HL Deb 28 June 1979 vol 400 cc1617-61

3.33 p.m.

The MINISTER of STATE, SCOTTISH OFFICE (The Earl of Mansfield) rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 22nd March be approved. The noble Earl said: My Lords, a year ago much of our time and effort was being directed towards the Scotland Bill. The prospect of that Bill passing onto the statute book was not one which commended itself to a large number of your Lordships. Nevertheless, the House debated the Bill extensively before eventually, having passed through all its stages in both Houses, it received the Royal Assent and became law.

I should say that whatever reservations your Lordships may have had about the Bill and its possible effects, the whole House admired the manner with which it was handled by the noble and learned Lord, Lord McCluskey, who achieved a formidable parliamentary reputation. But this afternoon your Lordships in effect are going through the last rites before the Act is laid to rest. In this speech I do not intend to engage once more upon the merits, or lack of them, of the Scotland Act, but in view of the fact that nothing stands still, particularly in the constitutional sense, it is perhaps right that I should briefly trace the history of the matter.

There have been 10 years of intense debate about devolution for Scotland. In the second half of that decade, the then Labour Government propounded a radical scheme involving a directly elected Scottish Assembly, from which would be drawn a Scottish executive, which would together wield both legislative and executive powers. That scheme aroused deep concern inside and outside Parliament. With great difficulty and only at the second attempt it reached the statute book but, on the insistence of Parliament, its implementation was made subject to a referendum, the results of which were to be advisory to Parliament. The referendum provisions included a requirement that, if the result of the referendum fell short of a prescribed standard of what might be described as full-hearted consent, the Government were to lay before Parliament the draft of an order repealing the Act. The referendum result indeed fell far short of that prescribed standard of consent and now we are to debate the consequential repeal order.

There are some potential confusions which we need to clarify in our minds. Referendums are not a traditional feature of British political machinery. There have been only three; for continued membership of the EEC, for devolution in Scotland and for devolution in Wales. The last two were held on the same day under virtually identical provisions.

There will be a separate opportunity to debate the Welsh case, but my immediate concern is with any contrast any noble Lord might seek to draw between the EEC and the Scottish referendums.

Any such contrast would surely concern the 40 per cent. provision, which I described a moment ago as the full-hearted consent requirement. Specifically, this provision—that is, Section 82(2) of the Scotland Act 1978—declares that if the Secretary of State judges that less than 40 per cent. of the persons entitled to vote in the referendum have voted Yes, he shall lay before Parliament the draft of the order which we are now debating. There was no such provision in the EEC referendum. Bearing in mind the rarity of British referendums, up till now at any rate, it is not surprising that our practice on such matters is less than totally standardised.

What matters is whether the principle underlying the provision is a politically legitimate one, and I strongly suggest that it is. That principle is that easily alterable or reversible political steps may be justified by even the narrowest of majorities but that changes which are likely to prove irreversible need something much more. That thought clearly underlay the argument in the other place, where the provision with which we are now concerned was first inserted. Your Lordships had no difficulty in accepting the provision when it came before this House for examination.

A few have shown a disposition to argue that, as the Scotland Act could in theory be amended in exactly the same way as any other Act of Parliament, there is no reason why voting requirements needed to justify it should differ from the norm. The Government are in no doubt that, if implemented, repeal, or even substantial amendment thereafter, would prove enormously difficult, if not impossible. On this point I do not think I can do better than quote the former Secretary of State for Scotland, who is shortly to join us, who in a public speech made shortly after his Government had published their major White Paper, in November 1975, is reported as saying: Once we tread that path, there is no turning back". It is worth noting that, whatever the provisions concerning the EEC referendum in 1975, the result over the United Kingdom as a whole would have met the requirements of the 40 per cent. provision had there been such a provision at the time. The results of the Scottish devolution referendum were very different. Of the Scottish electorate as defined for the purposes of the Act, 32.85 per cent. voted, Yes, 30.78 per cent. voted, No, and the balance, a substantially larger fraction than either, did not vote at all. There have been arguments, which cannot be resolved because the facts are not available, as to how many non-voters may by intention have been No voters because they were misleadingly informed that an abstention equalled a No vote. What is beyond argument is that those who wished to support the Act were well warned of the necessity of recording their votes. The essential facts of the result are, therefore, that less than a third of the Scottish electorate registered support; that an almost equal number recorded positive opposition; and that fully two-thirds recorded either positive opposition or total absence of enthusiasm.

Clearly, in those circumstances, it would be indefensible to implement the Scotland Act in the light of that result. But I think that the result also has a rather wider implication. I accept that some, like my noble friend Lord Home of the Hirsel, envisaged the possibility of certain specific improvements in the Scotland Act. But he made it clear that he was speaking for himself, not for the Conservative Party. More important, anyone who closely followed the referendum campaign must, I think, admit that the Scottish electorate did not see themselves as voting on this or that detailed provision of the Act.

They saw themselves as balancing, on the one hand, the possibility of greater freedom of manoeuvre within Scottish government against, on the other hand, the certainty of greater cost and complexity in government, and the risk of loss of Scottish influence at Westminster almost immediately and unwanted independence later. The result must, therefore, be interpreted in that light, and in that light no Government would have any mandate for the reintroduction of any scheme involving an elected Scottish Assembly with legislative and executive powers.

The Conservative Party has called for inter-party talks for a very long time. In December, at the beginning of the referendum campaign, it published a pamphlet setting out what it thought might be the agenda of party talks. The pamphlet specified four theoretically possible options: firstly, an improvement of parliamentary procedures for the handling of Scottish business; secondly, an inquisitorial assembly; thirdly, an assembly with legislative and executive powers; and fourthly, a quasi-federal system. In the pamphlet, our party made clear that the third option—that is, a proposal somewhat like the Scotland Act—was likely to be unstable, and that it could be made stable only if it evolved quickly into some form of federalism.

But the pamphlet also made it clear that at that time there was little sign of a wish for any form of federalism in England. In the interval there has certainly been no sign of the growth of a demand for any form of federalism. And the referendum result, as I have argued, must be interpreted as destroying whatever mandate anyone thought there was for an administration with legislative and executive powers in Scotland only. We are therefore left with the remaining two options; that is to say, an improvement in parliamentary procedures, and an inquisitional assembly, plus any options additional to the four that I have listed which anyone else may suggest.

The Government take the view that, whatever else is done, Parliament ought to seek the highest possible degree of effectiveness within itself. We therefore consider it sensible that the inter-party talks should begin with consideration of improvements in the parliamentary handling of Scottish business. We certainly favour the setting up of a Select Committee to scrutinise those matters for which the Secretary of State is responsible. That would certainly be one of the points to be discussed. We should like to see a thorough examination of all the other specifically Scottish activities of Parlia- ment, in particular the activities of the Scottish Grand Committee and the Scottish Standing Committee, to consider how they might be improved.

As to an inquisitorial assembly, it must be admitted that, though this possibility has been public knowledge for many years, in particular through the report of the Scottish Constitutional Committee of the Conservative Party, chaired by my noble friend Lord Home of the Hirsel a decade ago, there has been little sign of public demand for it. The Government will not, therefore, seek to press any proposal of this kind.

My right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has already begun his approaches to parties individually about the form that interparty talks should take. We hope the talks will begin soon, and we do not think they need take very long. But, since these are matters for discussion between the parties, I do not think it right at this moment to attempt any forecast of their outturn.

My Lords, it is in those circumstances that I beg to move that the draft Scotland Act 1978 (Repeal) Order 1979, which was laid before this House on 22nd March 1973 in the last Parliament, be approved.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 22nd March be approved.—(The Earl of Mansfield.]

3.45 p.m.


My Lords, I am deeply grateful to the noble Minister for the kind words that he uttered about myself a few minutes ago, and I am also grateful to the House. I am delighted to be able to respond by congratulating the noble Earl upon his maiden speech from the Government Front Bench. Of course my congratulations relate not to the content of his speech, but to the form. I look forward to many further encounters with him in his present office and to his speedy return to the place which I now occupy.

I speak this afternoon not with any bitterness, but with a great feeling of personal sadness, because I devoted a substantial part of my ministerial—and parliamentary—life to the formulation and the defence of the Bill which eventually reached the statute book under the title "Scotland Act 1978". It is true that I played no real part in the original conception of the scheme, but I joined with others in rendering ante-natal care. I was an assistant to the midwives, and after helping during a prolonged period of labour I drank a few glasses of champagne to celebrate the birth, ignoring raucous cries about the infant's legitimacy. Alas! however, when our offspring was called upon to stand on his own feet just a few months later, the forces of fear, indifference, and conservatism pulled the rug from under him, and he collapsed, ultimately bringing the Government down with him.

I am invited today to utter a few valedictory words at the graveside. May I begin by saying something about the role of this noble House in the whole melancholy affair. The passage of the Bill through this House will, I feel, find an interesting place in the history of Parliament itself. It will do so, I believe, because this House seized the opportunity which the Bill, as a wide-ranging constitutional measure, presented to demonstrate that it could, with passion and humour, with experience and vigour, with wit, and with restraint, examine, and indeed illuminate, the issues great and small to which the Bill gave rise. I do not want to repeat what I have said about the decisions that this House took on the matters of substance, but the style with which this House approached its task unquestionably earned it the admiration of many outside.

Yet, having said that, I confess that to me the whole matter is heavy with irony; and it is not indeed without irony that the final parliamentary act in this drama takes place in this noble House, because, although the somewhat dismal result in the referendum was brought about by many factors, one of the most successful arguments in the "No" campaign, and one that carried weight even among those who claimed to support the idea of devolution in principle, was the argument that the Assembly which the Act established was a constitutional monstrosity. It was said to have financial power without financial responsibility. It was said that it was likely to be dominated by one political party. The method of electing it was said to be dangerously undemocratic. It was said that leaving the West Lothian question unanswered was an affront to the House of Commons and a fatal constitutional weakness. All these, and other such points, were made or repeated in this House.

But this House is itself the living proof that the machinery of Government and administration, the structure of Parliament, does not need to be perfect in order to function—and indeed to function well. I ask this question: who in his right mind would design a legislative Chamber in which three-quarters of all the Members are qualified for membership by reason of birth, where a majority of the Members never speak nor even bother to attend, and where one political party has a permanent and irremovable majority? Yet, my Lords, here it is; we are in it. It makes surprisingly good sense, and it works surprisingly well. It has undergone some changes, and many people believe that it can be further improved and have its blemishes removed.

This House, conscious of its own imperfections—and, indeed, constitutionalists outside, conscious of the kind of system we have—should surely have been more sympathetic to the scheme of devolution contained in the Act. The many critics of the scheme in this House and outside should have been more ready to concede in the debates in this House and elsewhere that it was impossible to produce a perfect solution at the first attempt—a solution which would please everyone and be free from all anomalies; a solution, in other words, which would command universal assent. It should have been acknowledged that all that was possible was that we should start somewhere; and this scheme, with all its faults, was close, I believe, to the best compromise that careful study inside and outside Government had been able to devise and the elected House to accept.

I believe that it would have been possible to go on from there and to say, "We must be prepared to improve this scheme in the light of experience". The critics of the scheme made no such concession; the voters, many of them, were persuaded to be equally uncompromising; and now the Government have decided to take the same line. We are asked to consign the scheme to the dustbin, we are asked to wipe the slate clean; and the new Conservative Government, as they effect their retreat from devolution, are pursuing a scorched-earth policy. It is clear that nothing that pre-dates 1st March 1979 is to remain standing; and once a desert has been created, we are apparently all supposed to start again.

I believe that to be a pity, because all the political, economic and historical imperatives which produced our scheme of devolution are still there. If I may quote the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, when he spoke in the Second Reading debate of the Bill on the 14th March 1978, he said, in col. 1198: But the brutal fact is that, even if this Bill were to founder, for whatever reason, the problem which fathered it would not go away but might even be exacerbated". I can say, "Hear, hear!" to that. Nationalism is still a powerful force, even if it is in a somewhat weak phase.

The ordinary political divisions in Scotland are still very different from those South of the Border. Indeed, in the recent general election we have produced our own living version of the West Lothian anomaly, for the Scottish electorate elected only 22 Conservative Members of Parliament in 71 constituencies, and yet, in Scotland, we find ourselves with a Conservative Government. It has been pointed out that only 33 per cent. of the Scottish electorate voted for the Scotland Act, but only 23 per cent. of the same electorate voted for the Conservative Party; and that Conservative Party, in government, has now decided to bury the Act, and devolution along with it. So, for the next five years, the political decisions that affect Scotland's housing, education, health, land use, criminal law and civil law are to be taken, in effect, by a Cabinet which owes its powers not to the people of Scotland but to the voters of the Midlands and the Home Counties.

I believe that the frustrations that are bound to be felt as a result of this could well give a fresh stimulus to separatist feelings in Scotland, and, if this happens, devolution in any form is not likely to be seen as an option. No one would again believe that Westminster and Whitehall would be prepared to start once again down the long road which took us from the report of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Kilbrandon, to the Scotland Act 1978. On this matter, therefore, may I conclude by saying that we who live in a constitutional glasshouse have helped to heave some very destructive stones. We have helped—and today we shall no doubt complete the process—to kill the possibility of the middle way; and if within a few years the arguments again become destructively polarised, we shall have cause to regret it.

Let me turn, then, from the ironies, as I see them, and the errors of the present to the proposals for the future. The noble Earl spoke of inter-party talks. but he and his right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland in another place, when they came to review the agenda for these talks, produced a blank sheet. According to what we have heard, federalism is ruled out; quasi-federalism—I have never been quite certain what that means—is also excluded; legislative devolution is a non-runner; and an inquisitorial assembly is dismissed as something not worth discussing.

So we are left with nothing at all except somewhat vague and unspecified mutterings about improving the government of Scotland. But improving the government of Scotland is not a solution to the problem: on the contrary, that is a bald statement of what the problem is. Why on earth do they consider going to these inter-party or all-party talks and yet exclude from the agenda the Scotland Act, for which 33 per cent.—one and a quarter million people—in Scotland voted, when it is absolutely evident that no other proposal commands anything like that quantity of support? Should the all-party or inter-party talks not be seen to build upon that solid basis of support? Should we not be asking at these talks, "Can the scheme in the Act be improved and altered so as to remove the blemishes which cost it the 400,000 or so votes which would have ensured its implementation?". My Lords, if the Scotland Act is not to be on the agenda, then the cupboard is indeed bare.

Many people believe that the scheme in the Act could be improved. The noble Lords, Lord Home of the Hirsel and Lord Drumalbyn, and others in this House, believed it could be improved if the electoral system for the Assembly were changed to a PR system. Others believed that the financial arrangements could be improved. Yet others suggested that the Kilbrandon Report suggestions might have been more readily adopted into the scheme. Very many people—people who espouse the cause of devolution—believe that the scheme can be improved, and yet we are not allowed to discuss it at all.

I regard this as a matter for regret. By throwing out the Act itself and taking it off the agenda of politics and these interparty talks, we are really throwing out devolution itself. Proposals to have Select Committees or to review the Scottish Grand Committee, or perhaps to have meetings of Parliamentarians in Edinburgh, are purely cosmetic matters; they have nothing whatsoever to do with devolution in any real sense. While drastic things need to be done to relieve the burden upon the Secretary of State for Scotland and to improve parliamentary scrutiny, something real needs to be done to ensure that the public in Scotland determine the shape of their domestic services, their domestic affairs and their law—the people of Scotland, I say, and not the voters of the Midlands and the Home Counties.

In conclusion, I see no particular value in attempting at this stage to make any further suggestions as to the agenda for the all-party talks. We reaffirm our commitment to real devolution on the broad lines of the Scotland Act, but I fear that the proposed talks will soon be seen to be a smokescreen behind which many leading figures, particularly in the Conservative Party, will retreat from their commitment to devolution. The logic of my argument is clear, and it is that we should vote against the order. But, of course, that would be an empty gesture. I know the House would not support me if I invited it to do so. More fundamentally, I should be the last to seek to persuade my colleagues, in a matter of this kind, to vote against the clear decision of the elected House. So, my Lords, with real regret, with a fear that we are unwisely leaving unfinished business, and in the certain knowledge that this is an end and not a beginning, I invite my noble friends not to vote against this order.

3.59 p.m.


My Lords, as one other member of the burial party of this Act, I will attempt to be as brief as possible because enough has been said and I must endorse almost every word that has been said by the noble and learned Lord. His feelings and mine are, I am sure, shared by many others in this House, The only point which I think it may be correct to raise here is one concerning the referendum which the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, touched on in his speech. As I see it, the referendum should be judged as what it set out to do, which was to have a "Yes" or a "No" on this Act that we are about to repeal today, with all its imperfections. Let us not forget that there was a majority in favour of this Act. However small, it was a majority.

The point I want to make is that the two-thirds who said "No" or abstained should not be judged as not in favour of a legislative Assembly for Scotland of any kind. They were not in favour of the Act as it stood. I feel that there may even have been Liberals who felt that they had to abstain or vote "No" in the referendum because there were no fiscal powers given under the Act. And the voting system was totally against us as Liberals on these Benches, and against many other people also. There was also no real effort at decentralising the Executive. It was not considered by some as a positive step towards federalism. These are some of the reasons—with the defects in the Act—why, perhaps, there were those of us who may have voted "No". And it was not confined to people of my own way of thinking. The noble Lord, Lord Home of the Hirsel, made it clear that he voted "No" because the Act did not go far enough towards Scottish autonomy. The noble Lord, Lord Home, presumably is not against having a legislative Assembly for Scotland.

Therefore, by burying this Act, as we are attempting to do today, we are not, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord McCluskey, has said, burying the ideas and principles which lie behind the attempts to make the Bill an Act of Parliament. They will not go away and the unsatisfied desires of some sections of the Scottish people will still remain. I feel that even among the Conservative Party as a whole, in and out of Government, many members are quite unhappy with the situation that we are left with today—which is a very poor substitute. The suggestion of all-Party talks some of us see from these Benches as fully welcome; but this may be a smokescreen. There is no agenda, according to the noble and learned Lord, and I suspect that this is so. The strengthening of the Scottish Committees is something that could have been done a long time ago and has not been done. This thought occurs to me. If there were a referendum next week on "Yes" or "No" for the Act as it stood, the Act that we are repealing today, with the suggestions put forward by the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, I wonder whether the majority might be greatly increased in favour of the Act, as distinct from the pitiful proposals that are with us today as a substitute for the principles which lay behind the Act.

In conclusion, I hope that just one thing may result from the repeal of the Scotland Act. It is something that was touched upon by the noble and learned Lord, Lord McCluskey. The Scotland Act was an attempt at a very major constitutional measure. Almost every part of our parliamentary life and the way this country is administered was questioned, taken apart, and an attempt was made to re-create it in a legislative Assembly North of the Border. We questioned everything except perhaps, the powers of this House, I feel that it was the hereditary, built-in majority in this House that took the guts out of this Act before our eyes as we sat day after day. This was a great sadness to me and to many others. It was the in-built majority of this House that took away some of the best parts that had been embodied in this Act when it set out from the other place. So I surmise for a moment that, as a result of our repealing this Act in this House today, it may bring us one step nearer reform, which some of us desire very much indeed.

4.4 p.m.

Lord HOME of the HIRSEL

My Lords, inevitably, in our proceedings this afternoon, there will be an element of post mortem, but my noble friend the Minister, the noble and learned Lord, Lord McCluskey, and the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, have kept that to the minimum and I propose to follow their example. I have always been an advocate of devolution, in the sense that all sorts of ill flows from over-concentration of power at the centre of Government. I was, therefore, at the start disposed to give a favourable wind to a Bill which would give the Scots more say in their own affairs—and that is the modest ambition of the average sensible Scotsman. But, as we debated the Bill, it became more and more clear that it contained too many defects to justify our passing it into law. There were various difficulties for me, as for other noble Lords. The West Lothian question was not the only one; the question of adopting proportional representation as the method of election was another to which I spoke on Second Reading.

Could the Bill, even now, be amended or adopted? I think not. Politics is the art of the possible; and, following the referendum, there are three conclusions which all point in the same direction. As far as any of us can see ahead, it will be impossible either in Parliament or in Scotland to obtain agreement on any form of directly-elected Assembly. The reasons, I think, are these: so long as the conception of devolution is linked by the Scottish National Party to separation from England, no one else is going to take the risk of an Assembly. Secondly, the rest of Scotland is unwilling to accept a form of Scottish government and a method of election which could lead to the domination of the rest by the politics of Strathclyde. The third is that, having assessed the position following the local government reform, the people of Scotland dread the over-government which another layer of government would bring. For these three reasons, I think it would be quite impractical to try to amend and alter this existing Act.

Nobody could have argued more conscientiously, more skilfully or more acceptably the case for this Bill than the noble and learned Lord, Lord McCluskey, but the realities of politics have beaten him, have been against him. I think that we must accept the fact that we must start again.

There is only one way, to my mind, of approaching constitutional reform of this magnitude and that is to try to obtain party consensus. One may not be able to get it, but it is important to recognise that one must start in that way. We cannot tell what will emerge from the discussions which are now proposed but, if I am right that agreement on any form of directly-elected Assembly is impossible, then I do not necessarily think that this the end of the matter. There is one alternative which I thought the noble and learned Lord, Lord McCluskey, dismissed a little too quickly. It is that already canvassed and mentioned by my right honourable friend in another place: that either a Select Committee of Parliament or the Scottish Grand Committee should sit for some weeks in Edinburgh. This proposal is not new. I remember that it was made in 1930 and renewed in 1950. But that does not mean to say that it is wrong. It is well worth considering for a number of reasons.

First, the Members of Parliament are elected persons, elected by the Scottish electorate. All Scottish business is their business. Should they sit for some weeks in Edinburgh, that would avoid the over-government which the Scots fear as the result of election. Should the Scottish Grand Committee or such a Select Committee call to meet them, the representatives of local authorities in Scotland, and review not only Scottish financial affairs, estimates and things like that but really sit to review the programme of Scottish legislation, I think that that would be more than cosmetic. I think that the Scottish people would see in Edinburgh the business of Scotland being considered in Scotland among the Scottish people; and they would be able to look at it day by day. I believe it would therefore be a useful exercise in bringing government closer to the people. It is not, and would not be, what some of us have hoped we might be able to obtain; but I think that this is a proposal which is worth reconsideration. I hope that something like it will emerge, because something ought to be done. For the moment, I must conclude that we are bound to put an end to this Bill and try again.

4.10 p.m.


My Lords, may I begin by adding myself to those who have already extended congratulations to the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, on his appointment to the Government Front Bench. I wish him success in his efforts so far as the government of Scotland is concerned. May I also congratulate the noble and learned Lord, Lord McCluskey. He confirmed the reputation which he gained in the course of the passage of the Act that, whatever the odds against him, he is always ready to come out of his corner fighting.

It seems to me that, even in Scotland, to many, including the media, this whole matter with which we are concerned today has become something of a great bore, deserving in the Press only perhaps of almost ribald comment. This at first struck me as surprising because of course to those of us who were engaged in the battle to persuade the people of Scotland to vote "No" to this Act it seemed that we were faced with an impressive and formidable combination of forces. There were the British and Scottish Labour Parties. There was the Liberal Party. There was the organised trade union movement in Scotland. There were distinguished members of the Church of Scotland. There were the forces of nationalism and a number of strange ad hoc partnerships which were formed during the course of the campaign, of which perhaps the richest and most rare was that of Mr. Mick McGahey and Mr. Anthony Wedgwood Benn.

At the end of the day it is surprising that after a battle in which such forces were engaged the matter should be regarded in Scotland as something of a bore. It may be that after the battle of Sheriffmuir the same feeling prevailed in Scotland. It will be remembered: Some say that we won, And some say that they won, And some say that nane won at all, man, But of one thing I'm sure, That at Sheriffmuir a battle there was, That I saw, man". Perhaps the feeling then was as the feeling is in Scotland today. With that in mind, I do not propose to rehearse more than any other of your Lordships have done the powerful and persuasive arguments which were advanced against this measure in Scotland with the result that not a third of the people of that country were prepared to support it and to advocate that it should be brought into effect.

The only other thing I care to say is that it is a pity that it should be regarded as something of a bore. Surely there are many useful political lessons to be learned from the whole circumstances leading up to the presentation and eventual passing—and now the demise—of the Scotland Act 1978. There are many useful lessons on which we should be reflecting, as of course we should be reflecting on the many useful lessons which history has taught us whenever the partnership between the Scots and the English—which is enshrined in the treaty of Union—has come under strain, as of course it has done from time to time in the past and, I have no doubt, that it will come under strain again in the future.

It seems to me that there is one lesson among many others which is perhaps worth commending to the Government today. This whole business stemmed from the Hamilton by-election; this chapter in the business of Anglo-Scottish relationships started with the Hamilton by-election when the Labour Party panicked just about as badly as did Burns's mouse. The Conservative Party at the time did not take an exactly firm line against the advancing nationalist hordes, if that was what they were going to be. All this and everything that happened afterwards I suggest came as a protest. It was the voice of Scotland protesting against incompetent and ineffective Government.

The people of Scotland are not impressed by the strident voice of nationalism. The people of Scotland are concerned to have competent and effective government rather than nationalist government, and if the present Government fail to give this to Scotland then of course—as the noble and learned Lord, Lord McCluskey, has said—the nationalists will come back with all the potentially disastrous political consequences for Scotland. What the Government now propose is to hold all-party talks in relation to this problem, the business of giving Scotland competent and effective government. So far, so good. But I wonder whether the Government would care to consider the possibility that there is some wisdom to be found outside the ranks of the political parties. Far be it for me to suggest that the quality and quantity of wisdom within the political parties is any less than it has ever been; but it occurred to me during the referendum campaign that there was an enormous amount of interest in this whole business in Scotland among people not normally associated with activities of political parties, who are of course a majority of the people.

I commend to the Government the possibility that they should seek assistance in their consultations, not only from the parties but across a much wider range of people in Scotland. I hope too that they will have in mind what was said so much more effectively than I could say it by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, in the debate the other week on industrial strategy: that if this Government fail the nationalists will be back, and they will be back in force. That is the threat which the Government should have in mind throughout their deliberations on the future government of Scotland. I hope that the House will pass this order repealing the Scotland Act 1978.

4.20 p.m.


My Lords, I follow the noble Lord, Lord Wilson of Langside, with great pleasure. Everything he said I would endorse. I also agree entirely with what has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Home of the Hirsel, and by the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield. I remember that in the debate we had on the referendum there was some question that the referendum had not expressed the views of the Scottish people. I think that now we have had both the referendum and a general election there can be no doubt at all in anyone's mind that the people in Scotland did not like that Act of Parliament which they were asked to vote on in the referendum. When it came to the general election, I was absolutely staggered by the fact that at the meetings I addressed—admittedly not a great many, though I did take a fairly active part in the general election—every time I went to speak for a candidate I would ask: "Have you had a great many questions about Scottish nationalism, Home Rule or the referendum?" and he would reply: "Nobody asked anything about that". That absolutely staggered me, but it was true. It was true in Glasgow; it was true in the Borders and it was true in one or two places in Edinburgh where I went to help the Conservative candidate. I felt sure that during the general election at least there would be people who would ask many questions on this subject, but it was hardly mentioned at all.

When one thinks that at the end of the general election the Scottish Nationalists were reduced to two MPs from the 11 or 12 that they had, one can see there was a decisive indication from the Scottish people that they did not like the Bill, did not want it and were only too glad that it was going to be repealed. That, I think, is the answer to those people who have said, "31 per cent. of the voters in Scotland voted in favour of the Act at the referendum". They certainly did not do that in the general election; otherwise the representation of the Scottish Nationalists in the House of Commons would not have been reduced to two.

As your Lordships may remember—probably to their cost!—I took an active part during the many days and weeks in which your Lordships studied the Scotland Bill. There is no doubt at all in my mind that it was not a good Bill: it was a bad Bill. That was shown by the fact that in the House of Commons the opposition to it was really very considerable and it was not only on the Conservative side. Many Labour MPs on many occasions abstained from voting because they did not wish to vote directly against their Government. It was not a good Bill.

I think that whatever we do in the future we must not have a Bill which is not a workable Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Home, has reminded us of the deficiencies in the Bill, and I support everything he had to say. The noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, mentioned that in Scotland today we have only 22 Conservative Members of parliament. I think there are two or three Liberals and the rest are all members of the Labour Party. But that has happened in Wales also. For years and years and years the Welsh representation has been largely Labour, but the point about our representation and our Parliament is that it is representative of the whole of the United Kingdom so that, even if one gets more Labour Members from Wales, they have to meet Conservative Members from other parts of the United Kingdom; and similarly in Scotland. The fact that we won the election with what I would call a jolly good majority shows that the whole of the United Kingdom was anxious for a change of Government, and that is what they have got. Although in Scotland fewer Conservatives than Labour were returned, the fact that we are all part of the United Kingdom means that this Government has the support of the United Kingdom, which is what we want.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Home, that we do not want more government just for government's sake. We do not want more assemblies or more committees or officials or whatever you like, just because they are going to say that they represent only Scotland. I want government in Scotland to be part of the United Kingdom—absolutely definitely part of the United Kingdom. I want government in Scotland to be as closely in touch with local government as possible. One of the objections we all had to the last Bill was that Scottish MPs were going to be prevented from taking any part in Scottish legislation which was going to be devolved, and therefore they were utterly cut off, whereas, as we all know, Scottish MPs were all to be allowed to vote on equivalent English subjects although they had been returned for Scottish constituencies. That problem really killed the Bill. It was a hopeless situation, and I hope that in anything else we suggest such a thing as that will not happen.

I think there should be very close liaison between local and central government. I would welcome anything which made for closer working between Members of Parliament and local government representatives. As your Lordships know, I have spent nearly 30 years of my life as a local government representative and always tried to keep as closely in touch as possible with the Member of Parliament for the area concerned, whether he was Liberal, Conservative or whatever. I think there is room for much closer co-operation between local and central government, and, in the discussions which are going to take place between the many different interests, I hope that point will be strongly stressed.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Baroness to give way? Would she agree that the introduction of party politics into local government has made that more difficult?


My Lords, possibly; in the area I represented there were no party politics and so it was very easy to co-operate, although in fact the Member of Parliament was of a different political party from the majority in local government. I think that could be got over: it is not insuperable, and anything that makes for closer liaison is well worth doing.

As the noble Lord, Lord Home, has said, we are not asked today to make any concrete suggestions for the future. I agree with him that we cannot drop the subject—I do not think it is something that we can just leave because the first Bill was a bad Bill and was turned down. I think the guiding principle must be the United Kingdom and not Scottish nationalism. It must not increase the civil service, the officials, the expenses and so on. It should be one of co-operation and of keeping as close to the people as possible. Often it is very easy not to be as close to the voters as I should like people to be, but in local government one really is close to the voters. Therefore, I feel very strongly that there should be closer liaison between local government and the parliamentary representatives. I also think it could well be a good idea to have meetings in Edinburgh about legislation which applies entirely to Scotland.

However, it is very difficult to find legislation which applies only to Scotland, unless you take the local government area as the main area in which you are legislating, because we in Scotland want to be part of the United Kingdom, we want to play an important part and our MPs in Westminster must play an important part. After all, in our lifetime we have had several excellent Scotsmen who have been in very high office, from Prime Minister downwards. I do not want that to stop. It is very important that we should be able to play our part in the United Kingdom Government, as we have done in the past. That is why I am so very much opposed to the Scottish nationalists' idea of separating Scotland from England. I think that that would be a disaster.

I support the Government's view of having further talks. I agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilson of Lang-side, that we could certainly enlarge the scope of those talks. I hope that they will not go over all the ground that has already been gone over by the report of the noble Lord, Lord Kilbrandon, and so on, because there are other matters to think about than that. I very much hope that these talks will take place, but not in a great hurry. We are not in a great hurry. We want to get a consensus of opinion and that takes time. But the Government are quite right to do away with this Act. The House of Commons has passed this order and I am quite sure that we should pass it. We should then think again, and think on the lines of discussion with a wide variety of people in the whole of the Scottish area.

4.32 p.m.


My Lords, with some diffidence, but without any doubts, I shall ask your Lordships to reject this order. I can put the fundamental reasons very shortly and perhaps too simply. Parliament, after a long, detailed and, I am afraid, controversial examination, decided that the Act would be for the better government of Scotland. That is why it was passed. I shall mention later the section providing for a referendum. But at this moment I should like to emphasise that in past years, over and over again, the people of Scotland have been asked, and have asked themselves, whether they wish some form of self-government through their own elected representatives, and they have always answered "Yes"—I am not much impressed by the assertion that in these polls the question must have been misunderstood—but always subject to the continuing political unity of the United Kingdom. Indeed, influential and experienced supporters of the present Administration have maintained, while expressing their dislike of the Act, that some radical change of a devolutionary character is called for, not even excluding a federal system embracing as members the other sub-divisions of Great Britain.

This, while it would be welcome in Scotland, goes much further than the present provisions, let alone the speculations that one reads as to the outcome of rather nebulous all-party consultations. If these should give rise, as one rather fears they may, to the setting up of a talking-shop of the kind now forecast, your Lordships may be absolutely assured that it will be received in Scotland with indignation and contempt. That seems to me to be a powerful reason for not killing this Act of Parliament—a majority of the Scots want it to survive. The referendum showed this but, above all, last week 19 Scots Members voted for this order and 43 voted against it.

There is nothing at all in this Act which is not confined to the internal government and administration of Scotland. If the English say that they do not like the Act, it is a fair retort that they are called upon neither to like it nor to dislike it, because it does not affect them. During the referendum campaign, and I am afraid before it, the wildest alarms were sounded that this was the beginning of the end of the United Kingdom. I never heard any intelligible foundation in fact for that tremulous anxiety, which I am afraid has not been set at rest to this day.

For example, during the campaign there were those who stuck adhesive labels on their motor cars which read "Scotland is British". When I saw them, I could not help wondering what would be said in the United States if people stuck labels on their cars saying "California is American". California, like most of the other 49 States, has a full-blown bicameral legislature, sovereign and independent in its own field—which the Assembly is not—and I never heard it suggested that the constitutional powers of the 50 States threatened the existence of the Union. A self-governing Californian is American, just as a self-governing Scotsman is British. There is accordingly, as I see it, no compelling reason from a British point of view for the retraction of approved measures which affect Scotland only and which the Scots desire.

I do not believe—I think other noble Lords agree with this—that it would be helpful at this stage to look at the arguments which were set out for Yes and for No in the referendum. What is done is done. But what has happened since is of great significance. I believe that two strands of opinion were seen having effect in the general election. First, what caused the defeat of the Scottish National Party? The answer, I am sure, is that the SNP, who have not always made themselves clear about this, are thought to favour a policy of Scottish independence, at least as far as dominion status, and the people of Scotland have never wanted that.

The second question is: what caused the defeat of the Conservative Party? I have no doubt about that either. Unhappily, in the referendum campaign the Conservative Party were thought by most of the ordinary people I met, mostly country people, to be concentrating on the frustrating of the Labour Government with no regard to anything but party strategy. The people I met are somewhat different from those met by my noble and learned friend Lord Wilson: they seemed to indulge in some kind of ribaldry, which I am bound to say I never heard. I am quite certain that it is in the best interests of the public that the resulting unpopularity, amounting to an anti-Scotland reputation, should be repaired.

The consequences of the election are especially discouraging, I suppose, to those who had hoped that Scottish domestic affairs would be handled in future by Ministers responsible to a Scottish elected body. Scots domestic affairs are now being handled, as my noble and learned friend Lord McCluskey said, by Ministers belonging to a party which enjoys so little confidence in Scotland that it can command only 22 out of 71 Scottish seats. This seems to me to be an insuparable difficulty in the way of proposed meetings of MPs in Edinburgh, for any purpose at all. So the SNP came down because they were suspected of wanting to go too far, and the Conservative Party came down because they were opposed to Scotland's moderate demands.

There is an interesting and somewhat disturbing analogy to be drawn with recent events in Canada. In Quebec, the Parti Quebecois may be compared with the SNP. They have views, not always candidly expressed, coming very near to secession. The Liberal Party favours the redress of provincial grievances by the extension of provincial powers. I am speaking with no attention to detail. At the recent election, the Conservatives, who were believed not to be sympathetic to provincial aspirations, narrowly obtained federal power, but in Quebec neither they nor the PQ made any headway. The people do not want independence, but they do want constitutional reform. The situation is, to this extent, not comparable with Scotland. The Quebec Parliament already has powers greatly exceeding those which it is now proposed to deprive Scotland of by Order in Council. I suppose that if Canada tried to treat Quebec in the way that Britain is treating Scotland there would be very grave trouble indeed.

Nor do I think it useful to go into arguments and recriminations about the 40 per cent. rule in the referendum and try to trade off those who, according to some, were stupid enough to refrain from voting, because they thought that if they stayed at home it was the same as voting no, against those who were disfranchised: the temporarily absent, those on two registers, or on no register at all, or those who were disfranchised for other reasons. The thing is over now and I hope that such a thing will never he seen again.

The propositions which I would place before noble Lords in urging them to disapprove of this order are, very shortly, these. First, Scots people, as I have said, in resolutions and opinion polls over many years, in a recent referendum—not by any means the first—and through their elected representatives, have clearly called for some form of elected self-government within the United Kingdom. Secondly, leading men and women in every party, including the party now in power, have conceded that some devolutionary reform, possibly even of a federal character, is necessary for the good government of Scotland and, indeed, of Britain. Thirdly, there is now on the statute book legislation which, to some extent at least, fulfils these requirements. And, fourthly, a majority of the party now in power is dissatisfied with the terms of this Act, although all other parties and, in Scotland, a great majority of Members of Parliament will support it.

I think the conclusion to which these propositions lead is that the Act should stay on the statute book. I can see no objection to that, whatever the defects which many, but not by any means all, see in it, because there is no reason why, if it is defective, it should not be amended by subsequent legislation, like any other Act. I think that it is a misnomer to describe this as a constitutional Act, as if it were an Act of Parliament different in kind from other Acts of Parliament. We do not have a rigid constitution, although many countries have a rigid constitution, and one has to be very careful about a constitutional measure, because it is extremely difficult to alter it once it has been passed. But that is not the case with the Scotland Act, any more than it is the case with any other Act.

That, I think, will be the time for the all-Party conference in which Scottish Assemblymen may take part as well as Members of the Westminster Parliament. Probably a year or two should elapse so that it can be seen how things are working out. An ounce of actual experience will be worth a ton of the present lugubrious and sometimes over-enthusiastic speculations. It is even likely that those statesmen who see a need for the reform of regional government in England and Wales will find the Scottish experiment a useful pilot scheme.

I have tried to confine myself to reasoning of a practical character. I shall leave out of consideration the feelings of grief, discouragement and disillusionment, although they are widespread. I have not met anyone in Scotland who thinks that this is a bore. Some think that it is a tragedy. Everyone had his own hopes for the improvements and developments that devolution might bring, not least the reform of an extravagent and unrepresentative system of local government. I think the fallacy is still rife that the Assembly means an extra layer of government. I do not know where that comes from. I can sum it up like this. Many will find it difficult to forgive the cancellation by Order in Council of liberties conferred by an Act of Parliament.

Finally, your Lordships have a very important role here, for this reason. When the revision of the functions of this House is in debate, it is commonly said that an indispensable function of a second Chamber is the protection of minorities, especially national or local elements against power at the centre. An early example is seen in the composition of the United States Senate, and a recent one in the Bundestag of West Germany. Your Lordships have today an opportunity to perform that function—an unique opportunity in a sense, because there can be no question of coercion of your Lordships by the Parliament Act. Your Lordships are free to reject this order and your Lordships' approval is indispensable to its passing.

If this order is rejected, I do not see the Government readily introducing legislation merely to repeal the Scotland Act. No firm indication has yet been given of any remedial measure which is to be proposed in its place. Your Lordships' role is to stand up for a minor partner in the United Kingdom, United Kingdom interests being entirely unaffected, I believe, and to call for the disapproval of the order.


My Lords, before the noble and learned Lord sits down, I wonder whether he could assist me on this point. He referred to the 40 per cent, rule and he dismissed, somewhat cavalierly, the complaints which had been made about the suggestion disseminated that an abstention was the same as a No vote by suggesting that people could not surely be so silly as that.

I want to ask the noble and learned Lord whether he is aware that the Scottish Council of the Labour Party received from the National Executive of the Labour Party the sum of £50,000, which was described as a generous award in the light of the necessity to get it across to the people of Scotland that an abstention was the same as a No vote. This was not something which was said by enthusiastic "yes men". It was said officially by the Scottish Council of the Labour Party, and they thereupon pursued this fabrication. It was really an attempt to commit a fraud on the Scottish people.

This view was disseminated officially. I wonder whether the noble and learned Lord is aware of that fact, and I wonder also whether he is aware that, in the debate in another place, a spokesman of the Liberal Party said in terms—and spokesmen of the former Government have said something similar both in this House and in the other place—that it was a fact that, because of the 40 per cent. rule an abstention was the same as a No vote.


My Lords, I think that the noble Lord is in a better position to answer for the people he is quoting than I am myself, but I deliberately left all this part out of the speech with which I detained your Lordships for too long, because I said that it was something in which your Lordships were probably no longer interested. However, another reason for leaving it out is that it is a kind of barren, semantic exercise. The other way of looking at it is that if every single man and woman who voted "No" had stayed at home in bed, this order would have been before the House just the same.

4.49 p.m.


My Lords, when I attend a funeral it is with real sadness in my heart at parting either from a relative or from a friend. Today I have no such feelings whatsoever. Indeed, I am happy to be present as this, to me, monstrous Act is disposed of. I hope that it will be buried so deep that its resurrection will he impossible. We have already been reminded by the noble Lord, Lord Wilson of Langside, of its origin. It stems from the day that a Scottish Nationalist won Hamilton, which until then had been considered to be an impregnable Labour stronghold. It was won by a woman; versed in the law, practised in oratory and political argument and endowed with much female charm. The victory raised fears, both in the Conservative Party and the Labour Party, that it might be the forerunner of a serious uprising of Scottish nationalism which might well undermine their hold on the Scottish constituencies, and as such called for immediate action—a call which was met by both parties promising a Scottish Assembly. That meant the setting up of a new political body with its Members, housing and servicing to be discovered for them, which called for the employment of a further 750 civil servants.

It may be interesting to follow the history of the Scottish Office. I believe originally Scottish affairs were cared for by the Home Office. From that it was moved to Dover House in Whitehall, which is still the headquarters of the Secretary of State in London. Scotland then acquired a Secretary of State and for him and his assistants there was built St. Andrew's House in Edinburgh. Although as the years have passed outshoots of the Scottish Office have been housed in various parts of Edinburgh, a new St. Andrew's House was built and there I understand the Secretary of State today has his office.

It was then proposed that the Assembly should be housed in the Royal High School of Scotland in Edinburgh, which was acquired and made suitable for that purpose, while St. Andrew's House was also altered for the Assembly's personnel—all at very considerable cost of some millions of pounds, sanctioned by I know not whom. Where this is all going to lead, I do not know. St. Andrew's House was crowded both in its rooms and corridors, and the new St. Andrew's House will probably follow the same course. Yet a further 750 people were to be housed.

But what possible benefit was Scotland to obtain from the proposed Assembly? As we have been reminded already, our affairs were already taken care of by Members of Parliament. In my opinion Scotland was not governed by London but by the Secretary of State in Edinburgh. All Scottish legislation goes to the Scottish Grand Committee, and I have yet to learn of any of their decisions being overturned, either in another place or in your Lordships' House.

We have heard a great deal in recent months, and indeed this afternoon, about devolution, but what is there to devolve? Surely everything that can be devolved has already been handed by Parliament to the Secretary of State. Apart altogether from every other aspect of this Act, the great fear was that the Assembly would more and more demand greater powers until it had gathered to itself almost complete control of our Scottish affairs and become a Scottish Parliament, which would inevitably have led to the break-up of the Union. That was a risk which, in my opinion, should never have been taken. That Union, which had been of such benefit to each and all of its members, which has brought us all prosperity greater than ever previously we had, which has brought us safely through great wars which otherwise could have seen us overthrown—let us never risk that Union. An Assembly in that context has no purpose and no benefits to offer. Although of different origins, we are British. Let us so remain, and to that end, united, repeal this Act.

4.55 p.m.

The Earl of PERTH

My Lords, I too, want to say how pleased I am to see the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, my near neighbour in Scotland, sitting on the Government Benches and I know that he will do Scotland proud in his position. My only sadness is that his first task—if it is to happen—is the burial of this Act. As I think many of your Lordships will know, I believe that an Assembly was the right solution for the Union. Others—and we have heard the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde—say exactly the opposite. There is no point in arguing about it now; history will give us the answer.

Equally, I am going to follow other noble Lords and take no part in post mortems over the referendum. However, there is one point which I think may be important for any future referenda that may be held. I campaigned a certain amount for the Assembly for a week or more, taking meetings and addressing various gatherings and the thing that struck me almost more than anything else was the ignorance of people as to what it was all about. I think that future Governments, if they have referenda on any subject, have a duty to produce some sort of leaflet which explains what it is all about. It is not enough—and I remember this was argued in this House—to say that the media can tell, or that the people will understand, or that they can buy a copy of the Act, or whatever it may be. I hope that if in future there is to be a referendum some form of explanation of what it is all about will be produced by the Government of the day, in conjunction, if necessary, with the Opposition. To do nothing is wrong. The Scots are a canny people, and when they did not know they did not vote; and, to my mind, that is perhaps one of the reasons why there was such a large number of abstentions.

Now let us come to what lies ahead. We hear that there is to be an all-party conference; that any form of devolution and good government for Scotland by an Assembly is to be out. Indeed, I think it was the noble and learned Lord, Lord McCluskey, who brought home to us very forcibly how little was to be in the all-party conference. One thing after another had been ruled out. I hope there will be second thoughts on this point, and I hope consideration will be given to the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Home of the Hirsel—who, after his broadcast, must be in a way sad at what is proposed—that others should be brought into discussion, whether it be local governments or the Churches or whoever has a special responsibility in some form or another for the better government of Scotland. I am quite clear about one thing. The scheme, whatever it may be, that comes out of the conference or the body that is to be set up, must sit at times in Edinburgh. That is absolutely essential. Further, it must not be a talking shop—and a toothless talking shop at that. It must be able to take initiatives.

Today Scotland is divided and Scotland is worried. They have an unemployment rate which is twice that of the South-East of England and at such a time, when things are difficult for Scotland, whatever comes out of this scheme must ensure that there is a body which can put pressure on Whitehall and on Westminster. I will give your Lordships two examples of what I have in mind. In the last several months there was a proposal by an American company to set up a factory for silicon chips. I am not entirely clear what those are, but I know they are a very important advance in technology. The Scottish Development Agency took up with all possible energy the task of getting this company to come to Scotland. On the other side of the ring, if I may put it that way, we had Europe. I think finally the American company was about to choose Scotland. What happened? The Government, or rather the Department in Whitehall, drew the rug from under the feet of the Scottish Development Agency. They said, "It is perfectly true that we give grants in this kind of case but we do not think this is a suitable one". Whitehall decided. The thing was lost. At a moment like that, surely it should be possible for whatever body comes out of the all-party conference to intervene quickly and try to get things changed.

May I give the other example. The National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland has for 50 years been promised by successive Governments that it would have a new building. Nothing has been done. I am on a committee in Scotland which is considering the role of the National Museums in Scotland. One of the figures I saw was that no less than 85 per cent of all expenditure on national museum buildings is directed to London and Scotland gets 6 per cent. I visited this museum—and remember that this is the museum of Scotland, about its history and its past; If any of your Lordships had done what I did and seen some of the upstairs rooms where the staff work and where things of great value and importance have to be stored, you would not believe it possible that that sort of condition should prevail. I am surprised that the health authorities and fire authorities do not close much of it. I rather wish they would, because then at least it would draw everybody's attention to the scandal that exists in this connection. The initiative for reform in regard to that ought to come from whatever body may be set up in Edinburgh—I hope it will be in Edinburgh—at any rate from time to time.

There is another question, how the members of the conference are going to be chosen. We have heard today that approaches are already being made to various parties. I hope that many of your Lordships will be invited to take part in the conference because so many of you are so wise on Scottish affairs. Furthermore, I hope that the Cross-Benches will be considered a party, because, after all, in a sense in this House they are. Otherwise, perhaps Lord Wilson of Langside may have to join the Conservative Party to say what he wants to say at the conference, or I might even have to—I was going to say join the SNP, but that is something I would not want to do. But I hope the point I am making will be taken aboard.

Sooner or later I believe we shall see some form of Assembly in Scotland, because we do want to run our own show. But I would say this to the Government. I hope that in this conference they will do their very best to ensure good government for Scotland in which the Scots take an active part. The more successful they are in that—and this is the thought I would leave with your Lordships—the more likely it is that a change to an Assembly, which I think is inevitable sooner or later, will be postponed. Those who do not want it because they fear it means the break-up of the Union—I believe the other way—will know that by getting something of real substance out of the conference they will postpone something they see as wrong. All the same, I believe that in time, whether it is through a federal solution or whatever, we shall see Scotland having its own body to run itself. Then we shall see its great qualities as a nation, and if, as I believe, it is to its advantage, it will be to the advantage of the United Kingdom also.

Lastly, my Lords, I was very impressed by what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Kilbrandon, said in his speech. I would certainly be ready to go along with him, if he felt it was appropriate, in not wanting to repeal the Act. It would not mean that we had an Assembly; it would merely mean that it is on the books. I would only say that if he had taken action in that direction I would have supported him.

5.7 p.m.


My Lords, having stoutly opposed the Scotland Act since it first began to take shape, I feel I owe it to your Lordships and certainly I owe it to myself to take a brief part in its obsequies, though not to go over any of the ground again—far from it. As both the noble Lord, Lord Kilbrandon, and the noble Earl, Lord Perth, have said, how important these transactions have been. After all, although, technically, the Act may be removed from the statute book, the record will always be in Hansard of everything that has been said, pages and pages of it. That is all the more reason why I have no intention of going over the ground again, because all I have said is there to be read. It is possible, nevertheless, to lament the dissipation of energy and time which might have been better spent. Perhaps the oil shortage arises from the amount of midnight oil which the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, has had to burn over the transactions. But let us extract what good we can from this experience and let us hope that by doing so we can avoid such a thing happening again as had happened in this case.

All are agreed that an increased measure of decentralisation in the government of the United Kingdom is desirable. It is clear that the developments should be discussed and should produce a result, let us hope, as a result of all-party agreement, as some of us have been saying for years. It seems to me to follow inevitably that such developments must come little by little, broadening down from precedent to precedent, gradually rather than by some traumatic stroke. The Secretary of State for Scotland in the other place set out the major lessons in a masterly way in his peroration on the 20th of this month.

What can we do today to decide whether there is anything here and now that we can do to further the interests of Scotland which have been so carefully set out by so many speakers, including the noble Earl who has just spoken? I have two or three suggestions which have not altogether been touched upon. One is that we might abandon some of the shibboleths which have become established. As matters stand at present, might it not be wise to replace the rather depressed word "devolution" by the word "decentralisation"? As has been suggested on previous occasions, can we avoid the confusion engendered in Scotland by the word "Assembly", by substituting the word "Convention", as of old? I am thinking again of the speech of the noble Earl in which he visualised, as I hope I visualise, a Convention with teeth considering Scotland's needs in the future.

Let us forget about a referendum as an escape route, certainly as regards such an unacceptable question as that put forward to what I regarded as an unacceptable electorate. In view of what the noble Earl has just said, I think I should expand on what I mean. Having spent so many years abroad and having been chairman of Caledonian societies overseas, I think that I can say that there are more Scots abroad—and by "abroad" I include England—than the 3¼ million who were entitled to vote in the referendum, of whom a large proportion were not Scottish at all.

There is something else that we can start doing now. We should try to remedy the dissatisfaction of many ordinary people who feel that they deserve a larger say in political decisions in respect of Scotland. I have studied the memorandum of dissent to the Royal Commission's report and it calls what I am referring to as "the 'we' and 'they' situation". It also refers to, "The feeling of powerlessness". How can that he put right or at least ameliorated?

My noble friend Lady Elliot of Harwood mentioned how extraordinary it was that during the election so little interest was shown in this matter. People did not seem to worry about it at all or to address their minds to it. I believe that, if this sense of powerlessness and lack of interest is to be put right, there must be a serious and sustained effort to ensure that Scotland is better informed not only about current affairs but about past history. I shall not develop that point, but I think that some Scottish history, as taught in the schools, could be made more factual. Therefore, I suggest that it should begin in the schools.

Unfortunately, the bully boys of the printing unions have emasculated the Press. What is left? We have the broadcasts on the radio and "the box". I am not—and I repeat "not"—urging a general broadcasting of the business of Parliament. In that respect we are learning new lessons every day, as I am sure your Lordships will agree. If only the money and the energy spent on the Scotland Act over the last few years could have been used to ensure that people were better informed, I believe that we should be better off.

I turn to another matter. Millions of pounds have been spent on the Royal High School. Must that building lie empty? Can it soon be used as some sort of information centre, or perhaps as the locale of the inter-party talks, as my noble friend Lord Home of the Hirsel suggested? It follows from what I am saying that such proceedings in such a place, in order to reach the people of Scotland, must be linked in some proper way with broadcasts or "the box".

I hear that the BBC is to overhaul its Scottish news and parliamentary services. That is good, because they need it. At present we are suffering from the pattern of the so-called "Radio Scotland". On Tuesday—only the day before yesterday—"Yesterday in Parliament" was being broadcast on Radio 4 while Radio Scotland broadcast some pop music and a talk on homing pigeons! I only cite that as an example. It is not the fault of the hardworking and experienced broadcasters. They do a good job with what they are given, but the pattern is wrong. A letter published in The Scotsman only last Saturday commented: I suggest that anyone in Europe who listens to Radio Scotland will merely have his suspicions confirmed that the Scots are a bunch of mugs". I agree that that is the case as regards the so-called Radio Scotland. It must be tightened up. Let us hope that the measures which I understand ate in hand will do something to that effect.

Let us take our lessons to heart. Let us say farewell—perhaps for ever—to the Scotland Act and join with the psalmist in a metrical version of the 124th Psalm: Like as a bird out of the fowler's snare escapes away So is our soul set free. Brake are their nets and thus escaped we". I feel like that—as does my noble friend Lord Strathclyde—about the particular experience that we have been through in the past two or three years. However, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Kilbrandon, and the noble Earl, Lord Perth, have said, the transactions are there to study, to be a basis from which we can learn our lessons, and not all this time and trouble has been wasted. I, for one, look forward with the utmost interest to the developments in the future. Let there be no delay in the business of informing Scotland of what is in progress.

5.17 p.m.


My Lords, the worse the passage the more welcome the port. After all the dreary debates—and on this Bill they have been dreary—I must say that I listened with particular interest to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Kilbrandon. He gave us a sober and moving speech this afternoon, and I regret that throughout the Committee stage we did not have his counsel available to us, although it had long been available in three thick volumes for all of us to study beforehand. The noble and learned Lord, Lord McCluskey, was true to form. He came out of his corner fighting hard. He reminded me, as usual, of the Irishman who said, "I always think a general and a bit of shooting make you forget your troubles".

I am certain that it is sometimes better to go back then to go badly. The Act failed—whatever the mechanics of its failure—on three points. The first was the point of principle "the West Lothian question" or if one prefers, "power without responsibility. Next it failed on the economic count that this is too tight and too fragile an economy to support another focus of faction and disarray. But I believe it also failed in quite a different sense—and one to which the debate has not so far alluded. So many noble Lords, and commentators outside, have focused on the 40 per cent. rule. The operation of that, and the focusing of our minds upon it, has obscured perhaps the most critical feature of the whole issue.

If we were to draw a line East and West through Stirling, we would, I believe, find that North of it there was a net majority of people against the Act, including those who live in two of Scotland's great cities—Dundee and Aberdeen. While seven regions voted for the Act, five regions voted against. Of the seven that voted for it, two—the Lothians and the Highlands—only did so by a narrow margin. So whatever else the referendum showed, it certainly showed that most of Scotland geographically was gripped by a fear of control by the Central Belt in general and by Glasgow in particular.

There is abroad in Scotland—and I am sure that this is farily common to all sides of the House—a gut feeling which wants, in some inchoate fashion, to find a louder Scottish voice over Scottish affairs, more audible to the Government of the day. But that gut feeling is balanced by another, which is a real fear of the Colossus of Strathclyde.

The Secretary of State for Scotland has mentioned the possibility—and reference has been made to it during this debate—of setting up a Select Committee of Scottish Members of Parliament—not the Scottish Grand Committee, which is a different matter altogether—sitting in Scotland from time to time.

There are only two bodies in Scotland which can claim to be representative in a democratic sense of Scottish opinion. One is the collection of 71 Scottish Members of Parliament; the other is the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, which is indirectly elected. Both my noble friends Lord Home of the Hirsel and Lady Elliot of Harwood and the noble Earl, Lord Perth, have already referred to the desirability of liaison, whatever action we may take in the future, between the top layer of government in Scotland and local government. One of the merits of the Convention of the Scottish Local Authorities is that it is so constructed that small is beautiful. It is so balanced that in its make-up there is a total of 76 regional and district council representatives from the Strathclyde and Central Belt area, matched by about 67 from those outwith the Central Belt. In other words, it is constructed in such a way as to tackle head-on the great and searing problem of Scotland: the depopulation of the North and the South, on the one hand, and the concentration of wealth and also poverty in the Central Belt. I believe that it is perfectly possible for the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and a Select Committee of Scottish Members of Parliament to he brought together. They could be built into a new forum, which would be wholly compatible with Westminster practice and would do no violence to the primacy of the legislative responsibility of Parliament.

If set up, the Select Committee could follow the precedent of the Select Committee on Indian Constitutional Reform, set up in 1933. Then the Secretary of State for India took the chair and it was agreed in advance that he could be questioned by the committee and be forced to give evidence to it, in spite of the fact that he was the chairman. The Select Committee was specifically authorised by Parliament—by both Houses—to call non-parliamentarians into consultation; namely, representatives invited from the Indian States and British India. It was so constructed that those advisers would sit at Westminster on an equal footing with the committee members for everything except an actual vote. They could deliberate together, and indeed they did.

Let us suppose that that principle was applied to a Select Committee of Scottish Members of Parliament. We would have 71 Members of Parliament and 143 Convention of Scottish Local Authorities representatives, making 214 in all. If we balance the rough regional associations between them, we would end up with approximately 120 Members of Parliament and local government representatives from the Central Belt, and 90-odd from the rest of Scotland. Here is a perfectly fair balance and a balance of which the people of Scotland need not be afraid. Indeed, one might say that the heartland versus the outback would be brought into reasonable balance.

One of the great failures of the Scotland Act was the built-in inevitability that the Assembly would be dominated by the Central Belt, to the alarm and despondency of the rest. Such a Scottish Select Committee, taking, COSLA, as it is known for short—the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities—into consultation, would have parliamentary precedent for questioning Ministers. It could debate the Estimates and doubtless in time through the promotion of serious motions on major affairs, make its voice audible indeed inside the Palace of Westminster.

Meantime, there is a practical step for consideration. These thoughts do not at all preclude the approach eventually to a federal solution, but as Sir Winston Churchill once said: It is wise to look ahead—but foolish to look further than you can see".

5.26 p.m.


My Lords, I venture to intervene for a couple of minutes in order to raise two matters. I must confess that I came here today greatly looking forward to dancing on the grave of this Act. I was hoping to go through the whole gamut of my repertoire from Petronella to Strip the Willow, from Shian Trubhais to Argyllshire Broadswords; but having realised afresh how much this Act has really meant to those who feel strongly and sincerely about it, I will refrain from making facetious remarks. I was, for instance, extremely moved by the remarks of the noble Earl, Lord Perth, and by the very moving speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Kilbrandon, who obviously feels deeply about these traumatic two or three years.

I have only two points to make because all other points have already been made—in fact, my two points have also been raised. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilson of Langside, did something with his billhook—his slasher—to cut down the myth which has sprung up, and which was watered by the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, and by The Scotsman in a leading article last week that the abstention vote was not a "no" vote. We cannot backtrack like that. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilson, gave one or two examples of those who said that to abstain was the equivalent of voting "no". One third of the people abstained. Suddenly they changed the rules. We must not allow that myth to propagate itself. Weedkiller is apparently what that myth is qualified for, and nothing else.

My second and last point has been referred to by one or two speakers, including the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, who said that, now that this phase is over, we must ask ourselves whether there is anything we can do here and now for the betterment of Scotland. There is one very urgent thing to be done; that is, the dismantling of Strathclyde. By an overwhelming majority this House decided that Strathclyde should not come into being. That decision was overturned in another place by a majority of 73 votes, and there are only 71 Scottish Members. It almost made me teeter on the edge of joining the Scottish National Party, like the noble Earl, Lord Perth, because it was a nonsense. People will say that too much money has been spent on setting up Strathclyde to pour it all down the drain now. Already £3½ millions have been spent on the Royal High School in Edinburgh. But it is better that the drain should be unblocked. Strathclyde is like elephantiasis on the fair face of Scotland, and it must go.


My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I clarify one point. I did not say that the "No" vote, and the abstention vote, could be judged only as saying "No" to a legislative assembly. They might have said "No" to the Act, but they did not say "No" to a legislative assembly.

5.30 p.m.

The Earl of SELKIRK

My Lords, may I continue for one moment on the question of referenda. I do not like the referendum, and I think it is a dangerous instrument. But the blunt fact is that this has been a successful referendum. It is successful because it has got Parliament out of a nasty dilemma. I believe that if you had a free vote in both Houses, the Act would never have been passed. Parliament fell back on this as a very present help in time of need. That is what happened.

What worries me is that we shall come to look on referenda as too successful; as something that we can fall back on whenever we disagree in Parliament. This is dangerous and wrong. On the ordinary interpretation of Section 85 there is absolutely no doubt what it meant. That section was fully fulfilled by the manner in which the referendum took place, and there can be no doubt about it. In this country we are in the position of trustees for democracy. It is here that the concept of representative government was evolved. Noble Lords say that it takes time to get something perfect. We have been 700 years doing it, and many people think that we still have not got it quite perfect.

If we put a lot of interpretation into just what democratic voting means, it can be dangerous. The noble and learned Lord, Lord McCluskey, said, "You know, we had a majority of Labour Members from Scotland, and here we have a Conservative Government". What happened in the last Parliament? The majority of people in England did not vote for a Labour Government. Therefore, you might have had the shipyards in Scotland nationalised, and the shipyards in England would not have been. I suggest to the noble and learned Lord that that is a very dangerous argument to pursue.

It is the same with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Kilbrandon. He said that we should turn this down because there are Scottish Labour Members of Parliament in the other place. But they were not elected for this purpose, but for an entirely different purpose. We find that many people overseas copy us, and if we start examining and saying that electoral systems, referenda, or other matters are unfair, we may reach curious results. It is common in many countries, and we can all think of places where this is happening at the present time.

I say from my own feeling, such as it is. that Scotland is well content with the referendum, and what Scotland wants is not more politicians but more opportunity and more employment. That is why you see Scots all over the world. That is why many years ago the French said, "If you go to the ends of the earth you will find rats, lice, and Scotsmen".

5.33 p.m.


My Lords, if I may begin this winding-up on a personal note, may I express my thanks to those noble Lords who expressed some satisfaction at seeing me in this spot. Of course any idea that I might have had that there would be a general, if reluctant, measure of agreement among your Lordships for this Motion this afternoon was rudely dissipated by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Kilbrandon, who in fact has stated his intention of, hopefully, urging this House to exercise its undoubted constitutional right of defying the terms of the Scotland Act which were written into it and disregarding whatever views the other place may have had on this particular Motion.


My Lords, I do not intend to ask the House to divide. I have not changed my mind in any way at all, but I am not going to ask the House to divide.


My Lords, with great respect to the noble and learned Lord, I am glad that he now takes the stance that he does. It saves me the task of trying to persuade him not to take that course. It was to be expected that the noble and learned Lord, Lord McCluskey, would express regret, if I may use the analogy for the last time, that his baby had come to an untimely end. However, I could not help but notice that in effect he admitted that the Scotland Act, as it was passed, had imperfections. I think he said that it was the best measure that could be devise in the circumstances. He said, as did other noble Lords, that perhaps if it remained on the statute book it could be improved subsequently in the light of experience.

The noble and learned Lord, I have no doubt, will agree with me that many innovations are made in government in a state of known imperfection. But, in such cases, it is nearly always possible to see how improvements might be effected in time. Very often these imperfections stem from problems of competing interests, which if they are resolved before the measure goes on to the statute book might cause undue delay. With pressure on Parliamentary time as it is, frequently the Government do not want to experience that.

In the case of the Scotland Act—and let us not forget this—in spite of intense discussions over a period from 1975 to 1979, no acceptable solution had been found to some of the major problems which were identified: the problems of finance; the problem of the now notorious West Lothian question. These are but two examples. I think that the feeling about the Act on this side of the House can be summed up if I say that many of us could not see how, in a unitary State, one smallish part of the United Kingdom could be given a subordinate yet sovereign Assembly without there being a fatal slide into, at best, a form of federalism and, at worst, a splitting up of the United Kingdom. I do not think that any explanations, any suggestions, have been able to dispel those real and genuine doubts.

I ask the noble and learned Lord, Lord Kilbrandon, to appreciate that just as he is passionately devoted to a system that he thinks would work, and no doubt work well, others are just as passionately devoted to the opposition to a system which they think would be fatal to the well being and future prosperity of the people of Scotland. On that, I think we must agree to differ. I do not think that it can be argued out.

A number of other points have been made upon which I think I should touch. First, that in some way the referendum was unsatisfactory and that, in effect, as indeed was the case, the majority of votes which were cast in the referendum were in favour of implementing the Act. I do not think that it is profitable to speculate as to why the vast majority of Scots did not vote at all. On the one hand we have noble Lords saying that that was because they had it in mind that if they failed to vote it would be taken as a No. Then at the other end of this particular spectrum we have the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, saying that they voted, No, because the Act did not go nearly far enough. We have the noble Earl, Lord Perth, saying that they did not vote because they did not get a leaflet and did not know what they should do—a rather cavalier view, perhaps, of the sophistication, or lack of it, of the Scottish electorate. Whatever reason for this abstention there may be, the fact of the matter was—as I think was certainly conceded in the other place—that there was no firm support for the Act. The result of such a referendum, whether or not one believes in referendums, was to throw the whole matter into doubt, and that is the situation in which the Government now find themselves.

Where do we go from here? What I tried to say in my initial remarks was that the Government are intent on initiating what have been all-purpose talks. I know some noble Lords have hinted, if they have not actually said, that the Government's heart is not in devolution, and that I hope to show is wrong. What the Government's heart is in is a meaningful system of devolution which will not lead to the perils I have already outlined.

First, let me comment on the inter-party talks. I do not think that, on their content, I can usefully add to my opening remarks. Of course at this early stage I do not suppose anybody really expects the Government to produce an agenda. The Government intend to listen carefully to all suggestions that may be made, although, as I said, at the moment we are not aware of any theoretically possible options other than the four to which I referred, and of those four at least two seem to be no longer practical politics; as I said, quasi-federalism and a Scottish assembly such as was sought by the last Government.

As to the form of the talks—a number of noble Lords have mentioned this—at the moment the form which the talks will take is a major aspect of the preliminary talks about talks which the Government have now initiated with the other parties individually. There has not yet been an opportunity for the Government to talk to all the other parties concerned, and therefore I am not in a position—nor would I wish to and I do not suppose your Lordships would want me to—to anticipate the results of those preliminary discussions. But I think it is safe to say that in the first instance the Government wish if possible to agree with the other political parties represented in Scotland the form to be adopted for discussion between the parties collectively and these discussions we hope will be compact and not take very long.


My Lords, before the noble Earl leaves the matter of the discussions, may I ask whether he recalls that in relation to the third option, an inquisitorial Assembly for Scotland, his right honourable friend said in another place that proposals of that kind had been publicly current for some time, but that in the Government's observation they had signally failed to attract much support from any quarter and that the Government did not wish to press such proposals in the all-party talks? That is three of the four items dismissed, is it not?


Certainly, my Lords, but there is no desire on the part of the Government to close options. If the parties wish to revive the idea of some form of inquisitorial body, I am sure it can be discussed; it is just that at the moment, certainly in Scotland, there does not seem to be very much enthusiasm for such a body, but perhaps such will emerge.

I was going on to say that, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilson of Lang-side, suggested, as did other noble Lords, the time may come, and I hope will come, when the studies get to what I might call a detailed stage, when wider consultations than mere politicians, if I may use that phrase, may be considered appropriate and other bodies or parties or groups may be part of the consultation process. But this, I wish to emphasise, is a matter in the first instance for discussion, and hopefully agreement, between the parties.

I appreciate that after the sweeping proposals which were initiated by the last Government in the somewhat heady atmosphere which existed, the all-party talks may seem to be something of an anticlimax, I suppose one might say, but what I suggest the referendum has revealed is that the previous Government over-reacted to phenomenon which may have been temporary and, as I suggest, was certainly superficial, and the Government now wish to return to a more systematic and careful building on such foundations as already exist. Clearly, I suggest, this course has emerged since the referendum as being more in tune with the true feelings of the Scottish electorate.

I conclude by saying that it would be a great pity if, because, as we hope, they will deal with reality rather than pipe dreams, the inter-party talks were scouted. The Scottish electorate have now pronounced on one partisan proposal for the proposed improvement of their Government. I hope they will not for any reason be denied the opportunity of non-partisan proposals for real improvement.

On Question, Motion agreed to.