§ 3.53 p.m.
§ Debate resumed.
§ LORD KILBRANDON
My Lords, I would ask leave to make a preliminary observation. This is the first time that I have ventured to address your Lordships' House, except in my Judicial capacity, and I have no doubt that in the course of what I have to say I shall exhibit some ignorance of proper form and order. If so, I ask the indulgence of the House.
It is, as the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, has said, with a feeling of sadness that one addresses the House on this occasion. For some two years the Royal Commission sat under the chairmanship, the highly experienced guidance and the firm leadership of Lord Crowther. To a large extent the shape which the Report ultimately took, as well as the principles inspiring our discussions, were influenced by his advice, which was gladly followed by his colleagues. When 1181 I succeeded him as Chairman, almost two years ago, the framework was there to be built on. His death deprived the nation of a wise counsellor and many of us of a good friend.
The difficulty of proving a worthy successor was not the only problem which arose from my appointment. Membership of the Commission was one thing, but for a judge to act as Chairman was in the circumstances a very delicate matter. For we all recognised, right at the start of our meetings, that what we had to examine was questions of constitutional policy, and that is just another way of saying political questions. It is, I am quite sure, possible to distinguish between politics in the wide sense, in which every sane person must take an interest, and politics in the Party sense, in which participation is denied to Her Majesty's judges. If I had not believed in the existence of that distinction, I would have accepted neither membership nor chairmanship. But the inescapable tract remains that unless the greatest care is taken the broader issue could become merged in the narrower, and this I am naturally most anxious to avoid.
The essentially political nature of our subject matter really supplies the explanation for the fact, which apparently surprised some people, that the members did not come to a unanimous conclusion. In any discussion in which the exercise of political judgment is involved unanimity is impossible, unless the body concerned has been selected with ultimate unanimity in view. To have done anything like that would have been to destroy in advance the credibility of the Commission. Accordingly, speaking from these Benches, I want to make it plain, if I can, that I am not here to defend any positions or to advocate any solutions. I have, it is quite true, set my name in the course of the Report to certain preferred conclusions, but there I shall leave it. I could have done no less, and I believe that it would be wrong now to do more. But I also believe that it might be helpful if I were to give some account of the thinking, at least of the majority, behind the method of handling the subject and behind the scope of the solutions which were eventually recommended. In the short time at my disposal I must try to concentrate to some extent on the proposals for legislative 1182 devolution; that is, the setting up of subordinate elective legislative assemblies for Scotland and Wales. I mean no disrespect by saying as little as I do about the solutions suggested for England. I believe that popular interest, and certainly my own qualifications, point that course out to me.
One omission from our Report has been noted; that is, a substantial treatment of what I will call the human rights side of constitutional law. I believe there is good reason for that. The rights of freedom, whether of the person, of speech or of property, as everywhere understood, are guaranteed, and limited only, in our country, by the rule of law. There was not shown to us the need for an overriding authority superior to Parliament or to the existing courts of justice whereby such rights could be established and protected. Amendment, if called for, to the rules of law presents no difficulty. The same is true of extension to the powers of the Parliamentary Commissioner. You do not need a Commission on the Constitution for that. So we rather concentrated on other things. Another notable and equally deliberate omission is recommendations for a permanent constitutional solution for Northern Ireland. We were convinced of what the last few days has proved, that such a solution could be hammered out only in tri-partite consultation, on a level very different from that of a Royal Commission. The present proposals are supported by the hopes and prayers of the whole world. Having said that, I should perhaps explain why the history of Northern Ireland since 1920 is so often referred to in the Report, and I would also suggest that the ultimate solution for that Province is likely to be of a unique character and not capable of transplantation to other regions of Great Britain.
My Lords, it was quite plain to the majority of us, not only from a consideration of our terms of reference and from the political background of our appointment, but also from the opinions frequently expressed by the Press and public, especially in Scotland and Wales, that we would be expected to examine above all other topics the question of self-government in some degree for those countries, whether by way of separatism, federalism or some other constitutional 1183 device. The same problem had to be faced in 1920. I will not weary your Lordships by recalling what is familiar —how the Government of Ireland Act never took effect as it had been intended to do. But there was Stormont for all to see. A devolved Legislature had been set up, and had operated for half a century, as an ingenious compromise between systems—not federal, because not sovereign in its devolved functions, as was in the end to be tragically demonstrated, yet not truly subordinate inasmuch as by constitutional convention Westminster refrained from exercising its supreme power in those respects, and did so only under the pressure of civil war.
We had to look for evidence to see how, administratively, it had worked. Rather, I think, to the surprise of some of us we were given an enthusiastic account. The advantages of having an Assembly with legislative powers, on a small scale, manned by representatives to whom the whole Province was perfectly familiar, capable of fast legislative action, even though one must say designed after rather an old-fashioned pattern—these were explained to us, not least by the business community. And there is no doubt that, somehow, Stormont was able to make attractive to outside investors the commercial development of the Province, at that time sorely in need of it, to an extent which exceeded what was done in other regions.
The events of the past four years, and their causes, are too familiar to call for description. But we were satisfied that they were unconnected with the form of Government as such. If it be true that that form of Government could not relieve the inherent racial and religious tensions, it is also pretty certain that no other could have done so either. The conclusion I wish to draw from that is this. If it were to be suggested that the events in Northern Ireland have shown that similar devolution might lead to similar results in Scotland or in Wales, the response in those countries to the suggestion would be derision or resentment, or both. The proposals of the majority for the regions of England may be criticised as inadequate, but I think it would be wrong to take that view merely on the ground that they differ 1184 greatly in degree from the preferred solutions for Scotland and Wales. I think it would be fallacious to adopt an approach, which I would almost call doctrinaire, that England must have what is thought good for Scotland, or that Wales must not have what is thought good for her because it is rejected for England.
There are two short passages in the evidence which seems to me to be relevant to the majority proposals. The East Midlands Economic Planning Council said:There is a strong case for a strong well-informed provincial body to advise both local and central Government. There would however be no advantage, and considerable disadvantage, in creating another tier of local government, with executive powers, at provincial level.And, speaking of such a body, the Joint Committee of Local Planning Authorities for the South-West said:This new organisation should not have executive powers but should be purely advisory, although there might be a few matters such as tourism, the distribution of Industrial Development Certificates, and perhaps regional water and sewerage duties where executive powers would have to be given.This leads me to say a word about local government, to which several noble Lords have already referred. In a sense, my Lords, I am a child of local government. My father was County Clerk of Ayrshire; and so was his father. My grandfather's father and grandfather were Clerks to the Commissioners of Supply, the lineal ascendants of the County Council. So I have tended to attribute the autocratic attitude of my father to the principal officers of the great English authorities. No more than him can I see them, when wishing to discuss some aspect of Government policy, being content to interview some provincial functionary in a regional headquarters, having been refused direct access to the corridors of real power in Whitehall.
So, again, it has been suggested that the recent reforms in Scottish local government might be stultified by the setting up of a Scottish Legislature, about one-half of the country having been already committed to the jurisdiction of a single local authority. That could well be true, since it has been proposed that local government should be one of the functions of the devolved legislature, and the new 1185 arrangements have certainly been much criticised in Scotland. But the argument, to make sense, must proceed upon the hypothesis that a Scottish Assembly is desired and required. Is it then to be set aside on the ground of its being incompatible with a system of local government which was recently designed to work in conjunction with a United Kingdom Government at Westminster, not with a Scottish legislature in Edinburgh?
The scene changed quite quickly during the course of our necessarily long consultations. One development is the exploitation of North Sea Oil, which could influence the finance of separatism, although the other arguments for and against that system might be unaffected. It may be that this will have to be debated in future; the situation and prospects at the time we finished our deliberations were still obscure.
Then there is the entry of Britain into the E.E.C. This is a topic on which my noble friend Lord Crowther-Hunt—I believe on these Benches I am not allowed to have friends, but I worked with him for so long that he will forgive rue for referring to him as a friend—has views which differ from those of the majority, who were of opinion that whatever the consequences of E.E.C. regional policy may turn out to be, there is no necessary relevance in the existence or non-existence of regional legislatures having such powers and functions as the majority suggested were appropriate. It is not difficult to conjure up possible problems, but it is most unlikely that they are insoluble.
One branch of the Report I hope will be of special utility. That is the examination of the financial implications and possibilities connected with some kind of legislative devolution. I believe that this forms by far the most thorough and elaborate exercise yet to be undertaken and, in view of the width of the consultations upon which it is based, I believe that it can be regarded as unusually authoritative. The discussion of the potentialities of devolved and shared taxation is, I think, of special interest. The conclusion drawn is that such expedients need not be inimical to what members were unanimous in regarding as essential; that is, the economic unity of the United Kingdom. But it will, I suppose, always be the case that a universal stan 1186 dard of living will need to be supported by the wealth of those parts of the Kingdom whence the greater part of the taxes arise, because there lies the greater part of the national prosperity This is implicit in the concept of a United Kingdom—a concept which our terms of reference did not permit us to challenge, even if we had to do so, which emphatically we did not. For my own part, I have no doubt that if reforms are to be made they will be acceptable in proportion as they can be seen to be logically consistent with and practically continuous with systems which have, on any view, much to be said for them, and, under gradual development, have long survived.
May I quote some words spoken almost 100 years ago:In a progressive country change is constant; and the great question is not whether you should resist change which is inevitable, but whether that change should be carried out in deference to the manners, the customs, the laws and the traditions of a people, or whether it should be carried out in deference to abstract principles and arbitrary and general doctrines.These are words of Benjamin Disraeli, and in order to dispel any suspicion of partiality so far as I am concerned I may quote a sentence from the same page of the biography, where the Prime Minister is reported as saying:The Scotch shall have no favors from me until they return more Tory members to the House of Commons".Absit omen, my Lords!
As I see it, we have here a political question, and a political question is in this country, happily, answered by finding out what is the will of the people. We point out in the Report how difficult it is to make that discovery. After saying that few people in the country even know what the possibilities are, we add, perhaps rather pathetically, "Neither did we until we began our work". Again, it appeared from the rather controversial Attitude Survey carried out for us that half the adult population of Scotland did not know what the Scottish Office was, and the other half had a very hazy idea of what work it did. But for my part I cannot blame them for that. I would rather criticise ourselves, who have failed to give the people the civic education they deserve.
This leads me to what is really the last thing I want to say. If our Report has informed people and put before them in 1187 an impartial way what are the possibilities, what is to be said for and against any expedient, and has supplied them with some of what they need to make up their minds, it will have served its main purpose. I am quite certain that in Scotland, at least, informed discussion is going on at this moment on a scale I do not remember in time past. Nothing but good can come from that.
§ 4.12 p.m.
§ LORD O'NEILL OF THE MAINE
My Lords, it was with some trepidation that I found my name between that of Lord Kilbrandon, whose speech I agree with so much, and that of Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran, both of whom of course know far more about this subject than many of us in this House. I have no carefully prepared speech, but this is a subject in which I have been interested for a long time and I should therefore like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, for having given us the chance to have this discussion and debate in this House. I am only so sorry for him that events outside his control—apparently outside the control of us all—have made it likely, first, that the debate will not be reported as fully as it should be and, second, that the average person to-day, in London anyway, will be wondering whether or not his train is running to Woking. This, I think, is tragic, because this is a most important matter. Nevertheless, I am very grateful to the noble Lord for having given us this opportunity.
I think it was about 25 years ago that in some very obscure village in County Antrim I advocated a Parliament for Scotland, and saw the following day a little headline in the local paper which read:O'Neill for Scottish Nationalists.This I think shows, my Lords, how difficult it is to discuss this matter without strong emotions being aroused, and I therefore hope that if I say something which is particularly well supported either by the Labour Party or by the Conservative Party they will bear with me, because I have given this matter some consideration over many years. It is my view that devolution for Scotland and Wales does not in fact suit either of the major Parties, for apparently very good reasons. First of all, I think it is 1188 genuinely conceded that if the Parliament at Westminster represented only England it would probably have a permanent Conservative majority. It is because of the Members of Parliament coming from Scotland and Wales that it is possible for the Labour Party to form a Government. Secondly, if Parliaments—I am using this old-fashioned word " Parliament "; I know I should be using the expression "legislative assemblies"—were set up in Scotland and Wales, the Conservatives living in Scotland and Wales would have to live under permanent Labour Governments. Therefore, you have an alliance for apparently excellent reasons.
I would suggest—and, after all, this has been introduced into my own part of the United Kingdom, into Northern Ireland—that if proportional representation was introduced for these local Assemblies in Scotland and Wales, then the likelihood of fifty years of one-Party domination, as we have had in Northern Ireland, would be very much lessened. Furthermore—and I think this is probably almost more important—if you reduce the number of representatives coming to Westminster from Scotland and Wales because new Assemblies have been set up in Scotland and Wales, then you are bound to meet with Labour resistance. I think it would be quite a good idea. Speaking from memory, I think the suggestion was that in Wales the representation should be reduced by six. I should have thought it was a price well worth paying to maintain that representation where it is now, so that the Labour Party would not feel that they were going to lose support from Wales and Scotland in what we in Northern Ireland, in a very old-fashioned way, call the Imperial Parliament here at Westminster. But this, to my mind, is the crux of the matter: that you have this feeling in both the major Parties that they will both suffer if the present system is altered.
It is said that there is no reason for us to change the system under which we are governed in the United Kingdom and which has existed for a great number of years. May I draw your Lordships' attention to the fact that there are only approximately 12 million people in Australia, and yet there are 6 State Parliaments in Australia; that there are only 1189 about 20 million people in Canada, and yet there are some 10 or 11 Provincial Parliaments in Canada. I am not going to talk about the United States. I think most noble Lords know that it is not a unitary Government in Washington, although many people in this country believe it to be governed solely from Washington. The federal system is an established fact all over the world. It will be argued, of course, that this is such a small country that there is no need to take these matters into consideration. But might I here suggest that to-day it is just as easy to fly from one part of America to another, and takes no longer, as it is to travel by train from Edinburgh to London. So in fact that old-fashioned idea that only geographically large countries should have a federal system is, I think, to some extent altered by modem transport.
I found myself very much in agreement with the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Kilbrandon, not only in what he said about Northern Ireland and the conclusions we should draw from the unhappy history of that country, but also in his remarks on almost everything else. I intended to mention and I still intend to, despite the fact that he covered this point, that we must remember that Aberdeen is becoming the Texas of Great Britain. We must remember that Scotland may well become a much more wealthy part of the United Kingdom than she is to-day. An interjection was made earlier from these Benches, "But who is going to pay for all this? It is all going to be paid for in England." Assuming as I do, that Scotland, when she has greater riches, will demand greater control over her own affairs, would it not be better, bearing in mind Irish history, to grasp this nettle now rather than to wait until the Scots demand it?
I suppose that I am biased in my view on this matter, but I think that separatism would be crazy even if Scotland were a richer country than England. This is a small area. As I see it we must stick together. Even though the Republic of Ireland has total independence and is outside the Commonwealth, it has not got economic independence from the United Kingdom and probably never will have. So—and once again I find myself in total agreement with the 1190 noble Lord, Lord Kilbrandon—separatism would in my view be totally crazy. Nevertheless, I hope that in the not too distant future the Government will be able to give us their proposals for some form of devolution for Scotland and Wales.
My Lords, I think that it would be better to start with Scotland and Wales. If that succeeded, then areas in England could be devolved. But bearing in mind (and again I have a personal interest in this) the row we had with the Government about whether Lymington should be in Hampshire or Dorset, I think that quite good arguments could be put forward about the exact area of an English legislative assembly. Let us start with Scotland and Wales, and if that turns out to be successful further consideration could be given to England. I apologise for not having a prepared speech but I wished to make a few points largely in support of the noble Lord, Lord Kilbrandon.
§ LORD JACQUES
My Lords, would not the noble Lord, Lord O'Neill of the Maine, agree that improvements in transport would tend to outdate federal government rather than unitary government?
§ 4.23 p.m.
§ LORD LLOYD OF KILGERRAN
My Lords, may I presume to join in the congratulations to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Kilbrandon, and his colleagues for having, after four and a half years of strenuous effort, and after having been set up, as I understand, somewhat urgently by a Labour Government, produced a Report of major interest and usefulness for the political, economic and social progress of the United Kingdom. Particularly I congratulate the noble Lord on, as I suggest, the clear recommendation in the Majority Report for a directly elected Assembly in Wales, with specific power to deal with a wide range of matters domestic to Wales. I shall confine my speech to the aspects of the Report dealing with Wales, and I hope that, in as objective a manner as possible, I shall justify my statement that the major Report justifies the early establishment of a direct Assembly for Wales.
I presume to offer these congratulations not only in a personal capacity: I declare at once my interest as President of the Welsh Liberal Party. But all my 1191 colleagues on these Benches have welcomed the recognition which the Kilbrandon Commission has given to so much of the evidence submitted to the Commission in the days when the late Lord Crowther was presiding, and we deeply regret his untimely death. May I add my personal congratulations to Mr. Guppy, Secretary to the Commission, and his colleagues. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Kilbrandon, has referred with admiration to the work of Mr. Guppy. I add my congratulations in a spirit of nostalgic sympathy and understanding, because for seven years I was Secretary to a Royal Commission. Unlike Mr. Guppy, I was not a full-time Secretary; I was part-time Secretary (and at the same time practising at the Patent Bar) to the Royal Commission on Awards to Inventors which was set up under the chairmanship of the late Lord Cohen. I should like to record that I had the privilege, after having worked with him for seven years, of becoming a personal friend of Lord Cohen as a result of that association on the Commission.
My Lords, it is inevitable that Commissions should be concerned with the scope of their terms of reference. It is a perennial question and it turned up at the Royal Commission on Awards to Inventors. I was always amazed how Lord Cohen was able to correlate the divergent views of so many industrialists and experts on the Commission and always to produce a unanimous Report. It would seem, my Lords, that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Kilbrandon, also had frequent discussions about the scope of his terms of reference. It is quite clear that there were a number of discussions as to the meaning of the word "devolution". It is a word which does not appear in the somewhat curiously worded terms of reference of the Commission; and at least nine members of the Commission who signed the main Report accepted, as is stated in paragraph 13, that this Commission was primarily appointed for the purpose of examining the possibility of transfer of power to a level of government away from Westminster, inter alia to Wales, so as to remove causes of discontent.
As I have indicated, I shall be dealing with those parts of the Commission's Report which referred to Wales, and I ask your Lordships' indulgence if I read 1192 a few passages from the Report which, in my submission, clearly establish three points. They establish and recognise the special position of Wales in the United Kingdom Constitution. Secondly, the present discontent in Wales is recognised and, thirdly, the Report recommends that it is in the interests of the United Kingdom as a whole that a directly-elected Assembly should be set up for Wales with specific powers to deal with some domestic Welsh matters. May I refer to paragraph 130 of the Report, where the special position of Wales is recognised:Generalisations about people are difficult to make and usually unsatisfactory, but it seems true that as one moves eastward and southward through Wales, the Welshness' of the people, though it undergoes subtle changes, persists. Despite division and gradations. there remain a strong sense of Welsh identity, a different way of looking at things and a distinct feeling that the needs and interests of people in Wales must be considered separately from those of people elsewhere in the United Kingdom.May I remind your Lordships of what is said in paragraph 1122:Wales is a relatively small part of the United Kingdom, and its problems cannot be expected to figure disproportionately in the deliberations of a Parliament and government which have responsibilities for the people of the United Kingdom as a whole. However sympathetic the administration may be, it cannot bring as much time, attention and understanding to the affairs of Wales as could the Welsh people themselves if the appropriate machinery existed. While, therefore, as in the case of Scotland, we differ on the functions it should exercise, we all see a need for a directly elected assembly which would have as its exclusive concern the welfare of Wales and be able to speak openly and authoritatively on matters of Welsh interest. Through such an assembly the aspirations and needs of the Welsh people would be fully discussed and formulated and made known to the United Kingdom Parliament and Government. Wales would be given the assurance it needs that its problems were being examined in sufficient depth and with adequate understanding.The reasons for recommending such a Welsh elected assembly are potently and persuasively set out in this Report. But the large majority of the Commission accept (I quote from paragraph 1121) thatThere is a deep anxiety"—that is, in Wales—that the national identity and interests are subject to a continuous process of erosion. This is seen to be the result not of deliberate policies, but rather of a lack of policies or at least of policies which pay sufficient regard to particular Welsh needs.1193 How realistic and true those words are to those of us who know something about the economy and industrial conditions in Wales. It is of course generally accepted that Parliamentary procedures fall short of what is needed for Wales. But Parliamentary remedies alone, in my submission, without some devolution of some specific powers to an elected Welsh assembly, would not suffice to remedy the serious defects that exist. Of course we accept that the undivided sovereignty of the United Kingdom Parliament should be maintained, and the need of Central Government, if these schemes for devolution for Wales were accepted, to influence the demand for expenditure as stated in paragraph 612 of the Report.
The Commission also felt, in paragraph 623, that it would not make definite and final recommendations about the taxation to be controlled by a Welsh assembly. But in paragraph 679 (and I think it is to this passage that the noble Lord, Lord Kilbrandon, was referring when he was referred to the "authoritative nature" of the parts of his Commission's Report on taxation) the Commission put forward a possible scheme to show that the matter could be dealt with, to quote the Commission's words, in a "practical and more down-to-earth way".
The Commission, in considering devolved legislation, states in paragraph 778 that it accepted as axiomatic that a body wielding the substantial powers recommended should be popularly elected. They go on then to consider the main questions which arise; namely, the method of election, the number of members of the assembly and the period for which they should be elected. These matters are dealt with in detail, and I shall not bother your Lordships with the details. Suffice it for me to say that the Report recommends in paragraph 788 that, so far as election is concerned, they favour the single transferable vote system; but they specifically point out that this conclusion is in no way concerned with election to the United Kingdom Parliament.
My Lords, the Commission also saw no difficulty about constituency boundaries for the elected assembly following the local authority boundaries so far as possible. However, I presume to differ from the Commission in their tentative suggestion that perhaps the number of Welsh Members of Parliament should be 1194 reduced from 36 to 31. I see no advantage in that kind of reduction. All these are matters of detail which do not seriously affect the basic conclusions of the Report; that there should be a directly elected assembly for Wales with specific powers.
I should like first of all to refer briefly, again in support of my objective approach to the justification for a Welsh elected assembly, to the positive recommendations in regard to Wales in Chapter 26, entitled, "Summary and Assessment of Conclusions on Devolution." Paragraph 1216 says:There are certain matters on which we are agreed.Then in the middle of the paragraph it says:… that Scotland and Wales should each have a directly elected assembly or council…As if that were not a sufficiently clear indication, in the middle of the next paragraph the message goes out again. After considering various different views of different Commissioners in regard to the position of the United Kingdom as a whole, the Report says:None of this destroys the case for devolution. On the contrary, the unavoidable increase in central power makes it all the more necessary to enlarge democratic accountability and to increase opportunities for participation in government. Devolution can make a valuable contribution to these ends.May I, in support of my objective case for the elected Assembly for Wales, refer briefly to the conclusions starting at page 469. There is first of all set out a summary of the serious dissatisfaction with Government in Great Britain and I shall not trouble your Lordships with those points. So far as Wales is concerned, with your Lordships' indulgence I should like to read four or five of these conclusions. I start with Conclusion 16:The centralisation of Government in London appears to be resented in Scotland and Wales more than in England, though Welsh people seem rather more prepared than the Scots to accept that the United Kingdom Government must play the dominant role.Then in Conclusion 19:Though for many Welsh people the maintenance of United Kingdom standards may be rather more important than devolution, the Welsh, like the Scots, have prominently in mind the idea of self-determination.Conclusion 22 reads:The concern for democracy in Wales shows itself not only in the widespread 1195 demand for an elected Welsh assembly, but also in the vigorous criticism of appointed bodies.Separatism for Wales, in my view—and here I respectfully agree with the Kilbrandon Commission—is, rightly, rejected. May I ask your Lordships to look at Conclusion No. 173? I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, finds my references to these Conclusions about an elected Assembly in Wales so amusing.
§ THE MINISTER OF STATE, DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND SOCIAL SECURITY (LORD ABERDARE)
My Lords, may I interrupt to say that I was hoping to hear some of the views of the Liberal Party and not simply a repetition of the Kilbrandon Report?
§ LORD LLOYD OF KILGERRAN
My Lords, I am much obliged to the noble Lord for showing his interest in the address I am making; but may I assure your Lordships that all the matters I am reading from the Report coincide almost identically with the evidence given by the Welsh Liberal Party and the United Kingdom Liberal Party to the Kilbrandon Commission. I am merely reading the extracts from the Report in order to adopt them as part of the Liberal Party's programme in this matter, a programme which they have had for upwards of ten years at least, to my knowledge.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, may I interrupt? Since the noble Lord is reading so many extracts with which some of us are familiar, I wonder whether it is also consistent with his view that there is little demand for federalism in Scotland and Wales and that the Liberal Party in Wales in any case do not support the federalist solution advocated by his noble friend?
§ LORD LLOYD OF KILGERRAN
My Lords, I am much obliged to the noble Lord for his observations. Of course I conform with the general policy of the Liberal Party in regard to federalism; but the policy of the Liberal Party also is devolution of powers to Wales. That is part of Liberal policy. I am here merely to ask your Lordships' indulgence, as a Welshman, to consider the circumstances in Wales objectively, and I apologise once again for reading 1196 so much from the Kilbrandon Report, because it is entirely along the lines of the Liberal Party policy in regard to Wales. May I assure noble Lords that I am coming to the end of my quotations from the Report and may I again ask your Lordships to read Paragraph 173? It seems to me essential, if Wales is to be considered in this House, that technical matters of this kind should be considered in detail. Paragraph 173 says:Our preferred schemes all provide for the establishment of Scottish and Welsh assemblies directly elected by the single transferable vote system of proportional representation for a fixed term of four years.
§ LORD LLOYD OF KILGERRAN
Yes, my Lords, I am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, is following my submissions so closely. Paragraph 175 sets out the matters which it is suggested by the Kilbrandon Commission should be transferred to the Assemblies there. I finish my quotations by a reference to Conclusion No. 182, at the bottom of page 485. It reads:The functions of the assembly should be built up gradually and the scheme should be generally flexible.
§ LORD GREENWOOD OF ROSSENDALE
My Lords, the noble Lord will forgive me, but he must quote correctly. He said "should", when the word, in fact, is "would".
LORD LLOYD or KILGERRAN
My Lords, I am sure that the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, will welcome that support, and I apologise if I have misread one of the quotations. The passage reads:The functions of the assemblies would be built up gradually and the scheme would be generally flexible.Flexibility in any Assembly which is given to Wales would be very important, and in our view—and again I apologise for having quoted so much of the Report —this Report clearly establishes, so far as Wales is concerned, that the proposals should be implemented. There is a substantial discontent in Wales with its present political and economic status. These discontents should be alleviated by the creation of an elected Assembly to 1197 which specific powers are devolved. The Commissioners make it clear that such a scheme could be readily put into practice. I know the dangers into which I have gone in quoting parts of a Report to your Lordships, but I hope you will accept that I have been fair in presenting to you the recommendations of the Kilbrandon Commission in its case for devolving Governmental powers to Wales.
Parliament has already had the opportunity of discussing two Bills for a domestic Parliament for Wales: first, in another place in a Bill presented by Mr. Emlyn Hooson, the Liberal Member for Montgomeryshire, in March, 1967; and again in this House in a Bill presented by my noble friend, Lord Ogmore, in November 1968. I hope that I have presented the Kilbrandon case for devolution of a domestic Parliament to Wales without too much Welsh hwyl for your Lordships and without that blend of romanticism, radicalism and culture which many Anglo-Saxons find very difficult to understand. May I say that Wales, for over a thousand years, has preserved its individuality and has made a contribution to life outside Wales, as well as within Wales, in a distinctive way. We know how much the wealth of the United Kingdom has depended in the past on the major industries in Wales. We know the scars which industrialisation has left in Wales and which can still be seen. In some places this is still deeply felt. I do not come here nursing grievances or imagined injustices; I come here to ask the Government on the basis of the Kilbrandon Report to have the political imagination and the political foresight to take active steps in the near future to grant devolution to Wales by means of an elected Welsh Assembly with specific powers.
§ 4.50 p.m.
§ LORD CROWTHER-HUNT
My Lords, to address this House again so soon after the most kindly and friendly reception which your Lordships gave to my maiden speech only last week must seem to be an unnecessarily tempting of Providence and, indeed, of your Lordships, too. It is the more so since I can hardly expect to be impartial to-day, when my main mission is to commend to your Lordships' House and to Her Majesty's Ministers and to Her Majesty's Opposition as well the Constitutional Commis- 1198 sion's Minority Report produced by Professor Alan Peacock and myself. But if I cannot expect to be impartial to-day, nevertheless I shall do my best to tread the middle road between partiality and impartiality.
Before I seek to find that elusive middle ground, I should first like to pay my tribute to the Commission's Chairman, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Kilbrandon. He took over the chairmanship in the midst of our labours, after the untimely and tragic death of Lord Crowther, who was giving us such challenging and inspiring leadership—and who was just about getting us all under proper control. In these circumstances the noble and learned Lord, Lord Kilbrandon, was faced with an even more onerous and difficult task than most Chairmen of Royal Commissions have to assume. Nevertheless, his eminently skilful, fair and sympathetic chairman ship was a major factor in ensuring the maintenance of the most friendly and cooperative personal relationships between all members of the Commission, even after it was clear that Professor Peacock and I had to go our own separate ways. I am most grateful to him, my Lords, and I should like to pay this public tribute.
Now let me try to find that elusive middle ground. Perhaps the Reports of the Royal Commission on the Constitution can best be assessed in relation to each other if I explain why Professor Peacock and I felt that we had to produce our own separate Report. First, we believed that the majority of our colleagues were taking a narrow view of the Commission's terms of reference. They were looking, in our view, almost exclusively at the case for or against devolution—though the word "devolution", as has been stated this afternoon, was nowhere mentioned in the terms of reference—and certainly the Majority Report makes no specific recommendations on any question other than devolution. Professor Peacock and I believed that we should look at the system of government as a whole, as in our view our terms of reference required, and our recommendations accordingly cover more than the problem of devolution, important though it is.
Secondly—and this was the major factor in the parting of our ways—we were disturbed because the majority of 1199 our colleagues were making no assessment of the validity or otherwise of the complaints about our system of government which were being made to us. The Majority Report, in fact, summarises the various complaints made under such headings as "Centralisation" and "The Weakening of Democracy", But nowhere in that Report do our colleagues say which, if any, of the complaints are justified and which not. They conclude simply by saying—and here I quote from the Majority Report:While the people of Great Britain as a whole cannot be said to be seriously dissatisfied with their system of government, they have less attachment to it than in the past and there are some substantial causes of discontent which may contain the seeds of serious trouble.But nowhere my Lords, do our colleagues specify those particular "seeds of discontent"; nor do they indicate, as I have said, which complaints are valid and which not. Professor Peacock and I felt that we had to seek to make such an assessment, and I will come to that point in a moment or two, if I may.
The third reason why Professor Peacock and I felt we could not go along with the rest of our colleagues was because we believed they were underestimating the impact of the Common Market on the working of our system of government. They say, on page 125, that our membership of the Common Market and I quote:… does not have any major specific consequences for the questions submitted to us.Professor Peacock and I profoundly disagree with that line of analysis. We believe that our membership of the Common Market is already having a major impact on our whole system of government, and that it will have an even bigger impact as the Common Market develops and assumes new responsibilities. So in our Memorandum of Dissent we have devoted a whole chapter to seeking to assess what we see as the consequences now developing as a result of British membership of the Common Market—that is to say, the consequences it is having on our system of government —and what we need to do about them.
Finally, we could not agree with the main recommendation of the Majority Report. I say the "main recommendation" because of course there were a num- 1200 ber of recommendations in that Report: it is in fact nowhere united for a far-reaching scheme of legislative devolution to Scotland and Wales. I think it is important to consider how far-reaching this proposal for legislative devolution really is. It is akin to the old Stormont system of government, but without the financial controls and other factors which in practice did something to restrict Stormont's ability to make full use of the powers it possessed. Therefore the scheme of legislative devolution recommended by the majority would give to elected Scottish and Welsh Governments and Legislatures day-to-day sovereign powers of law-making on a wide-ranging list of subjects, including health, education, housing, environmental services and so on. In these fields, the Westminster Parliament would not be able to legislate for Scotland and Wales; and the extent of this devolution of sovereign legislative power can best be seen by giving three examples.
A Scottish Government and Parliament, under the scheme of legislative devolution recommended in the Majority Report, would be able to nationalise the grouse moors of Scotland with or without compensation—it would be easier to do it without compensation than with; but that they would have such a power is undoubted. A Scottish Government and Parliament would be able to abolish the National Health Service, to impose higher charges if they wished, or to abolish all charges completely. A Scottish Government and Parliament would be able to abolish the public schools in Scotland or to impose such fees as they wished on State schools. These are very wide-ranging powers indeed, and I have tried to provide these examples with at least a nice degree of political impartiality. Professor Peacock and I believe that there are four fatal flaws in this scheme of legislative devolution for Scotland and Wales which together make it unacceptable to people in all parts of the United Kingdom.
First of all, given the Common Market dimension, it seems to us impossible to move sovereignty downwards when in so many fields it is moving upwards to Brussels. Here perhaps I might say to the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, that although, in our view, membership of the Common Market increases the case 1201 for devolving more power from the Central Government of the United Kingdom down to the different regions and nations of the United Kingdom, it is not possible to devolve legislative and sovereign power downwards. Certain functions can be devolved downwards, but not sovereign power, when sovereign power is actually moving upwards. If I may reply to another point made by the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, he mentioned that we had said in the Memorandum of Dissent that legislative devolution would not reduce the burden on Parliament. It is true that we said that—but only if it were given to Scotland and Wales alone. To give legislative devolution to Scotland and Wales alone would reduce substantially the burden on this Parliament.
Thirdly, if I may make a further point to the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, he commended in his speech the brilliant research paper written for the Commission by Mr. Nevil Johnson, and in doing so he said it proved that federalism was the "in thing" to-day. I think, with respect, that this is a misunderstanding of the conclusion which Mr. Johnson reached. The conclusion that he reached in that paper was, first of all, that federalism was not operating in Western Germany in the traditional manner any longer; broadly speaking, what was happening was that the Central Government in Bonn was making general policy even in areas in which the Lander were normally sovereign, but what the Länder were doing was administering within the Länder the general policies in all matters which were made in Bonn. If one were setting up the West Germany system of Government to-day, given membership of the Common Market, one would not set it up as a federal structure. Although federal structures have much to commend them, they will not operate as traditional federal structures in the Common Market.
Secondly, another objection to the scheme for legislative devolution is the simple fact that if recent voting matters are any guide, Scotland and Wales would be likely, as the noble Lord, Lord O'Neill, said, to be Single Party States. In each country for the foreseeable future only one Party has any real chance of capturing political power. When all 1202 power goes to the victors in the Cabinet system of Government recommended in the scheme for legislative devolution, that cannot in our view be conducive to the successful operation of democratic Government in Scotland and Wales. Democracy does not work when minorities are permanently, or for long periods, excluded from a share in political power. That is what would happen in Scotland and Wales under the scheme of legislative devolution recommended in the Majority Report.
Thirdly, the scheme of legislative devolution recommended for Scotland and Wales will not in our view be acceptable to the people of England, and for this reason: the essence of the scheme is that the Westminster Parliament will not be able to legislate for Scotland and Wales in a wide variety of subjects, like health, education, housing, and so on. Under the scheme nearly one hundred Scottish and Welsh M.P.s sitting at Westminster would legislate for the people of England on these very matters which the people of England are debarred from legislating on for Scotland. I submit that that would hardly be acceptable to the people of England, and I feel sure that the people of Wales and Scotland would also regard it as unfair.
The final and basic objection to the scheme of legislative devolution for Scotland and Wales, it seems to Professor Peacock and myself, is in the proposed financial arrangements. The scheme recommended in the Majority Report is of an independent and nominated Exchequer Board to determine the distribution of the resources between England, Scotland and Wales. This would remove from the elected representatives of the people of England, Scotland and Wales, whether sitting here at Westminster or in Scottish and Welsh Parliaments, any control over perhaps the most crucial decisions democratic Governments are called upon to make—the allocation and distribution of resources. It cannot be conducive to a healthy democracy when the basic decision about the allocation of money is to be taken out of the hands of the people and their representatives by a nominated and independent Exchequer Board.
May I now devote a minute or two to commending to your Lordships the 1203 alternative proposals which Professor Peacock and myself make. The essential starting point of our recommendations is the diagnosis we make of what has been happening in the past fifty years or so in the evolution of our system of government. Here we reach the conclusion that there has been a decline this century in the extent to which we, as a people, govern ourselves, and we show that this is the unintended consequence of a number of trends in our system of government which are still continuing.
First, we draw attention to the enormous expansion and strengthening of the central Executive as it has assumed an ever-increasing range of responsibilities. This is perhaps best illustrated in the growth of the Central Government's Civil Service. In 1900 there were about 55.000 civil servants; to-day there are over half a million, often concentrated in giant Departments like the Department of the Environment with nearly 40,000 civil servants.
Alongside the growth and strengthening of the central Executive there has been a corresponding decline in the power of Parliament. Its staffing and procedures have quite simply failed to keep pace with the problems of controlling this vastly enlarged Executive with its vastly increased range of responsibilities. In fact, we spend less on the day-to-day running and servicing of Parliament than on the smallest Department of Government.
Then, thirdly, there has been a weakening of the other main arm of democracy besides Parliament—and here of course I am referring to local government. Since 1945, local authorities have lost their responsibilities for a wide range of public services, including hospitals, gas, electricity and so on. They are shortly to lose water, sewerage and what they had left of health. Under the new reorganisation of local government, to be effective from April 1 next year, the number of local government representatives is to be reduced from 37,510 to 23,950. We already have fewer elected representatives per head of the population in this country than, for example, in Western Germany, and if we go on at this rate we shall soon be at the bottom of the democratic league table in these matters.
§ LORD LLOYD OF KILGERRAN
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for giving way. May I ask him whether he agrees with me that in the preface to Volume No. II, the Memorandum of Dissent, it is said by the noble Lord and his colleagues that they have interpreted the terms of reference of the Commission as meaning that they should consider what changes would be necessary in the system of government as a whole. I presume that "as a whole" means the whole of the United Kingdom, and therefore his argument in relation to the undesirability of devolution for Wales, for example, is completely vitiated by the first statement in his own preface.
§ LORD CROWTHER-HUNT
My Lords, I think the noble Lord must have misunderstood the purpose of what we were saying there. We were looking at the system of government as a whole, and by that we meant not the problem of devolution, but the working of Parliament, the working of political Parties and other organs in our system of government. I stress to the noble Lord that the Memorandum of Dissent recommends an important assembly and important devolved powers to Wales, and I shall come to that in a moment.
Many of the functions which have been taken away from local government have been given to nominated ad hoc authorities of various kinds—hospital boards, gas boards, electricity boards and so on. Indeed, one of the main institutional developments since 1945 has been the proliferation of a wide range of ad hoc authorities which, in the cause of managerial efficiency, operate without the detailed control of Parliament or local government. Often the effect has been to make the operation of these bodies largely independent of democratic supervision—certainly on their day-to-day impact in the life of the community.
The Minority Report argues that the general effect of these developments is that Government appears to be, and is. remote from the people of the United Kingdom so that popular dissatisfaction expresses itself in a number of ways—the nationalist movement in Scotland and Wales, where the demand is for independence, or some degree of independence, so that the people in those parts of the 1205 United Kingdom can govern themselves. Everywhere there is a growing "we/they" syndrome with an increasing recognition that "they" control "us", rather than that "we" control "them". Political Parties and elections appear to do nothing to redress the balance. Hence people are becoming increasingly alienated from the political process and there is a growing tendency to resort to direct action as the only means of achieving political change.
Quite simply, we believe the fact has to be faced that if we really believe that the people and their representatives should have a real share in political power, then our institutions do not make adequate provision for this to-day at a time when a more educated citizenry has a greater capacity for playing a fuller part in the country's decision-making processes than ever before in our history. Nothing was more disturbing than the evidence before the Commission of the widespread sense of powerlessness that people feel throughout the United Kingdom—or I should say in Great Britain, because we did not penetrate into Northern Ireland so far as we might have done in this respect—against the remoteness and omnipotence of Government.
It is against this general background. my Lords, that Professor Peacock and myself believe that the urgent and necessary reforms now needed in our system of government should have three main objectives. First, they should counter the decline that has taken place this century in the extent to which the British people govern themselves; second, they should reduce the present excessive burdens on the institutions of central Government; and, thirdly, they should provide adequate means for the redress of individual grievances. We believe that the evidence shows that it is just as important to achieve these objectives for the people in the different regions of England as for the people in Scotland and Wales. We believe, too, that the achievement of these objectives is the more urgent since they consider the constitutional and institutional consequences which the Common Market produces in our affairs. This makes it more urgent than it otherwise might be.
So, my Lords, we recommend a scheme of devolving powers to seven democratically elected Assemblies and Governments; 1206 one for Scotland, one for Wales and one for each of, say, five English Regions. Such Assemblies would have very substantial powers indeed. Their main responsibility would be to adjust the policies of the United Kingdom Government to the special needs of their respective areas. I do not propose to weary your Lordships with the details of our scheme, except to say that it is set out in the Memorandum of Dissent. But I would make just two points about it. First, I should like to stress that the scheme would not take away any powers from local government, which local government now possesses. All these powers and functions of local government would be retained. The powers and functions that would come to these intermediate local governments, Provincial Governments and the Governments of Scotland and Wales, which we recommend, would all be taken away from central Government.
Finally, my Lords, I should like to deal with the criticism that the scheme recommended by Professor Peacock and myself would mean inserting another level of government in this country between the local authorities, on the one hand, and Whitehall and Westminster, on the other; and that there is no room for, or we do not want, such an additional tier. I am sorry that my noble friend Lord Greenwood took this line, because this is not so. The fact of the matter is that we already have this intermediate level of government, this intermediate tier, between local governments, on the one hand, and Whitehall and Westminster and central Government, on the other. This intermediate tier that exists to-day consists of two sorts of organisations. The first sort of organisation is to be found in the outposts of central Government—for example, the Scottish Office, the Welsh Office, and the various regional outposts in the different parts of England. Indeed, two-thirds of our civil servants now work in, and make decisions in, these outposts of central Government in the different regions in the United Kingdom.
The other and second component of this intermediate level of government we already have comprises the regional organisations of the various nominated ad hoc authorities—the Health Boards, the new Regional Water Authorities and so on. So, my Lords, we already have this intermediate level of government, 1207 and it is not going to disappear, now or in the foreseeable future. The essence of our scheme is to accept the fact that we have this intermediate level of government, and therefore we propose to hive it off from Whitehall and put it under the authority of the elected representatives of the people in the areas concerned. It is simply a question of how one wants decisions to be taken at this intermediate level: whether by organisations largely staffed with civil servants remote from London and under no direct control, or by directly elected assemblies.
We believe that by implementing the proposals in the Minority Report, this devolution of functions from Whitehall and Westminster to democratically elected Assemblies in the different nations and regions of the United Kingdom, coupled with increasing the role of Parliament in policy making in both London and Brussels (this is another major recommendation we made in our Report, though I have not attempted to outline these points of our proposals to-day) power would gradually be returned to the people of this country and to their representatives. There will be much more opportunity and encouragement for all of us to help shape the decisions that affect our lives. Government will be more obviously based on the consent of the governed. If we wish to restore democracy in Britain, we believe that we can do no less than we propose. And, my Lords, we can do no more if we wish to maintain the political and economic unity of the United Kingdom.
§ 5.15 p.m.
THE EARL OF SELKIRK
My Lords, I would thank the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, for raising this question, and I hope that he will accept my apologies if I do not stay until the end of the debate. I am very glad my noble friend Lord Colville of Culross and others have expressed our full gratitude to Lord Kilbrandon in what must have been an extremely difficult Commission to chair. I feel, and I am sure we all feel, extremely grateful for the wide range of thought which he has given to us to-day. He told us that this is the first time that he has spoken in this House, and I am sure I can say—
THE EARL OF SELKIRK
The second. But whether it is or not, we hope that his duties will not prevent him from speaking, in future, on the narrow range which is possible. My Lords, I have given, over many years, a great deal of thought to this problem. I feel a sense of sorrow that this Report should come at the present time. The noble Lord, Lord Greenwood, has told us that we already have three forms of local government, starting with the parish. We have a government in Brussels, and I suppose one could add the United Nations. That is six. In point of fact, this gives seven levels of government. But even this I do not regard as the greatest objection at the present time. We have just formed three new Departments. We have formed three new forms of local government which will certainly take two years to settle down and it may be two years of chaos in the opinion of some people. With great respect to the noble Lord, Lord Maybray-King, we do not yet know exactly how we are going to handle our affairs with the E.E.C. I am afraid that in these circumstances it would be idle to think that this sort of thing could be introduced in any sense in the immediate future. If I may take up the point which the noble Lord, Lord Kilbrandon, made: if you had Strathclyde and Glasgow on a Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh, you would have a magnificent scene for a splendid battle. It is almost worth doing to see exactly what would happen.
My Lords, I enjoyed listening to the noble Lord who has just spoken, and I am very grateful to him, because Lord Crowther-Hunt has explained much which I did not follow entirely in reading through his Report as best I could in the time available. I got the impression from reading the Dissenting Report that there are people in England who resent the idea that Scotland is a nation at all. I accept readily that it is a wholly subjective question: it is subjective in England, it is subjective in Scotland. But you would find in Scotland a surprising unanimity of that subjective judgment. There are certain resentments in indigenous institutions. They say that the easiest way is just to pay the brute and you will not have any trouble from him.
1209 My Lords, what I am really concerned with is the figures of unemployment, set out at page 138. As long as I can remember, and as long as I have had anything to do with this subject, which is nearly forty years, the figures of unemployment in Scotland have been almost continuously double those of South-East England. This is the fundamental problem which I am trying to address myself to and, frankly, by which I judge these things. Is this going to help that problem or is it not? The problems of government of Scotland for 350 years have never been wholly harmonized with the form of government which we have had in this country. Scotland proceeded by quite different methods. I will not go into the matter, but they were very different. I greatly admire the way the English have had certain features we have not had in Scotland. Take, for instance, the Office of Secretary of State. He is not appointed in Scotland. He is not dismissed in Scotland. He is not responsible to anyone in Scotland. He is a miracle, in many ways, of pragmatic achievement. I think it is a wonderful thing and it goes extremely well on the whole, but theoretically it is extraordinarily difficult to have any justification for the form in which you have one man, who is a Party man and who is supposed to speak for the whole country. I make no criticism of the officers who hold this position. They have a very difficult task indeed and they have given their lives and a tremendous vigour to it.
The most remarkable figure in the whole of this Report which the noble Lord referred to was that over 50 per cent. of the people of Scotland either did not know or had never heard of the Scottish Office. This is a revealing factor, which we must remember is not exclusively concerned with the Scottish Office but is concerned with a range of subjects which we think are very familiar but of which many people are almost completely ignorant.
A great deal is said in the Report about subsidising Scotland. I must make some reference to the substantial hidden subsidies which come to London and to South-East England. First of all, you have these big offices, with all the high salaries of course. You have what may be called the higher wage bracket, which 1210 is highly concentrated in a comparatively small area. You have London allowances. These are financial aids to greater congestion which are necessary. Whether they are desirable long-term or not is another matter. Take Maplin; take the Channel Tunnel; take the Concorde; take the Victoria or the Strand Line. These are all inuring to a great extent to this part of the country. I do not say they are bad ideas, but this is where the benefits come, and this is where undoubtedly an enhancement of the economic situation lies. I have always held that we must maintain a strong common economic unit. I am sure that to do otherwise would be the greatest possible mistake. But what I want to see is a wider release of the human resources throughout the length and breadth of this country; and this we have not got. Whether we can get it by other methods, I am not so sure.
The main point that seems to come out of the whole of this Report is the restoration of confidence in democratic processes. That is the main point which comes right through it and which I find it extremely difficult to give a clear answer to. One thinks of the all-pervasive yet remote State caught up in a machine—what I used to call the hatred of the unknown signature. It is a curious fact but one comes to dislike the signature of someone one has never seen. This is perhaps the first Report on the Constitution; it is not the first Report on centralisation. The Montagu Barlow Report over forty years ago dealt with this question, and no one took the slightest notice of it. One interesting sideline of this is a Report under a distinguished judge which says that the rule that ignorance of the law does not excuse no longer applies. Many of us may have been aware of this, but we have the authority to say that an entirely different situation has arisen. Though it is not mentioned in the Report, there is the Ombudsman or the Parliamentary Commissioner, who has been invented to deal with the highly technical problems which modern government has evolved. It is no reflection on Members of Parliament, to my mind, that the Ombudsman is necessary, because the problems are intensely technical. There is a tremendous range of tribunals to take judgments of one kind or another.
1211 I do not, however, believe that the multiplication of assemblies is going to resolve this problem, especially without financial responsibility. This problem is going to be extremely difficult to resolve. I am very divided on this. On the one hand, I am sure that democracy means government by consent. That means that you subordinate your own favourite idea to what the country will take. It may be your idea of what the best Government is, but you subordinate that to what the country will take. That was the big mistake of Dr. Allende in Chile; he did not have enough sense to compromise in what he did there. I say, on the other side, what the late Lord Lindsay of Birker used constantly to say: the real danger of democracy is weakness. This is where democracies have failed—because they have been weak; not because they have been too strong. We have always to bear in mind that unless strength is maintained there is very considerable danger.
As I see it, the complexity of the organisation has raised its own problem and no one is absolutely sure how to solve it. I think there are three principles which it is essential to maintain. One is to know who makes the decision. The trouble about assemblies is that the responsibility is moved from an individual to a committee. I am very much against that. I like the system, even if it is a little notional, of individual responsibility for all that happens. Secondly, a knowledge of how to approach whoever makes the decision; and thirdly, how to turn him out. These are to my mind the essential qualities which all systems need, and the mere meeting of assemblies and discussion, to my mind, play a slightly moderate part.
We speak about what is a justified sense of disquiet. We are living in a time when there is a wide range of subjects which can make people very disquieted. Take the element of change. It is probably true, as has been said, that a man in full span of life to-day has seen more changes than took place between Julius Caesar and the death of Queen Victoria. That is probably no exaggeration, and the effect of this on the human being is very considerable indeed. It gives him a great sene of disquiet. Secondly, we have inflation. 1212 Whatever the economic evils are, it gives great personal unhappiness to many people in their different spheres of life. Then we have the revolution of rising expectation. How easy it is to make a speech about building 500,000 houses, and how difficult it is to produce them when it really comes to the point! We have a constant and unbroken flow of unpleasant information from China to Peru, poured on us day by day. It is not very good psychology, and it is difficult to know what is a justified sense of complaint and what is not. There is probably no country in the world more accustomed than ours to what is called recrimination between political Parties, but I wonder whether the public are beginning to believe there is something in it. The other day a very distinguished politician from the other place raised the rhetorical question: "Are politicians self-seeking liars?" I am not going to say they are, my Lords, but I am not sure that there are not quite a number of people who think they are. I believe we may be reaching a stage when we have to watch a little how far these things go. And we have the new doctrine of selecting those laws which we think worth while obeying.
I wonder whether we are not, in our difficulties, putting too much weight on mechanism, and not realising that it is a human question we are dealing with. I think of James Barrie, if I may misquote him, in saying: "The fault, dear Brutus, lies in ourselves, and not in our Constitution, that we are underlings." We have a Constitution of immense adaptability. As Lord Kilbrandon said, changes are made according to the manners and customs of the nation. We have long experience. We have a first-class Civil Service of very high standard, and few Ministers could do their job for a minute without them. May I say also that politics is a relatively respectable profession, and that is not true in a large number of countries I have been to. Anyone who asks an American Ambassador what he thinks of a Senatorial visit will get some idea of the kind of situation to which I am referring. For those who are interested, in the eyes of many people to-day we are a very advanced Socialist country. That is the view held by, I should say, at least half the population of the world to-day.
1213 I am going to suggest one thing. One of our failures, I think, is local government. More open local government and more confidence in and knowledge of what local government can do would be of enormous assistance. But nothing really takes the place of regard for those who hold responsibility, for people with what I might call nobility of heart. If they fill that role, then I think democracy will be held in respect. And finally, my Lords, may I say just this. We ought to have a better conceit of ourselves as a nation. We are forever running down our own institutions, and I believe almost wholly without justification.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ LORD TAYLOR OF GRYFE
My Lords, I should like to join in the congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Kilbrandon, not only for the presentation of an important document but also for the quiet eloquence and, if I may say so, modest way in which he spoke to his Report this afternoon. It is the second occasion on which I have had the opportunity and the pleasure of listening to the noble Lord, Lord Kilbrandon, on the Kilbrandon Report. The last occasion was the day following the publication of the Report; appropriately enough the discussion was held in the heart of the Scottish Highlands, at Aviemore. We are indebted, too, to the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, for the passionate way in which he presented his particular contribution to this debate. I think that this House is extremely fortunate in having this advice available in the discussion of this important Constitutional matter. I must apologise to both noble Lords if any contribution which I make this afternoon does not do justice to the important information and advice which they have put at our disposal.
The noble Lord, Lord Kilbrandon, as he modestly says, does not present solutions, but he certainly opens the debate. An analysis of the advice offered by members of the Kilbrandon Commission indicates the complexities of the issues with which they were confronted. I think it was the Economist the other week which made an analysis of the attitudes and recommendations of the members of the Commission. They pointed out that eight members of the Commission wanted legislative devolution for Scotland, six wanted legislative devolution for Wales, 1214 two wanted executive devolution for Scotland and Wales, three wanted directly-elected Welsh advisory councils, one wanted the same for Scotland, two wanted executive devolution for English regions and eight wanted regional co-ordinating and advisory councils.
I think the wide variation of the advice offered by members of the Commission highlights the complexity of the task that they were set to solve. It is important, when looking at the Report, to cast our minds back to the conditions in which this Commission was set up. There was a sudden apparent upsurge of Scottish and Welsh nationalism and perhaps the Kilbrandon Report is being debated more actively to-day, at least in Scotland, following the sensational result of the Govan election. But I would suggest to politicians who are placing to much emphasis on that particular result in terms of a nationalist uprising, that there were a lot of other factors in that situation which would cause us to place less importance on the event as evidence of growth of a nationalist movement. As the last Election in 1970 indicated that support for the nationalist movement in Scotland and in Wales was in substantially the same proportion—about 11 per cent. of the people wanted and voted for the Scottish Nationalist—we should not overestimate the strength of Nationalist feeling.
Of course, it is quite obvious from the attitudes that emerge from the questioning undertaken by the Commission that there is considerable dissatisfaction with Government. There are many reasons for this.
suppose that one of the major reasons is simply the attitude of people towards big organisations as such. In Scotland it is particularly true that with so much of our traditional Scottish business moving South of the border, with the coming of multi-national businesses in our manufacturing, there is resentment and alienation about big businesses and big organisations over which we have no control. This resentment expresses itself not only in political terms; we are against big Government organisations just as we do not feel well disposed to large industrial complexes. I regret to say that even the large Scottish owned business over which I presided for some years has now passed under English ownership. This to me is unfortunate. This is part of the problem. 1215 A business that was owned by a million people in Scotland shall suddenly pass—
§ LORD PEDDIE
May I interrupt my noble friend? The Scottish business was not taken over by an English organisation; it was put into joint control by both the Scottish and the English.
§ LORD TAYLOR OF GRYFE
It is a nice point but I will not pursue it. But at least in terms of Scottish control it seems to have moved its headquarters from Glasgow to Manchester. However, I mention this as an indication that there is a kind of reaction of people in Scotland against this process, which seems to be inevitable in the nature of our economic development. This reflects itself also in attitudes to Government, but I do not think it should be interpreted necessarily as a demand for self-government in Scotland. If I may offer some criticism of the Kilbrandon Report, it might be that perhaps they suffered a little from having too few politicians on the Commission. There were two distinguished politicians on the Commission, Sir Selwyn Lloyd and Mr. Douglas Houghton, both of whom retired before the publication of the Report. It appears to me, on reading through it, that it is a very interesting exercise in constitution-making. It is a broad-ranging review of Constitutions on a world basis by people who are experts in this field, academically if you like and I do not say that in any disparaging sense.
Some of the political implications of the Report were not fully appreciated. Perhaps it is a fallacy in the thinking of the Report that once you reduce the size of the particular political unit that inevitably this creates greater involvement and greater participation. A study of the statistics of the Wheatley Report on local government, on which the reform of local government was based, indicated that with very small political units you frequently got 10, 12, 13 and 15 per cent. participation in local elections, so it does not inevitably follow that you simply reduce the political unit and this brings a greater involvement of the local population. For example, in Gorbals in the City of Glasgow with their immense social problems, it is not uncommon to get a 12 per cent. electorate participating in the elections. Reference has been 1216 made to the fact that few people, perhaps half the population of Scotland, did not know of the Scottish Office and the other half had only a hazy idea as to its purpose. It is an indication that what is necessary is not only a long term Constitutional review which we are considering to-day but immediately a greater emphasis on political education and civics in our schools and educational establishments. This is important for the future of democracy.
Reference has also been made in this debate to the Scottish Assembly—and may I say to the noble Lord, Lord Kilbrandon, that when I arrived in Edinburgh on the night that his Report was published, the headlines in the newspapers as I made my way to the hotel, read, "Scotland to get a Prime Minister" and there was great speculation as to who he might be. The mere fact that we create, say, a Scottish Prime Minister and we create a Scottish Assembly could easily make the democratic system less effective. People will believe in democracy if it is seen to be reasonably efficient, and to inject this additional tier into the levels of government does not necessarily mean that it will make it more efficient. Indeed, it may give rise to a greater bureaucracy and even a greater frustration. It has already been pointed out that with the European Parliament, with Westminster, the Scottish Assembly, regional government, district government and community councils the population will be asked to participate (if the European elections were to go ahead) in no fewer than six different levels of government. I visit Switzerland frequently and it seems to me that almost every second Sunday they have an election on something. If you multiply the number of elections in which people can participate there may in fact be a disenchantment with the process rather than a greater sense of involvement and participation.
I know the noble and learned Lord, Lord Kilbrandon, has said that the fact that there is a new local government setup does not mean that you should deny the right to the Assembly, or ignore the effect of the Assembly: but in fact in Scotland, by the very nature of the structure, you have local government in the West region with two million people; you have over half the population already in that area, which is the important industrial area, and to superimpose a 1217 Scottish Assembly between that and Westminster appears to me to be unnecessary.
The other matter that concerns me is the possibility of tension between the Scottish Assembly and the central Government. When we look at the financial arrangements we find it says in the Report that some attempt will be made to ensure that the financial arrangements of the Assembly are broadly consistent with the national objectives of the national Budget. It is an interesting fact nowadays that where there is a political conflict between local authorities and the central Government and the local authorities are of a different political persuasion from the central Government, there has been quite a good deal of tension, particularly in the operation of the Housing Finance Act. I just try to visualise the kind of situation which might arise in an inevitably Labour dominated Scottish Assembly—and presumably it is not to be a rubber stamp; it must have some authority—pursuing certain lines of social policy, whereas there is a central Westminster Government dominated perhaps by the Conservative Party who are pursuing an entirely different social policy. That kind of situation may not enhance the idea of democratic government but could in fact give rise to considerable tensions which would perhaps make democracy less effective.
The other point is that inevitably if there is an Assembly with more power alt the periphery, you have no right to demand more Members of Parliament at the centre. If you are going to take more power up to Scotland or to Wales, I think the Kilbrandon Report is right in saying that this should result in a reduction in the number of Members of Parliament at Westminster. That is not a proposition which commends itself to me and it will not commend itself to the other House, because it inevitably upsets the political balance at Westminster. So this is a solution that may not be wise and may not be acceptable.
While I have offered these one or two criticisms of the Report of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Kilbrandon, I should like, as I said at the outset, to pay tribute to him and to his Commission for opening this important debate. I believe that what we have to do is not to look at this particular problem of Welsh and Scottish 1218 self-government but to look at the whole problem of the efficiency of Parliament as such. I do not think that Parliament is an effective instrument of democratic government. There is a good deal of thinking to be done about the whole operations of Parliament, so that Parliament itself could command more respect. If we pay attention to that, particularly to-day, when Parliament and the democratic processes are being challenged, and address ourselves to making the Parliamentary system more effective without confining ourselves to the specific aspect of the Kilbrandon Report, I think we shall do well.
§ 5.46 p.m.
§ LORD BALERNO
My Lords, I was most interested in what the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, said about the distance of big business from the small man, and particularly his revelation about how his own Scottish Wholesale Co-operative Society was taken over or moved down, but in view of what the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, has said about the concentration with Concorde, Maplin and the Tunnel, all of which are more or less in the south-east of England, I think we in Scotland should be happy that the Scottish Wholesale Co-operative Society stopped at Manchester and did not go further South.
I wish to join with other noble Lords in congratulating the noble and learned Lord, Lord Kilbrandon, on his Report. It is quite obvious that he had a difficult team to drive, and all the more credit to him for having come through alive. What I like about his Report is that his conclusions are non-dogmatic. They are there for discussion and they can be picked up at a future date without any feeling that we are disagreeing with the Report. I think it will not be held up as gospel and he does not attempt to present it in that way. It is in fact an excellent basis for discussion, and I hope the Government will go ahead with the preparation of a Green Paper. However, even more fervently do I hope that they will not be in any hurry to go ahead with the preparation of a Green Paper. As other speakers have said, there are so many things to be taken into consideration. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Kilbrandon, himself said that this was a matter for evolution and I strongly support that view. We must not attempt to rush it. There are at least two major 1219 factors which must be taken into consideration before we could move forward with any action at all on the Kilbrandon Report. One has been spoken of quite a lot, namely, our new local government structures, and until we have seen them working I think it would be quite stupid to try to draw any conclusions, and get to the stage of a White Paper, as to what action should be taken.
The other factor is the E.E.C. There seems to be some dispute about the E.E.C. taking away sovereignty. I can understand its taking away sovereignty from Westminster, but I think there is a function for a form of devolution in order to get the administration of the E.E.C. Regulations, which will be multitudinous, in a humane and understanding manner, so that people can follow them. There, again, we have to see what is going to come out of the E.E.C. so that we can adjust any form of devolution to meet their requirements. But by suggesting to Her Majesty's Government that they should go slow in any action on the main issues of the Kilbrandon Report, I do not imply that they should in any way put the brake on in giving the Scottish Office more power. There are still things which could easily be devolved to the Scottish Office by the Government, particularly from the Department of Trade and Industry, so that we could have a greater say in the management of our own economic affairs. When we try to start up an industry in Scotland we have to refer to London. I am not quite sure that that is altogether right. When we have to consider the closing down of something, the Department of Trade and Industry have to be consulted. I think greater powers can now be given to the Scottish Office in this respect.
Again, with the development of oil there has been some devolution on the oil front to Scotland, but I do not think it has been enough as yet. My noble friend Lord Polwarth is often referred to as "the Minister for Oil" in Scotland. Putting one Minister in charge of these developments has been a good thing, but I think Her Majesty's Government made a whale of a mistake in putting the oil office in London. Here was a chance. The industry was in Scotland; they could have put the oil office in Glasgow, near 1220 to Prestwick, which would have stifled a lot of the stupid nationalistic stuff that we hear of. This kind of thing ignores the sensible actions which are evolving in the country, and I hope that that matter will be looked at again. I apologise for my brevity and for not quoting a single word from the Kilbrandon Report.
§ 5.54 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT THURSO
My Lords, the early part of this debate was enlivened by the merry yapping of Pavlov's dogs, certainly from the speakers on behalf of Her Majesty's Government and the Opposition. As the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, struck the mellow tones on the gong of devolution, they leapt into the trough, nose, muzzle and forefeet as well, saying, "Goodie! Goodie! Liberals and Nationalists to eat to-day." It took the following two speakers, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Kilbrandon, and the noble Lord, Lord O'Neill of the Maine, to bring us back to what I think was our purpose on these Benches in bringing this matter before your Lordships' House to-day. That was to get a beginning to the sort of reasoned discussion of the problems which have been so ably examined for us by the Royal Commission under the noble and learned Lord, Lord Kilbrandon, and his predecessor, the late Lord Crowther; to get a discussion going on these matters so that we did not leave it too long before action followed and the needs of the situation began to be met.
My Lords, to me the interesting thing that has come out of this discussion is that nobody has really shaken the consensus that has come broadly out of the Reports, and broadly out of the discussion here; that is, that there is a need for some sort of devolution to Wales, and to Scotland. There is no doubt that the greatest benefit from the Report of Lord Kilbrandon's Commission has been to take the discussion on Home Rule for Scotland or Home Rule for Wales, devolution for Scotland and devolution for Wales, or whatever you like to call it, out of the music hall joke category and put it down as a subject for serious debate. There is no doubt that this is something that is greatly welcomed by all people concerned with the welfare of Scotland and of Wales. I am surprised that the Government, the 1221 Conservative Party and the Opposition should continue to try to pour scorn on this, and to hand out acid drops as liberally as they were handed out by the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood of Rossendale.
§ VISCOUNT THURSO
My Lords, I am using my metaphors one by one; I am not going to mix them. I have not got my Pavlov's dogs eating acid drops!
It seems to me that the first interesting thing to note is that the Kilbrandon Commission have been able to see through the usual criticism of Home Rule for Scotland—or Home Rule for Wales for that matter; that is to say, that devolution upon a Home Rule basis would produce the difficulties which have taken place in Northern Ireland. The Royal Commission have made it clear in the Report, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Kilbrandon, made it clear in his speech to-day, that these difficulties are not difficulties inherent in the possession of a Parliament but arise from other causes. This was confirmed by the noble Lord, Lord O'Neill of the Maine. Therefore I think we must seriously consider how we are to give Home Rule to Scotland, devolution to Scotland, and to Wales, as quickly as we can.
It seems clear from the Report and from the debate that it is not necessary to wait until the problem of what is to happen in England has been separately solved. I can quite appreciate that from an English point of view perhaps there has not been the urgency to examine the methods by which the more remote areas could be benefited by devolution. There has not been the sense of identity in different parts of England that there has been in Scotland and in Wales to help to focus the need for devolution, and for a more personal form of government. Therefore I do not think that at this stage it is wise to go too deeply into what is required for England. We have to make people consider what will be needed for England. More discussion is needed for this type of constitutional problem.
But it is clear, I think, that we have come to the point at which we know that devolution of some sort is required for Scotland and Wales. I would welcome 1222 a move by Her Majesty's Government to carry out the pledge which they gave during the Election to provide legislation for some sort of an Assembly, because until we get institutions working I do not think we can see how they can best be made to work. Having made out the case for one, I think we should take the matter further, at least to the Green Paper stage, and perhaps even to the White Paper stage, and eventually—who knows?—to legislation. I do not think that this conflicts in any way with the progress towards a government of Europe.
We know that more and more of our sovereignty is going to be taken and given to a pooled sovereignty within Europe. The next area of debate, from a constitutional point of view, in which we shall have to take part—indeed, we are already in discussion—is how we are to secure a democratic basis for a European Parliament. One very sensible method of approach is to look at the size of the various Governments which can take part in a Parliament of Europe, and to ask oneself whether it is not desirable that the unit size of a European Parliament should be a unit of a size like Scotland or Denmark, rather than like France or Great Britain. Therefore, one might well continue one's thinking about this whole problem into what we are going to do about the democratisation of the European Parliament, and about really going into Europe and becoming members of that Community in the full political sense as well as in the economic sense.
This paradox has never seriously worried me. I do not think it need worry anybody, because it is a paradox that as you move through local government to national government, to international government, and finally towards the rule of law throughout the world, you must at one and the same time be moving some responsibilities and sovereignty upwards and some responsibilities and sovereignty downwards. There must be points at which sovereignty has to stop. You cannot go right on and say when we set up a Government for the world, in Tahiti or of the North Pole, or wherever we decide it shall be, that every little last legislative act is going to be carried out in the Parliament of the world for every single country in the world. I do not believe 1223 that is necessary and I do not believe it is desirable.
The same is absolutely true of what goes on in Europe. It is not going to be necessary for every single little legislative act that is going to affect the lives of people in Europe to be carried out at Strasbourg. In fact it will not be desirable for it to happen that way at all. It will be desirable for as many legislative acts as possible to happen as near as possible to the people they affect. Therefore, we have to look at our own house and put it in order in this respect.
§ LORD WYNNE-JONES
My Lords, will the noble Viscount forgive me for one moment? He has pursued a very interesting argument, but has he observed what has been taking place progressively over the last 100 years in the United States, the way in which the sovereignty which was with the States has been steadily and almost remorselessly removed to the central Government, the local governments retaining those things which do not involve essential sovereignty.
§ VISCOUNT THURSO
Indeed, my Lords, I have observed this. Another noble Lord who spoke earlier drew our attention to the same difficulty, and I think the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, also referred to it. It is an inherent difficulty of a two-Party system. I could argue that at great length, but I do not think I should attempt to do so in the time I hope to take up to-day.
§ VISCOUNT THURSO
If the noble Lord would like it, I will go on a bit further. I feel strongly that this is something which is inherent in any system, wherever you draw your Parliamentary line. If you draw it at the level of Scotland and Wales and England, if you draw it at the level of Great Britain, if you draw it at the level of Strasbourg, if you draw it at the level of world government, you still have to solve this problem upon which the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, placed his finger, the problem of the growing power of the Executive. This is a problem of procedures and not a problem of placement of responsibility. I think the problem 1224 of placement of responsibility is really what we are looking at in this Report rather than the problem of procedures.
§ LORD CROWTHER-HUNT
My Lords, may I intervene to ask the noble Viscount whether he is not perhaps confusing the concept of sovereignty and the concept of functions? It seems to me that it is entirely possible to devolve functions at different levels; and, indeed, in principle they should be devolved to the lowest level at which they can be performed. But sovereignty is a concept of total power, and you cannot devolve a concept of total power over a certain area of activity down to a lower level when you are moving that concept to a higher level. You can have a situation in which the higher level will exercise its sovereignty in such a way that it enables the lower level a good deal of manoeuvre to adapt policies in that area to its own particular needs. But this is not a sharing of sovereignty.
§ VISCOUNT THURSO
With respect, my Lords, I believe this can be done. This is where at this stage, at my thirteenth minute, I will agree to differ from the noble Lord. I still feel, and we on these Benches certainly feel, that these are two separate problems which may indeed respond to different treatments. I would suggest one thought to your Lordships, and in particular to the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt; and that is that the suggestion of the Kilbrandon Report that proportional representation be adopted will be the best way to preserve democracy, and therefore curb the power of the Executive—a better way than by necessarily centralising the Government. This is one thing that is worth thinking about and talking about over a much longer time.
I have gone on much longer than I meant to do. I wanted at this stage to say that we on these Benches, and I as a representative of the Scottish Liberal Party—which is separate from the Welsh and the English Liberal Parties, as no doubt your Lordships all know—welcome this Report, in the first place for the way in which it brings a proper and reasoned discussion of these matters out into the open forum, and not as a sort of joke at the very tail end of the agenda. We welcome this Report for its suggestion that the time is already ripe for 1225 Scotland to have its own Parliament, its own Assembly. We think we would like to go further with Parliamentary devolution in Scotland, but let us take this first step at this stage. We welcome this debate for the opportunity it gives us of getting these matters out into open discussion as early as possible. I would only express our hope that the Government will find it possible before too long to produce some sort of statement of their intentions with regard to the Scottish Assembly, which formed part of their Manifesto when they were elected to power.
§ 6.8 p.m.
§ LORD DAVIES OF LEEK
My Lords, I listened with interest to the points the noble Viscount made, and in the course of what I hope will not be too long a speech (because nearly everything has been said) I will answer one particular point which I think needs answering. In passing, may I say how much I enjoyed the excellent, cogent speech of my noble friend Lord Greenwood, who opened this debate for our Front Bench. It was a masterpiece of condensation and it was also pregnant with the realities of the world in which we are now living. If some lift their heads and wonder and smile at the word "pregnant", its connotation is absolutely accurate in regard to the speech, because we hope to give birth to reality when the Labour Movement discusses the Kilbrandon Report in relation to what is going on to-day. I cannot accept the charge that we have done nothing about it.
There is unanimous agreement, and the Welsh Labour Group have been meeting continuously, off and on, to discuss this Report since it came out. They are conducting a number of meetings throughout Wales—one was held by George Thomas the other day at the University of Aberystwyth—in an attempt to hold discussions at the grass roots about this problem. There is unanimous agreement in the Welsh Labour Group on their attitude to the various recommendations of the Kilbrandon Report. They welcome the establishment of an all-Wales elected Assembly, with real powers, as the best means of exercising closer democratic control over those distinctive features of Welsh life. In his pleasant and constructive speech, which demonstrated to all of us that he had read the Kilbrandon 1226 Report backwards and forwards, the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran, showed us, in his own inimitable way, that they are adopting this Report as part of Liberal policy. But let me say that Kilbrandon himself adopted some of our Reports as part of his policy in making this Report to the nation.
One thing we stand out about is that up to now the Group would oppose any reduction in the numbers or effectiveness of Welsh Members of Parliament at Westminster. I am the only Welshman who has spoken from this side of the House in this debate to-night. We would wish to conduct a series of consultative meeting, not just with Welsh Labour people, but right across the board throughout Wales, before we come to any ultimate conclusion. Before I pick up a few points of the debate, I should like to point out that in 1943 the Welsh Council of Labour unanimously agreed that we should create a Secretary of State for Wales. We did not just pay lip service in an effort to get the Welsh nation nearer to having its own legislative power. In 1954 we pressed for the appointment of a Minister with a seat in the Cabinet, and in 1964 Harold Wilson created the Welsh Office. Within a year the Welsh Council of Labour was thinking in terms of democratic accountability. All this takes us up to February, 1973, when Harold Wilson, speaking at Newcastle, said:Two things are needed. First to decentralise and to democratise more and more work presently undertaken by Central Government, either from Whitehall or through their own regional machinery, and second to create democratic regional authorities accountable to the people of the area they serve, to deal with those services for which existing local authorities are too small.The Commission warn us that devolution will not be a cure for all faults in the system. I do not want to quote the Report, but it says that in so far as alleged remoteness from Government is concerned, this is not simply a matter of geography but a psychological gap between Government and the governed. Regional government might help, but the main remedy would have to be better communication. No matter how much we discuss this, if the communication system is bad then the old faults and criticisms can be revived.
The emphasis in Scotland was on economic considerations. I do not go along completely with the Plaid Cymru 1227 attitude at all. The emphasis in Wales is not just on economic considerations but associated with a desire to preserve the Welsh language and culture. Neither in Scotland nor in Wales has the Nationalist cause attracted anything like sufficient support to constitute a general vote for independence, but it has provided a means for people to register their feelings of national identity, and has focused attention on the desire for changes in the existing system of government. There was an excellent point running through the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, who made a gem of a speech, analysing the cocoon of problems that wraps around the Kilbrandon Report. And there is a cocoon of problems, my Lords, whichever Party get into power.
I do not want to go into the issue of the Welsh language and literature, but there is a different approach. Gaelic is not spoken so much now in the Western Isles or the North of Scotland, but oddly enough, in the main Welsh counties 65 per cent. of three-year-old children to-day speak Welsh. I do not want this arid emphasis that we must get a dichotomy between English-speaking, Scottish-speaking and Welsh-speaking people by over-emphasising the language, and I should not like that to creep into the building-up of a system of obtaining power in Government. Nevertheless, I like the phrase in the Kilbrandon Report about the psychological factors. The Celt and the Gael have a strange make-up. Despite what people may think, we are not always after arid economic progress; there is also something mystic in it. If I may misquote Shakespeare:
We are a pantheistic race, despite our nonconformity. We have not the theocratic divisions of an island. but if you over-emphasise political differences you could create by political labels the same kind of struggle that we have seen in Europe, where there is the bitterness of scattered, prolific pepper-pot Parties.
- "We can often find tongues in trees,
- Sermons in stones,
- Books in the running brooks,
- And God in everything."
I understand (which is more than Mr. Grimond seems to do) the single transferable vote. I do not go along completely with this. I know that we are an intelligent people, and I am quite 1228 sure that I have the support of all my good friends, including the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran, on this, when I say that it would not take us very long to understand the single transferable vote. But am I right in considering that when we come to discuss this in reality it may give disproportionate representation to groups of people who merely have grievances and wish to undermine, rather than build up, the Constitution?
§ LORD BEAUMONT OF WHITLEY
My Lords, the answer is, "No". That is why it is called proportional representation.
§ LORD DAVIES OF LEEK
My Lords, the trouble about proportional representation is that, if you have pepper-pot Parties, they can all make such a fuss that it becomes out of all proportion to their influence in society. That is the whole answer, as I see it. I am not being dogmatic about this. This is one of the problems that we have to face. I do not want to criticise the main proposals, but two of the eleven Members who signed the Majority Report considered that as a matter of principle there should be a more or less uniform system of government throughout Great Britain. It was thought that the eight regions of England would correspond with the present economic planning regions. The other nine members see no need for uniformity, and regard the division of responsibility proposed in the scheme as impracticable. They consider that the reorganisation of local government in England has left no room for directly elected regional authorities. The Minority Report, which I have taken the trouble to read, brings out the emphasis that in 1850 there were 50,000 civil servants and to-day we have half a million, and that we are now taking a lot of the voluntary effort out of local government. Consequently, in this exercise—and I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, for raising this matter to-night—before we could come to any conclusion we should need a lead from the Government by way of a Green Paper which would consider these problems in depth.
My Lords, I have taken eleven minutes and I shall try not to be longer than thirteen or fourteen minutes in all. I do not want your Lordships to think treat I am monopolising the time of the 1229 House. I should have liked to deal with this excellent Minority Report. With my noble friend, I do not know that I like the idea of this House of Lords business, of bringing fellows up from the Regions into the House of Lords, unless we give this House more power than it has at the present moment—and I can never see the other place giving that power to the Lords. But if we were to change its nature and call its Members Senators, or some name like that, in the near or far-away future, that would be another problem. But that, I think, was only an idea that they clutched out of the sky in order to make a passing reference to the House of Lords, and I am going to eliminate that from what I consider to be a constructive and most useful Minority Report.
Paying my tribute, I thoroughly enjoyed the hard work done on the history of England, Scotland and Wales. I "mugged up" my history beautifully by reading the Report, and went back to the days when I used to play Owen Glendowed and the English, and rolled stones down the mountains. We did not play Cowboys and Indians in our Welsh valleys! But the real force of Welsh nationalism to-day is not in proportion to the need for the vote. When a man is hungry he does not ask for a ballot paper: he asks for a packet of seeds and a shovel to help him plant them. The real force of Welsh nationalism to-day is in proportion to the need for jobs, meals on plates (as somebody once said) and opportunity. And do not let us forget—"God save us from some people who have had education!" I suppose that I, too, am supposed to have had it. But it depends how it works. Education does nothing to determine the motivation of man unless it angers our young to-day and frustrates them by showing them the follies, the injustices and the corruptions of the world in growing detail.
Now let me ask my question. We had a lovely little discussion the other day, and I posed this question: By living in a cocoon of Welsh nationalism, what cosmetic surgery has the Kilbrandon Report to offer to change the ugly face of industrialism? Where do you begin? Being a Marxist—a Welsh Primitive Methodist Marxist—
§ LORD DAVIES OF LEEK
Yes! Marx did for politics what Leibnitz and others did for the differential calculus. They showed how to measure things in movement. Marx taught how not to have a static view of history—and English education is full of static views of history. Nobody was taught that when King John and his boys appeared and the Saxons were signing the Magna Carta in 1215 the Khmer population of what we now call Vietnam—
§ LORD DAVIES OF LEEK
Cambodia and Vietnam; right from the borders of Afghanistan to New Guinea—had a high standard of civilisation. It is time we took the whole gamut of the world civilisation in this tiny, spinning spaceship we call the globe. If we over-emphasise nationalism in that kind of world, we are running our chariot to destruction.
My Lords, tempting as it is to say the other brilliant things that I have down on this piece of paper but that nobody is listening to, I think my promise to the House must be kept. I am grateful for the marvellous work put in by the Commission, and I am grateful to the noble Lord who raised this debate. But, quite seriously, at this juncture I think it is important for the Government themselves to get cracking and produce this Green Paper. I see no opportunity whatsoever in this Parliament of this Report being implemented.
§ 6.25 p.m.
LORD BELHAVEN AND STENTON
My Lords, it is a formidable task for me to follow the brilliant things which the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, has said, and I think it is possibly a pity that he did not go on and say some more brilliant things. But to be serious, my Lords, it is a formidable task for me to be the last Back-Bencher to speak in such a debate when there have been so many distinguished speeches. Personally, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, for putting down this Motion, perhaps prematurely; but though the Report is fairly recent, the subject is not. It has been discussed for a number of years, and I think there is no harm in your Lordships' House discussing it. The speech with which I most 1231 agreed to-day was made by the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood. I suppose that perhaps I ought not to speak at all, because I agreed with every word he said, but I do have some points which I should like to put to your Lordships rather briefly.
I confess that I have not had time to read the Report—it is a very long Report, the result of a great deal of hard work—but I hope your Lordships will forgive me if I confine my remarks mainly to Scotland. I think that quite a few speeches have been confined to Scotland. I cannot resist saying that it seems to me that the conclusions of the Report as they relate to Scotland are the answer to the Scottish Nationalist maiden's prayer. Indeed, I believe—and I think I am right in saying this—that the Scottish Nationalist Party welcomed the Report, as indeed they ought to, because without going too far I think it is the thin edge of the wedge. I think that if the recommendations of this Report as they relate to Scotland were to be implemented, there would be a real danger that the structure of the United Kingdom would collapse. I am not at all sure about Wales; I do not know Wales very well. But I am a Scot, I have lived most of my life in Scotland, and this is what I think.
The Report concludes that there should be a Scottish Assembly. Much is made—and the noble Lord, Lord O'Neill of the Maine, quite naturally said a great deal on it—about the Northern Irish experiment in devolution. I think the Report said, with justice, that it did not break down because of the troubles that we have had recently in Northern Ireland; it broke down for completely different reasons, and that as an experiment in devolution one could say that it worked. But, my Lords, in relation to Scotland I would say that the analogy of Northern Ireland is simply not on. For one thing, Ireland, compared with Scotland, is and always has been relatively ungovernable. All kinds of experiments have been tried over hundreds of years to try to make Ireland more governable. Stormont and the Irish Republic were merely the last experiment, and in fact on the Stormont side it has broken down. Also, the whole raison d'être of the Unionist Party which governed in Stormont was to remain inside the United Kingdom, so that in any clash between Stormont and Westminster 1232 the Stormont Government always took this fact into account. Indeed, albeit rather noisily, Stormont consented to die two years ago. I do not think that a Scottish Assembly would consent to die—not at all.
There is no deep division among the Scottish people. There are no divided loyalties. I think that the setting up of a Scottish Assembly might, tragically, create divided loyalties. In fact in the event of a clash between Edinburgh and Westminster it is likely that Scotland will come to the support of Edinburgh and bring about the conditions for the division and destruction of the United Kingdom—which is something that none of us wants. Even if we had, say, a Conservative Government here and a Labour Government in Edinburgh, I do not think the Conservative Government here, in the event of a clash between Whitehall and Edinburgh, could be sure that the conservatives in Edinburgh would rally to the support of the Party; they might rally to the support of their Labour colleagues and their fellow Scots. I dare to say, too, that once a Scottish Assembly is established it will be impossible to dissolve it and to send in a Mr. Whitelaw. The Assembly would just sit on and would have the support of the Scottish people in so doing.
For all these reasons, I think the possibility is that if we implemented the Report we should run ourselves into a very serious constitutional crisis in which the United Kingdom might or might not survive. It could be the forerunner of Scottish independence; and this is why the Scottish Nationalists, as I understand it, have welcomed the Report. At present the Parliament in Westminster is Scotland's Parliament as well as England's Parliament. There is no question that Scotland is not properly represented here. It seems to me to be well represented in this House—as I think the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, pointed out. From what I can make out, practically the whole of our Front Bench are Scottish. So I do not think that there is much ground for complaint on that score. If the Scottish people want things otherwise, they know whom to vote for. Now, I suppose, they could vote for the Liberals; but whether they vote for Liberals or for Scottish Nationalists is up to them. They know which Party will give them the 1233 Home Rule that they seek. I doubt whether either of the two main Parties will do so.
A great deal can be done in Scotland and Wales. I believe that much should be done which has not been done before; but I do not think that the establishment of a Scottish Parliament would help. All these people—the civil servants and the Parliamentarians—would have to be paid, and they would contribute nothing directly to the national prosperity. I think that there is an immensely exciting future for Scotland if the opportunities are grasped, but I do not think that a Scottish Assembly is the way to go about it. A proliferation of politicians and civil servants will not extract the oil; they will not build the harbours; they will not grow the trees and the crops. I suppose that the politicians will drink the whisky, but I doubt whether they will have much part in producing it.
Finally, lest it be thought that I have criticised the Report too much, I must say that I have a great respect for the people who drew it up, and for their motives. It is merely that, unhappily, I disagree with their conclusions. I sometimes think, particularly now, that we in this country seem to have something of a death wish. I agree with the Report's conclusion that the United Kingdom should be preserved, but the Report seems to go ahead with further conclusions which can hardly be thought to help towards that end. I feel sure that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Kilbrandon, and his colleagues who drew up the Report would think it as ridiculous as I think it—and I have lived on the Border between England and Scotland—if there were a frontier between Dumfries and Carlisle. I would say seriously to Her Majesty's Government that if they were to implement this Report this is the sort of thing which could happen—although I do not think the Scottish people want it and I do not think the English people want it. Certainly the Scottish people in the Islands do not want it, for many of them do their shopping in Carlisle; and that would become rather awkward.
As the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood, said, we have at present a pragmatic and illogical structure which passes for a Constitution. But it has stood the test of time better than almost any other 1234 Constitution in the world. We have only to look across the Channel art France, which has had four or five Constitutions in this century. The point is that these proposals, while purporting to be, and genuinely meant to be, reforming, are in fact revolutionary. By putting a Scottish or Welsh Assembly between the people of Scotland and Wales and their Parliament at Westminster we should in effect be increasing the remoteness of the centre of power from the people and dangerously weakening the whole structure of the United Kingdom. I apologise for going on for so long, and I should like to apologise also to the noble and learned Lord and his colleagues who drew up the Report for my being perhaps too scathing; but I fear that I cannot draw any other conclusion.
§ 6.34 p.m.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, the noble Lord need not apologise for being too long. If we all managed as well as he did, and with as pleasant a manner, we should all get on a lot faster and better in this House. I am bound to say, as always, that it has been an interesting debate and that we are genuinely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, for bringing this matter forward. The fact that it has provided the opportunity for a rather unconvincing Liberal field day does not spoil the debate. I must confess that I also believe that the debate is not as relevant to our present troubles and discontents as some may have thought. The fact that it is too early to come to any final conclusion or actions does not diminish the importance of the debate or the value of the analysis conducted by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Kilbrandon, and his Commission. I do not think that we ought to twit the Royal Commission with the fact that there was so much disagreement. It is not the only Royal Commission on which there was a good deal of disagreement —as I am sure my noble friend Lord Crowther-Hunt will know, remembering an earlier Royal Commission of which he was a member—and I think it was clear from Lord Kilbrandon's own speech what an admirable, patient and clear-minded Chairman he must have been. It must have been very difficult to take over from someone like the late Lord Crowther at that particular time. I think that one the whole they were rather individualistic Royal Commissioners, not to mention 1235 Assistant Commissioners. It really called for a Judge to keep them in order; and this he seems to have managed to do.
Some very important conclusions come out of the analysis; namely, that separatist and federal solutions are not welcome to the majority of people in Scotland or Wales, or anywhere else; while devolution is, on the whole, welcome. The argument to some extent has gone on around the subject of devolution and the form it should take. Turning to the speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, and Lord Thurso, I must admit that I was somewhat depressed. I had a vision of a Liberal-led Scotland and a Liberal-led Wales which (perish the thought!) were leaping into a boat—the Scottish one—fending off Pavlovian dogs, fuelled by North Sea oil and fed on acid drops. Is it not a pity that the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, is not here now?
I am bound to say that not sufficient credit is given for the degree of devolution that has already taken place. I am anxious to avoid making Party points in a debate which I hope is running pretty freely, whatever the Liberals may do about this; but let us examine the progress that has been made. There is certainly no doubt that during the days of the Labour Government—and the present Government have continued the policy—the Scottish Office and the Welsh Office and the Secretaries of State were created. And even if 50 per cent. of the people in Scotland had never heard of the Scottish Office, I am jolly certain that many more had heard of Willie Ross. The vitality of Scottish and also of Welsh representation in Parliament and in the Government—it is reflected in the reports in Scottish and other newspapers—indicates that a great deal has been said and done on behalf of the welfare of those countries.
What bothered me, my Lords, and I shall attempt to some extent to arrive at a personal conclusion, was when the noble Lord, Lord Balerno, spoke about the difficulty—I accept this in respect of Scotland—of matters having to be referred to London; such as whether a factory should be closed, or something of that kind. It is equally important that London should be compelling, driving, cajoling and not merely bribing, but 1236 by negative controls—and sometimes in future it may be by positive controls—to get industry to go to Scotland and Wales. Although regional policy has been anything but completely successful, one wonders what would have happened had there not been that degree of regional policy in Whitehall. I certainly am making no pronouncement on behalf of my Party, but my impression is that any addition to administrative devolution would be popular. My noble friend Lord Davies of Leek has set out very clearly what are the views of the Labour M.P.s in Wales with regard to Wales.
What has been so valuable in this debate, and in the contribution of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Kilbrandon, and of my noble friend Lord Crowther-Hunt, who made as brilliant a speech as was his maiden speech (it must have been quite a job for Lord Kilbrandon in the Royal Commission, with Lord Crowther-Hunt ready to argue his point of view; but then judges are accustomed to that sort of thing) is that they have helped to clear one's mind on the question of federalism. I should like to ask this question of the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley. I acknowledge the sincerity and consistency of his beliefs, but I take it that in putting forward what I believe to be the federal solution he will accept that this means the sharing of sovereignty, with all that that implies. Because that is a point of the greatest importance. We see great advantages in a unitary system of government at the present time, however badly it may be working for other reasons.
It may well be that in terms of the problems of government as such there are arguments for a degree of devolution. But the noble Lord will appreciate that this must mean a written Constitution and the sovereignty of Parliament—I think it important to have that clear—and that the absolute power of Parliament within the constitutional practice of this country would be fettered. We have only to reflect on what acute problems this poses for modern States confronted by the sort of situations that modern States have to face. One can see it in Australia. Mr. Gough Whitlam is anxious to carry forward policies—it is not for me to comment on them—which seem to be the sort of policies that it is proper for any Government to 1237 carry forward. It could be a Labour or a Conservative Government who would do it in this country. But Mr. Whitlam is being held up because he cannot get either an Amendment to the Constitution, or a Referendum, or whatever is necessary to carry forward a policy which a central Government feels is essential, whether what it is seeking to do is popular or not. That seems to me one of the decisive arguments against the federal solution.
I was surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, criticised the Royal Commission as, I think he said, for not giving this subject enough attention. According to their Report—and again the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, gave an important new interpretation of certain of the matters referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont—it emerged from the evidence that there was not a demand for a federal solution. We accept that there are demands of varying degrees for increased devolution, but these spring from the general discontent, some of which also rests in the United Kingdom. I think that, among other things, this debate has provided an opportunity, of which perhaps we have not taken advantage as fully as we should, to examine how well our Parliamentary and Government system is working. I would say to noble Lords on the Liberal Benches that at a time when we see a breakdown in Government institutions, not only in this country but also in other countries, and when there is a need to develop a new synthesis, we ought not to regard—I choose my words with care —the meeting of Scottish and Welsh aspirations, important as they are, as enough to meet the combined problems of the United Kingdom.
We have major problems in the United Kingdom, and this is where I find not only the analysis but also the logic of the Minority Report from the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, and Professor Peacock, so extremely valuable. Instead of reacting to the pressures of what was said—I make no criticism in this of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Kilbrandon—they have attempted to think the matter through and to look at our national institutions of Government and Parliament. On the one hand we have people in this country saying that the Government are interfering too much; and on 1238 the other hand more and more they are expecting the Government to interfere. Even a Conservative Government, who came to Office with a philosophy which initially was against too much Government intervention, are being forced inevitably by events into a greater degree of management of the economy and also of the lives of our people. I am not saying this in Party political terms; I am stating the reality. That is something we have not yet faced.
I agree with those noble Lords, and particularly the noble Lord, Lord Belhaven and Stenton, that on the one hand we want to be careful not to throw away those institutions which are valuable. The noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, in a delightful speech, said that we ought not to be ashamed either of our confidence in our institutions or of our people. I am bound to say that I agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Radcliffe, who once said, I think it was in this House, that the British are apt to praise their institutions, which are often inept in modern circumstances, and to ignore their character, which he believed still remained superb. I hope that that is so. But I think that it is possible—because we have managed it in the past, and it is an obligation on us—to analyse clearly, as did the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, the type of problems facing modern Government and modern Parliament.
There have been suggestions that we ought to change our Constitution, perhaps have a fixed term for a Parliament, and remove the opportunity for the Prime Minister of the day to call an Election. I should be totally opposed to that. I think we have had enough examples of the dangers of such rigid arrangements. But the fact is that the time scales of the day—and here I express a personal opinion—are no longer appropriate. Governments have less and less freedom of action. If one takes, for good or ill, Concorde, it has been running through four Governments, each Government somehow or other being hoisted with the actions of the previous Government. I do not know how many industries have been affected in this way. It is the same with a weapons system, and the same with the system of education. Generations are involved. I wonder whether we ought not to have longer, rather than shorter, Parliaments, and I certainly 1239 would not have a fixed timetable. Furthermore, there are the complexities—the miles of computer print-out which are now the basis of the quantitive decisions; and the quantitive analysis of decision-making which is such an important part of decision-making both in Government and in industry, even though, luckily or unluckily, individual judgment in large areas which are not quantifiable remain.
My Lords, I increasingly wonder how far Parliament and a centralised Government can operate in the context of present day problems. For that reason, as one who is basically a centralist, who believes that central Government is probably more efficient and provides greater justice, I am reluctantly driven down the road of the conclusions to which the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, and others have come. In some way or other we need to free overworked Ministers and overworked Parliaments, fighting their Party political battles, sometimes doing really important things but sometimes achieving very little. To that extent, if devolution would meet the proper aspirations of the people and nations of our country, and was in their best interests, then I should be in favour of it. But, as the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, pointed out, devolution to Scotland and Wales will not by itself contribute significantly to the lightening of the load on the Cabinet, the Government and the central Civil Service. I think, therefore, that in the consideration we give to this problem—where I think rightly we have to take into account the European dimension—we need to examine it in terms of machinery of government and the most efficient way of conducting the Government in this country.
Other countries have different systems. We know that the Swedes hive off a great deal of the executive work from the central machine to agencies and there are different systems of administrative law. All of this is relevant to this matter. The noble Lords, Lord Kilbrandon and Lord Crowther-Hunt, both drew attention to the great importance of being able to meet individual grievances. Here again, machinery is capable of being devised. I agree with those two noble Lords: I hope we shall not rush 1240 too quickly into these solutions, however sympathetic and however right this may be. One accepts that the Scots and the Welsh are nations, although I am bound to say that the difference between Lancashire and Bournemouth is pretty considerable also, and between Yorkshire and Bournemouth—and my family are not only half Irish, but half Yorkshire, and Yorkshire is really England to a Yorkshireman. They also have distinctive views and distinctive complaints. There is this feeling of remoteness which again has been clearly brought out in both these Reports.
My Lords, this has been a valuable debate and I think it behoves all of us, including the Liberals, who have had a policy for many years—and I admit that some Liberal policies have been valid over a number of years—to consider this matter not just in terms of what is the short-term electoral advantage but with a view to trying to achieve the sort of synthesis which will provide better Government for all the people of the United Kingdom as well as satisfaction for those in Wales and Scotland.
§ 6.55 p.m.
VISCOUNT COLVILLE OF CULROSS
My Lords, those noble Lords, and I am sure they include all who have taken part in this debate, who have read through these two worthy and fairly large red books—and I count among that number certainly the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, who has read it and learned much from it, and the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran, who has not only learned from it but has cross-indexed it —will have been greatly helped by the two additional and, I suggest, most valuable commentaries on the work of the Royal Commission, first, from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Kilbrandon, in his speech, and secondly, the notable contribution by the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt. Indeed, if I say they are glosses, they are no light glosses; they are commentaries and additions to our knowledge and understanding of the way in which this Report has been prepared.
I must confess that I share slightly the reluctance indicated by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, to commend the approach of the Liberal Party. It was perhaps a type of propaganda at a stage where we should welcome a more considered view than merely a restatement of 1241 well-evidenced advice that was given to the Royal Commission. We are rather trying to take it on from the stage of what has been said by the Royal Commission. I, too, picked up Lord Thurso's remarks about the Pavlovian dogs. If we rush to drop into the trough, it is because the Liberal Party will insist on making themselves so tasty, and they get gobbled up, because it is customary to do so, even if in the long run those who have done it find the fare somewhat insubstantial and unsatisfying. That is rather the effect that the contribution of the Liberal Party has made on me this afternoon. Perhaps they will look at the subject rather more in the round and give us the benefit of considered thought on these two documents as a whole, rather than what they said to the Royal Commission in the first place.
On Northern Ireland, I was glad that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Kilbrandon, gave his reason, with which I entirely agree, for not touching on this matter. I share his hopes and prayers for the success of the recent agreements. I, too, was glad that my noble friend Lord Belhaven and Stenton agreed with at least that part of the Royal Commission's Report. Equally, when the voice of Northern Ireland came to be heard in the person of my noble friend Lord O'Neill of the Maine, I am sure neither the Opposition nor my Party in any way resented his views on the one-Party domination that might occur in either Scotland or Wales in certain circumstances. We value his advice, based on experience of what has happened in Northern Ireland.
My Lords, there have been criticisms of the Royal Commission. They have not necessarily all of them been expressed this afternoon, but they have been about since the publication of the Report. Some critics were inclined to make much of the differing views expressed by the Commission, but I think to-day's debate has put the Commission's lack of unanimity in its proper prospective, because, after all, the subject matter is avowedly political. The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, made this point in his opening speech; unashamedly he made it and I do not blame him. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Kilbrandon, emphasised the political content of the subject matter. The noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran, was indeed again entirely 1242 political in his approach—and that is perfectly fair. Let us have no doubt that this is very political material and full of argument and conflict. So we are bound to have disagreements. But, faced with this situation, and realising that it was going to happen, it seems to me that the Royal Commission took a very sensible course. It separated so far as possible its detailed analysis of the problems, its examination of the alternative solutions, and then its own personal preferences.
The analysis seems to me (perhaps I should say analyses, because the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt added his own, rather different, one) to be very valuable. I do not think it is right for the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd, to suggest that the seeds of more serious dissatisfaction were not set out and looked at by the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt. I have read Chapters 9 and 10 and they seem to me to embody a dissertation upon that matter. Again, it seems sensible to have the various solutions as well as the personal preferences all set out, because they may differ: one can analyse the solutions without necessarily agreeing with what is said about them. There is a choice.
I think it is quite clear from the main Report that the Royal Commission did regard these impartial analyses and the assessment of them as their main task. Now, at the close of this debate, we have had from the noble Lord, Lord Shackle-ton, a little analysis of his own, together with a very perceptive comment, if I may say so, on the debate to-day. That again is valuable. The noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, reminded us of the kaleidoscope of views, but I should think he probably agrees with what I have been saying; that it is no weakness but really a strength, because we have all this material to consider and all these choices before us which we can now properly weigh up. This can be only to the benefit of us all.
However, these were secondary things. The Commission's primary object was to provide us with a detailed and reliable set of materials for a constitutional debate—the broadest possible constitutional debate—in which the possibilities had been established on the footing that the final choice was bound to be a matter for the people and for Parliament. This is 1243 the great and lasting value of this Report. Now we shall have a practical discussion on the many ways in which power might or might not be transferred from the centre. Again, I should like to rebut any possible criticism about the size and length of this Report because that, too, in my view, would be a mistaken criticism. It has already been said in another place that many of the issues here are unavoidably complicated. There is so much to be said that it is important for the argument to be set out in full. Therefore I hope that nobody will continue with criticism that the Report is too fat. Certainly it is not difficult to read: I would certainly applaud its drafting and its readability.
We have had shades of opinion of all kinds as to what ought to happen. In the case of Wales there on the one hand was the view—the tentative view—put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, which did not altogether agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd, said. In the case of Scotland we had my noble friend Lord Selkirk, in what I agreed was a very fine and perceptive speech, contrasted with the remarks of the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, and again with those of my noble friend Lord Belhaven and Stenton. That is what this debate is for, and it is all to the good that we should have these contrasting views. But, as the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, said, the matter has, at any rate for most of us, departed from the realm of separatism or federalism—and I say this despite what the views of the Liberal Party may be. We are talking then about devolution in one form or another. It would be as well, I think, that we should consider for a moment the full implications of devolution.
My Lords, it is all too easy for the realities of it to get lost in a welter of ways and means and machinery, and perhaps it is for that reason that the emphasis that my noble friend Lord Selkirk put upon people rather than machinery was so valuable. The noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, put it in a rather different way when he talked about the "mystic feeling of the Celtic people". I do not laugh at this, because I understand very well what he is talking about, and this is what the Commission referred to in terms of the passionate feeling and 1244 culture and "Welshness" of Wales. Again, this is referring to people, not machines; and that is what we are trying to deal with. We must find something which satisfies the people and does not just make neat analytical sense in terms of some fine legalistic constitution.
It is not surprising, then, that we find the members of the Commission themselves posing the question: how far is the general public prepared to accept that matters which are now decided at national level and subject to representation through Members of either House should in future be finally—and I stress "finally"—disposed of at regional level, with the inevitable consequence of more marked variations in standards between one region and another? The greater the regional discretion, the less guarantee there will be that citizens will be treated alike in all parts of the country, if that is what people want. This is what we must consider and find out. The Commission themselves say that the evidence on this issue is conflicting. It is one important issue that I hope will be clarified in the wider public debate which this House has started off to-day.
I was extremely pleased to hear the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, say that there is an almost continuous discussion in the Welsh Labour Party (or the Welsh Labour Group, I think it was) about all these issues. He also said that they hoped to canvass more opinions in Wales. I hope that this will happen as widely as possible in every part of the country. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, that it is important to get the views of Yorkshire, Lancashire and East Anglia, just as much as to get those of Scotland or of Wales—or indeed, of the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, in so far as they are involved. The Government have in any case announced that this is to be done.
People should appreciate that devolution could bring to one part of the country standards which in relation to a particular service might be higher or lower than those in other parts, and they should form a view as to whether or not that is what they want. Will devolution, in the terms of my noble friend Lord Selkirk, "restore confidence in the democratic system"? If so, which is the best form of devolution for the restoration of confidence? There is another question here: 1245 that of general democratic support, because well-intentioned schemes of devolution can be devised to provide for public participation in Government decisions nearer to places where people live, but in the case of each scheme of this sort one has to ask whether people really want it and will support it and make it work well—because participation works only to the extent that people participate.
I was interested in the figures relating to the Gorbals quoted by one noble Lord. The Royal Commission have wisely pointed out that devolution is not a cure for all the ills of Government and that regional government could be open to all criticisms—remoteness, secrecy, encroachment on freedom and so on—which are at present directed against the Central Government. The Report stresses the need for good communication between Government generally and the people and urges that special attention should be given to this. Provision for this, of course, must be built into any scheme on which we finally settle. These may sound rather nebulous matters and rather removed from the concrete schemes of one sort or another that seem to be the more obvious ones on which to concentrate, but they are in fact the heart of the problem; and without a solution on these I do not believe that any scheme is going to work.
So, my Lords, here we have the first of the various debates that I am sure will take place on this subject, on a Report for which I have already expressed the Government's gratitude and which has been welcomed by everybody. It will, I am sure, be used in schools. The noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, wants civics and politics more widely taught. I should have thought this Report would have been a valuable textbook for this purpose and very instructive to many people. And we have here the opportunity of endless shades of opinon to be expressed. The noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, indicated the very delicate exercise of shades of opinion. In the course of his speech he was picking his path along the middle ground between partiality and impartiality. I remember a long time ago Lord Pethwick-Lawrence reminding us about the daily Prayer that opens the Proceedings of this House every day, and which yester- 1246 day's Proceedings reminded us we should never miss. In that Prayer we say we shall set aside all partial affections. I am happy on this occasion to have done so. I have been expressing no political views at all, and I have not been taking up any stance on behalf of the Government; rather I have been listening to the views of others, appreciating them and, I hope, absorbing them. I promise to pass them on and make sure that they are properly studied.
In due course the Government will make known their views. My noble friends Lord O'Neill and Lord Balerno asked for some proposals; other noble Lords have asked for a Green Paper. There has been a slight difference in the timescale; some have asked that it should be done very soon, others have asked that it should be done slowly. However, we have promised that our views will be made known. That I reiterate now, and nothing will be more helpful than if noble Lords, whether it be in this Chamber on another occasion or in the communities from which they come, whether it is Scotland, Wales, or anywhere else, can continue the discussions about the merits of these documents, persuade people to study them and talk about them; and persuade people, if they would be so kind, to communicate their views to the Government. We are ready to receive them; we should like to receive them. This is a consultative exercise which we believe works well on the basis of what has happened on other subjects. I therefore leave it at that, with the thanks of the Government to the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, for initiating this debate, and in the hope that it will roll on with increasing fervour and increasing expressions of views from all sides.
§ LORD BALERNO
My Lords, before the noble Viscount sits down, may I ask whether he is aware that the total cost of the Report is £4.65p? Would he consider, in view of its educative value, producing an edition of the Report for schools at a more reasonable price?
VISCOUNT COLVILLE OF CULROSS
My Lords, this is a point which arises in Government publications from time to time and has almost never been resolved. I shall certainly pass on what my noble friend says, but I cannot guarantee that there will be any simple answer.
§ 7.12 p.m.
§ LORD BEAUMONT OF WHITLEY
My Lords, as I said in rising to move this Motion, I thought that we ought to have a preliminary discussion on the Report of the Royal Commission on the Constitution. If the Parliamentary Welsh Group can be in Session continuously on and off I do not see why—
§ LORD DAVIES OF LEEK
My Lords, I did not use that word. There is a complete difference between the word, "continuously" and the word "continually". I used the word, "continually" which means on and off.
§ LORD BEAUMONT OF WHITLEY
Perhaps the noble Lord will tell me afterwards how one applies cosmetic surgery to the face of industrial capitalism within a cocoon of Welsh Nationalism.
My Lords, this debate has shown that it was not too premature. We have had a number of extremely good speeches. If I have erred in leading the noble Lord, Lord Belhaven and Stenton, into producing what he himself called a scathing attack on the conclusions of the Report, which he admitted he had not read, I am very sorry. One matter I should like to come back on is the remark made by the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood of Rossendale, when he implied that we were wasting time and should have been talking about more important and urgent things to-day. The Liberal Party has a real function, not least in your Lordships' House, to make certain that sometimes we talk about things which are long term rather than short term, and not particularly in the public eye as opposed to those which are. It seems to me that as a whole we talk a great deal too much—and I am now talking about the whole political scene—about those things to which harm has already come and about which a limited amount can be done, and not enough about those things where we can look ahead and see that harm does not come.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord? I am not disagreeing with him; what he is saying is consistent with the tradition of your Lordships' House and has been pursued by the Members of your Lordships' House who are not exclusively Members of the Liberal Party.
§ LORD BEAUMONT OF WHITLEY
My Lords, I accept that; but I reject the implication that just because we are in the middle of a crisis, which we discuss practically every day, we should turn away from the more long term matters. There are one or two minor points I should like to take up, if your Lordships will bear with me for a short time. The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, asked about sovereignty. I confirm that I and my friends think that sovereignty has to be shared. Although I obviously have to sit at the feet of the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, about the whole concept of sovereignty, I could not make out whether he was saying that sovereignty should not be shared or that it could not be shared. If he was saying that it could not be shared, in spite of the fact that in many countries it is, I wonder whether or not he meant that to be his definition of sovereignty.
§ LORD CROWTHER-HUNT
My Lords, on the concept of sovereignty, where sovereignty is shared, for example in the United States, though the sharing becomes less and less effective over the years, you have in that country a concept basically of dual sovereignty: the States of the United States are sovereign in certain matters and the Federal Government in the United States is sovereign in several other matters. That is not a shared sovereignty at one level of government, it is sovereignty in certain things and at another level sovereignty in other things. The concept behind what the noble Lord was suggesting seemed to be that in matters in which sovereignty was moving upwards it could also be moving downwards.
§ LORD BEAUMONT OF WHITLEY
My Lords, I accept the noble Lord's point and I see that I should have phrased what I was saying rather differently. However, the point of what I was saying still remains.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord? He is on a very interesting point. I find it difficult to see how this could be done within the concept of sovereignty here. I suspect that we would need a Constitutional Conference. The essence of sharing sovereignty is that there must be some entrenchment, and the one lesson we have 1249 learned is the almost total impossibility of entrenching anything, including the Act of Union.
§ LORD BEAUMONT OF WHITLEY
My Lords, I take that point and entirely accept that there would have to be a Constitutional Conference and that we should have to have some kind of Written Constitution. But that does not mean that it is impossible to achieve. The fact that there are, not shared sovereignties, but dual sovereignties in a number of countries in the world—and when you get different layers like Europe there may even be triple and quaruple ones—means they do not necessarily disappear and they are not necessarily a disaster.
There was one gun in the Liberal armoury which I thought I would spare your Lordships in my first speech, but which I should like to mention now since it was raised by the noble Lord, Lord O'Neill of the Maine; that is, proportional representation. I am not going to take that further, except to say that one of the answers to people who talk about the difficulties of Northern Ireland is, as the noble Lord, Lord O'Neill, said, proportional representation. One of the answers to the fears of political Parties, as to what happens if there is legislative devolution, could be proportional representation both in the individual countries themselves and for the federal Parliament.
We must all be extremely grateful—we have all said this, but there is no harm in saying it again—to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Kilbrandon, and his Commission. If there is one matter that has run through this debate to-day, and has split the House down the middle —right across Parties—it is the division between those who say they take the pragmatic approach and those who say it may be illogical. But it works and develops. The question is: how well does it work compared with what, and what might work better? Now we have the Kilbrandon Commission Report. There is the division of the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, who made, I thought, a particularly brilliant speech on the pragmatic side, and that of the noble Lord, Lord O'Neill of the Maine, who made a speech 1250 on what I would call the radical side. You can mark off the speaker's list depending on what side they took in that philosophical approach to the Government and the Constitution. What the Kilbrandon Commission have done is that they have given us some ammunition so that those of us who want to ask questions—how well does it work compared to what, and what else could be put in its place—have quite a lot to talk about and to consider. The only serious criticism I have of the Kilbrandon Commission is that I thought they had not put before us the alternatives of whether or not there was any demand.
There is one point I should like to refute before I finally sit down; that is the idea that the Liberal Party has put its evidence before the Commission, has seen the Report come out, and has blinkeredly merely continued with exactly its views as before. It is true that this can be accounted for in this particular way. It is true that we put our evidence before the Commission; it is true that our views are very much the same as they were before. But, my Lords, we are older in the history of this. The poor people on the Kilbrandon Commission, they only had 4½ years: we have been talking about this for forty years. We have considered all these various things —they have even been in our policy from time to time. In the end, we came out with something more radical—and everyone must admit that it is more radical, even if they think it is wrong—than anything any member of the Kilbrandon Commission accepted. That is our position. Not that we have not read it—we have. Not that we have not learned a lot from it—we have learned a lot from it. But in the last resort Kilbrandon has moved quite a number of people two-thirds of the way to what I would consider, and what some of my noble friends would consider, to be the right position, which, my Lords, I hope you will all reach some day. On that cheerful and optimistic note, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.