§ 3.24 p.m.
§ The Earl of Perth
My Lords, in moving the Motion standing in my name today, perhaps I may start by explaining a little about its origins. On the third day of the debate on the gracious Speech, which centred on home affairs, the noble Lord, Lord Grimond, and I spoke passionately, not to say fervently, about the almost universal demand in Scotland at the present time for Scots to have more say in their own affairs. Incidentally, I am confident that that is a demand which will not go away.
The noble Lord and I made what we felt were constructive and varied suggestions about how to deal with the situation. The Government's reply was cursory and negative. What then was the next step to take? I recalled Robert the Bruce and decided to try again. I put down my name for the opportunity of a short debate and I was lucky.
I welcome the fact that there are no fewer than 19 speakers who are taking part in this debate, although the time is far too short and each of them can speak only for six minutes. Never mind; this debate is a start and it is hoped that in the summer the Government will consider the position further and allow a full day to debate this subject. I must also say that, together with other noble Lords, I welcome the fact that we are to hear a maiden speech from the noble Viscount, Lord Dunrossil.
This debate sets out to consider the ever-growing clamour of the Scots to take a more direct part in the governance of Scotland. That is what I mean by the term "devolution". What is happening in Scotland? Govan is history but, as a sequel, it will be found that all parties in Scotland, with the exception of the Conservative Party (and I shall come to that later), and indeed the media, led by the Scotsman, are clamouring for ways in which the Scots may be able to take a greater part in running their own affairs.
I shall not touch on the Labour, Liberal or Democratic proposals, as there are others who intend to speak in that regard. I shall just mention what the 244 SNP is proposing because I do not think that there is any Member representing the SNP in your Lordships' House. The SNP has an ingenious suggestion; namely, that in some way Scotland should come under the European Community. I shall only comment that I think it is very unlikely that that move will succeed, because the United Kingdom Government would have to approve the proposal and support it with their partners in the Community, which would mean the break-up of the Union. Certainly I, and I think most noble Lords in this House, do not want that to happen.
The call that I think will come out of this all-party debate is for a convention or an assembly in the summer to try to work out concrete proposals to put to the Government. They will be supported by all parties, other than the Conservatives, who are taking no part. The fact is that we in Scotland do not like the degree to which we are ruled from Whitehall. It is unwise for the Government to ignore that fact. I suppose they believe that if things go well economically and privatisation succeeds, the people of Scotland will be satisfied and the demand will go away. That is to misjudge the Scottish people, who are not interested in their own well-being alone. They want a happier Scotland and, if that means slightly less for any one individual, they are perhaps ready to face that situation so long as it is decided by themselves. They must make the choice. Money is not the be-all and end-all.
I welcome the fact that we shall hear from several speakers from the Conservative Benches, and above all from the noble Lord, Lord Home; but in the meantime I should point out that even the Conservative Party recognises that the state of affairs in Scotland is not entirely happy. In particular, the two-tier system of local government—that is to say, the system of regions and districts—is not working well. It was forced through by the Government a few years ago despite much opposition. The Conservatives have set up a working party under the chairmanship of Mr. Ancram to see what can be proposed. I very much hope—like, I feel sure, many other noble Lords—that the sequel will be a one-tier system of districts, rather than the two-tier system of today. But, even if that is the outcome, it is not enough. This is not what the Scottish demand is about.
What proposals do I suggest to solve this problem? I shall be happy to put forward certain ideas. Some are not original. They are certainly not complete. There are others which may well be better. That is why the noble Lord, Lord Grimond, and I earlier asked the Government to bring the Kilbrandon and Wheatley reports up to date, to set up a working party to study the position, and to make recommendations on how to satisfy the Scottish people's demand for more say in running their own affairs. I again beg the Government to consider appointing some form of body. I do not know whether it will be three wise men, three wise women, or a mixture of the two. But I am convinced that it is essential that this should be done.
Before I touch on my proposals, let us pause for a moment to see how the Scottish Office works. It is over 103 years old. During that time it has steadily 245 increased its powers so that it now runs Scotland, except for industry and part of agriculture, within the limits of government policy. I say that it runs Scotland. That is true, after it has agreed with the Treasury on the size of the block grant for Scotland for the year.
What does that mean? It means that the Scottish Office alone decides on how the grant shall be spent and how the cake shall be cut. It decides how much shall be spent on health, education, transport, law and order, housing, other environmental services, and indeed all other aspects of Scottish life. The Scottish Office consults with others on the best way to spend the grant and it welcomes people who put forward suggestions. But it is the Scottish Office alone which takes the final decisions. I am not attacking the Scottish Office—far from it. Many Scottish Secretaries of State have done a splendid job; I think that the same is true of the present Government.
However, my point is this. The Scottish people themselves have no direct say in how the cake shall be cut. Believe me, my Lords, it can be cut in many ways. One can have more for education and health and less for roads and housing, and so on and vice versa. But the people of Scotland are not able directly to influence this. Nor can the Scottish Office explain to any particular body what it is doing and why. There is a gap, a vacuum. It is that vacuum which I believe above all we must seek ways to fill.
An obvious way is to create a body, sitting in Edinburgh, which can hammer out with the Scottish Office how best to cut the cake and establish priorities. What would be its powers, and how would it work? Should it have taxation powers? Not yet, I think. Should it have legislative powers? Again I think not yet, but it would have real power to influence a change in legislation if it is working unfairly for Scotland. Let me instance the case of the rateable values laid down for industry, shops, and so forth. We in Scotland are obliged by statute—and I underline the word "statute"—to have a revaluation every so many years. It is not so in England or Wales. The result is that Princes Street rates are higher than those in Oxford Street. Industry suffers the same disadvantage. That is an example where the suggested body could surely ensure a change in the legislation.
Then such questions arise as how often should it sit? Should it sit once or twice a year? Should it have its own employees? I would think so, more especially if the result of the reform of regional government is to have only one tier of local government. Who should choose the agenda for the body when it meets? What should happen if there were a hostile vote? I ask all these questions not because I know the answers to them all but because I wish to show that there is a very real need for a working party of wise men and women to be set up to decide on the answers to these questions.
What should be the composition of the body in Edinburgh? It should not be elected, but representative. Obviously it would include the 72, or perhaps a lesser number, of Scottish Members of Parliament, and even 16 Scottish representative Peers. It should 246 certainly contain representatives nominated by local government and, for example, by schools and universities, the Church, the unions, and captains of industry. There are obviously others to be mentioned.
The point that I am trying to make is this. I repeat it again. There is a vacuum, a gap, and we have to find ways of filling it. I have mentioned one solution. There are many others. A matter that the parties are working on at the present time is a convention in the coming summer to put forward a cohesive plan to the Government. Meantime I appeal again to the Government to set up a working party to study how to fill the gap. It would be a very popular thing for them to do, and would gain them new support and a change in their electoral fortunes, though that is not why I am proposing it.
If the Government give a flat "no" to any change. I fear for the future. There is a tide in the affairs of men which taken at the flood leads on to fortune. I am convinced that this is the flood time. I beg the Government to take it. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.
§ 3.38 p.m.
Lord Home of the Hirsel
My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble Earl for presenting this Motion with his usual courtesy and clarity. There is one point to which I should like to respond immediately and with satisfaction. The noble Earl stated his premise that the United Kingdom parliamentary system, and therefore the realm, should be preserved intact. That, to my mind, is the heart of the matter. We must keep it in our minds while debating this subject. I imagine that the large majority of this House would endorse that principle.
Nevertheless, we must note that the principle is challenged because the Scottish National Party has changed its ground. It was for a long time in favour of devolution. It is now advocating separation: separation of parliaments and of the nation. It is impossible in a short debate to deal with fundamental constitutional issues, but it is timely to make one or two points.
Devolution could be consistent with unity. Separation is divisive and is intended to be so. It is timely for the thoughtful people who are Scottish to whom the noble Earl has appealed to begin to weigh the penalties which would inevitably follow separation. The first that occurs to me is that inside the Westminster Parliament the English Members would be bound to curtail the influence of the Scots on United Kingdom affairs. They would succeed. Statistically we are over-represented in the United Kingdom Parliament. Secondly, on the international stage, the Scots in my opinion have had much influence. In such matters power talks. The reality of the matter is that the real power would he with the English Parliament.
If there is one subject on which the nation ought to be united it is security. I would hate to see the separation of the parliaments involving that issue. Clearly the noble Earl was conscious of such pitfalls because he re-posed a question debated many times. It is whether there might not be some additional plans 247 of devolution which could improve on the present and whether some body might be appointed—the noble Earl used the term "wise men"—which could, as he put it, interpret the views of the Scottish people to the Scottish Office in Edinburgh and to Whitehall. It is interesting that he should link this to St. Andrew's House in Edinburgh. St. Andrew's House was set up so that it could be closer to the people and interpret their wishes better.
It is curious that some years ago I presided over a committee of very wise Scottish men and women with terms of reference almost matching those which the noble Earl recommends. It was a very difficult assignment. The debate circled then as it will circle now on two kinds of possible conventions to sit in Edinburgh. The first would have the power to debate the kinds of issues which the noble Earl has suggested—the allocation of block grant and so on. That was turned down on the ground that it would be a talking shop and would simply add to the number of people debating the issues.
The other convention, because law is the essence of parliamentary government, would be given some legislative power. In the case of Scotland, authority might be given to start the parliamentary legislative process on Bills designated by Mr. Speaker as purely Scottish Bills. Such a convention might take the Green Paper stage, the White Paper stage and Second Reading of such Bills and then those Bills would be transferred back to Westminster to complete the legal process. Because legislators must be elected and not appointed—I am speaking of legislation now—if such a convention were set up, it would be most appropriately done and manned by the existing elected Scottish Members of Parliament.
That is the nearest in my mind to any scheme which might have been practical in terms of devolution to Scotland. Would the noble Earl's proposals for a committee or small body of wise men and women come to any different conclusion? I doubt it. However, I do not see why the experiment should not be tried to seek to identify whether anything could be improved.
I believe that I am coming to the conclusion myself that unless at some future date federalism was to be adopted, in which the English have shown no interest whatsoever, no additional plan for devolution could pass the test of efficiency now. And that must be the test if we are to make constitutional change.
Sometimes, when I see the list of grievances, catalogued by the Scottish National Party, from which we are supposed to suffer, I think we are being talked into some kind of inferiority complex in Scotland. That would be historically absurd. The funny thing about the jibe about the heads of all the departments being Scots was that it was true. In the Empire days it was the Scots who excelled.
Scotland is a partner in the United Kingdom Government. The United Kingdom Government is a partner in Europe and I see nothing in that situation which does not offer the fullest possible scope for all the Scottish talents. I rather hope that we shall not continue too long to discuss this in future years. We 248 have to get down to the job and assert our superiority.
§ 3.46 p.m.
§ Lord Mackie of Benshie
My Lords, the record of my party in this has been consistent since before the First World War; and when we talk about devolution to Scotland we mean a Scottish Parliament with people elected to run the affairs of Scotland within the framework of the United Kingdom. One can call it a federal system or anything else, but that is what we mean when we talk about devolution. We mean a Scottish Parliament.
We started in 1913 when there was a Bill on the stocks. We have been advocating it and we have been refining our ideas ever since. It has now come to a point where I do not believe that the Government can ignore the demands in Scotland for a decent form of workable devolution. Scotland is neither heaven nor hell. The Government no doubt will say that it is heaven with manna rained down by various archangels named Sanderson and others on the lucky citizens of Scotland. Other people say that it is pure hell. Neither is true, but much is wrong with Scotland today.
I have been looking back to the debates on this subject, of which there have been many, including one a year ago, and the ministerial pronouncement, before he was cut off by the end of time, was that he believed that the main issues were jobs, health, housing and education. There was an interesting statement from the noble Lord, Lord Goold, that what the Scottish industrialists wanted was not devolution but lower interest rates, lower taxation, a stable exchange rate and business rating reform. We have lower taxation, but higher interest rates and the exchange rate is too high.
We have figures for unemployment in Scotland. In 1979 it was 5.7 per cent. of the workforce and in 1988 with a greatly altered basis it was 10.8 per cent. The figures for people in employment in 1979 was 2,102,000 and in June 1988 it was 1,888,000. We all know that the condition of agriculture and many other of the Scottish problems are causing great worry.
An interesting article appeared in the Scotsman asking where the graduates have gone. Since 1983, 14,000 graduates have deserted Scotland. Such people really matter in the creation of wealth and happiness in a country and when such a loss occurs it is time to look at an alternative to the present situation. There was always a great drag of clever young Scottish people to the Empire—when we had an Empire—and since the last war, to London. They come to London in large numbers because it is the centre of power. People are always pulled towards a town or city which is the centre of power.
I speak with respect to the noble Lord, Lord Home, in saying that arguments put forward about the importance of the Secretary of State in the British system and his importance to Scotland are an admission that the real power lies in London. Of course the Scottish Office argues with the Treasury. However, it does not argue for a block grant but it argues about the detail. It has influence but it does 249 not say exactly what will be done with the money. It cannot tell me that the Treasury does not examine with care what it does.
That is the essence of the argument: the power lies in London. When that occurs the people at home are not so responsible. Apart from its appalling neglect of the minority, technically speaking the Stormont Parliament worked extremely well. It is interesting to note that more of the good and able people in Northern Ireland wanted to be members of Stormont than wanted to play a subsidiary role in Westminster. The essence of the argument for a Scottish parliament for Scottish affairs is that if one gives real power to the Scottish people one also gives real responsibility. It is there from which the health and happiness of the nation can come.
§ 3.53 p.m.
§ Viscount Dunrossil
In this short debate it would not be appropriate for me to dwell at length on the hope that I may receive the indulgence and tolerant understanding which is by custom accorded to those who speak for the first time in your Lordships' House. I say simply that the hope is a very real one.
Nor, strictly speaking, should I detain your Lordships unduly by setting out at any length my reasons for speaking in the debate. But in view of my long years of absence abroad in the service of the Crown, which may indeed have produced something of a Rip MacWinkle effect, I should like to offer one or two personal credentials to explain this rather hesitant intervention in the debate. We are all grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Perth, for bringing it about. It may also explain why I should like to follow with interest any future developments in Scottish affairs. However, many noble Lords are more expert and authoritative on the subject than I am ever likely to be.
First, like many noble Lords, I am of Scottish descent and parentage. I was at school in Edinburgh and therefore can claim to be at least partially educated. As a family we own and maintain a small house of the Isle of North Uist in the Outer Hebrides from where we originate on my father's side. As W. S. Morrison, he began life by speaking Gaelic at his mother's knee. However, quite soon afterwards he achieved a tolerable command of the English language. Some of your Lordships may recall that it was good enough to enable him to become Speaker in another place for a decade in the fifties. Circumstances did not permit him to attend this House very often, but had he been allowed to do so I am sure that he would have enjoyed it.
After their Army service in World War I, and after attending Edinburgh University, both my parents were called to the English Bar. My father contested the Western Isles parliamentary seat in 1924. With his local kinship and speeches in Gaelic he did remarkably well, but not well enough to be elected. They say that possibly his being a Conservative had something to do with it.
My father's involvement in the law and later politics meant that my brothers and I grew up mainly 250 in England, although also partly in Scotland. In England we were very conscious of being a Scots family, but when we went to Scotland our cousins teased us mercilessly for our English accents. I suppose that with such a mixed upbringing there may have been a temptation to resolve the dichotomy by plumping for one nationality or the other. After all, we became very conscious of the differences between the Scots and the English. As it happened the reverse occurred, and as we grew up we acquired a profound respect for and a deep loyalty towards the United Kingdom. We realised that one did not necessarily have to live full-time in Scotland—and millions of Scots do not—to be well aware of one's Scots identity and heritage. It was also borne in on us that whatever may be the disadvantages of the United Kingdom relationship it was a wider field of opportunity and culture which, if properly and sensitively managed, could bring many advantages and blessings to the English and the Scots alike.
When we come to look at the call for devolution, separation and some form of Scottish Assembly I would be very cautious, and indeed wary, if the integrity and viability of the United Kingdom were in any way threatened as a consequence. There may be some advantages which will flow from devolution. However, to use a Scots legal phrase, I suggest that in the very nature of things they cannot at this stage be other than "not proven".
After all that wary caution I should like to end on a positive note. We hear a great deal nowadays about the coming impact of 1992 and the impending submergence of the United Kingdom national economy and its political and social identity under the swelling tide of our involvement in Europe. Perhaps one day that process may be carried to its logical conclusion and we shall end up simply as Europeans. But we are not there yet any more than are in reality most of our European partners.
Meanwhile, the Secretary of State for Scotland has made the very best of the world in which we live by recently securing £73 million of ERDF funds to help the Highlands and Islands with the infrastructure for their continuing future development. No doubt some would have liked even more money, but having served in Brussels for a few years I know only too well how difficult it is to achieve a clear-cut and advantageous result in such a complex capital.
To bring about that success it appears that Scottish political leaders of all persuasions did a great job in raising the consciousness of the Europeans in regard to Scotland, and especially to its beautiful, though disadvantaged, Highlands and Islands region. I hope that credit will be given to the officials who presented a magnificent case together with the Scottish regional councils and the Highlands and Islands Development Board. Not only did they achieve that result but they effected on the Commission a major reversal of its initial position. It was an in-depth exercise in very considerable persuasion. I believe that that is possibly one of the better ways forward for Scotland to engage in the real world. I hope that the Government will make sure that those funds having been secured from Europe, their own countervailing contributions are made readily and amply available.
§ 4 p.m.
§ Lord Taylor of Gryfe
My Lords, it falls to me to speak on behalf of the whole House when I congratulate the noble Viscount, Lord Dunrossil, on a notable, witty and very wise speech. His recent experience of dealing with small countries which have achieved self-government and independence will, I am sure, be useful in considering the subject we are addressing. Time constraints prevent my paying adequate compliment to the noble Viscount on his speech; and I hope that he will understand that.
The greatest danger to a democratic society is excessive concentration of power at the centre. In our society today individuals feel impotent in the face of large organisations which control much of their lives. That is a real dilemma in a democratic society. But the Government have shown little awareness of those tensions and have disregarded the particular problems of dissatisfaction which arise in the relationship between Westminister and the people of Scotland.
Perhaps I may give three examples: first, the imposition of the poll tax ahead of England—a very unpopular tax imposed by Westminster on a reluctant Scottish population; secondly, the inadequacies and discrimination against Scotland involved in the rating system, particularly for commercial properties; and thirdly, the departure from traditional regional policy—which is now operated from the centre by the Department of Enterprise—which had served Scotland so well. Those conditions create a resentment which has contributed to a growth of Scottish nationalism. Therefore, I charge the Government with some responsibility for those developments. They may delight in the fact that in some areas the Scot Nats may replace the Labour Party. I do not know whether that is part of their strategy but at least they have contributed to the dissatisfaction which exists.
The Social Democrat Party, on whose behalf I am speaking, welcomes the discussions taking place on the setting up of a Scottish assembly. Perhaps I may say that my only regret is that we are not invited to contribute. I hope that any discussions which take place on the future of a Scottish assembly will also include an invitation to the Conservative Party to play a part in those talks and that they will respond.
I must state that we are totally opposed to any break-up of the Union. We feel that that would be completely disastrous from every point of view. It may satisfy the Scottish nationalist ego but it will make no contribution whatever to the social wellbeing of our country. Therefore I hope that our position is clear in that regard.
However, the so-called assembly which is being set up will be required to deal with one or two important points. First, the West Lothian question has not been answered. If you give more power to the Scottish parliament you must diminish the power of the Scots MPs to participate in the UK Parliament. Secondly, as I am sure our friends in the Labour Party realise, the importance of the Scottish vote in Westminster affairs should be made clear. There can be no prospect of a future Labour Government if you diminish Scottish representation in the Westminster 252 Parliament. You must also take on board the diminution of the authority of the Secretary of State for Scotland who is a member of the UK Cabinet and who exercises considerable influence in national as well as Scottish affairs. Those matters must be weighed in the balance.
Finally, as the noble Earl, Lord Perth, pointed out, if you are going to have a Scottish parliament in Edinburgh you must surely abolish one tier of local government. It would be a nonsense to have Strathclyde running half the area of Scotland and another parliament sitting in Edinburgh. Those questions must be faced by the people discussing the future setting up of an assembly. I hope that the issues will be discussed on a consensus basis with the aim of seeking the best solution.
One other point will concern your Lordships. Very few people, with the notable exception of Mr. Hattersley in another place, have addressed themselves to the question of where the House of Lords fits into this jigsaw. At least Mr. Hattersley has had the courage to say that he would abolish the House of Lords and set up regional government—a new House of Lords. You must then address the question: what would that do to the authority of the House of Commons and the future structure of Westminster government? Those matters must be discussed. Let us discuss them reasonably and try to seek solutions that achieve a reasonable balance for Scotland in handling its own affairs without the dissolving of the structure of the United Kingdom.
§ 4.7 p.m.
§ Lord Ferrier
My Lords, I notice from the Motion tabled by the noble Earl that he uses the words:with special reference to the case for increased devolution".In other words, he admits that devolution is in progress now. We are no longer all allowed to congratulate the noble Viscount, Lord Dunrossil, on his maiden speech but I do so because I remember calling on his father in Australia.
The first thing I did when the noble Earl's Motion came out of the hat was to read through the debate on the Motion tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Morton of Shuna, to which the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, has already referred. I find myself in complete agreement with the several noble Lords who complained that these short debates do not provide adequate opportunity for the discussion of so major a subject. The noble Earl and the noble Lord, Lord Grimond, took an opportunity in the debate on the gracious Speech to say a few words on Scottish devolution. By this manoeuvre the noble Earl has gained himself 11 minutes plus today's 15 minutes when other noble Lords only have six minutes. There are many of us here today who urge the powers-that-be to arrange for a full-dress debate on Scotland as soon as may be. I believe that we should have one and I trust that my noble friend Lord Sanderson will keep an eye on that matter.
The fact remains that since the debate of the noble Lord, Lord Morton, only a year ago, the Govan by-election has had an important effect on affairs and it is clear that we must accept that in Scotland—and I emphasise "in Scotland"—there is an urge to 253 promote the idea of a parliament in Edinburgh and, as my noble friend Lord Home said, even a separation from the Union. I appeal to the Government to recognise that something must be done firmly to establish the fact that this whole proposal is out of the question.
In my view the proposal does not make sense. First, there is some reliance on the referendum, which I analyse as follows. The population of Scotland is 5,300,000; the voters' roll was 3,747,000; those who voted in favour of a Scottish Parliament totalled 1,231,000; those who voted against totalled 1,153,500; 1,262,612 did not vote. Therefore, the "no" votes plus those who abstained produced a total of 2,516,152 who did not vote "yes" in the referendum.
What about the Scots who live and work elsewhere, in England and abroad? The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, said in his very thoughtful speech that the centre of power is in London. But what of the people who are working outwith Scotland? Are they not to be consulted? Are they to take part in this—I was about to say "assembly" but "convention" is much the better word from the Scotsman's point of view—miraculous convention?
Your Lordships may know that I lived and worked abroad for over 30 years. There must be few such people who would like to be governed by those who live in Scotland itself—the Scots in Canada and in New Zealand, who are lively Scottish supporters, who want to be British and who are entitled to express a view to that effect. Are they not to be consulted?
The captive Scottish press, in leading articles and published correspondence, continues to bind, bind and hind like the noble Earl, who has been at it for years. To some extent the BBC is blameworthy. It has constantly referred to the community charge as a poll tax. I notice that the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, also referred to it as a poll tax, which it is not. I thought it a good thing that we in this House were used as guinea pigs to give a good threshing to the proposals, which we did with great success. Again the BBC in its report about the identity card proposals only last night, made no reference to the fact that the Bill applies only to England and Wales, not Scotland.
I have taken the trouble to take some soundings and a selection of the replies can well be summarised as follows: from a serving officer in the Army, who said it was, "A lot of hot air", and from a skilled working man, who said, "Och, if they have a Parliament in Scotland, I leave for England". Is it possible that the SNP and others are using this hot air to whistle in the dark?
The noble Lord, Lord Sanderson, in his winding up speech last year made telling point after telling point, but nobody paid any attention. I criticised the Scottish press then as I do today. The Scotsman and the Glasgow Herald—if one wants to be guided by their contentions—said that a Scottish Parliament was in the offing. This must be wrong. It is quite wrong to complain that there are road tolls in Scotland and none in England. There may not be a toll bridge across the Thames but there is a toll for the tunnel under it.
254 The fact is that Scottish influence is increasingly establishing itself in the United Kingdom. What about drinking hours? What about the ordination of women in the Church? What about Sunday opening? What about sundry other decisions favouring our Scottish traditions? I am a robust Scot. My mother was English and my late beloved wife was English. What can England do to help solidify the Union? It must respect the depth of Scottish feeling over, for example, the Ravenscraig problems. What can England do to press the case for an international airport at Prestwick?
Is there any need to sneer unkindly at the Prime Minister who is the elected head of Her Majesty's Government of the United Kingdom? Let us not associate ourselves with the offensive ballyhoo which has arisen from the Govan by-election. Let us instead bend our undoubted energies to develop the friendly and successful association with England that the Almighty has vouchsafed so far. Remember, it was the English fleet that kept the French from supporting Marie de Guise some 400 years ago.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Baroness Carnegy of Lour
My Lords, in the political atmosphere in Scotland at present it is all too easy to put the cart before the horse and to get excited about solutions to the problem without properly identifying what the problem really is.
What is the problem? What do people feel that they are not getting which they should get from the present system? There is, I believe, a great paradox in this. There is in fact widespread acceptance in Scotland that the issues which the present Government are addressing in the main are crucial to Scotland—the economy, jobs, schools, housing and the environment. Scots are well aware that these things cannot be achieved without change. Scotland must not be left behind in that change.
Here the problem begins. When the elected Government of the day put forward radical proposals designed precisely to meet the changing needs of Scotland, we Scots do not find ourselves reacting—at least not these days—like the enterprising, innovative people it is natural for us to be. The discussion on television and in the press seldom looks at a government proposal on its merits. It is seldom positive, constructive or showing vision. It is strongly orientated towards the status quo. Most of the talk is narking criticism. If nothing else can be found to complain about, the idea is condemned as too English. It is only later when the policies come into action that people begin to admit privately to one another that perhaps the ideas are not so bad after all.
That might not matter too much; after all, we Scots enjoy being awkward. It would not matter if it were not for two serious side effects. First, the time and energy taken up by so much negative talk makes us feel that we are not getting on and, indeed, slows progress. Secondly, increasing numbers of people south of the Border, especially younger more thoughtful people, are beginning to lose patience. "If you want to stick with the old ways", they say, "and if you want to continue with high public expenditure, 255 a large bureaucracy and a dependency culture, that is your choice; but do not expect the rest of us to wait for you or to pay for it. If you want to separate, perhaps that is for the better. At least the rest of us are less likely to move back to the old ways again". Scots at home hear that more and more from young relations who work in the South. I am sure that noble Lords do too.
That is where the problem really lies. There is too much negative thinking and negative argument at the expense of moving forward. We are beginning to isolate ourselves from the rest of the United Kingdom. Both aspects have alarming implications for our standard of living and for our children's future. They could well lead, willy-nilly, to an increasingly separate Scotland, a tiny country on the geographical edge of the EC with the most enterprising people moving out to find greater scope elsewhere.
What is the solution? We certainly need, in a sense, more devolution—more devolution from the Government to the people; more say on the ground in the way we run our lives; more decisions made by us and fewer decisions made by the UK government, Scottish government or local government. At the same time I believe that we need less rather than more devolution at the top. We need to have a stronger, not a weaker, partnership within the rest of the United Kingdom. We need to look out and not always be looking inwards.
We have so much to share—the insights of our Scottish institutions, our law, our education system, our Church. We could bring a far greater contribution than we do to, for example, the United Kingdom health service and the running of the whole economy. We need as many Scottish Members of Parliament as we can justify. We need as many Scots as possible in the Cabinet, in UK government departments and in the big UK job opportunities. That is the way to influence events and to increase United Kingdom and European sensitivities to Scotland. We see it happening now through having a Scots Lord Chancellor, a Scots Secretary of State for Defence and a top-rank Secretary of State for Scotland.
I believe that the Scottish Office needs to be more and not less closely linked to the rest of the United Kingdom. As 1992 approaches we need very strong departmental links within the United Kingdom that will mean stronger links between Scotland and Europe. So please, my Lords, we need not more devolution but less devolution: more devolution by the government to the people on the ground but a stronger partnership between us all in the United Kingdom and a stronger bridge between Scotland and Europe than we would ever have if England were a separate country. I hope that your Lordships will continue to take a very balanced view on this subject.
§ 4.20 p.m.
§ Lord Grimond
My Lords, as the first speaker from these Benches since he made his maiden speech, I offer our congratulations to the noble Viscount, Lord Dunrossil, on his most excellent speech. Let us get 256 one thing clear. It is not devolution that is divisive but the lack of it. Ireland was divided from the rest of Great Britain by the hard-line Unionists. Had anyone listened to the arguments for Home Rule, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland would have been Great Britain with Ireland in it today.
Like other noble Lords, I am deeply grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Perth, for raising this matter and I am delighted to be with him on it. I have suggested before that we should reconstitute Kilbrandon and bring it up to date, particularly as regards such matters as oil revenues and the subject of Europe. I go along with him in saying that it may be a good thing now to have a working party. The crucial question is whether Scotland is a nation. If she is, she is surely perfectly entitled to say that she wishes to change her method of government. She has made it absolutely crystal clear that she wants to do so. Even if she is not a nation, people must be worried that one cannot obtain them appointment of a Scottish committee in the House of Commons when clearly the government in Scotland is breaking down and is totally undemocratic.
Since I last spoke on this subject there have been other developments. Another Scottish company, namely William Collins, has been taken over. Scottish business and life are still being steadily diminished. I wish to go further than a working party and the bringing up to date of Kilbrandon. I believe (and I introduced a Bill to this effect) that Scotland should be responsible for its own internal affairs. The right way to set about this is to draft a Bill that states what powers are to be reserved to the United Kingdom Parliament. In my view those matters should be foreign affairs, defence and major economic planning. Other matters are for the Scottish Parliament.
The reason why the last Bill failed was that it was an appalling mess. It was abominably drafted and ill-thought-out. if one looks back at the first Bills produced for Ireland, they are beautifully drafted and extremely simple and in my view that achievement can be repeated for Scotland. Before one sets about any further effective democratic devolution one must be clear about certain matters—namely, what one considers are the matters that require the United Kingdom Parliament. Also one must be clear that Scotland must raise its own taxation for its own internal affairs. In addition, it cannot expect to have its present representation at Westminster. It is nonsense to talk about further devolution and then to say that Scotland must still depend on the United Kingdom Exchequer for large grants or that it is to have as many people sitting at Westminster.
I understand that lately there have been two suggestions for carrying this matter a little further. The first is that Scotland should become an independent country and also a member of the European set-up—whatever it may be called—when it comes about. I do not understand how that is to cure the present troubles in Scotland. Scotland needs to run its own internal affairs. Furthermore if Scotland transfers power to Brussels or Strasbourg, it will be up against the same difficulty as it now faces with London. Its best people will go there. The main 257 complaint at the moment is that all power, influence and the top people and all that goes with them are drained off to London. It is not much use them being drained off to Brussels instead. However, I agree that we should contribute to Europe because I am a convinced European.
I understand also that it has been explained by the Labour Party, and no doubt we shall hear more about it, that somehow or other the second Chamber is to be brought into this matter. It is an interesting suggestion. I do not suggest as regards such an idea anything more than I do about the European Assembly—that it may not have a part to play. I do not understand how the setting up of a second Chamber with Scottish representation is going to deal with the fundamental demand of Scotland to run its own internal affairs.
We must bear in mind that the Scottish background to government is different from the English. If one sets up a Scottish Parliament it cannot be a mere repetition of the English Parliament. It has to take into account the social organisation of Scotland. We should always remember that what have kept the Scottish tradition and culture alive are not its politicians but its law, education and Church. These are in quite a different category in Scotland than in England.
§ 4.26 p.m.
§ Lord Elliott of Morpeth
My Lords, I find myself as an Englishman taking part once again in a debate about the possibility of some form of devolved government for Scotland. I find that on four previous occasions in your Lordships' House a year ago and on three previous occasions in another place, I have taken part in such a debate as this. I have done so for a very distinct reason. I live just 50 miles south of the Scottish border. For quite a long time I represented a constituency in another place in the area known as the North East of England. Over a very long period of time I was consequently rightly involved in the enormous problems which the North East of England knew and to some degree still knows.
I listened with considerable admiration to the contribution made this afternoon by my noble friend Lady Carnegy. At the beginning of her well-reasoned speech—with which I found myself almost wholly in agreement—she outlined the problems facing Scotland. My statement to the House today, as on previous occasions, is that in the main the problems that face Scotland are the same problems that we have known over a considerable period of time in the North East of England. Constant essential interest in development area policy has meant having constant knowledge of other areas with similar needs and challenges.
Scotland and the North East share largely common problems. Development areas have been, and continue to be, in competition in the sphere of attracting essential new industry to replace the old. There is nothing wrong with competition. With others on these Benches I have stood for competition in the broadest sense for a long time. There is nothing wrong with competition provided that it is reasonably fair. It is very desirable. At no time more 258 than the present, the North East of England, through some recently-appointed bodies and with considerable government support, is doing a great deal to help itself and to meet the competition given by other areas with similar problems.
In 1976 in another place I opposed a Bill which, if it had been passed, would have created a Scottish Parliament and in doing so would have greatly, as I saw it then and see it still today, disadvantaged the development areas in England. I said then, and I say it again, that so far as concerns the North East of England, a full parliamentary assembly in Edinburgh, with a full civil service behind it and with a full press lobby, would represent, just over the border from us, a very heavy form of unfair competition in the attraction of new industry.
In no way would I seek on this occasion or any other to underestimate the problems that Scotland knows and has known; but I ask that Scotland should recognise problems elsewhere of a similar nature. If we are to have some form of constitutional change, let it be for the United Kingdom as a whole.
A five-minute speech is much too short to include statistics, which I have given on other occasions. It is nevertheless sufficient to say that Scotland on a per capita basis over the years has not done badly at all. I noted that my noble friend Lord Home talked of Scotland getting into some state of an inferiority complex. It was never noticeable in another place judging by the Scottish Members of Parliament there. In addition Scotland, through various promotional campaigns—some of which I have greatly admired, and I think particularly of the "locate in Scotlandcampaign—has done a great deal to help itself.
Finally, the case for a separate assembly has always been mainly on the grounds of the so-called North-South divide. The North East of England and Scotland have known the mutual problems of location—the long haul to the densely-populated areas of the country, and the long haul to Europe. But I would strongly suggest that full note should be taken on this occasion, as on all others, that the North-South divide is something that is shrinking rapidly. Unemployment in the North East of England has fallen very rapidly—and I shall again avoid giving statistics—in the last year alone. I therefore strongly advocate the continuation of present policies, which are overcoming the modern problems of the whole of the northern half of our island, and which will continue to do so.
I say with some knowledge of business in the North East of England that if a company is asked today what it wants most—and I am sure that a company's thinking in the North East of England would be much the same as a company's thinking in Scotland—it would start with lower interest rates, because most businesses certainly want that. It would then go on to lower taxation, because they all want that too. It might suggest that stable exchange rates would be helpful. Perhaps I might add that businessmen, particularly in development areas, welcome very much indeed the reform of the rating of business premises. We are getting all these things with the present Government. Let us continue with present policies (which are working well) rather than plunge into something very new.
§ Lord Wilson of Langside:
My Lords, the most interesting speech of the noble Lord, Lord Elliott of Morpeth, has added force to the conviction that has been growing on me over these last months, particularly since the Govan by-election, that we, the Scottish people, must make more of an effort to get into perspective the issues involved in this question of devolution. I imagine that few would quarrel with the proposition that so far as administrative and executive devolution is concerned we must have as much of it as is consistent with efficiency within the context of the United Kingdom.
Much has been said in the debate about the clamour from Scotland for its own parliament and for an assembly. I must confess that I am not aware of such a clamour among the ordinary people of Scotland. There is a clamour—of course a great clamour—from the political parties, the politicians and their acolytes for legislative devolution. I do not quarrel with the concept of administrative and executive devolution, but the question of legislative devolution raises problems of the utmost complexity with which governments to date, and particularly the last Labour Government, have never come to terms. They have never really given profound thought to them.
The difficulty with the Bill which the noble Lord, Lord Grimond, so graphically and accurately described to us and which was presented to Parliament by the last Labour Government was that it had not been drafted with an understanding that a simple difficulty emerges right away because we, the British, do not have a written constitution. The difficulties that emerge from that have been touched on already by my noble friend Lord Taylor.
If someone could show me a blueprint which would satisfy me that a separate legislative chamber in Scotland would strengthen the partnership between Scotland and England, I would be in favour of it. but the point is that the English and the Scots are a partnership. I prefer to see it as a symbiotic relationship. Anything that weakens that relationship I would be inclined to be against. I would be inclined to test any proposals in that way. By all means let us go on talking about the problem.
I said in opening that the Scottish people must get it into perspective. It is a perennial problem. It has been going since 1707 when the partnership was entered into. You cannot run a successful partnership if you are continually bickering about the terms of the partnership agreement. I cannot help feeling that we, the Scots, indulge in too much of that.
What happened when the Labour Government presented it to the people of Scotland? When they were faced with the reality, the clamour that there had been after the Hamilton by-election in 1966 had apparently evaporated. Faced with the reality of the proposal of the Government, 67 per cent. of the people of Scotland either voted no or did not bother to vote at all. That was the real test of the enthusiasm of the Scottish people for a legislative assembly in Edinburgh.
I remain sceptical about the benefits that would flow from such an assembly. If someone can draw up 260 a blueprint which would satisfy the reservations and doubts of so many people, well and good if the Scottish people want it. But I am astonished at the clamour that suggests that we should submit to government by opinion polls, particularly from the Nationalist Party. It is essential that if ever we are faced with a government who present us with such a measure again there will be a referendum. The whole matter has to be considered in the United Kingdom rather than in the Scottish context.
§ 4.40 p.m.
§ Lord Stodart of Leaston
My Lords, in a trailer of this debate in one of the Scottish newspapers it was portrayed as being held as a result of the shockwaves spreading out from the Govan result, still reverberating through Scotland. But of course we have been here before. In November 1967 the result of a by-election at Hamilton showed the Labour Party majority of 17,000 being overturned. Alarm bells rang furiously and devolution came onto everyone's lips. At least two committees were set up; one very distinguished, headed by my noble friend Lord Home of the Hirsel. Then what was described as the "Declaration of Perth" was uttered. So I think it is quite undeniable that the subject of devolution will not go away.
However, I think we have to face the fact that no solution or suggestion has so far been made which is both workable and acceptable. As regards the status quo, my noble friend Lord Pym, when he was in another place some years ago, said, "Status quo, not an option". Very recently Mr. Ancram said there was very little support for it. At the other end of the scale there is independence, which I think is totally unacceptable.
So is there anything in between which is both workable and acceptable? It has been suggested—I think again by Mr. Ancram, who is looking into the matter—that one helpful step would be to increase the direct Scottish representation in departments—for example, in the Department of Trade and Industry—where policy is formulated for the whole of the United Kingdom. I am sure that that would help. For several years in succession there was a Scottish Minister in the Ministry of Agriculture and the arrangement worked extremely well, although I recall on one occasion a permanent secretary coming to me and saying, "Minister, when you are referring to the Scots will you please stop referring to them as 'us' and talk about them as 'them'".
An assembly or a convention is a quite obvious candidate for the in-between ground. I would not go along with those who knock it down on the grounds of over-government. I would certainly do away with the present regions and have an assembly, if it were going to work, and the districts. Of one thing I am quite certain and nothing will shake me on this—I speak as one of two Scots on this side of the House this evening who have both served in the Scottish Office in another place—it would be of the greatest benefit to legislative efficiency. I think ruefully of a night in June 1964 when at 10 o'clock one evening we started on the Report stage of the Hire Purchase Bill, to which there were 80 amendments of a Scottish 261 nature. That was because the then Board of Trade had not appreciated that the law of Scotland did not fit in with that of England and Wales.
I recall the Police Act of 1964 in which, as the Bill was originally drafted, Clause 1 dealt with police activity in England. Clause 2 dealt with the same activity in Scotland; and after Clause 2 the then Home Secretary, Mr. Henry Brooke, said that he was not prepared to have repetitions of such a kind and that there should be a separate Scottish Bill because of the separate legislature existing in Scotland. That is the only ground on which I would favour the setting up of an assembly; but apparently it is not acceptable to the commercial world and that is something we would be crazy to ignore.
Secondly, I doubt very much whether it would be workable, because we come back to the inescapable fact that if a reduced number of Scottish Members, even if they were to be reduced from 72 to 58, came down to London and threw their weight against the Government in London it would create a situation which I think would be intolerable, considering that the reverse activity could not take place. That is why I think we run up into a dead end on this subject.
§ 4.47 p.m.
§ Viscount Massereene and Ferrard
My Lords, I have taken part in quite a few debates regarding devolution for Scotland. I remember one in 1977, I think, which was a very topsy-turvy debate. The Bill at that time foundered, as it was bound to do. But there is always a danger when you start on devolution, although the danger is of course not great provided that the driving force behind independence remains the Scottish Nationalist Party, because the Scots are very intelligent and well-educated people and they will not allow it to happen. Perhaps I should say that I am partly Scottish myself, and anything like the present Scottish Nationalist Party certainly will not bring about an independent Scotland.
Of course if you had an independent Scotland it would be disastrous. Scotland at the moment has quite a lot of devolution. She has her own laws, her own Church and her own local government. She also has her own Queen, although this does not quite come into the question of devolution.
I should really like to speak for a moment about tourism because I have spoken a lot about devolution in the past. So I should like to speak about tourism and about the particular part of Scotland where I have an estate. I am by blood more than half Scottish, with a bit of Irish and bit of English. I know the Western Highlands particulary well and I know the East Coast too. But I should like to be rather selfish, if that is the right word, and speak for the moment about my own particular part of Scotland. Last summer, MacBraynes, presumably upon the advice of the tourist board, were encouraged to build a new car ferry. This new car ferry takes 1,000 people per voyage, and for a few months during the summer there were six voyages backwards and forwards between Oban and the Isle of Mull every day. Certain problems followed.
To start with it is said that the computers went wrong when they were building the vessel. But, of 262 course, computers cannot go wrong; they can break down, but they cannot go wrong. What happened was that when the vessel was built her hull was too short for her height, so that she was perhaps rather unsafe in a bad sea. So she then had to go to British Shipbuilders, who had built her, where she was cut in half. She came back into service a short time ago and appears to be quite stable now.
What I am trying to say is that I believe that the Scottish Tourist Board have overplayed their hand in the matter because the first time the vessel came out she was full to capacity. If she is going to make an average—which she does—of six voyages per day throughout the summer and if she is going to carry 1,000 people on every voyage, life will be quite impossible on Mull because accommodation for the four, five or six thousand people who come over every day does not exist. Further, there is no room on the roads, and the bridges will have to be rebuilt. Indeed, the whole exercise will be disastrous.
The other point I wish to make is that the island will be ruined. It is a point which the tourist industry in Scotland does not seem to understand. I am all in favour of people seeing beautiful country and interesting geological features but, if they come in too great numbers, and such numbers are not controlled, then of course they will spoil what they have come to see. Indeed, that is now happening in the Isle of Mull with the flora and fauna and the whole surroundings.
I did not speak about devolution because I have always been very much against that. On the other hand, I am all for an arrangement which will lead to Scotland having more say in its affairs, where that is possible. However, Scotland does have a great say in its affairs anyway. I have never heard among the crofters, or the people with whom I mix a lot, any clamour for Scottish independence. It may exist among some would-be politicians who would like to have the power that they might achieve through it, but I have never heard local people ask for it.
As I say, Scottish people appear on the whole more intelligent than English. For example, I have had shepherds whose children have become doctors and one is even a lawyer, whereas that is surely a rare occurrence in England. I have spoken for too long and shall sit down. I hope that the noble Earl, Lord Perth, will forgive me for not having spoken on devolution but I did particularly want to make the point about tourism.
§ 4.54 p.m.
§ Lady Saltoun of Abernethy
My Lords, only a year ago I spoke in this House about devolution and my opinions have not altered much since, except that I said then that I believed that any form of devolved government for Scotland would ultimately lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom. I would go further now and say that I cannot see how it would be possible to have a Scottish assembly or parliament with legislative and fiscal powers when the political complexion of that assembly is likely to be the direct opposite of that of the Government of the, United Kingdom.
That was a problem which was not addressed in 1978 when the Scotland Bill was debated. It was 263 raised, as was the question of Scottish representation at Westminster, but I do not think solutions were found to either problem. At that time the situation was different. Now it has changed, and I can see no satisfactory answer. Either you have one British Parliament, as we have now, or you have an altogether separate government as the Nationalists want, which, as I said last year, would be bad for England and catastrophic for Scotland.
Here I must point out to the Opposition, who complain that Scotland, which has returned a large majority of Labour Members, is being governed by a Conservative Government, that there was a time within living memory when England, which had returned a majority of Conservative Members, was being governed by a Labour Government because of the Scottish vote. Give and take is necessary in a union.
I return now to the idea of an assembly with legislative and fiscal powers. Scotland at present gets far more out of the kitty than it puts in. Of course the Nationalists talk about Scotland's oil, but it is not by any means all Scotland's oil. A lot of it is Shetland's oil and the Shetlanders do not want to be governed by the Scots, thank you very much. They might well join Norway, taking their oil with them: they might even join England, although I think that that is unlikely.
So what happens? Taxation has to increase and by quite a lot too. What happens then? People and businesses go elsewhere. That is very helpful, just when the growth of new businesses and industries is beginning to reduce unemployment. People and businesses leave. Is Hadrian's Wall to be rebuilt to keep them in, or a financial Hadrian's Wall? But long before that uncertainty as to Scotland's political future would have undermined business confidence and cost us a great deal.
The noble Earl, Lord Perth, says—I hope I quote him correctly—that people do not mind being poorer if they are happy. Well, I do not think that the Scots are very unhappy and I think that people always hate being poorer. We are told that after 1992 most of the legislation enacted in Britain will be European. Is it worth setting up a separate assembly to pass in the main the same laws as Westminster? I do not think so and I do not think that it will work. What the Scots really want is prosperity and I think that that is far more likely under the present arrangements.
Like the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilson of Langside, I do not hear a clamour for a separate parliament, except from the media and from politicians who will wield power and draw fat salaries. What might be worth doing is to re-examine the possibility of devolving more of the administrative responsibilities of the Scottish Office to the regional authorities or, if they were abolished, to the district authorities. I do not know how much might be possible—possibly nothing—but it is a thought. Another thought is the possibility of a consultative or advisory committee consisting possibly of nominated members of regional councils which would meet regularly in Edinburgh to advise the Secretary of State.
264 But I go back in the end to repeating what I said last year; namely, that a little more tact, understanding and even common sense would help. There are all sorts of things which could have been better done. For instance, it might have been wiser to have had the Scottish Select Committee even with an anti-Government bias. There is the date of the commencement of poll tax being a year ahead of England. There is the funding of Scottish universities. There is the question of the closing of coastguard stations in the North-East. There is the question of business rates, and there is the question of cold weather payments in upland areas where the temperature is much lower than at the weather station.
There is also the vexed question of the Scottish Development Agency. Why change its name? Why is there this passion for changing names? It is doing a splendid job and is known all over the world as the Scottish Development Agency. Leave it alone. Moreover, it does not help when the Secretary of State accuses the Scots of whingeing or whining.
I often think that I detect a feeling among Ministers that they do their best and whatever they do they cannot win. That may be so, but I urge them to try just a little harder. When I defended myself as a child by saying that I had done my best, I was told that I would have to do better than my best. That is what I am telling them now.
§ 5 p.m.
§ Baroness Strange
My Lords, I thank my noble kinsman and clan chief for initiating this debate. Scotland is in some ways like our Drummond clan badge, the holly, prickly on the outside and yet bearing a berry as red as any blood—our heart's blood— and a blossom as sweet as any flower, which is the flower of our love for her.
I wish to support one particular point in the speech of my noble kinsman—that the new regions imposed on Scotland are by no means universally popular. I asked 100 people at random what they thought, and 92 of them were against the regions. The reasons that they gave were varied. Many felt that they would have to pay more when the rate for the new community charge was fixed by a large region than if they had remained in their own county units. They also felt that the standard of local services had dropped and that the problems of someone living in Dundee, for instance, were very different from those of people living in Pitroddie or Auchmithie, yet they both come under the region of Tayside. The chief objection was the loss of local identity--a feeling that they were losing part of their national identity by being included in a new region instead of an old county.
Looking back a little at Scottish history we find, as your Lordships will know, that in Roman times there were 21 Celtic tribes inhabiting 21 different areas of Scotland, as marked on Ptolemy's map. Scotland at that time stretched down to include most of Cumberland and Northumberland, which were occupied by the Ottadini and the Gadeni. Those living in Central Perthshire were called the Caledonii, which is why Dunkeld is so called. It derives from the 265 dun, or fort, of the Caledonians, from which comes the romantic name of Caledonia.
By the time of Kenneth McAlpine in the mid-ninth century there were four distinct kingdoms: Dalriada, the kingdom of the Scots, which included Argyllshire and the Isles (although Orkney and Shetland remained Norse until the 15th century, when they came as a bride gift to Margaret of Denmark when she married James III); Caledonia, the whole of the east of Scotland to the north of the Firth of Forth; Strathclyde, reaching south from the Clyde into Cumberland, which was also a Celtic kingdom; and the Lothians, running from the south of the Firth of Forth down into Northumberland, which was inhabited by Anglo-Saxons.
Those kingdoms all became one Celtic kingdom by the time of the great-great-grandson— I have missed out a great—of Kenneth McAlpine, Duncan, who was famous for being murdered by his first cousin Macbeth. They were both sons of the daughters of Malcolm II. After reigning for nearly 40 years, Macbeth was overthrown by Duncan's son Malcolm Canmore, whose youngest brother Melmaer was the direct ancestor of the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi.
Malcolm had lived in England since the age of nine. He brought many English ways and customs with him when he came to Scotland in 1057. He married the Saxon Princess Margaret (St. Margaret of Scotland) in 1066. She introduced English as the court language and reorganised the Church on an English rather than a Scottish pattern with its ancient culdees.
Queen Margaret met King Malcolm when she was conveniently shipwrecked on the Firth of Forth while fleeing from William the Conqueror on her way back to Hungary. Her mother was a Hungarian, and so was the captain of the ship, Maurice, a Hungarian of royal ancestry from whom descended all the Drummonds, including my noble kinsman and clan chief, myself, my noble friend Lord Caithness and my noble friend Lord Denham. Through her sons, English administrative systems gradually came in as counties and burghs. They remained in the same form for over 800 years until they were turned into regions as a result of the finding of the Royal Commission chaired by Lord Wheatley between 1966 and 1969.
The heart of the matter exists in paragraphs 113 and 114 of the report of Lord Wheatley. What is local government for? It is to provide local services and local, as distinct from central, government? "Local" (the place, the area) is not defined. Like the GLC, which the Royal Commission consulted, the ultimate conclusions reached were that big is not only beautiful but best.
We then had seven large regions sub-divided into districts. We therefore had two tiers of local government under central government. We suffered from three tiers of government. Fife was to be cut in half, but in that instance David defeated Goliath, or at least Sir David Erskine, the convenor of Fife County Council did. Fife is now one county.
Giants can disappear. The GLC has gone and much nationalisation has been dismantled. Might it not yet be possible to dismantle the regions and return to the 33 old historic counties of Scotland, 266 incorporating the burghs in those areas, and keeping separate the four big cities of Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Dundee?
My noble kinsman, my father, was, at 21, the youngest county councillor for Perthshire. He would be saddened today, as I am, at the abandonment and disappearance of the old boundaries. Might it not be a case for retreating in order to advance better?
§ Lord Ferrier
My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, I believe I am right in saying that Queen Margaret taught the king to read and write.
§ 5.6 p.m.
§ Lord Reay
My Lords, Scottish nationalism at its most dangerous is I believe composed of two elements——a grievance and a temptation to dream. In the 1970s, the grievance was the failure of the Government to make the economy work properly—not just the Scottish economy but the British economy as a whole. The temptation was North Sea oil, which gave spurious credibility to the notion of an economically viable independence.
Today, within the past few months even, the dream of Scotland's oil has been replaced by the dream of a Scotland which is independent in Europe. That idea of independence in Europe has been freshly adopted by the Scottish Nationalists to make the idea of independence less frightening. A Scotland which was independent in Europe would supposedly not be friendless and isolated in the world and cut off from England.
Scotland would be an equal partner in the Community; even, it would seem, a superior partner, for (according to Jim Sillars in his pamphlet No Turning Back):Scottish internationalism is blocked by England's narrow mentality".The achievement of independence would be a purely internal, domestic matter concerning only England and Scotland. Both countries would still be in the Community. Scotland, with its ancient ties to the Continent, would be warmly welcomed by the others as a new member. Within no time, she would find herself with a seat at the Council of Ministers and all the other perquisites of membership, beavering away on the Continent at making the world a better place, freed at last from the debilitating shackles of its union with the irredeemably parochial England.
With that intoxicating flattery the Nationalists have decided to try to seduce the people of Scotland. The question is: will the lady succumb? In fact, things are not remotely as simple as they are made to appear.
Scotland is only in the Community as part of the United Kingdom. Separated from each other, both countries, not just Scotland, would have to negotiate their terms for being there. Until that was done, neither of them could claim to be in the Community. For example, would England inherit the status and voting rights possessed now by the United Kingdom which rank it on a par with France, Germany and Italy? Quite possibly not.
267 For the other member states, the prospect of entering into negotiations to create two new member states would be horrifying. Only a desperate crisis would force them to consider it. It is difficult enough to get the Community to function with as many member states as it has to have, without creating others.
More importantly, the break up of the United Kingdom would not simply be an immense set-back for the Community. It would threaten by its example the integrity of countries like France and Spain themselves, whose own separatist problems would be inflamed. Moreover, interests which are vested against extending a helping hand to nationalist aspirations range far beyond the Community. All over the world we have seen governments struggling to prevent the forces of nationalism from tearing apart existing political structures: in central Europe, in the Soviet Union, in Canada, in the Middle East and Africa, in the Indian sub-continent.
On the Indian sub-continent indeed, there was one notable failur—Pakistan. But East and West Pakistan were more than 1,000 miles apart and had only been put together, created, less than 25 years earlier. Even then, a civil war was necessary before Bangladesh became independent.
To suggest that a union which has lasted as long, which has been as thoroughgoing, which has brought as many benefits and which bears such a positive image in the eyes of the world as that between England and Scotland. to suppose that such a union can he lightly and swiftly negotiated away in a world which is wholly unsympathetic to developments of that kind, is simply frivolous. So I think that the Government are right to refuse to consider any steps which might lead in that direction and to rely rather on the steady transformation of the Scottish economy to forestall the accumulation of grievance without which no popular demand for independence will be able to sustain itself. But there will I believe be choppy waters ahead.
§ 5.11 p.m.
§ Lord Raglan
My Lords, I am glad to be following on that contribution from the noble Lord, Lord Reay. Since nationalism is strong in Scotland at the moment, I want to say something about it because little attention seems to have been paid in this country to what it is about. Most people take a nonintellectual and pragmatic view of politics; but nationalism is a cuckoo in that nest, a theory of political organisation which does not fit into the tradition of government as it has evolved here.
On the Continent they have suffered badly from it and are trying to get unstuck from it. Hence the huge effort to create the European Community. However British governments have been assiduous in treating it with indulgence, even reverence. The measures they have thought to meet it with have strengthened it because appeasing nationalism encourages it. It seems to have started as a solution advanced by certain philosophers who had not, I think, had experience of practical politics. Having abolished the sovereign as a symbol of arbitrary rule and vested 268 ownership of his territory in the people instead, their problem was how to define which people were theoretically to own which territory.
The idea was to draw lines on a map and declare all people within each area to be of the same breed, each breed of human, like breeds of animal, having its own call and habits, which they called culture. So nationalism is based on a theory of racialism in which one's race is determined by where one happens to live. Within a defined area, all the people are deemed to speak the same, look the same, dress the same, behave the same and think the same. It is essentially conformist.
The thing is dangerously misconceived for many reasons. For one. racialism leads to hatred, all the worse when it is officially approved racialism. Another theory gone wrong is that instead of the territory belonging to the people, the people belong to the territory. So Scottish nationalists are recognisable by their fondness for declaring that the people of Scotland want this or think that—an amazing claim to make, though not in the nationalist's imagination. He does not think of the people as individuals but as a collective identity with one mind which belongs to Scotland.
So nationalism, as dreamed up, was intended to be democratic; but in practice is quite the opposite, and nasty with it. For democracy recognises that people are not of one mind, whereas the nationalist requires them to be so and knows that nothing unites them better than an external threat. Therefore nationalism needs enemies. If a threat does not exist, the nationalist manufactures it, lacing his accusations with alleged historic wrongs. To the Scottish sort, the threat is the English. Thus Mr. Gordon Wilson speaks about "the Dark Ages of English rule". If he is right and Scotland is ruled by England and its supposedly single-minded, pure bred, historically-wronged inhabitants would be better governed separately, then he is on a logical course. As an abstract concept he wants Scotland to achieve status as an independent nation, though to what other purpose is, in the nature of things, unclear.
His approach is rather different from that of the devolutionists who are another kind of nationalist, but seeing Scotland somewhat as an administrative dependency in which, as in Wales, the biggest industry seems to be in obtaining more money per capita than the English get from the English, even though "the English" are only people just like them, possibly their relations, and doing no more harm than living on the other side of an imaginary line. In paying up, the Government make the game the better worth the playing, encouraging more nationalism in the process.
In this way, the ratchet has moved up, notch by notch, prompting increasing demands that Scotland requires an assembly. It is not certain what its powers should be; but with respect to the noble Earl, Lord Perth, that is not really its main purpose, which is as a further symbol of nationhood. To my mind there is in any case a lack of proper pride in the notion that Scotland is a nation, but a kind of second-class one, looking for compensatory subsidies and status symbols. It inevitably, and unforgivably, encourages 269 the inhabitants to look upon themselves as inferior and deprived, and to blame that on invented enemies.
Successive governments have not sought to understand nationalism. Instead they have backed away from its aggressiveness, taking refuge in viewing it as peripheral, a distant problem which they hope will go away with a bit more money and another official institution. It will only go away when they see its real nature and face up to it for its false and injurious doctrines. If they go on as before, they will go on pushing Scotland towards independence. That would please a few zealots but do most people no good at all.
§ 5.18 p.m.
§ Baroness Elliot of Harwood
My Lords, I am the last speaker in this long list and I shall be very short. I should like to say one or two words from my long experience of working and living in Scotland. First, perhaps I may congratulate the noble Viscount, Lord Dunrossil, on his excellent speech. It was delightful to hear him. I knew his father very well. I am delighted that he is here and I hope that he will join us on many occasions. The speeches of the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, and the noble Lord, Lord Elliott of Morpeth, were both excellent and I agree with every word they said.
This debate has come at an important time for Scotland. If I may postpone for a moment what I want to say about Scottish nationalism it is because I do not think that anybody has mentioned that the Scottish economy is advancing very satisfactorily. Unemployment has fallen by almost 74,000 since January 1987. It is now at its lowest level since 1981. Manufacturing productivity in Scotland increased by 5.6 per cent. between 1979 and 1987, which compares favourably with that of the United Kingdom which was only 4 per cent. We are exporting more manufactured goods per employee than either West Germany or Japan. The number of companies registered in Scotland increased by nearly 25,000 between December 1976 and December 1987. The output of the Scottish electronics industry—a comparatively new industry—is three times higher than it was in 1979. All these figures show that industry and employment in Scotland are rising and will, I am sure, continue to rise. On that basis I must congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Sanderson, who will speak after me, on what the Scottish Office has done.
The only other matter I want to discuss, as we have all done, is that of the devolution of Scotland. My view is quite simple. We are part of the United Kingdom and we contribute in every way to the contribution that the United Kingdom makes to the European Community. We have a wide Commonwealth interest and Scottish people have helped to build up the many different countries that compose the Commonwealth. We are a vital part of the United Kingdom. In my life alone we have provided the UK with five Scottish Prime Ministers: Arthur Balfour, Campbell-Bannerman, Ramsay MacDonald, Harold Macmillan and Alec Home. I would almost add, although he was a Yorkshireman, Henry Asquith who represented two Scottish 270 constituencies the whole of his life as an MP for East Fife and Paisley. That is a contribution of which I think we can he proud.
A number of Scotsmen have been Cabinet Ministers, my husband being one. To separate Scotland from England and Wales would not encourage Scots men and women to stand for Parliament, unless it remained a UK Parliament. In my opinion England and Wales would be the losers. Let us keep together, work together, play together and be ready to take an active and important part in the whole United Kingdom.
§ 5.22. p.m.
§ Lord Hughes
My Lords, my name is not on the list of speakers, but that is purely through inadvertence because I came prepared to speak. However, it would not be fair, nor would it be other than a dangerous precedent in a time controlled debate to take advantage of the gap. Therefore I hope to say what I had intended to say on another occasion.
§ 5.23 p.m.
§ Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove
My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend Lord Hughes. The mistake was perhaps compounded by me in that his name was not included in the list. I am pleased with the gracious way he has dealt with the matter and I look forward to hearing him speak with his great experience on this subject at a later date.
We should all be very grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Perth, for raising this topic today. The very fact that so many Scots took part in the debate is an indication of just how much interest there is in the subject of Scotland. The numbers taking part were almost a contradiction of the general tenor of the speeches which suggested that this subject did not matter and was not going to matter. But we can perhaps deal with that later.
I also have great pleasure in congratulating the noble Viscount, Lord Dunrossil, on his maiden speech in this House. I did not know his father, but he was one of the notable, if not legendary speakers, of the other House. The speech we heard today from the noble Viscount was welcome, informed and frequently very witty. I am sure that with his wide experience of diplomacy he will be a great asset to the House. I hope we shall hear from him frequently in the future.
On the subject of the debate today, one of the papers put out by the Scottish Labour Party started by stating that:The 1978 Scotland Act was repealed by the Labour Government in 1979 even although in a referendum a majority voted for it".I shall deal with the question of the majority later, however small it may have been. Figures were given from the other side by the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, and I am grateful to him for that information. The paper continued:Not surprisingly the case for devolution has not gone away and today is even more compelling. Since 1979 there has been a growing centralisation of power and Scotland has been less able to control its own affairs. Central Government which is represented by a minority party in Scotland has imposed on it policies which its people would not have wished and which arc against their democratically expressed views''.271 I should really say something about the referendum because several references have been made to it. The Conservative Party in Scotland decided to oppose the referendum not because of the principle of devolution but because it thought the Bill was bad. I have said before in this House that the noble Lord, Lord Home, made it very clear on television and in another place that the Bill was appalling and that his party would produce a better Bill in order to establish some kind of devolved Scottish Assembly. I do not think I am misrepresenting him in that. His view carried a great deal of weight. I believe a great number of the abstentions were caused by that view. At the time the present Secretary of State was of the same opinion because he was then working very hard for a devolved Scottish Assembly.
Today we have heard from a large number of speakers, many of whom believe that little needs to be done to improve the government of Scotland. Many of the speakers have long backgrounds in, experience of and knowledge of government. But I think the important thing is that most of them speak from the other side and are associated with the party in Scotland which at the last and previous elections quite specifically stated that there was no need for basic change in the Scottish system of government. The Scottish people decisively do not agree with that view.
Of the 72 Scottish parliamentary seats the party opposite holds only 10, and some of those are held by only a whisker. There is even talk in very sober circles in Scotland that at the next election there could be a total whitewash of the party opposite. 1 have even heard members of the party opposite at least counting quietly on their fingers the kind of majorities some Conservative Members have. That is the one party that has always been totally opposed to any kind of devolved government.
Of course there is no unanimity among the other parties which wish to have devolved powers. They disagree on so many things, but the one thing on which they agree is that there must be greater control of Scottish affairs by some kind of government based in Scotland which should reflect the wishes of the people of Scotland. That is the important thing about the meeting that will be held a week on Friday, on the 27th of this month. That preliminary meeting will contain a representative number of people from the various parties and organisations in Scotland and it will pave the way for an assembly.
The meeting is designed to prepare for a constitutional convention. It will be cross-party. 1 am sure that all the participants will go to the meeting with opinions and ideas most likely to enhance the standing of their political claims. But the people of Scotland will not forgive them if there is any backsliding on the basic widespread desire for constitutional devolution.
No one doubts that there will be many problems. No one believes it will be plain sailing. It would not be Scottish politics if there were not serious and genuine difficulties which generated a fair amount of heat and despondency—I hope that that is only 272 temporary—but I am sure there will also be periods of sombre national elation that something has brought so many strands of Scottish politics together to look seriously for a better form of government for the people of Scotland. I hope that people will not go into that situation with their minds too firmly made up.
A number of things that were said in the debate had great importance. The noble Lord, Lord Grimond, said that the biggest threat to unity in the United Kingdom is the possibility that there may not be some kind of devolved government. I firmly believe that is the case.
Another point which I think we should refute—and those of us who are fairly close to the grass roots in Scotland are well aware of it—is that we are no longer talking about a devolved Scotland because of economic necessity. There is another urgency in Scotland, quite apart from the economic factor: there is a feeling that the Government are drifting away from the Scottish people—perhaps even from the people of the United Kingdom—and too much towards the centre.
Scotland is feeling quite self-confident at the moment, and that confidence is shared by many. It is not an accident that the Scottish press is beginning to speak with confidence. It is not an accident that there is a rather good new Sunday newspaper in Scotland or that the quality Sunday newspapers of the South—the Sunday Times and the Observer—have started to print special Scottish editions. There is a liveliness and a resurgence in Scotland.
It is sad that the party opposite is the one party in Scotland that is not willing to take part in the convention which will be taking place during the summer, and perhaps longer. We shall have our differences and our fights, but within a Scottish context. All the questions that have been raised about the proportion of Scottish MPs in Westminster, funding, and what will be devolved will all be argued at that convention. I believe that if devolution does not become a possibility the relationship between the United Kingdom and Scotland will sadly—and I mean very sadly—be even more estranged than it has been for some time.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Lord Sanderson of Bowden
My Lords, I very much welcome the opportunity for this debate on Scottish affairs and I congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Perth, on his success in securing it.
Perhaps I may also congratulate the noble Viscount, Lord Dunrossil, on a particularly good maiden speech. It is very good to have heard such a telling maiden speech. I should like to respond to him and say how pleased I am that he is here and is following in the footsteps of such a distinguished father, who stood as a Conservative candidate in the Western Isles. The late Ian Macleod did exactly the same. It is not a bad place to start one's political life, I am certain of that.
To answer his questions about the£73 million for the Highlands and Islands, for which I have responsibility, of course the Government will play their part by matching the resources which have been 273 offered from Brussels. That will include expenditure on qualifying projects by central government, local authorities and public utilities. That will allow development work to go ahead further and far faster than would otherwise have been the case. Like the noble Viscount I am very glad that we have been able to secure such a satisfactory outcome.
I understand the exigencies of time and I was particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, for what I think must have been the briefest speech ever made in such a debate on Scottish affairs. However, I also noted that my noble friend Lord Ferrier said that I made some telling points a year ago. I hope that I shall be able to satisfy him that I make some telling points today.
1 think that all who have spoken are agreed on one thing, and that is that we all seek the best form of government for Scotland. I believe, as I have said before, that we have today a democractically elected Government facing up to, and dealing effectively with, the substantive issues which face the whole of the United Kingdom—economic development, housing, National Health Service, education and all such matters.
Perhaps I may start with a personal reminiscence. The late Lord Ross of Marnock, on seeing me at this Dispatch Box for the first time, to précis his words, said "Well laddie, where's your mandate", following the disappointing results for the Government in Scotland at the last election. A similar point was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, and the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun. I am sure that as a good Unionist the late Lord Ross understood when I pointed out to him that in 1964 he sat for the first time as a Cabinet Minister in a Labour government when English Conservative colleagues of mine had a substantial majority over his party in England. I wonder whether those English Members of Parliament enjoyed knuckling down to Labour's policies for that period.
While we are talking about losing seats I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, has overlooked the fact that the Govan by-election was not exactly a success for his party.
And so we come to the suggestions made by the noble Earl, Lord Perth, that a forum be established to put forward views for the Secretary of State for Scotland to take into account in deciding his policies and spending priorities. I entirely agree that it is essential that the Secretary of State for Scotland and those of us who are his fellow Ministers should be fully aware of the views of interested parties when we come to take decisions. That is something which I believe we already achieve. I do not say that in a partisan manner, for Scotland is a relatively small country in population terms and there is the opportunity in any given sphere of interest for those in government, both ministers and civil servants, to develop good working relationships with all those involved but being answerable to Parliament. I believe that I read in the press that the noble Earl, Lord Perth, said that anything that detracts from the power of the House of Commons is not a starter in his book.
274 Morever, there is already a forum in which much Scottish business can be debated. The Scottish Grand Committee, which consists of all Scottish elected Members of Parliament, is active in three key areas—the Second Reading of Scottish Bills, Scottish Estimates debates and Matter Day debates on topics of current interest. The subject which the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, mentioned, of the unified business rate could well be a topic that could be discussed in one of those Matter Day debates. In 1982 the committee began to hold some of its meetings in Edinburgh and has met there ever since on many occasions. The Grand Committee has dealt with such issues as public expenditure, the Scottish economy, industry, the National Health Service, and so on and so forth. Listening to some people who criticise the present situation, I do not think that it is recognised that those debates have taken place.
At times when one listens to all the arguments it seems that it is all trouble and strife and that no progress is being made whatever. My noble friend Lord Home made a very important point when he spoke about an inferiority complex generated by imagined grievances laid at the door of the government of the day, particularly by the SNP. It is exceptionally dangerous to devalue a nation's successes. I shall instance one or two of those successes.
I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, will not mind my quoting from his own speech here when we succeeded in passing the Scottish Housing Bill. Do you know what he said then? He said that the Bill could be a very good one. I applauded him for what he said at that time and I am sure that he is absolutely right. That is one success and perhaps the noble Lord may give a little credit to the Government for bringing the Bill forward.
As my noble friend Lady Elliot has said, manufacturing productivity in Scotland increased by 5.5 per cent. between 1979 and 1987. There are many success stories in Scotland over the years of our Conservative Government.
§ Lord Mackie of Benshie
My Lords, perhaps the Minister will allow me to intervene simply to say that I said that the Bill could be a very good one.
§ Lord Sanderson of Bowden
My Lords, I know very well that he said that it could, and we in tend to try to make it so.
There is one point that I should like to make on the economic front because it is important in the Scottish context. The average weekly earnings for men in Scotland, at £233.30 in April 1988, are higher than in any other part of the United Kingdom except the South East. Female earnings are exceeded only in the South East and North West.
Those measures that we are trying to put into practice for the good government of Scotland do not just happen. But at times I feel that the "ah but" mentality—sales prevention officers and all that—can take over and destroy confidence. None of us would wish that to happen in Scotland. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, for saying that there is a return of confidence in some 275 sections in Scotland and I am sure that he is quite right.
I know that it has been suggested in this debate that some recent legislation flies in the face of what the Scots want, particularly in relation to local authorities. The noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, was eloquent in that regard. But our legislation clearly illustrates that we wish to see a wider range of choice, more power to the individual—devolution, if your like, to the individual—Value for money and the best possible delivery of services; and to improve local authorities' accountability to the electorate. Incidentally, in this connection my line has been very consistent. As I remember only too well discussing when we passed the community charge Bill for Scotland in this House, I firmly believe that representation without taxation is a very bad principle.
I go on to say to the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, that of course I have not forgotten his view on the unified business rate. Indeed, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has given assurances of a level playing field for Scotland in that regard.
There has also been a suggestion that reform of local government might be contemplated. That point was mentioned by my noble friend Lady Strange. At present the Government have no proposals for any restructuring of Scottish local authorities, though noble Lords will be aware that the Scottish Conservative Party passed a resolution at its conference in May last year in favour of restructuring and the party has now appointed a committee to draw up specific proposals for local government reform. Of course we shall give careful consideration to any proposals for reform that emerge, but it will be important to ensure that they are not only viable but that they offer clear advantages over the existing system.
In a very interesting speech my noble friend Lord Stodart of Leaston said that at the end of the day he remained unconvinced about the suggestions for devolution. I have to say that I agree with him. Last year I referred to the need to safeguard the role of the Secretary of State for Scotland, and indeed the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, said exactly the same in his speech. That remains the case. Last year I also referred to the anomaly which has come to be known as the West Lothian question. Scottish MPs could continue to influence policy on issues furth of Scotland when there are no equivalent opportunities in Scottish affairs for non-Scottish members. I have to say that that is a recipe for disaster.
I think that most devolution protagonists now consider that an assembly would require to have tax-raising powers. As I said earlier, representation without taxation is a very poor principle. I point to those who live just over the border, such as my noble friend Lord Elliott of Morpeth. It was very interesting to hear his views on this subject when he said that on economic and other planes, in present parlance a level playing field in taxation matters was essential within the United Kingdom. I beg those who seek dramatic change to bear that point in mind.
276 I often think that some of those who argue for an increased measure of devolution do not quite appreciate the extent to which, in an administrative sense, devolution already exists. As one of the two Ministers of State at the Scottish Office, I am well placed to appreciate the range of issues which are devolved and the distinct Scottish consideration that is given to them. I shall not go further than that.
1 should like to say something about dispersal because we in the Scottish Office are able to speak about dispersal from very strong ground. The Scottish Office maintains a small presence in London but most of its staff, over 99 per cent., work in Scotland. We are therefore in a very good position to advocate the practicality as well as the desirability of decentralisation of the government administration. That is why I welcome so much the announcement this week of 430 jobs being dispersed to Glasgow from London. Surely these moves offer a better quality of life for civil servants, set an example to the private sector and in addition, and most important of all, help cement the political unity of the United Kingdom. This is particularly important in a unitary state such as our own. The decentralisation of government departments creates a visible presence of senior civil servants and decision-makers, north and south, east and west—and I am sure that my noble friend Lord Elliott of Morpeth will be looking to see whether any of those dispersals will go to Newcastle as well. I believe that that is what national government should be about. It is entirely in line with the aim of government that value for money should be a major consideration, not only in the private sector but also in the public sector.
Politics is a dynamic field and, inevitably, since the debate last year some issues have moved out of focus while others have come to the fore. I refer to the excellent speech of my noble friend Lord Reay who talked about the nationalists and their move for independence within Europe. Let there be no doubt about it: Scotland's interests in the European Community are best served as part of one of the major members of that Community. I do believe, like my noble friend, that one cannot build a united Europe by destroying a United Kingdom. This Government will take no lessons on the European Community and all that it stands for from a party that campaigned vigorously on a "no" ticket at the time of the Referendum. Yes, indeed, there may be choppy water ahead but, having myself a little experience of the Council of Ministers in Brussels, I realise how much utter tripe is talked by some members of the Scottish National Party in that regard.
I turn now to the development which has taken place since this issue was debated last year; namely, the position referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, about the so-called "Claim of Right for Scotland" by the Campaign for a Scottish Assembly. That document has a good title and the phraseology employed is flowery and high-sounding. But we have to ask: what is the reality? The constitutional convention which Opposition parties and others plan to establish is a result of a document produced by a pressure group. It is designed to discuss how to carry forward the conclusion already reached by the 277 organisers that there should be significant constitutional change. Those who believe in the merit and robustness of the present constitutional arrangements would do well, as we have in Government, to take due note.
I should perhaps issue a word of warning to those unionists of whatever party who intend to participate in the convention or who support participation. As my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland pointed out, the "Claim of Right" document states that:the United Kingdom has been an anomaly from its inception and is a glaring anomaly now".I can appreciate why nationalists intend to be associated with the convention; but unionists should be very careful that they are not led down a road which would be inimical to their own beliefs and to Scotland's future. The road of unilateral devolution is a dangerous one; it is twisty and slippery. Those participating in the convention would be well advised to remember that and to remember that the rest of the United Kingdom, as has been portrayed by speeches from my noble friend Lord Elliott of Morpeth and the noble Lord, Lord Raglan, will be watching developments most closely.
In answer to one or two points raised in the debate, I should like to say, first, to the noble Lord, Lord Grimond, when he recalls the Referendum, that he knows probably better than I that the "yes" vote in Orkney for some constitutional change was so very much lower than the "no" vote. That point is worth mentioning.
While dealing with the problems mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Grimond, I wonder how he squares wanting the United Kingdom to continue to deal with major economic planning matters with the tax-raising powers that a Scottish Parliament would have. That matter needs to be thoroughly examined.
As I have already said, the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, sought assurances on the unified business rate. I hope that I have satisfied him on that point. The noble Lord, Lord Grimond, mentioned the establishment of a Scottish Affairs Committee and I note very carefully what he had to say. However, on 15 occasions members of the Scottish Office in various forms have had to answer to Select Committees of Parliament.
I have heard nothing in this debate that would convince me that an Assembly with tax-raising powers would cause anything other than constant strife between it and the Westminster Parliament. The arrangements for the government of Scotland have evolved over many years. I note very carefully what the noble Earl, Lord Perth, has said. Like my noble friend Lord Home, I shall look very carefully at what he has said about wise men. My noble friend Lord Home is a very wise man. In the past he has attempted to deal with this problem. However, he has said himself what a difficult path it is to tread. Obviously I shall look very closely at the suggestion that the noble Earl made.
The present arrangements enable Scots to play a full part in the government and life of the United Kingdom as well as enjoying a strong measure of decentralisation. I can do no better than restate the 278 views expressed by my noble friend Lord Home just before the last debate a year ago. He said:With Scotland in unity with England. the United Kingdom in unity with Europe and Europe in unity with the Atlantic Community., there can be no threat to our increasing wealth".Like the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun. I take the view that economic success is very important to the lifeblood of Scotland. Perhaps I may say in conclusion to the noble Lady that I will try to do better than my best.
§ The Earl of Perth
My Lords, it falls to me to thank all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate, and in particular the last speaker for his courteous regard to what everybody said. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion standing in my name.
Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.