HC Deb 22 February 1977 vol 926 cc1234-367
Mr. Speaker

Before I call the Lord President, I want to refer to the amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse).

I have carefully considered the amendment, but have come to the conclusion that it is not in order since its effect is to instruct the Business Committee to do something which the Standing Order under which it is set up gives it no power to do.

Under Standing Order No. 43, the Business Committee is required to divide the Bill into such parts as they may see fit and allot to each part so many days … as they may consider appropriate". Were the Bill so drafted as to fall into two distinct parts, one relating to Scotland and the other to Wales, it would no doubt be possible for the Committee to go some way towards carrying out the hon. Member's suggestion. But that is not so, since there are passages in the Bill which apply equally to both countries.

The effect of the amendment, therefore, is to require the Business Committee to perform a task of redrafting rather than of mere allocation. That, in my view, puts it outside the scope of its order of reference.

Mr. Leo Abse (Pontypool)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am obliged to you for your ruling. I know that you will appreciate that the effect of your ruling means that Members representing Welsh constituencies will be fearful that, in consequence of this guillotine motion, there will be no possibility of Wales being treated other than as a neglected stepchild in the proceedings which are about to take place. The consequences of not being able to divide the Bill are that many of the anxieties felt in Wales will not be allayed in the time available. Therefore, one is bound to find the base upon which you have founded your ruling perplexing.

When the issue of the referendum was raised, it was clearly put that there could be embarrassment because one country could say "No" and the other "Yes". It was unequivocally stated from the Government Front Bench and, indeed, made clear by the Prime Minister that there would be no subsequent difficulty if that arose because of the possibility of dividing the Bill.

Surely, if it has already been agreed by those piloting the Bill that it could be divided so that there would be no impingement upon Wales if the Welsh said "No" and the Scots said "Yes", it cannot be beyond the wit of the Business Committee to divide the Bill in the manner in which the Government Front Bench anticipated what may have to come about.

If you still insist, Mr. Speaker, that, despite my first representation, your ruling must abide, I trust that it will be clear that, since this would mean that there would be no firm opportunity for hon. Members representing Welsh constituencies to be able categorically to guarantee that Wales should have fair consideration in the miserable proceedings that are now to take place, it will not be out of order if we invite the Government to make certain, in a firm manner, that the Business Committee allocates adequate time to Wales. Clearly, unless such a guarantee were forthcoming in unequivocal terms, there would be no question on my part and on that of many of my hon. Friends of supporting this motion.

Mr. Speaker

I want to say to the hon. Gentleman first of all that it was not essential for me to state a reason when I did not select his amendment. But I thought that I would give a considered reason to him and to the House. Secondly, whatever is said by the Front Bench is the responsibility of the Front Bench. I have to rule according to the procedures of the House, and the Business Committee cannot be required, under Standing Order No. 43, to redraft the clauses of the Bill, and it is on that basis that I have to stand by my judgment.

4.3 p.m.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Michael Foot)

I beg to move, That the following provisions shall apply to the remaining Proceedings on the Bill:—

Allotted days for Committee, Report and Third Reading

l.—(1) The remaining Proceedings in Committee on the Bill, the Proceedings on Consideration of the Bill and the Proceedings on Third Reading of the Bill shall be completed in 20 allotted days and shall be brought to a conclusion at Eleven o'clock on the last of those days.

(2) For the purposes of Standing Order No. 43 (Business Committee) this Order shall be taken to allot to the remaining Proceedings in Committee on the Bill, and to the Proceedings on Consideration of the Bill, such parts of those days as the resolutions of the Business Committee may determine.

Report of Business Committee

2.—(l) The Business Committee shall report to the House their resolution—

  1. (a) as to the remaining Proceedings in Committee on the Bill and as to the allocation of time between those Proceedings and the Proceedings on Consideration and Third Reading of the Bill not later than the 23rd day of February 1977;
  2. (b) as to the Proceedings on Consideration of the Bill and as to the allocation of time between those Proceedings and the Proceedings on Third Reading not later than the seventh day on which the House sits after the day on which the Proceedings in Committee are concluded.

(2) The resolutions in any report made under Standing Order No. 43 (Business Committee) may be further varied by a report so made, whether or not within the time so specified lin the foregoing provisions of this paragraph, and whether or not the resolutions have been agreed to by the House.

Proceedings on going into Committee

3. When the Order of Day is read for the House to resolve itself into Committee on the Bill, Mr. Speaker shall leave the chair without putting any Question, notwithstanding that notice of an Instruction has been given.

Conclusion of Proceedings in Committee

4. On the conclusion of the Proceedings in Committee on the Bill the Chairman shall report the Bill to the House without putting any Question.

Order of Consideration

5. No Motion shall be made to change the order in which the Bill is to be considered in Committee or on Consideration but the resolutions of the Business Committee may include alterations in that order.

Dilatory motions

6. No dilatory Motion with respect to, or in the course of, Proceedings on the Bill shall be made on an allotted day except by a Member of the Government, and the Question on any such Motion shall be put forthwith.

Extra time on allotted days

7.—(1) On an allotted day paragraph (1) of Standing Order No. 3 (Exempted business) shall apply to the Proceedings on the Bill for one hour after Ten o'clock.

(2) Any period during which Proceedings on the Bill may be proceeded with after Ten o'clock under paragraph (7) of Standing Order No. 9 (Adjournment on specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration) shall be in addition to the period under this paragraph.

(3) If an allotted day is one to which a Motion for the adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 9 stands over from an earlier day, a period of time equal to the duration of the Proceedings upon that Motion shall be added to the period during which Proceedings on the Bill may be proceeded with after Ten o'clock under this paragraph, and the bringing to a conclusion of any Proceedings on the Bill which, under this Order or a Resolution of the Business Committee, are to be brought to a conclusion on that day shall also be postponed for a period equal to the duration of the Proceedings on the Motion.

Private Business

8. Any private business which has been set down for consideration at Seven o'clock on an allotted day shall, instead of being considered as provided by the Standing Orders, be considered at the conclusion of the Proceedings on the Bill on that day, and paragraph (1) of Standing Order No. 3 (Exempted business) shall apply to the private business for a period of three hours from the conclusion of the Proceedings on the Bill or, if those Proceedings are concluded before Ten o'clock, for a period equal to the time elapsing between Seven o'clock and the completion of those Proceedings.

Conclusion of Proceedings

9.—(1) For the purpose of bringing to a conclusion any Proceedings which are to be brought to a conclusion at a time appointed by this Order or a Resolution of the Business Committee and which have not previously been brought to a conclusion, the Chairman or Mr. Speaker shall forthwith proceed to put the following Questions (but no others), that is to say—

  1. (a) the Question or Questions already proposed from the Chair, or necessary to bring to a decision a Question so proposed (including, in the case of a new Clause or new Schedule which has been read a Second time, the Question that the Clause or Schedule be added to the Bill);
  2. (b) the Question on any amendment or Motion Standing on the Order Paper in the name of any Member, if that amendment or Motion is moved by a Member of the Government;
  3. (c) any other Question necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded;

and on a Motion so moved for a new Clause or a new Schedule, the Chairman or Mr. Speaker shall put only the Question that the Clause or Schedule be added to the Bill.

(2) Proceedings under sub-paragraph (1) of this paragraph shall not be interrupted under any Standing Order relating to the sittings of the House.

(3) If, at Seven o'clock on an allotted day, any Proceedings on the Bill which, under this Order or a Resolution of the Business Committee, are to be brought to a conclusion at or before that time have not been concluded, any Motion for the adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 9 (Adjournment on specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration) which, apart from this Order, would stand over to that time shall stand over until those Proceedings have been concluded.

(4) If a Motion for the adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 9 stands over to Seven o'clock on an allotted day, or to any later time under sub-paragraph (3) above, the bringing to a conclusion of any Proceedings on the Bill which, under this Order or a Resolution of the Business Committee, are to be brought to a conclusion on that day at any hour falling after the beginning of the Proceedings on that Motion shall be postponed for a period equal to the duration of the Proceedings on that Motion.

Supplemental orders

10.—(1) The Proceedings of any Motion moved in the House by a Member of the Government for varying or supplementing the provisions of this Order (including anything which might have been the subject of a report of the Business Committee) shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion one hour after they have been commenced, and the last foregoing paragraph shall apply as if the Proceedings were Proceedings on the Bill on an allotted day.

(2) If on an allotted day on which any Proceedings on the Bill are to be brought to a conclusion at a time appointed by this Order or a Resolution of the Business Committee the House is adjourned, or the sitting is suspended, before that time no notice shall be required of a Motion moved at the next sitting by a Member of the Government for varying or supplementing the provisions of this Order.


11. Nothing in this Order or a Resolution of the Business Committee shall—

  1. (a) prevent any Proceedings to which the Order or Resolution applies from being taken or completed earlier than is required by the Order or Resolution, or
  2. (b) prevent any business (whether on the Bill or not) from being proceeded with on any day after the completion of all such Proceedings on the Bill as are to be taken on that day.


12.—(1) References in this Order to Proceedings on Consideration or Proceedings on Third Reading include references to Proceedings, at those stages respectively, for, on or in consequence of re-committal.

(2) On an allotted day no debate shall be permitted on any Motion to re-commit the Bill (whether as a whole or otherwise), and Mr. Speaker shall put forthwith any Question necessary to dispose of the Motion, including the Question on any amendment moved to the Question.


13. In this Order— 'allotted day' means any date (other than a Friday) on which the Bill is put down as first Government Order of the Day provided that a Motion for allotting time to the Proceedings on the Bill to be taken on that day either has been agreed on a previous day, or is set down for consideration on that day; 'the Bill' means the Scotland and Wales Bill; 'Resolution of the Business Committee' means a Resolution of the Business Committee as agreed to by the House.

In moving the motion for a timetable on the Scotland and Wales Bill perhaps I could begin with a reference to a remark made a few minutes ago by my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock), who cited to the House a quotation from a newspaper saying that some allegations had been made outside the House about filibustering tactics or methods of disrupting the procedures of the House. He asked for some comment on the matter.

In moving this motion I am not interested in any accusation of filibustering. I am not making the accusation that hon. Members have exhaustively spoken in such a manner that debate has been made hopeless. I have listened as much as any other hon. Member to the debates on the Bill, and I certainly understand—anyone would be a fool who did not—that hon. Members on both sides, some of whom have spoken at length, have presented their case with considerable passion, energy and strong feelings. I am not making any protest about that. However, I believe that anyone who has sat through these proceedings would come to the conclusion that the Government reached last week—that if we were to proceed upon the basis upon which we have been proceeding, it would be impossible to get the Bill on the statute book in any reasonable amount of time.

I say that, I repeat, not because I am making accusations of any kind against hon. Members in any part of the House, but because I believe that that was the nature of the case. It was partly for that reason that we desired from the beginning some form of informal timetable, if I can describe it as such. Of course I understand that such arrangements are difficult to achieve, and that even if the Front Benches are in favour of achieving them—and I am not suggesting that the Opposition Front Bench in this particular case were in favour of achieving such arrangements—it is not necessarily so that the House as a whole will accept such provisions.

Moreover, there was the instance on Tuesday of last week—but that is not the only ground for the motion—when there was a very lengthy debate on the important new clause relating to the referendums. That debate continued for many many hours—I am not complaining on that score; I am merely pointing out the facts.

Indeed, an attempt was made to secure a closure of that discussion after a period had elapsed which exceeded that which would normally be allocated to a single day's debate on the Second Reading of a Bill. But the ruling of the Chair on that occasion—I am not making any criticism of the Chair for it—was that the closure would not be accepted in the circumstances. There were many more hon. Members who wished to continue the debate—I am not denying that in any circumstances—and it continued for another few hours.

I believe that anyone who witnessed that occasion—and there had been a large number of other comparable occasions—and that state of affairs, and anyone who recalls the way in which the proceedings of this House operate would come to the conclusion that it would be impossible to get this Bill on the statute book without some form of timetable motion, and it is because of that requirement, that necessity, as the Government believe, that we have made this proposal.

Perhaps I may add, in order to make the matter absolutely clear so that no one can contest the situation, that I should have thought that, in the rest of the proceedings, what the Government are proposing for discussion of the Bill is by any modern test an extremely generous allocation of time for the discussion of such a measure. I think that it is required that the Government should make a generous allocation of time, and that is what we have done.

On Second Reading my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister promised an allocation of about 30 days for all stages of the Bill in this House. What we propose goes significantly beyond that offer, which was itself already exceptional. So far we have had four days on Second Reading and 10 days in Committee. Today's debate thus brings the total so far to 15 days. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] If hon. Members will wait a moment, they will hear the comparisons.

The motion is for a further 20 days and that, moreover, does not take account of the time for consideration of any suggestions that the House may receive from another place. What that consideration may need cannot be predicted now, but the Government accept that not less than two full days could well be required. In that event, the total for the Bill on tho Floor of this House would amount to 37 days, and we are also proposing to suspend the rule for an hour on each allotted day, which yields in effect the equivalent of three further parliamentary days.

The figures are there for anyone to examine, and I say to the House that, as anyone with experience of the House will recognise, all this amounts to a very considerable allocation of time. To the best of my knowledge, it has been surpassed only once since before the First World War, and that exception—the Government of India Act—was itself over 40 years ago in a parliamentary environment far less heavily burdened than nowadays.

If the House makes a comparison of these figures with any other modern Bill of a character in any way comparable, it will see that we have allocated a very considerable amount of time. For example, much more time has been allocated, both under what we have done so far and what is proposed now, than was allocated to the European Communities Bill. Any comparison shows that much more time is being made available on this occasion. A comparison can also be made with the Industrial Relations Act 1971. Although that was not a constitutional Bill, it was a major measure which certainly gave rise to considerable controversy. But many more days are allocated under these proposals than under that proposal.

I repeat that, leaving aside Finance Bills, there are no other Bills for which so much time has been allocated as is now proposed by the Government, particularly when one considers the number of days that we have already had and the additional days proposed under the timetable motion.

It is not possible for anyone who attempts to tell the truth of the matter to say that we are truncating debate in a way that is contrary to the traditions of this House, or anything of that sort. We are providing more time for discussion of this Bill than for any Bill since the 1930s. Far more time is being allocated than was allocated to very important constitutional Bills such as the European Communities legislation and others that I have mentioned.

Mr. David Crouch (Canterbury)

The Leader of the House has been talking about the generosity that the Government have shown with regard to all this time that they have given us to debate this very big constitutional measure. What I have been waiting for is for the right hon. Gentleman show his generosity by keeping the promise that he made on Second Reading with regard to concessions. So far we have had only one, relating to Orkney and Shetland.

Mr. Foot

I shall answer the hon. Gentleman's question now, although it is not directly relevant to what I was saying. At the beginning of the discussions both I and the Prime Minister said that the Government would be prepared to listen carefully to what was said in the debate and to make our responses. I can give the hon. Gentleman a whole series of examples of how we have faithfully carried out what we said.

For example, we carried out the pledge—admittedly this was not a major one —on the Orkney and Shetland amendment. We carried out a promise to reconsider the size of the Assemblies. We carried out a major concession and undertaking on the referendum, following a motion signed by some 140 hon. Members in all parts of the House at the time of Second Reading. We took that into account and brought forward the new clause partly because of those representations. We also listened to the representations about the nature of the referendum itself.

No one who listened to our debates can possibly claim that the Government have not sought to be flexible in dealing with these matters. Nor can it be claimed that we have not taken into account what has been said in the debates. Moreover, important sections of the Bill have yet to be discussed, and I believe that we must also take into account representations made in the House with regard to those. We shall certainly do so, as we have already done.

It is not possible for anyone seriously to say that we have not attempted to listen to what the House has said on a whole series of major matters. I know that some hon. Members do not agree with the decisions at which the House itself arrived on many of these important matters.

For example, there is the question of proportional representation. I understand that the Liberal Party holds strong views on this subject and is entitled to press them in this Bill and in others. But the House itself discussed this at considerable length and came to the conclusion, which may be disagreeable to a minority in the House, that we should not introduce a PR system in this Bill. The Government themselves cannot be accused of not listening to the House or of a lack of responsiveness.

Mr. Bruce Douglas-Mann (Mitcham and Morden)

My right hon. Friend has spoken of flexibility and many of us appreciate the flexibility that he has shown. He has also said that without the timetable motion the Government would not be able to get the Bill through. Can my right hon. Friend say what the Government's reaction would be in the event of their failing to get it through? Would the Government then introduce a separate consultative referendum Bill that would enable us to ascertain the real feelings of the people of Scotland and Wales?

Mr. Foot

I have already discussed that in previous debates when my hon. Friend and other hon. Members put the question to me. I have nothing further to add. For the benefit of any of my hon. Friends who were not present, I shall give the same answer again. I am not saying that it would be an absolute impossibility to conduct a referendum in the circumstances that my hon. Friend describes. But there would be very considerable objections to conducting a referendum in those circumstances, because the question which would be put in such a referendum would necessarily be much less precise than the question, or questions, which could be put in a referendum such as we are proposing.

Hon. Members may take a different view, but these are the very questions that we have discussed during the debates on the referendum. We have not yet concluded our debates on the referendum. On Thursday, when we proceed with the Bill, we shall have further discussions on this aspect and no doubt my hon. Friends can again make representations.

However, I believe there are considerable difficulties—maybe not insurmountable ones—in saying that we should have a referendum before we make any further progress with the Bill. One of the objections to such a procedure is that we should be putting questions to the public which are not necessarily capable of precise answers.

Mr. Victor Goodhew (St. Albans)

As the right hon. Gentleman is accentuating the importance of the referendum, would it not be more sensible to allow the electors to hear the debates on all the various aspects which will affect their opinions in the referendum rather than guillotining debate on those aspects?

Mr. Foot

If this motion is carried the electorate will be able to hear the debates over the next 20 parliamentary days when we discuss these matters. That will be a fuller allocation of time than for almost any other Bill in similar circumstances. I therefore do not believe that there is any validity in the hon. Gentleman's interruption.

Another aspect which has arisen is the view that no possibility of a timetable motion should be considered in this instance because this is a constitutional measure. The suggestion is made in some quarters that it is impossible to apply a guillotine to a constitutional measure or, at any rate, that it is extremely inappropriate to do so. That is not in accord with the precedents or the history of this House of Commons.

A number of guillotine motions have been applied to constitutional measures. Indeed, the guillotine in its modern form was introduced into the House in 1887 by a Conservative Government with the assistance of the votes of Liberal Members who did not oppose the introduction of the guillotine at that time. Since 1887 there have been at least 14 Bills which could be described as full constitutional Bills to which guillotines have been applied.

In two instances the guillotine was applied by Labour Governments and in two instances it was applied by Conservative Governments, but in no fewer than 10 instances the guillotine was applied to these constitutional Bills by Liberal Governments. I am sure that that is one of the reasons why the Liberals have found it so necessary to consider voting for this timetable motion today. Certainly they would be following clearly in the Gladstonian tradition if they voted with us this evening.

Mr. John Pardoe (Cornwall, North)

Do not the statistics which the right hon. Gentleman has given prove that Liberal Governments have been far more active in trying to reform the constitution and our political procedures? It is regrettable that since the Liberals were last in office the institutions of democracy have been allowed to fossilise.

Mr. Foot

I hope that there will be no fossilisation tonight, with the Liberals not voting to carry this motion. I hope that the Liberal tradition will be sustained.

It is true that many of the constitutional Bills that were guillotined related to Ireland, and the precedent is especially apposite. One of the major claims of the Liberal spokesmen who so eloquently defended the guillotines in the days of Gladstone, Asquith, Lloyd George and others was that it would be wrong and dangerous for the country if this British House of Commons denied the legitimate claims of Ireland. The Liberal Party was right in those instances. I believe that it would be dangerous for the country if this House were now to deny the legitimate claims of Wales and of Scotland.

I come to the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym), who has also sought to assist us in these matters. He has come forward with a proposal about how we should deal with the problem which is somewhat different from that which is included in our timetable motion. Last weekend the right hon. Gentleman made a speech on this matter which was properly and widely reported in the Press. He also sent a letter to me on the subject drawing attention to the remarks which he was to make. He proposed that the Bill should be abandoned and that we should proceed to a constitutional convention.

Mr. Francis Pym (Cambridgeshire)

indicated dissent.

Mr. Foot

I see the right hon. Gentleman shaking his head. I acknowledge that he also said that his proposal would stand whether or not this guillotine motion was carried. I am grateful that he included that statement in his remarks. I am not seeking to misrepresent what he said. I regard it as a proposal that we have to consider most carefully.

Although I rarely see any reason to attach much importance to what The Times has to say, I note that it says —and it shows what an evil-minded lot its editorial staff are—that it is natural that suspicion should remain when a suggestion of this sort is put forward almost on the eve of the crucial vote on the guillotine. If that suspicion could be aroused in the minds of the editorial staff of The Times, it is conceivable that it might flit across the minds of others.

When I first heard of the suggestion of the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire coming at this very late date in our proceedings, I was reminded that Gibbon said of the Emperor Constantine that he left his conversion to Christianity to such a late date so that there should be no temptation or danger of a relapse. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman was in a similar condition. He slipped into his statement to the country a reference to devolution. It was not a very bold one, but it was one that we were grateful to have, because it had been noticeable in some of our debates that any enthusiasm for devolution was at any rate muted. In the speeches that we have heard from the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) in his new rôle as spokesman for the Conservative Party on devolution, he has tended to lisp his words, which is not his normal, characteristic way of speaking. Some other Opposition Members have not appeared enthusiastic in their underlining of their commitment to devolution. However, the hon. Member for Cathcart will doubtless tell us how firm that commitment is.

Mr. Teddy Taylor (Glasgow, Cathcart)

From the long debates that we have had so far, can the right hon. Gentleman give any instance of any enthusiasm for the Government's Bill from their own Benches?

Mr. Foot

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that there have been many instances, because all the Government's proposals in the Bill have been carried in the Division Lobbies by majorities far in excess of the Government's vote. It may be a very oldfashioned view to take that the voting Lobbies are the places which count in the end, but that happens to be our parliamentary tradition dating back to the Witenagemot itself. The Government have won all the votes on all the contested issues. It is true that there have been about 100 speakers against them to our one, but we have managed to win the arguments in spite of that. The hon. Member for Cathcart is on a false point there.

The right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire spoke, in his speech and in his letter to me, as though this Government had hurled the Bill at the head of the House of Commons without any preparation, and that is how this whole matter has proceeded. I have heard the story of how Athene was supposed to have burst fully armed from the brow of Zeus —I have always wondered how that athletic feat was managed. But it seems that the right hon. Gentleman has suggested that the Bill was produced by some similar method. Nothing of the sort is the case.

The right hon. Gentleman knows very well that there have been the most lengthy discussions on these matters. A commission sat and made its recommendations. The recommendations were considered by the Government. The Government produced their first White Paper and then their second White Paper on the subject. On each occasion that we produced these, back in 1975 and 1976, we made proposals to the Opposition, as we did to others. We sent the documents to the official Conservative Party and said "Would you like to make any proposals about how we should proceed?" We sent them to the Liberals. I think that the Liberals said that they were in favour of federalism, even if no one else was. However, that was not a very constructive proposition, because the Kilbrandon Commission had itself turned it down.

The Conservative Party had every opportunity to make any proposals that it wished about how we should proceed or criticisms of what we had set out in our White Papers. The main strands of our Bill were set out in the White Papers, and the Conservative Party had every opportunity over a very long period to make its proposals. Many of the matters which the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire is now saying should be discussed at a newly formed convention are the very matters which could have been raised by him and his party months ago if they had wished. But it appears to be the case that it is this timetable motion that has concentrated their minds so wonderfully and has brought them to make this proposal.

Mr. Timothy Raison (Aylesbury)

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that in the debate on the European Communities Bill (Allocation of Time) motion he said: … in the course of the Committee stages of many Bills that go through this House we discover that the matters that become of greatest interest and moment are not those which were foreseen before the Bill was introduced."—[Official Report, 2nd May 1972; Vol. 836, c. 230.] Is not that exactly what has happened?

Mr. Foot

I agree entirely with the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison), especially as he quotes my own words. It is true that in a Committee stage the House of Commons changes the character of legislation, produces new arguments and produces a new vision of legislation. It is one of the great virtues of this House which is sometimes denied by observers outside, and it is one of the reasons why I am bitterly opposed to the truncation of Committee stages in this House.

I say in the case of this Bill, as I said at the beginning, that of course we are prepared to listen to such representations, and we have done so. We have done so on one major matter, but there may be others that will develop in the next 20 days. There is no prohibition on such developments as a result of what we are proposing in the timetable motion. There is no doubt that it was as a result of discussion in the House, among other things, that we were prepared to produce a new clause for a referendum, and we were prepared to shape the referendum in the light of representations made, as my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan) will be eager to remind me. We have not yet reached any conclusions about the shape of the referendum. So, nothing I am saying now conflicts with what I said on the European Communities Bill in 1972.

Let me deal with what I said about the European Communities Bill. It is always helpful to listen to hon. Members quoting my previous speeches as well enduring the agony of listening to my present one. [Interruption.] Some of my hon. Friends may say that they would prefer the earlier speeches. I was invited by the Leader of the Liberal Party to recall what I said in that speech and I always take into account his helpful remarks. When I looked up that speech I discovered, not to my surprise, that at the beginning—and here I should have thought that the House would be congratulating me on my foresight and wisdom—I said: Everyone in Parliament and in the country is agreed that this is a unique Bill".—[Official Report, 2nd May 1972; Vol. 836, c. 225.] I was talking about the European Communities Bill. First, let me deal with the meaning of the word "unique". In the Concise Oxford Dictionary—I hope that that will not be regarded as too racialist a remark—"unique" is defined as meaning Unmatched, unequalled, having no like or equal or parallel". On that matter I agree with the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath), although we had a difference of opinion at the time. I agree not merely that the European Communities Bill was unique then: it remains unique today, because it was a Bill depriving the House of some of its sovereignty in a way that is not proposed in this Bill.

I am afraid that my hon. Friends who make any comparison between the two Bills are not merely misleading themselves, but are in danger of misleading others as well. Of course there is the sharpest possible distinction between what the House proposed in that instance and what is proposed now. This Bill protects the supremacy of Parliament, and it is precisely for that reason that we have rejected, in all of the long discussions that have taken place since the Kilbrandon Report, so many of the alternative suggestions for dealing with the situation.

Some of the suggested alternatives came from the Liberal Party, and I have no doubt that they make their proposals in a constructive spirit, but their chief proposal, the federal proposal, is destructive to the sovereignty of Parliament and is one of the many reasons why we are even more opposed to the federal solution of our problems than was Kilbrandon.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)

Ought not my right hon. Friend to exercise some care about praying the Kilbrandon Report in aid of his case? Did not the Kilbrandon Report make it a condition of its proposals that there should be a widespread consensus and agreement about the nature of legislative devolution? If this consensus did not exist, Kilbrandon thought that legislative devolution was not possible.

Secondly, although my right hon. Friend may dislike The Times, did he reflect on the article by Nancy Trenaman, a member of the Kilbrandon Commission, who said that she started off by supporting the Kilbrandon proposal and then went on to give a long and formidable list of reasons why she had completely changed her mind?

Mr. Foot

My hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) has also changed his mind on this matter, as have a number of others. My answer is to say that the members of the Kilbrandon Commission did not come forward with a full, coherent, recognised set of proposals. There were some matters on which they were agreed—

Mr. Pardoe

On proportional representation.

Mr. Foot

Proportional representation was not a matter that the Commission went into in any detail. The Liberal Party apparently seems more interested in proportional representation, particularly if it can obtain it by the back door, than in devolution itself. The Liberal Party must understand that the Kilbrandon Commission came down fair and square, like a ton of bricks, against a federal solution. This view was supported not only by the overwhelming majority of those on the Kilbrandon Commission but even by the Liberal Members, too. It is a misrepresentation of the situation to say that the Government did not seek the support of the people in the country for their proposals. We disseminated those proposals throughout the country. Various bodies made their representations, and the trade union movement, the Labour Parties in Scotland and Wales and the rest of Britain were all given an opportunity to make representations. They did so. All the representations supported what we are doing. Therefore my hon. Friends must not talk as though there was no consultation. We also gave plenty of time for any other party that wished to make representations on general or specific matters, and that opportunity existed right up until last weekend. If the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire had made his proposal at the time of Second Reading or earlier, his remarks would have been made in a very different context.

Mr. Jeremy Thorpe (Devon, North)

On the one issue on which the Kilbrandon Commission was unanimous—the issue of proportional representation, on which it considered the experience of Ireland and why PR had been relevant there—the right hon. Gentleman brushed aside what the Commission said by claiming that it did not go into the matter in detail. But Kilbrandon did go into the matter in detail. The Commission took the fullest possible evidence from many people. When I went to give evidence, I was told that there were points upon which the Commission members did not wish to hear from me. They had heard from other witnesses on those matters. The right hon. Gentleman must not try to change what Kilbrandon said. The Commission went into the subject in great detail and it was unanimous.

Mr. Foot

I accept that Kilbrandon was unanimous on the subject, but the right hon. Gentleman must accept that I have not sought in any way to misrepresent the conclusion of Kilbrandon on proportional representation. The House has discussed that matter. What I said was that Kilbrandon had not given to that subject the same consideration that it gave to the subject of federalism. This is proved by the Kilbrandon Report. The whole subject of federalism, to which the Liberal Party has pinned its colours, figures prominently in the report. That matter is on a different level from those that we are now discussing when considering how to deal with devolution.

Of course we shall consider any proposals that the right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) or his party make at any time and of course we shall consider any representations made in the next 20 days. We believe that the parliamentary process is the proper one in which we should have these discussions and we do not believe that it is a sensible proposition, particularly when we have proceeded so far, to set aside all the debate of the past 10 days, all the consultative processes that we had previously,. all the discussions on Kilbrandon, all the opportunities for the Opposition and others to have their say, to say that all this must be swept into the dustbin because the Government are prepared to bring discussions to a close not now but after 20 days.

There is still plenty of time for the House to consider any sensible proposals that come from any quarter, and the Government will consider them. I say, however, that the reputation of the House of Commons depends not only on maintaining proper and full opportunities for debate, particularly on matters of high constitutional importance. It depends on how we talk and how we act. The Government's proposal will give the House the power to act on a proposition which has been put fairly to the country for many months, and even years, and for which we had full backing at the last General Election.

4.41 p.m.

Mr. Francis Pym (Cambridgeshire)

I am very conscious that many right hon. and hon. Members can command more eloquence than I in opposing this motion. There is no hon. Member, however, who feels more strongly about it than I do. This is no ordinary guillotine. It relates to no ordinary Bill. The Bill has given rise to new and different circumstances, and therefore I do not think that comparisons with past guillotines are really relevant.

If it is any comfort to the Leader of the House, let me tell him that I have not delved into his past speeches when he spoke so eloquently below the Gangway or from this Box against previous guillotine motions. However, if he were free of the constraints which the Government have imposed upon him and his colleagues and if he were free to express his genuine feelings, he would personally wish to oppose this motion with 10 times the eloquence that even he commanded before.

The right hon. Gentleman talked about conversions and said that the proposition that I had put on behalf of my right hon. Friends on this Bench was a late-hour conversion. I expressed strongly on Second Reading the view that I believed that an all-party convention was a process that should have been gone through. If any conversion has taken place on guillotines it is on the part of the right hon. Gentleman, because we all know his track record.

In spite of what is said in Clause I, the Bill goes to the heart of the governance of Britain. It affects this House and every hon. Member directly. It is a constitutional change of infinite significance. Anyone who has listened in the many hours we have so far spent in Committee can be under no illusion as to the ominous nature of the misgivings and foreboding which have been expressed.

In 10 days and three or four nights we have experienced tense debates. The sheer force of the argument from all sides of the House has been a powerful expression of alarm at the implications of the Bill. Scarcely have we heard a word in support of the Treasury Bench. The doubts and the fears of hon. Members have echoed round the Chamber. The House has been saying loud and clear that the Government must show caution and think again before they proceeed with the Bill. That is the message that has rung out in this Chamber.

This is no ordinary guillotine. The House faces a major constitutional innovation with far-reaching ramifications that are hard to predict and that may take years, and even decades, to develop. Therefore it behoves us to proceed with more care and caution and to take more time before reaching a final conclusion. We in this House are all the trustees for the time being of our constitution, the trustees of the life and liberties of the British people. We have a heavy responsibility for the well being and prosperity of our nation. That well being cannot be expected to exist—many of us think that it does not exist in adequate degree today —unless Parliament is doing its job. Surely Parliament must take particular care with a Bill of this sort, bearing in mind its implications, and be as certain as it can be, before passing it, that it will benefit the United Kingdom.

Our history shows that this House does not make constitutional changes hastily or ill-advisedly, but only after a very thorough examination and consideration. After such an examination of all that is involved it often does make changes. It has a dynamic all its own, and that is how it has evolved. Any Government who seek to make constitutional changes must make and prove their case overwhelmingly. Demonstrably that has not happened with this Bill.

In my view and that of my right hon. and hon. Friends there is no genuine majority for this measure in the House of Commons. There is nothing in this House that could be remotely described as conviction in favour of the Bill. I would have said that on a constitutional issue the Government of the day must at the very least carry conviction before taking drastic steps. I do not hear the sounds of Ministers stumping the country advocating the merits of this wonderful Bill which will have such marvellous benefits for the United Kingdom. I find myself deafened by their silence.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

What Ministers have been doing—particularly in the case of the Secretary of State for Transport—is stumping the country saying that if the Bill does not get through there will not be another Labour Government in their lifetimes.

Mr. Pym

That sounded to me rather a panicky reaction. I think that the right hon. Gentleman had made a remark about setting up or chairing a particular committee among Labour Members with a point of view that may have offended the Prime Minister. The Secretary of State may have been seeking to redress the balance with a remark of that kind, but of course that is pure speculation on my part.

I want to consider the handling of this whole matter. Parliament almost always has required several attempts to be made at constitutional reform. The most dramatic example concerns the Bills dealing with Ireland. There were at least five of them, and they were produced over a long period. The guillotine motions to which the Leader of the House referred were related to some of those Bills.

The European Communities Bill was a much more recent example. It is true there was only one Bill, but for 10 years before that Bill appeared—it was not such a long Bill—in almost every Session under every Government there were substantial debates on the question of Britain joining the EEC. The arguments were rehearsed again and again. It takes time for the House to satisfy itself on a constitutional matter that the change proposed is justified, that it will be a genuine improvement, and that it will benefit the country. The House is not so satisfied on this Bill.

The Government's original intention was better than what they have done. The White Paper foreshadowed a dummy Bill. Paragraph 6 of Cmnd. 6348 said: Work is in hand on drafting a Bill … It will be published in the spring of 1976 and continued later to say that it will provide the opportunity for debate and for focussing opinion more closely on specific legislative proposals; and the Government will take account of all this in further refining the schemes. On 14th January 1976 the then Leader of the House, who has now gone to another place, said in the debate: we shall publish the Bill as soon as we can in draft form. It will then be debated … there will be further and more definitive discussions with outside bodies. … The next stage will be that a Bill taking into account — the more definite discussions on the Bill will be published at the beginning of next Session."—[Official Report, 14th January 1976; Vol. 903, c. 403.] That process was never gone through.

Mr. Robin Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)

Has it not occurred to my right hon. Friend that this is the dummy Bill and that no sane person could really expect it to get on to the statute book?

Mr. Pym

I was about to argue that and that we had not heard from the Government at any stage why they did not go through that process. It is quite clear that they thought it was a desirable and a necessary one. But why did they not do it? Was it because they were afraid that if they published a dummy Bill on the lines of the present Bill it would he subjected to the very criticisms to which the Bill is subjected? At any rate they are not giving us an explanation why the whole of that process[...]as been omitted. It has been a mistake to omit it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) said that the Bill is a dummy Bill, but unfortunately it is the real one, and it is the first time that the House has been able to debate its implications. Let us consider the arguments we have had in the 10 days in Committee. Even if half those arguments were half right, surely the Bill has already been shown to be so seriously faulty that it should be looked at again. By handling it as they have done, the Government are asking Parliament to do something which I consider to be unreasonable.

In the first case, the Bill is too big. It started off as two Bills rolled into one. Since then a third Bill has been added. We all agree that its implications are extremely wide and yet it is the first time we have considered it. It is not Parliament's fault that it cannot digest so vast a legislative meal all at once. To ask Parliament to do that is to maltreat and abuse Parliament. There is no procedural or other fault with Parliament; it just is not possible to deal with so many big issues in so short a time.

The Leader of the House talked about the reputation of the House. If the reputation of the House were to be damaged by this it would be because Parliament is being asked by the Government to do something which is too big for it to undertake all at once. The Government are at fault for handling the matter in this way.

Mr. Dalyell

Is it not true that Parliament has done its job for the first time because the real nature of what we are doing is getting through to Scotland?

Mr. Pym

I totally agree but the point I am making is that Parliament ought to continue doing the job and not have its time curtailed as is proposed in the motion. If, by some tragedy, the motion were carried, it would create major problems for this House and for another place because the motion refers to 20 further days. That is bound to mean that some clauses, amendments, and new clauses will never be debated in the House and perhaps not in another place and conceivably, therefore, not at all.

I wonder why the Lord President did not publish the timetable motion details on the Order Paper. He knows perfectly well that they were on the Order Paper for the European Communities Bill. I suspect that the reason why they are not on the Order Paper is that if they were published the enormity of what the motion is asking the House to do would be revealed for all to see. I cannot think of another explanation.

I do not think that the Lord President is right to compare the time allotted for this Bill with that allotted to other Bills in modern times. He is quite right that 30 days is longer than has been spent at any stage on another Bill in recent times, but the background is totally different. The nature of this Bill being what it is, there is no recent parallel. By trying to force the House to get the rest of it through in 20 days the right hon. Gentleman will wrong foot both the House of Commons and another place, and it is not their fault. The implications of that are unacceptable because every hon. Member shares the responsibility for this House, for its wellbeing, its reputation and its future, but most especially that applies to the Government of the day. I regret enormously that the motion has been tabled for the reasons I have given.

It is not an ordinary guillotine. The fact that it is proposed at all fills me with uneasiness. It is incompatible with the undertaking given by the Lord President that he would listen to the arguments and be flexible. He will not hear all the arguments if the motion is carried because there is too much in the Bill and there are too many arguments and issues to be discussed. I acknowledge that he has intended to be flexible on certain matters, not in all cases but in many.

There are alternative courses available to the Government, that is, alternatives to the guillotine motion. I am not opposing it merely on the basis of adversary politics. There are other alternative ways open and one has been canvassed already in an interruption. It is that the Bill should be suspended and a referendum should be held now. I imagine that we shall hear further arguments for that in the course of the debate and perhaps there is a good case for it. I have my doubts about it because I think that there will be a lack of clarity about what would be on offer to Scotland, Wales or the United Kingdom. There is a danger that this would confuse matters. But I shall certainly listen to anything which is said on this point.

There are some hon. Members who want an independence question now. I suppose that might clear the air to some extent and I understand the argument, but I am not sure that we do not already know the answer and I am not sure that that would dispose of the issue or that it would carry us much further or that the cost would be worthwhile. However, that is an alternative. But there are other possibilities.

I put one to the Government last week on behalf of my right hon. Friends and myself. We should now, even at this late stage, convene an all-party convention to see whether a degree of broad agreement can be achieved. In dealing with the call for devolution and with constitutional change I have always believed that an all-party approach was correct and necessary at some point in the process. I made this point on Second Reading. I know that the Lord President does not like the idea nor does he believe in it. He is against it. I say to him that it is not only a necessary process, but a right one. In the document "Our Changing Democracy—Devolution to Scotland and Wales", the Government state: there is a need for the widest possible basis of agreement on the essential features before legislation is enacted". I totally agree with that, and what I said last week is completely in line with it. I regret that the Leader of the House and the Government have not accepted it.

Mr. Norman Buchan (Renfrewshire, West)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Pym

I wish to finish this part of the argument before I give way.

The Leader of the House said that at any stage it would be open to anyone to tell us his views. But the format of this is extremely important. The circumstances in which this exchange of ideas and discussion can take place is absolutely crucial. The Government are showing no inclination to sit down with the parties together. It has seemed to us that the Government are pursuing their ideas on devolution on a partisan basis. All the Lord President has said is that the Government were open and ready to listen to any representations. This is not the same thing as I am now proposing—a frank exchange of ideas and views be-between all parties in the context of an all-party convention.

Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarvon)

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the Kilbrandon Commission was this sort of body which tried to get evidence from all the parties and that his party did not give evidence to the Commission? In view of the fact that the Conservative Party is not in favour of any devolution to Wales, how can there be any consensus on that issue?

Mr. Pym

The Kilbrandon Commission Report has never been fully debated or considered in the House. I am quite certain that the convention to which I refer would take into account all the evidence and the conclusions of the Kilbrandon Commission before an agreement could be reached. A resolute effort to reach some degree of accord should take place now at least to identify areas of agreement and to set out the possible options. This scheme of devolution has already been shown to be so defective that I do not believe that it is a sound basis on which to continue.

I am not suggesting that the convention should sit for longer than six months, because so much work has been done in the background already. At the end of the convention's consideration, the House will decide. Naturally, the House must decide at the end of the day. After all that has been said in the Committee stage so far, that must be the right step, because the House is in real difficulty. Hon. Members are in real difficulties, especially Labour Members, some of whom understandably face a most difficult conflict of loyalty. They have a natural wish to support their own party, and I as much as anyone would understand, respect and support that. But on this issue their convictions and instincts are in a contrary sense, and they have an immensely important decision to take today.

The Government have put down this guillotine motion on what I might describe as an ordinary guillotine basis, but I am not opposing it on that basis. I believe that the House will wish to take a bigger view of it than that, because there are other possibilities open to the Government. I appreciate that it may seem to the Government that I am asking a lot of them to pause now, that there is, as it were, a price tag on the matter. Now that they have reached the present position, whatever the Government do there is a price to be paid, but the way I have suggested is certainly less expensive, and some credit would accrue to them. At any rate, I believe that it is a right and necessary process.

Mr. Dalyell

Is not the right hon. Gentleman fudging the issue? Have we not discovered throughout all our hours of debate that there is a fundamental rock on which such schemes perish and which no convention would remove—namely, that it is not possible to have a legislative Assembly, a subordinate Parliament, part of, but only part of, a unitary State?

Mr. Pym

I still think that as all parties in the House have put forward proposals for changes in the government of the United Kingdom, affecting certain parts of the United Kingdom, it would be at the very least a sensible course to see whether they could not pool their minds and come to any degree of broad consensus.

I disagree with those who predict dire and dangerous consequences if the motion and the Bill are not passed. That is nonsense, provided the Government share with us a desire and determination to see that that is not so. There is no reason why it should be so if we all agree that it should not, because I think that the people of Scotland and Wales, indeed, of Northern Ireland, England and the whole United Kingdom, are worried about and confused by the predicament in which we in this House find ourselves. We should gain more respect if we took a new approach.

I think that there would be a sense of relief, because however much people in Scotland and Wales want to see better government—that is, better government in Scotland and Wales within the United Kingdom—it is not the most important issue facing them. It is an important issue, but it is not the issue that is uppermost in their minds. What is uppermost in their minds is the matter of their jobs, prices and the future. Therefore, there is no vital urgency about devolution. After all, with a few changes, we have continued on the basis on which we are operating today for about 270 years. There is no need to rush this year headlong into the morass of the Bill and the problems of this form of devolution.

The right hon. Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson) told the House in January last year when he was Prime Minister: if it is agreed that these proposals embody the most fundamental constitutional development in this century … it is our duty as a Parliament to get the proposals right, properly thought through, and to the highest possible extent acceptable by all who will be affected by them".—[Official Report, 13th January 1976; Vol. 903, c. 209.] That was a fair and right thing to say, and I agree with it.

I hope and believe that the House will rise above party differences on this occasion and speak for the United Kingdom. I hope that it will judge the motion in its true context as a big change in our government and Parliament. The House is entitled to more time. If it does not get it, it is bound to arrive at inadequately considered decisions. Indeed, it may not consider some of them at all, and therefore some of those decisions will be wrong. That is a terrible future to contemplate.

In response to the fervently expressed desire throughout the House to pause, to reflect further, to consult before passing the Bill, out of respect for our history, for the sake of the whole kingdom and the British people whom we here represent, and for the sake of Parliament itself and its proper functioning, I hope with my whole being that in its wisdom the House tonight will vote the motion down.

5.6 p.m.

Mr. Roderick MacFarquhar (Belper)

The right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) seemed in his last words to combine arrogance and nervousness: arrogance because he said that if only we all stick together the desires of the people of Scotland and Wales could be settled in a cosy club, in a cosy constitutional convention among ourselves; but nervousness because he said "only if we get together on this matter". The main Opposition party is clearly as nervous as ever about being alone at the barricades.

I support the motion. This debate is not about the guillotine, despite the many minutes spent by the right hon. Gentleman on the question of timetabling. It is about the devolution Bill itself. It is essential for us to recognise that, because it is the objective of most hon. Members who propose to vote against the guillotine, certainly on the Labour Benches, that the Bill shall run into the sands, which will mean the end of devolution. It is disingenuous, to say the least, for Conservative Members to pretend that the motion is merely to give us a little more time to discuss the matter. Even the right hon. Gentleman said that we did not need too long a constitutional convention discussion because we had had so much discussion already. We have indeed had a great deal of discussion already.

As I said on Second Reading, the Bill has serious defects. In particular, it does not go far enough on the issue of financial powers, but I hope that as a result of an affirmative vote tonight on the guillotine we shall be able to debate and change those clauses. What I am convinced about is the need for the Bill to proceed.

What is the main argument of those who oppose the Bill in principle and are not interested, as some of us are, in its branches and roots? They are concerned about the future of the Union. They fear that, if the Bill goes through, Scotland and Wales will in due course choose independence and drift away from the United Kingdom. I believe precisely the opposite to be the case.

Of course, if we could start again, if we could go back to before Kilbrandon, to before the SNP and Plaid Cymru entered the House in force—[HORN. MEMBERS: "In force?"] I realise that by the standards of the majority parties the present numbers of the two national parties do not constitute force, but by the standards of what they were before they started entering Parliament, they constitute a considerable advance.

Dr. Colin Phipps (Dudley, West)

Their effect on the Government has been forceful.

Mr. MacFarquhar

If we could go back to the 1960s, to before the time when both major parties made pledges on devolution—which one of them is now seeking to scuttle away from, in an effort to defeat the Government as much as to defeat devolution—perhaps we could discuss the whole matter in a convention as proposed by the Conservatives. Perhaps we could have an abstract debate, but the fact is that it is no longer possible to set the matter aside from debate in the House itself. There is a desire in all parts of the United Kingdom for people to have a greater say in running their own affairs.

Scrapping the Bill may have been an option in the 1960s, but it is not an option now. What would be the impact in Scotland from a "No" vote tonight? It would be seen as the Government abandoning the Bill—

Mr. Dalyell

Great relief, I should think.

Mr. MacFarquhar

My hon. Friend says "great relief". But he has changed his mind on this issue, and may be his first mind was better than his second.

A "No" vote tonight would be seen in Scotland not just as a defeat for the motion but a defeat for the Bill itself. Scottish people would feel that the House of Commons, with a majority of English-based Members, had decided that the people of Scotland and Wales should not have a say in their own destiny.

Dr. Phipps

Surely, my hon. Friend must appreciate that many English Members believe that it is the desire of English people as well to have a say in these matters.

Mr. MacFarquhar

I shall come to that in a minute.

If there is a "No" vote tonight it will not just mean later defeat for Labour Members of Parliament in Scottish constituences—that will be one impact—and it will not just be to the detriment of Conservatives in Scotland. It will also spur on what devolution, sensibly enacted, could prevent—a demand for independence in Scotland and possibly in Wales.

We have been told to consider the precedents of history, and the Irish Home Rule Bill has been mentioned. There were many long hours of debates on those Bills and it all ended in bloody disaster. Do we want to take even the risk that that situation might be repeated in the future?

It seems to me that the Government have failed in one important respect—in their attitude to devolution to the English regions, and their scant respect for the desire of people, no less widespread in the South-West and North of England as in Scotland and Wales, to have a say in their local destinies. The Government have laid themselves open to the legitimate charge that the object of this Bill is not to enhance democracy but to appease nationalism. I have no doubt that there is a legitimate reason for English Members of Parliament and local councillors to feel aggrieved because Scotland is getting what they are being denied. I suggest that the Government will help their own cause if they give a pledge that devolution to the English regions will be considered far more seriously than it has been in recent months.

Mr. Kenneth Lomas (Huddersfield, West)

Does my hon. Friend not realise the truth of 1938? What he is proposing is simple appeasement, and that is one more step towards being thrown over. We should fight it, and the sooner we get rid of the Bill the better.

Mr. MacFarquhar

I am sure there were those who said precisely the same thing on the Irish Home Rule Bill a century ago.

I ask all hon. Members to consider deeply what they are doing tonight. The arguments are not about the details of the Bill, but about the Bill itself. I can think of no vote more likely to ensure the dissolution of the Union than a vote to ensure that the Bill runs into the sands.

5.15 p.m.

Mr. David Steel (Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles)

The speech made by the Leader of the House in opening this debate was pretty thin. If there had not been so many interventions to which he had to respond there would have been nothing in his speech. He would have been better advised to contain himself in one familiar sentence. I shall quote from a speech made by the Leader of the House in May 1972 when he said in opposition: The guillotine is the last resort of a Government who know that they cannot get the full-hearted consent of Parliament but are determined to have their way in any case."— [Official Report, 2nd May 1972; Vol. 836, c. 235] That is a far clearer summing up of the case today. I am reminded of what Mr. Harold Macmillan said about guillotine motions on 22nd February 1954—

Mr. Lomas

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The right hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel) quoted this particular point on 2nd May 1972. Surely there is no reason for him to go on repeating it.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Oscar Murton)

That is not a point of order. The right hon. Member can make his speech in his own way.

Mr. Steel

I assumed modestly that not all hon. Members would have read my previous speech. But it is a particularly good quotation and I think that it is worthwhile airing it again after a lapse of five years.

Mr. Lomas

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Last Friday the Leader of the Liberal Party drew attention to the fact that there should be a sufficient number of Hansards of 2nd May 1972 available to draw attention to the speech made by the Leader of the House. That is quite right. But people have read it. The right hon. Member should not draw attention to the speech that he made on the same day.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

That is not a point of order.

Mr. Steel

If I may continue with Mr. Harold Macmillan's excellent quotation: What happens is this. The right hon. and hon. Members who find themselves for the moment in opposition are filled with an extraordinary devotion to the principles of constitutional Government, to the free rights of Members, to the long historic struggle of Parliament against the Executive, to the cause for which Hampden died in the field and Sidney on the scaffold. But when, with the all-healing flow of time, these same Members find themselves upon the Government benches, they become comparatively immune to these high-flown sentiments."—[Official Report, 22nd February, 1954; Vol. 524, c. 42.] That is an admirable description of the change that has overcome the Leader of the House between 1972 and now.

I have objections to the form of timetable that the Leader of the House has chosen. The effect of going back to the method of having a Business Committee and not specifying on the Order Paper how the Bill will be divided up almost guarantees that large sections of the Bill —like the Industrial Relations Bill—will not be debated.

When we had the European Communities Bill there was an attempt by the then Chief Whip, the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym), to put proposals to the Opposition Chief Whips. That timetable was turned down by the Labour Chief Whip who said that his party was not interested, but we were willing to consider it. We negotiated on the timetable and requested, required, demanded and got extra time for the particular section of the Bill which we thought should have more discussion. If one is seeking a timetable, that surely is the proper way to go about it—in other words, by trying to obtain agreement so that we all know what we are being asked to agree to.

On the question of the supremacy of this House over the other place, if a large number of clauses remain undebated and unconsidered in this House, the other place is bound to give those provisions detailed consideration. If that happens and the Lords make amendments, the Leader of the House of Commons will not get away with only two days on Lords amendments when the Bill returns here.

My colleagues and I have never been opposed to the principle of a negotiated timetable at the start of a Bill. I made that clear to Ministers before the Summer Recess, but they chose not to take that course. We have begun our debates and have spent a long time on the opening passages of the Bill, and now at the last minute the Government are attempting to impose a guillotine.

Part of the trouble as to the way in which the Bill has been handled is that Ministers lack political commitment to genuine devolution. That fact shines through the Bill and the debates we have had so far. I knew the hon. Member for Lanarkshire, North (Mr. Smith) before either of us was in the House, and I have known the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot) since I came to the House, and I have a high regard for both gentlemen, but I have never considered either to be a passionate advocate of devolution in General Elections, debates in the House, or television discussions.

Mr. Foot

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman does not wish to spread false accusations. Following the Kilbrandon Report, discussions took place in the Welsh group of the Parliamentary Labour Party. I presided over those discussions, which were lengthy, and in both elections I spoke on the matter in Wales and elsewhere. Therefore, it is misleading for the right hon. Gentleman to try to suggest that I am not interested in the subject.

Mr. Steel

I did not say that the Leader of the House was not interested in the subject. I said that he was not on record over the years as a passionate advocate of devolution, and I am entitled to make that observation.

I do not only single out the Ministers who are in charge of the Bill because if we examine the speech made by the Secretary of State for Transport the other day to colleagues, he said, in effect "I do not like this rubbish any more than you do, but let us get in there and vote for it". What kind of rallying call is that to people in Scotland and Wales? What kind of political commitment to devolution does it represent?

I am glad to see the Prime Minister present for this debate because he is a distinguished representative in this House of a Welsh constituency. I have with me his election addresses to the people of Cardiff, South-East. One searches in vain through his election address for February 1974 for any mention at all of devolution. When we came to the October 1974 election, there were some frenetic activities following the appearance of nationalists in the previous election. That led to some internal struggles in the Labour Party and, on the eve of the October election, Labour Party members were suddenly converted to devolution. So strongly did the Prime Minister then feel about the matter that he devoted one entire sentence to the subject in his election address, which read as follows: There will be an elected Assembly for Wales That seems to me to show a total lack of real commitment to the subject. There had not been such a sudden and mass conversion on any subject since a Chinese general baptised his troops with a hosepipe.

Throughout all the discussions with Ministers on this subject there has been a total lack of genuine commitment to what one may call real devolution. It means giving power generally away from this place, decentralisation, and a breaking down of the centralised structure of government. But Government Ministers do not believe in that principle.

Nobody, except Ministers, has attempted, for example, to defend the transfer of substantial powers from this House to Assemblies in Edinburgh and Cardiff while at the same time retaining full powers for the Secretaries of State for Scotland and Wales in the Cabinet —and indeed new reserve powers over the Assemblies—and the retention of over-representation of Wales and Scotland in this House. I repeat that nobody, except Ministers in charge of the Bill, has sought to defend that situation. If we are to create effective devolution, we must accept logically that the position occupied by Scotland and Wales in this House necessarily will be affected.

The Minister of State, Privy Council Office (Mr. John Smith)

I think that the right hon. Gentleman is sincere in putting forward federal proposals, but I asked the right hon. Gentleman on Second Reading whether the Liberal proposal involved England as one unit in the federation or as four or five. He did not give me an answer then. Will he now given an answer to that question?

Mr. Steel

Yes, I shall. I shall be coming to the subject of federalism in a moment. I am now dealing with the question of representation of Scotland and Wales in this place. The Minister of State, Privy Council Office, in the period of consultation within the Labour Party, was quoted in The Scotsman of 19th August 1974 as claiming: members of the party who were pressing for devolution to a Scottish Government without the loss of the office of Secretary of State and a reduction in the number of Scottish MPs at Westminster were being dishonest. That is what he said as a Back-bench Member in his Lanarkshire constituency. Now that he is on the Front Bench as a Minister in charge of the Bill, what was dishonest then suddenly becomes honest. This goes to the heart of the way in which the Government are handling the Bill.

On the subject of proportional representation, I do not expect the Government suddenly to become enamoured of that principle. Indeed, there is a good case that can be made out against it. But the only honest view on the Labour Benches was taken by the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock). He is opposed to the Bill and argues that case on the basis that he is interested only in what is best for the Labour Party. He said that in our debates, and he was honest enough to say so.

Mr. Dalyell

Perhaps it is unlike me to defend my hon. Friend the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Mr. Smith), but since he and I are members of the same party may I at least say that at the Labour Party Conference on 17th August we were discussing a legislative assembly. The idea put forward in those debates involved some kind of super, allpervasive, local government assembly—a rather different matter from this Bill.

Mr. Steel

The hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not follow him on matters of detail in Labour Party Conferences.

Mr. Buchan

Is the right hon. Gentleman saying that the only honest speech made in our debates was that made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock)? I would remind him that I made such an honest speech that the Liberal News attacked it vigorously but said that it contained the truth of the situation.

Mr. Steel

I did not say that that was the only honest speech that was made, or if I did, I should like to withdraw that statement.

There is a basic contradiction in the Government because they are saying one thing to the country, particularly in Wales and Scotland, and another in this House. Even in the prelude to the question in the referendum, they are saying that "substantial powers" are to be transferred, but at the same time in this place they seek to say that there will be no changes and that sovereignty will not be affected. Those are contradictory arguments. The one argument is deployed in the country to boost the devolution Bill and the other is put here in the House to persuade hon. Members that the Bill does not mean very much and will not affect the powers of Parliament.

I turn to the difficulties hon. Members now face. During Committee stage we have been receiving memoranda after memoranda about defects in the Bill. A central defect, seized on only this week in memoranda from the Law Society of Scotland and the Faculty of Advocates in Scotland, is that the Bill will contain the danger of concurrent and overlapping powers between this House and the Assembly. That is a fatal attribute and will result in endless confusion and bickering.

For that reason, I return to federalism, and now pick up the point mentioned by the Minister of State. We in the Liberal Party do not say that because we have always argued the case for federalism the whole country must be enamoured of this idea in relation to the Bill. The main point on this issue made by Kilbrandon was that the people of our country did not need it and found no evidence of a demand for it. I regret to say that there is no demand for it, but if we are to go for devolution at all, we should operate on a federalist principle with powers that are divided and not overlapping. If we proceed in that way, we shall all know where we stand.

It is instructive to note that many bodies, individuals and organs of opinion have come out in favour of the federalist principle, although not of full federalism in approaching this matter. This is particularly true in relation to taxation. If one is going to have Assemblies, certainly in Scotland, with considerable authority over expenditure, it really is asking for trouble not to give them some responsibility for the actual raising of revenues. I am reinforced in that view by what was said by the hon. Member for Lanarkshire, North in The Scotsman of 7th November 1973—and I could not put it better myself: I also take leave to doubt the effectiveness of an Assembly which did not have any real control over financial policy and trade and industrial policy in revitalising Scottish life. … I doubt if a voice without power would be heard and I am even more suspicious of representation which does not carry responsibility. He was just as right on that point as he was on over-representation—

Mr. John Smith

I should like to hear the right hon. Member move away from personal attacks and get down to argument. Which taxation power would he give to the Assembly? The other day the right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) suggested a sales tax. The hon. Gentleman knows that that is contrary to EEC directives. The right hon. Gentleman also suggested a share of North Sea oil revenues, and his third suggestion was for a system of simple local taxation. What is that system, and what are the taxation powers that the hon Gentleman proposes?

Mr. Steel

I shall respond to that question without going out of order. I am not making any personal attacks. I am quoting what the hon. Member said and surely that is allowable. What is more, 1 am agreeing with the hon. Member and I hope that he understands that.

I come to the point about taxation. The Government have said to the country that they would like to know of proposals that anybody else could make and that they are open-minded and flexible. They have asked for the great power house of the Liberal Party to tell the Government how to move taxation into Scotland have been looking at the research documents of the Kilbrandon Commission and the Layfield Commission. These documents are all published and deal with federal, regional and local taxation systems in other countries. Is it the Government's case that what is managed competently by Australians, Canadians. Americans, Germans, Swedes, Danes and the Swiss is beyond the capacity of this country to operate? I do not believe that.

It is not up to Back-Bench Members or minority parties with limited facilities to come forward and make the Government's detailed proposals for them. The Government, if they have the political will, can surely adapt one of the many methods that are available. If they are not able to do that they should give the reasons why they reject some of the proposals that have been put forward in these documents.

I come now to how the Bill has been handled since it came to the Floor of the House. I have been critical of the way in which the Leader of the House has handled the Bill, and an example of that is the clause on the referendum. We all know that it was first introduced to make sure that enough people would support the Second Reading of the Bill and again in the hope that there would be enough people in the Lobby tonight. There has never been any consultation or any kind of cross-party talk of the kind mentioned by the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire. When the Leader of the House produced the referendum clause, he did not even consult any of his hon. Friends who had been asking for a referendum. He just put the clause on the Order Paper. He said that his attitude was flexible, and before we had tabled any amendments and while we were still debating the clause, it was changed. We were debating not what was on the Order Paper but some new idea that had struck the Leader of the House. One cannot run the House of Commons in that way. The right way would have been to consult, consult, consult and reach agreement on sensible proposals and then go on to develop them.

The referendum has been the only concession made in the Bill. Mr. Alan Watkins had it right when he wrote in The Observer a few weeks ago: However this may be, the fact is that the Government is making the same concession twice over. Like an old music-hall comedian, it is using the same well-tried joke. Or, like one of those tiresome ecological persons who attained prominence in the 1970s, it is recycling used material and allowing nothing to go to waste. In fact, Mr. Watkins understated the case. The Government have used the same device three times. There has been no concession or change in principle since the Bill was introduced, and none in the direction of those who support the Bill.

It will be interesting when we vote to learn who are left on the Government's side. It will be only those hon. Members who can be dragooned into the Lobbies. Where are those people who supported the principle of devolution on Second Reading? What about those Tories who were prepared to lose Shadow ministerial posts in order to support devolution? The Government have not carried them. Where is the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh)—one of the few Labour Members who has campaigned for devolution over the years —and my hon. Friends, who have also done that?

The Government have been losing the friends of devolution throughout the progress of the Bill, and that ought to make them stop and think whether they are on the right course. Who do the Government have to support them? They have those who can be cajoled into the Lobbies and the nationalists. The whole exercise started off as a ploy to keep the nationalist wolves from the door, but the Government find that they have ended up in bed with them. The Government have as their non-Labour supporters only those people in the House who know that the Bill will not work and hope that it will not. So the Government must think the whole thing out again.

I do not agree with the proposition that was put forward in an editorial in The Guardian this morning that said: everyone who votes tonight will surely be aware that to refuse the timetable is to condemn the Bill to a lingering but certain death. I do not take that view. The Government have three options. The first is to go ahead with the Bill, chastened by their experience tonight and willing to consult others and to make changes in the form of the Bill so as to recover enough good will and a majority in the House to get the Bill through.

Another possibility is to hold the referendum immediately. If the issue were put to the people we should at least have guidance on the views of the Welsh and Scottish people. I do not rule that out. That would be a perfectly proper way for the Government to go about things, and it is consistent with the proposition that the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire has been putting forward. What he said at the weekend is interesting.

As far back as November 1974, my hon. Friend the Member for Inverness (Mr. Johnston) wrote to the Prime Minister and asked for a conference of all parties to be held to discuss how to proceed with devolution. That was a sensible suggestion, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) promoted it in 1975–76.

But time has gone on, and in saying to the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire that this is still a possibility, we are entitled to ask him or someone else from the Opposition to confirm that the objective of such a conference would be to decide how, and not whether, devolution for Scotland and Wales should take place. The objective would not be to hold up progress, but to lay the foundations for discussions on devolution and to lead on to discussion on other things such as reform of the House of Lords and the electoral system.

Mr. Gordon Wilson (Dundee, East)

In proposing this convention—which I think would simply be a waste of time—will the right hon. Member say whether representatives at the convention would be solely Scottish Members of Parliament who would have the chance to debate the issue? What guarantees or assurances would there be that anything agreed by the convention would also be agreed in the House, in view of the deplorable way in which the Bill has been treated?

Mr. Steel

My hon. Friend the Member for Inverness suggested that there should be an overall body with subdivisions so that the Scottish and Welsh details could be worked out separately. One of the reasons why the Bill is a mess is that the Government insisted on lumping together the proposals for Scotland and Wales in one Bill.

Mr. Foot

Is not the right hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel) suggesting that in the proposed convention we should discuss, with the Tory Party and other parties, the reform of the House of Lords? Is he suggesting that a convention on all these items would not involve any hold-up in the passage of the Bill?

Mr. Steel

I wish to be clear in answering that point. I am not proposing what the right hon. Gentleman suggests. I say that this could be the start of a series of consultations and discussions. I accept that devolution cannot wait, but one of the faults in the Government's approach is that they consider devolution in isolation from other constitutional reforms that are just as necessary. The convention could pave the way for later discussions on changes in the way in which we govern the whole country—and that must include reform of the House of Lords. I am not saying that we must hold up discussion of devolution until we get reform of the House of Lords.

Mr. John Smith

It seems that the Liberals are in favour of a lot of talking about devolution and that they are proposing further talks. When does the right hon. Gentleman think that there might be some time for action and when will the Liberals support something in practice?

Mr. Steel

I do not have to take that sort of remark from the Minister of State. The constitutional convention was not dreamed up by me this weekend. It was put forward by my party in 1974 and met with no response from the Conservative Party or the Labour Party. It was turned down by the then Prime Minister. If people are still willing to sit down and discuss it, I am willing to join in that exercise, though I realise that it is no substitute for proceeding quickly with the devolution proposals.

The guillotine is an attempt to restrict discussion of individual parts of the Bill and, as an opposition party whose objective is to support, amend and improve the Bill, we cannot be expected to go into the Lobby to support an enforced timetable, and we will not.

5.41 p.m.

Mr. Tom Ellis (Wrexham)

I support the motion wholeheartedly and I trust that the House will approve it. I support it not only on the quantitative grounds of how many hours have been spent on the first clauses, but on qualitative grounds.

I have attended most of the debates on Second Reading and in Committee and have been disappointed not so much that some hon. Members differ from my views, as they have every right to do, but that the debate has been conducted at a level that has missed the whole point of the Bill. The House has not been at its best, to put it mildly, and it has become increasingly clear that the House is not competent to discuss the Bill, in the sense of its being unable to discuss authoritatively the real issues affecting Scotland and Wales. I speak particularly about Wales, but I think that the situation is similar in Scotland.

The obvious reason for this is that, by the arithmetic of its composition, the House has a greater preponderance of English Members. I do not want to impute any malevolence to them, but even when the Kilbrandon Report was presented to the House it was greeted with overwhelming boredom, great yawns and ribald laughter about home rule for Cornwall or Yorkshire. It was a big joke to most hon. Members. However, to some of us from Scotland and Wales it was a matter of crucial importance. Throughout our debates there has been the enormous problem of trying to express the views of Welsh and Scottish electors as members not of the United Kingdom but of distinct communities in their own right.

Reference has been made to the fact that Ministers have not been pushing the Bill in the country, but who would want to go to Scarborough to talk about devolution to Wales? The people of Scarborough are not interested in that.

The Opposition have tried to suggest that this is an issue on which the whole constitution of the United Kingdom could crumble. That is not so. I accept that if the response of the House is not sufficiently imaginative and sympathetic, and if its understanding of the wishes of the people of Scotland and Wales is not sufficiently deep, those people will insist on a fairer share of the time of the House being devoted to their problems. I agreed with an hon. Friend who said last week that if we go about devolution in a certain way, the people of Scotland might insist on separation. I hope and pray that that will not happen, but if it does, this House will not be able to stop it. We should have to grant separation.

The great danger is adopting the attitude towards devolution that it would be unfair to North-East or South-East England is that one misses the basic point that has concerned the people of Wales for so long. They believe that affairs that are peculiar to Wales have not had the amount of concern and time devoted to them in the House that they should have had. I could give dozens of examples to illustrate the point. It has bred a particular kind of resentment which has become stronger because of the changes in our society. No longer do people believe that at the top of the hierarchy there is a repository of all wisdom and knowledge for the better government of the people. People are increasingly insisting that they want more of a say.

The Bill ought to be passed. It is because of the luxury and latitude of time in our debates that we have failed to concentrate our minds on the crucial issues. Examples have been given by the Leader of the House, and I could give others. There have been in Committee a number of discussions that have turned into a rehash of the Second Reading debate instead of debates on amendments. A typical example occurred on Clause 1. We had a great metaphysical approach to an amendment defining the precise meaning of the words unity of the United Kingdom". That developed as much as it could without going out of order into another Second Reading debate.

I agree that there has not been filibustering in the sense that people have tried to stop progress, but there has been a failure to get to grips with the real issue of trying to make the Bill as effective and workmanlike a measure as possible.

I am dismayed at the attitude of the Liberal Party. I agree that there are many things wrong with the Bill. I am sure that we all have our own pet ideas on what should go into the Bill and what should be left out.

No one is a more wholehearted devolutionist than I, but I should be content simply to set up elected bodies in Wales and Scotland and let them grow. It is difficult to bring out of thin air a workable full-blown constitution for Scotland and Wales. We should remember our experience with the Industrial Relations Bill, which was a full-blown measure contrived by Ministers. That did not work. I am a fervent supporter of devolution, even of federalism, but I should have been prepared to accept no more than the setting up of elected Assemblies. We could then let them grow naturally.

The Liberals may deny it till they are blue in the face, but when they say that they cannot support the motion they are saying that they will kill the Bill. If the Bill goes under it will not come back for a long time. That is for certain.

I agree that there should be proposals for raising tax. I should like to see a commitment over a long term towards federal status. Nevertheless, the absence of such proposals will not prevent me from supporting the motion. Without it we shall not get anything for a long time. If that were to happen, the dangers would grow. The people of Scotland and Wales would be bitterly disappointed and frustrated. They would use the phrase, or slogan, that we have heard already, namely, that 10 English votes overrule one Scottish vote. That is a great danger.

If the House were not to support the motion it would show by implication that it does not have the depth of understanding that is needed to restructure the political framework to make it more suitable for the sort of society that we are entering increasingly and ever more rapidly at the tail end of the century.

Whatever they do tonight, I urge Liberal Party Members and my Labour colleagues to go into the Lobby to support the Government so that the motion is accepted and the Bill is enacted.

5.52 p.m.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)

There is a great shortage this evening in the Palace of Westminster of the bound volume of Hansard that contains the speech made by the Leader of the House on 2nd May 1972. However, I intend to follow the precedent of the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) rather than that of the right hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel), in not quoting from that speech, though it is natural that the case of the European Communities Bill should be lively in the mind of the House.

When the astonishing announcement was made last Thursday that the Government intended to propose this motion today, in her indignation the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher), protested that the Bill raises constitutional matters which have not been discussed in this House for 50 years and that the right hon. Gentleman was attempting in one guillotine to suppress discussion of matters of supreme importance to everyone in the United Kingdom". That is an extraordinary illustration of the loss of perspective to which it is possible to fall prey. Here are the ghosts, on the Front Bench on both sides of the Gangway of the Administration that forced through the European Communities Bill by a majority of eight on Second Reading, and by a guillotine motion which the Liberal votes carried with a majority of 11, protesting on behalf of constitutional matters which have not been discussed in this House for 50 years."—[Official Report, 17th February 1976; Vol. 926, c. 703.] Why, it was more than 500 years since the House had been presented with the proposition that there should be any such challenge to the legislative or fiscal powers of the House as the Bill of 1972.

Nevertheless, I believe that the analogy of the guillotine of 1972 with the motion that is before us is not only not perfect but can in some respects be dangerously misleading. The Bill which was before the House in 1972, a short Bill, carried upon the face of it, in the most brutal and explicit form, the full effect of what British membership of the EEC must mean: the renunciation by the House of fiscal and legislative supremacy and the subordination of the law that we make to the law of Brussels was plain for all to read. Indeed, the careful dissection of that Bill line by line in Committee was essentially the method by which those who believed that no such thing could happen or should happen sought to prevent it from occurring. I do not say that on that account the guillotine was justified; but I do say that the circumstances then were very different from those in which the Leader of the House has put forward the motion now before us.

There is no doubt—I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will concur with me—that the examination of Clauses 1 and 2 of the European Communities Bill was entirely different in character from the examination of Clauses 1 to 4 of the Scotland and Wales Bill. Neither he nor I would deny that we were then using our powers and our rights as Members of Parliament to prevent, if we humanly could, the European Communities Bill from passing into law, while the Government of the day could say that it was for the House to decide, yea or nay, whether it wanted that legislation, that it was for the House to decide whether it would pursue, and pursue to the bitter end, what had been decided in principle on Second Reading by a majority of only eight votes.

That is not what is happening now. Never, I imagine, has a Leader of the House proposed a guillotine motion with such exquisite care to avoid the slightest suggestion that the House had been wasting any time in Committee. Over and over again the right hon. Gentleman repeated that that was not his accusation. From time to time this or that speech might, he admitted, have been briefer than it had been; but he was not denying that the Committee had been properly using its time, without any suggestion of delay or obstruction, in the consideration that it had given to what, after all, were some of the fundamental clauses.

The right hon. Gentleman went further. He produced a still stronger case for saying that the Committee had not incurred any of the penalties of a guillotine motion by its handling of the Bill; for he reminded the House of the occasion when even after 10 hours of debate—10 hours, admittedly, in the course of which the Government had put forward a new proposition, but still 10 hours of debate—the Chair in its impartial wisdom had still not considered the topic sufficiently exhausted to accept the motion for the closure. So fair has the right hon. Gentleman been in his proposition, that he actually reminded the House of the fact that the longest debate we had was one that the Chair itself did not consider should be terminated—I do not say prematurely, but even after a most generous use of time.

Certainly it would have been impossible for the right hon. Gentleman seriously to rest the case for his motion upon the deliberate use of time in Committee to frustrate the Bill and prevent its passage into law. What has been happening has been something entirely different. I think we find the truest parallel to the Bill in the fortunes of a Bill that will occur to the recollection of the right hon. Gentleman—namely, the Parliament (No. 2) Bill 1969.

That was a Bill that had the support of both Front Benches. It was a Bill which had featured in the Queen's Speech of that Session. It was a Bill which never received anything less than overwhelming majorities whenever a Question was put to a Division. If I recall aright, majorities of 70 were the norm in Committee. Yet as day succeeded day in Committee, something very important began to happen. Those who wanted Lords reform as much as those who did not want Lords reform, those who, like the right hon. Gentleman, are uni-cameralists as much as those who, like myself, believe in the necessity of two Chambers based upon different constitutional principles, all recognised that the Bill before the House would not work, that the Bill before the House did not do what they expected of Lords reform and that if it were ever to be put into practice, it would be a constitutional shambles.

Day by day that the Bill was debated, as only this House can debate a Bill in Committee, the inherent absurdities and contradictions, the implications for patronage and all the rest which previously had not been recognised—which indeed had been ridiculed when these matters were raised in earlier stages, in discussion of White Papers, in general debates on Second Reading—became manifest not only to those who took part in the debates but to hon. Members who, during the long proceedings, dropped into the Chamber and stayed a while to listen below the Bar. By April 1969 the whole House knew that it would be an absurdity to proceed with that Bill, Lords reform or no Lords reform. The House in Committee had done its work.

The right hon. Gentleman may attempt to say, "What of it? I have put before you a timetable motion which allows you 20 more days of solid education, 20 more days to carry on the work which I admit has been ably performed in the first 10 days in Committee." That is indeed the only defence that the right hon. Gentleman can put up. But he of all hon. Members knows how hollow such a defence would be; for if this motion is passed, the rest of the Committee stage, the rest of the stages of the Bill, will be different in kind from what they have been before its passage.

It will be as though we passed a motion for the Third Reading of the Bill and then came back and imagined that we could carry on with the Committee stage. From that moment onwards, every hon. Member will assume that the Bill is going to pass. What is more—I say this without a hint of criticism of the Lord President or of the Government—they know that the Bill, for all that the Government care, will pass in exactly the form which it has received up to this time.

Mr. George Cunningham (Islington, South and Finsbury)

Does the right hon. Gentleman recollect that, in my right hon. Friend's evidence to the Procedure Committee the other week on the consequences of passing a timetable motion, that was exactly the one which the Lord President himself drew to our attention as being the inevitable consequence of passing a timetable motion on a Bill?

Mr. Powell

Of course the right hon. Gentleman, who feels—none better—the pulse of this House, who breathes the air of this House as his natural element, understands these things better than anyone else. I am merely putting inadequate words to what is already present in the right hon. Gentleman's comprehension.

He was perfectly justified in claiming that, throughout these days in Committee, the Government have responded to the House, that, as one implication after another of the Bill as it stands has been drawn out, the Government have responded not merely by listening but by actually making proposals and renewed proposals and revised proposals. It has been a remarkable Committee stage; but it is no discredit to the Lord President or to the Government to say that the only reason why they were prepared to listen was that, without this motion, they had to listen. It was the open-ended nature of the debate which not merely has enabled hon. Members to tease out the implications of the Bill and pursue its constitutional consequences but which has secured for their arguments an open ear on the part of the Government.

Once pass this motion, and we may reproduce the arguments again in each sitting—twice perhaps on each allotted day we may demonstrate as irrefutably as on foregoing days the inherent contradictions of the Bill—but we shall be talking into the void, because the Government will know that the Bill is safe. There would be no point—indeed, it would be a mere waste of time—for the Government to come towards the Committee, to bend to the force of the arguments which are put.

Mr. Buchan

Is not the right hon. Gentleman being not merely a little ingenious but also ingenuous? He says that there will be no further concessions and flexibility if the motion goes through. But there can be defeats; I hope that the Government will be defeated on my amendment which is due for debate on Thursday. It is therefore disingenuous to say that nothing more will happen as a result.

Mr. Powell

I would rather be ingenious than ingenuous, but I had not been trying to be either. Of course it is perfectly possible that the Government might suffer a defeat on this or that item; but I repeat—the essence of the Committee stage is totally different once the Government know that time is on their side. As minute after minute ticks by, the moment comes when discussion ceases, when the amendment falls, when, whatever has been the strength of the argument, you, Mr. Speaker, will by our order put the Question from the Chair. Then, to the Government's relief, that will be the end of the matter.

What has been brought out during these 10 days in Committee—it is remarkable how, whatever type of amendment was tackled they were still the same implications, the same lessons, that emerged as we proceeded with the debate—is that this Bill has at its heart an unsolved contradiction, or rather, a series of unsolved contradictions.

The Government themselves do not know the answer to the question, how can one have a devolved legislative assembly inside a unitary State? No one has yet begun to answer, if there be an answer, the question continually posed as to what is to be the rôle, if the Bill is enacted, of Welsh, but particularly of Scottish, Members thereafter in this House. That is one wholly fundamental question for which no approach to an answer has yet emerged.

Then there was the question touched on by the Leader of the Liberal Party—how can we set up a directly-elected assembly with wide legislative and administrative powers and tell it that it is the elected assembly of a nation and then say that it may not raise a penny piece in taxation? The whole question has not been broached at all.

Thirdly, to go no further, there is the question of concurrent powers. In a constitution such as ours, how, under the aegis of Clause 1, shall we be able to live with the concurrent powers between the Executive and the Assembly in Scotland and the Executive and this assembly in this House? No one has started to explain how that is possible.

So the result of a guillotine will be that we shall pass into law legislation of which we cannot explain the working, legislation of which, so far as anyone in this House can foresee, the consequences must be a constitutional shambles, legislation which, so far as anything goes which has yet been said in Committee, will result in setting the different parts of this Kingdom not into greater unity but at one another's throats and creating areas of conflict which at present do not exist.

This motion, if it is passed, will ensure that we do the work which we are not sent here to do; it will ensure that we pass on to the statute book legislation unworkable and disastrous in its constitutional effects.

6.9 p.m.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)

In the presence of the Financial Secretary, who played such a great part in ditching Lords reform, I would with a certain hesitation take up one point made by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell). He said that, during the passage of the Bill to reform the House of Lords, both Front Benches were united in advocating the measure. I reflect that I sat on this very Second Bench for hour after hour during the passage of that Bill—some might think fortunately silent—because I was the PPS to the late Dick Crossman.

The truth about that debate is that both Front Benches were not united, that, as the debate went on, Cabinet Minister after Cabinet Minister peeled off and Dick Crossman, as the Lord President knows very well, was left on his own by a Cabinet which had become increasingly disillusioned, not least the then Home Secretary, and a Shadow Cabinet, led by the late Iain Macleod, which, for reasons of its own, had also become increasingly disillusioned with the workability of the measure. They may have been right to slope off when it came to votes. It would be indelicate of me to draw too close a comparison between what is happening in this Bill and what happened in the Lords reform Bill. Hon. Members can draw their own conclusions. Ministers have shown a deafening silence on the virtues of the Bill.

Perhaps I was fortunate, unlike the right hon. Member for Down, South, because I managed to obtain a copy of Hansard for 2nd May 1972. In that my right hon. Friend the Lord President said that the passage of the European Communities Bill was unique.

Those of us who heard that speech recollect the power and eloquence with which the Lord President denounced the guillotine on that Bill. The speech was unforgettable and is unforgotten. Then, as now, I was not on his side of the argument. But my right hon. Friend laid down some clear generalisations in which he passionately believed. It is fair and honourable to ask him why, if he believed those generalisations to be right then, he does not believe them to be right now. There may be an explanation.

My right hon. Friend is a very honourable man and in his winding-up speech he should explain why it was true then to say: The guillotine is the last resort of a Government who know that they cannot get the full hearted consent of Parliament but are determined to have their way in any case."— [Official Report, 2nd May 1972; Vol. 836, c. 235.]

Mr. Foot

I shall take courage to intervene from my hon. Friend's own example in previous discussions, as the Minister of State, not I, will be winding up the debate. If my hon. Friend reads the whole speech he will see that that sentence about the full-hearted consent of Parliament refers to the famous statement made by the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath), who said that he did not believe that a Bill such as that which took Britain into the Common Market should be passed without the full-hearted consent of the British people. That is the sense, carrying on the argument about the support which is required far beyond any question of a majority in the House.

If was for that reason that I said that the Bill was unique. I repeat that the word "unique" means that there is nothing else like it. This is not like it. [Interruption.] One cannot have two measures that are unique. That is impossible, according to the English language. I invite my hon. Friend to study not only my speech but the Oxford English Dictionary.

The European Communities Bill was unique in that it was robbing this House of sovereign powers. Nothing like that is proposed in this Bill. This Bill does the opposite: it retains the supremacy of Parliament.

Mr. Dalyell

What bothers me about that courteous and full reply is whether we are sure that the Government will make it clear in the referendum that the package on offer has something which is far from the full-hearted consent of the House of Commons. My right hon. Friend's reply raises questions about the nature of the choice that is put in the referendum.

I do not study only my right hon. Friend's speeches. I have also studied his evidence of 20th December 1976 to the Select Committee on Procedure when he said: If you have a timetable it means each section of the Bill is going to be subjected to some scrutiny. On the other hand, you will have removed all the tension and the battle from a particular Bill, and that also removes the incentive to the Government to listen and to concede, and to be courteous to the Opposition. My right hon. Friend goes on: You might make for much greater orderliness and provision for the discussion of each clause, but whether you would put the Government on the spot when they know that the decision in each matter is going to fall at any particular time I am doubtful. That does not mean I do not believe you have got to have timetables sometimes".

Mr. Foot

I am glad that my hon. Friend has quoted the whole passage. The last sentence destroys the argument that he is using to support his case. I do not depart from what I said on that matter, or from that which was quoted by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell). I have always argued that guillotine motions can have that effect. But I have also argued that guillotines have been introduced in some circumstances so that this House can act as well as argue.

Mr. Dalyell

I do not want to take too long. I want an explanation for this: given the constitutional nature of the issue before us and the irreversible nature of the decisions which may be made—and it is the irreversibility that worries us—will the Lord President spell out why he thinks he is not, to use one of his own memorable phrases showing full-hearted contempt for the democratic processes of this country"? How does he persuade us that he is not showing, again to borrow from his own vocabulary: full-hearted contempt for the normal legislative processes of this House of Commons"? Does the Lord President wish to intervene again?

Mr. Foot


Mr. Dalyell

The truth is that for too long more and more people have come to think of the House of Commons as performing one primary function—that of providing Bagehot's "pool of talent" from which members of the Cabinet, the Executive, and more recently the Shadow Cabinet and the sub-Shadow Cabinet are drawn. Too little emphasis has been put on another function of the House—that of acting as a check on the Executive.

What has happened in the last ten days, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon) discovered during Lords' reform is far from a filibuster. For once the House, as it did in Lords' reform, has performed its classic text-book but seldom practiced rôle of "watchdog with teeth". What has happened is not a filibuster—and I thank my right hon. Friend for saying that that has not happened. The unworkable nature of the Bill has been exposed.

This is one of the purposes for which the House of Commons exists and for which hon. Members are paid. Surely it is no disgrace for a Government to say "We brought forward measures in good faith but, in spite of the help of clever civil servants and the hardworking endeavours of Ministers, we now find that what we propose contains far more insoluble problems than we imagined". It is surely no disgrace for a Government to say that the House of Commons has done its job and has discovered problems and that they will go back and think again.

What will be the reaction in Scotland? Six months ago, frankly I considered that there would be much upset. But three months ago I considered that there would be considerably less upset. Today, although there would be strident screeches from The Scotsman and the Daily Record, BBC Scotland and a number of other angry folk, mostly connected with the media, the main reaction would be a sigh of relief and astonishment that the Assembly kite ever flew so high in the political firmament.

Many electors want an independent Scottish State and will continue to want that. Jolly few people, the more they know about it, want devolution. In my experience, those who want devolution want it for the reasons that the third Bench below the Gangway opposite want it—as a stepping-stone, a launching pad for a separate Scottish State, for purposes which are not those of my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench. They do not want devolution for its own sake or good government.

During the Committee stage I have been very critical. I think that the Bill is based on a colossal misunderstanding. In 1973 and 1974, if the generalised question had been "Do you want more say in your own affairs?", everybody, like the Gadarene herd, would have said "Of course we want more say in our Scottish affairs." Who would answer that question in the negative? But it depends on the question. The real issue now is "Do you want more say in your own affairs even if that means a separate Scottish State?"

What has happened in the last 10 days of debate in Committee has made that particular issue much clearer. I totally refute that those 10 days have been a waste of time. On the contrary, they have been among the most valuable 10 days for clarifying the real issues that this House has ever spent on any matter.

Therefore, I suggest to my right hon. Friends that they should drop this Bill. The people of Scotland will then have to make what has always been the real choice. One possible choice is the Scottish National Party and conceivably my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sillars). The alternative is to choose those of us who voice the views which I and others have attempted to put forward during the last 10 days of debate on the Bill. In the absence of the possibility of federalism—the federal solution only becomes a realistic option if the English want subordinate legislative assemblies in Norwich, Bristol, Manchester, Leeds and Newcastle—the Scottish people will have to choose between those of us who have generally voiced the views which have been put forward almost entirely from the Government Back Benches, with the exception of my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan), and the SNP. I sometimes wonder where all the keen devolutionists are. [HON. MEMBERS: "Where are they?"] I must not exceed my time.

Finally, I shall vote against the guillotine. This is one of the first substantive occasions on which I shall not have voted with a Labour Government. It gives me no pleasure to do this. It is with sadness that I shall do it. It is not that I shall be voting in the Conservative Lobby. Those who say that we are voting against the Bill in the Conservative Lobby might as well say that my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench are voting in the Scottish National Party Lobby.

It is not a question of voting in the Tory Lobby. We can argue about that. That is not the level of the debate. I shall vote against the guillotine in the belief that the more unfettered discussion that takes place in the House of Commons, the more the actual nature of the Government's best attempts at a Scottish Assembly will percolate through to the people of Scotland.

6.23 p.m.

Mr. Hugh Fraser (Stafford and Stone)

The speech of the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) has, I think and hope, agitated all Labour Members who have successfully been masking their enthusiasm for devolution. Only two Labour Members have spoken in favour of devolution this afternoon, but especially the hon. Member for Wrexham (Mr. Ellis). Indeed, the hon. Gentleman—the Robespierre of Wrexham—wanted a much tougher form of guillotine to curtail the debate even more. What a remarkable attitude!

I do not want to quote from the Lord President, who has now left the Chamber—the right hon. Gentleman is nearly always here! I compliment him on his tremendous attendance. But in one passage of his great speech in May 1972, when I was largely on his side against the Common Market and when he was smashing the wretched Liberals of the day, he drew attention to the great virtue of this House—that, whatever Prime Ministers, top civil servants, or Cabinet committees may decree, there is a sense in this place that smells out when things are wrong and unworkable. As the hon. Member for West Lothian said, it is not a matter of being a Conservative, Labour, Liberal, or whatever; it is the sense of the House, which was demonstrated during proceedings on the Parliament (No. 2) Bill when Back Benchers said that it would not go through and it did not go through. The longer this debate continues, the more the difficulties of the Bill are shown up.

Such is the confusion of the Bill as it stands—I say this particularly to the hon. Member for Wrexham—that it is possible to say that the outcome is bound to be the Act Recissory, I think it was called, in 1661 when the Scottish Parliament suddenly re-established itself and declared itself independent from the joint Parliament set up by the Commonwealth. That is one possible interpretation. Another possible interpretation of the Bill as it stands is that it will be nothing more than a bogus grant of some kind of super local government to the Scottish people.

The Bill is unclear. Its unclarity has been explained by right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House, especially by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), during the discussion on Clause 1, which states that nothing in the Bill will destroy the unity of the United Kingdom Immediately the whole charade is exposed for what it is and is to be interpreted for what it will be by the hon. Member for Wrexham or the Scottish National Party.

This is a disaster Bill, and every day that it is debated the more it is shown how absurd its pretensions are. That is why some of us in the past, including the Lord President of the Council, spoke against the absurd Parliament (No. 2) Bill. The right hon. Gentleman then spoke like Demosthenes showing up the wickedness of the Front Benches in trying to substitute patronage for privilege. That is what they were trying to do. When it came to entering the Common Market, the right hon. Gentleman spoke like Pericles defending the Athenians against the real enemies from without.

But tonight the right hon. Gentleman has been talking like Alcibiades, the political adventurer. This Bill is about political adventurism by certain sections not of the whole of the Labour Party, but of the Labour Party machine in London trying to play the tartan card to keep the Scottish vote. That is what this Bill is about. For all his grandness of demeanour and attendance at the House, the Lord President has led the House astray and produced a motion which all right hon. and hon. Members, independent of parties, should defeat.

6.30 p.m.

Mr. Norman Buchan (Renfrewshire, West)

I have the greatest difficulty in this debate. I do not like speaking in favour of a guillotine motion, but I intend to be in favour of this one.

I have been in this House for a number of years, and, after all the events of the last few months, I cannot help feeling that it is these next four days in Parliament that are going to matter to me. I cannot look beyond those four days.

We are facing the most dangerous issue that this House has faced for a very long time. These events have been the most traumatic experience for me—infinitely worse than when I felt that I must resign from the Government. This issue is much more serious for the country than the issue of entry into the Common Market, which I opposed.

Yet around me I cannot find an understanding of the sense of danger that we are facing. I hear those who say that there is no constituency in Scotland for devolution, that there is no overwhelming demand in Scotland for devolution. They are right. It is true. I am told that the Bill is full of anomalies, and it is true.

I am told that we are putting the cart before the horse because the problem facing the people of Scotland in the 1960s was that of jobs and unemployment and the failure of the Labour Government to deliver the radical goods, and that is true. I am told that they mistake the shadow for the substance, and it is true. I am told that they look for a constitu- tional form of expression as a means of trading with the truth and genuine social and economic realities, and it is all true. It was an error to establish the constitutional commission—the Kilbrandon Commission—in response to the rise of the separation campaign.

It is true that none of these things should have happened. The question of chauvinism and of separatist philosophies should have been fought. Battle should have been joined. We should have said that the serious matter for concern was the extension of democracy, which means Socialism, industrial democracy and spreading devolution downwards, because only then does devolution make sense.

Now, in 1977, we are in this situation. I for once do not share in the responsibility. I warned of such a situation for long enough. Some of my hon. Friends will remember me in the Parliamentary Labour Party two years ago arguing against the course of action on which the Government were embarked. I said "You cannot bring in devolution in response to a demand for independence. You can only bring in devolution in a period when one can say that it would be good and valuable to decentralise to bring administration under democratic control."

But now we have reached this stage. That battle line is overrun; that trench is occupied. Some people here are playing in the bunker while the situation rages around them. They have to understand what they are doing.

I hope that the Liberals understand what they are doing. They say that there are dangers in the Bill, that they would like federalism. That is not an objection to the Bill that could be resolved by 40, or 60, or 80 days of discussion of amendments. It is a fundamental, root and branch opposition. It has nothing to do with supporting or opposing a guillotine.

The Conservative Party has an objection to the Bill root and branch. That is nothing to do with saying that, with an extended timetable, we would have amendments brought in. The Conservatives are opposed basically to the concept of the Bill. The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) has been right all the time—he has argued the dangers. I accept the dangers. What I am saying is that we are facing an even greater danger if we do not face the situation we are in.

There was an extremely interesting situation in Scotland last night. Fifty people were brought into a television studio, including people from the Scottish National Party, the Liberal Party, the Conservative Party, the Labour Party and the Scottish Labour Party—its two Members here seem rarely to be present—and also business men and trade unionists. Most of them criticised aspects of the Bill, but all, with one exception, said that the Bill must go through. Even those who were opposed to aspects of the Bill said that it must be got through the House.

The reason is that it has gone out of your hands, gentlemen. The situation can no longer be solved in this House. The House can make the situation worse, but it cannot now make it better. The way in which the House can make it worse is by preventing this motion from going through, and therefore by preventing the Bill from going through the House and being submitted to the people of Scotland.

There is a story of James VI and I—I wish that Members of the Scottish National Party knew their history—as a child being brought to the very primitive, crude and corrupt Scottish Parliament. As he played on the green cloth on top of the Table, he put his finger through a hole and said: This Parliament has ain a hole in it. The hole in this Parliament is the total failure to understand that this issue has passed from here and can now be decided only by the people of Scotland.

As far as I am concerned, we are way beyond the point where I am afraid of independence; we are way beyond the point of my deciding whether I wish for devolution. As far as I am concerned, it is now for the Scottish people to decide. Every person in that television programme last night said the same thing.

Mr. Alec Ferrie, who supported the recall conference of the Labour Party to bring in devolution, has said "I was wrong". He believed that we could do this and not surrender to separatism. He admits that he was in error. He can now see the dangers. But the process cannot be stopped here now because if it is it will precipitate the very thing that it is designed to prevent.

It is all very well saying that 30 per cent. of the Scottish people are opposed to devolution. I think that that is true. But I no longer care if the figure rises to 60 per cent. or drops to 10. per cent., because it is no longer important. But if those 30 per cent. see that the Bill is defeated or is dragged down in the sands and gets lost that way, the day after tomorrow they will all be devolutionists.

Mr. Lomas rose

Mr. Buchan

I would prefer not to give way. I find this a difficult speech to make, and I do not think that any people can help me in making it.

The point is that this Bill's being lost in the sands will be the final proof of the ineptitude of Westminster government. It will not merely be a question of failure to deliver a pledge, important though that is. It is not only because there is demand for devolution—there is no major demand for devolution. There is a demand for independence, but we do not know how big. There is no major demand for devolution. One reason for that is that the Scottish people think that devolution has come. What they cannot understand is the long-drawn-out apparatus of Parliament. That is why they are not demanding it.

There are those who say that there are other problems that we should be dealing with. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) and others point out that we have 1½ million unemployed and that we should be dealing with that. But that is not the option. We cannot say to the Scottish people "Drop this Bill and we will halve the unemployment rate tomorrow", because it could not happen. That problem would remain. Unemployment would not be halved tomorrow, but the problem of devolution would be added to it.

I hope that the Conservative Party realises what it is doing. I am told "You play the referendum card at the last moment". What nonsense! One could not say to the Scottish people, "Now that you have elected a majority of the SNP, let us have a referendum on it." They would be right to cry "Foul". I agree with Professor MacCormick, who says that the mandate should come from the people.

In the television programme last night there was also total understanding of the necessity for the second question in the referendum to deal with the issue of independence. I say to those hon. Members who are opposed to devolution and to those who are in favour of it that this Bill must go through. Let the will of the people decide. I believe that if the Assembly is to be created, it must have the approval of the people for it.

I do not think that approval of a single question is sufficient. That can only be of assistance to the separatist voters. That is why I have argued for the second question. I am absolutely sure that if the Bill is lost in this House, we shall see the rise of nationalism and we shall have an extremely ugly manifestation of it.

There were many people from all sections of public life on the programme last night. They included Chris Grieve, Hugh McDiarmid and Alec Scott, a great authority on Scottish literature and poetry. I was astonished when Alec said that violence will arise if the Bill does not go through the House and is put to the Scottish people.

There is an expectation in Scotland that the Bill will go through. There is an expectation and a willingness to deal with it there, including an expectation by those who are opposed to devolution. That is what I am stressing. The people who do not want devolution are saying the same thing.

Let us fight this battle up there. Let us deal with these people as we should have dealt with them. There is evil in a lot of what has been said under the separatist umbrella. If, because of the final ineptitude of this House, the guillotine motion fails to go through, I for one will shortly finish my political life in this House.

6.41 p.m.

Mr. Gordon Wilson (Dundee, East)

It is clear that the Bill is running into a quagmire. This was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. Henderson) only last week. In those circumstances it is necessary that the House should pass this guillotine motion. No hon. Member, particularly on the Opposition side, likes guillotines, but I am sure that everyone would sigh with relief if it did go through, especially after the tremendous and long debates that we have had.

Time is fundamentally a parliamentary weapon. Therefore, when the guillotine is used, it is the ultimate weapon in the hands of the Government. But all hon. Members in different parties at different times have recognised that there are occasions when the timetable motion proves necessary. My submission is that in this instance that situation has arisen.

We have now got to a crunch position with the Bill and only the guillotine motion can save it. The Labour Government's reputation is on the block. In the October 1974 election, having already become a minority Government in Scotland in February of that year, they deliberately promoted the concept of the Scottish Assembly. During the election campaign they represented it as a powerhouse for Scotland and as a solution for Scotland's economic ills. In advertisements throughout the country they promised that they would seek to introduce a Bill in the coming Parliament and that there would be a Scottish Assembly with powers to deal with substantial aspects of Scotland's affairs. At the end of their major advertisement they put the statement: Labour keeps its promises. Labour Members must therefore be asked whether they are now prepared to keep that promise. Otherwise, they may be represented in Scotland, as indeed we shall represent them, as having put a fraudulent prospectus before the Scottish people in the October 1974 election. If that is their wish, they should vote against the guillotine motion. But if they wish to preserve the reputation of their party in Scotland, they should go into the Lobby on their own side and make sure that the motion goes through.

The first promise, which has already been broken, was that the Scottish Assembly would be powerful. It was said that the Assembly would be able to deal with more aspects of Scottish affairs than have been given to it under the present Bill. But the second promise, if broken now, will prove fatal to the Labour Party's cause in any General Election. I should make clear that we in the SNP will go up and down the country pointing out that the Labour Government and their supporters have broken their word. We would certainly not prevent ourselves from saying also that it was the votes of English Members of Parliament that were responsible for the killing of the Bill. Any hon. Member from an English or other constituency throughout the United Kingdom who takes the view that by voting against the Bill we shall kill the idea of Scottish self government is completely wrong.

It is perfectly fair to say that the majority of Scottish Members of this House are likely to vote for the guillotine motion. If it is defeated by a majority of English, Welsh or Northern Ireland Members, the blame will rest upon every hon. Member of this House, as well as on the Labour and Conservative Parties in Scotland.

The Conservative Party suggested a convention. I would condemn that at the outset as being a time-wasting exercise. It will be time-wasting because for 10 years we went through the various mechanisms of discussion, which resulted in a promise of self-government in a limited form being put before the Scottish people.

Mr. Raison

Does the hon. Gentleman think that this is a good Bill?

Mr. Wilson

If the hon. Gentleman will bear with me, I shall make some remarks about the Bill itself. But we are talking primarily about the guillotine motion.

If the Conservative Party votes against the guillotine and, as a result, the Bill runs into the sand and particularly if there is no replacement for it, the Conservatives will suffer the political consequences in Scotland as well. They have already seen their standing in the political polls decline as a result of their opposition to the Bill on Second Reading. They, too, will have to decide what their view in Scotland will be.

It is perfectly clear that the majority opinion in Scotland regards the Bill as inadequate and full of loopholes and restrictions that will unnecessarily tie down the operations of the Scottish Assembly. I certainly do not maintain that it is a good Bill. But if we continue with a long and extended Committee stage, what guarantee is there that the Bill will be strengthened to include additional powers such as tax-raising powers and oil revenues that the Scottish people should have?

My experience has been that, apart from the amendment on Orkney and Shetland, which was rightly accepted, the Government have been backtracking all along the line. I believe that if the Committee stage is extended, we can expect the powers of the Scottish Assembly to be reduced rather than extended. We may end up with a Bill that is even more unsatisfactory.

Mr. Stephen Ross (Isle of Wight)

I attended a meeting at the weekend at which there was criticism of Members of Parliament. It was suggested that if we knew that things were wrong, we should stand up and say so and vote accordingly. If the hon. Gentleman thinks that this Bill is wrong and full of anomalies, and if he knows that things are not likely to be put right, how does he expect other hon. Members to stand up and vote for it?

Mr. Wilson

I shall put it to the hon. Gentleman fairly clearly. The one essential prime element in the Bill is that it restores, even to a limited degree, the right of the Scottish people to control a certain area of their own affairs. It is that element of democracy which is badly needed in Scotland and which makes this Bill, bad though it is, acceptable to those of us on the Scottish National Party Bench.

I want to echo the remarks of the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan). If this Bill fails, we can be sure that in Scotland the action of this House will give rise to anger and revulsion, and I am certain that at the next General Election Scotland will be represented by a majority of SNP Members demanding independence.

6.50 p.m.

Mr. Maurice Macmillan (Farnham)

This is not a conventional type of guillotine debate, as the right hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel) suggested in a quotation which he made. I do not think that there has been any question even of the legitimate use of time as a parliamentary weapon, as the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) suggested. What has happened is that, as the Bill has been discussed, it has come to be realised more and more in different parts of the House that it is un- workable. Even those who came to it without the prejudice to which I admit, soon began to see that it could not be made to work properly.

Opposition to the Bill has developed on many different grounds, largely from Back Benchers in different parts of the House, and they include hon. Members who are still united in wanting the ends which the Bill ostensibly sets out to achieve, but who have found that there are no means contained in the Bill by which they can reach those ends, no matter how it is altered.

The time in the Lord President's proposed timetable is just not enough to go on revealing these new difficulties and problems which detailed discussion has thrown up. Every time that hon. Members have thought that they have found some way out of a difficulty, that way out in itself has been found to contain fresh problems, because the Bill itself is a nonsense. That is why the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) was so right to emphasise the importance of the detailed debates which have taken place so far.

The amendments and the speeches made about them were serious attempts to deal with the deficiencies in the Bill. They were argued at length, there was very little repetition, and they continued to be argued simply because of the new difficulties which were found, and they went on exposing the lack of clarity in the Bill's proposals.

As other right hon. and hon. Members have said today, it all came back to the main point—the Government's refusal to recognise the basic criticism underlying what has been said from every part of the House, including that implied by the Scottish National Party, that a separate Scottish Assembly of this kind could not work without friction.

There is the division of responsibilities in the different devolved aspects of government. There are the residual powers of the Secretary of State. There is no judicial supervision of Westminster intervention. There are no changes in the regions. It will take a long time to try to right those wrongs. But I suspect that, as we go on, it will take just as long to identify new matters of difficulty which will arise in our detailed discussion of the Bill. The timetable proposed clearly will not leave us the time that we need.

Various arguments have been put forward about what would be the consequences of voting down this motion. The hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) said that there would be sighs of relief all over Scotland. The hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan) implied that there would almost be an instant revolution. If the arguments contained in his speech were correct, we might as well not have had this debate or the Bill at all. He was saying that the people of Scotland would decide by force and that the whole matter had been already taken out of the hands of Parliament.

But I think he is wrong and that there is mounting evidence to support the argument, perhaps more in Scotland than in Wales, that, whatever it is that people want, it is not this Bill. For that reason I do not believe that the dire consequences of destroying the guillotine motion will flow in the way that has been suggested.

I do not care very much for some of the compromise ideas which have been put forward. In my view, the hon. Member for West Lothian is right. There comes a point of choice: the Scottish people have to choose between separation or unity. This Bill contains inexorably and inevitably the seeds of separation. It is the start down that road, and the speech of the hon. Member for Dundee, East showed clearly that this is so. He does not approve of the Bill. He does not think that it goes far enough. He does not think that it will work.

Mr. Powell

But he wants it.

Mr. Macmillan

Yes, and he is voting for the guillotine motion and he supports the Bill for one reason only. It is that it gives him a base on which to build a separate Scotland.

It is time that we in this House accepted our responsibility and showed clearly that we believe in the unity of the United Kingdom. It will not be a Tory lobby that votes against the guillotine. It will not be a Northern Irish lobby, a Liberal lobby, or a Labour lobby; it will be a Unionist lobby, and that is what it should be. That is why I hope that Members of this House who have at heart the true interests of the unity of the United Kingdom will be in that Unionist lobby tonight.

6.58 p.m.

Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)

The right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) said that there was a conflict of loyalty, especially among Labour Members, about this Bill, and we have heard some very emotional speeches. My hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan) spoke completely from the heart, and I feel that his were arguments of which those of us who sit for English constituencies must take note.

There is this conflict of loyalty in many ways. I shall not now argue about how this commitment got into the Labour Party manifesto, although there is a story there. Suffice it to say that it got into the manifesto. It was also carried by the last annual conference of the Labour Party. I shall not go into how that was done, but it was done.

There were these decisions, but, at the same time, Members of this House, regardless of their party, frequently deal with matters about which they feel so passionately, so deeply and so concerned that, even if the proposals are in their party's manifesto or carried by an annual conference, or even if the Members understand fully the basic political reasons why the decisions have been taken, nevertheless they feel that they must act according to what they believe to be in the interests of the nation which they represent in this House of Commons.

In the past I have argued in the House what I see as the Socialist case against the devolution proposals, and certainly against all forms of nationalism, so there is a conflict of loyalty. There is an additional conflict for me in that my trade union was one of the few, probably the only union, which actually debated the devolution proposals at our annual conference and which came out against them. That is why in Scotland, for example, my trade union is part and parcel of the campaign against devolution. It is anti-devolution and certainly anti-nationalist. Therefore, there are conflicts for me.

The Under Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Harry Ewing) rose

Mr. Heller

I do not want to give way to my hon. Friend. Like everyone else in the House, I feel that we should all make our own speeches in our own way, explaining briefly how we feel on this issue.

My hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, West referred to Scottish trade unionists and mentioned in particular Mr. Alec Ferrie, who helped to get the proposal through the Labour Party conference in Scotland and who now says he thinks that he was wrong. This is a matter on which there are deep feelings and deep concern. What, therefore, are we to do?

I have the deepest and greatest respect for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. We have been friends since before I came to the House, and I am sure that we shall continue as friends until the day I die, but that does not mean that I see eye to eye with him on every issue. On the issue of the European Community, for example, he was right and I was wrong for a long time, but he convinced me. If I am open to conviction, I hope that my right hon. Friend is also, particularly on such a fundamental matter as this.

My right hon. Friend rightly and honestly said that the European Communities Bill was unique. Of course it was unique. but the present Bill is also unique in its own way. It is true that the supremacy of this Parliament will remain, but it will be a sort of one-armed, one-legged Parliament, blind in one eye. Part of the decision-making will be taken away from it. The reason I do not like this is not that I am a unionist in the sense that the Tory Party is unionist, although I understand its argument. To me there is a fundamental question here. I appreciate that the Scots and the Welsh have their own culture and their own nations, but over past generations, for hundreds of years, we in Great Britain have become a mixed up nation.

I do not know whether I have Scottish or Welsh blood in my veins, but I probably have. I married a girl whose grandparents on both sides came from Dublin. Where I used to live my next-door neighbour came from Wales and was married to a girl from Glasgow. The kids were Scousers. That is our nation. I fear that there will be great danger if we draw ourselves into separate compartments.

It is no good saying that the present situation is like the Irish situation. The fact is that we went into Ireland and trampled on the Irish. But Scotland joined us on a voluntary basis, although there was a lot of jiggery-pokery at the time. We have not oppressed the Scottish people and we are not oppressing them now. In fact, sometimes when I hear complaints in the House that the Scots never have the right to be heard, I wonder who are the oppressed. More is said about Scotland and Wales than is ever said about Merseyside. If we establish Assemblies and then move towards independence, it will be terribly bad for our country.

How, then, am I to vote? I am in a dilemma. I shall not vote for the Government. I make that absolutely clear. On the other hand, I am a member of the national executive of my party and I was defeated in that national executive on this issue, so I shall either abstain or vote against the Government.

I am listening carefully to the debate, and the more I listen, the more I become convinced that we shall be making a grave mistake. I feel just as deeply, although from the opposite point of view, as my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew-shire, West. I understand his position, but I also ask our Scottish and Welsh colleagues who take different points of view to understand how we feel.

7.7 p.m.

Mr. Malcolm Rifkind (Edinburgh, Pentlands)

Everyone who has listened to the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) will agree that the decision facing us has major importance for the future of our country. I congratulate the Leader of the House on allowing an extension of time for the debate. There were widespread demands for an extension and the large number of hon. Members waiting to speak shows how right his decision was.

For some hon. Members tonight's decision on which way to vote will be easy. Those who are totally hostile to devolution or any form of Scottish and Welsh Assembly will have no difficulty in making up their minds. Clearly, they will have another opportunity to try to prevent any form of devolution taking place. Equally, those who passionately believe that the Bill is just what is required—there seem to be very few of them, and I shall not name them—will also have no difficulty. The nationalist Members will have no difficulty because it does not matter to them whether the Bill is workable. Perhaps it would even help them if the Bill were not workable. At any rate, they will give the guillotine their support.

There are some of us in the middle of these groups who believe in devolution and who want to see a Scottish Assembly and who voted for Second Reading to achieve that end. I accept entirely what the Lord President said earlier—that if the Government are defeated tonight and the guillotine is not obtained, whatever we might say and whatever proposals we add to the proceedings, it is extremely unlikely that the Bill will get on the statute book in any form. I do not think that anyone would argue seriously that a revised Bill or a reformed Bill would get on the statute book. Virtually everyone in the House agrees that there are serious defects in the Bill, and we have to consider whether we should put the Bill on the statute book in spite of that, on the basis that this Bill would be better than no Bill at all.

The hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan) is one of those who believe that devolution is so necessary that the House should accept a Bill which has serious defects and which he believes may be unworkable. He has argued that the provision of a Scottish Assembly under this Bill is better than no Bill and no proposals at all. That view can be put forward, but it does not impress me very much.

The Lord President said that he accepted that there had been no filibustering during the 10 days of the Committee stage. That was an important admission. One has to ask, therefore, for the reason for the guillotine. If the Government accept that the vast majority of speeches so far have been relevant, constructive and desirable in revealing defects in the Bill and in suggesting possible improvements, the logical consequence of a timetable motion is that it will not be possible for speeches to do that on the rest of the Bill.

We have dealt with only four clauses so far, and that leaves 111 to do. Therefore, the Government are saying that, for reasons which may be appropriate, it is preferable to reduce relevant, constructive and helpful debate in order to ensure that the Bill gets on to the statute book.

Since we believe that there are serious defects in the Bill, we can be seriously asked to remove from ourselves the power to deal with it by all the traditional parliamentary methods only if it is reasonable to expect that the Government will accept the need for major changes to the Bill in the 20 days that they have allocated to it. We would want to be assured that they will not merely listen to the points made, not merely offer to give every consideration to them, but that they will accept major amendments. Only if we can believe that can there be an argument for agreeing to what the Government seek.

We cannot look into the future or examine the minds of Ministers, but we can consider how the Government have behaved over the previous 10 days in Committee. I have been grievously disappointed and depressed by their attitude. They have made one or two concessions. They have allowed Orkney and Shetland each to have their own seats in the Assembly. They have agreed to the referendum. They have agreed to consider the size of the Assembly. But it is perhaps significant that the only concession so far squeezed out of the Government relating to the Assembly and the way in which it will operate concerns representation for Orkney and Shetland.

The referendum may be important, but it is a means to an end, not an end in itself. I do not expect the Government to agree to major changes such as I or other hon. Members might want simply in the course of debate. There have been a number of areas, however, which have revealed the Government's attitude in putting forward their proposals. I shall name three of them. Each of these is an area where the Government could have made a major concession without destroying the type of devolution they are seeking.

First, there was the question of whether there should be two Bills, one each for Scotland and Wales. There have been major demands to this effect from both sides of the House. On any logical basis there would be a case for having two Bills. But we know why the Government refused to agree to that. For politi- cal reasons they are anxious, if not desperate, to get the Assemblies established in time for the next General Election. They came to the view—doubtless they were right—that there would be no time to get both Bills on to the statute book if they gave way on this point. That reason cannot be expected to impress those of us who have doubts about the whole set of proposals.

There was then the question of proportional representation. This is a major issue and, as the right hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel) pointed out, it was the one unanimous recommendation of the Kilbrandon Commission. I do not expect the Government simply to accept PR, but if they are being constructive and are not treating the matter in a partisan way, they should have done what my right hon. Friends did, and that was to allow a free vote so that each hon. Member could come to his own decision free of pressure from the Whips or the Front Bench about how they should vote.

If they had allowed a free vote, it would have been a gesture demonstrating their approach to the Bill. I do not know whether the outcome would have been different—that would not have mattered. It would at least have shown that the Government were not being partisan or political and were concerned not only with retaining seats at General Elections but with producing a system of devolution which worked and which was accepted by the bulk of the people in Scotland.

I come finally to the question of the rights of Scottish and Welsh Members in this House after devolution. This is a major area on which our debates have shown the Bill to be defective. By proposing substantial devolution in Scotland and Wales the Government have not proposed any alternative or similar proposals for England. In addition, they have refused to accept that the scheme has any consequences for the workings of this Parliament after devolution. I do not expect the Government to put down major amendments, but it was proposed that the matter should be referred to a Speaker's Conference to consider whether changes might have to be made either in the numbers of Scottish and Welsh Members, or in their right to participate in domestic Bills in this House after devolution.

I recall with depressing clarity that the Leader of the House not merely refused the suggestion of the matter going to a Speaker's Conference, but refused to accept that there was a problem which would have to be dealt with by this House at some time in the future. The Leader of the House and his right hon. and hon. Friends appeared to pretend that this was simply an invention put forward by those seeking to delay the Bill and seeking to be difficult. This was a matter which did not go to the heart of whether the type of devolution proposed by the Government for Scotland was desirable or undesirable, and it illustrated the Government's unwillingness to make any changes, improvements or concessions on their proposals.

On that basis the decision about tonight's vote is not as difficult as one might expect. It has been made easier by the Government's attitude. The Government are anxious that the motion should be carried. They have argued that the whole survival of the Bill and of a major plank of their manifesto depends on that motion. But why have we not heard from the Government a clear statement that this is a matter of confidence? If they believe that this is a fundamental matter which the House has to resolve o[...] the Government will not be able to continue with their business, they clearly should have put it forward on that basis. If Ministers wish to intervene to explain why they have not chosen to make this a matter of confidence, I shall give way to them, but clearly they do not wish to do that.

Over the last three or four weeks members of the Government have not been touring the country arguing the case that the Government have put forward. The least that we could have expected was for Ministers other than the Leader of the House, the Minister of State and the Under-Secretary to make major speeches on this matter. All the other members of the Cabinet could have made one major speech each explaining why the Government believe this Bill to be vital and right in its present form. The only other Cabinet Minister to have spoken is the Secretary of State for Transport, who has made clear his own distaste for the proposals and who is reverting to a party political basis for urging their adoption by this House.

Therefore I hope that if or when this motion is defeated by the House, hon. Members on both sides will not simply assume that the whole subject of devolution will now disappear. On that point, if on nothing else, I agree with the Minister of State. This subject will be a major constitutional issue for many years to come. It may be that the only form of devolution that will be practicable will be a form that applies throughout the United Kingdom on a federal or quasi-federal basis. That is another matter.

It is quite clear to me that the Bill in its present form is defective and unlikely to work, if it is not unworkable. I am sad to say that the Government have not made any clear indication of their desire to remove these fundamental defects which have been acknowledged by both sides of the House. On that basis I shall vote "No".

7.20 p.m.

Mr. Kenneth Lomas (Huddersfield, West)

I am grateful to be able to follow the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind). I appreciate his point of view, but he spoiled his speech by introducing political motives. We are concerned with constitutional issues.

I refer hon. Members to Edmund Burke, not to the great speech he made at Bristol, which every hon. Member will know, but to another made in 1789 when he said: An event has happened, upon which it is difficult to speak, and impossible to be silent. That is the way I feel about the Bill. I have taken no part in the proceedings on it, and I have no intention of taking part, because the Bill is ill-conceived, wrong and diabolical. The sooner the Government have another look at it the better.

In the debate on the European Communities Bill guillotine, the present Leader of the Liberal Party the right hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel) quoted what Mr. Harold Macmillan had said on a similar occasion, as follows: They are influenced by the urgent necessity which every Government feel to carry through their Parliamentary business with some relation to the calendar and to the march of events."—[Official Report, 22nd February 1954; Vol. 524, c. 42.] I have been in the House for twelve and a half years, and I have seen guillotine motions moved by both sides. How true was my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) when he said: I have sat through a good many guillotine debates and escaped from more as if they were the plague, principally because they are so incredibly ritualistic, terribly boring, and predictably impregnated with synthetic fury, depending upon which side of the House one is sitting."—[Official Report, 2nd May 1972; Vol. 836, c. 301.] Let us decide either to say at the beginning of a Bill's passage that there shall be a timetable motion or that we shall continue debating it through the nights and keep people up, which would be nonsense. The party Whips know what happens. Their Members play cowboys and Indians, disappearing and reappearing at 2 o'clock in the morning. That is a nonsense, and the sooner we get down to the argument the better.

I have evidence that devolution is a threat to Yorkshire and Humberside. The Huddersfield Examiner, a paper worth reading by all hon. Members, has said: Devolution for Scotland and Wales could hit the interests of Yorkshire and Humberside today. This is made clear in a report of the Yorkshire and Humberside Economic Planning Council, which has looked at this problem. The report says that Yorkshire will suffer as a direct result of this devolution. What we have embarked upon is something more than joining the European Community. We are deciding whether we want to dismember the United Kingdom. I do not want to.

I am a Lancastrian. I represent a Yorkshire seat, I lived in Cheshire for 25 years, I have a flat in London, but I am English. More than that, I am British. That is the point. I stand for the unity of the United Kingdom. If this Bill in any way takes away the authority of the United Kingdom and says that we should feed it out to the Scottish, the Welsh and the Irish, I do not give a damn. We are part of the United Kingdom.

My concept of Socialism may differ from that of many of my hon. Friends. I take the view that the object of Socialism is to get rid of the barriers which divide nations and to get rid of the boundaries which divide countries from countries. Here we have a great opportunity, yet all we are doing is running on the little castles of Stormont, the little castles of Scotland, and the little isolated villages in Wales. Is this Socialism? Of course it is not.

I tell the Whips—I do not quite know who they are, bcause they vary from time to time—that I shall not vote for the Government tonight. I shall vote against them on my own terms. I refer to no better authority than—

Mr. Speaker

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will excuse me for interrupting him, but he did tell me that he wanted to speak for just five minutes. It must have been a Welsh five minutes.

Mr. Lomas

I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker. I have one minute to go—an Irish minute.

I should like to quote from a book which I hope all hon. Members have read, written by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. The subject is Aneurin Bevan. Describing how Nye Bevan addressed the Labour Party Conference, my right hon. Friend wrote: And he talked, too, of making the Labour Party effective in action, and of the importance of our new-found unity, and yet he could add in the next breath, and no one could challenge him: 'I do not regard loyalty to parties as the first of all loyalties. There are other supreme loyalties.' My loyalty is to Britain, to the United Kingdom, and I will not see us seek to dismember the House of Commons. I shall vote accordingly tonight.

7.29 p.m.

Mr. Julian Amery (Brighton, Pavilion)

The hon. Member for Huddersfield, West (Mr. Lomas) has sat through most of the speeches this afternoon, as I have. I left the Chamber for a short time earlier and was interested to find a discussion going on of the serious suggestion that this might be a Hybrid Bill. The argument is that it discriminates between British subjects of the same category, particularly between Scots and Welsh of the same category. I am not an expert in these matters, and I do not propose to devote my remarks to the subject, beyond saying that, whatever the technicalities of hybridity, I join the hon. Gentleman in saying that the Bill is divisive, or potentially divisive, of the people of this country. Because so many hon. Members in all parts of the House have made it so clear that it is potentially divisive, the Bill cannot reasonably be subjected to a timetable motion.

That has been in the minds of many of us, but I do not think that this has been the supreme consideration. I think that the greatest consideration has been the impact of the Bill on the authority—I will not even say the sovereignty—of Parliament. We have seen the authority of Parliament diminished in many fields over the past generation. We have seen defence increasingly transferred to the control of NATO and have seen our foreign policy and trade policy transferred to the European Community. In these matters I have been a consenting party; and the House has had many opportunities to debate them.

The great issue that faces the country today is our economic and social problem. Although the newspapers this morning were full of the Prime Minister's decision to maintain the Chancellor of the Exchequer at his post, we all know that control of our economic and financial policy no longer rests in the Treasury. So long as we are dependent on the IMF loan, the safety net and all the rest that goes with it, it rests in Washington. We are in a corset where economic policy is concerned and, therefore, where social policy is concerned.

Now this Bill restricts the authority of Parliament over a large part of the United Kingdom. The anxiety of hon. Members in all parts of the House is that this is dangerous, that it could lead to separation—I shall not rehearse the arguments about that; they have been repeated often enough—but if it is not to lead to separation it must be examined minutely, through the microscope of parliamentary discussion. The timetable motion before us makes that impossible. The Bill will not be subjected to the minute scrutiny that it requires.

That is perhaps the main reason why I think that the Government are wrong in going against the sense of the House, and, I may add, for what it is worth the sense of the Press, not only the Rightwing Press but The Guardian and many other expressions of opinion. When I talk about the sense of the House I should like to say this: I have been in the ser- vice of the House for some years and very often, perhaps most often, I have seen our debates dominated by sectional interests, by people speaking for business—trusts, trade unions or unions or a particulary industry—agriculture or whatever it may be. Very often we have seen people animated or influenced by personal ambition. But I think that our debates on the Bill have been the most disinterested I have had the opportunity to observe since I entered the House in 1950.

I pay tribute to those Scottish Members on the Opposition Benches who have been absolutely firm—not all of them, but those who feel that way—in saying that they are against devolution. I also pay tribute to those Labour Members who have come out against their own Government. Perhaps it has been the most difficult task for them, but they have denounced the Bill because of their deep conviction that it offends the unity of the Kingdom.

Here we have had in a sense a curious playback of the Irish Home Rule Bill, over which the extremes of the Liberal Party, the Whigs and the Radicals, found it impossible to reconcile Mr. Gladstone's proposals with their own deep conviction that the unity of the Kingdom must be preserved. Although it was contrary to their personal interests and their party interests, both the right wing and the left wing of the Liberal Party determined to stop that measure going through. With that history behind our debate, the Government would have been well advised not to press on regardless, not to think that they could use this House as a rubber stamp for a measure which is clearly unacceptable not only to the Opposition but probably to a majority of their own supporters; certainly the majority of those who have attended the debates upon the Bill.

After all, this is not a party issue. If the matter was dealt with in the Labour Party manifesto, it was in pretty small print. What we are concerned with is the unity of the United Kingdom, whther we look at the question as Tories, thinking of the importance of the defence and the economic influence of Britain, or from a Left-wing point of view, bearing in mind the importance of central planning and all that goes with it. The unity of the Kingdom is what is at stake. The vote tonight will in all probability decide whether that unity will be broken. I pray that on this issue all of us on both sides of the House will stand up and be counted.

7.38 p.m.

Mr. Eric Moonman (Basildon)

If the debate has been eccentric over the past few days, and even today, the Government must bear a heavy responsibility. I agree with the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) that we have been given an impossible burden. We have today heard some moving speeches, some that showed the deepest sincerity. I believe that the Government have lost the sense of the House. One hon. Member said earlier that when there is a general reaction against a Bill from all sides of the House, and not only from one side, it has to mean that a Government should take care and show considerable sensitivity. To me it means that the Government have lost their touch in handling the House. That is a serious charge.

However, the Government have had sufficient warning during the Bill's progress so far. I am not impressed by the fact that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House said that we must take serious account of the way in which they had succeeded in all the votes thus far. We well know that the job of the Government party, through its Whips and its Ministers, is to ensure that they do just that. I do not believe that an analysis of the voting would reflect particularly well on that type of argument.

The Government have not only created a situation in which there is a division between the parties, which may be understandable. Much more fundamental, it has resulted in serious speeches day after day reflecting the genuine concern of Labour Members. The fact that one or two Members have used this occasion to say that with all the good intentions and respect they have for the Government policies, they are unable to vote for this motion tonight—and that is my position—must mean that, whatever the outcome of the vote tonight the Government must learn from it.

It is saddening that even after many days of debate and at this late stage, the suggestion made by the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) about some form of constitutional conference or discussion should be rejected by the Leader of the House. The right hon. Member's suggestion is an attempt to deal with some of the difficulties that we face. The idea and concept of all-party discussion is a serious one. The right hon. Member is trying to look beyond the vote at 10 o'clock and see what will happen tomorrow morning.

In debating this Bill and offering new and substantial changes, the Government shifted course in a drunken manner from day to day. I got no clue at all from the speech of the Leader of the House—and I do not expect to get it from the wind-up—that has enabled me to obtain an insight into what will happen when the Government are defeated, as they surely will be, this evening. I would like to know. It is possible that there has been no discussion even in the highest places about what will happen tomorrow and on Thursday. Thursday is another scheduled day on the Bill. If my right hon. Friend wants to add a little seriousness and constructiveness to the extraordinary attitude the Government have displayed so far, he should take on board rather more seriously the suggestions that have been made. These would help the Government, and help to place the subject on to a different level, enabling us some time to consider this important issue of devolution as it affects the whole of the United Kingdom.

Certainly most hon. Members are anxious to see order and purpose in our debates and most have reflected at some time or other on the worth of the guillotine. It is a perfectly legitimate device to enable a Government to assert their majority in the face of delaying tactics. It has been used on many occasions in this House by governments of all parties, and I believe that it was first used as long ago as 1881. Usually when the guillotine is used, reference is made by those wishing to see it introduced to the fact that there has been some form of filibustering going on. But my right hon. Friend did not say that delaying tactics or filibustering had been used on this Bill, and he has attended all the discussions. In fact he said that there had been no extended speeches and no filibustering. The present case differs from previous Bills that have been subjected to the guillotine. This is not a normal Bill on which a guillotine should be used. It is a major constitutional change and it is appropriate that there should be prolonged examination and discussion of the issues involved.

Although it is a Government Bill, neither the Government nor the Opposition are united in having the full support of their Members, either in favour of the Bill or in opposing it. This reflects the arguments and the uncertainty throughout the United Kingdom about the merits of devolution. This uncertainty extends not just to English, who have not been consulted at all about this subject

We have had some extraordinary references to the discussions in the election campaigns of 1974. It was not only in small print, the subject hardly existed at all in the manifestos or campaign speeches of most English Members. The uncertainties about devolution are reflected in recent public opinion polls in Scotland which suggest that the idea of opposition to devolution is growing as more people become more informed about the implications. It is a slow process. Some politicians may feel that the devolution debate has gone on too long. But among the people we represent, discussion and information began to circulate only with the introduction of the Bill last November. It would be quite wrong to hurry it through and to present the electorate with a fait accompli before the matter has been thoroughly discussed and the public debates have run their course.

Having given time for discussion, the Government should hold the referendum in Scotland, England and Wales before the Bill becomes law, instead of pushing it through Parliament without allowing time for proper scrutiny. This is insupportable. What is the hurry? What would a delay mean, except to ensure that the matter was thoroughly discussed and the legislation properly drafted?

If the reason for the urgency is the legislation that is being kept out of the House by the devolution Bill then the way to deal with this is not to cut short discussion but to defer the Bill until we can discuss it properly.

Certainly there are more urgent matters that this House should be debating, but not at the expense of a full and free discussion on the serious constitutional issues involved in the Bill. The Government have not only got it wrong, but they have misjudged the whole mood of the political scene in the House and in the constituencies. There is no clamour, case or argument for hurrying the Bill through except from a small group which has been extremely successful. But only when this small group added its voice to the debates in this House did we get to grips with the whole reality of how it sees devolution. Devolution in the sense of extending democracy is not its aim. We have heard Members of the Scottish National Party refer to the squalid way in which they demand a share of oil revenues, and this raises the whole concept of a new economic infrastructure in an Assembly.

It is to the shame of this Government that they were so impressed with these arguments that they lost the way, the insight and the sense of Members of this House, and in particular Members of their own party. That must be put right later tonight.

7.47 p.m.

Mr. Iain Sproat (Aberdeen, South)

I am happy to follow the hon. Member for Basildon (Mr. Moonman) and to link the essence of his speech with that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery), who pointed out how gratifying it was to have Members who feel deeply and strongly about the issue to see how other hon. Members in all parts of the House can rise above party issues.

One could ask why our English colleagues are not happy to get rid of the Scots. They could at least be certain of a permanent English majority, perhaps for ever. But they are sticking up not just for what is best for England, but what is best for the United Kingdom as a whole.

One of the great pleasures for me in taking part in these debates is the feeling that one is speaking above and beyond party issues. We are all here to serve this country as a whole, not just Scotland, England, Wales, or Ulster, and I count it as a great privilege to do this.

The Leader of the House started by saying that there had been no filibustering on this Bill. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heller) pointed out that when the Leader of the House was a lowly Labour Back Bencher, speeches of one-and-a-half hours on the House of Lords (No. 2) Bill were as nothing. In fact they were scattered like confetti through the pages of Hansard. Nobody, apart from Front Bench spokesmen, has spoken for more than 20 minutes at any stage in this Bill. There has been no filibustering.

I say this not to convince the House, because the House knows it, but I say this to the newspapers of Scotland which in recent days have spoken about filibusters. Leaders have spoken of wreckers and of attempts to talk out the Bill. I do not know whether that displays ignorance among the media, but what do they think democracy is? Are they saying that those who are opposed to the Bill should not be allowed to speak against it for 15 or 20 minutes simply because some leader writers do not like the idea? It is horrifying that those who occupy important positions in the media should be so ignorant of the methods of this House and the principles of democracy.

The whole subject of the introduction of a guillotine is vexed. Although one is more or less in favour of guillotines, depending on which side of the House one occupies, one tries to rise above such considerations. There is a general feeling in the House that we have not got our procedures quite right and that some way should be found to avoid sitting through the night on certain issues. However, I look with scepticism at those arguments. I agree that at 4 o'clock in the morning the prospect of avoiding a further two hours' debate is somewhat appealing, but the House should beware of anybody taking it for granted that it is wrong for us to go through the night if hon. Members have something to say. That is what freedom of speech is all about. Is freedom of speech to be judged by how tired people are the next day? I do not think that there is a satisfactory way of reconciling those two options.

If a Government attempt to timetable a Bill halfway through or a tenth of the way through, as on this Bill, it is self-evident that this must be wrong, if only for the reason that one cannot know in advance how much time to allocate to certain parts of the Bill. Nobody is so prescient as to know that. We all remember the recent discussion involving whether the number of Scottish Members of Parliament should be cut from 71 to 56, or whatever the figure might have been. That began as a somewhat run-of-the-mill amendment and yet the Government could not obtain the closure and discussion ran on and on.

We then ran into all the irreconcilable options involving 71 Scottish Members talking about English education, which was considered to be unfair to Members in England, and on the other hand, the consideration that if fewer than 71 Scottish Members spoke about taxation in this House it was regarded as unfair to Scotland. Those irreconcilable elements became apparent only as the night wore on. We are not all so brilliant that we pick up points of argument immediately, but the moment the situation became clear, we realised that the Government were wrong. This was an element in the Bill that they had not properly considered and they were not prepared to give a proper answer.

I do not think I have ever heard a worse speech than that delivered on that occasion by the Leader of the House in trying to reconcile the arguments. His performance was abominable because it was borne in on the right hon. Gentleman that he was seeking to maintain an indefensible position. Hammer blow after hammer blow struck home.

If we had agreed to the closure after only three hours of debate, that would not have happened and a false result would have been reached. So often in our debates the force of an argument has become clear not only because of the brilliance of the speaker, but because of the fact that many hon. Members have had the time to deploy their brilliance or their pedestrian common sense.

I am against a timetable motion on the Scotland and Wales Bill because if any bill requires microscopic scrutiny, it is this. It is equally clear that it will not get that scrutiny if the measure is subject to a timetable motion. Clearly, many amendments and clauses may hardly be scrutinised at all if the guillotine motion is agreed. The Government have no idea what important amendments may be tabled in future on this important measure, and there would be no time to debate those matters.

There can be no doubt that this guillotine is wrong. I very much hope that the prophecies made by the hon. Member for Basildon prove to be correct and that the Government will be defeated tonight. There is no doubt that the country is against this guillotine motion. I do not think that there is anybody in this House, not even a Member of the SNP, who takes the view that if a referendum were conducted throughout the country as a whole, it would prove to be in favour of the Bill. Therefore, the Government are trying to guillotine a measure that is against the wishes of the people of this country.

Mr. Eric Odgen (Liverpool, West Derby)

They could not care less.

Mr. Sproat

Who could not care less?

Mr. Ogden

I speak only for the people on Merseyside and those whom I know in England, and I do not speak for the majority of the country, but so far as my information goes I believe that the majority of English constituents could not care less whether Scotland or Wales stays or goes. Those people have no interest at all in this Bill.

Mr. Sproat

I do not believe that. I think that what is true is that the people of England have not thought about the matter with the same force and intensity as have the people of Scotland. The people of Scotland—if I may use a phrase with which I do not agree—have thought about these matters more than have the people of England. The hon. Member for Huddersfield, West (Mr. Lomas) said that he was an Englishman but above all British. If this matter were put to the English people, they would take a similar attitude.

It is interesting to note that people in England would be against the Bill on grounds of local interest. I have received a minute of the recent conference in Tyne and Wear at which the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) spoke. It was said at that meeting that the Bill was a load of rubbish and that people wanted to chuck it out. No doubt different parts of England would wish to chuck out the Bill. No doubt if I lived in Cornwall I would take the view that because Cornwall is further from London than are certain parts of Scotland, as a Cornishman I would require something to be done about that situation. I believe that the people of Scotland are beginning to go against the Bill as well.

Reference has been made to opinion polls. Whatever else those polls show in Scotland, they certainly show a massive continuing swing against the concept of devolution. I do not doubt that the country as a whole is against the Bill, and therefore it would be wrong to pass this guillotine motion. There is no doubt what would happen if there were a free vote in the House.

Mr. MacFarquhar

I suggest that a swing that went one way in the last six months, which may cheer the hon. Gentleman, may well go another way if this motion goes against the Government tonight.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Myer Galpern)

Order. Let us not go too deeply into opinion polls. Let us stick to the guillotine motion.

Mr. Sproat

I apologise for being led down that fascinating track.

The country is against the Bill and so are the majority of hon. Members. I do not think that any hon. Member seriously contends that if there were a free vote, with no Whips, the whole Bill would not be massively thrown out. The Government have lost the sense of the House —that was a good phrase of the hon. Member for Basildon. That is exactly what has happened. The Government are out of touch with the people and with the House.

Because of false reasons and calculations that they will benefit electorally, the Government are trying to push the Bill through, but they will find that they cannot do it. At the end of the day, the Government cannot defy both the House of Commons and the people of the country. That is why they are having such problems with their own Members tonight.

It is not just a question of people causing trouble or of local interests or of the Whips being too strong or not strong enough. The House of Commons knows that if it does not defeat the Bill it will not be reflecting what the country wants.

The guillotine is inappropriate. This is a constitutional issue of such magnitude that it is totally wrong to impose a guillotine in this way. I shall not be tempted into the Common Market issue at length except to say that the Bill on that matter had only 15 clauses and the matter had been discussed for 10 years. This Bill has 115 clauses and this is the first time that we have had a chance to discuss it.

This is a major constitutional issue. We are talking about a proposal that may lead to the break up of the United Kingdom. Those of us who have fought the measure since it was first mooted have done so because we believe that it may lead to a break-up. All the other reasons of cost, fresh bureacracy and an added layer of government also concern me, but what particularly worries me is the fact that we shall be dismembering our own country.

The hon. Member for Huddersfield, West made a patriotic speech and that is what it comes down to. Hon. Members on both sides of the House feel that that which concerns their patriotic instincts is being eroded, and that is why there will be a resounding vote against the Government tonight from Welsh, Scottish, Ulster and English Members.

8.3 p.m.

Mr. Leo Abse (Pontypool)

The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) rested his argument upon the contribution made by the Leader of the House to the Select Committee, emphasising that once a guillotine motion fell, there would be a qualitative change in the nature of the debate that would follow. When such a point of view is put forward it is bound to have resonance from all of us, whether we have been in the House for a long or a short time. If the guillotine fell on this occasion it would mean that there would be not only this qualitative change, but that from then on, there would be an entrenched position. It would follow that the Government would no longer feel any necessity or need to yield in any way to whatever opportuning came from any quarter. On this occasion there would be another qualitative change because it has been decided that there will be a referendum and once that was known the temptation would be to talk so much not to each other but to those outside who would be participating in the referendum. Up to the present time, curiously and substantially, that temptation has been resisted because we have become involved in the debate.

The debate has been real and not artificial. We have found ourselves focusing, as parliamentarians, upon the serious contradictions within the Bill. Because we knew that and thought that the highlighting of those contradictions should take a higher place than merely involving ourselves in what could become important—the barnstorming of a referendum—we did not yield to temptation. We spoke clause by clause in a way that, as the Leader of the House rightly said, never amounted to filibustering.

But, of course, if the Government now have their way and get the guillotine, the nature of the debate will change. For the people of Wales the fall of the guillotine will mean that there will be no real possibility for any genuine debate to take place on the many issues that are arousing anxiety within the Principality. The Government's failure to fulfil their promise, made in the autumn of 1975, that in the spring of 1976 a draft Bill would be presented to the House—a Bill that would have been discussed and that would have had the attention that this is now receiving—means that this Bill has not had that attention. Had the Government fulfilled that promise, the contradictions in the Bill that are apparent to the House now would have become apparent then.

We have received no explanation at all from the Government about why—as has been pointed out—that important intermediate stage was not given as promised. We could, perhaps, have avoided some of the problems that we now face.

Nor has any adequate explanation been given and no convincing argument has ever been presented about why there are two Bills within the one Bill. The Scottish and Welsh provisions are so inextricably enmeshed within the Bill that when we made a belated attempt by way of amendment to divide the Bill, the Chair ruled that that could not be done because it was impossible to extricate the content relating to Wales from that relating to Scotland. Because of that we are now being asked to pass the guillotine motion. That will inevitably mean that most of the time that will be allocated for the Bill will legitimately be taken up with consideration of the Scottish provisions. Welsh matters are bound to become an afterthought.

If there were a consensus in Wales to accept the Bill, one would perhaps say that not very much more time was required and that the House was being generous. It could be said that if the Leader of the House devised, with the help of the Business Committee, amendments in such a form that there would be some time for Wales, that would be sufficient. But as the debate has proceeded and as interest has grown in Wales about the Bill, so there has been a rising tide of opinion against the Bill.

There have been alarms from the National Union of Teachers and there are amendments down to deal with that matter. Will those amendments be dealt with? Rightly or wrongly—but in my view legitimately—Welsh teachers feel that if the Bill goes through in its present form, their mobility will be destroyed and their salaries and superannuation will be dealt with by a body that they do not wish to deal with such matters. The responsibility for dealing with professional misconduct could fall into the hands of Welsh Assembly men who will be untried, untested, and unsuited for this task. The teachers' case will go unheard.

NALGO in Wales is now organising a lobby to the House because it knows quite well that although a spurious attempt was made to sell the Bill to Wales affecting that there was nothing within the Bill that would directly affect local government, it is clear from the references that have already been made, and those that the Secretary of State for Wales has announced that he intends to make to the Assembly, that the future of NALGO members is indeterminate and in a state of flux. It is natural that they are organising lobbies.

As the debate proceeds in Wales, the implications are understood and there is an increasing clamour for more consideration to be given to all these individual rights. Far beyond the sectional interests, there will be no time under a guillotine to deal with those matters about which Wales is so anxious. The Welsh language is an important subject but is it believed that there will be time to discuss amendments designed to provide that there will be no unfair action barring people in Wales who do not speak Welsh from promotion or reaching the elite of the new bureaucracy that is to be established?

Some people suggest that it is extravagant to claim that this could happen, but many believe that there will be no question of parity between Welsh and English but rather a claim, which already exists in some quarters, for the superiority of Welsh. Those who dispute that this might happen, base their argument on the fact that the majority of Assembly men will be able to speak only English, but that is no argument. Anxiety pervades Wales because people know the belligerent attitude adopted by so many in Plaid Cymru and the Welsh Language Society and they fear that the aggressiveness of that campaign will be pursued when the Assembly is established.

Unless the amendments to which I refer are discussed—and I do not believe that they will be—if there is a guillotine the Assembly will be bilingual and there will inevitably be a need for bilingual civil servants and bilingual staff to service the committees. It would flow through the body politic of Wales. The Leader of the House does not believe me, but many people in Wales do.

Mr. Foot

A few people in Wales might believe it because they might attach some importance to the rigmarole of rubbish which my hon. Friend has recited to the House. Of course matters can be discussed before the Bill goes through. There will be more time to discuss this Bill than there has been for almost any other Bill. For my hon. Friend to spread false alarms and fears and anxieties is a shocking misuse of his time.

Mr. Abse

The Leader of the House is losing his temper. I understand that because I understand that he is under great pressure. However, can he give an undertaking that the House will have an opportunity to consider the issues that I have been categorising, including teachers, NALGO and the Welsh language? Of course he cannot. There will be no adequate discussion of these major matters and a whole host of other topics that are causing concern.

For example, shall we be able to discuss the fact that, after a firm pledge that the Welsh Development Agency would be under the control of Parliament, it is apparently going to be transferred to the Assembly? This is a serious step and it means that the Agency will have—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman legitimately mentioned certain fields of government that may not be discussed because of the guillotine, but he cannot argue in detail about those matters.

Mr. Abse

The Leader of the House was suggesting that we had so much time available, and I was adumbrating some of the issues—and I had hardly begun—that everyone knows need to be discussed. Is it suggested that we shall be able to discuss the fact that, contrary to what was in the original White Paper, the Welsh Development Agency, which affects so much of the future employment in Wales, is to be transferred to the Assembly? Can the Leader of the House assure us that time is available for all these issues to be discussed? Of course he cannot.

The purpose of a guillotine is to gag and the purpose of this guillotine is to stifle the voices of those of us, particularly those from Wales, who have brought before the House issues that are being discussed in Wales.

Mr. Foot


Mr. Abse

I understand the Leader of the House's problems, especially in the light of the fact that the Gwent County Council, within whose area both our constituencies fall, has unequivocally declared in the past week that it wants nothing to do with the Bill. I understand that the Leader of the House is under great pressure.

The purpose of a debate such as this is to make clear to the people of Wales that we shall not have an opportunity to reshape the Bill which the majority of people believe to be so replete with contradictions that it is unacceptable. If the Bill went through in its present form, it would be offensive to all those who believe that in these days, as perhaps never before, there should be no emphasis upon national distinctions because when we look at our children and realise that they are in danger of becoming the last generation in an atom bomb age, boundaries should be blurred and not emphasised.

The Bill is contrary to the views of those who are inspired and moved by a belief that, however difficult it may be, people have to rub out old national identities and reach out to become citizens of one world. When we see a Bill of this kind, that is fundamentally sick in its nature, we are concerned that there should be any attempt to curtail discussion. It is not a decentralisation Bill; it institutionalises ethnocentric views and they always bring the corollary of xenophobia.

If we allow the Bill to go through in its present form we shall divide the Kingdom and divide the workers of Great Britain. Wales has always made a great contribution, reaching out beyond parish pump politics and parochial views. Its people want to see these issues fully debated because, as yet, they have not begun to be debated. The Leader of the House cannot expect me and many other hon. Members from Wales to support his motion.

8.18 p.m.

Mr. Joseph Godber (Grantham)

In view of what the spokesman for the SNP said about oil revenues, I declare my interest as chairman of one of the smaller oil companies operating in the North Sea. It has no bearing on what I wish to say, but I should not want the House to be misled.

I seldom speak in the House nowadays and when I came into the Chamber I had no intention of seeking to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. However, I was so totally dissatisfied with the speech of the Leader of the House and I found some of his arguments so repugnant that I have found it necessary to seek to catch your eye.

We are involved in a serious debate on an issue of the most major importance that it is impossible to exaggerate. I have participated in, and even defended from the Government Front Bench, guillotine motions on more than one occasion. I know that guillotine motions have to take place if the business of the House is to continue. Although Oppositions always denounce them and Governments always defend them, that is something that I think we all understand and accept. However, I find it difficult to consider this guillotine motion in the same way as the majority of those that have come before us. This is an issue of such tremendous importance that we cannot judge it in that way.

As hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber have made clear, there is a genuine fear— the Government may not share it—that the Bill could lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom. If that view is honestly held, as it is, by many hon. Members, they are fully entitled to use every device of the House to seek to prevent the Bill from becoming law. That is a tradition of the House and I think that the Leader of the House should bear that in mind.

It is not for me to come between the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends when he talks about a farrago of nonsense and wasting the time of the House. That seems strange from the mouth of the right hon. Gentleman when I recall what he has said on many occasions in the past. In the past I always admired the present Leader of the House for the way in which he stood up for the traditions of the House, but I am now finding it more and more difficult to do so.

When the right hon. Gentleman said at the end of his speech this afternoon that he sought to invoke the honour of the House, that was one step too far for me. I do not see how this Government, and certainly not this Leader of the House, can invoke the honour of the House in the arguments that have been advanced this afternoon. I denounce that attempt because I treat it as being contemptible.

It seems that the Government have let their wishes run away with them in this regard. I do not wish to take a long time as I know that there are many who wish to speak, but I place on record my feeling of revulsion on hearing the arguments put forward by the right hon. Gentleman this afternoon. My determination to vote against the motion has been reinforced rather than lessened.

I tell the right hon. Gentleman that I am opposed to the motion. I am opposed to the Bill because I believe passionately in the unity of the United Kingdom. I believe that that unity is being put at risk. There are those who may disagree with me, but I believe that there are many in the House who feel as I do and who are entitled to express their view and to continue expressing it.

If one is to seek to invoke the honour of the House, I suggest that such honour rests truly and honestly in the minds and hearts of those who are willing dispassionately to consider an issue of this sort and to come to their own decision and their own judgment. That is the way that I believe that the honour of the House really lies and can be tested. I believe passionately in that concept. That is why I entered the Chamber to say what I have just said. I do not often intervene in debates nowadays but I could not let remarks pass such as the right hon. Gentleman made this afternoon without refuting them as I do now.

8.24 p.m.

Mr. Arthur Blenkinsop (South Shields)

Several hon. Members have referred to the Bill as being divisive. I imagine that they mean divisive not necessarily purely in the House but having a divisive impact in Scotland and Wales as well. What we must consider is whether the rejection of the attempt to bring the main issue to a decision would not be far more divisive. That is the anxiety that many of us sincerely hold.

Like other hon. Members, I have had experience of guillotine measures over many years. I know full well from experience that the determined and implacable opposition of a relatively small group of Members can at any time prevent any Government from getting their business if they are not prepared to use the guillotine procedure. We have had experience of that on many occasions. In some cases my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has taken part and in some cases he has not. The small group concerned will always arrogate to itself the authority of speaking on behalf of the whole House. Indeed, in more expansive moments it will very often say that it is speaking for the whole country, although it is a bit difficult sometimes to discover how it achieves that understanding. It is true that there have been some majestic occasions when a small and determined minority has expressed, as time has gone on, the real, wider feeling in the country. I do not deny that, but it would be arrogant for any minority group to suggest that that is inevitably so. I suggest that it is arrogant for some of my hon. Friends and for some Opposition Members to make such a claim on this occasion.

Dr. Phipps

To suggest that it is a small minority of Labour Members that is trying to prevent the passage of the Bill is surely to mislead on the basis of all the evidence that we have had during the past two years. Is my hon. Friend prepared to speculate on what would have happened had the Government Front Bench been prepared to give Government Members a free vote?

Mr. Blenkinsop

Hon. Members can take their own view of the matter in their own way. The Government are entitled to use the guillotine procedure to ensure in this case that the issue is brought to a decision. The danger is that if a guillotine procedure were not used the whole issue would drift into the sands as on previous occasions and no decision would be reached. In all probability unless special action is taken almost certainly the views of those in Scotland and Wales who are especially concerned will not be taken into account, or at least that is a considerable possibility.

Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington) rose—

Mr. Blenkinsop

I have no intention of delaying the House unduly, and, therefore, I shall not give way any further.

Naturally Members in the North of England are particularly concerned and affected by the present position. I am not surprised that some of my hon. Friends take a strong and implacable view about the Bill. Indeed, other Members have expressed such a view. What should be made clear is that many of them who take that sort of view have taken it perfectly honourably and properly against the whole procedure of the Bill. But some are giving the impression that their objection is to the amount of time available for the Bill. In my view that is not the real background of feeling of most of those who have expressed an opposition attitude during the debate. Their real opposition is to the proposals in the Bill.

It is right that North of England Members especially should feel particularly affected by possible changes in Scotland. I suggest to my hon. Friends who take that view that while there are clear dangers in the proposals contained in the Bill there are also clear dangers if these measures are not carried through in some such form as we have them before us today.

We shall not escape our problems in the North of England by rejecting this motion. One of my anxieties is lest this issue should be used as an excuse for our not tackling adequately ourselves the major economic and other problems that we face. We should be very unwise to use this issue as that kind of excuse.

Of course we need to fight for vigorous action. For long enough I have wanted an elected regional body in the North of England. I see that inevitably as a longterm issue for the future, but there are many immediate issues for which we can rightly fight now, including perhaps a development agency or some regional development of the National Enterprise Board. They are important matters for us in view of the industrial, economic and financial issues that face us in the North.

However, we shall be facing those problems whether the Bill goes through or not. Anyone who imagines that voting against this motion will be a brave stroke for the North is in for a real disappointment. Some of my hon. Friends may be deluded into a vote against the guillotine with that impression. I fear that they will find that they are mistaken.

8.31 p.m.

Mr. Timothy Raison (Aylesbury)

It is hardly for me to speak for the North of England—[An HON. MEMBER: "No."]— I am happy to speak for the whole of Britain: that is what this whole story is about—but I would just say to the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop) that the consequence of the Government's measure will be that when the arguments take place about the national cake or the block grant or whatever it is called, Scotland will have a Secretary of State, an Assembly, an Executive and 71 Members of Parliament to press its arguments. They will form a powerful phalanx and the North of England will be liable to come out very badly as a consequence.

I make no bones about wanting the guillotine to fail because I want the Bill to fail. Throughout this long Committee stage—and there is much more to come—now procedure has worked. Parliament has given the Bill a scrutiny and an analysis that have not been given to it by anyone else. It is a fairly common experience that what the Press says one week Parliament says the next. This time, it has been the other way around. It is we who have carried out the analysis and shown the great weaknesses of the Bill.

I do not propose to go through those weaknesses in detail—we have done so before and shall be doing so again—but it is significant that the Liberal Party, which started with enthusiasm for the Bill, has changed its position as a result of this analysis and that some of my hon. Friends, like my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch), who were ardent devolutionists have come to see the weaknesses of this structure.

It has become apparent that the Bill is not capable of remedy by amendment. Its structure is too profoundly wrong. We know the reasons—above all, the attempt to graft the Executive and the Assembly in Scotland and the Assembly in Wales on to a unitary structure. Another is the attempt inherent in the Bill to split social and economic policy which just cannot be done.

We know, too, of the effect of the Bill on the unity of the United Kingdom, which was dealt with in one of our longer and most important debates. The Govverment themselves have recognised in their White Paper "Our Changing Democracy "that these proposals concern the whole United Kingdom. That is an important point to remember.

Also we have established that the Bill is a vehicle for unremitting friction. The block grant is the most obvious example, but one thinks also of the strong formal position that Scotland will be in. That is bound to generate friction that has never existed before. We have in the past taken a reasonable view of the problems of each of the member countries of the United Kingdom. We have been content to assess their needs and to accept that if Scotland has great needs, judged objectively, it should receive a large share of the resources. But from now on we are bound to look at these matters in a more nationalistic and competitive way.

I shall not go into the whole imbroglio of Scottish and Welsh representation, but I have stressed before the parallel, point about the extraordinary difficulty of trying to operate under concurrent powers. This was interestly illustrated during discussions on a Private Member's Bill introduced by the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) on Friday when Scottish Members supported his view that that Bill should contain provisions for how Scotland should deal with homelessness. Even a Scottish hon. Member who is in favour of devolution thought it right that that Bill should contain provisions for Scotland. If the Government scheme goes through, every Scottish hon. Member of Parliament will have the right to introduce Private Member's Bills concerning devolved matters in Scotland. Can anyone say that that is not a recipe for chaos?

There are many arguments that one could make—bureaucracy, the failure to have one Bill for Scotland and another for Wales, and whether the Bill is really wanted. My view is that we should defeat the guillotine with a view to defeating the Bill.

However I recognise that if we defeat the guillotine, that does not bring an end to the question. I recognise that there is a problem that has existed for some time and that will not go away simply because we score a victory in the Lobbies tonight. Expectations have been aroused. There will be some anger if the guillotine is defeated. But it is better to face that anger now than to allow ourselves to enter into the damaging friction that is inevitable if the Bill is passed.

I reject the blackmailing tones of the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson), who tried to frighten us out of our own views, just as I reject the arguments of the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan), although I have more respect for his argument. He said that Parliament is no longer capable of deciding what the debate is about, that the argument has gone too far in Scotland and that he wants this cockeyed referendum. This matter is not appropriate for a referendum because of the complexity of the issues.

I accept that if we chuck out the Bill that will not be the end of the problem. My right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) had force in his argument that the Bill should be taken away and examined carefully. I do not entirely go along with him because it would not be possible to carry out that exercise as quickly as he indicated.

We can see that there are many difficulties. We cannot achieve answers to them in a few months. In a way, the mechanism of debating the Bill in Parliament has proved to be perhaps as effective a way of looking at the implications as would be the setting up of a constitutional conference. I am not too depressed—although I waver on that view—that we should carry on the debate on the issue by one means or another, even if it is by continuing the passage of the Bill.

We have shown that we are capable of carrying on this debate. We are debating these matters with a true responsibility, because at the end of the day we are answerable to our electors, and perhaps even to history, in a way that cannot be said of the Kilbrandon Commission, for instance. There are all kinds of issues. I shall not list them all. First, there is bound to be the question whether anything can be salvaged from the Government's structure. There is the question of tax raising and economic powers generally.

There is the federalist argument. I do not believe in it. I disagree with the Liberals. But it is right that that suggestion should be aired and argued to see whether there is anything in it. There is the Conservative Assembly-only approach. That idea will perhaps come up in subsequent debates, because it has a real chance of overcoming some of the difficulties in the Government's scheme.

There is the question of what the separatist parties want. I am not unprepared to listen to their views. It is right that Parliament should hear what they have to say. There is, of course, the fundamental question whether we need any devolution at all, and there are other questions which we should take seriously.

I have long believed that from time to time we are insensitive towards Scotland and Wales. One example which is often put to me is that ITN shows English First Division football results but not Scottish First Division football results. There may be something in that.

There are other more serious points. I believe that this Parliament could with great benefit sit in Edinburgh a couple of times every year. If we were to broadcast our proceedings on television as well as on radio, that would show that Parliament is not such a remote body as is sometimes argued. The power of television is capable of bringing the Government closer in reality to people in their homes than by picking up part of the apparatus of Government and plonking it down in Edinburgh. However, I cannot refrain from saying that the bureaucracy is in Edinburgh already. There are only 60 Scottish Office civil servants in London.

The case for chucking out the guillotine motion tonight is incontrovertible. The whole debate today has only served to reinforce that proposal. I hope that all right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House who care for the future of the United Kingdom and for sensible government will take their opportunity in the Lobbies this evening.

8.43 p.m.

Mr. Fred Evans (Caerphilly)

It would be trite of me, in the heat and pressure of creative informative events and issues —this debate contains all those elements —to say that we do not sometimes overlook the obvious.

We should remind ourselves that the institution of Parliament rests on the consent of people to accept a social democracy as a form of government. Underpinning that faith is the use that the Government make of their opportunities to convince the people that they are trying to elevate their living standards in some degree or other.

The people of Wales will be watching this guillotine motion debate very carefully. Anything which erodes the consent of the people to this institution erodes social democracy. What erodes the credibility of the Government is not necessarily the same as that which erodes a fundamental belief in social democracy as a form of government. That is where my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House misses the point completely.

I should like to illustrate one of the confusions into which my right hon. Friend has entered. What has almost become an argument with him is the question: who has captured the mind and imagination of the ordinary person—the grass roots of the movement? My right hon. Friend claims that, because the Bill has gone through certain established conventions of consultation, it has that necessary fundamental grass roots support. It has not. My hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) outlined some sections—the teachers, the law societies, NALGO, many farmers in Wales, the Church in Wales and others—who have turned their faces against this exercise. That feeling is growing—so much so that, since this debate began—which was last week because of the threat of the guillotine—the two Swansea constituency Labour parties have met in a joint management committee to consider their attitude.

If my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House does not know the feeling inside his own party, I cannot trust his judgment when he tries to arrive at an evaluation of the feelings of all the people of Wales. The two Swansea parties overwhelmingly rejected the Governments proposals. I have had a letter from the joint secretary-agent telling me that the "Vote No'" campaign initiated in my constituency will receive the complete support of the two Swansea constituency parties, and that they will refuse to give any help in any campaign run by the Welsh Council of Labour.

The city of Swansea is a sizeable area. Add to it Pontypool, Caerphilly, Bedwellty and Aberdare constituencies and the thing is only beginning to grow now under the force of this Bill and the threat of the guillotine. That that campaign will grow until it becomes irresistible in Wales is self-evident.

Let us look back on the history of how this situation came about. The people in Wales, watching the application of the guillotine, will say "They promise us something and then they do not give it to us. They invent reasons for not granting us what they said they would give. After taking a hammering, they said that they would give us a referendum, and then they began to talk about something called a consultative or a mandatory referendum." Try to explain to the man in the street the difference between a consultative and a mandatory referendum: all he will say is "The so-and-so's promised me something and they are not going to give it to me." That state of affairs and now the application of the guillotine are arousing great wrath already —wrath which will sweep away a great deal of what my right hon. Friend has been trying to do.

The latest move is the use of the guillotine because the Government have been forced to shift ground, to move from one strategem of placation to another—granting a referendum, for example, and then moving away from it—trying this avenue and that, simply because they began with the Kilbrandon Commission, the worst advisory committee ever appointed by a Government. Out of the thinking of that ill-conceived report was inherited the thinking and structure of this Bill. Then the Bill got into the hands of the parliamentary draftsmen, who are not concerned with humanising its structure.

We end up with a Bill which, from the first, could not possibly escape the fate of the guillotine. But even with the guillotine, it will have very little chance of getting through. Welsh Labour Members asked my right hon. Friend's predecessor as Leader of the House for separate Bills, but we got a stoney answer. We have been to my right hon. Friend asking him to send for us when he wanted consultation. We said that we would do all that we could to try to solve the problem. But it was not until very lately that these avenues were granted to us.

When in all honesty we tried to get our own Government off the hook, they ran, panicked and conceded, as a placatory move, some kind of devolution to Scotland and Wales and wriggled more snugly back on to the hook. Nothing we could do could persuade them to leave the hook, which they had learned to live with as their blood brother, because it was letting their own blood. We arrived at the present situation where we are now to bring down a guillotine to try to end what in the eyes of the people of this country, and many hon. Members, has become a farce.

If we took a consensus inside this House there is hardly anyone who does not believe in devolution of a kind. We want the right kind of devolution. We want more power and nearer power so that the ordinary person can recognise power for what it is and the part that it has to play in the creative formation of the society in which he lives. It should be power that will give him a voice, for my part a dominant voice, in the shaping of his community affairs. That is true devolution.

That is what many hon. Members in this House would like. But a guillotine will once more bring fears such as the break-up of the United Kingdom to the forefront. As someone who is truly Welsh I cannot find it in my heart to do to the people of Wales what this Bill would do if the guillotine motion were passed tonight.

8.52 p.m.

Mr. George Gardiner (Reigate)

We are coming to the end of this debate and I shall do my utmost to keep my remarks brief. Like the Lord President and the Minister of State I have sat through most of the hours of the Committee stage discussion. I shall try to be fair to both of them. We have often heard the history, and the commitments which were made, that led to this measure. Looking back, I believe that many of us would agree that these commitments were rather too easily made. In the past I have been critical about my own Front Bench as well. I think that we made commitments rather too easily as well. But whoever has made these commitments there was no proper United Kingdom discussion of them at the time.

The achievement of this Committee stage is that it has brought the details of a devolution plan into open discussion, involving all parts of the United Kingdom. As we have proceeded —and as other speakers have pointed out—the difficulties have been exposed ever larger—difficulties involving and calling into question the relations between the different parts of our United Kingdom. There were difficulties over representa- tion in this House when we have devolved Assemblies. There were difficulties about the voting rights of Scottish and Welsh Members in this House in those circumstances. There were difficulties over the rôle of the referendum and there was the difficulty of those eligible to be consulted in a referendum which affects the whole of this Kingdom.

All these were big issues which were never properly examined before. But in the 10 days of our Committee Stage they have been discussed. More difficulties are yet to come. There are difficulties on which we have not yet touched, such as the difficulty over relations between the Assemblies, particularly the Scottish Assembly, and legislation passed by this Parliament. There is the difficulty of relations between the proposed Assemblies and other United Kingdom bodies.

The hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) listed some of the matters which the Welsh are worried will not get proper debate and discussion if the Bill is guillotined in this way. There are English matters as well. There are some matters which deserve Bills of their own, like the reconstitution of the British Tourist Board. What guarantee have we that they will have adequate time for discussion, either? There are the difficulties to which other hon. Members have alluded of the financial arrangements regarding the block grant, accountability, and bringing in, too, the regions of the country.

All our debates so far have brought out the very deep issues which are involved here, and they have exposed the inadequacy of and the very danger that lies in these proposals. Surely the Government should now recognise this. But a guillotine motion is the very reverse of recognition. I put it to Ministers that, by curbing debate, they will increase the dangers implicit in the Bill. They will increase the resentments which have been aroused by their proposals. By imposing a guillotine, they will turn a Bill which began as a deformed creature into a monster.

There is another course which is now opening. In all generosity, let us remember that most Ministers looking back on their careers will remember occasions when some almighty mistakes were made. I think that it is the test of great men in politicsi—indeed, it is the test of a great Minister—if they can recognise when a mistake has been made and find a way to retract and rectify it.

Such an opportunity is presented now by the constitutional convention which has been suggested from the Liberal Bench, advocated from the Opposition Front Bench today and echoed in other parts of the House. I am the last to claim that a constitutional convention will be easy and that it is some magic wand solution to all the problems which have been brought out in our debates. I do not believe that for one moment. The problems will still be there, and the basic problem will not run away.

But at least such a conference offers us the chance to see whether we can reach some broad agreement which meets the needs of all parts of the United Kingdom and which gets us away from the structure put before us by the Government which was worked out solely within a Scottish and a Welsh context without any proper regard for the needs of the United Kingdom as a whole. It is in that spirit that I appeal to the Lord President not to press on as though the past four weeks of debates had never happened.

I believe that this Bill has opened up the possibility of very dangerous moves against the body politic. A Labour Member said that this Bill was making nationalists of us all. If this motion is passed, I fear that this wound will get bigger and that it will bleed for longer. That is an impossibly high price for us to pay for obstinacy.

By its vote tonight, the House of Commons must proclaim its desire to find a different way out of these problems. It has been said by other hon. Members, and I say again, that tonight's vote cannot be regarded as a party issue. If the guillotine Motion is defeated, I shall not as a Conservative Member, have any cause to crow over the Government. But I shall be very proud to have been a Member of a House of Commons which asserted the unity which binds many of us together, that being our belief in the unity of our Kingdom and, above all, in the need to protect it.

The "No" Lobby tonight as other hon. Members have pointed out, will be not a Conservative lobby, a Liveral lobby, or an Ulster Unionist lobby, but a United Kingdom Lobby. It will be a United Kingdom vote. I put it to the House that, if it can be a decisive United Kingdom vote, that alone will undo a great deal of the damage which has been inflicted on our body politic over recent weeks.

9.0 p.m.

Dr. Colin Phipps (Dudley, West)

My hon. Friends the Members for Belper (Mr. MacFarquhar) and South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop) both pointed out that today's debate and today's vote are not really about the guillotine. They are about the passage of the Bill. I accept that entirely. That is the view that most opponents of the Bill on the Government side of the House would take, but it does not follow that those who will be voting against the motion tonight are necessarily utter and complete opponents of devolution.

For two years, both in the Labour Party and in the House, we have been trying to get across to the Government that if there is to be devolution, it has to be devolution on a United Kingdom scale which takes into account not just the legitimate aspirations of the Scottish and Welsh people but the legitimate aspirations of all British people. It is for this reason that Members like myself have been saying to the Government, since long before the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) suggested a constitutional conference, that the Government should withdraw the Bill and look at it again in the light of the full, detailed and excellent debate that we have had during the past 10 days.

The Government have no excuse now for saying that they do not know the views of the House. They have sufficient information to take the Bill away and come back with something that is much more acceptable to all shades of opinion. This is not a new suggestion. I have made it before, as have others of my hon. Friends. If the Government held such a conference or convention, the views of Labour Members who oppose the Bill, views which have been so strongly expressed, would be taken into account. I hope that a place would be found in that convention for my hon. Friends the Members for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) and Pontypool (Mr. Abse).

I am not opposed to the Government of the day having a guillotine. The timetable motion is the sort of weapon to which all Governments will have recourse from time to time, but, surely, whether the guillotine motion succeeds or fails depends on whether Governments have the full-hearted consent of the House of Commons on particular measures. The House has not given its full-hearted consent to this measure, and it has not done so from the word go.

The real reason for not supporting the guillotine tonight is that not only are large numbers of Back Bench Members opposed to the Bill, but we know that a large number of members of the Government are opposed to it. It is not for me to bring out a list of these people, but I assure the House that a list exists. Most of us have been talking to friends and colleagues in the Government who are known to be opposed to the Bill.

If the Bill had been brought to the House on a free vote, and if this evening we were having a free vote—it is all very well to say that every vote is a free vote, but it is not a free vote for members of the Government—there would not be the remotest possibility of the Bill and guillotine getting through, and everyone knows it. I would be extremely surprised if the Government could get 120 Members in the Aye Lobby tonight on a free vote. If for no other reason, we must reject the guillotine because it does not have the full-hearted consent of the House.

I do not believe that rejection of the guillotine would necessarily be a defeat for the Labour Party. It would certainly be a defeat for the Executive. I believe that in the Lobbies tonight we shall have a victory for Parliament.

9.4 p.m.

Mr. John Mendelson (Penistone)

The main points of principle have already been made in the debate, but on a point of detail I think it useful to refer to one point made by my right hon. Friend the Lord President early in the debate which has not yet been taken up. He said that he would not make a case about delay or filibustering, and he said that in general both sides of the House would accept that there had not been any undue delay.

But he then quoted one example on which he felt, although he did not make much of the point, that the debate had been prolonged. I should like to put on record that that occasion was one on which the Government themselves changed the wording of the main proposal on the referendum, and therefore this objective circumstance of considerable constitional importance had a great deal to do with why so much more time was spent on that debate. There is, therefore, a shared responsibility between the Government and many hon. Members for that occasion.

While it is obviously true that the Bill and the background to it form much of the substance of our debate, we should not forget that the Division tonight will take place on the timetable motion, a motion upon which the Government, on their own initiative, are asking the House to pass judgment. They are asking for a judgment not on the Bill, but on the motion, and they did not have to do that.

I should like to refer now to the function of the House of Commons as a great national debating forum. Debate is going on in Scotland and Wales, but also in England, and the House of Commons provides the opportunity for giving more information for this informed debate. In a very moving contribution, my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew-shire, West (Mr. Buchan) referred to the debate which was televised from Glasgow last night. I saw that broadcast. The remarkable thing was that of 60 participants in that programme my hon. Friend and perhaps two others were the only ones who supported the Bill. Many of them said that the House of Commons should not refuse to pass the motion tonight, but very few of them had anything good to say about the Bill. Many of them were severely critical of it.

Glasgow is a major city in one of the two parts of the United Kingdom involved in this Bill. In view of the state of the debate, is it right for the Government to ask the House of Commons to impose a timetable on the debate? It is obviously wrong at this time.

Mr. Buchan

Is it not also true that every one of those 50 participants said that the timetable motion should go through tonight and that the Bill should be submitted to the Scottish people for decision? That was the key feature to emerge from last night's debate.

Mr. Mendelson

Not everyone said that. A number said it, and others said other things. However, 57 of the 60 present were severely critical of the Bill. The representative of the AUEW said that he was completely opposed to the legislation because it would split the British working class at a time when it most needed to be united. The General Secretary of the TUC said that he was in favour of the Bill, although he had reservations about economic policy.

The state of the debate is such that our debates here have alerted people in every part of the United Kingdom to the real implications of the legislation. This is no time to curtail the debate with a timetable motion. Let the debate continue.

Finally, if ever there were a House of Commons matter—in the light of what hon. Members have said—this is it. Let there be no narrow view about hon. Members' duties to this House. As far as I am concerned, the Lord President defines "unique" by arrogating the power of definition. To him the Common Market Bill was unique, and so it was. To many of us this Bill, equally, is unique. It depends upon who happens to have an Oxford dictionary under his arm when he produces the definition.

I submit that when the debate is over and people look back upon it they will argue that these occasions equally were unique. Let hon. Members act accordingly when they decide how to vote to-night. I am opposed to this timetable motion on constitutional and political grounds, and on those grounds I shall vote against it tonight.

9.11 p.m.

Mr. Nicholas Edwards (Pembroke)

It has been a remarkable debate. I cannot remember a guilotine debate quite like it. Normally, such debates are partisan and violent, but tonight's has been thoughtful, anxious and understanding. My right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) emphasised its non-party nature and spoke of the deep convictions that had been exposed. The hon. Member for Basildon (Mr. Moonman) drew attention to the deeply serious speeches.

A feature of this debate has been the number of references to the guillotine on the European Communities Bill, and, in particular, to the speech made on that occasion by the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot), now Lord President of the Council. I start from the basis that timetable motions have a regrettable but necessary place in the proceedings of Parliament. I therefore have no intention of being as intemperate tonight as the right hon. Gentleman was.

At a time when many hon. Members from both sides of the House are giving anxious thought to the decision that they will take when the debate ends, I welcome the fact that on the whole we have avoided the usual exchange of ritual insults. But the words of the Leader of the House stand on the record and some of the things he said on that last occasion have an enduring ring of truth about them.

AS has been pointed out, the Lord President cannot claim that he has the full-hearted consent of Parliament. There are few who would wholly disagree with his statement then that: The guillotine is the last resort of a Government who know that they cannot get the full-hearted consent of Parliament but are determined to have their way in any case."—[Official Report, 2nd May 1972; Vol. 836, c. 235.] The Lord President, to his credit, has never pretended that he could obtain full-hearted consent from Parliament. He has never offered the special measure of tolerance, the special measure of acceptance, and wider unity that one should have for a measure of this constitutional importance, as he said in the EEC debate. From the start he has sought to fight his Bill through, largely on the basis that this was a measure promised in a manifesto. That, as the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) pointed out, is one difference from the approach urged upon us by the Kilbrandon Commission.

We may feel that in doing so the right hon. Gentleman has made a profound mistake. Many will regret that he has not sought a consensus in the House. But none of us can charge him justly with dissembling. However unwise, he is entitled to pursue the matter in this way. I therefore make no charge of the kind he made against my right hon. Friends in 1972.

But though I do not wish to follow too closely the precedents then set by the right hon. Gentleman, that debate on the European Communities Bill seems to be the best precedent we have. Like the Bill before us, the European Communities Bill was a measure of immense constitutional importance, fundamentally affecting the rights of this Parliament and the future of the United Kingdom. Like this Bill, it was a measure about which opinions crossed party lines. As on this occasion, there was no suggestion by the Government that there had been a filibuster or unreasonable behaviour by the Opposition. I welcome the categorical statement by the Lord President that he made no accusation of filibustering. He went out of his way to emphasise that.

But if there are similarities in the nature of the two Bills, they end when we turn to the motion. I could hardly believe my ears when the Lord President compared the two motions to his own advantage. When I look at what was on the Order Paper on 2nd May 1972 I cannot help but be struck by its generosity, at least compared with the meanness of what is now proposed, though there were some, the right hon. Gentleman among them, who thought that it was not generous enough.

Tonight, after 14 days of Second Reading and Committee, we have a motion which allocates 20 days to the remainder of our proceedings. That is 34 days in all on a Bill of 115 clauses and 16 schedules, to which has been added a whole new Bill on a referendum, and to which about 40 new clauses and more than 900 amendments have already been tabled.

On the previous occasion we had a 12-clause Bill with four schedules, and 12 days were allocated, making 26 in all, with 22 in Committee. There had previously been a whole series of debates on the principle, and by the end of the proceedings the House had devoted more than 300 hours to discussions of the Community, over 200 of them on the Bill. But it was then argued, as it was argued by the Lord President again tonight, that that was a unique Bill affecting the whole constitutional position of the House and the country. The right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale then thundered that statistical comparisons with other Bills do not have any application".—[Official Report, 2nd May 1972; Vol. 836, c. 225.] History has a curious way of repeating itself. Now we have another Bill affect- ing the whole constitutional position of the House and the country, and statistical comparisons have an application. I accept the Lord President's definition of "unique", but what was then unique is no longer unique. My fountain pen is unique until someone makes another like it.

In 1972 the critics said that they had to take account of all the Acts affected by but not listed in the Bill and that time must be found to consider them all. The right hon. Gentleman spoke then of the 50 or 60 Acts, hundreds of treaties and thousands of regulations incorporated in Clause 2. Tonight we can equally justly refer to the 131 Acts specifically referred to in Schedule 6 and the 181 mentioned in Schedule 7, not to speak of many more in Schedules 4 and 5. Today we may not be concerned with more than one treaty, but we can speak with accuracy of hundreds of Acts and thousands of regulations referred to in the schedules.

All will have to be considered or debated in not more than three or four days—or so I am forced to estimate, for one of the other regrettable features that distinguish this occasion from the last is that we have no choice but to estimate. The Government have elected to stand by the procedure laid down in Standing Order No. 43 rather than to spell out the allocation of time. I would not have criticised them for that if they had indicated the kind of allocation they will propose to the Business Committee, if they had given some guidance to the House on how they thought it possible adequately to debate such an immensely complex and important Bill in so short a time.

The truth is that they have not done so because they dare not. They know that if they were to put before the House a paper setting out the allocation, the motion would be lost, because the absurdity, the monstrous injustice of what they propose, would be revealed.

This brings us to the central point of our discussions. The sole practical and moral justification for the timetable motion is that it ensures that all aspects of the Bill are adequately debated and all clauses discussed. That was the principal justification for the timetable motion on the European Communities Bill. That was the reason why the Liberal Party gave its support to it, as its Leader said this afternoon, and lack of adequate discussion is the reason why the Liberal Party is refusing its support tonight.

It is no good saying that this matter will be left to the Business Committee. That Committee is not capable of miracles. The Government know what they intend to recommend, and as soon as this debate is over no doubt the Leader of the House will produce a piece of paper and give it to the Business Committee. So far, he has kept this information from the House. He could still give it to us tonight, he could put it on the board in the Lobby so that hon. Members could see it. But he will not, because that is the paper that alone would sink this motion, and we are entitled to be angry that we are being denied it.

On this side we have given a good deal of thought to what is possible, and it is fairly certain that our guess would be just about right because the parameters are pretty limited. We have already spent 10 days in Committee on this Bill, examining three and a half clauses. I forecast that a day or so will take us up to Clause 17. Then we shall have about six or seven days to debate the vital block of clauses from 18 to 25, with the crucial associated schedules. Therefore, in six or seven days we shall have to deal with the powers to be given to the Scottish Assembly, the legislative competence of that Assembly, the problem of concurrent powers and Clause 20 with the power of scrutiny and the scope that that provides for conflict. In that time, we shall also have to deal with the establishment of the Scottish Assembly, the executive functions of the Welsh Assembly and the powers relating to subordinate instruments as well as the definitions of devolved matters with the hundreds of Acts of Parliament to which I have already referred.

Having flashed our eyes over such great constitutional matters on which a Committee upstairs could spend weeks, we shall hurry on and have perhaps three days on the next 25 clauses, including the vital Clause 30 on the committee structure of the Welsh Assembly. Then we shall have two or three days for the last 57 clauses with all the associated schedules. Perhaps we shall have a couple of days for the 40 or so new clauses. I hope the House realises that we shall have to debate more than 50 clauses in no more than three days. I hope that the country realises that not more than one-third of this Bill will be debated at all if the Government get their way tonight.

It is a peculiar thing that if this motion is passed, the House of Commons will be surrendering the job of scrutiny to another place which the Leader of the House believes should be abolished. The fact that he can propose this indecent scramble suggests to the casual observer the incredible proposition that he does not understand this place. That is not so. I quote from his enduring words about these matters in May 1972: What has happened with this Bill—and it has been an extremely interesting education in the way the House of Commons works, as many hon. Members who have studied the affairs of the House of Commons will recognise —is what happens on many Bills: in the course of the Committee stages of many Bills that go through this House we discover that the matters that become of greatest interest and moment are not those which were foreseen before the Bill was introduced. He went on: The collective wisdom of the House of Commons—whether shown in party argument and debate, and there is nothing wrong with this, or in any other way—is a different kind of wisdom from that which exists in the Government, in the Cabinet or in the Civil Service. The right hon. Gentleman then stated that at Committee stage the Bill: is subjected to the individual scrutiny of the Members of the House of Commons, and that changes the way in which the Bill is regarded. This Bill is a classic example. … "— [Official Report, 2nd May, 1972; Vol. 836, c. 229-231.] So is the Bill we are considering tonight. The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) cited another classic example that he preferred to use as a precedent. He drew a parallel with the Parliament (No. 2) Bill, and reminded the House how examinations in committee had revealed that the Bill simply would not work.

The crucial point was made that if this motion passes the essence of the Committee stage will he totally different, for the Government who previously had an open ear, an ear which they could not close, from that moment on would no longer have to listen. The hon. Member for West Lothian reinforced that argument by quoting the evidence given by the Lord President on 20th December last year to the Select Committee on Procedure when speaking of a guillotine motion. He then said: If you have a timetable it means each section of the Bill is going to be subjected to some scrutiny. On the other hand, you will have removed all the tension and the battle from a particular Bill, and that also removes the incentive to the Government to listen and to concede, and to be courteous to the Opposition. Exactly.

Up to now the Government have been made to listen to the arguments advanced on this Bill. Day after day the House of Commons has insisted on discussions, and those discussions have revealed the instability of this Bill, its potential for conflict and its contradictions. On the opening clauses great constitutional debates have been held on the number and rôle of Scottish and Welsh Members of Parliament, on proportional representation, and on the principle of referendums. But, from now on, all that will be denied to us.

This measure, which is supposed in the cause of democracy to control bureaucracy, will remain as drafted by the bureaucrats, largely unamended, by the democratic House of Commons. In a way, that is almost the final irony. From now on, if the House find something to dwell upon, it will do so at the expense of leaving much else unconsidered. Is there any reason to think that the Government, in the course of the debate on the 112 remaining clauses, will be forced to make fewer changes than during the passage of the first four, where they have performed a series of somersaults?

First, the Government were against a referendum; then they were for it. First, they said that it must be mandatory; they then said that it should be consultative. They then put forward their own wording for the ballot paper; they then conceded that it must be rewritten. The truth is that if a timetable motion had been introduced from the outset, it would already have been a shambles, because the Government have had to re-write the Bill as it went along. I forecast that hundreds of Back Bench amendments will be crowded out because the Government will be busy tabling their own amendments.

It has been argued outside the House—and this was also implicit in the argument, of the hon. Member for Renfrew-shire, West (Mr. Buchan)—that we must pass the motion because to do otherwise would be to deny the people a referendum. It is said that a vote against the motion might endanger the Bill and deny the people their vote. Not for the first time in our debates it is being argued that the House of Commons, in being confronted with a referendum, should abandon its responsibilities. But the referendum argument, far from strengthening the case, reduces it. The public will be asked to vote on a Bill which not one in a hundred thousand people will have read but which they will believe that Parliament has examined and approved.

If we are to leave the final choice to others, it in no way militates against our duty to do the job that only we can do—namely, to examine, probe, expose, amend and improve the Bill. We shall be putting into people's hands a vehicle of great power. If we put it on the road ill-prepared, its potential for damage will be incalculable. We as a House have a clear duty to see that the vehicle is sound and roadworthy. If it cannot he placed in that condition, it will never reach the road at all. The hon. Member for Belper (Mr. MacFarquhar) is disregarding the proper functions of Parliament by saying that the argument is not about the detail of the Bill but about the Bill itself.

The fact that there is to be a referendum in no way reduces our responsibilities. The people will vote largely on the principle that we have to deal with a Bill. As the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson) also pointed out, there is an important function for the House of Commons to perform during the course of its debates in presenting the arguments to the people, and that cannot be done in any other manner.

I conclude on the matter of responsibility. We are not voting tonight on a mere procedural motion. We are voting to decide whether the House can exercise its constitutional functions. This must, above all, be a time for personal responsibility, a time for courage and for each one of us to do his duty. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) spoke with deep sensitivity about his divided loyalties and his loyalty to a united Britain and a united people.

There are some hon. Members who fear for the future of the Government if they do not win the vote. They will have to weigh what the long-term price will be for seeking to buy off the nationalist parties. They must judge for themselves, but they cannot doubt that there will be a price, that further demands will be made on them and that if they let an ill-judged and ill-prepared Bill go through without proper debate, they will create a situation that will be ripe for nationalist exploitation. The hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) made clear that there would be a price and that he was eagerly waiting to get his hands on the oil revenues.

There are those who believe passionately in the principle of devolution and who say that if the Government fail to get this motion, the Bill will be lost and with it any possibility of progress to devolution. To say that if the motion fails that would end the matter is to deny the very nature of the House of Commons. Of course the issue will not go away. The opportunity for further debate on the Bill will remain. There could be another Bill or, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) pointed out, the Government once proposed a dummy Bill and they could return to their original proposal. The Government could take up my right hon. Friend's proposals for all-party discussions. A number of hon. Members in all parts of the House regretted the abrupt way in which the Leader of the House turned down that suggestion.

If the motion falls, nothing irrevocable will have happened, but if we put the Bill on the statute book inadequate, insufficiently debated, uninformed and with all its potential for conflict—whatever constitutional theory may hold about the powers of Parliament— the matter will pass largely and for ever out of our control, and the evil that we do will live after us.

9.33 p.m.

The Minister of State, Privy Council Office (Mr. John Smith)

From what the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Edwards), has just said—particularly about the awful fate that befalls a Committee when a guillotine comes into operation and about how the Government then no longer listen to what is said in the House—one would have thought that he had voted against the timetable motion on the European Communities Bill. Of course he did not. The hon. Gentleman voted for that motion on a Bill that received a majority of only eight votes and upon which the Government of the day did not accept any amendment in either House. That Bill proceeded to the statute book without any amendment at all.

The situation with this Bill is quite different. First, I should like to deal with the suggestion that has been made in some parts of the House—I think it was made towards the end of the debate by my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson)—that there was some novelty and perhaps even a touch of impropriety in introducing a timetable motion on an important constitutional Bill, as this Bill clearly is. I hope that the House will accept that there is no novelty and certainly no impropriety. There are ample precedents, notably the timetable motion on the European Communities Bill when the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (My Pym)—who is a leading spokesman for the Opposition on this Bill—was Chief Whip in the Conservative Government. Indeed, the right hon. Member for Sid-cup (Mr. Heath) reminded us during business questions last Thursday that the Government were entitled to ask the House to consider such a motion. Not only are there ample precedents for such a motion, but it would be wrong in principle for the House to take the view that there should not be a timetable motion on a constitutional Bill.

By convention, most constitutional Bills are taken in Committee of the whole House. Given the opportunities for wide ranging and lengthy discussion which a Committee of the whole House provides, to abjure the use of a timetable motion would mean that the Committee—or a determined group of Members serving on it—could, in effect, veto any constitutional Bill. Such a situation could condemn us to perpetual constitutional ossification. I do not believe that can be right.

Mr. Amery

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that while a Government with a substantial majority have every right to guillotine a Bill, there is something rather improper about a Government producing a Bill to prevent, allegedly, the separation of Scotland from the rest of the United Kingdom doing so when they can only rely for getting the Bill through on a Scottish National Party that is dedicated to separation?

Mr. Smith

I have thought for some time that hon. Members, particularly on the other side, but including some on this side, pay far too much attention to the SNP. [Interruption.] I have said that in the House before, though without attracting quite so much comment. I believe that hon. Members pay far too much attention to the pretensions of the SNP to speak for the people of Scotland. They have no such right, and the intemperate talk of the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) earlier was no assistance to the motion.

The right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) was seeking to draw a distinction between a Government with a large majority and a Government with a small majority. The House gave the Bill a Second Reading by a majority of 45—more than five times larger than the majority on the Second Reading of the European Communities Bill. If we are to take that Bill as an example, as did the hon. Member for Pembroke, I can say that at almost every stage of that example we have as much right, if not more right, to introduce this timetable motion.

Turning to the case for the motion on this Bill in particular, perhaps I could remind the House of two excellent principles adumbrated by Lord Carr, when he was Leader of the House and moving the timetable motion on the European Communities Bill. He put two basic propositions to the House at that time. The first was that the Government had a duty to make sure that all aspects of the Bill were adequately discussed and that the House did not spend too much time on the early parts so that, in the end, it became impossible to consider later clauses.

The second proposition that the right hon. Gentleman put forward was that the Government had a duty, not merely a right, to get their business through with reasonable despatch. The right hon. Gentleman said that the then Government were putting into effect a policy that had been endorsed by a large majority in the House. If that proposition were true on that occasion—I accept the proposition put forward by the then Conservative Government —surely it meets the circumstances of the Scotland and Wales Bill.

Perhaps it is wise to remind the House that on this occasion we are discussing a timetable motion, although understandably a great deal of the debate this afternoon and evening has concerned itself with the principles of the Bill. That is unavoidable in a debate such as this. However, the decision that the Government are asking the House to take concerns the allocation of time. On Second Reading my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister promised about 30 days in the House for all stages of the Bill. It is true that since then we have introduced the referendum concept. What we are now proposing goes beyond what my right hon. Friend promised even taking into account the introduction of the referendum clause.

We have had four days on Second Reading and 10 days in Committee. I remind the House that there was a four-day debate after the White Paper was introduced in November 1975. The motion provides for a further 20 days. It does not take into account the time that will be needed to provide for the consideration of any suggestions that the House may receive from another place. That would obviously involve further time. The total amount of time on the Floor of the House, leaving aside Lords amendments, amounts to 34 days already. We are proposing to suspend the rule for an hour on each allotted day. That will add to the time available for discussion.

As every Member must recognise it they consider this proposition objectively, the motion provides for a remarkable allocation of time—indeed, a remarkably generous allocation of time. As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House reminded us this afternoon, it has been surpassed on only one occasion since before the First World War. That exception was the Government of India Act, which was over 40 years ago. It was considered in a parliamentary environment perhaps a little less heavily burdened than the present environment. If we are producing the most generous allocation of time that the House has seen in recent debates, I cannot see how the Government can be accused of unreasonable truncation of debate.

As again my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House reminded us when he opened the debate, the duty of the House of Commons is to act as well as to argue. I have no doubt that many hon. Members could argue endlessly on the provisions of the Bill. Admittedly, it is a long Bill. It is admittedly a complex Bill. The Government have not done as the Conservative Government did in the case of the European Communities Bill when they deliberately designed a short Bill. It is a complex Bill.

The hon. Member for Pembroke said that we have got through only three and a half clauses in the 10 days in Committee. However, as the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire said when speaking at the beginning of the debate, we have covered quite a number of important topics. For example, we have discussed proportional representation and Westminster representation. Many other matters have been thoroughly discussed, including the principle of the referendum.

Now that we have reached a stage when we have passed many of the wide-ranging discussions that were concerned with the Bill but did not, perhaps, go to the heart of its proposals, the motion can secure—this is the nub of the Government's case tonight—an orderly plan for debate so that this important Bill has its principal features adequately discussed by the Committee and by the House of Commons. It does not, and it cannot, prejudge the decision of the Committee or the House of Commons on any of the fundamental matters that remain to be considered.

Mr. Nicholas Edwards

If this is the nub of the Government's case, will the hon. Gentleman give some indication of what he thinks would be a reasonable time for debating the nub of the Bill, which is Clauses 18 to 25? How many days does the hon. Gentleman think would be reasonable for us to debate those clauses?

Mr. Smith

As the hon. Gentleman knows, our proposal in the timetable motion is that the allocation of days should be considered by the Business Committee. Governments of all parties have a choice in these circumstances—to put down a timetable motion with a specified number of days to deal with each part of a Bill, as was done with the European Communities Bill, or to use the device of a Business Committee. [Interruption.] I know that the hon. Member for Pembroke is uncomfortable when I keep reminding him about the European Communities Bill and I shall try not to mention it again if that will put him out of his misery.

The proposal of a Business Committee has the important merit, which I do not think the hon. Member for Pembroke took into account, that it permits flexibility. He said, rightly, that as we consider a Bill, some features appear to the House more important than others, justifying more time. The Business Committee will have the flexibility to decide, in the circumstances prevailing, what is the best way for the House to allocate its time.

Passing the motion will not prejudge the decisions which the House will take. Indeed, it would still be open to the House to reject the whole Bill on Third Reading if it were so minded. I therefore say to hon. Members in all parts of the House who voted for the Bill on Second Reading, and even to some of those who did not—with the intention of seeking to make amendments to the Bill —that there remains ample opportunity to propose and to seek to carry such amendments in Committee during the 20 days which this motion allows for further discussion. If hon. Members feel that a failure to carry an amendment alters their view of the Bill, they may express that changed view on Third Reading or at an even later stage.

Sir David Renton (Huntingdonshire)

Will the Government be putting to the Business Committee, if the motion is carried, proposals as to how the 20 days can best be used? If so, will the Minister tell us now what those proposals are, so that they may be seen in all their nakedness?

Mr. Smith

If the motion is passed tonight, the Government will put proposals to the Business Committee. It will then be for the Committee to decide. That is the appropriate stage to put those matters forward. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Hon. Members may complain, but on many previous occasions Government of all parties have put forward a timetable motion including this same proposal for a Business Committee but have not told the House before the Committee was appointed how they would allocate the time.

What I have found a little hard to understand in this matter is the attitude adopted by the Leader of the Liberal Party. I had understood—I hope that the hon. Member for Pembroke will forgive a fleeting reference—from reading the debates on the European Communities Bill that the Liberal Party approved of timetable motions in principle. The Leader of the Liberal Party in those debates quoted a Select Committee Report which said that there should be regular timetabling, and went on: That ought to be the case and that is the view which I and my colleagues have always taken on the timetabling of this and other Bills."—[Official Report, 2nd May 1972; Vol. 836, c. 260.] Therefore, the Liberal Party voted for the Second Reading of the Bill and are in favour of timetable motions in principle. Yet apparently, the majority of them at least are to vote against this motion. I find that hard to believe.

The right hon. Gentleman will no doubt say that we have not made concessions to the Liberal point of view. We discussed fully their proposition that there should be proportional representation in the Assembly elections, but it is a sad fact that the House decisively declined to adopt that Liberal proposal. The Government have tried to be flexible, but there is a limit to the flexibility that a Government can show, particularly when the House of Commons shows so decisively what its view is on proportional representation.

The right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues have from time to time said that they would like taxation powers introduced into the Bill. We as a Government have made it clear that we are not opposed to that in principle but have pointed out how difficult it is within a unitary concept and with a tax collection system for the whole United Kingdom to create one which is sensible, fair and economic.

The right hon. Gentleman's right hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) made a speech in Edinburgh at the weekend, I think, when he said that the problem was simple and that the answer was to have a sales tax. As the hon. Gentleman knows, a general sales tax of that kind on a regional variation basis is specifically excluded by the first and second directives on VAT issued by the EEC. That is a non-starter.

The hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe) then proposed some allocation of the oil revenues. That possibility has not been developed far but there would be widespread opposition in the Committee and in the House to the proposal that oil revenues which derived from United Kingdom assets should go to one part of the United Kingdom. If he thinks that complaints come from the North East and other parts, he may be sure that they would be six times louder if such proposals from the Liberal Party or the Scottish National Party were adopted.

The third proposal of the hon. Member for Cornwall, North was that a simple little local tax should be implemented. Thinking up a simple little local tax has been bothering local and central Government for a long time. It must be wonderful to live in the happy Liberal world thinking up happy little solutions. The trouble is that he and his party, who claim to be committed devolutionists—now that we have for the first time in many years a constitutional reform on the political agenda of the United Kingdom—are seeking ways to wriggle out of their commitment to a devolved form of government.

Mr. Pardoe

Is the Minister aware that if he really meant what he says about his belief in devolution, the best body to devise a tax for Scotland would be the Scottish Assembly? If he really believed in devolution he would hand that power to the Scottish Assembly.

Mr. Smith

The hon. Member must understand that the House will want to be careful about precisely what is handed to the Assembly. Given that the sovereignty of Parliament is here, we must be sure about what power is to be given. People will have to continue to pay United Kingdom tax as well. But we know that the Liberal Party has not worked out any proposals in a precise form. It has tabled amendments but it uses the Northern Ireland system, which broke down and in practice developed into a block grant. So much for the inventiveness of the Liberal Party which wishes to have a federal system but when Members of that party were asked today whether they meant one English federal unit or four or five they said that the English had not decided. The Leader of the Party should explain what is meant.

Mr. David Steel

I shall do that, but not in the middle of the Minister's speech. I want to return to the taxation point. Nine different proposals emerged in various research documents. Have the Government examined all those nine? Are they saying that they have examined them all and their feasibility or are they rejecting them?

Mr. Smith

There is a difference in a federal system, where sovereignty is shared and where it is possible to have shared taxation powers. We must try to fit the proposals in a system which is not federal because the hon. Member has said that he did not wish to put forward a proposal for a federal system. One of the common methods of taxation in federal systems such as those in Canada, the United States and Australia is a sales tax but that is precluded in this case by the rules of the European Community. It is unfair for the Liberals to say that the Government are inflexible.

The Government will produce a document during the later stages of the Committee showing all the taxes that have been examined and the reasons why there are difficulties in implementing them. I hope that that will be a useful working paper for the Committee and the House and that it will demonstrate the difficulties.

If the Liberals say that they cannot support the motion because there are no taxation powers, before we come to the part of the Bill that considers taxation powers, I believe that that is a feeble excuse. The truth is that the right hon. Gentleman is willing to strike, but is not willing to be seen as the hand that wields the knife. That was part of his trouble this afternoon.

Throughout the debate today, and indeed in the proceedings in the Committee, many hon. Members on both sides have expressed their fear that the United Kingdom might break up. The Government have made it clear in speech after speech not only in Committee, but in the country and elsewhere—indeed, I made a particular point of stressing this on Second Reading —how much they value and are utterly determined to retain the unity of the United Kingdom.

I remind the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) that I spent some time fighting Scottish nationalists in the country, in my constituency and in Scotland, which is more than can be said for many Opposition Members.

The Opposition suggest that somehow these proposals attack the integrity of the United Kingdom. I do not believe it. That is an exercise of tremendous constitutional conservatism. As a Parliament and country, we ought to be willing to make changes in our constitution. We ought to be willing to examine again the features of our Government to see whether they are not too highly centralised and too highly uniform in trying to enforce conformist policies from the centre.

I believe that the unity of the United Kingdom can far better be secured not by containing Scotland and Wales within the same constitutional framework as they have always been in, but by offering constitutional change and allowing a Scottish and a Welsh dimension within the context of the United Kingdom to emerge in our constitutional structure. That is the whole point and purpose of the Bill. Its purpose is to change Government, to give the people of Scotland and Wales a bigger say in those decisions which most directly affect them, and to give them the opportunity through new institutions to frame a new future for themselves.

We do not need opinion polls to tell us, because those who live in Scotland and Wales know, how deep and abiding is the desire of the people of Scotland and of Wales to remain members of the United Kingdom. But some hon. Members on both sides, who have been opposing the Bill vociferously, do not take into account the fact that there is a serious challenge to the unity of the United Kingdom. It comes not from the Bill, but from the nationalists who, from their own point of view, want to break it up.

I believe that it is much wiser to make the constitutional change which we propose to allow people to have that greater say in their own affairs. That will mean that the unity of the United Kingdom is founded not on a tradition of government which has survived in the past by treating everybody in the same way or not allowing people to make certain decisions which affect them most directly, but on the recognition of the diversity of the United Kingdom. There are separate nations within the United Kingdom. They do not need to become nation States. But the people of Scotland have a right to ask that, through their Assembly, they should decide their own educational policy, which does not need to be the same as the educational policy of England, but that they want to be together for the

economic and political framework of the state.

I repudiate utterly the misguided suggestion by the critics of the Bill that somehow it endangers the unity of the United Kingdom. I do not think that they understand or give sufficient credit to the views of people in Scotland and Wales.

We have this twin theme of the United Kingdom and of a reform of our government in a constitutional change which can be got through this House. I think that the House ought to pass this motion so that we can proceed to an orderly discussion of this important Bill which will be adequately and fully discussed. If the House does that, it will treat the Bill, and the great changes which it proposes, with the respect to which it is entitled.

Question put:

The House divided: Ayes 283, Noes 312.

Division No. 79.] AYES [9.59 p.m.
Allaun, Frank Craigen, Jim (Maryhill) Golding, John
Archer, Peter Crawford, Douglas Gould, Bryan
Armstrong, Ernest Cronin, John Gourlay, Harry
Ashley, Jack Crowther, Stan (Rotherham) Graham, Ted
Ashton, Joe Cryer, Bob Grant, George (Morpeth)
Atkins, Ronald (Preston N) Cunningham, Dr J. (Whiteh) Grant, John (Islington C)
Atkinson, Norman Davidson, Arthur Grocott, Bruce
Bain, Mrs Margaret Davies, Bryan (Enfield N) Hardy, Peter
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich) Davies, Denzil (Llanelli) Harper, Joseph
Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (Heywood) Davies, Ifor (Gower) Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)
Bates, Alf Davis, Clinton (Hackney C) Hart, Rt Hon Judith
Bean, R. E. Deakins, Eric Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy
Benn, Rt Hon Anthony Wedgwood de Freitas, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Hayman, Mrs Helene
Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N) Dell, Rt Hon Edmund Healey, Rt Hon Denis
Bidwell, Sydney Dempsey, James Henderson, Douglas
Bishop, E. S. Doig, Peter Hooley, Frank
Blenkinsop, Arthur Dormand, J. D. Hooson, Emlyn
Boardman, H. Duffy, A. E. P. Horam, John
Booth, Rt Hon Albert Dunn, James A. Howell, Rt Hon Denis (B'ham, Sm H)
Boothroyd, Miss Betty Dunnett, Jack Howells, Geraint (Cardigan)
Boyden, James (Bish Auck) Eadie, Alex Hoyle, Doug (Nelson)
Bradley, Tom Edge, Geoff Huckfield, Les
Bray, Dr Jeremy Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE) Hughes, Rt Hon C. (Anglesey)
Broughton, Sir Alfred Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun) Hughes, Mark (Durham)
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Ellis, Tom (Wrexham) Hughes, Roy (Newport)
Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W) English, Michael Hunter, Adam
Buchan, Norman Ennals, David Irvine, Rt Hon Sir A. (Edge Hill)
Callaghan, Rt Hon J. (Cardiff SE) Evans, Gwynfor (Carmarthen) Irving, Rt Hon S. (Dartford)
Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P) Ewing, Harry (Stirling) Jackson, Colin (Brighouse)
Campbell, Ian Ewing, Mrs Winifred (Moray) Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln)
Canavan, Dennis Faulds, Andrew Janner, Greville
Cant, R. B. Fernyhough, Rt Hon E. Jay, Rt Hon Douglas
Carmichael, Neil Fitch, Alan (Wigan) Jeger, Mrs Lena
Carter, Ray Fitt, Gerard (Belfast W) Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)
Carter-Jones, Lewis Flannery, Martin John, Brynmor
Cartwright, John Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Johnson, James (Hull West)
Castle, Rt Hon Barbara Foot, Rt Hon Michael Johnson, Walter (Derby S)
Clemitson, Ivor Ford, Ben Jones, Alec (Rhondda)
Cocks, Rt Hon Michael Forrester, John Jones, Barry (East Flint)
Cohen, Stanley Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin) Jones, Dan (Burnley)
Colquhoun, Ms Maureen Fraser, John (Lambeth, N'w'd) Judd, Frank
Concannon, J. D. Freeson, Reginald Kaufman, Gerald
Cook, Robin F. (Edin C) Garrett, John (Norwich S) Kelley, Richard
Corbett, Robin George, Bruce Kerr, Russell
Cox, Thomas (Tooting) Gilbert, Dr John Kilfedder, James
Craig, Rt Hon W. (Belfast E) Ginsburg, David Kilroy-Silk, Robert
Lambie, David O'Halloran, Michael Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley
Lamborn, Harry Orbach, Maurice Swain, Thomas
Latham, Arthur (Paddington) Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)
Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough) Owen, Rt Hon Dr David Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
Lever, Rt Hon Harold Padley, Walter Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)
Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Palmer, Arthur Thomas, Mike (Newcastle E)
Lipton, Marcus Park, George Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)
Litterick, Tom Parry, Robert Thompson, George
Loyden, Eddie Pavitt, Laurie Thorne, Stan (Preston South)
Luard, Evan Pendry, Tom Tierney, Sydney
Lyon, Alexander (York) Perry, Ernest Tinn, James
Lyons, Edward (Bradford W) Prescott, John Tomlinson, John
Mabon, Rt Hon Dr J. Dickson Price, C. (Lewisham W) Tomney, Frank
McCartney, Hugh Price, William (Rugby) Torney, Tom
MacCormick, Iain Radice, Giles Tuck, Raphael
McDonald, Dr Oonagh Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds S) Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.
McElhone, Frank Reid, George Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)
MacFarquhar, Roderick Richardson, Miss Jo Walden, Brian (B'ham, L'dyw'd)
McGuire, Michael (Ince) Roberts, Albert (Normanton) Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
MacKenzie, Gregor Robertson, John (Paisley) Walker, Terry (Kingswood)
Mackintosh, John P. Robinson, Geoffrey Ward, Michael
Maclennan, Robert Roderick, Caerwyn Watkinson, John
McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C) Rodgers, George (Chorley) Watt, Hamish
McNamara, Kevin Rodgers, Rt Hon William (Stockton) Weetch, Ken
Madden, Max Roper, John Weitzman, David
Magee, Bryan Rose, Paul B. Wellbeloved, James
Mahon, Simon Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock) Welsh, Andrew
Mallalieu, J. P. W. Sandelson, Neville White, Frank R. (Bury)
Marks, Kenneth Sedgemore, Brian White, James (Pollok)
Marquand, David Selby, Harry Whitehead, Phillip
Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole) Shaw, Arnold (Ilford South) Wigley, Dafydd
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert Willey, Rt Hon Frederick
Mason, Rt Hon Roy Shore, Rt Hon Peter Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Maynard, Miss Joan Short, Mrs Renée (Wolv NE) Williams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch)
Meacher, Michael Silkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford) Williams, Rt Hon Shirley (Hertford)
Mellish, Rt Hon Robert Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich) Williams, Sir Thomas (Warrington)
Mikardo, Ian Sillars, James Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)
Millan, Rt Hon Bruce Silverman, Julius Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)
Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride) Skinner, Dennis Wilson, Rt Hon Sir Harold (Huyton)
Miller, Mrs Millie (Ilford N) Small, William Wilson, William (Coventry SE)
Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe) Smith, John (N Lanarkshire) Wise, Mrs Audrey
Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw) Snape, Peter Woodall, Alec
Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon) Spriggs, Leslie Woof, Robert
Moyle, Roland Stallard, A. W. Wrigglesworth, Ian
Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick Stewart, Rt Hon Donald Young, David (Bolton E)
Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King Stewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham)
Newens, Stanley Stoddart, David TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Noble, Mike Stott, Roger Mr. James Hamilton and
Oakes, Gordon Strang, Gavin Mr. Donald Coleman.
Ogden, Eric Strauss, Rt Hon G. R.
Abse, Leo Buchanan-Smith, Alick Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Adley, Robert Buck, Antony Douglas-Mann, Bruce
Aitken, Jonathan Budgen, Nick Drayson, Burnaby
Alison, Michael Bulmer, Esmond du Cann,Rt Hon Edward
Amery, Rt Hon Julian Burden, F. A. Dunlop, John
Arnold, Tom Butler, Adam (Bosworth) Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne) Carlisle, Mark Durant, Tony
Awdry, Daniel Carson, John Dykes, Hugh
Baker, Kenneth Chalker, Mrs Lynda Eden, Rt Hon Sir John
Banks, Robert Channon, Faul Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke)
Beith, A. J. Churchill, W. S. Elliott, Sir William
Bell, Ronald Clark, Alan (Plymouth, Sutton) Emery, Peter
Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torbay) Clark, William (Croydon S) Evans, Fred (Caerphilly)
Bennett, Dr Reginald (Fareham) Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Eyre, Reginald
Benyon, W. Clegg, Walter Fairbairn, Nicholas
Berry, Hon Anthony Cockcroft, John Fairgrieve, Russell
Biffen, John Cooke, Robert (Bristol W) Farr, John
Biggs-Davison, John Cope, John Fell, Anthony
Blaker, Peter Cordle, John H. Finsberg, Geoffrey
Body, Richard Cormack, Patrick Fisher, Sir Nigel
Boscawen, Hon Robert Corrie, John Fletcher, Alex (Edinburgh N)
Bottomley, Peter Costain, A. P. Fletcher-Cooke, Charles
Bowden, A. (Brighton, Kemptown) Cowans, Harry Fookes, Miss Janet
Boyson, Dr Rhodes (Brent) Critchley, Julian Forman, Nigel
Bradford, Rev Robert Crouch, David Fowler, Norman (Sutton C'f'd)
Braine, Sir Bernard Crowder, F. P. Fox, Marcus
Brittan, Leon Cunningham, G. (Islington S) Fraser, Rt Hon H. (Stafford & St)
Brocklebank-Fowler, C. Dalyell, Tam Freud, Clement
Brotherton, Michael Davies, Rt Hon J. (Knutsford) Fry, Peter
Brown, Sir Edward (Bath) Dean, Joseph (Leeds West) Galbraith, Hon T. G. D.
Brown, Ronald (Hackney S) Dean, Paul (N Somerset) Gardiner, George (Reigate)
Bryan, Sir Paul Dodsworth, Geoffrey Gardner, Edward (S. Fylde)
Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend) Luce, Richard Ridley, Hon Nicholas
Gilmour, Rt Hon Ian (Chesham) McCrindle, Robert Ridsdale, Julian
Gilmour, Sir John (East Fife) McCusker, H. Rifkind, Malcolm
Glyn, Dr Alan Macfarlane, Neil Rippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey
Godber, Rt Hon Joseph MacGregor, John Roberts, Wyn (Conway)
Goodhart, Philip Macmillan, Rt Hon M. (Farnham) Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)
Goodhew, Victor McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury) Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Goodlad, Alastair McNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest) Ross, William (Londonderry)
Gorst, John Madel, David Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)
Gow, Ian (Eastbourne) Marshall, Michael (Arundel) Rost, Peter (SE Derbyshire)
Gower, Sir Raymond (Barry) Marten, Neil Royle, Sir Anthony
Grant, Anthony (Harrow C) Mates, Michael Sainsbury, Tim
Gray, Hamish Mather, Carol St. John-Stevas, Norman
Grieve, Percy Maude, Angus Scott, Nicholas
Griffiths, Eldon Maudling, Rt Hon Reginald Scott-Hopkins, James
Grimond, Rt Hon J. Mawby, Ray Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Grist, Ian Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Shaw, Michael (Scarborough)
Grylls, Michael Mayhew, Patrick Shelton, William (Streatham)
Hall, Sir John Mendelson, John Shepherd, Colin
Hall-Davis, A. G. F. Meyer, Sir Anthony Shersby, Michael
Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove) Silvester, Fred
Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife) Mills, Peter Sims, Roger
Hampson, Dr Keith Miscampbell, Norman Sinclair, Sir George
Hannam, John Mitchell, David (Basingstoke) Skeet, T. H. H.
Harrison, Col Sir Harwood (Eye) Moate, Roger Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)
Harvie Anderson, Rt Hon Miss Molyneaux, James Smith, Dudley (Warwick)
Hastings, Stephen Monro, Hector Speed, Keith
Havers, Sir Michael Montgomery, Fergus Spence, John
Hawkins, Paul Moonman, Eric Spicer, Jim (W Dorset)
Hayhoe, Barney Moore, John (Croydon C) Spicer, Michael (S Worcester)
Heath, Rt Hon Edward More, Jasper (Ludlow) Sproat, Iain
Heseltine, Michael Morgan, Geraint Stainton, Keith
Hicks, Robert Morgan-Giles, Rear-Admiral Stanbrook, Ivor
Higgins, Terence L. Morris, Michael (Northampton S) Stanley, John
Hodgson, Robin Morrison, Charles (Devizes) Steel, Rt Hon David
Holland, Philip Morrison, Hon Peter (Chester) Steen, Anthony (Wavertree)
Hordern, Peter Mudd, David Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)
Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Neave, Airey Stokes, John
Howell, David (Guildford) Nelson, Anthony Stradling Thomas, J.
Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk) Neubert, Michael Tapsell, Peter
Hunt, David (Wirral) Newton, Tony Taylor, R. (Croydon NW)
Hunt, John (Bromley) Normanton, Tom Taylor, Teddy (Cathcart)
Hurd, Douglas Nott, John Tebbit, Norman
Hutchison, Michael Clark Onslow, Cranley Temple-Morris, Peter
Irving, Charles (Cheltenham) Oppenheim, Mrs Sally Thatcher, Rt Hon Margaret
James, David Osborn, John Thomas, Rt Hon P. (Hendon S)
Jenkin, Rt Hon P. (Wanst'd & W'df'd) Ovenden, John Thorpe, Rt Hon Jeremy (N Devon)
Jessel, Toby Page, John (Harrow West) Townsend, Cyril D.
Johnson Smith, G. (E Grinstead) Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby) Trotter, Neville
Johnston, Russell (Inverness) Page, Richard (Workington) Urwin, T. W.
Jones, Arthur (Daventry) Pardoe, John van Straubenzee, W. R.
Jopling, Michael Parker, John Vaughan, Dr Gerard
Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith Parkinson, Cecil Viggers, Peter
Kaberry, Sir Donald Pattie, Geoffrey Wainwright, Richard (Colne V)
Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine Penhaligon, David Wakeham, John
Kershaw, Anthony Percival, Ian Welder, David (Clitheroe)
Kimball, Marcus Peyton, Rt Hon John Walker, Rt Hon P. (Worcester)
King, Evelyn (South Dorset) Phipps, Dr Colin Walker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir Derek
King, Tom (Bridgwater) Pink, R. Bonner Wall, Patrick
Kitson, Sir Timothy Powell, Rt Hon J. Enoch Walters, Dennis
Knight, Mrs Jill Prentice, Rt Hon Reg Warren, Kenneth
Knox, David Price, David (Eastleigh) Weatherill, Bernard
Lamond, James Prior, Rt Hon James Wells, John
Lamont, Norman Pym, Rt Hon Francis Whitelaw, Rt Hon William
Langford-Holt, Sir John Raison, Timothy Wiggin, Jerry
Latham, Michael (Melton) Rathbone, Tim Winterton, Nicholas
Lawrence, Ivan Rawlinson, Rt Hon Sir Peter Wood, Rt Hon Richard
Lawson, Nigel Rees, Peter (Dover & Deal) Young, Sir G. (Ealing, Acton)
Leadbitter, Ted Rees-Davies, W. R. Younger, Hon George
Lewis, Arthur (Newham N) Renton, Rt Hon Sir D. (Hunts)
Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) Renton, Tim (Mid-Sussex) TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Lloyd, Ian Rhodes James, R. Mr. Jim Lester and
Lomas, Kenneth Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon Mr. Michael Roberts.
Loveridge, John

Question accordingly negatived.

10.19 p.m.

Mr. Pym

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The House has just come to a highly significant, exceptionally unusual and immensely important decision. It was, I venture to suggest, a House of Commons decision, and what was so exceptionally unusual about it was that the motion which it defeated related to the Government's principal legislative measure in this Session.

Nevertheless, it was a House of Commons opinion about this motion and I think that it is reasonable to ask the Government, through you Mr. Speaker, whether they will say, either tonight or, perhaps more reasonably and sensibly, tomorrow, what is their intention for this Bill in the light of this important decision?

Mr. Foot

May I first thank the right hon. Gentleman for the kindly way in which he has raised the matter. Of course the Government will give full and proper consideration to the vote which the House has cast here tonight. Immediately we shall be continuing with the Bill on Thursday, but not with the assistance of the timetable for which we asked the House today.

Any further communications will be given to the House in due course, but I certainly invite all those hon. Members who have been so eager to participate in the vote tonight to come along to the debate on Thursday.

Mr. Donald Stewart (Western Isles) rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. My predecessor on these occasions allowed only two bites at the cherry. I see the Leader of the Scottish National Party on his feet. I propose to call him, and then such questions will come to an end.

Mr. Donald Stewart

May I ask the Leader of the House, in view of that result, whether the Government have not a moral obligation to bring in a motion for a vote of confidence since a large number of Labour Members are in the House today because of the Government's election pledges but have voted against devolution for Scotland?