The First Deputy Chairman:
With this we may take the following amendments:
No. 93, in page 2, line 12, leave out from 'on' to 'any' in line 14 and insert '29th March 1978 and'.
No. 94, in page 2, line 13, after 'State' insert:
'following the next General Election'.
The amendment ensures that the first ordinary election of Members to the Scottish or Welsh Assembly shall not be held until after the next General Election. While the Bill sets no time scale, leaving it to the discretion of the Secretary of State, it is important that this matter should be carefully considered. As will be seen, it opens up the question of what would be a referendum for the whole United Kingdom.
It would not be in order for me to discuss the terms of the referendum, which are surrounded by doubt, and certainly not to do so at any length. But I must refer to the matter because the whole question of who might vote if there is such a referendum is likely to prove one of the most controversial questions in relation to the Bill. The reason for such controversy must be that there are 5 million Scots and probably as many, if not more, who are resident and working in England. We have evidence of that in this Chamber, where I see some of my fellow countrymen who, I suppose, if the referendum were narrowly drawn, would be considered to be English and would have no opportunity of expressing their points of view.
This is a much wider question than perhaps the rather simple terms of the amendments suggest. It opens up a question to which I hope the Government will apply themselves when they reply. I do not exaggerate when I say that all hon. Members are particularly anxious to know the Government's thinking on a referendum, and their intention in relation to those Scots in England. It would be perfectly simple to avoid difficulties in this direction if our amendments were accepted.
Under the amendment there would be the opportunity at a General Election for the whole United Kingdom to express its view on this matter. It should be borne in mind that this is a constitutional Bill. It is too often forgotten, and it cannot be emphasised too often, that a constitutional Bill is a matter for the United Kingdom as a whole. It is not too much of an exaggeration to compare it for that purpose with the Reform Act 1832 or with the Parliament Act 1911. If it does stand up to comparison—as I believe it does—with these great constitutional measures, it is a matter upon which the United Kingdom should have its say.
There are two maybe lesser reasons why there should be this provision. There can be little doubt that there are already too many elections. The election proposals in the Bill are likely to be followed by legislation for direct elections to the European Parliament.
The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) may well be correct, but the proposals are likely to be put forward by the Government. Perhaps I should have made clear that that is as far as the matter has gone. Nevertheless, there are district council and county council elections, and there will be Assembly General Elections. My point is that there are already too many elections. There should at least be sufficient time to prepare for the important election which might arise if this Bill ever reaches the statute book.
The second matter to which I must refer is a matter to which we shall return more appropriately later. When the number of Members which an Assembly may have or the number of Members who may be sent to Westminster is discussed, there will undoubtedly be a challenge to the numbers proposed in the Bill and to the existing numbers at Westminster. In either case it is likely that it will be necessary for the Boundary Commission to redefine boundaries. This will take a considerable time. We know from relatively recent experience that boundary changes raise many problems and that there are many charges and counter charges of gerrymandering. It would be unrealistic to suppose that boundary changes in this connection would be any more acceptable than they have ever been. That is an additional reason why there should be some delay and an opportunity for careful consideration.
It must be becoming increasingly clear to the Government that this Bill is unpopular. Its unpopularity is in no way confined to one point of view or to one section of the community. If we seek to delay the implementation of the Bill until after the next General Election, we do so for the reasons I have expressed and because I firmly believe that public opinion does not want this measure. There is growing evidence of this. I have just been to a meeting in Glasgow which I am sure you, Sir Myer, would have been glad to attend had you not been precluded from doing so by your present distinguished position. At the meeting, on one of the worst nights of weather experienced in five years, opinion was unanimously against the Bill.
That was ample evidence that the "Scotland is British" campaign has not only got off the ground but is supported by the widest range of opinion in Scotland, which is ever growing. This was also evidenced yesterday—I think that even the Government would agree that this was a happy coincidence—by an opinion poll published on the front page of the Glasgow Herald, which took precisely the same line, that there is growing opinion against the Bill.
Does the right hon. Lady know that today's edition of the same newspaper shows that the Conservative Party has lost ground to the Scottish National Party, which now leads all the parties in Scotland, according to the opinion polls?
I am happy to rest on Monday's opinion poll. I am not worried by the minor fluctuations of fortune that the SNP may or may not enjoy. Its success in opinion polls to date has been temporary, and I believe that its mini-success today will also be temporary, as the next opinion poll will show and as was already clear from the meeting I attended last night.
The amendment seeks to provide a pause, a break, for people to consider what will happen. More important, it provides an opportunity for the whole country to have the type of referendum which I believe in a democracy should be the effective way of providing an answer. I have never been able to support a referendum as such, believing that it should be written into our democratic system that the "Yea" or "Nay" should be provided at a General Election.
It is to uphold that point of view that I support this way in which we could provide for our English friends, relations and colleagues to have an equal right of determination on a most important constitutional measure. I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends and hon. Members in all parts of the Chamber will support the amendment.
One wonders whether this discussion does not underline once again how extremely unsatisfactory it is that we do not yet know the terms of the referendum clause. A direct question. When is my right hon. Friend the Lord President likely to be able to tell us the contents of the new clause?
Without making too much of a point of it—I was going to say "a party point" but it is an "opposition to the Bill point"—I must say that it is not very meaningful to have this kind of discussion without knowing the terms of the referendum clause, which will determine so much of what we discuss.
The hon. Gentleman is making an extremely important point. But we need to know not only the terms of the referendum clause but the Government's intention in relation to the timing of the referendum, and in particular how it is to be linked with choosing the appointed day, which is mentioned in Clause 3. We need to know what the Government have in mind as to the sequence—the passing of the Bill, the holding of the referendum, and the election of the Assembly, in the unlikely event of the referendum's succeeding, as the Government hope it will.
On the timing of the referendum, let us have some sympathy with Ministers, because they do not know when the Bill will get through the House, if ever.
Therefore, I do not wish to press them too hard on the question of the timing.
The next point to which we must come is that raised by the right hon. Member for Renfrewshire, East (Miss Harvie Anderson), the issue of those who believe themselves to be Scots or Welsh but resident in and working in England.
Many of us have now had far more letters, and far more determined letters, than we had expected from people who think that if there is to be a referendum they have some right to take part.
I warn Ministers that a pent-up resentment will be felt by first-generation Scots or people who consider themselves Scots, working in Britain, if they are denied what they consider to be their rights. They will feel that they are discriminated against.
Some of the letters say "We don't want too much patrial research." It is very difficult to establish who are Scots in England and who are not. This shows once again the difficulty of the whole proposition.
In response to the hon. Gentleman's point, with which I have great sympathy, may I issue the invitation that when we know what the Government propose by way of a referendum he and I should join in putting down an amendment to entitle those of whom he has spoken to be enfranchised for this purpose?
I have signed hardly an amendment, because, being root and branch against the Bill, I thought it would be hypocritical to pretend that I wanted to improve it.
I echo what the right hon. Lady said and what has been said by the West Lothian Constituency Labour Party full-time agent and full-time NUGMW official, Archie Fairley, who just mops his brow and asks "Are we to have district elections, regional elections, Assembly elections, Westminster elections and European elections?".
That amount of electioneering would bring the whole system into disrepute. We should be perpetually campaigning in this country, which would hardly be good for Britain. We should be dizzy with electioneering.
Therefore I ask my right hon. Friend the Lord President, if he is successful in his venture, to consider having district elections, regional elections and Assembly elections at the same time.
I can see that there are some objections. My right hon. Friend will say "But the Assembly has nothing to do with local government".
That is a matter for dispute, even among pro-devolutionists. Quite a number of people are being chameleon-like on the issue.
At one moment we hear that the Assembly will have little, if anything, to do with local government.
At the next moment we understand that, as far as one can make out, it will be responsible for overseeing most local government functions. But that is by the way. We shall return to the matter on another clause.
My next question concerns by-elections. A series of by-elections for Westminster constituencies can bring about a General Election, but the Assembly is to be for a fixed term of four years. With a series of by-elections, balances could easily be changed.
Could by-election results in the middle of a four-year period cause the whole administration to change, without resort to any kind of Assembly General Election? [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Cleveland and Whitby (Mr. Brittan) seems to think that it does. Does the hon. Gentleman wish to intervene?
If there can be a change of administration as a result of by-election results, let us take West Lothian as an example of what can happen. Suppose that a by-election result there means that the administration changes and six months later someone else steps under a bus, so that there is another by-election, and the result is different.
Does it mean that the whole administration changes back again? There would be a game of musical chairs, if the hon. Gentleman is right, and we can see certain disadvantages in that. It is no good my right hon. Friend's thinking that that would be an impossible situation. It is all too possible. These things must be thought of now, not later.
I do not know whether it is in order to refer to Amendment No. 111. Are we taking that amendment now, Sir Myer?
The First Deputy Chairman:
I think that I announced the grouping of amendments. We are taking Amendments Nos. 93 and 94 with Amendment No. 482. Amendment No. 111 does not come into the present grouping.
This is not the occasion for discussing elections to the European Parliament but I want to follow what was said by the right hon. Member for Renfrewshire, East about opinion polls.
I am sceptical about opinion polls, even when they are favourable to my point of view.
But the Assembly policy that we are now discussing was, in the first place, largely dictated by opinion polls and therefore, in this context, opinion polls are far more important than they might otherwise have been.
I echo what was said by the right hon. Member for Renfrewshire, East about the fact that opinion is changing.
In spite of all that the AUEW has said on the matter in the past, I nevertheless welcome the speech made this morning by Mr. John Boyd. Others have also changed their opinion, such as Doctors and chambers of commerce.
As always, I obey the Chair. I just wanted to observe that when matters come to the top of one's in-tray and more thought is required about them, one often changes one's mind.
That is what is happening with the Bill. The more that people know what it is about, the more they change their minds.
Such matters can be decided only by a General Election. Then the reality would become clear and the two choices for the Scottish people would be seen. The choices are: either having more decision making for the regions or having a separate Scottish State.
The real choice of having a separate Scottish State has never yet been given to the Scottish people.
They have never had the knowledge that by their votes they might actually bring about a separate State. At the next General Election there will be every possibility that by putting their crosses on the ballot papers by the names of Scottish National Party candidates a Scottish national government could be brought about. That is something that has never been thought of before as a real possibility. I believe that the Scottish people, in the knowledge that they could bring about the end of Britain and the break-up of Union, that they could dismantle the Union that has served them so well since 1707, would overwhelmingly reject the views of the Scottish National Party. Then we could return to sensible discussion on constitutional reform.
I am glad to be called directly after the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) because, like him, I am opposed to the Bill root and branch, and I also feel an immense responsibility for endeavouring to preserve the Union that has lasted so well and that has had such immense benefits for the people of Britain.
My view is the same as that expressed by Sir Winston Churchill on a similar occasion: I wish that the Government would take the Bill upstairs and cut its dirty throat. But since the Government are unwilling, some of us want to assist them in doing their duty. I could accept the Bill only if there were a clear decision to indicate that the people of the United Kingdom and Britain as a whole were in favour of its principles. This is why I commend the amendment to the Committee. It provides for something that is now not now contained in the Bill—an opportunity for the people of the whole country, and for the people of Scotland, to make a specific decision on the implications of the Bill.
The hon. Member for West Lothian referred to the unpopularity of the Bill. We could all testify to that. The more that is known about the Bill and the more that its long-term implications are made clear, the more the position arises that people who originally supported the fundamental principle are no longer so strongly in favour of the Bill.
The principle of devolution is one thing, but the arrangements set out in the Bill are another. It is as we examine the Bill more closely that we realise that it has been drafted in a slovenly manner and that it will lead to the break-up of the Union.
During the time that we have spent on the Bill, its supporters have been remarkable for their absence. Where are they? I see my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Mr. Ellis) who does not share our opinion, but neither does he share the Government's opinion. Where are the rest?
I am grateful to the hon. Member for making that point because I have endeavoured to be here for the majority of our debates on the Bill and I have been waiting to hear it defended by hon. Members other than those on the Treasury Bench. Yet that defence has failed to come. Hon. Members of the Scottish National Party have spoken from time to time, but we all know where they stand.
I was not aware of that.
I commend the amendment to the Commitee, to the House, to Ministers and especially to the Leader of the House who is so keen on matters of constitutional import and on the rights of the House. I recall when the right hon. Gentleman sat on the Opposition benches and his eloquence and fire in defending the principles that I am now modestly endeavouring to put to the Committee.
The Committee is in an intolerable position in having to debate an important clause of the Bill without having the faintest idea of what the referendum clause will contain—either in its details or in its general principles—and until that clause is put down and the Committee has had an opportunity of fully realising the implications of what the Government are up to, then neither the Committee nor the country can be in a position to accept the Bill as it stands, and certainly not to accept it on the basis of the generalised promises that have been given by the Government.
I have a great deal of sympathy for the amendment that has been put down by the right hon. Member for Renfrewshire, East (Miss Harvie Anderson). The Bill has come so far on the basis of protestations by the Government that in Wales, in Scotland, and, to some extent in England, the Labour Party has fought two elections on manifestos that included a commitment to provide for elected Assemblies accountable to the people of Wales and Scotland. Therefore, as the Secretary of State for Wales said in commending the Bill, the debate should be over now and we should be more obsessed with the details of the legislation than with the general regurgitation of principles.
That is a laudable attitude for a Government to have towards legislation—a determination that the Government will seek to carry out their election policies. If that attitude were universal or if there was at least substantial evidence to show that the Government applied that determination to most spheres of Governmental activity that would be a creditable way of approaching the business of being in power.
But there is a danger in such an attitude towards major policies. All that a party would have to do would be to insert in its election manifesto an undertaking, even in vague terms, to make certain changes or to introduce certain legislation. Then because of the mood of the people or incapacity of the Opposition or other reasons for which some Governments lose office while others are elected, that party might gain office. What had previously been an issue that had failed to gather a single vote in the course of an election, an issue upon which not a single question had been asked during the election, and which had not played an important or influential part in the movement of votes, or determined which party should be the Government after the election, would then become prominent.
I am not saying that that is absolutely the case here, in the matter of the devolution proposal for Wales, but it is much nearer the truth than the description given by those who say that devolution was a matter of singular importance and a solemn undertaking at the last two General Elections, and that it is in pursuit of that great promise to the people of Wales and Scotland that the Government are now committed to the Bill and to implementing that promise. I should be the first to concede that many of my right hon. and hon. Friends have the most profound long-term belief in a model of government of this general kind, though not specifically the model proposed in the Bill.
Against that background and my convinced belief that the people of Wales did not in any substantial number vote for anything like what is proposed in this Bill, I listened with interest and, indeed, sympathy to the right hon. Member for Renfrewshire, East. Had it not been for the announcement by the Government in December, about a referendum, I should unquestionably have been joining the right hon. Lady in endorsing the amendment tonight. But we are now, as I have remarked in earlier debates in Committee, in a different situation.
Many of us pressed for a referendum because of the irreversible nature of this constitutional change. Having secured an undertaking for a referendum, I hope that we can resolve the question conclusively long before the next General Election by putting it through the referendum.
As this is a matter of irreversible constitutional importance, the referendum has another quality to offer which probably makes it superior to a General Election on this or any similar issue. The people of Wales and of Scotland—more of England later—will have an opportunity to express a direct opinion on the Government's proposals and, I hope, on the subject of independence in the referendum with an ease and directness or possibly a freedom which they would not choose to give themselves in the course of a General Election.
Does my hon. Friend agree that, although this is a Bill dealing with Scotland and Wales, we are in fact dealing with a constitutional measure which will affect the whole of the United Kingdom and that, therefore, a referendum in Scotland and Wales will not give the people of England or Scottish and Welsh people living in this country an opportunity to make their views known?
My answer in some respects must be inadequate. When I first advocated a referendum and specified the questions which I should have liked it to ask, my proposition was that it should embrace not only Wales and Scotland but England. I saw the necessity for the referendum being based on the fact that this was an irreversible constitutional measure. As such, it affected England directly in every possible way: the relationships of England and of English people with Wales and Scotland, the relationships of Welsh and Scottish expatriates living in England with their mother countries, the financial relationships which we shall be discussing later regarding the block grant, and in many other ways, not least being the representation of Wales and Scotland in the House of Commons. There are dozens of different ways in which legitimately people can argue for taking account directly of opinion in England on the proposals for Scotland and Wales.
For convenience—nothing more—and expedition—nothing more—we must recognise that these proposals are in a Scotland and Wales Bill. The Government have denied that the Bill has direct implications for England and the Chair has not accepted the idea advanced by hon. Gentlemen opposite, supported by some of my hon. Friends, that the scope of the Bill goes beyond the simple question of Scotland and Wales. We have to abide by that ruling and that tends to prohibit the extension of the debate to matters affecting England. The fact of the matter is that it does affect England, and a facility would be offered to the people of England, if the amendment were accepted, involving as it does a General Election, which is not offered by the referendum. But, because the devolution proposals are offered to Scotland and Wales, because of the ruling of the Chair, and because of the expedition with which we can approach the whole matter of concluding the question of devolution for Wales and Scotland through a referendum, I feel that there are substantial arguments for accepting the idea that the referendum should be for Scotland and Wales only.
Although the Chair has ruled that we should not be discussing the consequences for England in the context of this Bill, nothing has been said which means that, if we were to put into the Bill a proposal about a referendum and the result of it, that referendum should take place only in Scotland and Wales. If the Government come forward with a proposal that the referendum should be only in Scotland and Wales, there is nothing to stop us knocking that out and substituting that there be a referendum throughout the whole of the United Kingdom.
Perhaps I may answer my hon. Friend's point before giving way to the hon. Gentleman. That is a proposition which, when we come to an amendment on the proposal for a referendum—I hope that my right hon. Friend will very soon bring it forward—strongly commends itself to me.
I am a little worried about the hon. Gentleman's interpretation of the Chair's attitude to the effect of the Bill on England. At the beginning of the Committee stage I argued that the Bill clearly concerned England for many reasons which were discussed. One specific reason was that it affected the way in which the English water authorities are managed. That is clearly in the Bill. I do not believe that it can be right that the Chair has given a blanket categorical statement of the kind suggested by the hon. Gentleman. I think that the effect of what the Chair said was "Put down an amendment and wait and see what happens".
I remember the advice of the Chair. It might be appropriate to table amendments on that basis and see how the Chair entertains them in future. The examples referred to by the hon. Gentleman, by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), by me and by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) did not convince the Chair. I can only hope that the Chair's attitude may be refreshed by longer experience of the Bill when we come next to discuss such an amendment.
The hon. Gentleman may be correct in saying that this will be an irreversible decision. Am I correct in saying that it is on that that he bases the essential element for having a referendum on this matter? Does he agree that the referendum should be held long before we waste a lot of parliamentary time? Is he contending that the referendum ought to apply to England as well? Does he agree that the difficulty is two-fold: either a referendum throughout England or a very abstruse and difficult process, which has been put to us by many of our constituents, of trying to extract from England those people who would be qualified to vote in a Scottish and Welsh referendum?
The latter proposition would probably be so tortuous and abstruse as to make it something of a shambles. The Bill is enough of a shambles already without worsening the position.
As regards the timing, I think that we should have had a referendum on the White Paper. It would have been a perfectly plausible way in which to conduct it. It should have been held a long time ago. Apart from any other advantages that it might have had in not inflating false assumptions and aspirations about what the Bill can provide for Wales and Scotland, it would have saved us a great deal of public money and parliamentary time. Unfortunately, that suggestion did not commend itself to my right hon. Friend when it was put forward by me and by others two years ago.
Perhaps if I may continue for a short time. Anticipating one of the arguments which the Government may use against this amendment, they may say that to postpone the first sitting of the Assembly, or at least the elections to the Assembly, until after the next General Election might involve an absolutely intolerable delay in implementing the Government's policy. That might be a valid consideration but I echo the words of the right hon. Member for Renfrewshire, East, who said that the Bill has so few friends that a delay of that nature might strongly commend itself to people throughout the country and give us a further opportunity for reflection. Also, there is absolutely no reason why, even if the amendment was accepted, it need prohibit the referendum.
Unfortunately I think that the Government do believe that the amendment, if accepted, might inhibit, delay or even prohibit a referendum and, since we are likely to get a more direct and a quicker answer from the referendum procedure than we would from the General Election procedure, I am forced not to give my support to the amendment. But I hope that the Government will be rather more persuasive in their argument about the appropriate time for the Assembly to sit and that they will explain much more clearly why it was decided to hold a referendum. I hope that the Government will show much greater enthusiasm for holding such a plebiscite than has been apparent so far.
The First Deputy Chairman:
Order. I have been sitting here rather impatiently listening to remarks which are not directly within the scope of the amendment. The Leader of the House is present and has heard the arguments that have been put forward. We should not get into an argument on this. Hon. Members have now been provoked into another argument which I regard as entirely out of order.
I support the principle of the amendment moved by the right hon. Member for Renfrewshire, East (Miss Harvie Anderson) but upon somewhat different grounds more fundamental than those which she advanced. They are grounds which I trust may persuade the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) to change his mind as to his attitude towards the amendment. I found myself in agreement with a considerable part of his argument.
The proposition of the right hon. Member for Renfrewshire, East was that a General Election would serve as a national post mortem on the legislation, would enable the electorate as it were retrospectively to haul up the Act which had been passed and decide for or against I am afraid that I do not regard that as at all an accurate description of what happens or what can happen at a General Election. We have just been through an unhappy experience to the contrary. At the 1970 General Election we were assured that the question of Britain entering the European Community was not involved in our vote. When we came of the 1974 General Election, although many of us believed that this question weighted the scales one way rather than another, he would be a bold man who would say that the General Election of 1974 was fought as a post mortem on the European Communities Act 1972.
I simply do not see how it is possible to phrase so precisely or to emphasise so nicely the policies that are put before the country by the respective parties at a General Election that the result can be regarded as having unequivocally decided for or against the advisability of legislation which has already passed through Parliament. After all, there have to be two sides at least to the argument at a General Election, where one imagines—not with a great deal of confidence—the possibility—to test the right hon. Lady's proposition—that the Government would be defending this Bill and putting it forward as one of the principal reasons why they should be returned to office again, with, if possible, an increased majority.
But on the other side it would be expected that the Conservative Party would be expressing its views. It would need to put forward more than the fact that it had virtuously and from time to time opposed this legislation. Would it put up as an alternative the proposition which I understand is its policy—although we have not had much guidance on the matter—namely, a directly-elected Select Committee of this House? That is the rough substance of what appears to have come from the confusion of the Opposition Front Bench. Much as I would like, on this and other questions, to think that we might by means of a General Election have an "Act of Oblivion" of the follies committed in the previous Parliament or even, as used to take place after the supersession of one Roman emperor by another, a damnatio memoriae to wipe out the memory of all that has happened, this is not the nature of a General Election under our constitution.
I appeal, for support of the principle of what the right hon. Member for Renfrewshire, East put forward, to something more general and more persuasive. I suggest that it is rooted not only in precedent but in fairness and commonsense that whenever we propose to make a fundamental change in the House that change should not take effect until after a General Election. We should not make alterations, and do not make alterations, in the composition or character of the House in mid-stream. If the House is to be altered, then, having passed the law which results in that alteration, we go to the electorate for the renewal of the mandate for the new Parliament which is to sit under the new conditions.
We would do this even if a relatively minor alteration were to be made in the constituencies. If, for instance, belated and overdue justice were to be done to Northern Ireland by bringing its representation up to what might be regarded as a full and fair level, I do not suppose that any hon. Member would suggest that such a change—even a relatively minor change—should take effect until after the next General Election.
I submit that it is a principle of reason and of practice that when the composition of this House is changed the changed composition comes into effect only after a General Election. The example which I gave—which I hope will be less and less hypothetical and more and more practical—is minuscule compared with the alteration which will be made in this House by this Bill. I am not anticipating any amendments which may come before the House in the course of today's sitting or subsequently. I say that this Bill as it stands makes a radical alteration in the constitution of this House such as should not come into effect in accordance with our practice until after a General Election. For it will mean that more than 100 of the 635 Members of this House will sit in the House on a different basis, with different responsibilities and with different functions from those on which they were elected when this House was set up.
This is a point on which those who represent constituencies in Northern Ireland and who have followed the political and constitutional fortunes of that Province of the United Kingdom are in a position to depose evidence. We know that before 1972, when there was devolved Government in Northern Ireland, hon. Members were elected in relatively small numbers to the service of this House. The mandate that they brought with them, the terms on which they were elected, the subjects which were considered when they were sent to the so-called imperial Parliament, were different from the whole range of the politics of the United Kingdom which was the remit and the background for the election of other hon. Members of this House.
That is a close analogy to what will be the position when the new Scottish Assembly comes into existence and to what will be the situation of the 71 Scottish hon. Members.
I see that the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) is about to interrupt me. I recognise that I am once again—and this is in the nature of things—traversing the grounds, I cannot say which he has made his own but which he has traversed so often. Of course I shall not deny him the opportunity to interrupt.
No, it cannot. If this Bill comes into law there will be diverse subjects which I can raise in Down, South but which I cannot raise in my own constituency. The Minister of State may sigh in irritation, but he has not answered this point because there is no answer. To make matters worse, not only can the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) not vote on subjects involving my constituency but I cannot either.
It must be said that there is nothing in the Bill which prevents hon. Members of the House voting on Scottish matters. It is clear that the structure of the Bill provides that I can continue to vote about housing and education in West Renfrewshire, for instance. The Government are relying on convention. There is no guarantee that the convention will be observed.
The hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) misunderstands me. I was not assuming any such convention and my argument does not depend upon it, though I agree with him to the extent that the consequence of attempting devolution in a unitary State is so anomalous that there is no end to the anomalies which are generated by this foredoomed attempt.
For the sake of the hon. Member's argument and my argument let me accept that there is no such convention, but still we are concerned with the rights of the electorate. We are concerned about what they thought they were doing when they sent us here. It is right that they should know all the functions that we are going to perform in the House and on what matters we shall represent them. We should not alter that relationship in the course of a Parliament.
At a subsequent General Election, when the Bill is in force and when the Scottish electorate have elected an Assembly to which they will look for administration and legislation over the major part of the range of domestic subjects, then when they elect Members to come to this Parliament of the United Kingdom they will consider them in a different light. They will not say "This is what we want you to do about housing; this is what we want you to do about the organisation of the Health Service; this is what we want you to do about local government in Scotland", and so on. They will logically concentrate, in the choice of their representatives, in the manifestos put before them, on a certain range of subjects only within the totality of matters considered in this House.
It is manifestly right that if there is to be that alteration for the people of Wales and, to a much greater extent, for the people of Scotland, in the true meaning of what they are doing in electing Members of Parliament for this House, that alteration should not come into effect by a side wind in the course of a Parliament which was elected on a different basis.
I agree with the hon. Member for Bedwellty that not one elector in 100,000 when he cast his vote in October 1974 said "Let me see. I am electing Members for Scotland or for Wales but before the end of the Parliament to which I am electing them they will, I hope, have removed from their sphere of responsibility" the matters that we are discussing in the Bill. Of course they did not. The October 1974 General Election was a United Kingdom parliamentary election like those which had gone before it. The next General Election—of 1979 perhaps, for the sake of argument—will not be, if this Bill is on the statute book and in action, a United Kingdom General Election, as was the previous one. There will have happened a radical change affecting the whole of the House of Commons, but especially affecting the parts of the kingdom in which devolution will be in force.
Therefore, I say that the amendment is in accordance with constitutional reason and practice. On that ground, if on no other, it deserves the support of the Committee.
There is a particular attraction about the amendment for those opponents of the Bill on this side of the House who, like myself, are not and never have been in favour of referenda. In spite of always being strongly in favour of Britain entering the Common Market, I was opposed to the referendum and I did not vote for it. Referenda are powerful weapons in the hands of any Government and I would prefer to see Governments of this country not in possession of those weapons.
If we do not have a referendum, how are hon. Members such as myself to make judgments about the feelings of the people? How are we to make our judgments about the opinion of the people in the entire United Kingdom? The only option open to us is to have a General Election. There is poetic justice that we should have such an election before we have an election to the Assembly, because it was the election of 1974 that started the whole business off in the first place.
As I have said in this Chamber previously, I do not believe that there is anyone who genuinely believes that the Bill would be before us today but for the results in Scotland of the February 1974 General Election. One has only to compare the Labour Party manifesto of February 1974 with the Labour Party manifesto of October 1974 to see that that is so. It seems, therefore, perfectly logical that we should have a further General Election to assess how opinion on the Government's devolution proposals has progressed since that period.
The reason why I should like a General Election to be carried out is that it would have an effect upon my hon. Friends who represent Scottish and Welsh constituencies, who, I believe, have been persuaded by the Government and by the results of the General Elections of February and October 1974 that a form of devolution, some Bill of this kind, is the only way in which the Labour Party will save Scottish seats. If we were to have a General Election in which it was discovered that there were no great losses of Labour seats in Scotland, I am fairly convinced that this would change the attitude of a number of my right hon. and hon. Friends to the merits of this Bill.
I therefore believe that it would be in the interests of the House of Commons and the country at large if we were to give my right hon. and hon. Friends who represent Scottish and Welsh constituencies the opportunity to see whether the Government's proposals have made that major and significant difference.
The Government may argue that, having passed the Bill through the House, we have done so much for Scotland that naturally a grateful Scottish electorate will rebuff the nationalists and return Labour Members to seats, as heretofore. I can only say that if one believes that, the comparison between February and October 1974 is surely in this respect very significant, because in the February manifesto we did not have devolution proposals but in the October manifesto we did have such proposals. The net result was a significant increase in the number of Scottish nationalist Members and in the SNP vote.
I believe, as I am sure do most hon. Members, that in a United Kingdom General Election the people will vote for many and diverse reasons, but basically those reasons are to do with their general economic well-being and their feelings about the two major parties. Much of the voting that went on in 1974, in Scotland in particular, was a direct response to people's feelings about their general economic welfare and about the standing of the two major parties. I know of Tories in Scotland who voted SNP in the hope of getting a Labour Member out of his seat. I am sure that there are umpteen similar examples that hon. Members on both sides of the Committee could bring to bear.
I do not believe that that will happen at the next General Election, whether it is in 1978 or in 1979. I believe that in the next General Election, having given the whole question of devolution a very full airing—the bigger the airing, the better it will be for the result that we shall receive from Scotland and Wales—we should see how the people in Scotland and Wales react. That would give to my colleagues from Scotland and Wales a better idea of exactly how they stand in the views of the electorates there. Let us then return and see whether the whole hotchpotch before us today is worth putting into effect.
I should have thought that the Lord President, being a true democrat and attached to the bases of the British constitution, would eagerly accept the amendment. Certainly the amendment ought to commend itself to him and his Cabinet colleagues. After all, rather than the lottery of a referendum—in some ways it is a lottery—the Lord President should prefer a grand inquest of the whole nation of the United Kingdom, as it has been described. That is why I see many things to commend the amendment.
I echo something that was said by the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock). If we accepted the amendment and held another General Election before the Bill came into operation, we should have the advantage of having the first General Election in which these matters would be a major issue. There is a lot of evidence that in the last two General Elections these matters were not a major issue in the minds of electors.
I understand the point made so clearly by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), and there is much in it. Nevertheless, I think that he must, on reflection, accept the fact that this proposal would be somewhat unusual in that most electors would for the first time have these matters very much in mind. I agree with him that this would not undo the enactment of this legislation, but nevertheless, it would be a very powerful verdict on its virtues or demerits.
The Lord President may say that this is purely an amendment for delay. We do not know. We do not know how long the present Government will last. It may or may not be a considerable time. If the Government went to the country in the autumn, it would not mean a long delay. On the other hand, if the Government went through their full term, there might be some delay. However, these are surely not matters on which we want to make haste. The dangers of this legislation could be far more regrettable than any possible effects of delay.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, East (Miss Harvie Anderson) said that these are unpopular proposals. I am not sure how unpopular they are in different parts of the United Kingdom, but they are unpopular in some parts, and in, for example, many parts of my own constituency. They are unpopular with a large proportion of the electorate. I am not sure that the electorate is wholeheartedly against these proposals. It is only now that the electorate is becoming aware of their implications, despite the fact that the Lord President and his colleagues have told us repeatedly that these matter have been considered and debated for years. Perhaps that is so—but among a few. They have not been considered and debated for years by the mass of the electorate.
Is it the experience in Wales, as in Scotland, that as soon as groups and particular organisations find that they have to study the proposals in relation to their own interests, the study in itself makes them far more critical?
There is a lot in what the hon. Gentleman says. My experience is that it is only now that many people are becoming aware of many of the implications of the Bill. It may be that it is a long time since the first Kilbrandon Report, and it is a long time since we debated it in Parliament. But even in this House we are not all aware of all the implications. Indeed, not all Members of Parliament are fully aware of them. It is only now that hon. Members are becoming as aware of them as they are.
What is needed is some time for mature reflection. The nation does not need haste in these matters. In some respects these proposals are somewhat unpopular in the minds of many. In some cases that is perhaps because the proposals are not fully understood. In the minds of many, they are also bad proposals. That is a matter for debate. However, as the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) has pointed out, in the minds of very many people the proposals constitute a very serious threat to the continuance of the United Kingdom as we have known it. It is that which concerns myself and many others who have expressed doubt about the Bill.
As I have said, it is not that we are in some partisan way opposed to reasonable measures of devolution, but we cannot see how the Bill as it stands can be reconciled with the maintenance of the United Kingdom. That is why we believe that radical changes in the Bill will be needed if it is to be reconciled with the continuance of the United Kingdom. We also see the danger that these proposals could be enacted and that many people, including those who enacted them, would then regret them bitterly. Therefore, my right hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew-shire, East is giving us all—the whole nation—a chance for more mature consideration. The Bill will be enacted. The amendment will not delay the passing of the Bill but only the putting in hand of its machinery. It will only slightly delay the holding of these elections.
Incidentally, I regard as objectionable some of the actions already taken in anticipation of the passing of the Bill. It is contrary to our constitutional history and practice that large sums should already have been spent on setting up the machinery for a Bill which is not yet law. But that is another question—
But it is closely related to this question. It illustrates the advantages of accepting the amendment. I would ask the Lord President and those connected with the Government to prevent any further steps being taken, involving expenditure or otherwise, to put into action the machinery of this Bill before it is passed.
Does the hon. Gentleman know of the bewilderment and anger in and around Edinburgh that so much extra money—already over £1 million—should be spent on the Royal High School to make it proper for an Assembly, at the very moment that we are doing away with the Dunfermline College of Physical Education because we cannot afford—
The First Deputy Chairman:
Order. That has nothing whatever to do with the subject under discussion. The hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) would be well advised to have a safety belt, which might help him to stay in his seat a little longer.
In view of what you have said, Sir Myer, I shall not respond to the hon. Gentleman's question.
The amendment is not inconsistent with the holding of a referendum, but it has many advantages over it. After all, the referendum depends very much on the nature of the question and how it is framed. The proposal in the amendment is for a General Election at which, for the first time, the electors at large will recognise the vital importance of this issue. It will be based not on one or two narrow questions but on the whole principle of this legislation. I therefore hope that the Government will consider the amendment. They could with advantage include it in the Bill: it would improve it.
I have a great deal of sympathy with the amendment.
We have heard a lot about the last election, particularly from the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell). The people of Walton did not make this their main topic of conversation during that election compaign. I can remember no meeting during that election—I addressed quite a few, both in that constituency and in others—at which this matter was raised. I can remember many other issues being raised, but not that one. Therefore, I do not think that the electors had any reflection, let alone mature reflection, on the question, because at that stage they had not even thought about it. I am not surprised at that, because it is usual that, when electors think about such matters, they do so because they have been discussed, in the country and in the Press, for a considerable time.
It is true that they have thought about the subject in Scotland, and to a limited degree in Wales. The Labour Party of Wales has suggested a new local authority structure, with a Council of Wales as the top tier. It did not put forward the type of proposals that we are now told we have to support.
It would be a good idea to have both the system suggested in the amendment and a referendum. I am opposed to neither.
The hon. Gentleman may be interested to know that, in the North-West of England, we have discussed matters applicable to that region of which people have never heard in Scotland. The regional conference of the Labour Party passes resolutions particularly about a transport system for the whole of the region. We cannot impose those resolutions on the party as a whole. They would have to be accepted by the Labour Party as a whole before they became part of the constitution of our movement. We are a unitary body.
It is right, in my view, for each area and country to discuss its own problems and suggest its own solutions; I do not say that there are not some local matters which could be accepted locally; but if anything affects the whole United Kingdom, it should be agreed by the whole United Kingdom.
We have now got ourselves into an unholy mess, and the longer our discussions of the Bill go on the bigger mess we shall get into. I have the highest respect for my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench, but that does not mean that they have not got us into a mess. They have.
How shall we get out of that mess? The amendment is a good idea. Let us have the referendum first; then, if the people decide that they want these proposals, let them be brought in after the next General Election. I should not mind if they were brought in two General Elections after that, but that is a personal opinion and, obviously, I am somewhat biased.
But is not the natural result of the next General Election likely to be an enormous Tory majority, with 2 million people unemployed in the United Kingdom, the Labour Party consigned to oblivion for a long period, and the Scots people at that point returning a massive majority for some form of devolution?
The hon. Gentleman must understand that some of us have been in the House a little longer than he. In 1968, I would have predicted, had we had an election, the Labour Party losing by an enormous margin. In fact, when the election came, the result was very narrow, as it was in 1964. Things do not work quite as the hon. Gentleman describes. Despite what is being said throughout the country now, things will look very different by the time of the next General Election. The hon. Gentleman must bear with me and wait. Things will not turn out as he predicts. There might not be a Tory majority at all. We do not know that. That is democracy: the people will have to decide, and we shall have to abide by the results.
I was saying that we should have a referendum first and then wait till after the next General Election—if the people decided that they wanted these proposals —to put them into effect. I would not want the amendment to be an alternative to the referendum.
Unlike some of my hon. Friends, I believe that the referendum should involve England as well. I take the point that the Scottish people have a right to express their opinion as Scottish people. The Welsh also have that right. Surely we should have a separate but simultaneous referendum in the three countries at the same time—
The First Deputy Chairman:
Order. I am sure that the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) heard me expressing a viewpoint on a referendum. There is nothing before the Committee about a referendum. We should not anticipate what form a referendum might take.
On a point of order, Sir Myer. I seek clarification. I entirely accept what you have said, Sir Myer, both when I was speaking and when my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Helier) was speaking. However, we shall continually bump into this problem. I have tabled three or four amendments requiring that a referendum be held, that it be made the criterion on which certain matters in the Bill are decided, and that certain matters should not take place before a referendum decision. Those amendments have not been accepted by the Chair because of foreseeable events in respect of proposals that we can expect from my right hon. Friends. The present position tends to inhibit us. It is completely logical for us not to pursue a referendum at this moment and obviously you are right, Sir Myer, but the problem is being encountered because of the continuing prevarication—
The First Deputy Chairman:
I think that I can anticipate what the hon. Member is about to put to me. It is not for the Chair to decide what shall be placed before the House of Commons for consideration. If that were not the position, I might take some action. As matters stand, I cannot do so.
I shall not argue against your ruling, Sir Myer. What I shall attempt to do, so far as it is within your ruling, is to relate my arguments about a referendum to what was said by the right hon. Member for Renfrewshire, East (Miss Harvie Anderson) in terms of the amendment.
It has been suggested that the amendment is the alternative to a referendum. I am arguing that we can have a referendum and accept the amendment. In fact, a referendum would very much bolster the amendment.
I am not against your ruling, Sir Myer. I accept what you have said. If I were talking directly of a referendum I should be totally wrong.
I am saying that the idea of a referendum should be considered in as much as it involves the English. A referendum should be held separately in the three countries with three questions. I think that the three questions to the people in each country should be "(a) Do you want to be"—
With great respect, Sir Myer, the position of England is not before us in the amendment. We are discussing a Scotland and Wales Bill. When the matter was raised originally many of us put forward the view that England was to be affected. We were given an assurance that where England was affected we could, so far as it was within the rules, discuss the matter. How am I to be able to argue a case for the Bill to be held back after the next General Election without discussing the implications for England, which immediately involve the question of a referendum as against or together with a General Election?
On a point of order, Sir Myer. In proposing the amendment the right hon. Member for Renfrewshire, East (Miss Harvie Anderson) made great play of the fact that it was extremely unsatisfactory that we did not have a referendum clause before us. Further to that point of order, Sir Myer, at the very beginning of our proceedings in Committee some of us raised the whole issue of what was likely to be in order and what was not with the Chairman of Ways and Means. The Chairman said that at each stage of the Bill he would consider the problems as they arose. That was his undertaking. I am not criticising your ruling, Sir Myer, but I ask that they be considered by the Chairman. You are the toughest of our Chairmen, Sir Myer, and I ask that the whole issue that has arisen between you and my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) be considered by the Chairman of Ways and Means and other likely Chairmen. This issue will arise time and again in the coming weeks and months.
The First Deputy Chairman:
I shall confer with the Chairman of Ways and Means on the ruling that the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) says was delivered from the Chair. This is not a matter of toughness. I am not anxious to be tough. I wish that my wife would think I am tough. If that were so, I should be very happy. The position is that I am trying to observe the Standing Orders. To make reference to a referendum is one thing, but to go into the questions that one wants inserted is, in my opinion, out of order.
I wonder whether it would help, Sir Myer, if I put the matter to you in the following terms. I do not want to challenge your ruling, Sir Myer, that any pre-emptive discussion on the terms of the referendum that the Government may one day bring before us would be out of order, but that is not the point, as I understand it, that the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) is on. Indeed, it is not the point that my right hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, East (Miss Harvie Anderson) was on when she moved the amendment. They are seeking to argue that if the amendment were carried it would provide time for a different referendum. It is the terms of that different referendum that the hon. Gentleman wants to put before us.
The First Deputy Chairman:
That is probably a flexible interpretation of what the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) has said. My hearing is quite good, and I understand the hon. Gentleman to be about to list the questions that should be put in a referendum. I shall study Hansard tomorrow, and if I am incorrect I shall make due apology. I understood that he was going on to list the number of questions and to discuss the nature of the questions.
I shall not challenge your ruling. Sir Myer. I have never regarded you as being the toughest of our Chairmen. I have always regarded you as being very fair, especially when you have ruled in my favour. When you do not rule in my favour I may take a somewhat jaundiced view, as does every hon. Member at such a moment. I think you are absolutely right, Sir Myer, in keeping to the constitution of the Committee.
I hope that I shall not step over the bounds of order by saying that in supporting the amendment it is important not to view it as the alternative to a referendum. I think we can do both. I accept that it will give us the opportunity of putting forward a comprehensive referendum in which we can put a number of questions to the people, not just one question or two questions.
In my opinion three questions would be much more suitable.
I shall not list the questions as I am not allowed to do so, but they could deal with matters such as independence, the status quo, or whether the people support the Government's proposal. That would be a way in which it could be done. We could have a comprehensive referendum held separately but simultaneously. We would have to abide by the decisions. If the people of Scotland wanted independence and they voted for it, they should have it. If they wanted the status quo, they should have it.
If the English vote is to be separated from Scotland and Wales, let them be separated. Who knows what they might decide? It will be an interesting decision. The English might suddenly become perverse and say "We want nothing to do with anybody else". That might be their decision, and that would be democracy at work. That is what I am arguing on this amendment. That would be wise, because people could be properly consulted in a comprehensive referendum.
If the next election should come in 1979 or 1978, we could decide to put this provision into operation if the people wanted that to happen. That would mean that there would have been mature reflection. I believe that the people of England and Wales are only just beginning to get to grips with this subject. They did not know what it all involved. I think that also applies to many Scots.
Does not the hon. Gentleman remember saying only a few months ago that but for the advent of the SNP he would not have realised that he was English? Did he not imply that he did not know what he was before that? What does that situation do in terms of the hon. Gentleman's Englishness?
The hon. Gentleman must not misunderstand me. I did not say that I did not know I was an Englishman. I have a feeling that I have known for a long time that I am English, but I was not conscious that I was an Englishman until I heard constant speeches from the SNP Benches about Scottish nationalism. That began to make me feel consciously an Englishman. I do not know why the hon. Gentleman should feel so pleased about that. I regard it as a step backwards, because I thought that we had got rid of that kind of narrow nationalism in the United Kingdom.
I appreciate, Sir Myer, that I am straying again, but I had not intended to do so. I merely wished to clarify the position. I hope that the amendment will commend itself to the Committee.
Once again in this debate the critics of the Bill have made all the running in the argument against the Government. No wonder the Lord President looks more and more dejected and disconsolate.
We recognise that the Bill is of profound and constitutional importance, but I wish to take up the question whether the Government have some kind of mandate for the Bill. The arguments in favour of a General Election advanced by both sides are enormously powerful, but I have a shrewd suspicion that when the Minister replies to the debate he will say that the Labour Party had such a proposal in its election manifesto of October 1974 and therefore it must be all right. No doubt that will be the corner stone of the Minister's reply.
It was certainly in the Labour Party manifesto of October 1974. The passage read:
The next Labour Government will create elected assemblies in Scotland and Wales".
A special Labour Scottish manifesto said:
The Labour Party believes in the Scottish people having a greater say in their own affairs. We shall set up a Scottish Assembly with control over its own expenditure.
In other words, Labour said it was committed to an Assembly, but it never said that at the same time it was committed to an Executive.
The feature of the Bill and the respect in which it differs from the point of view advanced by some of my hon. Friends is that it is based on the notion of an Executive. Let nobody think that that is an unimportant part of the Government's proposals. It is crucially important. This is set out in Clause 21(2) of the Bill as follows:
The members of the Scottish Executive shall exercise on behalf of Her Majesty such of her prerogative and other executive powers exercisable in or as regards Scotland as relate to devolved matters.
That is a major function given to the Executive under this Bill.
The document "Scotland will win with Labour" said:
The Kilbrandon Report proposed the abolition of the Secretary of State for Scotland,
and a reduction in the number of Scottish MPs. We reject both these proposals as being damaging to Scotland's interest. We shall retain the office of Secretary of State. Scotland will continue to have its full complement of 71 MPs.
Hon. Gentlemen who speak of manifesto commitments should not be too selective.
The First Deputy Chairman:
I am trying to refresh my memory about the amendment we are discussing. So far as I understand the situation, we are discussing Amendment No. 482. We are not so much concerned with manifestos and all the rest of it.
I have referred to arguments about holding the matter over to a General Election. I suspect that the Government will claim that they had a mandate at the October 1974 election. I am making the point that they have not a mandate for this Bill because it proposes, on top of an Assembly, an Executive. That was never mentioned by Labour in any number of manifestos leading up to the October 1974 campaign. If I am wrong I stand to be corrected, but I believe that the point is a valid one—namely, that there is no mandate for this objectionable Bill. Therefore, it is reasonable to say that a retrospective mandate will be conferred by a General Election, whenever that happens.
I followed with interest the arguments advanced by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) and the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) on the pros and cons of referenda and General Elections. However, I do not now propose to go into the subject of a referendum. I merely wish to make the point that we are talking about a different animal, and indeed a strange animal. It has been said that it is intended to take the bureaucracy nearer to the Scottish people by creating a new Scottish Executive. I looked into the situation and I was intrigued to find that the Scottish Department now employs 8,000 civil servants in Scotland, and only 60 in London. It is proposed to remove half the figure of 60 to Scotland and to provide a new Executive involving an extra 750 staff in Scotland. That will not take the bureaucracy nearer to Scotland because it is already there. All that will happen is that the Bill will add to that number. However, I shall not pursue that point.
Would the hon. Gentleman accept that Lord Kilbrandon, on whose report many of the arguments have been advanced, has, since publication, argued that a new relationship will be established between Scotland and Brussels, given our entry into the Common Market? Therefore, Edinburgh will talk directly to Brussels and the layers of government in Scotland will be the Scottish Assembly, the Executive and Community action.
I do not accept that, and in any case it is not relevant. One of the objectives of the Bill is to ensure that the relationship with Brussels continues under the United Kingdom Government and is not a devolved matter.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, East (Miss Harvie Anderson) has said, the Government cannot claim a mandate for setting up the Scottish Executive. Nor are there reasons for it in logic, common sense or anything else. The truth is that the Bill is a ramshackle mechanism which is rapidly losing friends on all sides. It is the result of a panic in 1974 about the situation in Scotland. There was the grubby panic in the Government over the question of a referendum. Now there are signs of panic in the Government about the question of representation in this House. The proposal to hold a referendum after the Bill gets through is largely to do with the fact that the number of genuine friends of the Bill is very small.
It is not just the anti-devolutionists who are profoundly unhappy. The Liberals are unhappy. They want some kind of federal system. They do not really know what they mean by it, but that is what they believe they want. The Scottish National Party is being hypocritical. It says that it wants the Bill but we know that it really does not accept it except as a means of disruption. The Bill confers no real power on Scotland and in reality the SNP is against the set-up.
Hon. Members opposite are not happy, and some have the guts to say so. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heifer) is making his views increasingly clear, and several others are in the same boat. But we know that, sitting in the Tea Room at the moment, any number of Labour Members are saying, "How can we get rid of the Bill?" That is the reality. We want to see them have the guts to come in the kick against the Bill.
If the Government by some chance get the Bill, there is every reason to demand that the mere passing of the Bill and the mere holding of a referendum should not be the final word, and that the Bill should be deferred until after the next General Election, when the point can really be put to the test.
Having listened to all the speeches so far, it seems to me that there is one general feeling and three arguments. The general feeling is that, at all costs, we must have a test of some kind before what is in the Bill is put into operation. It seemed to me, as it did to some of my hon. Friends, that the argument of the right hon. Member for Renfrewshire, East (Miss Harvie Anderson) was to pose her amendment as the alternative to a referendum. In other words, accepting that the will of the people must be made known, she argued that, in place of a referendum for that purpose, there should be a General Election.
There are two things wrong with that proposition. First, it misunderstands the Scottish situation. Time does not stand still, and waters flow under various bridges. We face a difficult and obscure situation which at all times is highly dangerous. Those with some background in thinking of the movement of society might try to understand the dangers of the situation in Scotland rather than making the sort of juvenile intervention that we had from the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison). The second error of the argument for a General Election first lies in equating a General Election with a specific situation.
I do not believe that General Elections have been, are or will be, fought on a single issue. It is not the case that the next one can be or will be fought solely on the issue of devolution or on the issue of independence. It will be fought on a variety of issues, primarily by two of the parties in relation to what kind of Scotland, what kind of society, we want, what kind of public intervention we want.
It will not be so fought by the third party. That party will be concerned not with what kind of Scotland or what kind of society we want, but with independence, which is a different objective altogether. There will be a clash in which the arguments of those who favour an alternative position to that of the third party will not emerge properly. That will not be the sole issue for the bulk of the people. The general situation will impinge on the principle of the non-single issue election, and such a situation is well sustained in our history.
The trouble we face is that the third party will not succeed in having the election conducted on the single issue. It will be unable to do so because those who are also concerned with other matters will be involved and will discuss those other matters. In any case it must be understood by those who argue for an election as opposed to a referendum that the Scottish National Party has not won seats on the single issue of independence. The polls show that less than half of the SNP's support comes from people accepting its policy on that single issue. It wins on a number of other things as well—for example, the question of not liking Strathclyde, the question of the kind of school one's kid goes to, the state of the roads. If it wins, it does so on a number of things, not on a single issue. It is unable to keep to a single issue because people are concerned with other things, such as employment, and because of the desire of the other parties not to make a single issue. The SNP will be beaten in the end by that fact.
It follows, therefore, that one can get a result for a single-issue party arising out of a number of other reasons. If, however, we believe, rightly, that this single issue is qualitatively different from such arguments as those about the nature of Government intervention in industry, the National Health Service, comprehensive education, and so on—all the things that people are concerned with—it is proper that it should be taken separately. That is the argument for the referendum.
The argument is two-fold. First, it is a single issue above and apart from normal political differences; secondly, it is right that the Scottish people should decide on that issue. That cannot be done in a General Election. It can only be achieved by a referendum. It is important to understand and hold to that. But the rumours about the form of the referendum are disastrous. There is no major point in having a referendum alone on devolution. That will not settle the problem either of devolution or of independence in Scotland. It must also be buttressed by the option for independence.
I willingly accept the third option of the status quo. There is a difference between voting for devolution or not and for independence or not, without having a question about the status quo. In that case, it would be argued that people voted against the devolution Bill because they wanted more. That has indeed been argued over the last 12 months or two years. Whenever there has been a vote against devolution the SNP argued that people wanted more powers.
The SNP would have said that about yesterday's public opinion polls were it not for the fact that the status quo question was put in. It showed that 32 per cent. of the population did not want any devolution at all. The only way to get an accurate reflection of the situation is to have a referendum on the single issue involving devolution, independence and the status quo. That is the first reason why I must reject the proposition put forward by the right hon. Member for Renfrewshire, East.
The second aspect concerns delay. In that regard I feel there is a failure to understand the situation in Scotland. It is one thing for the Scottish people to willingly decide that there should be delay or to willingly decide to reject the propositions in the Bill. It is quite another thing for the Bill to be delayed or rejected by this House. The worst possible position would be for the Bill to grind on and apparently expose the ineptitude of Westminster rather than be passed and decided by the Scottish people.
We would inevitably have the deprivation syndrome arising. People would say "We have been deprived of that which we sought", even if they were not seeking it the day before. That would be the worst of all propositions.
That points to the necessity of a referendum, and not a General Election, which avoids the sense of delay and the sense of another group of people being deprived.
Would it not be much better if we had a referendum first, so that if people wanted the Bill we could then go ahead with it, but if they did not want it we could abandon this nonsense altogether?
That may be true, but there is no argument for delaying the Bill here. We must get the Bill through, so that we can have a referendum as soon as possible. It is a reasonable proposition to say that people should know what they are voting for. If we are to have a referendum on a single issue, that single issue should be properly known and understood. For that to be achieved, the Bill must go through the House, because there are 1,000 amendments which could change it before it is put to the vote.
The third and most serious argument was put forward by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), who said there was a total objection in principle to having a change that affects the relationship between a Member of Parliament and his constituents within the lifetime of a single Parliament. That was the most constitutional and reasoned argument that was put forward. I do not accept it. The two examples that the right hon. Gentleman used do the opposite. His first argument concerned the EEC.
Neither a pre- nor postmortem situation would be effective, because in 1970 we foretold the kind of disasters that we would be led into.
The right hon. Gentleman argued that joining the EEC has been a major constitutional change, which has affected the relationship between the Member of Parliament and his constituents. There is no constitutional precedent for the right hon. Gentleman's saying that such a change should not occur between elections, on the ground that it has not so changed in the past. The EEC is such a precedent because it dramatically altered the relationship between the Member of Parliament and his constituents.
Admittedly, some of us warned that it would. But it cannot be said to have been a burning issue at either the pre-or post-elections. We said "Elect me and I shall make such and such a decision or try to bring about such and such decisions". Halfway through the life of the Parliament those decisions were removed from us. That is exactly on the same lines as what is now proposed. If we are looking for a precedent, we have a very good one. It is not one I accept but it is about the only one we can look at reasonably.
The other example which the right hon. Member used concerned Northern Ireland, but decisions made about Northern Ireland were made in the tranquil waters of removing one Stormont and recreating another. The timetable governing the changes in Northern Ireland was dictated by the force of political events in Northern Ireland. That is the point. I believe it is the force of political events in Scotland that should also determine our attitude on this matter.
I therefore cannot accept that the proper way to deal with this issue is to have a General Election. I cannot accept that the needs of the times demand we should have delay or that we should seek to delay. I cannot accept that it is a substitute for a referendum. On all counts the amendment must be rejected.
I briefly want to draw attention to Amendment No. 93, which has been selected alongside the amendment that we are now discussing. It is in precisely the opposite sense to the amendment that we are now discussing.
I agree with the argument advanced by the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan) against delay and against the highly specious argument that this matter should be put off until after another General Election. But I do not want to go into that now; the point that I want to raise is that the Bill itself does not specify an appointed day for the first elections.
All ministerial statements have pointed to the intention of holding elections in 1978. Clause 3 specifies that subsequently every election will be held on the third Thursday in March in the fourth year following the date of the first election. To me it is an extraordinary feature of the Bill that the whole process for which we are now legislating cannot be triggered off until the Secretary of State makes an order specifying the first election date.
In some of the speeches that we have heard already there have been references to changes of attitudes following General Elections. What we are really saying is that if we leave the Bill as it stands we are passing into statute something which may never come about at all if there is a change of attitude either on the part of the present Government or, as a result of a General Election, a switch of parties in power before 1978. They are both possibilities.
My colleagues and I would prefer to see written into the Bill a specific election date in March 1978 rather than simply leave it open to the Secretary of State to issue the necessary orders. By that time the Secretary of State may have changed. Parliament's attempt to carry out what we promised to the people at the last election could be wholly frustrated by a change of attitude or political circumstances. I should be interested to hear what the Minister has to say in reply.
The hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) said that several powerful arguments had been advanced in support of this amendment. He and I obviously see these matters very differently. I thought that the arguments were less than persuasive. I have come to the conclusion that there is considerable disingenuousness behind the amendment. In saying that, I do not imply that the right hon. Member for Renfrewshire, East (Miss Harvie Anderson) is being deliberately specious. In my view, it is more a case of the wish being father to the thought, the wish being to see the Bill killed and the thought that the best way to go about it is to scotch it by introducing an element of delay.
I thought that the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) was ingenious with his theory that, somehow, the elector in Scotland and to a lesser extent the elector in Wales would have been deceived if these Assemblies were established before the end of this Parliament, in that the Members of Parliament whom those electors had sent here would not be performing their functions in exactly the way that the electors would have expected if the Assemblies had not been established.
My view is far less charitable than the right hon. Gentleman's about the relationship between the elector of his Member of Parliament and his understanding of the nature of the duties and functions of a Member of Parliament. My practical experience is to the contrary. Every week, I get between five and 10 letters from my electors asking me to get them council houses, for example. Of course, I have no responsibility for the allocation of council houses. When the right hon. Gentleman says that he feels that this close relationship is a major issue of principle here, he is being, if not precious, a little too charitable to the elector and, possibly, to the Member of Parliament as well.
Does not the illustration which the hon. Gentleman has just given show precisely the closeness of the relationship between the Member of Parliament and his constituency? The electors know that the hon. Gentleman has no power to give them council houses. But they believe that he is here to use his influence on their behalf. That shows the closeness of the relationship be-between the Member and his electors.
I accept that entirely. There is a close relationship in the sense that the elector expects his Member of Parliament to do everything possible for him. However, I understood the right hon. Member for Down, South to be making some point of constitutional principle here rather than making reference to a personal lobby by a Member of Parliament on behalf of one of his electors.
I cannot help concluding, therefore, that behind the amendment there is a degree of disingenuousness, the theory being that, if the snake cannot be killed, it must be scotched. For that reason, I feel unable to support the amendment.
The hon. Member for Barry (Sir R. Gower) spoke about having a General Election as a kind of inquest, and the right hon. Member for Down, South described it as a post mortem. Their choice of words was unfortunate, because I like to think that this Bill is giving birth rather than causing death. But, assuming that it will be an inquest, I cannot help being unclear in my mind about the precise nature of the inquest. I thought that my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan) dealt admirably with the inquest argument, but I cannot help feeling that during our discussions on this Bill arguments have been advanced by its opponents based on the theory that the people of Wales and Scotland, to say nothing of those of England, are not interested in the Bill, and that it is one big yawn. If that is the case, it does not seem likely that it will be a very sound inquest if, after the Bill is passed, we have a General Election on this very issue.
I remind the Committee that, when the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) announced the findings of the Kilbrandon Commission, his statement in the House was greeted by the majority of English Members either with ribald laughter or with big yawns. Therefore, I cannot be persuaded by the arguments of right hon. and hon. Members who represent the English regions and who feel that we in Scotland and Wales are doing a great disservice to them. It has been open to them to discuss this subject just as it has been to right hon. and hon. Members representing Scottish and Welsh constituencies.
I was not speaking about individual Members; I was merely answering those who have made charges that, somehow, England will suffer greatly and that English Members have not had an opportunity to take part in our discussions. They have had just as much opportunity as any other hon. Member, from whichever part of the United Kingdom he may come.
In summary, I say that on the ground of the amendment's disingenuousness, I shall vote against it.
I rise to support this amendment in an almost unique position. I find myself called immediately after the only Government supporter present who speaks regularly in favour of the Bill. It is an incredible situation that hardly any right hon. or hon. Member opposite supports the Government, and this was reflected in the opinion poll yesterday which showed that there were more Labour voters in Scotland against the Bill than there were in favour of it. I wonder whether it has ever happened before that a Government have been unable to get anyone on their Back Benches to support one of their proposals and have found that their own supporters in Scotland have not wanted it. The whole Bill is crumbling before the Government's eyes. The tragedy is that it will take six wasted months in this House to see it crumble away to nothing.
I said that I intended to speak in support of this amendment, but I do so with considerable reservations. They are not those of the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell), who advanced some dubious idea that an hon. Member who was against a Bill should not seek to amend it. That is a very dangerous principle. I am against the Bill as a whole, but I shall seek to amend it as we go along. Although I think that the Bill probably will crumble away, there is always a chance that it will be passed in an amended or distorted form. The principle advanced by the hon. Member for West Lothian, therefore, should be disavowed before it gains any credence.
In my view, the people of Scotland, England, Wales and Ulster should have some chance to vote on this Bill before it is put into operation. Whether that is done at a General Election or in a referendum is a matter for debate. But it would be quite wrong to make such a major constitutional change without the people having a chance to vote on precisely what that change is to be and not simply on White Papers or ideas.
I shall not deal at any length with the objections to a referendum. We do not know the details of the proposed referendum. It is extraordinary that one of the major features of this legislation has not been divulged. But if, for want of a better term, an Englishman living in England is not to be allowed to vote in a referendum, it is totally wrong, because he is part of the United Kingdom and these proposals affect the United Kingdom. If, for want of a better term, a Scotsman living in England is not allowed to vote, that, too, is totally ludicrous.
I do not know how to define "a Scotsman", but it would be news to me if Scottish football selectors or, for that matter, my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Mr. Monro) were to say that people playing football in England were not eligible to play football in Scotland. Such a proposal might be to the detriment of Scottish sides. But if it is good enough to choose a Scotsman on that sort of occasion, it must be good enough for a Scotsman living in England to vote in the proposed referendum. The idea that the referendum should exclude Englishmen living in England or Scotsmen living in England invalidates it from the start.
I have some sympathy with the argument of the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan) about the difficulty of regarding a General Election as a kind of pseudo-referendum. The hon. Gentleman is right. A General Election would not have as its sole constituent the rights or wrongs of devolution. In Scotland certainly—and I suspect the same is true for the rest of the country—the next election will be fought on the creation of steady jobs, the cutting of taxation and the restoration of prosperity. It will not be about devolution. If we seek to show that the next election will say either "Yes" or "No" to the Government's Bill on devolution, we are at fault.
A lot of people think that at the next election the Labour Party is likely to be massacred in Scotland, not because of the contents of this Bill, bad though it is, but because it has created 183,000 unemployed and has allowed inflation to rip ahead.
But the Tories do have a lead over the Labour Party, and I anticipate that that trend will continue. However, I do not want to go into that now.
As I was saying, a General Election in Scotland, let alone other parts of the United Kingdom, would not be a fair way of testing whether this Bill is acceptable to the people of Scotland. It may well be that those who register their protest against the Labour Party may misguidedly give support to the Scottish National Party. If that occurred, it would not be a vote for independence. No doubt the Scottish National Party would seek to take it as such. I approach this amendment with certain reservations because of the false construction which could be placed on it.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, East (Miss Harvie Anderson) spoke more wisely than she knew in proposing the amendment, but when she said that the General Election would be a kind of super-referendum she was on to one of her weaker points. The key point of the debate is the "Powell principle"—I call it that because it was an inarticulate assumption until the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) enunciated it—which is that there should be no change in the balance, structure and powers of the constitution of this country until the people have had a chance to vote on it. We should not change something so delicately and nicely balanced as the British constitution without letting the people give their view on it. I shall vote for the amendment.
I should like to put forward one or two reasons that prompted me to put down Amendment No. 94 in my name, which is, in all important respects, identical to that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew-shire, East (Miss Harvie Anderson). The only difference is the fact that it comes four or five words later in the clause. Most of the arguments have been deployed already. However, no one has yet said that most people outside this House like to feel that the amendment is totally unnecessary. If it is a fact that the Government intend to time the Assembly elections for the spring of next year, I would hope that we would have a General Election before then so that the purpose of the amendment will be achieved.
Although I am fairly sure of the way in which the Scottish National Party will vote on this amendment, so far not one of them has told us how or why they will vote.
If I have prompted the hon. Member to get up and make a speech instead of interrupting everyone else's, maybe I shall earn the criticism of other hon. Members. I will not give way to the hon. Member. Perhaps that will stop his chauvinistic, jack-in-the-box tricks before they begin.
The Scottish National Party would claim that it is very important to have the Assembly elections before a General Election. It would say that while it is true that General Elections are not fought on a single issue, with anything like luck the SNP would be able to make sure that the Assembly election was fought on a single issue—the unpopularity which it hopes to create for the other contestants in an election. I am in no doubt that at the moment we have an appallingly bad Government. That is a widely shared view both inside and outside this House, and the Scottish National Party will not seek to conceal that fact. I can go along with it in claiming that the Labour Party is the party of high unemployment, that it is riddled with Trotskyists and that it is living in the past, with no solutions to the problems of the United Kingdom as a whole or Scotland in particular.
The Scottish National Party is not particular about the weapons it uses, and no doubt it will magnify and distort any divisions it detects inside the Conservative Party, and it will do everything it can to exploit the Assembly elections for its own interests. If the SNP is successful in that in the next 12 months or so, we shall have an unhappy situation for the Union as a whole. There may well be many people in Scotland who will be taken in by the pretension of the SNP. That party hopes a great many will be taken in, but I do not believe the number will be that great.
If a General Election took place before the Assembly election the mood of Scotland would be very different, and I think I know the result. If Labour Members honestly believe that their party would win because it had recovered the confidence of voters in all parts of the country, and if they believe that the next Government elected would have much greater popular support throughout the country than this one, then they must see that the reaction in the Assembly elections would be much less detrimental to the union as a whole.
I try to emphasise the importance of political dynamism, if I may call it that, because it is very important that if the Bill goes forward and the Government get their way, the Government and the country should be saved from the consequences of official folly. It will be in the long-term interests of the Union—on which the majority of people place more importance than allegiance to any particular party—that this business of the Assembly election should wait until we have the whole question of a General Election settled in a way which commands much more popular support.
I have much sympathy with the feelings of the right hon. Member for Renfrewshire, East (Miss Harvie Anderson). One aspect referred to by the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) and a number of other speakers at the beginning of this debate is part and parcel of the argument put forward by the right hon. Member for Renfrewshire, East. She said that even if a referendum were held the operation of the results should take place after a General Election.
The argument that frightened me very deeply was the adducing of just who should take part in the referendum, and the plea that recognition of the rights of Scottish and Welsh people living in England should form part and parcel of this picture.
The right hon. Lady said that in the calm atmosphere of this House, and that frightened me, because I do not know by what objective yardstick—or perhaps I should say "footstick"—we shall reach a definition of a Welshman. Not even the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley) has dared to tell us exactly what is a Welshman. When it comes to defining people who have a strong identity, such as the Welsh and the Scots, and establishing some kind of objective criteria, are we simply going to use that definition as another stick with which to beat the beast of Westminster? That causes me a great deal of worry.
I had considerable sympathy with the view put forward by the right hon. Member for Renfrewshire, East and even more with the point of view advanced by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), that this kind of revelation takes us back to the original fears which so many of us had and which relate to practically every clause in the Bill.
Since it is proposed that the two Assemblies should have clearly defined functions in specific territories, would it not be simpler to agree that people should take part in the referenda if they live in those territorial regions?
Thank you, Mr. Murton. Your predecessor in the Chair ruled on this matter earlier. He said that the absolute specifics of the question of referenda were out of order, but that the general principles might be adduced in a general argument, and that is what has subsequently happened.
The Committee should be extremely careful in considering every amendment. The group of amendments, such as that group now before us, are of fundamental importance on the very issues on which this Bill rests—the impact of the Bill on the United Kingdom and what might happen to the United Kingdom.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) that the people should be allowed to vote on this important constitutional matter either at a referendum or in a General Election. I agree also with the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) that it is high time that Parliament was told the terms of reference of the referendum and who will be allowed to vote in it. I agree also with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) that we should be told when the referendum is to be held.
The change in Scottish opinion about devolution, to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, East (Miss Harvie Anderson) drew attention, might persuade the Lord President to give us this information sooner than he otherwise would, because it is clear that, as the content and effects of the Bill become better known in Scotland, the swing against it becomes more and more marked. So, if the Government want a good vote in favour of their Bill, the Leader of the House had better get on with the referendum process. Already the latest opinion poll in Scotland shows that a large majority are against separatism. That deals with the arguments advanced by the SNP. More important, however, is that the poll reveals that one-third of the people are against any form of devolution. This swing is gathering momentum and the longer the Government delay the referendum the greater will be the chance that the Bill will be killed by the votes of the Scottish people, either in a referendum or at a General Election.
Perhaps it is too sweeping to say that that opinion poll result deals with the SNP case. In the poll to which the hon. Gentleman referred, 7 per cent. of the supporters of the SNP are recorded as not wanting an Assembly and as wanting no change. That only shows some of the complexities of Scottish politics.
That is a valid point. To be more accurate, I should have said that the result deals with the pretensions of some Members of the SNP to represent the views of the people of Scotland.
Assuming the truth of the hon. Gentleman's argument, does he not agree that in the interim the growth of tensions and ill feeling, to put them at their mildest, may even lead to active hatred? Might this not be such that in the final analysis the application of the hon. Gentleman's ideas would be much more difficult?
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the 7 per cent. of the SNP supporters who want no change have been more than balanced out in the past three opinion polls by the 9 per cent. of Conservatives in Scotland who want independence?
I shall be coming to the Conservative Party. I am never in the least merciful to my own Front Bench in discussing this subject. I intend to deal as severely with my colleagues as I did with the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues.
Of course, I am opposed not only to the Bill but to the whole concept of devolution, as I have said many times in this House. The best thing would be to delay the referendum. I used to be in favour of an early referendum in order to save parliamentary time, but I am beginning to feel that the longer the referendum is delayed the better because in the interim period opinion will continue to mount against the Bill.
We should adopt the suggestion in the amendment, which I support. But it is highly probable that the next General Election will return a Conservative Government, so the attitude of the Conservative Party towards the whole principle of devolution may become highly relevant if we accept the amendment tonight. So far, I regret to say, the official position of my party on the principle has been—I use as neutral a word as possible—somewhat ambivalent. I understand why, although I do not approve. I ask my right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) to note one important figure in today's opinion poll: the majority of Conservatives in Scotland do not want any devolution at all. Those people have no party to vote for on this issue, because every party is committed to some form of devolution.
My purely personal view is that the Unionist Party should come out clearly for the Union and thus give Unionists in Scotland the opportunity to vote, either in the referendum or in the next General Election, not only against the Bill but against the whole principle of devolution. I urge my right hon. Friends, in the light of the majority view of the Scottish Conservative voters, to reconsider their attitude to the principle and to go into the next General Election as a Unionist party, as, hitherto, we have always been.
After 10 years' deep debate on these issues in Scotland, the English message to the people of Scotland is simply "Jam yesterday, jam tomorrow, but never jam today", except for the Shadow Secretary of State, who wants jam for Scots people all over the place all the time.
This has been a pleasant debate, although it has strayed into quite delicious highways and byways. We have considered the impossibility of English football teams playing in Scotland, although Berwick Rangers play in Scotland at present. We have looked at the newly acquired Englishness of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer). We have debated the consequences of the last referendum on the European Communities, without considering the possibility of a referendum in Scotland on separate Scottish representation within the EEC.
Having seen the boredom shown on the Treasury Bench by the Lord President, who has been yawning throughout the debate, and the glazed look behind the spectacles of his junior Ministers as they sit through hours of this tedious debate, I think that the time has come for a halt. As one of the most doveish of the doves in the Scottish National Party, I say to the Minister that the time for the guillotine is now at hand. If we are to continue going through this nonsense hour by hour, night by night—as we obviously are—the time has come to bring this debate to a conclusion.
I intend to go home to Scotland as fast as possible. I shall go home faster after what has been said tonight by the yeoch yeochs on the Tory Benches about Hampden Park. They did not know about the promise by the Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland that a new national football ground would be paid for out of oil revenue, and all that some hon. Members could say was that they did not know where it was. I hope that that is reported in the Scots Press tomorrow.
I understand the hon. Member's passion to see the Bill proceed, but will he have a care before using the word "nonsense" to describe the attempt by many hon. Members of all parties to defend what they genuinely believe to be the unity of the United Kingdom? Will he also recognise that although we understand the passion of the tiny minority that he represents in the United Kingdom as a whole, there are many of us, particularly representing English seats, who are not satisfied that a minority of the people in the United Kingdom should fasten their ideas upon the overwhelming majority who do not want them?
Those ideas were contained in the hon. Gentleman's party's manifesto in Scotland in October 1974. My hon. Friends and I suspect that it was simply a convenient mouthing. If this debate were about Banaban, Labour Members would be on their feet demanding freedom for the people of Banaban and pushing on with the debate.
On the other side, the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) has produced two arguments over the past month. His first, which we heard tonight, in his usual soft voice, was simply that reason should prevail in this debate in terms of all the peoples of the United Kingdom. I accept that. But the right hon. Gentleman was advancing a different argument a few months ago. He then said that if the Scottish people wished themselves to be a nation, they should prove themselves to be so at the polls. In terms of this amendment that is nonsense. If we prove ourselves to be a nation as the right hon. Gentleman said, we shall have a majority in Scotland representing the Scottish National Party, yet under the amendment we would not be able to effect that majority politically in our relationship with England and the European Community.
Lastly, I come to debates, rather similar to tonight's argument, which have been conducted throughout Europe over the past 50 years. The Swedish Parliament in 1905–6 had the same rather tedious debates as the people of Norway sought to achieve their freedom in economic matters. The debate was dragged out in imperalist language, with deputies talking about the wider Swedish entity and using the debate to deny the people of Norway the opportunity of freedom.
When we talk about nationalism we should recall that in Czechoslovakia a comparative point in the development of their party, Masaryk and Benes had about half the potential vote which the SNP now has in Scotland. In Norway there was exactly the same situation. Again, Paderewski, in Poland, led a small but clear-sighted group of people determined to have freedom.
I freely admit to the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan) that we are at present a minority in Scotland, but we are a growing minority party. We are seen to be spreading beyond the 30 per cent. which the hon. Member attributed to us. The Glasgow Herald showed that we have 33 per cent., and our own research shows that our vote is going up.
I concede that the political situation in Scotland is volatile. I have admitted that all along. The three political parties in Scotland each have about one-third support. But the hon. Gentleman forgets that these percentages do not take account of the "don't know'' figures. If he really wants to talk statistics he will find that in the last two elections the SNP has gained about 60 per cent. of the 20 per cent. in the "don't know" category.
As I said in the last debate on proportional representation, my party has been absolutely honest about where it is going, and why. We have said that we shall stick with proportional representation, even though it may be to our disadvantage. I remind right hon. and hon. Members of my final words in that debate, which were that if the Committee did not accept proportional representation and the SNP won, as Rene Levesque of the Parti Québecois did in Canada, so be it. I approach this debate in similar fashion. The time has come for the Government to think of a timetable motion.
I said then that we must allow—against pressure for a timetable even before the Bill reached the House—two or three weeks before there was any question of the guillotine's being applied. I am saying tonight, as the most doveish of the doves in the SNP, that the time has come to stop this nonsense.
I refer the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) to his hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Mr. Marquand), that good social democrat, who has written about whey-faced Members straggling through the Lobbies night after night not knowing what they were voting for, and begging the Government to let them get to bed. That is the stage which the Bill has reached. The hon. Gentleman is determined to prolong that agony as long as possible. I say that the time has now come to call a halt.
It is interesting that the hon. Gentleman referred to in connection with the matter raised by my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) has now departed to the Common Market, where mistakes have been made in the past.
This is an amendment about the timing of elections. Apart from his observations that the debate has gone on beyond that somewhat interesting nature, at least the hon. Gentleman has admitted that the position in Scotland is volatile. It is certainly interesting for the House to have so many figures bandied about from opinion polls taken at different times, which suit particular arguments of particular Members on whatever stand they want to make.
The hard fact is that the position is volatile. Therefore, the amendment makes much good sense. At least the Committee finds itself confessing that we need time. Time is of the essence, because the longer we have to deploy the arguments and bring to the attention of the people of Scotland and Wales all the problems involved, the better. I believe that the Committee will want the will of the people to be able to crystallise on the basis of more facts. At this stage the facts are few.
The lack of facts prompts me to pose the following question: is the Committee fully informed about what is going on behind the scenes, about what appear to be inspired leaks and—I go no further, for I hate to be too critical—wheeling and dealing, understandings that people such as myself who are opposed to the Bill have a right to know about? I should like to think that the Government would wish with wheeling and dealing and inspired leaks, not to harden my position but to seek to convert me to the beliefs to which some of them have recently come in support of devolution.
My hon. Friend has touched on a most important point, which is concerning many hon. Members on the Government side of the Committee. Does he agree that if the Government are seeking parties to whom to make concessions they might try this side of the Chamber before trying the other side?
I was doing a little fishing. I hope that even at this stage we may have some response, because there is a good deal of sense in what my hon. Friend says.
The Government must bear in mind that at this stage we are merely responding to what we hear and read. As the support of this side of the Chamber is vital, I should have thought that it would be looked at with care and that an effort would be made to remove our worries. Frankness should be allowed to prevail.
When we come to the question of the timing of the Assembly elections, the Government might at least give us some indication of when they think the elections should be held. The Bill says that the date is to be left to the Secretary of State. It is not for me to say that I do not trust Secretaries of State, but I observe that they have a long record of being devious. I do not say that that is dishonourable. It may be due to expediency. But I am expected to vote, and if I could be whispered to in the same way as I understand other people have been whispered to, perhaps I could tell my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State "Yes. You have picked the right time, bearing in mind the state of the economy, the likelihood of an early General Election, the indecision of the people of Scotland, the shifting sands, where not so long ago we thought that there was a great army in support of devolution and now in the countries involved it does not seem to exist." But we have no information from my right hon. Friend about dates.
All that we have before us is the question whether we should have the elections after the next General Election. Note, Mr. Murton, that a General Election means an election in Scotland, England and Wales.
Yes—good old Northern Ireland! That is a more important matter than I am allowed to discuss now.
The result of a General Election has the added credence of the involvement of the English constituencies. I find contradictory the fact that the timing of the Assembly elections depends on a likely referendum, from which English involvement is excluded.
In the Northern Region we have about 3·3 million people. In Wales there are 2·2 million. The problems in the Northern Region are just as difficult to deal with as those in Wales. I have had the advantage of living in both parts of the United Kingdom. I could make a plea for some devolution for the Northern Region. Such a plea, with all its logic, could be argued for Merseyside and other parts of the United Kingdom. But if such pleas were successfully made the parliamentary system as I understand it would be fragmented to the point of becoming impotent.
As my hon. Friend is on the subject of the guillotine, may I ask whether he noticed in The Sunday Times of 27th June last year the following report, on page 2:
George Reid, the Scottish Nationalist MP, speaking at Tullibody after a Scottish National Party march to Bannockburn, said Britain was blundering into constitutional chaos. The assembly Bill was dead as a dodo. With so many Labour MPs opposed to the guillotine, there was no chance of it going through. Yet the SNP was itself against the guillotine, he said.
Is it not an interesting question why the hon. Gentleman has changed his mind?
The Bannockburn march last year is a long time back, just as Bannockburn is in history The hon. Member for West Lothian has not been fair with the Committee. A big debate was being conducted in the Scots Press at that time, the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sillars) in particular being involved. The hon. Gentleman, who is not present, was demanding guarantees from the Government about the guillotine. Nobody in the SNP would have wanted to inflict a timetable debate on our English and Welsh friends until we had had two or three weeks to see how the Bill was going. Tonight I said quite reasonably, as a dove, that the time had come to call a halt. That is a reasonable conclusion—[HoN. MEMBERS: "Why?"]—because there has been so much time-wasting nonsense in the Committee tonight, after 10 years' debate.
The more time we have to develop our arguments, the more likely it is that there will be a clearer understanding of the issues in the country as a whole.
I make a plea to the Committee that it would be wrong to confuse the issues involved. Constitutional changes are not involved with unemployment and investment programmes. We must be clear about what is involved, because the consequences of constitutional change could be fragmentation and disunity within the United Kingdom. This change, together with the situation in the Common Market, could bring about impotence for this Parliament. That is why I think it is right to consider the amendment seriously. More time is needed.
Anybody who suggests that the amendment should not be supported because a resulting General Election would be fought on the issue of devolution alone would be seeking to be too clever by half, and would be getting away from the essential point. It is clear from the debates so far that more time is needed. As to a guillotine, I submit that we have not yet spent anywhere near enough time on such a grave and complex matter. I beg the Government to take care not to bring in a guillotine too early during these important discussions.
I hope that, apart from their increasing rumours about the reduction of their numbers in the House, Scottish and Welsh Members will also bear in mind that the Bill is important to the people of not only Wales and Scotland but to the people of England. The House is still reacting to party considerations. That is not conducive to good judgment. We ought to react to what the people want. I hope that the House will take note of that point.
The House still has the power to kill the Bill. We cannot go through 1977 praying that a General Election will kill the Bill. That would be wishful thinking. There are enough hon. Members here to kill it. I oppose the Bill and its principles. It was born out of deadlock. It is a bastard child, it is full of nonsense, and I oppose it because that is one way of gaining time.
I have listened to most of the speeches on the amendment and it appears that we are not dealing with the amendment at all. Every opportunity is being taken to undermine the Bill.
If anyone has any doubt about where I stand, let me make it clear that I stand with the Scottish Labour Party on the subject of devolution. After all, the Scottish Labour Party has decided in favour of devolution many times and so did the United Kingdom Labour Party Conference. If democracy means anything at all, we must be under an obligation to accept the democratic will and wish of the Labour and trade union movements in Scotland. That policy was confirmed at the national Labour Party conference.
Periodically, I am asked by my colleagues to sign resolutions and I am usually reminded by them that the policies involved were favoured by the Labour Party Conference. They include such items as defence reductions, opposition to expenditure cuts and opposition to economic policies. But the same conference decided in favour of devolution. Therefore, I am surprised and I cannot understand why some of my colleagues support certain of the policies that were determined by the British Labour Party at its annual conference, and yet oppose the policy on devolution. The Cabinet is also in two hearts. We should be of one heart and we should support the policy that has been democratically decided. My colleagues who oppose the Bill attended that conference and had the opportunity to express their views against devolution, as they were entitled to do.
I congratulate the Government team. They have done a tremendous research job into a difficult and complex problem and they have prepared a Bill that outlines the devolved responsibilities of Scotland and Wales. Those who claim that the Bill is a shambles are being extremely unfair to Ministers.
The amendment calls for a General Election before proposals for devolved responsibility can be introduced. That is a new practice in parliamentary affairs. I have been in Parliament for a number of years and I have seen former parts of the Empire receive not just devolved governmental responsibility but full independence. It was not suggested that there should be a parliamentary election before that was allowed. Since the Irish problem arose there have been alterations in the Government's responsibility for that part of the United Kingdom. There has been direct rule and devolved rule, and we have discussed administrative, executive and governmental proposals. I say to the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) that if there were a General Election every time new devolved responsibilities for Northern Ireland were proposed, General Elections would be held two or three times a year.
The amendment is another red herring drawn across the trail. We are not discussing setting up a sovereign parliament for Scotland, or independence. The Labour Party in Scotland is against that. We are discussing the delegation of certain duties. I represent two towns—Coatbridge and Airdrie—and we are talking about control over the rates and water services in those towns. Surely the Scots people are entitled to determine domestic matters of that nature, within the financial allocations allowed by the Government. There is nothing revolutionary about that.
My hon. Friend has an excellent record in local government as a distinguished local councillor for many years. Is he seriously suggesting that the type of housing in Coatbridge or in Airdrie should be decided by the Scottish Assembly rather than by the local authority? That would be strange coming from someone who has such an excellent record in local government.
My hon. Friend knows that I am not making any such assertion. The legislation which the local authorities implement should be determined by the Scots people themselves, whether it be housing developments or estates, schools, the form of education, and so on. Parliament lays down the legislation and the local authorities implement it. All I am suggesting is that the Scottish Assembly should lay down the legislation and that the local autorities should implement it. It is as simple as that.
I am surprised that my hon. Friend, for whom I have the greatest regard—he is a friendly person and I should not like to say anything to offend him—should quibble about the £2 million which it will cost to establish the Assembly and to pay the salaries of Members and officials. My hon. Friend belongs to the most extravagant Assembly of which I know—the European Parliament. That costs an awful lot more than £2 million and takes powers away from people in this country and gives them to faceless bureaucrats in Europe.
I refer my hon. Friend to a former distinguished Member of the House of Commons who is now a Member of the other place. Recently, in the debate to which the right hon. Member for Renfrewshire, East (Miss Harvie Anderson) referred, he said that in the mid-1920s the main point in his election programme was not devolution for Scotland, but Home Rule for Scotland. That is the heritage that my hon. Friend has in West Lothian. In those days that was understandable, because we did not have the economic opportunities that we now have. That is why we should oppose independence, but go all out for devolution. That is what this debate is about.
We should bear in mind that there is no question of taking authority from the hands of the English. It surprises me that it should be suggested that persons living in the English part of the United Kingdom should dictate or instruct the Scots on the type of administration, not government, that they should have. That is what we are debating.
One Opposition Member asked "How can we unscramble the Scots in England from the English population so that they can take part in a referendum?" I suggest that, as long as they are living in areas that come under the jurisdiction of English local authorities and are subject to their Government, they have nothing to do with the development of the decision-making process in Scotland. It is as simple as that.
I think that very soon there is likely to be a move by the Maltese people for a referendum to decide whether they should separate from the United Kingdom. Am I to take it that English Members and English people as a whole will vote in that referendum to decide whether the Maltese people should have their independence? Is that the argument that is being canvassed tonight? I suggest that people should have the right to determine their own administrative establishment in their own part of the United Kingdom. There is no conflict with the economic and political organisation of the United Kingdom or with the supremacy of the United Kingdom Parliament. That is not involved, and does not arise.
I hope that we shall not decide this issue by straying into wide-open spaces. We have discussed the referendum and the questions which should be in the referendum paper. We have also discussed whether there should be one, two or three elections in the one month. I suggest to my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) that there is no reason why we should not have two elections on the one day. As a councillor I always had two elections on the one day. We always had county and district council elections on the same day. We were politically mature and had such grand political IQs that we had no trouble persuading electors to return Labour councillors for the county and district council areas.
Contrary to what some Scottish National Party Members may say, we are a long way from the next General Election. Indeed, the climate will be very different from what it is now. I have not the slightest doubt that, having succeeded in the past, we shall succeed in future. For the eight constituencies in Lanark-shire eight Labour Members were elected. The Conservative Party has only two seats in the whole of Glasgow.
The Labour Party has a solid tradition. We believe in the Socialist concept of human society. We shall apply that concept by realising the ideals of the Labour movement. One of the earliest ideals was and always will be the right of the Scots people to determine their own form of administration without in any way encroaching on the supremacy of the United Kingdom Parliament.
If the amendment is passed, it will mean that before we introduce anything of a major kind in a new Parliament there will have to be an election to see whether the people want it or not.
I listened with great care to the Opposition point of view. One hon. Member said that the British people have not been given the details of the proposed devolution and, therefore, there must be an election to present those details to them. The Conservative Party, in its election manifesto, promised to introduce devolution. No one suggested that it should outline the type of devolved government that a Conservative Government would introduce. Frankly, no one in his senses would ask any political party to include in its election manifesto such a devised and devolved structure.
I speak now not only for myself but for every Labour candidate in Scotland who, in his or her election address, included the pledge of the Scottish and British Labour movement that, if elected, the Labour Government would introduce a Scottish Assembly to ensure that the Scots people had a greater say in their own, not the United Kingdom's, affairs. I stand by that pledge. That is why I shall oppose the amendment.
I rise to comment on what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mr. Dempsey), not to put any difficult technical questions to him. I have far too much respect for him and his record to do that. I wish to take up his invitation to address ourselves to the terms of the amendment.
That is all the more necessary because of the arrogant request which has been made by the hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Reid) that the debate should be curtailed. The hon. Gentleman took it upon himself to demand the introduction of a timetable motion, as if he were the Leader of the House of Commons and responsible for introducing such motions. [HoN. MEMBERS: "Where is he?"] Having made that arrogant demand, the hon. Gentleman quickly departed from the scene.
It is important to put on record that these debates are strictly to the point and are relevant to the purpose of the amendment. I am particularly interested in the amendment, because it would enable all parts and sections of the country—I commend this point to my hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie, who invited us to speak strictly to the terms of the amendment—to have a really searching debate on the proposals in the Bill. I contend that such a debate has never taken place.
My hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie may say as often as he likes that there has been a Labour Party Conference decision in favour of this policy and principle, but, even if there had been a proper debate at the Labour Party Conference, it is a well-known and accepted constitutional doctrine that parties are only instruments of Government and not the Government itself. What matters is that there should be a full and searching debate before the electorate in a General Election campaign. Such a debate, on a United Kingdom basis, has never taken place.
The merit of this amendment is that it would enable the electorate of the United Kingdom to hold such a searching debate. That is my reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie, and that is my justification for taking a different point of view. My hon. Friend is a reasonable man, and I am sure that that is a reason which would commend itself to him. He may not agree with it but he would accept that it is an argument which can be advanced in answer to what he said about party conferences.
I also take issue with what my hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie said about the Labour Party Conference. A short debate at the conference which was not preceded by properly detailed debates in all affiliated organisations is valueless, and no claim can be made for it. Some of those who are now making claims in support of the decision of the Labour Party Conference are on record in years gone by as having publicly criticised similar decisions of Labour Party Conferences, reached by block votes, because they have not been preceded by proper debates in the affiliated organisations. I have shared public platforms with some of my right hon. and hon. Friends when these criticisms have been made and I can recall some historic meetings.
May I say something about the history behind the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mr. Dempsey)? There was a very hurried meeting of AUEW delegates before the 17th August conference, with Mr. Gavin Laird returning from his well-earned holiday in a hurry. It was done in a very short time. Some people were absent, and the result is that two and half years later we have Mr. John Boyd making a speech which should be read by hon. Members participating in this debate because it is a very telling speech indeed.
I have given way willingly to my hon. Friends because these detailed and searching inquiries among hon. Members will be of interest to people in Scotland, particularly to members of the Scottish Labour movement. I was discussing the more general point about the national conference of the Labour Party on a United Kingdom basis. The main reason for today's debate and for the support being given to this amendment is that the amendment would allow the electorate not merely the party conferences or party organisations, to hold a searching debate. That is the peculiar merit of this proposal.
I should also like to comment on the arrogant demand made a few moments ago by the hon. Member for Clack-mannan and East Stirlingshire who said that the time had come to call a halt. That is a rather peculiar thing to ask for in a parliamentary debate. To what does he want to call a halt? This is a debate on major constitutional proposals. The debate is still in its opening stages and is proceeding seriously, on relevant topics, under the supervision of the most experienced Chairmen that the House of Commons can provide. The debate is of very great importance.
If the debate has occasionally become somewhat general in character, that has been due entirely to the way in which the Government have chosen to draft this legislation. If we take Clause 1, for instance, which is the declaratory clause, how is the Committee to debate such a clause without reference from time to time to general principle and general ideas? It would be impossible. If we search the history of the House, who would have accused previous generations of Members of being at fault because they had a more general debate when the future of the United Kingdom was the subject under debate? The charge is ridiculous.
I particularly want to put on record once again—and we shall have to do this at every stage—that such false charges should not be made. The charge began to emerge in the arrogant demands of the hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire that we should call a halt to the debate and in his peremptory request that the Government should introduce a guillotine motion forthwith. This debate is strictly relevant and to the point.
Would not my hon. Friend agree that it would be totally improper for the Government to bring in any kind of guillotine motion or to call a halt to the debate when the House has not even seen the Government's proposals for a referendum?
I have no reason to quarrel with the Government over their conduct. I am addressing myself to the wholly unjustified demand of the hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire. The Government have made no proposals for timetables or speeding up the debate. They are not responsible for the gossip that appears in Sunday newspapers. The Government is full of right hon. and hon. Members with whom I have worked for a lifetime, and I have no reason to think that they are in any way responsible for any of the rumours that are current in Fleet Street. I refuse to discuss them.
A further merit of this amendment is that a General Election campaign would enable Government Ministers to be subjected to searching inquiries by the electorate in Scotland and Wales. Ministers would be called upon to give answers to all the questions that have arisen in the debate. We sometimes assume too easily in the Committee or in the House as a whole that because all our detailed debates are followed with fascination in our parliamentary circle, this interest is echoed throughout the country. It is not. In a General Election campaign the whole story would come out. I would welcome it very much if the Prime Minister would abandon the reserve which he has shown so far in this debate and explain his policies to the country night after night—as my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson), in his brilliant election campaign in February 1974, explained the policies of his party and of his future Administration. With the help of his associates he could turn the political situation of the country within ten days and give a brilliant account of what is in his mind. I should like the Prime Minister to emerge from his reserve on the Scotland and Wales Bill and explain to the country, not least to Scotland and Wales, what is on his mind on all the problems that we have discussed in the House. That is a further merit of the amendment and another reason why I support it.
I am sorry to disrupt the hon. Member's argument but he said, in relation to the guillotine, that he had voted with his right hon. Friends for generations. If the Government were to bring in a guillotine motion next week or the week after, in which Lobby would the hon. Member vote? Would he vote with his right hon. Friends or with others who opposed the Bill?
I am glad of that because we do not want to add to the burdens of Ministers by making them appear older than they are.
My position is clear. The debate has only just started. Many principles of the greatest importance are involved in the legislation. The British people have a right and hon. Members have a duty to discuss these matters in considerable detail. No one can say at this stage how long this searching discussion will take. It would be monstrous even to suggest the introduction of a timetable motion next week or for many weeks to come. I should vote to oppose any such motion. But I have no reason to think that such a motion is in the minds of my right hon. Friends. I do not take the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) as my source of rumours about the intentions of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, whom I know better than he does.
The last and perhaps not the least merit of the amendment is that a number of people are proposing to support the legislation in order to inflict a defeat upon the separatists. When I was last in Canada people had been toying with the argument that general economic malaise made people dissatisfied and drove them to temporary solutions that they otherwise would not consider. If the amendment were carried everybody would be forced to face the real problems of politics.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-East (Mr. Palmer) said in a remarkable speech recently, the immature discussions on whether there should be Assemblies, fewer or more Assemblies, would be replaced by the real stuff of mature politics involving how our educational and social life is to be organised among all sections on a general basis. In such a campaign each party would have to answer those questions and this problem would take its sectional place. Such a campaign would put the matter in perspective. These issues are strictly relevant to the amendment, and I give it my full support.
The right hon. Member for Renfrewshire, East (Miss Harvie Anderson) introduced her amendment in the guise of a second referendum. I think that she will agree that the interpretation to be put on her amendment is that this would lead to a United Kingdom-wide referendum.
The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), whilst rejecting the bulk of the right hon. Lady's argument, seemed to accept that there was some substance in what she said about the need for the United Kingdom to have a say in a General Election on whether the legislation should be implemented. That is a strange argument to come from the right hon. Member for Down, South, of all people. It is suggested that the House of Commons should delay implementation of the Bill, presumably having approved the Bill and therefore given it its consent, after the Government have made a commitment to have a referendum, and the people of Scotland having agreed with the legislation. In other words, after Parliament has given the Bill its full-hearted consent it is suggested that the Government should say that they will not introduce the legislation until after the next election.
I shall not give way to the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South-West (Mr. Cormack) because he has not been in the Chamber for long. The debate has been long and I am anxious to reply as briefly as possible.
The right hon. Lady for Renfrewshire, East may shake her head, but it is suggested in the amendment that the legislation should be held in abeyance until after the next General Election. That poses one or two questions. The main question is, when will the next election be? Possibly it will not be until October 1979. It is suggested that if the legislation is approved by Parliament and by the people we should delay elections to the assemblies until early 1980. The right hon. Lady must know that that is neither a good democratic argument nor an argument that will be acceptable to the people of Scotland and, I suspect, to the people of Wales.
I have not lost the ability to read. The amendment is specific. It proposes that the legislation should not be implemented until after the next General Election. In that sense the amendment has everything to do with the next General Election. The right hon. Lady knows that.
The second question that must be posed if such a move were accepted is how would the parties line up in the next election. For instance, how would the Conservative Party in Scotland conduct the election campaign? Would its official spokesman be the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor), the hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) or the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind)?
It is politically impossible to hold a General Election on one specific issue. If there are any recent examples, surely the most striking is the attempt by the Conservative Government in February 1974 to have a General Election on who rules the country. The issue then was whether the miners' union or the Conservative Government ruled the country. In my constituency, and in West Lothian, the miners issue was dead after the second day of the election campaign. It is not possible to sustain a three-week General Election campaign on one single issue. Hon. Members know that.
The purpose of the amendment is to delay the implementation of this legislation not in the hope that it can be delayed but in the hope that it can be prevented altogether. That is not acceptable to the Government.
For those reasons, we ask that the amendment should be rejected.
I have noted the hon. Gentleman's words. Does he accept, therefore, that he completely rules out the mandate argument, wholly and utterly, because he has said that one cannot pick out one issue in a whole multitude in an election campaign? A mandate obviously implies that there is one particular commitment made by a party. May we take it that he has rejected the whole idea of a mandate?
The hon. Gentleman knows full well that that is not the position. If he had listened to what I have been saying, he could not possibly have come to that conclusion.
Several hon. Members have raised the question of the opinion poll published yesterday in the Glasgow Herald. It is important to put on record the contradictions contained in that poll. I do not attribute blame for that to the Glasgow Herald. However, in that poll 38 per cent. were in favour of the proposals contained in the Bill, and 32 per cent. said that they were not in favour of any form of devolution whatsoever. It just so happens that both of those figures are the highest percentages that we have had in favour of the specific proposals or against devolution. Of course, the 18 per cent. in favour of separation equally happens to be the lowest percentage in favour of separation that has appeared in opinion polls for some considerable time. While the poll is interesting and valuable for the analyst, it contains some contradictions, although, as I say, I do not attribute any blame to the Glasgow Herald.
I turn to the points made so often by my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell). I say to him in the kindest possible way that it really is becoming increasingly difficult to accept that my hon. Friend is the same person who sat side-by-side with me at the table in Keir Hardie House four or five days after the last General Election and pleaded that the Government be instructed to get the Assembly set up as quickly as possible. I find it difficult to understand and accept that my hon. Friend is the same person who, for the first time in a General Election campaign, invited into his constituency speakers who were particularly well known for their prodevolution views. I can only assume that he meant that the interpretation to be put on that was that he was most anxious to become identified with those of us who had pro-devolution views.
I make this final point about the contributions and interruptions that are continually made by my hon. Friend and many other hon. Members. There seems to be a view prevailing in the House of Commons that all that we have to do is push the people of Scotland into a corner and say to them "On the one hand, you can have separation; or, on the other hand, you can have unity", and in that situation that we can expect electorates to react rationally.
I must warn the House that that will not happen. If we push the electorates of Scotland or any other part of the United Kingdom into a corner on any issue, devolution or anything else, they will not act rationally. They will act very irrationally, and we shall possibly get exactly the opposite result of that which we are all anxious to achieve—namely, the preservation of the political and economic unity of the United Kingdom.
Does my hon. Friend also recall that at the August conference there was no mention of any legislative Assembly? Let us be candid about this. On 17th September there was a White Paper that mentioned a legislative assembly for the first time. It just shows how things are pushed along. On 18th September my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson) announced a General Election. How many of us go through, with a fine-toothed comb, a White Paper during a General Election. We shall return to this point time and again. There are various skeletons in the cupboard. I refer again to my Second Reading speech, which was pretty candid about this matter.
The point I must make in reply to that is that the recent developments in my hon. Friend's thinking have led everyone in the House of Commons, and certainly everyone in Scotland, to believe that he is against the very principle of devolution. Not only is my hon. Friend against an elected legislative Assembly; he is against the very principle of devolution. It is to that extent that his position on devolution has radically altered. I must say to him in all sincerity that it gets a bit much for those of us who have campaigned for this, and have been joined by him in our campaigns generally through the years, to have to stand the constant barracking that we get from him on the question of devolution.
As my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary is against the presentation of the polar extremes of unity or separation, may I take it that he will be in favour of at least a two-question referendum or possibly a three-question referendum, when we eventually get it?
The debate is not about the referendum or what is to be contained on the ballot paper. I am sure, Mr. Murton, that you would quickly rule me out of order if I strayed into the realms of the referendum.
If it is said of me that it is a recent conversion, let me say that the conversion was in January 1975, when I really tumbled to what was up, because I and others had not realised until that time that what was involved was a Scot tish Prime Minister, a Scottish Cabinet and all the rest of it, and those who were pro-devolution and the maximalists were very astute in the way in which they edged things along a great deal further than many of us at the August conference realised, although perhaps we ought to have realised it.
My hon. Friend will know that I do not believe that he has such a simple mind that he would be taken in by me or others on this matter. I do not accept that.
The amendment, as I have said, really seeks to delay and probably to frustrate altogether the implementation of the Bill once it has passed through Parliament and the people of Scotland and Wales have had their say in the form of a referendum. The right hon. Member for Renfrewshire, East laughs and shakes her head. She seems to treat this matter in a frivolous manner. [Interruption.] It is not at all a frivolous matter. It is a serious constitutional issue. I am sure that the right hon. Lady would accept that it is much more serious than seems to be accepted—
I turn to the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer). I must hand credit to him. He took the trouble to come to the Labour Party Conference in Troon last year. I am sure that he would agree that he sensed the feeling among Labour Party people at that conference. I got the impression that when he came to leave that conference he was seized of the desire on the part of the Labour Party in Scotland to see this legislation progress. I give this much to him: he took the trouble to come to the conference, to listen to the debate and to sense for himself the feeling that prevailed.
My hon. Friend must be aware that at a fringe meeting, which incidentally was packed to the doors, at that Troon Conference, I said that, although the delegates—I had listened to the debate and talked to them privately—were voting for devolution, apart from a handful, none of them actually believed in it. I was cheered by the delegates when I made that statement to them.
That is a personal interpretation of the motives of people in voting for or against something. Certainly my experience as a Scottish Member of Parliament deeply involved in the devolution campaign over the years is that a growing awareness has developed in the Labour Party, culminating last year at Troon in an almost unanimous approach from the floor of the conference, joined by the Scottish Council of the Labour Party, in a desire to see the Bill on the statute book.
Many of us have taken the trouble, as my hon. Friend puts it— in fact it was no trouble at all—to consult comrades in the Labour Movement both inside and outside Scotland, about the general aspiration for, and view of, devolution. It appears to me that there is an enormous amount of support for devolution in Scotland, but what we have to investigate is what people expect to get from it. On a fairly thorough examination, I believe that people are expecting things from the proposals of my hon. Friend which wildly exceed even the expectations of my hon. Friend, who is an enthusiastic devolutionist. How does he propose to translate the reality of this Bill into the aspirations of the Scottish people and the Scottish Labour Movement when they think that the Bill means jobs, houses and all kinds of good things that he does not even propose to give them?
In fairness, no one in the Labour Party in Scotland—certainly no member of the Executive of the Scottish Council and no Minister or Labour Member of Parliament in Scotland—has given the impression that the Bill is the panacea for all Scotland's ills. We have presented the Bill factually during a campaign which began in January 1976. If people expect more from the Bill than what is contained in it, that is not the fault of the Labour Party in Scotland. At all our public meetings, we continually make it clear to the people of Scotland what the Bill contains, what it will do and what it will not do.
My hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan) spelled out in an excellent speech the difficulties of conducting the election on one issue. Many issues were raised in this debate, which, with respect to the Committee, had no bearing on the amendment. I therefore hope that the Committee will accept that the reasons that I am asking it to reject the amendment are those that I have already mentioned—the fact that we have already agreed to have a referendum, the uncertainty about the date of the next election, which is not likely to able delay which such a proposition would entail.
Amendment No. 93 in the name of the leader of the Liberal Party seeks to write in a specific date for holding the election. I am sure that on consideration the right hon. Gentleman will accept that the Secretary of State should have some flexibility in deciding the date of the first election against the background of the date of the referendum. However, the Government intend and desire to hold the elections for the Assembly as soon as possible after the referendum has been concluded and the issue resolved. I hope that on that basis the right hon. Gentleman will accept that my right hon. Friend should have this flexible power, instead of writing into the Bill a date which could not be changed without further legislation.
Against that background, I ask the Committee to reject the amendment.
I must raise a voice in protest at the Minister's reply. After a number of detailed and interesting speeches, he simply made a propaganda speech, unjustifiably attacking some of his hon. Friends. If the hon. Gentleman wants to make progress, as he obviously does, this is not the way to go about it.
We are unhappy about what the Minister has been saying in the House and outside. I was interested in two things that he is quoted as saying in the Press this morning. First of all, talking about progress on the Bill, he is quoted in the Express as saying:
So far, we have reached Clause 6.
The hon. Gentleman continually complains about the Press getting his remarks wrong. As someone who writes articles himself, he knows that those who write in the Press are never inclined to spoil a good story by getting it accurate.
Obviously, then, that quotation was wrong. But the second quotation is even more significant. Apparently the hon. Gentleman said:
By this time, we should have reached Clause 115.
I wonder whether that also is a misquotation. It certainly surprised me.
The Minister has consistently said that the people of Scotland are solidly behind this measure, which some of us had doubted. When a poll is published, his reaction is quoted as being:
|Division No. 52.]||AYES||[7.57 p.m.|
|Amery, Rt Hon Julian||Hawkins, Paul||Normanton, Tom|
|Awdry, Daniel||Heffer, Eric S.||Onslow, Cranley|
|Banks, Robert||Hicks, Robert||Osborn, John|
|Bennett, Dr Reginald (Fareham)||Holland, Philip||Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby)|
|Benyon, W.||Hunt, David (Wirral)||Page, Richard (Workington)|
|Berry, Hon Anthony||Hutchison, Michael Clark||Paisley, Rev Ian|
|Blaker, Peter||Jenkin, Rt Hon P. (Wanst'd & W'df'd)||Parkinson, Cecil|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Jones, Arthur (Daventry)||Phipps, Dr Colin|
|Boyson, Dr Rhodes (Brent)||Kaberry, Sir Donald||Powell, Rt Hon J. Enoch|
|Braine, Sir Bernard||King, Evelyn (South Dorset)||Raison, Timothy|
|Brotherton, Michael||Knight, Mrs Jill||Rees, Peter (Dover & Deal)|
|Brown, Sir Edward (Bath)||Lawrence, Ivan||Rees-Davies, W. R.|
|Budgen, Nick||Lawson, Nigel||Renton, Rt Hon Sir D. (Hunts)|
|Burden, F. A.||Leadbitter, Ted||Rhodes James, R.|
|Carlisle, Mark||Le Matchant, Spencer||Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon|
|Carson, John||Lloyd, Ian||Ridley, Hon Nicholas|
|Channon, Paul||Loveridge, John||Roberts, Michael (Cardiff NW)|
|Cooke, Robert (Bristol W)||Luce, Richard||Roberts, Wyn (Conmay)|
|Cormack, Patrick||McCusker, H.||Ross, William (Londonderry)|
|Dalyell, Tam||MacGregor, John||Rost, Peter (SE Derbyshire)|
|Dean, Paul (N Somerset)||Macmillan, Rt Hon M. (Farnham)||Shepherd, Colin|
|Dodsworth, Geoffrey||McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury)||Shersby, Michael|
|Drayson, Burnaby||Marten, Neil||Silvester, Fred|
|Dunlop, John||Mather, Carol||Sims, Roger|
|Durant, Tony||Maudling, Rt Hon Reginald||Skeet, T. H. H.|
|Elliott, Sir William||Mawby, Ray||Spearing, Nigel|
|Emery, Peter||Maxwell-Hyslsop, Robin||Spence, John|
|Eyre, Reginald||Mayhew, Patrick||Stainton, Keith|
|Farr, John||Mendelson, John||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Fisher, Sir Nigel||Meyer, Sir Anthony||Steen, Anthony (Wavertree)|
|Fookes, Miss Janet||Mills, Peter||Stokes, John|
|Forman, Nigel||Moate, Roger||Stradling Thomas, J.|
|Fox, Marcus||Molyneaux, James||Tebbit, Norman|
|Fry, Peter||Montgomery, Fergus||Wakeham, John|
|Gardiner, George (Reigate)||More, John (Croydon C)||Walker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir Derek|
|Gardner, Edward (S Fylde)||More, Jasper (Ludlow)||Warren, Kenneth|
|Goodhew, Victor||Morgan, Geraint||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Gow, Ian (Eastbourne)||Morgan-Giles, Rear-Admiral|
|Gower, Sir Raymond (Barry)||Morris, Michael (Northampton S)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Grieve, Percy||Morrison, Charles (Devizes)||Mr. Iain Sproat and|
|Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)||Morrison, Hon Peter (Chester)||Mr. Ian Grist.|
|Harvie Anderson, Rt Hon Miss||Mudd, David|
|Havers, Sir Michael||Neubert, Michael|
|Abse, Leo||Bennett, Andrew (Slockport N)||Campbell, Ian|
|Allaun, Frank||Bidwell, Sydney||Canavan, Dennis|
|Archer, Peter||Bishop, E. S.||Cant, R. B.|
|Armstrong, Ernest||Blenkinsop, Arthur||Carmichael, Neil|
|Ashton, Joe||Boardman, H.||Carter, Ray|
|Atkins, Ronald (Preston N)||Booth, Rt Hon Albert||Carter-Jones, Lewis|
|Atkinson, Norman||Boyden, James (Bish Auck)||Cartwright, John|
|Bagier, Gordon A. T.||Bradley, Tom||Castle, Rt Hon Barbara|
|Bain, Mrs Margaret||Bray, Dr Jeremy||Clemitson, Ivor|
|Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)||Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)||Cocks, Rt Hon Michael|
|Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (Heywood)||Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W)||Coleman, Donald|
|Bates, Alf||Buchan, Norman||Conlan, Bernard|
|Bean, R. E.||Buchanan, Richard||Cook, Robin F. (Edin C)|
|Beith, A. J.||Callaghan, Rt Hon J. (Cardiff SE)||Corbett, Robin|
|Benn, Rt Hon Anthony Wedgwood||Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P)||Cox, Thomas (Tooting)|
|Craigen, Jim (Maryhill)||Jones, Alec (Rhondda)||Roper, John|
|Crawford, Douglas||Jones, Barry (East Flint)||Rose, Paul B.|
|Cronin, John||Jones, Dan (Burnley)||Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)|
|Crosland, Rt Hon Anthony||Judd, Frank||Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock)|
|Crowther, Stan (Rotherham)||Kaufman, Gerald||Rowlands, Ted|
|Cryer, Bob||Kelley, Richard||Sandelson, Neville|
|Davidson, Arthur||Kerr, Russell||Sedgemore, Brian|
|Davies, Bryan (Enfield N)||Kilroy-Silk, Robert||Shaw, Arnold (Ilford South)|
|Davies, Denzil (Llanelli)||Lambie, David||Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert|
|Davies, Ifor (Gower)||Lamond, James||Shore, Rt Hon Peter|
|Davis, Clinton (Hackney C)||Lee, John||Silkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford)|
|Deakins, Eric||Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough)||Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)|
|Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)||Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)||Sillars, James|
|Dell, Rt Hon Edmund||Lipton, Marcus||Silverman, Julius|
|Dempsey, James||Loyden, Eddie||Skinner, Dennis|
|Doig, Peter||Luard, Evan||Small, William|
|Dormand, J. D.||Lyon, Alexander (York)||Smith, John (N Lanarkshire)|
|Duffy. A. E. P.||Lyons, Edward (Bradford W)||Snape, Peter|
|Dunnett, Jack||Mabon, Rt Hon Dr J. Dickson||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth||McCartney, Hugh||Stallard, A. W.|
|Eadie, Alex||MacCormick, lain||Steel, Rt Hon David|
|Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE)||McDonald, Dr Oonagh||Stewart, Rt Hon Donald|
|Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun)||McElhone, Frank||Stewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham)|
|Ellis, Tom (Wrexham)||MacFarquhar, Roderick||Stoddart, David|
|English, Michael||McGuire, Michael (Ince)||Stott, Roger|
|Ennals, David||MacKenzie, Gregor||Strang, Gavin|
|Evans, Fred (Caerphilly)||Mackintosh, John P.||Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley|
|Evans, Gwynfor (Carmarthen)||Maclennan, Robert||Swain, Thomas|
|Evans, loan (Aberdare)||McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C)||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)|
|Ewing, Harry (Stirling)||McNamara, Kevin||Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)|
|Ewing, Mrs Winifred (Moray)||Madden, Max||Thomas, Mike (Newcastle E)|
|Fernyhough, Rt Hon E.||Magee, Bryan||Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)|
|Flannery, Martin||Mallalieu, J. P. W.||Thompson, George|
|Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)||Marks, Kenneth||Thorne, Stan (Preston South)|
|Foot, Rt Hon Michael||Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)||Tierney, Sydney|
|Forrester, John||Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)||Tinn, James|
|Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin)||Maynard, Miss Joan||Tomlinson, John|
|Fraser, John (Lambeth, N'w'd)||Mellish, Rt Hon Robert||Tomney, Frank|
|Freeson, Reginald||Mikardo, Ian||Torney, Tom|
|George, Bruce||Millan, Rt Hon Bruce||Tuck, Raphael|
|Gilbert, Dr John||Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)||Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.|
|Ginsburg, David||Miller, Mrs Millie (Ilford N)||Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)|
|Golding, John||Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)||Wainwright, Richard (Colne V)|
|Gould, Bryan||Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)||Walker, Harold (Doncaster)|
|Gourlay, Harry||Moyle, Roland||Walker, Terry (Kingswood)|
|Grant, George (Morpeth)||Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick||Ward, Michael|
|Grant, John (Islington C)||Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King||Watkins, David|
|Grimond, Rt Hon J.||Newens, Stanley||Watkinson, John|
|Hamilton, James (Bothwell)||Noble, Mike||Weetch, Ken|
|Hardy, Peter||Oakes, Gordon||Weitzman, David|
|Harper, Joseph||Ogden, Eric||Wellbeloved, James|
|Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)||O'Halloran, Michael||Welsh, Andrew|
|Hart, Rt Hon Judith||Orbach, Maurice||White, James (Pollok)|
|Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy||Orme, Rt Hon Stanley||Whitehead, Phillip|
|Hayman, Mrs Helene||Ovenden, John||Whitlock, William|
|Henderson, Douglas||Owen, Rt Hon Dr David||Wigley, Dafydd|
|Hooley, Frank||Padley, Walter||Willey, Rt Hon Frederick|
|Hooson, Emlyn||Palmer, Arthur||Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)|
|Horam, John||Park, George||Williams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch)|
|Howells, Geraint (Cardigan)||Parker, John||Williams, Sir Thomas (Warrington)|
|Huckfield, Les||Parry, Robert||Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)|
|Hughes, Rt Hon C. (Anglesey)||Pavitt, Laurie||Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)|
|Hughes, Mark (Durham)||Penhaligon, David||Wilson, Rt Hon Sir Harold (Huyton)|
|Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)||Perry, Ernest||Wilson, William (Coventry SE)|
|Hughes, Roy (Newport)||Price, William (Rugby)||Wise, Mrs Audrey|
|Hunter, Adam||Radice, Giles||Woodall, Alec|
|Irvine, Rt Hon Sir A. (Edge Hill)||Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds S)||Woof, Robert|
|Irving, Rt Hon S. (Dartford)||Reid, George||Wrigglesworth, Ian|
|Jackson, Colin (Brighouse)||Richardson, Miss Jo||Young, David (Bolton E)|
|Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln)||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)|
|Jay, Rt Hon Douglas||Robertson, John (Paisley)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)||Roderick, Caerwyn||Mr. Ted Graham and|
|John, Brynmor||Rodgers, George (Chorley)||Mr. Frank R. White.|
|Johnson, Walter (Derby S)||Rodgers, Rt Hon William|
|Johnston, Russell (Inverness)||Rooker, J. W.|
Before calling the mover of the next amendment, I wish to refer to the question raised earlier by the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith). The hon. Gentleman asked that further consideration be given to Amendment (a) to New Clause 36, which had not been selected. This I have now considered.
In my view, the scope of the Bill extends to cover the various means by which the government of Scotland and Wales can be altered and improved. The Bill already contains provisions relating to bodies elsewhere in the United Kingdom which are consequential upon some of the alterations proposed. There is no reason why other such provisions should not be introduced by way of amendment. Such an amendment, in my view, is New Clause 36. The number of representatives of Scotland and Wales in the Parliament of the United Kingdom is clearly a matter which affects the government of those territories and is therefore within the scope of this Bill.
The proposed amendment to New Clause 36, however, in the name of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Liberal Party, goes wider than this, as the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed has quite fairly pointed out. Were it agreed to, it would have the effect of sanctioning changes in the representation in this House of other parts of the country, and I could not regard this as within the scope of the Bill.
Therefore, I cannot specifically put the right hon. Gentleman's amendment before the Committee. Nevertheless it occurs to me that what the hon. Member has said might well form part of an argument against the new clause as it stands, and I shall listen to him with attention, if he catches my eye.
On a point of order, Mr. Murton. I thank you for giving such care to your ruling. We shall want to study it, because it will guide our considerations later in debate.
On a different point of order, Mr. Murton. Will you, tomorrow, refer to Hansard to the exchanges between my hon. Friends the Members for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heller) and Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) when the hon. Member for Glasgow, Shettleston (Sir M. Galpern) was in the Chair, as to what is or is not in order? Will you examine those exchanges and make a statement at the beginning of tomorrow's business?
Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. I endorse what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) about consulting references in Hansard on this matter. The point in the earlier exchange related to references to a referendum during discussions on amendments on the Bill. The fact that an amendment facilitating a referendum has not yet been tabled makes it difficult to stay in order on certain amendments, because there is a need to refer to some extent to a referendum because of certain considerations introduced into the Bill.
The Committee will recall that when the White Paper appeared, the Secretary of State was described in the Scottish Press and by many people as having a Governor-General type rôle in Scotland. It was pointed out that to give the Secretary of State such a rôle in supervising the day-to-day formal conduct of the Assembly was unusual, particularly bearing in mind that the Secretary of State would be a party politician in a Westminster Cabinet and would have powers to watch over an Assembly whose political complexion might be different. It was said that this would lead to conflict and was unusual in any scheme of federalism, or devolution, or indeed any local government scheme of any kind. In other words, it was said that a Minister with political powers was to be given a different type of supervision. Therefore, the Labour Party and others in Scotland interested in these matters examined the situation in detail.
We propose a series of changes to remove the Secretary of State from this rôle. This is the first of the amendments that seeks to implement that approach. I emphasise that this has nothing whatever to do with the powers in the Bill. It neither increases nor decreases the Assembly's powers. The amendment provides that the Secretary of State should not deploy certain specific functions of a largely honorific or ceremonial nature, but that they should be deployed by some non-partisan figure selected by the Government as laid down in Clause 10.
I appeal to hon. Members not to support this amendment whether they be in favour or against the Bill. I believe that if we are to set up any kind of Assembly, there should be a clear distinction between simply formal functions and the political rôle of the Secretary of State for Scotland.
Does not my hon. Friend agree that, if this amendment were passed it would weaken the position of central Government vis-à-vis the Assembly and would mean that the unitary argument would disappear? What he is suggesting surely is one further step towards the separation of Scotland from the rest of the United Kingdom?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend because he always allows me to elucidate matters more clearly. The point I am canvassing does not deal with powers but seeks to transfer powers to a non-partisan figure. If I thought that the amendment would alter the position substantially, I would say so. I want to improve the position of the Assembly, but the amendment seeks to deal with the timing when the election would be held.
I know that my hon. Friend likes to interrupt every speech in these debates, and I shall give way to him in a moment. I always enjoy his interventions.
The second point relates to the alteration of the date by a period of two months either way in case of conflict with a United Kingdom General Election. The third point provides for the conduct of elections in a formal sense as to announcements or arrangements. The fourth point provides for the day and time of the first meeting. The fifth point relates to the arrangements and Standing Orders of the Assembly before it has met and has been able to draw up those matters. Those are the formal points that arise in every other legislature and require a figurehead person to make the announcement. These matters are more suitable for a non-political personage than somebody who is a member of the United Kingdom Cabinet. No political issues can arise here.
Will my hon. Friend accept that, if this is a purely nonpolitical function, it can be written in as an instruction to the Secretary of State, whoever he may be? We are suspicious of the fact that the Secretary of State is to be eliminated and that some nonpolitical functionary is to be put in his place.
I am surprised by that intervention. It would be impossible to write in these detailed powers, as they involve an element of discretion —not political discretion but mere convenience, mere arrangement. I repeat that the powers I am describing do not touch the serious political powers of the Secretary of State—the veto powers, the powers over the guidelines for the Scottish Development Agency and the Highlands and Islands Development Board, powers of rent and rebate reservations, teachers' remuneration, payments into the Consolidated Fund, planning powers, and other substantial powers kept for the Secretary of State, and which I agree are unfortunate and could lead to a conflict that I do not want to see between the Assembly and a United Kingdom Government of a different political complexion. But that will be the subject of a later amendment.
The powers with which I am concerned now are what is known crudely in the textbooks as the Governor-General and/or wet nurse functions. They must go to some person, and it will be unfortunate if they go to a person who is equivalent to the Chief Executive and is his rival or opposite number in election campaigns in Scotland. One of the major objectives of seeing this proposal work—if it goes through, and I am not prejudging the issue—is to reduce unnecessary political or personal conflict of this kind to a minimum and to make formal as many provisions as is possible in this situation.
I ask simply for clarification. This non-partisan figure, this nonpolitical personage, this figure head, this wet nurse—who is she or he to be? Is it to be the Chairman of the Vice-Chancellor's Committee, the General Secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers, or who? This is not a frivolous point. It is simply that such a person will have to make, whether he likes it or not, decisions which by their nature are political.
The decisions that I have gone through are not political. I have reserved those for other treatment. These decisions are formal. They are triggering decisions, such as announcing the day and the time at which the Assembly comes together. They are for purely formal things that are done in any Crown colony by a Governor-General with white plumes in his hat who is supposed to get on with it and not interfere with the affairs of the Parliament. The powers of dissolution, of prevention and overruling the Assembly, which are there in Clauses 20, 45, 46 and 47, are not touched by the amendment. It deals purely with formal powers.
But one of these powers is the fixing of the date of the first election. We have been debating the importance of that all afternoon. It is the power described by the right hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel) as a vital power. It is a political decision by the Government as such, and is not a trival or formal matter.
The hon. Gentleman has made my point. It is precisely the kind of power which should not be in the hands of a particular politician. It ought to be handled, in the interest of the working of the Bill and of the Assembly, by the sort of personage I suggest. I would not want a party politician in the Cabinet with the power to fix a date for elections. He could fix that date to suit his own Government and there would be four years of recrimination that the political complexion of the Assembly drew entirely from the date chosen. That is precisely the kind of thing that one wants taken out of the hands of a political personage.
I am addressing myself now to the objection put by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer). I ask him to contemplate this case, although I know that he is opposed to the principle of the Bill. If the Bill is passed, it is in his interest, since he wants to defend the integrity of the United Kingdom, to reduce conflict to a minimum. I ask him, therefore, to contemplate the problems which would arise if the Assembly had a non-Conservative majority—a likely situation, given Scottish politics—and all these detailed formal powers had to be exercised regularly and constantly by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor).
Can anyone imagine anything that would drive a non-Conservative Scottish Assembly and its Chief Executive more quickly round the bend than having to deal regularly with the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart? I am not making a personal point. The hon. Gentleman's political position is well known. He is a perfectly honourable Member. The hon. Gentleman has always detested an Assembly and has always said so. He has always opposed it. He has gone up and down Scotland saying that it is rubbish from beginning to end. Yet the hon. Gentleman would be the person to exercise the formal powers of announcing the date, the Standing Orders, when the Assembly would meet and so on. That would happen daily. But because the hon. Gentleman's powerful reputation is known everywhere I think he would be an unacceptable person to carry out these functions.
The hon. Gentleman is entitled to make whatever vicious, unjustified personal attacks on me he wants but he is not entitled to say that I do not get on well with Socialists. Because he and I do not happen to see eye to eye does not mean that it is not perfectly possible for me to have the full respect of his colleagues.
My hon. Friends are oozing with respect for the hon. Gentleman. As I go up and down Scotland I hear nothing but very deep admiration for the hon. Gentleman from people in my party. The hon. Gentleman plugged his views with great vigour, as he is entitled to do, until he became Shadow Secretary of State. I am not making a personal attack on the hon. Gentleman. He has detested the idea of an Assembly. There has been no more passionate opponent of it. His record is known by everyone. For the hon. Gentleman to exercise the kind of informal powers normally exercised by a Governor-General—the pronouncement of the opening, choosing the date, the setting up of Standing Orders, and so on—would to my mind be a mistake. It asks for conflict where this need not exist.
My hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) asks who the formal figure head will be. My hon. Friend knows perfectly well that every year a figure head is chosen to preside over the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in precisely the way that I have suggested. That person is usually a well-known elderly figure in Scottish affairs—a figure of non-partisan views who is accepted as someone who can legitimately perform the kind of ceremonial function that is required.
If the Privy Council wishes to give this to a minor member of the Royal Family, then that is fine. If it wishes to award it to the kind of person running the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, that seems splendid. There is no attempt on my part to have a dignified Assembly by association with the Crown, or to diminish it. I am simply wishing by this amendment and the consequential amendments to begin the process of taking the powers from the Secretary of State who is a party Cabinet Minister.
If the hon. Member for Cathcart is upset, I would say to him that the same could be true if the Secretary of State were an extreme figure, or a strongly partisan figure, in the Labour Party and there were a non-Labour majority in the Assembly. The same problem would arise. What I am saying with regard to the Secretary of State's powers is that on major political points there will be different arguments. The argument will relate to the total power of the Assembly. I am arguing that a potential cause of friction should be reduced to the minimum.
The Scottish Labour Party and the Scottish TUC were quite unanimous about the powers of the Secretary of State. They wanted the Secretary of State's supervisory powers taken out of the Bill. That was one of the points on which the Scottish TUC agreed and which we carried through the Troon Conference of the Scottish Labour Party without a dissenting voice. There was no argument, because it was accepted that if an Assembly were to be set up, the supervisory functions of the Secretary of State should be reduced to a minimum. It was decided that a clearly demarcated area should be left to the Assembly and that it should be allowed to get on with its activities.
As the supporters of this Bill do so often, my hon. Friend is giving lessons to hon. Members such as me about the decisions of Labour Party Conferences. The national Labour Party Conference decided to come out against elections to the European Assembly. Does my hon. Friend say that necessarily we have to accept that in its entirety? Surely my hon. Friend is not raising as a fundamental argument the fact that, just because a resolution was passed, we have to accept it in its entirety.
No. My hon. Friend is right. I do not argue that there is any compulsion on hon. Members to accept that. But, given my hon. Friend's frequent arguments about the force of conference decisions and the need to listen to the party outside and to the trade union movement, I thought that he would accept that this was a fact worth putting forward. It is not a matter which has been dreamed up today. It is one of the major objectives of the Labour Party, the TUC and all associated bodies in Scotland, and it has been accepted by all hon. Members in the Scottish Labour Group. All of them agree about the importance of disentangling the Secretary of State and his functions from this Bill.
The position of the Secretary of State is that his Department ceases to be the Department running Scotland and becomes the Department supervising the Assembly. That is fundamentally dangerous, regardless of our views about devolution. Even those who are opposed to it do not want the Assembly to be unworkable when it comes about.
This is a small constitutional point, but it is designed to reduce friction and to make the Assembly work satisfactorily. When we come to the subsequent amendments dealing with the substantive powers of the Secretary of State in political matters in rents, in teacher superannuation and all the major policy powers reserved for the Secretary of State, there will be a different argument.
These amendments deal entirely with the formal functions of the Secretary of State where the sense in which they are exercised by a party politician is more than normally unsatisfactory and indefensible. I give way to my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian, because he is clearly in a state of agitation.
I am not in a state of agitation. Nor do I wish to catch out my hon. Friend. But we recollect his eloquent speech to the party's special conference on 17th August 1974. I have a report of that in which he is described as
the former MP for Berwick and East Lothian".
and he is reported as saying that there is an overworked Secretary of State for Scotland. It is my recollection that even he at that conference gave the impression that it was important for Scotland that the Secretary of State should be retained to the Cabinet. If we are talking about election manifestoes—
I am pleased to be arrogant in dealing with my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Leadbitter). He drives anyone to it. But the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian has nothing to do with my amendment. The position of the Secretary of State in the Cabinet does not arise in the amendment. The importance of the Secretary of State as a political controlling factor does not arise. The amendment deals with the formal functions of the Secretary of State in relation to the Assembly which, as in all other subordinate Assemblies of this kind, are not dealt with by a political figure.
I urge right hon. and hon. Members to look at this, and I point out to the Treasury Bench that this is one of the many matters which were agreed throughout the Labour movement, the Scottish TUC and Scottish Labour Members of Parliament. The attitude of the Treasury Bench to amendments of this kind which are not hostile to the Bill but which attempt to make it more workable is of considerable significance to those of us who will contemplate our attitude to a Guillotine later. We shall want to know—[HON. MEMBERS: "Threats."] Yes, threats, because I am interested to know whether the Bill, if and when it is passed, is workable. This is not just a Bill. It is also the constitution of a new government. If the Bill is to work, it must work smoothly, and that must be the approach of even those hon. Gentlemen who dislike the whole idea of devolution.
I know that my hon. Friend is getting in a state of overexcitement. Before he gets too overheated could he help us to see things his way? He talked about impartiality and then questioned the integrity of the Secretary of State of whatever party. Will his proposed officer announce an election without discussing it with the Assembly or any part of the Assembly? Will that person say that he has decided that an election will take place, without any consultation, and will there be any political considerations involved? Could my hon. Friend assure us that this wet person, completely free from all political pressures, will not have the power to announce an election without consultation with anyone?
First of all, I did not question the integrity of any Secretary of State. Secretaries of State are entitled to their political views. My hon. Friend misunderstands me. I do not question the passionate opposition to this Bill of the hon. Member for Cathcart. In fact, I admire the zeal with which he pursues it. I am questioning whether that kind of person is suitable to exercise these powers of formal supervision, powers of announcement and control.
The Governor-General exercised a discretionary power to dismiss the Government of Australia. That does not arise here and has nothing to do with my amendment. That power does not exist. This is a fixed-term Assembly which cannot be got rid of. What I am discussing is a set of formal powers and propositions which are better exercised by a person who is not profoundly political.
My hon. Friend asked me whether such a person would have no political views at all. Of course he may have past political associations, but he will be free of them at the time. He will not be an acting member of a political Cabinet in the United Kingdom. Moreover, obviously there would be consultations, but the consultations would not be liable to the misinterpretation that they had been designed for the interest of a different political party. That is the key point.
I hope that with all the helpful interventions to assist me I have clarified the matter. I have tried to get to the basic issue involved, and I hope that the Government will consider this amendment reasonably and accept it.
The hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) was inconsistent in the way in which he described the decisions which his proposed Commissioner would make. One moment he said they would be purely formal, and the next moment he said that they could be exercised in a political way. Perhaps that is not inconsistent, but it shows the ambivalent nature of the decisions which could be taken. Someone might take a decision without knowing anything of the facts, and in doing so might embroil himself or herself in a political row. I believe that the dangers of the hon. Member's proposals are far greater than the dangers of the situations in which he points out it would be possible for politicians to get involved.
Here is the possibility that the Crown might get embroiled in a political row. The hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian might argue that Governors-General in other countries can and sometimes do get embroiled in political rows. As the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) pointed out from a sedentary position, that happened in Australia. I contend that if that sort of situation occurred in Scotland there would be a real risk to the whole position of the Crown in Scotland. There is of course a distinction between the position of a Governor-General and the position of a Commissioner in Scotland. The Monarch is at least intermittently resident in Scotland. On the other hand, the Monarch is not regularly resident in Australia.
There can be no suggestion of any personal connection between the Monarch and the decisions of the Governor-General in Australia. On the other hand, if a Commissioner were appointed and if that Commissioner were inadvertently to take one of the so-called political decisions in a maladroit way, simply because the Queen is resident in Scotland for a long time each year there would be the risk that the whole position of the monarchy in Scotland would be called into question.
There are those of us on both sides of the Committee who believe that the Bill is likely to break up the unity of the United Kingdom. There are, perhaps, few who would predict that it might lead towards the institution of a separate republic in Scotland. However, if we bring the monarchy even inadvertently into the centre of political rows there is a danger that the whole position of the monarchy in Scotland might be called into question. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneux) who has reminded me of the position in Northern Ireland under the 1973 Constitution. He reminded me that these so-called formal decisions were taken by the Secretary of State. I am grateful to him for reminding me of that, because it is a good illustration of the need for a political figure who is responsible for those decisions. Such a figure can then be vigorously criticised and can defend himself in a vigorous way also.
Finally, I say to those who believe that on occasions the monarchy in this country takes decisions which could be of a political nature that of course that situation is quite different. The rôle of the monarchy has changed gradually in a strange but known way over the years until we now have the present constitution of what is, happily, still the United Kingdom. There the monarchy has a strange rôle. First, it had a highly political rôle, and then it slowly changed. As that change has occurred so markers have been put down in our history, so that when the monarchy exercises any discretion which might be of a political nature there are conventions which guide the Monarch in the exercise of those discretions. Therefore it is difficult for the Monarch, while exercising apparently political discretions, to be brought within the political arena. The Monarch is plainly bound by precedents and convention.
If the Monarch or a Commissioner appointed by the Monarch is given political or quasi-political powers unbound by convention or precedents, there is a real danger that the Monarch, resident as she so often is in Scotland, might be brought within the political arena, and we should then end up in this unhappy Bill not only breaking up the unity of the United Kingdom but doing irreparable damage to the monarchy.
I am rather sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) should be so touchy and irritable and, I am afraid, somewhat rude, because I have had many discussions and debates with him at Labour Party conferences and elsewhere and I have always found that he has debated in a most courteous way.
But for some reason or other, he is so passionate for this Bill and so passionate in the belief that it is right and everyone else apparently wrong, that he cannot accept that we can disagree with him without his becoming irritable and dismissing us as if we ought not to raise any objections to the arguments he is putting forward. That is why I think a number of my hon. Friends thought that he was showing undue arrogance. Perhaps that is a trait that he has developed of late, but I hope that it will not develop too far, because we shall be discussing these matters in a sensible, intelligent and rational way. We shall not do that very well if we get into that state. I appeal to my hon. Friend to cool it a little in debates of this kind.
I turn now to the amendment. The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, SouthWest (Mr. Budgen) referred to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor), whose politics I do not share, but if he was Secretary of State for Scotland—God forbid—he would be the Secretary of State for Scotland representing not the Westminster Government but the Government of all parts of the United Kingdom.
I do not like the emotive phrase "Westminster Government". We sit at Westminster, but we represent, as far as I understand it, both as a Parliament and as a Government, the people of all parts of the United Kingdom. Parliament is based at Westminster. It could have been based in Birmingham or Oxford. At one peak period in the Civil War I think that it was based for a short period in the town in which I was born—Hertford. I am not absolutely certain about that. If it was not based at Hertford, it was certainly near there. We have a Parliament Square in Hertford because, for a temporary period—perhaps a day or so— Parliament was there.
The point is that it is a mere matter of history. Parliament could have been anywhere. I do not like emotive phrases about Westminster because they conjure up the concept—
It could have been in Edinburgh. I should have liked a position where we changed from year to year and had our Parliament in different parts of the United Kingdom. Of course that would be difficult, because of the problems of transporting the whole bureaucracy each time. However, it could have been done. But it is still a matter of the Parliament of the United Kingdom and not of Westminster.
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will be interested to recall, in line with what he is saying, that the medieval Parliament used to move around and sit in different parts of the country. What anchored it at Westminster was the fact that the files became so large that it was not possible to move them around.
It is quite obvious that the growth of bureaucracy has gone on throughout the ages. I merely wanted to point out that I did not like the constant emotive use of the term.
I am somewhat suspicious of my hon. Friend's motives. He says that it is merely a formal matter to appoint some sort of non-political Commissioner in place of the Secretary of State. Apart from anything else, I doubt very much whether a Commissioner could be strictly non-political. It is a theoretical possibility.
I think that what is proposed by my hon. Friend is the thin end of the wedge. He wants to leave with the Secretary of State those matters which are strictly political.
I thought that my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian said that he wished political matters to remain political, but if he does not, if it is the other way round, it is the thin end of the wedge to remove the Cabinet Minister representing the whole United Kingdom from any responsibility for Scotland. That is in line with what my hon. Friend argued in a pamphlet in which he called for a Scottish Parliament, not an Assembly. He used the term "Parliament" himself. He said that we were talking about a new Government—not a Government for the whole United Kingdom, not an Assembly with an Executive, but a new Government for Scotland.
That is even more reason why I am against the Bill. My hon. Friend gives me added reasons all the time. I am delighted that it has all come out.
Do the people of Scotland want a new Government purely for Scotland? They will have to be asked in a referendum before we can say that that is what they want. They may want nothing of the kind. It may well all be the figment of a few people's imagination. The present proposal is the thin end of the wedge to remove the political responsibility from the British Cabinet altogether. That is not acceptable.
My hon. Friend talked about decisions of the conference of the Labour Party in Scotland. He knows that I was there and heard the debate. I saw how the vote went. I was also at last year's Labour Party Conference for the United Kingdom. Being on the National Executive, I had to listen to the debates without speaking.
It was a strain, particularly on this issue. My right hon. Friend the Lord President, speaking for the National Executive, did not say then that he was against a referendum. He was rather cagey, because the Government were having second thoughts about the referendum. The conference resolution rejected the idea of a referendum, but within weeks after our return to the House that resolution was ignored. Conference decisions are conference decisions. Over the years my right hon. Friend has said that he has never been bound by every conference decision. Of course he has not. Nobody can be bound—
I submit that what I am saying is related to the amendment, Sir Stephen, because my hon. Friend said that his proposal was a decision of the Scottish Labour Party Conference. That decision was made, but a further decision was agreed at a later conference in relation to the referendum. Yet the later decision was almost immediately abandoned. Therefore, the argument about a conference decision does not cut much ice. My point is related to the amendment. I realise that I may appear to be going a little wide of it, and I apologise if that is the case. Anyway, I think that I have made my point now.
I want to bring my comments to a conclusion. This is a most dangerous proposal, irrespective of who the Secretary of State for Scotland may be. If we wish to carry out the spirit of the Bill and to retain the unity of the United Kingdom, it is essential that the Secretary of State should play a positive rôle in the future of Scotland and in the future of the rest of the United Kingdom.
There have been so many expressions of brotherly love scattered around the Government Benches that one has felt tempted to leave the debate to Labour Members. When a conference decision is not a conference decision is a matter of infinite interest. The answer seems to be, when one disagrees with it.
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heifer) is obsessional in his views about the possibility of a break-up of the United Kingdom. He objected to the use of the terms "Government" and "Parliament", in relation to the devolved Assemblies, by the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh). But I should remind the hon. Member for Walton that the Northern Ireland Parliament at Stormont was always referred to as a Parliament and as the Stormont Government. Yet no part of the United Kingdom was so addicted to Westminster as Northern Ireland, and so determined to remain a part of it.
The importance of this series of amendments has been exaggerated out of all proportion. The argument is that those decisions that ought to be made formally could be utilised by certain persons for political ends—for example, there could be postponement of elections. If such a decision were made by a political person, it is argued, it would be much more suspect. The proposal is to ensure that the formal functions, at present ascribed to the Secretary of State, will be discharged by someone who will not be involved in the day-to-day melée of political life. That seems to be a manifestly sensible proposal, and I support it.
One of the problems raised by the Bill is that we are going into uncharted waters. There is no precedent for the relationship that will exist between Scotland and Wales and the United Kingdom Parliament. I would have thought that everybody—whether for or against devolution —would have been at pains to remove all possible areas of friction. Surely, to allow a manifestly political figure to exercise what should be formal functions and to take formal decisions is risking additional friction.
Will the hon. and learned Gentleman as someone who supports the amendment, tell me what view he takes on whom the Commissioner should consult before taking a formal decision under subsection (2) on whether to vary the date of an election? On the basis of the amendment, should the Commissioner consult the Government, the Cabinet, the Scottish Assembly, or whom?
I am answering this off the cuff. I think that he should consult all interested parties. In this country the Monarch takes decisions which are essentially political, but she does so on advice. The Monarch, who announces the decisions, is not the subject of attack because of those decisions. Those advising her may be, but the person who exercises the function is not.
Does the hon. and learned Gentleman agree that those decisions are guided by both precedent and convention and that, therefore, by that discipline, the Monarch is prevented from getting right into the political arena?
With respect to the hon. Gentleman, over the centuries the British people have displayed a great and practical gift for government and for establishing certain precedents, even in new situations. I think that we should leave it to the wisdom of those who have been involved in Government and Parliament over many years and who will undoubtedly influence the Scottish and Welsh Assemblies in their early years. I have no doubt that, without formalising the people who should be consulted, it will become natural to accept that certain people are consulted. However, it would be more acceptable if the decision and the function were discharged by a figure who is not involved in the day-to-day battles.
The hon. and learned Gentleman has referred to the calling of an election. The Government may say to the Monarch "We think that the election should be held in three weeks' time."
That is quite right. But what happens if the Commissioner gets advice from the Secretary of State that the election should be held two months later than is proposed and advice from the Scottish Assembly that it should be held two months earlier? Whose advice should he take? There are two Governments, not one.
It is well known that the Monarch sometimes can receive conflicting advice, but she is not bound by the advice given to her by the Cabinet. In certain situations, especially when there is a close political position within Parliament, the Monarch is entitled to take other advice. She is not bound by the initial advice given to her.
This is making a mountain of a molehill. The amendment seeks to remove possible grounds of friction. I should have thought that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor), who is concerned about and frequently attacks the Bill, would welcome the amendment as a means of removing one potential threat to the unity of the Kingdom.
I have doubts about the interpretation of recent Irish history as propounded by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson). The Lord President will correct me if I am wrong. If there had been no Stormont, is it conceivable that the Labour Government of 1945–51 or, for that matter, the Conservative Government of 1951–64, interesting themselves, as they would have had to do, in the position in Northern Ireland, would not have done something about the housing situation? One can imagine the speeches which would have been made 30 years ago by the then young hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport on the question of discrimination in housing in Northern Ireland.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. Surely he is completely off the point. I was dealing with the terms "Parliament" and "Government" and the use made of them in referring to the Stormont Parliament and the Stormont Government. I confined myself entirely to that point.
I accept that.
I turn now to the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh). It may be tedious and boring, as he said, but, when he was pressed as to who the person should be, he said "For example, it should be someone such as the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland."
We can check with Hansard. It is clear that there will be a possible confrontation between any Secretary of State for Scotland and any Commissioner. They will fight like Kilkenny cats or like rutting stags. My hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian raises a very real problem. It is no less a problem when he says that different political complexions would be involved. If my hon. Friend were the Prime Minister of Scotland and someone else were the Secretary of State, there might be problems even if they were both in the same party.
This is a confrontation situation, and I do not see how my hon. Friend's amendment will solve it. We come back to the basic problem. We cannot have a subordinate Parliament which is part, but only a part, of a unitary State while at the same time maintaining that unitary State. That is the proposition to which we must return.
I wish to lend my support to the amendment. I agree with the comment of the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) that this is an amendment with a very narrow range. The discretion given in Clause 3 to the Secretary of State is limited. The life of the Parliament or Assembly will be limited to four years. In other words, we shall not have the process of gerrymandering which Governments have been known to practise in the past. That is one thing which the four-year period will give us.
The clause will create a situation in which an election may be held either two months before the mandatory date or two months after, giving a four-month period in which the Secretary of State or the Commissioner can choose to hold the election. This period is far too long, regardless of whether it is exercised by a Commissioner or the Secretary of State. Nevertheless, it gives some scope to the person who makes the choice to arrange a date which may be suitable or unsuitable to a given political interest.
A situation might arise in which a Scottish Assembly will be set up with certain powers which will, in certain circumstances, prevent the Secretary of State from intervening or interfering. If the Secretary of State is closely involved, for reasons of party or character, in monitoring the decisions of the Assembly, there will be scope for friction.
Following the advice of the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery, if we want to cut out any friction it would be better to take out of the political arena the person whose party interests might be at variance with an Administration of another political colour. Hon. Members might immediately rush in to say that the present incumbent of the office of Secretary of State could be exonerated from accusations of any such base motives, but who can say who the Secretary of State will be in future?
The amendment seeks to remove from the Secretary of State the duty or right to fix the date of elections. I have no objection to the Secretary of State for Scotland or for Wales being able to set in motion the first mechanism under which the Assembly takes its birth. There are practical reasons for setting that mechanism going which are acceptable, but it is unacceptable that the Secretary of State should be able to exercise that political discretion for ensuing elections.
It is suggested that a non-political figure should exercise that right. I would prefer the Queen in Council to take that decision directly. However, for the purposes of any vote that may take place on the amendment, the interim proposal by the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) is acceptable.
In Australia the Governor-General had been nominated with the support of the Labour Party and there was a row and fuss when he took a decision which ran counter to the interests of the Labour Government at that time. Had the Governor-General been actively involved in political affairs and thus taking part in a political battle in party political terms with his counterpart who was heading the Administration, one can imagine what would have happened.
That situation will develop in Scotland. Let us assume that there is a Conservative Administration in the House of Commons with a Conservative Secretary of State, and a Labour Administration in the Assembly. Whatever else happens, there will be a running political battle between the Labour and Conservative parties that will spill over from the Assembly to the House of Commons and back again. Therefore, the fixing of the date for an election by the Secretary of State will be controversial. There will be a period of four months during which that date can be fixed, but the right hon. Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson) once said that a week is a long time in politics. There is scope for political wheeling and dealing.
The hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) said that he would prefer the decision to be taken by the Queen in Council. What is the difference between the decision being taken by the Secretary of State, and by the Queen in Council? They mean exactly the same thing, namely a decision which is taken by the Westminster Cabinet.
I do not accept that. I understand that the Queen in Council is, on most issues, the representative of the Cabinet. But the Queen has certain rights to accept or not to accept advice. Those rights would transfer to the Scottish situation. As the holder of the Prerogative she would have the duty to decide the best course of action. The Secretary of State is an active party politician who is at war with other political parties. Any decision taken by him, even for the fairest of reasons, could be subject to suspicion. Justice should be seen to be done as well as be done. The best way to achieve that is through the proposal made by the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian or that which I have suggested.
Suggestions were made earlier in the debate that the Crown might be involved in political conflict. The Crown is held in respect in Scotland. I cannot see that there is any more likelihood of conflict developing in Scotland than there is in England.
Towards the end of his speech, the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) was caught on a matter of some considerable constitutional importance. Although it may be of interest to the Committee to be discussing the appointment of a Commissioner by the Queen in Council, what we are really discussing is not the question of the appointment but the function.
My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) is perfectly right in making the very telling point that the function of such an appointment—to determine the questions under subsections (1) and (2)— is exactly the same as it would be if carried out by the Secretary of State. That is very important. I should have thought that it was the functional part to which we must attend and that we should bear in mind that the procedural steps towards determining the election would be the same as they would be for the Secretary of State, and they would involve Cabinet members in Council and the considerations that any Secretary of State would have to face.
My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) referred to the thin end of the wedge.
On that matter, the Committee should perhaps listen with some care to my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh), who makes his intermittent appearances in the Chamber and his sharper disappearances. He was so exuberant, so over-heated, so determined and so swingeing in his comments about his colleagues—which were quite unmerited, particularly as we get on generally very well together—that I was wondering why, on such an apparently moot point, he was getting himself so agitated.
The fact is that my hon. Friend is anxious—and is expressing that state of anxiety—to get the amendment through, because it is totally reliant upon that that his calculations for the future functions of the Secretary of State being taken out of the Bill rest. That is the sole purpose of my hon. Friend's approach.
I would not have been so concerned if he had said "This is a very easy problem. I think that the House of Commons, in all reasonableness, can accept that it would be helpful to the Secretary of State if one had a Commissioner appointed by the Queen in Council to do this small and not so important task, within the parameters of a two-month period either side of the date laid down in the Bill— to call the election." If he had said something like that, I should have thought that there was some sense in it. I should never has suspected anything about what was to happen in relation to the rest of the Bill concerning the Secretary of State's functions. My hon. Friend has nailed himself to the cross by letting the cat out of the bag and saying "If you do not give me this, all my calculations for the Secretary of State will fall to the ground." [Interruption.] In other words—