§ The LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.
Moved, that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee.—(The Lord Chancellor.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee accordingly.
§ [The LORD ABERDARE in the Chair.]
Lord CAMPBELL of CROY
I think it would be convenient if, before we start these Amendments, I ask for clarification about the state of the Marshalled List, because there are difficulties today about printing. I understand that no papers have been printed at all today. Most of us are in possession of what is called the Second Marshalled List of Amendments. So far as I know, that is the last one that has been printed and it was available yesterday. I understand that the only addition is described as a manuscript Amendment in the names of my noble friend Lord Drumalbyn, the noble Lord, Lord Banks, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Kilbrandon. That has in fact appeared as a separate annexe, although it is printed, and I would ask the Government whether they can confirm
459 that those two documents are the latest and represent the present position of the Marshalled List. Earlier today, it was rumoured that a third Marshalled List was coming out, but none of us has received a copy of that yet.
§ The SOLICITOR-GENERAL for SCOTLAND (Lord McCluskey)
I can confirm what the noble Lord has said. We do not know of any third Marshalled List, and we have copies of the manuscript Amendment.
Clause 1 [The Scottish Assembly]:
§ Lord DRUMALBYN moved Amendment No. 16:
Page 2, line 3, after first ("The") insert ("constituency").
The noble Lord said
This is an Amendment which is consequential on an Amendment made to Clause 1(1). I beg to move.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ [Amendment No.17 not moved.]
§ Lord DRUMALBYN moved Amendment No.19:
Page 2, line 3, at end insert ("constituency").
§ The noble Lord said: This is the same as Amendment No. 16. I beg to move.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ [Amendment No. 20 not moved.]
§ Lord DRUMALBYN moved Amendment No. 21:
Page 2, line 7, at end insert:
(4A) Fifty initial additional members of the Assembly shall be elected by the system of proportional voting set out in Part V of Schedule I to this Act based upon the entitlement which each elector shall have at such election and all subsequent ordinary elections to cast a second vote, such votes being referred to in this Act as 'party votes'.
(4B) The number of additional members of the Assembly other than at the first ordinary election of members of the Assembly shall be half the number of constituency members at the ordinary election concerned (rounded up to the nearest whole number).
The noble Lord said
This Amendment will take a little longer, but not very long. It is the first of the Amendments designed to give effect to the decision of your Lordships that the Members of the Assembly are to be elected by the system of proportional voting specified under this measure. This Amendment needs little explanation. I hope it is tolerably clear. The explanations will come on Amendment No. 33, which is rather more complicated.
The Amendment simply does two things. First, it provides that half as many additional Members as there are constituency Members—that is, initially 50—shall be elected under a system of proportional voting. Secondly, it provides that the system of proportional voting shall be that set out in Amendment No. 33. The basic feature of the system is that electors will be entitled to cast an additional vote for the Party over and above the vote, or votes, that they may cast for constituency candidates. The additional vote is called the Party vote. As I explained this on Second Reading, your Lordships may think it unnecessary for me to elaborate further now. I beg to move.
§ Lord McCLUSKEY
We are indebted to the noble Lord for his further short explanation. I should say at this early stage that our attitude to this, as to other related Amendments, is that they are seen as consequential upon the Amendment which the Committee made following a vote, and accordingly they are regarded by the Government in that light.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Lord DRUMALBYN moved Amendment No. 23:
Page 2, line 9, after ("initial") insert ("constituency").
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ 3.10 p.m.
§ The Earl of PERTH moved Amendment No. 24:
Page 2, line 12, at end insert:
(6) Notwithstanding any provision of this Act the Assembly may at any time after the
first ordinary election of members of the Assembly review the system of voting prescribed by this Act and may by Bill amend that system.
(7) Notwithstanding section 17(3) below a Bill under subsection (6) above shall not be submitted to Her Majesty in Council until it has been laid before Parliament by the Secretary of State and has been approved by resolution of each House of Parliament.
The noble Earl said
As your Lordships will see, this is an all-Party Amendment. I believe it is one which introduces an important principle; namely, that the Assembly that we set up should be looked on as a responsible body which has the right to judge whether the way it is chosen is suitable for Scotland. That is the real purpose behind the Amendment, to which I am the first to speak.
I would observe that, so far as I am aware, in the original Bill there was no provision for any sort of change at any time. In other words, if the Bill had gone through in its original form what we had would stay for all time unless Westminster, at its goodwill and in its own time, decided otherwise. We know how often in those circumstances nothing is done at all.
In the Amendments which were originally moved by the noble Lords, Lord Drumalbyn, Lord Kilbrandon, Lord Banks and Lord Ritchie-Calder, there was, in Amendment No. 21, a third clause which would have allowed for change if it was thought suitable. But that change would only have been in relation to the added Member system, of which your Lordships approved by a large and important majority. It was felt by the movers of that Amendment that it would be better that this particular Amendment stood on its own because it introduces such an important principle and because under certain circumstances it could stand; and the Assembly would have the right to amend things even if the Amendment that has already been passed by your Lordships for the additional Member system was not accepted by the other House. That being the case it was felt in every way right that this Amendment should stand on its own.
Coming to the two clauses, Clause 6 is quite straightforward: namely, that after the first election the Assembly may review the system of voting and may amend that system by Bill. If, for example, they thought that even the additional Member system had a weakness—and I 462 remember that certain of your Lordships felt that—of two classes of Members of Parliament, it would be open for them to make a suggested change.
I very much hope that your Lordships, and the Government themselves, will accept this Amendment in view of the second clause that stands in this Bill and the fact that Amendments, if put forward by the Assembly, have to be approved by Resolution of each House. In other words, we are not by this Amendment just giving the Assembly authority to do what it wants without reference back. In the light of that, it is my hope that the Government will accept—or, if not, that the Committee will show its approval of—the Amendment in the form in which it now stands. I beg to move.
§ Lord TANLAW
I too hope that Her Majesty's Government will see that this Amendment cuts right across Party lines and really contains the spirit of this Bill. It was said on Second Reading that the motives of Her Majesty's Government were suspect in producing this Bill. I do not believe so. I believe that if this Bill contains the noble Earl's Amendment, to which I have put my name, it will prove to the outside world that the Government's intention is that of goodwill and belief in the future of the Scottish Assembly.
When one considers that the Assembly will be dealing with one-Chamber Government, one realises it will need to have the maximum representation. The whole idea is still experimental and there may well be needs for change which can only be applicable in Edinburgh while having no relevance down here in Westminster. I hope that the Government will also remember that there are three or four main Parties in Scotland which will be making up the Members of that Assembly. This Amendment will then give an opportunity for the Assembly to feel its way in its new form of administration. I trust therefore that the Government will take kindly to this Amendment, which was perhaps overlooked, or put right an oversight in the original Bill.
§ The Earl of CROMARTIE
As one of those who put their names to this Amendment, I feel there is nothing very much more that I can say as the subject has been very well covered. However, I think it is important to realise that the 463 Assembly will be a democratically elected body. I can see no earthly reason why they should not have the power to alter the form of representation if they so desire. There are very many good reasons for this. There is the possibility that another place might throw out our original Amendment for proportional representation—and that might not be popular in Scotland. It does give a chance of avoiding a general mix-up and bad feeling. I think that it could do no harm and nothing but good.
§ Lord HUGHES
Reference has been made by those who have already spoken to this Amendment to the Amendment on voting, to which the Committee agreed. I would remind your Lordships that that vote was a free vote of this House. But we must bear in mind, as I think the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, reminded us, that the other place rejected the system of proportional representation by a substantial vote, also on a free vote. I think, therefore, that it would perhaps be carrying optimism a little further than would be justified if we expected the other place, again on a free vote, to reverse the decision it has already taken. But it would not be unreasonable to express the hope and the wish that Her Majesty's Government would not oppose this Amendment, which, after all, still leaves the decision on the system of voting finally in the hands of this Parliament. I think it is reasonable that if, after the first election, the Assembly wishes to consider another system of voting, it should have the opportunity of putting that view before this Parliament. For these reasons, I do not think I need add any more to what has been said, but I hope that the Government will not compel a Division to be taken on this Amendment.
§ 3.19 p.m.
§ Lord DRUMALBYN
As my noble friends and I withdrew our Amendment in in favour of this Amendment perhaps I may be allowed to add a word or two to what has already been said. It is surprising that there is no specific provision in the Bill for a review of the electoral provisions, other than in Part II of Schedule 1. Assuming that it is desirable to have some provision for review of the Bill, we have to decide whether it should be the 464 Assembly or Parliament that should initiate a review of the system. Under the Amendment, Parliament will, of course, have the last word. So the question is: Who is to initiate the review? There can be no question of the Scottish Assembly simply amending the electoral provisions all on its own. Parliament would have to approve of that.
It may be said that if the outcome of the elections were such as to give one Party an absolute majority of votes over all other Parties having received a proportion of votes far short of an absolute majority, the last thing that Party would be willing to do in the Assembly would be to throw away its advantage, however unfair. That could happen only under the system that was originally in the Bill, the firstpast-the-post system. But surely public opinion in Scotland would react so strongly that that Party could not; to do so would bring into contempt the system, not only of elections but also of devolution itself.
The Westminster Parliament would be much less concerned to give time to the Scottish Assembly for an amending Bill. That is the point that must be remembered; it is very difficult to get time to do anything in the Westminster Parliament. There seems to be a very strong argument therefore in favour of allowing the Assembly to initiate the review and put up proposals through the usual provision of legislation to Parliament. It seems to me that the Government would be well advised to accept the Amendment, or at least, if they are not able to accept the principle or the drafting of the Amendment in detail, give it further consideration. I strongly support the Amendment.
§ Lord HARMAR-NICHOLLS
This Amendment is another example of what I would call a surface approach to a fundamental question because, while I do not necessarily oppose the Amendment, what are the consequences that might flow from it—indeed, which would flow from it? One can put it that strongly in the light of recent experience. If power is given to the Assembly to initiate a new voting system, whoever has the majority in the Assembly, they will initiate a system which they think will best suit them or that group. There is no argument about that and that may not be in the best interest of the United Kingdom as a whole.
465 If they do something wrong for selfish reasons, there is the safeguard, in the second part of the Amendment, of the Westminster Parliament being able to veto it; it must get Westminster's approval. However, the minute that were done we would have the cry, "The fascists in Westminster, the Whitehallites, are trying to tell Scotland what to do". We would be building in all the elements of this conflict—this dynamite, as 1 referred to it on Second Reading—and I suggest that we should be giving deeper thinking rather than just surface thinking to this whole question of who might initiate something. The things that could flow from this are of real consequence. That is not to say that I shall oppose the Amendment. I thought this was a good opportunity to underline once again the dangers inherent in the whole of the Bill as it stands. The whole thing should be taken away and looked at again.
§ The Earl of ONSLOW
I wish to underline what my noble friend Lord Harmar-Nicholls said. Assume for a moment that the optimism of the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, is allowed. Assume that another place does not overthrow or change our minds for us on the proportional representation clauses which we have already passed. Assume that, as in the case of Northern Ireland, one Party were to get a majority under the PR system. Then assume that that Party is the Scottish National Party. The Scottish Nationalists could say, "Let us ask Westminster to give us back our first-past-the-post system", because that would further increase their electoral advantage, which is exactly the point I believe Lord Harmar-Nicholls was intending to make.
Unless there were a major case of abuse being introduced into the voting system, I cannot see Parliament doing anything but agreeing to it, for the reasons advanced by Lord Harmar-Nicholls. What other chamber, discussion group or representative body—parish council, county council, district council, borough council or city council—has the right to change its voting arrangements? I cannot support the Amendment, for exactly the reasons Lord Harmar-Nicholls finds he can only just support it.
§ Lord BURTON
I support my noble friends Lord Harmar-Nicholls and Lord 466 Onslow and I would draw a parallel with what happened in South Africa; when the present Party got into power they immediately abolished the coloured vote and thereby assured their continuing return. I am not suggesting that the situation here would be as bad as that, but they could fiddle the proportional representation arrangements or various changes could be made which might secure their continuing return in subsequent elections. This is an extremely dangerous situation and, as has been said, it could cause further friction between the Parliament here and the Parliament in Edinburgh.
§ Lord MACKIE of BENSHIE
I cannot allow noble Lords to get off with accusing us of surface thinking. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, and the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, that we in Scotland have been considering these matters for 20 years; they have only just realised that all this thinking has been going on. The logic of the matter is inescapable. The fact is that if Parliament were asked to endorse a system put in for selfish reasons, they would look at once at the total number of votes cast in Scotland and then Parliament would be able to see whether the measure would or would not he just and fair. Thus, the Amendment is entirely logical, and I urge noble Lords not to accuse other noble Lords of surface thinking when in fact we have been considering this issue for far longer than the noble Lords concerned have known the subject existed.
§ 3.27 p.m.
§ Lord WILSON of LANGSIDE
I must tell the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, that he is quite wrong to say that we in Scotland have been considering this matter for the past 20 years. We in Scotland have been considering the issue of devolution not for 20 years but since 1707. There was an occasion in the first decade following the Treaty of Union when a Motion was put before your Lordships' House demanding that the Treaty be revoked, and I think it was only narrowly defeated. Since then, we have been talking from time to time quite vociferously about devolution.
What your Lordships are concerned with today is not just the principle of devolution but the Scotland Bill which has been presented to Parliament. There is a 467 widespread feeling in Scotland—expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, and the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, despite what Lord Mackie said--that the Bill has inherently many dangers for the unity of the Kingdom and for the good government of Scotland. Relevant to this Amendment are only those matters to which Lord Harmar-Nicholls and Lord Onslow referred, and in my view Lord Harmar-Nicholls was right to accuse some Scots of thinking too narrowly about it.
Of course, if one asks a Scotsman, "Are you for devolution?", he will always say, "Yes", and he has said, "Yes", ever since 1707. I can remember as a young man, in the 'twenties, when we almost elected a Scottish Nationalist to be the Lord Rector of Glasgow University. I was, for my own interest at that time, deeply disappointed that they preferred one of our former Prime Ministers, Stanley Baldwin, to Mr. R. B. Cunningham Graham, a descendent of Scottish Kings. The Amendment focuses on what many of the Amendments we have yet to discuss will focus; namely, that built into the Bill are many dangers for the unity of our Kingdom and for the good government of Scotland.
§ Viscount THURSO
Before the noble Lord sits down, he might like to know that the students at Glasgow University finally saw the light and elected my late father, the Liberal, Sir Archibald Sinclair.
§ Lord KILBRANDON
May I add one word to what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilson, has said. When the Bill to set aside the Union was being debated in this House—I think it was in about the year 1712—the then Duke of Argyll made so offensive a speech about the Old Pretender that two bishops who were sitting in the House with proxies in their pockets left the Chamber. If they had remained and voted and operated their proxies, the Bill would have been carried. That is a minor matter, but to keep the historical side right perhaps I might mention it. I think it gives great offence in Scotland when it is suggested that thinking in Edinburgh is shallow and thinking in Westminster is wide. There is nothing in that at all, and I must say that I slightly resented the suggestion that, whereas the Assembly in Scotland in 468 deciding how its Members should be elected would be inflamed by unworthy Party political motives, such a thing could not possibly happen in Westminster. The utmost purity in these matters always prevails.
§ Lord HARMAR-NICHOLLS
May I say for the sake of the record that my recollection is that exactly that happened at Westminster, which is why I made the comments I made a minute or two ago. We have very clear evidence within the lifetime of most of us here how, when the present Prime Minister gerrymandered the electoral boundaries' decision after the Election, he thought to bring it in before the following Election would be to their disadvantage. It is precisely on that sort of evidence that I made the comments that I did. They are just about as sinful in Scotland, no more and no less, as we are in England.
§ Lord ALEXANDER of POTTERHILL
I am astonished at this debate. Is it not a fact that there has never been a Government in this country since the last war which commanded a majority of the electorate? Is it not a fact that the other House said that this is what will happen to the Scottish Assembly? But this House has said that it does not like the idea; it prefers a system of voting which may secure a better answer in proportional representation. But it fears—and 1 think it is a reasonable fear—that the other House may not accept the view of this House. Is there any better solution to that problem than to allow the Scottish people to decide—or at least to initiate—what they would like for themselves? Surely this is an opportunity that they are entitled to have.
§ The Earl of ONSLOW
I do not see why we are saying "Scottish people". This Amendment does not say, "the Scottish people". It says that the Party caucuses in the Assembly should have the power to do this. That seems to me a different thing altogether. It may not say it in the Amendment, but I am sure the noble Lord knows almost as well as I do that that is what would in fact happen.
§ Lord BROWN
I should like to support this Amendment and what the noble Lord, Lord Alexander, said. The situation in the United Kingdom is rapidly developing 469 to a stage where a majority of the electorate wants proportional representation but the Parties in power do not want it. It is an absurd situation. One does not want to leave the Scottish Assembly in the position where, even if the Scottish people and the Scottish Assembly wanted to change the proportional representation, they would not be able to do so. It would be an absurd situation and I heartily support this Amendment.
§ Lord WIGG
I entirely agree that the Scottish people want to decide their own affairs and that they should have the right to do so. From the beginning, when I read the vast amount of papers, Bills and orders that have centred on this publicity, I got into my head that what is good for the Scottish people is also good for the English people. The idea—the informed principle—behind this Bill is an attempt to head off the more irrational, more extreme expressions of Scottish rights, particularly as they affect the Scottish people.
There is no difference between the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, and myself in hoping that the unity of the United Kingdom is going to be preserved, but the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, and the noble Lord, Lord Home of the Hirsel, thought it was a bad Bill. The noble Lord also, although supporting proportional representation, hopes that the unity of the United Kingdom will not be affected. But surely this Amendment, if put into practice, will affect that unity. For example, it does not seem to be a very startling assumption that the Scottish Nationalists will get considerable representation in the Assembly—perhaps sufficient, with their allies, to voice the views expressed by the noble Lord on the Cross-Benches—and the Assembly, having gathered together, may say, "Right, we have tasted blood; let us have a bit more of it and we will now put forward a proposal for having a system of election which suits us.". So the very tensions that those who support the Bill have been seeking to avoid will at once come on to the stage with brass band and all, because it is more than likely that the demands that will be made will not have been modified by victory; they will have been accentuated, and demands will be put forward to give the Scottish people more rights; and that can surely only be at the expense of the English electorate.
470 My views about this are precisely the same as my views about the Common Market. I am not in principle opposed to the Common Market in what it set out to do, or in principle against the Scottish people having the right to run their own show, but I believe that the methods by which this is being secured, as indeed those by which the Common Market was secured, have glossed over the difficulties and that the day will come as surely as night follows day when the British people—and the English people particularly—will wake up to the fact that they have been sold a gold brick—but that it is not gold at all but made of some very inferior metal. This trouble is going to happen. Spokesmen for the Conservative Party speaking from the Front Bench on the debate as to whether there should be a Speaker's Conference made just that point. The day will come when the English people will find that something essential to them has been thwarted by Scottish voters. Then the demand, regardless of the consequences, for their right to have their say will, I think, find the jack out of the box with a vengeance.
To my mind, this Amendment reeks of liberalism in the worst sense of the word—or perhaps, if you like, the best sense of the word. Their bleeding hearts have run away with their bloody heads. They have not thought the thing through. It sounds all very reasonable that an Assembly, having gathered together, may decide, "Well, perhaps we can do it better in a more acceptable way if it wears a kilt". All right, kilt, bagpipes and all, they will start out to do it. Then it will come back to both Houses and it is not likely that the fears which have been expressed, particularly in another place, will be quenched by the way in which the battle is going to be fought in Scotland. It is not going to be fought in a particularly reasonable way. It really is going to be bagpipes, kilt and all and, "Let us reverse the anniversary of Culloden!", which occurs in five days' time, which settled things for quite a while. We shall have this with a vengeance.
I was particularly struck with the point made by Mr. Tam Dalyell—not exactly a supporter of the Bill. He recounted that the previous weekend he had a really rough ride at a club in West Lothian—I think it was the British Leyland Club. 471 Eighty people were there and they howled him down. They were all jacked up in their SNP trimmings. What was the row about? Why did he get howled down? Not on the issue of his opposition to the Scotland Bill, but because of his vote on the question of salmon fishing in one of the local rivers. That is what they were after in force and that is the thing that matters!
Noble Lords will watch the results of the by-election in Scotland this week. It will be a great victory for the SNP or it will be a great defeat for the SNP! Stuff and nonsense! That by-election will be fought not on Home Rule for Scotland, but on the fact that there is 20 per cent. unemployment in that constituency. That is the kind of issue involved. That is the stuff of which democracy is made, not hypothetical situations of this kind which have conflict built into them. I should have thought that there were enough matters in this Island at the moment on which we could quarrel, without finding another. So far as I am concerned, assuming that somebody else will put in a Teller, I shall unquestionably vote against the Amendment.
§ 3.40 p.m.
§ Lord SHINWELL
Strange as it may seem, the strongest argument yet adduced in the course of the debate for the Amendment has been developed by my noble friend Lord Wigg, because he apprehends that if the Assembly, when in existence, decides to amend the form of election, and decides on proportional representation, the example will be followed by England. I am very glad to hear it, because that is precisely what I want. After all, what is it about? The Scottish Assembly, when all the procedural elements involved in this measure have been gone through, and when it is operating, may decide in the circumstances, and because Scottish people prefer it—after all, they have to be considered in this matter—to amend the method of election, and decide on a form of proportional representation. Let it be understood that the decision will not rest entirely with them. It has to come back to Westminster. That is the form of the Amendment, and presumably Westminster will decide one way or the other. If they have any commonsense, they will take into 472 consideration the opinion of the Scottish people.
Judging by the opinions expressed in the course of the debate, there seems to be some fear that if we decide to accept the Amendment our friends along the corridor may be disturbed. I think that it was my noble friend Lord Hughes who said (following the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, in a previous debate) that we must not disturb the other side unduly; that it is not proper; that it is not the kind of thing expected of us. Well, it does not worry me in the least—not in the least. For, after all, as the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Potterhill, so succinctly said in putting the whole case, the Scottish people should decide.
To listen to some of the expressions of opinion, one would imagine that the Scottish people are not in this at all; that it is a matter for Westminster, a matter for us, and that the Scottish people are not interested. That is not as much as the noble Lord on the Cross-Benches said when be talked about devolution being a subject which has been constantly under discussion in Scotland. I must say that in the long period of years I resided in that country, after having it mentioned in my Election address in 1918 (as I believe I have told the House before) I heard very little about it afterwards. We are discussing the matter now.
It was obvious from the previous debate that, regardless of whether we are a little confused about the form of devolution, generally speaking we agree about the principle of devolution; in other words, some form of autonomy for the Scottish people. As to the form, that is a matter for consideration, but we generally agree about the principle. The Scottish people agree about that. If the English people do not accept that, there must be a reason for it. Are they afraid that they may have more autonomy, or less autonomy? I cannot understand that argument at all.
My suggestion is that we should accept the Amendment. If there is a little trouble with the people along the corridor, we will do our best to overcome it, and if in the long run we are defeated, we will accept it with our customary fortitude, albeit with a few additional swear words. But do not let us be worried about them 473 very much. What I am worried about is what my noble and learned friend on the Front Bench is going to say. Is he going to be overwhelmed by the logic of the arguments that have been adduced? Or will he tell us that we must not have trouble with the other place; that the Government have given this the fullest consideration, and it has been constantly under review, as well as a few more political and Parliamentary clichés, which I could quote almost by the thousand from long experience? After all, he represents Scotland in this assembly, as well as representing the Government, and I think that he ought to get up and say that, having listened to all the arguments, he has come to the logical conclusion that at any rate he will ask his right honourable friends to give the matter the fullest consideration, and will not ask us to enter the Lobbies and vote against the Amendment.
§ Viscount MASSEREENE and FERRARD
In regard to this Amendment, I believe that there is a great danger of acrimony between Scotland and England. On Second Reading we heard that there is great danger of acrimony over the Bill, and I would find support for the Amendment if subsection (7) were omitted. If there is to be a Scottish Assembly, and if it wants to change its system of voting, it should be allowed to do so. If it chooses a certain system and then, as some other noble Lord said, Westminster says, "No, you cannot have that", there is bound to be great acrimony between the two countries. While it may be impossible to avoid acrimony between Scotland and England in the Bill, it is very important to try to do so. The noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, said something about Glasgow. I cannot remember what it was exactly. I think it was about Glasgow University. But I am told that in Glasgow two-thirds of the Scottish National Party are Irish.
§ The Marquess of LINLITHGOW
I should like to put the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, right, if I may. He said that nobody is opposed to devolution, but I have not the slightest hesitation in saying that I am opposed to devolution in Scotland. I am not at all opposed to decentralisation, which is a very different matter. I have noticed that on a number of occasions we are all inclined, myself 474 included, to mix up the two. Decentralisation I do not mind, but the moment there is a devolution suggestion, one is up against the very problem which we now find in the Amendment. It goes all the way through the Bill.
In my view there is nothing particularly wrong in allowing the Scots to make up their own minds, once they have their Assembly—if they do—how they wish to elect each other. That does not really worry me. But there are dangers to it, so immediately we have to put in another clause to safeguard the so-called sovereignty of Westminster. This happens time and time again in a Bill where the sovereignty of Westminster is being challenged by the Bill itself. Every time something is suggested which is supposed to safeguard the sovereignty of Westminster one immediately looks at it and says, "That is going to cause violent trouble between the two countries", and, far from helping the two countries to stick together, it is almost guaranteed to make it more difficult for them to do so.
It is in the nature of the Bill that subsection (7) has to be included. Therefore, although I am not against the first part of the Amendment, I would for this very reason be against the second part. I am against it because I am against devolution, and I am against devolution because I do not believe it is going to hold the two Kingdoms together.
§ Lord WIGG
I should like to put one thing right. The noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, did not talk about devolution or decentralisation. He went much further than that. He said that we were all in favour of autonomy. I am certainly not in favour of autonomy, and I do not believe he would say he was in favour of autonomy when he had thought about it. Lord Shinwell makes brilliant speeches off-the-cuff, but sometimes they are a little superficial. On this occasion he was more superficial than usual.
§ 4.1 p.m.
§ Lord McCLUSKEY
We are well accustomed to my noble friend Lord Shinwell giving us a personal account of past history, but today he has shown us a surprising acumen for predicting the future. He has said so much of what I am likely to say that I am indeed overwhelmed. 475 May I make a preliminary point? I am certainly overwhelmed by one thing which I should like to mention and pay tribute to. We have listened to 17 speeches in the course of 47 minutes. Some people predicted that your Lordships might seek to delay the Bill, and I should like publicly to acknowledge that this Committee has not sought to bring about any delay at all, either last week or today.
Turning to the merits of this particular matter, the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, specifically used the word "oversight". He wondered whether the absence of this provision from the Bill was perhaps an oversight. That is not so. May I begin by referring to the Kilbrandon Report? I have a copy of the relevant passage with me so that I will not misquote it. The Kilbrandon Report, in paragraph 1140, envisaged an Assembly as being a single-Chamber body of about 100 Members directly elected for a fixed term of four years by the single transferable vote system of proportional representation; and it went on to say that consideration might be given to the exceptional use of the alternative vote system in single-Member constituencies. Then it then went on to say:All matters relating to the franchise and elections to the assembly (but not elections to local authorities in Scotland and Wales) would be reserved to Parliament".So that was the considered judgment of that distinguished body under the noble and learned Lord, Lord Kilbrandon. The Government agree with that view. The view of the Government is that the responsibility for the maintenance of, and possible changes to, the essential democratic, representational framework of the United Kingdom's constitutional arrangements should be exclusively reserved to Parliament, which should remain the sole custodian of constitutional matters; and that is seen by the Government as a point of firm principle.
It does not follow from this that identical systems for elections and franchises need to be maintained for different representative institutions. Indeed, this is not at present the case. For example, Peers can vote in local government elections and it is proposed that they may do so in Assembly elections. The principle is that Parliament alone, representative as it is of the United Kingdom's 476 interests as a whole, should have the responsibility for determining what those systems should be. It will be Parliament that proposes the devolution settlement to the people in Scotland, including the form that devolution is to take, the powers to be devolved and the protections to be afforded, and only Parliament, in the Government's view, will be able to contemplate the modification of that settlement. The electoral arrangements to be adopted at the outset or in the future will he central to the working of devolution in practice, and responsibility for them must remain at Westminster.
Several noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Hughes, pointed, of course, to the second part of this Amendment, the provision proposed in subsection (7); but in the Government's view the principles involved here are not met by that provision. It is true, and I acknowledge, that it would allow Parliament to reject proposals that the Assembly had reached for changes in voting arrangements or the franchise, and that such proposed changes could not be put into effect without the approval of Parliament. But, acknowledging that, Parliament would be in the position of having to approve or reject an Assembly Bill without further modification. That Bill would undoubtedly be one which had been under consideration and scrutiny within the Assembly for some considerable time; and I would agree with those who have said that that would be a recipe for conflict between the Assembly, on the one hand, and Parliament, on the other.
Perhaps I might add that I have been in your Lordships' House for only a fairly short time, but on many occasions I have listened to the compelling argument that your Lordships' House, and Parliament generally, does not like having to consider an order or a matter of that kind which comes forward on a "take it or leave it"basis; it likes to examine these matters and make such changes as it can. The Amendment which is before us today is of a kind which would enable Parliament either to say "Yes"to the proposed Bill or to say "No"; it could not make any modification, and accordingly, in our view, that is unsatisfactory. Perhaps I may also point out that the Amendment does not provide for any sort of test or criterion which Parliament might apply in its consideration of 477 such a Bill, and in this respect, therefore, is very different indeed from what the Bill provides for the protection of reserved matters in Clause 35.
Other noble Lords have drawn attention to the fact that the Scots arc entitled to have a view on this; or, rather, that the people in Scotland are, because in the context of this Bill I do not like to use the terms "the Scots"or "the Scottish people", because the Bill applies to those who inhabit Scotland. If there developed a strong feeling in Scotland that the electoral arrangements for the Assembly should be changed, and if those views were sufficiently reflected in the Assembly itself, surely it is reasonable to believe that these views would come to have a very considerable influence at Westminster. They certainly could not be ignored for very long; and to this extent an elected Assembly which truly represented the Scottish people would indeed have influence in seeking such changes, the changes to be made at Westminster.
A further point which was made in the debate and which I should like to pick up is that changes in constitutional practice and constitutional matters are always likely to prove difficult and contentious. This is certainly the experience of this Parliament, and there could be other issues in the future which would illustrate the same point. As I think the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, suggested, it is an inevitable feature of debates on such matters that allegations are made that the proposers of any particular change are seeking that change for some political advantage or for the promotion of some political interest, and such suggestions would inevitably arise on the consideration in the Assembly of changes in electoral arrangements. As the Government see it, as its first task this Assembly will have the job of demonstrating the contribution it can make to the better government of Scotland. It will inevitably take some time to adopt its role and develop its own character. Is it not better to relieve it of the possibility of that kind of acrimony on as fundamental a question as this—this question of electoral arrangements? It would be unfortunate indeed if, instead of getting on with its real tasks, legislative and administrative, within the devolved areas, the Assembly were to spend all 478 its time studying its own constitution. That, as I see it, would be the public equivalent of hypochondria. For these reasons, the Government ask the Committee not to approve this Amendment.
Lord CAMPBELL of CROY
I would start by thanking the noble and learned Lord for his gracious acknowledgement of the brevity of the speeches which have been made in this debate. As he said, following the debate today and the proceedings on Tuesday of last week, no one can accuse your Lordships of wasting time on this Bill, but it was good of him to point it out from that Bench.
As the sponsors of this Amendment have explained, their intention is to give the new body (we call it the Assembly for the moment, at any rate) an opportunity to review, after the initial election, the system for elections; and the second subsection, numbered (7), ensures that Parliament at Westminster would still have to give its approval. But it has been pointed out that that approval has to be complete, and the only alternative is rejection of the system. There is a disadvantage in that, because a great deal of work would have gone into preparing the system and yet it would just get thrown out if either House disliked it. I think it would perhaps be better to approach it another way—this is my personal view—so that that situation would be avoided. But the pros and cons in regard to this Amendment have been briefly and ably presented in the speeches.
I differ from the noble and learned Lord in giving this new Assembly the credit for more responsibility than that, in its first months, it should spend a great deal of time on this subject. I would say this: As the Amendment is at present drafted, it says that at any time after the initial election this matter of the review of the electoral system can take place.
There is an argument that it would be a good thing to allow the Assembly to settle down with the new system for an election or two—whatever that system is, whatever is the first system. be it firstpast-the-post or some form of proportional representation—before starting to consider a change. That is a reasonable argument; but I would not put it in the way that the noble and learned Lord put 479 it because I think that he regarded the Members of the Assembly as being somewhat irresponsible if they were going to give up a great deal of time to that consideration instead of all the other matters they would have to deal with when starting their deliberations.
There was considerable support in this House last week for the set of Amendments introduced by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Kilbrandon, and my noble friend Lord Drumalbyn; and I, myself, supported those Amendments. I must confess that I am not as enamoured of the Amendment before us today. I will not elaborate on the reasons which have been given in the debate; and 1 mentioned a consideration or two myself. But I want to say from this Bench that we do not seek to guide noble Lords in how they may wish to vote on this Amendment. We regard this as a matter for individual Peers to decide as they think best.
Lord HOME of the HIRSEL
I hesitated in getting up at all. I saw my noble friend Lord Perth rising and possibly committing himself to a Division. I do not know what his intention is; but I think that there is a good deal in the argument that the Assembly should have a chance to settle down before it starts talking about a revision of its voting arrangements. I was rather struck by the reply of the noble and learned Lord, Lord McCluskey, to this Amendment when he said that it would have to be on a "take it or leave it"basis. If my noble friend felt inclined and the noble and learned Lord, Lord McCluskey, should show some sympathy, I was wondering whether it might not be better to postpone a vote on this Amendment until the Report stage, so that more thought could be given to the exact form in which to try to achieve the object that my noble friend Lord Perth has in mind.
§ The Earl of PERTH
We have had a wide-ranging debate. Those who support this Amendment have been called shallow thinkers, have been accused of reeking of liberalism—which is not a bad thing, perhaps—and so forth. We have also been referred to by others as being the equivalent of local authorities or even compared with the Government of South Africa. Never mind. That is all part of 480 the wide-ranging debate. It has also been pointed out that this Amendment may, in two respects, be weak or faulty. The point that was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, and mentioned by my noble friend Lord Home, was that at the present time we say,…at any time after the first … election".There was a particular purpose in that; it was that, if the House of Commons decided not to accept the additional Member system (which we have already approved) and therefore the first Assembly was chosen under the Westminster firstpast-the-post system, there would be no opportunity to change. It was for that reason that we put in the words:
at any time".On the other point—the all-or-nothing situation—it is difficult. I think it is something that we certainly should consider. I should like to suggest to your Lordships that the Amendment be voted upon as it stands and that, at the Report stage, we see whether we can change it taking into account those two points. I suggest that for this good reason: We have heard the noble and learned Lord say quite categorically that this was a matter of principle, that the right to decide how the Assembly should be chosen was a matter—and I am sure he used these words—exclusively for Westminster. I, on the other hand, believe it is right for the Assembly to consider whether they would like to make a change in the way they are chosen and, if they so decide, they should put this before the Westminster Parliament. I would accept that, if this Amendment is carried by the Committee, at Report stage we should see whether we could not find a way of ensuring that Westminster had not got to take it hook, line and sinker, or nothing at all.
I hope that your Lordships will feel with me that this matter of principle is so complete and absolute, that the lines are so clearly drawn, that unless the Government are prepared to accept the Amendment, we should go to a Division.
§ 4.7 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said Amendment (No.24) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 119; Not-Contents, 100.483
|Aberdeen and Temair, M.||Fortescue, L.||Morris of Borth-y-Gest, L.|
|Ailsa, M.||Fraser of Kilmorack, L.||Netherthorpe, L.|
|Airedale, L.||Gainford, L.||Northchurch, B.|
|Alexander of Potterhill, L.||Garner, L.||Nunburnholme, L.|
|Allerton, L.||Gladwyn, L.||Orr-Ewing, L.|
|Amherst, E.||Glendevon, L.||Perth, E. [Teller.]|
|Amulree, L.||Glenkinglas, L.||Platt, L.|
|Arran, E.||Gray, L.||Porritt, L.|
|Auckland, L.||Grey, E.||Rankeillour, L.|
|Avebury, L.||Gridley, L.||Reigate, L.|
|Avon, E.||Hampton, L.||Roberthall, L.|
|Balerno, L.||Hanworth, V.||Robson of Kiddington, B.|
|Ballantrae, L.||Hertford, M.||Ruthven of Freeland, Ly.|
|Banks, L.||Home of the Hirsel, L.||St. Aldwyn, E.|
|Boothby, L.||Hood, V.||Saint Brides, L.|
|Brooke of Cumnor, L.||Hornsby-Smith, B.||St. Davids, V.|
|Brooke of Ystradfellte, B.||Hughes, L.||St. Helens, L.|
|Brown, L.||Hunt, L.||St. Just, L.|
|Byers, L.||Ilchester, E.||Seear, B.|
|Caccia, L.||Inchyra, L.||Selkirk, E.|
|Chitnis, L.||Inglewood, L.||Shinwell, L.|
|Clancarty, E.||Keith of Kinkel, L.||Sligo, M.|
|Clifford of Chudleigh, L.||Kilbrandon, L.||Slim, V.|
|Craigmyle, L.||Kilmany, L.||Somers, L.|
|Crathorne, L.||Kilmarnock, L.||Strathcarron, L.|
|Crawford and Balcarres, E.||Kimberley, E.||Strathclyde, L.|
|Croft, L.||Kings Norton, L.||Tanlaw, L. [Teller.]|
|Cromartie, E.||Kinloss, Ly.||Teviot, L.|
|Daventry, V.||Kinnaird, L.||Thurlow, L.|
|Davidson, V.||Kinross, L.||Thurso, V.|
|De Freyne, L.||Kintore, E.||Tranmire, L.|
|Drumalbyn, L.||Lindsey and Abingdon, E.||Vaux of Harrowden, L.|
|Dundee, E.||Lloyd of Kilgerran, L.||Vernon, L.|
|Eccles, V.||Loudoun, C.||Vivian, L.|
|Effingham, E.||Lovat, L.||Ward of North Tyneside, B.|
|Elliot of Harwood, B.||Lyell, L.||Westbury, L.|
|Emmet of Amberley, B.||Mackie of Benshie, L.||Wigoder, L.|
|Energlyn, L.||Macleod of Borve, B.||Winstanley, L.|
|Evans of Hungershall, L.||Marley, L.||Younger of Leckie, V.|
|Faithfull, B.||Monk Bretton, L.|
|Aylestone, L.||Fisher of Camden, L.||MacLeod of Fuinary, L|
|Balfour of Inchrye, L.||Fulton, L.||Maelor, L.|
|Balogh, L.||Gage, V.||Mancroft, L.|
|Belstead, L.||Gaitskell, B.||Massereene and Ferrard, V.|
|Birk, B.||Gardiner, L.||Maybray-King, L.|
|Blyton, L.||Gordon-Walker, L.||Melchett, L.|
|Boston of Faversham, L.||Goronwy-Roberts, L.||Merrivale, L.|
|Buckinghamshire, E.||Greenway, L.||Middleton, L.|
|Burton, L.||Greenwood of Rossendale, L.||Monck, V.|
|Burton of Coventry, B.||Haig, E.||Monson, L.|
|Cathcart, E.||Hale, L.||Morris, L.|
|Champion, L.||Hamnett, L.||Murray of Gravesend, L.|
|Clitheroe, L.||Hampden, V.||Northesk, E.|
|Clwyd, L.||Harris of Greenwich, L.||Northfield, L.|
|Cooper of Stockton Heath, L.||Hawke, L.||Onslow, E.|
|Cudlipp, L.||Henderson, L.||Oram, L.|
|Darling of Hillsborough, L.||Hives, L.||Parry, L.|
|Davies of Leek, L.||Jacques, L.||Peart, L. (L. Privy Seal)|
|Davies of Penrhys, L.||Janner, L.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.|
|de Clifford, L.||Kirkhill, L.||Redcliffe-Maud, L.|
|Digby, L.||Lee of Newton, L.||Robbins, L.|
|Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L.||Linlithgow, M.||Rochdale, V.|
|Dowding, L.||Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.||Sainsbury, L.|
|Ellenborough, L.||Luke, L.||Shackleton, L.|
|Elles, B.||McCarthy, L.||Shepherd, L.|
|Elwyn-Jones, L. (L. Chancellor.)||McCluskey, L.||Soper, L.|
|Ferrers. E.||McGregor of Durris, L.||Spens, L.|
|Stedman, B. [Teller.]||Tweeddale, M.||Wigg, L.|
|Stewart of Alvechurch, B.||Wall, L.||Wilson of High Wray, L.|
|Strabolgi, L. [Teller.]||Wallace of Coslany, L.||Wilson of Radcliffe, L.|
|Taylor of Gryfe, L.||Walston, L.||Winterbottom, L.|
|Taylor of Mansfield, L.||Wells-Pestell. L.||Wise, L.|
|Thomson of Monifieth, L.||White, B.||Wootton of Abinger, B.|
§ Resolved in the affirmative, and Amendment agreed to accordingly.
§ 4.17 p.m.
§ Lord MONSON moved Amendment No. 25:
Page 2, line 12, at end insert—
(6) No election to a Scottish Assembly shall be held until the boundaries of parliamentary constituencies in Scotland have been revised so that the electorate of the average Scottish parliamentary constituency immediately after such revision is no smaller than the electorate of the average English parliamentary constituency.
The noble Lord said
The purpose of this Amendment is threefold: to ensure justice for the people of England who, let us not forget, comprise the overwhelming majority of the inhabitants of the United Kingdom; and, following on from this, to prevent the United Kingdom from being torn apart, whether this occurs in the short, medium or long term, by suspicion, resentment and jealousy. Thirdly—and on a slightly anti-climatic note—it is to enable the Scottish Assembly, if and when it comes into being, to start its life off on the right foot, that is, with the maximum possible goodwill from the people of the United Kingdom as a whole.
I need hardly say that this Amendment is in no sense anti-Scottish. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, would hardly have added his name to the Amendment if that were the case. Moreover, a considerable number of honourable Members in another place representing Scottish constituencies either tabled or spoke to Amendments with similar broad objectives. It is common knowledge among Parliamentarians and other politically aware people that Scotland has for many years been substantially over-represented at Westminster. However, it is not common knowledge so far as the Englishman in the street is concerned. This is a matter of considerable potential political significance. Various reasons (or excuses, depending on how one looks at it) are trotted out in an attempt to justify this state of affairs. Very few of these will stand up to objective examination, as I 484 hope to demonstrate in a moment. But so long as the status quo continues, so long as there remains one sovereign Parliament for the whole of the United Kingdom, Scottish over-representation can to some extent be overlooked, or at any rate grudgingly accepted.
However, should the Bill before us become law, then radically different considerations will apply, We will then be faced with the prospect—indeed, the certainty—of Scottish MPs exerting a powerful and often decisive influence upon such contentious matters affecting England alone as family planning; abortion; adoption; housing; rent rebates; caravan siting; rating valuations; rate support grants; new towns, and whether and where they come into existence; the control of pollution, an important issue; aerodromes and transport generally; forestry; ancient monuments and historic buildings; public holidays; betting; gaming and lotteries; liquor licensing, shop opening hours; legal aid; sexual offences; criminal penalties; compensation out of public funds for victims of crime; and so on and so forth.
Against this, the Englishman will have no voice whatsoever in such matters, in so far as they affect Scotland alone. I suggest that the people of England are going to find that intolerable. A Scottish Nationalist Member in another place thought this to be of little consequence. On 31st January last (at column 397 of the Commons Hansard) he declared:The people of England have no say in this matter. It is up to the people of Scotland and not to the House of Commons or the people in England.With all respect to the honourable Member, I disagree. It is a matter for Parliament and for the people of England, and I am sure that the Committee will support me in this contention.
Let us look for a moment at the justifications hitherto advanced in favour of Scottish over-representation at Westminster. They number no more than 485 three. The first is the cultural homogeneity of small self-contained geographical units such as the Orkneys and Shetlands. Second is the distance from London, the seat of Government, and the allegedly prosperous South-East. The idea that the South-East is markedly more prosperous than other parts of the United Kingdom is somewhat illusory nowadays. Third is the low population density of certain constituencies whch makes it difficult for MPs to visit all their constituents.
However, it is impossible to deny that many English and Northern Irish constituencies also suffer from these disadvantages and yet are not more favourably treated in consequence. Strive as one can to see the other point of view, on close examination it appears that there are only five Scottish constituencies where a certain degree of over-representation is perhaps valid and justifiable: the Orkneys and Shetlands, the Western Isles, Argyll, Ross and Cromarty, Caithness and Sutherland. As for the others, they are comparable in most respects with "disadvantaged"—and that is a word that I do not particularly like—English constituencies of similar character; for example, Birmingham, which is represented by 12 Members of Parliament. Accordingly, one might expect that Glasgow, with only five-sixths of the population of Birmingham would be represented by no more than 10 Members; yet in fact Glasgow sends no fewer than 13 MPs to Westminster! Birmingham has all the same problems of inner city deprivation as Glasgow: what earthly excuse is there for Glasgow being over-represented to the tune of 30 per cent. as compared with Birmingham? It is hard enough to justify that today and it will be impossible to justify if devolution becomes a reality, so that 13 MPs from Glasgow are able to cast perhaps decisive votes on matters intimately affecting the people of Birmingham, from education and housing down to licensing laws and shop-opening hours, without the MPs representing Birmingham having any say whatsoever on comparable matters affecting Glasgow.
Nor is this an isolated instance. The electorate of Leeds is slightly larger than the population of Edinburgh: yet Leeds has six MPs to Edinburgh's seven. The mining constituencies of Lanarkshire 486 are over-represented compared to the mining constituencies of the North-East of England. The electorate of Galloway is only 60 per cent. of the electorate of Hexham, a similar agricultural constituency, not contiguous but fairly close to Galloway across the Border. I think these comparisons demonstrate that the excessively favourable treatment of Scotland is not, with the very few aforementioned exceptions in the remoter Highland regions, justified in any way even under present conditions—and how much more so will that be the case if the Assembly comes into being?
It is gratifying to note that the official Liberal view on this matter is, if anything, even more forceful than my own. A Front Bench Liberal spokesman in another place declared at column 319 of the Official Report of 31st January:The Liberal view throughout has been that there should be a common United Kingdom general electoral quota. … the disparity between … Scotland, … England and … Northern Ireland cannot he defended… . The problem has nothing to do with devolution… It is a matter which deserves rectification in its own right.".It was doubtless because the Conservative Amendment then being debated in the other place was somewhat halfhearted and inprecise that the Liberals felt unable to support it in the Division Lobby. I believe that this Amendment conforms rather more closely to Liberal principles, and therefore I do not doubt that they will give it their full support.
A consequential effect of this Amendment, if it is carried, will be to reduce the number of Assembly seats from 150 to about 120—or at any rate that would have been the case had not the Amendment of the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, been carried. These Amendments have rather thrown my earlier calculations into the melting pot and I am not certain what the precise effects would be. I do not want to reiterate in detail the arguments for reducing the proposed size of the Assembly but I must point out to your Lordships that 150 seats would make the Assembly proportionately as large as, if not slightly larger than, the New Zealand House of Representatives, the uni-cameral legislative chamber for a completely independent self-governing country. Is there not a danger that, if Scotland has an Assembly of the size appropriate to an independent 487 self-governing country, pressure will inexorably grow to adapt Scotland's institutions accordingly, thereby leading in the long run to total independence? Surely the Province of Ontario is a much more apt unit for Scotland to model itself on, and not merely because of the large number of Scots who populate Ontario in general and the city of Toronto in particular. On that basis, the Assembly would have 100 seats or fewer.
However, this Amendment is deliberately drafted to leave open a number of options. For example, if it is carried, there is no reason why, at a later stage, other Amendments should not be moved which would have the effect of restoring the number of seats in the Assembly to 150, if that is what your Lordships wished. The Amendment does not seek to lay down exactly how Scottish representation at Westminster is to be reduced—whether it is to be by means of a Speaker's Conference or by straightforward legislation. Nor does it lay down whether Scotland should have parity with England, or with Northern Ireland on a Stormont analogy, although 1 would not personally wish to go quite as far as that. It is also compatible with either the acceptance or rejection, as your Lordships may decide, of Amendment No. 210, which bears the names of noble Lords on both sides of this Chamber. The important point is that it paves the way for something vital and necessary which must be done to rectify what is increasingly seen as a glaring injustice. That is, after all, what we are here for. I beg to move.
§ 4.28 p.m.
§ Lord HARMAR-NICHOLLS
It is absolutely right for the noble Lord, Lord Monson, to emphasise that this Amendment is sponsored from all parts of the Chamber, which prevents it from being dubbed as having any Party political motive behind it. The noble Lord himself sits on the Cross-Benches and the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, who has a similar Amendment following on, has given a clear indication of his view. Before the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, produces a bit of history that I have not heard about, I would have to say that on 16th November 1977, at column 620 of the Official Report in another place, Mr. Steel, the Leader of the Liberal Party, said: 488I would accept the Kilbrandon proposal of reducing the number of Scottish Members of Parliament to the correct number proportionately.So all parts of the Chamber accept the justice of the levelling down or levelling up that this Amendment would bring with it. For my part, from these Benches, I think I made my position quite clear on Second Reading. On matters of constitutional change, I believe that merit, fairness and logic should be given priority over mere political expediency.
It may be convenient for the Government to ignore the clearly accepted fact that, compared with England, Scotland is over-represented at Westminster, because they think that the existing situation is worth a few votes in the Lobby on certain occasions. But the unfairness is such that it is likely to provoke repercussions which will shatter the hopes that anybody may have that this devolution policy will be accepted and will work amicably in the future. I believe that this underlying sense of unfairness will make it almost impossible for this policy to work in the kind of spirit that is desirable.
One can only repeat the facts for the argument itself to be almost unanswerable. The average size of an English constituency is 66,000 yet in Scotland there are now 11 constituencies with fewer than 40,000 voters. A reduction of these 11 seats is the minimum that we should accept; certainly the minimum that I should accept, in order to feel that the true interests of the Westminster Parliament are being looked at. Reducing the number of Scottish seats from 71 to 60 will still be a generous recognition of the size of the constituencies in Scotland and the extra acres that they cover. A figure of 66 in England and 40 in Scotland would give ample room for acreage to be taken into account.
But it is not only in Parliament that there is some unanimity on this matter. H' we look at the report of the Royal Commission on the Constitution, we find that they say:Scotland is at present represented in Parliament by 71 Members, and this number would be reduced to 57 if Scotland's total representation in proportion to population were to be the same as that of England.Then they go on:In the case of Scotland, for example, should it remain at 71, be reduced to 57 or, following the 489 example of Northern Ireland, be reduced even further?They go on to say later in their report:
On the other hand, it is possible to argue for the removal of the over-representation of Scotland and Wales on the grounds that it would both be undemocratic and constitute a grave injustice to the people of England.Those are very clear expressions of view, from an impartial and objective Commission which has taken evidence and looked into the matter in depth, in the real meaning of that term. They go on:…the amount of this reduction would be a matter for discussion in the light of the extent of devolution, and it is not possible to lay down any hard and fast rules ".It is because I accept that view of the Commission that I suggest to my noble friends that it may be a good thing to debate this Amendment and to put our views on the record, but not to vote on it, making it perfectly clear that, when we get to the Report stage, we hope that the strength of the arguments that we have presented, plus the evidence which we have produced from our side, will have put the Government in a position where they see the justice of our case and will give some guidance on how this matter, which is generally accepted, should he dealt with, in order that this policy can work without any unnecessary friction.
I have quoted the Liberal Party, through the mouth of their leader; one is expressing one's own view from these Benches and the noble Lord, Lord Monson, has given his view from the Cross-Benches. Here 1 have a pamphlet issued by the Labour Group which calls itself the "Vote No"Campaign. It is useful to have on the record what this important section of the Labour Party thinks about this subject. This is what they say in their pamphlet:
"W ' is for the so-called West Lothian Question, whereby under the Scotland Act, 71 Scottish Members of Parliament will be able not only to talk but to vote money on the gut issues of politics, and socialist priorities, in relation to West Bromwich or West Ham, but not West Lothian. How long can such a situation possibly endure? (Not least since the average Scottish Constituency consists of 53,000 electors and the average English constituency of 65,000 electors). The fact is that the day there is a United Kingdom Government of one political colour, and an English majority of another, the ' settlement between Scotland and England' created by the Scotland Act will simply crumble. It is one thing having a Labour Government and an English Conservative majority at present, when the United Kingdom Parliament is responsible for the whole of Britain. It is an entirely different 490 matter having an over-representation for Scotland deciding the most controversial matters of English domestic politics—matters for which the Scots MPs have no responsibility in their own constituencies. Such a position is neither logical nor lasting. The reason that the Government have not answered the West Lothian Question is that there is no answer to give. It was one of the rocks on which the Scotland and Wales Bill perished in February, 1977, and it is still there ".This is not extravagant language. This is a very real risk which will undermine good government in both Scotland and England, and indeed in the whole of the United Kingdom.
I suppose that one of the reasons why one has been given the honour of joining your Lordships' House is that one is sometimes able to bring evidence as to what has happened in the past. I remember vividly the period between 1964 and 1966, when the then Labour Government had a very narrow majority indeed. The then Prime Minister used extreme language against the 12 Unionist votes that came from Northern Ireland. He used to argue that they ought not to be allowed to vote on nationalisation and matters of that kind which affected this country. I quote that from my own recollection, merely to show that these are not just negative, destructive arguments that one produces when one tries to point out, from time to time, the danger that there is in this Bill to the unity of the United Kingdom and the powers that it can have in the world, and the way in which it could undermine the very endeavours that we ought to use to help strengthen ourselves, at a time when competition in the world needs the extra strength which we must have if we are to maintain our present living standards.
So I feel that, because it is recognised on all sides that this over-representation exists, we ought to deal with it. We might not have wanted to deal with it, had there been no suggestion of this devolution Bill and the risk of eventual separation which may flow from it. But if we are to concede the need for an Assembly in Scotland, this is the ideal time for also settling this question of over-representation. If we ask for the over-representation to be remedied at the same time as we are suggesting setting up the Scottish Assembly, then it is a decision that is likely to be accepted in Scotland, which will be for the general good of the whole United Kingdom. But if it is left to some 491 different time, it will be judged to be another Sassenach attempt to undermine the separateness and individuality of Scotland itself.
So that on grounds of logic, on grounds of fairness, on grounds of merit and on grounds of good sense in wanting this Bill to work, if it ever becomes an Act, I suggest that, even if we may not vote on the Amendment now—if that is the decision of my noble friends—the Government ought to find ways and means of seeing that running alongside this Bill is an alteration in the representation of that country, so as to avoid the dangers which have tried to describe.
§ Lord ELLENBOROUGH
In supporting this Amendment, I agree that, if devolution goes through and the Assembly is set up, it is essential that it should be a success, and essential to ensure that it will work. In order to do so, it must be seen to be fair. It must be seen to be fair to the English majority representing no less than 83 per cent. of the electorate in the United Kingdom. Nothing will be more disastrous than a smouldering resentment, capable of being fanned into an English backlash blaze, as a result of unfair overrepresentation in one part of the United Kingdom—that is to say, Scotland—representing only 9 per cent. of the electorate, in the changed circumstances that will exist if the Scottish Assembly is set up.
My noble friend Lord Harmar-Nicholls has just pointed out that the average size of a Scottish constituency is 53,000 electors. This has to be compared with the average size of an English constituency which is 65,000 electors. Purely on a statistical basis, England, therefore, is some 14 seats short, Scotland has about 12 too many, Wales has four too many, while Northern Ireland is four short. Nobody expects there to be rigid adherence to statistics, but the present position is not practical if devolution goes through.
I feel that the absurdity of the position is rather highlighted by the case of Northern Ireland. During the 50 years or so that Northern Ireland had its own Parliament at Stormont—which admittedly had somewhat greater powers than those envisaged for the Scottish Assembly—Northern Ireland sent only 12 Members of Parlia 492 ment to Westminster: there was an average of 86,000 electors per constituency. Now it is rather belatedly proposed, as a result of the Speaker's Conference, that there should be 16 Members, which would result in the average size of a Northern Ireland constituency being 65,000 electors —exactly the same as in England.
If and when Northern Ireland again has Home Rule of some kind or another I cannot believe that it is very likely that the number of Members of Parliament at Westminster will be reduced to only 12. Now that Scotland is to have a substantial measure of Home Rule, no one is suggesting an average constituency of 86,000 electors. Of course not. It is imperative that Scotland should have fair, proper and full representation. I would say that, eventually, all four parts of the United Kingdom should, so far as possible, have equal representation at Westminster on the basis of population.
I find it difficult to see what is so sacrosanct about this number of 71 Members of Parliament. There may have been valid reasons for it in the past, both historical and geographical, but for the first time since the Act of Union was passed the position is now to be fundamentally changed. Scotland is to have a home Parliament; I prefer to call it a Parliament and be done with it rather than have all this talk of an Assembly or a Convention. Nobody wants to see vast rural areas represented by one Member, but we are living in 1978 and not in 1928 or at the turn of the century.
Despite the worst that British Rail, industrial action and so on can do, modern means of communication, such as radio and television, reaching into every home surely mean that the position is rather different now to what it was 50 or so years ago. I do not see why it should be harder to reach Westminster from Aberdeen than from, say, Londonderry or from the Western Isles than the Scilly Isles. In any case, gross disparity in the size of constituencies is commonplace in all parts of the United Kingdom.
I should have thought that any reduction in the number of Scottish Members of Parliament at Westminster should surely come not so much from the rural areas as from urban areas such as Glasgow where, as the noble Lord, Lord Monson, 493 has pointed out, there are 13 constituencies with an average electorate of only 42,000. This is 20 per cent. below the average for Scotland and one-third below the average for England. I feel that the Government must face up to the fact that this problem—the"West Lothian anomaly"as it has been called—just will not conveniently disappear. On the contrary, it will continue to haunt and plague the Government.
I was rather disappointed with the reply of the noble and learned Lord, Lord McCluskey, to the Amendment put down last week by my noble friend Lord Morris. I believe that the noble and learned Lord said that the Government would, because delay might result from a redrawing of constituency boundaries, regard such an Amendment as a wrecking Amendment. Without such an Amendment, however, or without some action to put right this matter, it seems to me that it is the unity of the United Kingdom which is liable to be wrecked.
when English people wake up to what is being done they will just not put up with it. To do something after the Assembly has been set up and after the next General Election, which no doubt the Government hopefully think may just go their way with the block vote of their Scottish Members of Parliament, will be shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted. One can imagine the kind of reaction there would be if we had a Government which abolished independent education, ended private medicine, banned the sale of council houses, nationalised agricultural land and so on. And what would be the reaction if all these measures were brought about in England by a Government who were in power after devolution only because of the large number of Scottish Labour Members of Parliament? It would inevitably be regarded as absolutely intolerable.
I feel, therefore, that the Government should be very careful to ensure that there is fair play in a matter which involves the most fundamental change in the Constitution since the Act of Union. If there has to be devolution, I think it is far better to have a delay of several months or a year in order to get everything right, or at least to get everything as right as possible, rather than have the present botched-up arrangement, which could so easily lead to disaster and to the break up of the Union.
494 Lastly, surely the referendum question is being put to the Scottish people upon a false prospectus. I understand that it is being put to the Scottish people on the basis that Scottish representation at Westminster will be unaltered, although it is surely obvious that Scottish representation must and will be altered—if not now, then at any rate very soon.
§ 4.48 p.m.
§ Lord SHEPHERD
The noble Lord, Lord Ellenborough, referred to the Assembly and suggested that we should sweep away this nonsense and call it a Parliament. It will not be a Parliament. The Westminster Parliament is sovereign. The Assembly that will be formed in Edinburgh after the passing of this Bill will not be sovereign. The Westminster Parliament will be sovereign and will be able to dissolve that Assembly at any stage.
This is the first time that I have intervened on this Bill, although my association with it has been just as long as that of my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor. I saw the Bill in its very first stages and I saw the very first papers. I am a convinced devolutionist. I believe that we need to devolve more and more power away from central Government and the centre of London. However, I shall not hide from the Committee my growing sense of disquiet as I looked at the papers and proposals that came before us. That is not meant to be a criticism of the proposals. For the first time, we are trying to introduce a form of written Constitution. I hope that the Committee will support the plea made by the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, that there should not be a vote on this Amendment. The Committee has had a debate upon it and views have been aired. I understand the sense of risk to which the noble Lord, Lord Ellenborough, referred: that, if one devolves certain powers to an Assembly in Edinburgh while retaining the same number of Members of Parliament as were provided by the Act of Union, one makes a nonsense, or at least that the matter is open to a degree of critical review.
I am quite certain that whatever change is made in the membership of the House of Commons, whether it results in more Englishmen or less Scotsmen, that change should not be brought about by this Bill.
495 If we were to bring it about by this Bill, I do not believe that any other Bill would bring about what we all want to see; namely, the retention of the unitary State. I believe that, if there is to be change, that change should be made outside these proposals. Let these proposals stand, let them be worked and then let Parliament, through its normal procedures, consider not only the representation of Scotland but the representation of Northern Ireland. When the noble Lord, Lord Ellenborough, and the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, quoted the average sizes of some of the Scottish constituencies, I thought of the size of the constituency of Newcastle Central. Perhaps it is indefensible and no doubt it will be dealt with but, in terms of Scotland and the sizes of the constituencies—I am not a Scot but I appreciate the position because it is a country which I visit fairly frequently— there are vast distances and there is great difficulty in communication. Therefore, as a consequence, there is bound to be, and there ought to be, some degree of over-representation.
I beg the Committee, whatever may be the value of the arguments which are adduced in another place in regard to the changes which should be made, not to tie it to this Bill because I believe that, if we were to do so, there could be no greater recipe for disaster, and by that I mean the break-up of the unitary state.
§ Lord STRATHCLYDE
It has probably not escaped your Lordships' notice that this Amendment stands in the name of three Englishmen and one Scotsman. Therefore I would claim that it is a British Amendment, a claim which would be more fully justified if it obtained the support of one speaker from Northern Ireland today.
§ Lord STRATHCLYDE
I am intruding into this debate because I have spent much of my life working in, I believe, the interests of Britain, with Englishmen. I have always been treated with courtesy and goodwill by them and have obtained their full co-operation. Accordingly, I do not like to feel that we Scots have—fortuitously, it would seem—obtained a proportionately greater influence in decision-making in another place than our 496 English colleagues. Of course that has not always been the case. In what I believe was the first Westminster Parliament which included Scottish representation—that of June 1653, which was known, I believe, particularly by schoolboys, as the"Barebones Parliament"—Scotland had five seats out of 140 and it was under-represented in all Parliaments for the next 230 years. Under the Cromwellian Ordinance of Union, Scotland got 30 seats out of 460. Under the Act of Union in 1707, the Scottish Commissioners accepted an allowance of 45 seats while England and Wales got 513.
To put it another way, in relation to population, Scotland's quota was one seat for 24,000 of the population, England and Wales getting one seat for 10,700 of the population. That situation remained practically unaltered for the next 125 years, for the first Reform Bill, that of 1832, gave Scotland one seat for every 45,000 of the population and England and Wales one seat for every 28,000. In fact, Scotland remained under-represented until the Reform Act of 1884 when seats were first allocated strictly on the basis of population, with the result that Scotland got 72 seats out of 670 and from that date Scotland could not complain of being under-represented at Westminster.
Under the 1918 Act, on the basis of population, Scotland got 74 seats which, with the abolition of the university seats in 1948, was reduced to 71, at which number it stands today. But there has been a very dramatic change in population since 1918 and, as has already been stated today, the Kilbrandon Report found that, on the basis of population, Scotland's representation should he reduced from 71 to 57. Scotland is accordingly over-represented by some 14 members and England is underrepresented.
It is that situation which this Amendment seeks to redress by making the electorate of the Scottish constituencies no smaller than that of the average English constituency. I cannot see how any Scotsman can possibly object to such a change. It is just, it is fair and the time would appear to be appropriate when it is proposed under this Bill to transfer so many functions from another place to a Scottish Assembly. Accordingly, I wholeheartedly support the Amendment.
§ Lord WIGG
I shall not detain the Committee long, but I was a little struck by the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, who held out great fears if this Bill were to change anything and, so far as I could understand it, his argument was that it does not change anything. Of course, he may be arguing against a change in numbers or sizes but surely he cannot argue that the Bill does not involve a changed role in the House. It is surely impossible to escape the conclusion that there are whole areas of legislation and administration which will be transferred as a result of this Bill and, surely all our experience, both as Members of this House and of another place, points to the fact that, when one starts to make changes, the changes that take place are very often quite different to the ones envisaged when the matter was first considered. Indeed, one can almost say that it is axiomatic that the changes which one does not foresee are the important ones.
Surely, with his long experience in these matters, the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, must have faced up to the fact that, over the whole of the devolved areas, Members representing Scottish constituencies will be unable to vote on matters affecting Scotland but will be able to vote, as now, on things affecting England. That will apply to every Member. So we should have a situation in which honourable Members of another place representing English constituencies would not be able to vote on matters affecting Scotland but, as the Bill now stands, Scottish Members would be able to vote on those same issues so far as they affected England.
Surely that is a change of gigantic magnitude and, as I said earlier this afternoon, the day will come—and I shall take on the mantle of the prophet and say that it will most assuredly come—when English Members will wake up to the fact that British people have been affected against their wishes by the votes of Scottish Members without English Members having a similar right. This may or may not be right. These may be the proposals which the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, is enthusiastic about, but to suggest for a moment that this does not constitute change, and change of the first magnitude, seems to me to be stretching the imagination too far.
§ Lord SHEPHERD
I did not suggest that this Bill did not make changes: what I sought to say was that Parliament still remains sovereign. The Westminster Parliament is sovereign and my plea which was really made in response to the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, was that, if we were to have a change in representation, it should not be as a consequence of this Bill but should be the result of a different Bill brought forward for a different reason.
§ Lord WIGG
But what the noble Lord does not see is that Parliament is a corporate body whose sovereignty is equally spread, whereas we are going to limit the sovereignty of English Members while enhancing the sovereignty of Scottish Members. That must influence the whole and to say that Westminster will remain sovereign when you arc explicitly removing from its direct responsibility whole areas of both legislation and administration seems to me to be playing with words.
I tried to understand what the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, was saying, and I thought he was directing his remarks to the concept that he did not want the Bill altered in terms of numbers and that is why he was opposing the Amendment put down by the noble Lord, Lord Monson, and his friends. What I would say to him in return is that you cannot separate role from numbers; they are the heads and tails of the same penny. If you play around with the size of constituencies, you alter the number of constituencies, and inevitably this must have an effect upon the role. Conversely, if you alter the role, by removing whole areas from London to Edinburgh, you will ultimately have affected the constituencies. That seems to me quite inevitable.
Indeed I think Lord Shepherd's speech is to be welcomed. He is one of the godfathers—not one of the parents—of this measure. He has pointed out from his intimate knowledge an even greater weakness than we had suspected. In fact the interrelating of functions of role and constituency have not been thought out. This is what I have always suspected. This is a political measure to deal with a short-run emergency—in the nature of politics they are always short run—in the hope that Scottish Nationalism will go 499 away, will disappear. I do not believe it will disappear. I believe this Bill will intensify, it, and if this Bill is enacted I fear it is the death warrant of the unity of the British people.
§ 5.3 p.m.
Lord HOME of the HIRSEL
Like the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, I am glad that my noble friend Lord HarmarNicholls indicated that he is not going to seek a vote today. With due respect to my noble friend Lord Strathclyde, I do not believe the mathematics implied in the Amendment can be satisfactory in the large country areas of Scotland. I do not think they could be worked out in this way and they would not be acceptable. I really want to give some preliminary reflections on the Scottish representation in the Westminster Parliament raised by the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, and others. That Scotland is over-represented at Westminster is nothing new, and there has been no revolt about it. The 71 Members representing Scotland has been the price which the Westminster Parliament has felt it worth while to pay to enable Scotland to be a willing partner at Westminster in the United Kingdom. This has been accepted without protest.
The last point I want to make, which perhaps Lord Ellenborough would consider, is that, even if the number of representatives is reduced to 57, it will not remove the West Lothian problem. It will simply mean that 57 Members of the Assembly are voting on English matters instead of 71. So I come to the conclusion that this is a matter largely for another place, that another place will have to decide in the end how many Scottish Members they will swallow. I suspect they will swallow 70, although they would prefer 57. So I do not treat this matter as one of enormous importance, because I still think that on the whole the Westminster Parliament will decide, as it has done in the past, that whether it is 70 or whether it is 71 it is worth while in order to maintain the unity of the United Kingdom.
§ Lord MACKIE of BENSHIE
I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Monson, on bringing forward this excellent principle, and I would very happily agree with all that he says the 500 Liberals have said about it. Of course, it is fair and just that there should be some adjustment to the number of Scottish representatives at Westminster. But I would agree with the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, that this is the wrong Bill to which to move this Amendment. It is a matter for Westminster; it is a matter for the established machinery, and it is a matter that can be dealt with by Parliament here at Westminster. What I think is entirely wrong is that you should try to tie it to this Bill. The question of devolution for Scotland and the question of Scottish representation at Westminster are linked to a very large degree, but they are not linked in this Bill or in our present situation.
The noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, talked about the size of Glasgow, the number of representatives there, as against Birmingham. One of the reasons for the rise of the feeling in Scotland that all is not well, that Scotland could be better governed, that perhaps we should make our own mistakes in domestic matters, is, of course, emigration—not immigration, which bothers some people, but emigration—from Scotland, which has enormously reduced the size of Glasgow, while Birmingham has been growing. So that you have the situation where, if Parliament put through a Scottish devolution Bill which works, then the people of Scotland, the Assembly and the Scottish electorate, will very happily accept what they would regard as a fair representation at Westminster.
If you look for anomalies you will find them all over the place. The only logical thing for the unity of the United Kingdom is to have a federal system, but the fact is that the people of England are not ready for it; they have not thought about it; they are frightened about the break-up of the United Kingdom. The optimistic Scots (I certainly am one, and noble Lords on all sides of the House share my opinion) take the view that devolution for Scotland—a Scottish Assembly that is effective and is seen to work well—will make the Scots very much less chippy, less crusty, more trusting, better partners, and will make the security of the United Kingdom, as a whole, very much greater. I am certain this is right.
The views expressed as to the numbers in Scottish constituencies are, of course, 501 correct. I hope that the English will continue not only to regard distance as a factor in the size of constituency but also to regard the kind of life that people live in these constituencies as very important. Obviously, if you represent a Highland constituency, as I did in Caithness and Sutherland, then the problems and the thinking of the people are different; they differ between Caithness and Sutherland and Argyll. It is not only numbers and it is not only geography. But, as I say, given that we produce from Westminster a workable Bill, I do not think the question of over-representation of Scotland will be any problem.
§ Baroness ELLIOT of HARWOOD
I rise because I have taken part in every Election in Glasgow from 1935 until 1959, and during that period Glasgow sent 15 Members to Parliament, not 13. I would not particularly defend that, but I would only say that it has been reduced by two. I think it could well be reduced by more. What I really feel very strongly about is this West Lothian question, as it has been called, which is at the root of the reason why I think this Bill will not work. I do not think it is right that Scotland should send Members of Parliament to vote solely on United Kingdom matters which may be, as has been pointed out, largely, or very often, quite personal to England or to Wales.
I do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, when he talks about"federalism ". That is entirely wrong. I do not agree with the people who say that a possible break-up of the United Kingdom does not worry them. It would be extremely serious. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, that it is vital that the United Kingdom should remain united. In fact I think that an enormous majority in both Houses share that view and only a few Scottish Nationalists and a few Liberals are against it. It would be most unfortunate if we did not face up to this matter right away.
The Amendment under consideration and spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Monson, and my noble friend Lord Harmar-Nicholls is a very good one. I shall be quite happy if it is not thought necessary to have a Division now because this matter can be discussed further. However, I do not think that we can ignore it or say that it will come right if we 502 leave it as it is—it will not. I agree with the quotation which the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, read from the Labour "Vote No"Campaign. I have a copy of that pamphlet here. I think that it is perfectly right. We must face up to this matter. We have an impossible position. I do not think that we can have 71 Scottish Members being able to take part in every single English or Welsh question and then do nothing about what happens in the Assembly.
As I think noble Lords know—I said this during Second Reading—I am not happy about the Assembly. However, if it goes through and we are faced with this situation, then the West Lothian question is one that must be tackled before anything else happens, otherwise we shall have great unfairness. I do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, that we can just write it off as something that will not worry people very much. It will worry people a great deal and it may be quite disastrous not only to the Assembly, if it gets through—I would not mind that so much—but to the United Kingdom Parliament. I hope that we shall be firm about this matter and ask the Government to reconsider it, and if we do not take a vote tonight we can raise it again during the Report stage.
§ 5.13 p.m.
§ Lord ORR-EWING
I should like to intervene. I have been trying to speak for some hours and on previous occasions. I think that we owe a debt of gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Monson, for giving us an opportunity to discuss this matter. Naturally one always bows to the wisdom of the noble Lord, Lord Home of the Hirsel, and I am loath to disagree with him. I perfectly well accept, and I think that the Committee would, that the 71 is part of the sacrifice or arrangement whereby Scotland became part of the United Kingdom. It has always been slightly overrepresented ever since, and I accept that. However, we are taking or are in danger of taking action to devolve a whole range of responsibilities to Scotland, and that I think makes the injustice and the unfairness greater. That is why I think that we, as a constitutional Chamber, have an obligation to consider this matter most carefully.
I absolutely accept the argument that we have the constitutional duty to discuss 503 this matter, but I should hope that the House of Commons will feel the obligation not only to discuss it but perhaps to act on it when the next Boundary Commission takes place. However, I cannot quite accept that argument for I do not think that we can wait for the outcome of a Boundary Commission as the Amendment suggests, because they take a most unconscionable time. I vividly remember that the last one was set up in 1965. There were four Boundary Commissions—for England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. They reported, I think, on the 19th June 1969. They took over four years before they reported. Even then we had a slight difference of opinion, because the Home Secretary of the day was very loath to lay the order.
Noble Lords will remember that we believed that one of the reasons for the delay was the fact that it would have given 11 or 12 extra Conservative seats if those boundaries had been honoured. There was very strong criticism in this House and eventually the Home Secretary of the day, Mr. Callaghan, made the order on 28th October 1969. By then nearly five years had passed since the Boundary Commission was set up. Incidentally, he then led his Party into the Opposition Lobby to vote against the order which he had laid and thus we lost some 12 seats at the 1970 Election. However, it did not matter very much because we won it anyway.
However, it still is a wrong principle, and I wonder whether we ought to accept without question the fact that there is a certain amount of gerrymandering built into this Bill. Not only is there the unfairness of the over-representation of Scottish MPs, which I believe is a matter ultimately for the House of Commons, but it is strange that there has been a complete change since the White Paper which I have here—Command 6348 of November 1975, called Our Changing Democracy—in which it is suggested that there should be three Assembly Members for Parliamentary constituencies with more than 125 per cent. of the quota and only one Member for those with less.
What has happened? The Scotland Bill proposes that there should be two Assembly Members for each Parliamentary constitu 504 ency plus an extra one for constituencies with more than 125 per cent. of the norm. It so happens, if we take 1977 figures, that the effect is that there are only five such constituencies, of which four are held by Labour and one by the SNP. Therefore, this change will help Labour representation.
To take the second point, the Bill has now dropped the idea that there should be only one Member for smaller constituencies. We wonder why, until we see that there are 13 such constituencies, eight of which are held by Labour, two by Conservatives, two by the SNP, and one by the Liberals. So here again there is an element of gerrymandering and there has been a change in Government thinking—perhaps they have been doing their arithmetic again. However, all of this is highly undesirable and, as a constitutional House, I think that we have a duty to draw attention to it.
I agree with those who have said that it is not right to vote on this matter. The movers and those who have put the Amendment down have done a great service to the Committee, and I am grateful to them. However, I hope that the other place will take action and we shall, in due course, have a Boundary Commission and an adjustment. I do not know that it should be down from 71 to 57, but I think that a Boundary Commission will, in due course, reveal what it ought to be.
§ Lord BROWN
I think that it is time someone from this side of the Committee said a word on this matter. If we try to make the Bill perfect we shall not succeed because, as the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, has said, the situation is full of anomalies. We cannot create a perfect Bill in these situations. However, let us suppose that we treat every clause of the Bill in the manner in which this clause is being treated, pointing out the obvious anomalies that arise from the whole process of devolution at this stage. It is possible that we shall end up without a Bill at all and we shall be repeating a historical mistake that this House made in the late 1890s when it turned down Gladstone's proposals for Ireland. We all know what we are suffering today from that failure to take a long-term view.
505 Therefore, I suggest that this sort of perfectionist attitude, when perfection is simply not possible, is the antithesis of what is required in the long run. We had better take a long-term view in this House, because if we do not and if this Bill is an offence to a lot of people in Scotland, or if it fails to work because we have amended it in certain ways, then we shall hand over a situation to the Scottish National Party and, with sufficient support, it would not be long in creating that separation about which we are all so anxious.
§ 5.18 p.m.
§ Lord HAILSHAM of SAINT MARYLEBONE
I should like to say word or two about this Amendment. In the first place I would apologise to the House. I was invited to attend a meeting of the Procedure Committee and therefore I was unable to hear the noble Lord, Lord Monson, and I heard only three-quarters of the remarks of my noble friend Lord Harmar-Nicholls, which led me into a procedural error when another noble Lord was in the Chair. However, I think that this is a rather more difficult matter then we have realised. My noble friend Lord Harmar-Nicholls was very wise to indicate that he, at any rate, hoped that there would not be a vote at this stage, and I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Monson, when he comes to reply to the debate will take the same view.
There are, as I tried to point out on Second Reading, two related general difficulties about the Bill. My noble friend Lord Home of the Hirsel was quite right in saying that this particular Amendment deals with only one of them. But in a way they are quite separate, and it is important to realise that they are separate. The first is the number of MPs representing Scottish constituencies who will be elected to Westminster after Assembly. It is only that to which this Amendment is relevant. The other question is the rights of individual Members of another place to vote in the Westminster Parliament after Assembly They are really two separate problems.
In fact, this Amendment does literally nothing to cure the second of the two defects. The first can be dealt with—and I shall return to it because this is essentially at the heart of the Amendment—by a reduction in the number of representatives of Scottish constituencies, but the second 506 cannot. The only logical way—and here I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie—in which that could be dealt with would be by a true example of federalism in which the frontiers were delimited between the rights of the Westminster Parliament and the rights of the Assembly. In other words, it would be a true federal solution. I cannot go into that on this Amendment. Nor do I propose to probe the question of whether England is "ready for it", as the phrase was. I merely point out that that is the only logical way of dealing with the second of the two difficulties.
The noble Lords who have put their names to the Amendment have, I think, drawn the attention of the Committee to a very real grievance. With great respect to the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd (and one is always glad to see and hear him in his new place below the gangway), I think that the Government and some Members of the Party opposite would be unwise if they did not realise the strength of feeling on this side of the Committee and in certain other parts of the Committee about the first anomaly which this Amendment is designed to cure. The point that is being made is very real.
For a long time it was thought by the Scots that the right to possess 71 MPs in the House of Commons was built into the Act of Union. My noble friend Lord Strathclyde has demolished that heresy—it is not so; it is simply wrong. But what is absolutely clear is that even as matters now stand the Scots are over-represented, and when they are given an additional right to have an Assembly of their own—that is, if it passes the referendum and all else—they really must consent to a substantial adjustment being made in their representation at Westminster for the very good reason that their representatives will have less to do and fewer subjects to represent. They must make that adjustment.
I agree with my noble friend Lord Home of the Hirsel that it is no good trying to put this matter into an exact mathematical bed of Procrustes. There are at least three separate factors to be considered in delimiting a Westminster constituency. One is population, another is geographical area and the other is the sense of community in which one tries to draw the boundaries so that local communities are 507 separately represented. These are difficult and delicate matters, and I think that the Government must understand that subject to the difficulty and delicacy of it, they really must move in this matter to satisfy some of us.
Then one conies to the Amendment itself. The feature of this Amendment is that it seeks to impose a sanction; that is to say, no election to the Assembly unless there is satisfaction on this point. I have the greatest possible sympathy with this frame of mind, but I have very considerable doubts as to whether it is a prudent course to take. I think that its effect would be to postpone the actual Assembly for a very long time, and the price one would have to pay in would probably be higher than the virtue of it would be worth. I also have a pedantic difficulty which I shall share with the Committee at the risk of being called an as "dry as dust"lawyer, which I confess to on every possible occasion. The lawyer's motto has to be:The spirit killeth, the letter giveth life.All lawyers in all countries have to point out the importance of that principle. But the Long Title of the Bill is:to provide for changes in the government of Scotland and in the constitution and functions of certain public bodies".We can alter the Long Title. I am not sure whether it is the intention of my noble friends to alter the Long Title—they can do so—so as to enlarge it, but I wonder whether, as it stands at the moment, the Long Title is adequate to support a provision in the Bill which says that nothing shall happen until the number of Scottish representatives at Westminster is reduced to a given figure. I think that it is something which we shall have to consider and I hope that with their customary skill the Clerks at the Table will, if we need it, give us advice on that.
However, I think that that second difficulty must be taken into account. I say to the Government that sooner or later we shall have to handle this problem. It may well be that my noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing is right in saying that the delay in the ordinary course of procedure would be unconscionably long. I hope that the Government, having taken the advice which is available to them and not to us, will consider the possibility of 508 ensuring that the delay is not unconscionable. As Mr. Gladstone said:The resources of civilisation are probably not yet exhausted.We may, indeed, at a later stage of the Bill or by independent legislation—I know not which—seek to press the Government into some form of intellectual activity on this point because the situation is intolerable. As I ventured to say earlier on in the afternoon in a totally different connection, a General Election is coming up, and I am sure that the last thing that this enlightened Government would want would be to have it thought that they were trying to get one or two extra seats by a trick.
§ Viscount THURSO
I should like to add to what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, has said. I think that it is a dangerous precedent to link the grievance and the anomaly which the Amendment has uncovered to the passing or otherwise of this Bill. I am sure that if the Bill falls, the grievance and the anomaly will not—the unfairness of over-representation will not go away. Therefore, I beg the mover of this Amendment, and indeed others like myself who do not necessarily support the Amendment but who understand the grievance and the anomaly, not to link this grievance and anomaly with the Bill.
The other side of the coin is that if there is no Bill, then we must leave the Scottish representation at Westminster at its present high level. I think that that would be just as objectionable as to link the representation at Westminster to the giving of a Scottish Assembly. Therefore, although noting the grievance and the anomaly which this Amendment has raised, I think we should say firmly that it has nothing whatever to do with the Bill and must be dealt with by another Bill at another time.
§ The Earl of ONSLOW
There is a counter-argument to the argument which was produced by the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, and that concerns the passage of this Bill. The Government are very keen to get it passed, and they will have no motive to reduce the Scottish membership after this Bill has passed. If anything, they could have a motive for leaving it as it is, because I am sure that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor could give us an undertaking that, when the Government considered 509 this Bill, there was no Party political consideration given to it. If these two factors were not linked together there would be no pressure, except popular discontent in England. I am sure that the popular discontent in England will be very strong indeed when the full implications are understood. For that reason I strongly believe that something should be done about it. I obviously have doubts as to whether this Amendment is right when the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, says it is not quite right. One takes everything that he says on this issue very much to heart. However, something must be done about it, and in this Bill.
§ Viscount MASSEREENE and FERRARD
I suppose it is quite impossible, but I should like to ask whether it is possible to debar Scottish Members of Parliament at Westminster, if and when we have an Assembly—it could not be done in this Bill —from voting on English domestic legislation?
There is nothing that I should hate to do more than debar my noble friend from speaking. If my noble friend wishes to speak, please do so.
§ 5.32 p.m.
Baroness WARD of NORTH TYNESIDE
I have found extremely interesting all the different Amendments that have been moved to this Bill, which apparently nobody seems to want at all. Certainly my Scottish friends tell me that if there were a referendum in Scotland they would not want this particular Bill. Certainly in the part of the world from which I come, which is the North-East of England, we do not want the Bill at all.
I rise to support Lord Monson's Amendment. I have listened to people pointing out the number of constituents 510 they represent in Parliament, and so far as I am concerned most of the figures have been entirely wrong. I wanted to put on the record that, when I represented Tynemouth, I represented over 80,000 constituents, which is a much greater figure than anybody seems to have raised today. Therefore, I think it important that Lord Monson's Amendment should be carried in due course.
There is something else I should like to say, which is a little difficult. I live in and represented two constituencies near to the Scottish Border. I had great sympathy over the years when I heard of the number of unemployed in Glasgow and other parts of Scotland. When I was first elected to my part of the world I was faced with 84 per cent. of the employable population being unemployed. Scotland has a great advantage over my part of the world. When a new shipbuilding order has been forecast and arranged, I often wondered why, generally speaking —not always, of course—it seems to have arrived on the Clyde.
I have had great sympathy for those who were unemployed on Clydeside in the same way as I have had great sympathy for the unemployed in any part of the country. But, you see, Scotland has had a Secretary of State for Scotland, and Edinburgh has had a great advantage in speaking its mind. It has been sometimes difficult from my part of the world—although we have had both Party Governments trying to help—to get up in Parliament and say,"Why is that order going to Scotland? "
On the whole—I say this with great regret—Scotland has often got more shipbuilding orders than we have been able to get in my part of the world. I think that that is because there have always been so many people in high positions to speak up for Scotland—and very well some of them have done it. I only wanted to make that reference because when this new Bill comes into operation we want it to be a fair Bill so far as all parts of the country are concerned.
Although I do not necessarily agree with all of Lord Monson's Amendment, I thought to myself,"Well, at any rate, here is a chance of seeing that there will be fewer representatives to speak up for Scotland, if they have got to place orders 511 and take into account the needs of my part of the world."Our Members of Parliament, whether they belonged to the Conservative or Labour Party—and, I think, one to the Liberal Party at some time—have always done their best for my part of the world, but Scotland has had an advantage.
I could not bear it, when Member after Member got up and said that most constituencies have 65,000 members, or a little fewer, when I realised that I had over 80,000. I was delighted to try to do what I could for them. It was not always successful, but when you are in politics you realise that sometimes you win battles and sometimes you lose them, and you get used to it. I want to support Lord Monson's Amendment because I want it to be certain that there is a fair representation of seats based on population both in Scotland and in England.
That is really all I have to say. I have enjoyed listening to all these Amendments. In fact, I think you are very lucky that you have not had a lot of speeches from me, because I am always regarded as being a speaker and I do my best. Anyhow I am delighted to have made this point. Please remember that when you have great power in an area through Secretaries of State and Ministers who can make representations at Cabinet level, you also have to be fair. I think that sometimes my part of the world, the North-East coast, has lost out because special advantages were given to Scotland.
I am not sorry that they did not get their orders, but at the same time I should like to think that sometimes there are some people who will speak up from Northumberland and Durham. I do not really represent, and never have, Durham, but we are a highly industrial area, and we have not got much country. Therefore, I would support Lord Monson's Amendment, hoping that it will at any rate produce fair representation in Scotland and fair representation in England.
§ Lord BURTON
While having the greatest sympathy with the Amendment, I do feel that it does not take into account the remoter areas. No English constituency has a mass of islands like the Western Isles or Orkney and Shetlands. Inverness has already the biggest land area 512 of any constituency in the United Kingdom. Some boroughs may be covered by a 10-minute bus ride. I do not see why they should not have rather more constituents than some of these enormous, remote areas. Therefore, I feel that the Amendment is not really very sound, as we cannot base the constituencies on population alone.
§ Viscount HANWORTH
I do not think I am alone in believing that in the fairly near future some changes—and possibly even fundamental changes—are required and will come about in our Constitution. To give one example, there are those who believe that when devolution occurs—if we get it—there should be a written Constitution. There is, of course, the matter of the future of this House. I believe that this issue could well be considered at the time when other major issues are considered and that it would be a pity, in a way, to regard it in isolation.
§ 5.43 p.m.
There is no doubt that the problems which have prompted this Amendment, and the one that follows, go to the heart of the Bill. I was glad when my noble friend Lord Harmar-Nicholls said that in fact he did not intend to press this Amendment, and when the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, said that that would be a good thing. The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, said that in his view the right thing to do was to introduce a special Bill. That certainly requires consideration. However, even though this Amendment may not be pressed, I do not think that we should be under any misapprehension that the issue concerned is absolutely essential to the whole Bill.
We know that ever since the Act of Union, Scotland has been represented by 71 Members of Parliament—and more recently than that. It is a fact that Scotland has been represented by 71 Scottish Members of Parliament. The Scottish and English Members of Parliament, together with other Members of Parliament, have together acted in equality as Members of Parliament over all matters.
If we create an Assembly especially for Scotland and devolve to it all the domestic affairs from Westminster to Edinburgh, that inevitably calls two matters into 513 question. The first is this. Why should those Members of Parliament who are sent to Westminster from Scotland be allowed to continue to involve themselves in English domestic legislation, when the English Members of Parliament are denied the ability of involving themselves in similar affairs of a Scottish nature? We shall come to that question on a later Amendment. The second point is this. Now that the Scots will have an Assembly of their own, which will henceforth look after all Scottish domestic affairs, how do we justify the continuation of the same number of Members of Parliament being sent to Westminster when half the work which has been removed from them, and when those present, who will be left, will be required to do half the work they did before?
These problems, and how they are resolved, are essential to the future success of the workings of Parliament. They deeply affect the whole balance of interests within the United Kingdom. That is why—as has been said so often—this is not just a Scotland Bill; it is a United Kingdom Bill. However, as yet the Government have produced no satisfactory answer and have, if I may respectfully say so, constantly ducked the problem. This is the devastating weakness of the whole Bill. What will the 71 Scots Members of Parliament do when their responsibilities have been removed from them in this sphere? How do we justify, in terms of logic or common sense, continuing to send the same number of Scottish Members of Parliament to Westminster when half their work has been devolved to another Assembly and given to twice as many people to do elsewhere?
Of course, what they are left with is very important: the economy, defence, foreign affairs. These are matters of huge and fundamental importance to the whole of Scotland. The contrary argument is this: Is it right that Scottish representation on these basic and most important issues should be less than it is at present? If it were lessened, what a stick it would be to put in the hands of the Scottish National Party! It is not impossible to hear them say, "Now that Scotland, with the reduction in the number of Scottish MPs that has taken place, is to have even less influence in Westminster over the matters that are basic to Scotland, the sooner we have complete independence and control 514 all these affairs which affect us, the better."That is quite an understandable attitude for the Scottish Nationalists to take. This is the fundamental weakness, I suggest, of the whole Bill, because by devolving domestic affairs to the Assembly and reserving other affairs to Westminster, the Government are giving a federal system to Scotland. In another Bill they are giving a federal system to Wales. Yet they are retaining a unitary system for England. I should have thought that we could use either one system for the United Kingdom or the other, but we cannot have both if it is to work fairly or sensibly. Yet that is precisely what the Government are proposing in this Bill.
We may go from one place to another either by bicycle or by motor-car, but we cannot use both methods of transport at the same time without getting into a muddle. I venture to say that we are in precisely that muddle. Both the Amendment put down by the noble Lord, Lord Monson, and the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, and the other Amendment put down by my noble friend Lord Onslow later, are attempts to resolve this difficulty. Lord Monson's Amendment is an attempt at reducing the number of Scottish Members of Parliament to Westminster by saying that the constituencies should be no smaller than English ones, which, as we know, would have the effect of reducing the number of Members of Parliament from Scotland. We understand the reasons for this, and particularly the telling argument that says it is not fair that Scotland should have special treatment twice over.
Part of the agreement that was reached —and indeed part of the practice which has occurred since the Union—has been that there should be 71 Members of Parliament from Scotland. It was known and appreciated at the time that this would result in a greater representation per head of the population by Scottish Members of Parliament than there would be by English Members of Parliament. One of the reasons was, of course, the size of the country in question. The Royal Commission stated that to base representation simply on the basis of counting heads was to ignore the important nationality factor. The nationality factor has been recognised by the over-representation of Scottish Members of Parliament in Westminster.
515 However, the nationality factor has also again been recognised by the granting of an Assembly to Scotland. Is it right (one may ask) that Scotland should have special treatment twice over? The noble Lord, Lord Brown, said that we should take a long view of this matter and that an Amendment such as has been proposed was not necessary. But if I could address his mind, and the minds of your Lordships, to the Royal Commission again, I would say this. On the other hand, it is possible to argue for the removal of the overrepresentation of Scotland and Wales on the grounds that it would be both undemocratic and constitute a grave injustice to the people of England if this overrepresentation were to be retained when Parliamentary time had to be very largely devoted to debating and legislating for England on matters for which Scotland and Wales had their own legislative Assemblies.
Indeed, in those circumstances, there would be much to be said for reducing the representation of Scotland and Wales below the level based on population, as was done in the case of Northern Ireland. The noble Lord, Lord Brown, is at least not in agreement with the Royal Commission—or, to put the matter another way, the Royal Commission takes a view that is different from that of the noble Lord.
§ Lord BROWN
While the noble Earl is spending quite a lot of time putting forward arguments to the effect that the Scottish representation is too large, I doubt whether anybody in this Committee is in diagreement with him over that. The only question which arises is whether or not the matter should be dealt with in this Bill. As I say, I do not think any noble Lord thinks that the Scottish representation at Westminster should in future remain at its present figure. That is not the argument at all; the argument is whether the matter is dealt with in the Bill.
That is not the impression I received from the argument that was adduced or from what the noble Lord said. From the point of view of the relationship between England and Scotland and for the future of the balance of interest within the United Kingdom, this is a very important matter indeed. The Amend 516 ment standing in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Monson, suggests that there should be this alteration and so far the Government have said that it should not take place, and I do not really blame them for being hesitant; there are not many votes to be obtained as a result of telling the electorate of Scotland that they are to have fewer MPs. This shows the mess we have got ourselves into, because to reduce the number of Scottish MPs sent to Westminster would be a fundamental alteration and an alteration which would be bigger than on the surface it appears; and of course it would be an unpopular move to make.
If we did it under this Amendment or any other we should delay the Bill. If we did it, we should strengthen the Scottish National Party and the prospect of separation. If we did not do it, it would permit the inequity of Scotland getting special treatment twice over. If we did not do it, it would permit an inflated number of Scottish MPs to interfere with English business and would, if nothing else were done about it, in turn generate English nationalism. The Government have, by this Bill, put the Constitution on Morton's fork; one cannot win. If we do anything about it there will be damage and if we do not do anything about it there will be damage. Every time the Government have been presented with this conundrum they have sidestepped it.
I should be happy to accept the view, which a number of people have expressed, that it would be quite wrong to make this Amendment to the Bill as drafted. However, it is not wrong that we should discuss the matter and ask the Government to accept the real problem which they have created, that they should recognise the problem and tell us how they intend to resolve it. After all, they have created it and it is a problem which must be resolved, whether or not in this Bill. I hope the Lord Chancellor will say precisely how the Government intend to resolve it, because the one thing they cannot do is leave it alone and do nothing.
§ Lord HYLTON
A brief question: Is there not a possible interim solution to the problems we have been discussing under this Amendment? I suggest the answer may be that a constitutional convention 517 should grow up whereby Scottish and perhaps Welsh Members in another place should always abstain from voting on matters which are purely of English concern.
§ 5.54 p.m.
§ The LORD CHANCELLOR
When the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, spoke he pointed out that the Amendment was in the name of three English and one Scottish Peer. I hope it will not be regarded as unhelpful for one who firmly believes in the United Kingdom's unity that a Welshman should now intervene.
We are discussing in effect both Amendments Nos. 25 and 26, and the effect of them, whatever their intention may be, will be, first, to delay for at the very least a very long time indeed election to a Scottish Assembly or a referendum. Try as one will to reduce the time taken by Boundary Commissions to evolve what is suggested—a reduction of the representation of the Scottish people from the present figure of 71 to 57—it would take many months, probably some years. It would be a task allocated to the independent Boundary Commission, who would no doubt move as fast as they could, but as the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, said, the last experience we had was that it took four years.
The other effect of the Amendments would be to indicate that your Lordships' House supports reducing Scottish representation from 71 to 57. What greater joy could either or both of those together give to the Nationalists? It would be regarded as betrayal and as an avoidance and would stir up, as one noble Lord said, far more than exists now, and I think the consequences would he very serious indeed.
On the question of the numbers of Scottish Members, as the noble Lord, Lord Home of the Hirsel, said, there has been over-representation for a very long time. But, at any rate, Parliament has thought fit to determine the right number of constituencies, both in 1918, when representation was considered, and in 1944; it was not fewer than 71 and that was repeated and embodied in the Redistribution of Seats Act in 1949. A number of noble Lords have pointed to the special circumstances in Scotland which justify that figure of representation of 518 71 but, as has been said, whatever view may be formed on that question, this Bill is not the appropriate machinery for dealing with it.
I come straight to the proposition that the Government do not accept that our proposals for devolution carry with them inevitable consequences for changes in representation in Parliament. In regard to the position and role of Scottish Members at Westminster, I agree with what was said by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, and this is a matter which I think comes up more expressly for consideration in respect of Amendment No. 210, so 1 have no doubt that we shall return more than once to the Midlothian concept.
§ The LORD CHANCELLOR
. West Lothian, of course; I trust that is a forgiveable error in the light of history. A great deal of concern has been expressed once again in this debate lest the Bill will have an adverse effect on the sovereignty of Parliament and the unity of the United Kingdom. In my view, that is a false analysis, a false prophecy, and I say that because we have sought throughout the work on the Bill to ensure that all the matters essential to the unity of the United Kingdom will remain the sole responsibility of Parliament. That responsibility will continue to be exercised after devolution here in Parliament.
It is in Parliament that the matters which are at the heart of our political system will remain to be considered. It is not right, if I may say so with respect to the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, to say that all domestic affairs of Scotland will no longer be a matter for the Parliament at Westminster. So far as the major matters that he indeed accepted remained responsibility of the Westminster Parliament, he has referred to some of them. It is in Parliament that will be determined foreign policy, the conduct of international affairs including our developing partnership in the Community; it is in Parliament that policies relating to national security and defence will be determined, that matters relating to trade and industry will be resolved, employment and industrial relations, the management of the economy.
519 The devolution scheme contains no tax-raising powers to be given to Scotland. That will remain the responsibility of Parliament, and indeed the decision as to how much money is to be conferred on the Assembly will also be a matter for the Parliament at Westminster. The exercise of responsibility for these matters vitally concerns every single member of the United Kingdom. They are at the heart of Government whether he be an Englishman, Scotsman, Northern Irishman or Welshman. In my submission, in the consideration of those matters Scottish Members will have as important a role as they have now.
In my view there are no grounds for seeking a reduction in the representation of the essential interests of those who happen to live in Scotland and Wales if and when devolution comes to pass. What is more, the proposals in no way diminish the inherent sovereignty of Parliament to legislate on all matters including those to be devolved. The maintenance of that sovereignty of Parliament is, I submit, central to the concept of devolution. It is both essential to the concept and is inescapable from it. It cannot be viewed, save on the narrow and chauvinistic approach of the Scottish National Party, as any thing other than the sure foundation on which devolution is to he built and secured.
Parliament is being asked by Bills to legislate to provide for devolution to elected Assemblies in Scotland and in Wales. It will retain its power to modify and transform that devolution settlement itself—what Parliament has given Parliament will he able to take away—and the sovereignty of Parliament, in my submission, rests on full representation from all parts of the United Kingdom. Incidentally, Parliament will also maintain an effective oversight of the use of the reserve powers in the Bill. Parliament will be able to move the rejection of Assembly Bills where appropriate, as provided for in Clause 35, the provisions of which might affect a reserved matter and the enactment of which would not be in the public interest. Similarly, exercise by the Secretary of State of the powers to prevent or require executive action and to revoke subordinate Instruments will be subject to the approval of Parliament, save where international 520 obligations are concerned. All this maintenance of the sovereignty of Parliament remaining at the heart and the pinnacle indeed of our political system underlines, in my submission, the need to maintain the full right of representation from Scotland.
May I add a further and perhaps broader and more fundamental point. On being elected to the other place Members of Parliament become representatives of United Kingdom interests as a whole. I know of no Member—at least I do not recollect meeting any in another place during my 29 years there—who regarded the contribution the MP makes to debates as being narrowly confined to the interests of his constituency and its particular concern. Members of Parliament are not delegates mandated to the views of any particular interest, and if the House will bear with me perhaps it will do no harm if I read again the extract from the famous speech of Edmund Burke to the electors of Bristol, which improves even on the rhetoric of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, if he will permit me with no unkindness to say so. The final words you remember are that,Parliament is not a congress of ambassadors from different and hostile interests, which interest each must maintain as an agent and advocate against other agents and advocates. Parliament is a deliberative assembly of one nation with one interest —that of the whole; where not local purposes, not local prejudices, ought to guide, but the general good resulting from the general reason of the whole.You choose a Member indeed but when you have chosen him he is not a Member for Bristol; he is a Member of Parliament.
§ Lord HAILSHAM of SAINT MARY LEBONE
Does not the noble and learned Lord realise that the logical implication of what he is now saying is that the Government would be perfectly well justified in giving representation solely to those constituencies likely to return Labour Members because then they would be just this congress of ambassadors of which he is speaking? Does he not realise that every word he said is engendering intense displeasure on this side of the House?
§ The LORD CHANCELLOR
I confess I hate to feel that any of my observations cause displeasure, but it is not the first time in my political exchanges with the noble and learned Lord here or elsewhere 521 that this may have come to pass. He must bear the disappointment and distaste with forbearance. He will have to continue to suffer it. May I now continue my speech?
§ Lord HAILSHAM of SAINT MARYLEBONE
If the noble and learned Lord provokes me he must remember that there is a Division Lobby.
§ The LORD CHANCELLOR
I am sorry, I must be permitted to continue my speech. I shall observe with interest whether the noble and learned Lord leads his Conservative colleagues into the Division Lobby to reduce Scottish representation by the course of this Bill from 71 to 57. We shall see. As I was saying, the function and role of the Scottish Member after devolution, if it comes to pass, in another place will be crucial because the crucial decisions affecting the United Kingdom will still be determined there, and the need therefore for representation on the scale which Scotland has enjoyed will at any rate remain in the foreseeable future.
The noble and learned Lord raised a legal matter as to whether the Long Title in any event precluded this proposal. He may not have noticed—and I say this in a wish for once not to anger him but to point it out—that the last Amendment by the noble Lord, Lord Morris, seeks to deal with this; whether it does it effectively or not we shall have to see. I admit that the anxieties that have arisen in the course of the debate about a matter which would certainly cause me grave concern—namely, that the unity of the United Kingdom and the sovereignty of Parliament would be adversely affected—exist, but I believe that they are not well founded. I, as a Welshman who owes so much to belonging to this great comradeship and fraternity of the United Kingdom, would certainly not seek to be a party to breaking it up. I am, I hope, as good a Welshman as any, but I also feel an intense loyalty to the unity of the United Kingdom. I do not believe that what is proposed will damage that unity or the sovereingty of Parliament.
§ 6.11 p.m.
§ Lord HARMAR-NICHOLLS
Before the noble Lord replies on this matter, I should like to say that I originally suggested, for very good reasons that have since been expanded, that we ought not to vote on this point because the issues were such as ought to come afterwards. I doubt whether I would have said it with the same confidence and belief had the noble and learned Lord made his speech earlier. Having respected his sensitivity, and having sat with him in both Houses for a good number of years, I have never witnessed a more insensitive reply to a debate than that which we have just heard from the nobleand learned Lord. Quite objectively and quite apart from any Party or political considerations, the way in which, despite the evidence that has been produced, he completely wiped the whole matter off as though those points of view did not exist, or ought not to exist, has shown insensitivity, which is rather sad. Even at this late stage, I still believe that the technically correct thing to do is not to push this matter to a vote now
I had hoped that before the noble Lord withdrew his Amendment, we should at any rate have had an indication from the Government Front Bench, as we have had from the Opposition Front Bench, that, once this Bill was being dealt with, this important matter, which ran alongside it and which in essence was part of it, would be dealt with separately. The noble and learned Lord has given no such indication: indeed, he has given the opposite indication. We started in the debate with the point that the Royal Commission had said that there was some justice in what was behind our Amendment. The noble and learned Lord has completely demolished that. He has indicated, in very clear words, that he thinks there is no justice in it. The only point that has come out of the reply that he has given your Lordships is that he is terrified of the Scottish Nationalists. He said that we must not do this, for,"Look at the joy that it would bring to the Scottish Nationalists; if we do not take action, the Scottish Nationalists will! "
Is it the duty of a Parliamentarian to do things out of fear of an extremist section, or is it his duty to look at matters on merit, and to deal with a question objectively as 523 it exists? The noble and learned Lord may quote Burke, but I wish that he had acted in many instances today more like Burke did on many occasions. I do not think that there is any suggestion that even the Long Title would not cover this matter if we wanted to push it. With great deference to my noble and learned friend, there is nothing in the Long Title which prevents the Bill laying down a formula as to how the Members to the Assembly should be elected. That is all our Amendment does, and it cannot in any way be contrary to the Long Title. I had hoped that the expression that has come from the Cross-Benches, from the Government Benches, from the Liberals (through the voice of their Leader, which has been quoted) as well as from these Benches would have called for a more sympathetic reply than that given by the noble and learned Lord.
The noble and learned Lord will have realised that, following the expressions made from all quarters of the Committee, his reply will have given much disappointment, as my noble friend Lord Harmar-Nicholls has said. From all parts, this concern was expressed not in a vindictive way, but simply on the basis that, if what is proposed in the Bill is done, it will in fact give Scotland special treatment twice over, and that doing that will be likely to create a problem in the future. I ask the noble and learned Lord whether, even having rejected those remarks as he did so swiftly, he will be good enough still to think about them again before the Report stage, because there is no doubt that there are many people who are as concerned as he is to see that the unity of the United Kingdom is maintained. Our real fear is that the Bill, as constructed, will damage that unity. The Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, and the Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Monson, are both seeking a solution. The noble and learned Lord in his reply wiped away—or so it appeared—any inclination to find a solution. I hope that he will think again before the Report stage, because we shall try to think again.
I should like to ask him two questions arising from his reply. How does he counter the argument, which was put forward when the Royal Commission reported, that over-representation under 524 these circumstances would constitute a grave injustice to the people of England? How does he reply to that? Secondly, will he not accept that if they do nothing, the Government will be giving special treatment to Scotland twice over?
§ The LORD CHANCELLOR
As I ventured to say, so far as the West Lothian question—to which that matter is directly related—is concerned, we shall be debating it shortly. My noble and learned friend and I will be dealing with it, and we shall come to it. The devolution Bill itself is an attempt to deal with a very serious problem; namely, the feeling, we think, of the Scottish people that political decisions upon matters of immediate concern to them are made remotely. That has engendered a position in Scotland which demands that action be taken with respect to it. The Bill has endeavoured, in considering all the factors which have been indicated today, to come to a solution. I was seeking to assure noble Lords that I believe the package that has emerged will be directed to ensure the two matters which have concerned the Committee most today; namely, the unity of the United Kingdom, and the sovereignty of Parliament. If in emphasising those matters, I have offended in any way, I am very sorry, but I should be very surprised if it were so. That is the position, and I adhere to the view which I have expressed as to the matters which arise on these Amendments.
§ Lord HAILSHAM of SAINT MARYLEBONE
I must say that the noble and learned Lord has wholly failed to understand both the case and the offence which he has given. What my noble friend said, and what I said, had nothing whatever to do with the so-called "West Lothian problem", which we expressly said had nothing to do with this Amendment. The question concerns the numbers of Scottish MPs who, after the institution of the Assembly, are to represent Scotland in Westminster.
The noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, and his noble friend sitting beside him, Viscount Thurso, said, in terms, that there was nobody in this Chamber who did not think that Scotland would be over-represented after the Bill was passed. The offence which the noble and learned Lord has given has directly 525 to do with that. The whole bent of his speech—every word of it, including the absurd repetition of Burke's letter or speech to his constituents—was directed to the proposition mat, after the Assembly, there was no reason whatever to alter the representation of Scotland. I find that profoundly unacceptable. If the noble and learned Lord finds that people vote against him in this Chamber it will only be because he has made such a provocative and insensitive speech. However, we have more sense than that, and, I hope, more sense than the noble and learned Lord has shown. I only hope that he will think again before he speaks again on this subject.
§ Lord MACKIE of BENSHIE
Since I have been quoted, perhaps I may say a few words on this subject. It appears to me that we are getting rather hot about a point which has been covered over and over again in debate. I said that our Party recognises quite simply and frankly that, with a good and working Assembly, the case for extra Members in Scotland would tend to fall. If the Lord Chancellor disagrees with this, then he is in line with the noble Lord, Lord Home of the Hirsel, who thought it would not be altered.
But as we have had such an excellent Second Reading debate and as we have had such excellent debates in Committee, I hope we are not going to degenerate into waving the big numbers because we disagree. I agree that it is enough to make one want to force a Division if people keep quoting Burke at you, but perhaps it is not wholly in line with the traditions of your Lordships' House (which, as a new Member, I hesitate to point out to anybody) to use the vote, the big stick, instead of argument. I hope the Conservative Party will carry on in the way they started, and will use argument instead of waving the big stick, however badly the Government may put a good case.
§ Lord HAILSHAM of SAINT MARYLEBONE
But the real point is this. If the Government will not listen to argument, they must face voting. If they will listen to argument, then of course we can go on as we have been going on; but the trouble was that the noble and learned Lord read out his speech as if nothing had been said during the course of the debate. Even the noble Lord, 526 Lord Brown, behind him, said that there was no argument about the over-representation; and as I understand it nobody made a contrary proposition until the noble and learned Lord read out his speech, including the awful repetition of Burke.
§ The LORD CHANCELLOR
I am wondering, after that intervention, whether the noble and learned Lord was listening to my speech. It may well be that when he reads it in the morning, in the calm mood which so often characterises him in spite of these occasional outbursts, he will think that, for once, he has done an injustice to me. I have endeavoured to deal with the matters raised. It is true that 1 was referring to notes on part of the constitutional matter, which I think is not unimportant when someone in my office takes the liberty of expressing a view about it. I have certainly listened to what has been said, and I endeavoured to deal with it. Indeed, I called in aid some noble Lords who appeared, curiously enough, in spite of the indignation of the noble and learned Lord, to agree with what I was saying; and there it is.
§ The Earl of ONSLOW
There are just two questions I should like to ask the noble and learned Lord, after his speech. Having argued that devolution means over-representation, that presumably means that the Government are now instantly going to introduce a Bill to increase the number of Irish seats; because his argument cuts that way, just as well as it does for Scotland—and in my humble opinion it is not a very good argument. The second thing is that in some of my remarks I asked the noble and learned Lord to give an undertaking that when this was discussed the question of Labour Party political advantage was not part of the Government's thinking.
Lord HOME of the HIRSEL
I do not know what will be the eventual number of Scots Members of Parliament at Westminster. I suspect the fair number is probably 57, and I think that if I had to bet now I would bet that that will be the eventual number. All I want to say is that I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Monson, is going to change his mind and press this issue to a Division, but, if he does, then, as one of my noble friends said earlier, I think he 527 must realise that the mathematical formula in this Amendment would simply be chaotic because of the chaotic conditions in the Highlands, and I should have to vote against it for that reason.
§ Lord MONSON
If I should decide to ask the leave of the Committee to withdraw this Amendment, it will certainly not be because I can possibly agree with the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, the noble Lord, Lord Home of the Hirsel, or the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, that, to quote Lord Shepherd's words, any change ought not to come from this Bill. On the contrary, I think it is vital that a change be written into this Bill, if not today then at a later stage. The noble Earl, Lord Onslow, has put his finger on the reason why. If and when this Bill becomes law, there will be absolutely no incentive for the Government to take measures to reduce Scottish representation to fair proportions. Furthermore, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, pointed out that it was a simple matter of justice and fairness; while my noble friend Lord Ellenborough made the excellent point that it would be quite unwise for the Scottish electorate to face the referendum with a false prospectus being laid before them: they ought to be given the clear-cut choice of the present over-representation at Westminster and no Assembly, or an Assembly with reduced—but still fair—representation. Here, I am bound to say that I cannot possibly agree with the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor that any sensible and fair-minded Scotsman would consider fair representation, at English levels, to be a"betrayal ".
However, I am to some extent persuaded by the arguments of the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, and indeed of the noble Lord, Lord Home of the Hirsel, that there is perhaps a case for a very slight over-representation, taking into account the under-populated Highland areas. The noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, suggested 60 seats rather than the 57 which my Amendment, if passed, would produce; and I think there is something to be said for that. I think it would also meet some of the objections raised by the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie.
In passing, I may say that I started out by welcoming the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, which seemed at first 528 to support my case, but which turned out to be something of a double-edged claymore. I should also like to see if I can meet the constitutional objections raised by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, although I am bound to say that, after prolonged discussion, the Chairman of Committees in another place found there was nothing improper in debating, and possibly ultimately passing, similar Amendments.
It has been a most useful discussion. I am grateful to all those who have participated, and I am particularly grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot of Harwood, and the noble Baroness, Lady Ward of North Tyneside, for their support. I assure them that I intend to move a revised and possibly somewhat"softened Amendment at a later stage—unless, that is, Amendment No. 26, which is down in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, and the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, is passed this evening, which may perhaps solve our problem. But so far as this Amendment goes, I feel I need a little more time to think, and I therefore beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 6.28 p.m.
§ Lord WIGG moved Amendment No. 26:
Page 2, line 12, at end insert —
("(6) No referendum under section 80 of this Act shall be held before Parliament has determined how many parliamentary constituencies there shall be in Scotland after the enactment of this Act.").
The noble Lord said
I beg to move the Amendment in the Marshalled List which stands in my name and in that of the noble Earl, Lord Onslow. I feel that in some way I am responsible for the tension we have just experienced because I noticed that, when the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor came to reply, almost his opening words coupled my Amendment with the preceding Amendment. I took it (translating it into language which I understand, which is of course far less refined than that used by the Lord Chancellor) that he was inviting me, when I moved my Amendment, to "belt up"and to be as brief as possible. I intended to do that; but I must say that, as his speech progressed. that sort of jocular mood concerning myself, with which he started, vanished.
529 I have known the Lord Chancellor, in another place, for a very long time, and I thought that his language, or rather the whole tone of his speech, was not in keeping with the agility that he usually shows. For example, to say of another place in the context in which he was saying it that what Parliament gives Parliament can take away is all right for the nursery but surely not for an assembly of this kind, most of the Members of which have spent a lifetime in politics. It may well be that theoretically what Parliament gives another Parliament can take away, but even that is a bit doubtful and there are a few obstacles.
The idea with a Bill of this kind—a Bill that has been fought as it has for the length of time that it has been considered and debated and considering the emotion that it arouses in Scotland—that what one Parliament can do you can then turn round and go back on and do something quite different seems to be divorced from political reality. I put down this Amendment—and I did not canvass any support for it—trying to find a way round what I perceive as a great difficulty. I have done what I have done ever since took part in public life: I have done my homework. I studied with very great care what was said in another place. I noticed that the Conservative Party had put down an Amendment to refer the Bill to a Speaker's Conference.
If I had been there 1 would have spoken against it because I do not believe that a Speaker's Conference, dealing with boundaries, could reach a solution without, as it were, approaching the role. When the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, spoke and made the point that lie did not want this Bill to change anything, I got to my feet to point out that the role of the constituencies, their sizes and number are heads and tails of the same penny. You cannot split them. You can try, if you like, to do something in one Parliament and hope to reverse it in another.
The point that I want to make is that Parliament in this country—thank Heaven! —is not something suspended in the air supported neither from above or below. It has its roots in the hearts and lives and aspirations of the people who sent it there. This is what my Amendment is about. Nothing could be simpler or more plainly expressed.
530 I do not want the constituents, be they Scottish, Welsh or English, to buy a gold brick. They must know what they are buying. And they need to know it before the Elections; and it needs to be spelled out. The purpose of my Amendment is in realising from the debates in another place that a Speaker's Conference would not solve it. Speaker after speaker, so far as I can see, was saying that the problem is completely unsolvable. One is faced here with the problem of overrepresentation. Quite clearly, if overrepresentation gives one Party an advantage, then it must be at the expense of somebody else. I do not need to go back and read Burke to arrive at that conclusion. It is obvious and has been a real grievance for a long time.
If you start to change—then never mind what Lord Shepherd has said—you are going to change. That is why you do it. You may try to head off the Scottish Nationalists and hope at the same time to leave things as they are. That is what the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor is doing. He is a great lawyer, a very skilled advocate. What he was doing was engaging in verbal knitting. If 1 were a Scottish Nationalist, I would take his speech and turn it into a gramophone record and play it in every constituency. The result would be a great impetus for the Scottish Nationalists, because what he said, so far as Scotland is concerned, was the biggest gold brick ever; that nothing will change at all; that it is all going to be reserved for another place; that everything will remain the same. Of course, everything is not going to remain the same. It may be that the present Prime Minister when Home Secretary—and he started this off—and Mr. Wilson when Prime Minister thought that they would be able to get away with it and that everything would remain the same. But Jack is out of the box; and they cannot get him hack. This is what the Bill is about; they are trying to put Jack in the box again—in the same box but only one Jack. But there is more than one Jack!
I am going to give the Lord Chancellor some advice. The first requirement of a democrat is not mathematics. The noble Lord, Lord Home, is right. You cannot solve this problem through mathematical formulae. That cock will not fight. The first requirement individually and collectively of a democrat is the ability to make 531 up your mind on very limited evidence. The genius of the British people down the centuries has been, whenever they have been faced with the facts, that they have never refused to face them. That is why when the crunch came in the last war that once again our democracy showed its strength.
All that I plead on this issue —and I do not ask anyone to accept the sincerity of what I say: but I assert it—is that on this issue as on the Common Market issue and on conscrption, I stand where I stand and I say why. I am not against devolution per se. And I was not against the Common Market per se. I am in favour of conscription. What I want people with whom I have political contact to understand is why I say it. I say it because I believe it to he true. You must make your intentions plain to those you are seeking to guide. That is the second requirement of those who seek to lead in a democracy: get your facts right and stand by what you say and make every effort to get those facts across.
If the Government have any sense—and I say that as a lifelong member of the Labour Party—they will go to endless trouble to make sure that this is spelled out, so that those who take part in the referendum coining up to the General Election understand exactly where the Government stand. We do not want here to play around with the size of constituencies or hide behind a gloss because the facts are awkward. Therefore, I ask the Government to face up to the really fundamental issue, the all important objective: that the voters must know—not afterwards but before—what the sizes of the constituencies are going to be. The Boundary Commission must report some time after 1979 so that the size of those constituencies will inevitably affect the role. If the existing over-representation of 71 is to continue, that fact ought to be known. If, on the other hand, you are going to put it right, and it went the other way, it is likely that those who may be very keen on devolution, or on decentralisation or, (as my noble friend Lord Shinwell for the convenience of the moment described it) autonomy or whatever name you may care to put on the jampot, the name is known and the contents are known.
532 The Amendment that I have put on to the Marshalled List—supported on the other side of the Committee, for which I am grateful—I would ask the Committee to accept so that, as an absolute minimum, before the referendum is held the electorate should know, as a result of the deliberations of the Boundary Commission, what size the constituencies are going to be and the number of them, not for the convenience of any one political Party but for the convenience of democracy itself.
§ The Earl of ONSLOW
I put my name to this Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, because I felt that perhaps there ought to be an alternative to the method suggested by the noble Lord. Lord Monson, for dealing with the problem. The noble Lord, Lord Brown, in his speech on the last Amendment said that every Member of this House recognised that there was a problem. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor showed that he was in a minority of one. He sat down and refused to answer the question of whether it was done for Party political advantage or not or whether it had been raised.
§ The LORD CHANCELLOR
Does the noble Earl really think that is a question to put to me? This was a decision of the Government which was taken after examining the whole position on the basis of their view of the political and constitutional solution to the problems arising in Scotland. It was done on that basis, and I entirely repudiate any suggestion by the noble Lord that this has been motivated wholly by squalid Party political considerations.
§ The Earl of ONSLOW
The noble Lord asks me whether I think it an appropriate question to ask. I would hesitate to say that I asked it because I thought it was an appropriate question to ask. The noble and learned Lord has said that I suggested that it was done for squalid political considerations only. He has denied that it was done for squalid political considerations only; he has not denied that there were not squalid political considerations involved.
§ 6.41 p.m.
§ The Earl of ONSLOW
The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor refused to face facts. The noble Lord, Lord Wigg, brought out this point with his usual skill. One of the other reasons why I put my name to Lord Wigg's Amendment was because it seemed to be a method of dealing with a problem which was felt widely in England, and that he represented one tradition of England. He sat with distinction and for a long time in another place for the Labour Party, representing a Midlands industrial constituency. I have sat in the House of Lords with considerably less distinction for a much shorter time; my interests are agriculture and I live in the South of England. So there is a contrast of background and history between the two noble Lords who have put down this Amendment. This underlines the widespread feeling that exists in this country.
The noble Lord, Lord Brown, also said that it was better to have a second-rate Bill than no Bill at all. I find that an infinitely depressing argument. Surely the House of Lords prides itself on being a collection of some of the most intelligent and experienced people in the Kingdom. If we are prepared to accept the second-rate, then we ought to go home, pack up and do nothing.
There is no doubt that the membership of the House of Commons, as a question of numbers, was dealt with by the Government of Ireland Act 1920; so it is perfectly legitimate, in my submission, for this situation to be dealt with in the Scottish Bill. The Amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, and myself enables it to be dealt with slightly more quickly. We are not forcing the House of Commons to do it; we are suggesting that it should be done and that it should be discussed.
The following point has not been raised as an argument but it might be worth doing so now: people could say that it is not for a hereditary or appointed House to say how an elected House should elect itself. I do not think that that argument is tenable, especially as I suspect that there could one day be a"noble Lord, Lord Skinner of Bolsover ", who at present spends his whole time discussing and complaining about the membership of the House of Lords. The Amendment post 534 pones the referendum: we know a referendum is a fairly dubious and recent constitutional innovation, but it is there and I should have thought that Parliament itself could have discussed it.
Finally, why the Scottish Nationalists should be appeased by having 71 as opposed to 57 seats, I do not know. That is an argument of astronomical flimsiness —if that is not mixing metaphors. If we make sure that Parliament reinvestigates this question properly, this will make sure that the Scottish people as a whole will have to face facts. If they read the reports of today's debate, they will read that there was only one man who made a complacent speech and who regarded the present state of affairs as being idyllic.
§ 6.44 p.m.
§ Lord SOMERS
Before we go any further, may I ask the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, this question? When he speaks of the size of constituencies what does he mean? Is he referring to population or square miles? I am sure the noble Lord will agree that, in Scotland, square miles are a serious consideration.
§ Lord WIGG
I did not want to prolong my speech. I referred several times a week ago to the principle of one vote, one value. I should have mentioned this earlier because I noticed that the noble Earl, Lord Ferrets, when he referred to my speech later that night, spoke of"one man, one vote ". I believe it should be one vote, one value, in so far as it is practicable. At that time I quoted the source of my inspiration as Mr. Churchill. He produced the axiom of one vote, one value, which obviously means that there may be some constituencies, particularly in Scotland, which will be very large indeed. For that reason, the size obviously has to be limited.
I kept away from attempting to define the size of constituencies, either from a geographical or a numerical point of view. These are political decisions. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Home of the Hirsel, on this point. The political instrument for carrying out the survey is the Boundary Commission. If the Boundary Commission makes its report in the light of all the circumstances, then to some extent one is meeting the point—I will not say harbouring the suspicions—made by the noble Earl, Lord Onslow.
535 There are those who think that, over the years, the handling of the Scottish constituency question has been a piece of gerrymandering by the Labour Party. It is obvious to me that those days have gone. I do not believe that 71 seats can be justified. Therefore, it is a political decision as to what the number should be, and it should be treated politically. On the point that was mentioned, I personally would go as near as is possible to one vote, one value. The difficulties are certainly great in Scotland. There are also parts of England where there are difficulties.
§ 6.48 p.m.
§ Lord HARMAR-NICHOLLS
The noble Earl, Lord Onslow, was quite right in saying that this Amendment goes along with the previous one. One upholds the other. This Amendment strengthens the last argument, and the last argument strengthens this one. This Amendment is quite clear: we are committed to a referendum under this Bill if it becomes an Act. The noble Lord, Lord Wigg, is quite right, before one asks the people of Scotland to give a decision in a referendum, they must know what it is that they are deciding upon. It may well be that there will be many citizens in Scotland who will say:"If the price I have to pay for the Assembly is giving up X number of seats in the Westminster Parliament, I will not do it ". Others may say:"That is a cheap price. I prefer the Assembly to the membership in Parliament ". But they ought to know.
I do not think there is any need to say in answering that that the time factor would defeat the Bill. In supporting this Amendment I would not ask that the Boundary Commission should be called into being and give a decision. I would be satisfied at this stage if we could get the Government Front Bench, the Opposition Front Bench and the Liberals to give an undertaking that, following the passing of this Bill, if ever it is passed, they would reduce the Westminster membership for the reasons which have already been given down to a certain level. The figure I suggested was 60 as against 57.
If this Amendment had been put down from these Benches, I suppose that it could have been called a wrecking Amendment. But it has been put down from 536 the Government Benches by someone who is experienced in Government matters. I think—if I may lobby for the reply that I should like—that the response we should like is this:"This question will be looked at to see if words can be found which will identify what the membership of Westminster will be after the referendum, and an undertaking is given to adhere to whatever formula is recommended ". That may well do the trick. I believe that before one asks people to give a decision on a referendum, they should know both the headlines and the small words that go to make up the package. That, I gather, is what this Amendment asks for.
§ Lord HAILSHAM of SAINT MARYLEBONE
I do hope that when the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor comes to reply he will give a more conciliatory reply than he gave last time—and when I say"conciliatory"I do not mean merely being nice, mellifluous or even unduly complimentary: I mean that he should deal with the substance of the case. It is his failure to do that which has caused the offence on this side. The noble and learned Lord chided my noble friend behind me for lowering the tone of the debate. Let me tell him why I think it is his fault that the debate has taken on this change in tone.
One of the fundamentals of democracy is that the different areas of a united country should be properly represented. I tried to help the noble and learned Lord in my original speech. Obviously this is not an altogether simple problem but one factor, and perhaps the predominant factor, which has been recognised in all countries is the number of votes in a constituency, whatever that may be. Obviously, sparseness of area counts for something. Nobody, for example. would expect the area that was formerly represented by my noble friend Lord Home of the Hirsel to have the same number of votes available as a closely-packed urban constituency: there is too much geographical area to cover. Equally we have to recognise the third factor that I mentioned earlier: namely, that the boundaries of the local community have to be taken into account. That has also been universally recognised, but the predominant factor is that large numbers of people should not be gerrymandered into large constituencies and small numbers of people expanded into very small constituencies.
537 The noble and learned Lord, with all his knowledge of Burke, which most of us learned when we were still at school, failed to mention the most important part of the function of a modern House of Commons. It is to choose the political colour of a Government. That is its most important function of all. It decides whether there will be a coalition Government, a Labour Government, a Conservative Government or a Liberal Government: that is its function. If you cause great areas of a country to be overrepresented and other great areas to be under-represented, you are gerrymandering democracy itself; and I wish I could make the noble and learned Lord understand this very simple point. When my noble friend Lord Onslow attacked the noble Lord and asked him a rather plain and possibly uncomplimentary question, I must tell him this: we on this side remember what was done in 1948 about the boundaries of constituencies by a Labour Home Secretary. We remember what was done in 1967 when the present Prime Minister was the Labour Home Secretary; we remember what was done later, when the present Prime Minister was the Labour Home Secretary, about postponing local government elections.
The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor cannot, with his great personal charm, prevent our entertaining those memories when we find him saying what he said from his brief in answer to the previous debate. His point was (I am only paraphrasing him because I was not able to take a verbatim note) that it did not matter that Scotland was being overrepresented; it did not matter that the Assembly would take over a great deal of the work from the hands of the present Members. It did not matter that Northern Ireland had a different basis of representation during the currency of Stormont. He regards that as unimportant. Well, we do not so regard it: we regard it as of the essence of the matter.
We recognise, of course, that Parliament is a congress of, as it were, representatives and not mandated delegates. We have known that ever since we were 12, but it does not have anything to do with the present situation and the present subject under debate. It has nothing to do with the Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, or that of the noble Lord, Lord Monson, which preceded it. We know 538 that Members of Parliament are supposed to represent the interests of their country as a whole; but we also know, having lived most of our lives in public life, that what they regard as the interests of the country as a whole is slightly influenced by their political affiliations. If the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor does not recognise these facts of life, he must not complain if my noble friend Lord Onslow finds him a little exasperating. And of course we know that Scotland did have over-representation, for perfectly identifiable reasons; but we think that this particular Bill alters the fundamental situation.
The noble Lord, Lord Wigg, has a great deal to be said for his Amendment. 1 hope that at this stage we may he able to pass things over perhaps until Report, until we have had time to think about what has been said. But he says he agrees with us to this extent: that if the people of Scotland want their Assembly there are those among us, including myself—though not all my noble friends behind me—who say that if they want their Assembly they must have it after the referendum, but that they must also recognise in doing so that the people of England and of Wales, who will henceforth enter into a new type of partnership with their friends in Scotland, will have something to say about the extent of representation which the Scots shall have in the future in Westminster.
Knowing that, the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, has reason on his side. He says that when the referendum comes it may or may not be the case that his Amendment is the right way of dealing with the matter, but when the referendum comes the people of Scotland should be under no illusion as to what is to happen. The noble Lord, Lord Mackie, was right: they must know what they are buying. They must know whether they are buying over-representation plus an Assembly, or an Assembly without over-representation—because sooner or later the people of this country are not going to listen to the sort of nonsense to which the noble and learned Lord has treated this Committee.
§ The LORD CHANCELLOR
I am very sorry that the atmosphere of this debate has now moved in such an unpleasant direction—not, if I may say so, assisted by the extravagant words of the 539 noble and learned Lord. But I am accustomed to these occasional outbursts which are fortunately compensated for by a quick reaction of ordinary courtesies afterwards. The Amendment which my noble friend has moved certainly raised, as the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, has said, some at any rate of the main issues which arose in his Amendment. I certainly meant no discourtesy to my noble friend by dealing with the two in my speech, or seeking to deal with them. I quite agree that when the referendum takes place what is being offered should be clearly stated; and, whether your Lordships like it or not, what the Government are stating is that the proposal is that there should be 71 Scottish Members of Parliament.
That figure was not arrived at by a gerrymandering Labour Government, but arrived at in 1944 under a provision of the 1944 House of Commons (Redistribution of Seats) Act during the Government of a great leader of the country, Winston Churchill. It was not a Labour contrivance. It is true that there was a repetition of that figure in 1949, so that the parentage of the figure of 71 is an honourable one, and it will remain as the figure which will be presented to the Scottish people when the referendum comes.
As I think my noble friend already concedes, the effect of passing this Amendment would inevitably be a denial for a very long time to the Scottish people of an opportunity of deciding on the issue, because, as he has drafted it—I am not, of course, turning on a pure question of drafting—it says:No referendum … shall be held before Parliament has determined how many parliamentary constituencies there shall be in Scotland.That, of course, means that there would have to be legislation in Parliament in a new Redistribution of Seats Act before a referendum could take place, and Parliament would normally operate in that field only after an examination of the matter by the Boundary Commission. So it would inevitably he a very long interval of time. I know that my noble friend is eager to get up, so I shall give way to him.
§ Lord WIGG
The point is that you can play this long or short, according to what you want. The wording is"Parliament 540 has determined"and I have left it like that. 1 freely concede that these are political questions. Obviously my views are not as informed as they ought to be, and are not as informed as the Government's would be. But if the Government accept the Amendment, there is nothing in the world that need delay the referendum by a day if they are so minded. It was suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, there that could be a Speaker's Conference, in the sense of a meeting between the main political Parties and a decision could be reached as to how many seats there should be. The Boundary Commission are going to report. Personally, I should prefer to go to the Boundary Commission and ask them to get on with it. It could be done, if the Government wanted to do it. On the other hand, if my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor wants to make it respectable and use the argument of a long delay, it is up to him.
§ The LORD CHANCELLOR
I have put the point that what is proposed would require prior determination by Parliament itself on this matter, with an Act of Parliament and an inevitable period of delay. We have covered this ground for a substantial period of time, and I have indicated to my noble friend that the stance of the Government in the presentation of the devolution Bill is that Scottish representation in Parliament should be 71 Members. I have endeavoured in my speech to indicate that, as the major problems of the governance of the United Kingdom will remain in Westminster, that does not seem to the Government to be an unreasonable suggestion and is, indeed, one that meets the needs of Scotland itself.
§ 7.3 p.m.
I do not know what the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, intends to do about his Amendment, but I hope that he will see fit not to press it this evening. There is a great deal to be said for it, and I think that he has a lot of sympathy among noble Lords for what he has put forward. It is infinitely more gentle than the last Amendment. But I accept what the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor says, in so far as if Parliament chooses the number of MPs who are to represent Scotland, it does not just pluck a figure out of the air. It is bound to 541 take advice, whether from the Boundary Commission, from a Speaker's Conference, from a Committee of Members of Parliament or whatever it is. It is bound to seek advice.
The mere fact of seeking advice will take some time. That would delay the referendum, under the noble Lord's Amendment, and that would be construed by some as wrecking the Bill. On the other hand, I think that the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, is entirely right to say that if a referendum is to be held on this Bill the people of Scotland should know precisely what is involved, and should know, if there is a price to pay, what is the pice that they are being invited to pay. It may well be, as my noble friend Lord Home said, that if he had to make a guess, and if his guess was anything to go by, the figure of Scottish MPs would eventually come down to 57. There is a sound argument for saying that, if that is to be the case, it is much better for the people of Scotland to know that in advance of voting in a referendum on this Bill.
For that reason, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, will not press this Amendment. But I hope, equally, that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor will be kind enough to give this matter further consideration. He has said that it is the Government's stance that there should be 71 Scottish representatives. We understand that that is the Government's stance. On the other hand, I am quite certain that the noble and learned Lord, with his ability, great as it is, to understand the other point of view, will accept that there has been a very great deal of concern expressed this evening not about denying Scotland the right of representation in Parliament, but simply about the fact that under the Bill as it is at the moment there could be special treatment twice over, and, in many people's view, the possibility of a lack of harmony and a diversity of interests as a result, which would affect the United Kingdom and its unity.
I hope that the noble and learned Lord will not totally shut his ear to these thoughts, which have been expressed with very great conviction this evening, because I am certain that somebody will return to this matter on Report stage, and it will be helpful if we can have some kind of concordat of agreement, as 542 opposed to the noble and learned Lord saying"This is the Government's view and we are not going to budge, whatever anybody else says."
§ Lord TAYLOR of GRYFE
I am attracted to the Amendment which has been moved, for two reasons. One is the certain democratic logic in the argument put forward, that a vote in any part of the United Kingdom should have more or less equal value. Secondly, the one argument that encouraged my sympathy was the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Brown, to the effect that,"We have to pass this Bill, or the Scot Nats will get you That has been the argument for the Bill right from the beginning. I spent a little time in the last week or two in Garscadden, where there is a by-election and, so far as I could assess the feeling, I found that the Assembly was not a very important issue. I am satisfied that the Labour Party will win the Garscadden by-election, not because they have the Assembly in their programme, but because they have at long last attacked the Scottish Nationalists and exposed them for the spurious Nationalists that they are. So I do not think that we should be unduly influenced by the argument that we must get this Bill through, even if it is a second-rate Bill, or the Nats will move towards a Northern Ireland situation.
At the same time, as 1 am attracted by the logic of the Amendment, I suggest that it be not pressed. If there was no provision for a referendum on this matter, which required 40 per cent. of the electorate to support the Bill, I should perhaps support the Amendment. But the weaknesses of this Bill, which have been exposed in the long debates this afternoon, are the kind of weaknesses which will be exposed and demonstrated to the people of Scotland during the debate on the referendum. The West Lothian question has been discussed here; the fact that my local Member of Parliament for West Renfrew-shire can debate and discuss education in the West Riding of Yorkshire, but cannot debate and discuss education in Scotland, although he is a Scottish MP.
There are anomalies of that kind, and there has been the warning of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, that if the figure of 71 is maintained, then sooner or later the people of England will complain about over-representation in 543 Scotland, and that this will be a source of constant irritation which is not good for Parliament. I expect that in the debate on the referendum in Scotland these matters will be fully exposed, and I suspect that the Scottish people will see the weaknesses in the Bill. For that reason may I suggest to the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, that at this stage he should withdraw his Amendment and that we should proceed with the Bill. However, those of us who feel that the Assembly is not so important in the Scottish situation as others seem to feel will at least get the opportunity to debate that matter publicly when the referendum takes place.
§ Lord WIGG
I am very grateful to those noble Lords who have taken part in the debate on this Amendment. I am going to accept the obvious feeling of the Committee and ask for leave to withdraw, but before I do so may I make this point. When the Government put this Bill on the stocks I believe that they ought to have taken into account the political realities of the situation. One can get away with the over-representation of Scotland and the political advantage that it gives to the Labour Party so long as "Pussy" does not wake up; but once one puts Pussy out in the garden a lot of people will take notice. So one cannot bring Pussy in again and imagine that notice has not been taken of it and that the problem will go away.
This seems to me to be the Government's great weakness. Whenever they are confronted with a problem, instead of grappling with it they invent some kind of formula for glancing it off, hoping that it will go away. But the one lesson which politics have taught me, whatever the subject, is that the reality of the situation lies in the background and that one must deal with it. Once the devolution Bill became a political reality, in the sense that public debate would take place, there was no longer any question of Scotland continuing permanently to be over-represented. Those are the political facts of the situation.
I ask leave, therefore, to withdraw the Amendment, although at the Report stage I shall again seek to put it down. In the meantime I hope to have access to somebody with greater experience and wisdom 544 than I possess to find out whether a formula can be found which will not delay the progress of the Bill. I do not want to do that. If it is the wish of the Scottish people to have an Assembly they should have it, provided that they realise that whatever one has in this life has to be paid for in hard coinage. If the Scottish people wish to have an Assembly they must know what they are buying. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Baroness LLEWELYN-DAVIES of HASTOE
I beg to move that the House do now resume.
Moved accordingly, and, on Question. Motion agreed to.