§ Mr. George Gardiner (Reigate)
I beg to move Amendment No. 188, in page 16, line 7, leave out 'the Secretary of State' and insert:'any Minister of the Crown'.
No. 189, in page 16, line 9, leave out:
'a Minister of the Crown' and insert 'him'
No. 194, in page 16, line 10, after 'Crown', insert:
'or a Member of Parliament'.
No. 238, in page 16, line 12, at end insert:
'Any such information shall be equally available to all Members of the Assembly'.
No. 109, in page 16, line 12, at end add:
'( ) Either House of Parliament may send for persons and papers from the Scottish Secretary'.
§ Mr. Gardiner
As you have observed, Mr. Murton, there are four other amendments grouped with Amendment No. 188. Two are in my name and those of certain of my right hon. and hon. Friends—Amendment No. 194, which is purely consequential upon Amendment No. 188, and Amendment No. 190, which raises rather different questions to which I shall address some remarks in a moment.
Although the Minister did indicate or betray certain feelings of resentment that 1251 some hon. Members considered Clause 33 a matter of some importance worthy of debate. I am sure that no Minister will query the importance of Clause 34 and the need for proper debate upon it.
The clause concerns the provision of information. I should have thought that it was evident to all hon. Members that this was a vital matter affecting future relations between the Assembly and the House of Commons and the Assembly and the Government. The free flow of information is essential for efficient modern government and it is essential if we in Parliament—and, for that matter, those in the Assembly—are to fulfil our obligations to our electors and ensure that our decisions and actions are firmly based on fact.
The Assembly has a very substantial area of responsibility as set out in the Bill, and it seems to us that it is essential that Government Departments and Parliament itself should be in a position to get the fullest information necessary for the performance of their and our tasks.
In approaching this topic, I open up a little of what might be an apparent ambiguity in Clause 34, namely, the reference in the first line to the Secretary of State. The clause provides that any Minister of the Crown who requires information relating to the functions performed by a Scottish Secretary for the performance and exercise of his own functions may ask the Secretary of State to request the Scottish Secretary to supply that information, and that upon receipt of such a request the Scottish Secretary should comply with it.
At first sight, and on first reading, the clause appears to suggest that all requests for such information should flow through the Secretary of State for Scotland. If that is the effect of the clause, or if that becomes the practice of Governments and Cabinets if ever the Assembly should be set up, it is and would be most reprehensible. It would make the Secretary of State for Scotland effectively the sole channel of communication between a Minister in his own Government and the Executive of the Scottish Assembly.
I need not dwell too much on the obstacles and difficulties that such a system might present to efficient government. 1252 We have recently had the record of the late Richard Crossman on how relationships sometimes worked out between different Ministers in the Cabinet and the way in which personal difficulties and animosities could well impede the free flow of information between them. Those who have read the book will find a number of interesting instances.
I refer the Committee to page 48 of the latest volume of "The Crossman Diaries" where the late Mr. Crossman refers to Cabinet discussions on devolution. He refers to the then Secretary of State for Scotland and writes:What Willy Ross himself actually likes is to keep Scottish business absolutely privy from English business.That is a revealing comment on not only the Cabinet of his day but the situation that future Governments might well face if Clause 34 is understood to mean that any requests for information from a Minister of the Crown have to be channelled through the Secretary of State for Scotland before they can become operative.
If that is to be how the clause is read, and if that is the effect that is to be given to it by future Governments, that will be not only a reprehensible situation for all concerned but will lead to far less efficient and far less streamlined government. If a Minister's functions were affected in any way by the exercise of the Assembly and its Executive of certain devolved functions, it would be far better if he were able to go straight to the source for the information that he considered relevant to the performance of his functions. That is the question of relations between Ministers which is covered by Amendment No. 188.
There is the further question raised specifically in Amendment No. 190, in page 16, line 12, at end add—'( ) Either House of Parliament may send for persons and papers from the Scottish Secretary'.We are concerned here with a bigger issue than is raised in Amendment No. 188, namely, the free flow of information to Parliament, not simply to the Government. There is a real, substantial and meaningful difference between these two aspects. After all, if a Secretary of State, or the Secretary of State, secures whatever information is sought, there is no obligation upon him to lay it before Parliament. Indeed, even if he does, he may do so 1253 selectively. In any event, the questions that he might have put to the Scottish Secretary might not have been the most relevant questions in the eyes of Parliament. Parliament might have wished quite separate questions to have been put and answered. So, even if the information is made available to Parliament by the Secretary of State, it might prove to be totally inadequate for Parliament properly to perform its functions.
Therefore, it is right that we should ask the Minister, when he replies to this batch of amendments, to turn his mind specifically to the matter set out in Amendment No. 190 and to explain, how, in the situation envisaged in the clause, either House of Parliament can keep itself properly informed on all the issues for which it might have United Kingdom responsibility as well as certain responsibility to our own electors who will have to find a good bit of the cash and the wherewithal to support these various devolved functions. I hope that the Minister, when he replies, will cover that point.
I do not wish to take up a lot of the time of the Committee under this guillotine procedure. In all our debates on the different amendments, or those few amendments that have been called and discussed, we have had a multitude of evidence presented of the areas of conflict that are likely to or probably will arise between a Scottish Assembly and the House of Commons if we should ever be so unfortunate as to see this legislation become law. The areas of conflict are legion.
Furthermore, we know that the proposition outlined in the Bill—the so-called settlement—will be not stable but very fluid. We shall constantly need to readjust our sights in the House of Commons to the procedures and the way that the provisions in this legislation are enacted and interpreted.
If we are properly to perform our duty to our own electors, we must be sure that we are acting upon the fullest and most accurate information. I cannot see that the Bill, as drafted, guarantees to the House of Commons all the information upon which it will need to act. The danger is that, in a conflict of the kind that we envisage, the information will become a weapon in the battle. The 1254 purpose of the amendments is to ensure that that shall not be so.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I see this as a matter of the very greatest importance embedded in the clause, namely, not only the difficulties of information—I shall not echo the speech of the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Gardiner), although he has raised some very real problems—but another issue, the question of the double loyalty of the civil servants and precisely to whom they are loyal.
Let me explain in terms of the clause and in terms of the amendments. Let us suppose that a United Kingdom Minister asks for information. It may well be—indeed, it is likely to be—that this information will be of a fairly sensitive nature, otherwise he would not bother to ask for it. My hon. Friend the Minister shakes his head. I shall put the position and he can shoot me down if I am wrong or if my fears are ill placed. The civil servants in Edinburgh, from whom the information is asked, will have to make up their minds, or may have to make up their minds if there is a dispute between the Minister in the Royal High School and the Minister in Westminster, as to where their priority lies.
I regret once again that my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) is not present at our debates, because he has written and said a great deal on this subject of the Civil Service and the Royal High School, St. Andrew's House and New St. Andrew's House. The point that he has for ever been making is that, of course, the civil servants, being human—this is not dishonourable at all—will give priority and give their loyalty to those whom they think have the greatest say in their future. I very much regret that my hon. Friend is not here, because this is a very understandable situation. The civil servants may have to choose.
There is the very great difficulty of the Civil Service trying to serve two masters, or two sets of Ministers—I do not like the word "masters" very much—who, because of the situation, may be in conflict, and the civil servants will have to make up their minds whether they are to be more helpful to one or to the other. There may be situations in which the civil servants can be fairly 1255 neutral. On the other hand, there may be situations in which they really have to decide to whom is their greater loyalty. In those circumstances, it may well be that they decide that their future is with the Assembly, in which case the loyalty would be to the Assembly Minister. Alternatively, the loyalty would be to the Westminster Minister if they think that their future lies with Westminster.
Civil servants have standards of right and wrong, as do the rest of us. They will constantly be put in this kind of situation. I simply say that one cannot expect British civil servants, for whom I personally have a very great respect, with their traditions, loyalty and conscientious hard work, to serve two different sets of Ministers who may well be in conflict.
§ Mr. Russell Johnston (Inverness)
What the hon. Gentleman is saying is not the case. In the exact example that he portrayed of a Minister in Whitehall requesting information from a Minister in Edinburgh, the hon. Gentleman is asking "To whom should the civil servants in Edinburgh give loyalty?" The answer, quite clearly, is that it is to their Minister in Edinburgh, whom they are serving. The hon. Gentleman is trying to say that civil servants are all human and that that is not dishonourable. That is a matter which will be of comfort to the Civil Service. Nevertheless, these individual qualms of conscience are something for which no Government can legislate in any event. But the clear lines of responsibility are laid out and are in no way equivocal.
§ Mr. Dalyell
—it is clear that the loyalty of the civil servant in Edinburgh is to Assembly Ministers as a priority. If that is the situation, all I say is that this has great consequences for a unified British Civil Service.
§ Mr. Raison
The hon. Gentleman is making an important point. I do not think that I can agree with the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Johnston). It is not only the case that civil servants temporarily working for the Scottish Assembly 1256 would still be members of the State Civil Service, but, if I read Clause 64 correctly, they would be appointed to their positions in the Scottish Assembly by the heads of the Civil Service for the United Kingdom as a whole. To say that there is no loyalty to the person who appoints and who, by definition, dismisses or reviews only seems absurd.
§ Mr. Dalyell
A great many people in the Scottish Office joined the Home Civil Service under the impression that they were joining a United Kingdom Civil Service. This is stated in their original contracts. If the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Johnston) and the Minister of State are correct, these civil servants would then form part of a Scottish Assembly Civil Service. Once a civil servant has given his wholehearted and unstinted loyalty to an Assembly Minister who may well be in conflict with Whitehall, with Great George Street, with the Civil Service Department, whether one likes it or not that will have some effect on his or her future career structure. If I am wrong, no doubt the Minister of State will shoot me down.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I shall listen with great interest to what my hon. Friend has to say in shooting me down. I believe that the whole issue of the unified structure—
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett
Does not this question of loyalty arise at the present moment? A civil servant may give his loyalty to a particular Minister who may be in hot dispute with a Minister in another Department, yet that civil servant might in the near future find himself transferred to another Department.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I wonder whether that is the case. There is a difference between the normal ministerial battles in Whitehall, with which we are all familiar, and, on the other hand, having a loyalty to a different structure, a different institution, a different career pattern. This is an important matter, and I look forward to hearing what my hon. Friend has to say.
§ Mr. Alexander Fletcher
The hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) raised an important point at the beginning of our discussion on the clause—the question of double loyalty for civil 1257 servants. They may well find it difficult to serve two masters. It would be hard for them to avoid being accused of being politically partisan in their work. I know something of the political climate in Scotland, and I can say that it is almost certain that accusations would flow about the work of civil servants.
I do not know how the Scottish Office will manage to deal with an exchange of stall from one United Kingdom Department to another. If that were to cease it would be to the great disadvantage of the Scottish Office. Over the years we have benefited through Scottish civil servants coming to work in Whitehall and, on occasions, Westminster civil servants being posted to Edinburgh. I am sure that the Minister is looking forward to replying to that issue.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Gardiner) for moving this important amendment. I want to speak to Amendment No. 194. The clause itself is important, not least in the light of our debates on Clauses 22 and 23, when we talked about the Bill's abolishing the joint exercise of power between one Minister and another.
In this clause there is a provision for the Secretary of State to obtain from a Scottish Secretary any information that he or other Ministers of the Crown decide is needed in order for them to exercise their functions. That means that devolution leaves unimpaired the ability of the United Kingdom Executive to inform itself about Scottish affairs. I do not complain about that. Ministers, or, in more practical terms, civil servants, will continue to be informed about Scottish housing, local government, education, and so on, as if no constitutional changes had taken place.
I am afraid that there is no West Lothian question so far as the United Kingdom Executive is concerned. It is important that we should consider where this situation leaves Parliament. To whom are Ministers to be responsible in the event of questions being raised on information that is not available to hon. Members? Ministers are responsible to Parliament and they will be free to obtain any information that they may want, but Parliament must continue to operate in darkness.
In Parliament it seems that the Secretary of State will be both Governor-General 1258 and ministerial postman. One is bound to ask why, in his capacity as postman, he cannot provide hon. Members with the same information as he is obliged to provide to Ministers of the Crown. I see that the Minister is looking puzzled. I ask him this question: if a Minister wants to know anything he asks the Secretary of State to advise him; where does that leave Parliament?
§ Mr. John Smith
I was looking puzzled because of the hon. Member's reference to a Governor-General. I did not understand the hon. Member.
§ Mr. Fletcher
During debates on previous clauses we have talked about the requirements of the Secretary of State and of the fact that the draftsmen and Ministers have seen fit not to allow the Scottish Executive direct contact with the Queen. As well as having the high and mighty position of Governor-General and standing in for the Queen in relation to the constitution of the Assembly, the Secretary of State also finds himself in the rather lowly position of postman. In that capacity he is obliged to obtain information from the Scottish Executive and to provide it to his colleagues [Interruption.] If the Minister does not understand the Bill, it is rather sad.
§ 9.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Fletcher
My speech is simple. If the hon. Gentleman does not like the reference to a Governor-General we can leave that aside. If I am reading the clause incorrectly, I hope that the Minister will say so, but it seems to me that the Secretary of State is the messenger in obtaining for ministerial colleagues whatever information they think they require from the Scottish Executive. Is that a correct reading of the clause? I can only assume from the Minister's silence that it is.
Parliament can hardly hope to control the Executive if that kind of imbalance in the provision of ordinary public information is allowed and if Members of Parliament are denied access to the information that they require to do their job, which is to control the Executive. The hon. Gentleman may say that control over the matters that we are discussing rests not with Parliament but with the 1259 Assembly, and that in respect of devolved matters the Executive is the Scottish Executive and not Ministers of the Crown. But if that thought is in his mind perhaps he will explain how Members of Parliament may be expected to react to pressure from the Press or their constituents in cases where it might appear that the Assembly was not acting in the best public interest.
For example, if a number of houses were destroyed or damaged by fire or flood in Scotland, and there was disagreement on the question whether the Assembly had enough powers and resources to cope, Ministers of the Crown could be informed by the Secretary of State, but would Parliament here be able to obtain sufficient information on which Members of Parliament could form a judgment about the situation in Scotland? I know that under Clause 37 the Secretary of State has the power to prevent or require action by the Scottish Executive, but how is Parliament to know whether he is performing that duty if Members of Parliament are denied the right to question him on devolved matters?
The Under-Secretary of State—the hon. Member for Stirling, Falkirk and Grangemouth (Mr. Ewing)—has just issued a Press notice which warns that chimney fires amount to about 20 per cent. of all fires in Scotland, and he has been asking people to be careful, particularly at this time of year. He goes on to say in the Press statement that since 15th November there have been 1,671 fires in Scotland, that 11 people have died and 50 have been injured. Under Clause 40 pay policy is a reserved matter for which Ministers are responsible to this House, but as the fire service is a devolved matter only Members of the Assembly could deal with one effect of the current pay policy—the present strike. We in the House would not be able to question the Secretary of State on the consequences of a policy for which we are responsible, because those consequences are entirely a devolved matter.
I should like to give another example of the difficulties in which the House may well find itself. This relates to corruption in local government, which unfortunately, has arisen. There are a number of cases outstanding, and corruption may occur again. If anything approaching the 1260 scandal of the Crown Agents, which the House debated yesterday, were to happen in local government or any other authority the responsibility for which is devolved would Parliament have no rôle to play?
§ Mr. Dalyell
I can give the hon. Gentleman another example. What would happen over a matter such as Nine Wells Hospital, Dundee, which was the subject of a protracted inquiry by the Public Accounts Committee, on which I served? Under the Bill the health aspects would be devolved but the Treasury aspects would not. Who would be responsible for such an inquiry?
§ Mr. Fletcher
I agree with the lion. Member for West Lothian. That, again, is the sort of example that we are trying to put to the Minister so that we may better understand precisely what the Government propose.
In the case of any kind of scandal relating to a Department, the responsibility for which has been devolved, again Ministers of the Crown here would be able to find out what was going on. Incidentally, that knowledge would give them a responsibility to Parliament, but it would be a responsibility which Parliament would be unable to question because Parliament would not have the same information available to it.
Again, I ask the Minister to advise the Committee. It is hard in these circumstances to see how Parliament could have, for example, a debate under Standing Order No. 9 to try to understand events which might be causing a great deal of public irritation and public pressure in Scotland.
This is especially relevant when we remember that Ministers have told us that Parliament will retain the overall ability to act for any part of the United Kingdom. There does not seem to be much chance of Parliament doing that if we cannot ask Ministers what is going on. It seems to me to put this Parliament even more at the mercy of the Executive.
There can be no reason why, under Clause 34, the Secretary of State should not be required to provide information for Members of Parliament relating to the exercise of their functions as Members of Parliament. I am sure that the Minister knows from his experience in his own constituency that people come to their Member of Parliament with all 1261 sorts of problems and complaints. To a great degree at the moment they extend into local government matters. It is totally unimaginable that people in Scotland will not go to their Members of Parliament with complaints and problems relating directly to the Assembly, and it may be for one reason or another that Members of Parliament will find that it is in the best interests of their constituents, if not in their own best interests, that they should take up some of these matters and try to find out what is going on by questioning the Secretary of State, who is responsible to the House of Commons and who is capable of finding out any information which he considers desirable for the exercise of his functions. Why should that be denied to Members of Parliament, to whom Ministers are responsible?
That, to me, is the crux of the question on Amendment No. 194. Of course, the ability to continue to question the Secretary of State would not resolve the West Lothian question, but it would enable Members of Parliament to keep themselves advised on Scottish affairs. What could be more fair than that?
After all, the House will have to sanction the plans for the block grant and for Supplementary Estimates, which are bound to arise despite the boasts of those who have conceived the idea of rolling all this on a four-year basis. Our experience shows us that since March 1974, when the present Government took office, we have had 12 Budgets. It is nonsensical to suggest that, by passing the Bill, somehow or other the management of our financial affairs in Britain will be so well organised that we can operate the sort of arrangement proposed for the block grant.
If we are to consider here the block grant and Supplementary Estimates affecting the financing of Scottish affairs, surely it makes sense that, before hon. Members in the House make any contribution to discussions affecting money for Scotland, they must be as fully advised as Ministers themselves in regard both to previous expenditure and to proposals for future expenditure. Members of Parliament will be severely handicapped if only Ministers are aware of the details of how the Assembly has been handling its financial affairs.
1262 Incidentally, these amendments will not increase the cost of the Scottish Administration, since this work is already being done and the personnel are already established for it. It is clear from the arrangements that are being made for Ministers of the Crown that this work will continue to be done after an Assembly is established.
I hope that the Minister will agree that this adds up to a reasonable case. It does not topple the god of devolution but it helps Parliament to continue to play an informed rôle in the affairs of Scotland. Surely that is no more than Scotland would expect of the House of Commons.
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett
Amendment No. 238, standing in my name, is among those that we are discussing. One of my beliefs about the Bill was that it would aim to improve the form of Government in Scotland. I have always believed that the way to improve the form of Government and its acceptability to the people was to increase the amount of information available to them. I thought that we might have had movement in the Bill towards a freedom-of-information provision. I looked carefully through the Bill to see what it said about the provision of information in general but all that I could find was this small clause, which is written in the most restrictive way, implying that only a minor problem exists in respect of the provision of information.
Has my hon. Friend yet given any thought to New Clause 2, standing in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker)? If he were to accept it, or another clause along similar lines, thus going for a wide dispersal of information to the people of Scotland and the United Kingdom in general, it would avoid the problems that arise on this clause. If the Government were prepared to legislate for freedom of information, such as has been done in the Swedish constitution and recent United States legislation, the points raised on the clause could be avoided.
If my hon. Friend is not prepared to go along the lines of a wide opening up of information, I hope that he will give consideration to my amendment. One of the major problems with Governments at present, certainly with our own Government, is that there are first-class and 1263 second-class Members of Parliament. First-class Members are those who are Ministers and have reasonably free access to information; then there are Government Back Benchers and Opposition Members who are in many ways treated as second-class citizens in relation to the amount of information available to them.
When there are problems involving the security of the State, there may be easy ground for justifying the argument that information should be kept restricted and secret, but where a matter does not involve the security of the State—as is the case in the Bill—it is very difficult to justify restricting information. Certainly, it would be hard to justify the argument that Ministers in the Assembly should have access to information while other Members of the Assembly should be denied it. I hope that my hon. Friend will be prepared to accept either New Clause 2 or—
§ The Chairman
Order. I should explain to the hon. Gentleman that we have not yet got round to the question whether New Clause 2 is to be selected. He is somewhat ahead of himself in that respect.
§ Mr. Bennett
I appreciate that New Clause 2 has not yet been selected for debate, Mr. Murton, but I suggest that if the Government were prepared to accept either New Clause 2 or something along those lines—something going much wider than this clause—it would remove almost all the problems arising from the clause. I hope, therefore, that my hon. Friend will indicate how far he believes that information should be freely available to all Members of the Assembly. Ideally, of course, it should be available not only to Members of the Assembly but to all Members of the House.
§ Mr. Dalyell
On a point of order, Mr. Murton. May I speak in defence of my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett)? It is not a matter of agreeing or disagreeing with his point, which is an important one, but to say that New Clause 2 may or may not be selected surely once more brings us up against the guillotine procedure. If my hon. Friend is not allowed to bring up this point at this stage, when can he do so?
§ The Chairman
May I answer by saying that the clause is not in the group that we are discussing now?
§ 10.0 p.m.
§ Mr. George Reid (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)
For the second time this evening, the hon. Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) has been trying to cut the Assembly's clothes for it. Earlier today he tried to write in penalties about refusal to declare an interest and now he is trying to write in a freedom of information provision. These objectives are very reasonable but they should be left to Members of the Assembly to determine for themselves. It would be wrong if the House of Commons were to put the Assembly into an absolute straitjacket on both these points from the start. My party has sympathy with the two points that have been put forward, but we think it right and proper that the Assembly should itself grow in stature and status on these matters.
§ Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)
Surely it is reasonable that the Assembly should begin its work with as much of its structure and financial arrangements available as is possible in terms of wider information, otherwise it will spend its first two years arguing about how it will work. That is not its function.
§ Mr. Reid
That takes us back to to the centre-piece of many of the debates this afternoon—the "shall" and "may" provisions. It is reasonable that the House should occasionally write in mandatory clauses, but I find myself in difficulty, just as the Conservative Front Bench has done, with permissive clauses—because permissiveness could be taken to the point of absolute infinity.
§ Mr. Norman Buchan (Renfrewshire, West)
I fail to follow the logic of the hon. Gentleman's argument. He is saying that he objects to permissive clauses because they will cut the throat of the Assembly. He has got this the wrong way round. The point about permissive clauses is that they can be taken up by the Assembly, or not. My hon. Friend is right. Not for the first time, the hon. Gentleman is sadly wrong.
§ Mr. Reid
If one says that something "shall" happen, one is taking away from 1265 the Assembly an essential decision that should be left to the Assembly.
I was drawn into the debate by the speeches of the hon. Members for Edinburgh, North (Mr. Fletcher) and West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell). I found the speech of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, North extremely convoluted and difficult to understand. He was probably trying to create problems, and I leave it for the Minister to answer him.
I found the speech of the hon. Member for West Lothian of considerable interest. Les extrémes se touchent. Not for the first time, I find myself in agreement with much of what he said—in this case about civil servants. Once there is set up in Edinburgh an Executive with a Civil Service working to that Executive, the sort of strains and stresses of loyalty described by the hon. Gentleman will emerge. Civil servants will look for a career structure leading to top jobs in the Scottish Civil Service. They will want to know where their loyalties will lie vis-à-vis any potential conflict and friction between London and Edinburgh. I accept what the hon. Gentleman said, and I think that the problems can be settled only in the fullness of time by the creation of a separate Civil Service in Scotland. That is coming and there is a precedent for it in Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Dalyell
This is an important issue. I say this not in a provocative way but to ask a question. The Scottish National Party would think, within its legitimate aims, of the creation of a separate Scottish Civil Service with its own career structure, and presumably the SNP in the Assembly would argue on those lines.
§ Mr. Reid
Yes, and reasonably so, because I do not see how it will work in any other way. That is a straight pragmatic, practical answer. That will happen in the fullness of time as the Assembly grows into a Parliament. That is a natural concomitant.
The hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Gardiner) spoke about the necessity for the free flow of information between London and Edinburgh, and I agree with that. It is vital that Ministers in Edinburgh and London should know what is in the minds of their opposite numbers. That would be true at any stage of the devolution process. Indeed, 1266 it would be equally true if there were a separate Scots Parliament in Edinburgh, because today we have to recognise the importance of inter-relationships everywhere.
I would only say to the hon. Member for Reigate that it works in reverse as well. I heard precious little from him about Ministers in Edinburgh as they went about formulating their distinctive policies in devolved areas having information as to what was in the minds of Ministers here in the House of Commons. I hope that Ministers in Edinburgh are not to be served up a diet of stale porridge secondhand in terms of the thinking of Ministries here in Whitehall.
I think that the hon. Member chose the wrong way of going about it. After all, he is a journalist himself. I think he will recognise that it is not right for all information to be fed simultaneously to different sources, for everybody to be talking to everybody else simultaneously all the time. It leads to confusion. One of the rôles for the Secretary of State in the Bill is to act as a conduit—a tunnel—for information going to Scotland, a clearly established channel of information to the Assembly from this place and vice versa.
I suspect that what was coming from the Conservative Benches today was not a high flow of concern for constitutional practices but a desire for this place to meddle with the Assembly time and time again. We saw it escalating. First it was that Ministers in this place should be able to intervene. In the next speech it was argued that any Member of Parliament here should be able to intervene. At the end of the process, it was argued that either this place or the other place should be able to send for persons and papers at any time. That would be gross meddling. If that degree of meddling were to go on, it would lead to a hardening of Scottish attitudes faster than anything else.
The Minister will be aware of the speech made by his colleague the Foreign Secretary at a "Scotland in Europe" dinner in Edinburgh a week last Friday. In the course of that dinner, the Foreign Secretary dealt with secondary legislation in relation to the Scottish Assembly, reviewing the relationships Edinburgh might have through London or with 1267 Brussels in secondary legislation matters. He talked about something which seems to be at odds with this clause. He said that a joint council for negotiation would have to be set up between the Assembly and Westminster in matters of devolved administration which also were EEC matters.
I should like to know from the Minister how that will work. Is it not at considerable variance with what is set out in the clause? If the hon. Gentleman can give me any idea of what the Foreign Secretary had in mind—I know that this is of concern to the hon. Member for West Lothian also, because he dropped his razor on hearing the report of that speech on the morning radio—I shall be obliged.
The Assembly must be trusted to grow. If people are to meddle and interfere at every stage, if they are not to allow one clear channel or conduit between Edinburgh and London, the very act of meddling and interfering will lead to a hardening of Scots attitude faster than anything else.
§ Mr. Benyon
If meddling means wanting to know how the block grant is to be spent, meddling it is. I want to support the amendments very briefly, purely on the matter of finance, because when my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind) was speaking I intervened to ask him about the position of Select Committees. I was thinking of the Expenditure Committee. As I understand it—I ask this as a question to the Minister—after the House of Commons has voted a block grant there is nothing that any of us can do about the way in which that block grant is used, nor can the Expenditure Committee or the Public Accounts Committee have any say in the matter. The Assembly sets up its own Public Accounts Committee and its own Expenditure Committee. That is all very well.
§ Mr. Dalyell
When we assume that the Assembly sets up its own Public Accounts Committee we also assume—this is the subject of future amendments—a Scottish Comptroller and Auditor General. This assumes, in turn, a very large skilled staff. Some of us beg to dispute whether all these skilled auditors in the Scottish C and AG Department 1268 actually exist. So I question the automaticity of the Scottish ability.
§ Mr. Benyon
I accept that entirely. Referring to the amendment, particularly in regard to Members of Parliament, I do not believe that there is any way in which the House of Commons can obtain detailed information on the way in which that block grant is spent. When we turn to the devolved subject—I am thinking particularly of Group 4, on housing, which deals with devolved subjects such as housing rents, rent allowances and rebates—am I being completely naive in suggesting that it is quite possible for the Assembly to build houses costing £50,000 each, for example, if it so desires? If the Scottish Assembly did so desire, it could have a grave effect on the housing policy adopted in the rest of the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Hamish Watt (Banff)
Will the hon. Gentleman say why he believes that it would be wrong for the Assembly to spend the block grant in the way that it wished, so long as it did not overspend it?
§ Mr. Benyon
My point is that, in certain respects, the way in which the Assembly spends it can affect the rest of the United Kingdom. It can affect the policy of the Minister of the Crown in the clause that we are discussing. That must be so. That is only one example of a devolved subject.
I could continue with other examples all the way down the list, where actions taken north of the Tweed could have an effect on what happens in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. I am asking the Minister how, unless we pass these amendments, after the passing of the block grant by the House hon. Members can obtain the information that they may desire in order to ascertain how this money has been spent?
§ Mr. Raison
My hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Benyon) has raised an extremely important point to which we shall have to return later, presumably when we debate the block grant. Several other important points need to be answered. My hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Gardiner) raised the question of who exactly is the Secretary of State. My understanding of "Secretary of State" in legislation is that it 1269 refers, as it were, to a collective body and means all the Secretaries of State rather than the Secretary of State for Scotland in particular. Am I right in saying that "Secretary of State" can refer to any Secretary of State rather than simply the Secretary of State for Scotland? I have looked at the Bill to see whether there has been any change in the narrow meaning and to see whether "Secretary of State" refers only to the Secretary of State for Scotland, but I assume that it means all Secretaries of State.
This means that apparently any Secretary of State can ask for information that is relevant, but the Chancellor of the Exchequer cannot ask for information that is relevant because he is not a Minister of the Crown. I should have thought that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was at least as likely as any other Minister to want to know what had happened to the money that he had been disgorging to the Scottish Assembly. I hope that we have a clear definition of the position.
Several hon. Members have raised the question of the Civil Service. Obviously, when we come to Clause 64 we shall have to look at this in great depth. I am happy to see that, in the selection of amendments, the amendment relating to Clause 64 comes at the beginning of one of the guillotine stages rather than at the end. I hope that we shall have a chance to look into this matter, because it is of the gravest importance. The kind of difficulties that have been exposed already need a great deal of discussion.
I wish to refer briefly to the amendment dealing with the position of Members of the House of Commons. It is clear that the Minister assumes that Questions will no longer be asked in the House about devolved matters in Scotland. He assumes that this will happen not as a result of the Bill when it is passed but perhaps as a result of some kind of convention that will be operated by the House of Commons. I have argued in earlier debates that Scottish Members of the House will find themselves in a position in which they will no longer be able to ask these very important Questions about matters which closely concern their constituents. I am beginning 1270 to wonder whether this is so and whether it will still be possible for Members from Scotland to continue to ask parliamentary Questions and ask for other information relating to devolved matters in Scotland.
We need an explanation from the Minister not only about what he hopes the convention of the House will be but about the law of the land. I refer the Minister back to Clause 21, which was dealt with in a totally inadequate way as a result of the guillotine procedure.
I ask the Minister to look at Clause 21(3), which states:Such of Her Majesty's prerogative and other executive powers as would otherwise be exercisable on behalf of Her Majesty by a Minister of the Crown shall, if they relate to devolved matters and are exercisable in or as regards Scotland, be exercisable on behalf of Her Majesty by a Scottish Secretary.Does the phrasebe exercisable by … a Scottish Secretarymean under the law that it shall be exercisable exclusively by a Scottish Secretary, or does it mean that it could continue to be exercisable concurrently both by a Scottish Secretary and by a Secretary of State for Scotland or other Ministers of the Westminster Government? That question seems to be one on which, at the very least, some kind of definition is called for, and it has considerable bearing on the whole question of parliamentary Questions.
In one respect, the Minister and one or two other hon. Members have actually helped to persuade me that the Scots have a grievance. We had an earlier argument about parliamentary Questions and I took the view that Scottish Members had an advantage over English Members. Statistically speaking, I think that that is true, but I accept that, because they can plump for only one subject, the Scots therefore have some kind of grievance. The answer to that is that it is for the House to find ways to remove the grievance rather than for us to go through the elaborate rigmarole of the Bill.
A number of important factual points have come out in the debate on this important clause, and I hope that the Minister will answer them.
§ Mr. John Smith
Perhaps I may deal with one of the points which the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) put to me directly about what was meant by "Secretary of State". He is correct in assuming that under the Bill the "Secretary of State" can mean any Secretary of State. It is the Government's intention, however, that the channel of communication for requests for information should be through the Secretary of State for Scotland.
One of the amendments seeks to provide that the request for information should come from any Minister of the Crown. We think that it would be more sensible if such requests were channelled through the Secretary of State for Scotland, just as a matter of practicality, so that there was one established line of communication between the United Kingdom Government and the various Ministers in it who were seeking information in connection with their functions.
The hon. Member raised a question about Clause 21(3). It is my understanding that the effect of the Bill will be that the exercise of the Prerogative will be exclusively by the Scottish Secretary. It is not a concurrent power exercisable by the Secretary of State for Scotland. I shall check that point in detail, and if the interpretation that I am now offering is incorrect I shall correct it.
§ Mr. Buchan
On this question of the practicalities of the situation which determine that the Secretary of State for Scotland should be the line of communication, does my hon. Friend agree that the Bill no longer therefore relates to the behaviour of the Assembly but is also incorporating an aspect which affects the behaviour of the Executive, the Government and the House of Commons? The Secretary of State for Scotland, and not the Scottish Secretary, is responsible to the House. Surely the point here is that it is possible to envisage a relationship between the Assembly and the United Kingdom Parliament that will grow. Why should we not write that into the Bill? Why should it not be possible for the Minister of Agriculture at Westminster to consult his opposite number in Edinburgh? If that cannot be done, that is nonsense.
§ Mr. Smith
That is not in any way banned. There is nothing to stop the 1272 Minister of Agriculture discussing matters with the Scottish Secretary, and one would hope that there would be close and regular consultation with United Kingdom Ministers. We are dealing here, however, with a much narrower matter, namely, the statutory right to require the provision of information. In normal circumstances one would expect that information to be exchanged freely and without difficulty. We think that the power should be written into the Bill in case there might be any difficulty. In the ordinary course of events, there is no reason to suppose that the Scottish Administration and Assembly would be unwilling to co-operate with the United Kingdom.
Perhaps I may give an example. The Committee might be interested to know what we have in mind. If, for example, there is a question of statistics for international organisations, for United Nations bodies or for the European Economic Community, and a United Kingdom Minister wishes to produce complete information for the whole of the United Kingdom to these bodies, he can require the relevant information to be supplied from the Scottish Secretary. In such circumstances, it is difficult to imagine that the Scottish Secretary would not be willing to give that information.
Education is another example. The United Kingdom Government will remain responsible for university education throughout the United Kingdom. It might be highly relevant to the planning and provision of university education to have statistics and information about the number of school leavers or some other feature of the school system, which is a devolved matter. One would expect there to be sensible co-operation on these matters. As I indicated to my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan), it is a useful backup provision to have, and one would expect there to be regular and systematic consultation on all matters of mutual concern.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) raised the question of information in general terms both here and in the Assembly. I read New Clause 2 with very great interest when it appeared on the Notice 1273 Paper. I understand that it is translated from the Swedish Information Act, and I compliment my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) and my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North on their industry in getting it translated from the original Swedish and putting it on the Notice Paper of the House of Commons. I know their very deep concern about this matter. It would not be proper for me to indicate at this stage what attitude one would take to New Clause 2, certainly not until I have heard my hon. Friends' advocacy of its merits. If it is selected, I have no doubt that the case will be made forcefully.
In general terms, in speaking of information to be available to Assembly Members from the Scottish Administration, I incline to the view at this stage, without having heard the argument, that it is very much a matter for the Assembly itself to decide. The Assembly might wish to operate on quite different conventions. It might be much more interested in the giving of information than United Kingdom Governments have been up to now. It is a matter entirely for those who form the Administration and for those who are Members of the Assembly to consider between themselves. I do not think that I can be expected to give any greater indication than I have been able to give tonight on that matter.
My hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) raised the question of civil servants. I hope he will not misunderstand me when I say that I think the hon. Member for Aylesbury is right and that it will come up under a later clause. None the less, since my hon. Friend has raised it, may I say that I do not believe that there is a conflict of loyalty between civil servants. There will still be a United Kingdom Civil Service, but those responsible to Scottish Secretaries and the Scottish Administration will be responsible to them, and those who are responsible to United Kingdom Ministers will be responsible to those Ministers. I see no difficulty in their carrying out their duties conscientiously and loyally in the way in which they presently do.
I do not believe that there would be merit in having a separate Scottish Civil Service—certainly not at the start—and 1274 I disagree with the hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Reid) on this. Those who are members of the Civil Service unions and the like are quite strongly of the view that a United Kingdom Civil Service should be retained. It may be that in course of time the Scottish Assembly might resolve that it would be better to have a different Civil Service for Scotland. That is a matter which could be discussed with the United Kingdom Government. At the present time, I believe that there is a great deal of merit in having a United Kingdom Civil Service. That is the strong view of the Government at the moment and the strong view of the Civil Service as expressed through its trade unions.
When my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian agrees in some way with the hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire it is a matter of interest but it does not necessarily lead us to the truth, because they are colliding from quite different directions and have quite different purposes. My hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian is totally anti-devolution in any shape or form, and the hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire has quite different purposes and objectives from those of my hon. Friend. I do not think than my hon. Friend can take much comfort from the fact—
§ Mr. Smith
I disagree fundamentally with that proposition. I think that it obscures the argument. I will not go into a general Second Reading consideration of the merits of devolution, but I think that it offers the opportunity for a Scottish dimension in politics in this country firmly within the context of the United Kingdom. I think that the arrangements made in the Bill to achieve this are practical arrangements. They may not be approved by the Scottish National Party, and I can understand its wanting an independent Scotland, but I do not believe that the vast majority of the people of Scotland want anything to do 1275 with that proposition. I must be evenhanded and say that I think my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) is also wrong.
§ Mr. Buchan
Is not that an interesting statement that we have just heard—that it is either the status quo or independence? In other words, the loudly trumpeted support for devolution is a sham and a hypocrisy. Does that not mean that, in saying to the people of Scotland that they are in support of devolution, the Scottish nationalists are saying it for no other reason than because they believe it will be the means of achieving, and will inevitably mean, independence? Would it not be fairer if they stood up and said so, despite the fact that they might annoy Professor Ian MacCormick, who is a much more civilised person than most of the people on that Bench?
§ Mr. Smith
I am sure that my hon. Friend's comments will be noted by those who read these debates. [Interruption.] Some dedicated citizens may well read these debates. My hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, West is right to pose some of the contradictions that arise in the attitude of the SNP. I thought its position was that it was for independence and nothing else and that that was what its conference was all about. The SNP will have plenty of opportunities in the months ahead to reveal to the Scottish electorate what it stands for.
§ Mr. Robert Hughes
To have the real contradictions in the position of the SNP brought forward, surely the sensible thing would be to have a second question in the referendum?
§ Mr. Smith
I must resist the temptation to be drawn even wider. My hon. Friend has asked me to go so far ahead in the Bill that I would end up at the very last schedule. He will understand that I must resist that temptation.
The amendment put forward by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, North (Mr. Fletcher) asks that the statutory requirement should apply in the case of a Member of Parliament as well as of the Secretary of State. My understanding is that the amendment would mean that the Secretary 1276 of State, in order to reply to any Member of Parliament, would have to require the Scottish Secretary to supply information. Of course, this would be an enormous extension of the obligation upon the Scottish Administration and there would be an extremely onerous burden on the Secretary of State and the Scottish Administration to supply all the information that was required by any Member of Parliament.
The hon. Member for Aylesbury asked in what respect Houses of Parliament could question the Secretary of State. I thought I dealt with that matter on a previous occasion. The subject of Questions in the House is not a matter for the Government. It is essentially a matter for the House. The House may well reach the same convention as it did in the case of the Stormont Parliament in Northern Ireland. That may well be the precedent. But it is not a matter for me. It is a matter for the House itself to determine.
§ Mr. Raison
The point at issue is whether it shall be possible. The word used is "may" and not "shall".
If the House decides to continue the practice of Scottish parliamentary Questions on devolved matters, we shall be in a position in which a Scottish Member might ask the Minister a Question. In order to find the answer, the Minister might have to turn to the Scottish Executive. That is what we are anxious to safeguard. Since the Minister says that this will not be decided until the subsequent period, it is not unreasonable to ask for that safeguard.
§ Mr. Smith
It is not unreasonable to suppose that Members of Parliament might ask a whole series of Questions that will require the Scottish Administration to give the Secretary of State an endless supply of information. That might well be the situation. There would be a heavy burden on the Scottish Administration.
We are giving powers to the Assembly in the devolved areas. We ought to leave it some room to operate and to get on with the discharge of its responsibilities without always looking over its shoulder at the House of Commons and interference with questions that are the major responsibility of the Assembly.
§ 10.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Pym
If that is the Minister's view, how does he justify the continuation in the House of Commons of 71 Members from Scottish constituencies who have full voting and speaking capabilities over every matter relating to the United Kingdom but are denied receiving this information from the Scottish Administration?
§ Mr. Smith
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman listened to the speech of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind) earlier this evening. He demonstrated very clearly the wide range of responsibilities for which the United Kingdom Government were still the Government of Scotland. These responsibilities include energy, trade, employment and economic affairs. As far as legislative powers being transferred to the Assembly are concerned, there will remain many matters for which the Secretary of State is responsible. Scottish Members are free to concentrate their attention on matters for which this Government have a responsibility. There is a heavy burden of Scottish legislation going through the House.
We are dealing here with the question of information being required. I have tried to explain to the Committee that this is a useful back-up clause. I hope that the House will reject the amendments for the reasons I have given. As it stands, the provision is reasonable. If it were extended to Members of Parliament, it would create serious difficulties for the Scottish Administration.
§ Mr. Pym
I must press the Minister. He is trying to have it both ways. He is talking about devolving powers and responsibilities to the Scottish Administration and about the heavy burden that Scottish Members feel in this place, yet in the clause we are denying Members of Parliament their rights in connection with receiving information about devolved matters in Scotland. He cannot have it both ways.
§ Mr. Smith
The right hon. Gentleman did not put his name to the amendment. I wonder why. Apparently he is in agreement with it, and his name appears on most Front Bench amendments from the Opposition.
1278 I think that the right hon. Gentleman is creating an imaginary dilemma. He knows perfectly well that the amendments say that the Secretary of State would have to act on requests for information from each individual Member. I think that this is an onerous duty to place on the Scottish Administration. It is quite different from the case in which Ministers of the Crown are exercising their functions within the range of their responsibilities. This is a fairly limited area. But if Members of Parliament could raise anything and everything for which Parliament was responsible, this would mean constantly going to the Scottish Administration. I do not think that that is a practical way of solving the problem.
I am sure that the Scottish Administration would be happy to supply the information to Members from both Scottish and English constituencies. But it is going too far to impose this obligation. We must give the Assembly some room to breathe without overlooking all its activities. I do not think that that amendment is a very great improvement, and I hope that the Committee will reject it.
§ Mr. Dalyell
My hon. Friend is not naive, but when he tells us that he thinks that the Scottish Administration would be happy to supply information to the House of Commons he really stretches the imagination. Of course they would be happy as long as the information was to their advantage. If it was to their disadvantage, in matters such as money, which have been raised often enough in this debate, some of us doubt whether they would be so happy.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
§ Mr. Alexander Fletcher
There are one or two matters arising from the Minister of State's reply that the Committee will wish to examine further.
1279 The first matter that arises is the situation of Westminster Members of Parliament. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman has turned his mind to Scottish Questions and Members of Parliament being able to ask the Secretary of State questions on devolved matters. He has suggested that there would be a great flooding of the Scottish Executive if it were to have to cope with the Questions. However, if the Secretary of State for Scotland is doing his monitoring job as the House of Commons would expect him to do it—after all, he has responsibility for the affairs of the Assembly—he will have most of the information available to him in any case. He will require that information in the exercise of his functions. It does not seem that the Scottish Executive will be required to do a great deal of extra work in providing information for Members of Parliament.
It is important that Ministers should recognise the point that was made earlier in a supporting amendment—namely, that when Members of Parliament speak in Scottish debates on financial matters, such as the block grant or the Supplementary Estimates, they will require to have information on the financial and spending policies of the Assembly. If that information is not made available to them and is not built up over a period, they will not be able to play their full part in financial matters.
Surely the Minister will agree that a Member of Parliament who is not able to know what is going on in his constituency—in his own back garden, so to speak—is at a severe disadvantage in trying to do his work for his constituents. Nothing should be written into the Bill that in any way removes a Member of Parliament's responsibility for his constituency and his constituents. Different hon. Members may view that responsibility in different ways, but, regardless of party, most hon. Members recognise their personal responsibility and the trust that constituents place in their Members of Parliament. I cannot accept that a tremendous burden would be placed on the Scottish Executive or on the Secretary of State if hon. Members were to be able to continue asking Questions on Scottish affairs.
Another question that I put to the Minister of State for his consideration involves a matter of detail that is perhaps 1280 of some importance. How will the Secretary of State himself obtain information from local government? At present, he makes direct requests to local government—to the regions and districts—for information for his own purposes. Will he be able to continue going direct? Does the Minister envisage that the Secretary of State will first have to ask the Scottish Secretary about local government matters and then collect the information from the local authorities?
A request for information may be put through the Secretary of State by any Minister of the Crown, but there is no sign of any time limit. There is no sign of any possibility of a sanction being used by the Assembly if for any reason—this is a possibility—relations are sour at any stage between the Secretary of State or his Government at Westminster and the Scottish Assembly. It is all very well to make this provision for the better government of the United Kingdom whereby Ministers of the Crown will be able to obtain any information that they require for the exercise of their functions, but it is important that we should try to consider in Committee what might happen if for any reason the Scottish Executive were to refuse to comply with a request for information, either at all or on time.
It will not be enough for the Minister to say that everyone will live happily ever after when the Bill becomes an Act. We must recognise as politicans the practical differences and difficulties that may arise.
Finally, I ask the Minister to consider whether, if Parliament exercises its right to legislate on a devolved matter and proceeds to do so, Members here should be able to ask Questions about that matter thereafter. This point is tied in with the first point that I made about the ability of Scottish Members, or Members of Parliament here, being able to continue to ask Questions on Scottish business. I hope that the Minister will return to that point in his reply.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I shall be brief. Together with others of my hon. Friends, I have a growing unease about the way in which the Government are making certain assumptions about people in our society who are supposed to be impartial.
1281 I have a concrete suggestion to make. Would it be possible, before we come to this matter again on Clause 64, to have an official view from the Civil Service unions, and in particular the First Division of the Civil Service, on what they really think about this matter?
I am far from convinced that this proposal is at all acceptable to serious-minded civil servants who understand that there are extremely delicate problems involved that they have not been asked to face before because their loyalties have been absolutely indisputable. Therefore, hope that the First Division of the Civil Service will be asked for its views on the kind of problems involved.
Secondly, I think it is fair to refer to the previous discussion relating to judges. My hon. Friend the Minister of State said:The most effective check against the Assembly extending its powers is the use of the Judicial Committee, but I have to counter arguments from the Opposition dealing with a rather academic matter. The vires check would be used if the Assembly sought to extend its powers by, for example, taxing oil revenues. It would then be checked by the Judicial Committee."—[Official Report, 29th November 1977; Vol. 940, c. 354.]Does anyone imagine that the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council will check the use of the oil revenues? The hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) has campaigned on the slogan "It is our oil—it is his oil, it is her oil, it is their oil" under captions of an old man, an old lady and children playing at school. Will he accept absolutely obediently and without fuss when the judges of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council say "No, it is not their oil"?
The whole difficulty in this matter is that we make assumptions about civil servants and judges. I suggest that it is high time that we had an official statement on the considered view of the judges and of the First Division of the Civil Service.
§ Mr. Raison
I want to raise a matter that must be raised at some time during our debates. In the last debate the Minister of State talked about the nightmare that he imagined his hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) having about this legislation. I want to talk about a most improbable 1282 nightmare, but one that we must recognise.
The Minister and the Lord President of the Council have referred to the Stormont precedent. They have attempted to justify some of the proposals that they have put forward on the ground of what happened at Stormont. For example, they said that they viewed the rights of Members of Parliament in much the same way as those of Stormont Members.
Let us suppose for the sake of argument—I do not think that it is remotely likely—that some of the events that have, alas, taken place in Northern Ireland were to take place in a devolved Scotland. I suggest that that is the kind of consideration that we must think about in constitutional legislation of this character. One has to be prepared for the worst.
As I say, I think it extremely unlikely that it would happen, but it might happen. After all, to be blunt, there are racial tensions in the largest city in Scotland. Let us suppose, for the sake of argument, that some kind of abuses grew up in Scotland and that the Scottish Executive and the Scottish Assembly did not do anything effective about them. It seems to me that even if these abuses took place within devolved areas, such as crime, local government or housing—in Northern Ireland these were all areas in which it is claimed that abuses took place—surely, at a certain point, the House of Commons would have to take note of them, and I believe that at a certain point the House of Commons would have to intervene.
I think that the first step in an intervention of that kind would be the search for exact information about what was happening. Obviously, that is something that would have to be done with the greatest delicacy. However, it seems to me that either Members of Parliament or a Select Committee should be in a position to say to the Secretary of State "Please find out from Scotland, with all the authority that you as Secretary of State possess, exactly what has been happening". Somewhere in the Bill the power to do that should be spelt out.
As I understand it, the Secretary of State will have that power if he wishes to exercise it off his own bat, but there 1283 comes a point at which the responsibility must ultimately lie with the House of Commons. I believe, therefore, that it should be written into the Bill that we would have the power to make inquiry if we were suspicious or afraid that the kind of things that happened, alas, in Northern Ireland were happening in Scotland, although, as I say, it is very unlikely that they will happen there. We have a duty to be able to cope with that eventuality.
§ Mr. Robert Rhodes James (Cambridge)
I support very strongly the very interesting and important statement made by my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison), which was on the matter that concerns me most deeply about the clause.
As the Committee knows, I intervene very seldom in its proceedings, although I endeavour to attend most of them. I have had an odd feeling throughout the proceedings, particularly tonight. My memory is of when I was Clerk to the Scottish Standing Committee, when Mr. Stuart was Secretary of State for Scotland. There was a famous occasion when we had a 14-hour debate at the end of which the Secretary of State said that he could not advise the Committee to accept the amendment. That was his speech. At that moment a quick-witted Whip, or, at least, a quick-footed Whip, was on his feet to move the closure—which was a relief to me because I discovered after seven more hours that the amendment was out of order anyway. But those were the days before we had the guillotine on measures such as the Bill which is now before us, and, although that 14-hour debate may have been rather futile, we have now had several non-debates or very short debates on matters of very profound concern not only to Scotland but to the House of Commons and this nation.
The clause contains a particular phrase and implication which I regret very deeply and which worries me very much. I share my concern with my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury. The clause states simply that the Secretary of Statemay request the Scottish Secretary to supply the information and the Scottish Secretary shall comply with the request.I am not quite sure why the word "request" is put in at the end. The 1284 clause would imply a demand which, if I were a Scottish Member, I would regard as an insult to the Assembly and to the position under the devolved powers. But there is no time limit involved. The nature of the information is not specified.
My hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury made the absolutely valid and fundamental point that we do not expect that a situation will arise in Scotland comparable to that which has arisen in Northern Ireland. However, having been through that experience and knowing that the House of Commons may be involved in situations relating to Scotland and that it may require information urgently, that information must be supplied as of right and quickly. That should be clearly written into the Bill. It does not appear in this clause or anywhere else.
I make this point very seriously to the Minister, for whom I have great respect. We are making a very valid point about the importance of information, the speed of information and the clarity of relations between the Scottish Assembly and the Scottish Secretary and the Secretary of State for Scotland and the House of Commons. This is a very important point. It is an important clause. It does not meet the fundamental problems that concern my hon. Friends and myself. I ask the Minister to reconsider this matter before we reach Report stage.
§ Mr. Maurice Macmillan
The wording of the clause says that the Secretary of State "may" request. This leaves the matter entirely in the hands of the Secretary of State of the the day who decides whether to make use of the clause to get information on behalf of another Minister of the Crown in the execution of his duties. I would like to know whether, if the wording were altered to "must", that would enable the House of Commons to insist that this power was so used. At present, it means that the use of the clause to obtain information is wholly and entirely within the discretion of the Government and that hon. Members can have no effect on that. It is, therefore, yet another extension of government by prerogative, of which we are seeing so much, both in practice and now in prospect.
§ Mr. John Smith
The hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) and the hon. Member for Edinburgh, North (Mr. 1285 Fletcher) traversed the same ground as we covered earlier on the amendments to the clause. I make no objection to that, although I somehow have the unworthy suspicion that there is a desire not to reach Clause 35.
§ Mr. Smith
I expected that there would be rather indignant protestations from the Opposition, but I think that many of my hon. Friends will know what I mean.
The hon. Member for Aylesbury raised the question of racial tensions, referring to Glasgow. He ought to know that Glasgow probably has the best community relations record of any city in the United Kingdom. There may be others just as good. The hon. Member always strikes me as "Southern English man" in his approach to this question. He looks at the whole thing with grave suspicion. Somehow, he believes, these slightly lesser beings in Northern Ireland and Scotland will have slightly less regard for civil rights than those in any other part of the United Kingdom. I have confidence that Members of the Assembly will show as much concern on these matters as does the House of Commons. I see no reason to come to any contrary conclusion. I wonder why the hon. Gentleman referred to Glasgow.
§ Mr. Raison
It may be that what the Minister says about Glasgow is correct. I do not claim to know. But he has just referred to Northern Ireland, and the fact is that we had to abolish the Northern Ireland Government because of what was going on there. In the improbable circumstances of something comparable arising within a devolved Government in Scotland, I want to know what the powers of the House of Commons will be. That seems to be an entirely fair question—and an important one.
§ Mr. Smith
I am entitled to comment on the hon. Member's general attitude to devolution which shines through. I recollect his position on regional development policy to other parts of the United Kingdom. It is very much a Southern English attitude.
The hon. Member for Aylesbury was supported by the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) in his usual 1286 careful and restrained way. I do not believe that this amendment—
§ Mr. Smith
We are effectively talking to the amendment which was not accepted. If the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) wants to make effective interventions, he should have a word with his hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury and tell him how splendid is the record of Glasgow in community relations. The hon. Gentleman knows how splendid it is, and he knows that there ought not to be concern about this. He played some part in achieving those good relations with the immigrant community.
§ Mr. Teddy Taylor
The Minister seems to be trying to talk the clause out. I agree that Glasgow has a splendid record, as most hon. Members would agree if asked the same question about their own cities. The hon. Gentleman has not told us what will happen if the Assembly does not provide the information. Why is there no time limit on the provision of information? We need answers to these questions, not offensive comments. If the Minister does not have the information, let him say so.
§ Mr. Smith
I regret that I gave way to the hon. Member, because he has taken up time which I could use to answer questions.
The hon. Member for Edinburgh, North asked about the powers of the Secretary of State concerning local government. The Secretary of State will have a relationship with local government for some of the non-devolved matters, such as police.
We are talking about the back-up provision involved in the supply of information to the Secretary of State in relation to the exercise of their functions. But the argument has widened. The hon. Member for Cambridgeshire said that there should be a statutory right of Members of Parliament to obtain information. That argument formed part of the discussion on the amendment to the clause.
I ask the hon. Member for Aylesbury to take into account that we must have some regard for the Assembly's point of view as well as for that of the House of Commons. The hon. Member is always 1287 addressing himself with fear and trembling to what might happen to the House of Commons once we have devolution. We must strike a balance and ensure that the Assembly is permitted to operate effectively without Questions being fired at it by United Kingdom Ministers or Members of Parliament. In order to achieve an effective form of government in Scotland, it is essential that we achieve a balance and take into account the legitimate rights of both the sovereign Parliament and the Scottish Assembly.
§ Mr. Alexander Fletcher
I wish to refer to an important aspect of the clause. What happens if the Scottish Secretary of State says "No" when asked to provide information or if he takes two years to provide it because he is in a huff with the United Kingdom Parliament?
§ Mr. Smith
There is an obligation upon the Scottish Secretary to provide information when requested to do so. Since the Scottish Administration will comprise law-abiding people, they will have regard to the terms of the Bill. I remind the hon. Member that in the United States the Supreme Court has operated for two centuries without any sanctions being open to it. [HON. MEMBERS: "Get on with it."] I thought that I might expand the education of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, North on this subject.
The hon. Member for Edinburgh, North, who once was more in favour of devolution than he appears to be now, asked a number of questions which were covered during the debate on the amendment to the clause.
The important point about the clause is that it requires a Scottish Secretary to provide information to the Secretary of State for the exercise of his function. That is a simple proposition. We have spent a long time debating this issue. Perhaps hon. Members have a reason for continuing the debate, because there has been a fair amount of repetition. My contribution has been shorter than that of many hon. Members. We discussed these issues fully, and now we appear to be going back over them.
This is a valuable clause. I put it no higher than that. We shall expect the Scottish Assembly and the United Kingdom Government to co-operate together for the good government of Scotland. 1288 The United Kingdom Government will be responsible for many areas and the Scottish Assembly will be responsible for many others. We expect them to cooperate. That co-operation will be more effective if this useful back-up provision remains in the Bill. I hope that the Committee will not delete it.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Clause 34 ordered to stand part of the Bill.