absolutely right in identifying this debate as one of major consequence for the House and for the United Kingdom. What is at stake is not so much a debate about devolution but a questioning of the validity of the Union itself. I do not believe that that item should feature other than first on any agenda. It can never be cleared up under the heading of "Any other business". It will be central 1054 to our debates, and the request for a White Paper as a prelude to any Bill is the most modest of the requests made by the hon. Member. I wholeheartedly endorse it.
Like the hon. Member, I look forward to hearing in the ministerial reply this evening that the White Paper will be forthcoming. This is a situation in which any moves can be decisive and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Grist) said, irreversible. In such circumstances the House should move with the utmost prudence and caution.
I wish to make one or two brief observations about the factors which have led to the stirring which has resulted in attention being paid by the Government and my own party to the national sentiments evident in the component parts of the United Kingdom. Unless we can understand some of the factors, it is likely that any of the methods propounded for the resolution of these difficulties will be misguided. One prime factor has been the growth of government over recent years, not particularly the last decade, but over a much longer period.
I suspect that the incubation of those forces is longer than has been popularly supposed. I do not dismiss the rise of Scottish nationalism as being some phenomena essentially associated with North Sea oil. With the growth of government, and with almost the inevitable concomitant of remoteness, there has been an increasing disillusion with institutions of authority.
Meanwhile since the end of the war there has been an almost pervasive sense of failure about the way in which we have conducted our affairs. It has been a long, slow, humiliating retreat from empire without any satisfactory substitutes to engage a sense of patriotism or achievement. From that fear has perhaps derived an almost unhealthy preoccupation with membership of the European Economic Community in the sense of some kind of rescue for our national situation and condition.
The moment the debate is transported into that realm, the constellation of Powers which form the European Community excite a certain nationalistic response, because if that is to be our future one must acknowledge that there 1055 is some validity in the argument. Denmark, with a population of barely 5 million, and Eire, with a population of barely 3 million, can command a seat in the Council of Ministers and the right to appoint a commissioner. Will that be denied to Scotland? It is not an argument which I endorse, but I say to my colleagues who are most determined to maintain the Union that this is a factor in the debate of which they should be particularly sensitive.
We proceed with this debate with a most impressive commitment by the Lord President of the Council. I took down his words; I thought they were of such significance. He said "We are committed to preserving the unity of the United Kingdom ". Throughout this debate, however, there has been a persistent and niggling doubt that his actions will belie his words. That is what will eventually make this a great House of Commons occasion, predicted by the hon. Member for West Lothian, because already in all quarters there is perceived the doubt that devolution provides an unreal resting place between union and separation. The Assembly is seen, with, I believe, logic and an instinctive correct judgment on the part of the members of the Scottish National Party, as more likely to give them their ultimate case than it will be the prophylactic by which the Union is preserved.
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. William Ross)
Some of their what?
§ Mr. Biffen
The right hon. Gentleman says "Some of their what?", implying a certain contempt for national sentiment. This is the danger. Likewise the Lord President of the Council discussed the financial arrangements for a Scottish Assembly in the same general terms as he considered other local government sources of independent finance, as though he was already casting the members of the Scottish National Party on the bench to my left as some kind of tartan Clay Cross.
§ Mr. Gerry Fowler
The hon. Gentleman misunderstood my right hon. Friend, the Lord President of the Council. My right hon. Friend suggested that if a mere district council could have revenue-raising powers, so august a body as the Scottish Assembly might well have them.
§ Mr. Biffen
It is no good creating a Scottish Assembly and beginning to provide forms which appeal not merely to people's self-interest—the debate goes beyond that—but also to whatever sentiments and feelings go to make a sense of belonging, a sense of nation. It is no good thinking that we can buy off with the forms without providing the substance. Already there are all the signs of this contradiction.
The Lord President said that he would be extremely anxious to maintain the unity of the Kingdom because financial policy would have to remain at Westminster and Whitehall and there could not be effective economic planning if there were any significant degree of fiscal and financial autonomy in the Scottish Assembly. I do not think that that is an unfair representation of his argument. The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) said that all too often in the past what has been needed was precisely independent fiscal arrangements in Scotland to set in being a contra-cyclical policy when Scotland was disadvantaged by the operation of a United Kingdom-dominated policy.
Those arguments will not be lost on the bench to my left. They provide the beginning of a burgeoning debate which will not in the ultimate be neglected by English Members, because it is also their Parliament and their institutions which are coming under question. I believe that the outcome of the debate can have the most advantageous or the most tragic consequences for the Union.
I agree with those who argue that if we are to look at this problem in the totality it might be helpful to place on an equitable footing the way in which all the component parts of the United Kingdom are treated and not to try to have a Northern Irish model for Ulster, a Welsh model for Wales and a Scottish model for Scotland. It would be helpful and a great advantage if, in recasting the Union, we could get a greater sense of 1057 uniformity and equity in its constitutional arrangements. On the reverse side are the dangers of the country drifting into dissolution of the Union because there is an unwillingness to do the rigorous thinking which will logically take us from where we are now to where the arguments lead.
I shall terminate my remarks because I have a disciplined affection for the Front Bench. I hope that as the debate is joined four criteria will be accepted. The first is that nationalism should be taken as a serious expression of sentiment. I was first made interested in this subject some years ago by a speech made in the debate on the European Communities by Colonel Colin Mitchell, who said:It is because people are becoming frustrated, and, with the larger groupings, they turn to the concept of nationalism."—[Official Report, 26th October 1971; Vol. 823, c. 1546.]It is no good deriding the strong feelings which are evident and growing as some kind of Jacobite romanticism. They are real. I therefore hope that we shall not engage in the riposte of ridicule at the concept of the arguments for a nation State. If this debate is to be concluded in charity—on the whole, the precedents for constitutional debates are not on the side of charity—I would counsel that ridicule is abandoned in the armoury which is to be used in this debate.
I hope that those participating and those in support of the Union will realise that germane to the Union is a partnership expressed in common membership of this Parliament. To refer again to the speech of the right hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Craig), I do not like the concept of one part of the Union sending fewer Members of Parliament than it is entitled to. As long as the Union is expected to survive and flourish, its component parts should be represented here on a broadly comparable basis. [Interruption.] I take that point of the hon. Member for West Lothian. We must more fully appreciate that if one wishes to hasten the dissolution of the Union, then policies which undermine and surrender the power of this Parliament will work to that end.
In this context I was impressed by the speech of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mr. Craigen). I hope that in saying this I do not lose the support of 1058 the hon. Member for West Lothian, but at times I cannot follow the internecine disputes which have clearly gone on ever since that famous meeting in August in the Co-op Hall. This Parliament—I do not say this in a narrow or partisan sense—has seen and is seeing its authority constantly challenged. Decisions which once would have belonged here now seem to belong to the TUC, the CBI, the EEC or other extra-parliamentary forces.
If that process is accelerated and this Parliament is not seen to be the place where basic, essential and germane decisions are being taken, the nationalism of the component nations of the United Kingdom will take their place alongside those other extra-parliamentary forces. All who fight for the authority of this House are fighting for the authority and durability of the Union.
Perhaps in the ultimate this debate will be decided around such intangibles as pride. This can never exist unless in the conduct of our affairs we can restore something like stability and above all disengage ourselves from the humiliating situation in which our whole economy and finances are constructed on foreign borrowing. This too is not a narrow accusation against the present Government, because no political power is nudging them to disengage from borrowing on that scale. With such foreign borrowing, however, there cannot be even a precondition for some kind of recovery in pride. The Union can survive only when we can repossess a sense of success and a sense of achievement.
§ 9.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Malcolm Rifkind (Edinburgh, Pentlands)
No one who has sat through most of this debate can doubt that we have been discussing the gravest constitutional issues since the Act of Union in 1707. We have heard passionate and sincere speeches advocating the desires and benefits of maximum devolution and we have heard equally sincere speeches pointing to the warnings and the dangers which affect us all if that path is followed.
I listened with particular interest to the hon. Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen). It is of particular concern that the House, especially Scottish and Welsh Members, should hear the views of their English colleagues. It is clearly important, because not only will the change 1059 in the government of Scotland and Wales also directly affect the government of England but when we are talking of devolution we are not talking about devolution from England.
We are concerned with an over-concentration of power and decision making in London. To that extent we share a problem with many parts of England. We are concerned with an over-concentration which was once described by a French writer, in regard to his own land, as apoplexy in the centre and anaemia in the extremities. We in Scotland share that problem with the north-east and south-west of England. I hope that in the second half of this debate there will be many more contributions from our English colleagues so that their views can be heard and considered.
Clearly, although the major issue in this debate is that of devolution, it would be wrong if the Conservative Party did not make clear that devolution was not the prime objective. Whatever matters of devolution may be considered or argued, the objective of the Conservative Party has always been, and will always remain, the maintenance of the integrity and unity of the United Kingdom. If devolution threatens that unity, we believe that unity must be predominant. It is only because we believe that the two can be reconciled that we support the proposals to devolve powers to the various parts of the United Kingdom.
We cannot escape the fact that in our midst are hon. Members who have been elected because they gained the support of their respective electorates on a policy of dismembering the United Kingdom. We cannot escape the fact that, for the first time since the Act of Union 1707, we cannot take the future of the United Kingdom for granted. We cannot maintain that that is no longer a political issue. Therefore, it is bounden upon us not merely to accept the past benefits which the United Kingdom has brought to all its peoples but to be sure of the future benefits, and to convince our respective electorates of the future benefits that the Union can and will bring.
Central to this dispute is the assertion made today by the hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) and the hon. 1060 Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans) that the British nation does not exist. I strongly, and without apology, dispute that assertion, because I believe that within the British Isles we have a common character, language and culture, which, despite the variations within it, is infinitely different from that which exists in the rest of the Continent of Europe. I believe that there is a British nation, and that the existence of that nation is in no way inconsistent with our separate identities as Scots, Welsh, Irish or English. The Bavarian is no less a Bavarian for being also German. The French-Canadian is no less French for being also a Canadian. It has never been suggested that a nation must consist of a single ethnic, exclusive group. We have to look only at the American nation, which has within it a greater distribution of ethnic, cultural, linguistic and other national backgrounds, to see that a nation can be created over many years. I suggest that the British nation, which has existed for well over 250 years, meets all the requirements that a nation can possibly wish.
In addition, we in this island share a common language, which is spoken by the overwhelming majority of all the component units of the British Isles.
§ Mr. Douglas Henderson (Aberdeenshire, East)
Will the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind) accept that in the North American continent the Commonwealth is represented by Canada? The people of the United States speak the same language, yet the United States and Canada are two different States.
§ Mr. Rifkind
If the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. Henderson) had waited for my next sentence, he would have understood why I made that point.
Although English is an international language, it is perhaps significant that English is not the language of any part of the Continent of Western Europe. The English language has been exported from these islands through the pioneering efforts of Englishmen, Scotsmen and Welshmen. It is the existence of a common language which helps to create a common culture, a common identity and a common national characteristic.
It is perhaps significant also that Britain is a geographical entity. We are 1061 not talking about a mere arbitrary geographical expression, and it is interesting, looking throughout the—
§ Mr. D. E. Thomas
Rydw I'n ddiolchgar iawn l'r aelod anrhydeddus, ond mi fyddwn yn falch o atgoffa'r gwr bonheddig fod iaith arall yn cael ei siarad gan fy ethocwyr. Perhaps I may translate. I was reminding the hon. Gentleman that there is another language spoken by 70 per cent. of my constituents. But, in any event, how does the hon. Gentleman reconcile the regular use of the word "national" in legislation in this House—for example, in that august body, the Welsh National Water Development Authority—with his assertion that the Welsh nation does not exist?
§ Mr. Rifkind
If I suggested that the Welsh nation did not exist, I apologise, because I could not justify such an assertion. I have always accepted that the Scottish, Welsh and English nations existed. However, there is nothing inconsistent with several national groups existing in a superior nation. If any hon. Member with nationalist views cares to travel to India, he will see in the Indian nation many nations of different cultural, linguistic and ethnic backgrounds who none the less believe in their membership of the Indian nation. Similarly, if we look at the major islands on the globe which we inhabit, we see the British Isles and countries like Japan, Ceylon and Indonesia. But they are single units, and the reason is that they have a common interest and identity.
I maintain that the prime factor justifying the Union and its future is that for the past 250 years it has given to the people of the British Isles peace, prosperity and democratic institutions—
§ Mr. Rifkind
If the hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mrs. Ewing) cared to investigate, she would find that the prosperity in Moray and Nairn was the envy of 90 per cent. of the remainder of the world.
§ Mrs. Winifred Ewing
I am aware that I represent a constituency which now is 1062 a lot wealthier than many other parts of Scotland. But it ill-becomes the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind) to forget just how many constituencies in Scotland cannot be said to be prosperous. I ask the hon. Gentleman to remember that Scotland led the Industrial Revolution and ought to be reaping the benefits of it. How can he reconcile that with prosperity?
§ Mr. Rifkind
The hon. Lady does not appear to appreciate that, although many constituencies not only in Scotland but also in the north of England, in London and in parts of Wales have grave economic problems, their standard of living and means of prosperity is vastly in excess of that to which 75 per cent. or 80 per cent of the world aspires.
It is a simple and undeniable fact not only that has the Union brought to us prosperity and democratic institutions. It is a peace and prosperity which has not had to be enforced by bayonets and barbed wire. There may have been many faults in the relationship between Scotland and England, but the various people of Scotland, England and Wales have lived in harmony since at least 1745.
To those who question the constitutional and institutional framework on which that harmony has been built, I say that if they question and seek to remove the foundations on which that political entity has been built, they threaten not only the political stability but the political freedom of our peoples.
When I say that the reasons for the Union are as strong as ever, I do not rule out the economic factor. When the Union between England and Scotland was first created, it was in order partly to ensure for the people of Scotland a means of access to a market vastly greater than their own. That argument is as valid today as it was in 1707, and it is perhaps typical of the hypocrisy of the members of the nationalist parties that, when they seek a separate result in the forthcoming referendum intended by the Government, they do not make clear to their respective electorates the consequences of such a referendum result.
I have no strong views on whether we have separate results, but there is clearly only one basis on which it can be desirable to have separate results in such 1063 a referendum—the implication that Scotland and England may wish to go separate ways. If that is correct, the suggestion made by the hon. Member for the Western Isles, that we may reluctantly have to concede Customs barriers on the Scottish-English border, will be not a possibility but an inevitability. If England were to opt to remain within the Community and an independent Scotland were to opt out, there would be no question of negotiation between Scotland and England. Membership of the Community would ensure that inevitably there would have to be the same barriers between Scotland and England as exist between the members of the Community and the outside world.
§ Mr. Gordon Wilson
Would the hon. Gentleman care to consider the effect if England were in the Common Market and Scotland were out, but where Scotland, like Norway, Austria or Sweden, negotiated a separate trading association treaty with the Common Market?
§ Mr. Rifkind
I should have more time and respect for the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues if they did not say to the people of Scotland and of Wales "If we are lucky, if everyone is very nice and agrees with our point of view, we may be able to get a relationship which will not be ruinous to the prosperity of the people of Scotland and Wales." The simple fact is that if the existing constitutional relationships between Scotland and England are destroyed, no one in this House will be able to predict with certainty that any friendly relationship will exist between Scotland and other parts of the Western world.
Perhaps I may explain why I and others in the Conservative Party and many hon. Members opposite believe that the Union is of absolute necessity to the wellbeing of the people of the whole of the United Kingdom. My party is not opposed to the whole question of devolution. The Union has never meant that we must have a static political relationship. We have seen that with the creation of a Scottish Secretary in 1885 and the appointment of a Secretary of State for Scotland in 1926 and of a Secretary of State for Wales in 1964. From that it is possible to recognise the separate legitimate interests of people in various 1064 parts of the United Kingdom. There has been major administrative devolution to Scotland and Wales in recent years. The Forestry Commission, the White Fish Authority, the Post Office Savings Bank—
§ Mr. Rifkind
I am surprised that Scottish National Party Members should be so ribald in this respect. I should have thought that they would be delighted that devolution is to take place. Indeed, I am amused at the response of the hon. Member for Argyll (Mr. MacCormick) who earlier attacked the Conservative Party particularly for being out of touch with the needs and requirements of the people of Scotland. [An HON. MEMBER: "Quite right."] It so happens that I have a contribution written in 1970 by the hon. Member for Argyll. On page 92 he states:The Conservatives can justly boast that compared with the Labour Party they have been the pacemakers in advancing administrative devolution in Scotland.
§ Mr. MacCormick
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that his party in the past was far ahead of others concerning administrative devolution, but that now we are talking about legislative devolution, which is what counts?
§ Mr. Rifkind
I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would be charitable enough to admit that his suggestion that somehow he and his colleagues were the only saints in this House was incorrect and that there are many hon. Members in all parties represented here who believe as sincerely as he does in the need to move genuine and meaningful decision making from London to various parts of the United Kingdom.
The devolution that has taken place is not merely of the administrative type. In the offices of the Secretaries of State for Scotland and Wales there has been devolution in the taking of major decisions. In many respects those right hon. Gentlemen are Scottish and Welsh Prime Ministers, and one of the problems that has arisen is not the extent of the devolution but whether we have sufficient democratic control over the devolution that has taken place. We know that the Secretary of State for Scotland, unlike the heads of other Departments of State, does 1065 not have 635 Members who are concerned with the various ramifications of his policy. He has at most 71 Members who are so concerned and his Welsh colleague has a maximum of 36. But the position is even worse, because if we consider its composition we realise that 14 Members from Scotland are Members of the Government. Therefore, only 57 Scottish Members have any direct concern to question, criticise or probe the actions of the Government. That is why there are strong reasons for maximising devolution within Scotland by the establishment of a Scottish Assembly.
§ Mr. Sillars
Is the hon. Gentleman's logic correct when he goes along that course? Is it not the case that 71 Members—or 57—would have more time to question the Secretary of State for Scotland than 630 Members would have?
§ Mr. Rifkind
Each individual Member representing a Scottish constituency has more time for one office of State. That is different from saying that the interests of the people of Scotland are well represented, because the problem is that the Secretary of State, with all his powers, does not concern himself with every issue that affects the people of Scotland. If a Scottish or Welsh Member is to be diligent and properly represent the interests of his constituency he must take an active interest in the activities of virtually every other Department of State.
The problem is that Scottish and Welsh Members have had to choose between concentrating on Scottish or Welsh affairs and neglecting these in the interests of United Kingdom business which affects their constituents. Many have done both, and done neither very well as a result. That is one reason why I accept that devolution to an Assembly is important and justifiable.
There is also the consequence of the existence of the Scottish legal system. Scotland is the only country in the world which, having a legal system of its own, does not have an Assembly which can participate in the legislation that is required. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook) is seeking to put through a Bill which affects only Scotland but he is finding difficulty—as others have—not because of hostility on anyone's part but because time is not available. Means are not available to 1066 enable proper consideration to be given to the matters which he wishes to put before the House.
I was interested and pleased to hear the Lord President of the Council give his views about the solutions for Scotland and Wales. As my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Grist) so ably showed, the interests, aspirations, attitudes and ideas of Wales are different from those of Scotland, and it is incumbent upon the Government to consider whether the type of Assembly and devolution that may be suitable for Scotland is necessarily appropriate for Wales.
I accept that there is a strong argument for meaningful devolution to Scotland, but I hope that the Lord President of the Council and those who support the principles of devolution will give earnest consideration to the point so ably and sincerely made by my hon. Friends the Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Hutchison), and Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith). They represent a view which is held not just within the Conservative Party but, as the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) showed, is to be found among many people throughout Scotland who fear that even limited devolution will be the beginning of the slippery slope. I do not go all the way with that view, because I do not believe that it is necessary to choose between complete integration and complete disintegration. As an Italian novelist said, "If we want things to stay as they are, things will probably have to change". It is necessary in the interests of maintaining the unity of the United Kingdom that meaningful changes should take place.
The Lord President of the Council spoke for a considerable time. It is perhaps significant and rather sad that throughout that time he announced only one new decision. Despite the fact that six months have elapsed since the publication of the White Paper, and despite the congratulations offered by the hon. Member for East Kilbride (Dr. Miller) to the Government on the progress that they have made since then, as far as I am aware, the right hon. Gentleman announced only one decision. That decision was—surprise, surprise—that the Assemblies are to be situated in Edinburgh and Cardiff. Even that statement was qualified, because the right hon. 1067 Gentleman went on to say this would be the case at the outset, at least.
We are entitled to ask what the Government have been doing over the last six months. There are clearly two possibilities. Either they have been doing nothing, in which case they stand to be condemned on that score, or more seriously, perhaps the various rumours and suggestions in the Press, that the Government are simply divided among themselves about what they should put before the House, may have some justification. Perhaps when the debate was first decided and determined the Government had hoped to be able to put forward proposals, but it was clear from the right hon. Gentleman's speech—and I look forward to the speech by the Minister who is to wind up—that no decisions have been taken other than the obvious one concerning the siting of the Assemblies.
Clearly, when we are considering the powers to be given to an Assembly we must question not only their effectiveness but whether they will contribute to or act against the essential interests of all the peoples of the United Kingdom. I believe very strongly that while there may be strong arguments for devolving many of the matters that come under the Scottish Office, and many of the matters that result from the Scottish legal system, in other spheres we would do well to act with caution. If we proceed on the basis that it is in the interests of the people of Scotland and Wales that there should continue to be Secretaries of State for those two countries it is vital that they have an important contribution to make both in the Cabinet and at United Kingdom level.
It was interesting that the Lord President appeared to be hinting that while the Government would consider devolving powers on trade, industry and employment, those powers were to be not devolved to the Assembly but to the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Secretary of State for Wales. No such statement was given specifically, but that was the hint I picked up from the Lord President's speech. I am most concerned that the Minister who is to reply to the debate should say whether my inference is totally unfounded or whether that is the way in which the Government are presently thinking.
1068 It is, clearly, equally important that we should consider the rôle of the present 71 Scottish and 36 Welsh Members. There are strong arguments on both sides why a reduction from the present level could not or could be justified. A mere mathematical calculation may not be the best way of approaching this problem. If the United Kingdom is to work as a single unit we must consider not simply a fixed proportion of Scotsmen or Welshmen but the fact that in future deliberations in this House it will be necessary for Scotland and Wales to make contributions not merely as aggregations of individual people but as distinct national units with their own contributions to make.
There is one further problem with the peculiar nature of Scottish constituencies which comes down against a reduction in those like the Western Isles, Orkney and Shetland and Caithness and Sutherland. These constituencies have such terrible problems of distance and communication that to suggest they should be merged in order to reduce the number of constituencies would be a very unwise decision.
Clearly, the overriding concern must be the essential integrity of the United Kingdom. I end with the words of a Scot who, despite being a Scot, saw no confusion in being British also. Robert Burns, in his remarks to the Dumfries volunteers in 1795, stated clearly and emphaticallyBe Briton still to Britain true,Among oursel's united;".It is with that vision and those aims that we address ourselves to these matters before us.
§ 9.35 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Privy Council Office (Mr. Gerry Fowler)
Perhaps it would be appropriate for me to begin by congratulating the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind) on an excellent, fluent and cogent speech. It is a matter for sadness, perhaps, that with the decline of the Conservative Party's fortunes in Scotland, should there ever be the office of Scottish Prime Minister it is unlikely that he will occupy it. I am sure he would have graced it.
I want to follow in particular the hon. Gentleman's argument distinguishing between devolution and nationalism. It has been suggested that devolution and the Government's proposals are simply 1069 an appeasement of the forces of nationalism. Each man may be motivated in his own way. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Hutchison) said that he was anti-devolutionist. Equally I have long been a devolutionist. By that, I do not mean one who wishes to appease the forces of nationalism.
In the first place—the hon. Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen) was right to draw attention to this aspect—many decisions affecting the lives of ordinary people are becoming ever more remote from them. That is true whether or not we are in the EEC, because the same thing applies to wider international organisations. The result has been ever-increasing pressure to get decisions which can be taken closer to the people, with their greater involvement, down to the right level. The pressure for such a process is perhaps greater than it has ever been before.
Secondly, I think that there is rising presssure to democratise those of our institutions which hitherto we had thought we could run on the basis of ad hoc, non-elected bodies, or by outposts of the central Government, under perhaps inadequate control. I agree with the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) that what we are engaged on here is a great democratic adventure. I think he is right and that this debate is one of the steps in the process. I agree also with the right hon. Gentleman's remarks about the dangers of executive bureaucracy. My hope is that this devolution exercise may result in a closer control of executive bureaucracy by the elected representatives of the people.
I am a devolutionist in the case of Scotland and Wales specifically, but I hope we shall not forget the English regions. Only a few Englishmen have spoken so far in the debate, and those who spoke were mainly from the Front Benches. I am a devolutionist in the case of Scotland and Wales because I recognise that there is something that can properly be called national feeling in Scotland and Wales. But I agree entirely with the hon. Member for Pentlands when he says that it is not inconsistent to say that, while there is a national feeling in Scotland and Wales, we are within these islands one nation.
1070 In any event, under our proposals for devolution—here the White Paper is clear—Parliamentary sovereignty will remain in this Parliament. I think that some hon. Members are a little worried lest we propose in some way devolving part of our sovereignty, in the same way as some hon. Members are concerned that membership of the EEC means a derogation from our sovereignty. We should be clear that the two issues are quite separate—that if we create subordinate jurisdictions within these islands we in no way derogate from the sovereignty of this United Kingdom Parliament, which retains its ultimate power to legislate for all parts of the United Kingdom.
If I may take up an intervention which was made during the speech of my right hon. Friend, that is exactly why a referendum on this issue would be inapposite, even if it be apposite on the issue of EEC membership. In the case of membership of the EEC, we have to go to the electorate and ask for their view as to whether they, through their representatives in this Parliament, shall commit themselves permanently to a derogation of their sovereignty in the sense that certain freedom of action which their representatives would otherwise have enjoyed has been signed away. In no sense is that true of the exercise of devolution to Scotland and to Wales.
§ Mr. Kinnock
I would not want to accuse my hon. Friend of semanticism, but does he accept that the Welsh people—I cannot speak for the Scots—have not in any sense been directly consulted about their aspirations for the kind of Assembly they want or, indeed, whether they want an Assembly, and that they would find difficulty in discovering the subtle difference between being consulted on the constitutional question of membership of the EEC and not being consulted directly by referendum on the constitutional question of the kind of Assembly they should have or whether they should have one at all?
§ Mr. Fowler
I am grateful that my hon. Friend was not so rude as to accuse me of semanticism. The point I was making was that the creation of inferior jurisdictions still remaining within the superior jurisdiction of this Parliament is not a constitutional change on all fours with the signature of a binding international treaty of the EEC type. I think 1071 that is a perfectly clear point. My hon. Friend says that the Welsh people have not been consulted. They were consulted at the last General Election. So were the people of the United Kingdom.
Finally on the issue of sovereignty, it follows from what I have been saying that some of the worries that have been expressed in the House today about whether there may be a Prime Minister of Scotland are perhaps a little exaggerated. If we set them in that context, we should be absolutely clear that, whatever happens with our proposals for devolution, the Prime Minister of Scotland is the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. There is only one Prime Minister in the sense in which we have hitherto understood that term in the House.
I turn to the independence question. I say "the independence question" because I do not want to call it the self-government question. The right hon. Member for Penrith and the Border (Mr. Whitelaw) questioned Members of the Scottish National Party on the benches behind him about whether they had always been totally frank with the electorate in Scotland about their objectives. I have here some of their election addresses, I shall not bore the House by quoting them. Each one of them says "self-government". It does not say "independence".
§ Mr. Fowler
For many Scotsmen, as for many Englishmen, the two words have different connotations. We all know that 30 per cent. of the Scottish electorate voted for the Scottish National Party at the last General Election. We all know, too, that all the evidence is that only 10 per cent. of the Scottish electorate want separatism, independence. One thing that the debate has done is to make it absolutely clear that the Scottish National Party is the party of separatism, of independence.
§ Mrs. Winifred Ewing
Is the Minister of State aware that the constitution of the party sets that out very simply—a self-governing Scotland within the Commonwealth of Nations. If the hon. Member looks round Scotland, he will see posters all over saying "independence" 1072 and nothing else, independence and self-government being in our view one and the same thing.
§ Mr. Fowler
Few hon. Members will accept the hon. Lady's implication that "self-government" and "independence" are words that are normally used as if they had exactly the same meaning.
§ Mr. Fowler
I did not hear the hon. Lady use that word, so I think it would be unwise to pursue that point.
The hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans), the Leader of Plaid Cymru, spent some time on the question of Welsh nationhood. I hope he will forgive me if I congratulate him on the magnificence of his rhetoric and say that I thought it was matched only by the vacuity of content of his speech. He told us that the English were frightened of the loss of status they would incur if the Welsh left us. My own fears on that score would have been eased if I believed that all Welshmen had the same facility for speaking at such length and saying so little as the hon. Gentleman did today. I am still as much in the dark as I was when the hon. Gentleman began about what is a nation and what character of nationhood justifies an appeal for the status of nation State.
The hon. Gentleman told us that it was not language. I am glad he told us that, although he has often suggested that it was, because he frequently quotes, and he quoted again twice today, the example of Switzerland and the Swiss cantons. I believe that there is one canton where no fewer than four languages are spoken. Therefore, we can assume that it is not language. The hon. Gentleman said today that a nation is an historic community. We have all sorts of historic communities within these islands, but I should be surprised if the city of York applied for the status of nation State on that basis.
The hon. Gentleman told us that Wales is one nation. It is united by what? A united economy? No. A united race? No, because much of the population of South Wales was not of Welsh origin in the early days or even mediæval times of Wales.
1073 What, then, is that character which justifies saying that the Welsh consciousness of nationhood justifies its transformation into a nation State? I felt today that the mere assertion of that fact was the only justification offered.
§ Mr. Gwynfor Evans
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that even as far back as the fifth century we had in Wales a common territory, a common history, a common language, a common culture, one Church and a common religion—that is, that we were even then a community in the sense that is called a nation, and we still are?
§ Mr. Fowler
If we are going back to the fifth century, the hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do that the Ordovices and the Silures had different tribal organisations and spoke different dialects of Celtic. But that point is about as relevant as the hon. Gentleman's own.
The hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) also argued that we did not have one nation in these islands. I suggest—with, I think, the hon. Member for Pentlands—that, to use a phrase often used in another context, we are three nations in one and one nation in three. It could be argued that we have more than three nations in these islands. We must not forget our Cornish brethren, for example, but few suggest, though some do, that Cornwall too should be an independent nation State.
What disturbs me particularly about the nationalist argument, the argument over independence, is the element of selfishness, of greed, that enters into it—the claim that all oil is Scottish oil, for example. One of my hon. Friends asked whether some of the revenue from that Scottish oil might go to Wales. We had no clear answer on that. If the answer is "No.", I can only say that there we see a policy of one independent Celtic nation within these islands beggaring another. If the answer is "Yes", we have not Scottish nationalism but pan-Celtic nationalism, which is a somewhat different phenomenon.
I believe that some Members of the Scottish National Party argue that they are Socialists. That philosophy of beggar-my-neighbour—here we had better not forget the impoverished northern regions of England either—has no con- 1074 nection with any doctrine of Socialism that I have ever heard.
I noticed, too, that Scottish National Party Members did not give an answer, although they shook their heads, when one of my hon. Friends asked whether they would accept a meaningful level of devolution. I assume from what we were told by their leader, who suggested that he would accept Customs posts at the border, that they would not.
I am sure—I go along here with the hon. Member for Pentlands—that I speak for the vast majority of right hon. and hon. Members when I say that we stand by the unity of the United Kingdom and that, whatever happens in the course of our proposals for devolution, we shall not be swayed by tiny minorities in either Scotland or Wales.
The hon. Member for Carmarthen told us that nationalism has its own dynamic. I can only say that that dynamic has carried the Plaid Cymru vote in absolute terms downwards ever since 1970.
I have been asked during this debate, not least by my hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride (Dr. Miller) whether there is any slow-down in the devolution timetable. I give him the categorical assurance that there has been and will be no slow-down on that timetable. It has been suggested recently in the Press, notably by the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. Crawford), that the Constitution Unit is grossly understaffed, that the Government's timetable is slipping and that we shall never fulfil our commitment to devolution. These are no more than scare stories based on no substance.
I have been enthralled by much that has been said in the debate, but on the other hand I have been somewhat shocked by the levity with which some Members of the Scottish National Party have treated a major constitutional issue. I hope that we shall not take these major decisions on the basis of scare, of invention, of fiction and of levity.
§ Mr. Fowler
On the question of a White Paper, I can only repeat what has been said. There may well be a White 1075 Paper, but we should not wish the preparation and publication of a White Paper to impede the more important work on the preparation of a Bill.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Will my hon. Friend accept that it would be disgraceful and a shocking insult to the House of Commons were it not to have a White Paper?
§ Mr. Fowler
My right hon. Friend has heard what my hon. Friend says, and I am sure he will take note of it. There are other ways of meeting what my hon. Friend wants, which, I assume, is another debate on the principle and, perhaps, the detail of devolution before a Bill is laid before the House for Second Reading.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)
Will the hon. Gentleman explain a little further how publication of a White Paper could delay preparation of the Bill? For a Bill to be prepared, the Government must provide the draftsman with at least as detailed an indication of the requisite contents as would be the contents of a White Paper.
§ Mr. Fowler
Absolutely right, as the right hon. Gentleman well knows from his own experience in office. But the Government do not provide the draftsman with exactly the same draft, and if they laid before the House a White Paper based upon the instruction given to the draftsman there would, I imagine, be some complaint from hon. Members about its content. It takes manpower to produce a White Paper. The Constitution Unit is not understaffed, but I do not want unnecessarily to divert manpower if manpower cannot be diverted without delaying the final proposals.
The hon. Member for Edinburgh, South produced again an argument which I have heard many times in the debates on devolution: that if we had the level of government in Edinburgh and Cardiff that we suggested in our September White Paper, Scotland and Wales would be over-governed. I sometimes think that there is a measure of confusion in that argument, and I want to say a word about it.
It seems to me that the confusion arises from the idea that the functions of government remain the same, or, one might say, that irrespective of devolution the 1076 functions of government ever expand, since that certainly seems to have been the trend of the past century, whoever has been in power. But the creation of an additional tier does not mean of itself an extension of the functions of government. So in the strict sense that Scotland and Wales would be over-governed, there is little validity in that argument. Perhaps in that context I should make it clear, as one or two hon. Members have asked for information on this subject, including the hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Grist), that the Government have no present intention further to alter local government in the presently foreseeable future.
Many hon. Members have touched on one of the major questions of content in deciding the form of devolution—whether we should have in Scotland a ministerial or committee system. I should like to say a word about that, because it well illustrates one of our major problems; namely, that all of the questions that we are examining are in some way inter-linked. Where should executive powers lie, with the Assembly, or with a separate Executive? I was interested to see that my hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride and my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mr. Craigen), both ex-members of Glasgow Corporation, were ranged on exactly opposite sides in that debate. There are arguments each way.
The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland rightly said that we ought to ensure that the Assembly had a genuine rôle in devising legislation, not merely in accepting proposals tailor-made and handed down by an Executive. It may be argued that the Cabinet system gives too much power to an Executive. It may be argued equally that the committee system means that the chairmen are merely figureheads and, in effect, powerless at the end of the day.
The feature to which I draw attention here is the way in which that interlinks with a question raised much earlier in the debate by the right hon. Member for Penrith and the Border—what kind of Civil Service there would be in Scotland. We ought to be absolutely clear that if we have a committee system, with the officials responsible in essence to the Assembly as a whole and to its members severally, we should not have what we 1077 should normally call a Civil Service. We should have something much more akin to the local government service, and certainly it could not possibly be the same body as the United Kingdom Civil Service responsible to Ministers. That clearly demonstrates the way in which it would be silly for the Government to announce a decision on one issue until they were absolutely clear about their intentions on other interlinked issues.
I come finally to the university question, because that, too, points in both directions and so illustrates our difficulties. This subject was raised by many hon. Members. On the one hand, it may be argued—and many have put this type of case—that the Scottish and Welsh universities are great international centres of learning linked to other universities in Great Britain and the United Kingdom as a whole and, like them, relying on the University Grants Committee system of financing and benefiting greatly from it, not least in the interchange of staff and students and the interchange of learning. That is a powerful argument.
On the other hand, it may be argued, and it has been argued by some, that the universities are also linked with the rest of the education system in Scotland and Wales. I hope that we can get a solution that takes account of both arguments, but that well illustrates how difficult decisions are in this respect, too.
We have as an objective the involvement of people not only in decision making at levels much closer to their daily lives than has been hitherto the practice, where that would be advantageous to them and where it is practicable, but, to follow the language of my hon. Friend the Member for Mary-hill, in accepting decisions that they themselves have helped to make within a decentralised system of government. Our objective is to maintain the unity of the 1078 United Kingdom but to increase democracy within that unified Kingdom. We are determined to make haste, but only to the extent that is consonant with getting the right decisions. We will not jeopardise the future of this country. That is the pledge that we give in this debate.
Tomorrow the Welsh and Scottish aspects of our devolution proposals will be pursued at greater length by my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State. I am sure that the House will enjoy probing—
§ It being Ten o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.
§ Mr. Robin F. Cook
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I do not wish to detain the House unnecessarily, but it has been difficult not to notice that of the four speakers from the back benches on the Labour side of the House two were Parliamentary Private Secretaries—not just of Ministers but of Ministers participating in this debate. I have a high regard for both of my hon. Friends, who made fine contributions, but it is hard to forgive them for being called before the rest of us. It would be unfortunate if a precedent were to be set so that PPSs of the appropriate Minister were to be given priority in a debate. It might be prudent if you were to give the House an assurance that in your selection you were not in any way influenced by the position of these hon. Members.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. George Thomas)
The choice of speakers is a matter for the Chair. Our problem today has been that there have been 16 speeches, 10 of which were more than 20 minutes in length. Hon. Members who go on at length prevent other hon. Members from speaking in the debate. The selection of speakers is a matter for the occupant of the Chair.