On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the representations made to you and to the Lord President, may I ask whether there has been any request for the Lord President to make a statement on the misunderstanding which may have arisen from his statement on Thames Television last night about possible violence in Scotland?
My first task is to pay tribute on behalf of my colleagues to my hon. Friend the Member for North Angus and Mcarns (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) for the work he has done for Scotland and for the Conservative Party. I know the anxieties and problems involved. My hope is that when my hon. Friend returns to the Front Bench it will be in happier circumstances than my own transfer from trade to Scottish affairs.
I mention trade only briefly because I see from the tape that we have had the announcement on the worst-ever trade figures—a deficit of over £500 million. I hope that the full responsibility will not be placed on myself ! This is an issue that will probably unite most of us in the House. We certainly do not hope that the activities of the Department of Trade concerned with foreign trade will be extended to trade with Scotland or Wales.
There is no doubt that the Prime Minister's speech in opening this great debate yesterday was a disappointment. I have never before heard such a poor case put forward for a major Bill. There was no argument whatever that the Bill would achieve better government. There was no argument that it would produce cheaper government. In fact, all the evidence is the other way. There was no argument that it would produce less complex government or more prosperity for Scotland or Wales. In fact, the only issues mentioned by the Prime Minister were, first, that he hoped to make up his mind on a referendum before long and, secondly, that he was looking for some ideas from the House about new taxes to raise. Quite frankly, the present Government, with their long experience of raising new taxes, should not look to this side of the House for ideas in that connection. It was not a good case for a major Bill which is to take up about 30 days of the time of the House.
On the other hand, as the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) said a moment or two ago, last night we had a more compelling argument put forward for the Bill. What was said by the Leader of the House and what I hope the Secretary of State will refer to was a most unusual and, in my view, a very irresponsible argument for the Bill.
The Leader of the House said that Ulster-type violence could erupt in Scotland and in Wales if the devolution proposals were defeated. He said that he thought that that was quite likely. In my view, that was one of the most wholly irresponsible statements ever made by a Government Minister. It shows that the right hon. Gentleman is wildly out of touch with feelings in Scotland and in Wales. I am very sorry that he is not present at the moment, but I hope that at some time during this debate he will make it clear whether he meant those words and whether on reflection he would like to withdraw them. There is no doubt that, if there are potential terrorists in Scotland or in Wales, they will not be deterred by this Bill.
As the hon. Gentleman knows, I am not the most ardent supporter of my right hon. Friend in this matter, but I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be fair. Has he seen, as I have, the full text of what was said last night?
I am afraid that I have not. I have seen only what appeared in the Scotsman newspaper this morn-in. If it is wrong, I hope that it will be withdrawn, but I think that the hon. Gentleman will accept that, with one of the major Scottish newspapers carrying such a news item on its front page, the effect could be very substantial. If it was wrong, and the right hon. Gentleman was misreported, I hope that it will be made clear.
One of the factors to have caused divisions and doubts in all the parties over the issue of devolution is the knowledge that, if the wrong scheme is enacted, it could precipitate the break-up of Britain. The recent events in Canada and Quebec show, if nothing else, that the existence of substantial devolved powers to territories or nations within a union will not of themselves automatically undermine or frustrate the forces of separatism, even within a federal structure. This danger is one which we in Britain should be particularly aware of, observing that there are strong forces, happily still very much in the minority, both within and outwith Parliament, who have as their sole aim the break-up of Britain and who have openly admitted that they hope to use devolution and the establishment of Assemblies in Scotland and Wales as a vehicle to achieve their ends.
The hon. Gentleman quotes the position in Canada, but he ignores the position in Belgium, where, after the nationalists in both the Walloon and Flemish parts got devolution, the nationalist case disappeared completely.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman knows more about Belgium than I do, but the experience of Canada and elsewhere is that the giving of federal powers or other provisions similar to those in this Bill have not necessarily undermined the forces of separatism.
I am fully aware that there are those who sincerely believe that without a Bill along these lines, it will be more difficult to preserve the Union, but I hope that, in this lengthy debate, they will listen to and think upon the views of those who believe that this Bill, if enacted, could stoke up the feelings of frustration, hostility and injustice upon which separatism and fragmentation grows and thrives.
In this connection, the most obvious point worth thinking about is why the representatives of the Scottish National Party and the Welsh nationalists are so enthusiastic about the Bill. Of course, they have made it clear that they would like the Bill to go much further, but if, as has been argued by some, the enactment of this Bill will frustrate and destroy parochial nationalism, we should ask ourselves why there are no looks of depression and resignation on the faces of the nationalist Members as this Bill is being debated. They smile, I believe, because they see all the seeds of frustration in the Bill staring us in the face.
Scotland is to have an Assembly with its own Executive or Government dependent entirely on a block grant from Westminster and on borrowings approved by Westminster. In normal times this would be a recipe for an annual battle between Edinburgh and Westminster, as the new Scottish Government, conscious of the problems crying out for attention, found that a block grant, however generous, could not match desired public expenditure. But in times of economic stringency like the present and like the foreseeable future, when cash allocations from Government to local councils assume a major cutback in existing services and massive staff redundancies, the arrangement set out in the Bill could provoke a continuing crisis.
If we add to this difficult and dangerous situation the possibility or probability of the political make-up of the Assembly and its Executive being different from that of the Westminster Government, the crisis could become a catastrophe.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind) pointed out in the White Paper debate, the Conservative Party has opposed consistently the establishing of a separate Executive or Government in Scotland, largely on account of the over-government and additional bureaucracy it would create; but to have a separate Government without any revenue raising powers, as the Bill proposes, would be to sow seeds of frustration and disillusionment throughout Scotland.
Even local councils, while largely dependent on the rate support grant, are restrained in the demands and plans they make by the knowledge that each fresh demand or plan involves extra calls on the ratepayers who are their electors. Just as this Government will, in the next election, reap a bitter harvest in consequence of the tax demands and economic misery they have inflicted on the British people because of their failure to contain their spending during their first year or so in office, so the responsibility of charging rates is a restraint on the power of local councils. But there are no such restraints on the proposed Scottish Government.
In their original White Paper the Government sought to deal with this problem with a preposterous plan to give the Asesmbly power to levy a surcharge on rates. This proposal provoked such a fierce reaction from Scottish ratepayers, whose burdens have been doubled under this Government, that the plan was dropped like a stone in the supplementary White Paper. Instead, it was merely stated that if, at some time in the future, new national or local taxes could be invented—and this, at least, is an annual possibility when Labour is in power—consideration would be given to handing over part of that money to the Assembly. In the Bill, we are back to square one: we have an Executive, a Government, but no revenue raising powers.
There are many other seeds of conflict in the Bill, some of which I will mention later, but, of course, there are more fundamental objections to the Bill.
As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition mentioned yesterday, we consider it ludicrous and insulting that the Government should have presented devolution proposals for Wales and for Scotland in one Bill. The problems, the needs and even the present constitutional arrangements in both nations are entirely different. Apart from the constitutional objections to having both Scotland and Wales covered by one Bill, it will make proper debate much more difficult. We will, in effect, have two debates going on at the same time.
In this time of economic crisis, when the Government are up to their ears in debt, and when the Cabinet, we are told, is meeting almost daily to discuss ways in which it can borrow more, it seems utter folly to indulge in any unnecessary travagant, even if we give the Govern-the scheme of devolution outlined in the Government's Bill is monstrously extravagant, even if we give the Government the benefit of the doubt and say that for once they have got their sums right. In the White Paper which we discussed some time ago it was stated that Scottish devolution would involve between £2 and £3 million capital expenditure and annual running costs of about £10 million. In Wales, capital costs were estimated to be between £1 million and £2 million, with initial running costs of about £5 million, rising, we were told, at a later stage to £12 million. In short, there would be about £4 million of capital outlay and about £15 million revenue expenditure at the first stage. That was to be the initial cost.
That was in November 1975. Now we have the Bill, which has its Explanatory and Financial Memorandum showing that at November 1976 prices, only one year later, the likely capital outlay on buildings, reconstruction and equipment comes to about £8½ million, with annual running costs of about £24½ million. The Bill also mentions the little extra of £3 million for publicity, election costs and removal expenses.
The Shadow Cabinet's position on devolution was made absolutely clear in a statement made after its meeting last Wednesday. What we are discussing is whether the Government's proposals will help Scotland and Wales, and whether they will be good for Britain as a whole. I am trying to prove that, whatever we do, the Bill will not be the answer for Scotland or Wales, or for the unity of Britain.
I have pointed out that at 1976 prices the expenditure comes to about £36 million. As the Assemblies get "into their stride", as the White Paper says, the running costs, at least in Wales, will increase sharply. Running costs alone will come to about £10 a year for the average Scottish family, and more for the average Welsh family.
If the Government are unable to produce a more economical plan they have at least an obligation, which they have not yet discharged, to say who will pay. Will it be a charge on the general taxation of the United Kingdom? Or will it be clawed back from the ratepayers and taxpayers of Scotland in a lower level of public services, by deducting Assembly costs from the block grant? Or will it be the friendly International Monetary Fund that will foot the bill and pass on the costs to our children and grandchildren?
Another major objection is the bureaucracy involved in the scheme. It is considerable. The new arrangements are calculated to involve the employment of an extra 2,300 civil servants, a considerable number. In the case of Wales the number is expected to rise. At a time when Government Departments and local authorities are being obliged to cut staff in almost every field of activity, the proposals seem ludicrous. There is not even a suggestion that the public in Scotland or Wales will benefit from better public services. In fact, it is pretty clear that, at least in the foreseeable future, the level and quality of public services will be reduced because of the Government's other policies.
The Secretary of State must be well aware of what is happening in, for example, Glasgow and the Strathclyde Region. Some of my hon. Friends and I had the pleasure of meeting the convener of and leader of the Labour Group on the Strathclyde Regional Council only a few minutes ago.
Does the Secretary of State believe that it would serve any useful purpose to employ an extra 1,000 civil servants in Scotland, so that there would be more people available to tell local authorities in Scotland that they must employ fewer home helps for the elderly, fewer school crossing patrol attendants and fewer public servants? But it seems inevitable that more civil servants will be employed by the Government to tell local authorities and other Government Departments to employ fewer.
We would have no separate Executive, which is one of the main reasons for the extra 2,300 civil servants. We calculate that about 80 per cent. of the additional staff would stem from having a separate Executive. My party has always opposed having a separate Executive.
It is not just staff that will increase in number. The numbers of politicians will substantially increase as well. Whereas the legislative and executive needs of Scotland are at present attended to by 71 Westminster Members of Parliament, the Bill provides for an extra 150 Scottish Assemblymen to carry out part of the legislative and supervisory tasks now being done by Members of Parliament. On any reasonable basis of calculation, the total of 150 appears excessive.
The Conservative Party has been attacked on many occasions for the alleged element of over-government involved in the reform of local government in 1973—rather unfairly, I suggest, on the part of Labour, Liberal and nationalist Members who allowed the Bill to have its Second Reading in the Scottish Grand Committee without calling for a vote. However, even if these allegations are true—and with hindsight they may be seen to have some justification—it seems foolish to add to the extent of over-government with the Bill. In my own constituency, in the 1960s, the democratic interests of the community were looked after by one Member of Parliament and two town councillors. On present plans, in 1978 it will have a share of one Member of the European Parliament, a Westminster Member, two Scottish Assemblymen, three regional councillors and six district councillors. In some constituencies, under the Bill, there will be three Assemblymen.
It can be argued that Members of Parliament are overworked, and, because of pressure of work, unable to fulfil their task efficiently, but if that is so, surely the argument applies to Members of Parliament as a whole, not just those in Scotland and Wales. There are no plans for devolution in England.
Another feature of the Bill which causes real concern is that, with the proposal to have the entire legislative process of Bills carried out in the Scottish Assembly, subject only to a Westminster veto, initiated by the Secretary of State, a most unstable and divisive situation will be created in the Westminster Parliament. Scottish Members of Parliament in Westminster will, unless the Secretary of State invokes his veto powers and therefore must come to the House of Commons, have no say in the formulation of education, housing, police, planning or health legislation for Scotland; but their votes and voices could be decisive in determining what policies are adopted in England. It would be a strange situation if the Secretary of State and I, as Glasgow candidates in the next election, had to indicate to our electors what education and housing policies for England we would seek to support with our votes in the House of Commons, while having to make clear that we could not pledge anything for Scottish education and housing. No doubt Members of Parliament from England will feel a unique sense of grievance if the electoral choice of their voters is overturned by the votes of Scottish Members of Parliament.
There are some who argue that there is a simple answer, that we can resolve the matter tidily and happily, not, as suggested by the SNP, by a complete break, but, if we continue with this system, by having a convention that Scottish Members of Parliament do not vote on English legislation. That suggestion will probably be discussed in this debate, but the issue is not so simple as it appears. The Cabinet would represent the majority in the House of Commons as a whole, and it would be frustrating, to say the least, if, for example, a Socialist Cabinet were unable to implement Socialist housing and education policies in Scotland, because there was a Conservative and Liberal majority in the Assembly, or in England, because the majority of English Members of Parliament were Conservative. That could well happen. We can think of other permutations, such as not having a Conservative or Liberal majority in the Assembly. We could have in charge of the country a Cabinet unable to implement its policies in Scotland or England if the Bill went through in its present form. That would not make for stable government.
Before the hon. Gentleman passes from legislative responsibilities and how they are apportioned, will he spell out what the Conservative proposals for a directly-elected legislature would involve? Which responsibilities would go to the directly-elected Assembly and which to Westminster, and how would one deal with the clash?
The Shadow Cabinet's position was made quite clear on Wednesday. Our policy is to oppose the Bill, and that is what we are doing now. These constant interruptions show that the Government are not very anxious to talk about their Bill. If they feel that there are ready answers, they should give them to us. But the answers are not clear. We should spend our time talking about the Bill.
The fact that parliamentary and Assembly elections are unlikely to coincide makes it more than likely that a Government in Westminster would be unable to get through their manifesto policies in Scotland, England or Wales in a very wide field of policy. Apart from this, the existence of a non-voting convention in the House could have the effect of creating a new race of second-class MPs. Anything that would undermine the power and effectiveness of Westminster Scots would not be good for Scotland.
Apart from anything else, matters which are on the face of it English, involving expenditure or borrowing, are not matters which have no effect on Scotland. While Scotland's domestic policies will be restricted by the block grant, there is no proposal for a limiting block grant for activities in England.
One obvious flashpoint in the Bill before us is that, by arranging for the entire legislative process of Bills affecting Scotland to be considered by the Scottish Assembly, the Government have felt obliged to insert a whole series of restrictions in the Bill. The Prime Minister called them safeguards, but if the Bill became law would they be safeguards? As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said, there is no exclusive right to legislate for the Scottish Assembly.
There is the power in Clause 45 to reject Assembly Bills subject to the approval of Parliament; the power in Clause 46 to prevent or require action on the part of the Executive; the power to revoke Statutory Instruments in Clause 47 on grounds of public interest; the power to fix council rent and rates levels in Clause 52; the power to fix rent and rate rebate schemes in Clauses 53 and 54; the power to fix public service wages and salaries, including those of teachers, in Clauses 56 and 57; the power to control borrowing limits in Clauses 65 and 66, and even restrictions on planning decisions in Schedule 3.
Recently, for example, we debated a Bill in the House to determine whether the Secretary of State should have power to make orders exempting oil rigs and offshore installations from rating. Rating law is a devolved power, but when I asked whether the Assembly or its Executive would take over these order-making powers I was advised that they would not have any such right. What rating law will the Assembly be able to approve? For example, would it have powers to revoke the 50 per cent. derating which Scottish industry enjoys? It would be helpful if the Secretary of State could indicate the position on this very vital issue for Scottish industry.
On legislation, there appears to be a logical case for permitting a devolved Assembly to participate in the lawmaking process, just as there appears to be a logical case for giving full powers in specified areas, subject, of course to ultra vires restrictions. But there is surely immense danger in provoking conflict by appearing to give full legislative powers but restricting the freedom by such a mass of clauses, subsections and schedules.
We therefore oppose the Bill because it is about as bad a way of producing devolution as is possible. It is costly, bureaucratic, and full of ingredients which could precipitate constitutional clashes and thereby lead to the break-up of Britain. But there are some who would accept all these things. They would say that we should accept the Bill even though it is costly, bureaucratic and a threat leading to the break-up of Britain, and that we should go ahead for a number of other reasons. It is, they would claim, the desire of the people of Scotland.
But why do they claim that? Of course, there are indications in opinion polls that a majority of Scots have expressed a desire for devolution, the percentage depending on the way the question has been asked. Such a result, however, is far from surprising when all the media in Scotland have been promoting devolution with enthusiasm and when there has not been, until recently, a specific Bill which could be used to work out how the Government's proposals would affect the average Scots family.
Perhaps the most interesting poll of all was the one which showed that a year ago 10 per cent. of Scots had never heard of the Government's proposals and that this month 28 per cent. had never heard of the Government's proposals. Perhaps some people are "switching off", but it would certainly not surprise me if the people of Scotland, when they realise what the Government's scheme will involve in extra taxes, over-government and, extra bureaucracy, show less enthusiasm than they have up to now for the Scotland and Wales Bill.
Is there not a fallacy in that argument? On the one hand the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) has said that if the Bill goes through it will lead to separation, but on the other hand, just a minute or so later, he said there was no real demand for anything. If that is so, why is the Bill a danger?
There is no great demand for the Scotland and Wales Bill. I am absolutely convinced that if it were enacted the people of Scotland would find it a ghastly farce. What will happen if it is passed How will it affect the average family in South Ayrshire? They will have more taxes to pay and more civil servants to support, and we shall face the real danger of a break-up of the United Kingdom, which we both oppose.
One interesting feature is that a number of the organisations whose business it is to study White Papers and Bills in detail the moment they are drafted have expressed real concern about the Government's Bill. The CBI, for example, which represents most industry in Scotland, is opposed to the Bill. It sees it as a threat to prosperity and jobs. Likewise the chambers of commerce have come out against the Bill. Any Scottish Secretary of State who, like the present one, shares responsibility for creating a postwar record of unemployed Scots should pay careful attention to the views of those whose decisions will determine whether the frightening total of unemployed Scots can look forward with hope or hopelessness.
Another argument used is that, although the Bill has bad features, it is necessary to stop people supporting separatist parties like the SNP. Apart from the fact that the polls show that about half of nationalist voters do not support separation, the rest apparently being concerned with protesting against Socialist misgovernment, I would argue that, far from frustrating nationalism, the Bill could create more of the stresses, tensions and complaints of injustice on which nationalism thrives.
If, as I suspect, the Bill has been designed with a view to appeasing nationalist sentiment, it could well have the opposite effect. Sensible economic policies leading to stability, greater investment and more jobs are the real answer to the separatist disease. The proposed Assembly, starved of cash by an almost bankrupt Government with a background of crisis and instability, will simply feed nationalism and not destroy it.
It is jobs, prices, rates and taxes that most hon. Members find that their constituents want to talk to them about today. Those are the issues which our constituents worry about, and they expect us to find solutions. Very few voice opinions on the Bill. It is our task to do that, and that is what we will do today, to- morrow and on Thursday.
I understand the argument presented by my hon. Friend in opposing the Bill. Is he also arguing against devolution and a directly-elected Assembly? That was not the view of the Kilbrandon Report, which was unanimous about this. I shall be grateful if my hon. Friend will clear up this point.
I am sorry if I have not carried my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) with me. I am arguing against the proposition before us, and that is the Bill. That is what we have to discuss, and we must determine whether it is a good or bad Bill for Scotand, for Britain and for all the people.
We should think of this not just in constitutional terms but from the point of view of the people. We make a great mistake in this House when we put forward legislative plans and discuss ideas and proposals without thinking them through in terms of people. If we think them through this week, are not scared off by Scottish nationalism, and consider the effect of the Bill on the unity of Great Britain and on the average family in Scotland and Wales, there is no doubt that we shall reject it.
The most interesting feature of the Prime Minister's speech was that he gave no indication or assurance that the Bill would improve the lot of the average Scottish, Welsh or English family. The right hon. Gentleman did not argue that it would bring better government. We know that it will not. Nor did he argue that it would make government less remote. We know that it will not. Or make government less complex. It will make government much more complex.
We have to consider the Bill carefully in relation to the situation of the country, the various priorities for spending, and the dangers inherent in this legislation. My party, the Shadow Cabinet and I believe that this is a bad Bill which has been presented for the wrong reasons. If enacted it will produce the wrong results, which this House will live to regret. In these circumstances the Bill should be rejected, and I hope that the House will do that on Thursday night.
The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Bruce Milan):
I wish to take up a number of matters that were discussed yesterday and to answer some of the points raised then. I shall also answer a number of the points made by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor).
We have had two lengthy speeches from the Opposition Front Bench, but the House has still not been informed of what is the Conservative Party's policy on devolution. Either it does not have a policy—which is what I suspect—or it has a policy but is frightened to tell the House what it is. It is monstrous, to use one of the favourite words of the hon. Member for Cathcart, that one of the parties in the House which aspires to becoming the Government is unable to tell the House and the country what its policy is on an issue of this significance which has been debated for years.
The Leader of the Opposition and the hon. Member for Cathcart have both made a number of criticisms of the Bill, and I am entitled to say one or two
things about what we understood, until recently, to be the Conservatives' proposals. The last election manifesto of the Scottish Conservative Party said:
Therefore we now propose an Assembly sitting in Scotland. Its powers will include the major stages of Scottish legislation. It will be a forum for Scottish opinion and act as Scotland's voice in issues of national debate. Initially, the Assembly's membership will be drawn from the elected members of the new local authorities, though direct election could evolve in the future.
Is that the policy of the Conservative Party? The Leader of the Opposition has disappeared. Obviously we shall not get an answer from her.
The document "The Right Approach". published only in October this year, said:
We have argued for the establishment of a directly elected Scottish Assembly acting as another Chamber of the UK Parliament. Its functions would be to take an important part in legislation with Parliament and to subject Government in Scotland to full democratic scrutiny.
Is that Conservative policy? If not, what is?
If we assume that Conservative policy—if it has not been abandoned altogether—is still that certain parts of Bills relating to Scotland which come before the House should be referred to a directly-elected Scottish Assembly to deal with certain bits of procedure—for example, Committee and Report stages—we can confidently say that, if ever there was a recipe for conflict, this is it.
How could the last Conservative Government have got their Rent Act through a hostile Assembly in Edinburgh? Their legislative process would have come to a halt. Who would be elected to a Scottish Assembly to sit in Edinburgh dealing with certain parts of the procedure relating to Scottish Bills and, at the end of the day, have their work eliminated by the vote of a hostile House of Commons?
That scheme is utter nonsense and a recipe for conflict. We do not know from the two Opposition Front Bench speeches so far whether this is the scheme that the Conservatives are putting to the people of Scotland. We are entitled, before the end of this four-day debate, to have an answer to this question, not just for the House or for hon. Members on this side, but for certain members of the Conservative Party in Scotland, including some who still hold Front Bench responsibilities for the Opposition in the House.
The right hon. Gentleman's criticisms of what he explains as Conservative policy may have some force, but surely they apply with even greater force to the larger legislature and Executive proposed by the Government.
Of course, we know the view of the hon. Member for Cathcart. He is against an Assembly of any sort and against devolution, as the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) implied in his question at the end of the hon. Gentleman's speech. If the view of the hon. Member for Cathcart is the view of the Conservative Party, the House and the country should be told. It is not a view which is shared by many Conservatives in Scotland. I draw attention particularly to the perceptive article by the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) in today's Daily Record and to the recent statement by Lord Home, who has considerable experience in these matters.
I wish to deal with the claim made yesterday about there having been inadequate time for consideration of the policies underlying the Bill. In Scotland, we have been talking about devolution for at least 10 years and many people have been discussing it for even longer. The same is true in Wales. The subject also appeared in the last General Election manifestos of the Labour and Conservative Parties. It is utterly ludicrous to pretend that the Bill has suddenly appeared without time for adequate consideration. We are producing something that is very much in line with our manifesto at the October 1974 General Election.
There is no doubt that the people of Scotland want more decision-making in Scotland and an Assembly sitting in Scotland. I believe that Welsh people have a similar view in relation to their own country, and my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Wales will speak about that tomorrow. If we were to turn our backs on that long-expressed demand by the people of Scotland for an Assembly dealing with Scottish affairs, it would, in political terms, be disastrous for Scotland and for the future of the United Kingdom as a whole.
The Scottish Office already covers a very considerable range of Scottish affairs. I have five separate departments responsible to me. They are Home and Health, Education, Agriculture and Fisheries, Scottish Development, and the Scottish Economic Planning Department. There is also another group of civil servants providing central services. Therefore, we already have in the Scottish Office separate arrangements for dealing with a whole range of subjects in Scotland within the United Kingdom Government set-up—health, education, social work, environment, civil and criminal law, police, new towns, electricity, selective industrial assistance, the Scottish Development Agency, the Highlands and Islands Development Board, and many other matters.
Hon. Members who are not Scottish Members might ask themselves why these responsibilities of the Scottish Office have been constantly added to over the years. The reason is that there has been a continuing and growing recognition that there are certain specifically Scottish aspects of political problems in this country which require to be dealt with in a specifically Scottish way. However, the process of adding to the powers of the Scottish Office in this way while it remains a part of the United Kingdom Government has gone about as far as it can go, because there is a limit to the number of responsibilities and burdens which can be placed upon Scottish Office Ministers.
I do not believe that there is any way of improving decision-making in Scotland by continually adding to the already very considerable burden of Scottish Office Ministers and Scottish Office civil servants. Equally, however, I do not believe that there is any possibility of taking away from Scottish Office Ministers any of the functions which they have at present. That would be politically impossible. That is also true as regards the Welsh functions in relation to the Secretary of State for Wales and the Welsh Office. It would be absolutely impossible to take away any of the powers that we have at present.
As these powers have been built up, and as the functions of the Secretaries of State have increased over the years, there has been no corresponding increase in democratic accountability. I do not believe that any person who has held the post of Secretary of State for Scotland would say that the way in which the Scottish Office is accountable to Parliament is wholly satisfactory from a democratic point of view. Therefore, what we are proposing is a very logical and sensible continuation of the process of decentralisation—which has taken place in the Scottish Office up to the present—by way of democratic control through an Assembly sitting in Scotland, directly elected by people in Scotland and with Members of that Assembly specifically and exclusively concerning themselves with Scottish affairs. That is what we are proposing in the Bill, and it is a recipe for improving the government of Scotland.
I find it an extraordinary proposition that we in the United Kingdom cannot decentralise or devolve decision making in this way and that everything has to be done in London by an overburdened House of Commons. That proposition is absolutely extraordinary and in constitutional terms it is ridiculously conservative.
We are meeting the logical consequences of what we have already done in terms of Scottish and Welsh government by establishing Scottish and Welsh Assemblies. Not only is this far removed from separatism. It is far removed from the policies of the SNP and the motives which underlie those policies. It is not only not separatism; it is not a move towards separation, and it will not be such a move.
If the House denies the legitimate aspirations of the Scottish people—and the Welsh people—to make more decisions for themselves and to make them by way of an Assembly, it will give a boost to nationalism and separatism which I think the House will ultimately regret bitterly. What we are providing, therefore, is good government. It is not a move towards separatism. It is one of the best guarantees that we can have that the Scottish people will not accept the misguided doctrines of separatism. Indeed, there is no indication that they are accepting them at present.
The right hon. Gentleman has said, quite rightly, that in certain ways the Executive will be more accountable under the Government's proposals, but does not that really affect the Chief Executive? Is he certain that the Secretary of State for Scotland, when he exercises the very important powers of virtually vetoing certain Bills, will be any more responsible to the people of Scotland, if the Bill is passed, than he is now?
Many of the functions of the Secretary of State will be completely removed from him. I shall come to that later, if time permits. Regarding the functions for which he will remain responsible, he will be just as responsible to the House as he is now. As these functions will be a good deal narrower. this will increase democratic accountability at Westminster for Scottish functions—in the same way as the Scottish Assembly will increase democratic accountability in Edinburgh for the Assembly functions.
I was about to describe briefly the Scottish scheme of devolution. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Wales will no doubt refer to the Welsh scheme for devolution tomorrow.
The three main principles and themes which underlie the scheme for Scotland are, first, that the scheme in Scotland must be a legislative scheme, for obvious reasons. We already have separate Scottish legislation over a whole range of functions. Perhaps I may say to my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) that this was made clear before the 1974 General Election. It was specifically provided for in the White Paper of September 1974.
Secondly, we have aimed to devolve functions to the Scottish Assembly which are specifically Scottish and concern Scotland alone, but at the same time we have retained in the United Kingdom Parliament those matters affecting Scotland where there is a substantial United Kingdom interest.
Thirdly, we have drawn up our proposals so as to avoid constant interference by the Secretary of State for Scotland and the United Kingdom Government in the day-to-day work of the Assembly in discharging the devolved functions.
There was a considerable improvement in our proposals in that respect between the White Paper of November 1975 and the White Paper of August 1976. That was well recognised in Scotland. The Bill reflects the White Paper of 1976.
The universities in Scotland have a function which extends far beyond Scotland. They do not provide simply for Scotland's needs. They have in proportion to the population of Scotland a much greater student population than the universities in England. There are many faculties in which we produce far more graduates than are needed for Scottish purpose Medicine is one example. Scottish universities can be dealt with in detail later when we come to the appropriate clause.
Can the Secretary of State assure the House that the Law Officers have considered this Bill hand in hand with the Act of Union and have come to the conclusion that there is nothing in the Bill which goes against those provisions in the Act of Union with which the English Parliament agreed in perpetuity not to tamper?
All these matters have been considered in the preparation of this Bill.
A number of requirements come from the main considerations that I have already outlined to the House. First, there has to be precision in the wording of the Bill to determine the boundaries between the devolved functions and the reserved functions.
Without dealing in detail with examples of this, I point out that the Scottish Development Agency is basically devolved to the Assembly, but there is reference in Clauses 49 and 51 to the responsibility of the Secretary of State and the United Kingdom Parliament to lay down guidelines for the industrial functions of the Agency, because in those functions the work of the Agency has considerable impact in the United Kingdom as a whole and is not exclusive in Scottish terms. These provisions are designed to get the precision in wording that is required if we are to separate the devolved functions and the non-devolved functions.
I turn now to the question of vires. We have in the Bill dropped the political mechanism originally proposed in the White Paper of November 1975. We now provide for a mechanism which involves the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. That provision is in Clause 20 and it is a considerable improvement on the original proposals. Again, it removes a potential source of conflict by taking it out of political considerations.
But it has been stated explicitly at all times by the Government that, even if one had a precise delineation of functions and a mechanism outside politics for dealing with the vires of Scottish Assembly legislation, circumstances might arise in which a piece of legislation from the Assembly, perfectly within order and within its competence, nevertheless impinged seriously on a non-devolved function, and in which the United Kingdom Government wanted to provide a mechanism for dealing with such a situation. That is what Clause 45 does. It is expressed in terms which made it clear that the mechanism will operate not when the Assembly is acting wholly within its competence and on a devolved subject with full responsibility to act, but when the legislation has an impact of a serious nature on a non-devolved function.
In all these matters, it was extremely difficult to draft the Bill in a way which made it clear that we have got it right, but I believe that we have got the provisions basically right. There will no doubt be an interesting Committee stage, and we can then consider any particular points put up from any quarter of the House. But to suggest that some doubt about Clause 20 or Clause 45 would be good enough reason for rejecting the Bill on Second Reading is absurd.
To every one of the detailed points raised by the Leader of the Opposition yesterday there are very good answers, and they will be given at the appropriate stages. The right hon. Lady's was a Committee stage speech, if anything. It was legalistic and destructive. It paid no attention to the underlying political considerations behind the Bill. She said that she had consulted some of her legal friends. It is a pity that she did not consult some of the ordinary people of Scotland, for otherwise she would not have made that rather silly speech.
As a point of fact relating to Clause 20, yesterday I asked whether the Government had had any representations from the judges on their view of being involved in politics in the form of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House had a lot of very eloquent things to say at one time about Sir John Donaldson as a judge involved in political decision-making.
The judges discussed that matter in a memorandum which we took into account. I may point out that all these matters have been exhaustively considered, not only within the Government but with the appropriate bodies outside. On the legal issues, we have had memoranda from the Law Society of Scotland and the Faculty of Advocates as well as the Scottish Law Commission. Most of these documents were published by the submitting bodies themselves at the same time as they sent them to the Government.
That may be a matter for the judges themselves, but I will take account of what the hon. and learned Gentleman has said. There has been a mass of documentation and representation about the Government's White Papers, and most of that documentation is at least familiar to Scottish Members if not necessarily to English Members.
Surely the right hon. Gentleman must be aware that, whatever our view of devolution or of the Bill, there is a deep unease about the long-term constitutional implications lying behind the measure. Is not the House entitled to have a clear answer to the point asked by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dover and Deal (Mr. Rees)? It is not sufficient to say that, if the judges prepared a memorandum which the Government took note of, perhaps the judges would publish it themselves. The right hon. Gentleman must take the House and the country into his confidence and tell us what were these considerations. We are entitled to know.
The proposal in the latest White Paper took this technical matter relating to the vires of the policy content of the Assembly's Bills out of the hands of the politicians—in the previous White Paper it had rested with the Secretary of State—and put it into the hands of the judiciary for decision. The judiciary will decide not on the policy content but on the question of whether it is technically competent. The change has been widely welcomed in Scotland. My hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian is making heavy weather of this. The original proposal left it in the hands of the Secretary of State, and it was almost universally criticised, the critics including the legal profession. We have met that criticism by Clause 20, and no doubt we can discuss it at some length in Committee.
I want to speak now about the financial arrangements, because there has been criticism of the concept of the block fund. I do not want at this point to explain in detail how the block fund will operate—that will come later when we discuss the clauses. But a lot of the discussion of the financial arrangements in the Bill has been rather unbalanced, because it has almost completely neglected the mechanism of how the block fund will be negotiated, calculated, and the rest. There has been an almost exclusive concentration on the question of independent revenue-raising powers, but it is how the block fund operates that will be immeasurably the most important part of the financial settlement between the Westminster Parliament and the Scottish and Welsh Assemblies.
The original criticism was that the Government had not thought about independent tax-raising powers at all, and therefore had not produced any conclusions because they had not given the matter any consideration. We had a variation of that criticism yesterday. We were told by a number of hon. Members that we had thought about it very firmly but had not reached any conclusion or produced any solution, so therefore the problem was insoluble. The second criticism is contradictory of the first, although a little more flattering to the Government. But neither criticism is justified. We have given great thought to this matter, and the fact that we have not so far produced a solution does not mean that a solution is impossible. We have made it clear on a number of occasions that if a possible solution to the problem emerges, we will be happy to consider it for incorporation in the Bill.
The Secretary of State has said that it will take some time to consider this. The Explanatory and Financial Memorandum says that it will cost about £36 million to set up and run the Assemblies for one year. Who will pay? Will it be the British taxpayer, the Scottish taxpayer or the Welsh taxpayer?
There is one category of taxpayer. This matter will come into the block fund negotiations. The expense for establishing the Assemblies will be a United Kingdom charge.
I should like to develop my argument a little further and then I shall be perfectly happy to give way to the hon. Member because I know that he is interested in these matters.
I was about to make a number of preliminary points about the question of block funds and independent revenue-raising powers. First, in terms of a devolution settlement I think that it is accepted by most that independent revenue-raising powers could be only marginal. The block fund is bound to provide the bulk of finance for the Assemblies. That is why we ought to be turning our minds to—and I hope we shall in Committee—the problems arising from the block fund, how it should be negotiated, how we estimate the needs of the Scottish and Welsh Assemblies and what are the needs of the Scottish and Welsh people in terms of devolved services and so on.
These are all extremely important matters and they are the more important because the block fund will provide—even if we find an independent tax-raising power—the bulk of the money. What we are talking about in terms of independent revenue-raising powers is only at the margin.
Second, there is a growing clamour in Scotland, as well as alsewhere, for independent revenue-raising powers for the Assemblies, Scottish and Welsh taxpayers ought to be asking: are we in favour of paying more taxes to keep the devolved functions of the Assembly going? That is the problem for the Scottish and Welsh taxpayers.
Before answering that question, I should like to say one or two other things about the tax system generally. I think that the House ought to take these general points into consideration before making up its mind about the question of independent tax-raising powers.
The overall settlement would be based on need, not on revenue. That is absolutely fundamental to the devolution scheme for both Scotland and Wales. In terms of expenditure per head of population, Scotland and Wales have done well, on a crude comparison with England. The figures were published in a recent answer to a Parliamentary Question. That does not of course mean that Scotland and Wales have necessarily done well in terms of their real needs. That brings in considerations other than just the crude expenditure per head measurement of public expenditure. Over the years, the way in which money for Scotland and Wales has been voted by the House and the way in which Ministers have come to conclusions about money for Scotland and Wales has taken account of the fact that there are special needs in those countries.
Therefore, it is not possible to provide a crude expenditure per head of population for individual parts of England as well. If we had regional figures for England, they would demonstrate that in some parts of England public expenditure per head is legitimately greater than in other parts. That is done within the Government at present. It does not present an absolutely new problem, but it will have to be dealt with in a different context after the Assemblies are established. It is a problem with which we are familiar at present.
I accept absolutely, however, that there are powerful arguments in favour of independent tax-raising powers for Scotland and Wales. The first is the argument of flexibility, because it would allow the Assemblies to have a certain amount of money at their disposal rather than remaining utterly dependent on the block grant. The second argument is about accountability. If one is to have financial discipline in any elected body which is spending large sums of public money, the fact that it has to raise some of the money itself is obviously an important factor. I accept that it is important, if we can achieve it, to get independent revenue-raising powers for the Scottish and Welsh Assemblies.
In considering the method of raising finance, will consideration be given to the possibility of doing away with the very much disliked regions, particularly Strathclyde, and transferring their powers to surcharge rates to the Assemblies?
That raises the question of local government reform. Local government reform, whatever else it may do, does not by itself—as we know from past experience—produce a reduction in public expenditure. I do not think that there will be any additional money involved through local government reform which would help to finance the Assemblies. There may be a different distribution of revenue, but that would not help by itself.
Does the right hon. Gentleman recollect that the Treasury, in evidence to the Wheatley Commission, argued that local government, far less Assemblies, ought to be given greater tax-raising powers of its own? The Treasury then seemed to think it possible that tax-raising power would be far less than marginal, as the right hon. Gentleman has suggested in regard to the Assemblies.
Rates are not marginal at present. We have just had the report of the Layfield Committee on local taxation which has not proved a very encouraging document. Many of the Scottish local authorities are not saying to me that they would like to raise more of the money on their own. They are asking for more Government grant. That is the way in which things have developed over the past year or two.
The subject of finance has been raised on a number of occasions. I want to say something about local taxes, and perhaps hon. Members will take account of it when making suggestions to us during the passage of the Bill. There are a number of criteria for having any local Scottish or Welsh tax. First, it has to be something which can be operated as a marginal supplement, capable of being turned on and off as needed. That is important. Secondly, it should be cheap to collect in relation to the revenue to be raised. Thirdly, it should fall on Scotland or Wales only and it should not be paid directly or indirectly by English taxpayers. Conversely, it should not be a tax that could be avoided by a change of business location so that it was not payable in Scotland. Fourthly, it must be compatible with EEC regulations. That rules out variations in VAT and virtually rules out a retail sales tax. Fifthly, it must be broadly-based and not restricted to special groups within the population. Sixthly, it should not significantly affect the management of the United Kingdom economy. Finally, it should be seen by those paying it as a tax imposed by the Scottish Assembly and not lost in the mass of general taxation.
It must be a tax which is politically possible. Some of the taxes which are technically possible would not be any help to the Assemblies because politically they must be put into operation. We have considered the existing taxes with these criteria and these major considerations in mind. There is not likely to be a new tax which no one has so far thought of—we have been so fertile in thinking of different ways of taxing our people—which will be available to the Assemblies. Again, an assignment of taxes with the rates determined elsewhere does not help. A number of suggestions have been made for passing over to the Assemblies taxes which are collected at the standard rate throughout the whole of the United Kingdom. But that gives the Assemblies absolutely nothing in the way of independent revenue-raising powers. It has to be a specific tax, where the Assembly could have power to fix its rates on its own without being committed to the rates fixed by the United Kingdom Government.
There are immense practical problems in meeting these criteria. The Layfield Committee, in a different context, demonstrated the extent of some of these problems. We have looked at the possibility of a local income tax, again in a different context from Layfield. But the Layfield Committee demonstrated that that would be something which would take a long time to put into operation and would be extremely expensive. We have not so far found any tax that fits the criteria I have outlined in a satisfactory way, except a surcharge on local rates and that is extremely unpopular. It was a proposition that was disliked by everyone. That is why we have abandoned the idea.
It is not absolutely impossible to find a tax that fits these criteria. If we do find one, and there will be plenty of opportunity for discussing this during the passage of the Bill, we shall be happy to consider it and, if need be, put in it into the Bill. It is no good hon. Members, or people outside for that matter, being vehement in their criticisms of the Government about the lack of independent tax-raising powers and then being incapable of putting up any sensible alternative. There has been a tremendous amount of destructive criticism, some of it absolutely misguided, and showing no understanding of the problems. There has been virtually nothing in the way of constructive alternatives put to the Government. We shall consider any constructive alternatives. I do not believe that in yesterday's debate there were any such alternatives put forward. If we get these alternatives over the next couple of days no one will be more delighted than the Ministers who are dealing with this Bill.
That has nothing to do with the point that I was dealing with. I might add that my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian did not always take that view. Immediately after the October General Election my hon. Friend, who was then Chairman of the Scottish Labour Group, in the Scottish Daily Express of 18th October 1974, was demanding that the newly elected Labour Government should introduce a devolulution Bill not in 1976 but in the 1974–75 Parliamentary Session. He said:
I was one of those most hostile to the move for an Assembly but I am now the first to say that because we have given an undertaking we must go ahead quickly to prove good faith.
That was what my hon. Friend said immediately after the October General Election. Incidentally, the Daily Express added:
It is a dramatic contrast with Minister of State Bruce Millan's go-slow ideas the day after the election.
I was about to deal briefly, because I want to draw my conclusions to an end, or, rather, I want to bring my remarks to a conclusion—
My right hon. Friend will have studied a fairly long passage, perhaps an all too long passage, in my speech yesterday which dealt with these matters absolutely frankly and fully.
I think that we can deal with these matters in a number of different ways. I have dealt with them in my way. Not only did I read my hon. Friend's speech; I listened to it. For a Back Bencher there is always the luxury of being able to change one's mind constantly. It is not a luxury which Ministers can afford.
That is what we are implementing in this Bill. [Interruption.] That was in the party programme and election manifesto. [Interruption.] I was about to say one or two things—
Quite apart from what was said in the election manifesto of October 1974, the Labour Party Conference this year overwhelmingly welcomed the Government's commitment to Scottish and Welsh Assemblies. Some of my hon. Friends who are anxious that we abide by conference decisions might take that into account when deciding how to vote on Thursday.
I was about to say something about the rôleof the Secretaries of State after devolution. First, there will remain a considerable number of functions in the hands of the respective Secretaries of State. We are adding to this by decentralising responsibility for the activities in Scotland and Wales of the Manpower Services Commission and the associated agencies. There are a number of other functions—agriculture, fisheries, general economic planning, selective assistance to industry, and so on. There will still be a considerable rôle for the Secretaries of State for Scotland and Wales.
Secondly, I repudiate entirely the point made by the Leader of the Opposition yesterday that the devolved Assemblies will be subordinate to the Secretary of State. That is an utter misreading of the Bill. It is completely inaccurate to say that. The Bill has been drafted in such a way as to give the Assemblies devolved powers in a wide range of functions and to enable them to carry out these powers without constant interference from the Secretary of State or the Westminster Government.
This Bill meets a long-expressed and definite wish in Scotland and Wales for more decision-making there and for the decision-making to have its expression by means of directly-elected Assemblies. It does not solve all the problems facing Scotland or Wales. None of us has ever made these extravagant claims for it. The Bill will enable these problems to be dealt with in a different context and, I think, dealt with more successfully. Of course, by itself, the solution to the problems will depend on the quality, and on the politics, of the administrations elected in Scotland and Wales. This is a Bill which will improve the government of Scotland and Wales. It is a Bill to which the Government have given a considerable amount of consideration. It expresses the main lines of our thinking about devolution to Scotland and Wales and, although we have said that it is subject to detailed consideration in Committee, I would not pretend that we have not thought through and decided the main lines of policy expressed in the Bill. We are firmly committed to them. Obviously we shall listen to what the House has to say.
If the House were to turn down this Bill, it would be turning its back on the genuine aspirations of the people of Scotland and Wales—
—and that would be disastrous not only for the people of Scotland and Wales but for the United Kingdom. I do not believe that the House will be foolish enough to do that. I believe that the House will be wise enough in its judgment to give the Bill the Second Reading which it deserves.
I was saddened that the Government found it necessary to introduce this Bill this Session, and my sadness has been in no way alleviated by the intensely dreary nature of the speeches of the Secretary of State today and the Prime Minister yesterday. This is surely a matter of enormous importance. We do not want to know just what is in the Bill; we want to know why the Bill is before us. What will it do for the people of Scotland? What will it do to create more happiness in life in Scotland and Wales and inspire more in the United Kingdom?
We have had not a word about that. We have had merely an accountant's report about what is in Clause 2, Clause 4 or Clause 5. Surely we as a House of Commons want to know, on a major issue—one of the greatest issues, as the Government recognise in the amount of time they are allocating for it—the reason for it, what it will do, what it will make better and richer and happier about the life of Scotland and Wales and of the United Kingdom. I hope that we shall hear that during this debate.
I was saddened, as I said, that the Bill had to come forward. Nor can I regard it as urgent enough to take so much of the time of Parliament this Session. It is important, of course, but importance and urgency are not the same thing. I cannot help feeling that, with the economic problems we face at the moment, there are other matters which might command more of the attention of Parliament in the next six months than the kind of time that is to be devoted to this Bill. But we have the Bill. It will not go away, and we must deal with it.
Much of the argument about this subject has been bedevilled by sloganising. People say that they are either pro or anti devolution. One cannot be for or against devolution any more than one can be for or against government or sunlight. There has to be devolution in any country. A country cannot be run without devolution. The issue is how much devolution, on what subjects and to whom. Separatism is another matter. It is crazy, but it is another matter. The issue of separate countries is at least a real issue. But it makes no sense to argue that one is for or against devolution.
This country, under the umbrella of an omnicompetent Parliament, as we have and will continue to have, must devolve many of its decisions within the confines of our country. The practical questions are what should be devolved, to whom and why. I do not forget Collingwood's famous principle that differences of degree and kind merge into each other. That is perfectly true. Nor do I ignore the simple fact that a great amount of emotion can come into these decisions about the degree of devolution. But let us make no mistake: we are discussing not whether to devolve or not to devolve, but how much to devolve, in what circumstances, why and to whom. That is what the House of Commons will be considering as it considers this Bill.
I speak today as an English, as a London, Member of Parliament. Having represented my constituency in North London for 25 years and having been born there many years ago, I think that I have some idea what the people of Chipping Barnet would say about the Bill. First, we would say "We must admit that we have not properly understood the importance of this issue. It has not come into our consciousness as much as it should have done. We regret this." Second, if we were honest, we would admit to a certain sneaking suspicion that foreigners start slightly to the north of St. Albans.
Having said that, however, and having recognised the jokes, the feelings and the sayings about our Scottish friends, we have still in our hearts an immense affection, respect and admiration for the Scottish people, for their tenacity, their courage and their integrity. If we were to wake up one morning to find that, through some misunderstanding of ours, we and the Scots were divided, we should be deeply and bitterly desolated by that discovery.
I am grateful to the hon. Member: I shall be coming to that. I just wanted to try to put what seems to me a point of view of people in my constituency about this issue and what we really feel about our relationship particularly with the Scottish people.
We would be inclined to say, if the Scots want to run their own affairs in a particular manner, good luck to them, as long as they do not interfere with the integrity of the United Kingdom—I am glad to have the assurance of the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. Crawford) on that point—in matters of defence, foreign affairs, the currency and basic industry and, as long as the method of governing Scotland's internal affairs does not harmfully repercuss upon England.
That would be our first conclusion—if the Scots want to run their own affairs, good luck to them. But I must add two other conditions. First, they must not present us with the bill. If they want to run their own affairs, they must pay for it. That is fair enough. Second, if in Scotland they want to run their own housing, industry and social services, they cannot run ours as well. If it should be decided that the Scottish dimension in these matters should be independent or devolved, why should not the English dimension equally be devolved? That is perfectly common sense
I do not see why, on that basis, it should be impossible for this House to reach a sensible solution. If we can establish principles of this kind to start with and put aside a little of the silly argument about "pro" and" anti" and try to decide what we are trying to do, can we not by arguing about it solve the problem—solvitur ambulando—and reach some sensible and agreed solution?
However, all this will surely come in Committee. Out of prolonged and serious discussion of these issues will probably emerge solutions that will be for the greatest benefit of the greatest number. Looking at the proposals in the Bill, comparing them with experience and proposals elsewhere, one sees basic objections to the Bill. The inclusion of Wales, frankly, is a great mistake. As for the Scottish Assembly, I am not quite sure—
Because I think that it is a different country—but I shall come to that in a moment.
I am not so sure that the idea of a Scottish Assembly, which is merely part of the apparatus of Westminster and subject to being overruled by Westminster, is wholly adequate to satisfy the aspirations of the Scottish people.
I was trying to deal with this issue on the basis of what suits the United Kingdom and rather less on the basis of scoring party points.
Second, there is the question of a Scottish Executive. I am not sure that having an Executive responsible to a Scottish Assembly is all that different from the old Stormont system in Northern Ireland, which in many ways worked pretty well over a long period but finally collapsed under the totally exceptional pressure of the internal struggle between the two sides, whatever one calls them, in Northern Ireland.
It is perfectly feasible, on the experience of Stormont, to have within the United Kingdom an elected assembly to which an executive is responsible. It may not be a good idea, but it can certainly work. An example is the Greater London Council. Its members are not primary legislators but they legislate in many matters which affect the livelihood of every person who lives in that area. The GLC also has an executive.
Therefore, although I accept that the argument about adding another tier of government is a strong one, cannot it be met in the discussion of the Bill or by amendment of the Government's proposals? If it is a question of our having too much government, that is a practical matter which surely can be cut back in the course of discussion. If the cost of this measure were to be the price of maintaining the integrity of the United Kingdom, might it not be worth paying? I do not know.
This brings me to the basic argument. Is this degree of devolution—it is, I over again, a matter not of kind but of degree—on the one hand, as some would argue, essential to maintain the integrity of the United Kingdom, or, on the other hand, is it the beginning of the breaking-up of the United Kingdom? That is really what it is all about.
I am worried because I cannot find adequate evidence of the real feeling of people in Scotland on this issue. I have spoken to many of my Scottish friends and I believe them all, but they tend to contradict one another. It is extremely important to try to obtain a more definite appreciation of what the Scottish people really want when they know what they are being given as a choice. I am coming more and more to the view that some form of referendum is necessary. I do not like referenda and I did not like the European referendum, but it happened. It is hard to find any other basis upon which to come to a conclusion on the real wishes of the people of Scotland.
We are discussing the Bill's Second Reading and I must decide how to vote. I consider it to be a bad Bill. Surely there is not much doubt about that. At any rate, no one has said very much for it. Should the Bill be opposed on Second Reading? There has been a great deal of fuss in the newspapers about three-line Whips. I believe that we have been diverted a great deal from what really matters—namely, the future of the United Kingdom. With all respect to the Chief Whip and his representatives, in Opposition we sometimes tend to elevate the status of whippery beyond what it should be.
In Opposition surely we can indulge in the luxury of a little latitude. It was right for the leadership of my party to indicate in the strongest possible way its attitude to these matters—namely, to issue a three-line Whip to the effect that it believes that the party should vote against the Bill. I am sure that that is right. On the other hand, I am quite certain that in Opposition those who believe strongly in their conscience that they cannot agree with the decision of their party should follow their conscience rather than the three-line Whip.
There is a difference between Opposition and Government. If a Government lose a vote, they resign. No one makes an Opposition resign if they lose a vote. We should not be too serious about our position as that attitude is bedevilling a great deal of important discussion.
There are some Bills that are wrong in principle and we vote against them whatever they contain. For example, I should vote against a Bill to nationalise banks whatever it contained. That is not the position when dealing with this Bill. Devolution should be a matter of degree. The question is whether the Bill is so bad that it is incapable of amendment in Committee to make it right. Frankly, I believe that it is incapable of such amendment.
My main objection is the inclusion of Wales with Scotland, thereby making the Bill a dog's breakfast. Surely different considerations apply. There are many other objections to the Bill that have been put forward by my right hon. and hon. Friends, including my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition. There are enough objections to make me feel that the Government should take the Bill away and think again. To argue that to do so is to bring an end to devolution is bunk. They could take the Bill away and come forward, if they felt like it, with two Bills, one for Scotland and one for Wales. We could then argue about both Bills on a more rational basis than at present.
The right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Maudling) went to the heart of the argument, especially when he said that there are those who are in favour of devolution because they believe that it will mean the continuation of the unity of the United Kingdom and that others are opposed to the Bill because they believe that it will lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom. That is exactly the heart of the argument, although there is another group in the House that does not believe in the unity of the United Kingdom.
There are forces who want to see the break-up of the United Kingdom. As the hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart), the Leader of the SNP, said yesterday, his party regards the Bill as only a first step. A first step to what'? Is it a first step to be followed by improvement of the Bill, a first step to greater economic powers or a first step towards the ultimate independence of Scotland from the rest of the United Kingdom?
If there are Members who do not believe that that is what the SNP wants, I suggest that they look at the statement made by the SNP in July 1976 entitled "The Context of Independence". The SNP stated:
The Scottish National Party looks forward to an independent Scotland within the Commonwealth".
In the manifesto on which it fought the General Election in October 1974, the SNP stated:
Self-government for Scotland: that is, the restoration of Scottish National Sovereignty by the establishment of a democratic Scottish Parliament, within the Commonwealth, freely elected by the Scottish people".
Again, self-government for Scotland.
The aim of the SNP is clear and we should all understand it—namely, national independence and the separation of Scotland from the rest of the United Kingdom. When we are talking about devolution, we must remember that factor in the argument. It is not merely a question of whether we should have devolution to preserve the unity of the United Kingdom or have no devolution so as to keep the United Kingdom together. There is another important body that argues for the break-up of the United Kingdom.
I have heard some of my colleagues say on many occasions that it has always been Labour Party policy to argue for Home Rule for Scotland. That is true. It is right that Keir Hardie made speeches in South Wales arguing for a Scottish Assembly and a Welsh Assembly or Welsh Parliament. I do not deny that. But Keir Hardie also demanded Socialism, and we do not have that yet. I believe that some of my hon. Friends are slightly selective in their arguments about manifesto commitments. There is a manifesto commitment to introduce a wealth tax, but such a measure has not yet been introduced. I am not certain that it will be introduced. The Labour Party is committed in its manifesto to the nationalisation of the ports. I am not certain that that measure will be introduced. There are many other things in the manifesto, but above all it seems to be said that we must support devolution and Assemblies for Scotland and Wales.
Let us consider what has happened in the Labour Party on this issue. I am never against manifesto commitments, nor am I against conference decisions, and in 1968 my party discussed a resolution moved by the Leith constituency. That resolution was never passed. It was remitted to the National Executive because the present Prime Minister, speaking on behalf of the National Executive, said that the whole constitutional position would be considered and that it would be wrong for the conference to decide in advance one way or the other. Therefore, it did not decide and the matter was remitted.
In April 1969 the Royal Commission was established. The Royal Commission reported in October 1973, one week before the Labour Party Conference. When some people suggested discussing the Royal Commission's report, the Government said that they had not had time to look at it and they could not, therefore, give a considered opinion. Devolution was not discussed at the Labour Party Conference in October 1973. Devolution was not in the 1974 manifesto, which covered the whole country. It was in the Scottish manifesto and the Welsh manifesto, and both the Scottish and Welsh parties have been discussing it for the past 10 years.
The factor left out by my hon. Friends is that there are many people who belong to the Labour Party in England. I have always believed that the Labour Party is not a Scottish Labour Party, a Welsh Labour Party or an English Labour Party but a Labour Party that covered the whole of the United Kingdom.
More people live in the North-West Region than live in Scotland. Suppose that a North-West conference decided to have UDI and wanted an Assembly. We should be told, rightly, that unless it was carried by the national party conference it was not party policy. Devolution was not party policy, and it was not discussed at conference.
Devolution was included in the Labour manifesto. The party conference was not held before the October election. The Scottish Executive did not want it, but it was discussed by the NEC, of which, I hasten to add, I was not a member. I regret that I had not at that time been elected to it. Had I been a member, I would have raised my voice earlier. The Scottish Executive was opposed to it by a small majority. The Scottish Executive was asked to reconvene the conference, which it did, and the decision was reversed. Devolution went into the October manifesto, but the membership of the Labour Party throughout the country was never consulted. We were not passionately concerned about it. I believe that what is carried at our party conference should be in our manifesto.
When this matter was discussed this year, I fought it in the National Executive. Unfortunately, I was defeated. The only other person on the National Executive who supported me was a Scotsman, a member of the National Union of Seamen, who was as opposed to the idea as I was. A number of other people did not like it, but they would not vote against it because they felt that it was a commitment.
I would be dishonest as a politician if I said that I had changed my views purely because of a conference decision and because devolution was in the manifesto. I have thought and worried about the Bill. I do not believe in bucking conference decisions. I do not want constantly to go against manifesto commitments—there are plenty in my party who do that, and I do not want to be one of them. But I feel passionately about the unity of the United Kingdom and about the Socialist answer to our problems, and I do not believe that there is a Socialist answer to our problems if the United Kingdom breaks up.
The Scottish nationalists are the most pernicious group of politicos I have met for a long time, and I have met many. They have raised in this country the ugly face of nationalism. Nationalism can be a positive force. If a colonial power is genuinely oppressing the people, it is right to throw off that power, and the answer may lie in national independence and a national upsurge. For how long have we been oppressing the Scots? The SNP rubbish I read gives me the impression that the English people have stood with a boot on the neck of the Scots. It is not true. Yet the SNP says this time after time and has raised the ugly face of nationalism in Scotland. Unfortunately, some people are trying to do that in Wales as well. I warn the House that the outcome will be the ugly face of English nationalism. [HON. MEMBERS: "What about you?" I am not an English nationalist.
I heard Flora MacDonald, or some such person—perhaps it was Margo MacDonald—say on a television programme that unemployment was deeper, more prolonged and worse in Scotland than it was anywhere else in the United Kingdom. I looked up the facts in my area. I have the figures for Glasgow, Liverpool, Strathclyde and Merseyside. The figures given by the Department of Employment are as follows: for the Liverpool travel-to-work, area 11·2 per cent., Merseyside special development area 10·7 per cent., Glasgow travel-to work area 8·5 per cent. and Strathclyde 8·7 per cent.
How dreadful it is that I have to come to the House of Commons and boast that unemployment is worse in my area for the sake of contradicting the SNP. When I was a Minister in the Department of Industry, deputations consisting of Members of Parliament for London and the Midlands came to see me demanding that I should stop the IDC policy, which involved getting industry to Scotland and other areas because it was needed there more than in the Midlands and the South-East. That has been the policy of the Government and of previous Governments. It is not true to say that the English have stood with a foot on the neck of Scotsmen.
Freedom is a wonderful thing. We should all fight for freedom, but not for a "phoney" freedom which does not exist and is a myth in the minds of certain people who are using it to make political capital and to advance themselves.
I looked up the Treaty of Union of 1703. A lot of jiggery-pokery went on when that treaty was signed. I would not say that people were bribed to vote for union, but a great deal happened in those days that was very near to that situation. That happened because it was said that it would be economically advantageous for Scotland to be with England. With the advent of Scottish oil, it is now economically advantageous not to be with England. That is a depressing situation in politics, and it worries me.
I could give other facts and figures, and I outlined the situation in an article that I wrote for the Scotsman, clearly showing that Scotland got a great deal from the English who were alleged to oppress them. We in the Labour movement believe in solidarity. Indeed, we built our movement upon it. We are as concerned about the working man in Glasgow and Edinburgh as we are about the working man in Liverpool, Newcastle, London, Sheffield or anywhere else in the country. Whenever one sees television programmes involving interviews with workers in the Midlands, one notices that in nine cases out of 10 the shop steward who is selected to speak for those Midlands workers, who are mainly Englishmen, is a Scotsman. That happens because that is the basic attitude of the British Labour movement.
I warn my hon. Friends that, unless we are very careful, we shall never achieve our Socialist objectives. If we split up and divide the United Kingdom, there will be no Socialism. Instead, we shall have three small countries nationalistically inclined, competing with each other, suspicious of each other and watching each other but certainly not working in unison to better the lot of the mass of the people. I am opposed to this concept from a basic Socialist attitude.
I have thought deeply about this matter. Indeed, I have worried so much that I have lain awake at nights thinking about the problem. There are times when we have to think in the interests of our basic Socialist—and not nationalist—beliefs in the United Kingdom, and we must put that before everything else as a first step to a wider unity in the world. That is something I shall always argue for, and it is something I have always believe in. On those grounds, I do not find myself in support of this measure.
I hesitate to follow the criticisms voiced by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) of those on his own Front Bench on the subject of whether they normally follow conference decisions. Although I agreed with many of the criticisms he made of the SNP and what motivates its Members. I ask him to realise that not everybody in Scotland is nationalist. There are many other people in Scotland apart from the nationalists who believe that we require an improvement in government in Scotland. Therefore, I ask the hon. Gentleman not to condemn those people in his blanket condemnation.
In matters affecting the constitution we are playing for very high stakes indeed. We are not dealing merely with the future of Scotland and Wales. We are dealing with the future of the United Kingdom. I could not endorse more fully what was said yesterday by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition—namely, that we want a stable and lasting solution. In working for that solution we must take account of the feelings and aspirations of the people in Scotland and Wales.
Although I appreciated what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) in his opening remarks, I believe that this is not just a bread-and-butter matter, not just a matter involving material considerations, but that there are important things to be considered, such as national identity and the aspirations felt in various parts of the United Kingdom, not just in Scotland alone.
Although we are playing for high stakes in these deliberations, the subject in hand is important not only for Parliament but for the great national parties in this country. We must demonstrate in what we do and say in the House that we are sensitive and that we can show our sensitivity towards individual parts of the United Kingdom that make up the whole. If we take that course, we shall truly show that we believe in the integrity and unity of the whole nation.
I agree with the Secretary of State for Scotland that time is no longer on our side, although that may at one time have been the case. I remind my colleagues that we in the Conservative Party have now been discussing these matters for about 10 years. The Labour Party has come to these matters more recently. However, I welcome the fact that the Labour Government have at least been prepared to bring forward a measure for consideration at this time.
It is right to criticise the provisions of the Bill, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition did yesterday. I, too, have my doubts about some of the detailed provisions. I have doubts about how some of the responsibilities are divided between the United Kingdom Parliament and the Assembly in Edinburgh. I should like to see many of those responsibilities more clearcut because that would lead to less risk of conflict.
I am also concerned about some of the problems of resolving those conflicts, and some of them derive from the fact that there is a dual Executive. I am also worried on the subject of cost—a point dealt with by my hon. Friend the Member for Cathcart earlier in the debate. However, I agreed with my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Maudling) that if we are to keep the United Kingdom united, we must at the same time put the matter of costs into perspective.
What concerns me is that so far it has been left to Opposition Back Benchers to speak of our party's commitment and belief in devolution and of an Assembly in Scotland. It is true that this matter has been spelt out outside the House, because the Home Committee report went into the matter in considerable detail, and there were also the recommendation from the Committee so ably chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind), which carried forward many of these proposals into practical form. It is a way of devolving government for the United Kingdom, I believe that it has a great deal to be said for it, and I hope that we shall hear more from the Opposition benches about the benefits of that solution. It maintains the link with the United Kingdom Parliament, it provides continuing machinery that will seek to resolve conflict when conflict arises, and it avoids a second Executive.
Let me say to those who seek to pour scorn on the matter that the Kilbrandon Committee did not pour scorn on the proposal, but treated it as a sensible and practical alternative. The Kilbrandon Committee rejected the proposal, but it regarded it as one way of trying to deal with the problems of devolution in the United Kingdom.
I emphasise to my hon. Friends that simply to criticise the Government's proposals without spelling out any alternative will not do. Of course there will be conflicts which require explanations. There are conflicts in our proposals, just as there are conflicts under the present system. In fact, the present conflicts have given fire to the desire for devolution in Scotland.
Having listened to the criticisms of the Leader of the Opposition yesterday I was tempted to say, just as the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) said, that, if these criticisms are so valid, perhaps the Government proposals do not go far enough. If we are not prepared to consider some framework of devolution, as the Government are trying to do in this Bill, then perhaps we should not dismiss out of hand the idea of some federal solution which might cope effectively and adequately with the conflict to which my right hon. Friend referred yesterday. That is not necessarily the right thing to do, but if we are exposing some of the risks, we must face up to the consequences, consider them constructively, and then either accept or reject them.
Be that as it may, the worst course of all is to do nothing. Opinion in Scotland cannot be ignored. This is not something which will just go away. If we in the House appear to frustrate the genuine aspirations of the Scottish people, this is the very thing which turns moderates into extremists. Scotland is not a country of extremists—Socialist, nationalist, or anything else. It is up to us in this debate to ensure that we do not turn moderates into extremists.
In order to make the record absolutely clear, I did not say that the Scottish people were extremists. I did not say that all Scots take the view of the Scottish National Party. My attack was on the Scottish National Party, not on Scots in general.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for saying that, and I accept it as his view. In that case, I hope that he will consider these proposals for devolution in a constructive sense and take account of the interests of the Scottish people whom he does not class with the SNP.
I believe very strongly that we must pay regard to the feelings of the Scottish people. In Scotland, whatever my right hon. and hon. Friends may say, people do see the vote at the end of this debate as an indication in principle of whether the Parliament of the United Kingdom is for or against an Assembly in Scotland. I know that it is very confusing for my hon. Friends who represent constituencies south of the border when they hear different things from different people. However, I move around and talk to people in Scotland as much as, and perhaps more than, most hon. Members, and from my observations I know that it is an inescapable fact that people regard this debate and the vote at the end of it as being of very considerable importance.
There is a broad desire in Scotland for the proposals for an Assembly to be debated in detail. In the course of the past week I have had more representations made to me, and have received more letters, than at any time in my whole period in this House. Not all the letters and representations have been in favour of devolution. In fact, many are openly against any form of Scottish Assembly. But there is one thing which all the letters and representations have in common. They cannot understand why we should vote against this Bill on Second Reading and thus seek to curtail any other detailed discussion on this, the first devolution proposal which has come forward to the House of Commons.
There is a further dimension to this. I echo the words of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet, who said that this is the first occasion when, on the details of devolution, we have elevated the debate to a national—that is, a United Kingdom—level. In the debate this week and in the weeks and months to come we should stimulate rather than stifle debate. That is why I believe that it is wrong to vote against the Bill at this stage.
There are alternatives. This is a constitutional matter and there are deep convictions on it, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet said. It could have been dealt with by a free vote, although I know that is not welcome in certain quarters. But, if it is necessary for us on this side to register our opposition on this, surely, if we are in favour of the principle of devolution and of a Scottish Assembly, we can do so by tabling amendments spelling out our objections to the inclusion of Wales and the dangers we see in the proposals for Scotland.
A vote against the Bill—I say this in particular to my right hon. and hon. Friends from south of the border—will be misunderstood by many of the people in Scotland if we are to remain true to our commitment to an Assembly for Scotland. The Prime Minister has promised to consider constructive amendments in Committee. If we were unsuccessful in Committee, there would still be Third Reading. But at this stage we should get the debate going.
Finally, I appreciate that there are many hon. Members on both sides of the House who oppose the Bill out of fear for the future integrity of the United Kingdom. I respect that view, and I paid tribute to it earlier. The view is sincerely held, I know, and I yield to no one in my support for the United Kingdom. But I ask my right hon. and hon. Friends to consider one fact. The Union to which we all rightly pay allegiance will not be preserved and strengthened by us ignoring the aspirations of one party to that Union; the Union will not be preserved and strengthened by denying the opportunity to discuss one possible way of meeting those aspirations; and the Union will not be preserved and strengthened if we ignore the views of the majority of Scottish MPs on a matter so deeply affecting Scotland.
On the other hand, I believe that the Union will be preserved and strengthened if we in this House can recognise and react to the fact that the majority of those in Scotland who want more say in the running of their own affairs want it to be within the framework of the United Kingdom. By doing that in a proper way we destroy the very attractions of narrow nationalism of which the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton spoke.
For nearly 10 years I have campaigned within my party and in Scotland for what is embodied in the principle of the Bill—an Assembly for Scotland within the United Kingdom. I do not intend to change my position now.
The hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Buchanan-Smith), who is in a difficult position, spoke with immense sincerity and forcefulness. His speech will be greatly respected for that.
I suppose that there are still anti-devolutionists. There are also reluctant devolutionists and positive devolutionists. I regard myself as one of the last. I want to address myself to the positive, logical arguments in favour of the principle, not the detail, of the Bill. I agree with much of what has been said in the debate so far about certain aspects of the Bill that will need to be very carefully considered in Committee. But in terms of the principle of devolution and of creating Assemblies in Scotland and Wales, I direct my attention particularly to Scotland.
As my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench know, I believe that it would have been better to have had a separate Bill for Wales. In that I agree with many hon. Members on the Opposition side and with some of my hon. Friends simply because the two situations are different.
I have been a positive devolutionist for more than 20 years. I became a positive devolutionist while I was working and living in Scotland, when I came to the belief that an Assembly or Parliament in Scotland was necessary because of the remoteness of democracy for the Scottish people and because of the difficulty of expressing in legislation and administration affecting Scotland the very different economic and social circumstances of Scotland.
When we look at the history of Scotland—everyone is familiar with it—we see that there have been some crucial differences in the pace of economic and social development in Scotland compared with other parts of the United Kingdom. The Industrial Revolution really began there. For many generations in Scotland there has been a legacy of neglected housing and social conditions which, at least at certain stages in Scottish history and until very recent years, surpassed most other parts of the United Kingdom in their adverse consequences on the people.
I remember, for example, in the mid-1950s—these were perhaps two of the factors that led to my early conversion to the Labour Party's Keir Hardie principle of a Scottish Assembly—that in Glasgow there was a rate of tuberculosis vastly higher than anywhere else in Britain. In Glasgow at that time there were 49,000 people living at the rate of about seven to a room. Those conditions were, perhaps equally matched in some other parts of Britain. I am not suggesting for one moment that there were not, and are not, equally bad conditions on Merseyside or in Manchester.
But what I minded about at that time was that the proportions of Scottish expenditure allocated to health and housing as against, for example, roads—and at that time car ownership per head of the population was only about half the rate of that of England—were essentially the same as those in England. There was a marginal difference, but it was very marginal. Indeed, they were determined on a basis of consideration of United Kingdom priorities.
That is not to say that the end result of devolution, and the end result of having a Scottish Assembly, should be that Scotland gets more favourable treatment than Merseyside or any deprived area of Britain with a long industrial revolution legacy to be overcome. It is to say that it is socialist, democratic and right that decisions affecting people should be taken in a context which takes account of their priorities and needs. That is what the block budget, as it was called in my days of 1969 and 1970, is about. Now it is called the block fund.
My Scottish Office experience and my experience of Government in various Ministries confirmed me in my view that it is not right that public expenditure decisions within any Government, Conservative or Labour, should be taken without regard to the relevant differences in the economic and social background of Scotland. Nor should they be taken on a United Kingdom basis and the sum divided up to arrive at Scotland's share of what should go on health, roads, housing or education.
These services are already administered by the Scottish Office. They are administered not by an elected body, but by a Civil Service—a competent and efficient Civil Service—in St. Andrew's House. A greater degree of remoteness from Government exists than in other parts of the United Kingdom simply because the Secretary of State, as he explained tonight, carries so much in his portfolio. Inevitably, there is a greater degree of remoteness from the centre of decision-making.
What we are now asking for is that people should be brought closer to the decisions which affect them. That is what the Assembly means. What is un-Socialist about that? Where is the threat to the unity of the United Kingdom in that? It simply means that in those areas where we have had separate legislation and administration decision-making should rest with the Assembly.,
When I was at the Scottish Office I myself put through a separate Universities Bill and a separate Bill with regard to Scottish teachers. brought in a separate White Paper on comprehensive education which was slightly different from that in England and Wales. I was responsible for initiating the beginning of the work which led to the Scottish Social Work Act, which again was slightly different from the legislation in England and Wales, although no English Members noticed the differences. Apart from Members who served on the Scottish Committees which considered those measures, they were unaware that this was happening in Scotland. Until the issue of devolution was aroused by the knowledge that this Bill was coming before the House, I do not think that most members of the general public in Britain—and even some Members of Parliament—appreciated how much separate legislation, separate responsibility and separate administration had been practised in Scotland for generations.
Those of us who are positive in our view of this Bill now ask that there should be a closer democratic relationship between people and what happens to them. Is that a threat to the economic unity of the United Kingdom? I know of no Socialist, no member of the Labour Party in Scotland and no member of the trade union movement in Scotland who supports the Bill who would not agree thoroughly with every word said by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) about the need to retain the economic unity of the United Kingdom. The Labour movement in Scotland recognises that we shall achieve the kind of society that we want only if we all work together in a common cause for a common purpose.
There is no provision in this Bill which threatens the economic unity of the United Kingdom. This is the difference between those of us on the Government Benches who are positive devolutionists and the Scottish National Party. SNP Members want to threaten the economic unity of the United Kingdom, and my hon. Friend the Member for Walton is right when he says that we must be clear about the differences between us.
When we come to look at the details of the Bill, it will be good if we can find a way of giving powers to raise additional revenue. That will not threaten the economic unity of the United Kingdom. It will be good if we can improve the Bill in one or two other ways. But there is a profound misconception amongst some of my hon. Friends who believe that to extend democracy is in any way a threat to Socialism. For me, Socialism and democracy are inseparable. Therefore, it is in total accordance with loyalty to the United Kingdom and the loyalty to the principles of our movement that we can give total support to the extension of real democracy which is embodied in this Bill.
Before my right hon. Friend sits down, will she answer one brief question? If what she says is true, why are not we busily engaged in setting up legislative assemblies in England?
That might come in another year or so. The Government have produced a consultative document. In that event, I should respect the views of my colleagues in England and what they said about it.
The right hon. Member for Lanark (Mrs. Hart) put up a gallant defence of the principles of devolution. However, one of the confusions before us is the fact that we talk about devolution in much the same way as we talk about participation or the social contract, necessarily dealing just by word with the problems facing us.
I am sure the right hon. Lady will agree that one of the major problems facing the world in general, whether it be the Socialist world or the capitalist world, is the power of big government, big business, big trade unions, big administration, big taxaton and the big weight of the removal of responsibility from the ordinary individual. We have an excellent example in Yugoslavia. The feeling is that, somehow, the problem will be overcome by devolution, by the building up of nationalist feelings and by protecting people through these various organs of devolution from the evils of the day.
The right hon. Lady's aspirations are fair and should be considered by everyone. But we should consider the Government's measures on the basis of hew they will affect two issues—first, Scotland and its administration, and, secondly, the question whether the Bill, which is called a Bill for devolution, is not really a Bill for the dissolution of the Union.
I have had some experience of constitution-making, with the late fain Macleod and my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Maudling). It is appropriate on Second Reading to look down the tunnel of the Bill's 115 clauses to see their likely effect. In doing so, I should like to consider the two criteria of the governance of Scotland and whether the Bill will affect the Union of the United Kingdom.
I am sure that those who heard the speech of the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) yesterday will bear in mind the point made by Mr. Peggie, Chief Executive of the Lothian Region. But the Government will not give any more money to Scotland. Last year, when the right hon. Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson) was Prime Minister, the amount of block grants was to be £2,000 million. Today it is £2,500 million. Precisely the same administration as before will administer the money. There will be the same organisation, the same number of civil servants and the same amount of money.
The only difference that is proposed for Scotland is a new tier of government. I am certain that the Assembly's first action when it comes into being will be to get rid of another tier of government, and that tier is bound to be the regions. There will be administrative chaos of the highest order in Scotland as a result of the Bill. The regions are bound to go, because otherwise this new tier of government will be seen as a waste of time, with remarkably little to do.
How will getting rid of the regions affect the relationship of the ordinary citizen with the government? How will it make him closer to government? How will people feel that they are more involved? They will not feel more involved. On the contrary, by going from the regions, however inefficient they may be, government will now be concentrated in Edinburgh and will be even more remote.
Let us take housing as an example. There will be a block grant from the United Kingdom. But the new tier of governance will make things even more difficult. Industrial development—a matter which affects both trade unions and employers—will be affected and decisions will be hard to get. In every field of activity, for the ordinary person living in Scotland the Bill will mean less closely-woven, receptive and dynamic government. It will mean a new tier, which will not necessarily be effective.
Of course some people, such as the Liberal Party, claim that all these problems can be overcome by a federal constitution. The former Leader of the Conservative Party, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath), has spoken about the effectiveness of the German Läander. Suggestions have been made from both sides of the House today that the problems could be overcome through greater definition of the powers to be devolved. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said yesterday that the Bill will lead to a total confusion of power because it will mean the rights of this House and those of the Scottish Assembly running in parallel, without definition of where those rights begin and end.
There could be no future in a federal system unless all the parts were almost in balance, which is a ludicrous idea. I see the right hon. Member for Down. South (Mr. Powell) shaking his head. Unless there were proper proportion and a rough balance. a federal constitution would be invalid without the States or sub-States in England for the North-East and the North-West hinted by the right hon. Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson) yesterday. One could bring back the Mercian kings and the heptarchy. Then there would be some balance. But one cannot spend the rest of the century devolving political institutions which will not be effective against the problems which affect us today.
The right hon. Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Fraser) referred to me. What I was summarising with a shake of my head was that it is not the difference between elements forming a federation either in size or importance that could be fatal to the United Kingdom. There are disparities between the States of the United States and between the component parts of many federations. The objection to a federal system is simpler and deeper than that. Neither England nor the people of Great Britain as a whole want a federation, nor are they capable of conceiving a destruction of the political system which they understand.
Would the right hon. Gentleman at least admit that what he and the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) have just said represent assertions rather than arguments based on evidence?
I could waste the time of the House for 25 minutes in a recital of various historical examples where this has not begun to work because of the imbalances beween the centre and parts of the federation.
This will not lead to better, more popular or more effective governance of Scotland. There is no way round our problems except roughly the present way, unless we got to a position, which is unattainable under the present United Kingdom structure, in which new elements of taxation and new methods of raising funds could be introduced.
The second question which the House must ask itself is whether this type of Bill will lead to the dissipation and undoing of the Act of Union. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition that there are many points of friction which will grow. There may be friction between this House and Edinburgh, between the Administration in Scotland under the control of the new Assembly and the Secretary of State here, between Assemblies which are not elected at the same time and between the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council and this House acting against the will of the northern Assembly. Members of this House could be in conflict with their representatives in Scotland. There are so many areas which could be fuelled by the fire of persons who wish to break the United Kingdom, for reasons which they believe to be perfectly good, and to set up an independent State.
That is clearly the view of the Scottish National Party and was expressed clearly and charmingly by the hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) yesterday. He set out what he wanted to do and said that it would not be destroying the United Kingdom but would be returning to the action of James VI of Scotland becoming James I of England and uniting the Crown. The hon. Gentleman said that it would be going back from 1707 to 1603. I can think of no more unhappy analogy. In those 100 years the relationship between Scotland and England was probably at its worst. On three occasions the Scots came down, and it needed Cromwell to beat them back at Dunbar. In those years there was the massacre at Glencoe and the destruction of a great variety of heroes, together with probably the worst religious persecution ever suffered in Scotland. That period, however, is pointed out by Scottish nationalists as the golden, halcyon days to which we should return.
I believe that on these two main considerations—advantage to the ordinary person in Scotland, who will be deluded by promises which cannot be fulfilled in this Bill, and the other, wider issue of the tunnel of legislation down which we shall be proceeding—there can be only one answer. That answer is friction between Westminster and Edinburgh, with Westminster having the power and that power being fought for by Edinburgh, which has to take the kicks without the ha'pence.
That will be a disastrous situation. There will be conflict and rows, but they will not be the same rows as those in the 1640s about bishops and prayer books. They will be rows about oil, which some Scots say belongs to them. That oil can belong only to one Power—the Power which controls the naval forces. If that is the sort of issue which the Scottish nationalists are to raise, and the sort of dreams that they are trying to create, they are perpetrating the worst thing that politicians can do, which is to raise the expectations of people to aims that can never be fulfilled.
If the House will forgive me, I shall not follow the rhetorical style of the right hon. Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Fraser), whose sentiments seem very far from the sentiments of the people in Scotland whom I represent.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Lanark (Mrs. Hart) said, we can take pride in Scotland in having given birth to the Industrial Revolution. We still bear those scars heavily today. They are not only the scars of social deprivation. They are scars which as a community we need to be able to heal in our own way. I say that with the experience of having represented an English constituency before my present Scottish constituency and having been persuaded of the importance of devolution from my experience on Teesside, from my experience of the inadequacy of our industrial development policy to deal with our unemployment problems, from my experience in the inequities of judgment and social policy in the balance between primary, secondary and tertiary educational development in that area, and my experience of straight technical misjudgment on transport policy and other areas of public expenditure.
They were all mistakes which no self-respecting north-eastern authority in England would have made. Because of that, I became a convinced devolutionist long before any of my friends in the North-East were, and with scant support from them.
The reason why there was no sentiment for devolution in the North-East was that in the Labour Party there we allowed ourselves to be patronised, to be lauded by the leaders of the Labour Party when they came to the absurd annual ritual of the Durham Miners' Gala, which celebrated the feudal traditions within the Labour Party and muted the social and industrial complaints which should have been voiced in that area.
One cannot patronise the people of Scotland, nor, in the long run, can one patronise the Teessider. I am convinced that in the legislation upon which we are embarking we shall find that there are many in England and Wales who would wish to follow further down the path which we are pioneering in Scotland.
I came into this House on the same day as my hon. Friend and I know that his credentials are absolutely authentic in wanting more devolution for the North-East. Is he suggesting that there should be a legislative assembly covering the Middlesbrough area?
No. The key lies in the powers of local authorities—in the financial powers in the first place. The points raised by my hon. Friend are fundamental to the powers we are giving to the Assembly.
It has repeatedly been said that we are not giving the Assembly power to raise its own finance. We are not giving it any powers of taxation. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State spelt out the reasons, one of which could well contradict the possibility of raising a local tax at all. He pointed out that there were reasons for having a local tax: the fundamental issue was fiscal responsibility, since one should not have a spending authority which does not also have to take the political responsibility for having to raise the revenue for its expenditure. But surely, if there is to be political responsibility, likewise there is also what my right hon. Friend would call the political impossiblity of levying a tax locally which was not levied elsewhere or which was levied at a higher rate than elsewhere. Apart from the requirements of responsibility, it is necessary to be able to embark on what he described, mistakenly, as this political impossibility.
The Scottish group of Labour Members put forward a proposal that on a package of taxes it should be possible for the Scottish Assembly to vary the rates at which the taxes were levied in Scotland and to take the benefit or incur the cost of the lower revenue in the block fund. That proposal was dismissed by my right hon. Friend. He suggested that the polical life in Scotland could not get beyond the stage of the political begging bowl and that the Assembly could be entrusted with no more than a judgment of balance between one social expenditure and another. In other words, the recognition that expenditure had to be paid for by taxation was not something that could be entrusted to the Assembly.
My right hon. Friend is a high-class politician. He knows that revenue has to be raised in taxation, but he is not prepared to concede that dignity to the Assembly. We can go further and say that there is yet a higher class of politician which knows that the amount that can be made available for taxation is not limited, that wealth can be increased and that the economic life of the community depends on its social expenditure and on its disposition of economic resources.
The Scottish TUC and the Labour Party have made various pronouncements asking for economic and financial powers for the Scottish Assembly without perhaps having thought out throughly how those powers should be exercised. I accept that there is responsibility in the Bill in the powers over the Scottish Development Agency, which I welcome.
We have to consider the question of the powers of the Assembly, and, indeed, of the local authorities within England, in a gradual, evolutionary approach. Given the present baroque structure of taxation in Great Britain, it would be difficult to devolve sensible powers of taxation to the Scottish Assembly or the English local authorities. There are inevitable tendencies in, let us say, the development of income tax which will make it easier for the future.
When I was a member of the Government in the 1960s, the Inland Revenue made the absurd proposal to computerise its whole operations into half a dozen or so large computing centres. I said that it would not work. The last such centre was not to be installed until the mid-1980s. The Inland Revenue insisted that it would work, but the scheme was abandoned in 1972.
Likewise, with the further complexities that we are adding to the workings of the Inland Revenue, the present system will certainly break down. It is already breaking down. We shall inevitably move to a simplification of the system. We shall change from tax allowances to grant. We shall see personal allowances replaced by grants, and the possibilities that this will bring for self-assessment. When we get to that stage, it will be perfectly possible to raise a local income tax within Scotland. I believe that the question should be put constructively, to give the Assembly powers to raise such a tax. The implementation of that would inevitably have to await the developments which I think are coming within the Inland Revenue in Great Britain.
If we see a developing system of local finances in Britain, how would we see the political implimentation of devolution in the United Kingdom? We are plainly sick and fed up with the reforms of local government which merely consist of the redrawing of boundaries and the reallocation of existing functions. We want to see some way by which the local authorities are able to exercise power over the more fundamental things in the life of their communities. That would mean a greater rôle for local authorities in the economic development of their own communities.
I assure the House that we shall see this happen as a result of the pressures in the Scottish Assembly. We shall not get a Scottish Assembly which could neglect a situation such as exists at Marathon Shipbuilders. It will not happen. If we are to allow the Scottish Assembly to act in situations like this, are we to deny that facility to Merseyside or Teesside or South Wales? It is out of the question.
What can we do within the situation as it exists on Teesside and Tyneside? We have a splendid metropolitan authority on Tyneside which was staffed to do jobs like this. We have a Teesside county borough, which is perfectly capable of organising support from surrounding local authorities. This amounts to a highly pragmatic development in response to the obvious and demonstrated political needs of the developing local economic situation. We ought to set ourselves free to allow these developments to take place.
The Secretary of State's anticipation of the working of the block fund, both in his speech and in the detail drafting of the Bill, somewhat alarms me. He has powers for effectively determining the rates of pay of people in the public sector. By controlling the total of the block grant, he is effectively able to control the standards of services—that is, the number of teachers employed in Scotland, the staffing of the National Health Service and so on. It is up to the Assembly whether it accepts that distribution. It can shuffle it around. I do not see that as the long-range pattern in the development of the block fund. I see the situation more as one in which Scotland will develop its own emphases in social services to deal with its own problems and its own nuances in taxation to finance these.
This again will reflect the economic structure of Scotland, which will differ from the economic structure of different areas of England just as they differ from each other. The machinery of administration for the block fund will need more detailed examination. We should allow for the possibility of further development.
Finally, we ought to have an eye to the political situation which is developing in Scotland. I am afraid that the Conservative Party has done itself the most violent injury as a result of its split over this Bill. The people who will reap the consequences will be not only the Conservative Party in Scotland but the Conservative voters in Scotland. For whom will they be able to vote? Will they vote for a Conservative Party which denies the right to devolution? Will they vote for a Scottish National Party which is separatist or a Labour Party which is Socialist? Heaven knows how the voters will vote. It is creating a degree of political uncertainty in Scotland which can only feed the most rabid forms of nationalist separatism. We need to think carefully, perhaps not so much the Conservatives but certainly we on the Labour Benches, about the political risks we are creating.
As a result of developments in the past few days, I am beginning to be persuaded of the wisdom of looking more carefully at the single transferable vote for the Assembly. The single Member, one-man one-vote constituency is right in a situation where we have two major parties which roughly divide the field between them. It makes sure that when there is a party which enjoys majority support it has a substantial working majority in the House. Where there is fragmentation, or a high degree of political uncertainty with three or more parties having a substantial share of the vote, the one-man one-vote single Member constituency can create the most extreme political instability.
It is wholly logical to argue that a situation could exist in Scotland where the single transferable vote was justified without setting any precedent for England and Wales, where there is no such political situation and where the traditional position of two large parties dominating the field prevails. I do not see this as setting a precedent for the break-up of the single Member constituency in this Parliament. We all, as Members, greatly value the relationship with our constituents, our total responsibility, the fact that we do not share this with other Members and that when one of our constituents comes to us we have the responsibility for acting on his behalf.
Also, there are advantages in having a single Member for a single community. There is then no confusion of boundary lines. That argument, alas, cannot guide us in the present situation in Scotland, and I would wish to hear much more argument about the electoral system during the course of proceedings on the Bill.
The great thing about listening to and participating in debates in the House is that one always learns something. I learned, for example, that the right hon. Member for Lanark (Mrs. Hart) had been a passionate and positive devolutionist for 20 years. I confess that this fact had not previously registered with me. I am happy to learn of it and to note it. It was not particularly evident when the right hon. Lady was a Minister.
I was fascinated by the interchange between the right hon. Members for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Fraser) and for Down, South (Mr. Powell), who put forward the view that what I, as a federalist, had always regarded as a major objection to federalism, to wit, the disparate sizes of the component parts of the United Kingdom, was really a matter of no account and not a serious criticism of federalism. What was a genuinely serious criticism of federalism, in the right hon. Gentleman's view, was simply that it had never been done before and that people would not regard it as being something within the British tradition. I have learned a great deal during these two days.
I begin the major part of my speech by quoting from the speech made yesterday by the right hon. Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson). He said, at column 1007—I thought very hard of something funny to say at this point, but could not think of anything—
There will be a welcome for the Government's clear indication that they are prepared to listen to the House on a fundamental constitutional measure of this importance and complexity. It is right that the House, as far as possible … should on this Bill, not by formal resolution, but by its demeanour and tolerance, resolve itself into something like a Council of State."—[Official Report, 13th December 1976 ; Vol. 922, c. 1007.]
That approach, happily different from the approach that the right hon. Gentleman himself adopted when he introduced the debate on the White Paper in January this year, is the only one which can possibly lead us to an acceptable resolution of the grave differences which separate us.
The House, which in its very construction is designed for confrontation, must now bend its will to compromise. The essential prerequisite for this is that the Government, having previously rejected concepts such as constitutional conferences which my party has advocated, should now genuinely be prepared to listen and to adapt their proposals according to the merit of argument and the evidence of political acceptability.
If the Government do not do that, the long Committee stage upon which we are shortly to embark will not provide, in the Prime Minister's words yesterday,
… time for serious and measured discussion of all the different parts of the Bill."— [Official Report, 13th December 1976 ; Vol. 922, c. 978.]
It will, on the contrary, provide time for all of us to move further apart, to become more entrenched in our own views and more self-righteous about them. It will give time also to destroy the hopes which many people in Scotland still have—as the Minister knows as well as I—that the Bill will bring better government.
I stress this because, for all the Government's protestations that they are open-minded, the plain fact is that all the main criticisms of the Bill have already been rehearsed as main criticisms of the White Paper—and with sadly little effect in between. The Leader of the Liberal Party on my right, yesterday listed seven major areas in which he regarded the Bill as deficient. I should like to consider two of those in a little more detail than he was able to do and to ask the Government directly how willing they are to look at these matters freshly and genuinely to reconsider them.
First, there is the question of how the Assembly is to be elected—a matter to which the hon. Member for Mother-well and Wishaw (Dr. Bray) turned his attention at the end of his speech. When one remembers the words with which the Gracious Speech introduced its reference to this Bill—
My Government attach great importance to strengthening the democratic processes of our society"—
I find it incredible beyond belief that the Prime Minister yesterday made no reference at all to the arguments for electoral reform.
The Prime Minister may reject those arguments—that is one thing—but to ignore a substantial and weighty bit of evidence in favour of change consciously warps the wide-ranging constitutional debate that he claimed to be initiating and lends little credence to the Government's open-mindedness. How can the Government in one breath lay stress on Kilbrandon—I have heard the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, the hon. Member for Stirling, Falkirk and Grangemouth (Mr. Ewing), do it many times, saying "My view of devolution is contained in Kilbrandon"—and in the next breath ignore the only significant change in constitutional practice which attracted the Commission's unanimous support?
Paragraph 787 of the Kilbrandon Report states:
An overriding requirement for the regional assemblies would, in our view, be to ensure the proper representation of minorities, and it would be no bad thing for a regional government to have to pay regard, in the formulation of its policies and in its administration, to the views of the minority parties, or indeed to be obliged to seek a consensus with them. This would be particularly desirable in any region in which there were likely to be long periods without alteration of parties in power.
In paragraph 105 of the conclusion, the Kilbrandon Commission came down in favour of the single transferable vote. That has long been my party's policy, and that was the system introduced into Northern Ireland by the Conservative Party, with all-party support. For the benefit of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor), who looks as if he does not remember, I recall the words of the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw), who was then responsible for these matters. He said that the Executive could not henceforth be based on any single party if that party drew its support and elected representation virtually entirely from only one section of a divided community. It was for that reasoning that the House introduced the STV system. Although that is my party's view, in the very spirit of compromise that I advocated at the beginning of my remarks I say only that the important thing is that the Kilbrandon Commission unanimously proposed a proportional system of election.
It has the potential to be a divided community even on a Monday morning. The opposition to a proportional representation system has mainly been on the ground that it is terribly difficult to operate. In the debate on the White Paper in January, the Lord President, who was then Ted Short, said:
It is important that the public should understand and have confidence in the Assembly elections. That can best be done by using the system … which has commanded general support in this country for many years."—[Official Report, 14th January 1976 ; Vol. 903, c. 4161]
Ted was always conventional to a conservative fault!
Yet the fact is that the Ministry of Information film that was used in Northern Ireland for the STV elections had the persuasive slogan
It's as easy as 1, 2, 3.
When my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) asked if the film could be shown in Wales as part of the great debate in which we are supposed to be involved, he was told by the Secretary of State for Wales in a Written Answer that that would not be appropriate as arrangements for the first Assembly elections would be as set out in paragraph 177 of Cmnd. 6348. In short that meant "We shall take advice if we agree with it." Through the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland now sitting on the Treasury Bench, I ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make the films available, first, for a showing in the House—I should be only too pleased to sponsor such a showing—and, secondly, to the organisations in Scotland which want to use them and are prepared to pay the going commercial rate for using them. I would appreciate knowing that and, if the Government are serious about being open-minded, there is no reason why I should not. It would be an eye-opener for people who think that electoral reform is terribly complicated to see the Government's argument that it is simple, straightforward and uncomplicated.
If, on the other hand, it is said about electoral reform that the public are not interested in it, that they are bored, and that this is not a matter that excites them, I would remind the Secretary of State for Scotland that the public opinion polls published in the Sun and the Evening Standard—the latter certainly not widely read in Scotland—at the beginning of this year showed that 64 per cent. of voters believed that a system based on PR at the last election would have been fairer, while 55 per cent. of voters would support some form of PR even if it meant the party they supported getting fewer votes.
This is serious. The hon. Gentleman, who represents a southern part of England and a somewhat fringe part of politics, is entitled to his view, but, with respect, I suggest that I am even more entitled to mine.
In conclusion to this part of my argument, I should have thought that the editorial opinions from time to time canvassed in The Times, The Guardian, the Sun and the Daily Express should not be totally disregarded.
The Government are proposing three Members for six heavily populated constituencies and two for the rest. Had that system operated in October 1974, on the reasonable assumption that the voter, presented with two or three votes instead of one, would have used those votes in the same way as he used his one vote, the result for the proposed Assembly of 142 Members would have been 82 seats for Labour, 32 seats for the Conservative Party, 22 seats for the SNP and 6 seats for the Liberal Party—an overall majority of 22 for the Labour Party for a percentage vote of 36. That is a wholly unacceptable and unfair proposition. The position would, of course, be different next time, but, unless the Government think again, the injustices would be just as savage and, I suspect, not necessarily to their advantage.
It is ironic that, as a Liberal, I should be making this case, as in the Scottish context it will not make much difference to my party. Scotland is different from England. We polled 8 ·3 per cent. in October 1974 in Scotland, which was our best vote since the war. We are a firmly based, if small, minority, but we are putting forward the argument, not because it would bring us advantage, but because it is fair and would make the first Scottish Parliament genuinely representative of the Scottish will. This is a matter the Government must seriously contemplate.
The hon. Gentleman is applying his mind to Scotland, but is not the situation in Wales different? Of the 23 Labour Members in Wales 18 had an overall majority, and a changed system would not affect the majority of Labour Members. Therefore, if proportional representation were introduced into the Welsh situation, the chances are that there would be a more dominant Labour majority than there is at present.
—even on the basis that it would give him an advantage. All I am saying is that it is a fairer system. If it gives the Labour Party in Wales greater advantage than is now the case, that would be the way the people of Wales voted and the way in which they should be represented. That is all I am saying, no more and no less.
In my speech on the White Paper on 14th January—and for a change I shall quote myself—I said:
For me, the establishment of a Scottish Parliament—as I prefer to call it—is not a step towards creating some kind of super local authority administration; it is a means of creating a legislative focus in Scotland, which is an entirely different thing."—[Official Report, 14th January 1976; Vol. 903, c. 488.]
The Assembly as proposed by the Government has less powers of finance-raising than has any local authority. Indeed, it has no powers of finance-raising at all because at least a local authority has the rating power to raise its finance.
I served on the Wheatley Commission, now a much-maligned body. A basic part of our report, seldom quoted but for us—who were wrongly excluded from dealing with financial considerations—fundamental, was set out in paragraphs 1025 to 1052. I quote from paragraph 1033:
The only real solution, in the view of the Treasury, is for local authorities to raise more of their own finances, so that they have 'sufficient incentive to take spending decisions responsibly and to secure economy and value for money'. Along with this, it is desirable that they should have more freedom to determine their total expenditure and its distribution among services.
That was the view of the Treasury, whose officials gave evidence to the Commission, and that related to local government, not to regional assemblies or to devolution.
The Government are proposing to produce a solution that gives less financial freedom and less room for manoeuvre to the Assembly than the Treasury proposed for local government. That seems to be a highly contradictory situation. Surely the whole point of creating a Scottish Assembly at all is to permit it to do different things. There is no point in having an Assembly if one seeks to crib, cabin and confine it. The situation would be no different from what would normally be expected from government at Westminster.
First, it appears to necessitate independent sources of income. If it has none, it has no meaning. That perhaps might mean that some of the existing centrally-controlled powers of finance-raising should be transferred to it. Secondly, it also means that it should be enabled to vary Government-controlled financial questions such as industrial grants, the SDA and HIDB, or through the local authorities in providing guidelines on rents and rates.
The hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw spoke about teachers 'salaries. It is all carefully laid down in page after page and line after line that teachers' salaries must not go out of kilter with the rest of the United Kingdom. Why not? Why should we spell this out? The reality is that, if the Assembly wanted to increase teachers' salaries above the United Kingdom average, the rest of the services—social services and others— within the Assembly's powers would ask why money was being used in this way. There would then be a natural political corrective. If, on the other hand, the Assembly proposed to pay teachers less money than in the rest of the United Kingdom, it probably would have a full-scale teachers' strike on its hands immediately, and once again there would be a natural political corrective.
What we must do if we are to create an Assembly which feels responsible for what it does and which has a realistic financial income is to reduce the block grant and increase the area in which it has an income of its own.
Ten years ago—and I believe that the Secretary of State was around then—I introduced a Scottish self-government Bill on behalf of my Scottish colleagues and my Liberal colleagues. We argued then that the Scottish Parliament should raise all the money and contribute to a central federal Exchequer. Obviously that solution was quite unacceptable to the House. I accept that. However, I do not see why the Government should not look seriously at the two following propositions.
The first is the question of a VAT split. Certainly this would be much easier to do than anything else. It is easier to make a separation of VAT than any other tax. Income tax is too complicated. Obviously, however, because of the EEC rules VAT is not very susceptible to adjustment.
The second consideration is oil tax. The examples of Alberta and Texas show that this is an area in which particular payments can be made. If the Scottish Assembly got direct shares from oil revenues, apart from being fair this would be of tremendous psychological significance to Scotland. The Scottish National Party says that it is Scotland's oil, but the great majority of Scots, whether they be Tory, Labour, Liberal or nationalist, feel that they are entitled to some share. That position is one which the Liberal Party has taken up since 1971. It has also been argued by some totally illiberal sources such as the Scottish Council (Development and Industry). I think that the Government should look at this, because obviously it works elsewhere. The objection to any moneys being raised outwith the block grant is the claim that it damages what is called the economic unity of the United Kingdom En many ways this is a myth. At a time when we are discussing a common regional policy within nine independent countries in the EEC, the idea that such limited but nevertheless important and valuable variations as a Scottish Assembly would be a threat to the whole United Kingdom economy and puts it out of balance and is an invalid argument. After all, Stormont had far more powers of economic freedom than the Government are offering Scotland in this Bill, and that did not damage the British economy. I urge the Government to be prepared to look at the transference of some existing taxes to Scotland or to the Scottish Assembly. Have they looked seriously at places such as Alberta, where the division of oil revenues has been operated and has not broken up Canada or breached its economic unity?
We are engaged upon framing a new structure for the government of Scotland. It is an exercise which Scottish Liberals and Scottish Nationalists have argued about, from very different standpoints, for a long time. For the Government and the Conservative Party this is relatively uncharted country. It has not featured prominently in their manifestos.
I advise the Government not to pretend that at the moment we are dealing with a joyous juxtaposition of the Government's ongoing thoughts about the evolution of the British constitution and the evidence impartially produced by the Kilbrandon Commission. We are dealing with a fierce emotional demand for self-expression in Scotland, and if that feeling, which has been welling up for a long time and has found its haven in the SNP, is not met I think that the whole exercise fails.
I say with all respect to the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) that it is not good enough to do as he did and lash the SNP. It has been used by a large chunk of the people of Scotland to express their frustration, dissatisfaction and unhappiness, and, therefore. it is not good enough simply to condemn it. It is true that the problems of Glasgow and Merseyside are the same, but I often wondered during the debate on the EEC what was the difference between workers on Merseyside and the Clyde and workers in the Ruhr and Paris. Were they somehow different? It has always struck me as strange and paradoxical that the strongest opponents of devolution were the strongest British nationalists on the issue of the European Community.
The hon. Gentleman should be aware that for many years I advocated the entry of this country into the EEC. Only when I saw the actual terms, the fact that we would not be able to change the Treaty and the fact that the conditions would not benefit our people, did I oppose it.
I was aware that the hon. Gentleman had advocated entry for many years. I see no point in our pursuing that argument, but I reject his contention that somehow the terms were any different from any terms that any Government could have achieved. The terms were laid down absolutely in the Treaty of Rome.
I say to the Conservative Party that it should not play at politics, which it is being tempted to do. I do not address that comment to the hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Buchanan-Smith), for whose stand I have the greatest respect. I do not know, quite frankly, what the Conservative Party's policy on devolution is. Many questions were asked about it in the debate, and no satisfactory answer has emerged. From that position and standpoint it cannot mount an effective offensive, which is, I imagine the object of the Conservative three-line Whip, against the Government. It cannot do so without an effective alternative proposition.
I say to the SNP that it has undoubtedly achieved a great deal, and even if what comes out at the end is far short of the independence that it seeks—and which it is entitled to seek and to continue to seek—it is nevertheless in its interest to show restraint and co-operation, because it is in the interest of us all that the new Assembly should work.
From this Liberal Bench we will continue to argue the federal case. [Interruption.] There is no federal blueprint, but in its essence it represents a separation of the powers and is a clear identification of who is responsible for what. In our view that remains the right course, and we will continue to advocate it. At the same time, we shall continue to try to contribute as best we can to finding a fair, balanced and acceptable solution, which is what Scotland wants.
Like the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Johnston), I can make a number of criticisms of the Bill. It contains a number of serious flaws. However, the Under-Secretary of State, the Secretary of State, and the Lord President are pretty well aware of the criticisms that I made of the proposals in the White Paper, and the Bill now gives legislative form to most of those proposals.
I understand from the Prime Minister's statement, and others, that the Government will be prepared to listen to arguments in respect of amendments. My hon. Friend the Member for Paisley (Mr. Robertson) and myself will try to put amendments to the Government and argue them as reasonably as possible as long as they do not conflict with, or infringe upon, Clause 1.
I shall not seek to sustain the type of Committee stage speech that we had yesterday from the Leader of the Opposition or earlier this evening from the new Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland. There will be plenty of time in Committee—I hope that it will not stretch for the rest of this year—to point to the sources of friction and the flaws and to suggest improvements to the Bill.
I want to address myself to what I regard as the central issue in this debate which is that we are now irreversibly launched on a period of fundamental change in the political and constitutional relationships between Scotland and England. Why are we now launched on this irreversible and fundamental change? With all its defects, the Bill marks a point of no return. Even if it were to be defeated on Thursday, it still marks a point of no return.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley pointed out yesterday, this is the first Bill to give Scotland its own Assembly or Parliament that has been introduced by a Government as opposed to a private Member. There is no chance whatever of the Scottish people turning back from this particular milestone on the road to a Scottish Assembly with substantial power.
The old centralist Unionist order, if not completely gone, is certainly in retreat and is on the way out. Things will never be the same again. A process of adjustment is under way and will continue. The driving force in the Scottish context is the Home Rule movement which has a 270-year-old history. This movement has gathered pace in recent years. It has had some recent converts, as I and other people well know. It has gathered pace in recent years as historical circumstances, that once kept it at bay and worked against it, have changed and are now working for it.
Some hon. Members put the blame, if blame is the correct description, upon the SNP. Anyone with a knowledge of philosophy knows that people who have an imperfect understanding of a subject often get cause and effect mixed up. The SNP is not the cause of the House of Commons discussing devolution, Scottish government and Scottish Home Rule this evening. The SNP is the effect of the cause. Certainly in recent times it has made a contribution, but every effect makes a contribution to the causative origins that give rise to it in the first place. It is a matter of cause and effect and cause and effect.
If it had not been the Scottish National Party—and I wish that it had been the Socialist movement—it would have been some other organisation which stepped in to articulate the growing need in Scotland, as seen by the Scottish people, for their own advancement to Home Rule.
As I understand it, there are certain provisions in the Bill which will allow the Scots on occasion to alter the time. It might well have been done there.
There is a rising demand for self-government, and I believe that it is a natural process of Imperial decline. The decline has been going on for more than a generation and it has now reached the point where the basic home unity—that is, England and its minority appendages—has entered into a phase of realignment. We see the minority nations in the United Kingdom seeking a new post-Imperial partnership with England which gives them greater recognition, greater understanding, greater international standing and greater self-respect as nations.
Both in the burgeoning years and at the zenith of the Empire, there were Scottish Home Rulers. The movement is as old as the Union itself. But it is with the benefit of hindsight that one sees that the imperial dimension tended to dwarf most other constitutional issues inside the United Kingdom.
I am trying to point out to my hon. Friend that there is in the historical process a connection between the Empire and the position that we are in now. During the burgeoning years of the Empire and at the time when the administration of that Empire was at its height, there were people in Scotland and in other parts of the United Kingdom who supported the point of view of Keir Hardie, Jimmy Maxton and Tom Johnston, who argued in this House for their version of devolution.
But, because India and Gandhi were far more important on the horizons of the people making up the Parliaments at that time, people like Gandhi and issues like India were far more important than the Dr. Robert Mclntyres and the John McCormicks, the Scottish conventions and the idea of Home Rule which emerged from the Jimmy Maxtons and the Tom Johnstons. That was perfectly understandable, and if my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock (Mr. Roberts) wants proof he will find written proof of the Imperial dimension in the United Kingdom's political affairs in all the volumes of Hansard available in the Library, which show that, day after day and week after week, it tended to be the Empire factor which dominated, not just simply before the war but after the war.
When I first entered politics and was going round the housing schemes in the town in which I live, trying to get people to understand, to argue and to accept the need for social reform in respect of domestic issues like housing and pensions, I found that all they wanted to talk about was Archbishop Makarios and Cyprus. Those subjects tended to be of much greater priority in their Imperial eyes than the domestic issues. But, having shed the Empire, the domestic issues which had much lower priority before have now emerged as matters which have to be tackled and have to be understood and to which we require to find a response. The wheel has turned, and time has gone on.
At this point I turn to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer), though not in any sense of animosity, because, although he and I disagree on this subject, it makes no difference to the degree of mutual respect which exists between us. I want to refer my hon. Friend to the national question.
I imply no criticism of any other quarter of the House when I say that Socialists have a special responsibility to respond adequately to the national question, because we have had the benefit of a major debate among people, now dead, who have contributed to the theory and practice of international Socialism. At some time in his life my hon. Friend must have read the major debates between Lenin and Rosa Luxemburg on the national question. There is theoretical backing for my argument that it is no part of the Socialist credo to deny nations forms of government and institutions that establish for them a truer, more positive identify in the world community and advance their cultural and intellectual development and their control over economic development.
My hon. Friend will probably agree with the proposition that the current Labour Government's economic policies are getting Socialism a bad name, but what he and other friends of mine on the British Left must understand is that in getting the national question wrong, as I believe they have done with their attitudes towards Scottish government, they are also in danger of getting Socialism a bad reputation.
My hon. Friend was absolutely right to suggest that I had read the debates between Rosa Luxemburg and Lenin. But in my youth I also read a book by Joe Stalin on Marxism and the national question. He argued in the most passionate terms in precisely the way my hon. Friend is arguing. Unfortunately Joe Stalin ended up with a policy of destroying the nationalities inside the Soviet Union when there were wholesale movements of people. Theory is one thing and practice is another. We have not yet got the national question right in the Socialist movement. I agree with national identity and cultures, and with developing them to the highest possible degree, but there is a limit to how far we can go, particularly if no oppression is involved.
The difficulty with Stalin probably was that he did not practise his own theories. There is plenty of evidence and good theoretical grounding for us to get the national question right. It is a remarkable phenomenon of the British Left's attitude to the national question that when we talk of Czechs and Slovaks we understand that in the country known as Czechoslovakia there should be respect for the autonomy of the two nations that make it up. We acknowledge that in the country known as Yugoslavia the separate character of the Serbs and Croats entitles them to a degree of autonomy. Even if Spain were free and democratic, as we would wish, I believe that my hon. Friends on the British Left would say that the Catalan and Basque people were entitled to a degree of autonomy.
To continue the theoretical argument, I believe that from a Socialist point of view it is not legitimate to say that a nation can go off on its own, away from another grouping, if it does so to the damage of the grouping with which it has been associated. But in Socialist eyes it is legitimate for a nation to go off on its own if it does no damage to any other grouping in mankind. That would be an argument in respect of the Basque and Catalan peoples in the context of a State called Spain.
When the point of view of my hon. Friend, which is expressed by others as well, is heard north of the border, there is a great danger of his gaining for Socialism the reputation of being an unyielding, ironclad theory whose main purpose is to press out every line of character on the face of mankind. That is one of the tragic consequences of his attitude and the attitude of some of his hon. Friends on the devolution argument. By allowing themselves to be haunted by the spectre of separatism and, through theoretical error, opposing Home Rule, they exhibit a depressing lack of trust in the capacity of the Scots to understand and act upon their responsibilities to the other peoples making up communities of the British Isles. My hon. Friend the Member for Walton and other hon. Members have failed to grasp the significance of the fact that within the EEC the concept of separatism is not a valid one. But the reality of the European dimension has yet to emerge.
There are differences and similarities between the Scots and the English, but 250 years of living, working and often dying together have not been for nothing. There is a fund of good will and fellowship among all the peoples in this island. Common care and concern will endure no matter what our future constitutional relationships may be. The creation of a Scottish Parliament, or even some form of independence for the Scots, will not be injurious to our mutual respect, trust, understanding and willingness to help each other.
I do not believe that if a Scottish Parliament had existed six years ago, when the tip slipped at Aberfan or when the pit cage collapsed at Markham Colliery, the Scots would not have shed tears, or that when Upper Clyde Shipbuilders was led by Jimmy Reid money for assistance would not have come from the pockets of the English and Welsh working people. I do not believe that the creation of second or third Parliaments will have any disruptive effect on the relationships that have been built up between peoples.
Some hon. Members think that we are at the top of a slippery slope that leads to future acrimony, discord and dissention between the Scots and the English. It should not be that way, and it will not be, provided that this House has the vision and wisdom to interpret the tides of history and to act upon that interpretation. We should collectively respond with imagination to the forces that are at work. We should collectively rise to this big occasion—because it is a big occassion—and see those forces as welcome democratic developments that should be assisted by constructive legislation. That is the essential issue before the House.
My hon. Friend has mentioned similarities between the Scots and the English. What are the dissimilarities? We are the same racially. Many Anglians and Lothians share a common culture and language. They share centuries of common history and democracy. What are the dissimilarities that require separatism?
They could be found in culture. I acknowledge that there is a common British cultural dimension which embraces all the people of the United Kingdom. But there are also special Scottish cultural attitudes and aspirations. I advise my hon. Friend the Member for Preston, North (Mr. Atkins) to talk with someone who has had long experience of the background to devolution, such as my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan). He is an acknowledged expert on the cultural development of Scotland. My hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, West and I have had disagreements, but it would be foolish for anyone to ignore the contribution that he has made to Scottish life in politics, and more especially in terms of cultural development.
The creation of a Scottish Parliament has an importance which goes beyond economic development. The Scottish Parliament will have an impact on Scottish democracy. Nationhood does not necessarily mean that a nation must have statehood, but when a nation's political life is almost wholly determined outside its boundaries there is bound to be a suffering in terms of cultural and intellectual development.
In Committee I shall explain to my hon. Friend the schizophrenia in the Scottish mind and Scottish culture because of the problem of being externally controlled, in political terms, for nearly 270 years. The lack of a Scottish Parliament is a pain which has gnawed at the heart of the Scottish body politic for 270 years and is perhaps not fully understood by English Members. The Act of Union on their side and on the Scottish side and the Treaty of Union had no loss for them. They have regarded this place as the English Parliament continuing. However, there was a loss to Scotland and we have suffered a degree of cultural, intellectual and political debilitation because of it.
The hon. Gentleman represents me, though not my views, in Parliament. He is talking about a loss of culture in Scotland because we lost our Parliament, but how does he explain the great age of enlightenment at the end of the eighteenth century?
It depends at which end of the social scale one was standing as to whether it was an age of enlightenment. No doubt I shall be able to take up this matter with my constituent in Committee, or he can write to me.
I was about to argue, in winding up, that our nation needs a Parliament around which and through which we can have debates, discussions and dialogues about the nature of our society and the contribution we can make to the wider community. The creation of a Scottish Parliament will certainly compel attention on issues such as the economy, but it will also compel attention on the fundamental conceptions which we have about our democracy, our place in the United Kingdom, Europe and the world and how our democratic institutions should be shaped and formed, to stimulate, release and engage the ideas, energy, ability, and action which our people are capable of for the common good.
The Bill does not give us that kind of Parliament, but it is the beginning of the beginning and I shall be delighted to vote for it on Thursday.
The hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sillars) said, in effect, that the introduction of the Bill into Parliament meant that we had passed the point of no return. If he meant that, he was saying that the Union is virtually at an end. I hope that he is wrong, for two reasons.
First, according to the hon. Gentleman's definition of nationhood, no nation can obtain independence as a nation except by fighting. I am sure he will agree that this is not something we wish to see within this kingdom. Second, the separate parts of the United Kingdom, no matter on what terms they were divided, would be far weaker, poorer, less effective and of less help to each other than they could be within the Union as it is now constituted.
So I am glad that we have a three-line Whip on the Bill on both sides of the House. It means that each hon. Member will be forced to think clearly about how he will vote and why. It will not be possible for anyone to duck the issue.
I have heard most of the speeches in the debate so far, and they have all convinced me that the House would be wrong to give the Bill a Second Reading. That goes as much for the speeches in favour of the Bill as for those against it. Those who want to give the Bill a Second Reading seem to be in favour of it for all the wrong reasons from the point of view of the United Kingdom.
Perhaps the only nearly valid reason for giving the Bill a Second Reading was put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton). That was that it would give us an opportunity to expose the follies of the Bill and the measures contained therein to the people of Scotland and thereby turn them against the concept of the Bill and the ideas that underlie it. However, that is a dangerous view, as is that of my hon. Friend the Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Buchanan-Smith), who told us to beware of driving moderate men into the extremist point of view exemplified by the Scottish nationalists.
My hon. Friend, and my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West have to face another danger—the desire of people generally to jump on a bandwagon once it gets rolling. I do not think that the Scots are any more backward than people in any other part of the United Kingdom in wishing to be associated as quickly as possible with what looks like being success.
There is also the danger that in the course of this debate we might build up a sort of false sense of inevitability—that this must happen; that fate has decreed it ; who are we to fight against it; and that we must accept it. I do not accept it, and those who believe in the unity of the kingdom should oppose the Bill on Second Reading.
Devolution, as a word, describes not a state but a progress, a progress which in this case can lead, through conflict, only to separation. It is, so to speak, putting the entire process of the Act of Union into reverse. The hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) made it quite clear in his enchanting speech when he said that the Assembly was but a first step and that the object was to increase power. He quoted—somewhat oddly, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Fraser) pointed out—the Union of the Crowns in 1603 as an argument against the Union of Parliaments in 1707, but he remained silent on the events of 1689.
Yet the Union of Parliaments was, in effect, a direct consequence of the Revolution Settlement. I do not believe that after that Union of the Crowns would have been enough, since both countries were then trying to get more representative government. When Scotland as well as England strove to develop responsible government, only two arrangements were possible: either the two realms had to be separated altogether, or their Parliaments had to be amalgamated. I do not believe that the Crown could continue to govern the two countries under any other conditions.
The Leader of the Liberal Party half accepted that when he suggested that this devolution Bill was a step on the way to federal government in the whole of Britain. He accepted the need for the supremacy of the United Kingdom Parliament but implied a division of powers between England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, which would leave Westminster, so to speak, a superior federal Parliament. That is not what the Bill is discussing. It will take a long time before we ever get around to discussing that sort of settlement. Meanwhile, the separation that the Bill puts into being will increase the forces of nationalism and the demand for separation.
Perhaps I may quote from Professor Mackie's "History of Scotland" referring to the Union of the Parliaments. He says:
The Monarch could not adopt one policy along with the Parliament of one country, and, at the same time, pursue a contradictory policy to meet the demands of the other Parliament. All this is obvious.
The hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) pointed out yesterday how obvious it is and the fallacy in assuming that one overcomes such difficulties through some form of federal solution in the near future. He pointed out that what was dangerous was to give rights to Scotland and Wales, not as districts or regions within a country but as nations—rights as nations to legislate separately and to have their separate Executives.
When this has been done before, it has always led in the end to separation, unless the countries so granted separate legislatures and separate executives have themselves been the neighbours of greater Powers whom they feared might take them over. For example, Ulster, Gibraltar and the Falkland Islands are all willing to endure this curious state because they have a fear greater than their desire for independence.
Those who compare the present situation to that which obtained with Home Rule in Ireland, and who imply that we are likely to have the same sort of difficulties in Scotland as we have had in that unhappy island if we do not pass the Bill, are talking nonsense. Does anyone suppose that if the first Home Rule Bill had been passed Ireland would have been content with that degree of devolution? Of course it would not. If it had, would it have had that savage civil war? Would Collins have been murdered? Would the events of 1920 have happened? Never. There is no analogy to be drawn there, except perhaps the other way round—that in passing the Bill, even as we might amend it, we are much more likely to set up a situation with such inherent contradictions as are bound to lead to strife, not only between England and Scotland but also within Scotland itself, because we shall have an Assembly in Scotland dominated by one political persuasion with a minority getting more and more restive under the dominance of that political persuasion, with which it entirely disagrees.
The difficulties that would be likely to arise have been pointed out repeatedly, and I shall not go through them again. I must admit, however, that the dangers I see in the Government's proposals I find not quite so violently present but inherent to some degree in any form of directly-elected Assembly, no matter how constituted. That puts us in a dilemma, because nationalism does exist. If it is not to be met by a directly-elected Assembly, what can we do?
First, why does nationalism exist? Is it because England has been unfair to Scotland and Wales or to their people? I must, I suppose, declare a slight interest here. I believe that it has not been unfair. My forebears were able to come from Scotland and earn far better livings in England than they would ever have done if they had stayed at home. They and many others like them had a far wider range of opportunities, without leaving Britain. The same is true of an enormous number of people from all over the United Kingdom without distinction of nation. Looking through the names of distinguished soldiers, Service people, Ministers, Prime Ministers, doctors and surgeons, one is struck by the high proportion which conies from Scotland and Wales, and, indeed, from Ireland.
There was an element of truth in what the hon. Member for South Ayrshire was saying. One of the reasons why nationalism is starting to become so strong a force now is that this wider opportunity has shrunk as the influence of Britain in the world has shrunk. The answer is not to make that influence shrink still more by dividing the nation into its separate and component parts but to try to build up the position of Britain in the world by doing everything in this Parliament that we can to restore our economic strength and political position as Great Britain, a force and influence in Europe and the world.
It is not simply a question of influence, nor, indeed, am I talking about any neo-imperialist concept. I am talking about existence. What is at stake is not simply a great future but any future. We need all the unity we can get to protect our liberty and our capacity to exist as a United Kingdom in an increasingly hostile world. Sometimes when I see new nations and the difficulties they go through I reflect on the melancholy fact that so often countries gain independence only for their citizens to lose their freedom. We have seen that happen, alas, all too often. It must not happen here.
The second thing which has caused the increase in nationalist feeling is the increasing remoteness of government, not in the physical sense but in the sense of understanding and caring less and less about what people are doing, what they mind about and what concerns them. To many, the Bill makes it worse. It increases the bureaucracy and remoteness of government by introducing yet one more tier. It forgets one important point, particularly in dealing with Wales. I refer to the error which has been made, in copying the methods by which local government works, in making the Welsh Assembly itself the Executive.
We all receive letters from our constituents dealing with matters which should properly be dealt with by local authorities. One of the reasons why it is so difficult for councillors to deal with these matters is that every elected member of every local authority is part of the Executive through his membership of various committees. There is a blurring there between the elected representatives and the Executive, a blurring, in the terms of the Bill, between the functions of the Assembly and those of the Executive.
Therefore, if we are to meet this growing feeling of remoteness, we should turn our attention not to the structure and organisation of local or regional government but to the methods by which it operates internally. If we do not, if we rely instead on the measure which the Government have put before us, things will be no better for the people of Wales, of Scotland and, indeed, of England. We shall have sold them a dud. We shall have provided for them an Assembly, an Executive, a whole enormous apparatu—sall to make things, if anything, worse and certain not to make them better. That surely is enough to cause even the mildest Welshman or Scotsman to give a very angry jeer at the United Kingdom Parliament.
For I do not believe that Clause 1 of the Bill is a fact. It says that the Bill does not affect the unity of the United Kingdom. It says that it does not affect the ability of Parliament to make laws for the whole United Kingdom or for any part of it. I just do not believe that any Bill with the provisions which this one contains cannot have a great effect on the unity of the United Kingdom and on the different, separate parts of it—on England and Northern Ireland as well as on Scotland and Wales. If it does not, it should, because there is no right to give this degree of devolutionary powers to an Assembly and Executive and expect the representation at Westminster to remain the same—at least without redressing the inequity of the representation from Northern Ireland.
The nationalist policies make sense. They will lead to separate nations, with the disastrous results that I think will follow, but they make sense. It could happen. No doubt, if the people of Scotland are mad enough to want it, it will happen. But I do not believe that it is what the people of Wales or Scotland really want. Perhaps if they are told it often enough and in loud enough voices they will be deluded into thinking that they do want it and will regret it deeply afterwards. But it is the largest duty of the Conservative and Unionist Party to tell them in an equally loud voice that it is the Union which matters, that Scotland is part of Britain, not subservient to England but a partner with England in a Union in Britain, in the United Kingdom.
There is nothing more that can be done at this moment in putting forward ideas—no doubt we shall have opportunities in Committee, though I hope that it will have to be in some other separate forum, for the Bill will never do any good, no matter what is done to it in Committee. Indeed, I think that it will do great harm. It is frivolous and irrelevant to the plight of Britain. Our preoccupation with these matters can only be seen abroad as in some sense a sign of our decadence. Britain was once a great country. Let us reject the Bill and start once again to make Britain great.
The right hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. Macmillan) has made a strong plea for the unity of the peoples of these islands to be maintained. That view is probably shared by Members on both sides of the Chamber. If there are differences, they are not about maintaining the unity but are about how we can maintain it. Although I have some comments to make about the proposals brought forward by the Government, I am sure that it is their intention to try to maintain the unity.
The right hon. Member for Farnham speaks from a Scottish origin while representing an English constituency. As the debate unfolds, we should realise that there is no longer a situation that there is a geographical part where all the Scots live, a part where all the English live, a part where all the Irish live and a part where all the Welsh live.
For some time I represented a Birmingham constituency. I represented Yardley, which is not very far from the heart of England. When I engaged in canvassing in that area, it was clear that there were many thousands of people who had come from the valleys in South Wales. Indeed, there were perhaps more Welsh people in the Yardley constituency than in many Welsh constituencies. There are many English people who have settled in my Welsh constituency of Aberdare. There are also many Irish people. The list of councillors' names indicates that there are many of Scottish and Irish origin.
The name of Keir Hardie has been mentioned from the Government Benches. Keir Hardie had to go to London to get to the House of Commons. When he lost his seat in London, he went to Aberdare and became the first Labour Member to represent the constituency that I now represent.
If we are to consider the Kilbrandon Commission—[Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. Thomas) wishes to intervene, perhaps he will get to his feet.
If the hon. Gentleman reads Keir Hardie's election address, he will find that he was concerned with man's inhumanity to man. He claimed to be an internationalist. It is right that at one stage in the history of the Labour Party there were some who spoke about Home Rule. They talked about it because they thought that the only way of getting Socialism in a part of the United Kingdom was by having some sort of independence for Scotland and Wales. I believe that that is old hat.
One of the members of the family is in the House.
In the Kilbrandon Commission's report, it was stated that there were three ways in which Parliament could confer powers on a region. It was said that it could transfer sovereignty in all matters, which is separatism. The vast majority in the House reject separatism; let there be no doubt about that. Do not let us confuse the argument and think that separatism will be a part of anything that emerges from the devolution proposals.
The Kilbrandon Commission also stated that sovereignty could be transferred in certain matters only, which would be federalism. That is a concept that has been put forward on behalf of the Liberal Party by the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Johnston). Federalism, like separatism, was wholeheartedly rejected by the Kilbrandon Commission. The Royal Commission said that the United Kingdom could retain sovereignty in all matters and delegate the exercise of selected powers. That is where we get the definition of devolution, and that is what we are talking about today.
I believe that certain powers should be devolved. I agree with the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Maudling) that we support devolution just as we support the sunshine. We are committed to liberty, freedom and democracy and, therefore, it is difficult to argue against the theoretical concept of devolution. There is a strong case to be argued for regional authorities throughout Britain. We could think in terms of changing the machinery of government, which is not perfect, and extending government throughout the regions.
The proposal put forward to the Royal Commission by the Labour Party was that Wales should have a top-tier local authority. A similar solution could have been put forward for the English regions. What we should be debating is a devolution for Britain Bill, not a devolution for Scotland and Wales Bill.
The Government have made a political error. Knowing how the House works, they wanted to save time. They did not want to have one Bill followed later by another. It was argued that if a Scottish Bill were introduced there would be no time for a Welsh Bill. But both Bills could have been brought in at the same time and have gone through the House in parallel. I regret that Wales and Scotland are being dealt with in one Bill.
I welcome the declaration made by the Shetland Islands Council. The Leader of the SNP tried to dismiss it by saying that the council was merely an elected democratic body, so why bother with it. If that is how the SNP tries to lead Scotland, it is as well that the Scottish people should realise just where the party is going. I recall the words of Rabbie Burns:
It's coming yet, for a' that,
That man to man the warld o'er
Shall brothers be for a' that.
The SNP is unwilling for us to live as brothers in this island. It wants to divide the Scots from the English and the Welsh. It was said at Question Time that the Bill enable different times to be set for summertime in England, Wales and Scotland. The Bill makes provision for turning back the clock in Wales and Scotland.
There is strong opposition in Wales to nationalism and separatism. It is the dominant force in Wales today. As the hon. Member for Merioneth said, Plaid Cymru had 27 lost deposits at the last General Election, the total number of candidates being 36. Plaid Cymru cannot be imagined as a real political force in Wales. The Labour Party polled over 50 per cent. of the votes, followed by the Conservative Party and the Liberal Party, with Plaid Cymru polling the smallest number of votes. It is the smallest parliamentary force in Wales.
While my hon. Friend is on that point, would he not agree that the cardinal fact in Wales was that the only party which put an Assembly as the main point of its programme rather than the economic issues which the other parties put forward—that is, the Welsh National Party—polled only 10 per cent. of the votes?
I think it was 10·9 per cent., but otherwise my hon. Friend is right. It was the only party which made the central issue in the General Elections in 1974 the fact that it wanted independence and separatism. It is true that in our manifesto we had a reference to an elected Assembly.
In a recent opinion poll by the Western Mail and Harlech Television, it was shown that there was not much support for devolution in spite of the fact that we have been arguing about it for 10 years. The survey showed that 27 per cent. are in favour and 40 per cent. are against, with 33 per cent. still undecided. In fairness, one should say that there is little public appreciation of the full implication of the Bill. As the debate goes on, if the Bill survives Thursday and goes to Committee, people may get more acquainted with the Bill.
I do not want to make great play of one opinion survey, but the opinion poll dealt with a referendum. It is revealing to know what the people of Wales are saying. In the same survey 79 per cent. favoured a referendum, only 18 per cent. were against it and a mere 3 per cent. of the people who were asked did not know whether they wanted a referendum. That is why I hope that when my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House makes a statement to us on the attitude of the Government he will take this into account. There is a great need for the people themselves to decide. Surely, if one is to speak of devolution there is no greater act of devolution than to let the people decide.
If there is to be devolution, let us devolve to the people and see whether we meet the aspirations of the Welsh people. If we say that this is what they are demanding, let us put it to the test and let the Welsh people decide.
I am not one who believes in referenda on all issues. I think it was right on the Common Market, although I did not agree with the decision of the people and I think we were led up the garden path to the Common Market. However, that was fair enough; the people made the decision.
On the question of whether we should make a major constitutional change, the Government are arguing that it will end the separatist argument, but some people have fears that we may be pushing it further by bringing separatism into consideration. We are discussing the possibility of the greatest change in the British constitution for hundreds of years. That is what the Government have themselves said in their White Paper. It is a major constitutional change. One of the important arguments for the Bill is that we are meeting the aspirations of the Welsh people. If that is the case, let the Welsh people tell us.
There is a difficulty about a referendum. As I mentioned earlier, many Welsh people have settled in London, Liverpool and on Merseyside generally, and there are English people in Wales. One wonders whether we should confine the referendum to Wales and Scotland or do it on a whole United Kingdom basis. There is a difficulty there.
There is another vital reason for a referendum, and this is something that the Government should take into account. The Government were making a number of proposals, but I am convinced that by the time the Bill gets to Third Reading, goes to the House of Lords and comes back—if it does—the Bill that we shall then have before us could well be a very different Bill from that which we now have. The Government should think seriously in terms of having a referendum, because it would then act as a safeguard for them.
I do not see the point of the argument about who would vote in a referendum. If a referendum were to take place, it would embrace all the people resident in Wales and in Scotland. All the English people resident in Wales would vote, as, indeed, many English residents in Wales voted for me in the General Election, and would vote as residents of Wales. Does not the hon. Gentleman accept that all the Welsh people living in Wales are resident in Wales and, therefore, are entitled to decide the political future of the country in which they live?
If we are talking about devolution and about unity, Welsh people who happen to reside in London should have some kind of say. If the hon. Member for Merioneth denies them that right, it is as well to have that on record.
The Government mean well and are seeking to fulfil an election commitment. They face a difficulty because this matter was included in the Labour manifesto. Indeed, there has been no change of the election commitment in these proposals. The road to the Welsh Assembly might be paved with good intentions, but they are not good enough. I believe that the people of Wales have said definitely that they do not want separatism, and they want assurances that this is not a form of legal separation which in time might well lead to divorce proceedings.
We must draw attention to the fact that there is now in Wales great feeling and anxiety because there appears to be a degree of over-government. We have community councils, district councils, county councils, the Welsh Office, ad hoc authorities, Westminster, and the EEC bureaucracy which has now been added in recent years. We are now to have a Welsh Assembly inserted into the other tiers of government. We also have the semantic argument about whether the Welsh Assembly is another tier of government. It appears to me that it is. If it is to add yet another tier, it is a matter that we should examine closely.
The Tory Government made mistakes in their local government reorganisation and in seeking to reorganise the National Health Service and the water industry. That is recognised by people in all parties. If we are to have devolution, we must ensure that we do not compound mistakes made by the previous government and that we do not maintain the existing reorganisation within what is added on to all the rest.
At a time when we have a serious world economic crisis, and at a time when public authorities are being told to cut back public expenditure, we are embarking on the creation of two massive spending authorities, although they will not have any extra money to spend. It has already been made clear in this debate that administrative charges will be taken from the money allocated to Wales and Scotland.
I have received a further statement from the Association of County Councils speaking on behalf of the Welsh Counties Committee. It says:
The Association have consistently maintained that proposals such as those in the Bill must have serious fundamental implications for the future of local government in Wales.
It quotes from the Government's supplementary statement on devolution, which clearly states:
The Government will ask the Welsh Assembly to consider and report, after appropriate consultation, on the future local government structure in Wales in the context of the Assembly's own new responsibility for the whole of Wales.
In fact, it is reported in the Press that the Secretary of State has said that the first priority should be a re-examination of the local government structure.
In Wales we have already gone through a traumatic experience with regard to local government reorganisation If we are to look at it again we must get it correct this time. I believe that other dangers will be brought out as the debate progresses.
I support the Government's rejection of proportional representation. The hon. Member for Inverness raised this in his speech this evening. The present system of voting is easy to understand and to operate. It creates a strong link between MPs and their constituencies. It enables MPs and the Government to be elected by quotas rather than by backstairs deals between politicians of different parties. This applies in particular to Wales.
Of the 23 seats won by Labour in the October 1974 General Election in Wales, 18 were won by over 50 per cent. of the vote. One of the seats was won by 49·9 per cent. of the vote. Therefore, 19 out of 23 seats had an overall majority. To try to change the electoral system or the representation in Wales is just not on. All 13 Opposition candidates in Wales who won last time were elected on a minority vote. I do not think that PR would have any influence on the representation of Wales. Although it would help the Labour Party to increase its representation if an Assembly were to be established, I do not think that we should seek to change the election system.
There is a danger that written into the Bill will be a demand to reduce the representation in this House from Scotland and Wales. I would oppose that. Nothing would do more to undermine the unity of the people of this island.
I sympathise with the Government, because they have sought to meet a promise made to the people to devolve power. Government must be brought nearer to the people. I believe that Socialism is the extension of the idea of democracy into the industrial and social fields. People in Wales today are concerned about the real things of life—job opportunities, the educational needs of their children and housing.
I hope that I carry the two representatives of Plaid Cymru with me when I say that it is a false illusion to think that we can solve the problems of Wales by separating ourselves from our friends in Scotland and England. It is not the boundaries that have to be changed. They have to be removed, and we should seek to change the economic system in which we live.
With regard to the number of hon. Members in this House, does not the hon. Gentleman think that we should represent constituencies of roughly the same size? Is it not utterly deplorable that there are some seats in England with more than 90,000 constituents while others in Wales are way below that figure?
There are some quite large constituencies in Wales as well. But there has been a tradition in this House recognising that, where there are larger constituencies, some rural areas have had smaller electorates than urban areas. These are matters which no doubt we should consider.
The Government are keeping their options open about a referendum, but I hope that by Thursday night we shall have been given an early lead from them telling us what they intend to do about a referendum.
I refer briefly to the speech of the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans), the Leader of Plaid Cymru in this House. He said that the power of nationalism was probably the strongest moral power in the world. I deny that absolutely. Surely it is the great religions. Certainly they are a stronger moral force in the world than nationalism. Those great religions preach a belief in the brotherhood of man.
In my opinion, nationalism is the greatest force for evil in the world. We have only to look around the world to see that. Wherever people are at each other's throats, nationalist powers are at work. We in this House have witnessed the emancipation of one-quarter of the world's population. In those territories there were freedom movements which sought individual liberty for the people. That is a constructive force. But it will be a destructive force in this small island if people who have lived together for generations seek to pursue policies that will divide us.
I hope that in discussing the Bill we shall look at it very closely. I think it is very untimely that we should be involved in a major constitutional change. The Government may say that it is impossible to choose the time exactly because we are nearing the end of this Parliament. I hope, however, that the Bill will be examined line by line and clause by clause, assuming that it receives a Second Reading on Thursday, and that we can change it drastically.
I speak tonight very conscious of the unique and rather sombre importance of the Bill. After all, we are discussing a measure which could mean, without intending to, the break-up of the United Kingdom and the ending of 270 years of unparalleled achievement between the peoples of this island. That is the solemn perspective in which we must consider the Bill.
I oppose the Bill. I oppose it in principle and I oppose it in detail. I do so because I believe that the people of Scotland, England, Wales and Ulster are so bound by the ties of history, culture, social life, economics, sentiment—
Before I make any further remarks, I want to examine the motive behind the Bill. Although many people have many different points of view about the introduction of a devolution Bill, I do not believe that anyone in Scotland, of any political party, believes seriously that if it had not been for the victory of the 11 Scottish National Party Members at the last General Election we would be debating this measure. That is the motive. There are others, but without that we would never be discussing devolution at this moment.
Many hon. Members have different reasons. It may well be that the Douglas-Home Commission's acceptance was not unrelated to the fact that the present Member for Moray and Nairn (Mrs. Ewing) had just won a famous victory at Hamilton. I am certain that the Tory Party would never have accepted these proposals if it had not been running scared because of what the hon. Lady had achieved at Hamilton.
We listened to an honourable and forthright speech from my hon. Friend the Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Buchanan-Smith). There are many reasons why people support the Bill. We know perfectly well that the House would not be proposing to devote six months to it but for the fact that the Labour Party in Scotland was afraid of losing seats to the SNP. That is the basic reason. It shocks me that the House should be putting at risk the constitutional unity of this country for what amounts to party political gain. That is a shameful and humiliating thing to have to say in the House of Commons.
The hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sillars) said in a rather oblique disquisition on cause and effect that the SNP was not the cause but the result of a natural evolution of emotion in Scotland. Any politician in Scotland knows perfectly well that there are three things which mainly fuel the SNP. The first is discontent with Government—both Conservative and Labour Governments—with rising unemployment, rising inflation, the feeling that the Government are remote, and so on.
Secondly, there is North Sea oil. Without it the SNP would not have one Member here—or would have perhaps just one. For years the SNP was a joke, on the same level as mothers-in-law and honeymoon couples, until North Sea oil came along and gave it a kind of economic validity. Without North Sea oil it would be regarded as the joke party which it was for years in Scotland.
Thirdly, I am happy to admit that there is the question of Scottish identity, the fact that people feel that they are Scottish. The combination of discontent and the feeling that there is some economic validity in it becomes dangerously mixed up with the emotional, nationalistic argument.
The SNP, with its 11 Members, has prompted the great Labour Party to produce this ridiculous Bill. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) said that if we look at the reasons for discontent—oil and national identity—we see that there are many other parts of the United Kingdom which have greater cause to be discontented than Scotland. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I hear the traditional cries of "Oh" from the SNP Bench. Perhaps SNP Members were not here when the hon. Gentleman read out figures showing that Liverpool and Merseyside have much higher unemployment than Glasgow or Strathclyde.
One of the more satisfactory passages in the speech of the Secretary of State for Scotland this afternoon was when he pointed out what control over her own affairs Scotland already has. There are more people in the North-West of England than in Scotland, but they do not have their own Secretary of State and they do not have five Ministers to look after their affairs, yet the area has worse unemployment than Scotland has. These are the points which all hon. Members should be throwing at the SNP, instead of adopting the craven and timid approach of seeking to appease it.
Let us look at the economics. For some reason that I do not understand, the Secretary of State talked about crude figures. They were figures, produced by his own Government, showing that Scotland per capita gets roughly 20 per cent. more out of the Treasury than England does. I do call that not a crude figure but a wonderful figure for Scotland. If I were an English Member I would wonder how Humberside and Merseyside, with worse problems than Scotland, receive less per capita from the Treasury.
Even though I am a Scotsman representing a Scottish constituency, I have no hesitation in saying that the money from the United Kingdom Treasury should not be given to Scotland because it is Scotland but should be given to whatever part of the United Kingdom has most need of it. We should have taken our stand on that years ago, instead of throwing out money in an emotional response when it was more needed elsewhere. Parts of Scotland need it desperately, but we should think of them as being important not because they are Scottish but because they are deprived.
I had not intended to intervene, having made yesterday a speech which those who do not agree with me on the matter thought was very reasonable. But I remind my hon. Friend, who was one of those who won back three seats in Scotland for our party in 1970, for the first time since 1955, that his election address at that election supported the implementation of the Douglas-Home proposals. He said:
Conservatives believe we must have more control of Scotland's interests in Scotland itself. The plan for an elected Scottish Assembly will form a basis for the devolution of more power to Scotland.
What has made him change his mind?
All of us in this House change our minds, or most of us who have any sense do so. I said that as a basis for our plans for Scotland we all wanted decentralisation. What I am against is a separate legislative Assembly for Scotland, which is what we are discussing. That was not among the Douglas-Home proposals, although I would now reject those proposals as well.
I return to my second point, that of North Sea oil and why the SNP has got to where it is. The following question needs to be put again and again, not only to the SNP but to the Liberals. If North Sea oil is to go to Scotland, what happens to the coal from the Selby coalfield in Yorkshire? Why should Scotland suddenly receive the riches and other parts of the United Kingdom with mineral reserves not be similarly entitled to them?
We heard from the Liberals tonight that part of North Sea oil should go to Scotland. Is it part of the Liberal proposals that Yorkshire should have special funding out of the Selby coalfield'? The hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Wainwright) shakes his head. Why should Scotland be treated differently? This is the sort of lunatic economic irrationality that we face.
As for a Scottish identity, I do not think that any of us who are Scotsmen are other than proud to be Scotsmen. But I am also proud to be British, and that is my wider loyalty in political matters.
We cannot beat the SNP by trying to appease it. The Bill is basically an act of political appeasement, dress it up as one will. The only way to beat the SNP is to fight it. I have no doubt that at the next General Election we shall see many of the SNP faces disappear. Certainly in our part of Scotland we shall not see the SNP come back here again.
My hon. Friend the Member for North Angus and Mearns, to whose forthright speech I have already gladly paid tribute, said that we could not simply do nothing—I paraphrase him rather inelegantly. He seemed to be saying that either we should go for something on the principle of the Bill or we should accept the status quo. But that is not the argument. No one in any party can be satisfied with the way in which the House conducts itself at present. I am not arguing for the status quo in the House; I am arguing that whatever reforms there may be—and there should be reforms, including the ending of the hereditary basis of the House of Lords and the establishment of a committee system to enable this House to scrutinise and control more effectively the actions of the Government and the Civil Service—they should be within the existing British institutions. We should not set up a lot of new institutions such as Scottish and Welsh Assemblies. Reform, yes; decentralisation, yes; but it should be reform and decentralisation within our existing institutions.
The tide is turning in Scotland as it has already clearly turned in Wales. It would have been thought impossible a year ago that we could see the establishment of a group called "Scotland is British", which combines the managements of the CBI and chambers of commerce and representatives of trade unions who are becoming increasingly disaffected with the ideas in the Bill. The unions include UCATT, AUEW and the railway-men. The hon. Member for Stirling, Falkirk and Grangemouth (Mr. Ewing) will see what action the AEUW takes at its conference in the spring. There is no doubt that the tide is turning in Scotland.
Those important bodies, together with the accountants, doctors, bankers and farmers, as well as the chairmen of Scottish local authorities, are saying that after consideration they have concluded that we are going down the wrong road. This is happening increasingly.
I am extremely glad to hear that, and I look forward to a great deal of support from Welsh Members as the Bill pursues its no doubt weary way.
The major errors of the Bill have been mentioned many times. These points have been made many times because they are true. They are points which strike home. The Bill means more government when almost everyone believes that we need less government. We shall have six layers of government and be the most over-governed country in the world. The Bill means more bureaucracy and more civil servants when everyone agrees that we need fewer.
The hon. Gentleman does not come here very often, and now when he does he sits with his feet up claiming that the Bill will not mean one extra civil servant. The Government admit that the Bill will result in the appointment of 2,000 extra civil servants. The hon. Gentleman should read the Bill instead of continually making sedentary interruptions.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) referred to my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) as a coward. If there is one word which does not apply to my hon. Friend, it is that. Ought not the hon. Member withdraw his remark?
Now that the hon. Gentleman has given way to a challenge, I am prepared to say that he is not cowardly. What I am saying is that he is quite wrong to suggest that devolution means an extra tier of government in Scotland. What we are proposing in devolution is democratic control of an existing Government Department which exists there. All that we are proposing is democratic control of 6,000 civil servants in the Scottish Office. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept that.
This really is semantic hair-splitting of the most ridiculous kind. Everyone knows that the Bill will mean another layer of government, by definition. It will mean another 2,290 civil servants. That is in the Bill. In addition, it will mean more expense. The figure in the Bill for next year is £36 million. As my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) pointed out earlier today, that figure has risen in the last 12 months alone. If the Bill ever were to see the light of day as an Act, no doubt the figure would have risen to £50 million before it was ever operated.
When we have the International Monetary Fund on the doorstep telling us that we must cut public expenditure, what are the Government doing? On the very day before the Chancellor of the Exchequer is to come to the Dispatch Box to tell us how our expenditure on housing, education, the social services and defence is to be cut, we are seriously being asked to spend, at the minimum, another £36 million on devolution.
The matter does not end there. Not only will taxes have to rise to pay for these Assemblies in Cardiff and Edinburgh, but once they are set up no doubt the means will be found to enable them to tax us even more. Indeed, the Secretary of State was at some pains today to tell us that we need not worry because, although he had not found the exact way in which he could tax us more, he would do so. He was looking for a way in which the Assemblies could levy taxes.
We shall have more government when we want less, more civil servants when we want fewer, more expenditure when we want less, and more taxation when we want less.
Indeed—although perhaps not Members of Parliament such as my hon. Friend. We want more like him.
The greatest reason why I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the House will unite to throw out the Bill is that within a very short measurable space of time, within a decade, it could lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom. I think that it was the hon. Member for South Ayrshire who said "If no one wants it, how does it happen?" He said that he was a student of philosophy. If he directed his attention to history, he would discover many events which no one really wanted but which have fallen upon the world, such as two world wars. They occurred although only a very small number of people wanted them.
Indeed, as my hon. Friend has shrewdly said.
What those of us who are most staunchly opposed to the Bill believe is that it will lead to the loss of that which we prize most—the unity of this country. We are now in a very said economic situation. However, all of us, of whatever political party, believe that we can pull ourselves together again and make this country count for something in the world once again. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Farnham (Mr. Macmillan) so eloquently said, we believe that we can play our part in the world again as a British people.
That is what we are risking throwing away by fragmenting ourselves in to little Scotland, little Wales and not-so very-big England. The reason why that is likely to happen is that the Bill is a guaranteed recipe for conflict. Every constitutional matter on which Edinburgh disagrees with London will be come a constitutional dogfight. The people of Scotland will become sick of that. They will be told that everything that happens to Scotland that is good has happened because they have an Assembly. Everything that is bad, they will be told, will be because they are still partly shackled to Westminster. The constitutional dogfights would grow and the divisions between our two countries of Scotland and England would grow. That is what we are risking by the Bill.
In conclusion, I prophesy confidently that Parliament and public opinion will destroy the Bill, and Parliament and public opinion will be right to destroy it.
As is his custom, the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) talked a great deal of nonsense. He did so with some eloquence, but I thought that part of his speech was not only anti-devolutionary but actually anti-Scottish.
I do not know whether that is customary in Scotland, but certain things about Scotland have become plain to me tonight of which I was not aware previously. I am a Londoner of Welsh origin. One of the myths on which I was brought up was that the Welsh are eloquent and that the Scots are dour, quiet people. During the hours that I have sat here today, that myth has been destroyed. One thing can be said of the Scots is that they are talkative people, as the Welsh are supposed to be. The balance of eloquence has been on the Scottish side tonight.
However, the quality of what has been said has not always matched the volume of words in which it has been clothed. The speech of the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South was an example of that. The Bill contains proposals for changes which, if not made, will place the United Kingdom under very great strain. The hon. Gentleman says that the changes will have the opposite effect. The hon. Gentleman's argument does not stand up to sober examination.
I look at this matter from the point of view of a London Member. It is time that someone who lives in, and represents a part of, the capital said a few words about the Bill, because Londoners will be affected by it, though not to as great an extent as people in Scotland.
I take the view, and I do not regret it, that if the Bill becomes an Act, as I am sure that it will and as, incidentally, the right hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. Macmillan) conceded, it will not be a decision in itself. It will be a decision which will lead to other decisions. The establishment of regional government in England will follow the devolution of power to Scotland and Wales. What we are seeing here is not only the establishment of a new form of government for Scotland and for Wales but the beginnings of the establishment of devolution in England.
I welcome this. We living on this island are beginning to realise that we are one of the most centralised countries in the world. We are, in fact, grossly over-centralised. There are few countries which are centralised to the same degree. We are centralised not only in the political sense of the word but in the industrial, financial and even entertainment—the area which I know best—senses of the word.
No other capital contains the centre of the theatre, most of the great museums, the film industry and the television industry. I am a Londoner and I take the view that it is not beneficial to London for Britain to be so centralised.
A few years ago I took a trip around Europe and, instead of looking at countries as is customary, I looked at the organisation of towns.
I tried to compare the relationships of towns with their national Governments. I found some surprising things. I found that, with the exception of France, we are one of the most highly centralised countries, certainly in Western Europe and possibly in the world. Another thing I discovered was the power of national traditions, spread over a long period of time. I found that there was a great deal in common between Vienna and Bucharest, with one under a Communist regime, because of the traditions of the Austro-Hungarian empire, traditions of decentralisation.
Municipal power is exercised even today in Budapest and Bucharest. These cities have taxation powers conceded to them by national Governments which are not enjoyed in this country. The extraordinary thing is that in these highly centralised countries, in which national planing is the be-all and end-all, practices persist so much that within centralised planning a good deal of freedom is exercised by each of the capitals.
This is what we lack in this country. We lose profoundly. We lose in every conceivable way. We lose culturally. The great talent of the country is not spread as widely as it ought to be. One of the reasons for this is that we persist in having a single national centre in London towards which every person of talent, in whatever capacity, must come if he wants to get to the top. This is what we have to move away from. We shall not do so unless we shift from the centre out into the various parts of the country a degree of the power of decision-making.
The need for moving decision-making outwards will not end until it extends to the power to raise taxes. I realise the difficulties about conceding taxation powers, and I do not say that I have an answer to that problem. While devolution is a necessary step to ensure the continuation of the Union, I believe that it is possible, within a devolved system, to concede an element of responsibility for raising taxes. This will have to come.
I want my hon. Friends to look carefully at the question of a referendum. The referendum is sometimes held out as the ultimate instrument of democracy. I do not believe that. The essential part of democracy is contained in Parliament, in this Chamber, where we discuss issues with one another, listen to different points of view and reach our conclusions. The hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Johnston) said that he always learned something when he took part in a debate. One thing a referendum will never do is to teach anyone anything. All that it succeeds in doing is testing what people already believe to be the case.
My hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) recently took part in a radio debate presided over by Mr. Taverne. I have often disagreed with my hon. Friend on other things, but we have in common a doubt about the efficacy of the referendum. He opposed the idea of a referendum in that programme. Before the debate began, my hon. Friend started with only a small number on his side. After the debate, there was a 60 per cent. swing to his opinion. Certainly he lost the debate, but the movement of opinion during it among those who had heard the argument was profound.
Therefore, the disadvantage of the referendum is that people do not hear the argument. It cannot provide the democratic process of debate and discussion which takes place here. It is a dangerous instrument. Democracy is not simply opinion-polling.
I may be influenced by the fact that in the only referendum that we have had—that on the Common Market—I was on the losing side. My conclusion is that the referendum fails to provide for the interchange of ideas and the opportunity to hear the other man's point of view. The Common Market referendum was taken after the event, after we had been in for three years. If there is to be a referendum on devolution—I am not sure that there should be—the time to take it would be three years after the establishment of the Scottish and Welsh Assemblies.
The experience of referenda is that people will decide to keep what they already have—to maintain the status quo, whatever it is. The time to take a referendum is after the change has been made, and then people will endorse it.
But he may be right. We are discussing it. If we were deciding this matter by a referendum, we would say simply "Three years—'Yes' or No'?" So the hon. Gentleman is answering his own question.
For various other reasons.
The view that the Labour Party has taken of this issue over many years is the right view. We have not been very active about it. Those who have said that our eyes have been opened by the arrival of the Scottish nationalists have a point. But whether that is the reason or not—
—that we should support the line that the Government are taking. I do not always take that view, but on this occasion I have great pleasure in supporting my right hon. and hon. Friends. I am convinced that when we go through the Lobby on Thursday night we shall give the Bill a Second Reading, that it will complete its passage through the House and that we shall have a historic and essential Act of Parliament.
The hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Jenkins) is an optimistic man. He must be one of the few Members who are confident that the Bill will pass through all its stages and become law. I would not be so sure at this stage.
I suggest that there is a shorthand phrase by which the hon. Gentleman might judge the success of the Bill, which runs as follows: no guillotine, no Bill; no referendum, no guillotine. In the case of Wales: referendum, no Bill. In the case of Scotland: no referendum, no Bill.
Seldom can a Bill have been agonised over for so long in Cabinet, researched in such great detail and pored over by the brightest of bright young men in Whitehall yet had such a miserable effect when published. Apart from the occupants of the Treasury Bench, hardly anyone has had a good word to say for this measure, but it would be churlish if my hon. Friends and I were not prepared to accord the Bill at least a cautious welcome.
I take that view for two reasons. The first reason is that although the Assembly is to be rammed into a constitutional straitjacket from the start, it still represents the greatest single transfer of responsibility back to the people of Scotland in the 269 years since the Act of Union. If so few of us can achieve so much in such a short time, it is not unreasonable that we can look for more progress in the not-too-distant future.
Secondly, I welcome the for the reasons advanced by the Secretary of State for Scotland—namely, on grounds of democratic accountability. English Members may not know to what extent there is already administrative devolution of the bread-and-butter issues in Scotland. It is right and proper that there should be a legislative Assembly in Scotland to guide that process, but that is only half the message. The other half is what the Assembly will be able to do.
The level of expectation of what the Assembly will achieve is already considerably in advance of the powers that will be devolved to it. If we examine the opinion polls of recent years, we find that the average Scot will give an answer broadly similar to the man from Merseyside or Tyneside when he is asked about his political priorities. He will say that he wants more jobs, better houses and better schools, for example. Devolution will come further down the list.
If the Scots are asked simultaneously whether they want an Assembly, 80 per cent. will return a resounding "Yes". Of those replying "Yes", more than half will want an Assembly with significantly greater powers than those contained in the Bill. In that sense the people of Scotland expect the Assembly to be able to deliver the goods.
In Scotland we have enormous poverty and great wealth existing side by side. We have some of the poorest housing, the highest unemployment, the worst health and the greatest emigration in Western Europe. In Clydeside we have the single greatest centre of multiple deprivation in Western Europe. In the Assembly's back yard, however, there is £200,000 million worth of oil.
In Scotland we have the ability to feed ourselves. We are self-sufficient in food. We have a skilled work force, a high export rate and manufacturing industries. The reality is that the Scottish people would like to use some of that wealth to eradicate the poverty.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman is wrong, as he will see if he adds together Scotland's exports of mutton, fish and so on. According to parliamentary answers, we have a net surplus of between 2 per cent. and 3 per cent.
How does the SNP against that background approach the Scotland and Wales Bill? Our attitude should be to strengthen the Bill—without delaying unnecessarily its progress through the House—in the key areas of giving the Assembly powers to do the job. These areas, are, first fiscal powers to give the Assembly responsibility and accountability for raising money as well as spending it; secondly, access to our oil revenues; and, thirdly, control over the outposts of central government in Scotland—trade, industry, nationalised industries and so on.
Is that somewhat less than an outright position of independence? Yes, of course it is, but it does not imply a diminution of what the SNP stands for. The purpose of the SNP is twofold. First, it is the furtherance of all Scottish interests and, secondly, it is the return of sovereignty to where we believe it rightly belongs—to the people of Scotland. That inevitably means the withdrawal of all Scottish Members of Parliament from this House. We make no attempt to hide that. That has always been our policy and it continues to be our policy.
The hon. Gentleman is enunciating SNP policy, but I gather that one of the constitutional experts who represents the SNP, Professor Neil MacCormick, takes a different view, having been in the SNP for longer than has the hon. Member May we know the official policy of the SNP? Is it the policy of Neil MacCormick or of the hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Reid)?
There is no difference within the SNP. There are two possible routes to independence for Scotland. One is the revolutionary route through the Assembly, and on this the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) and ourselves are quite close. He may talk about the slippery slope of separatism, whereas we talk about Scotland's gradual progress towards independence. The other way is the way in which the Government became elected, and that is by winning a majority of the Scots seats in Scotland. If that is good enough for the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, it is good enough for us in Scotland.
The hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) offered to take on the SNP. We shall be glad to oblige him at the earliest opportunity since those who do not realise that the status quo is not an option for Scotland will disappear remarkably quickly. There is a good Calvinist anecdote that relates to the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South. The guilty men find themselves consigned to oblivion in the nether regions and, looking up, say "Oh, Lord, we didna'ken", and the Lord, looking down in His infinite mercy and wisdom, said" Well, ye ken the noo". That will be the hon. Member's fate.
Two minutes ago the hon. Gentleman said that there was no difference between himself and Professor MacCormick. One minute ago he enunciated the difference when he said that the way forward was by a majority of seats. Professor MacCormick said "a majority of votes". There is a big difference.
Yes, Professor MacCormick was speaking for himself, as do certain members of the Labour Party. The party policy of the SNP has consistently been that what is good enough for the Labour Party and the Conservative Party is good enough for the SNP.
Given the rise in temperature in the House—there was a singular example of that when the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) spoke—we on the SNP Bench have a great responsibility to handle the Bill with tact and diplomacy. Tempers are rising too. Labour Members, who possibly did not know they had a devolution commitment in their manifesto—or was it simply something soothing to spout at the hustings?—are under pressure from their constituents in Merseyside and Tyneside. People are saying" The Scots are at it again". There is a polarisation of attitudes in the House and the media, especially among cartoons. Labour Members who a year ago were lambasting the SNP are now criticising the Scots in general. That polarisation is profoundly depressing.
There are three major determinants of what is happening in Scotland. The first is perfectly obvious: that we are a nation in our own right. We were never put down by conquest but came to this House free and equal partners, after a thousand years of independent history. If the Commissioners of 1707 had wanted to "un-Scotch" us they would have done away with the institutions which are the main carriers of Scottish nationalism and nationality.
What is the difference between Merseyside, Tyneside and Scotland? Hon. Members comparing Merseyside with Scotland are not comparing like with like. There is no separate church system on Merseyside. There is no separate legal system on Merseyside, there is no separate schooling system on Merseyside, no separate university system, no separate administrative system. There is a difference of degree and kind.
I am not quite sure of the hon. and learned Member's point, but I can say that we have a legacy of enforced migration from Scotland the like of which is not known in Europe this side of the Mezzogiorno. One million people, one-fifth of our population, have left—our legacy of London rule—since the war.
Bearing on the point the hon. Member made, the Union of 1707 left Scotland with distinct institutions but we gave up three estates then. That is one problem we are facing in the modern Scotland, the Scotland of 1976, now that we have four estates. The Press and television have become an important dimension in Scottish life and politics.
Yes, and rightly so. All of us look forward to the growth of an indigenous Scots Press and broadcasting service in Scotland.
English MPs fail to understand that the United Kingdom is not a nation. Do they recite "O to be in the United Kingdom now that April's here" or sing "There'll always be a United Kingdom"? The United Kingdom is a multinational State comprising the separate nations of the British Isles. Against that background, we should be heading for the sort of close interrelationship which is possible between the peoples of Scandinavia, the Swedes, the Norwegians and the Danes. We have that sort of potential relationship.
No, I have given way several times.
What is taking place, as the Leader of the Conservative Opposition said yesterday, is that we have come to the end of the Empire and the United Kingdom is currently in a state of economic decline. No one here would deny that. I may be making a point against myself, but we Scots had a privileged position in the days of Imperial grandeur. We were both Scots and British. We ran the docks in Hong Kong, the judicial system in the Punjab and held Burns suppers in temperatures of 102 degrees in India. Those days are gone and those options are no longer open to us. We stay at home. The young Scots in Scotland today, looking at the obvious degradation and neglect, are not prepared to tolerate these conditions. They are back in our own country for keeps and wish to do something about the situation—usually by joining the SNP.
The third determinant is the EEC referendum. I agree with the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sillars) that that was a big constitutional divide in British history. For the English it marked the final, formal abdication of sovereignty. For Scotland it marked a simultaneous reawakening of a future rôleas a small North European Country. The arguments deployed by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr Powell) and the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) against the Common Market also apply with equal logic to arguments about Scottish—English relationships.
Devolution is far too big a matter for the United Kingdom. One must look at
the European connection. It is interesting that Lord Kilbrandon, whose report is the basis of so much of our discussion, is on record now as saying
I see a new relationship emerging between Brussels and Edinburgh with the London link gradually fading away.
That is a future pattern for the development of our country—an independent Scotland as an equal partner—within the European Communities.
The Prime Minister yesterday dealt with the small national units in Europe—the desires of the Alsatians, Bretons, Catalonians and the Scots. There is a difference in kind and in degree, however. Scotland has a degree of muscle equalled only by Catalonia. We have our oil and fish, and we have our strategic waters, which are the forward development area of the Soviet Murmansk fleet. That gives us a strong bargaining position.
The SNP is the fastest-growing party in Europe, but we must remember that nationalism has been around for a long time.
I would answer the hon. Gentleman by saying that we have commodities that Europe wants—namely, oil and fish. Only if we are independent can we negotiate these at the top table with the European Community. The only way we can achieve a proper representation in Brussels is through independence, and the only way we can have a fair representation of Scottish Members at the European Parliament is again through independence.
Home Rule has been around for a long time—indeed since 1886, when the Home Rule Association was formed. In the early part of this century 11 Home Rule Bills were supported by 80 per cent. of Scottish Members of Parliament. Jimmy Maxton said that our country would achieve more as a self-governing Scotland in 30 years than was achieved by centuries of an Imperial Parliament. The famous radical, Cunninghame-Graham, in the 1920s said that he had often seen English Members go to the Bar of the House and, having realised that "the Scots were at their bagpipes", go away again—but that did not stop those Members going in for a Division and voting down Scottish issues with which they were unacquainted.
In 1945, as a small boy in my constituency, I remember the Labour Party producing a manifesto that contained two objectives. Objective one was "the defeat of Japan", and the second objective "the establishment of a Scottish Parliament". They have been a long time about it. I do not want to dwell on the number of about-turns and constant chopping and changing on the devolution issue which have characterised the Labour Party in recent years. Its mass conversion reminds me of the Chinese general who baptised his troops with a hose. [Interruption.]
I am reminded by the presence of the ron. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan) of what happened in the mid-60s between the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) and myself. I attended a council meeting of the Scottish Council of the Labour Party in Troon. The hon. Gentleman at that point was seeking devolution all round to England, Scotland and Wales. He was abused, castigated. pushed and jostled by people in the hall. If his mode for devolution had hen adopted at that time, perhaps the SNP would not now be in its present powerful position. However, one cannot make history stand still.
I now turn to the Conservative Party. It has been a long time since 1967 and the Declaration of Perth. We have had the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Pent-lands (Mr. Rifkind) going on record as saying that he wanted an Assembly which had the priorities of expenditure within its control. We have had the Chairman of the Scottish Conservative Party agreeing with the Young Tories that the White Paper did not go far enough. He wanted the Assembly with economic powers. But these are issues that we can explore in Committee.
All of us in the SNP are grateful, however, to the Leader of the Opposition for providing one of the most hilarious party turns seen in many a long Christmas. She has ruled that a constitutional issue can simultaneously be a matter of conscience. She enforced the resignation by the Shadow Scottish Secretary of State but not by other office-bearers who are also Scots MPs. That apparent anti-devolutionist of last week, the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor), is now doing somersaults with the Saltire in one hand and the Union Jack in the other.
With respect to the hon. Gentleman, I remember a rather fine cabaret song of the 1930's by Ronald Frankau which goes:
I am half the horse in the Panto,
Please do not let on it's a sham,
If you know I am a horse in the Panto
Do not tell him which half I am.
The reality is that the Douglas-Home proposals are no longer an option.
What do we in the SNP want? Hon. Members must remember that in the Kilbrandon Commission Minority Report, popularly considered to be a much less radical document than the main one, Lord Crowther-Hunt—the Government's constitutional adviser—said that when a devolved Assembly was set up it should have powers extending over the outposts of central Government.
Lord Crowther-Hunt said that not through greater commitment to devolution but on the basis of straight logic. Five-sixths of civil servants who work in Scotland work outwith the Scottish Office. If the function of the Assembly is to provide democratic control of this intermediate tier of government—in energy, employment, social services and so on—it cannot exclude two-thirds of civil servants involved from its terms of reference.
There is an additional expectation in Scotland, which is that the Assembly will transform social and economic control. But how can it when control is, in fact, vested elsewhere, in London? The various Government Departments are far too closely interlocked to allow any coherent social or economic strategy which does not involve them all.
How is a Scottish Government to tackle the deprivation cycle if it has no control over the poverty trap aspects of taxation? How is it to provide incentives and to encourage entrepreneurs and other creative people if it lacks the power to adjust fiscal and industrial regulations? How can it plan for the economy as a whole in Scotland if offshore oil, which will amount to one-third of the GNP in the next three years, is excluded?
Since the hon. Gentleman has quoted from Volume II of the report the Royal Commission on the Constitution, perhaps he ought to know what it says. It says:
Scotland and Wales, like certain of the poorer regions of England, are now heavily subsidised by the richer regions of England. It would neither be right nor just to deny to the people of the richer regions of England equality of political rights over the people of Scotland and Wales while at the same time expecting them to continue to provide, certainly for Wales and possibly for Scotland, very substantial economic and financial support".
The hon. Gentleman invoked the second volume of the Kilbrandon Report. There it is.
Let me deal first with the intervention of the hon. and learned Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Mr. Fairbairn). I do so by looking at the question of funding the Assembly. I think he will agree that the present suggestion of a block grant is a recipe for acrimonious conflict between Scotland and England. The hon. and learned Gentleman may, some day, be the Conservative Premier of a Scottish Assembly. He will have to come from Edinburgh to London to negotiate his block grant and, because of his own political base in Scotland, all that he will be able to do is go home and say that he was robbed. In that sense, it is a recipe for acrimonious conflict.
There is a simple and logical way of getting round the difficulty. It was suggested by Labour Party Members in the Home Rule Bills which they introduced in the 1920s, especially in the Barr Bill of 1927. That sought to establish a Scottish Treasury which would allow the Government in Scotland to collect all taxation in Scotland, including royalties, fees and other revenues, and then pay back to the London Treasury an agreed sum for such common services as still exist, be they defence, foreign affairs or whatever. Such a system would place on the Scottish Administration the onus of funding such projects as they thought desirable, and it would have the additional advantage of permitting specifically Scots innovations in terms of fiscal control over social and economic matters.
The hon. Gentleman referred to fees. I have in mind a subject on which he is an expert. Does he disagree with the head of the BBC in Scotland, who said that in an indigenous television set-up in Scotland the licence fee would have to be £120 if existing services were to be preserved?
I am happy to answer that question. My party gave evidence at considerable length to the Annan Commission. We took as our first point that Scotland is a difficult country in which to broadcast and that it will cost more. It is difficult on the grounds of terrain, it being not easy to get a signal into the Highlands. It is difficult on grounds of population base, advertising base and of licence base. We went on to make a very important suggestion. We considered how it was possible to put money into the pocket of the Scottish broadcaster without putting the broadcaster into the pocket of the politician. The suggestion from my party was that in Scotland the major capital costs—transmitters, for example—should be a charge on a Scots Treasury. In that sense, we should be providing in remote areas for something which is every bit as much a public service these clays as drains or electricity.
After all those interventions, I want to suggest that what we should be seeking in these shared islands is a new relationship. I hope that that is possible. I ask Government supporters to examine their consciences. If we were talking today not about Scotland but about Micronesia, some small speck of an island in the Pacific with its own national party, Government supporters would be on their feet demanding that they be given their freedom. The cry would be "Give them self-determination. Let them have their guano. Let them have access to their own resources." If they accept that for Micronesia, why not for Scotland?
Will the hon. Gentleman give us his opinion on precisely this situation—the Micronesia of the North, Shetland? Shetland wants no part of a devolved Assembly, though I think that it is wrong. It also says that the resources of Shetland, the oil and the water, belong to the United Kingdom and should be used in the interests of the United Kingdom. The SNP should not accuse Government supporters of having imperialist attitudes, because one of its conference decisions was to say "We are prepared to give them independence, but the oil is Scots." Even British imperialism in its heyday was never quite so crude.
The hon. Gentleman has arrogated to 14 people in Shetland the voice of the islands. The only people to have spoken so far are the 14 members of the islands council. Furthermore, if the hon. Gentleman looks at the one democratic result in Shetland in recent years, the last General Election, he will find that the combined votes of the Liberal and the Scottish National Parties came to 73·4 per cent. of the total. That, surely, is a remarkably large Home Rule vote.
My party will be delighted to see the people of Shetland put their view on their future relationship to the test in a referendum. Having talked to them, we feel that they are frightened not about independence but about being ground between the twin mills of an Assembly in Scotland and a Parliament here. They want a simple and a direct relationship with one body only. My party has suggested that the islanders should have considerable autonomy and 1 per cent. of the revenue from the East Shetland basin, which would enable them to establish island banks, farm banks and the fishing banks which are so desperately needed.
I have never heard the people of Shetland saying that they are a nation, but we shall see. We shall put it to a referendum. The SNP, being a democratic party, will abide by the result.
The hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan) has said on previous occasions that the girl in the Lyons tea shop across the road is every bit as remote from this House as a crofter in Shawbost. I agree, but that is a matter we can deal with inside the Assembly once we get back home. I am sure the hon. Member will agree that the Edinburgh Establishment could easily move in on the Scottish Assembly, and for that reason it is vital that we establish new and more open and democratic models of government, bringing government closer to the people at all levels.
Lastly, I turn to those who say that independence for Scotland will never take place. I recently read an article in a Swedish newspaper of 1904, when the Norwegians were becoming restive. The debates in the Swedish Parliament were not dissimilar to this. It was suggested that a bit more could be given to the Norwegians to keep them happy, that they could have some additional powers. The following year, because the essential areas of natural resources, trade and industry were not conceded to the people of Norway, Norway was herself a sovereign nation. Out of that secession, separation—a new, more open, honest relationship—was established between the people of Sweden and Norway, based on mutual respect, equality and understanding. That is the relationship that we in this party wish to see with our English neighbours. Poland re-emerged as a State after 170-odd years divided into three parts. Finland came out of Russia. Would anyone suggest that Finland would be better off as Russian today?
The hon. Member is leading the House astray. The situation in Sweden and Norway was utterly different from the relationship between England Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Members do not tell the whole truth. I obtained some information from the Library. The new State that the hon. Gentleman referred to entered almost immediately into a union with Sweden under the terms of which the King was represented in Norway by a Governor-General. It was not a proper union with one Parliament, as we have here. It was a colonial administration. Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that the relationship of Scotland to England is that of a colony?
It is certainly possible for the English majority in this Parliament to turn down Scottish legislation by overwhelming numbers any time it wants, and it has done so.
This is a start of a great adventure for the people of Scotland. My hon. Friend the Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) said that the Assembly would be a half-way house, a stepping stone, a staging post for independence. We in the SNP do not claim that it will inevitably lead to independence. We only think it highly probable. That decision will be taken by the people of Scotland at the polls in their own due time. This certainly is not the end of the devolution road. To use Churchill's phrase, it is not the beginning of the end, but it is perhaps the end of the beginning.
We are not seeking a static model of government in our new Scotland, a devolution "settlement", a once-and-for-all transfer of powers. People who talk about getting the process right first time round fail to understand the mood of the people of Scotland. Devolution is a dynamic continuing process. Where it stops will be decided not by this House but only by the people of Scotland at a General Election.
I have a last quotation for the Labour Party, words spoken by James Barr, accompanied by Tom Johnston and Jimmy Maxton at the Wallace Monument, Stirling, on 27th August 1921. I ask Labour Members to reflect on it. He said:
Let nations learn a fundamental principle of government. If you would make nations trustworthy, trust them. A true democracy must yield to all other peoples the claim it makes for itself. Contrary it is to all democracy to hold a nation against its will.
This Bill marks the start of a new beginning for an old people. Scotland is about to get a future for its past.
The hon. Member for Clackmannon and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Reid) has done the House a service by making the SNP's position absolutely clear. I have heard him speak on these matters before, and I felt then, too, that he was doing the House and the nation a service by making the SNP's aims quite clear to us all. These are among the things that make the Bill such a dangerous measure for those of us who do not want to see the United Kingdom split and break up.
In a passionate speech, my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sillars) strongly made the point that he was not seeking separation. He said that the Scottish people could be trusted and would not be leaving the United Kingdom. If they were governed by people such as my hon. Friend, that would probably be so, but his is not the party that is pressing for devolution. Unfortunately, we are having to deal with the SNP, not my hon. Friend's party.
If I had been the chief strategist or tactician of the SNP, I could hardly have dreamt up a better first step towards what that party wishes ultimately to obtain than the Bill. It does everything the SNP requires, giving it too little in the wrong way. It does not give the sort of powers that would allow the Assembly to be seen to have responsibility and to have to take responsibility.
I do not wish to argue with the SNP about its objectives. They are different from mine. The hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire has made a very honest and straightforward speech in which he has let us know exactly what those objectives are. I oppose them completely, and in opposing them I must oppose the Bill, because in it we are giving the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues the perfect weapon to bring about the end that they desire.
I do not want my hon. Friend to misinterpret the position that my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley (Mr. Robertson) and I adopt. We believe in ultimate Scottish representation within the EEC. We have argued that the concept of separatism within the EEC is not valid. Independence outside the EEC is entirely different in quality from independence inside.
I accept that point.
We do not have to go beyond page 1 of the Bill to establish why I and some of my hon. Friends will be voting against it. Clause 1 states:
The following provisions of this Act make changes in the government of Scotland and Wales as parts of the United Kingdom. They do not affect the unity of the United Kingdom or the supreme authority of Parliament to make laws for the United Kingdom or any part of it.
That second sentence is one of the most dangerously complacent sentences ever to have appeared in a Bill. How can the
Government possibly make such a statement? The proposed structure is so unstable that it is bound to lead to just such changes and to major changes.
If the Bill becomes law, we shall have the four parts of the United Kingdom with different forms of government. Northern Ireland will be governed directly from Westminster, with a very small representation here—one hon. Member to 114,000 electors. Scotland will have largely devolved powers and a representation rate of one hon. Member to 51,000 electors. Wales, with a 1–58,000 representation rate, will have a bastard Assembly, acting as both Executive and Assembly. England will have no separate Assembly.
I am not suggesting that this Government or any future Labour Government will wish to change the representation of the Scots in this House, but it is surely conceivable that there will be a Government of another political complexion which will not be prepared to see Scotland retain 71 hon. Members. The right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) has already said that there will have to be a reduction in the number of Scottish Members. The logic is surely that on matters which are devolved to Scotland there is no reason why any Scottish Member should vote in this House but that on United Kingdom affairs there should not be a reduced representation from Scotland taking part in the vote.
The logic of the Bill is a federal system in which we would have local governments in all four countries and a United Kingdom Parliament in which all countries would be fully represented. I do not suppose I could support that, but I could find in it something more attractive than the terrible mish-mash and mix-up of the Bill, which will give us the worst of all worlds.
Any Labour Government who gave up central power to decide on matters such as comprehensive education and the moving of money around the United Kingdom would be foolish. The underprivileged child in Eastbourne is as important as the underprivileged child in Glasgow. If comprehensive education is right in Glasgow, it is right in the South of England and I cannot see a Conservative-dominated southern region producing plans for comprehensive education.
As a Labour politician, I have a vested interest in maintaining some central powers. Do not let us pretend that the Bill is put forward as the result of a deep-seated conviction to devolution by the Government. The Government have said that the subject has been under consideration for 10 or 20 years. To find the real reason for the Bill we have only to compare the Labour manifestos for the General Elections in February and October 1974. What happened on 28th February 1974 which suddenly made devolution such a vital issue? We all know. It was the fact that seats were won by the SNP in Scotland. The present Labour Government were then frightened of losing seats in the future.
We might be able to rationalise all sorts of special reasons why this is a great thing, and we might have had a deep and abiding commitment for over 100 years, but between 28th February 1974 and 10th October 1974 we suddenly went from nothing to this—167 pages of closely-reasoned Bill. Should the Bill ever reach the Committee stage, hope to have the opportunity of discussing it line by line. I hope that we shal even have the good fortune to reach page 30 by day 30. I do not expect to see it get through the House. I shall not rush it. I shall wish to consider it in great detail. I imagine that even SNP Members would wish to do that. I have counted 37 references to the powers of the Secretary of State over the Assembly. I trust that there will be 37 reasoned amendments along those lines from the SNP which we can discuss in great and intricate detail.
I believe that one of the things about which most of us feel proud is being British. That may not include certain SNP Members. All of us are a tremendous mixture. I have four grandparents. Two originated from Northern Ireland, one from Southern Ireland and one from England. I was born in England. I went to school in Wales. I have a Welsh wife. I have two children, who were born in Venezuela. One is in Holland and one in Wales. My brother lives in Glasgow. I am an archetypal Britisher.
Most of us are of that kind. I object very strongly to those who seek to divide me from other Britons. I wish to expand my national sovereignty. One of the reasons why I was in favour of the European Common Market and why I wish to see Europe expand is that I want to put my sovereignty together with that of others.
Nineteenth-century nationalism was an integrating force. In the nineteenth-century this House supported Garibaldi just as it supported many of the other European forces of nationalism operating at the time. Twentieth-century nationalism has become a form of disease. It has become a divisive force.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare (Mr. Evans) pointed out, wherever one looks one finds examples—in Bangladesh, Biafra, Northern Ireland and the Middle East—of people fighting each other, for no stronger reason than supporting Aston Villa as against West Bromwich Albion. In Central America a short war was actually fought over just such a thing as a football match. That is the strength of much of what has been put before us.
I do not dispute with SNP Members their aims and objectives. I accept them entirely, but I am opposed to them. If the Bill is passed, we shall be putting into their hands a weapon that will lead inevitably to the fragmentation and the break-up of the United Kingdom. I must tell my Government now that that is something that I cannot contemplate or support. It is something for which I shall not be voting on Thursday.
I could not disagree more than I disagree with the hon. Member for Dudley, West (Dr. Phipps). To me, the Bill is momentous. I agree with the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sillars) that wherever the Bill takes us, things will never be the same again.
I was hoping, and I still hope, that the House will realise that the Bill is an opportunity for Parliament to lead. I should like to think that it will lead with a touch of greatness. Unhappily, the debate so far does not give me reason to feel optimistic that that magical touch of greatness will make itself felt.
I am conscious that all changes cause apprehension in some quarter or other. Constitutional changes of a fundamental nature are inevitably met with heightened apprehension. It is a natural and proper that this should be so. We must all he conscious of that, having regard to the recent decision to join the European Economic Community.
As regards the EEC, there is one thing I find very interesting. We apparently are now committed to envisaging direct elections to the European Parliament, the rôleand function of which no one has worked out. We have accepted the principle that we make a start on the job and work it out as we go along. Perhaps that is what will happen with the Bill. I should be the last to argue that the Bill is the final and right answer for the better government of the United Kingdom.
I agree that it is right to be concerned about the unity of the United Kingdom. In all parts there is reason to believe that the majority desire in each part is to maintain the Union. As long as that is the case, we must uphold the will of the people and do nothing that might subvert it. It is wrong to assume that the unity need be threatened by a sharing of power in altered measures or devolution or in a federal system.
The Prime Minister reminded us of experiences elsewhere, particularly in Canada, West Germany and the United States. One of the things that is of particular interest in West Germany is that the architects of that constitution had very much in mind the idea of avoiding a strong central German Government that might one day threaten the peace of Europe. That very admirable federal system, far from avoiding a strong central Government, has brought into being one of the most effective Governments in the Western world today. No one in Western Germany complains about being over-governed. The people have a two-chamber central Parliament, governed by 13 Länder. They have county councils and district councils. They are so happy with the system that they have agreed to pay their Members of Parliament about £22,000 a year, so they must think that they are getting value for money.
I congratulate the Prime Minister on the reasoned speech he made yesterday and express my great appreciation of the reasonableness of his approach and the generous opportunity the Government extended to the House fully to explore the options open to us.
The Bill has had an exceptionally long gestation period, which has been more than usually watched over. It has also been subjected to an unprecedented torment of advice. There has to be something at the end of it all, and the Bill is not at variance with the consensus of the general debate that has taken place down through the years. That is not to say that it is a good Bill or that it is even the right approach, but it is a start to a process that, in my opinion, cannot be delayed. It is wrong to assume that the Union can be maintained without change—all the lessons of history teach one that—once one sees such strong forces building up in any community of people.
There is a very real need for change. I base my case for change on at least two counts. One of them has not been dealt with adequately in this debate so far. I refer to the inadequacies of the present parliamentary institutions governing the United Kingdom. The second is the one that has occupied most of our attention, namely the quite natural national and regional aspirations of the people who make up the United Kingdom, coupled with a strong feeling and desire to be more closely involved in government. After all, is not the true essence of government expressed in the historic declaration of
government of the people, by the people, for the people"?
I was given to understand that the Government's approach was to have better government for the United Kingdom. The emphasis now seems to have switched somewhat to strengthening the democratic processes. That is not quite the same thing.
For me, the right approach is unquestionably the better government of the United Kingdom. As we look at the problem, it will do none of us any harm to be totally frank and honest about the performance of all Governments over the past 20 years. We have put up a pretty poor show when we compare our performance with that of, say, France or Germany. We have suffered a national decline that was avoidable. That is something which should shake us. Our world role is less than it should be. Our standard of living is lower than it should be. Our dependence on others, economically, militarily and politically, is greater than it need be or should be. The cards have not been stacked against the United Kingdom. As a nation we have made a botch of our affairs, and we cannot blame Joe Bloggs in the street. The blame must lie in this institution of Parliament, which has so consistently got its perspective wrong.
I am impressed by the argument of the right hon. Member. Since the Bill does not attempt to reduce in any way the size of this Parliament but intends to create another piece of government, on what possible basis does he imagine that it is an improvement?
I never argued that the Bill was perfect. It is capable of being changed. It may be the beginning of a rather long process of evolution. I am totally opposed to sitting back and doing nothing in the face of what has happened to our nation. If we want to maintain the Union—and everyone, with few exceptions, has been talking of the need to do so—it can be maintained only when we all have a pride in being British, not the pride of sentimentality but the pride of achievement.
Let us ponder on the conclusions of one of our great elder statesmen in a recent television broadcast, Harold Macmillan. His appeal for a Government of national unity drew much comment but little was said of his reasons. In that broadcast he properly and ably drew attention to the economic decline of this nation. He also referred to the moral decline. There was something else that made a great impression on me. He told us that in all his long career he had never witnessed as much bitterness in the political divide as now exists in our Parliament and in our country. Do I need to labour the point? Something has obviously gone wrong with the government of the country.
Perhaps it would be as well to remind hon. Members of the warning of Lord Hailsham. He said that our institutions were drifting towards totalitarianism and, that the Government machine controlled Parliament rather than Parliament controlling the Government. He called it an elective dictatorship.
All of us in our hearts are concerned at the way in which things are going, at the way in which the different checks and balances in our constitution are being eroded. We all know that the growing anger and bitterness in politics is a recipe for disaster. The problem is that the growth of the scale and range of government is proving too much for this institution. Both Ministers and Members are tied too much to this House, immersed too often in the ritual of Parliament.
There is a need for change. This Parliament will serve the nation better if it reduces the scale and range of its functions by sharing out functions to other appropriate parliamentary institutions. This is an argument not for more government but for more people in government in the right places, moving effectively to discharge their responsibilities. That will be the big gain of devolution, that there will be people in the right places for the particular job which has to be done, be it national, provincial or regional.
I do not think I need add support to the argument for meeting the legitimate aspirations of the peoples in our kingdom or their desire for closer government. It has been well stated by others and it is a self-evident world-wide fact. We all watched with interest the recent elections in the United States, which has a federal constitution. Even with the ramifications of that federal set-up, there was a growing outcry about over-centralisation in Washington. People wanted a greater liberalisation of the machine.
The hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) tried to use the example of Canada to prove that federalism led to the break-up of a nation. I do not know how well he knows Canada, but Quebec would certainly not be part of Canada if Canada had not become a federal nation. There was an interesting letter in last week's Economist from a Canadian who mounted a cogent argument that if the Quebec crisis is to be contained there will have to be a further liberalisation of federalism in Canada. I thought that it was an impressive argument.
I hope that the House recognises the need to do something. The real question is what and how. I do not like the Bill, but it gives us a start and should be supported at this stage for that reason. My main criticisms of it will come most properly at a later stage. I and others —notably the Liberal Party—believe that ultimately we must move to the order of checks and balances provided for in a federal system. Ideally we should move to that position immediately, but that simply is not practical politics. Devolution should be a stepping-stone to allowing federalism to evolve. Ideally, the measure of devolution should be common form throughout the United Kingdom, but that too at this point is not practical politics.
It is really a question of making a good start and letting matters evolve according to the will of the people. Here we approach the most difficult hurdle: what is the will of the people in these matters? If we are to do different things and have different standards for various parts of the kingdom, we have a democratic duty to respect the wishes of those directly concerned and affected by the variations in government and standards of democracy. That was the mistake that was made in Ulster. In its wisdom, the House sought to impose a different standard of democracy regardless of what the people in Ulster felt, and we all know that it did not survive for very long.
If we are to have different forms of government in different parts of the country, we must satisfy ourselves that the proposals are in accordance with the wishes of the majority in the areas affected. I suppose that we all have our own ideas of what the people want. For instance, last night, my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim South (Mr. Molyneaux) appeared to be convinced that Ulster would settle for better representation in the United Kingdom Parliament and a measure of administrative devolution along the lines of the metropolitan areas of Great Britain. My view is that that is utter rot, but that is one Member having a view and another Member having a different view.
I reinforce my argument on the simple basis that Ulster is the only part of the United Kingdom where the Government have taken the trouble effectively to test the will of the people in these matters. The elected Convention showed an almost unanimous desire for extensive parliamentary devolution for both legislative and executive functions. Absolutely no one proposed for discussion that which was put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, South, although many went out of their way to say that it was not on even as an interim measure.
My hon. Friend's conclusions, based on the Stormont experience, were also wrong. The legislative side of Stormont was more successful than the administrative side, and certainly more innovative. If it had not been for the legislative capacity of Stormont, I do not think that we should have succeeded in transforming and diversifying Ulster's economic base. Our Parliament was able to introduce measures that pioneered such things as advance factories and intensive training programmes, measures that came to this part of the United Kingdom only many years later. I could recite countless instances of legislation in Ulster of a most experimental nature that was beneficial to the Province and enabled it to make progress that could not have been made by any form of administrative devolution.
There are real gains to be made by those who seek to improve the living environment and working opportunities for their people through devolution. Stormont, with many geographical factors working against it, often succeeded in attracting major industries to Northern Ireland that first looked at sites in Great Britain. I asked industrialists on several occasions why the ultimate decision favoured Ulster, and the invariable answer was that the decision was made because of the speed of decision and availability of contact with our Government. That brought some large and useful industrial plants to Northern Ireland.
I only regret that the Bill does not appear to give Scotland the same economic benefits that were capable of being devolved in Northern Ireland, but let no one underestimate the advantages that can be obtained from the decentralisation of government to other parliamentary institutions. Parliamentary institutions have an advantage over glorified forms of local government because they enjoy a status and authority. No doubt later in the debate we shall be able to draw more usefully on the Northern Ireland experience.
What I am concerned about is how we can be sure about the will of the people in Scotland and Wales. I do not think that a referendum is an adequate or fair way of testing that question. If I may be bold enough to make a suggestion in this respect, I would say let us get on with the Bill and make the best job out of it that we can. Let us have elections to the Scottish and Welsh Assemblies without transferring any power. The Members of those Assemblies will have faced their respective electorates fairly and squarely on the issues before them, and they can report to the House whether they find the measures in the Bill satisfactory or whether there is something that needs to be reviewed. Perhaps at that stage there can be a referendum. The debate that would ensue in the community would ensure that the arguments for and against devolution would be far better understood by the people in both countries.
There is a lot of vital work to be done. I hope that there will not be any question of delay for the sake of delay. I would not go as far as saying that the Bill needs to be taken apart and put together again, but some fairly massive changes are necessary.
For instance, Scotland has not enough room to control the peaks of its economy. Perhaps my greatest criticism is of the structure of the Bill. I do not understand why the Government did not take the dominion model, which was the guide for Stormont. It would be very much easier to settle the relationships between the central Government and devolved government by a process of exclusion and reserve, but perhaps we shall learn later why this complicated and difficult way was chosen. Some subjects are devolved of which I do not see the wisdom—for instance control of the time, although Westminster is to keep control over flora and fauna.
I thought that the Stormont model was about the best that man could produce in terms of devolution within the United Kingdom. It is a pity that a conflict of different aspirations spoilt that system. When it was not involved in that nationalistic conflict, Stormont worked extremely well for our people.
The detail of the representation of Scotland and Wales in the House of Commons if we agree to devolution can be sorted out when we know the extent and scale of devolution. I see no great difficulty in separating the conduct of English business in the House by a simple procedural device.
The block grant system of financing is definitely an improvement on Stormont, but I am not happy about the way it is calculated. No doubt in the Committee stage we shall be able to exchange views as to how it should be calculated. The object must be to see that each Assembly gets its fair share of the national cake, having regard not only to its contribution to taxes but having regard to the needs of the community. It will not be easy to devise such a form, but one has to try because the business of negotiation annually on very loose terms will lead to conflict.
I shall not go into detail on some of the things I have in mind, but I ask hon. Members to address their minds to the block grant system. One has to ask whether it is enough. There is a case in terms of economic development for having some taxation power. It is not impossible to arrive at it, although it is perhaps better left until we have further experience of the situation.
Stormont was allowed to reduce income tax by sixpence in the pound provided that it raised an equivalent revenue from some other source. The result was that we did not bother ourselves because we did not see the advantage. We had control over capital taxation and the benefit of variation of the estate duty taxes of those days. It may be that we should think about the variation of taxes on a minor scale, which would assist the attraction of industries to the remoter areas.
One aspect of the Bill bothers me. I refer to the procedure for giving Royal Assent to an Act of the Scottish Parliament. The present proposal is certainly better than the White Paper proposal, but I think it may be necessary for the Scottish Executive to have a voice in Her Majesty's Council. Do we need a Scottish Committee of the Privy Council, for instance?
The proposals for Royal Assent appear satisfactory if everything is running smoothly, but when we are setting up a Government we must bear in mind that it is important that Government actions and legislation need to be certain, authoritative and expeditious. If one arranges things in such a way that there is a question mark hanging over them, so that outside sources can impose delay, one makes it impossible for the Assembly and the Government to cope with an emergency in the country.
I believe, and I say this having experience of the Northern Ireland Parliament, that devolution can and will strengthen the Union. The hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart), who leads the Scottish National Party makes no secret of his party's aspiration, but he makes clear that it will do its darndest to make sure that the system will work well for the people of Scotland and will govern Scotland. Whatever one may say about the hon. Gentleman and his party, one will not question his sincerity. If it undertakes to make the system work, it will make it work.
If the SNP rushes into independence, it will get that far only if that is what the Scottish people want. If it is hell-bent on independence and rushing its fences, it may hold no seats in the Assembly. We must have confidence in the people of Scotland wanting to maintain the Union, or forget it altogether. We cannot maintain the Union against the will of the people of Scotland.
I believe that the great majority of people in Scotland will want to maintain the Union. When they obtain their devolved government and there is Government dialogue between Edinburgh and London, they will realise more and more the value of the United Kingdom. We should not worry too much about different party complexions. I well remember that the Government of Northern Ireland never had a closer or more intimate relationship with any Administration than we had with the Attlee Administration. Party politics never bothered us in our discussions between London and Belfast.
I hope that hon. Members will not allow the bogy men to frighten them off of an initiative that will give the Government of the United Kingdom a chance to cope with the serious problems that face the nation. I look forward to the ongoing development of government in the United Kingdom and to a growing degree of happiness among the British family in enjoying a system of government that people will find more satisfying than the present one.
I shall support the Second Reading because I believe in the principle of devolution, if not in all the detail, and because I am convinced from deep conviction that there is a need to act now.
I welcome the Bill, despite its imperfections. It has already been said that the Bill proposes the most fundamental and far-reaching constitutional changes in Scotland for 269 years. I think that the Bill will give the Scottish people more democratic self-government than they have ever had in their history, because the Scottish Parliament that existed before 1707 could never by any stretch of the imagination be described as democratic or as a truly representative Parliament. It was so out of touch with the ordinary people of Scotland that it took three years for that Parliament to discover the real truth about the massacre of Glencoe.
The Act of Union of 1707 was never unanimously accepted by the Scottish people. Since then there has been the feeling among a substantial number of the Scottish people that the Treaty or the Act of Union was not the best solution. We must add to that the centralisation of decision-making in government and industry that has taken place since then, and a feeling of remoteness among people that decisions are being taken too far away from them, which leads to a desire to bring the decision-making apparatus closer to themselves. We must also add the fact that Scotland has a distinctive legal system. We must bear in mind the shortage of legislative time in this Chamber and the existence of the executive and administrative devolution that already exists in the form of the Secretary of State for Scotland and his Scottish Office.
All those factors make a reasonable case for devolution. We are, however, meeting a great deal of resistance. That is understandable from the Tory Party because its members are the traditional arch-unionists of British politics. It is not surprising that such arch-unionists as the hon. and learned Member whom I might describe as the Scarlet Pimpernel from Kinross and West Perthshire (Mr. Fairbairn, the right hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. Macmillan), whose daddy was Prime Minister, the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition, who is trying desperately to become Prime Minister but who never will, and her new man the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor), who is one of the most reactionary people in Scottish politics and who hopes to lead the Scottish people if and when he ever becomes Secretary of State for Scotland, are trying to impose a kind of union jackboot of uniformity through all parts of the United Kingdom. They do not have a good track record in giving power to ordinary people.
Will the hon. Gentleman tell the House when he became acclaimed to the concept of devolution? When did he first think it wise to take the view of the Scottish Labour Party that it was a good idea? Can the lm. Gentleman give us that view?
I am glad that the hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned that, because I was about to refer to opinion within the Labour movement. Certainly I have taken an active part in discussions about devolution within the Labour movement for many years.
I cannot put an exact date on it just now, but it was a long, long time ago. I would turn my attention to some of my hon. Friends on the Labour Benches, particularly those on what could be called the radical wing of the Labour movement who seem to be so opposed to the idea of devolution in principle. They seem to treat the idea of devolution as a threat to Socialism. But Socialism is not equivalent to centralisation.
For the information of the hon. and learned Member for Kinross and West Perthshire, I have believed for many years, for as long as I have been a member of the Labour Party, that Socialism is not equivalent to centralisation.
We in the Labour Party believe in local democracy. Did we not believe, for example, that the councillors of Clay Cross, Clydebank, Denny and Dunipace or Saltcoats should have been given the freedom to decide things that we considered to be their own affairs? Does not this movement also believe in industrial democracy—that is, giving people maximum opportunity in their work situation to run their own affairs?
Did not the Labour movement—it was a pity that the Government of the day did not support us—resist our entry and our continued membership of the Common Market because we thought that one of the biggest disadvantages of that institution was to make decision-making even more remote from the people? What, then, is so anti-Socialist about wanting to give the Scottish people some say in the running of their own affairs? To my mind, it is most appropriate that the Labour Party, the Scottish Council of the Labour Party, the TUC and the Scottish TUC should all unanimously be calling out in support of the devolution proposals.
The hon. Gentleman is perhaps being unfair to the House in not answering the excellent question from my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Mr. Fairbairn). Has the hon. Gentleman always been in favour of a Scottish legislative Assembly?
I cannot remember right back to the day I was born, and I cannot remember when I was baptised. I can, however, assure the hon. Member for Cathcart that I did not take part in the mass Chinese baptism to which the hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Reid) earlier referred. I have been more consistent than the hon. Member for Cathcart on this matter, and certainly ever since I have been active in politics within the Labour Party in Scotland.
I should like to get on to my next point, which is that the Bill proposes amongst other things an enormous transfer of power with regard to housing, health, education and social work and a certain amount of power with regard to industry and employment.
I admit that it is arguable whether enough power is proposed in the Bill. But it is dismaying to hear some of the phrases that have been used. The hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire used the term "miserable" with regard to the Government's proposals. Ten days ago, in the Falkirk Herald, the hon. Gentleman described it as a "toytown" Assembly. Last night the Leader of the SNP described the proposed Assembly as "an anaemic mouse". It is debatable whether the Government have given enough powers, but to describe the Assembly in terms such as those, and by such exaggerated language as that, shows a complete misunderstanding of the sense of values of the Scottish people.
It appears that either SNP Members have not read the Bill or that they have read it and misunderstood it, or else they have a strange sense of values which is wholly alien to that of the Scottish people. The traditions and values of the Scottish people place great importance on matters like housing, health, education and jobs, and the proposed Assembly will have a very valuable role to play in all these areas of Scottish life.
That is exactly what they hope to use the Assembly for. Whether they will be successful remains to be seen. I do not think that they will. However, I hope to deal later in my speech with that point.
My consistency on this issue has been challenged. It so happens that I have been reading the debate on the White Paper, which occurred 11 months ago. In my contribution to that debate, I pinpointed several respects in which the Government's proposals could be improved. The first of them was in the area of financing. The Bill proposes that the Assembly should be financed by an annual block grant, which at today's levels would work out at over £2,000 million, or two-thirds of all public expenditure in Scotland. It is important to remember that public expenditure per head of the population in Scotland is 27 per cent. more than the corresponding figure for England.
I still think, as I said 11 months ago—I am not saying this just for the sake of consistency—that the Assembly should have some revenue-raising power. After all, even the smallest local authority has a certain amount of responsibility for finding its own cash, and this Assembly, as a legislative body, has far more power than a local authority, and I believe that it would make the Assembly more responsible if it were given power to raise some of its own money.
I welcome the Government's good in-tensions to consider any revenue-raising proposals which are made in Committee, but they have had well over a year now in which to think about this. It is a pity that they have not come up with some definite proposals in the Bill.
I am trying to relate what the hon. Gentleman was saying earlier about the SNP with what he is saying now. Is he saying that the Assembly as conceived in the Bill will provide a basis for confusion, clamour and discontent which will enable the SNP to pursue its aim of taking the people of Scotland on to separation? If so, what sort of Assembly is it?
I hope to see some amendments accepted in Committee, but I think that the Government have it just about right and that the Assembly, with some minor amendments, will be acceptable to the Scottish people. [Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Cathcart, who hopes one day to become Secretary of State for Scotland, would belt up for a moment, he might learn something.
I also made a point in my speech 11 months ago about Scottish universities, and I am sorry to see that the Government have not shifted their position. I think that devolution would be an opportune time to establish a closer relationship between the Scottish universities and the rest of Scottish education and, indeed, the rest of the Scottish community.
In the debate earlier this year, another matter to which I referred was the lack of autonomy of the Assembly. I note that there has been some shift in the Government's attitude here. Instead of the Secretary of State deciding the vires of proposed legislation, it will be done by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. But I still think that Clause 45 gives too much power to the Secretary of State for Scotland.
Another point that I made in the previous debate concerned the Scottish Development Agency. I am pleased to see that the SDA will now be accountable to the Scottish Assembly. Incidentally, earlier today a new SDA programme of advance factories was announced, amounting to £5·3 million, giving a total over the year of £13·3 million in its advance factory programme. I note, too, that 2,300 jobs have been created in Scotland by the SDA and that another 3,000 are on the way. That is all in the first year of the SDA.
Clearly, those who say that the Assembly will not have power to create any new jobs in Scotland have misunderstood the Bill. Some people want more powers in trade, industry and employment, but it is important to remember that not all problems in trade, industry and employment can be solved in a Scottish context alone. If we take the mining industry as an example, it would be suicidal to set up a separate Scottish Coal Board. as the SNP proposes, because the output per man-shift in the Scottish coalfields is less on average than the corresponding figures for English coalfields.
The Scottish miners work every bit as hard as their English counterparts, but the geological structure of the Scottish coalfields makes it more difficult to work those fields. If the coal mining industry had not been taken into public ownership by the post-war Labour Government on a United Kingdom basis, many of the Scottish pits, including Fallin in my constituency, would have closed many years ago.
The hon. and learned Member seems to misunderstand. The mining industry is one example of an industrial problem which is not best solved in a Scottish context alone. There are other areas of decision-making where solutions can possibly be found in a Scottish context, and devolution is an attempt to obtain a balance between decisions best taken at Scottish level and decisions best taken at a United Kingdom level. Unless we find the right balance, it is possible that Scotland could lose and it also is possible that England could lose. It is even possible that both partners in the present relationship could lose.
It is very important that we should retain as much as possible of our present partnership with out closest neighbours. We do not want to create a barrier between Scotland and England. There is an example of partition on our own doorstep in Ireland. There we had one small island where a border was set up. I would not like to see the re-establishment of a border here in this island. It could lead to tension. I think that if the whole of Ireland had been offered, much earlier in this century, the measure of Home Rule now being offered to Scotland, perhaps the men of violence and the extremists would not have got as far as they have in Ireland.
Now is the time to break down barriers, not to re-establish old barriers or borders. Even the hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart), the leader of the SNP, referred yesterday to the possibility of some partnership remaining after his style of independence was achieved. His proposed partnership seemed to be based on the monarchy. With respect, the partnership and comradeship that has been built up over the years between the people of Scotland, England and Wales has not depended solely on whoever was the tenant of Buckingham Palace, Holyrood Palace or Balmoral Castle. It has been a partnership and a comradeship built up in many organisations—for example, in the trade union and Labour movement.
People of many different backgrounds and many different work situations, people who have lived together and worked together, and who have seen people from other parts of the United Kingdom with similar living conditions and similar work situations, have united to better their living standards and the living standards of their families, their neighbours and their neighbour's families, irrespective of whether they lived on Clydeside, Merseyside, Tyneside or Teesside. The hon. Member for Western Isles wants to break up that valuable partnership.
I know that the hon. Member for Western Isles and his party will never be appeased by the Bill or by any other devolution proposal, even if we went so far as to propose a form of federalism. What the SNP wants is a separate, breakaway Scottish State with all the trimmings and trappings of a separate State, with separate Scottish embassies, and a separate Scottish Army, Navy and Army Force—all paid for by the separate Scottish taxpayer with a separate Scottish pound. That is what it wants, and it will never be satisfied until it achieves that.
I do not say that there is anything intrinsically evil about that, whether one calls it separatism, independence or whatever else. I would say that I do not think it would be in the best interests of the Scottish people, although it is a perfectly legitimate aspiration on the part of the SNP. I believe that the legitimate aspirations of the broad mass of the Scottish people could be better satisfied by the changes proposed in the Bill.
The hon. Member may well be right. The point I am trying to make, with my colleagues, is that it is not a question of what the Labour Party wants or what the Government want. It is the people of Scotland who will make the final decision.
I entirely agree. The Kilbrandon Report referred to this in dealing with the possibility of independence. It said that independence could never work unless it had the full-hearted consent of the Scottish people. If there were that full-hearted consent, I would agree that independence would be the solution. But there is no sign of that full-hearted consent, either in the opinion polls or anything else. How could we measure such a consent? A referendum is one of the possibilities that has been mentioned.
In that connection I was interested in the speech made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson) yesterday. My credentials are fairly good over this question of a referendum. I am no sudden convert to the idea. On 6th March 1975, just six months after I entered this House, I asked the then Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton, to consider the possibility of a referendum on this question. He replied:
I am not in favour of a referendum on this question."—[Official Report, 6th March, 1975; Vol. 887, c. 1766.]
It was because of that answer that I was interested to read what my right hon. Friend said yesterday. He said, at column 1008:
I am not against a referendum proposal. I would like to see the Government consider it."—[Official Report, 13th December, 1976: Vol. 992, c. 1008.]
Well, some of us are consistent. I welcome that conversion and I hope that it finds a mention in my right hon. Friend's memoirs.
If a referendum were held, and I would welcome it provided that it did not delay the passage of the Bill and could be properly phrased and timed, it would show that the vast majority of the Scottish people reject the status quo. That is no longer a tenable proposition. It would also show that the vast majority of the people reject separatism and favour some form of devolution as proposed in the Bill.
Like most politicians, I rarely make forecasts. I forecast, however, that this Bill will receive a Second Reading on Thursday and that the majority will be greater than 11. In other words, it is nonsense to say that if the Bill gets a Second Reading it will be because of the support of the 11 Members of the SNP. If they were honourable they would abstain because they do not believe in devolution; they want their own style of separation. I challenge them. They are not interested in the Bill itself. Why do they not go home or, to be more honest, vote against the Bill? We have put many pieces of good Socialist legislation on to the statute book without the help of the SNP, and we can get this Bill on to the statute book without its help. If and when the Bill reaches the statute book, it will be because of the courage of the Labour movement in sticking to its manifesto promise to the people of Scotland and Wales.
I have sat through the whole debate and found it fascinating. Hon. Members, whatever their views, have spoken with force, sincerity and conviction, yet I have heard nothing which convinces me that the Bill should be given a Second Reading.
The real issue before us is not this confusing Bill. The right hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Craig) came close to the heart of the matter when he spoke of the relative decline in our national fortunes in recent years—some economists would say that this started in the 1880s rather than in 1918 or 1945—turning inward of our people and their growing dissatisfaction with our institutions and system of government. Dean Acheson said 15 years ago that the trouble with Britain was that she had lost an Empire and had not yet found a role. How we hated that observation at the time—but it was true.
The real issue confronting us is whether the road along which the Government want us to travel is one which, at the end of the day, we can be confident will improve the quality of life of our people and not diminish it, will repair our economic system and not weaken it and will restore the pride of the British people, which has been injured so much in recent years, and not destroy it. Devolution may, as the right hon. Member for Belfast. East argued, be part of the recipe. The argument in the debate however is not about the principle of devolution but what kind of devolution, how much of it and to whom it should be extended.
The increasing Government interference in the lives of ordinary people—and this applies to all Governments, not just to the present Administration—has led inevitably to a growing demand, perhaps not always expressed in an articulate fashion, for greater control by the people over their local affairs.
There is a classic example in my constituency, where for more than a decade successive Governments refused to listen to the pleas of a relatively small community on Thameside for the protection of their environment against piecemeal planning decisions which threatened their health and safety. Appeals were made to Ministers, who would not listen. Government inspectors held local inquiries and their recommendations that the views of local people should be heard were ignored. It was not until the Flixborough disaster when people were killed that notice was taken.
For 10 years I listened to people of all political persuasion and none—for there was great disillusionment with the political processes at this time—saying that planning inquiries were a farce and asking what was the use of voting in elections when on an issue affecting people's health and safety no notice was taken of their views. That has been our experience. I do not doubt that it has been the experience, perhaps in lesser measure, in many other constituencies.
On the other hand, it must be conceded that 10 years of regional government in Greater London has hardly made for greater economy, efficiency or imaginative administration or has brought the governed in the capital city into a closer and more harmonious relationship with the governors.
I agree, therefore, with the right hon. Member for Belfast, East that we can conclude that government in Britain, at central and local level, has become increasingly inefficient and remote as the bureaucracy that fattens on it has been allowed to grow, but I draw very different conclusions from those that he laid before the House. For the life of me, I cannot see how adding another tier of authority and thousands more bureaucrats in Scotland and Wales will improve these matters. I should have thought that they would inevitably add to inefficiency and that the sort of Assembly envisaged in the Bill would lead to frustration and discontent of a kind that would enable the Scottish National Party to continue to thrive and to move towards the inevitable conclusion that only complete separation is the answer. I see that I carry with me in that the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mrs. Bain). If that be so what a mess of pottage to put before a serious deliberative Assembly.
The County Councils Association made plain earlier this year in connection with Wales—its fears about the effect of an Assembly in that country upon the recently reorganised system of local government. It envisaged delay and frustration. It did not see any improvement in local government or any benefit accruing to the people of Wales.
Yes, that might be so. However, I have no evidence—perhaps the hon. Gentleman has such evidence—that the present system of local government in Wales is inefficient and is not serving the interests of the people. It is not for me to say. I express no view on that matter. I am merely citing the association. I should have thought that the views of such a body should weigh with the House.
If the Bill was about a genuine devolution of power from Parliament to all the British people, I should be for it; but it is not. It proposes to give an Assembly—a very odd, rum sort of Assembly—to Scotland, although whether that will satisfy the majority in Scotland remains to be seen. It proposes to give an Assembly to Wales, where, as I understand it, the majority of the people do not want it.
And it offers nothing at all for Northern Ireland, which for 50 years had a Parliament of its own until we took it away. As for England, we are to be left governed by a Parliament in which Scotland and Wales continue to be over-represented and their Members will have a decisive voice in the conduct of English affairs, while Northern Ireland is under-represented. There is no rhyme, reason or sense in these proposals.
I do not propose to waste any words over the form of devolution proposed in the Bill. In my view, it is another example of the way in which in constitutional matters leaders of all parties—I am not pointing an accusing finger at the Labour Government; it has been so throughout the years I have been in Parliament—always walk backwards into the future, completely unable to see where they are going.
Neither the Redcliffe-Maud Commission nor the Wheatley Commission on the reform of Scottish local government was allowed to discuss finance. What idiocy that was! Some of us said so at the time, though our voices were not heard. How can one deal meaningfully with powers and boundaries without dealing with finance? The new local authorities resulting from the reports of those Commissions were established before the Kilbrandon Commission on the Constitution had reported. The Layfield Committee on Local Government Finance, which I believe was set up by the last Conservative Government, was established only after the rates revolt of 1973 and even then the possible financing of regional assemblies was expressly excluded from it.
The grant system proposed in the Bill gives the worst of all worlds to Scotland and Wales. It will do nothing to strengthen grass-roots local government. It will encourage the growth not of real devolved responsibility but of endless bickering about the meanness of the central Government while doing nothing about the growth of unproductive bureaucracy.
The conclusion for me is inescapable. Before we take a step which will have incalculable consequences for the whole of the United Kingdom—the debate has revealed that there will be incalculable consequences—it is surely essential to ascertain the views of all the constituent parts of the kingdom. This is not to deny the people of Scotland and the people of Wales their legitimate aspirations but rather to make them and the rest of us aware of the options that are open and the consequences that will flow from taking a particular course.
After all, nations are composed not only of the living but of the dead and of the still unborn, and before we take a step which could lead to the breakup of an association which previous generations have valued, have fought for and have died for, and for the ending of which our children, perhaps wiser than we, may curse us, it is surely right to pause and take stock.
I submit that it is more important to do that than to tinker with the present unsatisfactory Bill. Indeed, I do not believe that we should have the Bill first and a referendum afterwards. What if a referendum shows that the Welsh people do not want an Assembly? It will kill the Bill stone dead, for the reasons given yesterday by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, and we shall have wasted parliamentary time. We shall have made fools of ourselves.
I concede that there are dangers in restricting the questions in a referendum to a simple "Yes" or "No" to separation or a "Yes" or "No" to devolution. We already know that a great many people in Scotland, and no doubt a great many in Wales, want devolution. What we do not know, and I defy anybody body in the House to give the answer, is how much devolution they want. Nobody knows. The claims of the Scottish National Party can be taken for what they are worth—the utterances of a political party that is out for the separation of Scotland from the rest of the United Kingdom.
But does the Scottish National Party speak for the whole of Scotland? We do not know. There is some evidence that its members do not speak for the whole of Scotland. But the people of Scotland, Wales and England should have the right to say what degree of devolution should be permitted. It would not be sufficient merely to ask people to choose between the package in the Bill and the status quo, as that would put into one category those who think that the package goes too far and those who think that it does not go far enough.
Does the hon. Gentleman really think that if a referendum were held in all the countries of the United Kingdom, and England, with its enormous population relative to the others, said "No", that would be regarded as a fair end to the whole question?
No. The hon. Gentleman anticipates an observation I was going to make. Of course, the preponderant population is in England. I do not suggest that any of the four constituent parts of the United Kingdom should have a veto over the rest. I am anxious to establish their views. I do not see why the people of England or the vast numbers of Scotsmen, Welshmen and Ulsterman who live and work in England should not have a voice.
Let there be an early referendum in which the people in all parts of the kingdom vote separately but simultaneously. Let it offer a fourfold choice between outright independence for Scotland and Wales, devolution on a greater scale than is offered in the Bill, devolution on the lines of the Bill, and no change. Let each part of the kingdom answer for itself and have an opportunity to say what ideal it would wish for the rest, but without a veto.
My hon. Friend must come clean and answer the question put to him by the Leader of the SNP. Suppose, for the sake of argument, that England said "Let us consult the people" and the other three component parts of the United Kingdom said "Yes". What would my hon. Friend say about that result?
My hon. Friend is anticipating what I wanted to go on to say. If the majority of people in Scotland want independence, they should have it. I would not be party to seeing a repetition of the Irish tragedy in the northern part of our island. But I do not believe that the people of Scotland want independence and separation. Every Scotsman to whom I have talked in recent years laughs at the idea.
Devolution, with greater control over local affairs, is another matter—but how much devolution? The hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan) indicated the difficulties. There is little in the Bill to please the SNP, but it does not mind, because that is a recipe for the discontent that will lead to clamour for separation and make it inevitable. For others it might be too much. Until we have a referendum to ascertain the views of the people, asking them such a variety of questions th